Thursday, November 30, 2006

Axis of short-sightedness

Advertently or inadvertently, the overheated and Manichean imagination of many on the loopy far right, seems set to make a substantial contribution to make the clash of civilisations, the war of the end of the world and mother or all battles, or modern-day Armageddon as it where, a reality. The famously ineptly called "Axis of Evil" is a concept many ultra-conservatives have now extended to include those on the left, including the many centrists which frankly make up the majority of the progressive side of the political spectrum. Those moderates on the Decent Left are now routinely referred to as 'appeasers', 'Islamofascism supporters', part of the 'Muslim fifth column' and similar demeaning descriptions. And when such terms are being deployed, the charge of anti-Semitism is rarely far behind.

Melanie Phillips is one of the many whose world view is so hermetic and snug it resembles a Chinese puzzle. In it, there is no room for doubt, internal criticism or self-analysis because all energy must be focused on fighting the multitude of enemies. And in the closed sphere of Mel's mind, there are many and no time is to be wasted. Debate is pointless, as 'truth is self-evident and only lies require contemplation'.

Mel's foes include scientists that provide evidence for man-made climate change, which she refers to as a "con-trick", a "witch-hunt" and a "fraud". She's not too keen on Evolutionary Biology either and seems to support the teaching of Intelligent Design. And the Israel/Palestine conflict? Nothing to do with a struggle for land and resources: it's "about Islam's view of the Jews as "a cosmic evil"". In plain English: the conflict is the result of Muslim anti-Semitism, nothing more, nothing less.

Her position on Israel/Palestine should come as no surprise, as elsewhere she states:
This reflects the corruption of thinking around the issue of Israel that has poisoned the minds of so many in the west: the assumption that Israel, the target and victim of a war of annihilation that has now gone on for more than half a century, is responsible for the plight of those who are still trying to annihilate it and must therefore give them what they want rather than defend itself against them– for which acts of defence Israel, rather than its genocidal attackers, will be excoriated, vilified and delegitimised. Monstrous, monstrous. And whatever Bush’s response to the ISG report, if it lives down to its advance billing its mere publication will have the further effect of providing yet more ammunition for those in the west who are intent upon destroying Israel, demoralising the west and undermining both America and the defence of the free world.
Clearly, Israel isn't supported by the world's only remaining superpower. And European governments don't back the country either. The economic boycott of Hamas by the Quartet has also passed Mel by. One can't help but wonder what she has in mind for the Palestinians: unconditional surrender of both spirit and land, perhaps?

She blames much of the ills of modern society on 'multiculturalism' and, guess, immigration, both of which are claimed to be destroying 'Judeo-Christian values' from within. It doesn't occur to Mel, who is Jewish, that only a multicultural society can include ethnic minorities (don't make me draw up a list), including Jews and ensure these minorities enjoy protection against discrimination and much worse besides.

And then there's that other, related scourge of enlightened Liberal Democracy: the dreaded 'cultural relativism', the righteous antithesis of which posits that our society is the best bestestest, the Snow White of societies and that it's template show be imposed on all peoples...

As regards the "Axis of Evil", Mel has done her bit, identifying 'red-black', 'red-green', 'red-yellow' alliances, with more cross-rainbow alliances allegedly set to seek our utter and total destruction, soon to come.

And now our Mel has found more convincing evidence of support by the left of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in her latest blurb:

Axis of evil

Disgusting antisemitism in a pro-Chavez
newspaper in Venezuela. Not for nothing is Chavez a pin-up boy of the left…and he’s chum of that progressive Mr Ahmadinejad, too.

The article la Phillips is referring to is indeed despicable anti-Semitic nonsense of the very worst kind, written in an infantile style of writing (at least the translation) not worthy of anything but the cheapest gutter-rag, no question about it. The article, however, doesn't provide any link to the "pin-up boy of the left", Hugo Chavez, apart from the fact the paper is pro-Chavez. The piece o'p*ss doesn't give any insight into Chavez' opinion on Zionism or Jews at all. But Mel sees it as further proof of the left's infatuation with anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and the 'Left-Islamofascist' alliance; at least that's clearly implied.

According to
The Guardian's Jackie Ashley, "Phillips is married to Joshua Rozenberg, the charming and self-effacing legal editor of the Daily Telegraph, and a former BBC employee". Phillips, incidentally, is a former Guardian staffer.

They make a good couple, no doubt, although Rozenberg may not be quite as self-effacing as Jackie makes out. In a recent article in
The Daily Torygraph, Rozenberg is implying that Sharia law in Britain is dangerously on the rise: "Sharia law is spreading as authority wanes" is just the title.

Mel my belle, if your wet-dream fantasies of a clash of cultures comes true one not-so-fine day, please accept part of the blame for fear mongering, extreme myopia and gross distortion.

If I carry on following Mel's blog, I'll end up with a collection of Melanisms...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Zionism a hundred years ago...

Here's an interesting article on the dilemma's early Zionists like Theodore Herzl faced, in particular in relation to the 'Arab question', written by David Zarnett.

Two Zionist Approaches to the ‘Arab Question’, 1891-1907
During the early twentieth century, the ‘Arab Question’, although pressing and central for some, was only a secondary priority for most in the Zionist movement. The propagation of a Jewish national consciousness, raising funds, purchasing land, facilitating Jewish immigration to Palestine, reaching a deal with Ottoman and European authorities, and securing the Jewish presence in a hostile environment were issues that took up the majority of the deliberations and literature. Today the ‘Arab Question’ revolves around the place of the Arab minority in Jewish-Zionist society but a century earlier the debate revolved around the question of to what extent would the Arab presence in Palestine block the Zionist movement from achieving their ends. This is the result of the fact that the most fundamental Zionist goal of creating a Jewish home in Palestine had not yet been achieved. One hundred years ago that basic objective resembled at worst a pipe dream and at best a long-term goal, and therefore the ‘Arab Question’ had a much different focus. Full essay

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Intelligent Gravity: coming soon to a school near you...

Intelligent Gravity, the theory that posits the central gravitational field of the Earth is not what keeps our feet on the ground but rather an Intelligent Designer, who pushes us down to Earth, may soon be taught as an alternative to the Theory of Gravity in British schools.

Not so fast, say you? Well, may be not, but it does seem that Creationism,
under the guise of Intelligent Design, is making fast inroads into the British Education system. The belief system that an Intelligent Designer (read: G-d) had a dab hand in the creation of life on Earth is perfectly discussable in the framework of religious education but with science it has nothing to do. One thing most theologians and scientists at least agree on is that G-d falls outside the realm of observable, empirical reality and His Existence is therefore not testable. Attempts at finding G-d's fingerprints in the geological record are consequently futile and don't have a place in science classes.

Revealed: rise of creationism in UK schools

James Randerson, science correspondent
Monday November 27, 2006
The Guardian

Dozens of schools are using creationist teaching materials condemned by the government as "not appropriate to support the science curriculum", the Guardian has learned.
The packs promote the creationist alternative to Darwinian evolution called intelligent design and the group behind them said 59 schools are using the information as "a useful classroom resource".

A teacher at one of the schools said it intended to use the DVDs to present intelligent design as an alternative to Darwinism. Nick Cowan, head of chemistry at Bluecoat school, in Liverpool, said: "Just because it takes a negative look at Darwinism doesn't mean it is not science. I think to critique Darwinism is quite appropriate."

But the government has made it clear that "neither intelligent design nor creationism are recognised scientific theories". The chairman of the parliamentary science and technology select committee, the Lib Dem MP Phil Willis, said he was horrified that the packs were being used in schools.

"I am flabbergasted that any head of science would give credence to this creationist theory and be prepared to put it alongside Darwinism," he said. "Treating it as an alternative centralist theory alongside Darwinism in science lessons is deeply worrying."

The teaching pack, which includes two DVDs and a manual, was sent to the head of science at all secondary schools in the country on September 18 by the group Truth in Science. The enclosed feedback postcard was returned by 89 schools. As well as 59 positive responses, 15 were negative or dismissive and 15 said the material was "not suitable".

