If we clamp down on free speech, we will succumb to tyranny 19 March, 2007
In the last fortnight, two episodes have highlighted the extent to which free speech is under threat in modern Britain. David Coleman, the Oxford Professor of demographics, is still the target of a campaign of vilification by the Oxford Student Action for Refugees (see previous post). Professor Coleman has spent decades examining population trends in the industrialized world, immigration trends and the demography of ethnic minorities. He has been a consultant for the Home Office and the United Nations, with a number of significant books and articles to his name. His eminence in this field has naturally lent him credibility in examining government spin on asylum and immigration, hence his association with Migration Watch. But for one group of implacable students, and their myriad supporters, his refusal to accept the liberal consensus is undeniably racist.
Shortly afterwards we were treated to another dubious episode, courtesy of the revamped Conservative Party. Patrick Mercer, Tory MP and Shadow Minister for Homeland Security, was peremptorily dismissed by David Cameron for remarks he made in an interview about ethnic minority soldiers. Cameron deemed these remarks ‘unacceptable’ before vigorously denouncing racism, implying that his former shadow minister was guilty of racial prejudice. But did these remarks really merit the Tory leader’s opprobrium? In his interview, Mercer was describing some of the unpleasantness of army life, focusing in particular on how soldiers were routinely abused on the basis of their physical characteristics. Among the taunts would be ‘Come on you fat bastard, come on you ginger bastard, come on you black bastard.’
Now clearly there was a world of difference between the first two (non racist) insults and the third (racist) one, a difference that Mercer ought to have acknowledged. To some, his words came across as clumsy, insensitive and tactless. But nothing in Mr. Mercer’s comments suggested that he condoned these attitudes. Indeed, to do so would have been out of character because, from all accounts, his track record in dealing with black soldiers in the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters was exemplary. Mercer described the 5 black company sergeant majors in his interview as ‘without exception UK-born, Nottingham-born men who were English - as English as you and me.’
Mr. Mercer went on to say that he had come across a lot of ethnic minority soldiers who were ‘idle and useless, but who used racism as cover for their misdemeanors.’ Again, these words were hardly chosen with the greatest sensitivity and care but to conclude that this was a spiteful attack on all ethnic minority soldiers would be grossly unfair. He was not denigrating all black army recruits, merely suggesting that among those who were idle and useless were many who used the charge of racism to excuse their behaviour. In other words, some of these soldiers were playing the race card, aware that it could provide a spurious form of protection to cover up their own shortcomings.
Playing this kind of race card is indeed a chief weapon used by some minorities to divert attention from their own failings. It reflects the growing menace of victim mentality, a culture of blaming ‘the other’ instead of accepting faults that are personal. This warped form of excuse making is particularly dangerous because it makes it harder to tackle real prejudice and racial discrimination, which is surely the prerogative of every political party. Mercer’s only crime, it seems, was to reveal truths that the establishment has deemed unpalatable. By sacking his minister so quickly, Cameron has let down an ally and failed to tackle the prevailing culture of victimhood. Far from raising his anti racist credentials, Cameron has succumbed to the prevailing tyranny of political correctness which is effectively an unofficial ban on free speech. We are all the losers for his decision.
The Iraq war was a mistake but this is no time to pull out 23 March, 2007
Iraq in 2007 must be a depressing sight for those who so eagerly supported the war 4 years ago. In March 2003, President Bush, the Pentagon and the neo cons envisaged a short, sharp and relatively inexpensive war of liberation. They believed that Saddam would be toppled with ease, leading to a democratic revolution that would then be exported to the region. In the process, the oppressed peoples of the Middle East would be liberated and left to challenge their respective autocratic governments, especially in Syria and Iran. In reality, only one of those 3 aims was subsequently fulfilled. Saddam fell easily enough but into the resulting vacuum came a series of bloody sectarian feuds, given increased impetus by the arrival of fanatic jihadis from neighbouring countries. Far from being transformed into an oasis of democracy, Iraq has been convulsed by ethnic, religious and tribal rivalries, all of which reveal the country’s artificiality.
No WMD’s were found in Iraq (only WMD programmes) while the argument in 2002-3 that Saddam was a containable threat, posing few immediate risks to the West, was only borne out by succeeding events. (This does not detract from the fact that from 1979-1990, Saddam was a lethal threat to many surrounding regimes as well as his own people). Quite simply, there was no need to topple the regime (in March 2003) and unleash the subsequent turmoil within the country. Then there is the cost of the conflict. According to Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel prize-winning economist, the final cost of the war, assuming that the US spends another 7-8 years in Iraq, could rise to well over 2 trillion dollars. A pretty sum of money.
More tragic still is the way that this war has undermined the very important moral and political leadership role of the United States in the fight against radical Islam. There is today a global movement among extremist Muslims that craves world domination and the subjugation of non Muslims, based on a hateful and repressive ideology that is totalitarian in nature and repressive in practice. It is manifested in dangerous and murderous regimes in Iran and Sudan while a sizeable minority of Muslims elsewhere, including the West, show growing sympathy and support. The US is best placed to take a stand against radical Islam (with a coalition of the willing that excludes the impotent UN) after the horrendous events of 9/11. But the fallout from Iraq has been grist to the mill of America bashers everywhere who use it to further delegitimize America, Britain and the West. Last night, on Question Time, John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN, showed that the Bush administration understood the lethal threats posed by WMD, rogue regimes and radical Islamists. But his attempt to lump Saddam with Al Qaeda and radical Islamism only served to confuse the issue.
The anti war movement cannot have it all their own way, however. Their central current contention is that the presence of coalition forces exacerbates the problems in Iraq and that only a precipitate withdrawal of forces is politically or acceptable. The Stop the war coalition, with their left wing and Islamist friends, thus form a natural alliance designed to undermine the Western presence in Iraq, as well as abroad. They have clearly not thought through their reasoning though. Firstly, any sudden withdrawal from Iraq is bound to lead to an upsurge in violence and bloodletting, particularly in the months leading up to the withdrawal and in the years to follow. Secondly, any such withdrawal would be the single greatest victory for Al Qaeda and their Islamist allies around the globe for they would undoubtedly interpret any coalition withdrawal as a profound victory for their tactics. In other words, they will see the West’s ‘defeat’ in Iraq in the same terms as the defeat of Russia in Afghanistan in 1989 and the defeat of the US in Somalia in 1993.
Thirdly, a US withdrawal would entrench Iran’s hegemony in both Iraq and the Middle East as a whole. The new Iraqi Parliament is already dominated by Shias while in Basra the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, whose military have been trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, holds sway. The prospect of enhanced Iranian influence so worries the Saudis that they have recently gone on a ‘peace’ offensive in the region, ostensibly to bring peace to the Palestinians and Iran, while in reality attempting to curb Iranian influence in the region. The Sunni Saudis are desperate to avoid being usurped as the region’s dominant Muslim power by the Shi’ite regime in Tehran.
As things stand, the United States and its allies remain determined to stabilise Iraq as a unified country. But two years from now, President Obama could decide to change course by withdrawing American forces altogether from that country. In time, Iraq may witness the unfolding of a far greater tragedy.
50 years of the EU - and of lies, damn lies. 27 March, 2007
Was it really surprising that so few people took to the streets to celebrate the EU’s 50th birthday? This is, after all, a political institution so mistrusted by the electorate that it makes Tony Blair look like a paragon of virtue. According to one recent opinion poll, only 46% of Europeans now look favourably on the EU and that figure drops to about 33% when you take British voters into account. To understand this general disillusionment, consider what Britons were told in the 1970s when Ted Heath and his Euro fanatic acolytes salivated at the prospect of British entry. Joining Europe, we were informed, would bring untold economic benefits, expand trade and enhance British power, prestige and influence around the globe.
If only this were true. We are net importers of European goods, running a huge trade deficit with the Continent and making the single greatest economic argument for joining up highly questionable. The EU passes a majority of laws at Westminster, siphoning away powers and prerogatives from our Westminster representatives and creating a democratic deficit at the heart of our political life. Thanks to EU membership, we are signatories to the Common Agricultural Policy, which serves the interests of inefficient French farmers but which also has a deleterious impact on the Third World. The Common Fisheries Policy has overseen the destruction of our formerly efficient fishing industry.
European Union membership has brought with it a constant stream of (often pointless) regulations and directives which now affect most areas of public life, and all of which are paid for by hard working taxpayers. As a result of our membership, our judges must bow to the supremacy of European law. Then there is the Human Rights Act, passed by this government, which has subverted the notion of human rights and created endless cases of injustice. EU membership has also robbed us of the chance to control immigration and asylum policy and is thwarting attempts to deal with terrorism. As proof, the Convention on Human Rights prevents a member state deporting individuals to any country where they may be tortured. Above all, it has only widened the fundamental mistrust of British people towards all elected politicians and increased voter apathy.
But worse is the blatant illicit maneuvering at the heart of the European project. This weekend, amid the undeserved orgy of self congratulation, Angela Merkel dredged up the memory of the European constitution which, she argued, had to proceed as quickly as possible. Without batting an eyelid, some of her Euro fanatic friends, including our Prime Minister, agreed. This was despite the clear no votes from the French and Dutch electorates in 2005 which were supposed to deal a decisive blow to the Constitution! A democratic mandate, it seems, cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the powerful EU juggernaut.
The EU project was clearly designed to create a political superstate, a counterweight to American hegemony in the world which would drastically affect the independence and sovereignty of every one of its member states. This may be music to the ears of those who denigrate nation states as well as British history and culture. But for those who believe that nations do matter and that democracy is more than an unpleasant after thought, the EU remains a pernicious institution whose constant interference is objectionable.
A referendum on our continued membership is vital if democracy is to mean anything. And if the British people use their common sense, they will vote Britain out of this meddling organization once and for all.
Iranian piracy and British apathy 2 April, 2007
Where is the outrage at the kidnapping of our marines? This is the central question posed by James Forsyth in a thought provoking article in this week’s Spectator (page 16). I quote from the article:
‘One doesn’t need to be Lord Palmerston thundering about ‘civis Romanus sum’ and ‘the strong arm of England’ during the Don Pacifico affair to feel enraged by Iran’s capture and detention of 15 British sailors and marines. Yet the general reaction has been one of indifference. One looks in vain for mass demonstrations outside the Iranian embassy or any other signs of solidarity with our men and women in uniform.
He continues: ‘The incident has revealed a country disconnected from its armed forces and deeply ambivalent about its global role.’
He goes on to contrast the apathy of the British public with Israel’s robust response to the kidnapping of 2 of its own soldiers last summer, the hostile act that triggered last year’s summer campaign against Hezbollah.
There are different ways to interpret all of this. There are some in Britain who adopt the usual, simplistic views of the Middle East that you pick up in the letter pages of the Guardian and Independent. In a nutshell, that the region’s aggression (whether Iran, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda or Hamas) stems from a unique set of grievances: principally an unjust Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and lives, America’s support for Israel, and a form of American imperialism based on a desire for cheap oil. But there is more to it than this.
Our involvement in Iraq ‘has’ clearly sapped the will of both the public and the government for further military adventures. Quite simply, who would believe Tony Blair if he called for yet another war in the Middle East? In a nutshell, most of the British population (if you go by opinion polls) are so disheartened with the Iraqi imbroglio that they regard Iran’s current belligerence as the price to be paid. Forsyth adopt this depressing conclusion and admits that for many, a popular attitude is: ‘we had this coming.’ Furthermore, a clear majority are against any military intervention against Iran, either over this issue or that of Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. This is all the more tragic when we consider that, right now, Iran is a bullying menace which is, literally, getting away with murder. According to a senior British officer in Southern Iraq, the majority of the attacks on British troops are being funded by Iran.
But we must also remember that Iran targeted our soldiers because of how they expected Britain to react. In an earlier post, I argued that Iran had been conciliated over its nuclear programme for years by the EU3, particularly the Foreign Office which tried to downplay any suggestion that Iran was not playing ball. The Iranians interpreted this largesse for what is was - a rather supine form of appeasement which was exploited to the full. Hosein Musavian, Iran’s former nuclear negotiator told state television as much in 2005:
‘Thanks to our dealings with Europe, even when we get a fifty day ultimatum, we managed to continue the work for two years. Today we are in a position of power.’
More recently, Britain announced a partial withdrawal of troops for Basra, something that was likely to be interpreted in Tehran as yet more evidence of a British Achilles heel. Nothing is more provocative to a bully than the weakness of his foe. Sadly we have been advertising our weakness (at least to the Iranians) for far too long and 15 servicemen are now paying the price. The longer they languish in Iran, the more Britain will appear impotent and unwilling to defend its values. As Forsyth writes: ‘A power that can be bullied without fear of retribution by a second rate power is not much of a power at all.’
UPDATE: (4th April) It is of course a great relief that our service personnel have now been released by the Iranians. The misfortune of these 15 unfortunate people has thankfully been cut short. One wonders what game the regime is playing here. By acting in a spirit of such apparent generosity, by appearing to react well to negotiation, they are attempting to drive a wedge between Britain and the USA. If they can negotiate on the hostages (smaller issue), they might, so the thinking goes, negotiate over their nuclear programme (the bigger issue). Thus the pressure seems to be piling up for a direct negotiation between the USA and Iran over the nuclear programme in an attempt to buy time. In view of Nancy Pelosi's absurdly ill conceived visit to Syria today, the pressure may now grow. Naturally those with more than a short term memory will realise that if the EU3 were unable to stop Iran's drive for nuclear status, there isn't much the USA can do. But will common sense prevail?
Schooled in fear and ignorance 4 April, 2007
A report published on Monday by the Historical Association (available to download from their website) has painted a disturbing picture of history teaching in some British schools. The study revealed how teachers in certain schools avoided teaching emotive and controversial subjects in history in order not to upset certain pupils or cause them offence. One school avoided teaching the Holocaust because of concerns that Muslim students would express anti semitic views in class, including denial of the Holocaust. The report said specifically that teachers in at least one school were scared of confronting ‘anti semitic sentiment and Holocaust denial among some Muslim pupils.’ In another case, the Crusades had become a no go area because a balanced viewpoint in class would contradict the more partisan teachings given in local mosques. The report continued: “In particular settings, teachers of history are unwilling to challenge highly contentious or charged versions of history in which pupils are steeped at home, in their community or in a place of worship." Of course, there were many reasons cited, including lack of resources and training, but one factor was a desire to steer clear of controversial issues.
However you try and look at it, this is a pretty shocking indictment. Instead of confronting the toxic versions of history being taught in some British mosques, ones in which Jews make up tales of their own genocide and Muslims are perennial victims of Christendom, some teachers would prefer their students to wallow in ignorance and prejudice. By taking the line of least resistance, they are doing nothing to stop the flames of racial hatred spreading while encouraging the view that Muslim sensibilities must not be offended at any cost. It seems to be lost on these (small number of) teachers that this contravenes the whole point of schooling, which is supposed to be about imparting knowledge in place of ignorance and tolerance in place of prejudice. These educators have surely lost sight of why they are in their profession in the first place. Sure, the majority of schools are not to be indicted here but this is damning material nonetheless. If bigotry and racism are not stamped out when minds are young, what hope is there for society?
UPDATE: It must be stressed that it is only those schools that are ducking controversial subjects that are being criticised. The majority of schools (hopefully the vast majority) teach issues, such as the Holocaust, the Crusades and transatlantic slavery. The Holocaust is also part of the National Curriculum and therefore should be taught by 'every' secondary school at Key Stage 3.
Iranian tactics 6 April, 2007
Make no mistake, Iran played a very cynical hand of diplomatic poker on Wednesday. While the release of the 15 service personnel was obviously welcome, this apparent largesse masked something decidedly more underhand. I am not just talking about the near simultaneous deadly bomb which killed 4 people in Iraq, an act no doubt engineered by the Iranians. Nor am I commenting on the phony speech with its phony generosity. It was more than that. By Tuesday, Iran faced increasingly international isolation, condemned by the EU and the UN and even receiving calls for leniency from the Holy See. Facing pressure from more moderate elements of the regime, Ahmadinejad saw a face saving formula to end the crisis he started with his announcement to release the 15. By doing so, and in the midst of a flurry of British diplomatic activity, he appeared to have the moral high ground, while being able to claim that his apparently reasonable volte face came about because Britain used dialogue rather than force, or the threat of force. Make no mistake, though, this whole episode has been no victory for Blair, the government or Britain. This country (and its navy) has been humbled and made to look impotent, exactly what Ahmadinejad wanted.
Ahmadinejad will surely try to exploit his apparent goodwill towards the hostages for all it is worth. He will likely tell the world that a solution to his country’s fraught relations with the West must come through an end to its diplomatic isolation, in other words, negotiations, face to face talks and ‘respect’. And the most pressing issue for the West (vis Iran) is, of course, the country’s search for a nuclear capability. Ipso facto, Ahmadinejad may argue that Iran only needs goodwill from the international community to become more accommodating and less belligerent. The realists in the international community will recognize this as a clever attempt to buy time before Iran’s nuclear programme reaches a point of no return. They will also point out that Iran has helped kill British troops in Iraq, and that it no doubt had a hand in Wednesday’s 4 tragic deaths in Iraq. Nonetheless, there will likely be some sympathetic voices in the EU and possibly among the Democrats, such as Nancy Pelosi who are sick of George Bush. Thus Iran may be playing the time honoured game of divide and rule, trying to drive a wedge between the Allies at a moment of crucial importance. One crisis may be over but a new and bigger crisis could be in the offing.
Double Standards exposed by a Muslim journalist 9 April, 2007
A recent article written by Saudi columnist, Thuraya Al-Shiri, for the Arabic daily Al Sharq Al-Awsat should be read by every apologist for militant Islam. The title of her piece gets straight to the point: ‘Why Isn't There a Single Muslim Who Hasn't heard About the Muhammad Cartoons - while a Belgian paper's publication of the Koran is taken for granted?’ Over a year ago, a series of satirical cartoons depicting Muhammad were publicized across the Arab and Muslim world, leading to a global outpouring of rage and violence. Think back to the frenzied demonstrations, the murder of nuns, the embassies being scorched by fanatics as well as the ignominious and supine apologies offered by some Western politicians. Al-Shiri contrasts this sordid affair with the following little item: 'A Belgian paper distributed to its readers free copies of the Holy Koran in French, along with a coupon for [a copy of] the Koran in Flemish, which is the language spoken in the part of Belgium close to the Dutch border.’ Not only this but the paper ran a supplement in which it published a book called Islam Now, which presented a history of Islam up to the present era.
Al-Shiri asks the following question: "Our insistence [on reacting] by chopping off heads is a paradigm no less dangerous to humanity than paradigms like Nazism and Fascism. Why isn't there a single Muslim who has not heard about the [offensive] cartoons [of the Prophet Mohammad] - but when [a Belgian paper] plans to print and distribute translations of our Holy book [the Koran], this is taken for granted?..."
It is, of course, a highly pertinent question. The Islamists pretend that the entire Western establishment is intent on the destruction of Islam and that non Muslims must be resisted at every opportunity. Every Western interaction with the Muslim world is seen negatively, as part of a sinister plot to undermine the faith, while any remotely positive action is airbrushed from the record. Al-Shiri’s astute piece continues with a devastating rebuttal of the tactics used by Islamists:
‘…it is well known that these groups yearn for a revolution in the Arab and Muslim states, so they can take control and impose what they call Islam on these countries and their citizens. "But [what they call Islam] is in fact a political ideology that has [nothing to do with] Islam or shari'a. These groups insist on [achieving] this [aim], and are willing to use every means including takiyya [concealing one's faith]. They convey double messages and use doublespeak... Their words do not reflect their actions. They have made hypocrisy a way of life, and for them, the end justifies the means.’
I would question the view that politicized Islam (or Islamism) has ‘nothing’ to do with the faith - this is controversial and will be dealt with at length in my forthcoming article on radical Islam. But she makes the essential point that the Islamists exploit Western (and non Western) weakness and naivety by pretending that their ‘program’ is benign, even pious, when it is in fact a political formula for the destruction of the rule of law and the enslavement of women and minorities. They pretend that they are peace loving and merely respond to the aggression of the West, their enemies. If only we could be nicer, they too would abandon their hostility to us. Yet supporters of militant Islam are the aggressors who twist their actions to make them appear as virtuous victims. And in the prevailing climate of post colonial guilt and nation bashing, in which America and its allies are deemed responsible for all the world's ills, this seems a seductive argument. How sad that it takes a Saudi journalist to see something that is lost on our liberal intelligentsia.
More spin, less substance 10 April, 2007
The MOD’s damage limitation exercise, preventing further service personnel from going to the press, may help to abate a growing mood of public anger. But questions need to be asked urgently about the stupendous incompetence at the Ministry of Defence. It seems incredible that they allowed the personnel to go the press in the first place and even worse, that they failed to predict the obvious backlash that would result. Could they not sense that it was obviously wrong to bend the navy’s rules on speaking to the press in this case? How did they think the families of those serving in Iraq would feel, knowing that their sons and daughters would be denied the lucrative opportunity given to these 15 service personnel? For a government obsessed with spin and news management, the last 4 days has been a cock up of the highest order.
The fact that the MOD allowed the personnel to sell their story tells us all we need to know about the priorities of Mr. Blair’s government. They could have concentrated on why these 15 were put in a position of danger and vulnerability in the first place. They could have demanded an immediate and urgent review of the rules of engagement under which the marines were operating. They could have sent a strong message to the Iranians that in future Britain would react robustly to any more kidnappings of her troops. But of instead of confronting the reality of British impotence throughout this crisis, the government reverted to the spin machine, hoping that it would be a good day to bury bad news. Instead of embarrassing headlines about the navy, the idea was to have stories about cruel Mr. Ahmadinejad on the front pages, deflecting attention from the mistakes and incompetence of the last 2 weeks. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. And the really bad news that no spinner can hide is that Britannia plc has been tarnished and humiliated by this dreadful, sordid affair from start to finish. Sadly, the Iranian leadership knows this better than anyone.
The real war is against an ideology of hate 18 April, 2007
Britain no longer believes in using the phrase ‘the war on terror.’ That was one of the pearls of wisdom in a speech given by Hilary Benn in New York 2 days ago. In a clear swipe at the Bush administration, the International Development Secretary called for a multilateral approach to the world’s crises instead of having a world in which ‘isolationism, protectionism and narrow nationalism’ were dominant. To make his point clear, he called for Guantanamo Bay to shut down and for civilised nations to embrace the International Criminal Court, the supranational organization repeatedly shunned by President Bush. You hardly need to be a genius to work out that Benn was setting forth his credentials for the Labour Deputy Leadership, and that his calculated attack on the Republicans would go down well with the party. In a wide ranging discussion, he went on to discuss the problem of international terrorism and the current conflict that has been dubbed ’the war on terror.’ I quote from a section of his speech:
This is not a clash between the West and Islam, although these terrorists claim that it is. Nor is this a global war, although they would like to portray it as such. It is about identity, it is about values. In the UK, we do not use the phrase “war on terror” because we can’t win by military means alone, and because this isn’t us against one organised enemy with a clear identity and a coherent set of objectives. It is the vast majority of the people in the world - of all nationalities and all faiths - against a small number of loose, shifting and disparate groups who have relatively little in common apart from their identification with others who share their distorted view of the world and their idea of being part of something bigger.
To be fair to Hilary Benn, I think he is right to question the phrase ‘war on terror’ but for the wrong reasons. Terror is a method, a specific tactic used by extremist groups to forcibly change the views and behaviour of innocent people. Terror is not the enemy itself but the way that enemy operates, and it is by no means the only way that enemy seeks to paralyse its foe. During the Second World War Churchill did not call for a war on Blitzkrieg or gas chambers, nor did Reagan declare a war on ICBM’s. What both leaders did was identify the national states from which these threats emerged, thus making the enemy more territorially confined. But since 9/11 we have realised something profoundly significant. Terrorism has become ‘globalised’, with an enemy that shifts rapidly from one country (and continent) to another. For this reason Benn talks of ‘loose, shifting and disparate groups’ whether they be in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and elsewhere and adds that this war ‘isn’t us against one organised enemy with a clear identity and a coherent set of objectives.’
Without doubt, the Islamist terror groups are diffused and operate in wildly different conditions but Benn has missed a profoundly important point here. What unites the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the multitude of militants across the Arab world is the ideological cement of radical Islam. This particular version of Islam seeks to conquer the West in the name of Islamic purity, restore the Islamic Caliphate, subjugate the Judaeo-Christian ‘infidels’ who live in these countries, oppress women and homosexuals and banish any trace of Western liberalism that might upset the religious applecart. In short, it is an ideology which is totalitarian and tyrannical to the core. It is this religious fanaticism that inspires otherwise separate groups around the globe, from Bali to Beslan and from Iran to London, to carry out their heinous crimes. And sadly this religious extremism is confined not to ‘a small number of loose, shifting and disparate groups’ but to a wider audience with whom the terrorists’ message resonates. Thus in Saudi Arabia, a vast percentage of the population subscribes to the official Wahhabi (now called Salafi) sect of Islam, an austere, intolerant and puritanical version of the faith that provides some ideological underpinning for extremism.
Contrary to Hilary Benn, we are facing a protracted global conflict, no matter how much the Labour party may disagree. Benn is right that this is not a conflict between Islam and the West. No matter how much Bin Laden and his supporters want to see a clash of civilisations between Islam and the rest, the fact remains that moderate Muslims across the globe have been the primary victims of attack over the last 25 years. Benn may also be right when he implies that declaring ‘wars’ (whether on terror or ideology) can sometimes give succour to our enemies. But if we do not identify our enemies correctly, we will remain blind to those who seek our destruction.
When is a peace plan not a peace plan 30 April, 2007
A lot has been made recently of the Saudi sponsored peace plan for the Middle East which was recently aired at a meeting of the Arab League. The plan, originally mooted in 2002, calls on Israel to withdraw entirely from the occupied territories, returning in effect to the 1949 ceasefire lines and allowing for the 'right of return' of Palestinian refugees. Israel would have to accept an independent Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital for which, in return, she would be granted a normalization of relations with the Arab world. Unfortunately, there is a slight hitch - it offers peace for everyone except Israel!
In the first instance, the request for an Israeli pullback to the 1949 lines is wildly unrealistic. The 1949 borders (dubbed ‘Auschwitz borders’ by one Israeli diplomat) would provide an open invitation to attack from Israel’s rejectionist enemies; Hamas, Iran and Al Qaeda included. Not even the much quoted UN Resolution 242 speaks of such a wide ranging territorial concession, its text merely calling for the return of ‘territories’ captured in 1967. This leaves open the possibility that Israel could adjust its borders in a peace settlement consistent with maintaining its security and territorial integrity.
