Sunday, December 31, 2006

Post-secular Holland

Fascinating article on the rebirth of Christianity in (are you really surprised?) Holland. The evidence is both anecdotal and statistical, and includes these notable numbers:

[I]n the past decade, Muslim immigration has been overtaken by a larger stream of immigrants, namely Christians from Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe. An SCP estimate puts the number of Christian immigrants in Holland at around 700,000-- and rising fast. Recent immigration reports suggest that for every new Muslim moving to Holland, there are at least two new Christian immigrants.
The Africans are making a big difference, especially with their own brands of charismatic Christianity. But notably, the one age group whose church attendence is bucking the long-term Dutch trend is the under-30s. Other important factors: Dutch Muslims don't proselytise, but the Christians do; and the rise of one of the classic strategies of renaissance, that of going back to your roots, in this case in the form of Home Churches, in the manner of the first Christians.

I enjoyed Mark Steyn's America Alone, but found his prognostications of demographic doom for Europe a little over-wrought. I couldn't answer them at the time; I had no figures to hand. All I could muster was Chesterton's old nugget that History loves to cheat the prophets. But the figures for Christian immigration are just the sort of factor that will beggar his forecasts. At least, I hope so.

Radical head 1

What I am going to write in this post and others are notes towards answering a question that I have never been able to: how was it that so many intelligent, educated people, living in the most priveleged society ever known could defend for so long a regime (Soviet Russia) that was amongst the most murderous and backward in history? It is a question of more than historical interest because the mentality that defended Stalin's purges lives on today in the anti-Western tirades of so many members of the intelligensia. So many of the tropes and habits of mind that came to the surface then are still among us. It is a poison that has never been leeched.

These are, as I said, notes. They come principally from a book by Stephen Koch called Stalin, Willi Münzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals. This book does not answer my question, but it does provide some excellent case studies of how the subjection of Western intellectuals was achieved in specific instances. I am going to describe three: The Sacco and Vanzetti trial and execution; the Reichstag fire; the Popular Front.

In 1925, the American Communist Party was in a mess - it needed rescuing. Not that Lenin or Stalin after him had any illusions about fomenting revolution across the Atlantic; they were far too busy at home and in Europe for that. However, the American Dream was the great mythical competitor to the soviet Working Man's Paradise and so there was the need to find and establish an anti-American cause and rhetoric that would "instill a reflexive loathing of the United States and its people as a prime tropism of left-wing enlightenment". They found a cause that would both revive the Party and sully the United States. Sacco and Vanzetti.


During a robbery in 1920, two men were killed by the robbers. Two Italian anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were arrested, tried and condemned to death. Their anarchist comrades started a Defense Committee to finance the appeals and to make use of the case for propoganda, but by 1923 or so, the campaign had run out of steam.

Then Münzenberg got to work. It didn't matter that the condemned men were anarchists; what mattered was what could be done to reputation of the US by means of the slurs of racism and institutional injustice. A branch of Red Aid was set up in Chicago. Called the International Labor Defense, its prime task was to make the Sacco-Vanzetti case an international cause celebre. It did its task very well indeed.

Münzenberg had always seen the need to reach out far beyond the boundaries of the Party. The Soviet cause would be best served by those who, no matter how manipulated, were seen and saw themselves as 'independent'. He called them “innocents”, and this affair saw him reach out and gather them in their thousands both in the US and in Europe. Fund raising, meetings, propoganda, mass demonstrations, and bombings on both continents. Half a million dollars raised in the US alone ($6,000 of which reached the anarchist Defense Committee). Major cultural figures (the most useful innocents of all) got involved. In the US, Felix Frankfurter, later to sit on the Supreme Court, wrote a stinging denunciation of the trial in the Atlantic and so brought round many non-radicals to the cause and had a huge impact in Europe. HG Wells summarised the article and so set the tone among the right set here. He could not have known that Frankfurter's wife, Marion, had gained the almost constant companionship of a certain Gardner Jackson, who worked with Münzenberg's organisation at least until the War and whose charms, it seems, also led an infatuated Dorothy Parker to the Communist Party.

The success of the propoganda effort was very evident on the night of 22nd of August, 1927 - at midnight Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed. What followed was pandemonium - international grief and hysteria, like Lady Di, but with vandalism, barricades, looting (in Switzerland!), six deaths in Germany and the Red Flag sung outside Buckingham Palace.

Sacco and Vanzetti remains even today a cause and a rallying cry. I remember seeing an Italian film from the 70s or 80s which was, to say the least, impassioned and made you want to curse the people that put those two dignified men to death. I have said nothing about the presumed guilt or innocence of Sacco and Vanzetti because I don't think it really matters in this context. The point is the use that intelligent people could be put to by far more cynical ones, the terms on which the Russians had decided to fight the propoganda war, the use to which they could put the idealism of 'innocents', the way they could lassoo the West's own adversary culture to undermine it.

Katherine Anne Porter was a writer who joined the campaign for Sacco and Vanzetti. She was moved by their plight and hitched herself to the first group that came to hand. It was led by a woman who was anything but an innocent. They shared an exchange which, I think, epitomises the relationship between the innocent and the witting.

I remarked to our Communist leader that even then, at that late time, I still hoped the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti might be saved and that they would be granted another trial. "Saved," she said, ringing a change on her favorite answer to political illiteracy, "who wants them saved? What earthly good would they do us alive?"
The first chapter of Stephen Koch's book was excerpted in the New Criterion. Katherine Anne Porter's memoir and Felix Frankfurter's paper are available to subscribers of the The Atlantic. There is more on the Sacco and Vanzetti case here and here. According to the second, new information on the case surfaced as recently as 2005.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Two tones



This is great. I'm not sure why, but maybe because it plays with the idea of de- and re-constructing the body and therefore the self, which is an interesting notion regarding performers (or if you're Zelig) but just gets silly if you take it out into ordinary life. But it looks and sounds good.

The Battle of Lepanto

What happened at the Battle of Lepanto in August 1571? Here's a version by a Catholic writer using GK Chesterton's ballad Lepanto to spice things up.

Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight forever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade . . . .
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)
Check out what had just happened at Nicosia and Famagusta on Cyprus.

Ecobites

Exports up to record levels. Private companies up from 8,000 three years ago to more than 35,000 today. Number of luxury cars imported up from a few hundred in 2002 to more than 20,000 this year. Civil-servant salaries up by almost 30 percent, with a further 30 percent rise due to come into effect early next year.

It doesn't sound like Iraq.

Sorry. Could you say that again? Oh!

What did he say?

Debkafile

"Palestine is ours."
The Islamic Republic News Agency (Iran)
"Avoid engagement with Iranians."
Times
"God is great. The nation will be victorious and Palestine is Arab."
ToTheCenter.com
"Iraq without me is nothing."
Focus News, Bulgaria
“God is Great. Long live Iraq.”
New York Daily News
In his last words, Saddam urged Iraqis to forgive each other and warned them against "the Persians," said Munir Haddad, the judge who witnessed Saddam's execution. Saddam led Iraq into a disastrous eight-year war with neighboring Iran, formerly known as Persia.

"I spent my life fighting," Haddad quoted Saddam as saying.
Update
BBC
"There is no God but Allah and I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God. There is no God but Allah and I testify that Muhammad ..."

The Blogosphere

Richard Fernandez of PJM tries to analyse the Blogosphere and how it interacts with the MSM.

From his conclusion

The Internet revolution has created new structures of knowing, thinking and communicating. Those features are only now being exploited. They are destined to complement many aspects of the public intelligence system known as journalism over the next decade. The blogosphere contains potentially a very large number of information collectors, which raise events which occur in the physical world above a Horizon at which they become detectable on the Internet. It has also evolved a sophisticated network of watchers and analysts whose professional competence has no preset limits; analysts who are able to separate the signal from the noise. Finally, the blogosphere has a sophisticated and evolutionary system of grading the reliability and relevance of stories; it promotes stories of interest upward until they reaches the top of the Internet hierarchy within hours. From that apex, blogospheric memes can make the jump into the mainstream media and into the legal arenas of society.

