Thursday, November 30, 2006

Goodbye, Lenin

Just before the Wall comes down in 1989, Alex's mother suffers a heart attack and falls into a coma which lasts almost a year. When she wakes, in a very delicate state, Alex decides that she must never suffer the shock of finding out what has become of her beloved DDR. She had been heroically dedicated to the state ever since her husband had fled to the West leaving her alone with two children. No that it no longer exists, Alex must recreate it in her bedroom, which he does by raiding the rubbish heaps and abandoned houses all around him.

Goodbye, Lenin is a sweet and affectionate film, but one built on concentric layers of lies. There is the great lie of the state itself which must hide behind socialist bombast, censorship and the Wall. There is the lie about the fate of the DDR that Alex tells his mother. Nor is she entirely innocent. She confesses to Alex and his sister eventually that their father did not abandon them. He had been driven away by the Party that he had refused to join, and she had been meant to follow him with the children to the West. He had waited for and written to them begging her to come, but she did not have the courage to take that fatal step. So she hid his letters, told her children he had deserted them and threw herself into social usefulness. She admits that it was the biggest mistake of her life, and wishes only to see him once more.

When she suffers a second heart attack, Alex goes to find his father and bring him to her bedside warning him not to let on that there is now only one Germany. Just before they arrive at the hospital room, we have a glimpse inside to where Alex's Russian girlfriend, who was disgusted by the deception he practiced on his mother, is relieving her of it. She leaves the room as Alex's father enters. It is a lovely moment, and a very moving one. All the layers of lies are heaped one on top of the other, the final one being that the mother doesn't let on to her ex-husband or to Alex that she knows. Indeed, the viewer cannot be sure that she has acknowledged the truth since she gives no sign of it.

It is so fitting. Yet there is nothing of bitterness about the film. Because it is played in the grey key of nostalgia for a communal penury, lightened by the love of a son for his mother, we get none of the anger you would expect for this sandcastle of lies that has all but buried them. Far from it, the triumphant West is symbolised (or tokenised) by Coca-Cola whose bright red tankers pour through the sullen Berlin streets and whose massive banners dress the concrete of its buildings. Somehow you are left with the feeling that life leaves you with two choices: idealistic futility or pragmatic and spiritually squallid gaudiness.

Better and better (I have to admit it's getting)

It doesn't feel like it and I haven't heard anyone say it on a news programme for quite some time, but things are getting better. According to Indur Goklany in his book The Improving State of the World, we have never been better off, where we does not mean us middle class pigs and oppressors, but humans, rich and poor, from North and South. A sample, just concentrating on the South, from a review in The Spectator

The daily food intake in poor countries has increased by 38 per cent since the 1960s to 2,666 calories per person per day on average

The rate of chronic undernourishment has halved to 17 per cent, compared with a little over a third 45 years ago

The number of people subsisting on $1 a day has declined from 16 per cent of the world population in the late 1970s to 6 per cent today, while those living on $2 a day dropped from 39 per cent to 18 per cent. (In 1820, 84 per cent of the world’s population lived in absolute poverty; today this is down to about a fifth.)

Life expectancy in China has surged from 41 years in the 1950s to 71 years today; in India it is up from 39 years to 63 years, almost doubling the average lifespan of 2 billion people

By the early 1950s a child born in a wealthy country such as Britain could expect to live 25 years longer than a child born in a poor country such as Algeria; today the gap has closed to 12.2 years

Before industrialisation, at least 200 out of every 1,000 children died before reaching their first birthday. Infant mortality globally is now down to 57 per 1,000

In 1960 a quarter of all children aged ten to 14 were in work, a share which has fallen to a tenth today.

The global illiteracy rate has declined from 46 per cent in 1970 to about 18 per cent today.
All of these improvements are the consequence of the spread of Western technology and scientific knowledge as well as economic globalisation. Where in developing countries, these have been accompanied by good governance, the rule of law and economic liberalism, the benefits are felt most strongly.

This will never be enough for the drama queens that would smother everything under regulation just to resolve one problem: carbon emmissions. Sir Nicholas Stern shouts out for crisis management. Goklany has done his own projections.
In fact, equally rigorous modelling using different assumptions suggests that, for the next 80 years at least, the benefits of faster economic growth in further improving quality of life across the developing world will outweigh any cost of global warming. Some reductions in carbon emissions may eventually be needed, Goklany says, but in most cases it would be cheaper to adapt to higher temperatures than to try to stop them.

Our best bet, therefore, is to allow technology, trade and the global economy to continue growing unimpeded. Such is Goklany’s plea: if the present rate of improvement continues, he argues, we could soon be living in a world where ‘hunger and malnutrition have been virtually banished; where malaria, TB, Aids and other infectious and parasitic diseases are distant memories; and where humanity meets its needs while ceding land and water back to the rest of nature ... even in sub-Saharan Africa infant mortality could be as low as it is today in the United States, and life expectancies as high’.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Benedictine rule

The Pope has several reasons to go to Turkey. One of them puts him in the centre of the most burning issue of the day:

[the] attempt to help spark Islamic theological reform. According to this analysis, the pope's speech in Regensburg on the necessary unity of faith and reason was aimed as much at the secularized West as it was at the Islamic world.

"There's no doubt in my mind, he states it clearly, that Islam can evaluate when a passage of the Koran was written: was one early, was one later, was one in a certain context and one in another," Moynihan said. "Those remarks in the Regensburg speech make very clear that he's inviting Islam to engage in a process of self-evaluation and examination and of exegesis of the Koran, which is extremely difficult, controversial. But in my view, it's absolutely clear that he's inviting them to engage in that." [Robert Moynihan, a medieval historian and editor-in-chief of the magazine Inside the Vatican]
Also worth a read is Joshua Treviño's lament for Hagia Sophia.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

France2 lose second al-Dura trial

France2 has lost the second al-Dura trial, though the grounds for the decision have nothing to do with the authenticity of the film.

Judging that France 2 did not provide proof for the allegation that Pierre Lurçat is the director of the site on which the incriminated statements were published [League de Défense Juïve], the court rejected the plaintiff’s case without further consideration.
I must confess that I have given little attention to this second trial on the assumption that it would be another stitch-up. Obviously, I was mistaken.

Monday, November 27, 2006


A crib of What the Islamists Have Learned: How to defeat the USA in future wars by Michael Novak

Today, the purpose of war is sharply political, not military; psychological, not physical. The main purpose of war is to dominate the way the enemy imagines and thinks about the war.

The main strategic aim of war today is to dominate the mind of the enemy's public, and then ultimately to dominate the mind of that public's leaders.

What we have discovered in Iraq is the weakest link in the ability of the United States to sustain military operations overseas. That link is the U.S. media. They are Islamists' best friends.

In such wars, my brothers, whichever party maintains the stronger will, along the most durable storyline, always wins.

Bin Laden is even more correct than we knew before the last two years. The West does not have the will to resist. Those elites among them who do have the stomach to fight back, inexorably, day after day, are being undermined by their own media.

Now and in the future, the media will do our work. All we need are martyrs sufficient in number to keep a steady stream of orange flames and black smoke before their cameras, and to dump before them bodies that are stone-cold dead, and bear all over them the unmistakable blue marks of power drills and other disfigurements.

Of such martyrs, we need each day only a handful. In 365 successive days, we need fewer than one thousand.
(via Melanie Phillips)

Israeli-Palestinian truce

I find this sudden outbreak of peace extremely difficult to take seriously. Israel is weaker now than it has been for many years, so it is not surprising that its government wants a period of relative calm. But Hamas has been able to land more blows on its enemy than ever and the situation in Lebanon, however uncertain its outcome may be, is almost certainly going to be more favourable to Hezbollah and Iran than it is now.

What's in it for them? Has Hamas suddenly renounced its ultimate goal? Hardly. They need time to prepare a more convincing attack and maybe to allow their friends in the North to take a few more steps towards control of Lebanon

John Sentamu

Lapsed Catholic that I am by nature, if not by nurture, and therefore occasionally contemptuous of the Church of England, especially in these times, I cannot help wishing for the success of an Anglican cleric who says things like this.

“Christianity is the very soil of this place. Look at what you did in the past, remember what you did.”
His campaign against political correctness has addressed the shame so many educated English people feel for their culture, history and religion. He experienced no such feelings as a boy in Africa, listening to the Queen’s coronation on the radio. His family always checked their purchases for a “Made in Britain” stamp. Indeed, he has called for a proper celebration of St George’s Day.
John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, brought up in Imperial Uganda to love Queen and country and seemingly uncorrupted by the flabby thinking that undoes so many of his fellows, including his leader. We need more like him; I'd bet that such people are far more likely to come from some of Her Majesty's more humble ex-possessions than from Blighty.

