Friday, July 27, 2007

Karen Hughes In Jalazone...

By Nick, H/T Alex Stein (

Nick is running a short blog about his month-long experience as an English teacher in
Jalazone, Palestine.
Today we had a celebrity visitor at the school in Amari camp. At the behest of UNRWA, Karen Hughes, some kind of flunkie (but important one - undersecretary?) for Condoleeza Rice came to do a photo-op and review the 'Knowledge Camp' which has been taking place at the school. The Palestinians are seeking renewed funding for the programme: the Americans saw a good opportunity for some PR. I'd stayed back in class to teach a few of the keener students and stumbled out onto the shady school entrance in the middle of it all. Karen Hughes was in full flow about the generosity of the Americans; minutes later an attractive child was perched on her knee; the usual platitudes rolled forth about chasing your dreams. So it goes. One of the students had the temerity to suggest that frequent nightly incursions by the IDF make studying tricky, but no-one mentioned the flaccid American response to the the continued metastasis of Israeli settlements in the future Palestinian state, or intimated that there might be a contradiction somewhere along the way between silvery invitations to dream and the reality of US policy in the region. Still, the kids had a good day, although my lot were a little bemused by the security goons with earpieces and dark glasses, a malevolent perimeter to all the colour and gaiety. And no-one was fooled by all the fine talk, least of all the Americans. Money is money, and propaganda is propaganda, as one of the Palestinian notables dubbed the event (the word "disgusting" also slipped out), a rare moment of frankness on a morning characterised by its abscence.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Why Israelis aren't Nazis


Gert Meyers (UK), owner of this blog


David Zarnett (Canada). David is a postgraduate student at King's College, University of London. His current research interests pertain to anti-war movements and, more specifically, Edward Said's writings on Iraq through the 1990s up until 2003 as well as the anti-war movement's response to Christopher Hitchen's endorsement of the Iraq War.

Recently, the Scottish branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign invited Gilad Atzmon to come speak at a fundraiser. Atzmon has been the target of much controversy for his likening Israel to Nazi Germany and at times argues that by calling Hitler the worst evil the world has ever seen lets Israel “off the hook.” The comparison between Zionism, Israel and even Israelis and the Nazis is commonly heard. Like Atzmon’s belief, it is not borne out of a desire to accurately describe Zionism but rather is a public relations tool used to simplify and demonize. Let’s take a look at this analogy.

In order to develop a singular description of Zionism, many confuse the terms they are using. Many who make the Zionist-Nazi analogy almost always make the Zionism-colonialism analogy as well. This is partially due to the fact that these people are at odds to show that the way Israel has treated the Palestinians is equal to the way the Nazis treated the Jews.

Colonialism was a historical process leading both Islamic and European empires to send their inhabitants, often against their will or through extortion, to settle and colonize an area to which they had no previous connection in an effort to bring that area under their political system. The relationship between the colony and the Mother Country was exploitative: the colony’s resources were extracted and sent back to the colonial power. Little investment was made in the colony itself. By contrast, Zionism was a voluntary social movement, consisting of people who actually believed in their connection to Palestine and were willing to invest in the land there. The European Jews who became Zionist felt that there was no other solution to an untenable existence in European society especially considering that during the rise of nationalism the Jew was identified as alien. Zionism was thus the product of two historical processes: the yearning to return to the Land of Israel that many Jews felt, as well as centuries of persecution in Europe. The comparison between Zionism and colonialism is misleading and confuses both of these social movements. The comparison only works if we ignore the context of Jewish life in Europe.

It should be said, however, that the comparison is not entirely flawed. In regards to the relationship between the Zionist-Jewish settlers and the local Arab-Palestinians there are some indications of a colonial relationship and this fact was exacerbated after 1967. But this was not predetermined. There were many Zionists, and prominent ones at that, like Arthur Ruppin and Yitzhak Epstein, who advocated against this type of relationship. Unfortunately, conditions on the ground such as a pervasive feeling of fear in the ‘Yishuv’, general but not wholesale ignorance of Arab culture, the inability of Ottoman authorities to preserve law and order, and banditry, led to a very undesirable relationship between Jews and Arabs.

One of the first to make the connection between Israel and the Nazi State was the British historian Arnold Toynbee. But this comparison did not stay hidden in academic discourse. When making this comparison, it is common for differences to be cast aside, and any trace of similarity to be used to make it as if Israeli and Nazi society are suddenly alike if not identical. For example, any reference to “improving the Jewish race” by Zionists in the early 20th century is used as evidence to show that Zionism and Nazism share an affinity for Eugenics. But many at this time all over the world shared an affinity for the study of Eugenics. Should we identify the universities that spent their resources on the study of eugenics as Nazi institutions? If so, then we are making Eugenics that exclusive preserve of the Nazis. This is not true.

It is quite clear that Israel has many serious problems in its relationship with its Arab minority as well as the Arabs living in the Occupied Territories. Widespread discrimination and racism do exist and, as in many countries, there is room for much improvement. Israeli writer, and Zionist, David Grossman recently called on the nation to wake up to racism in society. Can anyone imagine Himmler, Eichmann or Goehring saying such a thing?

Palestinian-Arab-Israelis, as they are most accurately called today, have Arab representatives in the Knesset, are able to mobilize politically as indicated by the many Arab NGO’s, like Adalah and Masawa, that exist today and have the right to petition the Supreme Court in defence of their rights. The Occupation worsens this relationship and needs to end.

Further dissimilarities exist. In regards to Israel's territorial ambitions, Nazi Germany strove to conquer the whole of Europe. Those unaware of the situation in the Middle East may make the claim that Israel has designs for the region. Like any state existing in our international system, Israel seeks to foster friendly governments in the region with which it can deal. This is not specific to Israel and is the law of nature in a system where a country’s main concern is its survival. Regardless, Israel has never expressed the same ambitions as the Nazi’s did. At worst some Israelis (and by far not all) want to make the whole of Israel and Palestine an integral part of the Jewish state. In Israeli society, there is very considerable debate and a broad range of opinions regarding the creation of a Greater Israel. But today, most mainstream political parties accept the reality of the two-state solution. In Nazi Germany such a debate would not have been possible and in Nazi circles it did not exist.

Furthermore, Zionists are frequently charged with the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Arabs. One Zionist narrative says they left on their own volition and were also pressured out by the Arab Higher Committee as well as invading Arab armies in 1948. The opposing narrative says the Palestinians were subject to an ethnic cleansing resembling what happened with the Nazi invasion of Poland or even the Serb Chetnik attacks against Croats. Neither narrative provides the truth. The fact is that no outright plan of expulsion was adopted by the nascent Israeli government in 1947 who was prepared to have a large Arab minority in their state. Instances of ethnic cleansing did occur along side extensive voluntary flights by many Palestinians. Many of the elites also left when they heard of the possibility of war. This fractured Palestinian society and left it with no local leadership to lead them through a traumatic period. Further, the ethnic cleansing would have not occurred had UN Partition plan of 1947 come to fruition. What many refer to simply as the dispossession of the Palestinians is far more complex than the Zionist-Nazi analogy conveys and usually those who believe in such an analogy have never taken the time to really learn about the topic and its multiple nuances and complexities.

What is most unhelpful about this comparison is that it relies on reductionism. The comparison is one that is fit for mass political movements that rely on short, quick chants, placards and slogans. Mass political movements provide no room for nuance; the crowds simply don’t want to be hindered by the facts when marching for a cause.

Zionism is a diverse ideology with numerous schools of thought. Zionist ideology also includes the idea of bi-nationalism as well as the notion of shared racial characteristics with Arabs. Regarding mainstream Zionism as practiced in Israel, Nazi ideas don't come into play if we consider the widespread support for a two-state solution and the opposition to ethnic cleansing. Extremist ideas do exist within a certain fringe minority but Israel is hardly unique in that respect. There are also many progressive Zionists who desire complete equality between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

The term Nazi is not only being levelled at Israel but also at its opponents as well as its major ally ("The Fourth Reich"). For instance, if we consider the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, history shows that crimes have been committed on both sides. A detailed reading of the events, from 1967 to the present, shows numerous instances where Hamas and other radical groups have committed acts of terror for the sole purpose of disrupting the peace process. With resistance to the occupation this has nothing to do: some extremists do indeed want to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamic republic. These too could be compared to Nazis (by that definition) and many do (the “Islamonazis of Hamas”). But it isn’t likely to make these groups change their mind and accept a negotiated settlement. Use of the terms "Islamonazi" or "Islamofascist" is nonetheless strongly on the rise.

In some respects, by making such flawed comparisons, which are unhelpful as well as incorrect, the Nazis are awarded a posthumous victory which they do not in any way deserve. What this comparison also does is to soften the charge against the Nazis. It makes the term Nazi far less meaningful and powerful if it is used with such abandon.