Monday, November 27, 2006

From Autumn Clouds to Valentine’s Day (On the Gaza ceasefire)


Be honest. Who really remembers, in the days following disengagement, when the first Qassam went flying off into the Western Negev sky? Who paid close attention to the details of Israel’s evolving policy towards Gaza, and the Palestinian response to it? Did we notice the dangers unfold, or were we content to live in the deception that the occupation of Gaza was over, and all was well in the world? And did the Palestinians form a constructive vision for how to build a more positive future from the Israeli withdrawal, or did they simply view it as an opportunity for more ‘resistance’? More, including links

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Why military victory in Afghanistan may be out of the question

Britain told: do peace deal with Taliban

Christina Lamb (The Times)

THE British will never win in Afghanistan by military means and should open negotiations with the Taliban, according to the former leader of Pakistan’s forces in the border areas.
On the eve of a Nato summit in Riga at which member nations will be urged to send more troops, Lieutenant-General Ali Mohammad Jan Aurakzai, who led Pakistan’s hunt for Al-Qaeda until 2004 and is now governor of North West Frontier province, said: “Bring 50,000 more troops and fight for 10 to 15 years more and you won’t resolve it. The British with their history in Afghanistan should have known that better than anyone else.”

In the past three years Nato and the US have more than doubled their troops in Afghanistan to 43,000. Almost half are American and last week Nato’s Supreme Allied Commander, General James L Jones, said that he was about 15% short of requirements. He said that failure to provide more men would make the mission longer and more costly.

Despite months of lobbying by Britain and the US, Foreign Office officials say it is extremely unlikely that the two-day summit in the Latvian capital will produce more troops. Countries are particularly reluctant to commit to the turbulent south where British and Canadian forces have suffered heavy casualties.

Aurakzai said: “Nato are ignoring the realities on the ground. The reason Taliban numbers have swelled is because moderates are joining the militants.

“It is no longer an insurgency but a war of Pashtun resistance exactly on the model of the first Anglo-Afghan war.”

“Then too [in 1839-42] initially there were celebrations. The British built their cantonment and brought their wives and sweethearts from Delhi and didn’t realise that in the meantime the Afghans were getting organised to rise up. This is exactly what Afghans are doing today and what they did against the Soviets.”

He added: “The British should have known better. No country in the world has a better understanding of the Afghan psyche and very little has changed there in the past couple of centuries.”

Rather than fighting, he says, the only answer is to talk to the Taliban. Over the past few months he has negotiated a series of peace deals in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

“This is the only way forward,” he said. “There will be no military solution, there has to be a political solution. How many more lives have to be lost before people realise it’s time for dialogue?”

Nato commanders have questioned Pakistan’s commitment to the war on terror, claiming it is providing a safe haven and training for Taliban. Aurakzai dismissed the criticism.

“We are doing far more than the whole coalition put together,” he said. Pakistan had 80,000 troops in border areas — more than twice as many as Nato — and had lost about 750 soldiers, more than the entire coalition.

“It pains me to hear people accusing us of allowing border crossing,” he said. “We’re physically manning the border — our troops are sitting there on the zero line . . . Damn it, you also have a responsibility. Go sit on the border, fight like soldiers instead of sitting in your bases.

“The Americans say they can see even a goat on a hillside with their electronic surveillance, so why don’t they tell us where crossings are taking place and we will plug those gaps and kill those people?

“Either they [Nato] are trying to hide their own weaknesses by levelling allegations at Pakistan or they are refusing to admit the facts.”

Aurakzai said that Nato had failed to achieve any of its objectives. “Why did the coalition come to Afghanistan? To find Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, Mullah Omar and the Taliban; for democracy, reconstruction and development, and [to] leave a stable Afghanistan which wouldn’t be vulnerable to terrorists.

“All very noble, but tell me which one of those objectives have been achieved? I went to Kabul in September and they are all living in a big bunker with no control over Afghanistan. There’s no law and order. The insurgency has become far worse . . . is that a success?”

Truce! But don't hold your breath just yet...

13,000 members of PA security force deploy in Gaza to prevent Qassam fire

By Avi Issacharoff, Aluf Benn, Jack Khoury and Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondents and Agencies

Palestinian Authority security forces began deploying along the Gaza Strip's border with Israel on Sunday, in order to prevent Palestinian militants from firing Qassam rockets at Israel in violation of a newly implemented cease-fire.

A short time earlier, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas ordered the heads of Palestinian security forces to ensure that Gaza militants respect the truce, Palestinian officials said.

Three Qassam rockets hit Israel in the first few hours after a truce between Israel and Palestinian militant factions in the Gaza Strip went into effect, causing no damage or injuries. Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that Israel would display "patience and restraint" in the face of Palestinian violations of a cease-fire that went into effect earlier in the day.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said all major militant factions in the Gaza Strip had reaffirmed their commitment to the truce, Reuters reported.

"Contacts were made with the political leaderships of the factions and there is a reaffirmation of the commitment of what has been agreed to," Haniyeh said.

The military wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for continued Qassam rocket fire on Israel in the hours after the truce took hold.

Speaking at a high school in the Bedouin town of Rahat, Olmert said that Israel must give the truce a chance and pledged that "the government of Israel will not miss this opportunity for calm."
Full article here

Friday, November 24, 2006

Louise Arbour on Israel/Palestine

UN rights chief says Palestinians, Israelis feel abandoned by world

By The Associated Press and Haaretz Service

Both Israeli and Palestinian victims of violence feel abandoned by the world, the United Nations' top rights official said in remarks released

Louise Arbour, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said her talks with both Palestinians and Israelis during a five-day visit to Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip made apparent "their profound sense of frustration and abandonment, including a perception that the international community is not doing enough to protect them."

UN officials said Arbour made the comments Thursday in Jerusalem.

Arbour said the situation was particularly acute in Palestinian territories.

"I left Gaza with a sense that the right of its people to physical integrity - their right to life - was particularly imperiled," Arbour said.

"Beit Hanoun is only one case in many," she said of the Israeli artillery attack on the north Gaza village on Nov. 8 that killed 19 members of an extended family in their sleep.

But she also criticized the firing of Palestinian Qassam missiles at Israelis as a breach of international law because they are only used "with the intent to kill and to spread fear without discrimination."
Read the full article

Israel rejects ceasefire proposal


An Israeli ground offensive in Gaza continues, as does the bombing
Israel has dismissed an offer by Palestinian militant groups to stop firing rockets into Israel, if Israel ends attacks on Palestinians.
An Israeli government spokeswoman, Miri Eisen, said the militants had offered only a partial ceasefire.

She said the offer of an end to firing rockets from Gaza showed a lack of real commitment to peace.

The conditional Palestinian offer was made after a meeting on Thursday of all armed factions, including Hamas.

The militant group Hamas leads the Palestinian Authority.

Israel has in the past consistently rejected ceasefire offers by Palestinian militants, saying it refuses to do deals of any kind with what it describes as terrorist organisations.

Rocket fire

Palestinian Qassam rockets are fired into Israel on a daily basis. They have killed two Israelis in the past 10 days.

Israel has launched frequent ground offensives into Gaza Strip to try to stop the militants who launch the rockets. It has also shelled targets in Gaza heavily.

Israel evacuated its settlements and military bases in Gaza last year, but the military renewed ground operations after militants captured an Israeli soldier in a border raid in June.

Since June, Israeli troops have killed more than 400 Palestinians in Gaza, roughly half of them civilians. Three Israeli soldiers have died in operations and two civilians were killed by rocket fire.

Continuing offensive

On Thursday, at least five Palestinians were killed by Israeli military action in the Gaza Strip as troops pressed on with operations against armed groups.

Two militants were killed in an air strike in Beit Lahiya and two others died in armed clashes with troops. Another man was also shot dead.

The deaths came as a 57-year-old female suicide bomber attacked Israeli troops in Jabaliya. Three Israeli troops were slightly wounded in the blast.

The Israeli army says that a group of soldiers became suspicious of an approaching woman.

They threw a stun grenade at her but she managed to detonate explosives that she was carrying.

Governing Palestinian party Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack by the bomber and named her as Fatma Najar, a mother and grandmother.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Blair is wildly exaggerating the threat posed by terrorism

Craving a monstrous enemy, the prime minister has vastly overstated this supposed threat to world security

Simon Jenkins
Wednesday November 22, 2006
The Guardian

What is it about a desert that drives men mad? On Monday morning the prime minister stood on the Afghan sand and said: "Here in this extraordinary piece of desert is where the fate of world security in the early 21st century is going to be decided."

Tony Blair was talking to soldiers he had sent to fight the toughest guerrillas on earth for control of southern Afghanistan. He told them: "Your defeat [of the Taliban] is not just on behalf of the people of Afghanistan but the people of Britain ... We have got to stay for as long as it takes."

The prime minister's brain has clearly lost touch with reality. Even under the Raj there was no conceivable way Britain could conquer and hold the arc of territory to which Blair was referring. It stretches from the Persian Gulf through Iranian Baluchistan and Afghanistan to Pakistan. No central government has come near to controlling this region, and its aversion to outside intervention is ageless and ruthless, currently fuelled by the world's voracious appetite for oil and opium. But it poses no threat to world security.

