An uncertain future for Pakistan 02 January, 2008
Benazir Bhutto’s horrific assassination last week should have surprised no one. Given the resilience of Pakistan’s extremists, and the vulnerability of their target, it was a matter of when, not if, they got to her. Her murder has left the country in a state of the deepest uncertainty, her supporters grief stricken at the loss of an inspirational leader.
There must be some serious question marks against the conduct of General Musharraf. He seemed scarcely interested in capturing those responsible for October’s atrocity in which 140 of Ms Bhutto’s entourage were slain. Worse, he failed to provide her adequate security when it was obvious she was a key target for the Islamists. In the eyes of many, Musharraf is implicated in her murder. But even if he is innocent of these charges, he (and his Western backers) must face up to the fact that his rule is bankrupt in every sense.
After 9/11, the West’s strategy was to give the General strong backing in the hope that he would best remove the menace of Al Qaeda and the Taleban. This was understandable for, as a non Islamist ruler, he was personally targeted by terrorists on several occasions. However, his recent behaviour has suggested an unwillingness to take on Al Qaeda in its strongholds on the Afghan/Pakistani border.
Add to that his reckless disregard for democracy, both in suspending the rule of law and cancelling elections (initially) and you can see why the West lost patience with him. Musharraf had pretty much spent his capital with his backers by the time that Ms. Bhutto landed in her native country, ready to resume the mantle of power. Now she has gone too.
But even the loss of a democrat should not blind us to the scale of the danger in Pakistan. Undoubtedly, Ms. Bhutto was a courageous woman. She knew that in returning to her native country, she faced immense risks from those dedicated to turning Pakistan into an Islamist fortress. But even she may have lacked the courage or the ability to confront her country’s infrastructure of terror.
For Pakistan remains, as it has for decades, a breeding ground of virulent Islamic extremism and anti semitism. Millions of people have passed through madrassahs that preach the revolutionary dogmas of radical Islam. It is a focal point of terror where, according to one CNN opinion poll, nearly half the population express some sympathy for Osama Bin Laden. The country’s intelligence services are peppered with Islamist sympathisers while the army remains half hearted about tackling the menace of jihadism. Worse of all, it already possesses its own sizeable nuclear arsenal.
A genuinely moderate Pakistani party should make an abiding commitment to changing popular attitudes, including virulent anti Semitism, as well as challenging the ideological extremists who shelter in mosques and madrassahs. But as the murder of Bhutto shows, any person who announces such commitments is under an effective sentence of death.
It remains to be seen what type of government rises on the ashes of military dictatorship. But there is no doubt that the concerns of 2007, whether Iranian nukes, Syrian WMD, the Taleban or Iraq’s troubles, have now been overtaken by events in Pakistan. It would be a foolish person who declared that the country’s future was in safe hands.
Let's praise a Bishop who is not afraid to tell uncomfortable truths 7 January, 2008
I have often lamented the fact that the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, is not the current Archbishop of Canterbury. Unlike Dr. Rowan Williams, Bishop Nazir-Ali refuses to be a mouthpiece for the degrading culture of political correctness. Instead his trademark is to tell uncomfortable truths about sensitive issues when and where this is necessary.
In a penetrating article in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph, the bishop warned that there had been ‘a worldwide resurgence of the ideology of Islamic extremism’ over the last few decades. In Britain’s case, this had resulted in the creation of separate communities which were being turned into ‘no go’ areas, the kind of environments where people of other faiths and races found it difficult to live and work. This increasing Islamification of public space was described as ‘the other side of the coin to far Right intimidation.’
Almost as soon as the ink was dry, the usual suspects emerged to blacken the good bishop’s name. Inayat Bunglawala, the self confessed Islamist from the Muslim Council of Britain, said the remarks were ‘more like the kind of commentary we would have expected from the far-right BNP.’ Mohammed Shafiq, from the Ramadhan Foundation, called for the Bishop to resign as he was 'promoting hatred towards Muslims.' Then in today’s Independent, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown offered her own facile interpretation, denouncing Bishop Nazir-Ali’s article as a ‘fundamentalist intervention’ from a ‘vicious bulldog’ who seemed ‘to take pleasure in divisive rhetoric and stoking up hatred.’ She added that Nazir Ali was prepared to ‘inflate, exaggerate and invent perils in order to push his particularly fanatical Anglicanism.’ Oh, how the left hate it when their complacent attitudes are challenged by those who prefer factual truths to politically correct ones.
Contrary to this hysterical and ill informed rant, Bishop Nazir-Ali was not inflating or exaggerating perils, whatever the strength of his Anglican views. Segregation and ghettos exist, period. Following the riots in Burnley, Oldham and Bradford in 2001, the Government-commissioned Cantle report found people leading ‘parallel lives’ and living in ‘ignorance’ about other communities. Another report found that the violence in Oldham was caused by ‘years of deep-rooted segregation between communities.’
All that Bishop Nazir-Ali has done is echo an increasingly widespread view that this segregation has been caused, in part, by the misguided creed of multiculturalism. This creed has encouraged ethnic minorities and immigrants to assert their differences as an end in itself, resulting in them having as little linguistic or cultural connection to the wider society as possible. Naturally, this has helped to foster a sense of alienation, particularly among some second generation Muslim immigrants whose identification with ‘Britain’ is painfully thin.
Separatist demands have followed, such as calls to implement Sharia law and Sharia based banking. More recently, the authorities at the Oxford Central Mosque have applied to broadcast the call to prayer (the adnan) three times a day from the local mosque, arguing that in a multi faith society, this is consistent with the ringing of church bells. Not surprisingly, local residents are rather less enamoured, fearing that not just noise levels but the public character of their environment will be irrevocably altered.
For Ms. Alibhai-Brown, this might be evidence of Islamophobia in a society that is scapegoating Muslims. But this is to miss the point. There is no reason why a liberal, tolerant society cannot accept religious pluralism in principle. All that our tolerant society demands is that there is no clash between religious commandments and the laws of the land, that in asserting religious freedoms, minority communities do not encroach on ‘public space’ and on the rights and needs of others. This is the kind of unwritten contract that should be accepted, implicitly and explicitly, by every ethnic and religious community. But for sections (I stress sections) of the Muslim community, that contract appears to be null and void. Indeed Ms. Alibhai-Brown comes close to acknowledging that in her own article when she condemns ‘mad, bad and dangerous’ organizations that make ‘unacceptable’ demands on the state and which encourage ‘total religious identification and self-exclusion.’ Yes, and there are also people that choose to follow this separatist creed and live, guess what, ‘parallel lives.’
Still, the tide has turned in the last few years. It is no longer just centre-right think tanks and political commentators who attack this multicultural madness. Trevor Phillips regretted its negative effects in 2006 while some government ministers have recently made the same grudging admission. The left’s remaining diehards need to wake up and smell the coffee. Our fractured society will only strengthen when we learn to celebrate what we all have in common, as well as our own differences.
When humour is not the best medicine 14 January, 2008
Are we taking terrorists, some terrorists, too seriously? That is the view of columnist Sam Leith in a rather odd piece in Monday’s Telegraph. Titled ‘Having a large laugh at Islamic terrorists,’ he takes a swipe at those who imbibe the jihadis’ grandiose claims to world domination. Islamic terrorism is not about religion, he says, it is about ludicrous ‘bearded pinheads’ (like Richard Reid), and ‘noodles’ who happen to be ‘intoxicated by the fatal narcissism of adolescent boys.’
British home grown bombers are ‘McCain-Microchip-reared teenage self-exploders’ who parrot ‘grown-up-sounding slogans about the caliphate’, rather than people with a ‘settled political will.’ This is not so much an ‘army’ as a ‘playground fad’ and therefore the more we laugh at the ‘mumbling Muslim equivalent of Emo kids scuffing their shoes’, the better off we will all be.
Amusing stuff, but is mockery the best way to deal with the current jihadist threat? Certainly there are cases where terror attacks have been foiled by their perpetrators’ incompetence, particularly at Glasgow airport last June. It is tempting to ridicule Muslim extremists as exotic figures of fun, as no more than a group of teenage rebels intoxicated by delusions of grandeur. Tempting maybe, but ultimately wrong.
To underestimate the danger from Islamists would be disastrously complacent, as proven by the dozens of attacks perpetrated each week. Only last month Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by extremists, leaving a nuclear armed Muslim state in a state of profound turmoil and without its leading force for democracy. Her jihadi assassin was no cartoon character nihilist or disillusioned school drop out but a determined killer with serious intent. And it is to Pakistan that British Islamists have travelled so that they can be schooled in the art of mass murder.
Leith acknowledges that not all terrorism ‘is about berks.’ He writes:
‘The suicide bombers of the West Bank and the Gaza strip may be misguided. But they have, however reprehensible their methods, intelligible political ends: the Palestinian kid who marches into a Tel Aviv disco and turns himself into organic shrapnel wants the lives of his people to change, and has resorted to violence against himself and civilians because he believes that is his only chance of achieving it.’
Having produced an original but misguided thesis, Leith lapses into a sadly conventional viewpoint. It is a commonplace that Palestinians immolate themselves for political ends, that their appalling acts of mass murder are designed to redress specific localised grievances and improve the lives of their co-patriots. But when would be ‘shahids’ are interviewed, their language becomes apolitical and non localised. They seek to do Allah’s bidding by becoming ‘martyrs’, with the added incentive of unlimited sexual pleasures in the world to come. They have been brainwashed to believe that the ‘infidel’ Jew, rather than occupying Israelis, are responsible for all the evils of the world. In any case, Hamas, which trains and arms suicide bombers, is a branch of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and thus shares the revolutionary world view of the jihadist movement.
It makes little sense to differentiate between Al Qaeda and Hamas, as if they lacked any ideological affinity. An Islamist is an Islamist after all. And whereas Leith can afford to mock Britain's Islamists, the Israelis take theirs much more seriously. After all, they know who ends up having the last laugh.
An inglorious end to a Presidency 15 January, 2008
George Bush is ending his presidency in the same manner as his predecessor by urging Palestinians and Israelis to sign a peace agreement. During his tour of the Middle East, he has made a point of calling for an Israeli pullback from most of the West Bank in order for a contiguous Palestinian state to be created. He is therefore pushing for a lasting settlement in the region based on ‘painful concessions’, belying his image as an unshakeable pro Israeli belligerent.
He has obviously learnt little from Clinton’s disastrous mistakes. In 2000, American and Israeli largesse brought both sides to the brink of a peace deal. Arafat could have been crowned the leader of a contiguous state of Palestine in over 95% of the occupied territories, with a deal on compensation and Jerusalem into the bargain. It would have represented a triumph of diplomacy and hard bargaining. Yet Arafat refused all offers and settled for a bloody intifada that claimed the lives of thousands of people. As Dennis Ross declared of Arafat, to end the conflict was ‘to end himself.’
Fast forward to 2008 and little has changed. The Palestinian President is now a great ‘peace partner’ for Olmert, just as Barak and Clinton warmed to Arafat. But what kind of peace partner refuses to recognise Israel as a Jewish state and does nothing to stop the daily culture of incitement that disfigures Palestinian lives? Israel has been offered no tangible guarantees that in the aftermath of peace, the new state of Palestine will not become just one more front in the war against the Jewish state. Even with the will to negotiate the peace process, it is universally acknowledged that Abbas is a political weakling, subjugated in Gaza by the Islamists of Hamas while being threatened by the same militants on his own patch.
President Bush has also been in Saudi Arabia, tying up a cosy $20 billion arms deal while hoping to exploit Saudi influence in the region. The Saudis, of course, produced their own much heralded peace proposal recently, calling for normalized relations with Israel in return for an Israeli pullback from the territories.
But the Saudi plan is just as bogus as anything concocted by Abbas and co. For the Saudi proposals proclaim the inalienable Palestinian right of return to Israel, a negation of a two state solution and a formula for the demographic destruction of Israel. It is not part of the peace process but its very antithesis. Bush himself has openly supported Israel as a Jewish state, yet seems to have put little pressure on his Arab friends to moderate their demands.
Some have read the Bush visit as a clever sop to his Arab allies, the price to be paid for constructing an anti Iranian coalition among ‘moderate’ Sunni states. But there are signs that this coalition is not quite of ‘the willing.’ President Ahmadinejad was recently invited to Mecca for the hajj while foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said his country would not be used as a launching pad for attacking his Saudi neighbour. This suggests that the desert Kingdom is rather lukewarm on the idea of using force against the Iranians. The publication of the risible NIE report, in any case, casts more than a few doubts about American intentions on this issue.
At a stroke, this Presidency is ending in rather inglorious fashion. Bush is rewarding a medieval autocracy that promotes terror abroad while encouraging a dependable ally to sacrifice its security on the altar of realpolitik. So much for spreading freedom.
A blockade of reason 22 January, 2008
‘An unlawful policy of collective punishment’ screams the Independent this morning. They are of course talking about Israel’s ‘illegal blockade’ of Gaza which, if reports are to be believed, is slowly sapping the spirit of Palestinians in that miserable part of the world. Listen to the BBC and you get the impression that Israel has unilaterally cut off all fuel and electricity to Gaza in order to punish Gazans for their election of Hamas.
Of course it is true that Israel did seal off Gaza last week in response to an unceasing barrage of rockets fired into Southern Israel. Since Israel left the territory in 2005, thousands of Kassams have been fired by militants into Israeli towns, killing and injuring dozens. Last week’s action was designed to halt that activity and, as a result, supplies of fuel and electricity were reduced.
But here is the good news. It was Hamas, not Israel, which closed down the territory’s power plant on Sunday, plunging the area into darkness. Israel continues to supply the majority of the electricity coming into Gaza, with Egypt supplying a fraction more. Electricity and fuel have been reduced but not to such an extent that it will cause a humanitarian disaster. As even Kana Obeid, deputy head of the Gaza power authority, has admitted, the Gaza power plant provides only 30% of the strip’s electricity. The Israelis have also said they will not cut supplies to power lines that go into Gaza.
What the liberal media seem to miss is that there is no moral justification for Israel taking no action against Hamas. When Hamas allows missiles to be fired into Israel, they are in a state of de facto war with the Jewish state which can then take the necessary counter measures. Gazans can hardly be immune to the consequences.
In fact, on any analysis, Israel’s response has been weaker than might have been expected. For months, rumours have circulated that Israel would launch an invasion of Gaza in order to put an end to the rockets. The alternative was a series of heavy bombing raids but both options seemed to involve an unacceptable casualty count on both sides. Hence the option of reducing fuel supplies.
The Palestinian terrorists will continue to have it both ways. They will fire weapons at Israel when it suits them, knowing that there will scarcely be an outcry in the West, and then cry foul when Israel retaliates, knowing that gullible do-gooders will swallow their lies. But then this is the war of propaganda that the Arabs have waged for so long and which, with the help of the BBC and others, they are now sadly winning.
An SOS to Gordon Brown: the army is being undermined 28 January, 2008
Last week the police sent the government a resounding message about their shabby deal on pay. Now the government has suffered a double whammy. A select committee warns today that our armed forces, another vital branch of the security services, are ‘deteriorating’ because they are being asked to do too much with inadequate resources. Sagging morale has had an effect on retention with ‘some disturbing signs of an increase in early departure in the army.’ As a result, they conclude, ‘the army, the navy, the RAF are not able to do what they need to be able to do because people are leaving and that is, of itself, a strong indication of a falling morale.’
This has been coming for a long time. A Commons public accounts committee report recently stated that half of soldiers’ homes were ‘below par’ and that some soldiers would have to wait up to 20 years before their accommodation was improved. Then there are the woeful stories of soldiers dying needlessly because their comrades lacked basic equipment. Take the 27 year old paratrooper Corporal Wright who died in 2006 in a minefield in Afghanistan. A military inquiry found that Wright could have survived if an aircraft had been equipped with a suitable winch. Above all, the armed forces have been underfunded for years, a galling oversight given the commitments they are being asked to undertake.
This was all brought home to me a fortnight ago when I had the honour to interview Lord Ramsbotham, a distinguished former General and former Chief Inspector of Prisons who now sits as a crossbencher in the House of Lords. In typical army style, he pulled no punches. “We are undermining the whole existence of the armed forces,” he said.
He told me that for a decade the defence budget had been out of balance. New and expensive projects, like the Eurofighter and aircraft carriers, were distorting the budget and many of these items had nothing to do with the situation in Iraq or Afghanistan. The projects were “relics of the Cold War.”
Reflecting on the war on Afghanistan, his tone was even more pessimistic. “There is a great danger, with the number of causalities that are being received and the strain being put on units that go there, that we could undermine the recruiting ethos of the armed forces. If you are going to be there for 30 years, you have got to do one hell of a lot more to make certain that the army will be in existence in 30 yrs time and able to do it.”
Lord Ramsbotham argued that the military could not simultaneously engage in military conflict and nation building. “The army can create the conditions in which the second can follow and the military can shoulder the achievements of the second by protecting the people that are actually doing it. But what you have to do is to encourage the nation to do it itself.” In other words, given its current resources, it was not an option to do both ‘soft power’ and ‘hard power.’
Mind you, his preferred solution to the Afghan imbroglio was hardly convincing. He told me that the only way to pacify Afghanistan was to bring in neighbouring states, such as Iran. When I suggested that this was to trust in the benign intentions of Iran’s theocratic regime, a regime that was intent on regional domination and aggressive bullying of its neighbours, he half agreed. “But they are next door. What goes on in Afghanistan matters to Iran.” On this issue we had to agree to disagree.
Nonetheless his concerns over funding and morale can hardly be dismissed. It is vital that we play our role in the war on terror alongside our allies. This is no simple war of choice for we are under attack from a radical jihadist enemy with a decidedly totalitarian agenda. In taking the fight to that enemy, our soldiers, sailors and airmen perform incredible feats with courage and professionalism. But to ask them to engage in conflicts without adequate support and funding is a grave dereliction of duty. Don’t our armed forces deserve better?
All a matter of hubris 31 January, 2008
In March 2003 George Bush and Tony Blair launched a war to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Their decision turned ‘Iraq’ into a political dirty word. The WMD case for war was as dodgy as that infamous dossier while the failure to plan the aftermath set the stage for a protracted and bloody insurgency. War denuded Iraq of its professional class and exacerbated the nation’s Sunni-Shia divide. Nor was the cost cheap. According to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, this was a $2 trillion war (and the figure could end up being 50% higher), a figure so huge that it dwarfs Britain’s entire GDP. Forget foundation hospitals, city academies, the respect agenda and the dot com boom, this war will stain the reputations of Bush and Blair as much as Suez damned Eden.
Historians may wonder why Bush and Blair committed themselves to such a disastrous enterprise. Were these great statesmen who merely possessed feet of clay?
According to former foreign secretary, Lord Owen, the clay affected their heads as much as their feet. In his new book ‘The Hubris syndrome’ he analyses the ‘mental illness’ that afflicted Bush and Blair in the run up to the war, and which caused so many of the disasters since 2003.
The main symptom of hubris syndrome is ‘a narcissistic propensity to see the world primarily as an arena in which (to) exercise power and seek glory rather than as a place with problems that need approaching in a pragmatic and non self referential manner.’
At first glance the idea that you can reduce political incompetence to mental illness sounds a trifle far fetched, even facile. But in the course of the book Owen provides a wealth of compelling evidence to back up his argument.
Iraq under Saddam certainly presented challenges in 2002. Here was a rogue leader who had repeatedly defied international law and whose WMD, if they existed, were capable of being passed to a terrorist entity. But dealing with that challenge required not just boldness but an ability and willingness to anticipate long term problems. Yet Bush and Blair were so intoxicated by their sense of righteous purpose, that they ignored the ethnic, political and social complexities of Iraq.
Thus after one meeting with Blair in 2002, Owen thought the prime minister had a ‘messianic belief in his purpose’ and a ‘restless, hyperactive manner.’ It was the manner of a man who sensed that he could achieve anything as long as he could grasp the big picture. Details, by contrast, were considered less important with Blair ‘brushing aside the difficulties that circumstance was likely to throw in his way.’
Bush’s belief in the virtue of his policy was reinforced by deeply held religious beliefs. The Palestinian prime minister once heard Bush say: ‘I’m driven with a mission from God. He told me “George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.” And I did. And he told me: “George, go end the tyranny in Iraq.” And I did.’ This kind of inner strength can be an important spur to action but it can also provide powerful immunity to fresh thinking.
When leaders believe their motives are pure, there is less need to take advice from others. Thus Bush made clear after 9/11 that he would bypass international institutions, such as the International Criminal Court and the UN, if they did not uphold American interests. Blair was more mindful of the EU and the UN but never doubted that he would back his ally in war.
Indeed, as Owen points out, Blair virtually ran foreign policy from no. 10, bypassing the Foreign Office and even some of his own ambassadors. As Lord Butler’s report made clear, the Prime Minister enjoyed a sofa style of government in which important decisions were made in the absence of Cabinet scrutiny. Even the Cabinet failed to act as a check and balance to the Prime Minister’s whims. ‘The full Cabinet essentially acted as a rubber stamp on decisions which Blair and a small coterie of colleagues and advisers took in No. 10 on foreign policy.’
The same was true in Washington. According to Bob Woodward, Bush’s government came to resemble a ‘royal court’, one whose political courtiers complied with Presidential thinking and exaggerated the good news.
The worst consequence of hubris syndrome over Iraq was the failure to conduct adequate post war planning. Bush assumed that after toppling Saddam, his forces would be welcomed as post war liberators with the country magically rebuilt after years of despotic tyranny. This Cheney-Rumsfield line was hopelessly flawed however. The country could not be handed over on a plate to a few choice Iraqi exiles nor could security exist in a vacuum.
Blairite apologists would have us believe these were Pentagon failures. But Owen documents the considerable warnings given to Tony Blair over the failure to produce a post war strategy. In messianic mode, Blair ‘was dismissive of any difficulties’ and ‘immune to all arguments about the practical difficulties that might ensue.’ This was not ordinary incompetence but ‘hubristic incompetence.’
By the end of the book, it is hard not to be impressed by Owen’s argument. This is a biting polemic which fuses intelligent political insights with pop psychology. But he does leave one question unanswered: How do we restore the checks and balances to eradicate the threat from hubristic leadership? Owen asserts the need for ‘Cabinet vigilance and scrutiny’ but in practice, this requires principled resignations from its most powerful figures. Neither Colin Powell nor Gordon Brown resigned from the Cabinet, no doubt fearing the implosion of their political careers. Powerful leaders will always exploit those too weak to take the plunge.
Patriotism in the classroom 04 February, 2008
It is a sign of the sickness of our times. A new report from the Institute of Education says that there is no intellectual or moral case for the promotion of patriotism in our schools. Instead patriotism should be taught as a ‘controversial subject’ with students deciding for themselves how they feel about their country. Here is the crux of the argument: ‘Patriotism is love of one’s country, but are countries really appropriate objects of love? Loving things can be bad for us, for example when the things we love are morally corrupt. Since all national histories are at best morally ambiguous, it's an open question whether citizens should love their countries.’
The moral ambiguity stems from the fact that the evils of ‘warmongering, imperialism, tyranny, injustice, slavery and subjugation’ are part and parcel of every national history, indeed are sometimes inseparable from them. Dr Hand, who co-authored the report, continues: ‘Students tend to feel strongly that their feelings about their country are their own business and schools have no right to try to influence them.’
In their desire to make a big noise, these authors are really attacking a straw man. No one in their right mind would expect school teachers to force patriotism on their students, if such a thing were even possible in a free and democratic society. We have moved on from the nineteenth century where the education system, the military and the churches collectively thrust Britannia down people’s throats. Indeed history, as a dignified search for the truth, would scarcely be such if it were based on a deliberately partisan reading of the past. What matters is that students are exposed to our ‘national narratives’ in the hope that they expand their knowledge and interest in their ‘nation.’ Genuine affection follows later.
Let’s face it, when we study British institutions through their past, there is a lot to be proud about. Parliamentary democracy, constitutional monarchy, freedom of speech and thought and the rule of law are British products that have evolved in specific ways and through particular historical developments. The countries that received these exports, most notably the hyperpower across the water, have really never looked back. They are the true foundation stones of Western civilization and the pillars of the human rights industry.
The authors are right that ‘loving our country’ should not blind us to its faults. Slavery is certainly an abomination that should never be airbrushed from the historical record. But in the current climate of national breast beating, it is often forgotten that Britain abolished the slave trade through the influence of its home grown evangelical movement. That was why the orgy of national self deprecation on the anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade was so inappropriate. 2007 should have been a year of celebration, not lamentation.
The report found that ‘74 per cent of teachers agreed that they had an obligation to point out to students the danger of patriotic sentiments’ and that in dealing with patriotic sentiments, it was important to have ‘open discussion’ and ‘correct factual errors.’ Again, this seems to be another straw man. Patriotism, the feeling of genuine affection for one’s country and its achievements, is not the same thing as nationalism, which is often more aggressive and chauvinistic. Patriotism should always be compatible with respect for other cultures, traditions and nations; nationalism less so.
The government will try and distance itself from this report, claiming that it undermines their own agenda for promoting Britishness. But this accusation sounds absurd coming from politicians who have so badly undermined this nation’s independence through their support for devolution and the EU. Worse, New Labour’s apparatchiks understand even less of our island story than the PC intelligentsia. When asked to define the values that shape this nation, ministers have usually offered a series of tepid and hollow New Labour soundbites: equality, tolerance, diversity, mutual respect.
This is the language of political correctness latched on to an imagined British past. But all these words fail to convey anything that is specifically British, as opposed to French, German, Russian, European and so on. Most liberal, educated Europeans (or Westerners) would probably describe their national story using the very same words; they would hardly call themselves intolerant or disrespectful. Instead of engaging with the forces that have shaped us, for good and ill, the government have adopted a universalistic moral code that is a cross between the UN Charter and the Human Rights Act.
Tony Blair once attacked ‘the forces of conservatism’, describing Britain as a ‘young country.’ Perhaps that was why the empty, rootless, Millennium Dome so aptly symbolized New Labour in 2000. But this ‘young country’ has ancient roots and it is impossible to get a sense of our present bearings without understanding the past. Teach that past respectfully, and with balance, and you will arouse the reverence it so richly deserves.
This archbishop can no longer command our respect 8 February, 2008
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s dangerous and inflammatory suggestions have at least received the unanimous condemnation they deserve. Regardless of party affiliation, the panel on yesterday’s Question Time collectively slammed Dr Williams’ call for aspects of Sharia law to be incorporated into English law. Quite rightly so for his idea is unrealistic, divisive and immensely dangerous.
What Williams was suggesting, so far as we can make out from the tangled text of his speech, was that Sharia court decisions in civil matters (e.g. marriage and divorce) should be incorporated into English law. In other words, the decisions of those private religious courts should receive some form of legal recognition in English courts, and that this new legislation should run effectively parallel with English law. Britain already has Sharia courts which offer private ‘advice’ on some civil issues, just as British Jews have recourse to the private courts of the Beth Din. Indeed Williams cited this apparent advantage for the Jewish community to buttress his case for a parallel legal system.