As for the Palestinian refugees, the Arab peace plan offers no more than an apparently respectable formula for the end of Zionism. Now there are many people, both Jews and non Jews, for whom the end of Israel would be an exceedingly attractive prospect. But as there are well intentioned Zionists who call for a Palestinian right of return, it is only fair that they understand its implications. As of 2003 the number of Palestinian refugees on UNRWA rolls was in excess of 4 million and if Israel, in an act of national suicide, were to allow these Palestinians back, she would soon rapidly become another of the Middle East’s Arab states. As it is, this refugee figure is obviously bogus for it assumes that all the descendants of the original refugees are themselves refugees deserving of the same compensation and ‘right to return’. According to most historical estimates, the total number of Palestinian refugees from 1948 numbers no more than 700,000 and, as we know, most (though not all) were not physically expelled by the IDF in 1948-9. The Arab plan says nothing about the more than 750,000 Jews who were forced to flee Arab countries after 1948 and who were hastily resettled in Israel at considerable cost.
In any case the Hamas Government headed by Ismail Haniyeh has not signed up to the plan. So at a stroke, Israel is being asked to accept a Palestinian state on its borders, cutting deep into its territory, and which is headed by a government which not only seeks its destruction but which officially encourages the demonization of Jewry worldwide. Not such a great deal after all.
The Winograd Report 5 May, 2007
The long awaited Winograd report, an interim version of which was published a few days ago, has offered a scathing assessment of Ehud Olmert’s leadership in last summer’s Lebanon war. The report cites a number of failures at the highest level that include poor leadership, lack of preparation, inexperience and strategic failures. The main criticisms are as follows:
'The decision to respond with an immediate, intensive military strike was not based on a detailed, comprehensive and authorized military plan, based on careful study of the complex characteristics of the Lebanon arena. A meticulous examination of these characteristics would have revealed the following: the ability to achieve military gains having significant political-international weight was limited; an Israeli military strike would inevitably lead to missiles fired at the Israeli civilian north; there was not another effective military response to such missile attacks than an extensive and prolonged ground operation to capture the areas from which the missiles were fired…These difficulties were not explicitly raised with the political leaders before the decision to strike was taken. Consequently, in making the decision to go to war, the government did not consider the whole range of options, including that of continuing the policy of 'containment', or combining political and diplomatic moves with military strikes below the 'escalation level', or military preparations without immediate military action - so as to maintain for Israel the full range of responses to the abduction. This failure reflects weakness in strategic thinking…Some of the declared goals of the war were not clear and could not be achieved…The IDF did not exhibit creativity in proposing alternative action possibilities, did not alert the political decision-makers to the discrepancy between its own scenarios and the authorized modes of action, and did not demand - as was necessary under its own plans - early mobilization of the reserves so they could be equipped and trained in case a ground operation would be required…Even after these facts became known to the political leaders, they failed to adapt the military way of operation and its goals to the reality on the ground. On the contrary, declared goals were too ambitious, and it was publicly stated that fighting would continue until they were achieved. But the authorized military operations did not enable their achievement.'
The report singles out for criticism the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Staff. Olmert is accused of making up his mind ‘hasilty’ despite ‘the fact that no detailed military plan was submitted to him and without asking for one’. He did not study the ‘complex features of the Lebanon front or of the military, political and diplomatic options available to Israel’ and made his decisions without ‘systematic consultation with others, especially outside the IDF, despite not having experience in external-political and military affairs.’ He failed to ‘adapt his plans once it became clear that the assumptions and expectations of Israel's actions were not realistic and were not materializing.’ For Winograd, this represents a ‘serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence.’ These are serious charges against the serving prime minister of a country that has long prided itself on its military prowess. While it lacked the remit to call for his resignation, the report has rendered Olmert’s position virtually untenable.
The report makes difficult reading for those (like myself) who championed (and still champion) the second Lebanon war. Israel was fighting to dismantle Iran’s proxy army in Lebanon, a bloodthirsty militia that was supposed to be disarmed under UN Resolution 1559. The failure of the Lebanese government to patrol South Lebanon, allowing Hezbollah to stockpile its deadly arsenal, gave Israel a morally sound green light to attack the militias themselves, following the killing and abduction of Israeli soldiers. While the civilian casualties were certainly tragic, they did not obscure the basic moral dimension of the conflict. This was a democracy which, for all its faults, was vigorously defending itself against militant Islamofascists. Hezbollah’s tactics of hiding among the Lebanese civilian population while attacking Israel exemplified cowardice of the highest order. The argument about proportionality was one of the sillier criticisms to emerge in 2006, though not in this report. Israel was accused, even by some of its friends, of using disproportionate force against the Lebanese population. Well, naturally Israel’s attacks were disproportionate for they were seeking to win this conflict and wars are usually won by the overwhelming and disproportionate use of force. While the end result was inconclusive, the IDF did inflict serious damage on Hezbollah, destroying a quarter of their best fighters and much of their infrastructure.
Nonetheless, the report reflects the enduring strength of Israel’s democracy and the accountability of its leaders. As the Winograd report makes clear, ‘Israel must be a learning society - a society which examines its achievements and, in particular, its failures, in order to improve its ability to face the future.’ It is hard to imagine many other democratic governments risking such scathing criticism and such a blatant form of political suicide. That said, Olmert’s decision to remain in power now looks increasingly dubious. His military inexperience has proved to be an embarrassing Achilles heel which no amount of political maneuvering can remedy. He ought to do the honourable thing and quit, as should his equally beleaguered defence minister Amir Peretz. That leaves Tsipi Livni, the foreign secretary who has already indicated her willingness to lead Kadima. I am sure Ms. Livni is an ambitious politician who is keen for the top job but her public call for Mr. Olmert’s resignation, without stepping down herself, is nothing but an outrageous act of personal disloyalty. In behaving this way, she has ensured that the search for a successor will be that much harder.
The Tories must look across the Channel 9 May, 2007
The Conservatives are currently basking in their recent local election triumph. According to some observers, the party is finally on course for a major electoral triumph whenever prime minister elect Brown decides to call a general election. One report, extrapolating from the local election results, claimed that the Conservatives would have a 20 seat majority in a general election, smaller than that enjoyed by Thatcher in 1979 (43 seat majority) but enough to comfortably form a government. The Conservatives seem to have good reason for their elation. First, the party achieved its target of 40% of the popular vote, the minimum required for a return to no. 10. Second, the government did get a battering, though not as much as they initially feared. Labour suffered at the hands of the SNP in Scotland and did badly in parts of the South East where disgruntled voters switched to their two main rivals.
But before David Cameron breaks open the bubbly, a word of caution is required. As the Sunday Telegraph reported last week, there were over 700 key wards where the average Conservative vote increased by only 0.4 per cent, hardly something to cry out from the rooftops. In parts of the South East, there were signs of electoral progress but the Tories made little headway in Scotland, the North of England or Wales. There are large parts of the country that are simply not warming to the Tory message and this should be worrying news. After Iraq, cash for honours, a decade of sleaze, rising inflation, higher levels of violent crime, poor performing schools, overcrowded maternity wards, the scandal of mass immigration and a variety of other policy embarrassments, the opposition should be capitalizing much more effectively. Local lections are, after all, an opportunity for a jolly good protest vote and while Cameron’s Tories performed well enough, the result was hardly spectacular.
The truth is that Cameron’s strategy of wooing liberal (and women) voters with his brand of ‘caring conservatism’ has only worked to a point. Sure, the Tories have helped eradicate the image of the nasty party and persuaded voters that they stand for more than knocking the Euro and illegal immigrants. Non Tories simply could not warm to Mr. Hague promising to save the pound or Mr. Duncan Smith full stop. With a manic obsessiveness, Cameron’s Conservatives have changed their logo, embraced the green agenda and started hugging hoodies. And while it is vital to shift the focus towards issues of domestic concern, there are signs that this liberalizing has gone too far. The sad truth is that British politics is witnessing an unravelling of ideological debate. The mainstream parties show little interest in challenging a prevailing orthodoxy dominated by an expensive and burdensome welfare system, failed comprehensive schools and the NHS. For all his talk of decentralization, Cameron has not offered a serious alternative to taxpayer funded public services swallowing huge sums of public money. Yes, there is talk of tax cuts but this hardly constitutes a serious policy commitment. In any case, any call for tax reductions in one area is always being balanced by a call to raise them elsewhere. In short, the Tory philosophy seems to be one of tax redistribution, not tax cuts.
What Tory strategists must do is look at recent events across the Channel. Nicholas Sarkozy has justly won a mandate from French voters with calls for economic liberalization and domestic reform. In neo Thatcherite mode he has promised to invigorate the French economy through incentives and competition, forcing the unemployed to accept to accept work, thus reforming the benefits system, and promising a tough approach to crime and illegal immigration. We wait to see how much of this he can deliver. The point is that French voters, having been offered a fierce ideological debate, opted for change and reform, rather than the status quo. It is time the voters of Britain were offered the similar choice.
The Tony Blair years I 14 May, 2007
With all the grace of an actor enjoying his final performance on stage, Tony Blair began the long farewell as he announced his resignation from the Labour party on Thursday. The words were carefully chosen, the voice resonant, the eyes tearful, the performance near perfect. It was a consummate piece of political theatre from a master practitioner. But now that the worst kept secret in British politics is out, how will history assess Tony Blair’s legacy? For most people the answer can be summed up in 4 letters: Iraq. In a sense this should come as little surprise. Prime Ministers have often chosen foreign policy as a battleground on which to stake their reputations. One thinks of the obvious cases: Churchill and the Second World War, Chamberlain and Munich, Eden and Suez. But the Blair years have been marked by two attempted revolutions: one at home and one abroad. In each case, the legacy has been decidedly mixed with results that are inconclusive at best and disappointing at worst.
Tony Blair’s foreign policy was, at times, genuinely statesmanlike. His decision to join the United States in liberating Kosovo from the clutches of Slobodan Milosevic showed a genuine boldness of vision and a willingness to face down a ruthless tyrant. In 2000 he successfully argued the case for intervening in Sierra Leone and, in between, helped to raise the profile of the British military around the world. If one moment defined his foreign policy it was his response to 9/11. With a passionate sense of moral certainty, he declared that Britain would stand shoulder to shoulder with the USA and proceeded to build an international coalition to help remove the Taliban from Afghanistan. His ability to grasp the dangers of Islamist extremism was fundamental and in speech after speech, he spelled out the dangers of appeasing Al Qaeda’s brand of lethal aggression. He certainly showed dignified statesmanship in the aftermath of the 7th July attacks in 2005. Important too was his support for Israel during its Lebanon campaign of 2006. Despite the intransigence of much of his party, he correctly connected the threats posed by Iranian extremism, Hezbollah and radical Islam.
But the mark of a great statesman is not just courageous vision and resolute defiance but sound judgment and a willingness to advance the national interest. Here Tony Blair can be found wanting. For Iraq will define his legacy, just as much as Vietnam defined Lyndon Johnson’s. His case for the war rested on near certain convictions despite receiving very equivocal intelligence from MI6. Without denying that he possessed benign, even honourable intentions, he singularly failed to grasp the strategic and political complexities of what he was getting into. Worse, he did too little after the invasion to impose a sound post occupation plan for Iraq, thus buttressing the arguments of the left that Blair was essentially Bush’s poodle. Since 2003 Iraq has witnessed the exodus of much of its professional class and a violent terrorist insurgency that is scarcely abating. It would be wrong to blame all this misfortune on Blair himself but he can scarcely be absolved of blame.
Then there is Europe, the issue that brought the curtain down on successive Tory administrations. With all the fervour of an evangelist, Blair talked publicly about Britain’s destiny in Europe and sought to cement his place in history as the man who brought the Euro to Britain. Fortunately, he did not succeed though not before advocating the imposition of a new but very undemocratic EU Constitution. For all his talk of Britain being the ‘greatest country in the world’ he failed to grasp that the national interest would not be served by being submerged in a financially ruinous, meddling and bureaucratic superstate. He failed to see that a solid national identity, so essential for any great nation, would only be undermined by mass immigration which has reached an unprecedented scale during the Tony Blair years. Since 1997 at least 1,500,000 immigrants have swelled the UK population, an unsustainable rate if viewed in the long term. Nor did he grasp that Britain would no longer be ‘Great’ if it were threatened by the secession of its weaker members. Devolution was designed to curtail moves for independence in Scotland and Wales but the recent triumph of the SNP has shown the folly of such a view.
Even in Northern Ireland, where Tony Blair felt the ‘hand of history’ on his shoulder, peace was achieved only after the appeasement of extremist Republicanism and the undermining of moderate Unionism led by David Trimble. Blair must take his share of the plaudits for the peacemaking but there was a price to pay.
But did Blair’s domestic achievements eclipse those abroad?
The Blair years II 16 May, 2007
On the domestic scene, Blair’s greatest triumph was undoubtedly the transformation of his own party. After the 1992 election defeat, it was glaringly obvious that Old Labour, a party committed to nationalization, punitive taxation and old style socialism, could never appeal to the aspirational classes of ‘Middle England.’ To his credit, Blair realized this straightaway and his Clause 4 moment in 1994 ranks as one of his finest achievements. The economic successes enjoyed by the government stemmed rather ironically from a decision to devolve power to a non governmental body. Thus the decision to grant independence to the Bank of England in 1997 paved the way for a decade of relative economic stability. Unlike previous Labour governments, this one could claim some degree of economic competence, with Gordon Brown presiding over a decade of growth, low interest rates and inflation and relatively low unemployment. Of course the government never acknowledged the fact that since 1992 the UK economy had been growing comfortably and that by 1997 the economy was in good health. Nonetheless, three Labour election triumphs speak for themselves.
However, the government’s economic record is hardly one of unimpeachable integrity. Over the last 10 years there has been a massive increase in the tax burden which has hit middle income earners and young families the most. This has been achieved through a vast number of measures, including increases in corporation tax, national insurance, air passenger duty, the abolition of the married couple's tax allowance, the raid on private pensions in 1997, council tax rises, green taxes, and a host of other stealth measures. Figures from the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) recently showed that the increase in the tax burden – (39.5 per cent of GDP in 1997 to 42.7 per cent in 2007) - was one of the very biggest in the western world. Aware that the tax burden was its highest for 20 years, the IMF recently warned the Chancellor to slash public spending or risk driving businesses away from the UK.
The government used the vast tax revenues at its disposal to fund an enormous expansion of public services with their vast armies of managers, bureaucrats and consultants. After the 2001 election, tens of billions of pounds were poured into the NHS and state education in a drastic attempt at transformation, yet the real legacy is waste and mismanagement. Take health as a starting point. Spending on the NHS increased from just over £40 billion in 1999-2000 to over £80 billion this year, a doubling of cash in real terms. Much of this money went on salary increases across the board and a huge increase in administrators and managers, as well as a hideously expensive online computer system. According to one estimate there are now more administrators than beds in the National Health Service while NHS trusts are in debt to a tune of £1.3 billion. While the longest waiting times have been reduced, average waiting times have changed little since 1997. According to the OECD, reductions in death rates from cancer and heart and circulatory diseases have declined but the rate is no faster than it was in the 1990s when there was no vast funding increase. The radical reform required in healthcare, namely giving patients individual choice in their care, treatment and hospitalization so as to end an iniquitous system of health rationing, and enabling primary care trusts to purchase health on behalf of their patients, is something this government never contemplated.
Labour cited impressive increases in exam results as evidence of sound educational policy. Over the decade there were increases in the number of pupils obtaining 5 good (A*-C) passes at GCSE with 60% of pupils succeeding in 2006. At A level in the same year, roughly 1 in 4 students received a top grade. But these figures are interesting for what they leave out. For if English and Maths results are factored into the equation, less then half of all students currently receive 5 good GCSE’s, a figure that drops still further when a modern language is included. The government conveniently ignored the easing of exams, the lowering of passmark thresholds, particularly in Maths, and the dropping of harder subjects such as languages and single sciences. It doesn’t require a genius to see how these developments would produce consistently rising pass rates year on year. The new modular system for A levels, allowing pupils to endlessly re-sit exams if they failed, also helped boost the A level pass rate.
The one piece of radical reform, the creation of trust schools which would have greater independence from local authorities, had to be watered down because of backbench opposition. Any notion of academic selection, vital for the nurture of gifted students, went out of the window. Indeed this government came to power promising an end to selection and the abolition of the hugely popular and successful grammar school system. The government ignored the obvious point that grammars, unlike expensive private schools, offer a meritocratic route to excellence in education. With education in such disarray, it made little sense for Tony Blair to pursue his pet project of tuition fees. What was lost on Blair was that artificially massaging the numbers at university based on targets, rather than the intellectual ability or needs of students, was a futile exercise.
As Blair poured endless sums into comprehensives and the NHS, he failed to grasp that the problem in both was not a lack of resources. To drive up quality, there would have to be increased parental choice with a corresponding reduction in government interference, directives and targets. This could have been achieved with a voucher system where money followed the pupil and patient, rather than the school. But this was a radical step too far for it would remove one thing this government was addicted to: central control. For all his talk of liberty and ‘rights,’ Blair never countenanced freeing people from the clunking hand of the state. Nowhere was this better seen than in the failure to reform the welfare state.
The Blair Years III 18 May, 2007
Perhaps the government’s most glaring failure was its inability to reform the welfare state. Back in 1997, and with the economy growing at a steady rate, the government sought to abolish youth employment and a culture of living on benefits. With good reason Gordon Brown declared that “refusing the whole range of offers that are open, and staying on benefit, will now not become an option”. But as a new study commissioned by the political think tank Reform points out, the latest figures show that there are over half a million unemployed 18-24 year-olds, 70,000 more than in April 1998. In April 1997 there were 912,000 people who were classed as neither in employment, education or training (NEETS). Current figures reveal that the number of NEETS has increased by 131,000 since the government came to power. The percentage of those 18-24 year olds classed as economically active has also decreased since 1997. Thus the government’s much lauded New Deal, which cost over £3 billion, failed to achieve what it set out to do. As Labour MP Frank Field argues, the welfare system requires drastic change through the introduction of time limiting benefits for the unemployed and radical changes to incapacity benefit system. Sadly this government has little stomach for reform. All its tinkering has merely entrenched a culture of dependency which is hard to get out of.
The social achievements of the Blair years were also modest. The Civil Partnerships Act was welcomed by some as a socially progressive measure, but seen by others as a betrayal of the sanctity of marriage. There was also a bill to outlaw religious discrimination, which was lauded in many quarters as a necessary antidote to religious bigotry. In reality, it was a sop to British Muslims who were disillusioned with the Iraq war, as well as a restriction on freedom of speech.
For all its talk of radicalism, this government not only failed to challenge but actually entrenched the twin dogmas of political correctness and multiculturalism. Blair and his ministers rattled on about Britain being a multicultural nation which was young, diverse and forward looking. But as policy, multiculturalism implied the absence of a dominant or even worthy cultural and religious heritage. Instead minority values and cultures were to be celebrated, no matter how much they conflicted with the values of the majority. Thus Britishness came to be seen by officialdom as a mish mash of separate and confused identities and criticism of minorities (especially powerless ones) was deemed unacceptable. The enduring architectural symbol of Blairism, the Millennium Dome, told us little of our past and everything about the vacuous project called ‘New Labour.’ The human rights culture was given a massive boost with the decision in 1998 to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into English law. The result was a form of judicial activism which severely hampered the government’s ability to deal with Islamic terror. But to even call terror ‘Islamic’ was problematic under the new rules of political correctness.
All of these problems were worsened by a sudden and vast increase in immigration. Immigration remains crucial for the UK in order to fill gaps in our economy and enrich the fabric of society. However, immigration has always been a social good when it limited and controlled. From 1997, when the net inflow (the difference between the numbers migrating and immigrating) was steady at around the 50,000 mark, the number of immigrants to the UK has dramatically increased. In 2005, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics, the net inflow was 185,000 due to 565,000 migrants arriving in the UK. These figures do not include hundreds of thousands of failed asylum seekers who have remained in the country or people who have overstayed their VISA. The ONS figures may be a gross underestimate of the net increase in population from immigration since 1997. The scale of increase is clearly unsustainable in the long term with dramatic consequences (if it continues) for housing, water, pensions and public services. Yet the impact that it may soon have on social cohesion and national identity could be more startling still.
Yet if anything truly defined the Blair years, it was the corrosive culture of spin and sleaze in government. In 1997 Blair promised a whiter than white administration. He was, after all, a ‘pretty straight kind of guy.’ But a decade in power produced a kind of sleaze that was, if anything, worse than that under the Tories. We had the Hinduja passport affair, the Bernie Ecclestone affair, Peter Mandleson’s undeclared loan from Geoffrey Robinson, Mittalgate, Cheriegate, several Blunkett-gates and the unfortunate sexual antics of Mr. Prescott. To top it all came the saga of cash for peerages in which a serving prime minister was, for the first time, questioned by police. Was this being whiter than white? More like blacker than black.p>
In 1997 the Blair machine rolled into Downing Street promising that ‘things could only get better’. After a decade in power, it is incredible that so little was achieved.
Doing things Howard's Way 24 May, 2007
Which Western leader has been most steadfast in the last 5 years on confronting tyranny, illegal immigration, militant Islam and multiculturalism? For my money it is Australia’s Prime Minister, John Howard. A man once described by his election guru as being ‘as boring as batshit’ has become, quite simply, a legend in his own lifetime. As early as the mid 1980s, when he stood for the leadership of the Liberal party, Howard was attacking the doctrine of multiculturalism, arguing correctly that it stood in the way of a vigorous assertion of national identity. When his government intervened in East Timor to prevent repression by the Indonesian militia, he took on a powerful stronghold of Islamist terror. In 2001 he refused permission for a Norwegian freighter carrying asylum seekers to enter Australian waters, adding that his government had to "decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come". Hard to imagine that coming from the lips of a New Labour minister! But then Australia is not bound by the pointless and draconian directives of the European Union.
His staunch support for the US following 9/11 provided an important moral boost to the West and despite being part of the ill judged decision to invade Iraq, he has since remained steadfast about maintaining troops there until Iraq has been stabilized. No Western leader has better articulated the need for resolution in confronting the despotism and militancy that threatens the West. He recently called on moderate Muslims to be more critical of the terrorism carried out in their name, adding that it was also essential for them to recognize Israel’s right to exist. "We shouldn't pussyfoot around," he said.
His recent decision to ban the Australian cricket team from touring Zimbabwe therefore comes as little surprise. Howard claimed that he did not want to give a propaganda victory to a ‘grubby dictator’. The Australian press gave its backing to the PM with one Australian paper putting the case for a ban very aptly: "Any suggestion that politics should be kept out of sport pales into insignificance against the need to deny the odious Robert Mugabe aid and comfort of any kind, making the government's decision to block the Australian cricket team's tour of Zimbabwe entirely appropriate.”
What a contrast with our own foreign secretaries, John Straw and Margaret Beckett, whose responses on this issue have been marked by hesitation, confusion and utter spinelessness. In 2004, the English and Wales Cricket Board was looking for a political lead on whether to tour Zimbabwe, a lead that was sadly conspicuous by its absence. Jack Straw could only muster the following: ‘ItIis for the ECB and not the government to make the decision about whether or not the team should tour’. Howard’s tough approach stands in even greater contrast with the sick mockery of the United Nations. For Zimbabwe was recently elected to chair the UN committee on sustainable development despite Mugabe’s neo fascist regime overseeing the destruction of the country’s formerly prosperous economy. But then this was the same organization that elected Libya as Chair of the Human Rights Commission in 2003, despite furious opposition. If the UN had been around in the 1930s, it would have elected Adolf Hitler to the chair of the racial tolerance committee, while Joseph Stalin would have advised the body on political openness.
Caught between the hot air of Western leaders, and a corrupt international body intent on rewarding tyranny, Howard has consistently demonstrated strength of purpose and moral conviction. Other Western leaders need to follow Howard’s way.
The boycott of common sense continues 5 June, 2007
Last week members of the Universities and College Union voted to move towards a boycott of Israeli academics and academic institutions. The organizers called for the text of a boycott demand by Palestinian academics to be distributed around university campuses in Britain. They were told to organize campus tours for Palestinian academics who could then highlight the moral case for severing links with Israeli academics. It followed the decision of the National Union of Journalists (see previous article) to boycott Israeli goods while a similar motion was also proposed by the AUT in 2005.
Without doubt, it represents gestural ‘gutter’ politics at its very worst. A boycott of Israeli academics will do nothing to alter Israeli policy, help the Palestinians (especially those studying in Israeli universities) or end the occupation. Once again, the same criticisms have to be leveled at those who single out Israel for condemnation. Many academics in Israel are among their country’s most vocal critics, as one would surely expect from any country’s intelligentsia. The boycotters have thus targeted the one group with which, in theory at least, they ought to have some ideological affinity. For all their condemnation of the occupation, the boycotters fail to mention the existential threat to Israelis from Palestinian terror, the very factor that makes a continuing occupation sadly necessary. Thus the boycotters’ analysis is woefully unbalanced, one sided and hysterical. The apparent concern for human rights is also never universalized. As Joan Smith pointed out in the Independent the other day, there are a host of unsavoury regimes across the world in which academic freedom, especially for minorities, is but a pipe dream. Yet calls for a ban on Sudanese, Burmese, Chinese and Cuban academics are conspicuous by their absence. If the argument is made that boycotts must apply to democracies alone, then the behaviour of the United States in Iraq (Abu Ghraib) or Russia in Chechnya surely merits a level of opprobrium too. Again, one listens in vain for a ban on American or Russian academics working in Britain.
Of course one ought to be concerned for the rights of Palestinian civilians living in the West Bank. Many have been subject to a host of unfortunate restrictions and impediments and abuses of human rights are well documented. But if one fails to take into account the military rationale for roadblocks, checkpoints, house demolitions and the security barrier, one will lack an understanding of the dynamics of this conflict. While rejectionist groups in the territories seek to maximize Israeli deaths through suicidal terror, life will invariably become harder for all Palestinians. It is best to aspire to what the majority of Israelis and, according to some opinion polls, a majority of Palestinians want, namely a two state solution. However the omens in the short term are not good. Israel’s pullback from Gaza in 2005 was designed to precipitate moves for a further territorial compromise but the Palestinian response was to launch a vast number of deadly rockets into Southern Israeli towns. The argument that ending the occupation ‘now’ will bring instant peace is wearing thin.