... The blogosphere does not contain any preordained political or cultural bias. Structurally, however, it is extremely hostile to cant and disinformation. The political side which tells the most lies and falsehoods is likely to suffer more at its hands than one which hews more closely to the observable truth.
I wonder if the numbers are big enough yet. Though it seems absurb to say that anything between 55 and 100 million blogs may not be enough, the real point is how many readers they reach, or rather how many readers a particular meme reaches. One of the commenters (TigerHawk) points out that the Green Helmet Guy story would have been read by only about 1,000,000 people, if you calculate from the visits to Reynolds, Johnson, Malkin and Power Line. You might be able to add a few more readers if you include sites further down the feeding chain, but not a lot. I'm not sure a million is enough or even what number would be the tipping point. What would be a signal that the tipping point had been reached? The reaction of the MSM, or even of political leaders? How do you measure impact?

Friday, December 29, 2006

Clippings 4 - Eternal loop

By imputing none of his miseries to himself he continued to act upon the same principles and to follow the same path; was never made wiser by his sufferings, nor preserved by one misfortune from falling into another. He proceeded throughout his life to tread the same steps on the same circle; always applauding his past conduct, or at least forgetting it, to amuse himself with phantoms of happiness which were dancing before him, and willingly turned his eye from the light of reason, when it would have discovered the illusion and shewn him, what he never wanted to see, his real state.
Samuel Johnson's biography of Richard Savage
The man replied by talking about his childhood, his Islamic education. He had learned about the Jews from the Koran.
A Somali taxi driver in Seattle
In the past, they said: "Under no circumstances will we accept a state, unless it includes all of Palestine, because Palestine is a land of Islamic endowment." Fine. This doesn’t work. I can say: "We demand all of the land," and you will applaud me. This doesn’t work. This doesn’t work. This doesn’t work. There is a reality – either you acknowledge it, or you will get crushed...
Mahmoud Abbas

Behind the Wahhabis

Roger Simon has one of those illuminating moments which demonstrate that, no matter if across ethnic, religious or cultural barriers all people share so much, there are some tics that can only be picked up in particular places at particular times, some aberrations that are so irrational that future millennia will have to dig hard and deep to understand (let us hope).

In a taxi in Seattle, Simon got talking to the driver, a Somali, who with very little provocation launched into an impassioned attack on al-Queda. He called it "a danger to all mankind" and said it was backed by Saudi Wahhabi money.

He didn't just leave it there. He explained as well who was behind this violent takeover of his religion; ie who was behind Saudi Wahhabism.

Who? Well, it's obvious, isn't it? The Israelis. How did he know this?

The man replied by talking about his childhood, his Islamic education. He had learned about the Jews from the Koran. That was the truth, of course.
See my post on Ayaan Hirsi Ali's recent piece on the Holocaust and my exchange with Wodge in the comments.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Clippings 3

All three today are from the same source, an article in the New Criterion by Roger Kimball: Raymond Aron & the power of ideas.

"Skepticism is first of all the habit of examining evidence and the capacity for delayed decision. Skepticism is a highly civilized trait, though, when it declines into pyrrhonism*, it is one of which civilizations can die. Where skepticism is strength, pyrrhonism is weakness: for we need not only the strength to defer a decision, but the strength to make one. ["TS Eliot, Notes Towards the Definition of Culture]
"Freedom of criticism in the USSR is total." [Jean-Paul Sartre, on returning from Russia, 1954]
What Aron called the “Myth of the Revolution” (like the “Myth of the Left” and the “Myth of the Proletariat”) is so seductive precisely because of its “poetical” charm: it induces the illusion that “all things are possible,” that everything—age-old institutions, the structure of society, even human nature itself—can be utterly transformed in the fiery crucible of revolutionary activity. Combined with the doctrine of historical inevitability — a monstrous idea that Marx took over from Hegel — the Myth of the Revolution is a prescription for totalitarian tyranny.
*Pyrrhonism: Sceptical philosophy which doubts everything

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Clippings 2

To judge rightly of the present we must oppose it to the past; for all judgement is comparative, and of the future nothing can be known.
The History of Rasselas, Samuel Johnson
It's certainly got the old man's lessons, the ones you thought were so full of hooey. Remember when he told you, "Stick to it until it's done"? What did he know?

And then there was: "Get along with your boss. He's your boss because he's earned it." What a crock.

And then, "Don't whine, don't make excuses, just do the job." Boy, that one was a bummer. What was he, a Republican or something?

And finally, worst of all, the one nobody wants to hear, it hurts so much: "Work like hell." I hate that one.
'Pursuit of Happyness': An Uphill Climb That's an Exhilarating Breath of Fresh Air, Stephen Hunter
If you go to an Island Parliament in the Caribbean, if you go the parliament in Grenada, they’ve got their miniature Hansard, they’ve got their mace, they’ve got their wigs, and that is the kind of thing that Tony Blair wanted to abolish from the House of Commons at Westminster. The difference is that in Grenada, and St Kitts and St Lucia, they understand that all that stuff is what connects them to peaceful constitutional evolution across the centuries, and in that sense it is the difference between them and Cuba or Haiti, or these basket case states. They understand it but Tony Blair and Gordon Brown don’t, and David Cameron doesn’t.
Mark Steyn at the New Culture Forum

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Clippings

Some stuff that I've clipped into EverNote in the last few months.

And then England--southern England, probably the sleekest landscape in the world. It is difficult when you pass that way, especially when you are peacefully recovering from sea-sickness with the plush cushions of a boat-train carriage under your bum, to believe that anything is really happening anywhere. Earthquakes in Japan, famines in China, revolutions in Mexico? Don't worry, the milk will be on the doorstep tomorrow morning, the New Statesman will come out on Friday. The industrial towns were far away, a smudge of smoke and misery hidden by the curve of the earth's surface. Down here it was still the England I had known in my childhood: the railway-cuttings smothered in wild flowers, the deep meadows where the great shining horses browse and meditate, the slow-moving streams bordered by willows, the green bosoms of the elms, the larkspurs in the cottage gardens; and then the huge peaceful wilderness of outer London, the barges on the miry river, the familiar streets, the posters telling of cricket matches and Royal weddings, the men in bowler hats, the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, the red buses, the blue policemen--all sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs.
The final paragraph of Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell
Speaking to a Comintern packed with intellectuals, he pounded at his point: “We must organize the intellectuals.” The revolution needed middle-class opinion makers—artists, journalists, “people of good will,” novelists, actors, playwrights … humanists, people whose innocent sensitivities weren’t yet cauterized to nervelessness by the genuine white-hot radical steel. Lenin himself recoiled at this idea. Here were the people he loathed most—he who loathed so many people. Middle-class do-gooders? Bourgeois intellectuals clutching their precious “freedom of conscience”? Lenin would kill and imprison them by the thousands. It took him a while—until 1921—to consent to use them, too. “We must avoid being a purely Communist organization,” Münzenberg explained to his men. “We must bring in other names, other groups, to make persecution more difficult.”
"Lying for the truth: Münzenberg & the Comintern" by Stephen Koch
The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men's fatal striving to control society - a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.
Friedrich August von Hayek - Nobel Prize Lecture

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Birth

Duccio di Buoninsegna - The Birth of Christ from the predella of the Maestà (1308-1311) A wonderful Christmas to you, one and all.

Red and Green

Ryskind (via Wheat and Weeds)

Grey December

The Bollin 24 December 2006

Cold, grey December. Little prospect of snow. The mighty Bollin flows towards the sea. Four-year-old considers.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Strategies for failure

I don't think you need to be ideologically or pragmatically opposes to the Iraq War in order to acknowledge that it has, almost certainly, made things worse for the Christians who live in the Middle East. It could hardly be otherwise. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who has just been to Belthlehem, would not be doing his job if he did not speak up for them. So speak up for them he does in The Times

One warning often made and systematically ignored in the hectic days before the Iraq War was that Western military action — at that time and in that way — would put Christians in the whole Middle East at risk. They would be seen as supporters of the crusading West. At the very least, some were asking, shouldn’t we have a strategy about how to handle this?

Well, we didn’t have one. And the results are now painfully adding to what was already a difficult situation for Christian communities across the region. Iraq’s Christian population is dropping by thousands every couple of months and some of their most effective leaders have been forced to emigrate. In Istanbul, the Orthodox population is a tiny remnant, and their Patriarch is told by some of the Turkish press that it’s time he left. In Egypt, where Christian-Muslim relations have been — and still are — intimate and good, attacks on Christians are notably more frequent.
It should be said at the outset that the thrust of his article is to highlight the plight of Christians in the Middle East, and it is right that he should do so. What damages his plea severely is the narrowness of his vision and his adoption of the viewpoint of the 'Islamic victim'.

