Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Win? That won't do.

Potential problems for the Democrats.

Democratic Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina admitted that he is worried that the Surge may work in Iraq and ruin Democratic Party plans to impose a timetable for a surrender. Clyburn is the Majority Whip — No. 3 man in the House — and he said that if Gen. Petraeus has a positive report in September that would be “a real big problem for us” (Democrats).

Michael Yon reacting to the New York Times article I linked to yesterday.

In fact, I have had the feeling for more than a month that top U.S. leadership in Iraq has been being cautious not to show too much optimism at this time. However, I have seen changes with my own eyes in Nineveh, Anbar, and Diyala that are more fundamental than just winning battles. In Nineveh, the enemies of a united Iraq are still strong and vibrant, but the Iraqi army and police in Nineveh clearly are improving faster than the enemy is improving. In other words, the Iraqi Security Forces are winning that particular race. Out in Anbar, the shift actually began to occur last year while Special Forces and other less-than-visible operators, along with conventional forces such as the Marines, began harnessing the mood-shift of the tribes. Whereas in Nineveh the fight has been more like a race and test of endurance, in Anbar the outcome was more like an avalanche. Parts of Diyala, such as Baqubah, witnessed avalanche-like positive changes beginning on June 19 with Operation Arrowhead Ripper. I witnessed the operation and was given full access. However, other areas in Diyala remain serious problems. I have seen firsthand many sectarian issues. There remains civil war in parts of Diyala (largely thanks to AQI). Down in Basra, a completely different problem-set faces the British who themselves are facing tough choices.

38, 300,000, 6000, 763

The British army in Northern Ireland.

Operation Banner, at 38 years the army's longest continuous campaign, saw more than 300,000 personnel serving, more than 6000 injured and 763 killed.

Now that's a counter-insurgency campaign. Does it seem to you that our expectations have become a little unrealistic of late?

Jihad - the Musical

Jihad - The Musical

I wanna
Be like Osama
I'll be Islamically reknowned
Ridicule. I can't help feeling that this type of thing should be one of our main strategic weapons.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Iraq from Iraq, and from elsewhere

Michael Totten on night patrol in Baghdad. Lots happens, and nothing happens.

This is what it is like most nights during counter-insurgency warfare. “It’s like we’re Baghdad PD,” one soldier put it. It isn’t always open war and explosions and bang-bang. Much of it entails patient police work and the chasing of ghosts.

The Iraqi counter-insurgency would be a hard war to film accurately. Most of the time it’s so quiet. But it’s the quiet of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, not of rural Middle America. Explosions, mortars, bullets, rockets…these things can come flying at you at any time.

Thankfully, on this occasion, they didn't.

Please read this marvellous article by Robert Tracinski on why we have to stay the course. I've chosen a lot of excerpts, but you really should read the whole thing.

Thus, the shifting goal of the Iraq war should be no surprise. We invaded to pre-empt Saddam Hussein's acquisition or use of chemical and nuclear weapons--but we had to stay to avoid handing Iraq over to the control of our other enemies.

Our weaknesses.

America's two crucial weak spots in war are the pragmatism and moral timidity of the right--and the active Western self-loathing of the left.

The first weak spot, for example, causes such strategic errors as the belief that we could fight a war narrowly within Iraq, without fighting a larger regional conflict against Iran and Syria. That decision allowed those two dictatorships to create and support the insurgency with impunity.

The second weak spot furnishes the left with a moral fifth column, a wide cultural movement within the West that will seek to exploit any errors and setbacks in the war as proof that we are morally unfit to fight it and must surrender.

Their weakness

For all their talk of an Islamic "caliphate," today's Islamists do not really have such an organized vision. Their ideology is not taken from Lenin but from Mohammed--a cruder, more primitive source. It is a charter, not for a modern state, but for tribal gang warfare, and the rule of the Islamists has been dominated by the capricious whim of holy warriors, usually without much pretense of scientific organization or the rule of law.

The message of defeat

Conservatives are correct that withdrawal from such a conflict will convey weakness to our enemies, but it is not just a generalized weakness. It is a specific weakness: the unwillingness to fight and win a counter-insurgency war. In ratifying this weakness, we will be telling our enemies: here is where and how to strike us, if you want to defeat us every time.

The Islamists share one crucial characteristic with the old Arab nationalist strongmen: they promise their followers strength. They promise victory and conquest as a balm for the deep-seated Muslim sense of inferiority and humiliation. Bin Laden described the theory behind his international terrorist crime spree as the "strong horse" theory: the people will support his cause because they regard it as successful, while they see the enemy as weak.

Finally, The New York Times thinks the unthinkable. We might win.

Good servant

An epitaph provided by Times commenter Mark Meynell. He says it's from a gravestone in the south of England.

"Sacred to the memory of MAJOR JAMES BRUSH, tragically killed by the accidental discharge of his pistol in the hand of his orderly.
14th April 1831"

And the Bible text placed at the bottom of the gravestone reads:

"Well done, good and faithful servant."

Victims of the Pen

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is going to publish a book called "I am not guilty" this October. Surprisingly, it will come out under the auspices of the Italian publishing house Neftasia and will initially be only in Italian, though an English translation is planned.

I have been unable to glean any more information from the pubishers website. Choudhury is listed there, though there are no details. However, they do have a series of books, or are planning one, called “Autori Vittime della Penna” literally, Authors Victims of the Pen. Under this banner they will publish authors who are "persecuted for the free expression of their thoughts", which would seem to describe Choudhury well enough.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The "innocent"

Another reformed Jihadist, this time from the Saudi programme. Ahmed al-Shayea drove a truck bomb into Baghdad on Christmas Day, 2004. Somehow, he walked away with only his fingers missing and burns to his face.

When they first contacted him,he was 19, unemployed and very devout. He travelled to Iraq via Syria. He was told to "deliver" a truck with 26 tons of butane gas to a place near the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad. He wasn't told that it was rigged to explode.

At first, he was taken to as a victim, but in hospital he confessed all. Now he wants others to know.

He is, in one sense, an innocent. But he went to Baghdad at the behest of al-Queda in order to wreak havoc, just not on himself. The Saudis have turned him round ("There is no jihad. We are just instruments of death"), but do they ask themselves why his devoutness was so easily transformed into homicidal action?

(via Hot Air Headlines)

Harry Potter: Not relevant? Think again

Barry Rubin rewrites Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix just a little to reinforce a point that the book itself makes clearly enough: the willful blindness of the great and good to the threat that looms. He manages to slip in bloggers, at least some of whom are fighting the good fight.

There it was, the lead story in the Daily Prophet newspaper:

“Minister Fudge Urges Engagement; Accuses Harry Potter of Voldemortphobia”

“What’s going on here?” Harry said angrily. “I personally saw Voldemort gathering his followers but when I read the Daily Prophet it would seem there is no real threat. And now they want to negotiate with Voldemort?”

“That’s not all,” Hermione explained. “The newspaper is trying to make you sound deluded for exposing the truth.”

“Yes,” Ron added, ”and there are a lot of people now who favor giving aid to Voldemort in order—they claim—to moderate him.”

Fortunately, Voldemort has been defeated, but look at what Harry had to do. I'm not sure I'm ready for that.

Mesopotamia: The Champions of Asia

Iraq beats Saudi Arabia 1-0. Omar Fahil is happy. Helio dos Anjos, the Brazilian coach of Saudi Arabia, was generous in defeat. His side were playing a lot more than 11 other players.

"We knew that Iraq would be a very difficult team to play in the final," said the 49-year-old.

"Because of the political situation in Iraq, they were very motivated to do well and they also had the support of the crowd here and all around the world.