So what drives these senseless but damaging boycott campaigns against an increasingly beleaguered Jewish state? Without doubt, this motion is part of a trend towards vilifying and delegitimizing Israel as the country struggles to defend itself from mortal attack. The vilest of attacks were launched on Israel during the Lebanon war (one poster I saw in Salisbury called on Israel to end the ‘Lebanese Holocaust’), as well as during its operations in 2002 in and around Jenin. It is not uncommon for Israel to be compared to Nazi Germany, indeed pro Israeli delegates at the UCU said they were referred to as Nazis by the boycott supporters. This represents a deliberate use of emotive terminology which is calculated to delegitimize the Jewish state. When such vicious and intemperate language is used, it is hard to miss the malodorous whiff of anti semitism that is masquerading as political discourse. Israel is clearly being subjected to a higher standard of criticism than other nations, proportionate to its human rights record, and one therefore suspects the worst ulterior motives. Many of those urging a boycott do so because they are explicitly opposed to Zionism and wish to vilify the Jewish state, a stance which is invariably anti semitic.
But the motives for this senseless gestural politics are not just racist. For a number of decades now, it has become almost a commonplace that the problems of the world rest on the shoulders of a powerful Western bourgeois elite, led by the United States. The world’s prime superpower, the engine of capitalism, is viewed as the arch enemy of weaker nations, especially in the Third World and this gives Third World ‘resistance’ movements the stamp of instant moral authority. In the eyes of the left, Israel is the US’s chief ally in the Middle East and thus it is easy to transfer the same reasoning to the conflict with the Palestinians. The Palestinians have been lionized as powerless resistance fighters battling the Israeli colonial usurper and military behemoth. In an inversion of the truth, the most frequent depiction is that of an Arab David battling a Jewish Goliath, reflecting the struggles of innocent, powerless (but romanticised) rebels against the corrupt, Western power elite. In addition, since the 1960s the Arab nations have played on Western colonial guilt by waging a destructive and largely successful propaganda campaign against Israel, persuading others to accept their wholly distorted, victim centred analysis of the conflict. Taken together, these factors have produced a potent mixture of moral blindness and profound ignorance, an ignorance which is so often wilful and agenda driven. It is this moral blindness that has led so many on the left to ally themselves with Muslim extremists and radicals.
There is a ray of light in these otherwise melancholy developments. Many of Israel’s critics on the left, while sharing the boycotters’ disdain for the Jewish state, believe the boycott to be pointless and immoral. When a paper like 'The Independent' lambasts the boycott as a ‘deplorable idea’ there is perhaps cause for just a little celebration. Nonetheless as long as this dreadful and misguided campaign of vilification continues, the harder it will be to achieve a just solution in the Middle East.
Enough! - of lies and misinformation about the Jewish state 09 June, 2007
In Trafalgar Square today thousands of people will gather to mark ‘40 years of the Israeli occupation’. A rally and demonstration organized by the Enough! coalition will bring together an assortment of left wing politicians and environmentalists with a long track record of hostility to the Jewish state, among them Bruce Kent, Azzam Tamimi, a supporter of Hamas, Daud Abdullah, leader of the Muslim Council of Britain and MPs Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway. As their one sided arguments will no doubt receive much exposure in the media it is worth exposing some of the more obvious myths about the Six Day War.
Firstly, Israel’s enemies often claim that the country was the prime aggressor in the war of 1967. The prime evidence they cite is that Israel attacked Egypt first on 5th June 1967 before ‘occupying’ territory that had been held by its Arab neighbours. But the reality could not be more difficult. While Israel did attack Egypt on 5th June in a pre emptive strike on its air force, it had already been subjected to an act of war by the Egyptian leader, Nasser. Nearly a fortnight earlier, Nasser had closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, a clear violation of a UN agreement from 1957 which said that nations had the right to use this maritime waterway. President Nasser understood all too well that this was a casus belli which would mean ‘war with Israel.’ In addition Egyptian forces moved into the Sinai on 15th May and expelled the UN Emergency force which had been in place there for over a decade. Then over the next 3 weeks, as forces from Egypt, Syria and Jordan massed on Israel’s borders, Arab rhetoric threatened the extinction of the Jewish state. Nasser called for ‘the eradication of Israel’ while Syria’s defence minister talked of exploding ‘the Zionist presence.’ Faced with the threat of annihilation from surrounding armies and the closure of the Straits of Tiran, Israel’s behaviour on 5th June 1967 was a response to aggression and not an act of aggression itself.
Secondly Israel’s enemies claim that the seizure of territories (the Golan Heights, the Sinai Desert, the West Bank and Gaza) was part of a long term colonialist land grab based on an expansionist Zionist ideology. This myth is easily exploded. Firstly almost as soon as the war of 1967 had finished, Israeli leaders wanted to negotiate a territorial settlement with Arab leaders in return for normalized peaceful relations. But later that year in Khartoum, Arab leaders adopted a formula of ‘no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel.’ Then in the 1978 Camp David Accords Israel returned the Sinai Desert to Egypt which constituted 90% of the ‘occupied territories’. In 1994 a peace deal with Jordan resulted in a return of disputed territory and in 2000-1, the Israelis offered back over 95% of the remaining territories (the West Bank and Gaza) including a deal on East Jerusalem and settlements. The offer was rejected by Yasser Arafat without any counter proposals being made by the Palestinian leader. As late as 2 years ago, Israel returned Gaza to Palestinian control. To anyone with an unbiased eye, these examples offer clear proof that Israel did not seize territory with the intention of retaining it for eternity. It is true that some Israeli parties did advocate the notion of a ‘Greater Israel’ and the settlement policy has reflected this aim. It would also be foolish to pretend that there have not been abuses of human rights in the territories for which the IDF and Israeli governments, must take some responsibility. (The treatment of Palestinians under the Syrian and Jordanian governments has been far worse). However, there has long been a consensus in Israeli society that the remaining territories are bargaining chips which can be returned to Arab control on condition that the Arabs accept Israel’s right to exist.
A third myth is that Israel’s continuing retention of the West Bank is illegal under international law. Opponents of Israel cite Israel’s apparent refusal to abide by UN Resolution 242 which (they claim) calls on Israel to return all territory seized in 1967. But UN Resolution 242 does not call for such a unilateral gesture nor does it uniquely condemn Israel’s behaviour in the 6 Day War. The Resolution calls for the ‘establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East’ which requires 2 principles. The first is the ‘withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict’ but the second (often overlooked) principle is that it is necessary to acknowledge ‘the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.’ In other words, the return of territory is conditional on the Arab states (and the Palestinian government) ending their state of war with Israel.
A fourth myth is that Resolution 242 calls for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the territories. But again if one looks at the wording carefully there is only a call for the return of ‘territories conquered.’ This was deliberate for as British foreign secretary Lord Caradon later put it: "It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4th, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial." How could it be otherwise? If a country is attacked in war and defeats its enemies by capturing some of their territory, it is only right that there should be no return to the territorial status quo ante. Otherwise, what would be the disincentive for further aggression?
The most compelling of today’s myths is that all Israel has to do to end the Arab-Israeli conflict is to end its occupation of ‘Palestinian’ land. It is worth pointing out that the West Bank is historically Jordanian, not Palestinian, for it was ‘occupied’ by Jordan from 1948 to 1967. However, the return of Gaza to the Palestinians in 2005 has been met with an upsurge of violence by Palestinian terrorists who have fired rockets into Israeli population centres. This scarcely augurs well for the return of further territory in the West Bank, a territory which could be governed by the anti semitic Hamas. Even the more moderate Palestinian forces dream of a Palestinian ‘right of return’ to Israel which would effectively end the Jewish state in demographic terms.
Now the creation of two states, Israel and Palestine, does offer a viable solution (in principle) to this conflict and would be welcomed by the vast majority of Israelis. But it would be foolish to pretend that this can happen while Palestinian children are indoctrinated to hate Jews and are taught the art of suicide bombing. Territorial concessions will not bring peace if the territory vacated by Israel becomes a launching pad for devastating terrorist attacks. Once the Palestinians, and their Arab rejectionist friends, accept the Jewish state’s right to exist, Israeli concessions are bound to follow. To paraphrase Golda Meir, they must learn to love their children more than they hate the Jews.
A hate fest dressed up as a political rally 10 June, 2007
Yesterday thousands of people marched through the Strand towards Trafalgar Square to condemn Israel, Zionism and the occupation (see previous post). I was proud to have been part of a very small, but very significant, counter demonstration ('Dayenu') which was designed to support Israel, while also promoting the idea of peace without terror - 'a secure peace'. Had it not been for the march being on a Saturday, a much larger number of people would have attended.
According to the event's organizer, 'We wanted to tell the “Enough!” marchers the truth – how Israel gave back Gaza, only to be rewarded with Kassam rockets raining down on Sderot.' The counter demonstration was cross denominational, attracting members of a local church with strongly pro Israeli and pro Zionist leanings, as well as people from a variety of other backgrounds. A Holocaust survivor movingly joined us for the occasion. As if to underline the malevolent motives of some of the marchers, we were all treated to a Nazi salute from one protestor, who was then promptly grabbed by the surrounding police. Afterwards I ventured to Trafalgar Square, expecting to hear a series of prolonged and unfounded diatribes against the Jewish state. I was not to be disappointed.
The first speaker, Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian unity government, outlined many of the problems faced by ordinary Palestinians. They had unequal access to water, travel problems due to roadblocks and checkpoints as well as the grievance of settlements. Clearly these are pressing issues which require settlement in a future peace process, though they were presented to the crowd shorn of any military or political context. Next he demanded a boycott of Israel and the release of ‘political’ prisoners by the Israeli government. He was loudly cheered for accusing Israel of fascism and for proclaiming Israeli ‘apartheid’ to be worse than that of South Africa. Palestine, he said, was perhaps the number one moral issue of the century. He was followed by Ismail Haniyeh, the Palestinian Prime Minister, whose pre prepared video message was broadcast to people in Trafalgar Square. After deceiving his audience into believing that he merely wanted to end the occupation of the West Bank and Jerusalem, Haniyeh called for the right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israeli territory. Those who are adept in Middle East politics know that this is code for the end of Israel as a Jewish state which is certainly consistent with the anti semitism in the Hamas charter.
Next it was the turn of Lord Phillips of the Liberal Democrats. To be fair, his tone at the outset was moderate, acknowledging that Israel had a right to exist in secure and recognized borders next to a viable Palestinian state. He also paid tribute to the Jews and Israelis who were working for peace and who were opposing the occupation. But illusions of moderation were quickly shattered when he condemned Israel’s rampant ‘colonization’ and ‘state terrorism.’ Bruce Kent, veteran of CND campaigns, was no better. It was important, he argued, to strive for a settlement in the Middle East and all those working for peace in the Holy Land were to be applauded. No cause for dissent there. But then he spoilt it all by adding that ‘the people he did not have time for’ were the ‘Zionists’ who dared (shock horror) to believe that there should be a national state for the Jews in the Middle East. His rather sickening display of affection for the ‘nuclear traitor’ Mordachai Vanunu rounded off an unhealthy display of moral blindness. But it got worse. A spokesman for UNISON decried the apparent double standards in targeting Iraq for WMD while doing nothing about Israel’s nuclear programme. For good measure he called for the pulling down of Israel’s ‘apartheid wall,’ as if the barrier that has prevented hundreds of suicide bombings was a political equivalent to the Berlin wall.
But nothing could quite prepare me for Azzam Tamimi’s hysterical rant. Screaming into the microphone in a frenzy of emotion, he decried Israel as a ‘racist entity’ which had attracted a colony of European Jews to displace native Palestinians, including his parents. Why, he asked, should Palestinians accept such a racist entity when its Jewish inhabitants regarded Palestinians as ‘subhumans’ and themselves as ‘superhumans’. As a variation on the notion that Jews are the ‘new Nazis’ this could not be beaten. Palestine, he assured his audience, would be liberated ‘from the river to the sea’ and from ‘north to south’ until the refugees returned. Anxious to deflect criticisms of anti semitism, he assured his audience that his ‘dearest friends’ were the Neturei Karta, the small ultra orthodox sect which asserts that Zionism is as unbiblical as sodomy. This is of course the very same sect that embraced President Ahmadinejad at a Holocaust denial conference in Iran last year. In a nutshell, Tamimi was happy to associate with Jews as long as their warped ideology allowed for the genocide of Israel’s Jews. Enough said.
Finally there were two veterans of pro Palestine campaigns who needed no introduction, George Galloway and Jenny Tonge. The former Liberal Democrat front bencher said she was sick of being accused of anti semitism when all she wanted to do was criticize Israel. Perhaps the crowd forgot that her ‘criticisms’ of Israel included the following statement: ‘The pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips. I think they've probably got a grip on our party.’ The theme of Israel as an apartheid state was taken up by the Respect leader who added his voice to the many calls (all loudly cheered) for punitive sanctions and boycotts against Israel. He demanded the release of Marwan Barghouti and other political prisoners in Israeli jails who were not, he assured us, terrorists. For there could be no equation between the violence of the ‘aggressor’ and the violence of the ‘resister.’ The right of all Palestinians, he declared, was to live in a ‘free land’ between the Jordan and Mediterranean, code for anti Zionism and the end of the Jewish state.
Thus a rally which started with calls to end the occupation ended with a morally compromised demagogue screaming for the eradication of Israel. Who needs Ahmadinejad when you have Galloway and Tamimi? Not even the most moderate speaker mentioned Israel’s attempts to disengage from the territories after 1967, most notably in 2000-1, no mention that over 90% of the land occupied since 1967 was returned to Egypt and Jordan in peace treaties, no mention of the incessant rage directed daily at the Jews in Palestinian classrooms and media stations, no mention of the terrorist campaign that increased ‘after’ Israel pulled back from most of the population centres in the West Bank in the 1990s, no mention of the campaign for genocide that has characterized Iran’s relations with Israel since 1979 - and it could go on. These inconvenient ‘facts’ were off the radar. It was hard for me to miss the moral blindness, (wilful) ignorance and double standards from many participants - a shocking but not surprising state of affairs given the current climate of hostility to Israel.
FOOTNOTE: I missed the speech given by the Bishop of Jerusalem and understand also that there were a couple of short closing speeches given after George Galloway's departure. I was unable to record their observations.
Deception at Europe's top table 14 June, 2007
Remember the European Constitution that the French and Dutch voters so spectacularly booted out in 2005? Well now it is back, courtesy of yet another piece of mendacity from our European taskmasters. Those people who thought that the rejection of the constitution would lead to the collapse of the European project have had their hopes dashed. The Euro elite is rarely in the habit of passing a self denying ordinance and returning powers to national states in the face of the popular will.
Back in 2005, the French and Dutch 'no' votes caused a major convulsion in Continental politics and locked Europe into a long term political crisis. Ever since, the EU’s leaders have been desperate to produce a coherent strategy for reviving the Constitution without risking defeat at the ballot box. Now German Chancellor Angela Merkel believes she has a foolproof plan for resurrecting this political beast, except for one slight problem. It involves a piece of chicanery so transparent that not even Blackadder’s Baldrick would miss it. In her secret formula the word 'Constitution’ has been changed to ‘treaty’ while the essential substance of the constitution has remained unaltered. With one or two clauses conveniently removed (already implemented) the new ‘document’ is now a ‘simplified’ treaty that apparently requires no democratic mandate.
Merkel’s game plan was revealed in a letter to other heads of government when she admitted that this new document used ‘different terminology’ without ‘changing the legal substance’ of the original constitution. As if she needed to spell out why, she added that this piece of duplicitous spin was essential to make ‘the necessary presentational changes’. She might as well have added: If the electorate doesn’t like the Constitution, and you can’t change the electorate, all you only need to change a few words and then it is no longer a Constitution. One suspects that the good Chancellor has been reading a little too much Alice in Wonderland recently for this is where her proposal belongs.
Tony Blair looks set to crown his career by signing up to the new look constitution and locking in future British Parliaments in perpetuity. There will be no consultation, no debate, no engagement with the voters; just another political diktat handed down to people by an arrogant European elite. And it is more urgent than ever that the peoples of Europe get their say. For this new constitution is no mere ‘tidying up exercise’ as Labour’s more enthusiastic Europhiles like to assure us. Instead it will introduce some fundamental changes in the relations between member states and the EU itself. It will create a new EU President and foreign minister (though by another name) and extend qualified majority voting in areas that were previously subject to national vetoes. Thus Britain could end up losing her self governance in areas like criminal justice while being forced to sign up to the Charter of fundamental rights. Ms. Merkel also wants the EU to be given a ‘legal personality’ to allow it to sign up to international organizations.
That all this could be happening without sufficient Parliamentary scrutiny is a scandal in itself. But it is just as unedifying that a Prime Minister, desperate to establish his legacy, is about to sign away vital national powers without a democratic mandate while also publicly reneging on a promised referendum. For those who never believed in the Union’s beneficent nature, this is just further evidence of its profound democratic deficit. The EU’s operations are often inscrutable to the public while its executive remains seemingly answerable only to itself. In short, the less the people have a say in the EU’s affairs, regulations and directives, the better for those who run it. This has naturally undermined the notion of political accountability on which all sound democracy depends. As the former Conservative backbencher, Lord Pearson, recently pointed out, the effect of so much EU imposed legislation has been to create ‘a growing divorce between the people of this country and the discredited hen-coop of Westminster.’
The Conservatives have rightly gained some political capital by calling for a referendum on the issue. But in a sense, the real referendum we need is on our continuing membership of the European Union. If the full facts are presented honestly and openly, the British people can at least make an honest assessment of the costs and benefits of European membership. Under these circumstances, who can bet against a majority voting us out of the EU and re-establishing our independence as a nation?
Fear and violence on the streets of Gaza: Welcome to Hamastan 18 June, 2007
Let no one underestimate the gravity of last week’s events in Gaza. In the space of just 5 days Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah forces were decisively routed by their Islamist foes with barely a fight worth speaking of. In less than a week Fatahstan was transformed into Hamastan. The reports from Gaza told a terrible tale of Hamas brutality: the shootings of captured fighters, Fatah officials thrown from rooftops, families brutalized, buildings burned and prisoners tortured. Naturally, if any of these barbarities had been committed by Israelis, the UN would have been in emergency session from day one. As it was, the world could only look on in horror as the events unfolded.
The signs of an Islamist takeover are evident already. There are reports that internet cafes, ‘decadent’ symbols of Western culture, have been smashed while restaurants selling alcohol have come in for the same treatment. How long before women are forcibly veiled and denied the right to an education or religious shrines desecrated in the name of an extremist ideology? No Islamist, once empowered, spurns the opportunity to establish cultural hegemony.
Once the anarchy had died down, the excuses began. Alvaro de Soto, the UN special co-ordinator for the Middle East, wrote a lengthy report in which he described the international boycott of the Palestinians as ‘at best extremely short-sighted’. He also condemned Israel’s "essentially rejectionist" stance towards the Palestinians. For the Observer (17th June), it was the ‘months of financial embargo of the Hamas-led government by the US and Europe’ and the ‘slow, crushing squeeze on Palestinian society’ that produced ‘virtual civil war in Gaza’ and the ‘polarization of Palestinian society…’ And then there is this peach from Robert Fisk: ‘Well of course, we should have talked to Hamas months ago. But we didn't like the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people. They were supposed to have voted for Fatah and its corrupt leadership. But they voted for Hamas, which declines to recognize Israel or abide by the totally discredited Oslo agreement.’
In today's Guardian, Karma Nabulsi of Oxford University wrote: 'The many complex steps that led us here today were largely the outcome of the deliberate policies of a belligerent occupying power backed by the US.' 'Belligerent occupying power?' Perhaps the poor Oxford academic missed the news in 2005 when Israel ceased to occupy Gaza and it was left to the Palestinians.
For the UN's Jan Egeland, the Hamas rout was as much about ‘failed Palestinian policies’ as ‘failed Israeli policies’ and ‘failed international policies.’ How typical that the BBC, the left-centre press and the UN collectively blames Israel and its allies for Palestine’s latest self inflicted wound! It didn't take long for the apologists for terrorism to pump out the usual deception, distortion and half truths. But then Hamas, like other Islamists, have always thrived on the naivety and spineless of their 'useful idiots'.
All these views are distorted because they swallow the lies that Hamas has told the world. Gaza has received more aid in 2006 compared to the previous year, yet Hamas has siphoned this money into expanding their terrorist infrastructure and equipping themselves with outfits, guns and ammunition. Arafat did the same in the 1990’s when the EU’s billions poured into the PA.
The stark reality is that Israel now finds itself surrounded on 3 sides by radical Islamists, all of whom are dedicated to wiping it from the map. Instead of the more moderate Fatah in Gaza (moderate only in the sense that Oswald Mosley was moderate compared to Hitler) Israel must contend with an organization which refuses to countenance any dialogue with the Jewish state. To the North, Hezbollah remains a long term potent threat, wounded but not cowed by last year’s summer war. Rumours are buzzing in Israel about a summer war with Syria along the lines of last year’s attritional campaign in Lebanon. To the east lies the menace of Ahmadinejad with his insatiable nuclear ambitions. The last week has only strengthened Tehran’s diplomatic muscles for Iran, together with Syria, is a major financial backer of Hamas and some reports even suggest that the Hamas coup was ordered directly by Tehran.
The tentacles of the Iranian revolution have now spread from Afghanistan to Iraq, and from the Levant to Gaza with devastating, maybe irreversible consequences. And each of these mini theatres of war serves to distract attention from Iran’s plans for a genocide bomb, as well as deterring a military strike on its nuclear plants. Are the West's leaders taking note?
Cameron’s vision for Britain: More soundbite than substance? 21 June, 2007
David Cameron’s vision for Britain, set out in a keynote speech on Monday, reflects a highly traditional Conservative agenda. Instead of the top down centralized model of politics, with Whitehall endlessly interfering in our lives, David Cameron wants to free people from the grip of the state. State control should be replaced, he argues, with ‘social responsibility’ where individuals are free to flourish and make decisions within local communities, rather than be directed by an all powerful government machine.
This is not a model for individualism but for ‘collective security with individual responsibility.’ He wants professionals, like doctors and teachers, to be trusted to make decisions without Whitehall interference. He wants people in local communities to feel empowered to make local decisions without the encumbrance of government bureaucracy. Judging by his remarks since becoming Tory leader, David Cameron seems to be arguing for a smaller state, more local accountability, greater individual choice and less bureaucracy.
This is a noble and inspiring message, the kind that Lady Thatcher would easily have warmed to. It also fits easily with the A word that is every politician’s favourite buzzword at the moment – aspiration. Every politician cares about aspiring people these days – whether they are aspiring parents, aspiring students or aspiring businessmen. These days no politician dares to proclaim a dislike of aspiration.
Yet Cameron’s critics are not persuaded. His vision may be noble, they say, but if it is not buttressed by concrete policy, he risks being judged superficial. The P word has yet to be matched up with the A word in other words. To my mind, that’s not the real problem with the Cameron revolution. Far from having no idea what Cameron’s Tories intend to do when in power, we are starting to have a pretty good idea. For one thing, the Tories are ruling out an absolute commitment to lower taxation, even arguing for higher environmental taxes to tackle climate change. They are committed to saving the NHS and to ruling out a major expansion of grammar schools. These three commitments sit rather uneasily with the notion of individual aspiration.
Any meaningful commitment to individual freedom must imply a corresponding commitment to furthering individual prosperity and choice. In a sane world that should mean a genuine commitment to lowering taxes so that hard working people can spend more of the money they earn and so that people can be part of the ‘enterprise culture’. It means promoting the idea of school and hospital vouchers so that people can have a choice in the provision of these services. It also means reducing the vast number of Whitehall public sector servants who do all the dictating that gets Cameron in a froth. Unfortunately, the Tories are not embacing the opportunity for really radical proposals. So desperate are they to curry favours with ‘liberal’ voters that they daren’t make the argument for a transformation of public policy.
This is a desperately mistaken strategy for without challenging the Blairite/Brownite status quo, all they will offer is a series of clever sounding but ultimately hollow soundbites. David Cameron has been anxious to deflect criticisms that he is the heir to Blair. But if he merely replicates the language used by the government, while offering something contradictory, what does he expect? It was, after all, a young aspiring Labour leader who declared in 1997: "We are not the masters now. The people are the masters." A decade on and a disillusioned electorate can see that statement for the disingenuous nonsense it is. Those same voters are waiting to see if the Tories can offer something better. If he wants a taste of power, Cameron had better not disappoint them.
Two state solution? 25 June, 2007
A week ago an Iranian inspired coup allowed Hamas to turn Gaza into a mini Islamist enclave. Since then, optimists have been crowing that the much lauded two state solution is finally back on track. The reasoning goes something like this: The Quartet nations, and the Israelis, have been unable to deal with the Palestinian unity government since January 2006 because of the presence of Hamas rejectionists. The Gaza coup has allowed Hamas to rout their Fatah rivals but also consolidated Abu Mazen’s grip on the West Bank. Abbas, unlike his Hamas rivals, is willing to talk to the Israelis, thus lifting any impediment to peace negotiations. So desperate is the West to avoid a double Hamas victory on both disputed territories that it is now shoring up Fatah for all it is worth. Aid has been stepped up and an arms shipment will no doubt follow, all part of a ‘save the moderates’ campaign.
But this strategy represents an implausible denial of reality. Compared to Hamas, Abbas is moderate in a purely artificial sense. He does not espouse the destruction of Israel in the Western media but he promises his people a ‘right of return’ as part of the ‘peace process.’ His words are far from benign in their effect. With 4 million Palestinians returning to Israel, it won’t be long before the Zionist dream judders to a grinding halt and Israel becomes just another Arab state in the Middle East. This is reinforced by Mazen’s acceptance of an equally lauded Saudi peace initiative which, because of its support for a right of return, represents another formula for the destruction of Israel. Meanwhile in the ‘moderate’ West Bank, a ferocious incitement to racial hatred continues to pour out from classrooms and pulpits.
Above all, the ‘moderate’ Abbas conspicuously failed to stamp out the Hamas menace in Gaza. Even if he wanted to destroy his rivals with all the weapons at his disposal, his forces were simply not up to the task. The Americans (and Israelis) seem to think that funding Abbas will somehow reverse the damage of the last 2 years. Yet one of the reasons for Hamas’ electoral success in 2006 was the rampant financial corruption among Fatah officials, something that Hamas exploited to devastating effect.
The denial of reality goes further. The Palestinians, by this latest act of internecine warfare, have rendered impossible any two state solution. It would be inconceivable for any Israeli government, no matter how weak, to allow an open travel route from a West Bank ‘Palestine’ to an Islamist one in Gaza. Yet this formula for contiguity was part of the package of concessions for a Palestinian state offered in 1999 by Ehud Barak.
