Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Gambling and earning

Trevor Beaumont of UK Betting, complaining that a move by banks to prevent credit cards being used for internet gambling "smacked of a nanny state", said, "I am sure there will be plenty of customers who will be outraged at being told what they cannot do with their hard-earned money." (Financial Times, 16 Oct)

From the same issue: advertisement in the 'unlikely pages of the Guardian's media supplement' for graduates with experience of investigative journalism sought by hedge funds trying to get ahead of the competition.


23 Dec: some surprising news from the BBC:
Qatar says it has agreed to hand over to Moscow two convicted Russians to serve out the remainder of their life sentences in their homeland. A Qatari foreign ministry official did not name the Russians ... But the men are likely to be two intelligence officials found guilty of murdering an exiled Chechen rebel leader in a February bomb attack. ... Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev ... was killed by a car bomb as he left a Doha mosque after prayers.


28 Dec: in memory of Susan Sontag, from The New York Times, May 23, 2004:
Words alter, words add, words subtract. It was the strenuous avoidance of the word ''genocide'' while some 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda were being slaughtered, over a few weeks' time, by their Hutu neighbors 10 years ago that indicated the American government had no intention of doing anything. To refuse to call what took place in Abu Ghraib -- and what has taken place elsewhere in Iraq and in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay -- by its true name, torture, is as outrageous as the refusal to call the Rwandan genocide a genocide.
The issue is not whether the torture was done by individuals (i.e., ''not by everybody'') -- but whether it was systematic. Authorized. Condoned. All acts are done by individuals. The issue is not whether a majority or a minority of Americans performs such acts but whether the nature of the policies prosecuted by this administration and the hierarchies deployed to carry them out makes such acts likely.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Wartime rights

Via the NYT Magazine (19 Dec), Geof Stone, guesting here. I have commented on one point, but there is much else that is worth quoting:
unlike the Sedition Act of 1798, where the maximum jail term was 6 months, judges enforcing the World War I legislation routinely sentenced people to prison terms of 10-20 years in jail, and many of these people (like Mollie Steimer and Emma Goldman) were deported for their dissent.

And what, you ask, of the Supreme Court of the United States? In a series of decisions in 1919 and 1920, the Court upheld the convictions of these defendants. ...

Things today don't look quite so bad, do they?     [link]
On to World War II:
When asked why Japanese-Americans should be treated differently from German and Italian Americans, California Attorney General Earl Warren explained that it's possible to tell a loyal German or Italian from a disloyal one, but that such a determination was simply not possible with those of the Japanese race.
So, here's a question for you: Suppose the United States is hit with six terrorist attacks on the scale of 9/11 in the next three weeks. Suppose some of the terrorists are foreigners and some are American citizens who are Muslim. Suppose the Bush administration
orders the detention of all non-citizen Muslims in the United States and the temporary detention of all Muslims who are citizens of the United States, at least to determine which may pose a threat to the security of the nation. Would you support this? Can you distinguish it from the World War II internment?     [link]

And after:

Who was to blame? How did the Soviets get the bomb? Why had China fallen to the Communists? A group of anti-New Deal Republicans and conservative Southern Democrats had the answer -- it was American Communists who had sold us out and were working to further the Soviet cause. Men like Richard Nixon in California and Joseph McCarthy in Wisconsin began to play the Red Card in order to get elected, and they did. In the 1946 elections, the Republicans, who now portrayed the choice as one between Communism and Republicanism, picked up 54 seats in the House. After being out of power for 16 long years, the Republicans had found a strategy that could propel them back into power.

Democrats, who were overwhelmed by the growing anti-Communist hysteria, jumped on the bandwagon, afraid to resist.    [link]
'By the time we got to 1968, it was no longer possible to imagine a criminal prosecution of Gene McCarthy for opposing the war.' But...
The Nixon administration launched IRS audits of those who contributed to antiwar organizations, the FBI sent letters to the landlords of antiwar activists informing them that their tenant was a "Communist," it sent anonymous letters to colleges and universities accusing antiwar activists of drug violations, it encouraged local police agencies to arrest war opponents for traffic and other offenses, and so on. The FBI also sent anonymous letters to members of antiwar organizations accusing other members of embezzling the organization's fund, sleeping with the partners of other members, and even being FBI agents. The goal was to confuse, demoralize, distract, and discredit those who opposed the war, without doing anything that could be seen. None of this was known to the public until 1972.
the conventional wisdom is that the Supreme Court will never resist the executive branch in wartime. This is overstated. During World War II, the Court held unconstitutional the efforts of the Roosevelt administration to deport American fascists; during the second half of the Cold War the Court took a strong stand against McCarthyism; during the Vietnam War, the Court rejected the Nixon administration's effort to enjoin the publication of the Pentagon Papers and rejected its claim that it had a constitutional power to engage in national security wiretaps without a warrant. Most recently, the Court rejected the extreme claims of the Bush administration with respect to the rights of the Guantanamo Bay detainees and the rights of American citizens held as "enemy combatants" by the United States military. We should not expect too little of the Supreme Court.

Ultimately, though, the protection of civil liberties depends on an informed, determined, and courageous public. As Louis Brandeis once observed, "courage is the secret of liberty." May you all have the courage of your convictions.    [link]

"You cannot hope to bribe or twist thank God! The British journalist. But, seeing what the man will do unbribed, there's no occasion to." Jan Dalley in the FT a month or two ago [16 Oct?] attributed this to Chesterton.

Orwell quoted the same thing, saying 'in the lines by (I think) Hilaire Belloc:

You cannot hope to bribe or twist
Thank God! the British journalist.
But seeing what the man will do
unbribed, there’s no occasion to.'

The lines are attributed here (and by many others) to  Humbert Wolfe. That the lines can be got right and the author wrong is a tribute to the mnemonic power of verse (or even one attibute of verse - the lines have been described as doggerel). I do not claim this is so here, but sometimes mis-attribution can be revealing. Orwell again (on a different quotation) :

[Mr. Middleton Murry] attributes these lines to Thackeray. This is probably what is known as a ‘Freudian error.’ A civilized person would prefer not to quote Kipling —i.e. would prefer not to feel that it was Kipling who had expressed his thought for him


Will the EU's Constitution Rescue its Currency?       Professor Tim Congdon

 Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe: 1 - Treaty  (PDF, 807K) 

Democracy and religion

The starting point of 'Continental drift' by Ian Buruma -  see - is the fact of most Europeans mourning the defeat of John Kerry.

Why? Was it, perhaps, because they agreed with the eminent US scholar Garry Wills, who described the Bush victory as the defeat of the Enlightenment in the US? In his view, the land shaped by Jefferson and Lincoln has been taken over by “moral zealots”. Is Europe now the last beacon of Enlightenment values, and America the counter-Enlightenment?
But the main difference between Europe and the US is political: the former is still governed by elites, especially on the level of the EU, while populism has swept the US.
 But “Europeans”, as [Timothy] Garton Ash has pointed out, is often code in Washington for something else: for the old liberal, Atlanticist elite, represented by Democrats such as Kerry, but also country club Republicans such as Bush the elder. To be “European” means to be on the side of secular liberalism at home, and cautious diplomacy and alliance-building abroad.
I’m not at all sure that Garry Wills is right to claim that Bush’s US has turned its back on the Enlightenment. European intellectuals like to believe Europe is now the only legitimate carrier of the liberal heritage bequeathed by Diderot, John Locke and, yes, Thomas Jefferson. But is it true? On the level of rhetoric, if nothing else, Bushism sends out mixed signals. The constant invocation of the Lord’s name is not in the spirit of Diderot, and the religious loathing of homosexuality, abortion and the scientific approach to life’s mysteries is also less than enlightened. But the Enlightenment was also about liberation from despotism, and about the notion that reason is a universal human faculty, and that rational solutions can therefore be universally applied. In this sense, the Bushist project, articulated by such wholly secular - and indeed elitist - figures as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, is in tune with the Enlightenment.