"I am very happy for the Iraqi team, for all of their staff and especially for all of the people in Iraq.

"I wish them all the best and congratulate them on this result because they deserve to be happy."

Let's hope the happiness is unmarred.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Stirring the broth

Bill Roggio's latest is about the battle against "extremist elements of Muqtada al Sadr's militia". It's a little confusing.

The Mahdi Army split apart shortly after Sadr and the Mahdi Army leadership fled to Iran after the onset of the Baghdad Security Plan. The Iranian-backed elements, called the "rogue Mahdi Army" by Multinational Forces Iraq, have been targeted at every opportunity by U.S. and Iraqi forces in Baghdad, Diwaniyah, Samawa, Karbala, Basra and throughout the South.

Muqtada al Sadr fled to Iran. His forces split. It seems from what Bill Roggio says that the break-away groups are more extreme. Whatever. Iran is supporting them. And it's also supporting al Sadr, who presumably doesn't. Support the rogue groups, I mean.

It's not that I believe all the above to be impossible. But, if true, it is a good example of the messiness to the situation that the troops have to deal with.

Over at Michael Totten's site, he gets an endorsement from an Educated Soldier.

I just wanted to do my part to make everyone aware that Mr. Totten is not reporting the exception, but is instead becoming aware of the “rule.” I base this on my two years experience in the country, on the streets. I implore you to trust my judgment and, because of it, trust Mr. Totten’s assessment as well.

Bloodlust and restoration

Roger Scruton has an essay in this month's Prospect that doesn't seek to take on Hitchens, Dawkins, et al head-on, but does seek to address a question that militant athiests answer inadequately at best: why is religion so widespread, if not necessary?

Scruton's answer, expressed through a summary of René Girard's La violence et le sacré (1972) is fundamentally a negative one. Religion is necessary to deal with the violence, sexual competition and resentment that exists in every society and is a consequence of people living together. Its true origin

is in acts of communal violence. Primitive societies are invaded by "mimetic desire," as rivals struggle to match each other's social and material acquisitions, so heightening antagonism and precipitating the cycle of revenge. The solution is to identify a victim, one marked by fate as outside the community and therefore not entitled to vengeance against it, who can be the target of the accumulated bloodlust, and who can bring the chain of retribution to an end. Scapegoating is society's way of recreating "difference" and so restoring itself. By uniting against the scapegoat, people are released from their rivalries and reconciled. Through his death, the scapegoat purges society of its accumulated violence. The scapegoat's resulting sanctity is the long-term echo of the awe, relief and visceral re-attachment to the community that was experienced at his death.

His argument is that religion is not the cause of this violence, but the necessary means of dealing with it. The violence is a given; religion is a ritual for channelling and bringing it to closure.

A practicing Christian quotes a Catholic author. Obviously, the abstract 'scapegoat' here will lead to the ultimate scapegoat, Christ, so the argument seems a little restrictive.

However, there are other, more pragmatic, reasons for taking religion seriously, not the least of which is the need, if you are Hitchens or Dawkins, to dismiss as gullible fools the vast majority of human beings living and dead. I'd be hesitant to go down that road.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The news that counts

From US Central Command.

BAGHDAD – Iraqi Security Forces, with U.S. Special Forces as advisors, detained 13 suspected terrorists belonging to Al Qa’ida during two operations July 23 near Baghdad.

In the first operation, Iraqi Security Forces detained eight individuals linked to an Al Qai’da cell involved in sniper operations and death squad activities near Hayy Aamel. The targeted individuals were detained without incident or resistance. Iraqi Security Forces seized four AK-47 rifles and ammunition, cellular telephones, U.S. newspapers and other documents during this operation.

Why have they got US newspapers? Because they want to know what is happening on the front line.

Harry and Christ

Some of you may find this over-long essay pretty cranky, but having just finished the last Harry Potter, I think she is right. The Harry Potter books are a Christian allegory and Harry is the Christ figure.

Just two points. The writer (the wonderfully named Abigail BeauSeigneur) quotes Rowling, speaking in 2000.

Every time I’ve been asked if I believe in God, I’ve said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that [her Christianity] I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what’s coming in the books.”
[My emphasis]

She also makes some guesses as to what is in the seventh book (this article appears to have been published on the 13th of July, a week before publication).

Remember the locked room in the Department of Mysteries? The one that “contains a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death, than human intelligence, than nature” – the love room? Remember also Voldemort’s inability to possess Harry because he could not bear the love inside Harry? What if, because he went through the veil willingly, as a loving sacrifice, Harry is given the ability to open a door from behind the veil, directly into the love room? That would certainly terrify Voldemort. The (very carefully worded) prophecy says that Harry will vanquish Voldemort, not kill him. To vanquish means to defeat, conquer, or subjugate, but not necessarily to kill. Christ’s final victory will come when Satan is thrown into the fiery pit for eternity.
[My emphasis]

Looks pretty good to me. And it's not surprising really. Rowling is so much in the great tradition of English fantasy, which, apart from the rebel Philip Pullman, is a Christian monopoly, that it would be extraordinary if she were not Christian.

The sinner

Young Americans studying in Germany don't have it easy. Their peers feel beholden to lecture them on the manifold evils of that gun-happy hick, Uncle Sam, who refuses, despite so much advice, to be like Germany.

This is a mass phenomenon.

Only about 30 percent of Germans have a positive view of the United States, a veritable nosedive compared with the US's 78 percent approval rating in 2000. Turkey is the only other European country in 2007 where public opinion about the United States is so unfavorable. In fact, only in Muslim countries is Uncle Sam less popular than in Germany. A survey conducted last spring reported 58 percent of Germans aged 18 to 29 saying they considered the United States to be more dangerous than Iran.

I can hear the accusatory, self-righteous voices in my inner ear as I write.

It is the moral high-handedness of some Germans that many exchange students find so offensive. They are annoyed by their German hosts' conviction that it is their duty to open the eyes of these primitives from the New World to the true world order.

Unsurprisingly, it is an educated vice.

"Anti-Americanism is the only prejudice in Germany that increases with social status and higher education."

Paths to Jihad

From The Guardian.

In a prison cell south of Cairo a repentant Egyptian terrorist leader is putting the finishing touches to a remarkable recantation that undermines the Muslim theological basis for violent jihad and is set to generate furious controversy among former comrades still fighting with al-Qaida.

Sayid Imam al-Sharif, 57, was the founder and first emir (commander) of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad organisation, whose supporters assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981 and later teamed up with Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan in the war against the Soviet occupation.

The Egyptian rehabilitation programme is very extensive and even involves clerics from al-Azhar, the fount of mainstream jurisprudence in the Sunni world. It sounds like it is well-focussed.

"If you want to rob these people of their cover you have to take away their legitimacy," says Ashraf Mohsin, an Egyptian diplomat dealing with counter-terrorism. "The way to deprive them of their ability to recruit is to attack the message. If you take Islam out of the message all that is left is criminality."

It should be underlined, however, that this is a conversion 'within' Islam. They make theological arguments, based on verses of the Koran and the Haddith, not ethical arguments that we would recognise.

Their authors are neither secular nor liberal: their self-criticism includes observations that the wrong path to jihad benefits only the Jews, the US and Egypt's Christian minority.

The implication is that there is a better "path to jihad".

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Nazi socialists

It is good to be reminded that the full name of the Nazi party was the National Socialist German Workers' Party, and that the word "Socialist" in Nazi Germany was not a misnomer. It was a state-commanded economy that kept its people quiet with a formidable welfare structure funded by plunder and progressive taxation.