But the most important reason to be wary of the optimists is that the option for a two state solution (ignoring Gaza) is no longer in Palestinian hands. For the simple fact is that the Middle East’s two leading rogue states, Syria and Iran, increasingly call the tune in both territories. The take over in Gaza was Iranian financed, inspired and possibly dictated, while Syria harbours Hamas exiles in Damascus. Both countries are capable of stirring up trouble on both fronts to satisfy their own domestic agendas and, in Iran’s case, a desire for regional hegemony. The world witnessed this Iranian strategy in the Lebanon war of 2006
So if a two state solution is no longer viable, at least in the short to medium term, what else is on offer? One suggestion being floated is that the Arab states who used to occupy Gaza (Egypt) and the West Bank (Jordan) take back control of the territories, restoring order and the rule of law and destroying the Islamic radicals with their usual ruthless efficiency. But this too is problematic. In 1988 Jordan formerly renounced any claim to the West Bank, worried that the intifada that was taking place was destabilizing its own majority Palestinian population. Both Jordan and Egypt have internal problems with radical Islam (in Egypt’s case, the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is a Palestinian branch) and whether their self interest is best served by retaking these ‘problem’ territories is open to dispute. A better option might be to allow Jordanian troops, buttressed by those from other moderate states, to take over the running of key Palestinian towns on the West Bank. This would not involve formal occupation but it might help to stamp out the ideological extremism and pave the way for a genuinely moderate solution.
One thing we know for sure is that a Palestinian state is not going to be (and was never going to be) the panacea for this conflict. Gaza has been a test case of the failure of Palestinian politics, and of how an opportunity for statehood has ended in internecine warfare and bloodshed. With Hamas installed in Gaza, there can be no solution to this conflict without addressing the role of Syria and Iran in the region. Much of the Arab world recognizes that Iran poses a grave strategic threat to regional stability. The real question is whether Western governments can do the same.
Mr. Blair's peace mission 28 June, 2007
Tony Blair has finally been confirmed as an envoy for the Middle East quartet, having stepped down from no. 10. In an earlier post I questioned how Britain’s own neo-con could hope to advance democracy abroad while assaulting ‘democratic’ demands at home over the EU. This is not a position from which I demur. But while not wishing to retract this position, I believe there are more substantial reasons for being cautious about his appointment.
Without doubt, Mr. Blair has formidable political skills including, by all accounts, an incredibly persuasive manner. He has also developed a particularly insightful view of the Middle East conflict. More so than other statesmen, he has understood that the lethal threat from Al Qaeda cannot be appeased at any costs. He has also picked up on the expanding tentacles of terror that emanate from Iran and Syria, and which are linked with attacks as far apart as Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza. Contrary to much popular opinion, this understanding actually enhances his standing with moderate Arab rulers for, as I have argued elsewhere, it is precisely these Sunni countries (Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia) that are most worried about an Iranian (Shia) dominated Middle East.
Mr. Blair’s problem is that he continues to subscribe to the conventional wisdom about the Arab-Israeli conflict, which dictates that it is largely territorial and can be solved through ‘land for peace’. As he said yesterday: 'The only way of bringing stability and peace to the Middle East is the two-state solution, which means a state of Israel that is secure and confident of its security, and a Palestinian state that is not merely viable in terms of its territory, but in terms of its institutions and governance.' In other words, the Oslo formula of the 1990s.
But this is to misunderstand the dynamics of the conflict. For when Israel has made territorial concessions (i.e. in Lebanon and Gaza), the consequence is not an advance of the ‘peace process’ but an immediate escalation of terror. This is because the rejectionist camp, among both Palestinians and their Iranian backed allies, views these concessions as evidence of a loss of Israeli (and Western) resolve and another step towards eliminating Israel. This is not to deny that the status quo should continue. Ultimately, Israel will have to disengage from the majority of the West Bank so that the Palestinians can rule themselves. But this can only happen when certain other issues have been addressed.
Blair can point to an impressive measure of success in Northern Ireland, where he brought together warring parties from opposite sides of the political spectrum. But at no point in that conflict did Sinn Fein make non negotiable religious demands. Their demands, expressed through the indiscriminate and heinous violence of the IRA, were overtly political ones, namely the unification of Ulster with the rest of Ireland. It was ultimately possible, once the violence had died down, to construct a negotiated solution between unionists and republicans, despite their obvious religious differences.
But the war against Israel, from Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, Ahmadinejad in Tehran, and extremists from Fatah is not ultimately political. Instead it represents a form of religious holy war, perpetrated by fanatics who wish to permanently vanquish the Jewish presence in Israel. Rather than accepting a two state settlement, they would seek to use any ‘state’ as another front in their 60 year war against the Jews. The aim is not Israel/Palestine but an Islamicized Palestine which is Judenfrei.
A generation of Arab and Muslim rejectionists has been indoctrinated in the belief that the Jews are a kind of demonic force which has usurped the natural occupants of Palestine. This is the result of a ferocious campaign of anti Semitism across the Arab world, which has been disseminated in classrooms, summer schools, newspapers and on television. The Anti Defamation League (www.adl.org) has a stunning archive of Middle East anti Semitism from the last decade which is truly eye opening. Without addressing how this Islamic media hate fest generates terror, the Quarter will get nowhere.
Yes, our former PM is a formidable communicator with great negotiating skills and the ability to charm the birds from the trees. But so was Bill Clinton and his peace efforts got nowhere. Tony Blair has given himself a truly formidable task. It is in the spirit of generosity, rather than optimism, that I wish him success.
Root causes of terror 4 July, 2007
We’ve all heard more times than we care to remember the conventional wisdom about the ‘root causes’ of Islamic terrorism. You know the narrative by now - it is all about angry young Muslims trying to avenge our evil government’s illegal war in Iraq and how these men are radicalized by images of Israeli aggression and Guantanamo Bay. If only these ‘grievances’ could be addressed, we are told, they would cease to be a recruiting sergeant for extremist organizations. It is that amorphous entity, the ‘West’ and its misguided ways that is stirring up the hatred of the terrorists and giving the rest of us sleepless nights.
Some of us have been saying for years that this is all a naïve fantasy which merely plays into the hands of the fanatics. The more disturbing reality is that the Islamist campaign is a dangerous manifestation of religious extremism perpetrated by people who wish to foist their lethal ideology on the rest of us. While Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Palestine remain sore points for many, the central motivation for the jihadis is to turn the nations of the world into a universal Taliban style Islamic state ruled by Sharia law.
On Monday night, there was a resounding confirmation of this view on the BBC’s Newsnight. A former Islamist, Hassan Butt, was interviewed about his time with Al al-Muhajiroun. He followed up the interview with a short article in the Daily Mail entitled ‘I was a fanatic…I know their thinking.’ I quote from his article:
‘I remember how we used to laugh in celebration whenever people on TV proclaimed that the sole cause for Islamic acts of terror like 9/11, the Madrid bombings and 7/7 was Western foreign policy. By blaming the Government for our actions, those who pushed this ‘Blair’s bombs’ line did our propaganda work for us. More important, they also helped to draw away any critical examination from the real engine of our violence: Islamic theology.’
Notice the critical words: ‘(they) did our propaganda work for us.’ Indeed, those commentators (he mentions Ken Livingstone) who constantly rail against injudicious Western policies are doing an immense PR job for the jihadist groups, precisely because they deflect blame from where it is due and because they hide the true ideological dimension of the new terrorism. Hassan Butt goes on to say just what this ideology consists in. While he admits that extremists are angered by the deaths of fellow Muslims around the world, he then goes on to spell out the terrorists’ central motivation:
‘What drove me and many others to plot acts of extreme terror within Britain and abroad was a sense that we were fighting for the creation of a revolutionary world wide Islamic state that would dispense Islamic justice.’
Butt goes on to explain the theological reasoning used by jihadis to justify their militant outlook and how it is able to appeal to a new generation of young Muslims. What is so revealing in Butt’s analysis is the blame he lays on Muslim communal leaders who are frustratingly mired in denial. They are so assured that Islam cannot be interpreted to condone killing and violence that they repeat the mantra that the faith ‘is peace and hope’, allowing the radicals to step in and indoctrinate vulnerable people. In his words: ‘…the main reason why radicals have managed to increase their following is because most Muslim institutions in Britain just don’t want to talk about theology.’ Here then is a former Islamist asserting coolly that the radicalization of young Muslims is being fuelled by religious extremist indoctrination and that the failure to tackle it is, at least in part, the responsibility of poor Muslim leadership. It is hard to imagine this coming from the Muslim Council of Britain!
Now contrast Butt’s cogent analysis with the words of David Cameron in The Observer last May: ‘We do need greater understanding of the true nature of the terrorist threat. There's too much complacency about it among non-Muslims, and too much denial of it in the Muslim community. But our efforts are not helped by lazy use of language. Indeed, by using the word 'Islamist' to describe the threat, we actually help do the terrorist ideologues' work for them, confirming to many impressionable young Muslim men that to be a 'good Muslim', you have to support their evil campaign.’
Elsewhere Cameron has launched a scathing attack on multiculturalism and the ‘cultural separatism’ to be found among many young Muslims. He has compared the divisive agenda of the MCB with the tactics of the BNP. So maybe his article was just another example of trying to be all things to all people. Whatever the motivation, his attempt to disengage terror from religious fanaticism was obtuse and morally blind. He should be listening to Hassan Butt about the real causes of terror.
FOOTNOTE: There are also reports that the government has dropped any references to 'Islamic' terror. Instead of stressing the religious roots of radical jihadism, they will talk instead of 'terrorists' as 'criminals.' If true, and it would not be surprising, then Brown's merry men are leading the way in cringing submission and cultural dhimmitude.
Another warped analysis of terror 8 July, 2007
The Guardian can normally be relied upon to produce a twisted, morally eviscerated analysis of the global terror threat. This last week they haven’t disappointed us. In an article in Thursday’s paper, Suemas Milne argued that denying the link between Iraq and the attempted bomb attacks was ‘delusional and dangerous.’ Britain, he maintained, was ‘still in the deepest denial’ about why the country was ‘a target for al-Qaida- style terror attacks.’ Criticizing the notion that Al Qaeda attacks like these were fuelled by an evil ideology he went on to say that it was ‘simply delusional’ to not recognize the ‘central link between the terror threat and Britain's post-9/11 actions in the Muslim world.’ It flew ‘in the face of logic and history’ for Britain ‘was not a target until it attacked the Muslim world.’
Milne’s wisdom does not end here. These bombers could not have been that bothered about ‘sexually liberal western lifestyles’, for if they were they would be attacking ‘Amsterdam and Stockholm’. That these attacks are happening in the first place was 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.’ In case you didn’t see it coming, he went on to add that the solution to all our nightmares was for Gordon Brown to make ‘serious moves to end Britain's role in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan’.
This warped argument is full of the usual moral inversion, willful blindness and sense of victimhood that has come to characterize debate on this issue. There is the notion that British post 9/11 policy was characterized by ‘attacking the Muslim world.’ Yet the decision to support the US led invasion of Afghanistan was a defensive response to an Islamic attack, namely from Al Qaeda, which had set up base there. This is typical Islamist propaganda. Any attempt by the West to defend itself from terror is immediately interpreted as an attack on Islam, which then creates justification for further attacks.
Furthermore, Milne ignores the overwhelming evidence suggesting that the global campaign by Al Qaeda and their affiliated groups is largely rooted in ideological indoctrination based on an extreme interpretation of Islam; an interpretation that believes that Western (and all non Islamic) societies are living in a state of decadence because they separate religion and state and because their societies grant people freedoms that are at odds with Islamic law. The Islamists therefore wish to extend the domain of Islam across the globe, and ensure that all societies are ruled on the basis of their puritanical and extreme ideology, one in which ‘sexually liberal lifestyles’ would most definitely be ruled out. Why else attack nightclubs, either in London or Bali, in order to kill ‘slags?’ What we are witnessing, in other words, is a culture war between traditionalism and modernity, played out on a violent battlefield.
But let us pretend that Mr. Milne is not in denial for a minute. Just suppose he is right and our foreign policy is to blame for the doctors’ plot, 7/7 and all the rest. Would that really legitimize the foreign policy choice that he has offered to Gordon Brown? Would it be prudent to order a precipitate withdrawal from Muslim lands in order to stave off further attacks? Quite clearly not. No responsible prime minister can base this country’s foreign policy on appeasing the vocal demands of a violent, fanatical sub section of one minority community. Milne’s prognosis is an open invitation to would be fanatics to advance their goals and seize the political agenda through open warfare.
Still, with the British political class abandoning talk of ‘Islamism’ and ‘the war on terror’, and with a visceral anti American mood growing among the public, Milne has a receptive audience for his commentary. Delusional and dangerous? You bet.
The rising tide of anti semitism 10 July, 2007
Last night’s Channel 4 documentary, The War On Britain’s Jews, presented by Richard Littlejohn, offered an illuminating account of the rising anti Semitism in Britain today. Littlejohn travelled round the country assessing the impact of prejudice in a number of communities, especially in London and Manchester, and what he found was truly disturbing. Pupils at one Manchester school needed police escorts to fend off verbal or physical attacks from outsiders. In the same area, graves had been desecrated with horrifying anti semitic daubings while attacks on individual Jews had visibly increased.
Evidence of rising anti Semitism was backed up by police figures for reported racial crime, which showed that anti semitic incidents to date had doubled since 2001. In 2005 John Mann, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism, commissioned the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism. The report concluded that ‘violence, desecration of property, and intimidation directed towards Jews’ was ‘on the rise.’ (For the full report go to http://thepcaa.org/Report.pdf) The report cited an impressive array of evidence to support this startling conclusion.
To some extent, the racism has been generated by the usual suspects. A close scrutiny of BNP literature reveals that their claim to oppose anti semitism on principle is rather hollow. For electoral and tactical reasons, anti semitism has been downplayed by the BNP’s leadership which is anxious to avoid the charge of prejudice. But this pragmatism is not reflected in the violent behaviour of their supporters. We also know that the Islamist fanatics of Hizb ut Tahrir have openly called for Jews to be murdered, while vicious anti semitic venom pours out from a host of radical preachers.
What was eye opening in the documentary, though not for seasoned observers of anti Semitism, was that a campaign against the Jews and Zionists was being bolstered not just by these usual suspects but by those who professed to oppose racism, namely the left and the mainstream Muslim community.
When one examines the behaviour and statements of left wing groups in recent years, one can see that they have (intentionally or otherwise) imbibed classical notions of traditional anti Semitism in their polemics. The New Statesman’s headline from 2002 questioned the existence of ‘a Kosher conspiracy’ with a Star of David impaling a copy of the Union Flag. The suggestion was that Britain’s Jews were engaged in a conspiracy to control the country, an idea which is anti semitic in effect, if not in intent. Compare this pernicious idea to the rantings of the hard left who regularly denounce the ubiquitous ‘Zionist lobby’ for all the problems of the Middle East. This is no better than a politicized update of the age old idea that a diabolical Jewish clique runs the globe, the kind of unsophisticated conspiratorial claptrap that found its place in Der Sturmer.
Littlejohn interviewed the left wing journalist, Nick Cohen. In March 2003, Cohen advised people on the left to think twice before opposing the invasion of Iraq, citing the grotesque violations of human rights under Saddam’s regime. When he checked his emails the next day, he found to his horror that fellow travellers on the left had sent him vituperative responses accusing him of being in the pay of neo-conservative Zionists. (I thoroughly recommend his article in the New Statesman on anti Semitism and the left, available at http://www.zionism-israel.com/ezine/Nick_Cohen_Anti_Semitism.htm) The left had been so seduced by their hatred of Western dominance and ‘imperialism’ that they had ceased even debating a political matter!
The documentary exposes the ‘Nazi-Soviet pact’ style alliance between the British left and the forces of Islamist fundamentalism. United by a shared hatred of American imperialism, Western capitalism and Israel, the two sides have ignored the other side’s vastly different agendas but set in motion a powerful tool for anti Western propaganda. One thinks of Ken Livingstone, the alleged advocate of rainbow politics, the stern critic of all sexism, racism and homophobia, teaming up with Sheikh Qaradawi, an Islamist who advocates the killing of all Israelis and homosexuals. You get a sense that something is wrong.
In the mainstream Muslim community, however, there are signs that a low level form of anti Semitism has become increasingly widespread. Littlejohn discusses how MPACUK, a mainstream Muslim lobby group, carried out a campaign to unseat Lorna Fitzsimmons using, as a pretext, her support for the Iraq war and for Israel. Some MPAC supporters went further and distributed leaflets identifying her as Jewish, even though she was not a Jew. Even though MPAC later distanced itself from this tactic, members of the group clearly sought to gain some electoral advantage by identifying her in this way. One has to ask whether this would be a plausible strategy were it not for a disturbing level of anti semitic feeling in sections of the Muslim community.
One imam, when interviewed about the rising prejudice faced by Jews, called on British Jewish leaders to cease their overt support for Israel in order to lessen anti semitic attacks. But as John Mann MP pointed out, this was a totally invalid argument. It implies that unlike everyone else, Jews are not entitled to hold whatever views they like on the Jewish state. Would anyone dare suggest that British Muslims publicly distance themselves from the policies of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria in order to curb growing Islamophobia? Of course, every documentary has its limitations and there was little time for even wider analysis. But the major points in this 1 hour production can be backed up by a wider array of evidence which is not hard to find.
To suggest that Britain’s Jewish community is in a state of unprecedented peril would be an overstatement. Jews are hardly about to emigrate en masse and one also hopes that this visceral prejudice is still confined to a minority of people. But 60 years after the horrors of Auschwitz, and in an age of supposed racial tolerance, it is clear that the world’s oldest hatred is alive and well on these shores.
So who says prisons don't work? 24 July, 2007
Some weeks ago, the Blair government announced that thousands of criminals would be freed early due to the increasing problems of prison overcrowding. With the prison population soaring above 80,000, Lord Falconer told the House of Lords that certain groups of people, including burglars, drug dealers and conmen serving terms of less than four years, would be eligible for release up to 18 days early.
As if to reassure the public, Falconer went on to say that people would be allowed out on licence, meaning that their sentence would continue and they would be risk-assessed by prison staff prior to release. With prison places drying up, the government resorted to keeping people in court cells at a cost of over £1 million pounds per week.
This is all desperately worrying news for all of us. The early release of potentially dangerous prisoners undermines confidence in the criminal justice system and endangers the majority of decent, law abiding citizens. It is hard to imagine that of those released early, a large number will not go on to re-offend in the near future and cause untold misery for their many victims. Indeed what we are currently witnessing with this prison overcrowding saga is nothing short of a fiasco.
Worse still, this is grist to the mill of the left wing cabal that views prisons as a dangerous and uncivilized nuisance. Their argument is a frivolous one that flies in the face of the facts. On any cost and benefit analysis, prisons represent good value for money and prove a remarkably effective means of reducing crime. Some statistics might help to explain why. First a quote from the Halliday report into crime and sentencing in 2000: ‘A survey of self reported offending among males received into prison under sentence in early 2000, suggests that they commit offences at around 140 per year in the period at liberty, before they were imprisoned.’ This means that if we locked up an additional 1000 persistent offenders through the creation of an additional 2 jails, we might prevent as many as 140,000 crimes being committed during one year of incarceration. Given the staggeringly high cost of crime, which the Home Office estimated for 2003/4 at £36.2 billion, and the vastly lower costs of running prisons, a modest prison building programme would bring real economic savings.
But what about high rates of recidivism argue the critics? For naturally there are notoriously high rates of re-offending when people come out of prison. But this logic should be pursued to its conclusion. Recidivism rates are also high when people are allowed out on early release schemes, as the Home Office found out when they reported in 2005 on the number of prisoners being recalled to jail after serving short sentences for burglary and theft. Just as bad are the recidivism rates for those who are not incarcerated in the first place. One point that is endlessly obscured by the liberal reformers is that once inside prison, offenders cannot commit further crimes against the innocent.
Of course this is not to deny the need for substantial programmes of prison reform and rehabilitation. As the Halliday report made clear, there is evidence that ‘properly conducted offender treatment programmes can have a significant effect on reconviction rates’ and that properly designed programmes ‘might reduce reconviction rates by 5-15 percentage points.’ The Koestler awards for music and art offer a real chance to boost offenders’ self esteem and creativity and help prepare them for a life outside prison. With nearly one third of offenders illiterate and ill educated, there is an urgent need for adequate and properly funded educational opportunities in every prison. But if resources are stretched because of overcrowding, this high illiteracy rate can never be tackled. At the same time there is an argument for reducing prison numbers where this is both morally justified and logistically feasible. One example would be allowing overseas offenders to serve their sentences abroad.
Prisons are sadly necessary in any society but it would be wrong to view them with embarrassment or shame. They do a much needed job in protecting the rest of us at a small fraction of the cost of crime in the UK. It would be a tragedy if the misguided ideology of the few obscures the greater needs of the many.
The flaws in Brown's terror approach 27 July, 2007
Lacking the fanfare and showmanship that was the hallmark of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown on Wednesday set out his government’s approach to tackling the terror threat. Much of what he proposed was simply a recycling of old ideas, including extending the period of police questioning without charge from 28 days and the introduction of ID cards. Ultimately the measures did not go far enough in securing the country from the enemy within or from abroad.
One notable initiative was the idea of a single agency to provide effective control of Britain’s borders. Ostensibly, this would bring the country into line with other Western countries which police their borders to prevent illegal immigration, drug trafficking and fraud. However, the plan is ineffective because it does not involve the police, a central ingredient in the agencies set up in Spain and Australia.
The suggestion for increasing police powers was originally put to MPs 2 years ago. Back in 2005, Parliament decisively rejected the Blair plea to allow police up to 90 days to hold a suspect without charge. One key argument for rejecting the idea was that the police had not provided a watertight case for such a draconian, and irreversible, extension of their powers. True, terror cases require sifting through computer records, files and a vast amount of data but, to date, the police have not run out of time in investigating a terror suspect. Nothing has changed since 2005.
Now take the issue of ID cards. It is increasingly obvious that these are no more than an expensive and unnecessary intrusion into the lives of the innocent which will have little impact on terror cells. The Madrid bombers all had ID cards while the 7/7 bombers were British passport holders. Establishing people’s identity is the easy bit. Discerning their intention to cause carnage is quite another. Certainly, it is easier to discover a terror cell using the ID cards of terror suspects (which was the case in the Madrid bombings) but it does not help us in preventing an initial attack. Given the vast expense of implementing ID cards, it would surely be preferable to spend money on improving intelligence to prevent an atrocity in the first place.
There were two disappointing omissions from the proposals. The first was the inability to use intercept evidence from telephone calls in court. As the former Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith put it, ‘We do have a need to use intercept in court if we're going to give ourselves the chance of convicting some of the most dangerous and prolific criminals in the country.’ The second was the failure to proscribe radical groups like Hezb ut-Tahrir. This is an area where David Cameron scored points against the government weeks ago when he demanded to know why a group that called for the murder of Jews, and recruited radicalized Muslims to the call of jihad, was not guilty of a severe breach of the law.
People have been demanding to know why it is so hard to deport radical preachers, such as Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, who openly call for jihad within our borders. The answer is simple: under the European Convention of Human Rights, we cannot deport anyone to a country where it is suspected that they will face harm, especially torture. A set of outdated human rights conventions is therefore preventing us from taking measures essential to our security but which are also serving the interests of jihadists. Without tackling the ideological progenitors of radical Islam who sow the seeds of violent activity, the government is confined to tackling the symptoms, rather than the causes of terrorism.
Message to Gordon: Don't ditch the US for the UN 6 August, 2007
If Gordon Brown wanted to put clear blue water between himself and President Bush he certainly succeeded last week. There was little of the genial, mutual back slapping of the Blair years, no smiles, jokes or hugs for the cameras. It was straight down to business for ‘a full and frank discussion’, and barely a Colgate moment in sight. Then it was off to the United Nations to call for a ‘coalition of conscience’ to right the world’s wrongs, solve AIDS, deliver Darfur from genocide and put peacekeepers around the globe.
Brown is obviously a shrewd politician. He can see George Bush clinging to life in Washington, derided by friends and enemies alike and resented by large sections of the British population. He seems to have every domestic reason to keep the President at arms length. And Brown surely had his domestic audience in mind when he suggested that any departure of British troops from Iraq would be dictated by a British, rather than American, timetable. Notice too the disappearance from the Brown camp of that phrase ‘war on terror.’ Apparently the new internationalism dictates that terrorists are criminals rather than Islamists. All of which will go down well with Labour MPs and the British public.
The problem is that if Brown wants to solve the world’s problems, he has to be a realist and ditching Dubya is just the easy option. The harder part is finding an alternative. For all its ills, America remains the world’s dominant military power with a formidable record at standing up to dictators and leading its own coalitions against evil. The UN by contrast has a pretty poor record. It stood by while countless thousands died in Rwanda and was powerless to intervene during the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. Add to that its failures in Iraq and you have a pretty dismal record, all in all. But it was to the United Nations that Brown went in search of a solution to the crisis in Darfur. Over the last few years, anything from 200,000 to 400,000 people have been killed at the brutal hands of the government backed Janjaweed while millions more have been displaced. Yet incredibly the UN refused to even call Darfur a case of ‘genocide’ while Congress took a very different view. Brown has now helped obtain a UN resolution authorizing more UN and AU peacekeepers in Darfur to buttress the forces already there.
But here’s the downside. These peacekeepers are not allowed to disarm the militias or seize their weapons, nor is there any hint of sanctions against the Sudanese regime. These conditions were necessary to prevent China, a permanent member of the Security Council with economic interests in Sudan, from vetoing the resolution. But what has resulted is an entirely limp approach to international diplomacy. The killings will continue in Darfur, as they did in Rwanda and Bosnia, while UN forces act as passive bystanders. In the Balkans in the 1990s, as elsewhere, it is only military force (or the threat of force) that makes dictators think twice. That threat cannot come from the UN but it can come from America.
What Brown fails to see is that a UN coalition of ‘conscience’ would have to exclude the majority of its members, that is those states that are undemocratic, authoritarian and corrupt, and which regularly violate the rights of their citizens. And some of them, such as China, wield positions of enormous international influence at the UN. If Brown was a serious multilateralist, he would be calling for a radical transformation of the UN, not implementing another impotent resolution or appointing Mark Malloch-Brown, an apologist for UN corruption. He would be calling for the inclusion of other powerful countries on the Security Council, perhaps India as a permanent member, while arguing that the status of member nations ought to depend on their degree of good governance and implementation of human rights. To quote a former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, the unreformed UN remains ‘the executive committee of the Third World dictatorships.’