Yet crucially for Jews, the decisions of the Beth Din in marriage and divorce have no legal status in the UK. There is no parallel system of Jewish law that sits side by side with English law and when Jews are married or get divorced, they have to do so like everyone else through the normal official channels. As David Frei of the Beth Din admirably explains: "In the case of divorce, the parties must still obtain a civil divorce alongside the religious one."
The crucial difference between the Jewish and Muslim case is that many Muslims wish to see Sharia court decisions given legal status in English civil courts.
But if this is the case, it breaks the fundamental principle that there is one law for every citizen of the country. A nation’s culture and values, indeed its very existence, is tied up with the laws it adopts towards its citizens. A parallel religious and legal system for a minority would result in division, ghettoization and fragmentation. It would sound the death knell for the nation state.
Yet incredibly that appears to be what Williams was endorsing. This is what he said in his speech, available here
There is a position – not at all unfamiliar in contemporary discussion – which says that to be a citizen is essentially and simply to be under the rule of the uniform law of a sovereign state, in such a way that any other relations, commitments or protocols of behaviour belong exclusively to the realm of the private…this is a very unsatisfactory account of political reality in modern societies…Societies that are in fact ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse are societies in which identity is formed, as we have noted by different modes and contexts of belonging, ‘multiple affiliation’.
The danger is in acting as if the authority that managed the abstract level of equal citizenship represented a sovereign order which then allowed other levels to exist. But if the reality of society is plural – as many political theorists have pointed out – this is a damagingly inadequate account of common life, in which certain kinds of affiliation are marginalised or privatised to the extent that what is produced is a ghettoised pattern of social life, in which particular sorts of interest and of reasoning are tolerated as private matters but never granted legitimacy in public as part of a continuing debate about shared goods and priorities.
These comments should strike people as rather odd. The notion that a religious minority has its own private customs, affiliations and practices is rarely called into question. Religious toleration is one of the great foundation stones of our modern heritage and values. But when the private affiliations and values of a minority start to impinge on public life, when they threaten the existing legal framework, they must be put to one side. Under Sharia law, a man may have multiple wives and beatings can be administered, as they currently are in Muslim countries, for certain crimes. Clearly these judicial decisions stand apart from British law and have no place within it.
To be fair, I am sure that Rowan Williams would not disagree at this point. But the reason why we refuse to accommodate these practices is precisely because they conflict with the existing law which is designed to protect everybody, regardless of their religious background. What you do in the private sphere is your own business but when your ‘private’ affiliations affect your rights as a citizen, those affiliations must give way. How indeed could any civilized, pluralistic society survive otherwise. English law must retain its monopoly and that is all there is to it.
By endorsing the demands of a vocal Islamic minority, the Archbishop is encouraging a double defeat. Not only is he betraying his primary purpose, which is to uphold the sacrosanct status of the existing religious settlement, but he is appeasing the very forces that are seeking its overthrow. Instead of signalling his approval of a system that is associated with barbaric, medieval customs, he should be defending those Anglicans who are persecuted because of it. This abject surrender by a leading light of our establishment is utterly misguided. The Archbishop is simply not fit for purpose.
So what reaction did Sheikh Williams expect? 9 February, 2008
If the Archbishop of Canterbury is truly astonished at the avalanche of condemnation heaped on him in the last 48 hours, he must be more naïve than we thought. It is incredible that he did not anticipate the backlash, not just from the press and politicians, but from people from within the Church who are appalled by his speech. But now after bending over backwards to Islamists and undermining the legal framework on which our civilised society depends, he has started to backtrack.
His website (http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/1) features an astonishing statement that ‘the Archbishop made no proposals for sharia in either the lecture or the interview (Radio 4).’ Really? So the whole thing was just another ugly manifestation of Islamophobia in our press? Perhaps the bishops who denounced Rowan Williams’ speech were merely using this opportunity to air their anti Muslim prejudices. Apparently this is what we are supposed to believe!
I urge all readers to read the actual speech, which can be downloaded whole from either the BBC website or the one mentioned above. Once you get past his appallingly convoluted language, you will be able to tease out exactly what he said. Take this one statement from his BBC interview as a much needed clarification.
‘a lot of what's written suggests that the ideal situation is one in which there is one law and only one law for everybody; now that principle that there's one law for everybody is an important pillar of our social identity as a Western liberal democracy, but I think it's a misunderstanding to suppose that that means people don't have other affiliations, other loyalties which shape and dictate how they behave in society and the law needs to take some account of that…
‘…an approach to law which simply said, 'There is one law for everybody and that is all there is to be said, and anything else that commands your loyalty or your allegiance is completely irrelevant in the processes of the courts'. I think that's a bit of a danger.’
But private conscience and religious affiliations must be irrelevant in the courts if the principle he claimed to espouse (one law for everybody) is to be defended. Clearly people can and do have other loyalties, including religious ones, which shape how they behave in private but the point is that if they conflict with the fundamental rights in our existing legal framework, they are set aside and not accommodated. Muslims can and should use their own sharia ‘courts’, where they exist, for private advice and informal decisions but these decisions must not be recognised in English law. In the same way, religious Jews can obtain a get (a divorce in Jewish law) as is the custom in orthodox tradition but they must go through the civil courts if their divorce is to be recognised in this country. Jewish law is not a competitor with English law.
Williams cannot deny that he said that Sharia was ‘inevitable’ in Britain because of existing arrangements, including in finance. But its introduction is not inevitable so long as the political and religious establishment rejects the calls made by vocal Muslims for its introduction. Progressive Muslims have been trying to do just this, yet now they can only feel undermined by Williams’ inane intervention. He said, after all, that not only was this process ‘inevitable’ but desirable in the interests of community cohesion.
Moreover, if a Muslim girl were offered the choice of settling a family dispute in a Sharia court or an English one, she would hardly be faced with an equal choice. Under Sharia, a woman’s testimony is worth merely half that of a man. This is why, in an adultery case, a woman can be found guilty if there are 4 male eye witnesses but if the eyewitnesses are female, 8 are required. If a Muslim girl came under pressure to bypass an English civil court, she would find herself stripped of the protection afforded her by the law of the land.
A month ago I lamented the fact that Dr Michael Nazir-Ali was not in Williams’ position as Archbishop of Canterbury. Here was a man prepared to speak honestly about Islam in Britain. Dr Williams should resign at once and be replaced by someone willing to uphold the dignity of his office and the values of our society.
The killing of Imad Moghniyeh 13 February, 2008
The killing of Hezbollah leader Imad Moghniyeh in a targeted car bombing in Damascus last night is a coup in the war against radical Islam. (You can read a statement about it on Al Manar’s website) Moghniyeh was on the FBI’s most wanted list for years and has been blamed for many attacks, including the 1983 bombing of the US embassy and marine barracks in Beirut which over 200 people died and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre in Argentina that killed nearly 100 people. He was reportedly in overall effective control of Hezbollah’s campaign against Israel in 2006. The car bombing certainly bears the hallmarks of a major Mossad operation, though understandably there is no comment from the Israelis and we may not know the full details for some time. But no one can doubt that the region, and the wider world, is better off without this tormentor.
Whoever carried out the operation has sent out a defiant message to every terror group in the Middle East. The leaders of these organizations know that it is only a matter of time before their victims exact retribution. Sheikh Yassin, the spiritual head of Hamas, preached a doctrine of hate and blood lust to a generation of embittered Palestinians. He sent dozens of suicide bombers to immolate themselves in Israeli cities, destroying their lives and those of their victims in the process. He was killed in a carefully planned targeted assassination, as was his successor, Abdel Rantisi. What these leaders had in common was that they were willing to plan their evil deeds, using the bodies (literally) of others, before they scurried for cover like cowards. Now they must pay the price for murder with their own miserable lives. The long arm of justice is never far behind.
Is it lawful to assassinate terrorists? 14 February, 2008
Tuesday’s killing of Imad Moghniyeh will leave some people wondering about the morality of ‘targeted killings.’ There is bound to be some soul searching about whether it is preferable to capture terrorists and haul them before a court of law as opposed to killing them from a distance. To take a recent example, when Israel ordered the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in 2004, some commentators (Israelis included) were critical, arguing that while he was a criminal, he deserved to have his day in court.
The argument now could be that no matter evil Moghniyeh was, he too should have been captured, interrogated and brought before a court (American, Israeli or Argentinian – you take your pick) so that he could receive just punishment.
This argument may seem seductive but it is also based on a fatal flaw. Moghniyeh and Yassin were not just common criminals operating outside the law. As I argued on 22nd March 2004 (see JC letters), Yassin was a self declared ‘enemy combatant’ engaged in a daily ritual of mass murder. Without wearing enemy ‘clothes’ he was effectively at war with the Israelis through his spiritual endorsement of suicide bombings in Israeli cities. He could not therefore expect to receive the normal treatment meted out to a civilian ‘enemy.’
With Moghniyeh, the argument for targeted killing was even clearer cut. He too was an enemy combatant yet one who was almost impossible to catch. He operated from foreign territory, directing a string of murderous attacks against civilians across the world. Whichever state directed his assassination was under no legal or moral obligation to risk its soldiers’ lives in capturing him in hazardous territory and then bringing him to trial. They were, however, under an obligation to protect civilians and save lives. Removing Moghniyeh will achieve both aims.
Of course, one must always question counter terrorist techniques to ensure the most humane and effective ways of tackling this threat. A targeted killing must also meet certain criteria, including the protection (as far as possible) of any innocent bystanders. It would surely not be justified to destroy a tower block with 300 civilians in order to kill a terrorist mastermind. But in doing this soul searching, we must never lose sight of who we are dealing with. Contrary to New Labour, militant Islamists are not petty criminals and the world would be much safer if they were.
Canada is boycotting Durban II. So should every civilized nation. 17 February, 2008
In 2001 the United Nations organized a ‘World Conference against racism’ in Durban, South Africa. It turned out to be nothing of the kind, at least as far as its Jewish representatives were concerned. Jewish delegates at the conference were subjected to a primitive orgy of race hatred: copies of the notorious anti semitic book, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, were openly on sale, Zionists were compared to Nazis and there were reports of death threats made against Jews. A motion to describe Holocaust denial a form of anti Semitism was roundly defeated. This ‘anti racism’ conference effectively descended into a medieval hate fest worthy of National Socialism, yet the Nazi Jew haters of 2001 were lionized by the very body that was designed to oppose them. To call it ironic would be an understatement.
In 2009 the world will be treated to a re-run of this farce, namely Durban II. In true fashion, the UN has appointed Cuba, Libya, Pakistan and Iran to its steering committee, so as to live up to its reputation for buttering up failed states and dictatorships. Given the UN’s long standing success in rewarding tyranny, its wanton failure to combat virulent anti semitism and its abject surrender to hate mongers in 2001, you might have expected every decent, liberal democracy to announce a boycott of Durban II. The Canadian government should therefore be warmly applauded for doing precisely this.
Yet some liberals are queasy about boycotts. Take an article in this week’s Jewish News by Mark Ross called ‘Counter fiasco of racism conference with the facts.’ In the face of intolerance and hatred, he says ‘does it not say more to participate and stand your ground? To counter the anti Israel, anti Jewish argument with truth and fact? Is it better to fight the fight that need fighting or just the ones that you can win?’
Of course, anti Israeli, anti Zionist and anti semitic bigotry should always be tackled with the utmost vigour and determination. No sane anti racist would want to take the Rowan Williams path of hoisting up the white flag in the face of unrelenting intimidation. But the point Ross misses about dictatorships and tyrannies is that they don’t give a damn about our liberal tolerance. They don’t care about respecting truth and reason or adhering to the rules of intelligent debate. Tyranny cannot exist in the market place of ideas.
What tyrants do care about is prestige and recognition and throughout history, ‘useful idiots’ have done precisely this. In the 1920s naïve utopian socialists descended on Moscow, eager to embrace the Leninist world view as an alternative to capitalism. A decade later, Hitler became the recipient of goodwill because of his apparent economic miracle. The Berlin Olympics of 1936 also did wonders for Hitler’s regime by presenting a sanitized image of Nazi Germany. Today the useful idiots of the UN massage the egos of autocrats by rewarding them chairmanship of their events, including Durban II. The rest of the civilized world should have nothing to do with such a gross political travesty.
Misguided liberals miss the point about boycotting. A mass refusal to attend Durban II would symbolize the most profound opposition to an international system that places democracies on an equal footing with tyrannies. Were all humane, liberal democracies to withdraw from Durban II, you would end up with an emasculated ‘rump’ of corrupt states who could do no more than vent their collective fury at the First World.
Canada, the US and the other boycotters should organize their own conference against racism and for democracy. They could make a commitment to combat irrational prejudice but not at the expense of associating with rogue states and dictatorships. Wouldn’t that make a really powerful statement?
Never underestimate your enemy 23 February, 2008
As a member of the International Churchill Society, I have had the pleasure of meeting historian Sir Martin Gilbert on a number of occasions. As the official biographer of Winston Churchill, and a world famous historian of the twentieth century, he is an immensely knowledgeable and thoughtful individual and I have enjoyed my conversations with him. After studying his subject for over 4 decades, Gilbert clearly understands Churchill very well, in particular his opposition to appeasement in the 1930s. In recent years, Gilbert has drawn parallels between the West’s failure to deal with totalitarianism in the 1930s and the wilful blindness of Western leaders towards today’s jihadist menace. The parallels are certainly striking and Gilbert spelt them out in an interview with the Jerusalem Post here
‘A grave mistake was made in the 1930s in finding all sorts of reasons for not regarding the Nazi threat as being a serious threat. Therefore, when you're working out your thoughts on the current situation, about fundamentalism, just remember that it is very easy for highly competent, educated, civilized, sophisticated people to find excuses and benign explanations for everything that happens.’
The refusal to take the Nazi threat seriously enough, a failure made by many German Jews, British officials and much of the political class, could be blamed on many things: wishful thinking, which was the outcome of post war disillusionment with militarism, the belief that Hitler’s ambitions were limited to revising the Versailles Treaty and the popular belief that the Nazi regime would moderate over time. People could not face the idea that Europe’s most powerful nation was hell bent on territorial domination and that another war was in the offing. So people became trapped by the delusion that Hitler was a man of peace after all, that his fiery rhetoric and aggressive behaviour was reasonable and that once the necessary concessions had been made, all would be well. This was to fatally underestimate the Nazi’s leader’s personal resolve.
Gilbert believes that the failures of history may be repeating themselves over the Iranian threat. Regarding Iran he says "it is absolutely essential that you tackle it with everybody who is in danger. And presumably everybody is in danger.” He senses the danger of a return to the old realpolitik, as regards the key powers of Russia and China: “They see the rivalry with the United States, the European Union, Western values, as [offering] a way to get their client states back - you know, the old days when the Soviet Union had its client states in Africa, its client states in the Middle East.”
This is certainly true; after all, both Russia and China have economic self interests in bolstering the Iranian regime, as they did Saddam’s Iraq. As a result, the sanctions obtained at the UN have had to be substantially watered down, the effect of which has been to embolden Ahmadinejad in the eyes of his cronies. The Iranian nuclear programme is still very much on with the danger to Israel and the wider region that much greater.
Yet, the dangers of underestimating Iran transcend this Sino-Russian axis. The recent, rather lamentable NIE report suggested that the Iranians had suspended their nuclear programme, a conclusion rejected by both MI6 and Mossad officials. In any case, the current occupant of the White House seems desperate not to rock the Iraqi boat by inflaming the Iranians. The appeasement mentality of the State Dept. seems to have influenced enough of the Republican Administration into inaction over Iran, paving the way for a unilateral Israeli strike in the near future.
But then the Israelis are threatened by Iranian inspired jihadism in many guises. They are obviously menaced by the Iranian backed Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Every day, these Islamists fire rockets at beleaguered Israelis in Sderot and Ashkelon. In Lebanon, the Iranian backed Hezbullah have issued blood curdling warnings of their intent to kill Jews, ostensibly in retaliation for the assassination of Imad Mugniyeh though they hardly need any excuses for mass murder. Yet while Iran and Hezbullah issue their dire threats to exterminate Israel, the Western intelligentsia fall silent, pray no doubt to the delusion that this extremism ‘will boil over.’
Meanwhile Mr. Brown and his progressive acolytes in Whitehall have banned any reference to ‘Islamic’ terror, frightened not to offend Muslim sensibilities, even though genuinely moderate Muslims would hardly care less. The words ‘history’ ‘learn’ and ‘nothing’ seem strangely appropriate here.
Notes on a scandal 26 February, 2008
The most disturbing thing about the New York Philharmonic’s crazy, cringeworthy visit to North Korea is their complete disconnection from reality. Here we have one of the world’s premier cultural institutions, a musical establishment that has hosted some of the greatest names in music, adding to the prestige of one of the most backward, repressive and dictatorial regimes in the world. Just what do the organizers of this lunatic circus think they are going to achieve?
The State Department seems to think that barriers can be broken down between the countries, while executive director, Zarin Mehta has claimed:
‘A wide distribution of the concert within the country has been a central element of our agreement to perform in Pyongyang from the start.’
Really Zarin? Who cares? Certainly not the vast numbers of starving and tortured North Koreans who will be unable to experience the wonders of Gershwin and Dvorak.
In any case, this argument underestimates the near infinite capacity for deceit and manipulation in any totalitarian state. As with all autocratic regimes that pray on the naivety of half witted appeasing liberals, the North Koreans will spin this visit for their own purposes. No doubt they will claim that America, after 5 decades of 'aggression', has at last recognised Kim Il Sung in an act of political and cultural weakness. After all, submission to the ‘great leader’ is the country’s state religion. My guess as to why Pyongyang has agreed to this is that it will provide them with a boost in the talks over its nuclear programme. But this too requires caution on the part of the West. For the North Koreans violated the nuclear deal that was signed with President Clinton in 1994.
Cultural exchange visits between countries certainly have their place but only when those countries broadly share a set of political and cultural values. North Korea is a deeply despotic, communist dictatorship which flagrantly violates human rights and tortures its political opponents. It is as far from benign as you can possibly get. The notion that Kim will undergo a sudden Damascene conversion to Western liberalism because of this cultural visit is risible in the extreme.
Yet how often we hear this self serving nonsense when repressive regimes are given time by the West. On a recent edition of Question Time the panellists (the irrepressible Melanie Phillips aside) argued that the Olympics represented a great chance for engagement with the regime, and an opportunity to defend Western values in the face of repression. What utter tosh! Can you imagine Beijing’s outcry were Linford Christie to call for an independent Tibet or for commemorating the victims of Tiananmen Square? He would be unceremoniously booted out before he could say Peking Duck. This is extraordinary naivety bordering on the insane.
If and when North Korea abandons the cult of dictatorship, when it changes its political culture to become open and democratic, allowing a free press, an independent judiciary and political opposition, then cultural visits should certainly follow. But while the two nations are in a state of de facto war, nothing could be more inappropriate.
The New York Philharmonic may be a venerable musical institution but its directors have shown a lack of judgment here that is truly bewildering.
Israel’s war against terror – and lies 3 March, 2008
It seems like the inevitable confrontation with Hamas has been delayed in Gaza. Following an escalation of the rocket attacks on Ashkelon and Sderot, Israel looked set for a major military operation to curb their enemy’s endless attacks. Now the tanks have been mysteriously withdrawn – though for how long is anybody’s guess. Most Israelis will surely feel that their only realistic choice is to destroy the infrastructure of terror in Gaza.
While Israel has struggled to defend its citizens from attack, the usual morally compromised tone of international diplomacy has been sounded across the world. Over the weekend, Ban Ki Moon called for ‘restraint’ in Gaza. The EU slammed the ‘recent disproportionate use of force by the Israel Defence Forces.’ The BBC (the Biased Broadcasting Corporation) coverage focused on the ‘pounding’ of Gaza in response to rocket attacks but carefully emphasized the larger number of Palestinian deaths, as if that constituted an inherent moral difference between the two sides.
Today the Guardian condemned Israel’s ‘collective punishment’ which was punishing ‘civilians on both sides.’ The Independent slammed the unequal deaths on both sides in this fashion: ‘Between 54 and 61 killed on the Palestinian side in a single day. On the other side, two dead, both soldiers. Can this be termed a fight?’ It won’t be long before we hear the words ‘cycle of violence’ being used, as they were throughout the second intifada.’
But there is no cycle of violence and the notion of moral equivalence between Hamas and Israel is perverse. How can there be any equivalence between a legitimate government defending its major cities from attack and the actions of an internationally proscribed terrorist group? To draw moral conclusions about each side judged simply by a tally of body bags is to engage in the most puerile form of moral reasoning. It is not even primary school level ethics. Indeed to speak of ‘two sides’ in this conflict is equally wrong for it makes a false equation between a democracy and a rogue entity.
And what exactly does proportionality mean? If militants fire rockets into Israel from built up areas, it is right under the laws of war for Israel to destroy those rocket launchers. If they are fired from hospitals, the same thing applies. If terrorists were to fire lethal weapons at Bristol and Manchester from some base in Belgium, forcing entire populations into underground shelters 3 times a day, and if the Belgian government encouraged those attacks, what choice would our government have but to destroy the bases themselves, with all the attendant casualties that would entail? What else but a state of war would exist between the two countries?
Judged another way, would it be more reasonable (or proportionate) for the Israelis to develop their own home made devices and crudely and indiscriminately fire thousands of these into Gaza? This copy cat action uses the same level of force but it is immoral and surely illegal. As long as Israel’s actions are confined to curbing rocket attacks and provided that she does everything in her power to minimize civilian casualties, she is hardly violating international law. Of course, there will always, tragically, be innocent victims in the carnage. But this is war – what else do we expect?
Naturally the UN, with its iniquitous history of anti Israeli bias, would deem Israel to be the aggressor here. But to hear the White House spokesman saying that the violence ‘needs to stop’ and that ‘talks need to resume’ is disturbing. Hamas’ strategy relies on the propaganda value of Palestinian casualties. They would dearly love to hear world leaders calling for ‘restraint’ and ‘proportionality’ for this, the clarion call of compromise and retreat, will make demands for a ceasefire seem irresistible.
But a ceasefire, or hudna, would be the worst outcome for Israel and the region. It would give the Islamists breathing space and much needed time to build up their weapons for a future round of conflict. It will do nothing to promote long term stability.
When Condoleezza Rice visits Jerusalem tomorrow, she should choose her words very carefully. If the US puts the squeeze on Israel and compromises her right to self defence, a great deal more than Bush’s legacy will be at stake.
Don't be charitable to politicized charities 7 March, 2008
Yesterday’s depraved attack on students in Jerusalem comes one day after a group of leading aid agencies condemn Israeli policy in Gaza. Describing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza as the worst for 40 years, the groups cite a number of problems: Gazan dependence on food aid, hospital power cuts, water and sewage problems, illiteracy and severe unemployment to name a few. None of this is particularly controversial or factually incorrect. Gaza is indeed in economic turmoil in every respect cited in this report. But here comes the sting. The main cause of this looming catastrophe is Israel, described in the report as the ‘occupying power.’
‘Israel has the right and obligation to protect its citizens, but as the occupying power in Gaza it also has a legal duty to ensure Gazans have access to food, clean water, electricity and medical care…Punishing the entire Gazan population by denying them these basic human rights is utterly indefensible.’
This warped, bigoted, utterly one sided analysis simply flies in the face of reality. Firstly, the charge of collective punishment is applied here to only one side. No mention is made of the collective punishment of hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are forced into underground shelters whenever rockets are fired from Gaza. Nor do they seem concerned that Hamas cites its missile launchers in civilian areas, so that when Israel retaliates in self defence, civilians will inevitably become casualties. This human shield policy is disgusting, illegal and immoral - yet it is scarcely of any concern to these do-gooding Christian agencies.
Secondly, Israel is not the occupying power in Gaza. The mere fact that the Jewish state has limited control of Gaza (i.e. it controls its airspace and coast) for entirely understandable security reasons does not make it the legal occupier. Hamas now controls this territory and has been the recipient of enormous overseas aid since 2006. The aid agencies must therefore direct their complaint to Hamas, not to Israel.
Thirdly, the Israeli blockade has only ever been imposed on Gaza because of the attacks from that territory directed by Hamas. Israel continues to supply most of Gaza’s electricity though some weeks ago, in response to the rockets, it reduced its supply by 25% to make life ‘inconvenient’ for Palestinians. Nonetheless there was enough of a supply to ensure that hospitals could function effectively.
In any case, Israel would be fully entitled to cut off electricity and gas to its adversary in Gaza. Under article 23 of the 4th Geneva Convention here, a country must ‘allow the free passage of all consignments of medical and hospital stores and objects necessary for religious worship intended only for civilians of another High Contracting Party, even if the latter is its adversary.’ It should also ‘permit the free passage of all consignments of essential foodstuffs, clothing and tonics intended for children under fifteen, expectant mothers and maternity cases.’
There is no mention here of supplying electricity and gas. The key point is that Israel must not interfere with the supply of essential goods by another party, nor does Gaza’s dependence on Israeli supplies create a legal duty for Israel to continue that supply.
The political agenda in this report is on open display when Daleep Mukarji, a director of Christian Aid, called for talks with Hamas. On the Christian Aid website it says: “Dialogue is indeed the way forward, not violence. However, this must be part of an inclusive process that involves all parties, including Hamas, as non-engagement has been proven to bring only humanitarian disaster and increased anger and alienation among Palestinians, rather than increased Israeli security.”
So this is what it comes to. Israel should be served up on a plate to its enemies in order to give the people of Gaza a better future. Never mind that the anti semitic Hamas are dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state, never mind that their incompetence and malicious warmongering has led to this (legal) blockade, never mind that Hamas cynically exploits the suffering of innocent civilians by using them as human shields, and that they have the tacit support of much of the West, it is Israel that must take the fall. This is biased hatemongering, pure and simple.
Far from giving us a neutral account of a humanitarian crisis, these charities, which include Amnesty International and Christian Aid, have produced a piece of distorted, left wing propaganda which has been treated as if it were the gospel truth. What ought to concern us is how easily these humanitarian agencies receive red carpet treatment for their propaganda simply because they are charities. It is a political 'halo effect.'
This politicized tract should be seen for what it is and treated with the disdain it deserves.
Surrender is not an option (review) 10 March, 2008
Internationalism seems to be all the rage these days. Whether the crisis is African genocide or global warming, there is an unwavering faith that only the UN or some ‘global’ institution has the moral clout to intervene. The assertion of unilateral power in conflict resolution is deemed invalid, immoral and unjust.
Such is the scale of this assault on nation states, particularly America, that the West now faces a terminal crisis in dealing with the Islamic jhadist onslaught and the rogue states promoting it. This is a dominant theme in John Bolton’s new political memoir, ‘Surrender is not an option.’
As a former US ambassador to the United Nations, Bolton is best known for his combative media appearances and his uncompromising defence of the Bush administration. This book adopts his hard hitting style as he zealously exposes those individuals and groups who, through inefficiency or corruption, undermine America and Western security.
He describes a United Nations that is institutionally unwilling to reform, dominated by countries that pursue separate and often conflicting agendas. He has scorn for bodies like the International Criminal Court and the Human Rights Council, both of which are dedicated to criticizing American power and vilifying Israel. The HRC’s decision in 2006 to permanently monitor Israel’s human rights abuses, deliberately sidestepping the world’s dictatorships, is rightly condemned as grotesque.