Firstly, I have been struggling for a while to think of what strategy we could possibly have adopted to 'handle' the situation. I have struggled and have failed to come up with one, apart from exodus, which is precisely the problem. Secondly, while it is undoubtedly true that the war is responsible to a large degree for the flight of Iraqi Christians, it is in no way responsible for the plight of the Turkish churches, which have been under severe pressure at least since the Young Turks. For a single example from many, see here.

At no time does he mention the real cause for Christian decline in the Middle East. In the mid-twentieth century, 80% of the population of Bethlehem was Christian; two thirds of them fled during the Jordanian occupation of the West Bank (1948 - 1967) and the numbers have been dropping ever since. A hundred years ago Christians made up 20% of Middle Easterners; now the figure is 2% and falling.

Actually, it is not just Christians, but all minority faiths in Muslim countries are in decline and have been for some time. It is notable that, while Muslim populations abroad flourish, non-Muslim populations within Islam show only negative growth. The only country in the Middle East in which the number of Christians is growing is Israel. Dr Williams gives no indication of all this. On the contrary, he goes out of his way to refer to harmonious historical relations between Islam and christianity
Muslim nations have a history of coping hospitably with Christians on their doorstep

....the healthier and saner relationship between the faiths that existed in many parts of the Middle East for long tracts of its complicated history.
Obviously, this licking-up to the Loud has a diplomatic function and as leader of a church with a death-wish, he can't afford to make any more enemies, but this beaming of the spotlight of blame only on Bush/Blair and, of course, Israel misses the point by a theological mile and only serves to prove that the Church of England is no longer capable even of that most basic of tasks, and the very task that Dr Williams is engaged upon here: that of looking after its own people.

Note: Dr Williams said yesterday that the Israeli-built wall around Bethlehem symbolised what was “deeply wrong in the human heart”. WTF?

Not in our name

What Hirsi Ali was asking for in Riyadh, Cairo, Lahore, Khartoum or Jakarta has at least happened in Washington.

Local Muslim leaders lit candles yesterday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to commemorate Jewish suffering under the Nazis, in a ceremony held just days after Iran had a conference denying the genocide.

After the speeches yesterday, Bloomfield invited the visitors to light candles to remember the Holocaust victims and Muslims who rescued some of the besieged Jews. One by one, the guests silently shuffled along the wallside bank of candles: the tall imam in his round Muslim cap, known as a kufi; a woman in a Muslim head scarf; Muslim men in business suits; and three elderly women in pantsuits from the D.C. suburbs, survivors of the genocide.

One of them, Johanna Neumann, recounted at the ceremony how Muslims saved her Jewish family. Members of her family had fled from Germany to Albania, where Muslim families sheltered them and hid their identity during the Nazi occupation.

"Everybody knew who we were. Nobody would even have thought of denouncing us" to the Nazis, said the tiny 76-year-old Silver Spring resident. "These people deserve every respect anybody can give them."
Even more important, this ceremony of light was brough about by a Muslim.
The idea for the ceremony originated with Magid, whose Sterling mosque has been active in interfaith efforts. After hearing radio reports about the Iranian meeting, "I said to myself, 'We have to, as Muslim leaders . . . show solidarity with our fellow Jewish Americans,' " Magid recalled after the speeches.
This is the first time I have heard of Muslims organising so publically to say 'Not in my name' in the face of an outrage committed by co-religionists. How come it can happen in the US and not elsewhere?

You may also like to read Anthony Julius and Simon Schama's response to Berger's call for yet another boycott of Israel. They show how the tired old rhetorical trope of comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa is fatuous, misleading and self-defeating, how the aims of such a boycott are meaningless and its motivation questionable. In other words, this latest call is just more blather from a group of people who lost all moral authority many years ago and have little to say that would help anyone, Palestinian or otherwise.

Friday, December 22, 2006

They make great Santas

UNIFIL soldiers hand out presents to Labanese students in Naqoura, South LebanonI don't wish to take easy pot-shots, but ... In addition to putting presents into the hands of children, has UNIFIL actually removed any weapons from the hands of Hezbollah fighters? Has the presence of the German or French warships stopped Syria re-arming Hezbollah?

"When a ship carrying weapons for Hezbollah leaves a Syrian port and heads south, its captain feels safe as long as he doesn't stray more than 11 kilometers from the coast," says Gad Shimron, an Israeli security expert who works for the daily Ma'ariv. The Syrian captain can head comfortably for Hezbollah positions in Lebanon, Shimron elaborates, as if he were shipping a cargo of tomatoes or olives, and the German navy isn't allowed to interfere with his journey.
Photo from Speigel Online here, and article from the same source here.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Wake up

Tony Blair speaking yesterday in Dubai.

There is a monumental struggle going on worldwide between those who believe in democracy and modernisation, and forces of reaction and extremism. It is the 21st century challenge. Yet a great part of our own opinion either thinks there is no common theme to it all; or if there is, is inclined to believe that it is our - that is America and its allies - fault that this is so.

In any other situation in which terrorists with almost incredible wickedness butcher completely innocent people, provoke sectarian conflict, spread chaos and despair, in almost any other situation we would say well our response should be to stand up and fight back. In Iraq, in Afghanistan, but seeping across the board, voices instead say: we shouldn't be involved: better leave well alone; it is none of our business.

Here are elements of the Government of Iran openly supporting terrorism in Iraq to stop a fledgling democratic process, trying to turn out a democratically elected Government in Lebanon, flaunting the international community's desire for peace in Palestine - at the same time as denying the Holocaust and trying to acquire a nuclear weapon capability: and yet a huge part of world opinion is frankly almost indifferent. It would be bizarre if it weren't so deadly serious.

We have in my view to wake up...

We should stop buying into this wretched culture of blaming ourselves, of pandering to a wholly imagined grievance on the part of those we are fighting. We should take on the nonsense that says when terrorists who claim to be Muslim kill innocent and true Muslims in Iraq or Afghanistan, that it is somehow the fault of American and British soldiers being present there.

We should proclaim what is so obviously correct, that what holds back the Palestinian people are not those of us striving to make a reality of a stable, viable Palestinian state next door to Israel, but those who pretend to champion that cause but deny the very two state solution that is Palestine's only hope of salvation.

Age of miracles hasn't passed

Ayman al-Zawahiri gets bored, converts to Christianity, is forgiven his sins and wishes all a Merry Christmas. But the old provocateur is still there to challenge us all. "Now I'm OK with God. How about you?" Produced by ScrappleFace Enterprise Institute.



(via Pajamas Media)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Utterances and actions

It is all very well for us to say that Islam is nothing of the sort, that it is in fact a very progressive, moderate and tolerant religion - which indeed it is - but why should the people of the world bother to go out of their way and spend their precious time to explore the authentic sources of Islam? They are going to judge Islam by the utterances and actions of Muslims, especially those actions and utterances that affect their lives directly, and not just by the protestations of academics and moderates, no matter how justified.
Pervez Musharraf, In The Line of Fire

History of games

Though I have never played a computer game of any sort, and probably never will, other people's descriptions of them, including No.1 Son's, have made me think that interactive games will be in the foreseeable future what the novel has been since the Victorians: the prime imaginative response to, and exploration of, the world and our part in it. For the moment, they seem bound by simple cause and effect and without the capacity for uncertainty and ambiguity that is necessary for any real empathy with a character or even understanding of the world. But it will come (if it hasn't already come unbeknownst to this benighted, and generationally-challenged observer).

What makes me sure it will come is reading the comments thread on a site called game+girl=advance, which my wife happened upon (after reading neo-neocon on Paul Robeson. Yes, there is a connection.) It starts with someone named Justin bemoaning the lack of a game that features

a politically conscious person with a passion for current events and human justice, an informed view of struggle and history, sings with profound passion - a voice filled with quivering depth.
As a model, Justin had in mind Paul Robeson. Paul Robeson singing I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night. The thread sets off with the central issue, basically the one I was writing about above, but then someone called Brain From Arous spoils the fun. He quotes an article that Robeson wrote in 1953 on the death of, and in embarassingly-naive praise of, Joseph Stalin. It includes such gunk as this
Here was clearly a man who seemed to embrace all. So kindly - I can never forget that warm feeling of kindliness and also a feeling of sureness. Here was one who was wise and good - the world and especially the socialist world was fortunate indeed to have his daily guidance. I lifted high my son Pauli to wave to this world leader, and his leader. For Paul, Jr. had entered school in Moscow, in the land of the Soviets.
Poor little bugger.