This is not an argument for unilateralism or the abandonment of international law. Military action, without legal authority, is a recipe for tyranny. But equally, legality without power is a recipe for impotence. The two must be brought together if we are to live in a lawful and secure world. But as things stand, the United Nations is too morally compromised and corrupt to be an effective international body. Gordon should see that too.
Ditching Dubya for the UN may score points at home. But if the PM is serious about Darfur and AIDS, it may prove to be a hollow victory.
Channel 4 versus the Islamists. So who's really stirring up hatred? 9 August, 2007
When you listen to British apologists for Islamic extremism you often need to pinch yourself to make sure you‘re hearing correctly. Many people yesterday will have been bewildered by the decision of West Midlands police to report Channel 4 over the Dispatches documentary ‘Undercover mosque’. This brave piece of investigative journalism, screened in January 2007, reported on how foreign born (mainly Saudi) preachers were infiltrating British mosques to spread a message of religious and racial hatred.
The documentary was extremely disturbing to watch but left you in no doubt about the views of the extremists. One preacher, Dr Mian, told Muslims that they could not ‘accept the rule of the Kaffir’ or non Muslims. Muslims had to ‘rule the others’ he told him and until then, live ‘in a state within a state’. Abu Usamah, one of the most violent of the preachers, warned that if any Muslim changed his religion, it was necessary to ‘kill him.’ He went on to praise the killing of British soldiers in Afghanistan stating that ‘The hero of Islam is the one who separated his head from his shoulders’. He also called for homosexuals to be put to death. Sheikh Al Faisal thundered: ‘You have to bomb the Indian businesses, and as for the Jews you kill them physically.’ DVD’s and books featuring the sermons of Saudi hatemongers were openly on sale at religious centres and mosques, also promoting a vicious ideology. By any standards, the material was explosive, inflammatory, racist, homophobic and sexist.
But this is not how the CPS sees things. Channel 4, according to one CPS lawyer, spliced together extracts from longer speeches which ‘completely distorted what the speakers were saying.’ Channel 4 stands accused of unfairly representing what the preachers said and undermining community cohesion in the process. Instead of stating the glaringly obvious, namely that Muslim institutions were (and are) allowing radical, violent demagogues to whip up hatred of non Muslims in this country, the police have reached the opposite conclusion. Apparently reporting the hate speech of Muslim preachers is itself a hate crime and (this is most laughable) it risks undermine community cohesion. So perhaps if Channel 4 had resisted the urge to enlighten us about these sermons, relations between Jews, Christians, gays and Saudi extremists would be so much better. Oh dear.
Naturally in any 9 month investigation you are going to obtain far more material than you could possibly show in one programme. Lengthy speeches can hardly be reproduced in full, making shorter extracts necessary. But as the Commissioning Editor of Channel 4 has been at pains to make clear, these extracts still ‘speak for themselves.’ To suggest that the extracts have been taken ‘out of context’ seems ludicrous, particularly given what we know about the intolerant ideology of Saudi Wahhabism. What is the ‘proper’ context for the statement that Jews ‘should be killed physically’ or that ‘Hindu businesses should be attacked’ other than a blatant attempt at stirring up racial hatred?
For those who remain unconvinced, try this little thought experiment. Suppose there was a Channel 4 documentary about the activities of some right wing political group such as the BNP. The researchers produce 60 hours of undercover footage, much of which shows party activists unashamedly talking of restricting immigration, banning extremists and reintroducing the death penalty. (I am not suggesting this is typical of a BNP rally but please indulge me). But then every so often, some party activists talk of shooting immigrants on the streets, burning down mosques and attacking black school children. Do you think the police would take the same lenient view and argue that these activists have been ‘quoted out of context?’ I don’t think so either.
The main reason why the police have erred so badly is that they remain hyper sensitive to the charge of racism. Ever since they were branded ‘institutionally racist’ in the 1990s, following their bungled investigation into the Stephen Lawrence case, the police have gone out of their way to avoid giving offence to any minority group, whether it be gays, lesbians, the disabled or Muslims. In effect they have bent over backwards to be perceived as anti racist and avoid the paralyzing charge of prejudice. The problem here is that British Muslims are gripped by a victim mentality which sees offence merely in the suggestion that Islam is fuelling extremism. The moment that someone brings up the question of Islamic extremism, they are instantly branded as an Islamophobe.
In order to accommodate Muslim sensitivities, the police have had to adopt their own victim centred view of the world, which includes denying that Islam has anything to do with extremism. This must be why Brian Paddick, the Met’s Deputy Assistant Commissioner, said on 7th July that ‘Islam and terrorism are two words that do not go together.’ The government has been desperate not to alienate the mainstream Muslim community because it wants to use them to tackle extremism from within. Such a strategy sounds far sighted enough until you realize that mainstream mosques, supposedly on ‘our’ side in the war on terror, are inviting in foreign imams whose sole purpose is to ignite a separatist agenda at best, and start a racial war at worst.
The police may think they are doing the Muslim community a favour here. But if so, this is nothing more than a short sighted and craven form of appeasement. They are effectively providing ideological endorsement for the twisted thought processes of the Islamists who interpret every criticism of Islam (including Islamic radicalism) as an automatic attack on Muslims. Thus our last line of defence against home grown extremists is actively defending the extremists against their (potential) victims. Not even Alice in Wonderland could make it up!
The sad fact is that the police have joined Britain's growing dhimmi brigade at a time when we desperately need some moral and intellectual clarity. Too little has been learnt since July 7th.
The Redwood Commission 18 August, 2007
The latest proposals by John Redwood’s Economic Competitive Commission have offered the Conservatives a real platform for political opposition. The review, co-authored by John Redwood and Simon Wolfson, the Chief Executive of the Next group, outlines some sensible proposals for increasing competitiveness and reducing the stranglehold of bureaucracy and regulation. The most eye catching proposal is undoubtedly the proposal to abolish inheritance tax, which brings the Treasury 4 billion pounds a year. Also worth mentioning are the proposals to lower corporation tax, raise the threshold for the highest rate of taxation and scrap stamp duty on shares. The report has focused on much more, including suggestions for reforming building regulations, opting out of the EU social chapter and reducing carbon emissions. But the centerpiece is the idea of targeted tax reductions in certain key areas that would eventually save billions of pounds.
The Tories, of course, are not obliged to take up these policy suggestions. But there seems to be some sympathy for what Redwood and Wolfson have put forward. In George Osborne’s view, inheritance tax could be scrapped by an incoming Tory government and here is his statement yesterday: ‘I believe lower taxes help businesses to succeed.’ Has there been a behind the scenes Damascene Conversion? Has the Tory leadership been so stung by Grammargate and the local elections farce as to throw a sop to the right of the party? Well it appears not.
Yesterday, George Osborne repeated the mantra that there would be no commitment to ‘upfront tax cuts’ as the priority remained ‘economic stability.’ And then: ‘It is our intention in government to share the proceeds of economic growth between spending on important public services and reductions in tax.’ Elsewhere the Tories’ boy wonder argued that he did not want to sacrifice people’s mortgages by reckless tax cuts. Presumably what he meant was that reducing tax could fuel inflation which could, in turn, see a rise in interest rates, which would then translate into higher mortgage bills. It did not seem to occur to him how much mortgage payers would save if less of their hard earned money went into their own pockets instead of Treasury coffers!
Putting stability ahead of tax cuts is the language of the clunking fist. It is Brownese economics in Tory clothing rather than a concerted effort to defy the status quo. As I have argued elsewhere, moving to a lower tax, lower regulation economy would (in theory) allow for an increase in economic growth that would then produce the revenue allowing for investment in public services or whatever pet project the government had in mind. But the Tories are not trying to present the argument for fear of being called ‘right wing.’ Of course there is nothing right wing about giving people more freedom with their savings or removing the barriers to would be entrepreneurs. It is hard working families and businesses that suffer the most under the status quo, not the rich.
The logical consequence of all this is that any tax reductions that the Tories do accept would have to be offset by tax rises elsewhere. The favourite candidate at the moment seems to be ‘green taxes’ on aviation which puts the Tories in agreement with the other main parties. But then all they are really proposing is a philosophy of tax redistribution, not tax reduction.
This Commission offers the Tories a great starting point for opposition. Sadly they are once again flunking the challenge.
Something is wrong in the world of human rights 23 August, 2007
The decision to allow Learco Chindamo to remain in the UK when he is eventually released from prison sums up everything that is wrong with Britain’s human rights culture. We now live in an age when rights are decoupled from responsibilities and when the rights of criminals supersede those of their victims.
The government’s efforts to have Chindamo deported after his release were scuppered when the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal ruled that deporting him to Italy would violate his right to a family life. This right came under Section 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which was incorporated into the Human Rights Act. Hardly surprisingly Mrs. Lawrence was left to state the obvious, namely that this Act has sidelined her children’s right to public safety in favour of upholding the more dubious rights of her late husband’s convicted killer.
In 2000 the Blair government incorporated the Convention on Human Rights into English law, hailing a major breakthrough in the quest to reform the Constitution. But in effect it undermined the English common law, which had served us so well for centuries, and gave precedence to a Continental system of law which cited universal rights and values as the basis for legislation. Foreign conceptions of law, resting on no national or democratic mandate, became the guiding principles of the judiciary.
But that is not the only problem with this human rights legislation. All rights have to be balanced against each other requiring a great deal of legal interpretation and subjective judgment, often termed 'judicial activism' when judges stray into areas that are the prerogative of politicians. The end process should be one where the rights of innocent victims of crime, and law abiding citizens generally, trump those of the criminals who threaten them. But that is not how the courts see things. When a group of Afghan men highjacked a plane which landed in the UK, they asked for asylum on the basis that they would face ill treatment back at home. Despite the government arguing that the men has committed a crime and would not face persecution in Afghanistan, they remained in the UK.
When the government sought to extradite terror suspects, such as the notorious jihadi Abu Hamza, the courts blocked extradition on the grounds that they would face torture overseas. The right of people in the UK not to face blood curdling calls for jihad on their own doorstep apparently matter little. Then there was the case of a London jeweller who was prohibited from distributing CCTV images of a thief in case…you guessed it, it breached his human rights. Understandably the Human Rights Act has become the handmaiden of Britain’s growing compensation culture.
Rights require responsibilities and a commitment to uphold the rule of law. When that compact is broken, some rights should be forfeited. Certainly, Mr. Chindamo has paid a penalty for his crime by spending time in prison, though the sentence seems excessively lenient. But the Asylum and Immigration tribunal were informed by the Home Office that Chindamo on his release would pose a genuine danger to those around him because of his notoriety. Common sense suggests therefore that he should be deported, especially to a country where he will not face the threat of torture. By failing to uphold the rights of innocent people, the courts have acted absurdly, revealing the bankruptcy of the Human Rights Act and those who interpret it.
Still no referendum 30 August, 2007
Wonders will never cease in British politics. Now it appears that some Liberal Democrats may be ready to join forces with Labour and Conservative MPs in demanding a referendum on the EU Constitution. If true, this should worry Gordon Brown enormously. It would mean he would have to contend, not just with a huge backbench demand for a vote and strong opposition from the trade unions, but with a loss of support from Britain’s most unashamedly pro European party.
Thus far Gordon Brown has resisted calls for a referendum, insisting that the new Treaty is fundamentally different to the old Constitution. But just listen to the views of those who helped frame the treaty. For Angela Merkel the proposed new treaty used ‘different terminology’ without ‘changing the legal substance’ of the original constitution. For Bertie Ahern the treaty preserved ‘90% of the original constitution’ while others put the figure at closer to 98%. The fundamentals of the old Constitution (a President, foreign secretary, more powers for Europol and the Court of Justice) are all in the ‘Treaty’ while the size of the two documents is very nearly the same too. The Brown argument is as absurd as it is risible.
Of course the main reason for Gordon Brown’s political defiance is an entirely rational belief that he would lose a referendum. It was the same reasoning that lay behind the infamous 5 tests for entry into the Euro. The only test that mattered was that the government could win a referendum but, given the Euroscepticism of our island race, such a prospect was always a mighty tall order. But this is certainly not an argument for steamrolling the treaty through Parliament. Nearly all MPs made a solemn manifesto pledge to proceed with a referendum prior to ratifying the Constitution. To renege on this pledge now would be politically unforgivable.
If the government thinks the treaty/Constitution is in our interest, they should call a referendum and make the best case for signing up. In the 1970s the arguments for joining the Common Market were put to a Eurosceptic British people and the yes campaign won an important victory. It is up to the government and the other EU-philes to do the same now. If they win, our national sovereignty will be further undermined but no longer will British people be able to claim that it was done by stealth. But if they lose, it may at last signal the chance for Britain to renegotiate its relationship with the EU. Now there’s a thought.
This ‘consensual politics’ is a horrible joke 04 September, 2007
Whenever politicians offer platitudes about ‘reconnecting to the people’ you should reach for the sick bag. It all sounds too hollow, vacuous and utterly insincere. Now Gordon Brown has promised a consensual style of politics which ‘embraces everyone in this nation, not just a select few.’ He wants a ‘politics of consensus, not division, a politics built on engaging with people, not excluding them…’ To this end he has brought in Tory backbenchers like Patrick Mercer and John Bercow to act as ‘advisors’ on national security and children’s issues. But far from being the promised new world of British politics, it is a cynical attempt to crush debate, silence the opposition and devalue the very notion of democracy.
Gordon Brown is not stupid. He knows his majority is small and could dwindle dangerously after another general election. The Conservatives are anxious to capture the hallowed centre ground and present themselves as the real centrist force in British politics. Brown wants cross party consensus because it is the best way to deflate Tory ambitions and neuter their threat to his own party. Cross party consensus is shorthand for stifling debate and bolstering the New Labour project while further undermining a faltering opposition. In short Brown’s cynical tactics will entrench the New Labour project for years to come.
We are often told that consensus is the way forward as political choices are no longer necessary. But on the great questions of domestic politics, such as taxation, the management of public services and the welfare state, a vigorous and sustained debate is urgently needed. While Labour is committed to crippling taxation, an ever expanding public sector and welfare dependency, the opposition could be arguing for a smaller state, lower taxes and radical welfare reform. While Labour is committed to the comprehensive system and the micromanagement of health, the Tories could be offering school and hospital vouchers and a massive decentralization of public services. The ‘equality, cultural diversity and inclusion managers,’ championed by Labourmeisters could be consigned to the dustbin under a Tory administration. And so on.
The Tories then should be slamming this new ‘consensual fist’ into oblivion. Certainly on crime, immigration and Europe, there exists a natural chasm between the parties. But on the vital question of finances and the economy, a chasm has been swallowed up by an unhealthy obsession with the status quo. Sadly, at least on the economic issues, the status quo reigns supreme. Yesterday, George Osborne announced that for the first 3 years of a Tory administration, his party would match the government’s spending predictions. There would be no real tax reduction or massive reduction in the size of the public sector. Instead the familiar mantras of Osborne-ism were repeated - the need to ‘share the proceeds of growth and safeguard ‘stability’. This is Brownite territory and Brownite language – and the sad fact is that the Labour leader does it better (spins it better?) than the Tories.
The evidence suggests that when political choices are minimized and distinctions between parties blurred, voter apathy increases. If floating voters think the opposition will be little different from the governing party, why should they other to go out and vote? When Sarcozy and Royal went head to head in France, they offered widely differing visions of the relationship between the citizen and the state. The result was a massive voter turnout. In the 1980s the battle of ideas between a renascent Thatcherite capitalism and old style Labour socialism created a fierce ideological battleground that animated the voting public. The lack of an ideological battleground from the 1990s onwards has seen a fall in voter turnout.
Now there is certainly room for a cross partisan approach to political debate. On issues of great national concern, whether they are international terrorism, national security and the Constitution, there is a case for bringing in a wide range of views from across the political spectrum. Two world wars, after all, saw two successful coalition governments in Britain. But to meet most of today’s complex challenges, there is a vital need for fresh thinking and real choices. This is no time for an outbreak of consensus politics.
Islamic extremism in the UK is alive and well 12 September, 2007
Three recent reports have highlighted the continuing threat from radical Islam in the UK. They appear to show that among large swathes of Britain’s mainstream Islamic community, extremist attitudes remain deep seated despite the government’s best efforts at engagement and appeasement.
First the Centre for Social Cohesion, led by the formidable Douglas Murray, has produced a report (available at www.socialcohesion.co.uk/pdf/HateOnTheState.pdf) which highlights how some British libraries are helping to encourage Islamic extremism and foment social division. The report, which focuses on the 8 libraries in Tower Hamlets, the London borough with the largest Muslim population, has found in those libraries ‘several hundred books by radical Islamists’ including supporters of groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami. There are also books by preachers, such as Abu Hamza, who have been convicted of incitement to murder. Numerous volumes by Islamist and Salafist philosophers, including works by Qutb, Wahhab and Mawdudi (the godfathers of radical Islamic extremism), are easily accessible on library shelves. The authorities in Tower Hamlets have denied none of this.
For those who are not conversant with this literature, the books are suffused with a glorification of violent jihad and a hatred of unbelievers, including non Islamist Muslims. They also endorse ‘violence and discrimination against women’ (p. 3) and a loathing of Jews. Among the works on ‘prominent display’ are those by Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the extremist organization that advocates the replacement of Western societies with a global Islamic caliphate. The report’s authors stress that many of these books are ‘given special prominence in displays’ (p. 3) and that many collections are skewed in favour of extremists and at the expense of more moderate authors.
Thus while ‘…Tower Hamlets libraries stock around 80 copies of books and audiotapes by Bilal Philips, a Salafi preacher popular with UK extremists, they stock only two different books by Dr Jamal Badawi, a Canadian author well known for preaching against violence, intolerance and Islamic separatism…’ (p. 4) There are 11 copies of Qutb’s Milestones (the Bible for the jihadist movement) while a critical edition of this book is curiously absent. However, in some other libraries round the country, ‘searches of library catalogues reveal only scattered collections of fundamentalist texts.’ (p. 31)
To their credit, the authors do not demand censorship of these texts. In general, this is a correct decision for outright censorship would strike at the heart of a free and tolerant society. The point is that these libraries are clearly stocking a disproportionate volume of extremist material which does not reflect the differing traditions within Islam. The neutral reader, or potential convert to Islam, will therefore have a skewed understanding of Islam’s religious traditions and may conclude that violent jihad is his or her religious duty.
Yet the reactions from some of the ‘moderate’ Muslim camp have been rather revealing. Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain defended the libraries by claiming that the authors were ‘widely read in the Muslim world’ and it was therefore unsurprising that these books were ‘stocked in areas with the highest concentration of Muslims.’ Really? Has he just admitted that extremist Islam, which promotes violence and terrorism, racism, sexism and homophobia, is widespread among Muslims rather than being found among only a ‘small minority’? He seems to have let a rather large cat out of the bag.
Then take the comments of Metropolitan Police Authority Member and Tower Hamlets Councillor Abdal Ullah. ‘We must be very wary of the agendas of people like Murray,’ he said, ‘who are determined to drive a wedge between communities.’ Mr. Ullah believes that those who advocate a hatred of unbelievers and the violent overthrow of Christian societies are not divisive; it is merely their detractors we should worry about. This is a classic example of victim mentality in which any attempt to reveal an extremist agenda is automatically seen as racist, divisive or Islamophobic. This man was part of the government taskforce for tackling extremism after 7th July.
Libraries are central to any civilised and literate community. If they are abused to fit in with extreme agendas, they will rapidly lose the public’s trust.
Islamic Extremism in the UK is alive and well (Pt. II) 21 September, 2007
According to a recent report (7th September) in the Sunday Times, ‘almost half of Britain’s mosques are under the control of a hardline Islamic sect whose leading preacher loathes Western values and has called on Muslims to “shed blood” for Allah…’ The preacher in question is Riyadh ul Haq, who ‘supports armed jihad and preaches contempt for Jews, Christians and Hindus…’ The sect in question is the Deobandi, an ultra conservative group that has been blamed for spreading radical Islam in Britain and sponsoring the Taleban.
This report is deeply alarming because of the figures involved. The Deobandis now run ‘more than 600 of Britain’s 1,350 mosques’ and nearly two thirds of Britain’s 26 Islamic seminaries, which produce four fifths of home trained Muslim clerics. The report continues: ‘Figures supplied to The Times by the Lancashire Council of Mosques reveal that 59 of the 75 mosques in five towns – Blackburn, Bolton, Preston, Oldham and Burnley – are Deobandi-run.’ Many Deobandis are associated with the Muslim Council of Britain which has been much feted by the government over recent years.
Analyses of seminars delivered by Mr ul Huq and fellow Deobandis reveal a hatred of activities such as art, television and music and contempt for non Muslims or ‘kuffars’. According to the military intelligence site, globalsecurity.org: ‘The Indian Deobandi school argues that the reason Islamic societies have fallen behind the West in all spheres of endeavour is because they have been seduced by the amoral and material accoutrements of Westernization, and have deviated from the original pristine teachings of the Prophet.’ It follows that the Deobandis reject any notion of inter faith dialogue. In one of his sermons on ‘Jewish Fundamentalism and the Muslims’ Mr ul Huq has the following to say:
‘Can these people (Jews) be trusted with Masjid al-Aqsa, can these people be trusted to honour any agreement that they may sign? Allah knows best. May Allah expose the Yahoud (the Jews) for what they truly are. May Allah give all Muslims, individuals and leaders, especially, and our governments, the understanding and the sense to see through their propaganda, their lies and deceit and to view them as they really are and thus treat them accordingly.’ (For the full lecture see http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article2402173.ece?token=null&offset=48)
He has similar derogatory comments to make about the other unbelievers he dislikes, such as Hindus.
Government apparatchiks claim they are being tough on terror and the causes of terror, even if the word ‘terror’ is now banned from New Labour discourse. But their apparently robust approach is qualified by saying that terrorists (who are never ‘Muslims’) form a tiny, fringe brigade whose ideology is unIslamic. Ministers are failing to clarify the crucial link between ‘religious’ extremism and terrorist ideology, between the attitudes fostered in Britain’s mainstream mosques and the subsequent terrorist outrages. This is because the government refuses to discern an ideological problem in the first place. Political correctness forces them to view every religion as equal, to view Islam as a religion of peace whose teachings have been highjacked by ‘criminals.’
But every religion’s texts offer ground for intellectual dispute and diverse interpretations. Religious verses are often so vague that they become open to multiple analyses. The Reformation tamed the Judaeo-Christian tradition so that the more violent elements of Leviticus were not seen as having a literal application. In Islam, where there is no central religious authority, there is a contest of wills between Islamists, who interpret the most violent verses of the Koran in a literal fashion, and more moderate ideologues. Radical Islamists are gaining the ascendancy in many countries with their viewpoints becoming more mainstream, even if their adherents form an overall minority worldwide.
In Britain we now have abundant evidence of how Islamic radicalism has spread beyond the fringe to infect large parts of the mainstream community. Excellent under cover documentaries such as the revealing Channel 4 investigation into radicalism in Britain’s mosques, show how foreign (mainly Saudi) preachers sow hatred and bigotry among their congregations and provide textual justification for jihadist violence. Libraries in parts of London appear to be stocking up on Islamist literature at the expense of more peaceful authors.
Opinion polls since 9/11 suggest that a sizeable Muslim minority in Britain either supports terror attacks or makes excuses for them. Certainly, the vast majority do not support the global terror campaign of Al Qaeda and no one should suggest otherwise in the absence of supportive evidence. But Islamic groups urgently need to uproot those who preach sedition and hostility to the West. However, if the Times report is true, there are sections of the Muslim 'establishment' in Britain that are themselves suspect.
Gordon Brown insists that mosques employ home grown imams who speak English. This is an ineffectual and lily livered response. Mr ul Huq speaks English while his puritanical ideology is a ‘home grown’ adaptation of foreign jihadism.
In the Daily Telegraph yesterday, Winston Churchill Jr., grandson of the famous war time leader, asked: ‘When will the Government wake up to this mortal threat which – if not swiftly dealt with – threatens to bring strife and bloodshed to the streets of Britain on a scale far exceeding anything seen in the bombings of recent years?’ It is surely a pertinent question.
Opposing Mugabe 25 September, 2007
Gordon Brown’s threat to pull out of the EU-Africa summit in Portugal if Mugabe turns up doesn’t sound entirely convincing. Of course we are all familiar by now with how Mugabe’s tyrannical rule has created widespread misery and despair in Zimbabwe. Starvation is on the increase, water is running out in the poorest districts, unemployment is running at 80% and hyper inflation has ruined the economy. His is one of the most appalling regimes anywhere on earth.
But if Brown cares so much about this issue, why didn’t he follow John Howard’s lead and prevent our cricketers from playing in Zimbabwe? Why has he not ruled out going to the summit if Zimbabwe sends, not Mugabe, but a more junior official who supports the regime? Perhaps it is because of the lingering (but false) guilt over our colonial legacy that infects every section of our political class. If we criticise another African regime too strongly, it will resurrect memories of imperial rule, something anathema to the trendy lefties who run New Labour. It is far better, so the argument goes, for Africans to suffer at the hands of their own despotic rulers that risk being accused of colonial intervention.
Yet under Britain’s ‘despotic’ minority rule, Zimbabwe had a flourishing economy and was sending food to its neighbours. Under its current rule, the country is on the verge of collapse and starvation. Simon Heffer powerfully argued the case for military intervention in Saturday’s Telegraph. It is doubtful, however, that Britain’s forces, dangerously overstretched as they are, would be able to make a meaningful contribution.
The onus is on Zimbabwe’s neighbours, most notably South Africa, to liberate the oppressed. But expecting Mbeki to even criticise Mugabe is about as naïve as hoping for a recovery at Northern Rock. As long as Mugabe postures against the evils of his former ‘oppressors’ he will gain enormous sympathy from his fellow leaders. But the belief that it is less unacceptable for blacks to oppress blacks is nothing but a form of inverse racism.
Don’t buy the Brown spin 27 September, 2007
Abraham Lincoln was often fond of saying that he destroyed his enemies by making them his friends. That sentiment sprang to mind when I heard Gordon Brown’s election pitch on Tuesday afternoon at the Labour Party Conference. The Prime Minister’s speech seemed to be pitched at the Tory heartland, and certainly those parts that were disillusioned with David Cameron. Britishness and British ‘values’ were mentioned over 70 times in order to reinforce Brown’s national and patriotic credentials. David Cameron and the opposition did not merit a single mention. Then there was the conspicuous blue backdrop and the prominence given to the star Tory defector, Quentin Davies. He was wheeled out to remind people that you can’t purchase political conviction and that Gordon, unlike Dave, has it in bundles. Brown was teasing with conservative voters, offering them his new found ‘politics of consensus’. But there was no magnanimity here.