The idea that the US can transform dictatorships into areas of democracy and free enterprise is close to the world view of Locke - closer, at any rate, than the common “European” view that we cannot mess with alien cultures, that tyrants are part of a foreign tradition which it would be folly to challenge with force. This kind of scepticism is actually closer to the counter-Enlightenment, which emphasises culture rather than universal ideals.
American idealism, though denied by Europeans, is real, though the essay does contain the warning that 'zealotry, even in service of enlightened ideals, is always dangerous. It is possible, perhaps even probable, that this form of zealotry, like others in the past, will crash on the rocks of the real world', before concluding:.
to turn our backs on the US, even under George W. Bush, would be folly - all democracies, however flawed, have more in common with one another than with any form of dictatorship. Those who think that Bush is more dangerous than Kim Jong-il delude themselves, or are not democrats at heart. And to think, as the French government appears to do, that we must challenge the US by making common cause with authoritarian states such as China, is neither prudent, nor wise, nor indeed remotely in tune with the principles of the Enlightenment.
(Google "Continental drift" "Ian Buruma" then click the cached copy.) 

'Democratic Providentialism' by Michael Ignatieff  (in The New York Times of 12 Dec, via Norm -  alternate link:

During this year's election campaign, President Bush liked to wind up his stump speech with a peroration about freedom -- and therefore democracy -- being not just America's gift to the world but God's gift to mankind. This line went down well, maybe because it carried the happy implication that when America and its soldiers promote democracy overseas, they are doing God's work, even in Iraq.

The name for this idea is democratic providentialism. It has become the organizing vision of an administration that took power in 2001 actively disdainful of highfalutin foreign-policy uplift. All that John Kerry and the Democrats could put up against it was prudent realism, and to the extent that the election was a referendum on vision, prudent realism lost hands down. The 2004 election closed out the final chapter in a fascinating realignment in American politics. Democrats, who once were heirs of big dreamers like Franklin Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, risk becoming the party of small dreams, while the Republicans, who under Nixon and Kissinger seemed determined to divest foreign policy of high moral purpose, have become the party that wants to change the world.

Of course, there is nothing necessarily good about dreaming big. Big dreams can be crazy. And dangerous. A lot of people -- including people of Christian faith -- found it alarming that a president could actually claim to know what God's plan might be, and scarier still that there were evangelical Christians divinely certain that George W. Bush was himself part of that plan. ...
 For Americans, the problem is what to do when democracy and national interest conflict. Speaking to the National Endowment for Democracy last year, the president acknowledged that America won't have a viable political strategy against Islamic terrorism unless it stands up for democracy in the Islamic world. The problem is that if the U.S. does so, new regimes voted into power after elections in Egypt or Pakistan might be violently anti-American. ''One man, one vote, one time'' is another genuine concern: Islamists (or secular authoritarians) using electoral democracy to abolish democracy itself.

So promoting democracy is risky, but propping up autocrats only delays the day of reckoning with popular anger. ...

Trying to set elections aside when they go against your interests is another mistake, as France learned when it supported the Algerian military in canceling an election that would have brought Islamists to power in 1992. It's better to have the Islamists in office -- making mistakes, learning the disciplines of serving electorates -- than to back autocracies that fail their people.
Another question mark over the administration's commitment to democracy abroad is its attitude toward democracy at home. Democracy is something more than red-state majority rule. The democratic faith also requires respect for the judiciary, deference to constitutional separation of powers, decent respect for the opinions of mankind, not to mention democratically ratified treaty law like the Geneva Conventions and, last but not least, the humility that goes with knowing that you serve the people, not a providential design that only you and other true believers can understand.
Ian Buruma: 'An Islamic Democracy for Iraq?' in The New York Times of 5 Dec - see here:
Muslims have rarely been ruled by clerics. Worldly and spiritual authority have usually been kept separate in the Middle East. And until not so long ago, religious minorities, like Jews, were treated with more tolerance in the Muslim world than in Christendom. When worldly authority becomes intolerably oppressive, however, religion is often the only base of resistance. Such was the case in Poland under Communist rule, when the Catholic Church provided a source of dissent. Under Saddam Hussein, the mosque had begun to play a similar role. Political Islam was a way to fight back against secular Baathism, and Ali al-Sistani was its main Shiite spokesman. The pope played a somewhat comparable role under Communism.

Still, the neoconservatives around President Bush mostly favored a secular route toward democracy in Iraq. ...the administration pinned its hopes on secular exiles like Ahmad Chalabi, not Shiite mullahs exiled to London and Tehran. This line of thinking fell in easily with the views of another administration favorite, Bernard Lewis, the Princeton scholar who says that Kemal Ataturk got it right in Turkey: to promote modernism, religious authority must be forcibly expunged from politics.
Unfortunately, what came out of all this secularizing zeal was not democracy but militarism, absolute monarchy, fascism and variations of Stalinism. The religious revolution that now stalks the Muslim world has come as a reaction, in part, to the failure of modern secular politics. ... Neoconservatives are not alone in their distrust of clerics. This distrust split the left-leaning anti-Communist opposition in Poland too. It was hard for some dissidents to support the priests against the commissars. As Jerzy Urban, one of the last spokesmen for the Communist regime there, once remarked, it's either us or the Black Madonna of Czestochowa [see].
The idea that modern democracy has to be secular in its ethos is, of course, rooted in European history. The Enlightenment was partly an assault on the authority of the church, especially in France. Political arrangements were to be subject to reason, not to theology. To be modern was to reject religion, or ''superstition,'' and to believe in science. It was not enough, in the view of Voltaire, among others, to put organized religion in its place; it was necessary to ''wipe out that rubbish.''
In fact, anti-clericalism, much more than a history of religious zeal, formed the basis for many of the Middle East's bloodiest political failures: Nasserism in Egypt, Baathism in Syria and Iraq, the shah in Iran. ... When organized religion is destroyed, something worse often takes its place, usually a quasi religion or personality cult exploited by dictators. When it is marginalized, as happened in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East, it provokes a religious rebellion.
It is always tricky for an agnostic in religious affairs to argue for the importance of organized religion, but I would argue not that more people should be religious or that democracy cannot survive without God, but that the voices of religious people should be heard. The most important condition for a functional democracy is that people take part. If religious affiliations provide the necessary consensus to play by common rules, then they should be recognized.
This [the Iraqi situation] sounds complicated, but it is not more so than the situation in Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world. ...  The transition to democracy in Indonesia has not been easy, following as it has years of secular dictatorship, during which political Islam was suppressed, much as it was in Iraq. Yet the outcome has not been a fundamentalist Islamic regime but a democratic system, however flawed, in which Islamist parties have to cast around for votes like any other party.
You might conclude from this [Bali etc] that Suharto had it right. His rule may have been harsh and corrupt, but at least he kept the Islamists in their box. Democracy is resulting in terror. Yet this would be the wrong conclusion. Not only were Suharto's authoritarian methods largely responsible for the birth of religious extremism; democracy is proving to be the best cure -- for moderate Muslims, still the majority in Indonesia, are so appalled by the bloody mayhem caused by the terrorists that they won't vote for any party associated with them. This has forced the Islamist parties to publicly reject the extremists.
But the Iraqis have problems that the Indonesians did not have to face. They have to build democratic institutions under a hated foreign occupation.

It is very difficult to build a democracy as pupils of foreign tutors who arrived in bombers and tanks. Even though the foreign occupiers say they want an Iraqi democracy too, anyone or any party believed to be on the side of foreigners is discredited from the start. The more those foreigners insist on secularism, the more the local people may turn to radical Islamism. ... ''There is no perfect election in the world,'' [Sa'ad Jawad Qandil of Sciri said. ''If there are some minorities who cannot participate because of security, that is not a reason to cancel the decision of the majority.'' Well, yes, it is. For if the Sunnis can't vote, Iraqi democracy won't work, because without the consent of this minority, the majority can never govern in peace.

Bankers' rights

Two long articles from the FT Magazine, 18 Dec:

Extradition entreaty    - US prosecutors have accused three UK bankers of fraud, yet the alleged victim, a British bank, has not pressed charges and nor have the UK financial authorities. Now the trio are fighting against being sent to trial in Texas under a legal process intended for terrorists.