(via Ninme)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Casino Royale

Took Son No2 (11) to see the new Bond. I hadn't read anything about it beyond the headlines that Google News displays, which led me to think that it was not a disappointment.

A view I would share. The new Bond is different to the earlier incarnations and seems able to open up a bit of new territory for the character. Much less new technology. In fact, the big chase is on foot through a building site and is very impressive. The torture scene is brutally primitive and the finale is very low-key spectacular with a Venetian palace collapsing into the muddy waters.

It did drag towards the end. In part, this is due to the relationship to the lady, which gets sort of serious what with Bond sending in his resignation so as to stop in time to save 'what little soul is left'. You know that's not going to last, so you have to wait to see how.

But the real problem is with the thrust of the plot itself. James Bond always deals either with super-rich nutters out for world domination/destruction or with the Big Baddies of the day. Obviously, the Soviets are long gone, though their descendents may well feature in future episodes, which leaves terrorism.

In fact, it is the financing of terrorism that is the object of Bond's attentions. He kills one terrorist intent on wreaking havoc at the launch of the world's largest airliner (strangely transplanted to the US, as I suppose the backers of the Airbus A380 probably wish it was). The only other terrorist that appears is an African chap who hands over his impressive fortune to the main baddie of the film, Le Chiffre.

Le Chiffre is, as the name says, just a figures man. He upsets the terrorist fraternity with some creative, though unfortunate investments of their money and the secret services want to use this to get him to talk about his terrorist masters. Needless to say, he's called away to a meeting in Heaven before this happens, which is bad news for the goodies because they can't now get to the heart of the matter.

Having glimpsed him a couple of times already, the spectator knows the face of the Master, and, at the end, so does Bond. (It occasions a lovely way to make a tardy introduction of the new actor - only at the last does he deliver the catch-phrase introduction and do we hear the Bond music.) Who is this Master of Terrorism? A sophisticated European-looking bloke with the air of someone who treats women badly and dogs well, a Jag and a quaint turreted manor above an Italian lake.

Puzzling. What possible interest could such a gent have in funding international terrorism ('international' is the only modifier applied throughout the film to the noun 'terrorism')? Could it be that the writers/producers are just falling back on an old reliable stand-by? Could it be that they did not dare make mention of the international crime that is present as a rhetorical and plot device, but almost apologetically? Is this another case of pre-emptive censorship?

Past sins, present virtues

For those unfamiliar with him, Victor Davis Hanson is one of the major voices in the pro-war camp in the US. He's a Classics academic, firm believer in the superiority of Western civilisation and has not performed any U-turns recently. Here's what he has to say about past US policies.

The United States had been far too friendly with atrocious regimes in the Middle East. And when bloodletting inevitably broke out, either internally or between aggressive regimes, too often we cynically played one side off the other. Or we backed repugnant insurgents, with little thought of the "blowback" that would result. We outsourced sophisticated arms and training to radical Islamists fighting against the Soviet-backed Afghan government.

We hoped the murderous Saddam might check the murderous Iranian theocracy -- and then again sold arms to the mullahs during the Iran-Contra affair. We breezily called for an uprising of Shi'ites and Kurds only to abandon them to be slaughtered by Saddam after the first Gulf war. We cynically gave the Mubarak dynasty of Egypt billions in protection money to behave. While we thought we were achieving short-term expediency, American policy only increased long-term instability by not pressuring these tyrants to reform failed governments.
I put this here because of a discussion I've been having with Wodge. He has pointed out, as have many others, that the US record in supporting dictators of Saddam's ilk is not a reassuring one. Agreed, though I don't find this as heinous as he obviously does. This is especially so in the Middle East where you choice of rulers is not of the widest. However, there is a more important point.

The alternative to the Bush doctrine of "trying to help democratic reformers" is the old 'realism' outlined by Hanson above. That is, from a range of nasties, you help the nasty least dangerous for your own interests. The alternative is not, as is often implied, leaving them all alone because that would be the decent thing to do. It would not.

The result would be, now more than ever, the growth of regimes not only antithetical to our values, but dangerous to their own people and to the rest of the world. With the Middle East on the verge of a nuclear arms race, with its unemployed, alienated masses of young men and a well-developed ideology and methodology for turning them into weapons, the prospect of the US withdrawing into itself is truly frightening.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Pre-emptive Censorship (cont)

Another book pulled before publication out of fear of 'Muslim anger'. From The Australian.

Scholastic Australia pulled the plug on the Army of the Pure after booksellers and librarians said they would not stock the adventure thriller for younger readers because the "baddie" was a Muslim terrorist.
The author, John Dale, has no doubts as to the publisher's motive.
"There are no guns, no bad language, no sex, no drugs, no violence that is seen or on the page," Dale said, but because two characters are Arabic-speaking and the plot involves a mujaheddin extremist group, Scholastic's decision is based "100 per cent (on) the Muslim issue".
The article also points out an unsurprising counter-example of editorial courage.
This decision is at odds with the recent publication of Richard Flanagan's bestselling The Unknown Terrorist and Andrew McGahan's Underground in which terrorists are portrayed as victims driven to extreme acts by the failings of the West.

The Unknown Terrorist is dedicated to David Hicks and describes Jesus Christ as "history's first ... suicide bomber".
(via Pajamas Media)

I have updated my list. (Or click on 'Pre-emptive Censorship' under Favourites in the sidebar.)

Friday, November 24, 2006

Dead priests in Anatolia

Joshua Treviño gives a bit of background on Turkey as the Pope prepares for his visit. Among other titbits, four Catholic priests have been attacked this year due to the usual 'Muslim anger' and Turkish police charged 293 people with "missionary activity" between 1998 and 2001. Turkey does seem to have a wide-ranging legal system.

He's going to be there for the Pope's visit. He says he was present in New York and London for both the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks, which makes me wonder why someone doesn't stop him travelling entirely. He seems to know what he's talking about. I think it will be worth visiting Pope and Patriarch regularly over the next few days.

The battlefield of the media

Michael Totten warns that the US army's incompetence in handling the media will cost us dear in Iraq and Afghanistan. I must admit that, before reading this I was ready to put down the distortions in the media image of events there to bias, the nature of television and the usual Western self-hatred. Totten makes it clear that the American authorities do bear some of the blame.

By way of contrast, he gives an example from the other side. When Zarqawi began his web-broadcast beheadings, Zawahiri wrote to him to stop.

However, despite all of this, I say to you: that we are in a battle and that more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. And that we are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of our Umma. And that however far our capabilities reach, they will never be equal to one thousandth of the capabilities of the kingdom of Satan that is waging war on us. And we can kill the captives by bullet. That would achieve that which is sought after without exposing ourselves to the questions and answering to doubts. We don’t need this.
(Emphasis added)

Prince Caspian, CS Lewis

I have a history with the Narnian books. Many, many years ago, I read them when I was quite a bit older than their 'target audience' and decided as a result that I wanted to study English Literature. If you had asked me last week why they should have had this particular effect on me, then I really wouldn't have been able to answer. More from what other people had said and written than from my own memory, I had built up an image of rather stuffy, preachy books written by a man with very precise intentions with regard to his reader, intentions I was not willing to welcome.

I read Prince Caspian because Son No2 (11) had just read it and, in the spirit of parental support and encouragement and positive reinforcement of desirable behaviour, I promised him that I would read it, too. Remembering nothing from my first reading 30 years ago, I was very impressed.

First, the narrative voice. Yes, he does address his reader directly. "The worst of sleeping out of doors is that you wake up so dreadfully early. And when you wake up, you have to get up because the ground is so hard that you are uncomforable." However, I didn't find it at all condescending. In fact, it had the opposite effect: it was involving in that he assumes you know what he is talking about because he is talking about things that we have all felt or wanted to feel. "It was not like the silly fighting you see with broad swords on the stage. It was not even like rapier fighting which you sometimes see rather better done. This was real broad-sword fighting. The great thing is to slash at your enemy's legs and feet because they are the part that have no armour. And when he slashes at yours you jump with both feet off the ground so that his blow goes under them." He gets on the child's side by acknowledging what they have already thought about stage fights and then adds a little bit of information that they might have picked up, but probably not. Yet it is the kind of detail that little boys' imaginations (in particular) are avid for and it both compliments the reader and leads him into the scene. The next sentence begins, "This gave the dwarf an advantage...".

His descriptions are simple, often to the point of being schematic, but this is a virtue in an adventure story. The action sequences are strongly marked by the sympathies of the writer and reader; once again, a virtue in that they are not the point of the story. The point of the story is the moral journey undertaken by the children, and that is centred on a sequence in which the opinion of others is all important.