For the new Prime Minister is as divisive a politician as they come. A decade of civil war at the heart of New Labour is one of his worst legacies as Chancellor, consensus merely a stunt to neutralise a divided opposition. It is merely the polite man’s method for ‘grinding the bastards into the dust’. And for those who remain unconvinced, think back to the cynical decision to invite Baroness Thatcher to Downing Street, ostensibly to remind people of Brown’s conviction politics but, in reality, to steal headlines away from the Conservatives when they unveiled their Quality of Life Report. The truth about Gordon’s democracy is that it is one where the very notion of an opposition party disappears from the map. And if you think the age of spin is over, you were just plain naïve.
It should be obvious by now that this consensual politics is as disastrous for democracy as the refusal to offer a referendum on the Constitution. But to blame Brown alone would miss the point for this is a game played by members of both main parties. Cameron has contributed to the current malaise by narrowing the content of political debate so as to avoid the tag of being ‘right wing.’ One of Cameron’s biggest mistakes has been to focus on image and personality, rather than steadiness of conviction. He is, after all, the self appointed heir to Blair and the inheritor of the ‘centre ground.’ But by adopting the meaningless mantras of Blairism (economic stability, aspiration for all, and personal choice) without saying how they would be put into reality, Cameron has failed to provide an alternative manifesto. He just sounds like another Blairite dressed up as a toff.
With such a sterile political battleground, the choice centres on personalities. Here the Tories have underestimated the ‘son of the manse’. While Brown lacks his predecessor’s effusive charm and showmanship, he has a sense of serious political intent that is hard to beat. One could almost say that his dour image is an asset after a decade of Blairism. Cameron cannot beat Brown on personality or slogans. Only a concrete alternative manifesto for Britain, delivered passionately, consistently and with genuine conviction, can hope to save the Tories from another election rout.
America's self inflicted wound 30 September, 2007
There are times when America’s self inflicted wounds can appear truly bizarre. The invitation extended to President Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia University last week is a case in point. No matter how the University authorities try to construe it, this has to be seen as a PR disaster of the highest magnitude.
In a statement issued before Ahmadinejad’s appearance, University President Bollinger defended the controversial invitation by saying it was necessary to confront beliefs, ‘many, most or even all of us will find offensive and even odious.’ He went on: ‘We trust our community, including our students, to be fully capable of dealing with these occasions, through the powers of dialogue and reason…It should never be thought that merely to listen to ideas we deplore in any way implies our endorsement of those ideas, or the weakness of our resolve to resist those ideas or our naiveté about the very real dangers inherent in such ideas. It is a critical premise of freedom of speech that we do not honour the dishonorable when we open the public forum to their voices.’
Well quite. From the US point of view, this is all about the absolute sanctity of freedom of speech as guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution. Perhaps that was why President Bush said that the invitation spoke volumes about the greatness of America. ‘We're confident enough to let a person express his views,’ he said, adding ‘I just really hope he tells everybody the truth.’
Well that is the problem. Ahmadinejad was not about to incriminate himself by exposing his odious beliefs, and miss a great PR opportunity. His answers to questions on the Holocaust, Israel, homosexuality and nuclear weapons were couched in euphemisms and half answers. Thus instead of repeating his assertion that the Holocaust was a myth, he merely said there was a need for ‘research’ and asked why the Palestinian people were ‘paying the price for an event they had nothing to do with.’
He did not repeat his desire to see Israel ‘wiped off the map’ but had the gall to describe his ‘solution’ to the ‘Palestinian plight’ as a ‘humanitarian and a democratic proposal.’ He was equally evasive on the issue of Iran’s nuclear weapons programme, though he asked why Iran could not have weapons when the US had them. He then denied that Iranian homosexuals had been persecuted or executed, claming that homosexuals did not exist in his country. Iranian women were apparently among the freest in the world while his press, state run and tightly censored, was a thing to be extolled.
This was not an opportunity to confront odious beliefs but a classic exercise in denial and misinformation. This was Ahmadinejad’s chance to exploit the weaknesses at the heart of Liberal America and earnestly proclaim Iran’s good intentions before a listening public.
But then this is something dictators always like to do. They dangle before our eyes the prospect of their future reasonableness provided that we make some concession of their choice. After his conquest of the Rhineland in 1936, Hitler promised his enemies a long term peace treaty during which there would be no further conquests. Bin Laden promised to end his war with the US on condition that America embraced Islam. Ahmadinejad is no stranger to this manipulative tactic. In his speech he declared: "If the U.S. government recognizes the rights of the Iranian people, respects all nations and extends a hand of friendship with all Iranians, they, too, will see that Iranians will be one of its best friends.” Do you suspect that among these rights are joining the nuclear club and dominating southern Iraq?
In short nothing was gained for the US or for Columbia University in giving this crazed fanatic airtime for his views. Americans learnt nothing from this self indulgent exercise except how they can be played for suckers by despotic regimes. But then it takes a special type of liberal to see that.
Another shameful race row 4 October, 2007
It is a sure bet that the moment a politician questions Britain’s immigration shambles the words ‘racist’ and ‘xenophobe’ will be thrown at them. Only 4 months ago large sections of Labour’s politically correct police claimed Margaret Hodge was speaking ‘BNP language’ when she questioned the allocation of council housing to immigrants. Red Ken, the iron Chancellor of rainbow politics, said her words were catastrophic for community relations,’ while Diane Abbott directly accused her of being a ‘mouthpiece of the BNP’.
Now it has happened again. In an interview with the Independent on Sunday, the Tory spokesman on community cohesion, Sayeeda Warsi, spoke about ‘out of control’ immigration in Britain and described how people felt uneasy at the rapid pace of demographic change resulting from it. She denounced the lack of a border police force and the lack of checks in the immigration system that had left many people ‘uneasy.’
Not surprisingly in areas such as Barking and Dagenham, this has fuelled tensions within the community and led to a rise in support for the far right. ‘The BNP will look at what issue it is locally that they can exploit,’ she said, ‘and the other political parties are not seen to be dealing with and they will play to that.’ What was crucial for Baroness Warsi was not writing off all those who voted BNP. Many, she claimed, had ‘legitimate views’ and concerns which were being exploited by the far right party. It was time for an ‘an honest debate.’
Then came the avalanche. Operation Black Vote, the group for which Lady Warsi used to work, accused her of pandering to racist views peddled by the BNP, adding for good measure that this was ‘grotesque.’ The language she was using was apparently that of the ‘BNP’. We just need to consider her record to see how irresponsible these comments are. The daughter of immigrants, Warsi spent some of her early career helping to improve race relations through launching Operation Black Vote. She has also sat on various racial justice committees and in her interview was careful to point to the BNP’s ‘hate agenda.’
In any case is it so wrong for the Tories to consider engaging with supporters of the BNP? Note the word supporters here, not activists. Of course, many voters are attracted to extreme, fringe parties only because they are inward looking, chauvinistic xenophobes. In their bitter world view, foreigners take centre stage as the source of their woes and the reason for our perceived national decline. It is hard to imagine that any set of rational arguments would sway this hard core of British bigots. To neglect the poisonous racism of the BNP and their core activists would therefore be naïve in the extreme.
But would it not be equally naïve to write off all their voters as unreconstructed racists? Can we not assume that there are some ordinary folk who, in their turmoil over violent crime, immigration and extremism, become seduced by the clever tactics of extreme parties? In a fit of misguided judgment, they see the BNP as being the political knight in shining armour, a party who are brazen enough to say the things on which the mainstream parties are silent. While the Tories and Labour peddle softly on Islamic extremism and violent crime, the BNP dare to offer more radical solutions. While no party calls for EU withdrawal, this remains one of Nick Griffin’s key policy pledges. It is not hard to see why these issues might attract a bunch of highly disillusioned voters. Warsi is right - to write off these angry, but misguided, voters as racist would be far too simplistic.
People may nonetheless be puzzled. With the party desperate to shrug off its perceived nastiness, why is a leading member straying into such controversial territory? The answer has much to do with the canny skills of one Gordon Brown. While the Tories have shifted from their traditional (and popular) positions on crime, immigration and taxation, New Labour has been busy stealing Tory clothes. Last week the canny Gordon Brown issued alarming rhetoric about safeguarding ‘British jobs for British workers’. This statement, risible in itself given current EU laws, would have been unthinkable in 2005. But as the Tories have abandoned their right of centre policy position, Brown has seized his chance to appeal to the ‘nation’ on an issue that clearly resonates with the public. People are largely fed up with the unsustainable levels of mass immigration introduced in 1997.
The Tories now seem to have woken up to the Brown strategy. They want their political clothes back, even if it means ditching some of the modernizing strategy lauded by Cameron and Willetts. But the Tories can only sound convincing if they offer a robust alternative to the government’s moribund policies. If they don’t, Warsi and her followers will be arguing for nothing.
Cynicism, spin and populism: Welcome to the world of Gordon Brown 8 October, 2007
So Gordon Brown has come crashing down to Planet Earth. He is no Churchill, no peerless father of the nation seeking desperately to heal the wounds of party bickering. Now he we can see him as a Machiavellian, cynical opportunist, a down to earth canny politician seeking to court popularity in the most devious fashion. Yes, I am referring to the unmitigated PR disaster of the snap election that never was. Gordon Brown’s procrastination has made him look hesitant and shifty, a discreditable figure of ridicule in the Westminster village. Yesterday’s solid, principled politician is today’s indecisive, sham populist.
When Gordon Brown was interviewed by Andrew Marr, he tried to put the best gloss on a bad weekend for his government. He was waiting to present his vision for Britain before going to the polls, you see. The fact that polling in the marginal constituencies suggested a Labour defeat apparently had little to do with it. If this is the best spin one can expect from the Prime Minister, he had better take lessons from Alastair Campbell.
Brown’s strategy, it seems, was to allow speculation about an early poll to reach a fever pitch, all the while reducing the Tories to a quivering wreck as they rushed through a series of incoherent policy pronouncements. But the threat (yes, threat) of a snap poll had the opposite effect – it galvanized the Tories, forcing them to put aside their party bickering and concentrating their ire on the lamentable failings of the last decade. Brown also did not reckon on the Tories’ masterstoke of a tax cut. It is what traditionally minded Tories, such as myself, have been looking forward to for months – and it paid off handsomely.
Some might argue it is harsh to judge Gordon Brown in this way. After all, is it not the automatic prerogative of a serving Prime Minister to decide the date of an election based on poll data? Is it not canny to trip up the opposition by encouraging just this kind of election fever? Maybe so. But the mark of a true statesman is to rise beyond the fickle and froth of public opinion and take principled decisions in the national interest. That was the elaborately constructed Brown image which has now been rudely shattered.
Indeed this has been a rude awakening in more ways than one. Last week the PM flew into Iraq to make an announcement about imminent troop withdrawals from Iraq. The visit was timed to coincide with the start of the Tory conference while his announcement violated a pledge to make such statements to Parliament before the media. British soldiers, busy spilling their guts on the battlefield, were used as political footballs in the most crude and unforgivable manner imaginable. Fortunately, Gordon Brown's insulting gesture was seen as the cheap electioneering stunt it was.
But none of this should come as a surprise for Brown has never been above spin and cynical politics. What else are we to make of Baroness Thatcher’s visit to no. 10 on the very day that the Tories’ unveiled their Quality of Life report? How else can we interpret ‘consensual politics’ other than as a potent weapon to destabilize the opposition? For this ruthlessly divisive politician, consensus means the obliteration of the other parties and a Brown dominated state. His great idea for accountability is not a vote on the EU Constitution but citizens juries, which would be used to rubberstamp the Prime Minister’s own views. As Chancellor, Brown misled the public about the CBI’s advice prior to the tax raid on pensions in 1997.
The worst thing about Brown is not that he is addicted to spin but that he is so bad at it. A whole section of voters have seen through the PM’s cynical manoeuvring and feel as if they have been taken for fools. In short, this issue is about trust and Brown's antics hurt because they show him to be untrustworthy, more than just indecisive. Whether the revitalised Tories can capitalise on Brown’s Achilles heel remains to be seen.
Lisbon 2007: Another day of treachery approaches 18 October, 2007
In Lisbon today, Gordon Brown will put his signature to the new European treaty, determined as ever to deny a referendum to the British people. He will be buoyed by an article in today’s Independent which sets out to expose what it sees as 10 fundamental ‘Eurosceptic myths’ regarding the new treaty.
According to this article, it is wrong to assume that Britain is surrendering ‘vital powers over fundamental issues of sovereignty’ to Brussels. There will be no ‘EU Foreign Minister’ controlling Britain’s foreign policy and no new President of Europe while Britain will not lose control of its borders by signing up. Neither will we be forced to free prisoners or replace our embassies with an EU diplomatic service. The most important myth of all, according to this Euro friendly piece, is that the EU treaty is the same as the Constitutional Treaty of 2005.
No doubt there is much truth here. But myths persist on both sides and ‘inconvenient truths’ have a nasty habit of being brushed under the carpet. Britain is certainly surrendering dozens of vetoes in policy areas, such as transport, energy and space policy. QMV (Qualified Majority Voting) will also be extended in numerous policy areas as a result of this treaty and if this does not constitute a loss of sovereignty, I don’t know what else does.
The government claims it is safeguarding the rights of British workers, including the right to overtime beyond 48 hours, with its red lines on justice and home affairs. But according to the cross party foreign affairs committee, those red lines could be as watertight as a sponge. Not exactly reassuring is it. As for our borders, it certainly is true that we will not lose control of them purely because of this treaty. For we lost control of our borders years ago, in part thanks to the Convention on Human Rights which prevents us deporting dangerous foreigners to less sunny climbs where they might face torture.
The most risible of the alleged ‘myths’ is that there is no major difference between the treaty and the former Constitution. No one, not even the most die hard Euro fanatics, can believe that the original Constitutional Treaty and the new Treaty are fundamentally different without needing their heads examined. Just listen to the views of those who framed and scrutinized the Constitutional Treaty.
Bertie Ahern commented that the treaty preserved "90% of the original constitution" while German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that the new treaty used "different terminology" without "changing the legal substance" of the Constitution. José Luis Zapatero triumphantly claimed that “the great part of the European Constitution (was) in the new treaty.”
The most revealing comment came from Valéry Giscard d'Estaing who admitted that although the British, Dutch and French wanted no mention of the word constitution the new treaty contained "all the key elements of the constitution." At least this ageing Frenchman was honest enough to reveal the chicanery involved.
If papers like the Independent are right, we ought to believe that these European leaders are irresponsibly peddling myths in an effort to undermine the EU. Naturally this view is risible but it is the logical consequence of their argument.
The Europhiles remind us that previous far reaching treaties, such as Maastricht, required no national mandate. While true this argument misses a crucial point. John Major’s government never promised to hold a referendum on Maastricht; so signing this treaty, damaging as it was, represented no violation of political promises.
Those people immune to the Euro spin know perfectly well why Gordon Brown will never offer a referendum on the treaty. He knows he will lose it.
Watson should not have been hounded from Britain 19 October, 2007
'A society that values free speech must be strong enough to deal with an irresponsible fool, if that is what Watson is.'
The Science Museum’s decision to cancel James Watson’s talk has now had the desired result. Now other academic institutions that were due to host the scientist, including my former alma mater, Bristol University, have followed suit and cancelled Watson’s planned speaking tour. Watson has been effectively driven out of the country.
There are many who will feel this is a justifiable decision. In his Sunday Times interview last week, the eminent geneticist offered an incredibly contentious scientific view about the intelligence of Africans. He described himself as ‘gloomy about the prospect of Africa’ because while ‘all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours…all the testing says not really.’
He added that though the prevailing view was that everyone was equal, ‘people who have to deal with black employees find this not true.’ Naturally this latter crass statement was deeply offensive and it would be idle to pretend otherwise. There are many people who argue that such generalizations are both derogatory and have no rational foundation.
Indeed, if one considers the question of intelligence, there are grounds for doubting Watson’s view. To discount the role of environmental influences, including cultural background, in assessing intelligence is an elementary error. This is one reason why IQ tests have been labelled ‘Eurocentric’; hence an invalid means of testing peoples from non Western backgrounds.
Many will certainly recoil from the notion that there is an inherent link between skin colour and intelligence. Indeed this is not the first time that Watson has courted controversy. Back in 2000 he offended many people by saying that dark skinned people had stronger libidos than others, positing a link between skin colour and sex drive.
Nonetheless Watson should have been allowed to continue his speaking tour in the UK. He was, after all, advancing a ‘scientific’ thesis about intelligence, rather than suggesting that black people were inherently ‘inferior’, which is a moral and political one. If one reads the interview carefully, one finds Watson agreeing. ‘He (Watson) says that you should not discriminate on the basis of colour, because ‘there are many people of colour who are very talented, but don’t promote them when they haven’t succeeded at the lower level.’
Watson was not calling for discrimination against blacks and if he had, his thesis would no longer have been scientific. To treat him as a pariah bigot was to assume he was abusing the scientific methods in order to promote a racist agenda, a kind of David Irving of the science world. Those who know him best denied these were his real motives. At worst, his view was misguided and unfounded.
But what better way to prove this point than to give Watson the freedom to explain his views, provided that those views were then subject to robust challenge and debate. There are plenty of scientists willing to show why Watson's views are incorrect. Instead of having a public debate, their views are now confined to the letters pages of the broadsheets. A society that values free speech must be strong enough to deal with an irresponsible fool, if that is what Watson is.
Of course intellectuals must tread carefully with issues of race. But if we shut off debate whenever these issues are raised, we risk losing much that is precious about our way of life. As James Watson has just discovered.
An unquiet world 22 October, 2007
'Terrorism is an Islamic issue because some Muslims have been brainwashed to think that their faith demands a violent and sustained jihad against the ‘infidel’.
In July 2007 the National and International Security Policy Group, chaired by former MI6 chief, Pauline Neville Jones, produced the report ‘An Unquiet World’. This report dealt with a range of issues connected to national security, including terrorism, immigration and asylum policy, the police and Britain’s foreign policy.
The Conservative Muslim Forum has just offered its response (available to download at conservativemuslimforum.com) and it offers a starkly worrying picture of Muslim attitudes in Britain. In previous posts I have tried to highlight how the problem of Muslim extremism in Britain (as elsewhere) is not confined to the heinous plots of fringe terrorists. Instead it lurks in the attitudes of wider sections of the community; attitudes which, if left unchallenged, provide powerful ammunition for terrorist cells. Extremism is being encouraged because mainstream Muslim groups remain in denial about the terrorist threat, here and abroad, that confronts us all.
The document starts with an encouraging tone. ‘The Conservative Party's values and policies reflect the values and beliefs of the Muslim community in the United Kingdom,’ it says. These values include ‘Belief in enterprise, in the sense of community, in the family and in the value of hard work…’ The authors go on to say that Muslims, like all citizens of this country, ‘share the same interest in British national security,’ thought their background gives them ‘a different perspective.’
One of these perspectives concerns Israel and Zionism:
'Regardless of whether one finds Israel a congenial country or not, on any objective assessment the type of unqualified support given to Israel by the current Government is not conducive to British national interests as this could damage Britain’s relationships with 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, including those in Britain. Britain's interests would be better served by forceful diplomatic pressure on Israel in order to press her to withdraw from the occupied territories and negotiate seriously for a two state solution.'
Firstly, this ignores Israel’s previous efforts to negotiate for precisely this outcome. All parties (minus the Palestinian) to the 2000-1 peace talks agree that Yasser Arafat’s intransigence led to him rejecting Ehud Barak’s proposals which would have created a Palestinian state. Secondly, the wording here presupposes that the attitude among Muslims to Israel is fairly benign. In other words, that all Britain needs to do is put diplomatic pressure on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank in order to curry favour with global Muslim opinion.
If only things were that simple. A two state solution brokered by Britain would do little to reduce the animosity of Muslims who support suicide bombings against Israel. It would be seen as treachery by supporters of President Ahmadinejad, the religious fanatic whose stated desire is to wipe Israel off the map. Surveys of Muslim attitudes in Pakistan, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Indonesia and elsewhere reveal a vast amount of mindless anti semitic prejudice which only fans the flames of hatred against the Jewish state. Granted, there are many Muslims around the world who do favour a two state solution in principle. But their voices are drowned out by the bigotry of their co-religionists. Indeed the cat is let out the bag later on in the survey:
'Pro-Zionist statements only damage relationships with Muslims nationally and internationally.'
So it is Zionism, the belief in Jewish self determination, that apparently troubles Muslims, not the lack of a two state solution. How then can one hope to win them over by creating a two state solution when one of the states would be a Zionist one? Bit worrying don’t you think? But it gets worse:
'Irrespective of one's views of theocracy, the current Iranian regime was established by a popular revolution, sustained itself despite the attack by Iraq during the 1980s and has a significant measure of domestic support. Regardless of the foreign policies of the United States, hostility to Iran is not in Britain's national interest. A constructive engagement with Iran offers many possibilities for progress. As Winston Churchill once said, “to jaw jaw is always better than to war war”. Furthermore, Iran has many legitimate security concerns, being surrounded by, what are to them, potentially hostile powers. Instead of joining the United States in demonising Iran, Britain should assist Iran in addressing these legitimate security concerns in a manner that improves our security rather than weakening it.'
Leaving aside that it was Harold Macmillan, not Churchill, who coined the war war phrase, it is the emphasis on our ‘hostility to Iran’ that grates here. Elements of the Iranian regime have brutally assisted insurgents in Iraq and the Taleban in Afghanistan. Iranian supplied weapons have killed British soldiers while the regime openly supports the destabilizing influence that is Hezbollah.
Now the regime seeks weapons of mass destruction that would allow it to dominate the Persian Gulf and claim hegemony in the Middle East. For this reason, the region’s Sunni powers (Egypt and Saudi Arabia in particular) have expressed the greatest alarm at Tehran’s provocative behaviour. Yet Britain is accused of ‘demonising Iran.’ Funny really.
Even though the report concludes that Britain should oppose Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it offers mixed messages. Apparently Iran ‘appears to have legitimate reasons for seeking nuclear weapons for defensive purposes’ because she faces ‘a nuclear armed Israel.’ Except that Israel has never threatened to wipe Iran off the map or relocate Iranians to the North Pole or Europe. In today’s confusing age of moral relativism, this may seem irrelevant but it is a difference of profound importance.
But the most revealing evidence of a community in denial comes in sections 15 and 16 of the report.
'Terrorists are criminals, and linking them with any religion is simply playing to their terms. We accept that some terrorists do abuse Islam for their purposes. However, an incoming Conservative administration must deny their attempt to link criminal acts to any religion. The term “terrorism” must be separated from any religious references.'
Indeed this appears to follow the government’s strategy over the last 2 years. Deny that the terrorists (sorry criminals) are Islamic or that we face a religious holy war and hopefully we will win over Britain’s Muslim community. But if we are dealing with non religious criminals, why bother the Muslim community in the first place? They are not Muslims right? Wrong. Terrorism is an Islamic issue precisely because some Muslims have been brainwashed to think that their faith demands a violent and sustained jihad against the ‘infidel’. They believe that the West is engaged in a conspiracy to destroy Islam and that only their violent death cult can spare their faith from inexorable ruin.
The authors of this report say they welcome the distinction between Islam and Islamism. Yet they show no willingness to tackle Islamism’s worst manifestations. As recent undercover documentaries have revealed, foreign preachers (many Saudi) have been invited to the UK to spread their hateful, seditious, homophobic and racist ideology in ‘mainstream’ mosques. Yet the authors say that they ‘disagree with the suggestion that “foreign preachers and scholars advocating the rejection of the institutions and values of democracy” should be denied entry into Britain.’
However their position is rather different when it comes to groups preaching hatred against Muslims. The authors say there is a need ‘to combat extremist voices from different parts of the political spectrum, including the white far right.’ The smell of double standards is overwhelming.
The authors of this report claim that they want to tackle extremism and the terror threat. But their report indicates that among moderate Muslims, many of the wrong attitudes still persist.
The Middle East ‘peace process’: or why the road to hell is still paved with good intentions 28 October, 2007
The latest round in the interminable saga known as ‘the peace process’ is about to descend upon us. In a desperate attempt to secure a legacy for her boss, Condoleezza Rice has jetted around the Middle East in a last push for an enduring peace settlement. To that end she has arranged an Israeli-Palestinian conference to be held in Annapolis, Maryland to ‘advance the cause of the establishment of a Palestinian state.’
These talks have a superficial attractiveness. No one can reasonably doubt the deprivation and squalor of Palestinian life and that the status quo cannot long continue. Moreover, the Hamas takeover of Gaza, which has only fuelled the misery in that part of ‘Palestine’, has arguably enhanced Abu Mazen’s position as a man the West can do business with.
Ehud Olmert has lauded Mazen and the Palestinian prime minister as partners for peace, men not compromised by terror. Ehud Olmert is less hardline than his predecessor while George Bush is desperate to gain credibility as a peacemaker after his ill fated intervention in Iraq.
But this is diplomacy built on quicksand. Abu Mazen may not be ‘compromised by terror’ in the way that Yasser Arafat was. But he seems just as intransigent as Arafat on the one issue that will scupper any talks: a right of return for Palestinian refugees. Mazen has called for Palestinians to be allowed to return to Israel which, he claims, is their ancestral home. He has therefore followed the line adopted in the Saudi peace plan which included this demand in return for normalizing relations with Israel.
But the right of return is bogus for many reasons. Firstly, even though the total number of Palestinian exiles from 1947-9 was at most 700,000, the current total of refugees on UNWRA rolls exceeds 4 million. This refugee figure is absurd because it assumes that all the descendants of the original refugees are themselves refugees deserving of the same compensation and ‘right to return’.
Secondly, any attempt to exercise this right of return would so alter Israel’s demography that it would cease to be a Jewish state. Thirdly, the demand for a right of return completely negates the concept of Palestinian nationhood: Palestinians should have a right of return to Palestine, not to Israel.
Perhaps Mazen’s insistence on the right of return is no more than a clever bargaining position. But if it is, he may find it hard to climb down later and retain his credibility. But if he believes in this demand sincerely and sticks to it doggedly, then he will prove to be no partner for peace.
The (justified) exclusion of Hamas from these talks poses its own problems. They will see the offer of a two state ‘settlement’, in the long term, as a sell out to the West and as an act of unprecedented apostasy. This might not matter so much if Abu Mazen enjoyed overwhelming public support and could face down his enemies – but the odds are hardly stacked in his favour.