Caste out    - The reign of the enarques is coming to an end in Paris

From the first :

Since the case has come to light, the question of the Enron Three’s guilt or innocence has been, to a large extent, beside the point. What is most interesting about the case is that here are three Britons who are alleged to have committed a crime in Britain in which the victim (NatWest, now RBS) is British, but who face being sent for trial in Texas under an extradition treaty agreed between the US and the UK as part of the “global war on terror”.
“If you send an e-mail [on what turns out to be a contentious matter] from London to Edinburgh via a [US-based] Cisco server... you’re fucked. All it needs is an aggressive prosecutor. They don’t even need any prima facie evidence.”
Mulgrew, who went to see Liberty, did not expect the organisation to be particularly interested in his case. ... In fact, Liberty welcomed him. After all, cases involving people from ethnic minorities can be even harder to promote in the mainstream media. To put that another way, three rich bankers may not appeal to everybody, but they’re probably less loathed than Abu Hamza.
Friends have established a website,, which sets out the issues and invites comments from supporters.


Peter Aspden on Krakow's Communism Tours (FT Magazine, 11 Dec - not online) : 'the leaflet alone was a delight: starkly coloured in black, red and yellow, a dramatic picture of the city's infamous Nowa Huta district'. (See)

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A l'européenne

There has been more coverage recently of course on the question of Turkey joining the EU. Blair, along with Schröder, played a big part in the talks last Friday, according to the FT. Straw or MacShane appear often enough, putting the case for. One curious aspect is the deafening silence of the British Conservatives. The BBC have to get a couple of politicians from elsewhere in  Europe, with an Austrian or Italian putting the case against.  

An e-mail on BBC WS on Wednesday, I think, said that it was important for Turkey to join, to show it was possible to bring about democracy in the European, peaceful, way as opposed to the American way, by force. The listener was from Montpellier and the point made was similar to Bernard Guetta's - see, from 13 (not 12) Dec

mais les Français sont aussi massivement hostiles à l’adhésion turque qu’ils l’étaient à l’intervention en Irak alors que nous pouvons là réussir par la paix ce que les Américains échouent à faire par la guerre : ancrer l’Islam à la démocratie.
Mmm, maybe.

Update: from the little I heard of Today in Parliament last night, the Tories, like the LibDems, are in favour.


Another linguistic exploration: Fromageux.

Donc ici pour les capitalistes, et là pour les prolétaires, (via Emmanuel), Paul de Degrauwe's  articles in the Financial Times.

Sunday, December 19, 2004


SIAW reply by e-mail:  'Melanie Phillips: We really don’t want to waste any more time reading her drivel than we have already, if you don’t mind!' I would have thought that one of the things the Left should focus on is exposing the dishonesties of the Right (instead of attacking each other all the time).

Just one more comment then about the criticism of Holland possibly reviving their blasphemy law in order to control hate-material against Muslims. Wind back about 25 years though and you will find people like Mary Whitehouse trying to bring private prosecutions for blasphemy. I may be being unfair to Melanie Phillips and she may not have supported such prosecutions, but they were driven by the same sort of campaign for 'moral values' that she now champions.  (*)

Norm says of Polly Toynbee that she is 'often the target of mocking comment in the blogosphere'. Not from me: I greatly respect her, especially since she is one of the few to deal with the subject of, um, poverty. However, I cannot agree with much in this analysis. OK, maybe we should repeal the blasphemy laws that give a privileged protection to the Christian religion, but it is hardly a major problem. And then, how far do you think we should go in permitting anti-Jewish material (the blood libel, anyone)?  (**)

As for the situation in Australia 'driving the courts to despair as mad evangelical Christians and extreme Muslims sued and counter-sued, endlessly reporting one another's hate-speech', I understand that private prosecutions... will not be allowed under the proposed British law. This last point was also made in Seumas Milne's article. There are other points in this that I agree with: 'Modern Islamism has flourished on the back of the failures of the left and secular nationalists in the Muslim world and has increasingly drawn its support from the poor and marginalised. ...just as ethnicity isn't mainly an issue of genetics, religion isn't only a question of beliefs: both are also about culture and identity. In Britain, religion has increasingly become a proxy for race. ... Outright opposition to religion was important in its time. But to fetishise traditional secularism in our time is to fail to understand its changing social meaning. Like nationalism, religion can face either way, playing a progressive or reactionary role.' I shall also retain 'secular literalists'.

However, I do not of course agree with the argument about 'the new imperial world order' conflating Iraq and Afghanistan with Chechnya, central Asia and Saudi Arabia. As Walter commenting here put it: 'We should show solidarity with... Shi'ite Muslims and Kurdish Muslims facing Ba'athist oppression.'

Couching the argument in terms of 'Enlightenment values', however, is to have a rather limited view of history: this did not start 215 years ago. 

Some of the first ideas about freedom of expression, in modern times, came from England in the 1640's, for example John Milton's Areopagitica of 1643. For a time, all manner of opinions were expressed in pamphlets and so on. It did not last long though and the monarchy was restored; but some advances were irreversible. By the 18th century, the relative freedom of expression in Britain inspired people like Voltaire. They then had an influence on the independent American republic,  which filtered back into Europe with the French revolution and so on.

(*) Even now there are attempts to revive the blasphemy laws. See the BBC's No action on 'gay Jesus'.

(**) Britain's laws against anti-semitic material ... are rather weaker than France's, say. My memory of the David Irving case was somewhat vague, but I refreshed them by a Google search. See Irving's war, for example.


The other day I watched a video of the ITV drama Belonging, which was shown in September. This was adapted from a novel "The web of belonging" by Stevie Davies. Update: if you want to buy the book, the link given on her website is not very useful, taking you to an offer from Amazon of some second-hand copies at extortionate prices, although Foyles, for one, have it available at £6.95. She has also written articles in critical journals about John Milton (in fact she was my tutor on the subject many years ago). Another coincidence: a more recent article of hers was about W.G.Sebald's Austerlitz; I read that a few months ago, the only novel of his that I have read.

In aid of the work of Medecins Sans Frontieres for the famine-victims of Darfur, on Christmas Day Stevie will have just a meal of fresh bread and pure water, donating the price of her dinner to relief work in the Sudan and is inviting sponsors for this.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Yes, but...

Jacques Chirac on Turkish entry to the EU. Pierre Moscovici, on France Inter, said that Turkey must resolve, among other things, the role of the army. What was not mentioned was that historically, yes, the army has intervened to prevent, as they saw it, civilian governments plunging the country into chaos. But above all it has seen itself as guardian of the secular nature of the republic.

By the way, if the British public are not opposed to Turkish entry, it's probably because they haven't thought about it much (yet). BBC Radio 4 mentioned it towards the end of their news bulletin and spent about 15 seconds on it.

(Via Greg) Emmanuel at Ceteris Paribus, a blogger in French, though the English quotations are often worth the time in themselves, has some interesting remarks on the 35-hour week.
Car le PIB [Gross Domestic Product] est, en tout cas à partir d'un certain niveau de richesse, un indicateur assez imparfait du bien-être national.
Another post links to Kevin Drum's remarks on an article from the Los Angeles Times. I never quite believed  'American workers earn no more than they did 30 years ago.' Emmanuel's 'Les salaires horaires des travailleurs américains peu qualifiés sont aujourd'hui inférieurs en termes réels à leur niveau du milieu des années 1970' [His emphasis] or  'Les salaires horaires des travailleurs américains peu qualifiés sont aujourd'hui inférieurs en termes réels à leur niveau du milieu des années 1970' [My emphasis] and Drum's 'the poor may be a bit better off in average terms than they were 30 years ago' are more convincing . But a commenter put it with precision:

Household income for lowest fifth (in 2001 dollars):
2003 $9,996
1973 $9,210

Wow! A whoping 8.5% in 30 years.
I put in the italics, since another commenter said, 'it's even worse if you take inflation into account...'.

al Manar

On the religious hatred subject, I have commented on Harry's Place's Again on 'religious hatred'    ,   You Can't Say That - Revisited  and  You Can't Say That ; Trans Intel's  Tariq Ramadan, Non-Violent Man of Peace, Clive Davis'  BELEAGUERED IN BRITAIN?,

From SIAW's (Bad) Faith:
why not leave religion to the religious (and the kind of blinkered liberals who get more upset about symbol than substance), and focus once again on the sources and forms of social division that can’t be chosen, from "race", gender and sexual orientation to what used to be the chief concern of the left: class?
It is about race.