And shouldn't sensitivity be shown for the fact that the Nazis did very actively try to exterminate the Jewish People as a whole? Therefore calling Jews Nazis is particularly offensive and will only lead to further polarisation, not the understanding and plurality which so many strive for. Those using the "Israel = Nazis" comparison are laying themselves wide open to accusations of xenophobia as one of the latter's main characteristics is the stereotyping of entire groups (ethnic, racial, religious or other).

Being critical of Israel’s policies in the occupied territories is perfectly legitimate and defensible but Israel is a democracy with a high degree of internal accountability, something which cannot be said of the Nazi regime which was totalitarian.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The threat of the 'demographic threat'

By Gideon Levy - Ha'aretz

Let us share in the happiness of A., a resident of the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighborhood of Mea She'arim in Jerusalem who has around 450 descendants. Who cares if they are Haredi? Nor is there any need to mourn the fact that 23 percent of first-graders are Haredi and 22 percent Arabs. This is a natural development in society, and it's doubtful that any legitimate means exists to prevent it. Anyone who views this as a danger is endangering the character of society far more than the tectonic demographic shifts. If we have indeed reached "the end of Zionism," the title of a piece by Nehemia Shtrasler on these pages last Thursday, it is not because of demography but because of geography (and morality).

There is no "demographic threat." There is a threat to society's values, which will be determined not by statistics but by the amount of social justice. Talk of a "demographic threat" is not legitimate. Imagine what would happen if a discussion were held in the United States or Europe on "the worrisome natural growth of the Jews." And who here would dare consider publicly the "fertility tendencies" of the Mizrahim - Jews of Middle Eastern descent. The truly dangerous threat is the discussion itself. It attests to the development in our society of very deep racist norms, cloaked in various ways, against the minority groups among us.

Haredim or Arabs - they are sons and daughters of this land. There are no democratic means to prevent them from becoming a larger portion of society in the future. Campaigns to reduce the birthrate are no less outrageous than the concepts of population transfer and ethnic cleansing.

Both the left and right are afflicted with this lethal racism, which stems from arrogance and fear of the other. The right wing is trying to scare us with dire predictions about the natural increase of the country's Arabs, while at the same time it is trying to annex 3 million Palestinians. The left, equally racist, is trying to scare us with dire predictions about the increase of the ultra-Orthodox population. From certain points of view, the racism against the Haredim is actually more serious: It uses anti-Semitic terminology and lacks the excuse of the national hostility against the Arabs.

The racist discourse has become the norm in Israel and the Jewish world at large. It began with the "danger of assimilation" and "mixed marriages" - a supremely racist term - continued with the "danger of Haredization" and ended with the "peril of the Arab majority." Demographers and geographers constantly publish forecasts and projections, competing among themselves for the title of chief doomsayer. A putrid stench emanates from the talk about "fertility tendencies," and the government's establishment a few years ago of a "Public Council for Demography," whose members included three senior gynecologists, shows the depths of pathology to which we have sunk.

Is it really important whether 3.5 million Palestinians reside in the territories, as the Palestinian Authority claims, or 2.4 million, as an American-Israeli team claims? One way or another, Israel is not granting them civil rights. Occasionally, another million Jews who "disappeared" from the statistics and preferred to obscure their Jewishness are found in the United States. What difference does it make? The future of the Jewish community will be determined far more by its members' degree of involvement than by their number, just as the future of Israeli society will be determined far more by the relations among its communities than the numerical ratio between them.

Israel is an immigrant society mixed with the native-born, a multicultural mosaic with the potential to become a just society. If the Haredim do not do army service or are not productive enough, the responsibility rests with the secular majority, which allows these phenomena. If the Arabs do not contribute enough, or are even hostile to the state, the state bears much responsibility for this. One can criticize the ultra- Orthodox and Arabs, but not enter their wombs. Children - Haredi, secular or Arab - are a joy if they are cared for properly. Their increase stems not from budgeting but from faith and values. Those who want a country to their own liking here must fight for the emergence of an Israeli ethos that is shared by all elements of society, whatever their size, and discard the racist bookkeeping.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Rageh inside Iran

I watched Rageh Omaar's long awaited documentary on life in Tehran and Iran yesterday with great interest. This look into one of the most reviled countries and alleged prominent member of the "axis of evil" (I wonder whether David Frum, alleged coiner of that phrase, will have a chance to watch it...) was balanced and quite revealing. In many respects Iran comes out as... just another country with a set of problems that is hardly unique.

Here's the BBC's plug of this program.

And here are the first 6 minutes of the film on YouTube. I hope someone will post the rest too...

Here's two more bits (in no particular order):

Shopping in Tehran...


Friday, July 20, 2007

Fjordman: A Rebuttal from the Right

Who better to expose Fjordman, the "noted" Scandinavian blogger and almost pathological reductionist than a clear-thinking essayist from the Right? Who better even than someone who believed that this nincompoop once held hope for the rightwing cause?

Fjordman is of course a self-proclaimed "expert", in particular on Islam, "Marxism", "Multiculturalism" and "the West", but only of the variety that solemnly believes to deserve that title because they occasionally pick up a newspaper of their choice or get their musings published by even more linear-thinking and myopic square-headed "followers" as themselves.

Also in this piece, short but surprisingly good analysis of the influence of socialism on modern liberal democracy, coming from someone who once considered Fjordman's jingoistic musing to provide hope for the Right movement. Fjordie, eat your heart out...

The comments to the blogpost below are also worth reading...

Fjordman’s Tired Tropes

September 2006

Fjordman is the Scandinavian sensation saturating the saturnalian sphere of the right with soliloquies of single-minded severity, who causes both sullied and stultified souls to salivate at the suggestion that sequestering the self from all immigrant Saracens and smashing the Submissive ones with the sword of suppression is the singular and most superior solution towards so called Western salvation.

Unfortunately, the construction of that sentence is all the recognition of Fjordman I can spare, for at the end of the day Fjordman’s works are nothing more than the repetitive motifs of a polemical propagandist. The fact that his punditry is deemed presumptively plauditory is not merely an indictment of the readers who soil themselves before his verbosity but of the blogmasters who disseminate him without once thinking of the consequences of their publication. It is as if the right blogosphere is caught in an endless mobius strip of deconstructive contempt, the apex and apotheosis is an author who excels in rehashing over and again in words manifold the same essential lamentation. The Arabs have a proverb which goes: At-Tikrar yu’allimu al-Himar (Repetition teaches even the donkey). Say hello to Fjordman, the illustrious teacher of the right.

From his Scandinavian perch, which renders him influentional solely because no one else has the requisite English speaking ability to occupy it, has only one lesson to impart: Islam is an Evil War Machine seeking to conquer Europe while the “true” owners of the Continent cannot fight back because they are too corrupted by the legacies of Communism.

His is a theology of despair, gloom, and total pessimism. Once upon a time, a time before the Gaya Scienza of Nietzsche, Shopenhauer told Europe that Reason was weak and insignificant, eventually comparing it to a lame blind man. Fjordman is the post-modern kitsch version of Shopenhauer’s pessimism. The glass is half empty; no, no, it is altogether empty, and it is those immigrant Muslims in Europe, and those Jihadis Muslims in the Middle East, and those post-Communist conspirators around the world, who have drank it, and as a consequence of this, war is the most likely outcome, so let’s all prepare for the forthcoming apocalypse (which given European military might will mean the massive destruction of all things remotely Muslim, which is too bad because killing is never easy).

His problems are layered like cake. The outer crust is Islam; the inner core Communism. While there is nothing reprehensible in being so layered, concern does arise when his conception of Islam is entirely incorrect, and even worse, his thoughts on Communism show not a single ounce of nuance. But far worse than any of these, Fjordman’s purportedly conservative writings fly in the face of true conservative thought. Over and over I read him, and while I shake my head at his elementary grasp of Islamic history and of the multiplicity of ideas among Muslims, and then shake my head at his incessant attempts to find a Communist conspiracy lurking behind every corner, it is when he (or others) hold him out as the newest representative archetype — “we need more Fjordmans!” — of Western Enlightenment conservatism that my entire brain starts spinning with absurdity.

With respect to the outer layer, Islam, he believes himself to be faced off against a monolithic, collectivist and almost mythically armored war machine called Islam.
Muhammed was a brilliant intuitive leader/general, and he and his companions devised a near perfect closed system of war aginst the rest of humanity.