While ambassador, Bolton witnessed at first hand the UN’s paralyzing disease of “moral equivalency” which he defined as “the view that an act of aggression and a response in self defence had the same moral implications.” This was evident during the 2006 Lebanon war when Kofi Annan called for a ‘ceasefire’ between Israel and Hezbollah, effectively equating a sovereign, democratic state with an illegally armed paramilitary group. Yet eventually, and to Bolton’s disdain, his own country succumbed to international pressure and brokered a ceasefire.
Bolton brilliantly dissects the UN’s bureaucratic inertia, particularly over the tragedy of Darfur. For years the world witnessed what Colin Powell called ‘genocide’ as Arab backed Janjaweed mercilessly attacked innocent civilians in the region. But slaughter and ethnic cleansing scarcely spurred the UN to any form of effective intervention. After protracted debate, the Council produced a watered down resolution calling for a UN force to be sent to Sudan, provided that the Sudanese government gave its consent. But Khartoum refused while the Janjaweed continued their offensive against the innocent.
As Bolton rightly observed, “there was no chance of success if any of the parties to a dispute dug in their heels and refused to cooperate.” By contrast the author warms to the idea of unilateral interventionism, as in the case of Somalia where American firepower helped to rout Islamic militias that were destabilizing the country.
What Bolton can never stomach is timid, lily livered diplomacy in dealing with tyrannical rogue states. As a key figure in the Bush administration, Bolton tried to persuade reluctant American diplomats that North Korea would never voluntarily give up its nuclear weapons programme. As he observes in the book, Pyongyang was violating an agreement signed in 1994 according to which North Korea would shut down its nuclear power plants in return for heavy fuel oil.
With a delicious lack of subtlety, he condemns “the High Minded” internationalists who were prepared to stake their credibility on the vague promises of leader Kim il Jung. Their strategy was tantamount to a “prayer to negotiate the North out of its nuclear weapons” when it was abundantly clear that good will was all one way. But that is how appeasement works – and why it invariably fails.
Bolton shows his dismay for Europe’s appeasers too, particularly over their dealings with Iran. He talks of how the Iranians pursued a clandestine nuclear programme while the EU3 (Britain, France and Germany) sought in vain to negotiate its termination. In one chapter he described his frustrating attempts to win a harder line approach on Iran, only to find that his initiatives were scuppered by Europe’s “three tenors.” Their “diplomatic frolic” was, he said, “based on nothing but air” but it “gave Iran breathing space to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.” Neville Chamberlain would be laughing in his grave.
Bolton revels in the enemies he has made. After a speech in 2003, when he condemned the gross human rights violations in North Korea, he was denounced by the North Koreans rather undiplomatically as “human scum”. But Bolton reflects, “this was probably the highest accolade I received during all my service in the Bush years.”
When it comes to his detractors, however, he in unsparing in his contempt. Kofi Annan emerges as a sanctimonious but demanding ‘secular pope’, for whom dissent is heresy. Dafna Linzer, a writer on the Washington Post who once wrote a critical article on Bolton, is accused as having a “sloppy and inaccurate approach to journalism” and a “lack of professionalism”. Syria is the “Al Capone” of the Middle East while Hugo Chavez is a “bully” and “troublemaker.” With language like this, you can understand why Bolton is such a divisive figure.
If there is a criticism, it is that the book often reads like a daily diary of meetings and interviews, sometimes described in laborious detail. For those unfamiliar with Washington politics, there may be too much to digest here on a first reading. He also glosses over the murkier issues of the Bush era, such as Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition and Abu Ghraib. Nonetheless, this is an insightful portrait of political incompetence at the highest level, written by a towering defender of Western values. That alone makes it a compelling read.
The McCann case and the problems of modern journalism 19 March, 2008
No one should doubt the significance of the Express Group’s forced contrition yesterday. The decision to publish a public apology to Kate and Gerry McCann, following months of devastating headlines, represents a humiliating climbdown as well as a stark admission of judgmental failure. To my mind, it is an extremely welcome development.
The handling of the McCann story shows up so clearly what is wrong in Fleet Street today: lazy journalism, the recycling of information from unchecked sources, the trial by media of (as yet) innocent figures who have suffered gross defamation as a result.
Consider the facts. No one knows for sure exactly what happened to Madeleine McCann, beyond the fact that she disappeared from a hotel room in Portugal. No one knows who took the girl, what subsequently happened to her and who was responsible for her abduction.
Yet despite this ignorance, feral headline grabbers have given us a mass of contradictory stories: One minute Madeleine was ‘probably’ alive and coming home by Christmas, the next she was ‘probably’ dead; one minute she was the victim of parental poisoning, the next her parents were the hapless victims of inept policing. Sympathy for the McCann’s swung rapidly to suspicion with fickle ease.
Many of the headlines were based on ‘sources’ supposedly close to the investigation but it was obvious that little independent fact checking or investigation was done. For the sake of cheap copy, the story was strung out endlessly without the critical investigation that might have given it some substance.
This is the kind of issue that is discussed in Nick Davies’ latest book ‘Flat Earth News.’ A Guardian journalist with over 30 years experience, Davies has just written this explosive polemic which could permanently alter the way we see the global media. This author pulls no punches. His is a “corrupted profession” immersed in “falsehood, distortion and propaganda” and which desperately needs a thorough deep clean.
Most British papers, he argues, are not producing journalism but churnalism, which he defines as “the rapid repackaging of largely unchecked second hand material, much of it designed to service the political or commercial interests of those who provide it.” This second hand material comes from different sources, primarily the Press Association but also commercial PR companies who are desperate to promote the interests of their clients.
A study commissioned by the University of Cardiff in 2005 looked at over 2,000 stories that appeared over a fortnight in 5 of Britain’s leading newspapers. To their astonishment they found that only 12% of the stories resulted from original research carried out by reporters. In 60% of cases, the print stories consisted wholly or mainly of wire copy and/or PR material which had not been checked.
Davies rightly comments that, “Journalism without checking is like a human body without an immune system”. The danger exemplified by the McCann case is that false stories are circulated as if they were factual and that journalists no longer discharge the function for which they are indispensable.
In recent years two extended news narratives have exposed the shortcomings Davies refers to. Before 2000, there was a global media (and political) frenzy surrounding the Millennium Bug. For years newspaper headlines were alarmist. Newsweek predicted ‘the day the world crashes’ and the Evening Standard claimed that 999 services faced meltdown in 2000, to cite just 2 examples.
But on 1st January 2000, the world failed to crash and ambulances operated just as normal. This was a case where scaremongering journalists “spontaneously hopped on board a global flight of fiction which took off and left a few sad facts standing flat footed and forgotten in its wake.”
The second case concerned Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, the casus belli for the 2003 war. Here Davies is on shakier ground. Some papers and commentators consistently defied the Bush/Blair case for war, providing a powerful and sustained critique of the Anglo-American war plans. It is true that the 45 minute claim received sensational headlines across the globe when more detailed questioning might have cast doubts on government spin. But to blame the media for stoking the flames of war is grossly unfair and inaccurate.
Journalists have also been manipulated by the powerful engine of PR. Davies talks about the case of 3 extravagant City bankers, who after making millions from dodgy deals with Enron, were ordered to be extradited to America in 2004. But after the men contacted Bell Yard Communications, a company specialising in ‘public reputation management’, the PR machine went into operation.
Now they were three unfortunate victims of injustice, wrongfully extradited because the SFO had refused to prosecute them in Britain. Three self indulgent crooks became ‘The Nat West three’ with the media collectively lapping up the PR “like a baby fastening on to a teat.”
As Davies says, commercial pressure is to blame for much of this. Put simply, journalists are chasing an increasingly flow of stories with inadequate time and resources. With the internet providing instant news gratification, the end result is that when editors demand quick stories and front page leads, reporters often lack the necessary time for rigorous research.
His revelations on ‘the dark Arts’ are the most disturbing of all. Here he shows how most of Britain’s quality papers have been willing accomplices in the illegal acquisition of confidential information. He talks of the Sunday Times reporters who routinely offered cash bribes to civil servants and police officers in return for confidential information.
He shows how figures on the Mail were given access to the social security database containing information on 72,000,000 citizens and were even able to obtain health records on their chosen targets. Yet at the same time both papers were merrily exposing government sleaze and corruption with their usual sanctimonious tone. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.
The book has its shortcomings. While Davies is unrelenting in unmasking poor practice, he is less generous to the journalists who uphold their profession’s central values. Plenty of brave reporters who carry out important investigative missions rarely receive the praise they deserve.
There are also occasions when his righteous fury is a little misplaced. He condemns the omission by the global media of a vast array of stories, including the surge in global poverty, the inequality within developed nations and some of the more obscure African conflicts. Even when disputes are covered in news features, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, they often lack historical analysis and context. But what Davies ignores is that lengthy economic and social analysis is the stuff of academia, not everyday newsprint. Its omission, though regrettable, is surely understandable.
Despite its limitations, this is a powerful read which will challenge the way you see the world through the lens of the global media. No reporter or editor should ignore it.
The World looks on while Tibet burns 24 March, 2008
Nancy Pelosi deserves some credit for her stance on Tibet last week. While other world leaders watched China’s onslaught on Tibetans with studied silence, Pelosi was forthright in her condemnation. Visiting the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, she declared:
“The situation in Tibet is a challenge to the conscience of the world. If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China and the Chinese in Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak out on human rights.”
Tibet is indeed a ‘challenge to the conscience of the world’ and the failure to raise it with the Chinese represents the very loss of moral authority Pelosi speaks of. During the recent crackdown there were signs of diplomatic concern but they amounted to very little in reality. There were meaningless calls for ‘restraint’, though whether the Tibetans should be as restrained as the Chinese is a different matter.
But beneath the veneer of unease, no one really wanted to upset this Asian economic powerhouse too much. Not the UN General Assembly, not the EU, not even our beloved ‘son of the manse’ Gordon Brown. During the Prime Minister’s recent visit to Beijing, Tibet was not on the agenda. One suspects that the same leaders who call for human rights were just too concerned for their own nation’s well being. They did not want to lose their share of this emerging economic colossus.
Of course the great opportunity to humble China comes this summer. A mass boycott by athletes would at last send a message of moral support to Tibet, even if it would achieve nothing in concrete terms. But no such thing seems likely to happen. Too many people are hiding behind the view that holding the Olympics in Beijing will somehow be good for democracy and human rights because it will highlight the issues of concern in China: one party rule, Tibet, Taiwan, human rights abuses and so on. If we didn’t hold the Olympics there, so the argument goes, we would be letting the dissidents down.
Of course, this is a lot of disingenuous, self serving waffle. At best, the Chinese will brush aside our concern with human rights as self indulgent liberal hot air. At worst, it will worsen things for the political dissidents in question. The Chinese should never have been allowed to host these games in the first place, just as Zimbabwe should have no place in international cricket. But try telling that to the morally compromised titans of the International Olympic Committee.
Thus Beijing will continue to perpetrate crimes against their own citizens and against the long suffering citizens of Tibet while the world watches from the sidelines. Beijing will continue to prop up corrupt African regimes, such as the Sudanese, in order to fund their gigantic industrial boom while the West looks the other way. Call it economic appeasement or plain cowardice. Either way, it is pretty nasty. As the Tibetans will tell you.
The NUT is plain NUTS 26 March, 2008
Teaching unions often talk pure waffle. Over a year ago the AUT led a spate of calls from lecturers for an academic boycott of Israel. They were followed by unions like the UCU who sought to use the moral high ground to take a decidedly nuanced, and very anti Israeli, view of the Middle East conflict. So today’s pronouncement by the NUT that schools should refuse to circulate Army recruitment "propaganda" to students comes as little surprise. It is just another sad example of how some of our public institutions have been hijacked by a twisted, left of centre ideology that panders to political correctness. This much is clear when you listen to the comments of one of the teachers who spoke at the NUT conference:
"Let's just try and imagine what that recruitment material would have to say were it not to be misleading. We would have material from the MoD saying 'Join the Army and we will send you to carry out the imperialist occupation of other people's countries. Join the Army and we will send you to bomb, shoot and possibly torture fellow human beings in other countries. Join the Army and be sent, probably poorly equipped, into situations where people try and shoot you and kill you because you are occupying their countries.”
It simply doesn’t occur to this individual that his demand for censorship is based on his own rigid hostility to the recent conflicts in which Britain has been involved, notably Iraq. Never mind that this is a contentious issue with opinions still divided about the wisdom of our participation, this teacher demands that we (and our students) view this conflict through his own left wing tinted spectacles. Worse, the bad conduct of some troops in that theatre of war damns the whole force in his eyes, which is exceptionally blinkered.
In any case, the suggestion that the MOD reflect the full horrors of war in their recruitment videos in order to provide ‘balance’ is just a little puerile. It is like demanding that teaching recruitment videos reveal classroom pandemonium or the growing number of assaults on teachers. It is like insisting that NHS recruitment videos reveal how many nurses are attacked each year, or the extent of MRSA. No organization would comply with such lunacy because recruitment would instantly cease.
Perhaps MOD videos do glamorize features of war; it rather depends on your perspective. But it is still up to students, of a certain age, to make informed decisions about their own future careers. Choice, after all, is supposed to be a key component of our education system. But choice for the NUT means deciding what choices are acceptable within their own politically correct parameters. That is obscene.
The NUT has picked on the military because it is a soft target for the left who continue to despise militarism. Teachers, like other professionals, are naturally entitled to their own views on any subject. But what they are not entitled to do is foist politically partisan views on other people, including their own students. The initials of this teaching union therefore seem rather appropriate.
More window dressing on crime 31 March, 2008
It was hardly surprising to hear that 2 radicalised Muslims were given a premature get out of jail card last week under the government’s early release scheme. Yassin Nassari had been convicted of trying to smuggle missile blueprints into Britain while a second man was convicted of possessing a bomb making manual. Both men obviously posed a danger to the nation and were rightly imprisoned. Yet both are now free men who have served less than half their full sentences.
The intervention by Justice Secretary Jack Straw, to prevent any further early releases of terrorists, was a welcome but essentially ad hoc retreat, one which revealed the depths of incompetence stalking this administration. Did Straw and his officials not foresee that those implicated in terrorism might be released from prison early? The lack of foresight simply beggars belief. Yet the early release fiasco is but one manifestation of the crisis now affecting prisons and the justice system in Britain.
Last week I heard the Justice Secretary addressing the Royal Society of Arts on the subject of boosting confidence in the Criminal Justice System. He talked about specific initiatives, such as improving literacy in prisons and the government’s new Titan prisons, which would be built near offenders’ homes. Beyond that there were a series of rather vague promises to increase public knowledge of the workings of justice.
Not surprisingly, Straw failed to mention the root of the increasing lack of confidence in the whole system. The fact that our prisons are full to bursting point and that the only ways to relieve pressure have been either for criminals to be let out early or for those convicted to escape incarceration altogether. When you consider the high rates of re-offending among prisoners, especially for younger criminals aged 15-21, the picture becomes rather gloomy.
Straw glossed over the terrible increase in youth related violent crime and the prevalence of gang culture in certain parts of the country. He ignored the glaring failure of ASBOs and community sentencing with their high rates of re-offending.
He even had the temerity to suggest that the police service was in good shape because of increased recruitment, a disingenuous argument when you consider that the average officer spends more time in administration and form filling than in patrolling the streets. He ignored altogether the point that because of dictates from our European overlords in Brussels, the government is unable to deport criminals and terrorists to other shores if they are likely to suffer harm. These are glaring examples of the maladministration of justice in Britain today.
The Justice Secretary took refuge in the idea that if only citizens could become better acquainted with the criminal justice system, their confidence would be restored. But this misses the point. Certainly the public need to be convinced that the police are on their side, that prison is working to deter criminality (which it largely does not) and that as law abiding citizens, they are protected, as far as possible, from the lawless minority. As the saying goes, justice must not only be done but be seen to be done.
But engaging with the public through citizens forums is hardly going to solve the catalogue of problems mentioned above. Only root and branch reform and a shake up of failed policies can achieve that. Somehow I doubt that New Labour has the stomach to be so radical.
Fitna 4 April, 2008
I have just seen Geert Wilders’ mini documentary ‘Fitna.’ This controversial 15 minute film was released on Live Leak, then hastily withdrawn for a day before being re-released without certain ‘offensive’ material.
In some ways Fitna is a valuable piece of filmmaking. Wilders reveals all too graphically the nature of the current Islamist threat which can be seen in terror attacks across the world. With an emotional soundtrack playing in the background, the film shows some truly disturbing footage, including emotional scenes from 9/11.
He exposes some of the worst manifestations of radical Islam, including several vicious hate speeches in which Islamists vent their fury at Western democracy, abortion and sexual tolerance. President Ahmadinejad comes across (rightly) as a jihadist who craves regional domination. He also reveals how vicious anti Semitism lies at the heart of this deranged ideology. Thus he shows three year olds being interviewed on Arab television who call Jews ‘the sons of pigs and apes’ and who then trace their belief to the Koran. Muslims carry posters praising Hitler and others are shown performing the Nazi salute.
But Wilders also embeds this fanaticism and hatemongering in a specifically Koranic context. At different stages, the film provides examples of belligerent verses from the Koran which mandate ‘jihad against non Muslims’ or which call for the ‘smiting’ of the unbelievers. Wilders clearly believes that the Islamic faith is inherently responsible for this appalling violence.
But valuable as this is, 'Fitna' is not the same as the excellent ‘Obsession.’ For one thing it suffers from a lack of expert witnesses with an intimate knowledge of radical Islam. ‘Obsession’ featured several interviews with eminent historians, ex Islamists and political commentators who provided in depth analysis of the issues being discussed.
Secondly ‘Fitna’ lacks much needed nuance and balance. Wilders claims that the ‘Islamic ideology’ has to be defeated, just as Nazism and Communism were brought to their knees in the previous 60 years. But here Wilders is wrong to suggest that Islam is a monolithic faith that mandates only one message, whether of violence or of peace.
As I have argued before, if we declare that Islam as a whole is the enemy, rather than one interpretation of it, we would be launching a wholly unwinnable battle of ideas. We would be alienating many fair minded, non Islamist Muslims who are just as concerned as non Muslims about the malign influence of Islamist radicalism. If Wilders thought it necessary merely to ban certain passages from the Koran, why would he call for defeat of the ‘Islamic’ ideology? By contrast, ‘Obsession’ made the point that Islamism was but one interpretation of Islam, albeit a highly plausible one. Wilders appears to disagree and this undermines his thesis.
Tibetans are too peaceful for the international community 7 April, 2008
Yesterday I attended the Free Tibet rally that was held opposite Downing Street, as the Olympic torch passed through Whitehall. The huge assembled throng was (mostly) well behaved and in good cheer and while the protesters were animated, there was never a hint of an impending riot. Yes, there were scuffles that broke out and yes people were arrested for public order offences. While one should condemn those of a more militant disposition, their behaviour only marred an otherwise spirited occasion.
In a sense, this is pretty much what we have come to expect from the Tibetan movement; that their supporters protest politely and then go back home without alarming the authorities. Think about it, when was the last time you heard of Tibetan suicide bombers blasting a café in Beijing? When did you last hear the Dalai Lama call for violent ‘resistance’ against China or explain that murdering civilians was a necessary part of his liberation struggle? You haven’t and that tells its own story. The recent violence in Tibet seems to be an exception.
There is something genuinely uplifting about using non violence to counter injustice and adversity. One thinks of the way that Martin Luther King championed non militancy during the Civil Rights movement despite the injustice meted out to his fellow Black Americans. His tactic of non violent non co-operation won the movement support from non Blacks while belligerent governors in the South instantly ceded the moral high ground to their foes.
But with Tibet, this pacific disposition is also (sadly) a drawback. The decision not to use indiscriminate violence has seen their cause pushed below the radar of international attention. Few presidents and prime ministers deem Tibet to be a matter of overriding urgency.
Thus our spineless government ministers call for ‘restraint’ in Tibet, as if they were chastising 2 ill mannered schoolchildren brawling in the playground. In reality, our government is bending over backwards to placate a Chinese regime which is obsessively sensitive to Tibetan protesters and which has threatened to scupper London’s own Olympic rally in 2012. This is the wrong kind of appeasement towards the wrong kind of people and history is always at hand to remind us of the consequences. They aren’t pretty.
By contrast, consider the attention lavished on the Palestinian movement in the last 3 decades despite their record of incessant hijackings, bombings and acts of terror. The Palestinians literally bombed their way to the negotiating table and the worse their atrocities, the more urgently their cause was taken up. In effect, the more Arafat escalated his terror campaign, the more he seduced people into trying to ‘win him over.’ Violence can be glamorous even for the good hearted. As Charles Moore pointed out in yesterday’s Telegraph, the same thing took place in Northern Ireland.
Of course I am not suggesting, even for a minute, that Tibetan campaigners should abandon their peaceful ways. Non violent protest gives their cause added legitimacy and provides moral, as well as political reasons, for supporting independence. But the adage that only those who shout loudest get heard has a clear political application.
But there are disturbing consequences for giving so much attention to the most violent causes in the world. As Moore points out, it can only give disincentives to new political movements to behave properly. Why should any liberation movement not kill and maim innocents when the rewards for barbarity are so great? Why abide by the law when no one listens? It seems that taking the moral high ground is only a ‘moral’ option these days.
The shaming of academia 09 April, 2008
Some months ago the Archbishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, courted controversy by describing some British towns with Muslim populations as ‘no go areas.’ He warned of the alarming rise in separatist demands from the Muslim community and how these demands, if met, would result in increasing social fragmentation and extremism. Some weeks later, the Archbishop of Canterbury delivered his infamous Sharia speech in which he talked of the ‘inevitability’ of Sharia law in Britain and the need for ‘parallel jurisdiction.’ It was as heartening to hear the truth from one bishop as it was depressing to hear misrepresentation from the other.
But if you thought that Britain alone was plagued by institutional paralysis in the face of Islamic separatism, think again. For the last 2 months a huge controversy has raged in America about the extent to which the demands of a religious minority (Muslims) can be accommodated in a public place. The issue centres on the so called ‘Harvard 6’, a small group of religious Muslim women who asked the authorities to ban men from going to one of the university’s gyms for 6 hours in the week. They argued that as their religion banned them from removing head clothing in the presence of men, they should have sole access to the gym during those 6 hours. On 4th February the authorities agreed and since that date, no men have been allowed in the gym during those hours.
The authorities are incredibly naïve not to have expected a backlash. As things stand, this is an appalling decision that flies in the face of anti discrimination legislation and brings back haunting and painful memories of segregation. It is simply not good enough to assert that there are other gyms available at Harvard, or that men can use this particular gym outside the 6 hour exclusion period. The university’s facilities should be available to every student on the same basis. That is the whole point of an institution offering ‘free and equal access’, regardless of its students’ background, sex, ethnicity and, yes, religion. This is a form of religious inspired segregation in the name of an intolerant faith.
Of course universities should try and accommodate the reasonable requests of religious minorities. Kitchens and canteens, for example, should try and provide halal and kosher food which meets the religious requirements of Muslims and Jews. After all, halal meat can be eaten by anyone, just as people of any faith (or none) should feel free to attend a religious minority’s prayer meeting.
But here the authorities are denying a resource to one group of students and effectively foisting one group’s religious values on to other people. This is a form of religious fundamentalism in which the authorities are pandering to the separatist demands of one group to the detriment of the majority. It is allowing one minority to monopolize public space according to certain religious rules and values, effectively turning that space into a private one. This is shameful for an academic institution that prides itself on combating intolerance and irrational discrimination.
How our politicians are undermining national security. 10 April, 2008
Two judicial decisions in the last 24 hours have highlighted how the government is losing control of the nation’s security. Yesterday the Court of appeal decided that it would be wrong to deport Abu Qatada to Libya as he was likely to face the prospect of torture. It is yet another grievous self inflicted wound in our desperate battle against jihadist Islam.
The decision makes a mockery of the ‘memoranda of understanding’ that were signed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks together with Tony Blair’s promises to ‘get tough’ on radical preachers. Indeed labelling the decision perverse would be the understatement of the year. Abu Qatada has been called Osama Bin Laden’s right hand man and is seen as a major terror mastermind. Yet we cannot deport this man from our shores because it would infringe his human rights. Note, his human rights, not the human rights of the law abiding ‘kuffars’ who seek protection from mass murdering Islamists.
On a separate matter, a judge today ruled that the Serious Fraud Office illegally dropped the probe into alleged bribery and corruption in the arms deals between Saudi Arabia and BAE systems. There was reportedly ‘irresistible’ pressure from the former Prime Minister on the SFO to stop the investigation following threats made by Saudi Prince Bandar. Bandar had reportedly threatened not only to scupper what remained of the al Yamamah arms deal, affecting thousands of British jobs, but to stop the flow of intelligence in the war on terror. This might have led, said investigators, to another 9/11 on British streets. According to the government’s lawyers, Blair and co had little choice but to cave in to Saudi intimidation and terminate the SFO probe.
First you have the small matter of an unconstitutional ministerial interference in the legal process. Worse than this are the security implications. The government has long championed the Saudi government as a force for peace and stability in the Middle East and as a key player in the war against Al Qaeda. Indeed it is true that the Saudi royal family has been a target for Islamic militants and yes, some terrorists have been captured by Saudi forces in recent years. But if the price we pay for this co-operation is that our ‘ally’ can viciously blackmail us and, at the drop of a hat, put British lives in danger, we are in the most serious danger.
As Lord Justice Moses put it today, the government has effectively said: ‘The law is powerless to protect our own sovereignty. No lawyer or court can protect one of the essential features of sovereignty, which is control over one's own domestic criminal law system."
It is often tempting to blame judges for loopy decisions like the one involving Qatada. But this would somewhat miss the point. What we are really dealing with here are craven, misguided politicians who are fundamentally jeopardizing this country’s security. The Court of Appeal upheld Qatada’s deportation appeal on the basis that he might face harm abroad. But this is simply the logical consequence of Britain signing the European Convention on Human Rights, a treaty that expressly forbids member states from deporting individuals to countries where they may be tortured or harmed. It is yet another example of how a faceless EU bureaucracy sets the agenda for British politics and how our timid Westminster elite have signed away their power to govern this country.
Timid is the word that also describes the government’s surrender to Saudi blackmail. Instead of proclaiming the Saudis as allies in the war on terror, the government should explain how much terror still emanates from the Saudis via their lavishly funded schools and mosques. Instead of bending over backwards to placate filthy rich, corrupt princes in Riyadh, the government ought to maintain its steadfast commitment to the rule of law. But political cowardice has forced their surrender to both Saudi billionaires and the ever expanding bureaucracy in Brussels.
Who needs misguided judges with this lot in control?
The 'both ways' Prime Minister 16 April, 2008
For all his tough rhetoric, Gordon Brown seems to have put his faith in an ‘African solution’ to Zimbabwe. Despite describing the country’s current plight as ‘appalling’, Brown seems resigned to trusting in Zimbabwe’s neighbours, rather than calling for meaningful international intervention. He will raise the issue at the UN today where he is spending the next 2 days, and have talks with other regional leaders. But that is about it. As a report in The Times said yesterday: ‘The Prime Minister’s stance will dismay those calling for the international community to take a tough line against the Mugabe regime.’
