Thursday, May 31, 2007

The rule of law

Fantastic story from Michael Yon about the arrest of a popular Iraqi general, who had made his name fighting Al-Queda in Anbar Province, but who had succumbed to the temptations of power. The people of the area wanted him arrested but didn't dare do it. A certain Ltc Crissman of Task Force 2-7 Infantry stepped in, averting a massacre in the process. Very intelligent and sensitive work.

You don't get this sort of thing in the mainstream media. You do get it from Michael Yon, Bill Roggio and Michael Totten. They deserve all our support.

The only real torture is American torture

Nine days ago, the US military released a captured Al-Queda torture manual as well as photos of some of the victims of that estimable organisation.

News Busters has kept an eye on coverage.

To their credit, CNN and Fox News Channel ran stories on the declassified material. Yet nine days since the material was released, neither ABC, CBS, NBC, The New York Times nor The Washington Post has run a story with the photos of this shocking evidence of al-Qaeda’s barbarism.

I just did a search on the BBC, The Telegraph, The Times and The Independent and found the same. Lots about Guantanamo, of course.

Inconvenient truth(teller)s just upset people

Paul Berman about the intellectuals who attack Ayaan Hirsi Ali. (You have to register to read the article, which is a long one .This quote is from page 11.)

IF there is an intellectual establishment, and I suppose there is, the attacks on Ayaan Hirsi Ali radiate from its centre. And this, the campaign against Hirsi Ali - this, like the anti-Semitic mob assault during the Paris peace march of 2003, or like the spectacle of millions of Britons marching under the leadership of an Islamist organisation, or like the calm discussions in The New York Times of why it would be wrong to condemn with any vigour the stoning of women to death - this does represent something new.

Here is the new development among journalists and intellectuals, the development that Muslim intellectual Tariq Ramadan’s career has served to illuminate.

Something like a campaign against Hirsi Ali could never have taken place a few years ago. A sustained attack on an authentic liberal dissident crying out against injustices in remote parts of the world and even in the back streets of western Europe, a sustained attack that appears nearly to have erased the mention of women’s oppression and the struggle for women’s rights from discussion - no, this could not have happened yesterday, except on the extreme Right.

This is a new event. This is a reactionary turn in the intellectual world.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Barbarians inside the gates

Nouri of the moor next door mourns the murder by insurgents of Khalil al-Zahawi, one of the world's great calligraphers of Classical Arabic.

While there are despicable habits on the Americans' part (for instance turning tombs of historical figures into barracks and foosball rooms; or destroying the country's system of order all at once without planning out how to manage it) the insurgents seem to be more like a horde of barbarian locusts, sucking the country dry and contributing nothing. Killing, torturing, intimidating, maiming, and leaving nothing behind but scared children and hatred.

What, apart from their indestructable sense of spiritual superiority, do the Jihadists offer? All of them the products of failed cultures and economies, they can do nothing but destroy what others have built. Their only vision of the future is a fantasy with even less appeal than that of the communists of yesteryear; their only rallying cry that of the dying; their only path through their cult of death.

(via Pajamas Media)

Monday, May 28, 2007

They mean it

It is a natural response to extremism to explain it away by finding irresistable external forces that give its adherents no choice but to threaten, bluster and kill. It is normal, among normal people, to believe that estremist rhetoric is just that, "rhetoric", not to be taken at face value. "They say that, but they don't really mean it" is a comfort, a reassurance that the world really is governable and explicable. Often that is the case. Sometimes it isn't.

In Mosul, Islamic groups have begun to demand from Christians the payment of a tax, the jiza, the tribute historically imposed by Muslims on their Christian, Jewish, and Sabian subjects who accepted to live in a regime of submission, as “dhimmi.”

But it is above all in Baghdad that the jiza is being imposed upon Christians in an increasingly generalized way. In the neighborhood of Dora, ten kilometers southwest of the capital, with a high concentration of Christians, groups tied to al-Qaeda have installed a self-proclaimed “Islamic state in Iraq” and are systematically collecting the tax, set at between 150 and 200 dollars a year, the equivalent of a month’s expenses for a family of six. The exacting of the tribute is being extended to other neighborhoods in Baghdad, toward al-Baya’a and al-Thurat.