Not only that, but in his world, Islam and Jihadis are synonymous. In the same piece quoted above he makes a casual leap from “Islam” to “Jihadis.” Lost in this quantum leap of absurd proportions are the hundreds of millions of altogether apathetic and blameless Muslims (who are blown up in Iraq, Tanzania and Kenya and whose businesses are extorted by the so called Militias of Allah) who also consider Islam their religious home. Lost in that leap are the innumerable reformists, jurists, writers, novelists, film-makers, and every day heroes. His problem is the same as that of any other avowed Islamophobe: the inability to understand that his best bet of engagement with Islam will occur via the same Muslims whom he does not even recognize exist. But I didn’t write this to speak about the selective myopia that strikes some members of the right blogosphere when it comes time to conflate Islam with Jihadis. That is not something for me to ‘fix.’ There will have to rise among the right those who are capable of more nuanced thinking. Thankfully there are already such people. May their lucidity triump over this other myopia.

I wrote primarily because of the other two reasons: Fjordman’s Communist conspiracy theories, and of his butchery of Western conservatism.

With respect to his musings on Communism, I believe I understand Fjordman well. He wakes up in the morning, sets to the newspapers like a meticulous thinker ought, then he turns to a pre-existing list in his mind of a number of keywords which he identifies with the “Left.” These words are “multiculturalism,” “universities,” “media,” “the EU,” “open immigration,” “political correctness,” “feminism,” “poverty,” and “environmentalism.” If and when these words turn up, voila, you have a Communist conspiracy souffle. And why wouldn’t such an evaluation turn up conspiracies everywhere one turns? After all:
The simple fact is that we never won the Cold War as decisively as we should have. Yes, the Berlin Wall fell, and the Soviet Union collapsed. This removed the military threat to the West, and the most hardcore, economic Marxism suffered a blow as a credible alternative. However, one of the really big mistakes we made after the Cold War ended was to declare that Socialism was now dead, and thus no longer anything to worry about. Here we are, nearly a generation later, discovering that Marxist rhetoric and thinking have penetrated every single stratum of our society, from the Universities to the media.

This has to be the most egregious misconstruction of post-Soviet European history I have read. Fjordman’s argument is premised on the esophoric notion that the Cold War was a battle between a completely non-Socialist West and a Socialist-Marxist Soviet sphere. Extinguished in a puff of hasty intellectual leaps is the century long existence (and active existence at that) of socialism in the Western experience! It was a socialist who gave the Americans their pledge of allegiance and its labor unions (which have now transformed themselves into billion dollar pension funds). It was socialists who formed a large core of the British Labour party. It was the socialists who, even as the Soviet Union tick-tocked a few miles away, consented and affirmatively brought the Scandinavian welfare state into existence in the 1920’s and 30’s. Even today, Denmark, which boasts one of the most libertarian leaders in the region, has not gone further than to issue a platform that it intends to “save” the welfare state by reforming it. Norway is the most regulated economy in Scandinavia, and its Christian Democrat leader is not at all the market-oriented type of reformist.

In other words, my point is that, socialism, its economic policies, and subsequently many of its cultural values, are incredibly, if not intrinsically, connected with the Western socio-political fiber. Yet Fjordman would have us believe that in 1991 the West could have purged its Socialist kick in one fell swoop! He calls it analogous to a “de-Nazification process.” Let’s for a second ignore the monstrous human and social costs of this metaphsical notion. His idea might have been possible if there was somewhere in the West a single society which had not already internalized the lessons of socialism. Including America there neither is, nor was, such society. A little thing called the Great Depression occurred and FDR (now deemed our greatest President), pulled us out with principles modified from Socialist economic theory. Nowhere in the capitalist world does there exist a perfect capitalist, non-socialist socio-cultural system. Fjordman seems to have forgotten his essential Marx: socialism is a necessary and inevitable phase of capitalism. Perhaps it is because he doesn’t know it that he sees it everywhere.

What further exacerbates Fjordman’s problems is that it was Christian parties all over Europe that openly adopted and indulged in socialist principles. In other words, he would like to sell us the idea that the Europe he purpots to speak for was fully free of any major Socialist imprimatur. Yet he cannot point to a single such example, except a few on the insane right (who are referred to as fascists). Which is probably why he never does point to such groups. I certainly will no longer be fooled by this travesty passing for history. Europe has a past (and present) that is hued with socialism. To altogether deny its existence is to live in the same kind of phantasmagoria that Bin Laden lives in when he asserts that Islam has not been affected by modernity (bollocks!). In this age of flux and unreality we need fewer fantasies.

Of course, I agree with Fjordman that tomorrow’s Europe needs less welfare-state and more privatization; less EU bureacracy and more decentralized autonomy. However, he would like us to get there by dishonestly demonizing and attacking socialism, instead of properly coming to terms with it by acknowledging it, taking from its sense of solidarity, federalism and freedom, and saying no thank you to its economic model (and yet even the we will have to acknowledge its presence because so much of the American economic model — from antitrust laws to consumer protection laws to securities fraud laws to corporate laws to worker compensation laws to sexual harrassment laws to civil rights laws to divorce laws to custody laws are rooted in the basic socialist principle that when an individual cannot represent himself, he should be free to get the assistance of the state). Thus, either Fjordman wants to consign us to an altogether libertarian future where we are hapless atoms, or he really has no plan whatsoever. Given the absence of any meaningful ideas on what the future holds — aside from war with Islam of course — methinks the latter (although I’d love to be proven wrong). No, it is far easier to keep repeating: Marxists + Muslims = Threat To Western Civilization.

Donkeys we are, after all.

I once naively thought that Fjordman was a serious thinker who was on the cusp of postulating workable conservative solutions to the European conundrum. It is no mystery that today’s immigrant Muslim in Europe is part akin to the 1970’s black and the 1990’s hispanic of America. It is also no mystery that European universities are, indeed, not equipped to provide solutions to the problems of integration, economics, and social reconstruction that are necessary (having sold their souls to what he properly calls a “hippie” radical leftism). (On this point I agree with Fjordman’s skepticism towards the modern academy). However, thus far all Fjordman has proven himself to be is a metaphysician of tired cliches - “Islam is a shame culture” — “Islam is a war machine” — “Marxists and Muslims are bedfellows.” I dare ask: how are such cliches representative of, and emblematic of the illustrious European conservative tradition? If Fjordman wants to argue on behalf of “traditional” Europe; if he wants to be the Atlas to the Enlightenment in the face of the illiberalism of incoming immigrants, he needs to cease writing manifestos of such insane length and stop and think. He would be well advised to take the lessons of Edmund Burke to heart:
History consists, for the greater part, of the miseries brought upon the world by pride, ambition, avarice, revenge, lust, sedition, hypocrisy, ungoverned zeal, and all the train of disorderly appetites, which shake the public with the same troublous storms that toss the private state and render life unsweet. These vices are the causes of those storms. Religions, morals, laws, prerogatives, privileges, liberties, rights of men, are the pretexts.

Wise men will apply their remedies to vices, not to names; to the causes of evil which are permanent, not to the occassional organs by which they act, and the transitory modes in which they appear.

Reflections On The Revolution In France

Instead, Fjordman has demonstrated himself to be caught up in the “names.” The word “Islam” and “Communist” and “Socialist” means more to him than the vice of “intolerance” or the goal of “communication” and “coalition building.” What sort of conservatism is this? If Fjordman is whom the right today turns to provide its solutions, I have a difficult time considering the right the defender of the Western civilization.

In a long ago comment to Fjordman, back when I truly held hope out of him, I suggested that he consider dabbling in the consensus theory of truth by Habermas as a way to provide contemporary Europeans a workable, authetically Enlightenment (and not nihilistic post-modenrist) way of dealing with their innumerable social issues. The idea of the theory is very simple: that all speech has an inherent telos (the Greek word for “purpose” or “goal”) — the goal of mutual understanding, and that human beings possess the communicative competence to bring about such understanding. But slowly and surely it has been revealed to me that perhaps Fjordman is not the man to undertake this job, and it must be deferred to a true conservative. In short, there is space for someone else to take the mantle of true Western conservative, and wear it with all the grace and style of men like Isaiah Berlin and Edmund Burke. From what I have come to learn of Fjordman, while he may have the acumen, he does not have the willingness to stake out his claim upon this position. As such, I will leave Fjordman to dabble in what he insists is the real future of Europe, a Europe of insult and animosity. Burke would be so proud:
Therefore, one of the best tactics for us to take in the War on Terror is to mock them and exploit their childishness, so that they will expose themselves to everyone.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

An Atheist Responds

By Christopher Hitchens - WaPo
Saturday, July 14, 2007

It's uncommonly generous of Michael Gerson ["
What Atheists Can't Answer", op-ed, July 13] to refer to me as "intellectually courageous and unfailingly kind," since (a) this might be taken as proof that he hardly knows me and (b) it was he who was so kind when I once rang him to check a scurrilous peacenik rumor that he was a secret convert from Judaism to Christian fundamentalism.