Earlier this year, his Fatah forces in Gaza were decisively routed by Hamas in an embarrassing defeat. If a Hamas style coup were to remove Mazen from power, converting Ramallah and Jericho into Westbankstan, Israel would face Islamists on its Eastern, Western and Northern borders. Under such circumstances, Abu Mazen’s peace pledges would carry as much weight as Hitler’s signature on the Munich agreement. This would be the Middle Eastern ‘peace in our time.’
If Abu Mazen is a man we can trust, why has he failed to stop the ferocious campaign of incitement against Jews in the West Bank? As a result of this failure, Palestinian schools and summer camps remain centres of racist indoctrination and breeding centres for terror. Israel ought to insist on the ending of all incitement as a precondition for peace talks.
But the problems do not end there. Iran currently poses a grave and growing threat to the stability of the Middle East. Its fanatical president has threatened genocide against Israel while his terrorist proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, are both capable of sustained campaigns of violence, as last year’s Lebanon war clearly showed. The latest round of US sanctions is likely to be highly ineffective, given that China and Russia remain resolutely opposed to more stringent measures. With this volatile situation to deal with, there is scant chance of stability on the Israel-Palestine front.
It may be tempting to welcome initiatives that give hope to all sides in this conflict. But unless the parties address the root cause of this conflict, the Arab/Muslim rejection of Jewish sovereignty in any form, the peace process will once again come to a juddering halt.
Note to King Abdullah: 9/11 was a mainly Saudi affair 30 October, 2007
Someone tell me I misheard yesterday. If I am not mistaken, Saudi King Abdullah had the temerity to lecture the West on not doing enough to stop terrorism. In political terms this is grand farce. It is thanks to the Saudi regime that Islamist terror has become a global force threatening nearly every continent on earth. 15 of the 19 9/11 bombers were Saudi and for every one of those attackers, there were many more who could have taken their places. So what next? Will Robert Mugabe lecture Gordon Brown on human rights, or Ahmadinejad on gay rights? Perhaps we can expect a lesson on press freedom from Vladimir Putin./p>
For many decades the House of Saud has had an unholy pact with its religious establishment. Provided that the royals didn’t interfere with religious ideology, the clerics would support the pro Western, oil rich plutocrats. This allowed clerics and educationalists to make Wahhabism (or Salafism) the official state religion. The Wahhabis have adopted the most austere, puritanical and narrow minded version of Islam, according to which non Muslims are infidels and women are treated as second class citizens. The notion of militant jihad has been given a particular emphasis in this brand of Islam.
In the 1960s billons of petrodollars were used to export this lethal brand of intolerance around the world, thanks to groups like the World Association of Muslim Youth. Influential Saudi clerics used their autonomy to brainwash generations of Saudi men, so much so that recent opinion polls show a vast majority of Saudis support Osama Bin Laden.
After 9/11 the House of Saud realised that the monster it had nurtured might soon turn on its protector. Suicide bombings in Riyadh and Dhahran some years back were a wake up call and the regime started to rein in some of the more militant groups. But the Saudi legacy is very much with us. Saudi financed schools around the world preach Wahhabi doctrines while Saudi financed preachers stir sedition in British mosques. The King’s comments have a malodorous whiff of hypocrisy about them.
Of course the counter terrorist strategies of Western governments are not infallible. In the last 20 years British governments and officials have insufficiently understood the threat from militant Islam. Terrorist ideologues, like Abu Hamza and Omar Bakri Mohammed have been given free rein to spread their poisonous hatred with little interference from the authorities. Even after the ‘wake up call’ of 7th July, Hizb ut Tahrir, a virulently anti semitic group campaigning for an Islamic Caliphate, has not been proscribed. There is much to learn.
Nor is this an argument for isolationism. The Saudis are alert to the Iranian threat and are in a position to supply intelligence in the war on terror. However, the recent blackmail over the Al Yamamah case demonstrates that if they are an ally, they are a dubious one at best. Nonetheless, if we accept a strong working relationship with the regime on pragmatic grounds, is there any need to see British politicians, and the Royal Family, fawning so obsequiously at the feet of these corrupt autocrats? As Vince Cable has pointed out, a state visit is the highest diplomatic accolade a head of state can receive.
For some, this may be the price we pay realpolitik. I prefer to see it as final proof of the farce that is Labour’s ‘ethical foreign policy.’
Iran and sanctions: Have we reached a turning point? 30 October, 2007
The Americans say that the door to a diplomatic solution over Iran remains wide open. The prospects look decidedly bleak, however. The latest sanctions targeted at the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, while certainly welcome, clearly do not go far enough. This is largely because of Chinese and Russian intransigence, with both countries possessing powerful economic interests in Iran, as they did in pre Saddam Iraq.
Thus the US leads the fight against Ahmadinejad with a highly ineffective sanctions weapon that is only likely to embolden Tehran’s hardline regime. The signs from Iran point to precisely this outcome. Within the last few days, Ali Larijani, Iran’s former nuclear negotiator, has been replaced by Saeed Jalili, a deputy foreign minister and close ally of the President. Whereas Mr. Larijani was reportedly flexible in negotiation, Mr. Jalili will no doubt share his boss’ view that Iranian plans for nuclear power ought to go unopposed by the international community. Iran’s hardliners are clearly in the ascendant. The signs point to a US strike against Iranian targets at some point in the foreseeable future.
No one should be complacent about what this will involve – not the strikes themselves, which are feasible enough, but their likely consequences. Iran has terrorist proxies in Lebanon and Gaza in the form of Hezbollah and Hamas. Any attack on Iran would lead to these proxies unleashing havoc in the region, as was the case in Lebanon during the 2006 summer war. This is certainly alarming for the region and for Israel in particular. But how much greater would the damage be if these rogue groups possessed the ultimate weapon? American officials have also warned about the threat of Iranian attacks on US targets, both in the Middle East and beyond.
There is considerable evidence that Iran arms insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq. A strike against Iran could lead to deeper instability in both countries and only prolong the Allied fight there. But one has to ask how much harder it would be to confront Ahmadinejad, the source of much instability, if he possessed the ultimate deterrent weapon.
If America dithers and fails to stop the Iranian bomb, Israel’s government has indicated that it would take pre emptive action to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. The precedent was its destruction of Iraq’s Osiraq reactor in 1981, an action widely condemned at the time but one which prevented Saddam Hussein from using atomic weaponry against the Allies in 1990.
Any Israeli pre emptive strike would be universally condemned as illegal and immoral. The UN would be in emergency session within minutes, maintaining the bilious anti Zionist bias that has characterised it for decades. (The leaders of some Arab nations would breath a private sigh of relief, despite their public criticisms.) But Israel would argue that inaction was worse. Israelis could scarcely live securely under the shadow of an Iranian bomb, not knowing from day to day whether Ahmadinejad could be deterred from war by the threat of a retaliatory strike.
The truth is that any public debate on Iran is likely to be skewed badly by Britain's prevailing mood of anti Americanism. The Iraq war has created such scepticism about President Bush and the special relationship that it seems scarcely possible that any US led operation, or one carried out by its allies, could ever be justified. This is a tragic lapse in thinking. For all the mistakes made in Iraq, including the original decision to invade, and for all the imperfections of the Republican Administration, the US and its allies are locked in a lethal battle with their Islamist foes. Iran is the most dangerous of those foes.
Those who advocate force against Iran are unlikely to be complacent about the consequences. But just as we need to understand the dangers of military action, so too must we confront the greater threat of inaction.
The policy exchange report on British Islam 31 October, 2007
Yesterday the Policy Exchange published a report (available to download from their website) called ‘The Hijacking of British Islam’. The report was based on a year long investigation into the Islamic literature available at ‘mainstream sites of religious instruction’ in the UK.
4 Muslim research teams visited approximately 100 sites in the UK, including ‘leading mosques’, in order to investigate how ‘Muslim separatism and hatred of nonbelievers was accessible in those institutions’ via the literature they were providing. This literature was collected and passed to experts who analysed and translated it.
The report’s conclusions are fairly shocking, though for seasoned observers of extremism, not surprising. Radical material was found in a quarter of the mosques observed, a minority it is true, though the authors say that these were ‘among the best-funded and most dynamic institutions in Muslim Britain’. Many of these institutions have been ‘endowed with official recognition.’ Their main conclusions are as follows:
‘Within the literature identified here, a number of key themes emerge… The individual Muslim must also feel an abhorrence for non-believers, hypocrites, heretics, and all that is deemed 'un-Islamic'. The latter category encompasses those Muslims who are judged to practise an insufficiently rigorous form of Islam. Much of the material is thus infused with a strident sectarianism, in which many Muslims – particularly the very large number of Sufis in this country and around the world - are placed beyond the pale. More widely, Muslims are urged to separate themselves from people and things that are not considered Islamic…Western society, in particular, is held to be sinful, corrosive and corrupting for Muslims. Western values - particularly concerning the position and rights of women and in the realm of sexuality generally - are rejected as inimical to Islam.’
There are many who say that these attitudes, while grossly distasteful and extreme, do not amount to an explicit justification for terrorism. Indeed a rejection of Western values, including demands for separatism and a rejection of democracy, are not identical with supporting terrorism. But it would be naïve to dissociate them. As I have tried to point out in previous posts, radicalised attitudes provide powerful ammunition for those seeking to perpetrate terrorist acts. As the report says:
‘Without condoning or inciting terrorism, portions of it can sometimes provide a cultural hinterland - couched in religious terms - into which those who do encourage and conduct violence can move. They inculcate disgust for, and separation from, the unbelievers or 'kuffar', creating an ideological space which can be exploited by those who are prepared to justify and engage in terrorism against the West.’
Naturally the PC response to such alarming evidence is to deny its Islamic provenance. All the great faiths rail against the perceived injustices of Western life, including sexual liberalism, abortion, pre marital sex, atheism and so on. But it is how they deal with this irreligious behaviour that ultimately counts. As the authors state:
‘But mainstream Christianity and Judaism, at least as practised in western Europe today, do not respond to these spiritual challenges with either an implied or an explicit threat of violence…’
The report goes on: ‘Islamic organisations to which the 'offending' institutions are currently linked - notably groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) - must categorically repudiate the extremist, separatist and often sectarian material uncovered in this report and exert pressure for change.’
They might as well not have bothered with that one. Not when the MCB parade their victim mentality at every turn, explaining every act of violence as an ‘understandable’ response to the follies of Blair and Bush. Not when the MCB happily indulge in their own brand of extremism, such as the disgraceful boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day.
It is reassuring that a majority of mosques (in the sample analysed) are not peddling this dangerous and subversive literature. Britain’s decent minded Muslims will no doubt be horrified by this report and join the civilised majority in condemning it. It would be reassuring if the representative Muslim groups feted by the government shared this attitude.
But if some left-liberal types can no longer ignore Islamism’s ubiquitous influence, they might argue that it should be countered in the marketplace of ideas rather than through censorship. On the Guardian website today, Brian Whitaker offered a comment on the Policy exchange report, titled ‘Rubbish from Riyadh’:
Aware that the works in question ‘certainly promote religious intolerance’ he goes on to say:
‘Wahhabis are entitled to express their views, just like anyone else, though it is unfortunate that the financial resources behind Wahhabism have given it undue influence…But it is not very clear from the report how many of the mosques that distribute them - and those that do so are a clear minority - also provide a religious health warning or remind worshippers that they represent nothing more than one highly eccentric and unsavoury strand of Islamic teaching.’
Only eccentric and unsavoury eh? Try telling that to the mangled corpses that pile up after a terrorist atrocity, one that happens because a religious fanatic has been brainwashed by an ‘eccentric’ cleric. How typical of these liberals to dismiss the threat of radical Islam in such a cavalier fashion. Critics who oppose ‘Islamophobia’ often condemn the measures necessary to counter extremism, thus ensuring the very conditions in which resentment against Muslims will grow.
Meanwhile it is left to a group of Muslim moderates, fearful for the sanity of their co-religionists, to propose a more obvious solution, namely that mosques should get rid of this material once and for all. Welcome to PC Britain.
And now the Muslim Council of Britain responds 2 November, 2007
Not all fundamentalists are the same. Some pose an imminent threat to public safety and it is they, and they alone, who merit the closest scrutiny.
Just in case you were unsure how the Muslim Council of Britain would respond to the Policy Exchange report (discussed in the previous post), Inayat Bunglawala, its Deputy Chairman, gave his response yesterday on the Guardian website. Acknowledging that many of the passages in Saudi books and pamphlets were ‘not for the faint hearted’ and could be regarded as ‘very unpleasant’, Mr Bunglawala added that he saw ‘no suggestion’ that they actually broke ‘any of our laws.’ In a robust democracy, he said, extremist literature had to be tolerated and challenged, rather than be censored. Mr. Bunglawala posed the following questions:
‘Who does Policy Exchange suggest will decide what is "unacceptable" literature? Is there to be a list of "prohibited books" that should be drawn up, and if so, by whom? Who will enforce it? And will only Muslim bookshops be policed or all bookshops?’
Mr. Bunglawala’s questions should not go unchallenged because they go to the heart of the debate about the limits of free speech. I will therefore attempt some answers.
The mosques themselves ought to act as moral censors and decide whether the literature in question violates their interpretation of Islam. We are always told that the majority of imams are moderate, tolerant and inclusive; in other words, that they do not deserve to be called extremists. If so, they should quickly reach the correct conclusion about whether this hate material deserves to be paraded in mosques. Literature that impugns the character of Jews (and which praises the anti semitic forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion) and calls for gay people to be executed is clearly not moderate. But if mosques do not remove extremist material and refuse to get their house in order, the police should step in instead. Books which infringe the law by inciting hatred and violence should be removed, period.
Now all this may all sound a touch draconian, a kind of soft totalitarianism by the back door. Mr. Bunglawala certainly believes so because he argues that censorship would make Great Britain morally equivalent to the Islamists.
‘The danger with the "reds under the bed" approach that tired right-wing outfits like Policy Exchange routinely adopt is that the logical conclusion of all the measures they propose are, on closer inspection, every bit as frightening as what they claim to be speaking out against.’
He goes on to remind us of ‘how the government of Saudi Arabia decides which books and magazines are "approved" for reading and which are not,’ as if to ward us off from copying such illiberal measures.
But this is dangerous frivolity. One of the main books proscribed in Saudi Arabia is the Bible, as Christians who have been imprisoned for practising their faith will readily tell you. But an open and democratic society that wishes to proscribe this lethal brand of Islamist intolerance is not in a morally equivalent position to a backward state prohibiting religious freedom.
The litmus test of censorship is not whether a viewpoint is offensive. A robust, democratic society must tolerate, both in law and in practice, any views which are deemed to be offensive. That is why the Science Museum was wrong to deny a platform to James Watson, and why Patrick Mercer should not have been expelled from the Shadow Government. No, the litmus test is whether a person’s speech is likely to incite violence or hatred against another person or group. In other words, whether the exercise of your right to free expression infringes my right not to suffer its harmful consequences. Freedom is never an absolute.
The question we have to ask is whether the literature uncovered in the Policy Review investigation fails the litmus test mentioned above. Given the vast numbers of terrorist recruits who have been immersed in Islamism’s literary hate fest, I think the answer here is fairly clear cut. Some may disagree. But they have to ask the right questions first.
The last of Bunglawala’s questions (‘Will only Muslim bookshops be policed or all bookshops?’) is the most revealing of all. The politically correct response to Islamist terrorism is to deny that it is an ‘Islamic’ problem. Every faith has fundamentalists after all, so why pick on Muslims?
Yet singling out mosques in this way is not discriminatory, at least in the sense of unfair or irrational discrimination. Churches and synagogues do not promote books, videos and pamphlets calling for gays and ‘apostates’ to be executed, and for Western democracy to be destroyed. It takes a peculiar kind of moral blindness not to see that. Naturally the Judaeo-Christian tradition will offend atheists, gays and liberals in its vigorous attack on Western lifestyles. But these ‘offensive’ ideas can generally be challenged in the marketplace of ideas.
Not all fundamentalists are the same. Some pose an imminent threat to public safety and it is they, and they alone, who merit the closest scrutiny.
So Britain is in danger of becoming like Nazi Germany? Pull the other one. 12 November, 2007
So Britain is in danger of becoming like Nazi Germany is it? That is apparently the view of Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari, leader of the Muslim Council of Britain. This outrageous claim was made in an interview with the Telegraph 2 days ago, from which I quote:
"There is a disproportionate amount of discussion surrounding us…The air is thick with suspicion and unease. It is not good for the Muslim community, it is not good for society…Every society has to be really careful so the situation doesn't lead us to a time when people's minds can be poisoned as they were in the 1930s."
As his assistant secretary, Inayat Bunglawala, confirmed later, the analogy he had in mind was with Nazi Germany. Bunglawala said on BBC radio on Saturday: “What you had in the 1930s was all sorts of popular fictions were spread about the Jewish community that they were responsible for all ills that were occurring to Germany." This is not the first time that such an odious, ignorant and offensive comparison has been made. The big champion of PC politics, Ken Livingstone, courted controversy last October by suggesting that the veil debate sparked by Jack Straw’s comments had echoes of the Nazi hounding of Jews in the 1930s.
As a historical point of comparison, both men are talking plain nonsense. Jews in Nazi Germany were hounded out of the teaching profession and sacked from the civil service. Jewish books were burnt in public with the full approval of the government and Jews were then prevented from marrying non Aryans under the Nuremburg laws. They were stripped of citizenship. German Jews bore the full brunt of a full scale political onslaught, resulting in the most odious discrimination, persecution and eventually mass murder. This against an innocent community whose patriotism was unquestioned and whose contributions to German society had been long standing.
Any British politician who proposed such appalling discrimination against British Muslims would instantly light the funeral pyre for their political career. Rightly so. If any such measures were enacted, leading to widespread and officially sanctioned discrimination against the Muslim community, the law would (again rightly) stand up for the Muslim minority.
Of course, the other side of the equation must also be stated. No minority sect within German Jewry sought to take control of German society and rule it on the basis of a puritanical and intolerant interpretation of Jewish law. The idea that Britain may soon turn into a clone of Nazi Germany is simply not credible. 'Even if a‘climate of fear’ existed, it would scarcely produce even a fraction of the evils that beset Germany in the 1930s.
But it actually suits Dr. Bari to spout this pernicious nonsense. Perhaps because it is becoming fashionable to dethrone Jews as the victims of malevolence and replace them instead with Muslims or Palestinians. Muslims are the new Jews, as the saying goes. But Muslims are not the new Jews and Palestinian suffering is not the new Holocaust. But this shameful view finds its place in the MCB’s worldview which is why they have regularly boycotted Holocaust Memorial Day on the spurious grounds that it ignores other massacres. Among the victims of those other massacres are, you guessed it, Palestinians.
Dr. Bari then goes on to spout the usual denial about this even being a ‘religious problem.’
"Terrorists are terrorists, they may use religion but we shouldn't say Muslim terrorists, it stigmatises the whole community. We never called the IRA Catholic terrorists."
Indeed not, because the IRA never labelled themselves as such. Nor would they have wanted to because their conflict was an essentially political one, based on rectifying what they saw as a set of long term historical grievances. Despite the malodorous sectarian feud in Northern Ireland, the Irish Republicans never conceived their battle with the British government in religious terms. This is one reason why those who seek engagement with Hamas on the basis that it worked with Sinn Fein offer a bogus argument.
Today’s Islamist terror threat is a symptom of a jihadist ideology based on an interpretation of Islam which mandates the forcible overthrow of liberal democracy and the enslavement of non Muslims (and moderate non Islamists) to Sharia law. If Dr. Bari thinks that Islamist bombers are not Muslims, he should not be arguing with MI5 and the government. His gripe should be with the terrorists themselves, and millions of Islamist supporters who choose to interpret their faith in such a violent manner.
But because Bari thinks there are no ‘Muslim terrorists’ it follows that it is never legitimate to target anyone within his community. Thus control orders and stop and search operations reflect merely what he calls the police’s ‘institutional racism’ and the solution is to recruit ‘more Muslim police officers.’ Presumably officers who would never arrest other Muslims!
Dr. Bari then goes on condemn Salman Rushdie who, he said, ‘should never have been knighted’. He adds for good measure that The Satanic Verses ‘should have been pulped.’ Yet he thinks that it is wrong to censor or pulp the extremist literature uncovered by the Policy Exchange report. So material that is not just offensive but potentially lethal to non Muslims should not be pulped, yet Rushdie’s writings should be. After reading this interview, I suspect that it is Dr. Bari's double standards, not The Satantic Verses, that should be pulped.
Hard headed internationalism won't stop genocide 14 November, 2007
Blair was canny enough to realise that when the Security Council failed over Kosovo, only a 'hard headed alliance' would do.
In last week’s Spectator, Rod Liddle argued that politics had become ‘a vapid and meaningless discourse, conducted in a sort of hideous, political correct grammar…an endless glissando of empty nouns.’ An interesting thought and one that crossed my mind as I read Gordon Brown’s recent speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet.
The usual hollow diplomatic niceties were all: ‘interconnectedness’, ‘global concerns,’ ‘diversity,’ ‘interdependence’, ‘openness’ and, for good measure, ‘environmental sustainability.’ But after managing to avoid complete mental torpor by the end of the speech, it was possible to discern the outlines of a Brownite foreign policy, with the main idea summed up in one paragraph:
The old distinction between 'over there' and 'over here' does not make sense of this interdependent world. For there is no longer an 'over there' of terrorism, failed states, poverty, forced migration and environmental degradation and an 'over here' that is insulated or immune. Today a nation's self interest today will be found not in isolation but in cooperation to overcome shared challenges…We cannot escape the consequences of our interdependence.’
Does all this sound vaguely familiar? Take this extract from a speech delivered by one Tony Blair at the 2001 Lord Mayor’s Banquet:
The terrible events of 11 September have made the case for engagement not isolationism as the only serious foreign policy on offer…But one illusion has been shattered on 11 September: that we can have the good life of the West irrespective of the state of the rest of the world…There are few problems from which we remain immune…
Some new vision, Gordon! But party politics aside, it is hard to disagree with the basic point: no modern nation is completely immune to transnational forces, including today’s problem of globalized terror. What happens in the mountain regions of Afghanistan is our concern, not just for humanitarian reasons but because it captures our basic self interest.
Al Qaeda was given safe shelter under the Taleban and it was from that region that their iniquitous plans for mass murder were concocted. Thus our intervention in Afghanistan was given a moral as well as pragmatic legitimacy. Ever the good internationalist, Gordon argued for strengthening the UN as the main agency of intervention by expanding the Security Council, offering more targeted sanctions and funding better peacekeepers. He added, for good measure, that it was good that there were stronger links between EU nations and America.
All good stuff, you feel, until you realise that the basic problem was not addressed: what you do when an organization which is as institutionally paralyzed and morally compromised as the UN fails to deal with a serious political issue.
Brown talked of the ‘gaping hole in our ability to address the illegitimate threats and use of force against innocent peoples.’ He specifically mentioned Rwanda, though he could have added Darfur, the Kurds, Tibetan Monks and Zimbabweans to name but a few. Instead of intervening effectively in these situations, the UN has pursued Israel with singled minded venom and allowed rogue nations onto its diplomatic councils. No amount of mere tinkering will change this.
All of which brings us neatly to Tehran. Brown declared Iran’s nuclear ambitions to be the ‘greatest immediate challenge to non proliferation’ but the only options available were ‘a tightening of sanctions or a transformed relationship with the world.’ He scarcely considered the consequences of the failure of UN sanctions. He did not reveal the alternative (military) options he might consider if sanctions failed. In answer to the question ‘Would Brown support further US led measures against Iran if economic pressure failed’ the best we can offer is ‘Don’t know.’
The omens are not good though. By appointing the anti neo con Marc Malloch Brown to the government, Brown has signalled a distance between himself and the Bush White House. Dropping the phrase ‘war on terror’ is another problem. Some might argue that this is a good thing. But if Brown is serious about tackling rogue states, he must be realistic: where the UN has failed over East Timor, Rwanda, Iraq and Darfur, it will probably fail on Iran too.
There is the difference between this prime minister and his predecessor. Blair was canny enough to realise that when the Security Council failed over Kosovo, only a 'hard headed alliance' would do. This was why his relationship with America was such a strong plank of his foreign policy.
Brown has some tough foreign policy choices to make in the next year or two. Talking the language of internationalism is just the easy bit. Getting problems solved is much harder.
Richard Perle tells it like it is 19 November, 2007
Last night I had the pleasure of listening to Richard Perle, the American policy advisor and darling of the Washington neo cons. He was talking about the prospects of an Arab-Israeli peace with particular regard to the forthcoming Annapolis conference.
Echoing the sentiments expressed here a fortnight ago, Perle sounded a note of pessimism about the talks. Abu Mazen was hardly a reliable peace partner. He had done nothing to stop the propagation of anti semitic hatred from mosques, TV stations and classrooms. He remained wedded to the right of return, a formula for the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.
Iran posed a threat to regional stability with its nuclear ambitions and would use every means possible to scupper a stable Arab-Israeli settlement. The rise of militant Islam, funded by Saudi petro dollars, had created a ubiquitous ideological cancer at the heart of the Arab world that would poison the chances of a negotiated agreement.
Only a democratic Palestinian authority that was not compromised by terror and which accepted the right of a Jewish state to exist in secure borders could, he argued, be a reliable negotiating partner for Israel and the US. This condition has not been met.
Perle made the reasonable point that it would not be in Israel’s interests to give the thumbs down to negotiations per se. But Israelis also had to explain why a positive outcome was unlikely.
All these points, taken separately, were hardly original. But what Perle did was to connect the dots and show how the Israeli-Palestinian problem could not be solved through a territorial settlement. It could not be solved by an injection of cash (the Palestinians have received billions of pounds year on year from the EU since the 1990s) nor by unilateral Israeli concessions. What was required was a radical change of mindset from the Palestinian leadership, a leadership that regarded the interests of Palestinians as paramount.
This is a refreshing analysis seldom heard in Western policy circles. Of course the Palestinians have a whole variety of quite legitimate grievances. They are rightly aggrieved at the expansion of settlements and the inequitable distribution of water in the West Bank. Ordinary Palestinians are hampered by military restrictions which are in place for reasons of necessity but which have a severe impact on daily life. Palestinian moderates yearn for a two state solution which has, at times, been frustrated by more hawkish Israeli leaders.
These issues must be addressed as part of an overall peace settlement. But if the wider underlying cause of tension remains unaddressed, namely the intransigent Palestinian (and Islamist) rejection of Jewish sovereignty, then the chances of peace will recede once again.
All of which leads to the obvious question: If all these difficulties exist, if Mazen is so unreliable and untrustworthy and if Iran’s hegemonistic aspirations are a threat, why are American diplomats straining for this peace settlement? Are they under pressure from the Saudis in return for the House of Saud supporting a move against Ahmadinejad? If it is the latter, perhaps the word ‘Munich’ suggests itself?