The sole basis for Blair's statement is Mullah Omar's hospitality to the fanatic, Osama bin Laden, at the end of the 1990s. As we now know, this was never popular (an Arab among Pashtuns); after 9/11, when the Taliban had collaborated with the west over opium, either Bin Laden would eventually have had to leave or the Tajiks would have taken revenge for his killing of their leader, Sheikh Massoud. Even the Pakistanis were on his tail. Either way, Talib Afghanistan was no more a "threat" after 9/11 than were the American flying schools at which the 9/11 perpetrators trained.

So what is Blair getting at? He once confessed to his hero, Roy Jenkins, that he regretted not having studied history at Oxford. He never spoke a truer word. The concept of world security as holistic and vulnerable to incidents such as 9/11 is nonsensical. Politics is not a variant of the Gaia thesis, in which each component of an ecosystem depends on and responds to every other. There is no butterfly effect in international relations. For want of a victory in Helmand, the Middle East is not lost, nor for want of victory in the Middle East is western civilisation lost.

This is as well, since Blair's resumed war in Afghanistan is clearly not being won. We know from the former army chief Lord Guthrie that Blair, despite promising to "give the army anything it takes", has refused the extra troops and armour needed by the pathetically small expeditionary force of 7,000 in Helmand. He has already had to switch tactics from winning hearts and minds to American-style "search and destroy", blowing up villages with 1,000lb bombs (as we saw on TV last week). British commanders are describing "successes" in terms of enemy kills. They should recall that Victorian officers in the Punjab were told that such boasts would be treated as a sign of failure, not success. Such killings infuriated the population and presaged revenge attacks. Has the British army learned nothing?

Blair has not been able to persuade his Nato allies in Europe of his apocalyptic world-view. The use of the word terrorism to imply some grand military offensive against the west may sound good in White House national security documents and Downing Street speeches. But terrorism is not an enemy or an ideology, let alone a country or an army. It is a weapon, like a gun or a bomb. It is not something that can be defeated, only guarded against.

Nor can terrorism ever win. Blair's flattering reference to it was in reality to al-Qaida and to the Islamist jihadism whose cause he has so incessantly advertised. As the American strategist Louise Richardson points out in What Terrorists Want, al-Qaida has not the remotest chance of defeating the west or undermining its civilisation. Only a deranged paranoid could think that. Some group or other will always look for ways to commit random killings, against which national security services need to be vigilant. But this is not war. Richardson points out that these groups are being grotesquely overrated. They cannot plausibly deploy weapons of true mass destruction, and remain stuck with the oldest terrorist tool of all, the man with a bomb (and if we are really negligent, with a plane).

While terrorism can take on different guises, it is not new and is not a threat to human society to rank with a world war or a nuclear holocaust - as the home secretary, John Reid, has absurdly claimed. Terrorist incidents are the outcome of someone's mental pathology and are of no political significance - unless cynical leaders in a targeted community choose otherwise.

What is sad about Blair's statement is not its strategic naivety but the psychology behind it. Why have the leaders of Britain and America felt driven to adopt so wildly distorted a concept of menace? In an analysis of terrorism in the latest New York Review of Books, Max Rodenbeck offers plausible but depressing answers. They include the short-term popularity that war offers democratic leaders, the yearning of defence chiefs and industries to prove the worth of expensive kit and, in Iraq's case, "the influence of neoconservatives and of the pro-Israeli lobby, seeing a chance to set a superpower on Israel's enemies".

All this is true, but I sense a deeper disconnect. The west is ruled by a generation of leaders with no experience of war or its threat. Blair and his team cannot recall the aftermath of the second world war, and in the cold war they rushed to join CND. They were distant from those real global horrors. Yet now in power they seem to crave an enemy of equivalent monstrosity. Modern government has a big hole in its ego, yearning to be filled by something called a "threat to security".

After 1990 many hoped that an age of stable peace might dawn. Rich nations might disarm and combine to help the poor, advancing the cause of global responsibility. Instead two of history's most internationalist states, America and Britain, have returned to the trough of conflict, chasing a chimera of "world terrorism", and at ludicrous expense. They have brought death and destruction to a part of the globe that posed no strategic threat. Now one of them, Tony Blair, stands in a patch of desert to claim that "world security in the 21st century" depends on which warlord controls it. Was anything so demented?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bomb, bomb, bomb, bombedybomb... Iran!

From the geniuses over at the American Enterprise Institute comes this bit of "wisdom":


Bomb Iran

Diplomacy is doing nothing to stop the Iranian nuclear threat; a show of force is the only answer.

By Joshua Muravchik, JOSHUA MURAVCHIK is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
November 19, 2006

WE MUST bomb Iran.

It has been four years since that country's secret nuclear program was brought to light, and the path of diplomacy and sanctions has led nowhere.

FOUR YEARS! Wow, how could we have waited that long!

Read the rest here, or perhaps not...

The Dutch have reached a new level of authoritarianism

Across Europe, the campaign against the veil now has an established pattern; and it has nothing to do with integration

Naima Bouteldja
Tuesday November 21, 2006
The Guardian

The political hubbub that greeted Jack Straw's comments on the veil seems to have inspired a new continental fashion. Latest to join the fray is the Dutch government, which in the run-up to tomorrow's general election announced plans to ban the wearing of the burka and face veil in public. By doing so, it has raised what is becoming a Europe-wide campaign to a new level of authoritarianism. Naima Azough, a Dutch Green MP, points out that the ban would apply to fewer than 100 women. "This didn't come from public pressure," she says, "but was initiated by the immigration minister, Rita Verdonk, whose Liberal-Conservative party is scrambling for far-right votes." The result will simply reinforce the perception of Muslims that they will never be accepted in Dutch society.

In Italy, the debate has been raging since the prime minister, Romano Prodi, was asked to comment on Straw's views. That followed a farcical TV show in which a rightwing MP, Daniela Santanchè, clashed with the imam of a Milan mosque on the subject. Santanchè has since been under police protection, convinced that the imam's statement that she didn't have the knowledge to comment on Islam amounted to a fatwa against her. "The veil is at best worn by 50 women in the whole country," says Hamza Ricardo Piccardo, spokesperson of the Italian Muslim Council, "and people in the street just don't care."

Of course, the dress code of Muslim women was making headlines across Europe long before Straw weighed in. The wearing of the headscarf by teachers is already forbidden in schools in several German states. In Belgium, the minister-president of the Walloon-Brussels region last year authorised state schools to ban the headscarf. The result has been the creation of ghettoised schools.
Full article here

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Melanie Phillips on morally bankrupt Europe

From The Daily Hate Mail writer and climate change denier Melanie Phillips, comes this little gem:
The euro drops

Great piece on
The American Thinker about Europe’s loss of moral seriousness:
We have protected Europe for a century with our blood and treasure. Under our protection they have constructed a Disneyland for adults, one that is utterly unable to defend itself. Instead, they have imported tens of millions of ideologues who want nothing more than to take over Europe. Yet Europe is obnoxiously ready to preach morality to the decent nations of the world who are not as deluded as they are. True to their endless imperialistic arrogance, they are now exporting yet another world-conquering ideology, a fuzzier version of communism, aiming to actively hog-tie the United States through a hundred international treaties.

The US government is now beginning to think seriously about recalibrating its relationship with Britain and Europe. Anyone in these morally bankrupt countries who thinks this is good news for them needs his head examined.

Words fail me, really. Anyway, it's official, Europe is morally bankrupt...

Commenters: abuse in the comment section will be deleted immediately.

Newsnight's own-goal

While many of us may disagree with Hizb ut-Tahrir, the response must be through debate and argument, not innuendo.

Comment is free (article contains useful external links), Inayat Bunglawala

I have known about Hizb ut-Tahrir ("the party of liberation") since I left school for university in 1987. Its dedicated and earnest members were active at several London campuses trying to gain recruits among future British Muslim professionals.

Their message was simple, insistent and, to some, convincing: Muslim majority countries were in a backward condition due to a combination of incompetence on the part of their rulers and ruthless political and economic exploitation by western governments. They proposed that the creation of an Islamic super-state, the Caliphate, run by devout Muslims, would remedy these ills and help Muslims regain the respect they had lost in recent centuries.

For my part, I did not find their arguments attractive. I knew that HT were originally founded in Palestine in the early 1950s and that they were a minority presence in several Muslim countries and also now among Muslim communities in the west. But too often I found their members to be almost robotic replicas of each other: repeating identical verses of the Qur'an with the same narrow interpretation, showing no awareness of having studied the history of nations in any particular depth and having a rather black-and-white view of the world. Their call on British Muslims to refrain from participating in the UK's democratic system was - and is - to my mind, utterly self-defeating.