However, it is his own supposedly kindly religion that prevents him from seeing how insulting is the latent suggestion of his position: the appalling insinuation that I would not know right from wrong if I was not supernaturally guided by a celestial dictatorship, which could read and condemn my thoughts and which could also consign me to eternal worshipful bliss (a somewhat hellish idea) or to an actual hell.

Implicit in this ancient chestnut of an argument is the further -- and equally disagreeable -- self-satisfaction that simply assumes, whether or not religion is metaphysically "true," that at least it stands for morality. Those of us who disbelieve in the heavenly dictatorship also reject many of its immoral teachings, which have at different times included the slaughter of other "tribes," the enslavement of the survivors, the mutilation of the genitalia of children, the burning of witches, the condemnation of sexual "deviants" and the eating of certain foods, the opposition to innovations in science and medicine, the mad doctrine of predestination, the deranged accusation against all Jews of the crime of "deicide," the absurdity of "Limbo," the horror of suicide-bombing and jihad, and the ethically dubious notion of vicarious redemption by human sacrifice.

Of course Gerson will -- and must -- cherry-pick this list (which is by no means exhaustive) and patter on about how one mustn't be too literal. But in doing this, he makes a huge concession to the ethical humanism to which he so loftily condescends. The game is given away by his own use of G.K. Chesterton's invocation of Thor. We laugh at this dead god, but were not Norse children told that without Valhalla there would be no courage and no moral example? Isn't it true that Louis Farrakhan's crackpot racist group gets young people off drugs? Doesn't Hamas claim to provide social services to the downtrodden? If you credit any one religion with motivating good deeds, how (without declaring yourself to be sectarian) can you avoid crediting them all? And is not endless warfare between the faiths to be added to the list of horrors I just mentioned? Just look at how the "faith-based" are behaving in today's Iraq.

Here is my challenge. Let Gerson name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever. And here is my second challenge. Can any reader of this column think of a wicked statement made, or an evil action performed, precisely because of religious faith? The second question is easy to answer, is it not? The first -- I have been asking it for some time -- awaits a convincing reply. By what right, then, do the faithful assume this irritating mantle of righteousness? They have as much to apologize for as to explain.

Essentially conceding that philosophy and secularism do not condemn their adherents to lives of unbridled selfishness, and that (say) the Jewish people did not get all the way to Mount Sinai under the impression that murder and theft and perjury were okay, and also that we could not have evolved unless human solidarity was in some way innate, Gerson ends weakly by posing what is a rather moving problem.

"In a world without God," he writes, "this desire for love and purpose is a cruel joke of nature -- imprinted by evolution but designed for disappointment." Again, he substitutes the wish for the thought. We very probably are, as he admits, not the designed objects of the Big Bang or of the process of natural selection. But this sober conclusion, objective as it is, is surely preferable to the delusion that we have been created diseased, by a capricious despot, and then abruptly commanded to be whole and well, on pain of terror and torture. That sick joke is one that we can cease to find impressive, that belongs in the infancy of our species, and gives a false picture of reality that we would do well to outgrow.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author of "God Is Not Great."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Rudy Giuliani: poser or hero?

Rudy Giuliani, self-styled 9/11 hero and presidential wannabe has always struck me as a bit of a poser, a man who turned a city's tragedy into a personal advantage. Now Giuliani wants to become "mayor of America" on the back of his 9/11 success with a strongly "war on terror" driven campaign.

But not every New Yorker is keen on Rudy. Below's a group of NY fire-fighters and some relatives that hold Giuliani responsible for the massive loss of life among New York's finest. Is this just another case of negative campaigning in the run-up to 08 or is there truth in what these people claim?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Iran's Jews spurn cash lure to emigrate to Israel

Robert Tait in Tehran - Guardian

Iran's Jews have given the country a loyalty pledge in the face of cash offers aimed at encouraging them to move to Israel, the arch-enemy of its Islamic rulers.
The incentives - ranging from £5,000 a person to £30,000 for families - were offered from a special fund established by wealthy expatriate Jews in an effort to prompt a mass migration to Israel among Iran's 25,000-strong Jewish community. The offers were made with Israel's official blessing and were additional to the usual state packages it provides to Jews emigrating from the diaspora.

However, the Society of Iranian Jews dismissed them as "immature political enticements" and said their national identity was not for sale.
"The identity of Iranian Jews is not tradable for any amount of money," the society said in a statement. "Iranian Jews are among the most ancient Iranians. Iran's Jews love their Iranian identity and their culture, so threats and this immature political enticement will not achieve their aim of wiping out the identity of Iranian Jews."

The Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv reported that the incentives had been doubled after offers of £2,500 a head failed to attract any Iranian Jews to leave for Israel.

Iran's sole Jewish MP, Morris Motamed, said the offers were insulting and put the country's Jews under pressure to prove their loyalty. "It suggests the Iranian Jew can be encouraged to emigrate by money," he said. "Iran's Jews have always been free to emigrate and three-quarters of them did so after the revolution but 70% of those went to America, not Israel."

Iran's Jewish population has dwindled from about 80,000 at the time of the 1979 Islamic revolution but remains the largest of any country in the Middle East apart from Israel. Jews have lived in Iran since at least 700BC.

Hostility between Iran's government and Israel means Iranian Jews are often subject to official mistrust and scrutiny.

The War On Britain's Jews? Part 2

A war on rationality

If Channel 4 is seriously concerned about anti-semitism, it shouldn't have chosen Richard Littlejohn to present a programme about it.

Tony Greenstein

When I was contacted about being interviewed for Richard Littlejohn's The War on Britain's Jews I had, to put it mildly, some doubts. Despite the reassuring words of producer Anna Ewart-James, it was clear that any programme fronted by Littlejohn would have a set agenda. This was no balanced documentary.

So did the programme live up to my worst fears? Yes. Do I regret being interviewed? No.

Firstly Channel 4 deserve to be heavily criticised for this programme. At least the BBC does bias subtly; with Littlejohn it's laid on in spades. The bias throughout the programme was unremitting and at times tedious. And that is why Littlejohn's programme will only fool the gullible.

The message was quite simple. Anti-semitism is on the increase and it's mainly the fault of these nasty Muslims and those dupes on the left who oppose Israel. Hizbullah are apparently one of the most anti-semitic groups in the world. (Actually it's their opponents, the Christian Phalange, who were responsible for attacks on Beirut's Jewish community, not Muslim groups, and it was the Palestinian guerilla group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who defended the Lebanese Jewish community in the civil war.)

If Channel 4 was seriously concerned about anti-semitism then the last person to present it would have been Richard Littlejohn. This is the same person who said of the Rwandan genocide: "Does anyone really give a monkey's about what happens in Rwanda? If the Mbongo tribe wants to wipe out the Mbingo tribe then as far as I am concerned that is entirely a matter for them" - which is a direct take from the late Alan Clark's infamous remark about "bongo bongo land".

He has also called the Palestinians "the pikeys of the Middle East" and suggested that it was time to "wring [their] necks". "Pikey" is a racist reference to Gypsies, one of Littlejohn's pet hates, along with gays and asylum seekers.

The main thrust of the programme was the alleged increase in anti-semitism. Yet even the statistics used by the All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Anti-semitism show (paragraph 29, page 14) that there was a 14% decline in anti-semitic incidents from 2004 to 2005.

What made Littlejohn's concern about anti-semitism so grating is that he has never hesitated to demonise asylum seekers as benefit scroungers, malingerers and fakers, using some of the crudest racial stereotypes.

He is someone who delights in pillorying different minorities, and he looked startled when I held up a copy of the Daily Mail from August 20, 1938, which proclaimed that "The way stateless Jews from Germany are pouring in from every port of this country is becoming an outrage: the number of aliens entering the country through back door - a problem to which the Daily Mail has repeatedly pointed"

The truth is that when Jews were really the targets of anti-semitism, the Richard Littlejohns of the day were vehement in attacking them. And the paper he writes for, the Daily Mail, was an ardent enthusiast for Hitler and Oswald Moseley. What it says about Muslims today was then directed at Jews.

For Littlejohn anti-Zionism equals anti-semitism. Why? Because the "new anti-semitism" means opposition to the Israeli state. If you oppose a state where, in an opinion poll, 75% of Jews don't want to live next to an Arab, why is that anti-semitic?

Every anti-semitic act is to be condemned. Likewise all forms of racism, but the programme generalised from a few anti-semitic attacks. And pretending that Muslims, who are the primary victims of racism in our society, are the main perpetrators, is to stand the truth on its head. No group has been more assiduous in feeding this racism than the pro-Israel lobby. Muslims are seen as backward and reactionary, rather than as people whose lands have been colonised.