The other commenters are off then with this theme and shake it and wring it out. It is truly a rich vein. I will post soon about a book that explores this very area - the use and abuse of Western intellectuals and their righteousness on the part of one of the bloodiest and most cynical tyrants in history. But enjoy the thread. Games and games players impress me more and more. (But I'll probably stick to books.)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Do something but not that

This puts it beautifully.

The attitude of much of the outside world towards the United States could be summoned up in five words: “Do something but not that.” The sole superpower is both expected to have a policy for every square inch of Earth and condemned as the source of all evil for anything that goes wrong. The White House is supposed to convince Iran and North Korea not to pursue nuclear weapons programmes without issuing any threats against those states, eliminate the al-Qaeda menace through intellectual arguments alone and ensure that various African countries do not become failed states at the very same time. The United States is condemned for having “messed up” in the Middle East, yet at the same time is attacked for having not followed up this allegedly disastrous approach by intensive diplomatic engagement in the same theatre.
Read it all.

It reminds me of an Italian saying: Nulla è impossibile per chi non lo deve fare. Or, Nothing is impossible for those that don't have to do it.

What the article doesn't say is that if Europe is convinced that it could do it all better, it should invest €140 billion in the armed forces next year and get out and do it. The article doesn't say that because there's no point.

(via Ninme)

Irwin Cotler for Shoaib Choudhury

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, the Bangladishi journalist on trial for sedition, treason, and blasphemy (=criticising Islamic radicalism, but not Christians and Jews) has added a major human rights lawyer to his defence team. Professor Irwin Cotler, who has acted on behalf of Nelson Mandela, Andrei Sakharov, Natan Sharansky and Saad Edin Ibrahim and is a member of the Canadian Parliament, has already identified 8 violations of Choudhury's rights under Bangladeshi law and says that the charges against him are "unfounded in fact and wrong in law".

I posted about this here and here.

Abbas speaks for the grown-ups

At MEMRI, a video of the speech in which Mahmoud Abbas announces that he is going to call an early election. What's interesting is the way he frames the basic debate. The vision that Palestinian leaders have nurtured and proclaimed for almost 60 years deceiving their followers into ever greater folly is branded for what it is: an illusion, a lie. And then he rounds on Hamas, those who fly the banner of righteousness, the pure, the enacters of God's word. I'm sure you can imagine the rhetoric they use against the less holy, the less exalted. The word he uses for their actions is surely significant: terrorism (I'm relying on the translation here). Then he calls for the separation of 'church' and state, and says that relision is for "Allah in the mosques, the churches and the synagogues". I can't help noting that his audience sounds less than enthused.

In the past, they said: "Under no circumstances will we accept a state, unless it includes all of Palestine, because Palestine is a land of Islamic endowment." Fine. This doesn’t work. I can say: "We demand all of the land," and you will applaud me. This doesn’t work. This doesn’t work. This doesn’t work. There is a reality – either you acknowledge it, or you will get crushed...

These are illusions. I hope we will be dealing with facts rather than living in illusions, believing in our own lies and start chasing these lies, like the village fool Juha...

They began to say that the government operates by Allah's decree, and that this is divine will. In other words, you are not allowed to oppose it, because nobody opposes the will of God. Does any of you oppose the will of God? Nobody opposes Allah. Don't tell me your government represents the divine will and that I cannot oppose it. Don't we have a democracy? What is democracy? There is a majority and a minority. Some support the government and others oppose it. If you want to terrorise me and tell me this is the will of God, this is unacceptable. People who go on strike are traitors, and so are people who oppose or criticise the government because they criticise the will of god. What is this? This terrorism is unacceptable and is not allowed.

They should not use the religion. The religion is for God. Religion is for Allah in the mosques, the churches and the synagogues. We all repsect it. We are all religious, by the way, and nobody should patronise us.

We have been praying and fasting since before many of them were even born. It is a disgrace to accuse others of heresy and whatever.. a guy who, two days ago, was still wearing shorts, says, 'This is an infidel'. This is a disgrace.
(via Harry's Place)

Monday, December 18, 2006

Faith-hate

And speaking of Islamophobia.

Jewish people are four times more likely to be attacked because of their religion than Muslims, according to figures compiled by the police.

In London and Manchester, where Muslims outnumber Jews by four to one, anti-Semitic offences exceeded anti-Muslim offences. The figures do not record the faith of the offenders.
Faith-hate attacksThere have been no prosecutions of those committing attacks on Jews.

(via Harry's Place)

Veiled threat

A translation from an article in Information, “the paper for left-wing Danish intellectuals”, with an interview with Chahdorrt Djavann, a woman of Turkish-Azerbaijani descent, since 1993 living in France. She is an anthropologist and also a newly-published novelist. The title of the novel speaks volumes: How Can One Be French?

The interview is entirely about the veil, which she was forced to wear between the ages of 13 and 23. She doesn't take a soft line.

[O]ne of the primary dogmas of Islamic Sharia Law is that the value of a woman is only half that of a man. A woman is forever a de facto minor, unable to control her own body, her life, or her future. And, in this context, the veil has an extremely important psycho-sexual and social meaning. In addition, we have followed a development from the 80s in which Islam has been affected by the ideologies and politics of Saudi Arabia and Iran who both finance the Islamist movements around the world — movements that gain more and more influence. So, the emblem for these movements and their political system, the “sharia state” is the woman’s veil. In the same way that the swastika was the symbol of the Nazis.
I don't really think the comparison to the swastika helps a lot except as an emotional marker of strength of feeling. However, I wouldn't dismiss the point she is making. The veil is a powerful symbol and the political controversy surrounding it pre-dates Jack Straw by many decades. It was Ataturk who banned it in civic spaces in Turkey and Morocco is moving towards the same stance. For Ataturk it was a symbol of cultural backwardness, but in the last couple of decades it has come to signify the sort of backwardness that some would like to welcome back to the futuer. As the Moroccan Minister for Education, Aboulkacem Samir, put it, "The hijab has become for women what the beard is for men, a political symbol". A symbol of militancy; a claim made on the social order as well as a signifier of identity and belonging.

It is interesting that the veil, and not the beard, draws all this ire and defensiveness. But the great dividing line, as much for militant Muslims as for Militant Westerners, is Woman. Minor or major? Dependent or independent? Brain or womb? And though to most of us, there's really no competition as to the type of woman we would like to be (with), in any long-term contest between the womb and the other parts of a woman, it is always going to be the womb that decides.

Plus ça change

When people blather about ending American, or Western hegemony, they always leave it to be inferred that what will follow will be equality and justice between the nations. Harmony, Confucianistically speaking. Why this should happen, I have no idea. What will happen is that hegemony will pass to others, such as a China agressively selling its model of authoritarian development. In a nice non-imperialistic way, of course.

Internationally, 'harmony' is supposed to mean the opposite of Bush-style unilateralism. But it is just rhetoric. Beijing is aggressively trying to subjugate Burma, Laos and other client states, and its behaviour in Sudan is certainly not Confucianist, only creating 'harmony' for the murderous dictators there.
Harmony is a musical term and has little relevance outside music. The analogous political term is 'domination', accepted or otherwise.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

But I pray to Allah that ...