Last year, in the run up to the 2005 general election I participated in a debate in east London with Dr Imran Waheed, HT's media representative in the UK, in which I urged those present (several hundred youths) to fully participate in the British political process and pointed out that this was the recommendation of the overwhelming majority of UK Muslim scholars on the best way to protect our freedoms and work for the common good.

Just a couple of months later, in the aftermath of the July 7 bombings, when the prime minister vowed to ban HT, many Muslim organisations - despite their opposition to the group - opposed the ban.

So, I think what I am trying to say is that while many of us may disagree with HT's views and methodology, the way to respond must surely be by scrutinising HT's policies through debate and argument.

On Tuesday, Newsnight broadcast a dreadfully unfair and muddled report by Richard Watson which purported to show that HT were in reality encouraging their members to acts of criminality and tried to associate them with the encouragement of violence. If you haven't seen it yet, it is worth watching -
it is online here - to see the John Ware/Martin Bright school of filmmaking in action: plenty of insinuation and innuendo about wrongdoing on the part of HT; a dearth of any substantive facts. It was followed by Jeremy Paxman's interview with a representative of HT, Dr Abdul Wahid. Again, this is also worth watching, particularly for the quite understandable look of amazement on the HT rep's face at the dire quality of the Newsnight report.

Predictably, several tabloids picked up on the story the next day. The Daily Mail ran a front page story headlined "Fanatic at the Home Office" on the basis that Newsnight had found an alleged HT member who works as an IT officer in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate. This man's photograph was printed in several newspapers. His actual crime? Nothing whatsoever, except that he was allegedly a member of HT. The Daily Telegraph reported that HT had 'infiltrated' the Home Office. In reality, HT members can be found working as Doctors, as teachers, accountants, you name it. They have to earn a living don't they?

The Daily Express said that the Home Office had made a "major security blunder". The London Evening Standard - which has become a very nasty Muslim-baiting paper since Veronica Wadley took over as editor from Max Hastings in 2002 - claimed, wrongly, that HT had "pledged to turn Britain into an Islamic state". Actually, HT's proposed super-state is only meant for Muslim-majority countries.

Thursday's Daily Mail seemed miffed that their attempt to get the Home Office employee sacked had not seemed to work: "Extremist at the Home Office will keep his job" was their headline this time. To many ordinary Muslims it will appear that it is rather the Newsnight team and various sections of the media that are indulging in extremism.

HT have responded to the Newsnight item on their website and have also vowed to distribute tens of thousands of leaflets discussing this episode outside mosques today after Friday prayers. I suspect that among those that will have watched Newsnight's report and read any of the subsequent media coverage, they will get a more sympathetic hearing than usual.

An own-goal, Newsnight.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Founder of Holocaust museum in Nazareth invited to Tehran


The founder of a private Holocaust museum in Nazareth has been invited to address a Holocaust study conference to take place next month in Iran.

Nazareth resident Khaled Ksab Mahamid is waiting for permission from the Foreign Ministry and final authorization from Tehran to attend the conference.

Mahamid told Haaretz he intends to tell the conference that the Holocaust did happen and that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's position of Holocaust denial is wrong.
Full article

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Spain, Italy and France to devise new Mideast peace initiative

By The Associated Press

Spain will sponsor a new Middle East peace initiative along with France and Italy, the Spanish prime minister said Thursday, stressing that the international community cannot remain idle as violence rages between Israel and the Palestinians.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced the initiative at a summit with President Jacques Chirac of France. "Peace between Israel and the Palestinians means to a large extent peace on the international scene," Zapatero told a news conference.

The peace plan will be presented to an EU summit next month, Zapatero said, adding he hopes to win the backing of Britain and Germany as well.

He said it had five components: an immediate cease-fire, formation of a national unity government by the Palestinians that can gain international recognition, an exchange of prisoners - including the Israel Defense Forces soldiers whose kidnapping sparked the war in Lebanon and fighting in Gaza this summer - talks between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and an international mission in Gaza to monitor a cease-fire.

"We cannot remain impassive in the face of the horror that continues to unfold before our eyes," Zapatero said.

"When I arrived, Zapatero said to me 'we have the same vision of problems and concerns over the Middle East and particularly Palestine. We should take a common initiative'," Chirac told businessmen and professors.

"Our three countries have the sensitivity, the same interests and the same morals and maybe we can play a part in working out a solution to the Palestinian problem and putting it into action," he said.
Full article

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Military Strike On Iran Would Be Illegal, Regardless Of Its Nuclear Status

Written by The Heathlander
Published November 14, 2006 (article contain many corroborating links)

Speaking yesterday at the annual United Jewish Communities General Assembly (a tough crowd), Likud chairman and former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu used apocalyptic language to emphasise the threat posed by Iran, not only to Israel but to the entire world. "Everything else pales before this," he intoned gravely.
He also employed that ever so original tool of persuasion: a Holocaust analogy, stating,
"It's 1938 and Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs...Believe [Iranian President Ahmadinejad] and stop him...he is preparing another Holocaust for the Jewish state."

This is not the first time in recent days Ahmadinejad has been compared to Hitler. In an interview with the Washington Post, PM Olmert made the same analogy, adding that Ahmadinejad is "ready to commit crimes against humanity" and "has to be stopped".

Now, analogies to the Holocaust should not be made lightly, at least not without clarification. Likewise, comparisons to Hitler, whilst an unfortunately popular defamatory device, are usually misplaced and inaccurate. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a borderline Holocaust denier and he has made threats against the existence of Israel. But firstly, these threats have been abstract - he has made no direct call to arms or threat of war. Secondly, Ahmadinejad has no power under Iranian law over the nuclear programme or over matters of war. Of course all his talk about the "destruction" of Israel and questioning the Holocaust is disgusting, but it's done in order to increase his popularity with the people of Iran, not because he's actually planning a war. He is a show-figure and not in charge of policy in these matters. Thus, while convenient for Israel and the U.S., all this focus on Ahmadinejad is misleading. There is certainly no danger of a second Holocaust coming from Iran.

Israel, on the other hand, has been ratcheting up the rhetoric recently, making several very real military threats, both veiled and explicit, against Iran. In an interview published Saturday, Olmert pushed the international community to make clear to Iran that it will "pay dearly" if it doesn't stop its enrichment activities. "In other words," said Olmert, "Iran must start to fear." In the same interview, he described a nuclear Iran as "absolutely intolerable" and, when asked whether Israel would consider military action, Olmert refused to answer, saying only that, "Israel has many options."

Others have been more specific. On November 10, Israel's Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh warned that Israel must prevent Iran's nuclear programme "at all costs" (the "costs", presumably, being Iranian lives). He classified "preemptive military action" as a "last resort", before proclaiming that, "the last resort is sometimes the only resort". Not exactly what you'd call 'subtle'.

Then, of course, there was the appointment of the extreme nationalist and racist Avigdor Lieberman as `Minister for Strategic Threats', whose prime task, apparently, will be to coordinate Israeli strategy on Iran.

Finally, let's return reluctantly to Netanyahu, who has also directly threatened Iran with military force. Pointing out that Israel has "the capability required to eliminate the [Iranian] threat", he argued that stopping Iran requires "preemptive leadership" (in reference to Israel's preemptive strike in the 1967 war). It's been made crystal clear that, while it will go through the diplomatic motions and give Iran the chance to surrender first, Israel is absolutely prepared to launch a military first-strike on Iran.

The United States likewise officially retains the right to launch "preemptive strikes", even if "uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack". The 2006 National Security Strategy of the United States explicitly states the U.S.' right to "act preemptively in exercising our inherent right of self-defense." More recently, President Bush has declared that, with Iran, "all options are on the table".

It's important to note that when Israel and the United States talk of preemption, what they actually mean is prevention. The U.S. cited "preemption" in its case for invading Iraq, but for something to qualify as `preemption' it has to be in response to "incontrovertible evidence that an enemy attack is imminent". What the U.S. meant in the case of Iraq and what the U.S. and Israel mean in the case of Iran is prevention, which is "a war initiated in the belief that military conflict, while not imminent, is inevitable, and that to delay would involve greater risk."

In short, then, Iranians have every reason to feel insecure. Many have lived with the threat and fear of a hostile, nuclear-armed Israel and an aggressive, nuclear-armed United States all their lives. But, evidently, it is only Israel's and the United States' security that matters. Israel's ambassador to the EU, Oded Eran, recently argued that, for the first time since its creation, Israel is facing an "existential threat". He points out that,
"We know from the past the destructive nature of the nuclear weapons and it doesn't matter whether you react or not afterwards because the harm can't be reversed. That's existential threat."