Why do you think people like Melanie Phillips are so keen to attack laws against religious hatred, while going on about 'moral values' and complaining about France (maybe) revoking its ban on al Manar? (In the event, the ban has been maintained - see ).

SIAW were kind enough to reply to an e-mail from me on the subject.

I'm not saying the ban on al Manar was wrong. I don't want to see anti-Semitic propaganda any more than I want to see propaganda aimed against Asians / Muslims. I'm just pointing out the hypocrisy of supporting that ban while at the same time obsessing about Australian and British laws against religious hatred or about Holland (again maybe) reviving their blasphemy law.

We should be very careful about allying ourselves with hypocrites. Like SIAW, I did not go along with the 'it can't be good if Bush is doing it' line, but this is far worse. It only gives fuel to al Quaeda's claim that this (Afghanistan, Iraq) is a war not against terror and tyranny, but against Islam, not to mention for Israel.

I should make it very clear at this point that by 'hypocrites' I mean people like Melanie Phillips, taking the November archive of her diary as an sample.

As Libération pointed out, trying to stop al Manar's broadcasts is like trying to halt the radiation from Chernobyl at the borders of France. Nevertheless, it was thought that the ban was still an important 'symbolic act' (remark on France Inter).

15 Dec, another British government minister resigns. The idea that the British would allow the private life of a politician to remain just that, private, was always an illusion of the political and media elites. What do they think, that we are like the French?

Who remembers exactly what David Mellor was supposed to have done, except that he had sex in the strip of Chelsea football club? One listener's comment read out last Sunday on the BBC's Broadcasting House went along the lines of 'What would be a "grossly disproportionate" response in the case of finding someone in bed burglaring your wife?'

Now for the really big news : terrestial television will not have full coverage of Test cricket from 2007. Is nothing sacred? Clearly this signals the end of cricket, public service broadcasting and The British Way Of Life. No doubt Norm will have something on this. Update: he has.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Thoughts in Progress

In more or less chronological order

Further to the point about informative programmes on the BBC, Radio 4 had ANALYSIS 09_12_04. A couple of quotes:
It’s a trifle ironic that the neo-conservatives are joining forces with British euro-sceptics to oppose the EU Constitution, while saying they support Tony Blair.  After all, he’s calling for a 'Yes' vote in the referendum.  But the neo-conservatives aren’t the only ones in Washington tilting at the treaty.  So are more traditional conservatives...
Trade’s very important, but trade is not economics.  It is only a part of it. So we read about trade statistics, trade flows, trade imbalances and we forget about investment. 

Yes, the United States now trades more with Asia than it does with Europe.  Europe also trades more with Asia than it does with the United States.  But, if you put the investment picture in, the whole picture reverses back to the basic point, which is that the transatlantic economy is the core of the global economy.  Take a country like Germany, which is the number one export country in the world. Export led growth - that’s been their whole strategy.  Well, the value of German investments in the United States is five times what German exports are to the United States.
BBC -  No action on 'gay Jesus' - police

10 Dec - Again on the subject of informative programmes on the BBC:  the last part of Empire Warriors was  about the Kenya 'emergency', of 1954-6 mainly. When it was over, 6000 rebels had been killed, 2000 loyal members of the tribe and 31 white settlers. It did not mention how many, if any, killed there were from the British military. Key point: the British made a major mistake in arresting moderates like Jomo Kenyatta.

11 Dec -  FT -  Dock of the bay
The Pentagon says there is nothing wrong with the hearings it has been forced to set up to ensure that the
Guantánamo Bay inmates are being justifiably imprisoned. The FT security correspondent, Mark Huband went to Cuba to see for himself. 18:09 | Read

12 Dec - Bernard Guetta asks  so many French - 67% of them according to a poll in Le Figaro - oppose Turkey's accession to the EU. He continued, though not on the transcript, also fifty-something percent of Germans. So it's the French and Germans who oppose, but not the Italians, Spanish or even the British, though the British aren't really in Europe themselves. Very funny.

13 Dec - C4 News led with Spain - predictably partisan piece on the Spanish parliamentary commission. 'Mr Zapatero told the commission: ... the outgoing PP administration wiped computers of information before they left - particularly material relating to the 11 March attacks.'

FT -  Continental drift
With the Atlantic seeming ever wider between Europe and America, it is essential to remember that more unites than divides them
18:09 | Read

Slavoj Zizek, The Borrowed Kettle: 'We all remember the old joke...' A good start. Those of us who have never heard of it now feel totally inadequate, but awed by the author's superior knowledge. If it had been so well known, he would not have used it as the title of his book (£16). Anyway, it goes on :
... about the borrowed kettle which Freud quotes in order to render the strange logic of dreams, namely the enumeration of mutually exclusive answers to a reproach (that I returned to a friend a broken kettle): (1) I never borrowed a kettle from you; (2) I returned it to you unbroken; (3) the kettle was already broken when I got it from you.
I had got this much from the mention in the FT (11 Dec). Maybe it relates to Iraq along something like the lines of : 2) we will be welcomed as liberators by Iraqis; 3)  Saddam Hussein destroyed civil society so much that it will take a while to rebuild it and he brutalized Iraqis so much that they distrust all authority. But no, it continues:
For Freud, such an enumeration of inconsistent arguments of course confirms per negationem what it endeavors to deny ­ that I returned you a broken kettle... Now, in June 2003, when, after hundreds of investigators were looking after the WMD, none were found, the answer to the critics who ask the elementary question "If there are no WMD, why then did we attack Iraq? Did you lie to us?", is structured precisely like the argument about the borrowed kettle: (1) We DID find them (the two mobile labs...); (2) OK, these two labs do not really prove anything, but give us more time, and we will find them, there HAVE to be some WMD in Iraq; (3) even if there are no WMD in Iraq, this was not the only reason we went to war, there are also other good reasons to topple a brutal dictator and aggressor like Saddam.
Very clever. Serendipitously, I found 'Knee-Deep', a review of Timothy Garton Ash's Free World.

14 Dec - BBC's weather forecast says there may be rain in London, the first for 5 weeks.

BBC WS news mentions the FT report from Ukraine 'Western diplomats.. .say Mr Kuchma came under intense pressure to act [to use violence against the protesters in Kiev]  from Mr Medvedchuk and Mr Yanukovich.... They say Mr Kuchma apparently called off the Interior Ministry troops because he did not want to leave office with blood on his hands.'

Monday, December 13, 2004

A message from Holland

I am not the only one who reads the FT Magazine, it seems. Simon Kuper's piece from 4 Dec has been commented on here and here and reprinted here. Kuper describes how following Van Gogh's killing, among other things, 'Women report having had their headscarves yanked off'.

Some of his opponents tried the old trick of associating him with nazism... But nobody believed Fortuyn was a Dutch Hitler. He was an impeccable democrat, untainted by anti-Semitism, always going on about “Jewish-Christian” Dutch values. He simply disliked Islam.
Old Fortuyn quotes, once shocking, have become mainstream. ...Geert Wilders, an MP who has founded an anti-immigrant party, repeated Fortuyn’s “Islam is backward” line.
The Dutch government['s] main move after van Gogh’s death has been to bury the multicultural consensus that prevailed from the 1970s. According to multiculturalism, a society consists of blocs of ethnic groups each living happily within their own culture. “The group should integrate ‘while preserving its identity’, those were the magic words,” recalls Van Thijn.
In Britain too, my sense is that the liberal consensus on race is brittle. That is, in most cases, what is behind all this talk about 'political correctness'.

More on the Tariq Ramadan controversy : Sœur Caroline est de retour, par Pierre Tévanian.

Another quotation from lmsi, les mots sont importants : 'in Algeria also, " we " wished to liberate women by unveiling them.' See Alain Gresh, À propos de l’islamophobie.