The children are trying to make their way to where Prince Caspian is desperately beseiged by the forces of his uncle. They try a shortcut and get lost. Lucy, the youngest and therefore the most clear-sighted in the important things, glimpses Aslan, who seems to be beckoning her to follow. Her attempts to persuade the others are futile and they continue on their way, almost to disaster. That night when all the others are asleep, Lucy sees Aslan again and this time speaks to him. She must try once again to convince the others to believe her, but if they don't, and this is more than possible, she must be prepared to follow him alone. This time she is successful, though only just. They follow resentfully and only gradually, one by one, do they themselves see Aslan.

You don't need to be a Christian, or a believer, to appreciate the effect and truth of this. It must be a great comfort to a lonely child. You should not think that it is hammered into the skull of the reader, either. It occurs quite naturally in the story.

One further aspect struck me mainly because I had read Pope Benedict's Regensburg Address and remembered his point about faith and rationality and the connected one about Christianity being born as an amalgam of Judaism and Greek thought. That arrival of Aslan after many centuries is celebrated with a wild dance initiated by pale birch-girls, willow-women, shaggy oak-men, lean and melancholy elms and shock-headed holly all succeeded by people dancing round a youth "dressed only in a fawn-skin, with vine-leaves wreathed in his curly hair". He was, in the words of Edmund, "a chap who might do anything - absolutely anything". Significantly, there are "a lot of girls with him, as wild as he" and "an old man on a donkey". The romp is unrestrained and completely unpredictable and it brings forth vine leaves, then vines and then wine. As it fades, Susan, who has just stood and watched with Lucy, says, "I wouldn't have felt safe with Bacchus and all his wild girls if we'd met them without Aslan." Lucy replies, "I should think not."

Obviously, it is not the rationality of the Greeks that Lewis is depicting here, but something far older. In modern terms, I would call it the intensity of life, material life, lived to the full. The fear that the children feel is well-grounded. As the wine should remind us, such closeness to the springs of life comes with the spilling of human blood in sacrifice to the greater natural forces that it celebrates. Aslan does not destroy those forces, but contains them, makes them safer.

The contrast with Tolkein is obvious in that The Lord of the Rings recalls a pre-medieval and medieval world - the classical world is almost entirely absent. In a way, Lewis was more ambitious in that he depicted the classical and Christian in order to to elevate both. He does so without explanation, but leaves it as something to be investigated further. It is, perhaps, the mystery he leaves that drew me to study literature.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Truly scary

Gideon Rachman has an off-the-record interview and is surprised. He outlines the interviewee's background and his own expectations of someone

with longstanding and continuing involvement in the Middle East peace process and personal knowledge of all the major protagonists. So I expected him to say something like this: “The situation is worrying, but there are areas we can make progress in. In particular it is vital to make a new effort on the Israeli-Palestinian problem and to engage Iran and Syria.”
That was from a post on the 9th of November. He mentions the same point in a post today because a commenter had complained about the 'neo-con' nature of the interviewee's views. Rachman reiterates that
the whole point of that reported conversation was precisely that it did not come from the usual neo-con suspects, but from someone with impeccable peacenik credentials. Over the past months I’ve heard similar views not just from the Americans and the Israelis, but from the French and from non-aligned diplomats involved in peace efforts.
What are those views? Well, very similar to those of Walid Phares in the World Defense Review that I posted yesterday. And that, too, is the point.

The interviewee sees the major destabilising force in the region
as an expansionist and over-confident Iran, that is bidding for regional dominance. In his opinion the war in Lebanon over the summer was the “first Israel-Iran war in all but name.” He believes that there will be further Iranian-Israeli wars – perhaps next year.
He believes that
Hizbollah unleashed the fighting, more or less on the direct orders of Tehran. Under pressure because of their nuclear plans, “the Iranians wanted to show that they could destabilise the region just like that”. The Iranians are also using their nuclear programme to further their regional ambitions. A regional nuclear arms race is already beginning.
He has met Ahmadinejad
and describes him as “truly scary”. He adds that he is used to dealing with populist Arab leaders, “but when you talk to them in private, they are usually quite reasonable and rational. Ahmadi-Nejad is not like that.” His impression is that Ahmadi-Nejad is now calling the shots in Iran, and has intimidated the moderates into silence: “They are all scared of him.”
The Saudis, the Jordanians and the Egyptians have told him that they expect all this to end in war. Not only that
They are also much more concerned about Iran than Israel, because “they know that Israel is not really an expansionist power”. Indeed the moderate Arab states would like to form a de facto alliance with Israel to contain Iran – but opinion on the “Arab street” prevents them from doing it.
And finally,
The next round of the struggle will kick off internally in Lebanon.

Only we can ...

The Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, at the dedication of Ohel Devorah (a new synagogue), in Melbourne on the 9th of November.

As a speaker, he's no Tony Blair, but what he says is worth listening to.

Sometimes they have to be defeated them in the battlefield. But in the end we, as what I might broadly describe as a Western society, can decide whether we will defeat these people or whether we won’t. We can make that decision...

Only we can allow them to make progress, gain ground by sending a message to them that we can be defeated by showing a lack of will, by showing a lack of determination.
He has a concrete example.
I find and I’ve been doing this today as we cast our votes in the United Nations against some of what I call the extreme Palestinian resolutions. I mention this today because at Melbourne airport I was signing off on how we would vote on a number of these resolutions that are coming up over the next couple days.

These resolutions are deeply anti-Israeli, deeply anti-Israeli, and big majorities always carry them. And we are always being told, the best thing for diplomacy is to: all right minister, you don’t like the resolution, but in the interests of diplomacy why don’t you abstain? And I say, let’s vote against it because it is wrong.

And the more we and other countries stand up to this sort of behaviour, the more we stand a chance of success… the more we try to appease, the more we will encourage. And it is enormously important to remember that.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Chai and cigarettes

This is from Martin Fletcher of The Times, which is how he refers to himself throughout the article ("A convoy of five US military humvees... sped The Times to a large compound on the northeastern edge of Ramadi").

While the world’s attention has been focused on Baghdad’s slide into sectarian warfare, something remarkable has been happening in Ramadi, a city of 400,000 inhabitants that al-Qaeda and its Iraqi allies have controlled since mid-2004 and would like to make the capital of their cherished Islamic caliphate.

A power struggle has erupted: al-Qaeda’s reign of terror is being challenged. Sheikh Sittar and many of his fellow tribal leaders have cast their lot with the once-reviled US military. They are persuading hundreds of their followers to sign up for the previously defunct Iraqi police. American troops are moving into a city that was, until recently, a virtual no-go area. A battle is raging for the allegiance of Ramadi’s battered and terrified citizens and the outcome could have far-reaching consequences.
What is refreshing in this story is the way that al-Queda committed the error that the Americans are always (at least accused of) committing: not understanding local conditions. They managed to antagonise the local bigwigs, not surprising really since, like the old Left, they are the vessels of The Truth.
"They were not respecting us or honouring us in any way, said Sheikh Sittar, speaking through an interpreter.” Their tactics were not acceptable.”
The Americans, on the other hand spent time “hundreds of cups of chai and thousands of cigarettes” on building a relationship that could be fundamental in the struggle for Iraq.

(via Instapundit and The Fourth Rail)

The smoking phone?

Is this article from Ya Libnan just the usual Middle Eastern rumour-mongering?

Kuwaiti Newspaper Alseyassah has reported that a SANA (Syrian Arab News Agency) editor has contacted a Lebanese pro-Syrian newspaper 55 minutes prior to the assassination of Lebanon’s minister Pierre Gemayel inquiring about details of his murder.

The call took place at 3:05 pm Beirut local time. Alseyassah did not name the Lebanese newspaper to protect its identity.

The Alseyassah added that the Lebanese newspaper was extremely surprised about SANA’s call which prompted the SANA reporter to call 10 minutes later and apologize for the original call.

Syria/Iran on the offensive in Lebanon

What's going on in Lebanon? Walid Phares in the World Defense Review seems to have said it a week ago.

1. ...the aim of Hezbollah's summer war with Israel, was to provoke a "strike-back" at the Lebanese Government and reshape the balance of power in Lebanon to the advantage of the Teheran-Damascus axis. Nasrallah and his allies across the sectarian divide aimed at shifting the issue of disarming Hezbollah and militias (according to UNSCR 1559) to crumbling the government, which is supposed to implement this disarming process.

2. By mid-October, Hezbollah and its pro-Syrian allies had begun a political counter offensive aiming at "enlarging" the Seniora cabinet, as a way to paralyzing it further from the inside. The political discussions took longer than anticipated by Hezbollah. Hence, a decision was made in Tehran (and subsequently in Damascus ) to move forward.