Subverting Iran

Arash Kamangir presents an op-ed from the "ultra-right state-run newspaper Kayhan" protesting the "questionable" sale of the latest Harry Potter. It seems that Bloomsbury rules were followed - the book arriving in sealed containers not opened until in the bookshop and sold from midnight British time. All this

in a society where there are strict rules for publication and distribution of any book. In this society, any book, either translated or authored, has to be carefully considered by a group of experts and foreign books have to be sold in very specific bookstores under strict control.

So, no censorship despite the fact that Harry Potter “includes destructive words and sentences which oppose to the values [of the Islamic Republic]”. What's worse,

The aims of the Zionist project, Harry Potter, has long been understood, even to the Western intellectuals and they have very frequently pointed out their suspicion about the book. Zionists have spent billions of dollars on this project.

Mind you, it happened. The Iranian authorities, for whatever reason, allowed the book to be released in exactly the same way as it was here, notwithstanding all those Zionist dollars. I don't know enough to say why, how or what that means. But it gives me pause for thought.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Kill Joy

The baddies are really losing it.

BAGHDAD - A suicide bomber struck soccer fans celebrating Iraq's victory in the Asian Cup on Wednesday, killing at least 11 people and wounding 31, police said.

The victims were among the thousands who took to the streets of the capital after the country's national soccer team beat South Korea to reach the tournament's final.

It is way too soon to crow, but can anyone really be surprised that the Sheiks and their tribes, the ex-Baathists and sundry insurgents are turning against al-Queda et al? You can see why the nasties would want to attack this celebration: it is a sign of Iraq re-entering the normal world, and it's an expression of joy, the enemy of all revolutionaries.

Iraq for the Asian Cup!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Speeding tickets and solar street lamps

A marvellous piece of on-the-ground reporting from Michael Totten on patrol in the Adhamiyah district of Baghdad.

We’ve already oppressed these people enough. They have a night culture in the summer, so if they aren’t military aged males driving cars we leave them alone. We were very heavy-handed in 2003. Now we’re trying to move forward together. At least 90 percent of them are normal fun-loving people.”

And speaking of 'oppressive', there are lots of walls in Baghdad.

In another part of Graya’at is an area called the Fish Market. Gates were installed at each entrance so terrorists can’t drive car bombs inside. The people here are extraordinarily grateful for this. Businesses, not cars, are booming now at the market. Residents feel free and safe enough to go out.

The walls only stop cars, not pedestrians.

“Most of what we’re doing doesn’t get reported in the media,” he said. “We’re not fighting a war here anymore, not in this area. We’ve moved way beyond that stage. We built a soccer field for the kids, bought all kinds of equipment, bought them school books and even chalk. Soon we’re installing 1,500 solar street lamps so they have light at night and can take some of the load off the power grid. The media only covers the gruesome stuff. We go to the sheiks and say hey man, what kind of projects do you want in this area? They give us a list and we submit the paperwork. When the projects get approved, we give them the money and help them buy stuff.”

In fact, it's gone so quiet that someone is getting bored.

“Man, this is boring,” one of them [the 82nd Airborne] said to me later. “I’m an adrenaline junky. There’s no fight here. It won’t surprise me if we start handing out speeding tickets.”

4%. Maybe not 100%

From the WSJ.

As of this minute, Syria occupies at least 177 square miles of Lebanese soil...

Though the land grabs are small affairs individually, they collectively add up to an area amounting to about 4% of Lebanese soil--in U.S. terms, the proportional equivalent of Arizona...

Last September, Mr. Annan paid a visit to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad after the latter had declared he would treat any attempt by the U.N. to deploy peacekeepers along the Lebanese-Syrian border as a "hostile act." To defuse the impasse, Mr. Annan simply accepted Mr. Assad's assurances that Syria would police its border and prevent arms smuggling. "I think it can happen," said the diplomat at a press conference. "It may not be 100%, but it will make quite a lot of difference if the government puts in place the measures the government has discussed with me."

In June, current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a report citing numerous instances of arms smuggling from Syria to Hezbollah and the PFLP. Yesterday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted that he once again has missiles that can reach Tel Aviv--missiles he could only have obtained via Syria. Israel confirms his claims.

Transforming the nation

An article by Shoaib Choudhury, published last Saturday in Canada. I have found nothing about what happened (or didn't) last Thursday when his trial for sedition was supposed to re-commence. Here he describes the situation in Bangladesh and how it fits into the more general threat from Islamists around the world.

According to international analysts, ‘A revolution is taking place in Bangladesh' that threatens trouble for the region and beyond if left unchallenged. Islamic fundamentalism, religious intolerance, militant Muslim groups with links to international terrorist groups, a powerful military with ties to the militants, the mushrooming of Islamic schools churning out radical students, middle-class apathy, poverty and lawlessness - all are combining to transform the nation.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Well, it didn't happen in Vietnam, did it?

John Kerry has experience of genocide in the aftermath. Well, he has experience of a "lack-of-genocide" in the aftermath. As he said on the Senate floor.

We heard that argument over and over again about the bloodbath that would engulf the entire Southeast Asia [after 1975], and it didn't happen.

James Taranto begs to differ.

An estimated 1 million people were imprisoned without formal charges or trials.

165,000 people died in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam's re-education camps, according to published academic studies in the United States and Europe.

Thousands were abused or tortured: their hands and legs shackled in painful positions for months, their skin slashed by bamboo canes studded with thorns, their veins injected with poisonous chemicals, their spirits broken with stories about relatives being killed.

Prisoners were incarcerated for as long as 17 years, according to the U.S. Department of State, with most terms ranging from three to 10 years.

At least 150 re-education prisons were built after Saigon fell 26 years ago.

One in three South Vietnamese families had a relative in a re-education camp.

And then there was Cambodia.

And Laos.

Bottom line

An impressive pun by Christie Davies, author of The Strange Death of Moral Britain.

"My very recent research on why royal dynasties (whose lineage is vital) die out does not indicate that male homosexuality has been an important factor. For royalty, the bottom of the page does not mean the end of the line."

At last. The News

Al-Qaeda faces rebellion from the ranks
Sickened by the group’s barbarity, Iraqi insurgents are giving information to coalition forces

This headline was on The Times' Most Read list this morning. To anyone who's been reading Roggio and Yon, it's old news, but it's good that it's getting into the big-name media.

Interestingly, almost all the comments are from the US. Have the British just become indifferent? Have they swallowed the media narrative of loss and ceased to follow this war?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

HP Foursome

Regarding the HP post below, I forgot to mention that as I was writing it, there were four people reading the latest book downstairs. No 1 Son (21) is not a big reader, but hopped off with our 'adult' version as soon as Daughter brought it home at about 1am on Saturday morning. In the room next to his, No 2 Son was ploughing through the other family copy. Down the stairs, in what was until a few days ago the living room, Daughter was reading a copy lent her by a friend who finished it in the same room before anyone else was up on Saturday morning. At the other end of the sofa sat another friend who came over yesterday evening, took her position and started turning the pages. She's almost through, and says she has cried several times.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Five fab fatwas

Five fantastic fatwas that should not be missed.

There's THE fatwa, in 1989, which was the first time most of us had heard the word. There's one against "unclothed sex" for married couples; against Pokémon (which, however absurd, I would instinctively support having had to sit through Pokémon 2000 with a five-year-old); against the Polio vaccine.

But Top of the Top Five is that concerning breast-feeding. This is emblematic, I think, of the strain put on Islam by the modern world, a strain that is relieved in other contexts by less ... fulsome means.

It concerns the difficulty of men and women forced into the close proximity of the office by modern work. How can they be left alone together? Can she ever reveal her hair to a male colleague? Well, yes. If she has breast-fed him. Five times. According to Ezzat Atiya, a lecturer at Cairo’s al-Azhar University. This was evidently a practice during the Prophet Mohammed's time, which just goes to show how far-sighted he was.