Indeed it will. Consider the fact that in recent days, the 14 nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), which met to discuss the Zimbabwean situation, failed to declare an emergency there. They merely called for the immediate release of election results which, after 14 days, remain firmly under police ‘protection’. The SADC is a paper tiger in every sense of the word and the notion that these neighbours can alter Mugabe’s tyrannical rule is illusory.
To be fair, Brown has condemned Mugabe’s rule on several occasions. Yet by ruling out international intervention in this current crisis, Brown has effectively adopted a laissez faire approach to the Zimbabwean crisis. Trusting in an African solution to Mugabe is like trusting in an Iraqi solution to Saddam Hussein, or a German solution to Hitler. Dictators rarely give up the royal jelly of power, especially when they are surrounded by an unholy collection of fawning admirers and fellow dictators. On this issue, Brown lacks courage, boldness and imagination.
Yet this lack of courage, boldness and resolution also typifies Gordon Brown’s leadership. This was the Prime Minister who dithered on an election and then lied about his reasons for cancelling it. This was the man who embraced the EU Constitution yet refused to attend the signing ceremony. This was the ‘Son of the Manse’ who kowtowed to the Chinese by allowing the Olympic torch into Downing Street, yet refused to hold it. He ruled out meeting Mugabe at an EU-Africa summit, yet sent a British representative in his place. He tries to have things both ways, but confuses nobody.
Another useful idiot for Hamas 22 April, 2008
Jimmy Carter’s well publicized visit to Syria has given Hamas the perfect PR opportunity. Here is a respected elder statesman, Noble Prize winner and noted critic of the Bush administration giving credence to an internationally proscribed terrorist outfit. He is the perfect conduit for the smooth flow of Hamas lies through the arteries of the global media.
Already their ostensible peace feelers have been interpreted in some quarters (the BBC not surprisingly) as a political breakthrough which ought to be taken seriously. The only stumbling block in their eyes is the inevitable brick wall from an intransigent Israel, symbolized by their ‘defiant’ refusal to meet Carter in Jerusalem yesterday.
According to Jimmy Carter, Hamas was prepared to recognize a two state deal brokered by the Palestinians under Mahmoud Abbas. The former President made these comments in Israel yesterday:
‘They said they would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders if approved by Palestinians and they would accept the right of Israel to live as a neighbour next door in peace, provided the agreements negotiated by prime minister Olmert and President Abbas were submitted to the Palestinians for their overall approval, even though Hamas might disagree with some terms of the agreement.’
Really? And Adolf Hitler offered his European neighbours a long term peace deal after invading the Rhineland in 1936 so what’s new? Of course yesterday’s offer was a clever chimera. Hamas themselves were quick to deny that they would recognize the Jewish state in the event of a two state deal. As their leader in exile put it: ‘We agree to a state on pre-67 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital with genuine sovereignty without settlements but without recognizing Israel.’
How could it be otherwise? What the venerable Mr. Carter should have done is look carefully at the Hamas Charter which calls explicitly for the eradication of Jewish sovereignty from every square inch of what is now Israel. Under their interpretation of religious law, there can be no compromise, no dialogue and no negotiation on this question.
Thus Carter’s statement that Hamas would ‘accept the right of Israel to live as a neighbour next door in peace’ is a fiction. In effect, Hamas would accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza brokered by another group but without fundamentally renouncing their ambition to destroy Israel. They would see the new Palestinian entity as just another front from which to continue their attritional war against Israelis. This time Tel Aviv and Jerusalem would be under fire, not just Sderot.
Nor were Hamas prepared to offer a ceasefire as even Carter himself admitted. At best their ‘hudna’ would be a ‘temporary’ cessation of hostilities, legitimised by Islamic law, allowing them to consolidate their strength before another round of fighting.
Like the Bolsheviks and the Nazis before them, Hamas are reliant on useful idiots to spread their insidious propaganda in the West. Given his own venomous anti Israeli views, Jimmy Carter is the perfect specimen.
(Useful idiot – a term, originally used of Bolshevik sympathisers in the West, referring to someone who naively and foolishly endorses the views of dictators and their policies).
If you buy one anti Zionist lie, you buy the rest 29 April, 2008
On May 8th Israelis will celebrate the 60th anniversary of their nation, a nation whose identity was forged in a struggle against persecution and terror. It should be an opportunity to celebrate an incredible feat, the survival of the Middle East’s only true democracy despite the best efforts of its many enemies.
Yet we all know that this runs counter to the conventional wisdom. The popular political image of Israel is that it is the illegal oppressor and occupier of ‘Palestine’ and that its past colonialist sins must first be rectified before Zionism can be embraced. Some of Israel’s fiercest detractors buttress their critique by quoting Israel’s ‘new historians’, a self appointed anti Zionist clique who are determined to vilify the Israeli state at all costs.
Johann Hari is no stranger to any of this. In an opinion piece in yesterday’s Independent, he offered a typically vicious, one sided portrait of Israeli ills that, he said, ought to prick the celebratory mood on May 8th. After discussing the iniquities of the Palestinian sewer system, Hari goes on to make a series of quite extraordinary claims about Israel’s bad faith towards the Arabs.
In his view, the 1948 ‘naqba’ or catastrophe involved marauding colonial Zionists literally wiping ‘indigenous’ Palestinians off the map. The early Zionists believed that they were moving to a ‘land without people for a people without a land’, Hari claims. As a result, the Zionists drew up plans to remove the Arabs from the nascent Jewish state, requiring just one opportune moment to fulfill their expansionist aims. In 1948 that moment arrived, he argued, leading to the ‘ethnical cleansing’ of some 800,000 Palestinians. These native inhabitants, he goes on to say, were ‘completely innocent of the long, hellish crimes against the Jews.’ He quotes Ilan Pappe (more on him later) to buttress this outrageous claim.
What his article proves is that if you believe one distortion, you are an easy sucker for the rest. They do not exist in isolation for they are all part of one all embracing false narrative.
Take the 'naqba'. While it is true that tens of thousands of Arab Palestinians were forcibly removed from their towns in 1948 as a result of the first Arab-Israeli war, a larger number fled as a result of rumours or at the behest of Arab states. Nor would this exodus have occurred had the Arab states and the Palestinian leadership accepted the UN offer of partition which was designed to create a 2 state settlement. The Zionists accepted partition in November 47; the Arabs wholeheartedly rejected it.
Hari too ignores the mass expulsion of Jews from Arab countries between 1948-9. The charge of ethnic cleansing is particularly vicious, with its connotations of mass killing and racial persecution. The fact that Israel today has an 'ethnically' Arab population of over 1 million with voting rights and equality before the law tells its own story.
Hari then cites the old canard about the ‘Palestinians’ being innocent of the ‘hellish crimes against the Jews.’ Perhaps he should remind himself about Haj Muhammed Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Palestine. This much venerated figure (even among many Palestinians today) spent much of the war years in Berlin begging Hitler to apply the Final Solution to Palestine and recruiting Muslims to form SS units in the Balkans. He was subsequently condemned for war crimes after the war.
In view of what Hari has said it is hardly surprising that he is an intellectual bedfellow of Ilan Pappe. Pappe is an utterly discredited ‘academic’ whose anti Zionist prejudices are well known in his home country. Renowned Israeli historian Benny Morris, himself a trenchant critic of Israeli behaviour in 1948, has said this of Pappe’s work:
'Unfortunately much of what Pappe tries to sell his readers is complete fabrication.’ Pappe’s ‘A History of Modern Palestine’ is ‘awash with errors of a quantity and a quality that are not found in serious historiography. [...] The multiplicity of mistakes on each page is a product of both Pappe's historical methodology and his political proclivities.’
The same could be said of Mr. Hari.
Israel's 60th birthday 9 May, 2008
On Israel’s 60th birthday, the threats to the Jewish state remain acute. But there is still a great deal to cheer the soul.
Almost 60 years ago today, David Ben-Gurion announced to a startled world the creation of the new state of Israel. Almost immediately Israel’s Arab neighbours sent in their armies to drive the Jews into the sea and extinguish the Zionist dream before it had even started. 60 years later little has changed in this regard. The grave existential threat remains palpable, even if Israel’s most lethal foes have changed since 1948.
Survival in the face of adversity is one of Israel’s greatest achievements. No other country has been at war for every day of its existence. No other country has faced such a global barrage of disinformation which is intended to question its very existence. No other country’s attempts to defend itself have received such critical scrutiny in the halls of international opinion and no other country has been asked to make peace with those who are bent on its destruction.
One constant in 60 years is that a genuine peace deal looks as elusive as ever. Most Israelis accept that territorial disengagement from the West Bank is an essential part of their long term security. The majority reject the idea of permanently occupying a growing and increasingly restive Arab population. Equally out of the question is annexing the West Bank and allowing Arabs to become Israeli citizens. Under this option, Israel would end up with an Arab majority and, within time, the demise of the Jewish state. The dream of creating a safe haven for world Jewry would be at an end. The only realistic option is a deal on eventual disengagement – but with whom?
The Palestinians are divided between moderates and extremists, between those who sense that the ‘armed struggle’ is over (and seek a two state settlement) and those who believe that demography is on their side. Abbas is regularly lauded as an Arab voice of moderation and reason, a peacemaker who can be trusted to deliver a lasting settlement for both sides. But this is the same man who is too weak to rein in Hamas and who refuses to shut down the organs of racist incitement in his territory. For good measure, he is on record as refusing to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. Some peacemaker!
But Abbas is not the major flaw in the jigsaw puzzle. Peace deals in the Middle East will be well nigh impossible until the world deals with the region’s greatest threat: the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ever since the rise of the anti semitic Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian regime (even sans Ahmadinejad) has been dedicated to the extinction of the Jewish state. While its current leader shamefully denies the Holocaust, he is arguably planning the next one with the pursuit of a nuclear weapons programme that the Western powers are failing to stop. With terrorist proxies cited in Lebanon, Gaza and Iraq, Iran could soon become an unchallengeable regional hegemon.
Israelis will never acquiesce in their most lethal enemy possessing weapons of mass destruction. This explains why Israel carried out a surgical air strike against a Syrian nuclear processing plant last year. The attack removed the threat of its near neighbour becoming a nuclear power but also sent a clear warning signal to the Iranians - if Israel can strike easily at the heart of Syria, she will do the same to Tehran.
But amid the gloom, there would be much to cheer Ben Gurion’s heart were he alive today. Israel is a vibrant multi party democracy with a free press and an independent judiciary that is the envy of the world. Its citizens have a plethora of freedoms, social, political and religious, that barely exist elsewhere in the Middle East, with the possible exception of Turkey. The country is a world leader in high tech and boasts a booming property and tourism sector.
Israel also has the second highest number of start up companies in the world as well as the largest number of NASDAQ listed countries outside of North America. After Japan, Israelis have the second highest life expectancy and among the highest literacy rates in Asia. The country has produced Nobel Prize winners as well as leading scientists, poets, artists and musicians. For a country of its diminutive size, Israel’s achievements over 6 decades are truly staggering.
Of course there is much that still needs to be done. The conflict between religious ands secular continues to produce one of the great dividing lines in Israeli society with potentially harmful consequences for all. Israel must strive to ensure that its Arab and Druze citizens receive fair and equal treatment and that injustices are swiftly remedied. While an effective peace process is in abeyance, Israel should minimize harm to Palestinian civilians wherever possible (and in line with security needs) and investigate human rights concerns promptly. Above all, the country must strengthen its political institutions in the wake of recent corruption scandals.
But Israel’s greatest strengths are the sheer resilience of its people and its status and character as a Western democracy. These assets have enabled its citizens to ride out the storms of war and develop a backbone that is second to none. They will ensure that the country continues to prosper in this new uncertain century even as the rest of the world heads for uncertainty. Happy birthday Israel!
The West sleeps while Beirut burns 11 May, 2008
Once again the West has been caught napping while Islamic extremists are on the march around the globe. In the last few days Iran has entrenched its power in the Levant following the audacious coup of its proxy, Hezbollah. The Syrian and Iranian backed Islamic radicals took control of parts of West and central Beirut some days ago, seizing parts of the capital city of one of America’s most important allies in the Middle East. Now the Lebanese army has persuaded Hezbullah to withdraw their fighters from Beirut but only by making a series of craven concessions to the Islamists.
Fuad Siniora, who is nominally President, had demanded the closure of Hezbullah’s telecoms network and the sacking of the chief of security at Beirut airport (a man who sympathised with Hezbullah). This sparked the crisis with Hezbullah in the first place. But the army decided to abandon plans for a crackdown and decided to appease the extremists instead. As a price for restoring order, the two demands were dropped. Clearly the army sought to avoid a lethal civil war, one which could see some of its Shiite fighters unwilling to confront their co-religionists within Hezbullah.
The desire not to fragment Lebanon along sectarian lines sounds laudable enough but giving in to Hezbullah represents an appeasement of the very forces seeking the overthrow of democracy in Lebanon. Above all, it now emboldens an Iranian regime that uses Hezbullah as proxy tentacles to expand their nefarious influence in the Middle East. Any advance by Hezbullah is a victory for the Iranian Revolution. Any curb on Hezbullah is a victory for the ‘infidels’, particularly the USA and Israel. That is why the events of the last few days really matter in the context of Middle Eastern politics.
Iran knows that this is a precipitate moment for the attention of Western leaders is focussed on pressing domestic concerns. Gordon Brown’s credibility is at an all time low with rumours of backbench revolts filtering through to no. 10 on a daily basis. The US establishment is too consumed by the forthcoming Presidential elections while Israel has been rocked by further allegations about Ehud Olmert’s financial dealings. No wonder the Iranians are laughing.
It is hard to predict what will happen next. Hezbollah may try and seize power elsewhere in Lebanon or they may go for broke and try to drive out the UN ‘peacekeepers’ in the South, an action that would ignite another conflict with Israel. All the assurances 2 years ago about how the World would curb Hezbollah’s strength look predictably hollow right now. Once again Iran has demonstrated that when it wants to flex its muscles, there is very little to stop it. One can only await developments with trepidation.
Testing the limits of human reason: A review of 'Predictably Irrational' 14 May, 2008
‘What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty!’ Ever since Hamlet declared his belief in human reason, economists and philosophers have joined the Bard in championing man, the rational animal. Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations postulates an ‘invisible hand’ that ensures markets are driven by rational self interest. Indeed all classical economics is based on the view that humans understand their goals and make informed choices to achieve them.
Yet somehow, even Shakespeare must have sensed that our emotional incontinence and limitless capacity for self deception mark us out as a particularly irrational species. One way to study this subject is to talk to behavioural economists who examine how people are subject to emotional and cognitive forces in their decision making. Dan Ariely is one such specimen and his new book Predictably Irrational offers an engaging study of our susceptibility to unreason.
Ariely’s thesis is that humans are not just often irrational but predictably so. We keep making the same mistakes because we assume that our decisions are our own and that we can control the emotional influences that bombard us. As he puts it: ‘We usually think of ourselves sitting in the driver’s seat, with ultimate control over the decisions we make (but) this perception has more to do with how we want to view ourselves-than with reality.’
Through a series of ingenious experiments, conducted mainly on American undergraduates, he provides convincing evidence of how our reasoning processes are often skewed by our expectations and emotional commitments.
In one chapter Ariely focuses on procrastination. We are all familiar with people who constantly put off long term goals for short term cravings: the dieter who can never resist that tempting cheesecake; the employee who delays his pension payment to go on holiday; the student whose social life constantly intrudes on the impending dissertation. In each case, our rational quest to fulfill our goals is affected by the ‘lava flow of hot emotion’ represented by temptation.
For one experiment, Ariely gave three groups of students a set number of assignments for a semester. One group was given complete leeway to choose deadlines, a second group was given fixed deadlines while a third group was asked to set their own deadlines for submission, but with penalties for late submission. Subsequently, the group with the dictated deadlines received the best grades while the group with the most leeway (and no self imposed deadlines) did the worst. The solution to procrastination, says Ariely, is precommitment, where people ‘have the opportunity to commit up front to their preferred course of action.’
Elsewhere he uses experiments to test the truism that what we experience is directly affected by our expectations. Students were offered two samples of beer, one a Budweiser and the other an ‘MIT brew.’ The latter concoction consisted of Budweiser with several drops of Balsamic vinegar. Most students picked the MIT brew but what Ariely found was that if they did not know about its added ingredient, they were fairly satisfied with the taste.
However, when they were given foreknowledge of the vinegar, they turned up their noses and requested the Budweiser. Even more interestingly, when the students drank the vinegary beer and were later told about its added ingredient, they claimed to like the beer even more. Such experiments appear to provide clear evidence of how our expectations can influence our sensory perception.
This idea is particularly pertinent in his discussion of the placebo effect. The modern world is awash with alternative health remedies for every ailment under the sun, from homeopathy to flower essences. Yet very few of these treatments have evidential backing and are only effective because people believe they will be. Ariely takes this argument one stage further. People’s expectations of efficacy seem to be linked to the price of the remedies.
In one study a group of human guinea pigs were administered a series of electric shocks and asked to record the intensity of the pain. Prior to being given a second series of shocks, they were given a $2.50 pain relief ‘pill’, which was actually a carefully disguised capsule of Vitamin C. Despite the fact that the shocks were of identical intensity, almost all participants experienced less pain the second time after they had taken the dud pill. However when a second group were tested with the shocks, the pain relief pill they took was marked ‘10c’. This time, only half experienced the pain reduction the second time round, proof perhaps that ‘what you pay is often what you get.’
But if Ariely has provided us with a counsel of despair, it would be wrong to give up on humankind. Despite his shortcomings, man is capable of rational activity from building space shuttles to writing a symphony to producing a treatise on human weakness. Unlike the rest of the animal kingdom, our behaviour is not dictated by instinct nor are we permanently trapped by our mistakes. Learning from experience is one of the clearest signs of how rational we really are. By the end of his book, Ariely has reached the same conclusion.
The book is engaging and witty, and by omitting arcane detail and technical jargon, has a down to earth feel. One downside is the author’s US-centric approach which means that the book is dotted with illustrations taken from American life. Warning: if you are unfamiliar with baseball and American TV, you may be slightly put off. But this is a minor criticism for a book that triumphantly blends psychological analysis with astute social observation.
A League of Democracies to replace the League of tyranny 21 May, 2008
On Monday I had the privilege to listen to Professor Thomas Cushman, a distinguished American Professor of sociology, at the House of Lords. Cushman, whose interests include the promotion of human rights around the world, was advancing the case for a League of Democracies, or Alliance of democracies, to act as a counterweight to the moribund United Nations. His argument was compelling and deserves wider dissemination.
Firstly we can easily agree that the UN is barely worthy of its founders’ ideals. It is a club dominated by dictatorships, failed states and pseudo democracies. It has turned a blind eye to genocide on numerous occasions, including the current tragedy in Darfur. It gives special status to rogue states by inviting them to chair its commissions and draws unhealthy equivalence between democracies and terrorist groups. It has demonized Israel and fuelled hatred towards Jews through its infamous Durban ‘anti racism’ conference. It is guilty of appalling bureaucratic inertia and is mired in corruption. For all its good deeds, it is a true League of tyranny.
Those who revere the UN as a true arbiter of international justice have their heads buried firmly in the sand. The UN requires drastic top to bottom reform or else it should be replaced by a new organization that is imbued with genuine moral clarity.
Interestingly Cushman did not envisage the ‘League of Democracies’ (an idea endorsed by John McCain) to be a replacement for the UN. It would run parallel to the UN while restricting its membership to those countries with the strongest traditions of democratic governance. It would be an elite club dominated not by corrupt dictators but by liberal, democratic nations with a healthy respect for human rights. In Cushman’s words, member states would have to be ‘paragons of democracy.’
The eventual goal of any such organization would be the forging of a multi lateral alliance capable of acting in the spirit of liberal internationalism. If a country was guilty of genocide, such as the current Sudanese regime, then the League could promote the use of force as a counterweight to the UN’s dithering and inertia. In this way human rights could be more effectively defended across the globe.
Some will argue that giving one group of countries superior status in a League of Democracies will provoke less democratic states. But this is a poisonous form of appeasement based on a refusal to promote the superior values of Western democracies (let us never be afraid to call Western values superior) so as to soften our bellicose opponents. This is a recipe for disaster.
I do envisage some problems, however. In order for countries to join such an alliance, they would have to agree that the promotion of liberal values, democracy and human rights was paramount and that it took precedence over each nation’s ‘vital’ interests. At present though, even the most democratic states, including Britain and the USA, support distasteful foreign regimes for economic interests (i.e. Saudi Arabia). All members would have to abandon these ties as and when they conflicted with the League’s interests. In addition, they might even have to contemplate the use of force if a former ally (Saudi Arabia or Pakistan) was deemed guilty of severe infringements of human rights. It is debatable whether, in the short term, any such utopian self denying ordinance were possible.
Secondly, a League of Democracies would be compelled to infringe a country’s national sovereignty when there was a moral case for defending human rights. We have already seen the consequences of this in Iraq where powerful political voices argued the case for regime change on humanitarian grounds. The moral case for interventionism was clear enough but it was insufficiently weighed against the risk of greater terrorism from Iran, the risk to regional stability from an Iraqi civil war and the economic costs of conflict.
Nonetheless Cushman’s big idea should not be dismissed as naïve utopianism. If the UN continues on its despicable downward curve and sits idly by while genocide occurs, a League of Democracies might prove a valuable tonic for international relations.
Boycott - again 29 May, 2008
The definition of madness is to keep on doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. If so, some of the members of the University College Union are certifiably insane for they have just voted again for another boycott of Israeli academics. Not that this is the language they are using for they are hardly that stupid. This time they have asked delegates to “consider the moral and political implications of education links with institutions in Israel,” something that could pave the way for a boycott of Israeli academics.
While it may seem unnecessary to spell out why this motion is so appalling, I will do so anyway. It discriminates unfairly against Israelis because it singles out their country for special but unfair treatment. Union members have not been asked to reconsider their link with academics in other countries with vastly worse human rights records. Thus the academic elites in China, North Korea, Burma, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Russia get off scot free despite the genocide, ethnic cleansing and torture that prevail in their societies. It ignores the fact that many Israeli academics are often their own country’s worst enemy, often being more critical than their Anglo-American counterparts. The boycotters have thus targeted the one group with which, in theory at least, they ought to have some ideological affinity.
And with which academics should the UCU reconsider their relationship? With all Israeli academics, or just with those who speak out against the occupation? Should there be a special test for Israeli academics whereby only those who solemnly swear their anti Zionist credentials are allowed to engage in academic discussion while all those who fail are shunned? This is a modern day witch-hunt worthy of McCarthyism.
While claiming solidarity with Palestinian civilians, the motion is one sided and makes no reference either to the context of Palestinian suffering in the occupied territories or to the existential threat posed by Palestinian extremism to Israel. On several counts then, this motion once again reveals the intellectual sloppiness and bigotry to be found within the ranks of British academia.
That is the bad news. The good news is that these motions have proved a collective disaster in the past with the boycotters made to realise the consequences of their decisions. It is hard to see how a concerted challenge from both Jewish leaders and fellow sympathisers will not bring about the same result. But it will be too late to save the tarnished reputation of the UCU.
The climate scaremongers haven’t won – just yet 2 June, 2008
A review of 'An Appeal to Reason.'
It seems odd that while the climate lobby are continually hectoring us into reducing our carbon emissions, there has actually been no climate change this century. Figures from the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction show that since 2001, there has been a lull in global temperature increase despite steadily rising carbon emissions. All the more reason then for caution in the face of persistent scaremongering.
The former Chancellor, Lord Lawson, might seem least qualified to speak on this topic. By his own admission, he is not an environmental scientist, nor does he have specialist knowledge of climatology. But this is no reason to dismiss his new book ‘An appeal to Reason’. Lawson is a sceptic asking difficult and pertinent questions about the science of climate change. He is also a renowned economist who understands the costs and benefits of remedial action.
Lord Lawson does not challenge the fact of warming though he believes it may not be solely due to human activity. In this sense, he is not the first critic to challenge the anthropocentric theory, nor will he be the last. Even the IPCC states that man made greenhouse gas emissions are causing ‘most of the increases in global temperature’ and as the science develops, we may well find that our contribution diminishes further. Nonetheless global temperatures have undeniably risen in the last 50 years and human activity has certainly contributed towards this.
What Lawson does very effectively is to question the basis on which doomsday scenarios are so easily made. In order to paint a terrifying picture of a world ravaged by soaring temperatures, the IPCC relies on complex computer models that look ahead more than a century into the future. Indeed its 2007 report talks of ‘multi century warming’ while some outcomes occur over millennial time scales. One has to wonder how these predictions can be taken seriously when computers failed to predict the current lull in global warming. More to the point the timescale itself is absurd. As Lord Lawson rightly says: ’The very idea that we can look a millennium or more ahead, as a basis for serious policy decisions, is farcical.’
But even if the earth’s temperature does hot up by the 3-5% increase so widely predicted, not 'all' its consequences need be alarming. He calculates that even on the gloomiest of the IPCC’s scenarios, the effect of a century of unchecked global warming will be that people in the developing world will be 8.5 times better off than they now are, compared to 9.5 times better without warming. This is the kind of startling statistic that only a master economist could give us but it does put matters in some perspective.
Perhaps the biggest current problem we face is the received wisdom about the remedy, namely a Kyoto style global deal to cut carbon emissions. China and India are currently powering ahead with the development of carbon technologies. When you think about it, why shouldn’t they?
These nations are merely repeating the path trodden by Western nations in their quest for sustained economic growth. But it does mean that a 60% cut in carbon emissions in the West will be compensated for by increases elsewhere. Turning off the lights offers ‘feel good’ politics for the masses rather than a panacea for climate change. It allows governments to excuse the practice of tax increases but without guarantees about the outcome. Something is going wrong here.
It would be much better if we adapted technology so that we could all live in variable temperatures. This might involve any number of innovations from population transfer, nuclear power, agricultural development or solar power or others that are difficult at present to foresee. Human history is a story of adaptation to adversity, particularly environmental circumstances. Adaptation will be cheaper in the long run and involve fewer restrictions on individual freedom.
But then to even raise these issues in intellectual circles is to risk a ferocious backlash worthy of McCarthyism. Surely this is the real inconvenient truth about climate change. Scientific sceptics are dismissed as latter day heretics whose pockets are lined by the oil lobby and more often, they are referred to as ‘deniers’, a highly pejorative word with the most sinister connotations. No wonder that the IPCC has been transformed into, in Lawson’s words, ‘a politically correct alarmist pressure group.’
True, there is a scientific mainstream arguing for urgent action to tackle carbon emissions. Thanks to Lord Lawson, there is also an eminent champion of reason demanding a more cautious approach.
A Britishness Day: or just another cheap New Labour gimmick? 4 June, 2008
The immigration minister, Liam Byrne, wants to turn the August Bank Holiday into a day of patriotic celebration. Byrne and his New Labour acolytes have spoken of having a special ‘Britishness day’, modelled on those in Australia and the US. Among other things, this might involve street carnivals, a speech by the Queen, and a visit to the local pub.