3. The perceived results of the midterm elections in the U.S. were read as positive by Tehran and its allies, in the sense that it froze vigorous reactions by the U.S. against any Iranian-Syrian move in Lebanon via Hezbollah. The feelings in Tehran and Damascus, have been that if in the next weeks and months a "thrust" takes place in Lebanon to the advantage of the pro-Syrian camp, Washington will be in no position to react or counter. Ahmedinijad and Assad believe (or have been advised to believe) that "lobbies" are moving in Washington and Brussels to restrain any strong deterrence by the U.S. against the "axis." The theory is that the Bush Administration is too busy "negotiating" with the new leadership in Congress to "dare" a mass move in the Middle East. The analysis also predicts that strong lobbies within the Democratic Party are now positioned to block any serious response to a change in geopolitics in Lebanon. It is believed that the window of opportunity won't be too long before the Administration and the upcoming Congress "understands" the Tehran-Damascus maneuver and create a unified response. Thus, the expectation is that Hezbollah and its allies were told to achieve their goals before the end of the year, and before the new Congress begin business on the Hill.

4. Hezbollah has mobilized its forces from all over the country to position them in the capital and eventually use them in moves in Beirut, the central and southern part of Mount Lebanon, where most government institutions are located. Nasrallah can also bring into "battle" the supporters of General Michel Aoun, the Syrian National-Socialists, the Baathists, and the pro-Syrian Sunni militias, the Islamic Fundamentalists paid by Syria, the Palestinian radicals and the security agencies still under the influence of Syria. This "huge" army can – technically – defeat the thin internal security forces of the government. The Lebanese Army is an unknown factor, with Hezbollah supporters in control of the military regions in the south, the Bekaa, southern suburbs and other positions. In short, the "axis army" is ready to engage in battle in Lebanon. The issue is when, how, and with what outcome.

5. The projected scenario is as follows: Hezbollah and Amal movement ministers will resign from the Government calling for the resignation of the Government. The next move is to have Hezbollah, Amal, and their allies in the Parliament also resign, thus creating "conditions" for what they will coin as new elections and a collapse of the cabinet. Most of these moves have already been accomplished or are on the eve of being implemented. The pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud will declare the Government and the Parliament as "illegitimate," and call for early legislative elections. The latter, if they take place will be under the smashing influence of Hezbollah's weapons (a show of force was performed in the summer) and of the cohorts of militias and security agencies. Result: a pro-Syrian-Iranian majority in parliament, followed by the formation of an "axis" government in Lebanon. The rest is easy to predict: A terrorism victory.
Sounds bang on to me. No mention of assassinations, though.

(via Dinocrat)

Coup d'etat underway in Lebanon?

From Ya Libnan

"The office of the state minister for parliamentary affairs, Michel Pharaon, in the Ashrafieh neighborhood was the target of gunshots today from gunmen in a white Suzuki car," according to a statement by the minister's office. "The security forces cordoned off the area and is carrying out the necessary measures to identify the culprits," who fled the scene, it said.

The assassination of Pierre Gemayel means that two more ministers need to resign or be killed in order to bring down the anti-Syrian government.

Pharaon is a Greek-Catholic Christian MP from the bloc of anti-Syrian parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The misconduct of foreign peoples

I have been unable to extend the practice of virtue to different regions, and I brood with anxiety upon the misconduct of foreign peoples. Therefore I am not yet able to dispense with defense measures...
The Chinese Emperor, Wen, who reigned from 179 - 157BC and had trouble with barbarians from the North who broke through the Great Wall, burned cities and enslaved their inhabitants.

Monday, November 20, 2006


Fitting epigraphs for Son no 1 (21 years in the getting of wisdom):

It wasn't my fault.

Then I thought, 'what's the point?'

France, its Arabs and the Jews

At Augean Stables, a fitting subject: France, the Arabs and the Jews. He quotes from a WSJ review of Betrayal : France, the Arabs, and the Jews by David Pryce-Jones. (The review is available only to subscribers.)

Pryce-Jones' book is really about the Quai d’Orsay, or Foreign Ministry and its immense power.

Under the Third and Fourth Republics — from 1870 to 1940 and then from 1945 to 1958 — the foreign ministry took advantage of a succession of weak cabinets to impose its own idea of France’s role in the world. Under the Fifth Republic — i.e., the current, presidential regime founded by Charles de Gaulle — the Quai d’Orsay virtually seized the executive’s diplomatic powers.
To what end?
Ever since Waterloo, the French foreign service’s self-imposed mission has been to restore French grandeur and to resist Anglo-Saxon “hegemony,” whether British or American.
Find better friends
A corollary to this grand sense of national mission is the Quai’s conception of France as “an Arab power” or “a Muslim power.” During the heyday of European colonialism, such a self-conception meant carving out of Egypt, North Africa and the Levant an equivalent to British India. Today it means nearly the opposite: either serving the interests of radical Arab or Muslim governments or promoting the fusion of Europe and the Muslim world into an Islamic-dominated “Mediterranean” civilization.
Give practical help
Mr. Pryce-Jones describes how, immediately after World War II, senior officers in the French foreign service conspired to rescue Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the former mufti of Jerusalem, who had taken up residence in Nazi Germany during the war and who was answerable, upon Germany’s defeat, for various war crimes, including active support for the extermination of the Jews. The French, having sheltered him in Paris for months, eventually let him escape to Egypt in 1946 carrying a forged passport.
Accept the comeuppance
The Quai’s flirtation with Islam over the years resulted in official France turning a blind eye to the mass immigration of Arabs and Muslims. The result, today, is street violence, ethnic rioting and terrorist activity.

Friedman: Economic freedom

On economic freedom and the separation of powers:

The reason it is important to emphasize this point is because intellectuals in particular have a strong bias against regarding this aspect of freedom as important. They tend to express contempt for what they regard as material aspects of life and to regard their own pursuit of allegedly higher values as on a different plane of significance and as deserving special attention. But for the ordinary citizen of the country, for the great masses of the people, the direct importance of economic freedom is in many cases of at least comparable importance to the indirect importance of economic freedom as a means of political freedom.

Viewed as a means to the end of political freedom, economic arrangements are essential because of the effect which they have on the concentration of power. A major thesis of the new liberal is that the kind of economic organization that provides economic freedom directly, namely, organization of economic activities through a largely free market and private enterprises, in short, through competitive capitalism, is also a necessary though not a sufficient condition for political freedom.

The central reason why this is true is because such a form of economic organization separates economic power from political power and in this way enables the one to be an offset to the other. I cannot think of a single example at any time or any place where there was a large measure of political freedom without there also being something comparable to a private enterprise market form of economic organization for the bulk of economic activity.

The fascist ain't necessarily racist

Mary Kenny asks for precision in the use of fascist and racist. (Worthy, but bit late, I'd say. Can there be two words more abused in the political lexicon? We used to laugh at American rednecks seeing commies under the bed; why isn't the same joke made of those who throw the word fascist about in just as stupid a way?)

A Fascist may be a racist but he is not necessarily so; a racist is not always a Fascist either. The Spanish dictator Franco was a Fascist but not a racist: in the 1930s, the left-wing New Statesman disparaged Franco as a “negrophile” (he employed Moroccan troops with gusto). And Franco gave asylum to more Jewish refugees than democratic Sweden.

Fascism is the political philosophy of the authoritarian, corporate and militarised state and is historically hostile to capitalism.

The white South African regime was assuredly racist — the South African Communist Party had for its slogan “Workers of the World Unite For a White South Africa” — but the Boer tradition was not fascist. It was, as between their own group, democratic and egalitarian. And anti-monarchist, too: the Dutch Calvinists regarded monarchy as a form of “idolatry”.
(via Harry's Place)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Autumn leaves

North Cheshire - two oaks
I've almost caused accidents this autumn. The passing show of leaves has been like an enchantment that draws you on with yet another shade of yellow or brown and the warming glow of a fire that does not burn. My wife says it's been too dry for the spectacular reds, but who needs spectacle when you can have the warmth of these Middle Earth colours?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Life has never been normal

I came across this quote from CS Lewis while reading an essay by Roger Kimball called The Fortunes of Permanence. It is from a sermon delivered in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, in September, 1939. It was a sermon delivered to young men (mostly) who must have been wondering what they were doing studying while the country was under threat. That is not quite our case now, but I think it is worth recalling what Lewis says about "normal life" for another reason - to rid ourselves of the assumption that what we have is permanent, or in any way guaranteed.

I think it important to try to see the present calamity in a true perspective, The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure the search would never have begun.