(via Instapundit)

What is it with Harry?

Dr Helen asks what the big deal is with Harry Potter. I left the following.

I remember hearing a radio programme with four very well-known and successful authors of children's books each of whom could be said to have 'literary ambitions'. When asked about their childhood reading, they cited a variety of authors, very few in common, except for one. Enid Blyton. In particular, the Famous Five. Only one had taken the trouble to go back and read her again, and he pronounced her 'unreadable dross'. That would be the opinion of most adults who sat down to read Enid Blyton. Unless they were reading aloud to a child.

Because whatever she does still works. She was the writer that got me reading voraciously and I suspect that she has worked the same magic for many, many others and will continue to do so. As will JK Rowling.

Rowling is better than Blyton, but I suspect she will perform this role as well. She has several essential qualities shared by the author of the Famous Five. Firstly, she portrays the child's world enhanced. There's no attempt at the 'real' world here because the world of realist novels is an adult one of emotional and economic relations that do not interest most children. The enhancement occurs by projecting the conflicts within onto a larger screen and adding a lot of effects. It is the world of school where children learn to fight their battles with their coevals on the playground and, because it's a boarding school, with authority figures uncomplicated by parental love.

A boarding school. That is important. It is a place with its own rules both day and night. It is cut off from the rest of the world. Parents, families are excluded. Identity must be forged on terms that take no account of the adult world, but belong to this world alone. Many teenagers feel like this anyway. A setting like Hogwarts formalises it. Its distance from everywhere we know as the real world is carefully maintained in the books just as that between the magic and the muggles's world is enforced by the Ministery of Magic (if with less success).

Rowlings is very conservative. Gender roles are such that they would have been recognised in the Thirties. The Big Bads and the Big Goods are all male and they will have to fight to decide the day. Females are loving and supportive (Mrs Weasley, Professor McGonagall), good and fussy (Hermione), bad and fussy (Dolores Umbridge), etc. But the great question is the male one - will the male reach maturity - that is, kill the bad guy? Children like this sort of clarity and feel comfortable with it. Rowling has extended it over 7 books with great single-mindedness. (It amazes me that the PC Brigade hasn't launched ICBMs on her - for the most part, it is as if PC was in another world, the muggle world, presumably.)

It should also be said that she has imagination, good puzzles, Latin, some great visual effects and lots of school humour. She's also got better and better sylistically. I thought the first chapter of the fifth book had real punch - economical but extremely effective. From what the children are saying downstairs, the first of this book is even better.

However, I wouldn't recommend them to an adult unless they have a child to read them to.

Friday, July 20, 2007

They won't trample on God

Michael Yon is present at a meeting to get civic life in Baqubah going again. The Iraqi Army officers and former insurgent leaders discuss 7 rules and an oath.

The most interesting discussion is about the flag. The American presentation had included images of the flag without the words “Allah u Akbar!” on it. It was Saddam who had added them in the certainty that Iraqis would not tample on anything with those words on it. The Iraqis present at this meeting agreed.

As Yon notes, this is liable to give us over here the jitters. But we must accept, however well Iraq turns out, it is never going to be "Surrey in the sun", as a British officer put it. In fact, more than anything else, what we most need in the Middle East is a country with “Allah u Akbar!” on its flag that is also, if not a friend of the West, at least not a real or potential enemy.

My Drop of Water

This was written at school by No. 2 Son (11) and his friend, W. I have not changed or corrected anything.

My drop of water has been in a bucket carried by a slave going to his lawful master
And it has been trickling down the face of a warrior in Alexander's the Great's army
My drop of water has touched the face of a Roman centurion going into the senate
And it has dropped on the sale of the mighty Saxons boat
My drop of water has beeen stomped over by Joan of Ark's mighty cavalry in the heat of battle
It has touched a man dying in the trench in the First World War
And bounced off a samurai sword of the stealthy Japanese solders in the misty jungle in World War Two
My drop of water has aided a thirsty British soldier in the Iraq desert
My drop of water has been everywhere.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

His and Hers

This is, in all likelihood, a send up, but it's funny.

Creative Writing assignment: a tandem story. Write a story alternating paragraphs with the classmate to your right. Exhibit: the piece by Rebecca (last name deleted) and Gary (last name deleted).

Warning - spoiler!

The last two paragraphs are:

Asshole.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bitch.

(Thank you, Ninme.)

Where is Shoaib Choudhury?

He was due to go on trial yesterday, but there seems to be no news of what happened.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Rebuilding

Colonel John Charlton writes from Ramadi to Max Boot of Commentary Magazine. It sounds like fantastic work. There's a lot in it. Some excerpts.

When we arrived in February, we were averaging 30 – 35 attacks per day in our area of responsibility. Now our average is one attack per day or less. We had an entire week with no attacks in our area and have a total of over 65 days with no attacks.

The Iraqis now have repaired the electrical grid in about 80 percent of the city and about 50 percent of the rubble has been removed.

Four months ago, there were no attorneys, judges, or investigators because of the threat from al Qaeda...We expect to have criminal courts beginning here in Ramadi in August.

We have funneled over $5 million in aid to these programs and have employed over 15,000 Iraqis. All this happened in about three months. This decentralized economic development program only used about 10 percent of my reconstruction funds, but has accounted for over 70 percent of new employment in Ramadi.

Company commanders went through every neighborhood and conducted assessments on all small businesses so we could help jump-start the small business grant program.

We have a great relationship with another non-governmental organization called International Relief and Development (IRD). IRD focuses on programs for community stabilization just like we do, and it provides help in ways the military can’t. For example, IRD helped us fund a city-wide soccer league, providing equipment and uniforms to hundreds of young Iraqis. The organization has also helped us form women’s outreach groups that focus on adult literacy, health, and education issues.

(via Instapundit)

Break a leg, al Baghdadi!

The Leader of the Islamic State of Iraq is a luvvie.

“To further this myth [of the Islamic State of Iraq], al Masri created a fictional political head of ISI known as Omar al-Baghdadi,” said Brig. Gen Bergner. Al-Baghdadi is actually played by an actor named Abu Abdullah al Naima, and al Masri “maintains exclusive control over al Naima as he acts the part of the fictitious al-Baghdadi character.”

Are we sure that al Baghdadi is the only one? Who isn't, I mean, real. The Great Ozzie bin Laddie, leader of a small but intrepid resistance against the evil empire, has often reminded me of Gandalf, who is really Ian Mckellen, who is, after all, just an actor (no disrespect intended). Now, that can't just be a coincidence, can it? And the head of the evil empire is Sauron, which almost rhymes with neo-con. I think we are finally getting to the bottom of this.

Flame Fractals

This is one of 52 images produced by Roger Johnston using the mathematical formula available here. I don't understand the maths, but the illustrations are good. There are more images here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

How does gopher do it?

Does anybody know how the gopher manages to read your mind? I find this mildly upsetting.

Another al-Queda (media) victory

The Massacre of Haditha is just like the Massacre of Jenin, a military defeat turned into a media victory by accusations of civilians slaughtered by the brutal soldiery. The accusations are taken up by our alert and inquiring press, headlines are made, righteousness is puffed up and a few more pixels are added to the image of the oppressive American (or Israeli). Slowly the claims are investigated and slowly they wither and grow transparent, but that battle has already been fought and won in newsprint and what didn't happen is dispersed in the noosphere and impossible to retrieve.

Stryker

Fantastic piece by Michael Yon, still in Baqubah, but writing now about the General Lee, saviour of men out on Route Tampa where "from beneath you, it devours".