No wonder the Conversatives are dismissing this as a cheap political stunt. It is gestural politics at its very worst. Having cheapened the concept of Britishness and eroded our national identity for the last decade, Brown and co. want us to dance to their tune in a fit of patriotic zeal. How out of touch these politicians really are.
A Britishness Day organized by New Labour will be a simplistic exercise in political correctness, and one that fundamentally ignores the things that make us British. Bryne thinks this day will be a great chance to celebrate migration. He says: ‘In our heart we know Britain is richer and more interesting because of the contribution that migration brings.’ After all, he goes on to declare that we are not ‘a nation of Alf Garnetts.’
But we don’t need a government minister to tell us why migration matters and that we are not a nation of bigots. People in Britain are largely tolerant and welcoming of migrants. But they can also distinguish between a moderate influx of migrants and Labour’s disastrous experiment of mass immigration. Not that reflecting on immigration is specifically British in any case. Every country in the world has experienced immigration and every country, to a certain extent, has benefited from it. Celebrating immigration, like celebrating tolerance, honesty and diversity, says little about Britain and smacks instead of New Labour’s love affair with global human rights.
If a national population is surveyed on its best characteristics, they are bound to choose words like ‘honesty’ and ‘tolerance’. Which country’s folk are going to call themselves dishonest or intolerant?
A Britishness day is nothing but a gigantic con trick. New Labour has spent the last decade undermining the British ideal in every way it can. Tony Blair famously called Britain a new country that had to detach itself from ‘the forces of conservatism’. But some of those conservative forces had been integral parts of British life: the House of Lords, the Royal Navy, fox hunting. But anything that seemed ancient had to go in New Labour’s wholesale exercise in rebranding. What did it produce? The Millennium Dome.
Worse, this government has presided over a series of intolerable blows to national sovereignty. Labour’s obsessive Europhilia has resulted in a Constitutional Treaty which will strip Britain of dozens of vetoes and turn our elected politicians into an increasingly irrelevant force. Devolution has unleashed anti British sentiment across the border, creating the possibility that the union might crumble in the near future.
Meanwhile, the policy of mass immigration has continued on an alarming scale. Fired up by the ethos of multiculturalism, this government has helped to cement the ethnic ghettos that now divide cities in the heart of Britain. With these hammer blows to British identity, it is little wonder that this latest government proposal will be treated with scorn.
Above all, the government fails to understand that patriotism cannot be reduced to simple formulas. Being British is about more than formal ceremonies and official celebrations, even though these have often been opportunities for patriotic celebration. Patriotism is a feeling of love, devotion, loyalty and duty to something greater and wider than oneself, namely one’s patria or nation. You can’t implant an attachment to Britain by a meaningless day out in the August sunshine. You can’t teach Britishness through citizenship classes. New Labour, with its army of pen pushing, officious, interventionist nannies will never understand this.
Despite its feral addiction to controlling our lives, ministers will never be able to penetrate our hearts. For it is in the heart that the love of nation really resides.
Britain's 'Israel' problem 10 June, 2008
Israel’s ambassador, Ron Prosor, has a thoughtful article in today’s Daily Telegraph commenting on how this country has become a ‘hotbed of anti Israeli sentiment.’ Stating at the outset his admiration for those principles of ‘fairness, decency and common sense’ that have characterised Britain for centuries, he notes how ‘fairness is all too frequently absent’ when it comes to debating the Arab-Israeli context. He writes:
Israel faces an intensified campaign of delegitimisation, demonisation and double standards. Britain has become a hotbed for radical anti-Israeli views and a haven for disingenuous calls for a "one-state solution", a euphemistic name for a movement advocating Israel's destruction. Those who propagate this notion distort Israel's past while categorically denying Israel's right to exist as a liberal Jewish-democratic state. No other country in the world is constantly forced to justify its own existence.
Sadly, much of what Prosor writes is true. The movement to delegitimize Israel finds ready acceptance in sections of the media, the universities and bastions of ‘right minded’ opinion. It is fashionable to see Israel as an aggressor whose machinations are the root cause of the West’s current security threats. Israel’s attempts to defend itself from those intent on its destruction leave it singled out as a rogue state, hauled before the court of international opinion (such as the UN) and forced to defend its very existence. Other regimes of a less liberal disposition get an easier ride.
In particular, Britain has been a centre for the insidious boycott campaign which Prosor specifically mentions. This campaign has been seized upon by an alarming number of academics who believe that the traditions of free speech and thought must be made subservient to a distorted political agenda. Academia is further tarnished by the way that Islamists use university campuses to propagate their bigotry and prejudice, much of it directed against Jews and Zionism.
Prosor is less clear about the cause of all this and the answer is not as simple as one might think. When one reads the comments that follow his article, there is disturbing evidence of how bigotry and vile prejudice continue to inform this debate. Take these examples:
If it wasn't for the extremely powerful US/Israeli conspiracy then the rightful owners of the place would long ago have settled peacefully on their land again and the Middle East would be a far more saner and be in a more peaceful state than it is today. The Jews have much to answer for but are too well protected by vested interests than to have to obey the historic rules of the game.
Behaving like brutal bullies and tyrants, treating Palestinians like Untermenschen, and engaging in 'ethnic-cleasing' is hardly endearing. Is it?
Most well informed, liberal and peace loving people know that Mossad is as focused and single minded as the Gestapo and that the Jewish nation shows no altruism or love outside its own race.
When Israel ceases its invasion of Palestinian territory, withdraws to its UN recognised borders and allows the Palestinian State to function properly with free access between territories…then I will be perfectly happy to accept it as a country. Until then I see the place as a warmongering, racist state that is equally as bad as an Apartheid South Africa or a Nazi Germany.
Now I wouldn’t claim, even for one minute, that these views are representative of British mainstream opinion. But among this minority, note how easily the comparisons are drawn between Israel and Nazi Germany. Israel is never compared with socialist Romania or Putin’s Russia, always to the state most associated with the genocide of the Jews. The hidden pretext, namely that the Palestinians are the ‘new’ oppressed, is fairly clear. It is a depressing fact that the Israel-Palestine debate has been hijacked by those seeking ‘respectable’ cover for their own sickening Judaeophobia.
But this is not the whole truth. A tidal wave of anti Israeli sentiment has been aided and abetted by the Biased Broadcasting Corporation’s one sided, politically correct account of this conflict in which Israel’s ‘crimes’ are deemed to be at the heart of the Middle East’s ills. The coverage of the intifada as well as the Lebanon War (2006) showed this ever so clearly. And their distorted narrative borrows much from a concerted campaign of propaganda and distortion that has been propagated by Arab states since the 1970s in their war against the Jewish state.
Sensing their own military weakness in the 70s, the Arab world cleverly picked on a real Achilles Heel by waging a PR war of delegitmization against Israel. Israel, they claimed, was not a victim in 1948 but an illegal usurper with colonialist ambitions. Ignoring their own rhetoric from 1948 in which they had stated that Palestine was a part of historic Syria, the Arab PR machine went into overdrive, accusing the Jewish state of genocide, ethnic cleansing and every other sin under the sun.
It coincided with a transforming moment for the Western intelligensia. Great swathes of academia, the churches and much of the intellectual establishment were succumbing to the great onslaught of cultural Marxism in which anti Western and (particularly) anti American attitudes were paramount. As a Western militarized state, and an ally of America, Israel’s status was changed from victim to bourgeois oppressor overnight. This attitude remains with us today.
It is essential that we have a balanced, rational perspective on this most vital debate. Wrongs on all sides must be addressed and grievances overcome so that justice can finally prevail. But until we remove the paralyzing fog of prejudice and (wilful) ignorance, this will never happen, particularly in Britain.
It is authority that is demonized, not children 11 June, 2008
So this nation’s children are being demonized? A glance at the joint report by the UK’s Children’s commissioners this week here would leave you thinking that British children were a persecuted minority living in sub standard, Dickensian conditions. The authors of this blatantly self serving document have gone out of their way to highlight the problems faced by children, and their findings will be viewed by the UN in due course. But when one goes through the litany of complaints, it is hard to believe that any children pose a threat to the rest of society. Children come across as a victim class that is demonized by society’s authority figures, whether policemen, fathers or teachers. And it is the unwarranted attack on authority that lies at the heart of this disgraceful report.
Take this statement: ‘We believe there has been an increase in discrimination against children as a whole, exemplified by the growing use of the ‘Mosquito’ device…The signs in shop doors of “no school children” or “only two children at a time” are now common and reinforce the negative stereotypes that are held about children.’
Oh please. The whole point about mosquito devices and cautionary shop signs is that they are a response to growing concerns about anti social behaviour. Law abiding shopkeepers no doubt resort to these measures because of their frustration at the behaviour of some young people, and the failure of the police and families to control that behaviour. Of course, one can question using a device which fails to discriminate between individuals with different behaviour patterns. But to issue such dire complaints without appreciating the context is risible and grossly unfair.
But these are not the only adult figures to merit such negative scrutiny. Children are apparently under attack from an unholy set of forces at home and in school who commit the cardinal sin of trying to control unruly behaviour. The Commissioners rail against the ‘physical punishment of children’ and the fact that the government recently emphasised ‘a parent’s right to discipline.’ They would prefer the Scottish system where smacking is unlawful. Apparently reasonable chastisement is so abhorrent to these Commissioners that it should be outlawed by law, something that would, if adopted, lead to the criminalisation of parents.
But it gets worse. Children feel ‘increasingly pressurised by school exams’ which causes ‘increased anxiety and stress’. The report frets about a law which allows teachers ‘to use physical force to restrain or control pupils’ and rails against the use of permanent exclusions which ‘denies many children their right to education.’
But what exactly are schools supposed to do when pupils repeatedly attack teachers and students and disrupt the education of their fellow pupils? The notion that avoiding exclusions is the way to uphold children’s rights is patently absurd. It is to elevate the ‘right to education’ for a minority of disruptive children above the greater right of well behaved pupils to learn in a safe environment. The real concern is how few pupils are excluded and how many, once excluded, are then forcibly returned to their school.
This disturbing broadside against authority continues with an ill-tempered attack on ASBOs, breaches of which should not be made a criminal offence, say the authors. Instead the government is urged to follow the recommendations of the National Audit Office in issuing ‘informal warning letters’ to prevent offending. For good measure those who breach their ASBOs should not ‘have their right to privacy infringed as their details can be publicised in the media and in the local community.’
I’m sure Britain’s gangs are already quaking in their boots. Yes, ASBOs are largely ineffective but the notion that feral thugs and repeat offenders are more likely to be deterred by scraps of paper is just laughable. If social sanctions don’t work, neither will ‘informal warnings.’ And if we take away the right of the media (and the public) to expose those who harm others, we remove yet another powerful deterrent to criminality.
But then it is the media that has allegedly stoked up an irrational fear of children in the first place. Children, we are told, apparently dislike ‘media stereotypes’ with their ‘incessant portrayal of children as “thugs” and “yobs.” So how exactly should the media cover the current horrific spate of murders and stabbings? Should they ignore gang violence altogether in order to satisfy the dictates of political correctness? These commissioners seem to be living on a different planet. Indeed, one wonders why we even need Children’s Commissioners when they come up with such asinine suggestions.
The one benefit from this report is that it reveals very clearly the problems we are up against. The current outbreak of youth crime has resulted from a long term, catastrophic breakdown of authority at all levels: within the home, within schools, within the community and within the police. A global ‘rights without responsibilities’ culture has triumphed over common sense so that any attempt to use order, discipline and (if need be) force is condemned as immoral. Young people themselves are the worst victims of this. It is only by reasserting authority at every level that ‘all’ our young people can receive the guidance they need to follow a meaningful and law abiding life.
The EU will never take 'no' for an answer 17 June, 2008
Last night I attended an event organized by the think tank Open Europe in which I had the pleasure of hearing Declan Ganley, the Irish entrepreneur who led the campaign for Ireland’s recent no vote. Ganley spoke passionately about his arduous campaign against the Lisbon Treaty (that’s the Constitution to you and me).
He spoke of his pride in the Irish people for defying the intimidation and lying from Europe’s political elite and of his resolve to restore democracy to the European Union. A number of prominent Eurosceptics were present, including MPs David Heathcoat-Amory and Gisela Stuart as well as former Home Secretary, Lord Waddington.
In one respect, Ganley deserves great respect. He has fought a long and hard battle to open up the eyes of his people to the machinations common in Brussels. His passion for democracy and accountability is evident, as is his awareness of the powers Ireland would lose were it to sign the Treaty. Without his campaigning, the Irish no vote would not have been guaranteed.
Yet for all that, Ganley remains a high enthusiast for the European Union and this makes his proposals for the way forward somewhat unrealistic. He suggested that Europe now had to create a fresh Constitution, from scratch as it were, which respected the expressed democratic will of Europe’s national electorates.
A rather Panglossian vision Declan! What drives this fanatical EU project is the deepest distrust of the electorate. It is inherently anti populist, unaccountable and anti democratic in nature. And why?
Since the horrors of World War 2, the dream of European unity has been accompanied by a suspicion of ‘popular’ politics. It is as if, in 1945, a European intellectual elite sought forever to present a repetition of war by diplomatic means. They would create a federal supranational system that would effectively bypass ‘the people’ and their careless whims.
This would be achieved by superimposing a legalistic, bureaucratic European identity on nation states so as to curtail the power of those states in case they succumbed to the ‘corrosive’ disease of nationalism. But the European elite could never publicly own up to what they were doing so their project had to proceed by stealth, manipulation and subtle tricks. This is why, in the aftermath of the French and Dutch no votes in 2005, Merkel and co. turned the ‘dead’ Constitution into the live Lisbon Treaty. On this occasion, few people were fooled.
Asking those who drive the union to become more accountable is like demanding that New Labour end its culture of spin, or asking the BNP to be more tolerant of foreigners. It just isn’t going to happen.
Towards a Scottish Caliphate? 25 June, 2008
Tomorrow, Scotland’s First minister, Alex Salmond, will help launch a new centre, the Scottish Islamic Foundation. The new organization ‘aims to promote the tenets of good citizenship’ according to official sources in Scotland. But as the excellent Centre for Social Cohesion has pointed out in its recent press briefing (you can view it on their website http://www.socialcohesion.co.uk), the Foundation is effectively a front organization for the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been one of the world’s leading advocates of radical Islam since the 1920s. As the briefing indicates: ‘The leading members of the group, together with many of those who lead its events are closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.’
The SIF's chief executive is the youthful Osama Saeed, a man with close links to Salmond and with a promising future in the Scottish Parliament. But Saeed is no true Islamic moderate. To give him credit, he did condemn the terrorist attacks in Scotland last year and he has called for an end to forced marriages.
But then consider that on November 1st 2005 Saeed wrote an article in the Guardian in which he openly called for the reintroduction of the Islamic Caliphate. The restored caliphate, he insisted, was ‘entirely compatible with democratically accountable institutions’ and was necessary to ‘create a peaceful and just society.’ Sharia law, he added for good measure, offered entirely legitimate punishments though, by a blatant act of dissimulation, he denied it had anything to do with stoning or amputation. At the time Saeed was a spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, a British front organization for the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Centre for Social Cohesion quotes Saeed on his blog commenting on the Muslim Cartoon row from 2006:
The right to offend doesn't work on the playground and it shouldn't work on the international arena either. Even if there is a right to offend, surely there is also a right to be offended? And to complain and even boycott as a result. But the cartoons have nothing to do with ridiculing. You just don't do pictures of the Prophet, period. It's a cultural thing, accept it and respect it.
Like all Islamists, Saeed plots the takeover of Western institutions by stealth. If the West is to respect Islam, it must forego its most fundamental freedoms, including the freedom to offend, satirize and complain about the Islamic faith. It must also imbibe the minority grievance culture into which Islam has become increasingly immersed, such that any legitimate criticism of the faith becomes, by default, Islamophobic, racist or bigoted.
To this end, Saeed has even taken the BBC to task for reporting the homophobic views of the hatemonger Yusuf Al Qaradawi. And to accomplish this, he relies on useful idiots, like the hapless Salmond, to promote his extremist agenda. Fair enough, he does not support terrorism directed against his fellow Scots but he does advocate Sharia Law and the Caliphate under the banner of moderate Islam.
The Centre’s press briefing goes on to detail the links between other SIF figures and the Muslim Brotherhood. One of them is Kamal Helbawy, the founder of the Muslim Association of Britain and a self confessed supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood. In the 1970s he was associated with WAMY, a Saudi funded Wahhabi organization that promoted hatred of non Muslims and advocated a separatist agenda. In an interview here http://www.jamestown.org/terrorism/news/article.php?issue_id=3427, Helbawy blames government foreign policy and the British media for stoking up Islamic extremism!
The briefing continues: The Scottish Islamic Foundation appears to be aiming to become the Scottish government's default Muslim partner organisation, a role the Muslim Council of Britain previously fulfilled for the British government.’
With Alex Salmond providing his endorsement tomorrow, it is highly likely that SIF will be granted the privileged position they crave, close to the bosom of Scottish politics on the one hand while actively undermining Western values on the other. Despite so forcefully condemning Islamist violence, the Scottish Parliament is giving much needed ideological ammunition to Muslim fellow travellers who seek the same revolutionary ends as Al Qaeda but though non violent means. This is how Islamists are making such rapid advances in their global campaign against the West. And they are doing it with the connivance of our politicians. A rather pathetic spectacle.
Britain's Sharia judge 6 July, 2008
In February Rowan Williams created a furore by endorsing aspects of Sharia Law for Britain’s Muslim community. This calamity of a speech, which caused a torrent of critical headlines, ought to have scared off other potential advocates of Islamic law for Britain. Not, it seems, Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips. He has now become the latest high profile figure to abase himself before radical Islamists who are intent on the cultural surrender of this country.
In a speech to the London Muslim Centre, Lord Phillips denied that it was radical ‘to advocate embracing Sharia law in the context of family disputes.’ He continued: ‘Our system already goes a long way towards accommodating the archbishop's suggestion. It is possible in this country for those who are entering into a contractual agreement to agree that the agreement shall be governed by a law other than English law. There is no reason why principles of Sharia law or any other religious code should not be the basis for mediation or other forms of dispute resolution.'
Now let’s be clear. Neither the Archbishop nor Lord Phillips has argued for the complete adoption of aspects of Sharia Law. They have both said that it cannot be applied in criminal law where draconian sanctions are routine for theft, bigamy and rape. They have stated that Sharia law should be used by Muslims on a voluntary basis to help arbitrate in some civil proceedings, such as marriage, divorce and financial arrangements. And to justify this, both men have cited the precedent of the Jewish Beth Din courts which mediate on a variety of civil issues.
But there is a fundamental point lost on the Lord Chief Justice. Sharia is a wholly alien system of religious law which could never be compatible with British ‘secular’ law. Sharia permits a man to have multiple wives yet polygamy is obviously illegal in Britain. Under Sharia law, a woman’s testimony in court is worth less than that of a man, a clear form of legal inequality that is contradicted by our superior legal system.
Nor do Muslims and non Muslims have equal status in a Sharia court. As Robert Whelan of the think tank Civitas has put it: ‘There is not much doubt that in traditional Islamic communities women do not enjoy the freedoms that they have had for 100 years or more in Britain.’ In short, Islamic religious law is not compatible with the liberal, progressive and enlightened elements of Western secular jurisprudence.
Lord Phillips argues that a Sharia court should only operate on a voluntary basis i.e. without coercion. But does he really think that Muslim women would generally prefer to subject themselves to the humiliating inequality of private civil courts administering Islamic justice instead of being guaranteed basic rights which are part and parcel of British citizenship? Has he not considered that Muslim women, especially in traditional families, would be under severe pressure to ‘volunteer’ for a religious court, rather than seek justice elsewhere? Is this the new liberal mantra for respecting religious freedom? What a horrifying thought.
No doubt the Lord Chief Justice believed he was doing some good by his speech to the London Muslim Centre. Perhaps he thought that by endorsing the vocal demands for Sharia, he would be ‘engaging’ with the Muslim community and driving a wedge between ‘moderates’ and extremists. But there is nothing moderate about living in Britain and seeking to live by alternative religious codes which inherently discriminate between the sexes and between different members of different faiths.
Lord Phillips is guilty of craven appeasement which will give further ammunition to all those who think we are rapidly surrendering our cultural values in the face of Islamist demands. And the more we appease the radical Islamists, the greater their demands will become.
Muslims are not the new Jews 8 July, 2008
In yesterday’s Dispatches documentary, ‘It shouldn’t happen to a Muslim,’ the Daily Mail’s Peter Oborne claimed that Britain was now a frightening place for this country’s Muslim population. He claimed that the community was suffering a backlash from the terror attacks of 9/11 and 7/7, much of it emanating from the ‘irrational’ hostility of the British media. Labour MP Shahid Malik spoke of a growing wave of Islamophobia that was unfairly targeting his community because of the actions of isolated terrorists. A study by the Cardiff School of Journalism found that nearly 70% of headlines in recent British papers that dealt with either Islam or Muslims contained a negative perception of the faith.
It is undeniable that incidents of Islamist violence have received high media exposure in recent years. It is also true that tabloid headlines have, at times, been rather irresponsible in their coverage of these issues, though that says more about tabloid style than their editors’ alleged Islamophobic prejudices. But for Oborne, this is proof that the media have declared open season on Britain’s Muslims who are now (he says) the latest in a long line of minority groups to suffer demonization and opprobrium.
Oborne’s argument is obviously flawed because he assumes that all of Britain’s minorities are in an identical position. While it would be grossly unfair to tarnish the Muslim community as a whole with the charge of supporting extremism, there is a growing minority that has been radicalized. A sizeable minority of Muslims supports the Islamisation of this country, whether through violence and coercion, and demands the implementation of Sharia Law. Among this group are up to 4,000 people under active surveillance by the intelligence services. It is hardly surprising that issues to do with the global jihad receive such widespread press coverage.
One of Malik’s more outlandish claims was that British Muslims felt targeted like ‘the Jews of Europe,’ before the war. He said: ‘In the way that it was legitimate almost – and still is in some parts – to target Jews, many Muslims would say that we feel the exact same way. Somehow there's a message out there that it's OK to target people as long as it's Muslims.’ He made it clear that he was not drawing a comparison with the Holocaust.
But the comparison is offensive and absurd. In the 1930s, the ‘sturdy bands of Teutonic youth’, as Churchill referred to the Nazis, attacked Jews without mercy because of their perceived inferior racial status. They were not targeted for their religious background or because of any disagreement with the tenets of Judaism. They were singled out because of an odious, ill informed racial ideology that depicted them as lecherous, depraved vermin. Translated into public policy, this led to Jews being sacked from the teaching profession and the civil service and stripped of their citizenship.
The Jews of pre war Europe also posed no threat to anyone. There were no subversive Jewish networks plotting a Hebraic jihad against Christendom, or plotting the downfall of Europe’s empires based on the Mosaic laws. Jews were targeted because of the malicious prejudice of others.
If a commentator or politician described Muslims in such odious terms or proposed draconian restrictions on their civil rights, they would be lighting the funeral pyre for their career (quite rightly), as well as facing charges of incitement.
Certainly, there are vile hatemongers who depict Muslims (and other minorities) in the basest terms; they merit our contempt. But for Malik to draw an analogy between Jews in pre war times and Muslims in our own is beyond perverse. Muslims are not the new Jews. The Jews are still the Jews and the Muslims, the Muslims.
The programme quoted an ICM survey which found that 51 per cent of Britons blamed Islam to some degree for the 2005 attacks. Meanwhile more than a quarter of Muslims now believed that Islamic values are not compatible with British values. But this is hardly convincing evidence that the once great tolerant British people are now in the grip of a racist fever as far as Muslims go. Radical Islam, the guiding ideology of the terror movement, is a plausible interpretation of the Islamic faith, backed by a number of leading imams and religious figures who quote chapter and verse to justify terrorist outrages. Islamist violence is not created in a vacuum.
All Oborne has done is produce a one sided documentary that accepts at face value the ‘victim centred viewpoint’ of leading Muslim figures. Yes, we should condemn any attack on innocent people and hope those responsible are brought to justice. But we must also stand with the victims of radical Islam, including moderate, law abiding Muslims, whose lives have been blighted by this most revolting extremism.
With the world divided, who will stop Iran? 11 July, 2008
On Question Time last night, former Conservative leader, Iain Duncan-Smith, talked of the nightmare scenario of a Middle East war involving Iran. He warned that the ramifications of an Israel-Iran conflict would spill out across the Middle East and that Britain, America and other key nations, would get sucked into the whirlpool. But the nightmare he focused on involved an Israeli attack on Iran, rather than on Iran itself.
This is to rather misrepresent the issue. Duncan-Smith, who has long taken a pro Israeli stance on most issues, was effectively saying that the world had to prevent an Israeli unilateral attack to safeguard Western interests whereas in reality, it is Iranian belligerence that has underpinned so much of the region’s recent instability. It is Iran’s decision, in the teeth of international pressure, to continue its nuclear programme that is causing global jitters, not Israel’s desire to defend itself. Perhaps this is what Duncan-Smith really meant, though he did not say it.
This may sound like trivial semantics but it does highlight something of fundamental importance. This issue is not simply an Iranian-Israeli squabble but one between Iran and the West. For decades the Islamic Republic has been aggressively pursuing its dream of regional hegemony against Western interests.
In recent years, its Republican Guard has armed and supported insurgents in Iraq (and reportedly in Afghanistan), resulting in the deaths of dozens of British troops. It has financed and armed terror groups which menace not just Israeli security but that of other nations in the Middle East. It is therefore not for America or any other Western nation to prize the two nations apart as if this was an international version of a playground fight.
But it seems America is pursuing precisely that strategy. As Gerard Baker writes in today’s Times, much of Washington’s political establishment is resolutely opposed to using force against Iran:
‘The military leadership is opposed. Last week Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that an Israeli strike would open up a “third front” for the US - after Iraq and Afghanistan - and suggested it could break an already stretched military. The political leadership at the Pentagon is opposed. Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, rarely misses an opportunity to caution in private about the risk associated with an attack on Iran. The Treasury is opposed. Hank Paulson, the Treasury Secretary, not only fears the damage to the US economy and markets that a strike would have as the price of oil rose to at least $200 per barrel. And of course the State Department is opposed.’
With the top echelons of American might so aghast at the prospect of a military showdown, President Bush seems to have accepted that a mixture of tough talking and economic sanctions will help to unravel Tehran’s long standing nuclear ambitions. Perhaps content that his legacy now includes a (relatively) stable Iraq, with Iranian blessing, Bush has taken his eye off the region’s biggest threat and its greatest single troublemaker. This is the true legacy of his $3 trillion war.
If Bush thinks sanctions will work, he is deluded. There is no chance of new economic sanctions working because they will be watered down by China and Russia. And the existing sanctions have scarcely deterred the Mullahs in Tehran who are pushing ahead with their enriched uranium programme. For them it is a question of buying time, which they are being rapidly granted.