I have commented here on Nick Cohen's article.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Tariq Ramadan's Critics (Part 6)

I cannot claim to have arrived at a definitive conclusion here concerning the facts, but one thing is clear. Tariq Ramadan's critics are from two different camps: on the one hand, people whose motive seems to be mainly 'zionist', Melanie Phillips in Britain, Bernard-Henri Lévy (who endorsed Fourest's book) in France, not to mention numerous people in the United States; on the other, radical feminists and secularists. Both move from attacking open opponents of democracy and supporters of violence to attacking Islamism and even Islam itself.

Another quotation from Feminist Europa :  'The real lines of fracture, far from separating Islam from "the rest of the world," divide the democrats from the theocrats, in other words, partisans of a metropolis that is open, tolerant, protective of individual liberties..'. That's the theory. In practice, the arguments of the agressive secularists line up with the ultra-zionists and the proponents of (Christian) 'moral values', against Islam.

According to Caroline Fourest, Ramadan is a planter, not of bombs admittedly, but 'of  ideas particularly harmful for public liberties'. If, as she attempts to prove, he is an intégriste or 'islamist', then by definition he is one of 'those who instrumentalise the religious for liberticide political ends'. In the end, all she succeeds in proving is that agressive secularism risks turning into something very like the religious intolerance it attacks.

Its arguments chime with those like Daniel Pipes who support the US revoking Ramadan's visa, preventing him taking up a  post at a University that was 'looking for a scholar who could "lead us into interreligious dialogue and intrareligious dialogue and religious-secular dialogue"  '.

A senior European counterterrorism official, quoted by the NYT,  'thought the United States was wise to keep him out because of what he referred to as the professor's "dangerous" ideas.' Such thinking was wrong during the Cold War and it is wrong now, indeed in my opinion, even more dangerous now.

We are told that Ramadan's grandfather and the Muslim Brotherhood 'gave birth to' (Caroline Fourest) or 'fathered'  (Melanie Phillips) Islamic terrorism. Marx 'fathered' Stalin and the Khmer Rouge. Christianity 'gave birth to' anti-semitism (e.g. the Blood Libel). Wagner and Nietzche 'fathered' Nazism. Almost any powerful idea can 'give birth to' extremist forms. The answer is not to try to suppress the ideas, but to explore their limitations by patient and honest examination (this is what I tried to do in Part 4, for example).

Tariq Ramadan's Critics (Part 5)

According to Caroline Fourest in L'Express (2) , Tariq Ramadan has an obsession with modesty and other questions of sexual morality. We may or may not find this archaic, but it is a matter of personal values. That is not to say that it does not have a social and political dimension, but it is not a determining factor.
Her critique is from the viewpoint of radical feminism and secularism. There is a review of an earlier book she co-authored in Feminist Europa. Review of Books. Vol. 3, No 1, 2003 Vol. 4, No 1, 2004. I apologize for the shortness of the quotation below. You can read the whole thing on pages 19-20, but be aware that they have enabled the feature on the PDF file that prevents you doing a copy/paste.
they identify any number of points ... that coincide, whether you are looking at Islamic, Jewish or Christian fundamentalism. ...all three religions converge... edging inexorably away from the secularism that benefits us all. ... Is Islam more sexist than (fundamentalist) Judaism or Christianity? ...what geopolitical factors explain how Islamic fundamentalism poses a greater global threat than other fundamentalisms, despite their resemblance?
Another piece in the same vein argues that the 'veil' (or headscarf) is 'a badge of the traditional oppression of women by men'. Citing Caroline Fourest, it says, 'We know that this conception of sexuality and the relation between men and women is largely shared by all the monotheist religions.'  Women who do not wish to be 'veiled' and who 'fight for their equality,  faced with their brothers, their (male) friends, or the  imams, should be able to do so totally freely without being subject to pressure groups, within scholastic establishments, in particular. That is why all signs of religious allegiance must remain discreet in the scholastic environment.' It goes on to say that the law to ban these will be seen as discriminatory against Muslims, unless steps are taken against 'the privileges of the Catholic Church'.

In the two pieces cited above, again Tariq Ramadan is described as 'seductive' in the one and 'a subtle preacher' in the other.

I wonder what would be made of all this by Melanie Phillips - she who lambasted 'Margaret Hodge's Soviet-style programme to tell parents how to bring up their children. Hodge opined last week that family life should not be a private affair'. ( see)  Would she extend to Islamic families that defence against the intrusion of the state into family life, which she insists upon in the case of  Jewish and Christian families?

'That's why in modern politics, in our post-modern, cynical, licentious society, it's still values -- and religious values, at that -- which really matter.' ( see). But apparently only Jewish and Christian religious values.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Tariq Ramadan's Critics (Part 4)

There was one part of the NYT article I found a little puzzling:
Mr. Ramadan himself set off a storm in France last fall when he wrote an online essay criticizing several French Jewish intellectuals for being “biased toward the concerns of their community” by defending Israel - in its construction of a barrier in the West Bank, for instance - and supporting, to varying degrees, the Iraq war.
I will leave aside the question of failure to criticize the State of Israel and say that if some Jewish intellectuals supported the Iraq war, it had very little effect on the climate of opinion in France. Here is the article from 2003 that, according to Ramadan, caused all the trouble :  
The recent war in Iraq has been very revealing. Intellectuals as different as Bernard Kouchner, André Glucksman or Bernard-Henri Lévy, who had taken courageous positions over Bosnia, Rwanda or Chechnya, have curiously  supported the American-British intervention in Iraq.
The arguments against the war are put cursorily : 'to eliminate a dictator (why not before ?), for the democratisation of the country (why not Saudi Arabia ?), etc.'; In response to André Glucksman's 'angry plea for the war', he can only say that it 'passes over in a very eloquent silence the interests of Israel'.

The main thrust of the argument though is this : abandoning universal principles, Ramadan says, some intellectuals fall back on their 'identity' and 'community', that is their Jewishness.  But, it was precisely because of  'universal values' that Kouchner and others (*) refused to turn a blind eye to Saddam Hussein's tyranny. Supporting his overthrow, was in France in 2003 - and still is - the 'courageous position'. (The main point of the 'minority view' was the mindless anti-Americanism in France. André Glucksmann was one of those covered in The New Yorker, Issue of 2003-09-01.)

At the end of the article Ramadan says :
One draws attention with respect to the courage of those men and women, Jews (not necessarily  anti-globalization or of the extreme left), who decided to rise up against all injustices and in particular those which are the doing of Jews.
 Quite. We must fight  against all injustices.

Update: (*) Is Kouchner a Jew ? I don't know: they don't have to wear stars of David these days.

Tariq Ramadan's Critics (Part 3)

Caroline Fourest's case against Tariq Ramadan is that what he says he does not mean; that the moderation and persuasiveness of his words is what makes him all the more dangerous.  'His great strength is that he is not a caricature of a fundamentalist (intégriste), immediately detectable.' 'He weakens secular resistance to fundamentalism by forming alliances with secular anti-racist associations. He has accomplished a sort of tour de force: to make Islamism seductive in the eyes of certain militants of the anti-globalization Left.' 'Tariq Ramadan claims that he is not a Muslim Brother.' Well, he would do, wouldn't he, 'since it's a fraternity which is 3/4 secret, where it's permitted to deny any organic (? organisational ) links to avoid being detected' ? The criticism proceeds along these lines : his brother (undoubtdedly more fundamentalist than he is), his friend or his grandfather say or do something extreme; Ramadan is then attacked for 'failing to condemn' it.