(Warning: The video crashed my browser.)

Learning curves

Max Hastings on Commentisfree pushes Paul Collier's The Bottom Billion and the need for humanitarian intervention.

"On balance I think that my children, and everybody else's, will be safer if we respond to the problem of failing states by restoring order, rather than by relying on the myriad of defensive measures that we need if we don't do it."

Hastings reckons that Iraq has poisoned the well, and the will to do it again. That will certainly be true if it stops here. But Petraeus is showing that the US can learn from its mistakes and that it can work, even under the worst conditions. All this can, of course, be forgotten, and will be if America goes into isolationist mode with bitter memories of Iraq. However, it might also be that they will learn to do it better. God knows, no-one else is able.

Hastings also includes this quote from Collier's book. (BTW, he had this article in last month's Prospect on some of the same themes.)

"Citizens of the rich world are not to blame for most of the problems of the bottom billion; poverty is simply the default option when economies malfunction. The development lobbies themselves, notably the big western NGO charities, often just don't understand trade."

The comments are of the usual standard.

Rehousing in Darfur

From The Independent.

Arabs from Chad and Niger are crossing into Darfur in "unprecedented" numbers, prompting claims that the Sudanese government is trying systematically to repopulate the war-ravaged region.

An internal UN report, obtained by The Independent, shows that up to 30,000 Arabs have crossed the border in the past two months. Most arrived with all their belongings and large flocks. They were greeted by Sudanese Arabs who took them to empty villages cleared by government and janjaweed forces.

The arrivals have been issued with official Sudanese identity cards and awarded citizenship, and analysts say that by encouraging Arabs from Chad, Niger and other parts of Sudan to move to Darfur the Sudanese government is making it "virtually impossible" for displaced people to return home.

Now let's wait for the Arab Street to explode at this wanton Zionist ... no, Western..., no, something imperialism. Can Rage Boy be engaged?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Two fingers


Not everyone in Dahiyeh is happy with Hezbollah's “divine victory” last summer.

“Tell me, do you know what this means?” a Shiite from south Beirut asks a reporter from the Al-Awan news website as he makes the victory sign with his two fingers. “It means that we have only two buildings still standing.”


[Photo: AP]

But which buildings? Wasn't southern Beirut flattened by brutal (is there any other kind?) Israeli (and they're the worst) bombs? Yes, and no.

I particularly remember the BBC’s hourly reports during the war, each one beginning with the following (paraphrased) sentence: “As Israel continues its relentless pounding of southern Beirut…” But according to Ahmed, and also to several other residents of the Dahiyeh with whom I spoke during my two visits to Beirut over the last month, the Israeli air strikes were actually very much pinpointed on an area in the center of the Dahiyeh that is called the “security square” – the area where the senior Hezbollah leaders lived. Of course many of those destroyed apartment blocks were also occupied by people who were not connected to the Hezbollah; unfortunately, there is no technology that allows a single apartment building in a multi-dwelling building to be destroyed, while leaving the rest intact.

Of course, that was last summer. This summer is still to play for.

The killers of the prophets and of the innocent children

Watch the first flight of Nahoul, who "will follow in the footsteps of Farfour" to wreak vengeance on "the killers of the prophets and of the innocent children".

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Read more?

No. I don't want to.

I cannot explain why 'Read More' appears at the bottom of every post. This is new, and annoying. I have tried to remove it, and will try again. 

The whole truth leads to heresy

Anthony Jay has written a long article on the liberal mindset of the chattering classes, among which shines the BBC, for whom he worked for nine years.

Just a couple of paragraphs from many that I could have chosen. It really is worth reading the lot.

For a time it puzzled me that after 50 years of tumultuous change the media liberal attitudes could remain almost identical to those I shared in the 1950s. Then it gradually dawned on me: my BBC media liberalism was not a political philosophy, even less a political programme. It was an ideology based not on observation and deduction but on faith and doctrine. We were rather weak on facts and figures, on causes and consequences, and shied away from arguments about practicalities. If defeated on one point we just retreated to another; we did not change our beliefs. We were, of course, believers in democracy. The trouble was that our understanding of it was structurally simplistic and politically naïve. It did not go much further than one-adult-one-vote.

We ignored the whole truth, namely that modern Western civilisation stands on four pillars, and elected governments is only one of them. Equally important is the rule of law. The other two are economic: the right to own private property and the right to buy and sell your property, goods, services and labour. (Freedom of speech, worship, and association derive from them; with an elected government and the rule of law a nation can choose how much it wants of each). We never got this far with our analysis. The two economic freedoms led straight to the heresy of free enterprise capitalism - and yet without them any meaningful freedom is impossible.

A fluke of history

David Warren on Lee Harris's new book, The Suicide of Reason.

Islam is not unique in creating a social order in which zealotry or "fanaticism" is a glue, rather than a solvent. For this has generally been true of non-Western societies, and was universally true of all tribal arrangements that preceded the development of urban culture. We are not dealing with an anomaly, as our use of that word "fanatic" would suggest, but with an alien social order that is perfectly viable on its own turf, and within its own terms, whose premises are entirely non-Western.

We in the West, and especially we in such places as North America and Australia, have lived so long and so comfortably with the contrary premises, that we cannot look at the enemy without translating his behaviour into what is familiar to us. We imagine him to be playing by our rules, even when he is obviously not. We dream about "negotiating." We suffer hallucinations in which we describe the means and ends of the Jihadists in our own political vocabulary of give-and-take. We have been made myopic by the very success and endurance of our own social order, forgetting that it is itself a fluke of history.

That last line is very true. In fact, a measure of its success is our complacency, an unquestioned certainty that this was how things were meant to be and that this social order does not need defending. We even tell ourselves stories about other times complacency was punished and pretend that it never really happened.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Expression

Just back from No. 2 Son's Bugsy Malone. He looked embarrassed, but then, he often does.
It is extraordinary how much a child who can inhabit the stage sticks out. Most of them are doing what they have understood as the thing to do. So you get a sort of strobe effect, where the required gesture is attempted, but immediately abandoned, only a moment later to be attempted again. They are just repeating things that someone else expressed and the expression struggles to get beyond the end of their eyebrows. All you see is their awkwardness; nothing that is not them comes across.

But there was one boy tonight - he must have been about 8 or 9 - whose voice bounced off the back wall and whose performance was characterised by gusto. That is, it had a quality that was not a function of his attention span, but something expressed, something that was not about him.

Yes. She said that.

A Canadian interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. He is the "I can't believe you just said that" type because there are things that intelligent aware people just don't say. She is serene, polite and makes him look like an spoilt adolescent.

On the interviewer's scorn of the US.

You grew up in freedom and you can spit on freedom because you don't know what it is not to have freedom.

On the existence, or not, of Islamophobia.

We know of groups in history that were under seige. And what they usually do is they would leave. I don't see any american Muslim leaving and going back to a Muslim country.

(via Hot Air)

Friday, July 13, 2007

God cleared on a technicality

He wanted God in court.

Pavel Mircea, who is serving a 20-year sentence for murder, filed a lawsuit in the western Romanian town of Timisoara against God for not protecting him from the Devil. He claimed that he had concluded a contract with God at baptism but God had not kept his side of the bargain. "He was supposed to protect me from all evils and instead he gave me to Satan who encouraged me to kill," he claimed.

The plaintiff cited five paragraphs from the Romanian criminal code describing the crimes which God had allegedly committed, including fraud, breach of trust, abuse of a position of authority and misappropriation of goods. God had not fulfilled his side of the contract, Mircea claimed, because he had accepted prayers and sacrificial offerings without providing any kind of services in exchange.