See the whole article, but only if you want to be depressed.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Is Israel an Apartheid State?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The colonial card

Rian Malan in The Spectator.

I first saw Robert Mugabe in the flesh at a UN Earth Summit in Johannesburg in 2002. His arrival on the podium was preceded by US defence secretary Colin Powell, who was booed and jeered, and by Tony Blair, who met with similar indignities. Mugabe, on the other hand, was greeted by a tumultuous standing ovation.

By 2004, Zimbabwe’s economy was in freefall and his subjects were growing hungry, but Mugabe was more popular than ever. No, not in Zimbabwe. His fans were black people elsewhere. He received standing ovations in many African capitals, and at President Mbeki’s 2004 swearing-in ceremony... Mugabe was giving the whites hell. Mugabe was therefore a hero. ‘Mugabe is speaking for black people worldwide,’ wrote the Johannesburg commentator Harry Mashabela.

Last year, the cocky little psychopath informed an audience of African-American New Yorkers that his rule had created ‘an unprecedented era of peace and tranquillity’ back home. They gave him a standing ovation.

By the beginning of this year... eight out of ten Zimbabweans were jobless, and those who had work were screwed anyway, because inflation was 2,200 per cent and they couldn’t afford anything. Hospitals and schools were collapsing, factories closing. Millions were facing starvation. In a report for the Sunday Times four months ago R.W. Johnson interviewed a game ranger who said Zimbabwe’s hyenas were developing a taste for human flesh, the result of scavenging on corpses ‘cast into collective pits like cattle’. He concluded that Mugabe’s misrule had resulted in as many as two million deaths — twice as many as perished in the Rwandan genocide — and that ‘the number is now heading into regions previously explored only by Stalin, Mao and Adolf Eichmann.’

It seems to me that last week’s events in New York render a terrible verdict on well-intentioned do-gooders and the climate of impunity they create for African dictators. These thugs and kleptocrats know there is no downside; blacks — some blacks — don’t care what horrors they inflict on black people, so long as they can make anti-imperialist noises. As for whites, they will take any insults you dish out and come to feed your people anyway, thereby sparing you from the consequences of your incompetence and criminality.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Chat over a smoke

I was in an FE college last week as an examiner. Taking up my pariah post outside during a break, I was approached by two men for a light. We got talking.

They were Kurds, and have been here since well before the fall of Saddam. They talked a little about what life had been like in the Old Country and Saddam's tactic of shifting his people to Kurdish areas as a surer method of controlling them than military means. I asked if it mattered whether the newcomers were Sunni or Shia. They said it made no difference; it was not about religion, but about greed.

I asked if the Kurds in Iran were giving that government a hard time, but they avoided the question. So I wondered what would happen if the Americans pulled out. The older one looked at me for a bit, and said,

We would be - I'm sorry for the word - in the shit.

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Pack kill

I haven't followed the Wolfowitz affair and do not know the details, but have had the impression from the start that this was a manhunt and, from the gleeful baying from the media hounds, that the pack had the scent of blood in their nostrils. It seems that they will bring down their man. And the woman, too.

Christopher Hitchens writes in defence of Shaha Riza.

I sat and thought for quite a while today and decided that this is the nastiest and dirtiest and cheapest campaign of character assassination I have ever seen. Yet almost everyone in my so-called profession seems to regard it with a smirk or as a feather in the cap. Good grief. If it succeeds in ruining two careers and poisoning two lives, I do so much hope that it makes the perpetrators—bankers and reporters working as a team—deliriously happy.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The good fight

Read Michael Yon on General Petreus' message to his troops (Don't give way to the dark side). There was a soldier talking on PM this evening about how hard it is not to hate all Iraqis when a bomb planted in view of all the houses around kills a fellow soldier. He knew it was counter-productive and he didn't allow himself to indulge in it hard as it is. The BBC reporter included another interview with a 20-year-old who was not able to hold back the hate. However, the reporter did not quote, or even mention this letter from Petreus about this very point.