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was 24 before she found out about the Holocaust. She was studying a preparatory history course in Holland at the time, and what she had discovered, she told her half-sister, 21, and showed her the photographs in her history book. Her half-sister's reaction was

It's a lie! Jews have a way of blinding people. They were not killed, gassed nor massacred. But I pray to Allah that one day all the Jews in the world will be destroyed.
Ali's point is that her half-sister's reaction would be the reaction of anyone educated as they had been by the Saudi's or on Saudi charity anywhere in the Islamic world.
Jews were said to be responsible for the deaths of babies, epidemics like AIDS, for the cause of wars. They were greedy and would do absolutely anything to kill us Muslims. And if we ever wanted to know peace and stability we would have to destroy them before they would wipe us out. For those of us who were not in a position to take arms against the Jews it was enough for us to cup our hands, raise our eyes heavenward and pray to Allah to destroy them.
She asks (rhetorically) why, in the face of Ahmadinejad's conference, there are no counter-voices raised in the Arab world, why Islamic philanthropy must carry with it the germ of virulent anti-semiticism and why Western charities do not attempt to tell the truth about the last attempt to 'solve the Jewish problem'.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Draft Christmas Card Proposal

Draft Christmas Card proposalClick on it to see a larger version.

(via Spiked Online)

And so this is Christmas

And so continue the annual skirmishes over terminology, iconography and civic values that have come to characterise Christmas. It does raise so many of the contradictions inherent in a society that proclaims itself as secular, but is built on centuries of Christian tradition. Although these skirmishes have intensified since September, 2001, this is really a conflict within the culture of the West.

It didn't start with PC or with Islamic assertiveness, but with the Pilgrim Fathers, who banned celebrating Christmas in Massachusetts until 1681, and with other Unitarian worthies, such as Charles Dickens, in whose hands it bacame a "kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time" rather than a remembrance of the Incarnation.

Santa Claus is a Unitarian invention spun off the very real, heroic, and virtuous St. Nicholas. A Unitarian penned "Jingle Bells," a delightful tune, devoid of Christian intent or meaning.
Unbelievers such as myself have taken to this interpretation to cover our sentimental attachment to the festival, but as in so many aspects of this cultural schizophrenia we live with, it is exposed as hollow when opposed by those of stronger convictions. So we tend to return to the forms and play identity politics with them to match the claims from the others in the same arena. Somehow such assertiveness about this festival of light and plenty in the depths of Winter becomes 'meanness of sprit' and loses even the gentleness of Dickens' Christless version.

Although I share the annoyance and scorn felt by many at the antics of the PC Brigade, such feelings are not what I want or used to have at Christmas. Not that I can find a way to resurrect what I/we once had. Such are the times.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Desperately seeking Jammy Dodger

Michelle Malkin has been invited to Iraq by Eason Jordan (late of CNN before he started telling stories about the brutality of American soldiers). They're going to look for Jamil Hussein, AP's source for all their best Chaos and Violence stories. He seems to be still unavailable for commment.

(via Instapundit)

Other Iranians

In the light of events in Tehran this week, an escape into the past and to another Iran.

Abdol Hossein Sardari didn't look like a hero. But when Paris fell to Hitler in June 1940, the 30-year-old Muslim-a dapper man with a receding hairline-took it upon himself to save Jews trapped inside Nazi-occupied France. Sardari, a junior official at the Iranian Embassy, had been left behind to look after the building when the Iranian ambassador and his staff abandoned Paris to establish residence in Vichy, the new home of France's pro-Nazi government. Once the Nazis began rounding up Jews, Sardari, without authorization from his government, made liberal use of the embassy's supply of blank Iranian passports to assign new, non-Jewish identities to those in need, creating his own version of Schindler's list.

Ibrahim Morady, who died this past June in Los Angeles at the age of 95, was one of the hundreds of Jews Sardari helped spare from deportation. "My father moved to Paris from Persia when he was six," recounts his son Fred. Once Morady, a well-to-do rug merchant, had his new identity, he and two colleagues arranged to purchase false papers for about 100 other Jews of Iranian descent. Sardari served as their go-between, passing a bribe to a German official. In return, these Jews were given documents asserting that they were members of "some strange tribe in Iran-Djouguti, or something like that," Fred Morady explains. "I asked my father: 'What does this name mean?' And he said: 'They just made it up.'"
They just made it up. That's what Ahmedinejad organised his conference to say, though his field of reference is a little difference, even if related.

In "How my grandad invented the Holocaust", Eugene peers back at a generation of his family that all but disappeared, pace Ahmadinejad and his "scholars".

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Scion of a futurist

It is of no consquence whatsoever, but somehow fitting.

There is one Italian among the 67 pagliacci assembled by their exemplar, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to inflate the zeppelin of Holocaust denial. His name is Tommaso "Allaedin" Clerici and he is a grandson of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the firebrand of Futurism and idealogue of Mussolini's party and government. Marinetti's signature quote:

Art can be nothing but violence, cruelty, and injustice.
He liked trains, too.

Opposition is only for the strong

This article by the Tunisian columnist, Zyed Krichen, consists of excerpts from the French original. Most of the English version is made up of a list of acts of censorship and worse in Islamic societies, the majority of which occur after 1973. There are a lot, and as he says, it is an incomplete list.

He begins by noting how different it all was in Islam's first three centuries.

However, without glorifying the past, [it must be pointed out that] such things did not happen during the first three centuries of Islam, [which was] the golden age [of Islam]. [True], the political authorities killed dissidents and revolutionaries - but no one saw books burned, and freedom of thought was at its peak. No controversial topic was avoided in philosophical or theological debate. From the authenticity of the prophecies to the very nature of divinity - each doctrine had its proponents, its platforms, and its leading [thinkers]...

And consider the delightful freedom that pervaded Arab literature [in those days]. One could say anything, write anything, sing about anything... the love of women, sex, and wine, and even [the love] of boys... [Even] the sacred could be laughed at, and [religious] devotion as well... This golden age was also the age of that eclectic and refined aestheticism of which Abu Hayane Attaouhidi wrote so beautifully.
Why was it different then? They were strong, and the strong are less afraid. Why do you forbid things? Because you are afraid of them. Because you think they will hurt you. Just as the Ottoman authorities frustrated the introduction of printing for three hundred years as the empire grew weaker and weaker. Unsurprisingly, among the first books to be printed were military studies examining why it was that the Europeans always won the battles.

I realise this is pointing out the obvious. It's just that sometimes, after the nth Baghdad suicide bombing with tens of victims and people over here throwing up their arms and bowing their heads to surrender to the first candidate, it is salutary to remember that suicide bombings and oppressive censorship are alike signs of weakness.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The princes and the pea

The following is from an interview by Pierre Heumann of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche with the Editor-in-Chief of Al-Jazeera, Ahmed Sheikh.

Do you mean to say that if Israel did not exist, there would suddenly be democracy in Egypt, that the schools in Morocco would be better, that the public clinics in Jordan would function better?

I think so.

Can you please explain to me what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to do with these problems?

The Palestinian cause is central for Arab thinking.

In the end, is it a matter of feelings of self-esteem?

Exactly. It's because we always lose to Israel. It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West's problem is that it does not understand this.
Now, whose problem is that? How do you negotiate with that?

Just to illustrate the intellectual short circuit that goes on here (and is similar to what happens in the heads of the French terrorists I spoke about here), the exchange above was immediately preceded by this.
I told my son to emigrate to the West for the sake of my grandson.

You sound bitter.

Yes, I am.

At whom are you angry?

It's not only the lack of democracy in the region that makes me worried. I don't understand why we don't develop as quickly and dynamically as the rest of the world. We have to face the challenge and say: enough is enough! When a President can stay in power for 25 years, like in Egypt, and he is not in a position to implement reforms, we have a problem. Either the man has to change or he has to be replaced. But the society is not dynamic enough to bring about such a change in a peaceful and constructive fashion.

Why not?

In many Arab states, the middle class is disappearing. The rich get richer and the poor get still poorer. Look at the schools in Jordan, Egypt or Morocco: You have up to 70 youngsters crammed together in a single classroom. How can a teacher do his job in such circumstances? The public hospitals are also in a hopeless condition. These are just examples. They show how hopeless the situation is for us in the Middle East.
[Emphasis added]
Our societies are screwed. Israel always beats us in a fair fight. We despise ourselves. If we can beat Israel, we will like ourselves again and everything will be OK.

(via Harry's Place)

Update
In a similar vein, Ahmadinejad lets slip the key to human redemption.
The Zionist regime will be wiped out soon the same way the Soviet Union was, and humanity will achieve freedom.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Camorra - Working for you

I've just been watching Roberto Saviano on YouTube. It's a hour-long direct-to-camera summary of his book Gomorra about the Camorra and its business activities. He wants to correct the normal assumptions made about how the organisation (which is actually a large number of independent groups) does business.