The Oxford Union's painful suicide 21 November, 2007
Oxford Union President, Luke Tryl, appears to be increasingly isolated after his decision to invite David Irving and Nick Griffin to address the Union. A number of high profile speakers who were due to speak at the Union, including Defence Secretary Des Browne, have now pulled out of their engagements while a student demonstration against Mr. Tryl is reportedly planned for today.
It is hard to know why Mr. Tryl has chosen to alienate people in this way. The big event which Griffin and Irving are due to attend next Monday is titled ‘Free Speech Forum’. It is another sad example of how self indulgent liberals fail to see the harm caused by offering platforms to disreputable figures. President Bollinger made the same mistake last month when he invited President Ahmadinejad to address Columbia University.
Nor is there much sense in inviting these two to address a forum on free speech. After all, neither Irving nor Griffin can reasonably claim to be victims of censorship. There is little to stop either man from addressing fellow believers while both men have uncensored websites.
They publish and distribute books, leaflets and ephemera to all and sundry and so long as they do not break incitement laws, they can speak with impunity. True, Irving was imprisoned in Austria when he knowingly broke Austrian law but Holocaust denial laws do not exist in the UK. As I have previously argued, this is the price we pay (quite rightly) for living in a democracy that values free speech.
But there is a world of difference between not censoring someone (making their expression of free speech a crime) and offering them a respectable platform, such as the Oxford Union. What has either man done to deserve this prestigious treatment? If Mr. Tryl wished to celebrate freedom of speech, why did he not invite Ayaan Hirsi Ali to speak to the Oxford Union? She is a brave Muslim dissident whose outspoken criticisms of Islam have forced her to live in exile from her co-religionists.
This rather shameful state of affairs follows hard on the heels of the notorious debate on the two state solution. If you recall, the motion was whether ‘This house believes that One State is the Only Solution to the Israel-Palestine Conflict.’ Those arguing for a one state solution were effectively calling for Israel’s destruction, hence the understandable decision to invite Israeli Academic, Ilan Pappe, to propose the motion.
But among those invited to oppose the motion (and effectively present a case for Zionism and Israel) were Lord Trimble, Norman Finkelstein and Peter Tatchell. I have no problem with Lord Trimble presenting a case for Israel and a two state solution. Tatchell, however, is well known for his stridently pro Palestinian stance while Mr. Finklestein has supported an economic boycott of Israel. These two individuals are the alleged supporters of Zionism and Israel!
One might be tempted to excuse these misjudgements as student whims. After all one might argue, student politics often has a radical, even subversive side.
But this will not do. Oxford University is one of the Western world’s great academic institutions with a justly deserved reputation for intellectual excellence. It is within this context that Mr Tryl’s appallingly ill judged invitation has to be viewed. Even if his decision is reversed under pressure, the damage has been done. The good name of one of the world’s great debating societies has been tarnished, perhaps irreparably.
Nuclear inequivalence 21 November, 2007
Unlike his Iranian counterpart, Ehud Olmert has never called for Iran (or any other country) to be ‘wiped off the map
George Monbiot usually revels in his role as the chief Cassandra of climate change and one of the West’s foremost critics of environmentally unfriendly behaviour. Whatever your views on this topic, his views are often challenging, intelligent and frequently unconventional.
So when I turned to his column in yesterday’s Guardian, I had a slight shock. Far from discussing the latest environmental fad or dismissing the musings of a ‘climate change denier’, he had turned his attention to the complex nuclear politics of the Middle East. Rather disappointingly, his analysis was based, not on new thinking, but on the ‘conventional wisdom,’ which is sadly deficient and immoral.
Here is what he says in a nutshell. He acknowledges that Iran under Ahmadinejad is a ‘dangerous and unpredictable state involved in acts of terror abroad’ and that the regime ought not to become a nuclear power. No reason to dissent there, though he discounts the option of military force as ‘disastrous’.
But he follows this up by drawing an analogy with Israel’s behaviour as a member of the nuclear club. ‘Israel under Olmert,’ he says, ‘is also a dangerous and unpredictable state involved in acts of terror abroad.’ It has refused to sign up to the non proliferation treaty by maintaining a policy of nuclear ambiguity, that is neither confirming nor denying its possession of nuclear weapons.
What evidence does Monbiot produce that Israel is ‘a dangerous and unpredictable state?’ Here goes: ‘Two months ago it bombed a site in Syria (whose function is fiercely disputed). Last year, it launched a war of aggression against Lebanon. It remains in occupation of Palestinian lands.’ It has also refused to sign up to the International Atomic Energy Agency, thus ensuring that it is not subject to intrusive atomic inspection.
Our governments should, he says, wake up to the fact that Israel ‘presents an existential threat to its neighbours.’ Monbiot concludes: ‘Nuclear weapons in Israel's hands are surely just as dangerous as nuclear weapons in Iran's.’
There are two problems with this rather warped reasoning. The first is Monbiot’s complete lack of historical imagination. Israel was created in the aftermath of the worst genocide in history when one third of world Jewry was turned into ashes. The Holocaust seared itself into the Israeli psyche and induced a unique sense of national vulnerability, a feeling that was only exacerbated by continuous threats of extinction from its Arab neighbours. Israelis must have felt that unless they possessed a deterrent weapon of last resort, they would once again be easy victims for slaughter.
And unlike his Iranian counterpart, Ehud Olmert has never called for Iran (or any other country) to be ‘wiped off the map.’ It certainly possesses the means to do so.
Wose, Monbiot’s analysis clearly questions Israel’s right to defend itself. Israel did not launch a war of aggression against Lebanon. The country was attacked by Hezbollah, an illegally armed militia, when they crossed an internationally recognised border, killing 8 Israeli soldiers and kidnapping 2 more. They followed this with the systematic bombardment of Israel’s northern cities, causing the exodus of hundreds of thousands of people. Israel’s response was not the bombardment of ‘Lebanon’, even of ‘Beirut’ but of those parts of Beirut (and Tyre) in which Hezbollah had established a base and infrastructure. The Israeli response was an act of self defence, pure and simple.
As for the site in Syria, it is now widely believed that the facility attacked by Israeli planes was a nuclear site which had been constructed using North Korean help. The Israelis must have suspected that this nuclear material was destined for Iran or perhaps a rogue group, such as Hezbollah or even Al Qaeda. No rational state could have looked away while an enemy regime was stockpiling the deadliest weapons on earth, with a view to exporting them to Islamist fanatics. The anti Syrian strike was therefore another entirely legitimate act of self defence.
As for ‘acts of terror abroad’, I am not sure what Monbiot was referring to. He may have been thinking of state sponsored targeted assassinations carried out by Israel’s intelligence services. Certainly these are controversial operations that are normally accompanied by considerable soul searching. But are extra judicial killings of terrorists really the same as the Iranian inspired bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires that killed dozens of innocent civilians in 1994? Does he not believe that Israel has any right to defend itself?
I suggest that in future Mr. Monbiot sticks to a field in which he can show off his demonstrable expertise. After all, when it comes to the Middle East, the world already possesses enough useful idiots.
Forget imperialism, Archbishop. Think of your suffering flock. 27 November, 2007
“We are living in dangerous and potentially cataclysmic times…There will be no significant material and economic progress [in Muslim communities] until the Muslim mind is allowed to challenge the status quo of Muslim conventions and even their most cherished shibboleths.”
These were the fine words of Lord Carey last year in a forthright address on Islam and the West. You would never hear those words from his quietly spoken, but very left wing, successor.
Archbishop Rowan Williams prefers to wallow in the delusion that craven submission to the enemies of the West will overcome all evil. Forget tough military action, not even tough words are justified, especially when it comes to the persecution of his own flock.
Consider the tenor of his remarks to Emel magazine a few days ago when he chose to focus his ire on America’s shortcomings as an ‘imperial’ power. America had lost the moral high grounds since 9/11, he believed. She was a ‘global hegemonic power’ intent on accumulating ‘influence and control’ rather than territory. He was perplexed by the use of violence which was a ‘quick discharge of frustration’ which did not ‘serve the situation.’ He went on: “A lot of the pressure around the invasion of Iraq was ‘We’ve got to do something. Then we’ll feel better. That’s very dangerous.” Iraq’s Christian community was now suffering, he believed, because they were being identified ‘with the West.’
Fine, you might argue. He is a critic of the Iraq war who relishes every chance to show his disdain for the conflict. Indeed given America’s short sighted strategy since 2003, it is hard to disagree with his critique, even if it is expressed in somewhat simplistic terms.
But then he turns his ire to Israel. The West Bank security fence (he is adamant that it is a wall) has ‘colossal’ human costs and therefore cannot be justified, a point he also made on a visit to Bethlehem last year. The implication of his visit then, and his words now, is that Israel, and its Western backers, are mostly responsible for Christian suffering in ‘Palestine.’ Of course this is a historical nonsense. The Christian population in pre 1967 Israel has steadily increased, benefiting from a form of religious tolerance to be found nowhere else in the Middle East, while their diminishing number of co-religionists in the Palestinian territories have borne the brunt of Islamization for years. His analysis hooks on to the wrong target.
But in a way his view is worse than misguided. By focusing on American imperialism and Israeli occupation, Rowan Williams chooses to gloss over the profound problems in the Middle East, especially when they concern his fellow Christians.
Consider the facts for one moment. In Iran the Christian population is now a quarter of what it was before the Islamic Revolution. There are many documented cases of persecution, including the assassination of bishops and the forcible closure of churches. According to the Jubilee campaign, Iran’s persecution of Christians ‘has decimated the leadership of the Protestant evangelical community in that country and created an atmosphere of terror under which the church is presently suffering.’
In Saudi Arabia Christians can be arrested and publicly lashed for practicing their faith while their Bibles are burned by the religious police. In Egypt, the Christian Coptic community has suffered frequent attacks by Islamists while in Sudan, more than a million Christians have been killed by the Arab Janjaweed since the 1980s.
According to Christian Solidarity International, the ‘historical process of Islamization’ in Syria has transformed its ‘once thriving Christian majority’ into a ‘small frightened community’ whose ‘existence is under threat.’ The Christian population in Lebanon has also been decimated, due to emigration during the Civil Wars. In last year’s summer war, Hezbollah used Christian villages as human shields.
So what does Rowan Williams say in the face of this onslaught by radical Islam? In Pakistan he is apparently ‘surprised by how the extremely small Christian minority there is perceived as so deeply threatening by an overwhelming Muslim majority which ought to be more confident and generous about its identity.’ His beleaguered flock are hardly likely to be cheered by such an underwhelming statement!
Then it gets worse. The Muslim world’s “present political solutions aren’t always very impressive,” he declares. No, really? I fear that when the Taleban enslave women, when Sudanese Islamists carry out ghastly massacres, when an Iranian President denies the Holocaust, when a Saudi regime imprisons people for possessing Bibles and when Arab regimes systematically violate human rights on such a massive scale, one can be excused for using stronger language. Even if one is an Archbishop.
Some may forgive his critique of American imperialism, even his misguided analysis of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He is a bishop saturated in political correctness, after all. What one cannot excuse is how he allows his political agenda to mitigate his condemnation of Christian suffering elsewhere.
Persecuted Christians will little care for Rowan Williams’ self indulgent diatribes. What they care about is their own persecution.
An intelligence community at war with the government 7 December, 2007
It is hard to know exactly what to make of this week’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report on Iran’s nuclear programme. The report, a brief version of which can be read Here makes the following highly tendentious claims:
‘We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons. We judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years. We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.’
These words have been seized on with glee by all those who demonize Bush’s neocons as the greatest threat to world peace. On the face of it, the report appears to offer a damning verdict on the Bush administration. Take this statement from the report:
‘Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged.’
This is a key sentence. It suggests that the way forward with Tehran is the normal process of diplomacy, rather than the imposition of economic sanctions or the use of military force. A clear slap in the face for Wolfowitz, Cheney, John Bolton and the Israelis, no?
Well if you are not sceptical after reading the report, you certainly should be. This is the same NIE that in May 2005 declared ‘with high confidence’: ‘Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons.’ If they got that assessment so badly wrong, can we really trust their sudden volte face? The Washington Post summed it up well:
One of the two conclusions is wrong, and casts considerable doubt on the entire process by which these “estimates"–the consensus of 16 intelligence bureaucracies–are conducted and accorded gospel status.
In any case the report hardly gives Iran a clean bill of health as some have suggested.
We cannot rule out that Iran has acquired from abroad—or will acquire in the future—a nuclear weapon or enough fissile material for a weapon.
Indeed. Given that Syria appeared to be on the receiving end of North Korean nuclear technology, no one can rule out the possibility of an Iranian connection. Now add this:
Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so. For example, Iran’s civilian uranium enrichment program is continuing. We also assess with high confidence that since fall 2003, Iran has been conducting research and development projects with commercial and conventional military applications—some of which would also be of limited use for nuclear weapons.
Iran is an oil rich, energy rich nation. It has no need to enrich uranium for civilian purposes, hence the obvious inference that its clandestine enrichment of uranium is designed to create nuclear weaponry. Surely we can assess this with high confidence!
Now take this conclusion:
‘We assess with moderate confidence that convincing the Iranian leadership to forgo the eventual development of nuclear weapons will be difficult given the linkage many within the leadership probably see between nuclear weapons development and Iran’s key national security and foreign policy objectives, and given Iran’s considerable effort from at least the late 1980s to 2003 to develop such weapons.’
So even if Iran has halted its nuclear programme (which is highly questionable), the document clarifies the other problem here, namely that stopping Iran’s long term quest for nuclear status will be very difficult. It is more a question of when we have to deal with the Iranian threat, not if.
But the overall impression left by the report’s authors is to downplay the Iranian threat considerably. A clue to why was given by the New York Sun on December 4th:
The proper way to read this report is through the lens of the long struggle the professional intelligence community has been waging against the elected civilian administration in Washington. They have opposed President Bush on nearly every major policy decision. They were against the Iraqi National Congress. They were against elections in Iraq. They were against I. Lewis Libby. They are against a tough line on Iran… One could call all this revenge of the bureaucrats. Vann Van Diepen, one of the estimate's main authors, has spent the last five years trying to get America to accept Iran's right to enrich uranium. Mr. Van Diepen no doubt reckons that in helping push the estimate through the system, he has succeeded in influencing the policy debate in Washington. The bureaucrats may even think they are stopping another war.
This is pretty damning stuff. America’s intelligence departments, chastened after their humiliating failures over Iraqi WMD, are effectively at war with the government, advancing their own dubious political agenda at the expense of national security. All of which shows that Mr. Bush and his team have been sidelined in the making America’s foreign policy. In time, we may learn the repercussions.’
The threat from unintelligent intelligence 10 December, 2007
Concerns about the NIE’s woeful intelligence assessment have now spread beyond the Israeli authorities. According to a report in ‘The Sunday Telegraph’, British spy chiefs also have grave concerns about the latest US intelligence, believing that the CIA has effectively been hoodwinked by the Iranians. They believe the release of this report has ‘undermined efforts to impose tough new sanctions on Iran’ and made an Israeli unilateral attack more likely. So how has the CIA been hoodwinked so spectacularly?
‘The report used new evidence – including human source, wireless intercepts and evidence from an Iranian defector – to conclude that Teheran suspended the bomb making side of its nuclear programme…’
According to one senior official, ‘British analysts believed that Iranian nuclear staff, knowing their phones were tapped, deliberately gave misinformation.’ The same official also confirmed that a number of CIA veterans believed Iran was ‘still committed to producing nuclear weapons.’
This farce has hardly come about in a vacuum. 4 years ago, the CIA gave a thumbs up to the Iraq war, describing the case for WMD as a slam dunk. The agency was effectively hoodwinked by a Republican administration that was hell-bent on toppling Saddam Hussein. During a short period of indelicate subservience, they fatally compromised their credibility and independence.
After the Iraq war they must have had an epiphany, deciding never again to replicate such a shamefully slavish attitude. An intelligence agency is not supposed to be politicized after all! While this is a laudable aim, they have responded with an equally politicized report authored by people with no taste for a showdown with the Iranians. In other words, in their desire not to be seen as the poodle of militarists, they have been transformed into naive peaceniks.
This misguided report will make it harder to argue for a tougher line on Iran and leave open the path to an Israeli air strike, carried out unilaterally. Perhaps this is what President Bush wanted after all.
One suggestion doing the rounds is that Bush did a quid pro quo with the Saudis at Annapolis. In return for stabilising Iraq and seeing off insurgents from neighbouring countries, Bush et al would call off a military strike against Iran, something that the ‘moderate’ Arab countries had never really warmed to in any case. With Iraq at peace, Bush could claim that his Middle East strategy against Islamism was working. But to justify this stance, Bush needed some form of political cover, which he received on a plate courtesy of the NIE. Of course, for those living on planet earth, this makes no sense. Iran has always been the prime centre for the spread of radical Islam, not Iraq.
If this theory is true, it sounds like the tragic final act of a President desperate to secure his legacy before history. A peaceful and secure Iraq may indeed be the price for ignoring the Iranian bomb. But as history reminds us, the price of appeasing tyrants is usually a heavy one.
The Retreat of Reason 13 December, 2007
If you have heard of euphemisms like ‘wheelchair users’ and ‘the horizontally challenged’ you will be familiar with the world of political correctness. Every year there are more words that ‘you can’t say’ for fear of offending someone. But while ‘being PC’ frequently invokes howls of derision, some recent books have examined its more sinister side.
Tammy Bruce’s ‘The New Thought Police’ and Patrick West’s ‘The Poverty of multiculturalism’ have both examined the corrosive effects of political correctness on Western thought and behaviour. Anthony Browne’s latest book The corruption of debate offers a similar analysis.
Browne provides convincing evidence that political correctness has corrupted public debate in Britain and elsewhere. The issue that best demonstrates this, and which led him to write the book, was Britain’s growing HIV epidemic since the 1990s.
The government’s own figures showed that the rise in infections was being fuelled by African immigrants who arrived with the infection. Yet when Browne went to print with this analysis, he was greeted with accusations of ignorance and racism.
As he says in the book: ‘The only people who phoned me up to thank me about it were HIV doctors, who lived in the real world, not the politically correct virtual one.’
In another chapter, he destroys the myth that teenage black males underachieve at school because of their ‘racist’ teachers. This simplistic analysis, as he convincingly shows, overlooks the contribution of Afro-Caribbean culture and, crucially, the greater proportion of absent fathers in black families. The former often devalues academic attainment.
In another fascinating section, Browne takes apart the notion that women’s relatively lower pay (compared to men) over a lifetime results from sexist discrimination. He provides convincing evidence to show how lifestyle choice, principally the demands of motherhood, has reduced career opportunities and pay for women.
When women take time off work to have children, they invariably sacrifice the prospects of future promotions. Thus their reduced pay, in the long term, is less likely to result from their employers’ deliberate discrimination.
Browne is at his best in explaining the ideology of this movement. In passing moral or intellectual judgments on people, what matters for the politically correct are relations of interpersonal power. Black children, women and African immigrants are often seen as ‘victim groups’ who deserve special protection from the majority culture.
Blaming them for their ill fortune, regardless of the factual truth, leads to accusations of racism and sexism. But the people who suffer most from this reasoning are the victim groups themselves who are encouraged to blame others, rather than alter their behaviour.
Political correctness, as Browne shows, has got its claws into most areas of sensitive public debate. For years it has scarcely been possible to criticise immigration or asylum policy without being accused of being a Little Englander. Indeed after writing a critical analysis of asylum and immigration policy in 2003, Browne was branded a ‘closet fascist’ by David Blunkett, the then Home Secretary.
Browne’s analysis is most pertinent in the current struggle with jihadist Islam. The British government now refuses to acknowledge that terrorism is an ‘Islamic’ issue, pretending instead that it must confront a more generalised threat of ‘extremism.’ Ministers want to work with all communities to extirpate the menace of ‘fundamentalism’, rather than concentrating on the one community which is most seriously blighted by it.
Faced with insurmountable evidence of extremism in some of Britain’s mainstream mosques, the West Midlands police choose to investigate Channel 4, rather than the preachers of hate. In both cases, the authorities want to avoid offending the sensibilities of British Muslims, even though genuine moderates clamour for effective intervention.
Browne marshals considerable evidence to support his thesis and by the end of the book, it is hard not to be convinced by his cogent arguments. Even his fiercest critics will admit that this is a highly engaging work by a penetrating critic of modern culture.
If you are easily offended or addicted to being PC, this book may not be for you. But if you want to see conventional thinking turned on its head, it is a must read.
The Diana files will never satisfy Al Fayed 18 December, 2007
Did she love him or didn’t she? Just as in life, so now in death, Diana’s intimate secrets have been laid bare for the nation. An inquest that was supposed to determine her cause of death has been turned into a courtroom version of the Oprah Winfrey show. One minute we are privy to racy love letters between one joyous ‘chick’ and her lover, the next we read of her musings on wedding rings. Like the good voyeurs we are, we wait on tenterhooks for the next startling revelation from the Diana files. Perhaps you can now understand why she was called the ‘People’s Princess.’
But I am left wondering how any of these romantic secrets are remotely relevant to the inquest. Does it really matter that Diana was intent on marrying Dodi, or that she was about to dump him for another man? If we suddenly discovered that this was all a meaningless fling, would it give us any special insight into her manner of death? Above all, would it persuade Mohamed Al Fayed, and the legion of frenzied conspiracy hunters, that Diana and Dodi were not victims of an elaborate MI6 murder plot? Don't bet your mortgage on it.
The crackpots who insist that Diana was bumped off by MI6 or Prince Charles or the Loch Ness Monster will continue to be immune to the facts. They will probably denounce this inquest’s conclusions as just another establishment cover up designed to protect a corrupt House of Windsor. Mr. Al Fayed will continue to play the part of the embittered father railing against the establishment, a part he plays very well.
When you examine the evidence in a rational light, you have to conclude that the bleeding obvious has always been the bleeding truth. Diana and Dodi were the tragic victims of a drunk, drugged up driver who lost control of a car while speeding, a crime exacerbated by a chasing pack of reckless papparazi. There is no credible evidence to suggest otherwise.
If we are really honest, this whole process has been a monumental waste of time and money.
In the meantime those folks who remain hard wired to reality can only scratch their heads in disbelief and ask why this daft conspiracy theory has such seductive power. Why does it persist and mutate, like a virus, despite the accumulating evidence that it is false.
Well, let’s face it, what can be more boring than to believe that a glamorous, fabulously loved celebrity like Diana met her end because of a speeding drunk driver? The incongruity seems altogether too stark and surreal. How can a relative nobody like Henri Paul have the power to alter human history and deprive the rest of us of a Princess? How, we might add, could Lee Harvey Oswald destroy a President, or James Earl Ray snuff out Martin Luther King, or 19 puny Islamists strike at the heart of American power on September 11th?
No, we demand that the great and good bow out of this world courtesy of some devilish plot, the machinations of which are worthy of Moriarty himself.
When the conspiracy hunters return to Planet Earth, they have to face facts. Even the most revered mortals meet their end in humble fashion. Diana and Dodi died needlessly because their driver was intoxicated and they refused to wear seatbelts. Yes, history really can be that boring.
Stop impersonating Dave, Mr. Clegg. We want policy. 21 December, 2007
The Liberal Democrats are hoping that Nick Clegg’s narrow election victory will transform their fortunes. Clegg is a youthful, telegenic figure, very much in the Cameron mould, and some of his advisers must be hoping for the kind of ‘bounce’ the Tories enjoyed in 2005.
The new leader seems to have lost no time exploiting his youthful image. In rather eye catching fashion Clegg has unveiled pop star Brian Eno as one of the party’s advisors. Eno’s brief is to advise the party on how to reach out to Britain’s disaffected youth, many of whom seem disillusioned with the world of Westminster politics. Eno's own comment on his appointment was hardly earth shattering stuff:
'I think they are the real opposition. I think they are the only opposition we have. The Lib Dems are the effective opposition and I hope that, the election after next, they will be the opposition and maybe the one after that they will be the government." (Quoted in The Guardian, 19th December).
Clegg’s ‘Eno moment’ has been followed by a flurry of visits to radio stations, where he has displayed his ignorance of pop music.
It is tempting to think that the Liberal Democrats are following a winning strategy. Lib Dem strategists have seen the Tories enjoy a resurgence of popularity under the youthful David Cameron, after the party suffered a trio of humiliating election defeats. Like Cameron, Clegg promises change and a new direction and uses many of the Cameron buzzwords, like aspiration and freedom. Nor will it be lost on Clegg’s advisors that Cameron struck up his own much publicized alliance with pop star Bob Geldof at the start of his leadership.
But this is somewhat dicey reasoning. Cameron flirted with gimmicks because it gave him media exposure and allowed him to ‘prove’ how different he was to his predecessors. His much publicized trip to the Arctic, his overtures to Geldof and Polly Tonybee and his insistence on women and ethnic Tory candidates certainly produced a feeling that the Tories had changed their emphasis and direction.
But an obsession with change and photo ops, at the expense of policy proposals, gradually marked him out as an insincere opportunist who would do and say anything to win popular support. Confronted with mixed messages or with no messages at all, people were left confused about what Cameron actually believed. This was entirely Cameron’s fault for he styled himself the ‘heir to Blair.’
But in the last few months, ‘Dave’ has been replaced by a more straight talking David with a serious policy agenda. There are commitments to cutting inheritance tax, reforming the welfare state and limiting non EU immigration. Yes, the I (and E) word is back on the table. Iain Duncan-Smith has also been busy tackling Britain’s ‘broken society’ and making some eminently sensible suggestions in the process. So after articulating the deepest concerns of ordinary folk, Cameron’s poll ratings have understandably shot up.
Clegg should think twice about putting image before substance. He needs to realise that success (defined by their being enough MPs to create a hung Parliament) will be elusive as long as the Lib Dems remain a protest party, launching ad hoc diatribes against their rivals on purely ‘protest’ issues. In other words, he has to articulate a coherent set of policies with a distinctly Liberal twist.
In the best traditions of British liberalism, this could easily include a commitment to open markets, lower taxes and personal choice in using public services while his social agenda could emphasize the defence of individual liberties against the encroachment of the state. Much of the social agenda is in place, such as the staunch opposition to ID cards, but it requires more filling out. Clegg needs to tell voters where he would draw the line between protecting the public (security) and defending freedom (liberty).
Whether this is Clegg's direction remains to be seen. But he must stop patronizing Britain’s youth by talking about pop music and trendy culture when his brief is to engage with serious policy.