Michael Yon does and even provides a link to a pdf copy. Yon points out that the discipline to maintain any sort of standards in that situation must come from rock-solid leadership and be constantly on display. Petreus is an example. Yon has witnessed others in the field.

The interrogation methods that Petreus mentions are in use in this story from the Atlantic Monthly about the hunt for al-Zarqawi.

via Instapundit

Saturday, May 12, 2007

War, adolescence, empathy, decisions

Matthew Parris has been reading a diary, the diary of an adolescent girl writing in interesting times. A German girl writing between 1940 and 1945. He gets involved in her life, feels something of what she felt, sees things for a moment through her eyes. Her diary does for him what what good books do: it broadens his sympathies.

Yet the context given to the article by the headline (Hilke’s diary: Anne Frank with a difference) and by Parris himself is one of surprise that this girl, like Anne Frank, should feel and say all these normal things at such a time, and yet still be German. Parris, like some of his commenters, seem to assume that Anne Frank has cornered the market on wartime adolescence and that all such experience is summed up in hers. That therefore we should be amazed that a girl living under the Nazis should capture our sympathy.

He finishes with this.

I went yesterday to a memorial service for one of my great predecessor sketchwriters on this paper, Frank Johnson, at St Clement Danes Church in the Strand: the Air Force Church, restored after German bombs reduced it to ruin. Outside is a bronze statue of Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris. Inside we sang: “I vow to thee my country”. Hilke’s diary was in my briefcase.

I’m not suggesting an answer. I don’t even know the question. But is there a better way?
This is the sort of sentimentalism that makes us unable to deal with the world. Is there a better way than war? Yes, and most people most of the time choose it. There's an Orwell essay in which he asks what Britain, shorn of all its imperial power, can offer the world. He answers, "the habit of not killing each other". And generally, that's what people, almost everywhere, almost all the time, opt to do: not kill each other. They talk, make rules, bend the rules, break the rules, look the other way, close their eyes, ears and noses rather than kill, or even be placed in a position where killing becomes a little more likely.

But sometimes, there isn't a better way. Sometimes, a decision has to be made that will lead to men, women and little girls like Hilke having bombs dropped on them. The people who have to make those decisions cannot do so in the state of mind in which Parris found himself after reading the diary. It would render them impotent, incapable of action. Who but the pathologically damaged would kill someone for whom they felt such sympathy?

When the time comes to make such decisions, it is not the Hilkes but the group, your group, you are thinking of and the question is one of survival as a group. Individual lives matter insofar as they matter to the survival of the group. It would be nice to pretend it could be otherwise, but it never has been and I can see no reason why it would ever be.

Hilke didn't die under the bombing. She survived and married. I'm very glad. But I'm also glad we killed enough of her countrymen to destroy the regime that they fought for.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Terror and Liberalism, Paul Berman

I've written this summary mainly for myself, but if it persuades you to read the book, then good.

Berman's thesis is that Islamism is the latest in a line of violent and totalitarian rejections of liberalism and should be seen and confronted in the same way as the extreme Left and Right were in the 20th Century. He rejects Tariq Ramadan's claim that Islam (and, by extension, Islamism) occupies a different "universe of reference", a different civilisation and culture, one that cannot be understood from a Western viewpoint. On the contrary, Berman shows how much even a fountainhead of Islamist ideology like Sayyid Qutb draws on Western ideas and categories and how the movement that he inspires conforms to type. He also looks at Western reactions to the totalitarian challenge, in the Thirties and since.

Berman starts with Camus's analysis of romanticism in The Rebel. Starting with de Sade, the radical impulse has tended towards the ultimate transgression or rebellion of death, either of others or of the self. What for de Sade and Baudelaire was a literary pose became for revolutionary groups an essential weapon: political assassination, the elimination of a figure of authority that would bring down the pillars of that authority. Precise targets became random ones, and, in the early years of the 20th Century, transformed into mass movements, which, to achieve their aims, sought mass death. This was one of the many elements that were shared by all these movements, whether of the Left or the Right. Mass death as a means to an end - the war to end all wars and to usher in the final state. The final doctrine, the final movement, the final state. Nihilism.