Of course political Islam is reactionary but who was it who supported the Mujahideen in Afghanistan and helped create the Taliban and al-Qaida but the United States? And wasn't it Israel's secret service, Shin Bet, in their efforts to undermine secular nationalism who helped create Hamas? Inconvenient facts are easily forgotten. But what is called Muslim anti-semitism is in reality a pale reflection of European anti-semitism, lacking its social roots, and borrowing its ideas without ever understanding them. As Marx said about feudal socialism, it is "half lamentation, half lampoon, half echo of the past, half menace of the future ... always ludicrous in its effect, through total incapacity to comprehend the march of modern history."

But what Littlejohn failed to comprehend was that if it is wrong for anti-semites to associate Jews with Israel's war crimes against the Palestinians, then it is equally wrong for the leaders of Zionism and the Israeli state to proclaim that Israel's war against Lebanon was waged in the name of Jews throughout the world. The fact is that if some people misguidedly attribute Israel's crimes to Jews, one of the reasons for so doing is that Israel and its apologists claim that it acts on behalf of world Jewry.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The War on Britain's Jews?

It's with a bit of trepidation that I present here Channel 4's documentary by Richard Littlejohn titled "The War on Britain's Jews?", a title in which the question mark (as do all punctuation marks) plays an important part...

So why the trepidation? Well, there are various reasons. Firstly, there seems to exist across part of the population on the other side of the pond this impression that Britain has become a land of Pogroms and that Britain's Jews are practically being rounded up, thirties-style. Nothing could be further removed from the truth of course. Britain's probably never seen more of its Jewish population in high flying positions of public life, in the arts and sciences, Government and other walks of life, so much so that it leads to an older and more risible form of anti-Semitism: the Joooooooish World Conspiracy Theory (cough!)...

Secondly, although by and large I agree with Richard Littlejohn's analysis on British anti-Semitism, the program does suffer from a minor number of pecadillos, which tends to give it a slightly "shockdoc" quality.

Right from the off, Richard posits that numerous people told him they didn't know he was Jewish, which Richard then interprets as a mild form of anti-Semitism in itself. But if you ask a hundred British Jews and a hundred British non-Jews whether they have any interest in the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, then by default you're going to get different answers: it's entirely natural for those who suffer from persecution to be more interested in this than those who don't suffer from it.

Elsewhere Richard posits in a rather Manichean way that Britain's interest in all things Israel is disproportionate to its size and population and that we should all collectively take more interest in the Sudan than Israel (the Sudan argument has really become very much a la mode). The truth is of course that Europeans (or rather the relatively few that actually do take an interest) will always feel that historically they have a stake in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and that size really doesn't come into it. The conflict does in any case affect at least a respectable ten million people, not exactly a small problem...

Lastly, Richard's assertion that anti-Semitism, once a prerogative of the Far Right, has now started to find its way into Leftist circles is a little contentious. Richard uses the "we are all Hezbollah" argument but forgets that that essentially ridiculous stance was inspired more by abhorrence of Israel's excessive and ineffective air campaign, which failed to achieve its targets, caused very considerable civilian loss of life and made Israel look like a bumbling giant. He also conveniently changes the time-line of Lebanon II, making it sound like Hezbollah's soldiers abductions and rocket barrages happened simultaneously. They did not and the war, as most wars, escalated quickly following sequential transgressions from both sides.

Having said that, anti-Semitism in Britain does exist and does seem to be on the rise, especially on the more radical side of British Muslims. And so, here it is (part 1):

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Twentieth Century Battlefields: Yom Kippur...

In an excellent new series, father/son team Peter and Dan Snow yesterday aired the episode on the 1973 Egyptian/Syrian attack on Israel, also known as the Yom Kippur war. I haven't found the entire thing on YouTube yet but here's the part on the prequel to 1973, the 1967 six day war...

I will update this post as new instalments become available.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Could a 'one-state' solution end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Uri Avnery v Khaled Diab - CiF Take Two

Uri to Khaled

The so-called two-state solution is the only practical solution in the realm of reality. The parameters are well known, and they now enjoy worldwide agreement:

1) A Palestinian state will come into being next to Israel.

2) The border between them will be based on the Green Line, perhaps with an agreed-upon and equal swap of territories.

3) Jerusalem will be the capital of the two states.

4) There will be an agreed-upon solution of the refugee problem. In practice, this means that an agreed number of Palestinians will return to Israel, and the rest will be resettled in the state of Palestine or in their present places of domicile, with the payment of generous compensation that will turn them into welcome guests. When there is an agreed plan that tells every refugee family what their choices are, it must be submitted to the refugees wherever they are. They must be partners in the final decision.

5) There will be an economic partnership, in which the Palestinian government will be able to defend Palestinian interests, unlike the present situation. The very existence of two states will mitigate, at least to some extent, the huge difference of power between the two sides.

6) In the more distant future - a Middle Eastern union, on the model of the EU, that may also include Turkey and Iran - will emerge.

The obstacles are well known, and they are big. There are no cure-alls or panaceas. They must be faced and overcome. Here, in Israel, we must weaken the fears and anxieties, and point out the benefits and profit that we will gain from the creation of a Palestinian state at our side.

We must bring about a change of consciousness. But we have already come a long way, from the days when the entire public denied the very existence of the Palestinian people, rejected the idea of a Palestinian state, rejected the partition of Jerusalem, rejected any dialogue with the PLO, rejected an agreement with Arafat. In all these areas our stand as pioneering peace activists trickled down and has been accepted in various degrees.

It is clear that this is still far from what is necessary. But that is the direction things are moving - and there are hundreds of opinion polls to show it.

Khaled to Uri

The two-state solution is a good idea in principle - and I respect your role in putting it on the political map. And if both sides can achieve a viable settlement based on this model, then all the power to them. But I'm not sure I agree with your assessment that it is the only "practical solution in the realm of reality".

If it were so practicable, then why does it seem so much further from the realm of reality than it did 15 years ago? No one dares speak even of a defunct peace process any more and whoever has run off with the road map seems to have buried it somewhere over the rainbow.

The barriers that currently stand in the way of the two-state dream seem insurmountable. What do you do with the 300,000 or more settlers living in the future Palestinian state when evacuating some 8,000 settlers from Gaza was already such a traumatic experience? How about the 1.4 million Palestinian citizens of Israel? Even if you manage to negotiate a territory swap, that will only serve to entangle the fate of the two peoples even further.

Neither state is likely to have integral and entirely congruous territory, especially Palestine. To overcome this, they will either have to function effectively as a single geographical entity or come up with convoluted, impractical and expensive technical fixes, such as bypass roads, tunnels, bridges, walls that will turn the land into a series of Palestinian and Israeli ghettoes.

And the two-state model does not improve with time, as emerging "realities on the ground" make it even more implausible.

The notion of a single state can instil fear into the hearts of Israelis and Palestinians because it evokes images of extremists on the other side driving them off their land or making them live under subjugation. So, it is better to call what I and people like me have in mind a "bi-national federal state", ie the "single geographical entity" I alluded to above, with a functioning, fair and democratic political apparatus.

Building towards such a confederated state would break the current impasse and inject a dose of much-needed lateral thinking into the quest for peace. Handled correctly, it can bring prosperity and stability, enabling Israelis and Palestinians to share the land equitably, while maintaining their right to self-determination.

Uri to Khaled

When my friends and I started to advocate the two-state solution, right after the 1948 war, we emphasised that the border between the two states must be open to the free movement of people and goods, and that the country must be united economically.

Right after the 1967 war, my friends and I established a movement called Federation Israel-Palestine. It envisioned a federation or confederation between two sovereign states - Israel and Palestine.

In my first meeting with Yasser Arafat, he spoke about a "Benelux solution" - a structure encompassing the three states of Israel, Palestine and Jordan, "and perhaps Lebanon, too," he added. He repeated this in our last meeting, just before his murder.

Anyone looking at the map knows that the two states - Israel and Palestine - must maintain a very close relationship, economically, militarily and politically. The shape and definition of this relationship must be worked out between the two future governments.

What is essential at this moment is to create peace based on the existence of two national states. That is a phase that cannot be evaded, certainly not by utopian dreams that can be realised only after the coming of the Messiah.

Israelis will not give up their state - not today, not tomorrow, not in 50 years. That is an absolute certainty. Also, the Palestinians need a state of their own, to defend their interests, to restore their dignity and to assume their rightful place among the nations.

The idea of dismantling Israel, euphemistically called "the one-state solution" is a pipe-dream. It could once again divert the Palestinians from a practical solution.

The proposal of a federation, which I support, can and will be realised when the two states are there and when a modicum of trust between the two peoples is established. That is what happened in Europe after the second world war.