So where does all this leave the Israelis? As Baker points out, Israel cannot act alone to remove the threat from Iran’s nuclear facilities. Her planes would need the logistical support of the United States to attack Iran, given that they would be crossing US controlled airspace in Iraq and they would require support helicopters to be based in Iraq. The US would have to give more than its moral blessing to any air strike. So either the Israelis would have to devise a new strategy that bypasses Iraq, which seems militarily difficult, or hope for a change of attitude in Washington, or hope for regime change in Tehran or acquiesce in Iran's long term plans. None of these options appears viable.
Of course there are plenty of reasons for caution. War would involve a dramatic escalation of instability, both inside Iraq and Lebanon, while the economic consequences in terms of higher oil costs could prove especially painful. But a failure to act, leaving Iran in possession of the world’s worst weapons, would be a regional catastrophe. It would allow a bullying regime to assert its control and dominance of the region in the knowledge that outside powers would be powerless to intervene.
This issue is not one of ‘War or Peace’ but one of ‘War now or war later.’ It is a question of when we act against the Islamic Republic, not if we have to. But on this issue, the West has shown terminal irresolution and an instinct for appeasement for far too long. Still, at least Ahmadinejad is laughing. Oh, and his friends in Damascus, Gaza and Beirut.
A bad deal for Israel; a day of triumph for Hezbullah 17 July, 2008
After two years of agonizing uncertainty, the families of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev will finally have the chance to bury their loved ones. The families must long have suspected that the men were killed during the Lebanon War and that Hezbullah's deliberate silence was part of an unspeakably cruel game of power politics. Now they have their answer in the most horrible fashion. For Israel, the return of the two soldiers, dead or alive, has long been a priority. After all, it was their kidnapping that sparked the conflict in 2006 and which subsequently led to the deaths of over 100 Israelis.
In return for the release of Regev and Goldwasser, Israel has had to return 5 live Hezbullah terrorists and the dead bodies of nearly 200 more. Many will see this asymmetric swap as a horrible, painful but ultimately correct decision.
This view should be resisted. For sometimes there is just too high a price to be paid for even the noblest of causes. As part of the deal with Hezbullah, the Israelis have released Samir Kuntar. In 1979, this Lebanese militant carried out the brutal murder of 3 people, a policeman, and 31 year old Danny Haran and his 4 year old daughter. Even by the standards of Middle East terrorism, the callous killing of a defenceless child was particularly horrific. Kuntar, who has never shown remorse for his crimes, rightly received 4 life sentences, yet now he is free.
The release of Kuntar is wrong on at least two grounds. First, it will serve as a boon to Hezbullah at a time of heightened tension in the region. This terrorist has long enjoyed iconic status among the Lebanese militants. By implication, it will also embolden Syria and Iran whose leaders regard Hezbullah as their most valued proxy. Second, it will also encourage other fanatical groups, such as Hamas, to carry out more kidnappings in the hope of achieving similar rewards. This is the 'moral hazard' inherent in any deal with terrorists, namely that if a country gives in once to their demands, it invites certain reprisals.
If that terrorist enemy senses you are ripe for capitulation, they have powerful ammunition to repeat their dastardly crimes. Their blood curdling appetites can never be satisfied by the other side being reasonable. Thus more Israeli soldiers are now in danger of suffering the same fate as that of Regev and Goldwasser.
Of course, Israeli's decision was a hard one; few would deny that. But any deal that can cause more pain to more families in the long run must be questioned.
The US joins the grovelling circus 19 July, 2008
In the last few days the US has signalled loud and clear how it intends to deal with the Iranian nuclear menace by sending a senior diplomat, William Burns, to engage in nuclear talks. Having previously denounced Iran’s theocracy as part of the axis of evil and having sought to isolate its hatemongering regime, the Republicans have now dangled the hope that diplomacy may finally win out after all. But already the Iranians have sent a clear and defiant message: there will be no suspension of uranium enrichment, despite this being the precondition for Western largesse.
What else were we to expect? Ahmadinejad and co are playing for time as they have been all decade. For more than 5 years, the EU3 have grovelled incessantly to the Iranians, offering one economic carrot after another in the vain hope that they might see sense. The process got us nowhere and helped bring to power the intractable President Ahmadinejad, the man who stated so defiantly that his country would join the nuclear club for ‘peaceful’ purposes. The EU3 were shown up as lily livered appeasers who would do anything to please their foe.
Now it seems America too is joining this pathetic, grovelling circus. Having lost its political capital over the Iraq war, the Bush administration now seemingly lacks the stomach even to tough talk with the Iranians. Instead of pushing for a tough sanctions policy or warning of the possibility of military action, they have decided to attend a fruitless round of talks that will go nowhere quickly.
Just what does President Bush expect from this charade? Does he honestly believe that there will be a public change of heart from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the man who holds the strings of power in his country? Hardly likely. It seems that the President, in the last lap of his ‘lame duck’ year, has bowed to the sceptics in Washington who deprecate any use of force over this issue. Dispatching diplomats to nuclear talks sends the signal that only Israel will be initiating attacks in the near future, not the Americans. What a way to treat your friends!
At a time when Iran’s menace to the region grows stronger by the day, the West should be providing a more resolute defence of its interests. They should be acknowledging that even though a limited war would be horrific, a choice of last resort, a nuclear armed Iran would be catastrophic for the Middle East and the world as a whole. This latest retreat only proves how divided and lethally irresolute our leaders have become. And don’t the Iranians know it.
We had no right to know about Max Mosley’s sex life 24 July, 2008
The decision today in the Mosley case was both fair and relatively predictable. His privacy was unfairly invaded by a tabloid paper whose editor was intent on boosting its circulation, whatever the cost.
Certainly the revelations about Mosley’s colourful sex life caused ripples of indignation. There was the fact that a married man indulged in orgies with 5 prostitutes and showed enthusiasm for sado-masochistic activities. Then there were the ostensible Aryan references which appeared to have an even more sinister connotation.
Some might argue that these revelations about his ‘Nazi orgy’ justify the intrusion into his private life. He is, after all, the son of the former leader of the fascist Blackshirts, Sir Oswald Mosley, a man who hardly showed much disdain for European fascism. He has an important public profile as President of the FIA and is well known in sporting circles around the world. For many it is only fitting to expose Mosley’s apparent hypocrisy as well as his predilection for distasteful sexual practices.
Yet this is a thoroughly self serving argument. Firstly, whatever one thinks of his sexual antics, Mosley has broken no laws. Secondly, the News of the World has failed to expose any major hypocrisy. The Formula One titan has hardly based his career on claims of piety or of leading a virtuous family life, unlike a plethora of politicians during the Major years. Yet without laws broken or hypocrisy exposed, where is the legitimate public interest in revealing the man’s private life?
Of course, if one lives on publicity, one has to live with it too. High profile figures who routinely court the media all too often cry foul when their private lives are exposed. The rights to privacy and to free expression co-exist uneasily at the best of times. Yet it is also important to recognise the legitimate grounds for an invasion of privacy and when that intrusion is merely used to sell papers. This case, like others in recent years, has shown where these boundaries lie and when a person is entitled to enjoy a private life. It is time for the tabloid press, in particular, to follow those boundaries.
Olmert’s decision is the right one - but he is no martyr 31 July, 2008
So Ehud Olmert will not be Israel’s Richard Nixon. Yesterday’s announcement by the Israeli PM that he will step down after September’s Kadima primaries is certainly welcome. He would hardly want to be indicted of corruption while serving as Prime Minister, if indeed that is the outcome of his current predicament. Better that Israel is led by someone, anyone, who can focus single-handedly on the task of running the country without being distracted by such grave personal issues.
Many have argued (and in this column repeatedly) that Olmert’s failures during the 2006 Lebanon war, highlighted so glaringly in the Winograd Commission report, merited his immediate resignation. Other leaders, such as Meir and Begin, stepped down for much less following the controversial wars that defined their time in office. Olmert has therefore done the right thing.
Nonetheless to pretend that Olmert is some kind of martyr would be facile. He is a shrewd calculator who must have understood that he faced political wipeout if he remained in power much longer. He also had many opportunities in the past 12 months when he could, and should, have quit his post but decided not to. This tells us much about his ruthless instinct for power and very little about his sense of honour.
Indeed the timing of the resignation is apt. Olmert has just revealed that his ‘breakthrough’ talks with ‘the man of peace’ Mahmoud Abbas are unlikely to bear fruit by the end of the year. Jerusalem is allegedly the sticking point we are told. Well maybe, if one chooses to ignore the Palestinian demand for the right of return, the incitement from the PA, Hamas, an anti semitic education system and the Palestinian failure to ensure Israeli security. Olmert wanted a breakthrough peace deal to define his time in power. Instead its failure has come to embody the bankruptcy of the current administration.
But then Olmert’s administration has been pursuing peace at any price. True, the PM took a risky decision to fight Hezbollah two years ago and while the war was marred by mistakes, his decision still seems right today. He has talked tough on the Iranian jihadist menace – and with good reason. But then he has made overtures to terror regimes, such as Syria, and engaged in the most sordid and short sighted ‘corpses for terrorists’ deal with Hezbollah. No wonder his approval ratings are so low.
Israel needs a strong government that can deal competently with a multitude of threats – from Iran, from Gaza, from Syria and from Lebanon. Above all, it needs a leader who can gain the confidence of the nation in difficult times. In this respect, Olmert has manifestly failed. A new leader must do otherwise.
Olympian propaganda 10 August, 2008
It was hard not to be awed by China’s gala exhibition of Olympic might on Friday. The oriental sound and light show, watched by an estimated 4 billion people, set new standards for an Olympic opening ceremony with its fireworks, puppetering and enthralling choreography. The Chinese were intent on producing a crowd pleasing spectacle and they hardly disappointed their audience.
Of course this was also a tremendous propaganda triumph for Chinese autocracy. Under the watchful eye of President Hu Jintao, tens of thousands of Chinese participants displayed the martial virtues of organization and efficiency, showing how a totalitarian regime could harness its nation’s vast resources in the service of sport.
One of China’s Olympic organizers said that he wanted the games to embody China’s dream of a ‘harmonious world.’ This is just the kind of bland catchphrase you might associate with the Olympics. But it also cleverly masks the fact that China is one of the most oppressive states on earth, a country that denies its people basic human rights, a state which perpetuates the suffering of stateless Tibetans and which currently finances some of the most corrupt regimes on earth in order to sustain its ‘miracle’ economic growth.
The pyrotechnic wizardry on display had faint echoes of Triumph of the Will, Leni Riefenstahl’s filmic paean to the Berlin Olympics of 1936. Just like Beijing in 2008, the Nazis created a breathtaking arena, a visual spectacle that showcased their nation in all its glory. But at the same time they downplayed domestic anti Semitism to give visitors the impression of an ordered, harmonious society. Their government was portrayed as peaceful and law abiding, far from being the predatory savages they actually were. They realised how sport could be used to prop up their own political system, a lesson not lost on the Chinese Communists today. History has a nasty habit of repeating itself – and of people ignoring its lessons.
Russia should be thrown out of the G8 12 August, 2008
Georgia may not be blameless in the current Baltic turmoil but it is clear who the real aggressor is. Russia’s attacks in South Ossetia and its incursions into Gori have already claimed thousands of lives, according to some reports. Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, let the cat out of the bag yesterday about his country’s aims in this conflict. Far from wanting to ‘protect’ Russians living in South Ossetia, Lavrov said that President Saakashvili ‘had to go.’ In other words, the Russian aim was to enforce regime change in their democratic neighbour.
Russia’s attack on Georgia, and its prior interference in the country’s affairs reflect a long held desire to flex her muscles in the region. Quite simply the Russian leadership, and principally Vladimir Putin, cannot stomach the fact that the Georgian government has been so warmly embraced by the West. The growing links with NATO, indeed the possibility that Georgia could become a NATO member, have fuelled the Kremlin’s fears of creeping Western colonialism in Eurasia.
But it has been a long held ambition of Putin to reassert Russian control in what it sees as its own ‘backyard.’ Putin always believed the collapse of the Soviet Union to be a geopolitical disaster of the first magnitude. He came to view the collapse of the Soviet Empire as an outright humiliation that had to be rectified in the future. The ‘energy bullying’ of Russia’s neighbours, the increase in Russia’s military budget, the harsh confrontation over the nuclear defence shield and the Kremlin’s increasingly belligerent rhetoric all stem from a resurgence of Russian nationalism and a desire to extend Russian muscle in their ‘sphere of influence’. Anything that is seen to get in their way (pro Western neighbours, missile systems) becomes an automatic enemy.
Of course it would be unthinkable for the Western powers to go to war over this issue. Russia still has formidable military forces and is, let us not forget, it is a major nuclear power. But pretending that we have no options here would also be wrong. Russia should be threatened with ejection from the G8 unless it agrees to an internationally mediated settlement that restores Georgia’s sovereignty and sees all forces removed from that country. The country’s membership of other prestigious international bodies should be made dependent on its good behaviour. Above all, the West must realise that the days of East-West co-operation are well and truly over.
The great GCSE swindle 22 August, 2008
Many will be celebrating the record rise in GCSE passes recorded yesterday. Once again, there has been an annual rise, not only in the numbers gaining 5 good GCSE (A*-C), but also in those recording the highest grade (over 20%). The students themselves deserve congratulation for their unstinting effort and application over the course of 2 years.
Yet the inexorable rise in passes cannot mask the underlying problems with this examination: grade inflation, the simplification of questions, the reduction in the numbers doing ‘hard’ subjects and the shift away from the traditional curriculum.
Grade inflation is familiar enough to most of us. If you want to artificially raise the numbers passing any exam, you simply lower the grade boundaries and then claim in rather spurious fashion that ‘standards are getting better.’ This has undoubtedly happened across the board, most noticeably in Maths where you can pass with a mark of 16% with one exam board. This gives a highly misleading impression of teaching and learning standards as well as actual pupil progress.
It is not just pass marks that are the problem. The expectations for what students are required to do have also changed with progressive dumbing down now the norm. In one foundation paper for AQA Maths, students were asked to measure a straight line and write down its length in millimetres. In another question, they were asked to look at a diagram of a thermometer which had two clearly visible temperatures and then write down these temperatures. Another question asks students to multiply 350 by 2. None of these questions should have appeared in a supposedly rigorous test of pre A level Mathematics ability.
The world of science fares little better. In 2006, Sir Richard Sykes of Imperial College, London attacked the new science ‘core’ qualification as lacking rigour or adequate scientific content. He warned of a dumbed down syllabus in which discussion of issues like global warming and mobile phone technology was replacing actual knowledge of the sciences. As he and others pointed out, if science teaching ignored the fundamentals of the subject, it was pointless arguing about its application to society. Yet the move away from ‘separate sciences’ has been sadly underway in many schools.
Criticisms of dumbing down are not confined to these subjects alone. Julian Lloyd Webber has slated the GCSE in Music which allowed pupils to pass with little ability to read sheet music. Strong criticisms have been made of a Geography exam that allows pupils to pass by drawing cartoons and writing poetry, all to do with ‘creative pupil presentation methods.’ What these examples have in common is a systematic retreat from the rigorous testing of hard won knowledge. Often pupils are tested for their opinions, no matter how irrelevant or ill informed.
But the problem with GCSEs does not stop there. The uptake for many of the harder subjects, such as foreign languages and history, is getting lower each year as students are pushed towards ‘easier’ subjects. Some schools are trying to artificially massage their figures by getting pupils to do vocational qualifications that are worth several GCSEs. The resulting league table positions are of course fundamentally misleading, both for pupils and parents.
But even if die hard sceptics reject all of the above, the figures themselves are still alarming. We have yet to see half of our current students receive 5 good GCSEs, including the core subjects of English and Maths. If you add a foreign language to the list, this figure drops even further. Yet the government still insists that it wants 50% of pupils to go to university.
Above all, well over 20% of pupils still leave school without a single decent GCSE, meaning that the growing army of NEETS (those not in employment, education or training) will only get bigger. Perhaps that is the greatest indictment of all.
Recycled appeasement from Senator Obama 26 August, 2008
So Barack Obama has started to talk tough on the Iranian threat? As the Jerusalem Post reports today, the Presidential hopeful gave a speech on Monday in which he said that the world had to prevent Iran from becoming a regional nuclear power. Israel, he said, would feel highly threatened if Iran achieved its nuclear ambitions, given the fiery rhetoric of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
This all sounds like a far cry from Obama’s declaration earlier this year that he would sit down with the leaders of rogue states, including Iran and Cuba. No doubt the charge that he is a foreign policy lightweight with little experience has finally got to him. Hence his decision to select the very experienced and knowledgeable Senator Biden as a running mate for the White House. But if one looks carefully at Obama’s speech, it is clear that he was far from endorsing the tough line needed to deter the mullahs of Tehran.
"My job as president would be to try to make sure that we are tightening the screws diplomatically on Iran, that we've mobilized the world community to go after Iran's program in a serious way and to get sanctions in place so that Iran starts making a difficult calculation…”
What does ‘tightening the screws diplomatically’ actually mean? It presumably means yet another round of pointless manoeuvres at the Security Council, producing more watered down and impotent resolutions? It means voting for more sanctions that will be rendered useless by the machinations of China and Russia. There is no sign that Obama would tighten the screws on Iran’s hideous theocratic regime. Commenting on the effect of Iran’s belligerence on Israel, Obama said: "We've got to do that (use diplomacy) before Israel feels like its back is to the wall." But it is precisely because Israel’s allies have renounced military options that Israel feels it may have to act unilaterally.
What does seem certain is that the current Bush line on Iran (acquiescing in tough talk and rejecting tough options) is the Obama line as well. And if anyone thought that Senator Biden would toughen up Obama’s approach to foreign threats, they were much mistaken. This is not change we can believe in. It is recycled appeasement.
Extremism in British mosques 2 September, 2008
In January 2007 Dispatches made an undercover documentary showing how leading British mosques were actively promoting extremist Islamic ideology. Their punishment for this ‘thought crime’ was to be investigated by the West Midlands police for disrupting ‘community cohesion’. It was a grotesque decision, and one overturned quite rightly some months ago. The investigators were promised that mosques would clean up their act and prevent radical preachers from inciting violence against non Muslims. Last night, in a follow up documentary, Dispatches revealed that this promise was a sham. Extremism was very much alive and well, flourishing thanks to Saudi Arabian money.
One female preacher in the Regent’s Park Mosque looked forward to the establishment of an Islamic state in Britain, ruled by Sharia law. In such a state, any Muslim found guilty of adultery would be stoned to death. She promised that any Muslims who left their faith would be put to death while homosexuals would be thrown off mountain tops. Her diatribes continued with a rant against the teachings of non Muslim faiths and against ‘vile’ unbelievers.
All in all, it was a message of extreme intolerance, racism, misogyny and homophobia. Bear in mind that this appalling diatribe was being heard in the most respected mosque in the country, an institution repeatedly feted by world leaders.
As in last year’s documentary, the mosque’s bookshop continued to sell DVDs and books promoting hatred and sedition. In one DVD, a preacher is shown attacking the idea that women should be independent of men, arguing that men should dominate them as a result. Another preacher attacked unbelievers as ‘evil’ and condemned Jews for their ‘filthy and disgusting’ beliefs. Others proclaimed jihad as the supreme duty of Muslims worldwide.
The team also investigated the King Fahad academy in London, a school run by the Saudi embassy. As a former teacher at the school revealed, the school had been distributing Saudi text books that were preaching the Wahhabi message. These books disseminated the repugnant message that other religions were useless and that Jews were ‘monkeys and pigs.’
Finally, the documentary investigated the UK headquarters of ‘The Muslim World League,’ an Islamic NGO founded in 1962. Despite claiming that it promoted tolerance and mutual understanding, this organization was openly distributing books that promoted jihad, segregation and violent Sharia law punishments.
What these cases have in common is the insidious influence of the Saudi religious establishment and its official ideology, Wahhabism. Wahhabis believe that Muslims worldwide should hate and disown the ‘kuffar’ (unbelievers) and reject their teachings. Its imams and muftis call Jews ‘pigs and dogs.’ The Saudis themselves admit they have spent tens of billions of dollars disseminating Wahhabi teachings, leading to the creation of thousands of mosques, schools and centres around the world. As security expert Anthony Glees pointed out, we would be paying for this Saudi financed extremism for a long time to come. Yet still the Saudis remain out trusted ally in the war on terror, a war that their radical, state supported ideology has helped to create.
So what does all this reveal? On the one hand, radicalism is clearly not confined to 'extreme' mosques. If a respected institution like the Regent’s Park Mosque can host extremist radicals, then any mosque can. More to the point, the government’s claim to be tackling extremism must be seriously questioned. They have done little to stop Islamist preachers entering the UK. Instead they produce half baked and half hearted initiatives for combating extremism. Still, let’s be thankful for one thing. At least no do-gooding liberal crusader has accused Channel 4 of Islamophobia…for now.
When a nation becomes a nuclear suicide bomber 10 September, 2008
At the moment the most immediate concerns for the West come from one of its enemies and one of its allies: Iran and Pakistan respectively. One is an unstable Islamic nuclear power whose military and intelligence services are, at least in part, supportive of Afghanistan’s Taleban insurgency. The other aspires to nuclear status and looks likely to achieve that goal, given the timidity and appeasement that currently stalks the White House. But if Iran were to go nuclear, would Israel possess the means to deal with this? Would the West?
In today’s Jerusalem Post, nuclear strategy expert, Louis Rene Beres, offers a thought provoking analysis of this issue. He differentiates between a rational nuclear actor and an irrational one. A rational nuclear actor is capable of achieving a stable deterrence relationship with another nuclear power, the kind of relationship that existed during the Cold War standoff between the superpowers. To cite the familiar acronym, both sides knew it was MAD to launch a pre emptive first strike at the other side as this would lead to immediate and crushing retaliation. In short, it would have produced ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ and this certainty of mutual destruction was enough to deter both from stepping over the brink. An irrational nuclear actor is incapable of maintaining such a relationship.
For some 40 years, Israel has been a nuclear power operating a policy of nuclear ambiguity. During this time she has fought various wars against ‘rational’ enemies, that is, enemies whose wars against the Jewish state have been tempered by the knowledge that they could become targets for an Israeli Atomic bomb. It is likely that knowledge of Israel’s crushing retaliation, using its nuclear arsenal, deterred Saddam Hussein from using chemical weapons during the First Gulf War and may have limited Egypt’s war aims in 1973.
But is a nuclear Iran capable of maintaining a stable nuclear deterrence relationship with Israel? If she is, Rene Beres suggests the following:
‘To be deterred, a fully nuclear Iran would need to know that Israel's nuclear weapons are both invulnerable and capable of penetrating its defenses. Any Iranian judgment about Israel's willingness to retaliate with nuclear weapons would depend in part on a foreknowledge of these weapons. Any Iranian belief that Israel's nuclear weapons are exclusively mega-destructive must be modified. The enemy must be convinced that the Jewish state possesses a range of weapons to meet a range of threats, so the credibility of a deterrent posture could vary inversely with the perceived destructiveness of Israeli arms.’
Of course, Israel’s military does possess a formidable array of weaponry that could be used to devastating effect against a nuclear Iran. To enhance its strategic deterrence, Rene Beres suggests that Israel would have to end its policy of nuclear ambiguity and move to full disclosure.
But if Iran was an irrational national actor, this would not be enough. The country is a bastion of anti Western Shia fundamentalism, a rogue Islamist power whose mullahs long for the return of the Hidden Imam via some grave apocalyptic event. On this religious world view, the appearance of this (12th) imam is preceded by war and bloodshed. Given the fundamental importance in Islamic theology of death through jihad, it is not inconceivable that Iran’s leaders would see a Middle East nuclear conflagration as just such an apocalypse, with the destruction wreaked on their own citizens justified (in their view) by the demands of Islam. As Rene Beres says, ‘Iran could effectively become a nuclear suicide-bomber in macrocosm.’ Under these circumstances, deterrence through MAD would break down.
Rene Beres suggests that to enhance its deterrence: ‘It will not be enough to know only that Israel has the Bomb. These enemies will also need to recognize that Israel's nuclear weapons are effectively invulnerable, and that some are pointed at high-value population targets. Removing the Bomb from the basement could enhance strategic deterrence. Such a calculated end to deliberate ambiguity could also underscore Israel's willingness to use these weapons in reprisal for certain enemy first strikes and retaliatory attacks.’
In theory, this all makes perfect sense but it remains the wrong debate. Iran’s ambitions for regional dominance, which would be given an almighty boost by the possession of the world’s most lethal weapons, need to be curtailed sooner rather than later. For in international relations, as in life, prevention is always better than cure. But with the West so lethally divided about the current threat, it seems the cure, when it comes, will prove to be a painful one.
Anti Israeli hysteria at the UN – yet again 12 September, 2008
Many people wrongly assumed that with the appointment of Ban Ki Moon in 2006, the UN would undergo a rapid transformation after years of siding with corrupt Third World dictators and terrorists. How wrong they were. It is reported that the UN Secretary General is about to demand that Israel compensate Lebanon and Syria for the damage caused during the war of 2006 against Hezbollah. The sum is apparently $1 billion, which would cover the cost of environmental and material damage caused to Lebanon and Syria during that war.
Naturally this is a grotesque demand for at least two reasons. As Michael Freund points out in his article in the Jerusalem Post, it completely ignores the context of the fighting and concentrates on the consequences instead. Israel was attacked by Hezbollah for no legitimate reason in 2006. The Lebanese militants killed 8 Israeli soldiers in a border raid and captured (and killed) 2 others. They proceeded to fire thousands of rockets at Northern Israel over the next month, shutting down major cities and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people.
Israel responded vigorously by attacking Hezbollah’s headquarters and the bases from which they were firing weapons. To condemn a nation for acting in self defence and demand that it compensate its foe is both absurd and immoral. It would be the equivalent of a judge demanding that a householder compensate a burglar for inflicting injuries on his intruder in self defence. But in the UN, the inverse of morality and justice is sadly the norm.
Some may argue that Israel acted wrongly in attacking Lebanon, given that their war was with Hezbollah alone. Again this would be facile. Despite a UN Resolution calling for Hezbollah to be disarmed, the Lebanese government allowed the militants to use their territory to build up an illegal infrastructure. In military parlance, they formed a state within a state. Given this reckless disregard for international law, and their disregard for Israel’s security, the government in Beirut had no right to cry foul when Israel did the job for them.
To hold Israel responsible for the damage from this war is also perversely one sided. It ignores the enormous losses to Israel’s tourism for one month, the cost of evacuating hundreds of thousands of people, the infrastructural damage from rockets and various other associated costs. But in the UN’s eyes, Israel is the aggressor rather than victim and her losses are therefore inconsequential.
Of course to seasoned observers of the UN, Ban Ki Moon’s perversely distorted view of events is hardly surprising. His organization remains a viper’s nest of double standards, incompetence and hypocrisy, turning a blind eye to terrorists and their sympathizers while giving undue support to dictatorships. Above all, it harbours a fathomless level of malice towards the Jewish state, whose very status as a UN member is routinely called into question. This is poisonous bigotry, pure and simple. And as long as it continues to flow through the UN’s arteries, the calls for a League of Democracies should grow louder and louder.
Lessons for us all in the credit crunch 16 September, 2008
The collapse of Lehman Brothers seems to be a seminal moment in the credit crunch. A mighty institution has been brought to its knees, aided by a decision from the Fed not to rescue it at the last moment. Already comparisons have been drawn with the Great Crash of 1929.