Criminal activities per se make up just a small part of their activity. Mostly, they invest and reinvest in legitimate business. One example that struck me was that of new hotel and restaurant construction in Aberdeen (yes, Scotland). He doesn't give any names, but says that the hotels are top-class and the restaurants likewise, the menus featuring in Good Food guides. Another example is the distribution of genuine high-tech goods from the Far East through Eastern Europe into the West, which he says is controlled by the Camorra. The market in fake designer clothes has been transformed iin the last few years; now they are manufactured by the very same factories that do the genuine ones and sold in the same shops. They do not differ in the slightest from the legitimate article save for the single step of illegally applying the label. Why do the genuine brands not make a fuss? Because the Camorra control or own the means of distribution and often the retail outlets.

The big point is that, if you follow the movements of their money, only one, or maybe two of the ten or twenty steps involved are illegal, and often the only illegality present is corrupt or violent means to suppress competition. The economic and political implications of this criminal presence at the heart of the system are enormous. It spreads far out of Italy into all parts of Europe and to many parts of the world. Yet it seems there is very little political awareness and/or will to act against it.

The videos are all in Italian and there are five parts. The first is here.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Meaningful inauthenticity

Fountains Abbey - Wedding
It would be easy to be cynical about what is happening here. Picturesque remains of a bygone age combined with the sentimental illusions evoked by a white wedding. "Who do they think they're kidding?" would be one reaction. "Mostly themselves" would be the automatic reponse.

Maybe. Maybe not. Obviously, none of us can have the slightest idea about the reality of this choice from the point of view of those involved. Without figures to hand, I cannot say how many people go for the picturesque setting to celebrate their wedding. There's a Unitarian chapel in Styal that in Spring and Summer needs a conveyor belt to manage the wedding parties passing through it. The villagers tend to sneer at them but I have some sympathy with folk who really don't have much consumer choice here.

What most of us think we're doing when we get married is very traditional: we're choosing a partner for life, someone that we're going to live with until we live no more. On the scale of the choices we make, not much comes close to that one in its consequences. We reach out for reinforcements, for the warmth of companionship to reassure us that we are not alone. Lots of people help, especially the ones that have known us and will continue to populate our little world. Others' eyes witness what we do and, in some way, guarantee it.

With our friends and family taking the secondary roles in our story, we acknowledge that there wouldn't be a story without them. But there are other narrative threads that must occupy the foreground at times. One of these is generational: the previous generation giving way to the current one just as the current one must one day give way to the next. This is one of those fundamentals that are so easy to forget if we persist in the delusion that 3.5 billion years of evolution are all about us. A wedding taken seriously will make you feel the star of the show, but will also remind you of you place in the scheme of things. And the scheme of things goes way back.

That's one story, but there are others, ones you could identify with culture or tribe and family. A ritual, an agreed and long-lasting set of actions, words and images, perform this function. All of these things are part of the bedrock of the structure you start to build with the wedding; they are a hedge against the uncertainty of the future you are making a claim on.

In the deracinated lives that most of us live, within the most revolutionary culture that has ever existed, we don't have much choice when it comes to long-lived, charged-with-meaning rituals. Intellectually, it is all too easy to undermine them, deconstruct them - you don't even have to understand much about them to do so. What we're less good at is building the bigger story that we can call on and all can make use of. What is left then but to rope in the unthreatening, but reassuring remains of a past that was more proficient in this field?

I took this photo at Fountains Abbey in July. I have no idea who the people are. In the unlikely event that they can be recognised, I hope that they take no offense at my use of them for idle reflections.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Higher standards

There is a related proposition to the one dismissed below by Tony Blair and it regards language. It dismisses the idea of a Standard English (or French, or Chinese) on the grounds that these so-called superior versions are nothing more than the dialects of the powerful, dialects with an army and a navy, as someone put it. Its proponents point out that what we call Standard English was merely the demotic of a small social group in London and environs, which, because of the concentration of political and economic power in the capital and of cultural power in its two universities, became regarded as the language of prestige. But it is absurd to think of it as superior in any other way. The language of a Glasgow steel-worker is the equal to that of Tony Blair because it is born and grown in the same human cognitive juice and enlived by the same human symaptic fire.

You might think that all this was just another silly academic tantrum against the grown-up world, but it matters. Evidently, until last June, the following was on the website of the school district of Seattle:

"cultural racism'' includes "emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology,'' "having a future time orientation'' (planning ahead) and "defining one form of English as standard.'' The site also asserted that only whites can be racists, and disparaged assimilation as the "giving up'' of one's culture.
There has been a lot of fuss in American schools over the advisability of 'forcing' especially black or hispanic pupils to learn Standard English. This should be resisted, say some teachers and academics, for reasons of ethnic identity and resistence to racial oppression. Never mind that the practical result was the condemnation of these victims of PC education to the economic and cultural ghetto. The point about the equality of all dialects is the same as that I have made about the putative equality of all cultures: the world demonstrates that it just ain't so.

The argument I am about to make is a circular one. In a nutshell it is that one dialect is superior to another if enough of the right people for long enough consider it so. The qualities of the language spoken by the emerging burghers of London in the fifteenth century would have been more or less those of several other dialects in the country, not least some in the Midlands that had already produced considerable poetry. But with its power base established and consolidated in national institutions, within a short period, laws, thought and literature would come to be expressed in that dialect. And the dialect would therefore have to develop and grow at a much greater rate than its fellows just because of the pressure put on it by so many demands. It would need to be able to manage abstraction, sophisticated narrative and conceptual precision, qualities not at a premium in the other dialects, which would remain mostly spoken. The longer this continued, the greater the difference.

The important distinction between the dialects really rests on that between spoken and written language. In a culture that relies on the written word for all official and cultural transmission, the language of the printed word is ipso facto the language of power and will influence greatly the spoken word so that it too can take on those qualities of abstraction and precision at need. This is a huge change. You may not remember the struggle of learning to write well and yet it is one of the most difficult skills we have to master (if ever we do). It does not come naturally. It has to be learnt by the sweat of the brow usually before we have anything worth reading to write. Once learnt, however, it changes and enlarges forever our capacity to express ourselves and much else both orally and in writing. Aside from social prestige, that is the great benefit of acquiring the Standard dialect. With it, you may take part in the discourse of the best that people do and have done. Without it, you are confined to the ghetto. The Standard Language is superior because we have made it so.

I wrote the above because of this article by Theodore Dalrymple, which, though making the same point, takes a different tack.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Finally

Tony Blair has boldly said what has needed to be boldly said for quite some time now (and what John Howard has, in fact, been boldly saying for some time now). That, in this country, all cultures are not equal, that there is a hierarchy of values in which some abrogate others.

When it comes to our essential values - belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all, respect for this country and its shared heritage - then that is where we come together, it is what we hold in common.

It is what gives us the right to call ourselves British. At that point no distinctive culture or religion supercedes our duty to be part of an integrated United Kingdom.

Being British carries rights. It also carries duties. And those duties take clear precedence over any cultural or religious practice.

We must demand allegiance to the rule of law. Nobody can legitimately ask to stand outside the law of the nation. There is thus no question of the UK allowing the introduction of religious law in the UK. Parliament sets the law, interpreted by the courts. All criminal matters should be dealt with through the criminal justice system.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Iran (be)heading for leadership battle

According to Michael Ledeen at Pajamas Media, things are on the move in Iran. Supreme Leader Ayatollah ali Khamenei is evidently very close to meeting some of the heroic martyrs he has helped towards dusty death and the blood-letting to decide his successor is well under way. Students are demonstrating on the campus of Tehran University, calling for a “death to despotism,” and “death to the dictator.” Speaking of which,

A week ago, the Majlis (the national assembly) passed a law effectively reducing the presidential term of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nezhad by a full year. This was universally seen as an attack in favor of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, Ahmadi-Nezhad’s most visible political rival, and a candidate to succeed Khamenei.
Regime Change Iran has more on the protests here and here, including a photo of a poster reading, “AS IF WE WANT ANYTHING OTHER THAN FREEDOM”.

(via Dinocrat)

Diplomatic shorthand

A Russian trouble-maker is murdered by the most exotic means available in the middle of London. Pierre Gemayel is gunned down on a street in Beirut. Take comfort. This is just diplomacy without the duplicity. It is proof evident that some things never change.