The nit-picking public prosecutor's office refused to allow the case on the pedantic grounds that God isn't a person and doesn't have a legal residence. If you can't sue the fount of all law, what sort of rule of law is that? God's got a lot of questions to answer.

Level and square

Robert Heinlein: his world (in the Fifties).

Eschewing any religious or metaphysical affirmations, Heinlein laid out his social credo: “I believe in my neighbors... in my townspeople... in my fellow citizens.” He went on to write about his local priest, whose “goodness and charity and loving kindness shine in his daily actions. ... If I’m in trouble, I’ll go to him.” (Heinlein was an atheist, by the way.) Heinlein’s next-door neighbor, he tells us, was a veterinarian: “Doc will get out of bed after a hard day to help a stray cat — no fee, no prospect of a fee.”

Heinlein went on to praise the charity and conscientiousness of his fellow citizens: “For the one who says, ‘The heck with you, I've got mine,’ there are a hundred, a thousand, who will say, ‘Sure, pal, sit down.’ I know that despite all warnings against hitchhikers, I can step to the highway, thumb for a ride, and in a few minutes a car or a truck will stop and someone will say, ‘Climb in, Mack. How far you going?’ ... I believe in the honest craft of workmen. Take a look around you. There never were enough bosses to check up on all that work. From Independence Hall to the Grand Coulee Dam, these things were built level and square by craftsmen who were honest in their bones.”

Heinlein even had a good word for politicians: “I believe that almost all politicians are honest. For every bribed alderman, there are hundreds of politicians — low paid or not paid at all — doing their level best without thanks or glory to make our system work. If this were not true, we would never have gotten past the thirteen colonies.

That was more or less my world, too, growing up in 60-70s Australia. Has any of the thousand generations of erect apes had it better?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Don't complicate the story

An article by Jules Crittenden asking the question I've been asking, why is the media not explaining what Petreaus is doing in Iraq? Obviously, he concentrates on American media, but the situation seems the same as here.

One reason may be that it would complicate their story-telling. At the moment, the basic narrative is built on the number of our soldiers killed in action or the number of Iraqis killed in a suicide attack. Concerning the first, the strategy entails far more 'contact' between the American troops and the Iraqi public as well as intense operations of clearance. The number of American casualties has to rise in these conditions.

But it is the second of these measures that really stands out. After every bombing, the BBC archly poses the question, is the surge failing? On the face of it, it seems a reasonable question. After all, isn't that the whole point, to stop the bombers?

Yes, and no (said Blackadder to Baldrick). Al-Queda is not the target of this operation; the Iraqi neighbourhoods are. The aim is to replace insurgents/al-Queda/militias as the main force in each neighbourhood of Baghdad and the surrounding area and then to hold them and to establish the law of the state for good. The nasties may well escape and mount an operation a bit further out of town; that, for the moment, is inevitable. The point is to stop them coming back. To gradually narrow their field of action.

It is slow. It is uneven. There will still be bombings and killings for some time to come, if for no other reason than to get on American network news. But if most of these areas can be held (first by Americans, then by Iraqis), the nasties will be marginalised more and more and the rule of law will have time to take root.

However, this is a difficult story to tell and it doesn't have nice, easy markers so that you can say, it is (not) working. So the media just ignore it.

Compulsion

From The Times of India

It was knighthood [sic] to writer Salman Rushdie, which has angered many radical Islamic groups, that forced alleged bomber Kafeel Ahmed to execute the Glasgow airport attack.

Well, if he was forced to do it, what can you say?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Shoot to live, Live to shoot

The Red Brigades have made something of a comeback in Italy in the last few months. I will write a report on this soon, but here I would just like to record what was found after a march in Rome this weekend [article in Italian].

A leaflet with the image of a Walther P38, a pistol that recalls the Left-wing terrorism of the 70s. Above, the words "Sparare per vivere, Vivere per sparare" - Shoot to live, Live to shoot. Below, the words "Nulla è finito" - Nothing is over.

This is not the hick America of the NRA; this is sophisticated Europe.


Abu Ali doesn't kill Americans any more

Michael Yon from Baqubah. He interviews  Abu Ali, of the 1920 Revolution Brigades, who until this year killed Americans, but who now fight with the Americans to remove al-Queda. Why?

Speaking through LT David Wallach, a native Arabic speaker, Abu Ali said that “al Qaeda is an abomination of Islam: cutting off heads, stealing people’s money, kidnapping . . . every type of torture they have done.”

Notice his answer here.

In closing, I asked Abu Ali if there was something he would like to say to Americans. The markets that had been closed under al Qaeda were bustling around us.

Ali thought for a moment as some local people tried to interrupt him with greetings, and he said, “I ask one thing,” and now I paraphrase Ali’s words: “After the Iraqi Army and Police take hold and the security forces are ready, we want a schedule for the leaving of the American forces.”

Let's hope that's how it happens.

I didn't really mean it. Let's be friends

From Jeremy Bowen's recent article about Hamas post-Johnston.

And there is Israel, which controls Gaza's borders, its airspace and its sea coast.

At least six Hamas members were killed in an Israeli raid into Gaza the night after Alan Johnston was released.

Most Israelis regard Hamas as a terror organisation that would destroy their state if it could.

Regarding the final sentence, Norm points out the obvious objection, unstated by Bowen, that Hamas's own charter demands the destruction of Israel. Not only that, Hamas is a terror organisation. If you recruit, equip and send off suicide bombers, you are engaged in terrorism. So the final relative clause should read, "that will destroy their state if it can". Nor does Bowen give any context to the second sentence; he doesn't say that Israel's raids are a response to the daily rocket attacks on Sderot and other Israeli towns.

The thrust of the article is given, as usual, by quoting someone else.

The mood was summed up in the final despatch sent back to the UN by its Middle East envoy, Alvaro De Soto, before he retired earlier this summer.

He wrote that Hamas "can potentially evolve in a pragmatic direction that would allow for a two-state solution - but only if handled right".

Perhaps De Soto didn't mean it this way, but as quoted here and given the tenor of the rest of the article, it sounds like it really is all up to us. That Hamas just can't wait to hucker down with its neighbours and allow everyone to live their lives as they wish, the evidence for this being that they had Alan Johnston released.

If we have learned nothing else in the last 6 years, it is that the Islamist gangs understood long ago that the real war is fought in the media. Civilian massacres in Iraq and Afghanistan are timed for television news; Pallywood is a flourishing industry and the brothers in Lebanon showed last summer that they had learnt all the tricks of the trade.

So I ask, apart from Alan Johnston, what else have Hamas done to show that they would be amenable to influence? Could it be that their concern for the BBC reporter was really that he was ... a BBC reporter, and therefore ideal leverage on one of the most influential news organisations in the world, one that has shown a certain partiality for the Palestinian viewpoint in the past and continues (witness this article) to do so now? Don't we need just a little bit more from them? Or am I just cynical?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Good news, maybe, but it can't last

Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador in Iraq, on withdrawal.

“In the States, it’s like we’re in the last half of the third reel of a three-reel movie, and all we have to do is decide we’re done here, and the credits come up, and the lights come on, and we leave the theater and go on to something else,” he said. “Whereas out here, you’re just getting into the first reel of five reels,” he added, “and as ugly as the first reel has been, the other four and a half are going to be way, way worse.”

General Petreaus was on the BBC yesterday talking about the timescales for counter-insurgency. I found the way his interview with John Simpson was introduced was very interesting. First, in PM, Eddie Mair set it up by starting with the recent bombings and, Is this the failure of the Surge? This is the standard line. Then to the interview with Petreaus heard mostly on the time needed.