Berman's most enlightening chapters are the two that outline the ideas of Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian idealogue of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Islam as totality - there is no God but Allah and all derives from that single source: nature, man and all that man creates. Authority, therefore, can come only from God. Because it meant "the abolition of man-made laws" and a structure built on the only true law, Islam is "a universal declaration of the freedom of man from servitude to other men and from servitude to their own desires".
The West, on the contrary, is characterised by schizofrenia, a fatal division introduced by Christianity in its first centuries: the division between Greek rationality and Judaic piety - between the secular and the spiritual - ulitmately realised in the separation of politics and religion as practiced in liberal societies today. This is anathema - the enemy without that has infected the societies of the Umma.

Like the radical movements of the 20th Century, Qutb sees Islam as threatened with annihilation from without (by crusading Christians and Zionists and their schizofrenic worldview) and threatened from within (by reformers such as Ataturk and all those who do not follow the word of God). The true Muslim must fight a defensive war (a jihad) against both enemies, a war that would be terrible and involve death in all the World, but the jihadis would prevail and the perfect society would be born of the victory.

Berman traces this message from Nasser's prison to Saudi Arabia and to Iran, from Afghanistan to Jersey City, from which the political exile, Sheikh Rahman, issued orders to kill tourists and Jews. The constraints that Qutb had applied to jihadis, such as avoiding the murder of women and children, were quickly forgotten, though the rest was not.

He turns to us (we are interesting), to how we react to anti-liberal threats. And tells one of those stories that become a filter which you apply to the news and to the world from that moment onwards. The story of the French socialists of the 1930s. The French Socialists were a successful party in the France of the 30s, and their leader, Léon Blum, was Prime Minister 3 times. Faced with the rise of the Nazis, Blum called for re-militarisation and opposition to Hitler. But a large faction in his party were of a different view. Fearing another war (another verdun) above all things, they sought to rationalise the hatreds and hysteria of Nazi Germany. They tried and succeeding in seeing something in Nazi complaints, in Nazi conspiracy theories. And they turned on those within their own society who would fight back - they were the real enemies. The real dangers to peace were the warmongers, the arms manufacturers, the international financiers, some of whom were Jewish (as was Blum). Come the invasion, and the proposal of Marshall Petain to create a pro-Nazi government, the majority of the Socialists voted in favour. Some ended up in the Vichy regime, passed the anti-Jewish laws and sent the police to round up Jews so that they could be sent to the concentration camps.
Berman explains their evolution with reference to their irrational faith in the idea of a rational world. If people behave so irrationally, mustn't there be a rational explanation? As rational beings, are we not duty-bound to understand their irrationality before condemning them? Surely, there are powerful, explicable forces at work and if we understand those forces, then we can deal with them. He illustrates this with another admonitory tale. That of the reaction to the 2nd Intifada in 2002.

A wave of suicide bombings hits Israel. The Israelis react. Protests across the world. A mass anti-globalisation march in Washington raises the chant of "Martyrs, not murderers". At the annual Socialist Scholars Conference (at which Berman has spoken several times), an Egyptian speaker who defends a suicide bomber is applauded. A delegation of the International Parliament of Writers visits the Palestinian territories. Breyten Breytenbach claims the Jews see themselves as a Herrenvolk (ie Aparthied whites, a Nazi Master Race). According to Jose Saramago, the Israelis' hounding of Arafat in his Ramallah compound was "a crime comparable to Auschwitz". Berman quotes from Saramago's El Pais article which depicts Israel as a "blond" David firing missiles from helicopters at innocents and, concerning suicide bombers, concludes, "Israel still has a lot to learn if it is not capable of understanding the reasons that can bring a human being to turn himself into a bomb".

What is most interesting, however, is the reaction of the self-righteous after the Israelis have managed to suppress the suicide attacks. All the Palestinian achievements of the 90s have been destroyed - the economy, which had put forth buds, is virtually non-existant; poverty is now rife; hope of any sort of normal life completely illusory. But the suicide bombings have peaked and faded. Yet despite the real suffering that the Palestinians must now endure, world protests fade as well. As if we have returned to normality. The bombings had brought out the rationalisers among us; with the pause in the bombings came a silence from the rationalisers.

There is a lot more, but that is what I have kept with me from the book.