Then as now, banks that lent recklessly were brought down by their own arrogance and greed. Then as now, investors borrowed reckless amounts of money because they were told that shares would continue to rise. Then as now, America was the lynchpin of the world financial system and its deteriorating economy produced devastating ripples across the globe. Then as now confidence was sapped by the erosion of the credit system. In reality, things are not as bad as in 1929. Investors in Wall Street and elsewhere have not been wiped out as their counterparts were 80 years ago. Yesterday's falls in the FTSE were modest compared to the terrible losses 8 decades ago. But the comparison is hardly asinine.
On the face of it, the decision not to bail out Lehman Brothers seems entirely sensible. One should be queasy at the idea of big government stepping in to ‘rescue’ troubled banks which have failed to run a successful business model. Were this to become the norm, there would be no incentive for banks (and bankers) to make sound investment decisions in the long term for they would be immune to the consequences of their mistakes. Taxpayers would end up paying the price for the greed and short sightedness of corporate fat cats.
The price of a capitalist system is that you gain huge rewards when you produce success and suffer crippling blows when you fail. A capitalist society can never be a utopia for all the people all of the time. Northern Rock received the ultimate government largesse at taxpayers’ expense, the direct opposite of living by free market conditions. In retrospect, this seems entirely mistaken. The decision not to save Lehman Brothers is the necessary pain that has to be administered to the banking system in order to ensure its long term recovery.
But it is not just greedy bankers that should heed important lessons here. The central banks in Britain, Europe and America kept interest rates too low for too long, encouraging reckless investment decisions by the bankers. And individual consumers, spurred on by the buzz of cheap credit, enjoyed a frenzy of profligate spending and debt binging which has brought some of them to their knees. Hence the increasing number of people in negative equity, the accelerating number of house repossessions and the vast expansion of bad debtors. They were busy piling up debts in the good times which they could not repay in the bad. The lesson for us all is that unmanaged spending in the boom years can lead to a nasty hangover when things go bust.
Some people see big government as a necessary corrective to our follies; that it should nurse us through our self induced economic hangover. But this is the biggest folly of them all. If people cannot take the pinch of economic pain, they shouldn’t take bad risks with other people’s money.
Proposals to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict 18 September, 2008
On Tuesday night I attended a thought provoking debate organized by Intelligent Squared on the subject of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A high powered panel offered their thoughts on this most intractable conflict.
Dan Gillerman, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, sounded a note of optimism. There was a better chance of peace, he claimed, not because the impasse in Israeli-Palestinian relations was about to be overcome but because of twin threats that were mobilizing Israelis and Arab rulers alike: radical Islam and Iran. Radical Islam was ‘a clash within civilization’ as a ‘tolerant religion’ (Islam) had been ‘hijacked’ by terrorists.
Politically correct platitudes aside, he did point out (quite correctly) that most of the victims of Islamic terror were Muslims. The Arab states too were in a collective panic over the Islamic Republic of Iran. A resurgent Iran, particularly one armed with nuclear weapons, had produced a paralyzing fear among Arab rulers which had brought them closer to Israel, the one country which was most directly confronted by Tehran’s belligerent rhetoric.
Iran, he warned, had to be tackled urgently while investment was needed in the Palestinian Authority. Gillerman’s analysis was instructive for showing that the Israeli-Palestinian issue had to be seen in the wider context of religious fanaticism and Iranian/Syrian state sponsored terror. Without tackling these twin threats, no interim solution of the conflict would be possible.
Dr Hannan Ashrawi offered a quick fire diatribe at Israeli policy which was, in her view, a catalogue of unspeakable iniquities. The obstacles to peace had to be removed (mostly Israeli): settlements, check points, barriers, the security wall ‘of separation and annexation’, the occupation and so on. Unless the occupation was ended in the next few months, she said, the Palestinians would require ‘international protection.’ While admitting that the Palestinians had to put their own house in order with a reform programme and economic reconstruction, this was essentially the Muslim victim mentality on display. There was not one word to condemn Palestinian terror attacks, Kassams or suicide bombers. Zilch, nada.
There was much the same from Palestinian MP, Dr Mustafa Barghouti. Not one to deny his audience a visual treat, he showed a series of maps on a screen that purported to show how, over 60 years, the Israelis had been offering Palestinians a smaller and smaller chunk of ‘Palestine’ for their state: 45% of the land in 1947, half this by the year 2000 and about half of this today. Dan Gillerman helped to scupper this absurd propaganda exercise by pointing out that the Palestinians rejected the 1947 partition offer that would have created the much vaunted ‘two state solution’ 6 decades ago.
He should also have pointed out that in 2000, the Palestinians were offered 95% of the West Bank and Gaza (as well as compensation and a deal on settlements and Jerusalem) and turned this down as well. Barghouti talked about the security wall and checkpoints denying the Palestinians a ‘contiguous’ state but failed to mention that without these ‘impediments,’ there would be a dramatic upswing in violence and terror from Palestinian rejectionists. The situation in the West Bank and Gaza was, he claimed, tantamount to apartheid. This was a fatuous comment. Yes, there are genuine Palestinian grievances over issues such as water and settlements but to make such an asinine comparison does a gross disservice to the true victims of apartheid.
Ephraim Halevy, a former director of Mossad, argued that it was not possible to implement a permanent solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The best that could be hoped for was short term ‘conflict management’ and any viable interim agreement required three things: 1) The re-unification of the West Bank and Gaza. 2) A credible consensus among Israelis to have a further redeployment of forces. 3) An efficient Palestinian security system.
Israel needed partners who desired a temporary solution and this meant a negotiation with the ‘pragmatists’ of Hamas. It was not for the international community to enforce solutions or micromanage Palestinian or Israeli politics. If the Palestinians did not succeed, no one could do it for them. In this sense Halevy was right. But by the same token, the international community could (and should) withdraw its support for Palestinian politicians if they are not seen to be cleaning up their act.
The idea of a truce with Hamas though is barely credible. A truce in Islamic culture (or hudna) does not have the same meaning as it does in the West. It is a tactical manoeuvre that allows a group to regain strength for a future round of conflict. Hamas would therefore use the opportunity to replenish their weapons and finances and were they ever to take control of the West Bank, this would place many of Israel’s major cities under the threat of long range rocket attacks.
Yael Dayan, daughter of General Moshe Dayan, spoke briefly to enhance her credentials as a ‘Peace Now’ activist. She derided 40 years of occupation and settlement expansion and claimed that terror and incitement would end as a result of peace. Sadly the naïve Ms Dayan chose to ignore the fact that after withdrawing from territory in Lebanon and Gaza, Israel was rewarded with a drastic upswing of terror on both fronts. There is no reason to think the same thing would not happen again after a precipitate Israeli withdrawal elsewhere.
Finally Sir Malcolm Rifkind offered his observations on resolving the conflict. He spoke of how the 1955 treaty with Austria was a plausible model for ending Israel’s own occupation. In this treaty, Austria agreed to be neutral in the Cold War, which ended both American and Russian occupation of the country. If the Palestinians, he argued, offered a similar form of neutrality towards Israel, this too could end their occupation.
This analogy is to misrepresent the current conflict. Austria was never at war with either America or Russia and thus its promise of neutrality could be taken seriously and trusted. The Palestinian relationship with Israel, however, has been marked by outright belligerence. Peace deals have been rejected while Israeli withdrawals from territory have been met (as with the Gaza pullout) with a marked increase in violence. A concrete detoxification of the Palestinian (and Arab) mindset must precede any formal treaty offering neutrality.
In a sense this is the fundamental issue underlying the conflict. The grievances over territory, checkpoints, water and settlements (while real) are ultimately secondary ones. They are but the symptoms of an underlying, long standing primary problem: the failure to accept the existence of the Jewish state. Note to the West: deal with this primary issue first and anything is possible.
A gloomy outlook 22 September, 2008
'For a decade, the economy was kept afloat by an artificial boom in house prices and profligate consumer spending. Now the bubble has truly burst on this nation of debt addicts.'
If a week is a long time in politics, it seems to be an eternity for bankers. A series of events in the last 7 days, from the collapse of an investment bank, the take over of AIG and the unprecedented merger of two British banking giants, has culminated in a plan to nationalize all of America’s bad debts at taxpayers’ expense. In effect, creditworthy taxpayers are being made to subsidize foolhardy ones with a ‘get out of jail free’ card courtesy of the US Treasury.
It is incredible that in an era of free market expansion and capitalist economics, it should come to this. Yet if one believes Hank Paulson’s advisors, the US government had very little choice. In effect, they told him that the consequences of inaction would be a set of economic conditions far worse than those of the Great Depression in the 1930s. In other words, there would be global financial meltdown on a catastrophic scale with protracted misery for millions of people. If there is even a shred of truth in their claims then, as George Soros recently put it, saving the global economy had to trump moral hazard.
Still we have yet to see the worst effects of this crisis in Britain. With house prices in Britain continuing to fall, and predicted to drop by as much as 25% in the next year, we can expect to see house repossessions and bankruptcies soar. There will also be a drastic increase in unemployment in many industries, including the building trade. Tax receipts for a million people will dry up, while welfare payments rise. Particularly galling for the government will be that some of these people will be the very city slickers on whom they relied for wealth creation in the 1990s. As unemployment increases, demand will be sucked out of an economy increasingly mired in recession. And as consumer spending decreases, a downward spiral will be created which will lead to further job losses and economic slowdown.
What we are witnessing is the final unravelling of New Labour’s claims to economic competence. For a decade, ministers talked up Britain’s economic miracle’ but this was an illusion. For 10 years or more, the economy was kept afloat by an artificial boom in house prices and profligate consumer spending. The easy supply of cheap money allowed people to spend their way out of trouble and feel prosperous. Now the bubble has truly burst on this nation of debt junkies.
Gordon Brown’s government will have three equally unpalatable options for dealing with this crisis. First, they could increase taxes in order to fund the lavish public sector state they have created over the last 10 years. (But expect any tax rises to be conducted by stealth.) Second, they could increase the national debt (taxation in slow motion) still further, making even more of a mockery of the fiscal prudence which was supposed to characterise Labour’s handling of the public finances. Third, they could try and print their way out of trouble but any expansion of the money supply will simply multiply the inflationary pressures already buffeting our beleaguered economy. This last option would end any chance of cutting interest rates in the near future.
Indeed, Gordon Brown will try anything except the one thing that could mitigate the damage to our economy, namely a ruthless purge in public spending. This option would help to reduce our enormous tax bill, stop the expansion of the national debt and allow for a round of tax cutting that would stimulate the economy. But having expanded the public sector ‘client’ state over the last 10 years, Mr Brown is in no mood to slash it now. The problem is that many of those he has courted in a decade of financial bribery are now ready to desert his party.
Most depressing of all, the Tories appear to share New Labour's economic bankruptcy. They remain wedded to the notion of ‘sharing the proceeds of growth’ between public sector spending (sorry investment) and tax cuts. But this means that when there is no growth (as now), there will be no tax cuts and when there is growth, more taxpayers’ money will be thrown at public services. This is despite a decade of unprecedented spending that has quite obviously failed to transform the NHS, police and state schools! Whichever government is in power then, the poor taxpayer will receive little in the way of relief.
So we had better get used to the new order of things. Having binged on boom, we must now bear with bust. Britannia PLC and all who sail in her will need stoicism and resilience to survive these turbulent times.
On their knees before tyranny 26 September, 2008
The UN has never hesitated to demonstrate its grotesque admiration for tyrants and murderers, particularly from the Third World and the Middle East. Thus it was no surprise that Iranian President Ahmadinejad was invited to address the General Assembly this week. In a rambling speech, which included a defence of Iran’s desire for ‘peaceful’ nuclear energy, he launched into a diabolical anti semitic diatribe that would once have been worthy of Der Sturmer. In his desire to explain ‘the main reasons behind the conditions ruling the world’ he had this to offer:
‘The dignity, integrity and rights of the American and European people are being played with by a small but deceitful number of people called Zionists. Although they are a miniscule minority, they have been dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centres as well as the political decision-making centres of some European countries and the US in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner…This means that the great people of America and various nations of Europe need to obey the demands and wishes of a small number of acquisitive and invasive people. These nations are spending their dignity and resources on the crimes and occupations and the threats of the Zionist network against their will.’
When you substitute the word ‘Jews’ for Zionists, you can see what the Iranian leader is getting at. A small Jewish clique, he argues, is in control of the world’s financial system and is therefore responsible for its current turbulence. This clique is playing havoc with the lives of Americans and Europeans who stand helpless before Jewish conspiratorial power.
Of course, this perverse diatribe against world Jewry has a resonance across the centuries. It is simply an update of the notion, espoused in the notorious forgery, ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, that a small Jewish cabal controls the world for its own nefarious purposes. For political (and politically correct) reasons, it is the Zionists who are now the cabal. The tentacles of Jewish power, for the anti semitic Ahmadinejad, extend further than control of the economy. When he considers the recent conflict over Georgia, he has this pearl of wisdom to offer:
‘The lives, properties and rights of the people of Georgia and Ossetia and Abkhazia are victims of the tendencies and provocations of NATO and certain western powers, and the underhanded actions of the Zionists.’
So what did the members of the General Assembly do after hearing such base demonology? Did they storm out half way through? Did they demand that this odious man never again address such a prestigious gathering? No, they applauded him. Just as they applauded the 2001 Durban conference ‘against racism’ in which Zionists were compared to Nazis and Israel accused of genocide. Just as they voted for endless anti Israeli resolutions in the name of human rights while ignoring real tyranny around the world.
The UN was founded in the aftermath of the worst racial crime in history. Now it chooses to abase itself before a select clique of tyrants, murderers and dictators. Little wonder that this once venerable institution is being brought to its knees.
Politically, Sir Ian Blair was a dead man walking 03 October, 2008
Already the recriminations are flying over Sir Ian Blair’s sudden fall from power. Did Boris Johnson push the Met Chief into resigning for purely political reasons? Did he effectively sack the Commissioner by going over the head of the Home Secretary? Last night on Question Time, Jacqui Smith suggested that Johnson had committed an outrage by forcing Blair out to suit his own narrow political agenda.
Whatever the issues about constitutional propriety, Jacqui Smith’s attack was entirely misplaced and wrong headed. Are we to believe that her rather pathetic whimper on behalf of Sir Ian on Question Time was a belated vote of confidence in the Met Chief? If the Home Secretary really believed that Sir Ian’s treatment was unjust, she should have acted to protect him yesterday. Her failure to do so can only mean that she (rightly) shared the Mayor’s own reservations.
Whatever Mr. Johnson’s political beliefs, he clearly lacked confidence in Sir Ian’s leadership, character and record. As the directly elected Mayor of London with a popular mandate for change, Johnson was entitled to express his frustration and to see Sir Iain removed from office. The Mayor’s concerns about Britain’s top cop were shared by politicians of all parties and by Sir Ian’s increasingly frustrated colleagues in the Met. Politically, he was a dead man walking. Indeed the only wonder is how the beleaguered police chief managed to survive for so long.
Remember that last year the IPCC report revealed a catalogue of failures following the Stockwell shooting. It also showed that Blair had personally tried to block the investigation. According to Nick Hardwick, the IPCC chairman, ‘much of the avoidable difficulty the Stockwell incident has caused the Metropolitan Police arose from the delay in referral.’ Yet at the time Sir Ian seemed oblivious to any wrongdoing and refused to accept responsibility for his personal failings.
His credibility was already tottering before serious allegations of racism were made by several senior colleagues, including the most senior Asian officer, Tarique Ghaffur. Sir Ian protested his innocence and perhaps he was right to blame Mr. Ghaffur for being mired in a ‘victim culture.’ But that is not the point. Under police guidelines a racist incident is one which is perceived by someone to be racist. For the ultra politically correct Met Chief, that was devastating. It meant that the most PC of PC’s was hoist by his own petard. Then violent crime soared, particularly involving knives, just as politicians like Mr. Johnson were vowing to get tough on criminals. With confidence in Blair ebbing away, the Mayor’s verbal vote of no confidence was perfectly understandable. Much more than that, it was essential.
If free speech disappears, our society will wither 7 October, 2008
At first glance one might sympathise with the EU’s extradition request for Gerald Toben. Dr. Toben, a notorious Australian Holocaust denier, undoubtedly has extremely pernicious views. On his website (www.adelaideinstitute.org) Toben describes the Holocaust as a ‘story/legend/myth.’ He denies that 6 million Jews perished under Nazi occupation and says that revisionists, such as himself, are forced to confront a massive 'multi-billion dollar' Holocaust industry. He recently attended the Holocaust denial conference in Tehran, later describing the anti semitic Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a ‘fearless President.’ One certainly needs a strong constitution to wade through the sickening racist filth on his website.
But the more one looks at this decision, the more incomprehensible it becomes. Toben, no matter how vile his views, has committed no crime in this country as Holocaust denial is not illegal. Yet he stands accused of behaviour which is only criminalized in Germany (and Austria) and is under arrest as a result. The notion that Britain’s sovereign Parliament can be overruled in deciding which actions are crimes, that another government can demand our arrest for actions which are legal in this country, is just appalling. It strikes at the heart of what it means to be a British citizen. Granted, Mr Toben is an Australian, not British, citizen. But what is to stop Germany making the same request again of a Briitish person?
Parliament has rightly rejected a Holocaust denial law as being tantamount to an attack on freedom of speech. The freedom to express one’s opinions, no matter how pernicious, has long been a bedrock of our liberal society. When that liberty is taken away without good reason, it fundamentally alters the relation between the citizen and the state. It is truly the slippery slope towards totalitarianism. Moreover criminalising these opinions is arguably counter productive. It is better to counter lies with the truth, falsehood with evidence and misrepresentation with facts. Nothing is to be gained by making martyrs of people like David Irving and Gerald Toben.
All of this is hard to say in a society which (rightly) shuns racists. Certainly those who deny that the Holocaust happened are guilty of spreading malicious lies about Jews, based on their own perverse and visceral anti semitism. But though it is based on such hatred, this form of historical denial is still different to outright incitement which would bring such behaviour within the range of our own criminal law. We simply have to put up with people who accept extreme ideologies, provided that they do not directly harm others.
But this decision makes a mockery of the EU's claim to be a mere trading block that respects individual nations. It violates our sovereign Parliament's rejection of a Holocaust denial law. What we are therefore seeing here is an attempt to impose a European straightjacket over the legal systems of member states. That is not a blueprint for respecting nationhood but for abolishing it altogether.
Who caused the Great Crash of 2008? It was (mostly) the left, stupid. 13 October, 2008
At the moment the ‘Great Crash of 2008’ is playing out fairly well for the centre left. Gordon Brown has enjoyed a new lease of life as the Anglo-Saxon saviour of the global financial system. While the credit crunch has been taking its toll, this master of economic ‘wizardry’ has been busy giving the G7 a very ‘British’ solution to the credit crisis.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Barack Obama has enjoyed an extraordinary resurgence in the polls. No longer are the American public transfixed by Iran and Georgia, those faraway places of which they know little. Instead the agenda has been dominated by a cast of stricken financial giants; Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, AIG, Fannie and Freddie. It’s the economy stupid, and the recent meltdown on the stock market has played into Obama’s hands. Brown’s resurgence may be deserved, given that his medicine could ignite much needed confidence in the financial system. Still, come the general election of 2010, the general public are likely to be less forgiving to a party that has presided over the worst recession in living memory.
The temporary bounce for the centre left accords with the popular view that this was a crisis caused purely by corporate greed. Banks and other financial institutions spent a decade binging in debt city, leveraging themselves to excess in the hope that the good times would go on forever. In America, banks that were once prudent lenders suddenly threw caution to the winds, fuelled by misguided monetarist policy that saw interest rates cut to incredibly low levels. With consumers increasingly addicted to cheap credit, and to the notion that prosperity and debt were somehow identical, the result was a society drowning in arrears. A crash was always on the cards.
While much of this analysis is spot on, it also ignores the elephant in the room. For the subprime mortgage crisis which led to the present financial turbulence was sparked, not by the profligate Bush Republicans, but the ‘beneficent’ Clinton Democrats. As Dennis Sewell observed in a recent article in the Spectator, ‘This crisis was not caused on Wall Street — it was caused in the White House. The root problem was not financial — it was political.’
Sewell goes on:‘For generations, America’s bankers have been firmly refusing credit to those they judged unworthy of it. Yet the mountain of toxic subprime debt that has threatened to overwhelm the entire financial system, and the astonishing number of mortgage foreclosures across the United States, is proof that, at some point in the relatively recent past, bankers radically altered their behaviour and began to shower mortgages on borrowers who had no realistic prospect of keeping up their repayments.’
In explaining why US mortgage banks threw caution to the winds, one might be tempted to join our own Sharia embracing Archbishop of Canterbury and shriek ‘greed.’ But this would be to gravely misunderstand the political forces at work in 1990s Washington.
Clinton’s administration was determined to increase home ownership among poorer, low income Americans, many of whom were Black or Hispanic voters. Many people among these groups were being denied mortgages by the conservative lending practices of the banks and some suspected that this had more to do with discrimination than good financial sense. This suspicion was shared by Roberta Achtenburg, an openly lesbian nominee for the Senate who Clinton appointed as Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. The ultra PC Achtenburg pursued the banks with zeal, setting up enforcement offices to test whether the banks were racially discriminating against minority groups. But after exhaustive investigations, Achtenburg’s army of attorneys found no evidence of discrimination in their lending practices. Nonetheless, as Sewell points out, the banks took the hint pretty quickly and became less rigorous in their lending criteria:
‘Mortgages were offered with only 3 per cent deposit requirements, and eventually with no deposit requirement at all. The mortgage banks fell over one another to provide loans to low-income households and especially to minority customers. In the five years from 1994 to 1999, the number of African-American and Latino homeowners increased by two million… At the same time, the government pressed Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the two giants of the secondary mortgage market, to help expand mortgage loans among low and moderate earners, and introduced new rules allowing the organisations to get involved in the securitisation of subprime loans.’
True, those subprime customers were refinancing their mortgages by equity release during the Bush era, spurred on by low interest rates and ever rising house prices. But then these were largely Clinton’s customers, not those of George W Bush. The subprime problem that has stunned the world was created, not after 2000, but in the 1990s.
One of the great lessons from the credit crunch then is that when progressives make crude attempts at social engineering, the result is often disastrous. Politically correct attempts to reform humanity bring more harm than intended, particularly when launched by the clammy hand of big government. The road to hell is truly paved with good intentions. And as we wait to see whether or not the world economy goes into meltdown, it is as well to remind ourselves who the real culprits of this saga are. Certainly, bankers and consumers built up oceans of debt for short term profit while regulators were asleep on the job. Yes, monetary policy, particularly in the last decade in the US, was fundamentally ill conceived. But without the misguided and disastrous intervention from the Clinton White House, we would not be where we are today. It was mostly the left, stupid.
The Syrian conundrum 27 October, 2008
No doubt a whole series of ludicrous conspiracy theories are already proliferating about the American strike on Syria, aided by the understandable silence of the US authorities. Aside from Syria’s hypocritical denunciation of the US (‘this was terrorist aggression’), there is inane speculation that the attack was President Bush’s way of aiding John McCain’s faltering campaign. (McCain is beyond help in the elections). So far, however, enough details have emerged to draw a fairly clear picture of what happened – and why.
It appears that a number of American helicopters swept down on Abu Kemal, a village some 7 kilometres inside Syria and close to the Iraqi border. The village in question has been a safe haven for jihadi fighters who have streamed across the border in recent years in order to carry out murderous attacks against ‘infidels.’ Three days ago, Major General John Kelly described Syria’s border as ‘an uncontrolled gateway’ for fighters entering Iraq. Reports suggest that the airstrikes were targeting Abu Ghadiya, a key Al Qaeda leader, who was involved in smuggling militants across the Syrian border. This attack has echoes of the strike carried out by Israel last year on a Syrian nuclear facility, as well as recent American attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
In each case, the Israeli and US military have operated on the principle that borders are not sacrosanct in fighting a global battle against extremists. Countries like Pakistan and Syria have provided a safe haven for terrorist operatives. In the case of Syria, the authorities have stood by while Al Qaeda planned and carried out acts of mass murder against Western targets. If they are content to allow militants to operate freely on their territory, they cannot cry foul when other countries act against those militants, as they are surely entitled to under international law.
The strikes send out an unambiguous message. If jihadists are allowed to operate freely inside Syria, then their safe havens will be attacked, wherever they are located. So should those of Pakistan, Iran and any other rogue state.
The BBC in the gutter 29 October, 2008
Perhaps the most comforting thing about the BBC’s latest descent into madness is the overwhelming sense of public disgust at their moronic duo, Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross. There is a genuine sense of revulsion and indignation at the antics of these overpaid ‘sewer mouths’ which has now led to some 10,000 complaints from viewers. Reading the transcript of their radio show, it is hardly difficult to appreciate the widespread anger.
Ross and Brand clearly set out to exploit and humiliate retired actor Andrew Sachs, a vulnerable and elderly man of 78. In one phone call, Ross blurted out that Brand had slept with Sachs’ 23 year old granddaughter, using a strong of foul words for good measure. After speculating that Brand had ‘enjoyed’ the 23 year old, we learnt that he used a condom during intercourse. And they ended their obscene phone calls by making the quite repugnant suggestion that Sachs might kill himself after hearing their call.
Given that this show was pre recorded, it simply defies belief that anyone allowed it to go ahead. What does it say about the judgment of BBC executives that they could see nothing wrong with transmitting such offensive and harmful garbage? It is worrying to think that they saw the foul torment of an innocent person as somehow in tune with their organization’s ethos and guidelines.
Indeed this goes beyond a mere issue of poor taste. Brand and Ross must consider themselves lucky that the veteran actor did not call the police and launch criminal proceedings, given that he received a blatantly malicious phone call. As it is, Ofcom have rightly launched their own investigation into whether Radio 2 breached their guidelines on ‘material that may cause harm and offence.’ Their conclusions should be pretty obvious.
Whatever the outcome, the damage has already been done. It is outrageous that Brand and Ross remain employees of the BBC after such a vile and exploitative outburst. By not immediately sacking these radio bullies, the BBC has taken a lethargic approach to this matter and allowed it to become drawn out. That reveals a fundamental arrogance and lack of respect for the public on whose money they are wholly dependent. And money matters here, for the BBC continues to argue for a licence fee on the basis that they offer 'higher quality broadcasting' than their commercial rivals.
With their two foul mouthed loonies let loose on the airwaves, they are rapidly losing that argument.
Iranian dissidents speak truth to power 30 October, 2008
On Tuesday I had the pleasure of listening to Amir Fakhravar, an Iranian dissident and leading critic of the Islamic Republic. Mr Fakhravar has been imprisoned and tortured by the authorities for speaking out against Iran’s theocracy and now campaigns for non military means of producing regime change.
His central contention was that limited sanctions were a non starter and that Tehran’s terror regime would only be brought down through a global suspension of business links. The West had to put pressure on Iran by severing all ties, he said, isolating the country and treating it as a pariah nation rather than shamelessly lining its pockets with petrodollars.