In the news that followed, John Simpson's sum-up, which we didn't hear in PM, talked about "some" signs of success with the new strategy, but finished, "It seems very unlikely that he will have the time to build on it." This will be the new line, when the BBC finally notices what is really happening there: some success, yes, but it's all really a waste of life, money and energy because it's doomed anyway.

A drop in the ocean

guimp.com

The smallest website in the world - 18px by 18px.

From the Little Green Book of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

From UPI, the words of Ahmadinejad.

The countdown for the destruction of Israel has begun.

Zionists are the personification of Satan.

The West invented the myth of the massacre of the Jews (in World War II) and placed it above Allah, religions and prophets.

To those who doubt, to those who ask is it possible, or those who do not believe, I say accomplishment of a world without America and Israel is both possible and feasible

Is there a craft more beautiful, more sublime, more divine, than the craft of giving yourself to martyrdom and becoming holy? Do not doubt Allah will prevail, and Islam will conquer mountaintops of the entire world.

Iran can recruit hundreds of suicide bombers a day. Suicide is an invincible weapon. Suicide bombers in this land showed us the way, and they enlighten our future.

The will to commit suicide is one of the best ways of life.

We don't shy away from declaring that Islam is ready to rule the world.

The wave of the Islamist revolution will soon reach the entire world.

Everyone seems to expecting war in Lebanon. From Michael Totten, a report that Syrian troops have taken up positions 3 km inside Lebanese territory in the Bekaa Valley. Ynet quotes a MEMRI translation to the effect that Syria has told its citizens to leave Lebanon by the 15th of July when the "current political crisis may become a violent conflict". The IDF believe that this conflict will take place inside lebanon and is primarily a Shiite-Sunni struggle, but one that could easily spill across the border. The UPI article above sees in the offing attacks by Hezbollah on Israel and by Israel against Syria. No-one is forecasting sweetness and light.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The sting

This sounds like a more-than-justified gloat. Censorship on public-financed media in the Netherlands. And what got censored.

Female suicide bombers

Those who would have us dismiss Islam from the motivations for terrorism are basically saying, Close your eyes. Everything looks better that way. It is deluded. However, it would be equally deluded to look only at Islam. I would hazard a guess that in most societies, the proportion of truly religious people (ie people for whom religion is the well-spring of their whole being) is more or less the same. For the rest, religion is either an irrelevance, a nuisance or a more of less convenient vehicle. Now it may well be that Islam is a more convenient vehicle for certain actions than other religions, but that still leaves the question of what is fueling the vehicle.

Judith Miller has an article in Policy Review about 2 prisoners in Israeli jails, both failed suicide bombers and both women. The first, Shefa’a al-Qudsi, made her assault on Paradise when she had a 1-year-old daughter at home. She herself chose the target.

“The guys wanted me to do the operation in Hadera,” she said, referring to another neighboring seaside Israeli town. “But I had worked for eight years as a hair dresser, often in Israel. I had some Israeli clients and knew Netanya like the back of my hand. There was a hotel there with a dancing hall, a beautiful place by the sea. A lot of Orthodox Jews live nearby; it was usually crowded. Because the Israelis demolished everything beautiful in our lives, I wanted to do the same to them."
She wanted to kill people she knew. As she explains it, her motivation would more than satisfy most commentators. The intolerability of life under Israeli occupation, the promise of a better future because of her "martyrdom", the example of Wafa Idris, the first female suicide bomber, and the arrest of her 15-year-old brother in another failed suicide operation.

Yet there was more.
I sensed that al-Qudsi’s motives were more complex, and as we talked, this seemingly determined young woman’s confidence flagged as she recounted her failed marriage and the other disappointments that made martyrdom so attractive. While all of her siblings had finished college, she had dropped out of high school at 16 “to marry the man I loved,” her first cousin. But Essam had humiliated her by marrying a Romanian while working in Europe and asking her for a divorce. At 19, she returned to her parents’ home, rejected, a single mother with dubious remarriage prospects. Essam eventually asked her to remarry him after his second wife left him and their two children to return to Romania, she said. But she refused, “as a matter of dignity.”
Now, she is optimistic about her future.
Given her sacrifice, she says, “many jobs will be waiting for me.” She may work in the part of the Palestinian Authority still run by Yasir Arafat’s Fatah, or at the “prisoners club,” which has paid her family 1,000 shekels a month since her incarceration — about $350 a month, not an insignificant sum in economically hard-pressed Palestine whose average per capita annual income is under $1,000. Her father has opened a new café in Tulkarem. With her enhanced social status as a would-be shaheeda, she looks forward to working with men now, she said. “I’ve had more than enough of women in jail,” she laughed. But she does not want to remarry, to go “from one prison to another.”
Note that. The choices available to a young woman who has been abandoned by her husband amount to less than a hill of beans. The choices available to a woman who has tried to murder tens of people make her savour the prospects.

Then there's Wafa al-Biss, 23 years old, sentenced to 12 years behind bars for another failed attempt to kill Israelis. The Israelis she was trying to kill were (probably) patients or workers in a hospital that had saved her life, Soroka Hospital in Beersheba. She had been very badly burned in a freak cooking accident and had been treated there for 3 months.

When arrested and paraded before the media, she shouted, “I believe in death” and “I wanted to kill 20, 50 Jews. Yes, even babies! You kill our babies!”

A bad case. The inevitable product of oppression. And yet...
...“I don’t care about Jews and Arabs,” she told me in the prison; she had never been political. Israelis at Soroka, where she had spent three months with her burns, treated her with “respect and dignity,” she said. “They had been very kind,” she said. “But I still wanted to kill myself.”
Where had she come from? Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza, one of 12.
Her father was “primitive.” He rarely let her go out except to school or the mosque. He and her brothers beat her. She tried to throw herself out a window at age 18 [ie before her cooking accident], but courage failed her. “Islam says you can’t kill yourself. I was afraid of the shame for my family,” she said.
Then she got engaged, and then she got burnt. And her fiance left her, repelled by her disfigurement. The Israeli doctors recommended counselling, but
her brothers had objected: neighbors might think she was crazy, bringing further shame upon the family.
He wasn't the only one who thought it'd be better if she were in Paradise.
Security sources told me that soon after her arrest she told them that although her parents had initially disapproved of her mission, they ultimately encouraged her. The video she told me had been made in the Al-Aqsa safe house, for instance, was actually taped on the second floor of her own home, with her parents’ approval. Her own mother had helped her dress the morning of her attack. When the zipper of the explosive-laden pants tore as she was putting them on, her mother sewed it back up.
The central problem here is not so much Islam the religion as that of a failed culture, of which Islam is an essential part, and a completely broken society. Its structures are completely inadequate for the world around them and the 'natural' reaction to this situation is the death wish. It is all very well to blame the West for this failure, but that doesn't solve anything. A healthy organism reacts to threat by adapting and growing stronger to meet it. This society refuses to, or cannot adapt and turns on itself in fury. It demands what it cannot have, and when the demand is not met, finds its justification in and for death.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Deathbed scene

Keats' house in Rome
I haven't visited PaNic RoMe for a while. My loss. Among his many wonderful photos of l'Urbe immortale, I came across the one above. It reminded me of a story my wife told me of her first and only visit to the city. She had filed in behind a group of tourists whose guide was giving them the lowdown on Keats and his death in that first-floor room next to the Spanish Steps.

It went like this. The poet's final moments were dramatic. His lover, Shelley, had rushed down from La Spezia to be with him. Shelley arrived tears bejewelling his cheeks and, uttering an anguished cry, threw himself on the prostrate Keats, who at that moment breathed his last (no doubt due to the impact).