Those who complain that there is a lack of communication between the Bush administration and the Assad regime are not paying attention. By local rules, a well-timed murder such as the gunning down of Pierre Gemayel in Beirut last week is more effective in sending a message than a diplomatic demarche.

This translation of Syrian actions quickly made its way through the Middle East: "You want help in Iraq? It will cost you Lebanon. For starters." That is realpolitik and real communication, Assad-style.
If we sold Lebanon for the sake of a Syrian hand in Iraq (as if there weren't enough Syrian hands in Iraq), then the worst that al-Queda could say about us would be richly deserved.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Marriage Gap

It is almost impossible to argue for a tradition. Usually, the reason a certain practice is a tradition instead of a theory is that the evidence for its value is so dispersed that it is extremely difficult to put it together. So religion imposes and carries on what might otherwise be lost. It builds altars to exalt it and refines anathema to defend it.

Now we've got statistics and the slowly dawning realisation that, just because something isn't always true doesn't mean that it isn't usually true. A case in point is marriage.

Three paragraphs from an article by Kay S. Hymowitz, which summarises her new book Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age. First, two of many significant statistics.

Virtually all—92 percent—of children whose families make over $75,000 are living with both parents. On the other end of the income scale, the situation is reversed: only about 20 percent of kids in families earning under $15,000 live with both parents.
Implications
[T]he Marriage Gap—and the inequality to which it is tied—is self-perpetuating. A low-income single mother, unprepared to carry out The Mission, is more likely to raise children who will become low-income single parents, who will pass that legacy on to their children, and so on down the line. Married parents are more likely to be visiting their married children and their grandchildren in their comfortable suburban homes, and those married children will in turn be sending their offspring off to good colleges, superior jobs, and wedding parties.
The mentality that works
For one thing, women who grow up in a marriage-before-children culture organize their lives around a meaningful and beneficial life script. Traditional marriage gives young people a map of life that takes them step by step from childhood to adolescence to college or other work training—which might well include postgraduate education—to the workplace, to marriage, and only then to childbearing. A marriage orientation also requires a young woman to consider the question of what man will become her husband and the father of her children as a major, if not the major, decision of her life. In other words, a marriage orientation demands that a woman keep her eye on the future, that she go through life with deliberation, and that she use self-discipline—especially when it comes to sex: bourgeois women still consider premature pregnancy a disaster. In short, a marriage orientation—not just marriage itself—is part and parcel of her bourgeois ambition.
Read it all. It's long but worth it and there's some quite surprising stuff.

Benedict's misquotes?

In his Regensburg Address, Pope Benedict quoted the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus as translated by Professor Theodore Khoury:

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
You know what happened next. However, it seems that Khoury's translation may have been a bit strong.

Sandro Magister at Settimo Cielo reproduces a letter to the Pope written by don Silvio Barbaglia of the diocese of Novara in which he seeks to correct the translation of the infamous phrase.

According to don Silvio, the context was one of comparison: the ancient Law of Moses and the newer Law of Mohammad, the fact that it was more recent being, according to the Persian in dispute with the emperor, what made it superior.

The emperor replies that whatever Mohammad brought that is new is ... Well, Khoury's version has 'mauvais', which is rendered into English as 'evil', and into Italian as 'cose cattive' (bad things). The original Greek, says don Silvio, uses a comparative, not an absolute adjective, which would best be translated as 'worse' or 'of less import'.

The second adjective, as well, should be understood as comparative, or rather, as a superlative and with its meaning as something like 'dehumanising'. This because he is approaching the main point of his argument: the use of violence in the diffusion of the faith.

So don Silvio would translate it like this:
Show me whatever Mohammad brought that was new, and you will find only worse things and the most dehumanising of all, the command to spread with the sword the faith that he preached.
SFW, I hear you mutter. Not a huge change, I'd agree, but a significant one. In Khoury's version, Mohammad's own additions to the Law of Moses are 'evil and inhuman', and that's it. In don Silvio's version, his contribution is only of less value than the original, not necessarily bad in itself. And the adjective 'dehumanising' applies only to the command about violence.

Mind you, the connection with violence is still made, if anything it is more explicit. So it's good to know that our enthusiastic friends were not shouting for nothing.

Unfortunately, the article is in Italian and doesn't appear on Sandro Magister's English-language blog.

Chirac calls. No-one at home.

I thought this was funny. Why a French competitor for CNN and the BBC is essential.

"Take the conflict in Lebanon this summer. If Jacques Chirac's call for a ceasefire - which didn't even make BBC or CNN - had been reported earlier, it could have brought about an earlier resolution of the conflict. If Chirac's call had been reported more widely it maybe could have saved thousands of lives. That was a story calling out for a French angle, given the historic links to Lebanon."
An earlier resolution to the conflict! Thousands of lives saved! If only they'd listened to Jack!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Instinctive associations

The results of the latest Nation Brands Index has Britain at No. 1 and Israel at No. 36 in an international survey of people's attitudes to 36 countries and their tourism, exports, governance, investment, immigration, cultural heritage and people.

No-one would expect Israel to score well in most of these areas in comparison to most other Western countries, but to score as badly as Bhutan? Simon Anholt claims in this Jerusalem Post article that Bhutan is the only other 'guest' participant in the history of the survey to score so low. Bhutan with 93% of its workforce engaged in agriculture and per capita GDP at $1,400. How is this possible?

Anholt said that his study differed from that of other surveys, in that this was not a politically-based public opinion poll. It did not measure people's ideas about the conflict with the Palestinians or Hizbullah, but rather it examined people's instinctive associations with the country that would impact their decisions outside the political arena, such as whether they would buy a product from Israel, visit the country, or hire an Israeli.
Could you have a clearer indication of the impact of the media's treatment of Israel than this? How else are these instinctive associations formed? I bet you Iran would score higher if it were included. This is how, as we have seen, others form more murderous instinctive associations.

Dante's Inferno

A well-designed Flash guide to the Inferno with a visualisation of the structure of Hell, notes on the main symbols and figures and some quotes. It's a support rather than another way of reading Dante's poem, but it allows you to orient yourself quickly.

(via Pajamas Media)

Limits of academic freedom (Netherlands)

Is this familiar?

After almost 40 years of lecturing at Utrecht University and with his eyesight failing, professor Piet van der Horst was looking forward to delivering his retirement lecture last summer. He decided to talk on the myth of Jewish cannibalism, a perennial anti-Semitic theme, and part and parcel of his field of expertise, Judaism in the Hellenistic period. As is customary in the Netherlands, he also decided to add a timely twist to his farewell lecture: the resurfacing of the myth of Jewish cannibalism in contemporary Islamic society [as evidenced by] the proliferation of anti-Semitic cartoons, TV-shows, sermons and the like ... particularly in Iran, Syria and the Palestinian territories.

However, Van der Horst was not to deliver his lecture. Flanked by three tenured professors, the university’s dean told Van der Horst that his lecture was academically sub-standard and would, if delivered, create an immediate security risk.

“It was the most humiliating moment of my life,” Van der Horst says. “I was grilled for one and a half hours by the dean and his co-conspirators. At some point I was so confused that I started to wander if they were right. That I had really gone mad. That was how intimidating it was.”
Did professor Van der Horst find solidarity among his fellow intellectual workers in Academe? In a word, no.
When queried by Dutch national daily newspaper, De Volkskrant, eight out of ten supported the decision, arguing that there are limits to academic freedom.
Funny how those limits are so selectively applied.

I have added it to the list.

Monday, December 04, 2006

War is simple

"Well in war, my dear friends, there is no such thing as compromise; you either win or you lose," McCain said.
(via Instapundit)

Moss Side angel

I would just like to put this on record. This evening I went to Moss Side Leisure Centre (google Moss Side reputation) to play squash, as I do once a week or so. Was running late so dashed into the changing room, slip into my stylish clobber, and ran out to play. After fierce spiritual conflict, returned to get dressed, most of which I managed to do. Save the last bit; ie putting on my coat, a yellowing rag containing my car keys, phone, wallet, card holder and Softmints. Nowhere to be seen. Fly back to court of spiritual clash - empty except for the aura of accomplishment. Mate goes to see if car is still there. Report loss of all dignity and identity to reception. Hesitate to ask her to call my mother. Another lady asks me over. My coat lies over the back of a chair. Someone had handed it in half an hour before. Still yellow and still laden with cargo.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

AP and fauxfacts

I've just come across this one. You will remember that after the November 23rd bombings in Sadr City, the Shi'ite reaction seemed to confirm that sectarian violence had become so implacable and widespread that 'civil war' seemed the only proper label. Two of the stories that built that picture were picked up by AP and spread across the world. According to one, four Sunni mosques had been burnt to the ground; the other told of 6 Sunnis handcuffed, tortured and burnt alive.