Khaled to Uri

Your reply heartens me because it would seem that we agree on what constitutes an optimal outcome. But achieving that desirable end cannot be left to the randomness and chaos that has characterised this conflict right from the start.

Visionaries, like yourself, who believe in a confederated state should already begin to advocate it today while it is still possible to chart a course towards it. We cannot wait two or three decades, by which time Israelis and Palestinians could be leading even more severed, paranoid, hateful and terrified existences in two dysfunctional and fragmented so-called states, paralysed and tied down by physical and mental walls.

You are right that a federalised state can only be built on trust. But it strikes me that, short of a miracle, the current focus on putting the defunct peace process back on track only breeds frustration and despair, because reality will never match up to expectations. The leaders on both sides lack the political capital or readiness to persuade their people of the massive compromises and lowering of expectations required to achieve a feasible two-state settlement. In addition, trust is so fragile, that a small group of extremists on either side can easily shatter it.

And that is why a paradigm shift is in order - an approach based on an incremental forward-looking approach. With the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Israelis and Palestinians are effectively living in a single state - albeit a state of distrust and hatred.

The first small steps in this incremental approach would be to focus on bread and butter issues: economic wellbeing, security, ending violence, healthcare, mobility, social equality, good governance, intercultural dialogue etc.

As trust builds up between the two sides, they can move on, armed with cross-cultural alliances, to more ambitious questions, such as integrating settlements, autonomy for the Palestinians and the devolution of power over the Palestinian territories to the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Once Palestinians have enough self-rule and there is more mutual trust, the two sides can tackle the really tough issues, such as Jerusalem and refugees. By this stage, they can also choose, perhaps through a referendum, on where to take their relationship. By this stage, I think they'll choose a federation. But that's for future generations to decide.

Uri to Khaled

I don't think your approach is practical. Nothing good will happen before a comprehensive peace agreement is achieved.

Khaled to Uri

Speaking pragmatically, I don't think a comprehensive peace agreement will come about before good things start happening.

Bush keeps Libby out of Hoosegow...

Dunlap proposes Prez pardons to future POTUS Jackie Broles (from

Next the anti-smoking Guardianistas will be coming for dogs and cats

This ban is a classic instance of centralised meddling which ignores the potential of local self-discipline

Simon Jenkins - CiF

Now for dogs. I have nothing against them but plenty of other people have. They spread germs; defecate on carpets, pavements and parks; race under cars; bark incessantly; leap on to terrified old women; and maul innocent children at Easter. They are a public menace. To many, they are an object of love, but what is love to a Labour government?

Then what about cats? This week Imperial College London released a study which revealed that 25% of people were allergic to them. They stimulate asthma, and high levels of cat allergen in house dust led to a quarter of the sample of 2,000 reporting some degree of lung malfunction. This is apart from cats peeing on carpets, destroying fabrics, screeching at night and inducing stress by just wandering off. Some people derive happiness from cats, but what is happiness to a Labour government?

Any health minister who can chuck a few pestilential smokers into the street must surely get to grips with dogs and cats. And after dogs and cats, what about drinking in public, swearing on buses, scolding children in shops, and waitresses not wearing rubber gloves? When shall we be forced to face Whitehall five times daily to recite health and safety risk assessments? Come on, anti-smoking Guardianistas, there is much work to be done by your New Model Army of regulators, inspectors, licensers and "liberal authoritarian" enforcers. If Jack Straw's new jails run short of common hoodlums the new "social criminals" can make up the difference.

I refuse to let pass another milestone down Britain's road to statist perdition. The ban on smoking in enclosed spaces that came in on Sunday will apparently mean a decline in smoker deaths - paradoxically costing the NHS more by their longevity than it spends on smoking-related illness. It will remove noxious fumes and noxious people from some frequented buildings and gainfully employ a few thousand civil servants. It is the second Thatcher revolution, the revolution of escalating control.

Every medieval church in England must now be defaced by large No Smoking signs, as if Cromwell's commissioners had just ordered the Ten Commandments on every wall. This is small-minded, pettyfogging bureaucracy of the sort that demands tilting gravestones to be "risk-assessed" and covered, literally, in red tape. The tally of regulatory notices required to be displayed in pubs is heading for 50, converting the nanny state into the wallpaper state.

The smoking ban was not necessary. There was no reason why an activity that causes individuals a mixture of pleasure and risk without necessarily harming others could not be left to communities and institutions to regulate for themselves. Why should a group of consenting adults wanting to smoke tobacco not be permitted to do so, if they can avoid impinging on the enjoyment of others?

The ban-lobby figures for "deaths from passive smoking" are unconvincing, reminding me of equal and opposite figures from the American tobacco lobby in the old days. Most of the air we breathe at work and play is polluted. Petrol stations are not closed for the damage fumes do to garage workers. Children are still permitted in streets without gas masks. At least tobacco smoke is avoidable by those, such as myself, who choose to avoid it. We have no such choice with traffic exhaust, or train and tube dust.

Sensible compromises were proposed to avert the ban. These included no smoking where food is served, or at least "smoking" restaurants signalled as such to customers and staff alike. Other compromises were enclosed and ventilated smoking rooms in pubs and clubs. Exemptions were proposed for hospitals and old people's homes, where nicotine addicts are now subjected to the legal euthanasia of sitting in the freezing cold for a cigarette. Smoking is banned even in private houses if visited by council workers.

I fail to see it as an advance of liberal civilisation when a man on his way home from office or factory cannot enjoy a cigarette with his beer in a private club that has agreed to his doing so. Likewise the government bans a London club man from enjoying a cigar in a formally designated smoking room. These people harm no one but themselves. They pay their taxes and are as entitled to healthcare as the obese or the reckless driver. And how does it save the planet to have gas heaters in outdoor smoking areas, allegedly releasing as much carbon per smoker as a 100-mile car journey?

Smoking was already being driven from most workplaces. Office smokers were seeking fire escapes and front porches. Restaurants were allocating fewer smoking tables in response to public demand. Smoking was banned on trains, planes and coaches. This new voluntary courtesy was developing within the parameters of what Gordon Brown calls civic society. Institutions, places of public resort, were showing their social responsibility, without intervention from law-happy legislators.

Brown's "citizen choice" - once called bylaws - should mean such discipline being decided and implemented locally. Free choice will wither on the vine if government constantly intervenes. It did so over hunting, with ludicrous ineffectiveness. It will doubtless now turn its attention to fishing. Likewise two-way streets without central dividers are an invitation to head-on crashes. Will they be divided? Branches droop on trees. Must trees be felled as a result?

The current fusillade of central regulations mostly concerns the behaviour of people within their domestic arena, their neighbourhood. Here surely they can decide how to regulate smoking and drinking, noise and animal nuisance, teenage behaviour and the order of their public places in collusion with the police. If they want to be draconian, let them account to their local electors. My own council's use of traffic wardens to persecute what it regarded as middle-class neighbourhoods saw it thrown out at the 2006 elections: it forgot that Labour voters also own cars. This is how democracy should work. Yet such discretion terrifies national ministers.

One man's annoyance or risk now trumps the pleasure of thousands. Control has the best tunes, liberty none. There is an industry to enforce greater regulation and no one to oppose it. Or rather the only industries to oppose it are those with money. The two principal causes of accidental death and injury are alcohol and the motor car. Neither has anything to fear from this government because both spend a fortune lobbying to that end. The publicans and distillers know this to their advantage, in lower alcohol duty and later opening hours. They should beware the decline in influence of Big Tobacco.

The smoking ban is a classic instance of what central government enjoys most, meddling in personal behaviour (ID cards, NHS records, Asbos, smoking bans) while ignoring forms of social control which it understands least, family and local self-discipline. There is a yawning gap between Labour's all-pervading state interventionism, which it laughably calls "liberal", and the tradition of English liberalism which must now term itself libertarian and which, long abandoned by both Liberals and Tories, is all but silent these days.

When Whitehall drives its liberal authoritarian tanks into town these days, apostles of freedom must leave. They must imitate the early Quakers, retreat to a hut in the hills, and light a pipe of peace with the world. But the big clunking fist will get them in the end.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Denial of the link with Iraq is delusional and dangerous

There is no question in my mind that Islamist terrorism, broadly speaking, comes in two, often overlapping strands. Many Islamists have clearly indicated to seek world domination for Islam, the so-called Global Caliphate. But bin Laden and his British affiliates have equally clearly stated that Western interventionism in 'Muslim lands' is their real grievance. In the piece below the author once again clarifies that British Islamic terrorism is linked, at least in part, to British participation in the invasion of Iraq. Predictably, he's already been called an "appeaser" by the more myopic of CiF's readers...