Tariq Ramadan, of course, has replied to this. What struck me first is how similar this defence of himself is to Melanie Phillips' critique of Adam Curtis. On the one hand (Fourest/Curtis), you have a mélange of innuendo and guilt by association. On the other hand : 'lies contend with truncated quotations; reasoning made-up wholesale is only equalled by approximation and errors of dates, names, places and people. Shameful... and Éditions Grasset who dare to  publish such an "inquiry' ( ideological novelinquiry ?) dishonour themselves...' (Ramadan); 'It is hard to exaggerate the mendacity and malevolence of its argument. ... This is simply deranged conspiracy theory. ... It was, after all, transmitted by the BBC, our supposed guardians of journalistic standards. There are senior editors in the BBC who took the decision to transmit this garbage because they presumably thought it had a serious contribution to make ... Someone should be talking very seriously about this to the BBC chairman.... Such a travesty of journalism, public service broadcasting and truth must not go unchallenged.'  (Phillips)

On the details, Ramadan makes a telling point here:
I say, for example, to muslims that it would be legitimate to fight if we were prevented from practising the  pillars of islam. Caroline Fourest cuts short my argument and insists that I encourage muslims to fight against our Constitutions when they do not respect islam. She omits to quote what follows, where I affirm that all the European Constitutions do respect the  pillars of islam.
There is one key point where it is worth quoting Caroline Fourest (in L'Express (2)  ) at length:
En octobre 2001, un mois après les attentats du 11 septembre, le journal [Lyon Mag] brise un tabou et pose la question que tout le monde cherche à esquiver: «Faut-il avoir peur des réseaux islamistes à Lyon?» Le résultat de l'enquête est redoutable pour Ramadan, qui apparaît dans toute son ambiguïté. C'est le premier article réellement susceptible de le dévoiler. C'est aussi la première fois que le prédicateur décide d'attaquer devant un tribunal. Mais Lyon Mag ne se laisse pas intimider. En janvier 2002, la rédaction choisit d'étayer son propos en interviewant Antoine Sfeir, qui confirme leur intuition. Sfeir parle d'un «orateur habile» et d'un «fondamentaliste charmeur», «spécialiste du double langage». (...) Ramadan peut difficilement accuser Antoine Sfeir d'être raciste sans se ridiculiser. (...) Il entame donc un second procès. Les deux affaires, celle contre Lyon Mag et celle contre Sfeir, sont jointes. (...) Le journal Lyon Mag est condamné pour ne pas avoir usé de suffisamment de précautions, ce qui est un classique, mais Sfeir est reconnu comme ayant tenu des propos conformes à une certaine vérité. Le verdict est très dur pour Ramadan. Dans son jugement du 22 mai 2003, la cour d'appel de Lyon estime que les discours de prédicateurs comme Tariq Ramadan «peuvent exercer une influence sur les jeunes islamistes et constituer un facteur incitatif pouvant les conduire à rejoindre les partisans d'actions violentes».
Those who have the French can read it in full : I'm not going to translate it all. The main point is given in English here :
the French Middle East specialist Antoine Sfeir has publicly linked the influence exerted by Ramadan's lectures in the banlieues of Lyon to the extraordinary flow of young Muslim men from the Lyon region to Afghanistan to join the forces of al-Qaeda. Incidentally, Mr. Ramadan sued Antoine Sfeir on account of the latter's public statements to this effect in the magazine Lyon Mag - and he lost. The Court of Appeals of Lyon found in its decision of May 22, 2003, and as cited by Caroline Fourest, that preachers like Tariq Ramadan "may have an influence on the young Islamists and constitute a factor of incitation that could lead them to join the partisans of violent measures." [ my italics ]
There is however a riposte here and this is worth translating in full :
Now, the judgement did not say that at all, but simply "that all that emerges from the words of  Antoine  Sfeir is that the speeches of the plaintiff [Tariq Ramadan] may have an influence on the young Islamists..." By cutting the first part of the sentence, she attributes to the court what is merely a quotation of Sfeir.

On the other hand, at the bottom, the judgement of 22 May 2003 says in its text this : "Whereas giving to understand that, by his speeches Tariq Ramdan can bear a responsability, perhaps moral, for causing to be born in certain minds a terrorist vocation or for comforting others in their resolution to follow such a line of conduct, corresponds to the natural and admissible expression in a democracy, of a critique of the public positions taken by the plaintiff on some subjets and facts of society."
Thus the court says simply that Sfeir's words are within the framework of legitimate criticism, but does not in any way endorse these words.
Finally, is this the best that Daniel Pipes can come up with? One is tempted to say that it is not the case on  Ramadan that is closed, but Pipes' mind.
I don't believe that an eight year old child is a soldier. These acts are condemnable; therefore one has to condemn them in themselves. But I say to the international community that they are contextually explicable, and not justifiable. What does this mean? It means that the international community today has placed the Palestinians in a situation where they are delivered political oppression, which explains (not justifying it) that at a certain point people say: we don't have arms, we don't have anything, and so we cannot do anything other than this. It is contextually explicable but morally condemnable.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Tariq Ramadan's Critics (Part 2)

Time to reread Deborag Sontag's article in The New York Times of 6 Oct. (reprinted here), which I quoted from previously, and to do some googling.
Ramadan is a descendant of Hasan al Banna who founded the Muslim Brotherhood, the extreme sect which fathered modern Islamofascism. In August, the US revoked Ramadan’s entry visa on the grounds that he had connections with terrorist activity. He has vehemently denied this. But this is what the Islam scholar Daniel Pipes has revealed of Ramadan’s history:
- Mr. Ramadan was banned from entering France in 1996 on suspicion of having links with an Algerian Islamist who had recently initiated a terrorist campaign in Paris.     (Melanie Phillips)
I don't see anyone today who is as effective as Tariq Ramadan in furthering fundamentalism in France. He radicalizes the Muslims under his influence by introducing them to the thought of Hassan al-Banna (this constitutes the introduction to his recorded seminars), then he brings them into contact with the present-day ideologues of the Muslim Brotherhood: Youssef al-Qaradhawi, one of the few Muslim theologians openly to approve suicide attacks, or Fayçal Mawlawi, who is not only a Muslim Brother, but also the principal chief of a Lebanese terrorist organization.
 I was struck by the extent to which the discourse of Tariq Ramadan is often just a repetition of the discourse that Banna had at the beginning of the 20th century in Egypt. He never criticizes his grandfather. On the contrary, he presents him as a model to be followed, a person beyond reproach, non-violent and unjustly criticized because of the "Zionist lobby"! This sends chills down one's spine when one knows the extent to which Banna was a fanatic, that he gave birth to a movement out of which the worst Jihadis (like Ayman al-Zawahiri, the n° 2 man of Al-Qaeda) have emerged and that he wanted to establish a theocracy in every country having a single Muslim.    (Caroline Fourest, in L'Express (1) --- translation)
“It’s still not clear to him or us who turned him down and on what grounds,” said the Rev. Edward A. Malloy, president of Notre Dame. [on the US revoking his visa]
In 1928, Hasan al-Banna, Mr. Ramadan’s maternal grandfather, founded the Muslim Brotherhood, a revivalist movement that advocated a return to Islam as a defense against Western colonialism and decadence. In 1949, Mr. Banna was assassinated at the age of 42. Mr. Ramadan never knew his grandfather; he studied him.

He is critical of his grandfather’s sloganeering - “The Koran is our constitution” was one motto - disagrees with him about “many things about the West,” and scoffs at the idea of an Islamic state.

But he says his grandfather is misremembered in several ways.

For instance, although the history of the Muslim Brotherhood is dotted with violence, and the group gave rise to more militant organizations, Mr. Banna himself was not personally violent, nor did he legitimize violence, Mr. Ramadan said. His empathy for the poor was admirable, Mr. Ramadan said, and his thinking was more nuanced than many followers and critics understand.
When Mr. Ramadan’s father died in 1995, the Swiss government warned him that the Egyptians would arrest him if he accompanied the body home for burial, Mr. Ramadan said. He believes that it is because he provoked the Egyptian ambassador to France during a television talk show by attacking Egypt’s human rights record.

Late that same year, France barred Mr. Ramadan. Although rumors circulated that he was kept out because of ties to an Algerian terrorist, Mr. Ramadan said he believed that it was due to pressure from the Egyptians. He challenged the ban and it was lifted, but it lingered as a stain on his reputation... (NYT)
More to follow.

Tariq Ramadan's Critics (Part 1)

The Tariq Ramadan controversy seems to be hotting up again.

From my previous post, concerning Robert Kagan's remarks: the Harry's Place post I linked recommends Clive Davis,  whose new blog has this, which links to Melanie Phillips Diary (1 Dec) 'taking aim at' Tariq Ramadan.