Now, this is the argument that is being and will be used to justify a strike on Iran. The premises are;

1. A nuclear Iran will be, in Olmert's words, "not just a threat for Israel, but for the whole world."

2. Israel should not have to tolerate such a threat.

The conclusion, therefore, is that Israel has the right to strike preventively against Iran to stop it getting nuclear weapons.

The first thing to note is the unevidenced assumption that Iran is in fact attempting to develop nuclear weapons. The IAEA has emphasised (though not strongly enough) many times that, although it can't say for definite that Iran isn't pursuing nuclear weapons, neither can it show that it is. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the working assumption must therefore be that Iran is simply exercising its legal right to enrich uranium and develop a civilian nuclear programme.

But let's, for a moment, assume that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Does it then follow that, as Netanyahu put it, "[the arsenal] will be directed against `the big Satan,' the U.S., and the `moderate Satan,' Europe"? Let's look at the current nuclear club. Has Israel ever used nuclear weapons on anyone? Has France? Has the U.K.? No; the only country ever to drop a nuclear bomb on another nation is the United States. They dropped two on Japan - a non-nuclear state. There has never been an instance of a nuclear attack on a nuclear state. The reason for this is obvious: an attack on a nuclear state would result in a retaliatory nuclear strike and states don't commit suicide. There is thus no reason at all to think that a nuclear Iran would actually use nuclear weapons on anyone. As historian Martin van Crevald writes, "[Israel] has long had what it needs to deter an Iranian attack...Should deterrence fail, Jerusalem can quickly turn Tehran into a radioactive desert — a fact of which Iranians are fully aware."

But even if we assume that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and that, should it get them, it would pose a threat to Israel, the United States and the world, would that then justify an Israeli/U.S. preventive strike against Iran? Well, let's reverse the situation. As we have seen, Israel is a nuclear power with enough nuclear weapons to "turn Tehran into a radioactive desert". Its political and military leadership have long made clear that they are prepared to launch a military first-strike against Iran. The U.S. has also made its aggressive intent towards Iran known and has enough nuclear weapons to turn the whole of the Middle East into a radioactive desert. What's more, both states have a history of aggressive military intervention (the U.S., for example, helped topple Iran's democratically elected Mossadegh in 1953). Even Tony Blair accepts that Iran has a "genuine, if entirely misplaced fear, that the US seeks a military solution in Iran."

If we argue that Israel has the right to strike Iran preventively because it fears an Iranian nuclear threat, does not Iran have the right to strike Washington and Tel Aviv for the same reason?

If basic morality does not suffice, international law is clear on the matter. Preventive military strikes are illegal. Under international law (.pdf), the "use of force is only permissable in the case of armed attack or imminent attack or under UN authorization when a threat to the peace has been declared by the Security Council and non-military measured have been determined to be inadequate."

As an American Society of International Law (ASIL) paper, entitled `The Myth of Preemptive Self-Defense' (.pdf), explains, the United Nations Charter (a binding treaty to which both the U.S. and Israel are signatories) explicitly forbids the use of force except in self-defence or if authorised by the Security Council in response to an imminent attack. But to use force under Article 51 (which permits states to use force to defend themselves) requires that, "An attack must be underway or just have already occurred in order to trigger the right of unilateral self-defense. Any earlier response requires the approval of the Security Council. There is no self-appointed right to attack another state because of fear that the state is making plans or developing weapons usable in a hypothetical campaign."

Thus, in the absence of "incontrovertible evidence" of an "imminent" Iranian aggression, there is absolutely zero justification for any military action against Iran, regardless of its nuclear status.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Fake justice...

So, Saddam Hussein will be made to swing. Good, he deserves it. I'm against capital punishment but for those who commit atrocities like the Nazi war criminals or butchers like Hussein I've no problem making an exception.

So, justice has been done? Not quite, argues John Pilger and I'm inclined to agree with him.

What about the many Western leaders, who supported him, provided him with weaponry, credit lines, chemical precursors, aided and abetted him in his brutal aggression against Iran etc etc? They carry no guilt? These collaborators, aiders and abetters? Of course they do. But we can't have the West hang out its dirty linen, now can we?

So, at best "half justice" has been done.
Or as John Pilger puts it: fake justice...

Blair briefs US Iraq inquiry (don't hold your breath)

Matthew Tempest and agencies
Tuesday November 14, 2006
Guardian Unlimited

Tony Blair has today shared his thoughts on future strategies for Iraq with a high-level American inquiry into the conflict.

The prime minister gave evidence in private via videolink from Downing Street to the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan US panel chaired by former secretary of state James Baker.

Mr Blair's evidence will remain private, but the timing of the submission comes at a critical juncture in US politics, with president Bush humbled by last week's midterm elections and a growing disenchantment with the war on both sides of the Atlantic.

The ISG group's report is widely seen as a face-saving way for the Republican administration to announce some form of troop withdrawal. Downing Street gave no indication of what Mr Blair would say to the ISG except that he would ensure the US panel was "fully briefed on UK ideas".

As if the US cared one iota what lame duck "liar-liar poodle-pants-on-fire" actually thinks...

But his message was expected to be similar to that in a major speech to the City last night, when he opened the prospect of a new relationship with Iran and Syria.

The two countries - which border Iraq - have previously been described as part of an "arc of extremism" by Mr Blair earlier this year - a quieter echo of Mr Bush's "axis of evil" speech of 2002.

But Mr Blair last night implored Tehran to assist the Middle East peace process, stop supporting terrorism in Iraq and Lebanon and abide by its international obligations on nuclear non-proliferation.

"In that case, a new partnership is possible," the prime minister said.

"Or alternatively they face the consequences of not doing so: isolation."

Where, Mr Blair, is the evidence of Iran's "supporting terrorism in Iraq"? Your own military commanders responsible for patrolling the southern border indicate there is almost no cross-border activity at all, except perhaps for infrequent and low-level weapons smuggling.

And of course you can hear the Tehran regime quaking in their sandals at the prospect of "isolation"...

Although the speech at the Guildhall was billed as "as the situation evolves, the policy evolves", Mr Blair insisted there was no shift in policy towards the two countries.

He said his top priority was the Israel-Palestine conflict - which he described as "the core".

More lies from Mr DisingenuousTM: Bliar has never been interested in any solution for Israel/Palestine, instead his reckless siding with El Chimperor has caused a debacle of unprecedented scale in the ME, making the question of the occupied territories a largely forgotten cause.

Mr Blair called for a "whole Middle East strategy" which tackled forces outside Iraq seeking to create difficulties inside the country.

The shadow foreign secretary, William Hague, doubted last night whether Mr Blair could influence US policy, as his domestic power was "evaporating and his longevity in office is limited".

"It's quite hard for a prime minister in that situation to breathe new life into a peace process in the Middle East or to influence the American administration," he said.

The "difficulties" in Iraq are now entirely of our own making, blaming others isn't going to help us. "Lame" and "duck" spring to mind once again...

Monday, November 13, 2006

International force for Gaza

The following editorial brings up an idea that's been on the back of my mind for a very long time: an international force to be deployed in Gaza. There is of course no shortage of practical problems with the idea. For one, who would make up this force? Europeans would probably be loathe to be seen acting against a good part of Israel's public opinion and possibly be accused of anti-Semitism and at the same time come under Muslim criticism for interfering with the Palestinian Authority. The US, with its close ties to Israel, may not be too keen either.

By Haaretz Editorial

The situation in the Gaza Strip cries out for the world's help. After hundreds of Palestinians have been killed and hundreds of Qassam rockets have landed in Israel, and lacking any exchange between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, the two sides once again cannot extricate themselves from the miserable situation into which they have deteriorated. In light of the situation, the world is called on to intervene directly, as is the norm in other areas of conflict.

There is no need here to detail the danger to peace in the region and indirectly to world peace, as a result of the deterioration in the Gaza Strip. Israel's actions harm innocent civilians, and images of the killing broadcast round the world intensify hatred of Israel: At the same time, Israel cannot reconcile itself with constant rocket fire on its towns. An international force deployed in Gaza, primarily in the areas that border Israel and Egypt, could calm the situation. Both Israel and the Palestinians should be interested in this.

Israel has been deterred in the past from "internationalizing the conflict." It traditionally opposed any international intervention on the assumption that deploying foreign soldiers would limit the Israel Defense Forces and make it difficult for the military to protect Israel.

However, the recent war in Lebanon changed the approach. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was the first to suggest an increased involvement of a UNIFIL force. The prime minister had reservations, but after two weeks he also began to support the solution that is now in force in Lebanon.

This is not a perfect solution. But after having tried everything, and after it became clear that the use of force alone does not solve the problem, there is no other option.