We are mistaken when we compare war with "normal life". Life has never been normal. Even those periods which we think most tranquil, like the nineteenth century, turn out, on closer inspection, to be full of cries, alarms, difficulties, emergencies. Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right.

But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. They wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moment that never come. Periclean Athens leaves us not only the Parthenon but, significantly, the Funeral Oration. The insects have chosen a different line: they have sought first the material welfare and security of the hive, and presumable they have their reward. Men are different.They propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffold, discuss the last new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache; it is our nature.
I found this further on in the speech.
[W]e may have a duty to rescue a drowning man, and perhaps, if we live on a dangerous coast, to learn life-saving so as to be ready for any drowning man when he turns up. It may be our duty to lose our own lives in saving him. But if anyone devoted himself to life-saving in the sense of giving it his total attention --so that he thought and spoke of nothing else and demanded the cessation of all other human activities until everyone had learned to swim -- he would be a monomaniac. The rescue of drowning men is, then a duty worth dying for, but not worth living for. It seems to me that all political duties (among which I include military duties) are of this kind. A man may have to die for our country: but no man must, in any exclusive sense, live for his country.


[T]rying to change what you basically are is like “walking north on the deck of a south-bound ship.”
From John Derbyshire's November Diary (for NRO). He's not sure who to attribute the quote to: Elizabeth Bowen or Rose Macaulay.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The raising of Gomorrah

Earlier this month, I posted about Roberto Saviano's Gomorra, his tracing of the business of the Camorra in every part of Southern Italian life, an exposé that has earned him ostracism and a police escort. Michael Ledeen in NRO describes some of the ways the Camorra makes its money.

The newspaper accounts are way behind the times in their description of the camorra, for they routinely list its primary activities as drugs, prostitution, extortion, and public works. Some of the better Italian journalists have pointed out that the mob runs at least one third of the security companies in town, including a big chunk of the armored trucks that carry money and financial documents. They don’t need to steal, they simply control the cash. And the old protection racket — forcing shop owners to pay a fixed amount each month to guarantee they won’t be robbed or mugged — is also old hat, since the camorra either directly or indirectly controls roughly half of all retail outlets in the city.

The traditional picture of organized crime also ignores some of their most lucrative criminal enterprises, as for example the billion-dollar clothing industry, described in detail in a recent Italian best-seller, Gomorra, written by a 28-year old Neapolitan journalist named Roberto Saviano. Camorra companies in and around Naples produce tens of thousands of high-end branded clothes, including labels like Armani and Versace. Just like the authentic products, these are hand-stitched by skilled tailors, and are in fact indistinguishable from those manufactured at the official factories. Same materials, same quality, same label. The knockoffs are sometimes added to legitimate shipments, sometimes simply delivered directly to buyers in and outside Italy. Customers have no way of knowing where the clothes were made, nor, in many cases, do the producers know where their products are going. Saviano tells a moving story about a camorra tailor whose talent was the equal of anyone in the great fashion houses. One night he was watching the Academy Awards on television, and saw Britney Spears dancing in a gown he had made.
He also writes about why it is so difficult to overcome the Camorra and gives two examples of when it has been done.

Not fauxtography, but captious captions

This is an image published by Time with the following caption

The wreckage of a downed Israeli jet that was targeting Hizballah trucks billows smoke behind a Hizballah gunman in Kfar Chima, near Beirut. Jet fuel set the surrounding area ablaze.
The photographer, Bruno Stevens, had sent this
Kfar Chima, near Beirut, July 17, 2006 An Israeli Air Force F16 has alledgedly been shot down while bombing a group of Hezbollah owned trucks, at least one of these trucks contained a medium range ground to ground missile launcher.
You'll notice the shift from "alleged" to "downed Israeli jet" and that the reference to the missile launcher has disappeared in the published version. The Time caption just leaves it as "Hizballah trucks", which raises the question of how the Israelis would know that they were Hizballah, which in turn would lead you to wonder if they just targeted any trucks.

Bruno Stevens went back 3 more times and according to the evidence he gathered came to the following conclusion and so modified his original caption:
Kfar Chima, near Beirut, July 17, 2006 The Israeli Air Force bombed a group of Hezbollah chartered trucks parked on the back of large Lebanese Army barracks , at least one of these trucks contained a medium range ground to ground missile launcher, at least one missile was hit, misfiring high into the sky before falling down and starting a huge fire in the barracks’ parking lot.
Go here to Bruno Stevens' post about the matter and more photographs including ones of the barracks and of a truck with a missile launcher. A heated exchange follows in the comments.

(via Ninme and LGF)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

EU notices Choudhury

The European Parliament have noticed Shoaib Choudhury calling for his acquital. Its press release notes that

in 2006 three journalists were killed and at least 95 others attacked, and 55 press correspondents were the targets of intimidation because of articles considered to be ‘non-Islamic’. In the course of the year more than 70 journalists have been forced to flee the country.
The UK government could lend a hand here. The UK is Bangladesh's biggest donor of aid, amounting as it does to £125m a year.

Destruction amongst us

Abraham Lincoln, 28 years old, speaking in 1838 before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
To be clear, he was not talking about particular people. He was thinking of the American people, and how they themselves might allow decay to set in. The passion (as he puts it) that drove the original fight for freedom cannot now be relied upon.
Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence.--Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws.
(Emphasis in the original)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Did I just make a big mistake?

After my normal prolonged hesitation, I decided to switch to the new Blogger Beta. OK. Then I wanted to add the 'Friend of Israel' image to the sidebar. It seemed the best way to do that was to switch to a new template, which would then open up the wonderful possibilities of using the drag and drop facility for customising. Did so. Now, not only can I not see how to add the link to that little image, but I notice that my own list of links has disappeared and will need to be re-entered one by one. Obviously, my hesitation to change was not long enough.

Choudhury in court

Shoaib Choudhury does really seem to hold out no hope for himself. The opening day of his trial was Monday and he has written an account of it and published it in Israelinsider. Since what they want to hang him for is the fact that he considers Israelis people like anyone else and acts accordingly, his approach seems to be 'I might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb'. Or is he raising the stakes in the hope of attracting more international interest? If so, the best of luck to him.

He quotes the charge as read out in court.

"By praising the Jews and Christians, by attempting to travel to Israel and by predicting the so-called rise of Islamist militancy in the country and expressing such through writings inside the country and abroad, you have tried to damage the image and relations of Bangladesh with the outside world. For which, charges under section 295-A, 120-A, 124-A, 105-A and 108-A are brought against you."
The trial is set to resume on the 22nd of January.

An article by Janet Albrechtsen in The Australian about why this story is important, and what part Bangladesh might soon be playing in al-Queda's war.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Dignity and dependence

Quoted by Damian Penny from the book The New East End by Geoff Dench, Kate Gavron and Michael Young

....the whole moral order had become inverted by the emphasis placed by the state on individual need. For if what one gets out of the state is determined by need, rather than by what one has put into it, then dignity has gone out of citizenship. Dependency is encouraged, the principle of reciprocity has gone.
(via Damian Penny)

Scary Jesuits go C of E

An extraordinary editorial in La Civiltà Cattolica, the magazine of the Roman Jesuits, displays the clarity and logic you expect of Jesuits with a spinelessness we have come to expect of the Church of England.

It states that any attack on a Muslim nation will be taken by fundamentalist Muslims as an attack on the Umma, and is therefore to be resisted by armed action, or Jihad. It supports this reading by quoting the Universal Islamic Declaration, approved in 1980 by the Islamic Council of Europe, thereby linking the Jihadis with that esteemed group of moderates. The editorial goes to maintain that an Islamic state cannot by definition be democratic or secular, nor can it fail to declare Islam the ‘state religion’. It notes the fear on the part of radical Islamic movements of the temptations that Western hedonism and liberty hold for the young, and that thus the West "represents a very serious – even deadly – threat against the very survival of Islam."

Little to disagree with there. But the unnamed writer then goes on to make some recommendations. The second of them is that, because of the reaction it would provoke, we must "avoid political and military gestures that could appear as actions meant to combat, humiliate, and deride the Islamic peoples." Note that "could appear as". God, it's difficult to find 5 things that don't appear as provocation to many Muslims!