The very evening I read that (7 Dec), France Inter had an interview with Caroline Fourest who has just written a book attacking Tariq Ramadan. His ideal of an Islamic state, she claims is Hassan Al-Turabi's in Sudan. Melanie Phillips has something similar. Al-Turabi was no saint certainly, but it should be noted that his is not the regime in power currently in Khartoum. In fact, it is rumoured that he was behind the rebels in Darfur (see my comments here).  Fourest also claimed that Tariq Ramadan said the ideal state for women was... Iran. Again, it should be remembered that whatever criticism can be made about the status of women in Iran, they are less restricted there than in Saudi Arabia.

Fourest referred constantly to prédicateurs. Now, that's a word you don't hear that often in French. I looked it up (prédicateur, prédicatrice - preacher). Obviously, in English when you talk about somebody 'preaching', it has negative connotations, unless they are, well, a preacher. In her written articles and interviews on Tariq Ramadan too, of all the words she could have used to describe him - scholar, academic, writer - it is always that : prédicateur.

Fourest also mentioned as a path to be avoided, and one that Nicolas Sarkozy may be drifting towards, le  communautarisme anglo-saxone (communautarisme = emphasis on issues relating to minorities and ethnic communities within society). So she is saying that France should not adopt Britain's policy (or perhaps that of the US) with regard to its Muslims, whatever that means.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The best of the rest

(via Harry's Place) Robert Kagan picks up on Joschka Fischer's  remarks.
"To modernize an Islamic country based on the shared values of Europe would be almost a D-Day for Europe in the war against terror," 
Timothy Garton Ash in The Guardian      ( via ).

Behind all these contorted reservations, we hear an inner voice which says, in effect, "Why won't all these bloody, semi-barbarian, east Europeans leave us alone, to go on living happily ever after in our right, tight, little west European (or merely British) paradise?" And, quite often, "Why are those bloody Americans stirring them up to disturb us?"
Also recommended isFranco Alemá on Aznar's testimony.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Neo-cons, the Left and Islamists

Last thoughts (almost) on the 'Nightmares'

The ideology of the neo-conservatives  is supposed to be one of defending 'moral values' and seeing religion as a 'useful myth'. The trouble is that the neo-cons don't talk like this. As Melanie Phillips says, 'I have never heard any neo-con say anything like this about expedient myths.' If the neo-cons, like the radical Islamists, are idealists, their ideals are those of Woodrow Wilson, F D Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and J F Kennedy.

We all know the neo-cons are right-wing loonies, but what of the left ? According to Curtis, politicians do not offer a vision of a better society, they merely promise to be 'better managers' (picture of Blair). The baffling reference in the Guardian article to 'the last gasp of a liberal political elite' begins to make more sense.   I think the subtext is that Blair and so on do not seek a revolutionary objective,  like replacing capitalism.  But the imperative for Labour was to convince that they could manage 'the economy' (i.e.  capitalism) at least as well as the Tories (That they managed it better is no more than a fortunate accident. In any case, the Major government was not as bad as it was made out to be : many of Gordon Brown's policies are a continuation of Kenneth Clarke's.) They could then implement small social democratic-like advances.

While Curtis puts words into the mouths of the neo-cons, he does something similar with the Islamists. It is true that the idea that the teachings of Islam contain all that is necessary to order society, making democracy superfluous, is found in Qutb's writing. When it comes to Algeria 1991-2, though, the 'one man, one vote, one time' claim is only substantiated by an interview with someone from the secular government of the time. (Always remember too that  Lakhdar Brahimi was part of that same government.)

Similarly, the quotation about 'opening the doors of hell  –  you stop the moderates and open the door for the violent groups' -  came from a Muslim Brothers spokesman in Egypt.

I read this after watching the first two parts. My analysis is similar in many ways to Melanie Phillips'. Where I disagree is when she all but calls for censorship of the BBC. Of course I would prefer them to show programmes  that were more informative. But there are many instances where they do, for example the one about Saudi Arabia, or the one about Chechnya, which might well have got a larger audience if it had been repeated again after the Beslan atrocity.  

One of the few interesting points Curtis makes is that the neo-cons adopted 'precautionary principle', first proposed  by the Greens in the 1980's. This posits the idea that you should take action to prevent something you think likely to happen, before there is overwhelming evidence that it will happen (because then it will be too late). Ironically, of course, the neo-cons tend to deny the probability of global warning. See for example Melanie Phillips. (She is one of a small band of British neo-cons. Who else is there? Michael Gove, perhaps.)

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Nightmares (Part 3)

Part 3 of Adam Curtis'  'The Power of Nightmares'.

Curtis smears people, from witnesses in al Quaeda trials to the Northern Alliance, by the assertion that they have received money. They therefore tell the Americans what they want to hear. As if the Americans don't want to hear the truth. The 9/11 Commission report draws some of its evidence from detained al Qaeda operatives, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but it does caution against placing total credence on it.

In the caves of Tora Bora, a massive operation is launched against al Qaeda fighters, but they have all  disappeared. (Well, they escaped to Pakistan, didn't they.) The British arrive with their 'experience of Northern Ireland giving them 'a unique advantage' in hunting down terrorists in the mountains of Afghanistan. An absurd claim, of course. Except I don't remember any such claim being made at the time. He must be getting confused (or more likely, hoping his viewers will be confused) with what was said about Iraq. And the British too found 'nothing'. But they did find  arms and ammunition dumps.

Curtis pours scorn on the possibility of terrorist cells in America. I  lost count of the number of defence lawyers (as indicated only by the subtitles) saying what the prosecution case was. As is well known, lawyers always caricature the other side's case. So, it is easy enough to make out that this is an absurd fantasy. But of course a cell of islamist terrorists did exist in the US before 9/11.

Madrid is dismissed as 'nothing new'. As for the other attacks, maybe they are just too far away (though targeting British diplomats, ex-pat workers and the BBC's security correspondent. Or maybe they just fit this pattern of local groups targeting their corrupt governments : Saudi Arabia, OK ; Casablanca, maybe ; but Istanbul ?

Politicians used to be able to offer vision of a better life, now those like Blair offer only a darker vision, one of fears. (He also offered a commitment to reconstructing a liberated Afghanistan. And what about him pushing on the Israel-Palestine peace process ?  ). Curtis talks about a 'society that believes in nothing'. Well, we do believe in values like democracy. A tremendous amount has been achieved in the last 60 years. The danger, if anything is that we cease to value it, because we take it for granted.

By the way, Curtis, at the beginning of the programme, describes the islamists as wanting a society that preserves the advantages of scientific progress, but imposes its islamic values. But if  we learn anything from the totalitarianisms of the twentieth century, it is that intellectual freedom is indivisible and scientific progress is not possible without it.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

A red herring...

...leading to a storm in a teacup. Dennis MacShane on the radio again 

This time on BBC Radio 4 this morning. Well not actually 'on', they just played a very bad recording of some remarks he made to students. Most of the focus naturally was on the 'red herring' remark (referring to the 5 economic tests for joining the Euro) and the Blair / Brown struggle. One Labour euro-sceptic spoke of those who, regardless of economic advantage, would take us into the Euro (currency) and the (European) constitution come what may, as if there was any chance of entry into the Euro being considered before the decision on the constitution is made.

What MacShane actually spoke about was the importance for Britain's relationship with Europe of upcoming elections - the General Election (in May 2005) and the referendum on the constitution (spring 2006, if Labour wins the first).


The Pora forum had a couple of threads in English last time I looked ( this and this).

Chrenkoff has some useful stuff, like translations from the Polish (this, for example).
About ten past four Friday afternoon (16:10 GMT), the BBC reporter, live in Kiev, is listing what the Supreme Court has decided. Suddenly in the background, a huge roar is heard from the crowd.

'Yush- enk - o, Yush- enk - o', the three syllable are taken up by the car horns 'dah- dah- dah'. 

Tak..... yes !

Thursday, December 02, 2004

France, Poland and Britain

Dennis MacShane on the radio, talking about the European Constitution.

On France Inter, of course, together with an Italian and a Spaniard, one of them a Christian Democrat (centre-right). Before that, Bernard Guetta - 'L’importance d’un « oui » '.

In France, the Parti Socialiste has just voted 'yes' to the Constitution. Poland is more favourable towards the EU as the subsidies have been rolling in since the summer (also the Ukraine crisis). I might also mention as more important that they are seeing the benefits of access to European markets : there was an item a month or so ago about a Polish farmer selling his apples to Britain at a much higher price than he got previously.