True, an international force did not calm every conflict situation, but there are also positive examples: In Kosovo, for instance, an international force managed to end the acts of terror between the quarreling sides.

Israel left the Gaza Strip, so the presence of an international force would not threaten either Israel's sovereignty or security. The Palestinians have said they are interested in such a force, which could act as their shield against Israeli attacks.

An international force could bring about the end of the Qassam fire, and that is supposed to bring about the end of Israeli military operations. Along with the establishment of a Palestinian unity government, which Hamas will not lead, and which will include mostly experts, this combination of measures could bring new hope. And maybe it would even constitute the basis for the renewal of talks between the sides.

Israel must initiate the move and thus appear interested in calming the situation. The world, for its part, should volunteer for the mission. The prime minister, who has left for political talks in Washington, could bring this idea with him, which has never been tried between Israel and the Palestinians and, in doing so, advance a new reality.

Olmert is blowing hot and cold over Iran

Olmert: I'm not looking for war with Iran over nukes

By Aluf Benn, Haaretz Correspondent, and Itim

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said ahead of White House talks with President George W. Bush on Monday that he was not looking for war with Iran over its nuclear program.

"Every compromise that will stop Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities which will be acceptable to President Bush will be acceptable to me," Olmert said in an interview with NBC's "Today Show."

"I am not looking for wars. I am not looking for confrontations. I'm looking for the outcome. This campaign will be tested in only one way - whether it will succeed to stop Iran from possessing nuclear weapons," he said in the interview, recorded in Israel on Friday and broadcast on Monday.

Israel's concerns over Iran's uranium enrichment program, the war in Iraq and Palestinian moves to form a unity government to replace a Hamas-led administration are likely to top the agenda of Olmert's talks with Bush.

Tehran's goal is to "ultimately wipe Israel off the map," Olmert said in the interview. "This is not an issue of Israel only. This is a moral issue of the whole world and the whole world has to join forces in order to stop it. This is a problem of every country. I know that President Bush is fully aware of that."

Olmert arrived in the U.S. with expectations that he could make small-scale moves on the Palestinian front, including the possibility of offering humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people.

The prime minister said Sunday that he did not believe Washington's strong backing for Israel would waver.

"Support for Israel traditionally has been bipartisan. I don't see anything changing in the next two years that can alter the balance of feeling towards us," Olmert told reporters accompanying him on the flight to Washington.

In preparation for his talks with Bush, Olmert had a working dinner Sunday night with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The prime minister also hinted for the first time Sunday at the possibility of Israeli military action against Iran to thwart its nuclear efforts.

In a conversation with press aboard his plane Sunday, Olmert said that "Iran will only agree to a compromise on the issue of its nuclear program if it has a reason to be afraid."

But he refused to elaborate on Israel's options regarding the issue.

However, in an interview published Sunday in Newsweek and the Washington Post, Olmert made his harshest statements so far about Iran.

In the interview, Olmert compared Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Adolf Hitler and said "he has to be stopped."

"My position is clear," the prime minister said regarding Iran. "If there can be a compromise that will stop Iran short of crossing the technological threshold that will lead them into nuclear capabilities, we will be for such a compromise."

"But I don't believe that Iran will accept such compromise unless they have a very good reason to fear the consequences of not reaching it," explained Olmert. "In other words, Iran must start to fear."

When asked what he thought could be done about Iran, Olmert said, "I can think of many different measures. The guideline has to be that this government and the people of Iran must understand that if they do not accept the request of the international community, they're going to pay dearly."

Responding to the interview, Iran said it would react swiftly and harshly to such a move by Israel.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told a news conference on Sunday that Iran would put into action its Revolutionary Guards if Israel attacked the Islamic Republic.

"If Israel takes such a stupid step and attacks, the answer of Iran and its Revolutionary Guard will be rapid, firm and destructive and it will be given in a few seconds," he said.

He also said the country was pressing ahead with plans to expand its program to enrich uranium, which the West and Israel accuse Iran of using to make nuclear warheads, despite Tehran's denials.

After the Washington leg of Olmert's trip, during which he will also meet with administration and congressional leaders, Olmert will head to Los Angeles to speak at the General Assembly (GA) of the United Jewish Communities.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Threat to Blair as Democrats pledge inquiry on Iraq

By Andrew Buncombe in Washington and Raymond Whitaker and Francis Elliott in London
Published: 12 November 2006

Tony Blair, who narrowly defeated a recent parliamentary attempt to call an inquiry into the Iraq war, is facing a new threat from Washington, where victorious Democrats are expected to call British witnesses as they launch congressional investigations into the war.

"Now we are the majority party and we can hold hearings," said a senior member of the staff of John Conyers, who in January will become chair of the House Judiciary Committee. "We can hold any number of hearings."

Democratic Senators are also expected to seek hearings aimed at throwing light on how Downing Street and the White House co-ordinated efforts to claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. All the claims that led to war, from allegations that Saddam was reconstituting a nuclear weapons programme to his alleged links with al-Qa'ida, could come under examination. Unlike their counterparts in Britain, congressional committees have the crucial power to subpoena witnesses and documents.

Mr Conyers's staff have long been investigating how false information was presented by the Bush administration to persuade the public of the "significant and growing" threat posed by Saddam. Their inquiries were partly triggered by the leaking of the Downing Street memos, which revealed the belief of the British government that Mr Bush had decided on war as early as the spring of 2002.

When Mr Conyers published his findings last year, he said: "We have found that there is substantial evidence the President, the Vice-President and other high-ranking members of the Bush administration misled Congress and the American people regarding the decision to go to war in Iraq, misstated and manipulated intelligence information regarding the justification for such war, countenanced torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in Iraq, and permitted inappropriate retaliation against critics of their administration."

He called for Mr Bush's censure, something that Democrats have now decided not to pursue, but any fresh investigation using subpoena powers is sure to put further pressure on the US and British governments.

Three and a half years into a conflict that has led to the deaths of more than 2,800 US troops, 121 British soldiers and perhaps 655,000 Iraqis, the Congressman's aide said full details about the decision to go to war had still not emerged. He added: "We are not in a position to say we know what happened or what came to be. We know what some whistle-blowers said, and some people who left the government, but there has never been a [full inquiry]."

Pressure for an inquiry in the UK will be renewed this week when MPs launch a fresh attempt to make the Government reveal its exit plan from Iraq. Leading backbenchers from all sides are preparing to table an amendment to the Queen's speech, a device that, if successful, would require ministers to explain in public what they are telling the US administration in private.

Kenneth Clarke, the former chancellor and leading Conservative war critic, and John McDonnell, the left-wing Labour MP challenging for the party's leadership, are among those backing the move.

And the foreign affairs committee is waiting to receive secret evidence about the run-up to war from Carne Ross, a former British diplomat. In an extraordinary session of the committee last week, Mr Ross, a close friend of Dr David Kelly, offered to make public evidence he gave in secret to the Butler inquiry.

The offer threatens to develop into a major embarrassment for the Government, since the FAC's Labour chairman, Mike Gapes, a Blair loyalist, urged him not to disclose his evidence.

Among those who gave evidence to Mr Conyers last year was Joe Wilson, a former US diplomat who proved Mr Bush was wrong to claim Iraq had tried to obtain uranium in Africa. The administration later admitted that the claim, which the President attributed to Britain, should never have been in his 2003 State of the Union address.

Mr Wilson said he was willing to testify, adding that he had been following the claims by Mr Ross in London. "The whole question of pre-war intelligence has not been resolved," he said.

Downing Street confirmed Mr Blair will give evidence by video-link on Tuesday to the Iraq Study Group, a high-level Washington commission, chaired by former US secretary of state James Baker, which is trying to devise a new course for the war.

Mr Blair is expected to urge the US to push for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to defuse Middle East tensions. Britain also favours talks with Iraq's neighbours, Syria and Iran. Although little help is expected from Tehran, British ministers are also understood to be discussing suggestions that Syria might help to quell violence in Iraq in exchange for regaining the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in 1967.

Tony Blair, who narrowly defeated a recent parliamentary attempt to call an inquiry into the Iraq war, is facing a new threat from Washington, where victorious Democrats are expected to call British witnesses as they launch congressional investigations into the war.

"Now we are the majority party and we can hold hearings," said a senior member of the staff of John Conyers, who in January will become chair of the House Judiciary Committee. "We can hold any number of hearings."

Democratic Senators are also expected to seek hearings aimed at throwing light on how Downing Street and the White House co-ordinated efforts to claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. All the claims that led to war, from allegations that Saddam was reconstituting a nuclear weapons programme to his alleged links with al-Qa'ida, could come under examination. Unlike their counterparts in Britain, congressional committees have the crucial power to subpoena witnesses and documents.