Very worryingly, they follow this with

a fair solution must be sought for the volatile Israeli-Palestinian question, which, according to the viewpoint shared by the entire Islamic world, is a serious wound, because the West has appropriated and given to the Jews an Islamic territory that is ‘sacred’ to Allah and belongs to Muslims ‘by divine law’ until the end of time.
They acknowledge that some Muslims don't think this, but then quote the Hamas Charter, which, as I am sure you do not need reminding, starts off with the demand that Israel be liquidated, and lays upon every Muslim the duty to work and Jihad so that that day come. The good writer then explains
This can require, not suicide – which is prohibited by Islam – but ‘martyrdom’, which, unlike suicide (held to be an egotistical act), is an altruistic action, carried out to defend the honor of Allah and the trampled-down rights of Islam: it is a ‘religious’ action which Allah repays with paradise.”
To apply the logic of this second recommendation: since it is a religious duty to wipe out Israel, and we must avoid any act that even appears to "combat, humiliate, and deride the Islamic peoples", it therefore follows that we must do nothing to impede the rightful duty of Muslims to wipe Israel off the map.

Sandro Magister has a fuller summary and comment on this ridiculous editorial.

Choudhury trial

Choudary's trial begins today with what "he himself believes to be the near certainty of a death sentence for sedition".

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Palestinian Authority - directed investment

The Palestinians have no money. Right?

Israeli intelligence has detected more than 20 tons of explosives being smuggled into Gaza this year, along with sophisticated antitank and antiaircraft missiles.
But government employees have been going for months without wages. Haven't they?
In June, while the Hamas government was already pleading inability to pay existing PA employees, it decided to increase the PA's payroll by hiring an additional 5,400 employees, mainly security personnel - read gunmen - affiliated with Hamas.
But if the US and the EU, which together virtually bankrole the Palestinian Authority, have cut off all their funds, where is the money coming from?
According to John Vinocur of the International Herald Tribune, the EU claims to have given $814 million to the Palestinians between January and October, "more than it would in a normal year."
The EU. Big surprise, but the money hasn't gone to Hamas, has it? It's been diverted through the office of President Abbas, and he's one of the good guys, isn't he?
Abbas's forces have demonstrated exceptional proficiency in handling certain types of attacks - namely, those directed at Western journalists and aid workers...In every such kidnapping the victims have been released unharmed, usually within 24 hours. And in every single case, this has been due to PA intervention - usually by Abbas's office.
Well, that's good, isn't it? If he can do that, then he can deal with Hamas and similar organisations, can't he?
Even during Abbas's 14 months in sole control of the PA, from January 2005 to March 2006, his forces failed to arrest so much as a single one of the terrorists who have launched Kassam rockets into Israel from Gaza every day since disengagement. Nor were anti-Israel terrorists of any other stripe - bomb-makers, gunmen, kidnappers - ever arrested, even when Israeli intelligence gave him information on which to act.
Mmm. There's something not quite right here. Right?

Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism

From a review of Dangerous Knowledge by Robert Irwin.

Nearly 30 years ago, the late Edward Said brought out his most famous book, Orientalism (1978). Till then, Orientalism had been regarded as simply the branch of European scholarship focusing on the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. But Said argued that it was, in fact, a highly politicized concept, the umbrella term for a kind of intellectual -- fostering racism, justifying Western interference in largely Muslim nations, and generally controlling how the West perceived the Middle East. It was, to use the now familiar academic catchphrase, a hegemonic discourse, reducing rich and vital cultures, peoples and religions to a set of patronizing stereotypes. As a scholarly discipline, Orientalism was rotten with bad faith or its students were the naive tools of a colonialist ideology.

The book proved wildly successful and made the young Said a star of the academy and of what has come to be called cultural studies. Indeed, Orientalism supported the central theoretical premise of many intellectuals at the time -- that the prejudices of dead white European males had utterly distorted and warped their scholarship, art, politics and human sympathies.

Robert Irwin, himself an Oxford-trained Arabist, doesn't buy this. He asserts in his introduction and argues in his penultimate chapter that Said's book, thinking and evidence are shoddy, unreliable and mean-spirited.
In fact, the book devotes only one chapter to Said. It is really a history of the historians of the Arabs and, to judge from this review, seeks mainly to 'defend their honour'. The reviewer does not go into Irwin's criticisms of Said. For a detailed demolition, see Keith Windschuttle's article from The New Criterion.

The review does, however, include some nice snippets.
He reminds us, time and again, that Jews have consistently been the greatest Arabic scholars, from the Hungarian Ignaz Goldziher (1850-1921), "the uncontested master of Islamic studies," to our contemporary Bernard Lewis. Above all, Irwin emphasizes what the late Albert Hourani (author of the bestselling A History of the Arab Peoples ) learned from his teacher Richard Walzer: "the importance of scholarly traditions: the way in which scholarship was passed from one generation to another by a kind of apostolic succession, a chain of witnesses (a silsila to give it its Arabic name)."
It seems as if at least this "apostolic succession" does still limp on despite the depredations of Said and his all-too-numerous acolytes.

Waiting for war

What is the proportionate response to 20-30 thousand rockets pointed at you, gathered and stored under the noses of those placed with international authority to police the situation, to be used by those sworn to your destruction? The Times.

“We assume they now have about 20,000 rockets of all ranges — a bit more than they had before July 12.” [Israeli intelligence officer]

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has confirmed the Israeli estimate. In a recent interview with al-Manar, the Hezbollah television station, he claimed his organisation had restocked its arsenal and now held at least 30,000 rockets, sufficient for five months of war.

On the border with Lebanon it is easy to understand Israeli concerns. A sniper from the Israeli 50th infantry brigade said last week that Hezbollah was active, although its members wore civilian clothes rather than uniforms.

Israel is alarmed at the burgeoning self-confidence of Nasrallah and what it perceives as his intention to undermine Lebanon’s fragile government and take over the country’s politics.

Talks in Beirut to defuse the crisis collapsed yesterday. Nasrallah has set a deadline of tomorrow for his demands to be met or he will stage mass demonstrations.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Weird power

Watch the first to appreciate the weirdness of the world when looked at closely, and the second for the political lesson in the final illustration - an example of a power law, if I'm not mistaken.

When you are weak

An excerpt from one of Michael Totten's readers, Ric Locke, reacting to the thread below (scroll down). He explains why, whatever the rights, wrongs, victims and oppressors of these 'situations' that we live among or read about, Islamism is doomed: in the real world, it expresses a culture that is nothing more than a parasite.

Let us speak for a moment of practicalities. Of realpolitik, if you will. alGhali, my name is Ric. I understand that means something amusing to you. I urge you to suppress that reaction.

I am, more or less in order of importance, an American, a Christian, a Texan, a military veteran, a Republican, and a descendant of American Indians. Whatever your goals are, you must convince me, and others like me, not to oppose them, or you don't have a hope in Hell.

The reason that is so is that you produce nothing for yourself. You and your people do not even make the explosives you kill people with; you must buy them from the West, or from the Persians. You and your people don't make the televisions you watch Nasrallah speak on; you must buy them from the Japanese and the Koreans. You don't make the studios or their equipment; you must buy them from us, or from the British or French. You don't make the cell phones you use as triggers for booby traps; you must buy them from the West, or again Japan and Korea. You don't make the pickup trucks that transport your "soldiers" to battle. You don't even make the guns you brandish so forcefully, or the ammunition you waste spraying at the sky. The rockets? Russia or Eastern Europe.

You don't even earn the money you buy those things with. You must depend upon the largesse, the generosity, of others, and if you believe that generosity is genuinely in your interest you are too stupid to take seriously, or else you depend upon Western desire for the oil, which was put there by Allah with no effort on your part; you did nothing to earn it.

We, on the other hand (and by "we" I mean the West and those who have copied us) make all those things. It is for this reason that we are strong. We learned, with the most painful lessons coming in the century just past, that both Mao and Machiavelli were wrong. Good soldiers may well get you gold, but for us gold is useful stuff for electronics and not much more; our wealth is elsewhere. The sort of power that flows from the barrel of a gun is transitory and not a little illusory. If you have the power of wealth, guns are so cheap they can be handed out to the likes of you for our entertainment. What we have learned is the deep truth of another aphorism: When you are strong you can forgive your enemies. When you are weak you can only kill them.

Honour and its acolytes

A fascinating exchange between Michael Totten and a "member or supporter of Hezbollah who calls himself Al Ghaliboon".

A couple of points from a very long exchange. Al Ghaliboon first talking about why they fight Israel.

It is not so much about pride as it is about sovereignty, freedom, and honour - in my opinion honour and vain pride are two different things. When America was hit by terrorist attacks, did it fold its arms and wait for them to hit again?
Notice the 'honour' - this and 'respect' run through the discussion. [Please see my posts on Traditional vs Modern societies and on the interviews with imprisoned French Jidhadists.] As some of the commenters say, it is useless making diplomatic concessions to placate wounded Honour - they are seen only as a sign of weakness and rather than pacify, lead to more violence. For Honour to be satisfied, the other side must be humiliated, if not destroyed. We find this difficult to comprehend because for our type of society to work, Honour and the group identities and loyalties it appeals to must be broken down, have their teeth pulled. This has not happened in Arab societies.