As for Britain, the referendum could well come down to a question of staying in or leaving the EU, Guetta maintains. In later questions he says that a clear, if not huge, majority want to remain in the EU. (Update : for the other 22 members, there is no question but that they will vote 'yes'. )

Dimbleby - Part 2

Jonathan Dimbleby's New World War' (Part 2 ). He shows Blair, leaving Bush's side 'for once', talking about the scar that is Africa (*). Devon Cross talks about kleptocratic regimes. Dimbleby helpfully translates this for us as, 'The neo-cons believe that aid is money down the drain'. 

But non-democratic governments that misappropriate money are an issue, part of the problem. Even Clare Short, when she was International Development Minister, spoke of the importance of good governance. Devon Cross actually said, 'I worry about kleptocratic regimes', not that all regimes in Africa are kleptocratic.

Africa cannot  afford to indulge in the luxury anti-Americanism in the way Europe does. There was somebody on BBC WS a week or two ago, a Ugandan journalist I think : in the south of Sudan, prospects for a political solution were looking quite good and the Sudanese government finally seemed to be starting to take its obligations in Darfur seriously. But it needs continued pressure from the international community, especially the United States.

Having shown the seriousness of the situation, the bind we are in between alleviating poverty and preventing global warming, Dimbleby then simply says that solutions are a matter of  'political will'. But even if the US reduced its energy consumption to European levels (say, by 30%), this would hardly compensate for increased economic activity in China and the rest (doubling, perhaps).

Update : (*) 'The state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world.'

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Oh dear

Melanie Phillips again, replying to Roy Hattersley in The Guardian.
'Last Friday, I switched on The World at One when it was half over. So I do not know the name of the egregious ass who announced that the government plans "to nationalise the family". But I did catch the name of the politician who rebutted that manifest absurdity with admirable common sense and absolute conviction. It was Margaret Hodge...'

So guess who the egregious ass -- later described as the 'nameless female Savonarola at the top of the programme' was? You got it. Except that I wsn't at the top of the programme. I was in the middle, after Hodge and before Theresa May, whom he also heard. So why didn't Hattersley name me? Was it... because I am so great an enemy of the said socialist utopia and the nationalisation of family ... that I have now become She Who Cannot Be Named, and airbrushed out of the public prints altogether like in Stalin's photo albums?

Iran and the...

... jusqu'au boutistes I haven't blogged much about Iran, lately (see this , this  and this ).
 The latest developments have brought forth a deal of invective from Michael Ledeen, predictably, but also from the British journalist Melanie Phillips.  For example, following the Iraq war 'the hoped for domino-effect has not yet occurred to sweep away the mullocracy in Iran' (30 Nov), but there's much more (page down a bit).

Richard Perle, interviewed on BBC WS a couple of days ago, had a more approach : 'Are we fooling them, or are they fooling us ? I don't know.'

Leave aside the uncritical support for Israel (check out the articles too for this)  : some of my best friends are..., I mean, some of the writers and bloggers (like Norm) that I most like are fairly supportive of Israel (fairly : Seven Uses of Ambiguity). Melanie is at least honest enough to admit that the hard-liners on Iran have little to offer beyond rhetoric.
But what way might Bush actually find [to prevent Iran from acquiring atomic bombs]? Ledeen reiterates the need to help defeat the mullocracy in Tehran. But that might well take too long -- if it ever happens anyway. So if Bush isn't going to wait for Iran to present him with the bomb tied up in blue ribbon, what's he going to do? Does he actually have a strategy? Or is he, like Europe, just waiting for something to turn up? 
But, in this context, rhetoric is substance. Suppose that in 2 or 3 years time, as she would hope and agree is possible, Iraq is stable and US forces are no longer needed there, then the Iranians may fear the US would have the means to enforce its regime-change rhetoric.They would therefore now see a window of opportunity in which to obtain a nuclear weapon.

Quoting Henry Sokolski on 15 Nov :
If Iran were to seize the [light-water-reactor] fuel and divert it--as it probably could without IAEA inspectors' immediate knowledge--Iran could reduce five-fold the level of effort it would need to make bomb-grade material: With the centrifuges Iran admits having, it could make a bomb's worth of fuel in roughly nine weeks as opposed to a year. This suggests that the IAEA's current cycle of inspections at Bushehr--once every three months--is woefully inadequate.
In allowing Iran access to the nuclear fuel cycle for peaceful purposes clearly there are a number of technical issues that have to be resolved to the satisfaction of the US. But the main issues are political. On 30 Nov :
Hassan Rohani... not only boasted that Iran had won 'a great victory' over the US but also made clear that the agreement was worthless: 'According to Mr Rohani, Iran's offer to suspend uranium enrichment would only apply for the duration of talks with the EU."We are talking months, not years," the cleric and head of Iran's top security body said.'
Of course the agreement is provisional : Iran is talking only to the EU-3, at the moment. Ultimately, a settlement will require the involvement of the US, as well as Russia, in some form. Somehow the legacy of bitterness, from 1953 and 1979, has to be overcome.

Another issue is undoubtedly Israel and Palestine. Somebody on the radio said that this is one of the areas where Iran has a different 'vision', of a one-state solution, whereas the US backs the two-state solution, but President Khatami,  a voice of the increasingly weak liberals, has said that Iran does not wish to be 'more Palestinian than the Palestinians' and one of the things I gleaned from 'the fawning support of Arafat' and the 'eulogies to this monster from western journalists' was that Arafat, having started by advocating the unrealistic solution of one state, eventually accepted the need for a two-state solution.

Latest : Hamas has urged a boycott of the PA elections and Marwan Barghouti is standing after all.

Liberals and Nightmares

Part 2 of Adam Curtis'  'The Power of Nightmares'.

The head of CIA in the 1980s, William Casey, carried out an 'aggressive new policy' in Afghanistan, we are told. Hang on, the US had just lost an ally in Iran in 1979. Then, the Soviet Union invaded to prop up a communist government that had seized power by force. Even rolling this back to a situation where Afghanistan was neutral could hardly be described as more than a defensive, containment strategy. Apparently, the alternative to this 'aggressive policy' was just a continued war to stop the Russians winning.

'Gorbachev asked the Americans to help him negotiate a peace that would create a stable government in Afghanistan , but the hard-liners in Washington refused point-blank.’ The programme omits that the US eventually agreed with the Soviet Union to stop supporting the Mujaheddin against the government that was to be left behind by the 1989 withdrawal. What happened in Afghanistan after that was a disaster for the country and shameful for the outside world, but I’m not sure the ‘realists’ (or old conservatives) were any less to blame than the neo-cons.

Abdullah Azzam was assassinated in Peshawar at the end of 1989, but it looked for a while as if his vision of a political revolution might prevail. Then came Algeria 1991-2 and the denial of democracy because of ‘one man, one vote, one time’, a key turning-point, to be sure. Then there was the ban on Muslim Brothers in Egypt – you stop the moderates and open the door for the violent groups, it was said.

‘In the 1980’s Saddam Hussein had been America’s close ally…’ Something of an exaggeration.  When Bush I halted the war in 1991 after Kuwait was liberated, Paul Wolfowitz advocated pushing on to remove Saddam Hussein's regime. The neo-cons lamented the ‘corrupt liberal values that dominated America… a moral relativism that was prepared to compromise with the forces of evil in the world.’ So, Kissinger,  Bush I and Scowcroft were liberals ? I thought they were old, or traditional conservatives.

When the Arab peoples refuse to rise up against their corrupt leaders, the Islamists conclude that it is the peoples themselves that are corrupt and should therefore be killed, which they proceed to do in terrorist attacks. When the American people, despite all the false accusations that are made against him (except one which happens to be true), refuse to turn against Bill Clinton, somebody who has links with the neo-cons writes a book that says it is because of their corruption. Ooh, that Paul Wolfowitz, he's just like them Islamist terrorists, innee.

  Anyway, as John Lloyd  pointed out, the demonization by the left now of Bush and the neo-cons is almost as bad as the vicious attacks on Clinton then ('When Heads must Roll', FT Magazine, 27 Nov).