Mr Conyers's staff have long been investigating how false information was presented by the Bush administration to persuade the public of the "significant and growing" threat posed by Saddam. Their inquiries were partly triggered by the leaking of the Downing Street memos, which revealed the belief of the British government that Mr Bush had decided on war as early as the spring of 2002.

When Mr Conyers published his findings last year, he said: "We have found that there is substantial evidence the President, the Vice-President and other high-ranking members of the Bush administration misled Congress and the American people regarding the decision to go to war in Iraq, misstated and manipulated intelligence information regarding the justification for such war, countenanced torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in Iraq, and permitted inappropriate retaliation against critics of their administration."

He called for Mr Bush's censure, something that Democrats have now decided not to pursue, but any fresh investigation using subpoena powers is sure to put further pressure on the US and British governments.

Three and a half years into a conflict that has led to the deaths of more than 2,800 US troops, 121 British soldiers and perhaps 655,000 Iraqis, the Congressman's aide said full details about the decision to go to war had still not emerged. He added: "We are not in a position to say we know what happened or what came to be. We know what some whistle-blowers said, and some people who left the government, but there has never been a [full inquiry]."
Pressure for an inquiry in the UK will be renewed this week when MPs launch a fresh attempt to make the Government reveal its exit plan from Iraq. Leading backbenchers from all sides are preparing to table an amendment to the Queen's speech, a device that, if successful, would require ministers to explain in public what they are telling the US administration in private.

Kenneth Clarke, the former chancellor and leading Conservative war critic, and John McDonnell, the left-wing Labour MP challenging for the party's leadership, are among those backing the move.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A profound pessimism has taken hold of Israel

The war in Lebanon and rockets from Gaza have reinforced a great mood swing. People no longer seem to want a peace deal

Jonathan Steele
Friday November 10, 2006
The Guardian

On the aftermath of Lebanon II, the occupied territories and the dwindling prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians...

[big snip]

The war's biggest winners were the West Bank settlers. Olmert's plans for a partial pull-out have been shelved, and the political consensus for withdrawal has gone. Israel left Lebanon in 2000 and Hizbullah built up an arsenal of rockets, Israelis say; it pulled out of Gaza in 2005 and Hamas and Islamic Jihad are importing explosives and rockets through tunnels from Egypt in an effort to copy Hizbullah.

"There's a big 'I told you so' which the settlers are exploiting and it's very hard to argue against," says Tom Segev, a historian who opposed the Lebanese war from the first day. He deplores the fact that so few people criticised the war's rationale rather than just complaining about its outcome. Peace Now, the mainstream anti-occupation movement, broadly supported the war. Even Meretz, the small leftwing party in the Knesset, was split, with some members in support of the war, others silent, and only a few willing to denounce the war as soon as it began.

If the settlers were the main winners, Gazans were the main losers. While the Lebanese war was under way, the world ignored Gaza. Israeli troops killed 300 people with scarcely a line in the media. This week's world outcry has at least put Gaza back in the headlines.

But for Palestinians to launch homemade rockets into southern Israel is pointless and counterproductive, serving only to strengthen Israelis' hardline views. Meanwhile, the US is arming Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah organisation for a confrontation with Hamas that risks plunging Gaza into all-out civil war. It wants thousands of rifles to be sent to Fatah from Egypt and Jordan, and is seeking to persuade Israel to permit the Badr brigade, a pro-Fatah militia stationed in Jordan, to cross into Gaza.

Five years ago most Israelis seemed to want a deal with the Palestinians. The war with Lebanon and the rockets from Gaza have reinforced the mood swing that Sharon launched with his mantra: "Israel has no partner for peace." Segev is deeply pessimistic: "It's no longer politically correct to say one believes in peace. Young people don't. It's legitimate to hate Arabs and want them to disappear somehow." Looking back on the decades since Israel occupied the West Bank and Jerusalem, Segev adds: "In 1967 there was a choice: give the territories back and make peace, or settle them and make Israel strong. It hasn't worked. What a terrible waste of time the last 40 years have been."

Gideon Levy is one of the few Israeli journalists who still goes to Gaza - a venture that increasingly requires physical as well as moral courage. "A generation on both sides is growing up which never meets each other. In the past there was a relationship. Palestinians were working here. The relationship was unequal, but it wasn't just a matter of hate. Everyone believes we are facing monsters, not human beings." Desperate words, but they have the ring of truth.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Midterm Elections: Resounding Victories

Resounding Victories In All States, Counties, Cities, Towns
November 7, 2006

WASHINGTON, DC—After months of aggressive campaigning and with nearly 99 percent of ballots counted, politicians were the big winners in Tuesday's midterm election, taking all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, retaining a majority with 100 out of 100 seats in the Senate, and pushing political candidates to victory in each of the 36 gubernatorial races up for grabs.

Prominent politicians from across the country celebrate the election results.
While analysts had been predicting a possible sweep for months, and early exit-poll numbers seemed favorable, politicians reportedly exceeded even their own expectations, gaining an impressive 100 percent of the overall national vote.

"It's a good night to be a politician," said Todd Akin, an officeholder from Missouri. "The American people have spoken, and they have unanimously declared: 'We want elected officials to lead this nation.'"

Already confident they would have an easy time in the Midwest, a region long known for electing politicians, as well as with poll-going Americans in the deep South, politicians also picked up seats in each additional area of the country.

"We expected politicians to take Washington, Indiana, Oregon, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia, North Dakota, Mississippi, Montana, Vermont, Maine, Kentucky, California, Iowa, Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Alabama, Virginia, Delaware, Wisconsin, and Arkansas," said Georgetown University political science professor Barbara Steward. "But the fact that voters in the urban areas of Rhode Island and the farmlands of West Virginia, along with every other state, all put politicians into office is quite extraordinary."

"Even in the most hotly contested local races that went down to the wire, politicians still came out on top every time," she added.

This year's results are the most unanimous since the last election two years ago, in which politicians enjoyed widespread victories unrivalled since the election before that, and the one in 2000.

Politicians managed to appeal to all economic and ethnic backgrounds, genders, and age groups, enjoying equal success among both liberal voters and conservatives.

Issues advanced by politicians dominated not only the Senate and House races, but also all state, district council, county, and town-board elections.

"It looks like politicians are poised to dominate the political discourse of the country for years to come," said analyst Maria Lawson of the Free Enterprise Institute, who as long ago as December of 2004 had picked congressmen to once again take over the House of Representatives. "This should allow them to pursue their own political agendas almost unimpeded, sign even more bills into law, and appoint fellow politicians to committee chairmanships, special interest commissions, and other posts of power."

Added Lawson: "While it's still too early to tell, after the success of this election, it might not be too long before we see another politician in the White House."

Victorious political candidates congratulate other politicians who also won on Tuesday.
Despite fears that the dozens of campaign-finance violations, soft-money misappropriations, infidelity charges, hidden drunk-driving records, and protracted congressional cover-ups leaked just days before the election would hurt their chances, politicians were still elected over non-politicians in every single race.

"The fact that not a single non-politician even ran for office is just further proof that the American people tend to vote for politicians during times of war," Steward said. "Past data also suggests that the American people tend to vote for politicians during times of peace, as well as, generally speaking, every two years."

Some voters, however, such as Arkansas native Patrick Bunter, who first voted for a politician—Harry Truman—in 1948, are calling this latest victory "politics as usual."

"Over the years, I grew disappointed with the job the politicians were doing, yet I kept on voting for them out of loyalty," Bunter said. "This time around, I swore I'd go with someone else, but frankly, looking at the ballot, I didn't see any other choice."

Monday, November 06, 2006

David Grossman's speech at the Rabin memorial

[big snip]
Rabin decided to act, because he discerned very wisely that Israeli society would not be able to sustain itself endlessly in a state of an unresolved conflict. He realized long before many others that life in a climate of violence, occupation, terror, anxiety and hopelessness, extracts a price Israel cannot afford. This is all relevant today, even more so. We will soon talk about the partner that we do or do not have, but before that, let us take a look at ourselves.

We have been living in this struggle for more than 100 years. We, the citizens of this conflict, have been born into war and raised in it, and in a certain sense indoctrinated by it. Maybe this is why we sometimes think that this madness in which we live for over 100 years is the only real thing, the only life for us, and that we do not have the option or even the right to aspire for a different life.

By our sword we shall live and by our sword we shall die and the sword shall devour forever. Maybe this would explain the indifference with which we accept the utter failure of the peace process, a failure that has lasted for years and claims more and more victims.