My wife, who was a very earnest soul, and who had hitched round Europe with the complete Shelley and Milton in her rucksack, was outraged, and sought to remostrate with the reprobate guide. He ignored her. So did the tourists.

Another apocalypse

Martin Durkin, maker of The Great Global Warming Swindle.

The media and academe (as those of us on the inside know very well) are, in the main, soft left and soft green. We like things that are natural, we think the market is cruel, and we recycle not because it's logical but because it feels right. In these circles global warming has become part of social etiquette. It is as unacceptable to question it as it is to say that you admire George W. Bush or think organic food is a con.

This is the real strength of global warming theory. It taps into the middle-class aesthetic revulsion of consumer, industrial society.

And this revulsion is as old as industrialism itself. It has inspired the Luddites, William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites, great aesthetes such as Ruskin, nostalgics of the aristocracy, the many back-to-nature movements, anarchists, fascists and nazis, anti-capitalists of yore and today, as well as Isamic Jihadis. However, I still can't get away from the suspicion that the latest craze is more or less bound up with the undying need of the Left to tell people how to live down to the smallest and most intimate corner of their private lives.

It seems that, despite the unquestioning fidelity to the new orthdoxy of much of the media (especially the BBC), much of the public remains unconvinced. Personally, I think this is the healthiest reaction to any talk of Apocalypse, which spends so much time just round the corner that it should be arrested for loitering. But there is another instinct at play here, the one which says, how can they possibly know what's going to happen?

A sound instinct, backed up in this case from academe itself. Professor Scott Armstrong and Dr Kesten Green are specialists in forecasting techniques. They analysed chapter 8 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Working Group 1 report; it's the chapter that sets out the methodology used for the forecasts in the report.

Armstrong and Green rated the methodology used by the panel against 89 principles of good forecasting derived from years of research. They found that the panel report breached 72 of those principles. They concluded that the forecasts the weather was likely to change in many negative ways were worthless.

And concerning uncertainty and complexity

The more of each you have, the less sure you should be of your forecasts. Climate forecasts involve so many factors and so much uncertainty that Armstrong and Green believe they're useless.

Many people believe these complex forecasts can be trusted because computer models are used. But so much uncertainty and subjectivity is involved in the input that Armstrong and Green say the use of these computer models is just a modern version of an old practice: the use of mathematics to make personal opinions sound more impressive. (Robert Malthus's predictions on population increase and food decline, very influential in the 19th century, were presented with a lot of mathematics. They were wrong.)

(via Tim Blair)

Friday, July 06, 2007

The earth moves

This is very good news.

A consortium led by Channel 4 has won the right to launch 10 new national digital radio stations and a number of other secondary services, in a deal that will rival the BBC's news and entertainment coverage.

Oh, how the BBC needs some competition. Oh, how we all need the BBC to have some competition. Now, no matter how cross I get with the BBC, I always end up going back to it, because, without a computer in the kitchen, there is nothing else to tune in to when the time comes to make dinner.

The work of the al Ameriki tribe

Michael Yon's latest report from Baqubah has a lot in it, including some marvellous photos of beaming kids. However, one of the captions reads

These kids crack me up. But you do have to be careful: every once in a while they throw a hand grenade or detonate an IED. The enemy uses them like fodder.

There's also this.

... during one of the impromptu stops, an Iraqi man who might have been 30-years-old came up and said that he’d been beaten up by soldiers from the 5th Iraqi Army. He had the marks on his face to lend initial credence. But most striking was that he hadn’t gone to the Iraqi leaders, nor did he come to the man with the camera and note pad. He did what I see Iraqis increasingly doing: he went to the local sheik of “al Ameriki tribe.” In this case, the sheik was LTC Fred Johnson...More and more Iraqis put their trust in Americans as arbiters of justice.

Many will scoff at this. I don't. It's not 'being nice to make them like you'; it's an essential part of the strategy outlined by David Kilkullen in his interview with Austin Bay and in this article. The US army will establish the peace and protect the society from the intimidators. It will give that society a stronger 'narrative' to act by, but to do this it must walk the walk and be seen doing so. And it must stick round to make sure that when it leaves, it does not leave a vacuum for al-Queda to fill. That means the Iraqis must be able to take over. So, yes, I think it's perfectly understandable that people should react like this, and worrying, as well, that they have no faith in their own. To build Iraqi faith in Iraqis may be, in the end, the greatest task of all.

Read it all. It is, as usual, very good and you won't find stuff like this anywhere else.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Forget the past. Imagine the future.

Khairi Abaza in The Daily Star (Lebanon)

As the current situation in Palestine worsens, let Arabs not forget their past. Events that are portrayed as victories by Arab politicians are not always victories for the Arab people. Last month, the Arab world remembered one of its greatest defeats of the 20th century: the June 1967 war, which marked the end of the hope to wipe out Israel and the loss of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, the Sinai, and the Golan Heights.

Despite the memory of those losses, Arab media, from Al-Jazeera to Dubai TV, still tried to find an honorable excuse for the Egyptian president in 1967, Gamal Abdel-Nasser. This same distorted logic has been applied to movements such as Hizbullah and Hamas, whose defeats are often transformed into victories. No independent commission has ever assessed any of Abdel-Nasser's, Hamas', or Hizbullah's declarations of victory. The Arab people must dig for the truth in the statements and behavior of these leaders or groups. We have allowed politics in the Arab world to be defined by slogans, not results. Our judgment of leaders can only be truly determined by what they do not just what they say.

Arabs will not progress before they face the truth about their own history. In memorializing the 1967 defeat, Arab media organized numerous talk shows, documentaries, and interviews. But none clearly defined who was responsible for the Arab loss.

Instead, the media tried to remind us how Abdel-Nasser gave Arabs a voice and pride. They failed to remind us that because of his bluff and provocation, in June 1967 Israel was able to win a devastating war. They failed to remind us how Abdel-Nasser encouraged King Hussein of Jordan to take part in the war only hours after he knew that Egypt had been defeated - providing Israel with a reason to occupy East Jerusalem and the West Bank. And they never mentioned that in 1970 Abdel-Nasser was considering accepting the Rogers Plan for a peace settlement with Israel, with terms less favorable than the Camp David agreement later signed by his successor, Anwar Sadat. Instead, Arab media tended to stress that it was Abdel-Nasser who had planned the October 1973 war, which took place three years after his death, removing all credit from Sadat, who had truly led the battle.

Crossed lines

I don't know about you, but the reactions of certain members of the public at Glasgow Airport on Saturday have made me feel a lot better about us. There is the by-now superstar John Smeaton with his

You’re nae hitting the polis, mate. There’s nae chance.

There's also a taxi driver, Alex McIlveen, who had just dropped off a passenger. He saw the jeep crash and the two terrorists jump out and start on everyone around them as if they were on something chemical and noxious. One of them

kicked and punched a man to the ground before punching a policeman square in the face. That’s when I saw red. That sort of thing just isn’t on.

As Mark Steyn does not tire of pointing out, the only ones to fight back on 9/11 were the people on United 93 who didn't rely on the authorities. They did what they had to do and what they had to do, they did.

But Smeaton and McIlveen also remind me of special kind of American hero. Specifically, of Will Kane in High Noon. Not big on the exegesis or the footnotes is Will. When it comes to expressing himself, he does it by acting, not by talking. The rest of the town talks and talks and does nothing. Kane knows what's right, and so he does it. Very simple really. At a certain point, you stop understanding or making excuses; a line is crossed, and you act. But the line must be clear (see the post about Magdi Allam below).

It seems that Glaswegian taxi drivers and baggage handlers have a certain clarity of vision that is denied to so many of their 'betters'.