The US is therefore respected because it hit back after 9/11 just as its failure to hit back after previous attacks was taken as encouragement to continue attacking.

Further down, Michael Totten lets go with a warning that only 2 days later seems eerily prescient.
Anyway, the Israelis and the Americans are not who you need to worry about. If you keep dragging your country into destructive wars against the will of the majority, you may find yourself lynched in the streets. I try not to predict Middle Eastern politics and events, but I have met quite a number of Lebanese Christians and Druze who would love to strip you of your shirt and strap electrified jumper cables to your chest before dragging you through the streets by your nose. And this was before you blew up the country again. One of the reasons I opposed Israel’s invasion of Lebanon is because I knew it would make this horror show all the more likely to play itself out.

I don't think you have any idea just how nasty the animosity toward you is in your country. If you think we Americans are giving you a hard time on this blog, try pretending you're a Maronite who hates "dirty Shia" and hanging out in Jounieh and Achrafieh. I'll tell you what you can expect. One Lebanese guy I know (he reads this blog and he might even show up to say hi) told me he thought the American invasion of Iraq was stupid as hell but is glad it happened anyway. The reason he's glad? Because Zarqawi (he said this last year) is now free to run around Baghdad and massacre Shia. It can get that bad in Lebanon. It was that bad in Lebanon when I was two-thirds finished at my university. I'm only 36 years old. It is not ancient history.

If Geagea and Jumblatt give the orders to fight, you’re really screwed. All of Lebanon will be screwed. They, personally, have given orders to fight before. And their orders were carried out. If I were you, I would quit while I was “ahead” and not mess with them anymore.

Before and after

General Jamal Ahmed, commander of a 1,500-man brigade near Baghdad. And Colonel Stan Wilson, head of the American “transition team” helping to train the Iraqi brigade. From The Times.

“One hundred per cent we need the Americans in Iraq now,” Ahmed said last week in his office at the Taji base, 20 miles north of Baghdad. “The army can’t stand. We will be killed. We need training. Weapons. Equipment.”

“We’re not training them to be the US army,” Wilson said. “There’s not going to be a magic day when they’re ready. We’re training them to suffice.”

Ahmed says that although he cried when Saddam fell, it was because he felt dishonoured as a soldier who could not defend his country. Now he is proud.

“The difference is that the Iraqi army under Saddam fought the Iraqi people,” the general said. “The new army is fighting to protect the people.”


Unsurprising news from The Netherlands. For commentary, see Mark Steyn.

In the first nine months of this year, almost 100,000 people left the Netherlands to settle elsewhere, 12,000 more than the same period last year.

For the third successive year, the number of emigrants substantially outnumbers immigrants, the CBS said.

The net effect means the Dutch population was reduced in the 2004-06 period by 75,000. In the preceding three years, there was a positive net migration of 75,000.

In the first nine months of this year, 139,000 babies were born, a decrease of 3,000 compared with the same period in 2005.

If this trend continues, this year's birth rate will be under 185,000, the lowest number in two decades.
(via The Brussels Journal)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Nasty enough to win?

Spengler has written an apocalyptic essay that has two themes. Firstly, that this is a War of Civilisations. But rather than term it Christianity vs Islam, he would prefer the oppostion Traditional vs Revolutionary, in which the first is Islam, what he calls the "apotheosis of traditional society", and the second is the US, which is "a global avalanche of creative destruction that rips apart the bindings of traditional life". Strangely enough, Americans don't understand this and so don't understand the to-the-death opposition that confronts them in the Middle East.

Islam cannot withstand the final dissolution of traditional society that comes with the triumph of globalization. Its entire raison d'etre is a stubborn refusal to adapt, in the fashion that the Chinese have adapted, to a new world with new ground rules. To intervene in the Islamic world is to hasten the dissolution of traditional society and with it the world of Islam. For all his good intentions, Bush appears to Iraqis as the worst thing to visit them since the Mongols in the 14th century.
The second theme is one of those ideas that, in the US, you can discuss, but Europe recoils from even mentioning.
Alexander killed 230,000 Persians at Gaugamela in 331 BC against 4,000 Greek and allied dead. In ancient warfare the pursuers slaughtered the pursued, and the side that ran took all the casualties. Whole civilizations melted away before the onslaught of superior forces. The great error in Western policy is to imagine that anything fundamental has changed.
In other words, to strike 'surgically' may salve consciences, but is, in the end, not only inefficient, but self-defeating. Germany was reformable not because it was defeated, but because it was decimated. There was a point to Dresden. The Americans refuse to acknowedge this. Therefore they are doomed to failure.

I'm not sure what to think of all this. However, I know this. That in maintaining dominion, the squeamish are on the side of the enemy. And that what succeeds the dominion of one group is not universal justice, but the dominion of another. The British knew this. To quash a previous outbreak of Islamic enthusiasm, they fought the Battle of Omdurman (1898). In the army of the Mahdi, around 10,000 were killed, 13,000 wounded, and 5,000 were taken prisoner. Kitchener's force lost 48 men with 382 wounded. That is assymetrical warfare.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Don't react. Be mellow.

A sense of unreality invades my wan spirit and gradually, inexorably overcomes it. The BBC. Our BBC.

And all Palestinians would argue that Israel grossly over-reacts to the missile attacks from Gaza.

The crudely made rockets often cause panic and minor injury, but they very rarely kill.
Israel, don't worry. Yes, they are trying to kill you. They haven't managed yet only because they are socially and technically incompetent. But the Russians will help them out. Until then, why do you get so upset? It's so unreasonable.

(via Honest Reporting)

Court’s Decision in the Karsenty Case

An English tranlation of the text of the court's decision in the Enderlin, France 2 v. Karsenty regarding the al-dura film is now online at Augean Stables.

Richard Landes promises a commentary soon.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

It's salvation, stupid

There are some things we should all know. Such as, what happened at Auschwitz and what didn't happen in the Soviet Union and China.

There are other things we probably do know, but are not inclined to acknowledge. Such as, even when we do good, our motives are, at best, mixed, and that this usually doesn't matter. And then there's this. Martin Amis in a Time interview.

In the story you describe jihad as the most charismatic idea of Atta's generation. Do you really believe this?

It's self-evidently true. You're always onto a winner if you can persuade people they can be righteous and violent at the same time. Nothing beats that. Officially sanctioned violence is unimprovable. And with this paradise which they've stirred into the mix - whereby with an act of mass murder, you gain the keys - you've got a very attractive idea. Also, it gives the "nobody" a chance to play a decisive role in world history, and there are lots of people who are going to be drooling at the thought of that.

So you think that's what motivates terrorists?

I'm sure. I say in the story [that Atta] was in it for the killing, and I think that's another underestimated consideration: killing people is obviously terrific fun. It's a crude expression of power to kill people, and it's arousing.

That rings true. It doesn't explain everything, but it explains a damn lot and far more credibly than the self-flagellating grievances so many are keen to attribute to the brothers. Amis has words about that, too.
You've written that Western ideology is to blame for weakening the West in the war on terror. How?

Because moral relativism is so far advanced that we don't believe we can be right about anything. It just hasn't been accepted in the consciousness of the West that we have a fight with irrationality on our hands. Everyone's casting about, saying, "Why are they doing this?" And gooey-eyed newscasters on CNN say, "Why? Why this anger?" Paul Berman, the author of "Terror and Liberalism," calls this tendency "rationalist naïveté." [Terrorists] rejected reason. This is what Hitler did, and it's what Lenin did. They want to believe anything is possible, and they're not constrained by the laws of logic. This, plus the death-cult element, gives any movement a huge surge of isn't a matter of reason. It's a psychopathology. Their war is against God's enemies and it's meant to last for eternity, and how rational an undertaking is that?
Amis has spent a lot of time studying and writing about the Soviet Union. He is attuned to the ineffable core of nihilism that informs salvational ideologies. Unlike many in the West, he is not susceptible to its Siren call.

(via Norm)


Just as a counter-weight to the prevailing sentiment. About Donald Rumsfeld.

He's got a great bio: elected to the House of Representatives at age 29, worked his way through Washington for nearly two decades before departing for the private sector. There he turned around two companies that were failing, and by all accounts, he did so with panache.