This could explain also the lack of reaction by most of us to the harsh blow to democracy caused by the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as a senior minister with the support of the Labor Party - the appointment of a habitual pyromaniac as director of the nation's firefighters.

And these are partly the cause of Israel's quick descent into the heartless, essentially brutal treatment of its poor and suffering. This indifference to the fate of the hungry, the elderly, the sick and the disabled, all those who are weak, this equanimity of the State of Israel in the face of human trafficking or the appalling employment conditions of our foreign workers, which border on slavery, to the deeply ingrained institutionalized racism against the Arab minority.

When this takes place here so naturally, without shock, without protest, as though it were obvious, that we would never be able to get the wheel back on track, when all of this takes place, I begin to fear that even if peace were to arrive tomorrow, and even if we ever regained some normalcy, we may have lost our chance for full recovery.

The calamity that struck my family and myself with the falling of our son, Uri, does not grant me any additional rights in the public discourse, but I believe that the experience of facing death and the loss brings with it a sobriety and lucidity, at least regarding the distinction between the important and the unimportant, between the attainable and the unattainable.

Any reasonable person in Israel, and I will say in Palestine too, knows exactly the outline of a possible solution to the conflict between the two peoples. Any reasonable person here and over there knows deep in their heart the difference between dreams and the heart's desire, between what is possible and what is not possible by the conclusion of negotiations. Anyone who does not know, who refuses to acknowledge this, is already not a partner, be he Jew or Arab, is entrapped in his hermetic fanaticism, and is therefore not a partner.

Let us take a look at those who are meant to be our partners. The Palestinians have elected Hamas to lead them, Hamas who refuses to negotiate with us, refuses even to recognize us. What can be done in such a position? Keep strangling them more and more, keep mowing down hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza, most of whom are innocent civilians like us? Kill them and get killed for all eternity?

Turn to the Palestinians, Mr. Olmert, address them over the heads of Hamas, appeal to their moderates, those who like you and I oppose Hamas and its ways, turn to the Palestinian people, speak to their deep grief and wounds, acknowledge their ongoing suffering.

Nothing would be taken away from you or Israel's standing in future negotiations. Our hearts will only open up to one another slightly, and this has a tremendous power, the power of a force majeur. The power of simple human compassion, particularly in this a state of deadlock and dread. Just once, look at them not through the sights of a gun, and not behind a closed roadblock. You will see there a people that is tortured no less than us. An oppressed, occupied people bereft of hope.

Certainly, the Palestinians are also to blame for the impasse, certainly they played their role in the failure of the peace process. But take a look at them from a different perspective, not only at the radicals in their midst, not only at those who share interests with our own radicals. Take a look at the overwhelming majority of this miserable people, whose fate is entangled with our own, whether we like it or not.

Go to the Palestinians, Mr. Olmert, do not search all the time for reasons for not to talk to them. You backed down on the unilateral convergence, and that's a good thing, but do not leave a vacuum. It will be occupied instantly with violence, destruction. Talk to them, make them an offer their moderates can accept. They argue among themselves far more than we are shown in the media. Make them an offer that will force them to choose between accepting it or prefering to remain hostage to fanatical Islam.

Approach them with the bravest and most serious plan Israel can offer. With the offer than any reasonable Palestinian and Israeli knows is the boundary of their refusal and our concession. There is no time. Should you delay, in a short while we will look back with longing at the amateur Palestinian terror. We will hit our heads and yell at our failure to exercise all of our mental flexibility, all of the Israeli ingenuity to uproot our enemies from their self-entrapment. We have no choice and they have no choice. And a peace of no choice should be approached with the same determination and creativity as one approaches a war of no choice. And those who believe we do have a choice, or that time is on our side do not comprehend the deeply dangerous processes already in motion.
Full transcript

Friday, November 03, 2006

"Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?" Keith Olbermann on Bush and more

Keith Olbermann on Bush, the Kerry kerfuffle, Limbaugh, Michael J. Fox, Iraq and much more: kudos to This Old Brit and watch the video clip here.

Full transcript here.

The new Dark Ages

By Bradley Burston

[Editor's Note (Ha'aretz): This week, Bradley Burston was a recipient of the Eliav-Sartawi award for Middle East journalism, awarded at the United Nations. The following is the text of his acceptance speech.]

I am deeply honored to accept this award. I want to thank you, Search for Common Ground, for your continued belief that the world is not a lost cause.

Especially now. We live in an age of uncommon darkness. I live in an area of spectacularly failed hopes. I have spoken to many people a lot older and a lot smarter than I am, Arab and Jew alike, who have told me that they cannot recall a period of less hope, greater dangers, a more pressing need for peace, or fewer workable ways to get there.

Centuries ago, a lack of access to information fueled what we came to know as the Dark Ages. In our times, access to too much information is, I believe, creating something very similar. For the journalist, this places a special burden, day in and day out: In our desperation to make sense of the senseless, journalists are forced anew to fight the temptation to reduce breathtakingly complex conflicts, to cartoons.

So I would like to say a special word of thanks to the many, many people who in this new Dark Ages of ours, remain optimistic without just cause. Stubborn people, unreasonable enough to see others beyond the caricature of conflict, beyond the blinding obscenity of war, beyond the persuasive and wholly misleading mask that this age has given us as enemies.

For me, this begins with my family, my life partner Varda, her shocking resources of strength, her moral compass, her fundamental, magnificent hope against hope. And our children, who see events and people in a light of fairness that their journalist father can only envy.

When parents tell their children the Facts of Life, what they usually teach them, or try to, at any rate, are the facts of love.

The facts of hatred they often leave to us, your journalists. So these are the facts that, it seems to me, we should get across before those children go out into this world which has grown so dark:

A war is much easier to start than it is to stop. A peace is much easier to break, than it is to make.

And finally, despite everything, people on both sides who want peace, even if they have lost their belief in it, can triumph in the end, over their own leaders, over their own grief, over their own very profound pain.

It takes optimism without just cause. It takes an ability to take to heart the words of the man who knew the darkness of our times as no one else, Samuel Beckett:

"No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

As so often with Bradley's pieces, the talkback comments are equally revealing...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Yuval Rabin: If alive, my father would save Israel from troubles

By Amiram Barkat, Haaretz Correspondent, and Haaretz Service

Israel observed Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Day, marking 11 years since Rabin's assassination, with a state ceremony Thursday near the slain prime minister's grave at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem.

In his eulogy to his father, the late prime minister's son Yuval said, "if he were alive today, my father would have abandoned all the political considerations and taken it upon himself to save Israel from its troubles."

Over at, Alex Stein has rather a different take on the matter.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Israel Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi and lawmakers from across the political spectrum joined the Rabin family at the ceremony.

Complete article

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Senator Allen's Goons...

And then there's Senator George Allen's (V) goon squad manhandling a modest truth seeker like Hell's Angels descending on a hippie at Altamont...

Videoclip via James Wolcott, from

Hamas touts 10-year ceasefire to break deadlock over Israel

Ewen MacAskill and Harriet Sherwood

Hamas is urging Britain to back its proposal for a ceasefire of up to 10 years as a way of breaking the impasse over its refusal to recognise the state of Israel.
The most senior delegation from the Hamas government to visit Britain is in London this week to promote its offer to allow a period of "co-existence" with Israel as a way to move to an eventual settlement of the Middle East conflict.

The two-man delegation, representing the Palestinian government, is also urging the British government to lift its ban on contact with Hamas.

"We would welcome talks with Tony Blair," said Ahmad Yousef, senior adviser to the Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, in an interview with the Guardian. "We would like to work with him and work with his government to help end the Israeli occupation. We're sending a message to the British government - we're offering a hudna [ceasefire] for 10 years in return for the end of occupation." Hamas wants European governments to accept its ceasefire plan in lieu of the Islamist group formally recognising Israel.

"We hope the Europeans will become aware of the concept of hudna, and that it can become a substitute for recognition of Israel," said Mr Yousef.

"Debate about a political nation's right to exist seems infantile. Israel is a state now, it is part of the UN, it is de facto there, and we deal with it every day."

The Quartet - the US, EU, UN and Russia - have demanded that Hamas formally recognise Israel, renounce violence, and accept previous agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, before the Quartet lifts the economic embargo on the West Bank and Gaza imposed after Hamas won elections in January.

Mr Yousef said that there was no support in Gaza and the West Bank for recognition of Israel, and he could not propose such a change at present.

"If I did, I would end up like Michael Collins," he said, referring to the Irish republican leader assassinated in 1922 for accepting an Irish two-state solution.

"We need to change people's minds on how they look at the conflict, and it will take time. The climate will change if we have a period of peace."