Seumas Milne

The insistence that terror attacks have nothing to do with Britain's actions in the Muslim world only makes them harder to stop

Two years on from the suicide bombings that devastated London's streets and tube system, official Britain is still in the deepest denial about why this country is a target for al-Qaida- style terror attacks. In the wake of the abortive atrocities in London and Glasgow, there has been no shortage of lurid media coverage of the "doctors' plot" that came so close to carnage, nor of bombastic calls for the nation to stand firm against terrorists. The Sun was yesterday handing out free union jacks to "fly in the face of terror", while its heavyweight counterparts have been demanding ever greater efforts by an increasingly intimidated Muslim community to demonstrate its loyalty. Mercifully, the tone adopted by Gordon Brown has been less strident than his predecessor's - he has avoided the rhetoric of the war on terror and the shopping lists of new coercive powers favoured by Tony Blair in the aftermath of the July 2005 attacks and last year's alleged transatlantic airline plot.

But when it comes to the substance, there has been little change. The failed bombings were, Brown insisted, an attack on "our British way of life" and the "values that we represent", "unrelated" to the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan or any other conflict. He compared the fight against the bombers' ideology with the struggle against communism and called for a similar "propaganda effort" to win "hearts and minds". In the days since, this "it's nothing to do with the war" refrain has since been taken up with gusto by large parts of the media. The pro-war Times and Telegraph have led the field, with neoconservative commentators and politicians hammering home the Blair-Bush message that terror is simply the product of an evil ideology. Anyone who dissents or suggests a connection with Britain's violent role in the Muslim world is portrayed as somehow soft on terrorism - as the Liberal Democrats' Nick Clegg found when he tentatively referred to Muslim grievances in the House of Commons earlier this week.

In an echo of Gordon Brown's cold war propaganda theme, defectors from radical Islamist groups have been playing a prominent role in this campaign. Rarely a TV debate goes by without Ed Husain, one-time member of Hizb ut-Tahrir and now a British neocon pinup boy, or Hassan Butt, formerly of the banned al-Muhajiroun group, insisting that this is all about people with identity crises who are "hell-bent on destroying the west", denouncing Ken Livingstone for engaging in dialogue with Islamists, or calling for a harsher crackdown on their former fellow enthusiasts for the restoration of the caliphate. They are championed by politicians like the Tory Michael Gove and New Labour's Denis MacShane, who this week argued that all Islamists, from the liberal Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan to al-Qaida terrorists, had to be confronted without exception. It's become eerily reminiscent of the McCarthyite era when communist renegades would be wheeled out to give Americans a state-orchestrated glimpse of the enemy's dark heart.

Of course, it's perfectly true that al-Qaida and its "takfiri" fellow travellers have an extreme, violently sectarian and socially conservative ideology. But it is simply delusional - and flies in the face of logic and history - to fail to recognise the central link between the terror threat and Britain's post-9/11 actions in the Muslim world.

First, there were no al-Qaida-inspired attacks in Britain before the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. There were against the US - starting with the World Trade Centre in 1993 - triggered by the aftermath of the Gulf war, as well as jihadist campaigns in Kashmir, Chechnya and Bosnia. But Britain was not a target until it attacked the Muslim world. If the bombers' real focus was, say, sexually liberal western lifestyles, they would presumably be attacking cities like Amsterdam and Stockholm.

Second, it is only necessary to listen to what the bombers say themselves. Just as Bin Laden has repeatedly spelled out that his campaign is about western occupation of Muslim lands and support for pro-western autocracies, so the "martyrdom videos" made by the London bombers of 2005 made clear that they regarded their attacks as revenge for British support for Israel and the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq: "Until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight," Mohammed Sidique Khan declared. The government was repeatedly warned before the Iraq war that it would bring terror to Britain, and a string of government, intelligence and other reports have since underlined the connection - also accepted by a large majority in opinion polls.

In the case of these latest bungled bombings, in which two Iraqis, a Palestinian and at least two other Arabs are said to have been involved, it's not hard to guess what might lie behind them. And while politicians who have supported wars that have cost hundreds of thousands of lives might want to cast a veil over the link, it makes no sense for the rest of us.

The neocon attempt to lump together all Islamists - a political trend that stretches from Turkey's ruling Justice and Development party to al-Qaida - as beyond the political pale will meanwhile only make it harder to overcome the terror threat and isolate those who believe it is justifiable to kill civilians in retaliation for the Iraqi and Afghan bloodbaths. It is a folly that exasperates senior figures in the police, including special branch, whose job is to counter terror groups in the Muslim community. Just as mainstream Islamists in the Palestinian territories such as Hamas have helped prevent the encroachment of takfiri jihadists, so non-violent Islamists in the west can offer an alternative political channel to those who might otherwise be drawn to al-Qaida-inspired terror. "This approach has played into the hands of al-Qaida," one high level special branch officer argues. "Islamists have the best antidotes to al-Qaida propaganda."

Given Britain's role in the Muslim world, the surprise must be that there haven't been more attacks. They have, after all, yet to reach anything like the level of the campaign waged by the IRA. But that such attacks continue is a central part of Blair's legacy - and the responsibility of a political class that failed to hold to account those who launched an illegal war of aggression with the most devastating human and political consequences. Until the Brown government makes serious moves to end Britain's role in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the likelihood must be that the threat will grow.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Running out of time in Iraq

In Congress and beyond, Iraq is deemed to be such a mess that withdrawal is the only option.

Simon Tisdall - CiF

Opponents frequently accuse George Bush of being in denial over Iraq. But in recent weeks the dire urgency of the situation, in both Baghdad and Washington, appears to have penetrated even the insulating layers normally enveloping the Oval Office.

The White House is increasingly alarmed at the widely shared expectation that the progress report to Congress in September by the Iraq commander, General David Petraeus, and the US ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, will mark the beginning of the end of the occupation.

The 29,000-strong military surge, ordered by Mr Bush in February, has already been written off as a failure, or not nearly successful enough, by many in Congress and beyond. With US casualties running at roughly double last year's level, pressure for withdrawal may become irresistible almost whatever Gen Petraeus says.

"The real debate is not about whether the US should pull out troops. That is now inevitable," said columnist EJ Dionne. "The real challenge is to figure out the right timetable, whether a residual force should be left there, and which American objectives can be salvaged."

According to foreign policy analysts Steven Simon and Ray Takeyh in the Washington Post, "what the US needs now is a guide to how to lose - how to start thinking about minimising the damage to American interests, saving lives, and ultimately wresting some good from this fiasco".

Nor is this defeatism or realism (depending on one's point of view) confined to Democrats and liberals. Richard Lugar led a charge against Mr Bush's policy last week by Republican senators who, like many of their House colleagues, are now convinced that the war is seriously harming both the country and their party's 2008 electoral prospects.

Mr Lugar said, in sum, that domestic divisions had already fatally undermined the surge. "The strident, polarised nature of this debate increases the risk that our involvement in Iraq will end in a poorly planned withdrawal that undercuts our vital interests."

Democrats, spurred on by polls showing that most Americans want out of Iraq and are impatient for Congress to act, are doing their best to exploit opposition doubts.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will call a series of Iraq votes this month, on pullout timetables, continued funding, and length of combat tours, to force individual Republicans to show where they stand.

Members of both parties are meanwhile calling for a revival of the independent Iraq Study Group, whose findings last autumn were initially spurned by Mr Bush. At the same time, the anti-war movement is waging an "Iraq summer" campaign, targeting electorally vulnerable Republicans in 15 states from Maine to Nevada.

Mr Lugar's broadside sent national security adviser Stephen Hadley scurrying up to Capitol Hill to rally the troops. Mr Bush's dawning realisation that he is on the brink of losing control of Iraq policy has prompted a series of other steps to regain the initiative.

Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, has started playing down the importance of the September reports, suggesting they will represent merely a snapshot of a work in progress. Gen Petraeus's second-in-command, General Raymond Odierno, suggested that to be successful, the surge may continue until next spring or even longer.

US-designated political benchmarks denoting progress by Iraq's government have largely not been met so far, although a draft oil law was reportedly agreed by the cabinet today. Mr Bush has taken to stressing instead that advances made at the local and provincial level are more important.

"We need to look at Iraq from the bottom up," he said at the Naval War College in Rhode Island last week. "This is where political reconciliation matters most, because it is where ordinary Iraqis are deciding whether to support the new Iraq." This looked like an attempt to pre-emptively excuse political failure in Baghdad.

Yet still trying to avoid a trainwreck - and demonstrating unaccustomed energy - the president is simultaneously personally cajoling and pressurising Iraq's leaders, holding frequent teleconferences with prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to check on benchmark progress. A stream of senior administration officials has been sent to Baghdad. Discarding its usual secretiveness, the White House is trying to ensure these contacts receive wide publicity - to show at least that it is trying.