Curt at Flopping Aces looked a little deeper, his curiosity piqued by the source of both these sources, police Capt. Jamil Hussein. It turns out that Capt. Hussein has been a very fruitful source for AP at least since April reporting on nine incidents of violence, all, as it happens, involving violence by Shi'ites on Sunnis. It also turns out that not only was there no confirmation of this last incident from any other source (and it was contradicted by the US military), but that police Capt. Hussein's existence is ... problematical. As is another of AP's much quoted sources.

Go here for Curt's full investigation and here for Jules Crittenden's commentary. Pajamas Media's Blog Week in Review has Richard Fernandez and Glen Reynolds to comment on the AP Affair.

(via Instapundit)

Who's lost what?

I always love it when Hanson gets comparative. About those (the majority?) who say that Iraq is lost:

What would these same critics say to Abraham Lincoln in May-June 1864 (“Each hour is but sinking us deeper into bankruptcy and desolation.”) when Grant’s Army of the Potomac tottered at the brink (Spotsylvania [ca. 18,000 casualties]; Cold Harbor [ca. 13,000 casualties]; Petersburg [ca. 12,000 casualties), prompting calls for an armistice on the basis of a status ante bellum, and the real prospect not just of Lincoln not winning the election of 1864, but perhaps not even receiving the Republican nomination? Or what would the pundits of the Kennedy School of Government or the Council on Foreign Relations have said about retreat from the Yalu River in November 1950 (ca. 14,000 casualties)? Korea is lost? We destabilized the Korean peninsula? We only empowered the real enemy Russia in Europe?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

No Nativity at Christmas

The Mayor's office of the City of Chicago has forbidden the annual Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza to show clips from "The Nativity Story," a movie that depicts the biblical story of Mary, Joseph and the birth of Jesus.
Jim Law, the city's executive director of special events said that

showing scenes from the movie would be "insensitive to the many people of different faiths."
This was later corrected:
"This particular incident is about a movie studio aggressively marketing a movie and trying to sell tickets to that movie."
I have added it to the list.

Istanbul Rum Patrikhanesi

In the tiny Church of St George in the Patriarchal compound, overlooked by minerets and Turkish soldiers, the Pope and the Patriarch celebrate with the liturgy of St John Chrysostom, "the queen of liturgies", Joshua Treviño calls it, "a Greek epic of its own". Treviño recounts; this is the final paragraph, but it's worth reading it all (if only to find out the meaning of the title of this post).

Bartholomew ascends to the iconostasis and welcomes Benedict in Greek. Benedict, aware of the cameras surrounding him, replies in English. We must, he says, recall Europe to its Christian heritage before it is too late -- and we must do it together. Then they emerge into the cold sunlight of a cold day. They ascend to a balcony overlooking the courtyard where we gather in expectation. They speak briefly. And then, they clasp hands, Pope and Patriarch, smile and raise their arms together. Tears come to my eyes, and I am shocked to see several media personnel crying openly. For an instant, the Church is one. For a shadow of a second, the dreams of Christendom are again real.
Actually, there's one line more. I shied away from copying it, but was not sure why. At first, I thought it rhetorically gauche, and yet given the scene he had painted so skillfully, surely he had earned it? For the atmosphere of threat, of historical and durable threat is strong. How else can you interpret the decline in population of Orthodox Christians in Turkey from "millions to a mere two thousand in Istanbul proper"? And the censorship of proper names that the Turkish authorities do not wish to recognise sending "police personnel to tear down English-language banners with the phrase “Archon Pilgrimage to the Ecumenical Patriarchate” on it". Those bearing passes with the offending phrase "Ecumenical Patriarchate” were not allowed to enter.

Then there's the geographical position; the little church surrounded by mosques, minarets and Muslims inimical to it. Perhaps that is the key. How strange it is to put it like this, but we in Europe have come to see ourselves in the same position, threatened by the same forces and fearing to go down under them in a process as inexorable as that which has occurred in Turkey to the Orthodox and other Christian minorities. Are we victims of our own fears? Or merely waking up to them?

Joshua Treviño's final line is
Under the Turkish guns, the Christians roar.

Al-Dura Trial 3

This took place on Thursday; the decision is expected in January. From Richard Landes' brief report, it sounds like a reply of the Karsenty trial with solid arguements and evidence from the defense and virtually nothing from the plaintif. And there's a fourth trial to come, though Landes says nothing about it except that it is "really bizarre".

Friday, December 01, 2006

Not sorry enough?

The slave trade has been the ruling principle of my people ... it has been the source of their glory and wealth.
The speaker of these words was King Ghezo of Dahomey (now Benin in West Africa) whose kingdom was probably making about £250,000 a year from selling captured soldiers or even his own people as slaves. He was not alone; the rulers of Ashanti and Congo were competitors in the trade.

I put this here not in a spirit of 'you, too', but to spread the field of this argument a little. Let's spread it a little more. Slavery has existed for longer than history can trace and in every part of the world. It existed in law in many countries until the 20th Century and, de facto, exists even now with estimates of between 20 and 200 million slaves in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

This is the context: a practice universal in time and space. Until 1807, when the British Parliament abolishes slavery in the British Empire and the British navy enforces the ban (I read somewhere that Royal Navy ships carried a manual about slavers until the 1970s). For the first time in human history, slavery was made illegal. It was a triumph of Christian and Enlightenment education and the result of the perhaps the first great public opinion movement.

It is important to restate all this because in certain contexts it gets easily forgotten. It is not remembered in the reactions to Tony Blair's expression of regret. It was not remembered in the BBC's Making History programme of a couple of weeks ago as they walked around Bristol picking out the names of slave traders. But it is the point. This great progessive act was made here.

The relevance of slavery to British power was small. The industrial revolution and the growth of the British Empire was a result of imagination, energy and commerce, a form of commerce that had made slavery an economic anachronism. It was only because it was of little economic importance that it could be abolished at the stroke of a pen and that a higher vision of human beings could be placed on the statute books.

It will do no-one any good to wait on just retribution. Reparations for a particular event performed by a single people on another make some sense. Reparations for all of human history make none.

Lebanon Q & A

Jeha adds a little dollop of hope to a smorgasboard of worrying maybes.

Excerpts.

Are we moving towards a civil war in Lebanon?
In Lebanon, anyone who grows to big for is own boots is pulled back in by the other groups, who will find plenty of allies in doing so. Willing or unwillingly, we are all minorities in this country; whoever tries to impose their will on the others faces war. With assassinations in Lebanon, and suicides in Syria, we are indeed in the middle of a “cloak and dagger”, stealthy war.

Why hasn’t the “real” shooting started?
Syria’s greed is keeping things quiet, for now. With the new US Congress, our sister is hoping for a return to the buffet, in a “Grand Bargain”. As long as it is hoping to get Lebanon back, it will not break it directly. It may hope to spark civil strife by assassinations, demonstrations, but it will shy away from any larger scale confrontation.

[T]he Syrians are smart enough not to move to a direct confrontation, and would try to initiate another “battle of the marionettes ”. Indeed, the assassination of Pierre Gemayel may have been an attempt at sparking another civil war... The fires of anger were quickly quenched, but one should not expect Syria and Iran to give up so easily.

Will the United States be “Defeated” by Iran or Syria?
[B]efore you chant the “Vietnam” mantra, recall that there was not much oil in Indochina. The United States may have “lost its way” and Israel may be scared , but it is no South Vietnam . And Iran is no Soviet Union.

I am reassured, however, by Amine Gemayel’s stance; coming from a father who had just lost a son, his call to calm and prayer has gone a long to calm passions, and saved us another war. Whatever their fault, many of March 14th leaders, have apparently learned the lessons of the civil war and the occupation.
Meanwhile the marionettes are busy.