Rumsfeld doesn't sit at a desk, choosing instead to stand all day between two tall tables. Another [article] noted his habit of frequently walking long distances to appointments in the capital, instead of hopping in his security vehicle - to the chagrin of his security detail. The man, while in his early 70s, would work 16 hour days, then routinely beat his subordinates at a squash game, then go home and spend his free time . . . writing a book for his wife about what a great person she is.
Go and listen to the Glenn and Helen Show as well to hear what Austin Bay and Jim Dunnigan have to say about Rumsfeld and his reform of the State Department and the armed forces. Both of them think he will down in History as one of the best Secretaries of Defence ever.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

High horse of principle

Later Downing Street said that Britain had reminded Iraq of the British Government’s opposition to the death penalty and asked it to consider that position.
This is one of those occasions when you can watch public figures going through the motions, doing what they have to do no matter what they think is right. Public life is not very adult in this. No principle is always right, and nor do you necessarily undermine a principle by acting against it occasionally. But in public life, the press would be back up on their moral high horse (do they ever get down?) shrieking at you, "You said ...., and now you do .....!!!"

How tedious.

Et in Arcadia ego

Dinocrat, in an excellent post on the attitudes of mainstream media journalists to their country, wonders if it is that they have lived protected lives.

Part of it comes from the media companies having been monopolies, with the tenured, arrogant cultures of monopolies — so at odds with the normal rough and tumble of business. Part of it comes from the cloistered oddness of living a life of being in school until adulthood, then graduating into a job the nature of which is to comment (from what standpoint of knowledge and experience?) on all the lives going on around you. Possibly most important, part of it comes from there being no obvious link between your product and your paycheck.
He extends the last point about what they get for what they do.
The structure of the compensation of a (young) journalist resembles in some respects that of a welfare recipient. It is thus no wonder that the attitude of some journalists is resentment towards an oppressive superstructure. They don’t feel themselves a part of the economy, the incredible wealth-creating machine of the last hundred years in the West. They see it as wholly other. Some journalists of our acquaintance are completely innocent of the knowledge of how America (and themselves) came to be so well off. They vaguely think it had something to do with Samuel Gompers and the New Deal, but their actual knowledge of the economy (and in a sense, their participation) is nil. It is no wonder that they, and the other cloistered and tenured welfare recipients in university humanities faculties, are so ignorant and suspicious and resentful.
His explanation is quite similar to that given by Robert Nozick to explain why intellectuals are so adverse to capitalism. For him, the decisive moment is the move from school, where intellect is rewarded with the top honours, to the Big World outside, where it is only one of many virtues, and by no means the greatest, that earn prestige. Resentment ensues.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Ergo Jihad

I would urge you very strongly to read this article by John Rosenthal in the Policy Review about the formation and thought processes of Islamists, in particular the subjects of a recently released study of several in French jails. Quand Al-Qäida parle: Témoignages derrière les barreaux (When al Qaeda Talks: Testimonials from Behind Bars) is based on interviews conducted by Farhad Khosrokhavar of the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, and to judge from the account here, it should be required reading.

I wish to make one specific point related to one of my recent posts, but first I will give a quick summary of what John Rosenthal says.

The study is another nail in the coffin of the idea that the root of Islamist terror is poverty and economic inequality. In the French study, the subjects are mostly "highly educated, well-traveled, and multilingual". Many, if not most, come from non-practicing households - their passionate belief is newly acquired. The one thing they all have in common is a fervent hatred of a nation that has committed unforgivable crimes against them: France.

The source of this hatred is both political and intensely personal. For one, the decisive moment came in Algeria in 1992, when the election result, which would have brought the Islamic Salvation Front to power, was overturned by a military coup. This was almost certainly backed by France; evidently, Mitterand had said that he would not tolerate a “fanatic state” at just an hour by plane from Paris.

More powerful than this is the exclusion felt by these men in France. For one, Ousman, Rosenthal likens it to a case of 'unrequited love'.

[M]y ideal was to be French, to act like the French: to have my wife, my kids, my car, my apartment, my house in the country, to become an average Frenchman and live in peace. . . . [E]ven before I had French citizenship or I had work, in my mind, I wanted to conform to the image of the average Frenchman, to be like them, to make myself in their image.
Ardent desire that turns to hatred.
They looked down on me, they treated me like I was nothing, they despised me. This contempt was killing me. Were we really so despicable? . . . I went back and forth between what I was and what I wanted to be: a little Frenchman. Whereas I was an Algerian. I was tortured by it.
But then came Islam.
Islam was my salvation. I understood what I was: a Muslim. Someone with dignity, whom the French despised because they didn’t fear me enough. Thanks to Islam, the West respects us in a certain way. One is scared of us. We’re treated as fanatics, as holy madmen, as violent people who do not hesitate to die or to kill. But one doesn’t despise us anymore. That is the achievement of Islamism. Now, we are respected. Hated, but respected.
This raises a very interesting question. They hate France. OK. That is based on experience and dashed hopes. They also hate the United States and Israel, of which none of them has had any experience. Yet
Time and again, an inmate, having provided an inventory of the sources of his frustration in France, suddenly announces his intention to purge the full charge of his hatred in fighting against Israel and the United States.
How does this transfer of hatred occur? What is the mechanism?

One sees on the television how the Israeli Army, with the help of America, mistreats the youth of the Intifada. When I see that, I want to go fight against them, against the Americans, against all those who repress Islam
Just watch the TV and the humiliation to which the Israeli army subjects the Palestinian chebab [youth]
When one sees on the TV how the Israeli tanks fire on youths armed with slingshots or Molotov cocktails and no one moves a finger. One asks oneself whether there is any justice in the world.
Rosenthal makes the same point that I made recently. That the nature of the images broadcast out of Gaza and the West Bank, their drama, their "false immediacy", their lack of context, their framing only of the 'victim' in the act of suffering, is such that they take on the status of an icon, or rather, of a call to action. These men are French speakers; the news they watch is French. It comes from TF1 and, more importantly, the state-owned France2, the employer of Charles Enderlin and the man who edited, interpreted and broadcast the al-Dura video.

Ousman says
I watch the tv every day and it hurts me a lot. . . . One watches it all on the tv when they mistreat the young Palestinians and no one does anything.
He associates the images he sees on the TV with
all injustice ... the sexual exploitation of children, the Americans who exploit Asia with their dollars, a girl who is prevented from wearing the veil. All of that drives me wild with rage.
Ergo Jihad.

A fair trial

Every accused has a right to a fair trial...His overthrow opened the opportunity to restore this basic right and, at the same time, to ensure, fairly, accountability for the crimes of the past. It is an opportunity missed.
Malcolm Smart of Amnesty International
How could you possibly give Saddam Hussein a fair trial? How could Iraq possibly set up a just judicial system three years after the overthrow of the man who had emptied it of all justice for 30 years?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

American interest in Shoaib Choudhury

Things are moving in the US for Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, editor and publisher of Dhaka’s Weekly Blitz. This article by Richard L. Benkin, Choudhury's long-time friend and supporter, details the sudden interest in mainstream America media for Bangladesh and the rise of the Islamists there. There are signs of movement in official circles, as well.

Even the US State Department, which only a few months ago supported the Bangladesh government, recently issued a stern rebuke over human rights violations, appeasement, and specifically over its persecution of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury.
The Washington Post, among others, has been making noises about the status of the $68 million in aid that the US sends to Dakar every year. The big date is the 13th of this month when Choudhury's trial resumes and "congressional sources" have promised "action".

It would be welcome.
The judge persecuting Shoaib recently said that he is not interested in evidence but wants Shoaib punished for “praising Christianity and Judaism.”

Friday, November 03, 2006

Not wanted here

Roberto Saviano published a book called Gomorra in May this year. It is a first-person account of the the Camorra at work in and around Naples. It's won prizes, sold 100,000 in Italy alone and has earned its author the sincere, though undesirable, attention of those he writes about. There's a well-practised process here.

The mafia normally shies away from prominent murders, preferring instead to operate in the Italian underworld. When the mob does choose well-known targets, careful preparation includes isolating their victim as much as possible.

The process seems to be well advanced in Saviano's case. In one restaurant, he was told "you are not wanted here." According to a report in the Belfast Telegraph, a shopkeeper whispered furtively, "Must you really keep on buying your bread in this shop?" A local newspaper has been critical of him in its coverage.
And far from keeping quiet for a while, at a recent 4-day 'festival' against the Camorra he stood on stage and shouted,
Iovine, Schiavone, Zagaria - you are worth nothing. Your power stands upon our fear. You must leave this land.
Not calculated to win the friendship of the powerful. Or, it seems, of Rosa Russo Iervolino, the Mayor of Naples, who, when presenting Saviano with the Siani Prize (named after a journalist shot 21 years by the Camorra), did so defining him as
a symbol of that Naples he denounces.
He now has an escort. Just as did Falcone and Borsellino.