A "desperate" Mr Bush is "running out of time" at home and in Iraq, said veteran commentator David Broder. His attempt to avoid a September showdown with Congress looks likely to fail. What the upshot of that showdown will be is still in doubt.

Monday, July 02, 2007

In the wake of the failed bombings...

This gesture security is inevitable. But it has barely any practical value

The flurry of precautions after terrorist attacks are almost always charades. Real counter-measures all hinge on intelligence

Max Hastings

Pity anyone who must catch a plane or visit Wimbledon today, or indeed for many days to come. Following Friday's London bombs and Saturday's attack at Glasgow airport, security checks have intensified dramatically. Everybody engaged in what is now a vast industry wants to be seen to be trying harder.

It is another matter, of course, whether all the conspicuous activity that follows a terrorist incident adds a jot to public safety, to compensate for the huge economic cost it imposes. Most security precautions represent a charade. It is probably a politically necessary charade - we will explore that issue in a moment. But we should be sceptical about its practical value.

Gesture security attained its nadir in February five years ago, with the deployment of armoured vehicles at Heathrow. It was possible to accept that the security service and police possessed plausible intelligence that terrorists were preparing to attack an aircraft with a missile. It was impossible, however, to believe light tanks could play a useful part in preventing such an action. Aircraft landing or taking off are within comfortable range of a missile fired from well outside any airport perimeter. Even if an obliging member of al-Qaida knelt with his launcher beside a runway, it is unlikely he could best be frustrated by a 30mm cannon fired from the turret of a Scorpion.

The Heathrow tank deployment was a political, not military, precaution. It was designed to impress the public, rather than in the serious expectation of stopping an atrocity. This was an extreme case of nonsense security, but there are plenty of lesser ones every day in airport search queues.

A dilemma confronts the Home Office, intelligence services and police chiefs every time a terrorist incident takes place. They know that, rationally, there is little chance that imposing car checks at airports will accomplish anything more than adding an hour or two's delay to every passenger's flight time. Yet they are also acutely conscious that if they fail to be seen to raise their game, and another would-be terrorist then crashes into a British airport terminal, it would be a resignation issue.

The usual compromise is that extreme security checks are introduced for some days following a major incident. Then, when the headlines cool and the economic disruption becomes intolerable, security reverts to "normal". This does not represent a logical approach, but it is hard to see any way around it in a democracy vulnerable to media frenzies.

It is also hard for ministers and the police to pitch their public utterances. A reasoned statement, following the weekend's events, might have gone something like this: "After so much speculation about attacks on Britain by terrorists wielding weapons of mass destruction and biological weapons, it is a relief to see these attempts made with weapons as crude as cars filled with petrol and gas cylinders. The group carrying out the attacks are grotesque amateurs. At worst, their efforts might have inflicted the level of fatalities caused by a motorway smash." In reality, of course, it would be unthinkable for anyone in authority to say anything of the sort. Spokesmen must talk gravely about "a threat of dreadful carnage", because anything less would sound flippant and irresponsible.

When a nation is in a state of declared war with a state enemy, the issues are much simpler, and the public soon learns to understand them. When the Germans began bombing British cities in 1940, anti-aircraft guns put up big barrages whenever raiders were overhead. The belief that "we're hitting back" boosted morale. It was soon discovered, however, that shell fragments from the guns were inflicting almost as many casualties as German bombs, and that scarcely any planes were being hit. Most batteries were moved to places where they were less visible but might do some real good. Likewise, people stopped abandoning their work whenever a raid was threatened and sought refuge in shelters only if raiders were close overhead.

Yet conditions and expectations today, in times of peace, are very different. Public safety is threatened only spasmodically, and in the most erratic and unpredictable ways. What the army calls "point defence", meaning the protection of specific buildings and sites against assault, is neither feasible nor credible when the range of possible targets is almost unlimited, and the economic life of the country must continue.

Most of us have become reconciled to the steel gates in Downing Street and concrete barriers outside the Houses of Parliament. These are obviously high-profile targets. There is a real prospect, rendered more vivid by the people who crashed into Glasgow's terminal on Saturday, that terrorists could try to use a vehicle as an assault weapon against Britain's most famous national symbols.

Thereafter, however, common sense decrees that public buildings must take their chances. It is not credible, for instance, to fortify all airport terminals. We should recognise the searching of passengers for what it is, a necessary gesture unlikely to stop a half-sophisticated terrorist from smuggling some instrument of menace on to a flight.

All serious counter-measures hinge on intelligence: identifying potential threats by surveillance and penetration. The security service deserves more sympathy than it usually receives for its difficulties in achieving this. The range of militant young Muslims now in Britain, both homegrown and imported, is frighteningly large.

Since 9/11, MI5 has been deluged in money and has recruited thousands of new officers, including a significant number of Muslims. But it takes years to train such people and enable them to gain the experience to become Smileys. More than that, they do not receive anything like the assistance from the British Muslim community which they need effectively to contain the threat, never mind defeat it.

It is difficult for intelligence officers to distinguish between militants who merely talk big and those actually intending to commit acts of violence. An MI5 officer described to me a while ago the problems posed by suspects who behave normally for months, even years, before suddenly embarking on an attack. Surveillance requires a massive commitment of manpower. Every day, MI5 is obliged to make life-and-death choices about who it will continue to monitor. The quality of police assistance is patchy, to put it politely, and a source of much dismay in intelligence circles.

Although I am as sceptical as many people about the loss of civil liberties in the name of anti-terrorism, it seems essential at the very least to legitimise interception evidence in court proceedings. This is a much more important tool for protecting the public than checking cars approaching airports, and causes far less inconvenience to the innocent.

In the days ahead, we shall see plenty more gesture security, because that is politics in the wake of a terrorist incident. We should recognise it for what it is, however, and not confuse it with measures that serve the real purpose of protecting us from violent fanatics.

Melanie's baloney: 'BBC is fifth column...'

Melanie Phillips is at it again. One of the most jingoistic journalists in Fleet Street, Mel my belle currently writes for the fish'n chips wrapper The Daily Hate Mail, after a career with The Guardian. Personally I've always felt that those who flip-flop from one side to the other aren't to be trusted: if their political, moral and ethical convictions weren't that steadfast in the first place, why then should I trust the new direction of their spinning compass?

Let me cut to the chase: one of Melanie Phillips' latest piece of drivel is called simply
The Hamas Broadcasting Corporation. Now, we're all looking for that catchy one-liner, that semantic game that produces a eye-catching title but this one really takes the biscuit.

So what's the brouhaha? Mel has it on good authority (well, from
The Jerusalem Post, not well known for its objectivity or accuracy...) that the BBC has approached someone from Hamas with regards to the abducted BBC journalist Alan Johnston. Here's what Mel makes of it (emphasis is mine):
So now we know why the BBC sounds like the voice of Hamas. It is Hamas. A story in the Jerusalem Post all but throws away the following explosive revelation: [follows an excerpt from the J'Post piece]

Then there's the (according to Mel's overheated imagination) highly suspicious use of the terms 'employ' and 'employees'
Hmnn. Note the uses of the words ‘employ’ and ‘employees’. It may well be that this man is not on the staff of the BBC and is therefore technically not an employee. Indeed, it is most likely that he is a stringer, one of the many freelance journalists that the BBC uses for its reporting from Gaza. But that is a semantic weasel. It makes no difference to the central claim made by the Post’s story, that the supposedly dispassionate BBC is using to supply its supposedly dispassionate reporting from Gaza a Palestinian who is a member of Hamas, a terrorist organisation proscribed by Britain, the US and the EU and which is committed to the destruction of Israel, the murder of Jews everywhere and the Islamist takeover of the world.

So is it true? The BBC must now tell us, immediately, exactly who this Palestinian is and what work he does for it. Otherwise we must assume that the Post’s story is correct. If that is so, it underlines once again that the BBC has become a fifth column in our society that must with the utmost urgency be addressed.

...with the utmost urgency... fifth column... Well, I'm onto it Mel, I'm putting my quill to paper and will be demanding that the BBC clear up this matter... well, with the utmost urgency, of course!

Whilst the BBC cannot find such accusations very pleasant, I can't help but think that Mel's ramblings must have raised a few smiles in the corporation's corridors. Not so long ago an Israeli press spokes-something (
Danny Seaman) compared BBC coverage of the Israel/Palestine conflict to "the worst Nazi propaganda". And to the loony right, the BBC is a bunch of 'multiculturalists', 'elitists', 'environmentalists', 'Marxists' and worse beside that. As a media outlet, you know you're fairly centrist and pretty close to objectivity when you get sniped at from all sides...