He continued with an interesting insight into Bush’s axis of evil speech from 2002 in which Iran was linked to 2 other terror regimes, Iraq and North Korea. While European liberals engaged in a collective hissy fit, convinced that Bush had completely lost the plot, Iran’s students warmed to Bush because they believed that at least the leader of the free world had not forgotten them.
Another speaker from the ‘Council for a Democratic Iran’ urged the West to have no illusions about the Islamic Republic. This imperialist and illegitimate regime sought to dominate the Middle East and spread its own pernicious brand of Islamist extremism, he said. Only constant pressure from the West would bring about change.
While the force of these arguments can hardly be doubted, one might question whether it is right to rule out military action against Tehran. Mr Fakhravar opposes the use of force, indeed his argument was about how to bring about regime change through non military means. Yet what other option can be taken with a regime that believes it has a divine right to join the nuclear club? Nonetheless, these men offered a refreshing example of how to speak truth to power in the most adverse circumstances.
But one must still ask: Why does their fearless courage stand in such contrast to our own leaders’ spineless silence?
The free world at the crossroads 4 November, 2008
As Americans go to the polls to elect the 44th leader of the free world, it is widely assumed that only a miracle can save John McCain. Seasoned pundits seem united in thinking that the Arizona senator will receive a pasting at the hands of ‘l’homme du destine’, the modern messiah who will sweep all before him. It seems more likely that Obama will achieve a narrow victory tomorrow (in terms of the popular vote), rather than the FDR style landslide some are predicting.
The liberal media have already written the McCain epitaph: 'He was simply too old to stand against a more youthful, telegenic rival; he lacked credibility and charisma whereas Obama had it in droves; his campaign was too negative and, above all, his choice of Sarah Palin was a liability'.
There may be some truth in all these propositions. Obama is indeed a galvanising figure, an orator of consummate ability with rhetorical skill to match. His popular image is a fusion of Martin Luther King and the youthful idealism of JFK making him, for many, the most exciting young politician of his generation. Above all, Obama represents a break from the sins of the Bush era, sullied as it is by Iraq, torture and Guantanamo Bay.
The visceral contempt for Bush has made the Republican Party a toxic brand, hence the desperate and unfair attempts by Obama to portray a McCain Presidency as Bush Mark II. And it explains why so many Americans are prepared to embrace the mantra of ‘change’ despite having little idea what it is that Obama wants to change ‘to.’
Nonetheless an analysis that centres around Obama’s messianic fervour misses a central point. This election has been all about the economy and jobs, and it is not so much McCain himself as his campaign that has been flawed. To illustrate the latter point one need only point to the polls some 3 months ago which showed a decisive lead for the Republicans. These coincided with Russia's imperialist campaign in Georgia, a dramatic manifestation of just how unsettling a foreign crisis can be.
McCain was the reliable politician with a muscular and uncompromising approach to national security. Unlike Obama, he had a firm grasp of how to deal with an international crisis based on years of public policy experience. By contrast, Obama came across as a foreign policy lightweight, with his response to the South Ossetian crisis particularly uncertain.
Then on 7th September, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the pillars of the US mortgage market, were taken into ‘conservatorship.’ A week later, Lehman Brothers collapsed, triggering huge financial instability and a catastrophic loss of confidence on the world markets. From the moment that Treasury Secretary, Hank Paulson announced his $700 billion bailout, Obama surged ahead in the polls, aided by the vast sums of cash his campaign was receiving.
This now brings me to the first point, McCain’s flawed campaign. All along, McCain has stuck rigidly to the line that the Great Crash of 2008 was a purely corporate affair caused by the excesses of bankers. Had he looked at the history of the last decade, he would have noted that it was the disastrous Clinton Presidency that coerced banks to lend recklessly to poorer people from minorities and pressed Fannie and Freddie to expand mortgage loans to low income households. They also made changes to the Community Reinvestment Act which had the same effect. The Democrats directly laid the seeds of the disaster that would engulf America later on. Perhaps McCain refused to attack the Democrats in the belief that Americans would prefer a more consensual approach. Toeing the fashionable line seems to have done him no favours. McCain's statement at the time of the Lehman Brothers collapse, namely that 'the fundamentals of the economy were sound,' made him look out of touch at a time of economic crisis.
The result of all this is that an untested and inexperienced figure is about to become the most powerful politician on earth, and at a time of unprecedented domestic and international turbulence. Obama's stated policy of negotiating with dictators (such as Ahmadinejad) appears increasingly hollow while his connections with Jeremiah Wright (which he took a long time to sever) raise disturbing questions about his character. Perhaps the polls are all wrong; perhaps the undecided voters will turn out for McCain; perhaps the Bradley effect will wipe out Obama’s commanding poll leads and prove the pundits wrong. Perhaps – but unlikely.
The Obama victory 5 November, 2008
In the end, Obama’s (wholly expected) victory was both emphatic, decisive and historic. His share of Electoral College votes was in the order of 2:1 to McCain, a true landslide, though his share of the popular vote was much closer. This morning though, no one can doubt that America’s president elect deserves his victory after a gruelling and vigourous contest. Obama has galvanized his own supporters with soaring oratory and brought millions to the polling booths in a terrific vindication of American democracy. That is no mean feat.
The hopes of millions now rest on Obama’s slender shoulders. He will inherit an economy in crisis, beset by rising unemployment, falling housing prices and declining confidence. He will also face the challenge of radical Islamism in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as the looming menace of Iran. He will have to deal with the aggressive designs of imperial Russia and oversee the evacuation of Iraq.
Above all he will have to prove that he is the harbinger of change, that iconic word he has done so much to promote. If he can rescue his country from the trough of economic despondency and provide a clear approach in foreign affairs, he may well be a 'transformative president'. But if progress stalls and he fails to rise to these challenges, his supporters will become rapidly disillusioned. Thus far Obama has been short on ideas and long on slogans – it is time he proved his critics wrong.
For the Republicans, this was a wretched night. They will have to regroup as the Tories did in 1997 and rethink their strategy and ideological direction. But it would be overly defeatist to write off the Republicans for the next generation. If Obama fails to deliver by 2012 or by the end of his second term, there is every chance that Americans will support a party promising aspiration, small government and low taxes. Historically that has always been the Republican Party.
For now Obama should savour his victory and look forward to becoming America’s 44th President. Much sterner tests lie ahead.
Yes, let’s not judge Obama by the colour of his skin 7 November, 2008
Judging by the tide of hysteria engulfing last night’s Question Time audience, it seems that the ‘American messiah’ has excited the masses on this side of the pond as much as he has in his native country. The audience and panel offered a unanimous paean: Mr Obama was going to change the world; he was going to heal wounds, get people talking to their neighbours; teach people to live in peace and harmony and achieve their full potential. In short, he was going to remake the globe in his own image. I was waiting for someone to predict he would soon walk on water, though maybe that will just be a matter of time.
In the midst of their frenzied hyperbole, these Obamaniacs lacked any sense of rational proportion; any consideration of his policy, experience and character. No, all that was swept aside by an unrelenting tidal wave of political correctness in which the main consideration was that a black (or mixed race) man had now entered the White House. Many openly confessed that they knew little about Obama or what he stood for, yet quoted Martin Luther King’s dictum about the importance of judging people ‘by the content of their character’ and not ‘the colour of their skin.’ Yet there lies the contradiction.
Like it or not, Obama has been judged by the colour of his skin, albeit in an immensely favourably way. Lauding ethnic candidates for their achievement, regardless of their actual suitability for a post, is the very antithesis of how a civilised society should judge people. It is fundamentally anti meritocratic. Those who predicted that Obama’s ethnicity would prove a political disadvantage got it badly wrong. Far from being his Achilles heel, it proved an advantage, given the extent to which the liberal media (and intelligentsia) indulged him on little other basis.
Of course it is hard to escape the symbolic triumph in a man of African descent winning the Presidency. America is indeed scarred by a terrible legacy of slavery, racial segregation and prejudice, a legacy which blighted the lives of so many of its citizens for decades. It is genuinely warming to see that in the land of opportunity, a man of ethnicity can achieve the pinnacle of success and live out the American dream.
But the election is not a sudden transformation of the USA from rabid racism to progressive values. America was already progressive and enlightened, the very reason that so many people have admired it for so long. Years before the Obamaocracy, Condoleeza Rice was elected Secretary of State, making her perhaps the most powerful African-American in the world. Who elected her? That notorious Great Satan, George W Bush, the opponent of progressives everywhere.
Yes, Obama has some truly special qualities, foremost among them that he is an orator of genius whose personality and charisma have transformed the American political scene. As I stated in my earlier post, for Obama to beat the Clinton machine and get millions more black voters to the polling booths was no mean feat. It does demonstrate that, at the very least, he has great reserves of resilience which will be tested to the full in the coming years.
None of what I have said is meant to detract from the scale of Obama's win or to suggest that it was not deserved. But character and charisma take you only so far. He will shortly be confronted with a series of challenges, both at home and abroad, that will require a great deal more than the mantra of ‘change we can believe in.’ Given the immense scale of the ‘change’ he has promised, he is likely to disappoint an awful lot of voters. The walk on water will have to wait just a little longer.
Where freedom dares to breathe its name 13 November, 2008
The Centre for Social Cohesion (socialcohesion.co.uk) has just produced a lengthy report (‘Victims of Intimidation’) outlining the ways in which critics of Islam have been harassed by Islamist extremists. Case after case is recounted in which prominent European journalists, politicians and academics have been attacked for their outspoken beliefs.
One example is Belgian senator, Mimount Bousakla, whose book ‘Couscous with fries’ dealt in part with women’s rights in Islam. She criticized forced marriages and opposed fundamentalist influences in Belgian mosques. As senator she has highlighted women’s rights issues within the country’s Muslim community. She subsequently received phone calls telling her she would be subject to ‘ritual killing’ and was forced to seek police protection.
Naser Khader, a Danish MP, came to attention in 1996 when he drew attention to negative aspects of traditional Arab and Islamic culture. He later spoke out in favour of Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper which published satirical cartoons about the prophet Muhammad. In the wake of the subsequent protests, he set up a group called ‘Democratic Muslims’ in order to sow the world that not all Muslims were intolerant fanatics bent on overthrowing democracy. But as a result of establishing this group he began to receive death threats and had to receive 24hour police protection.
And the cases can be multiplied. What is even more disturbing than the blatant attempt by Muslim fanatics to condemn extremism is the spineless response of European governments. The report concludes:
‘Indeed, when many of these individuals began to receive threats from members of their own communities and their co-religionists, many governments began to treat them not as full citizens who deserved the full support of the law but as a people apart; as people who are not expected to enjoy the same rights and freedoms as native Europeans, who should not aspire to the same goals of self-expression and self-determination; who should not expect the same freedom to criticise and satirise their own religions and traditions.’
And why is this? In a word: appeasement. The classic symptom of this was the lily livered reaction to the publication of the Danish cartoons in 2005 which involved a torrent hand wringing and apologies – to Europe’s offended Muslims. The refusal by mainstream politicians to stand up for Jyllands-Posten and the beleaguered cartoonists sent a clear signal to the Islamists that intimidation and violence would pay. And these were Western European governments that were committed to upholding the sacrosanct values of freedom of speech and expression.
Every democratic government has the responsibility to uphold its citizens’ freedom of expression, provided that this does not involve harm to others. As it is stated in the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
‘A world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.’
Baby P - A tragedy on many levels 16 November, 2008
The more we read about the horrific case of Baby P, the more obscene it becomes. It is a tale so heartbreaking that we cannot read it without weeping; a case of unimaginable and depraved cruelty committed by the most vicious members of our underclass. It can hardly fail to have touched those who forced themselves to read this story.
Compounding this human tragedy is a terrible catalogue of incompetence and unprofessional behaviour from Haringey’s ‘Child Protection’ services. We now know that social workers made numerous visits to the boy and collected ample evidence of his injuries, yet made no decision to remove him from his mother. Social workers even failed to detect that there were 7 other people living in the house with Baby P, including the boy’s two male tormentors, one of them a neo Nazi sadist. Just 4 days before he died, a social worker saw the baby but found very little to concern her. Two days before he died, a paediatrician failed to detect that the boy had suffered several cracked ribs and a broken spine. However 7 months before the boy died, another pediatrician, Dr Heather Mackinnon, discovered non accidental injuries on the child and recommended that he should not be sent home to his mother. This advice was not followed.
To make matters worse, the whistleblower at the heart of this case, NevRes Kamal, wrote to Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt months before baby P died, asserting that there were serious problems with Haringay’s social services. She was then gagged by Haringey and found herself the target of child abuse allegations, which were subsequently dropped. That was how a child protection unit responded to someone publicizing their failure to protect children – to pursue her with obscene allegations and smear tactics. These are tactics worthy of the Stasi.
In the light of this staggering collective incompetence, it simply beggars belief that Sharon Shoemith, the director of Haringay’s children services, has found no reason to sack or retrain any of her staff; indeed no reason even to apologize for her department’s handling of this tragic case. Of course people should have been sacked and profuse apologies made. But in Brown’s bloated public sector state, there is an arrogant disregard for the public at the top echelons of power. Certainly, social workers work in difficult conditions and have to meet some truly intimidating families. But to argue that this local body deserves a clean bill of health, as Ms Shoesmith would have us believe, is beyond perverse.
But the responsibility for this tragedy, and so many other terrible cases of abuse, has deeper roots in the misguided judgments of our political class. Why? Because for nearly half a century our welfare addicted politicians encouraged the growth of family breakdown and fatherlessness through their socialized welfare system. While the state was busy lionizing the prevailing culture of ‘alternative lifestyles’ in the 1960s, single mothers found themselves the recipients of enormous largesse courtesy of taxpayers. Subsidized rent was followed by council tax and housing benefit while at the same time, hard working families with children struggled to make ends meet. As the benefits of having children out of wedlock increased, the number of single parent families rocketed while households were characterized by absent fathers and increasing worklessness. This was hardly the fault of the single mothers, for what incentive for work were they being given by the state?
Naturally the left, with their well established antipathy to traditional values, lionized these new lifestyle choices and refused to be judgemental. But as natural fathers became increasingly absent, the chances of children growing up with their mother’s latest live in boyfriend also increased, raising with it the likelihood that these (step)children would become the victims of abuse. One study from the United States found that it was nearly 100 times more likely that a child could be harmed by its stepfather than by its natural one. Leaving aside the question of abuse, we know that children of lone parents are more likely to leave school early, have under age sex, take drugs and become offenders. Again, not in every case but the statistical likelihood rises compared to children in two parent families.
Of course this is not to demonize stepfathers and single mothers any more than it is to suggest that child abuse suddenly kicked off in the 1960s. We know that most stepfathers make suitable parents and that child abuse has been with us for centuries. But welfarist policy has played a key role in breaking down the traditional family structure and creating an epidemic of fatherlessness with all the socially damaging consequences that have followed.
The forces of the ‘progressive’ left who saw this coming, who lauded the decline of traditional values, and who condemned (and still condemn) their critics as right wing, reactionary bigots – let them hang their heads in shame.
Mumbai 27 November, 2008
This article has been reproduced at www.westminsterjournal.com. This site is popular with MPs and others in the Westminster establishment.
As the horror of the Mumbai bombings sinks in, we witness once more the lethal effects of Islamist terror. More than 100 people slain, dozens horribly injured and traumatized, buildings in flames and a nation bewildered by this unspeakable carnage. This latest atrocity carried out by vicious ideologues in the name of Islam had all the hallmarks of an Al Qaeda inspired attack – murderous co-ordinated strikes at Western innocents using maximum violence to publicize a cause. One of the buildings seized was the Mumbai headquarters of Chabad, the orthodox Jewish outreach group. Once again we are reminded that the jihad against the Jews plays such a prominent role in radical Islam’s war with the West.
The central target appears to have been the iconic Taj Mahal hotel, built at the height of British imperial rule in 1903. It was here that gunmen opened fire on wealthy Indians and foreigners and held others hostage. The hotel is a splendid symbol of Indian opulence and grandeur, a glamourous testament to the ultimate benefits of Western prosperity. It has been frequented, for that very reason, by members of our own Royal family as well as Presidents and businessmen. It is a famous landmark in a city noted for being the economic and entertainment capital of the Indian subcontinent.
Now think about New York’s World Trade Centre, a potent symbol of American economic power that was iconic for its architectural modernity and cosmopolitan image. The building was consumed by fire, just as the flames of hatred flicker through the floors of the Taj Mahal Hotel. These jihadis wanted to destroy life and inflict as much suffering as possible. But they also wanted to drive home their warped utopian vision that an Islamist India, ruled by Sharia law, would never tolerate Western values, interference or influence. The singling out of Western foreigners was part of that hateful message.
The arrest of Damien Green should worry us all 1 December, 2008
Damien Green was guilty of revealing the government’s immigration lies – his arrest is an outrageous infringement of Parliamentary freedom.
When I first heard about the arrest of Damien Green, certain thoughts began to race through my mind. What breach of national security had the poor man committed? Had he broken the Official Secrets Act and released sensitive material to the public? Had he unwittingly given information that could help our enemies abroad? Clearly there had to be some reason why the police acted in such an appallingly heavy handed and draconian manner.
It now emerges that the Home Office believe Mr Green might have been ‘grooming’ a Home Office official, a Conservative supporter and former Parliamentary candidate, to provide information for Mr. Green to leak. In other words, the civil servant stands accused of being a Tory mole whose independence has been compromised by Mr. Green.
Now let’s be clear about one thing. Members of Parliament should never be above the law. In a modern parliamentary democracy they are charged with making our laws and they must jolly well abide by them too. But the law that Mr. Green is alleged to have broken is a rather archaic one relating to ‘misconduct in a public office.’ He is specifically accused of ‘aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in public office.’
This law is designed to crack down on public servants who subvert the law to their own advantage, such as Treasury officials who siphon off thousands of pounds of taxpayers money to line their own pockets. It is not designed to crack down on politicians who receive important information from Whitehall whistleblowers – information moreover that is in the public interest. (Whether the whistleblower is protected is a different matter).
On the face of it Mr. Green, with the help of his whistleblower friend, was doing a highly effective job in exposing ministerial incompetence. Remember the story about 5,000 illegal immigrants working as security guards in Whitehall, and the Home Secretary trying to cover it up. (I wrote about this on 16th November 2007) This was clearly a matter in the public interest, it did not violate national security (though the fact that illegal immigrants were working in such sensitive posts arguably was) and the public deserved to know about it. Were the Tory opposition to have returned the security documents to their relevant Whitehall bunker, they would have been guilty of a gross dereliction of duty. It is hard to imagine a Labour opposition before 1997 turning a blind eye to such a ‘scoop.’
On Sunday AM yesterday, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, showed not one iota of contrition for Mr. Green’s appalling treatment. She was upholding, she claimed, the principle of the police’s ‘operational independence’ and it would have been wrong to halt their investigation. This was disingenuous nonsense. The police carried out a brutal, heavy handed operation in which Green’s offices were ransacked, his documents taken and his home invaded. If the Home Secretary was unwilling to question such activity, she should not have been in her post. For Jacqui Smith, read also the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin.
The Damien Green affair is doubly sad. It is bad enough that a Member of Parliament was arrested for no good reason with ministers and officials failing to stop it. This cack handed action has also silenced (hopefully only temporarily) an effective opposition spokesman who was busy exposing the government’s lies on immigration. All opinion polls show that unrestricted immigration remains a key concern of the British electorate. This is not, as the liberal media would have us believe, because we are all bone headed, visceral racists clinging to outdated dreams of a white Britannia, but because of genuine concerns about the scale of migration.
Since 1997, we have quite simply lost control of our borders in the most botched social experiment in decades. The result has been an unprecedented increase in population, the creation of ethnic ghettos, social alienation and an army of illegal workers. How can a credible opposition challenge such failure without occasionally using information from a disgruntled whistleblower? Labour in opposition had no qualms about this.
So Damien Green is guilty by one count – he has revealed the truth about New Labour’s criminal negligence. His heavy handed and unnecessary arrest has compromised our democratic principles and will have immense repercussions.
Buck passing from the Speaker 4 December, 2008
So do we believe the Speaker of the House, Michael Martin, when he says that the clinching issue in the arrest of Damien Green was the fact that the police did not have an arrest warrant? If that was such an important matter, then the spotlight has to turn on the sycophantic serjeant at arms, Jill Pay, who ought to have demanded to see a police warrant. It reflects badly on the police who did not possess the warrant but, above all, it shows up the Speaker in the worst light. He should have strained every sinew to ensure that the police had the necessary paperwork. Instead he has shifted the blame on to others in an egregious frenzy of political buck passing.
In any case, the police warrant is a red herring. So too is the argument, made too frequently in the past week, that the Parliamentary privilege of MPs somehow excuses them, in principle, from being raided by the police. MPs possess (absolute) privilege to the extent that anything they say in the House of Commons (and recorded in Hansard) cannot be used against them later as evidence during a prosecution. They have immunity from prosecution in virtue of what they say on the floor of the Commons, though not outside the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. However, this is not designed to protect the ‘activities’ of MPs in the House or outside it. Thus, as I pointed out in Monday’s blog, the principle of MPs being subject to the law is sacrosanct.
No, the issue at stake is that the law which Mr. Green is alleged to have broken does not really apply to MPs who receive (and then pass on) confidential information from whistleblowers – provided (again this is crucial) that that information does not violate national security. The information that has emerged from Mr. Green’s office (and which has embarrassed the Home Secretary and the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, Sir David Normington), so far as we can tell, does not violate national security in any way. If it did, it is hard to see how it could have appeared in print. After all, a High Court judge could simply have handed down an injunction on any paper daring to publish such sensitive material.
Naturally the Home Secretary, like any minister, has the right to be concerned at leaks from civil servants, that is, officials who are supposed to follow the civil service code. Let those civil servants be investigated by the relevant authorities, including the police if necessary. But do not arrest MPs who are merely the fortunate beneficiaries of leaked information.
Pakistan is a breeding ground for terror 15 December, 2008
On his recent trip to the Asian subcontinent, Gordon Brown named Pakistan as an epicentre of terror. He said that ‘three quarters of the most serious plots investigated by the British authorities have links to al-Qaeda in Pakistan’. He declared: ‘We must break the chain of terrorism that links the mountains of Afghanistan to the streets of Britain.’ What an epiphany! At last Mr Brown is prepared to use the t word, rather than resort to vacuous, limp language that describes suicide bombers as militants.
Of course, there is a chain of terrorism linking tribal areas in Pakistan to the streets of London, and New York and Paris for that matter. Of course we know that Muslim bombers have been indoctrinated by fanatical ideologues who are intent on spreading their lethal jihadist doctrines across the globe. The 7/7 bombers, who carried out the worst terrorist atrocity on British soil, received their terrorist education in Pakistan.
So what does the Prime Minister propose? There needs to be, in his words, ‘increased British support for Pakistani counter-terrorism work’, support for ‘Pakistani police work on detecting and defusing bombs’, a British fund for ‘scanning equipment at Pakistani airports’ and help with ‘forensic science for major terrorist incidents.’
All of these measures can be useful. No doubt, our security services operate a highly sophisticated system of counter terrorism that is the envy of many less developed nations. But alarm bells should be ringing. For a start, the amount of money proposed, namely £6 million, is a trifle compared to the vast sums (some $10 billion) poured by the United States into the Pakistani military over the last 8 years to tackle the tribal areas on the Afghan/Pakistan borders. Despite this largesse, the Pakistani Taleban is thriving in these lawless border regions, which remain a focal point for global terror plots.
Secondly, Brown is dealing with the symptoms, not the causes of terror. For decades Pakistan has been a breeding ground of Islamic terror. It has thousands of madrassahs which are, in the words of Ariel Cohen, senior policy advisor for the Heritage Foundation, ‘factories of terror.’ These alternative schools give various forms of religious instruction and, in many cases, lessons in jihadist violence and terror. You cannot tackle terror without closing down the centres of ideological brainwashing that churn out terrorists. It is like trying to defeat the hydra by cutting off one of its 100 heads.
Tackling madrassahs that promote the jihad, arresting fanatics who preach terror, shutting down ‘factories of terror,’ and using cash to develop the lawless tribal areas should be the least we expect from a nominally pro Western government in Karachi. But if $10 billion can’t do the trick, it is unlikely that Brown’s tiny contribution will.
President elect Obama has already said that Afghanistan is the crucial arena for tackling Islamist terror. One of Obama’s first foreign policy challenges will be to push President Zardari to take effective action in the tribal areas. He should push Zardari to tackle militants, secure the border with Afghanistan, disrupt terror plots, close madrassahs and arrest terrorist ideologues. If Zardari cannot deliver the goods, more US airstrikes will surely (and rightly) follow.
Brown’s remedy for Pakistani inspired terror does not go far enough then. But at least he has offered a belated public acknowledgment that radical Islam is a global problem which cannot be dealt with on a national basis alone. Tackling Islamist terror, and the rogue regimes that fund it, remains one of the central political struggles of our time. It is not a struggle we can afford to lose.
Channel 4 joins the ranks of the disgraced 26 December 2008
Right, it’s time to break the self imposed silence that was promised last week. Think back to last year when President Bollinger of Columbia University disgraced himself after allowing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to address his students. Remember how the Iranian President used the speech for political propaganda, attacking his enemies subtly while wearing the veil of a peacenik.
Well now Channel 4 has joined the ranks of the disgraced with a similar piece of ‘self indulgent liberalism’. Their decision yesterday to give Ahmadinejad airtime for an 'alternative Christmas message' has been rightly derided as ‘sick’ and idiotic. As predicted, the message of Christmas peace was nothing but a clever smokescreen for an Islamist assault on the West and his principal enemies, America and Israel. Take this appalling diatribe within the speech:
‘If Christ were on earth today, undoubtedly He would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers. If Christ were on earth today, undoubtedly He would hoist the banner of justice and love for humanity to oppose warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies the world over.’
Well we all know who the ‘warmongers, occupiers and terrorists’ are, don’t we? According to head of news and current affairs Dorothy Byrne: ‘As the leader of one of the most powerful states in the Middle East, president Ahmadinejad’s views are enormously influential. We are offering our viewers an insight into an alternative world view.’
This is a load of self serving tosh. In reality, this is the most cynical of stunts, designed to stir controversy in order to boost the Channel’s flagging ratings. They may well have succeeded in that respect. But if there are no limits to sparking controversy, where do we draw the line? As Zimbabwe and North Korea will be in the news in the next 12 months, are we to see Robert Mugabe or Kim Jong Il addressing the British public, despite these leaders' horrendous human rights records. Would Channel 4 executives have invited Joseph Goebbels to deliver an alternative Christmas message at the height of the Blitz? It would certainly have stirred controversy.
As for the ‘alternative world view,’ it is espoused by a ranting religious fanatic and Holocaust denying Judaeophobe whose regime has persecuted homosexuals, dissidents and teenagers for fun. Through its support for Iraqi insurgents, the regime is stained by the blood of our soldiers. But the fact that the Islamic Republic is in a state of de facto war with this country is apparently no bar to giving its leader airtime in the British media.
A bigoted and dangerous tyrant has been allowed to deliver a politicized attack on his enemies with the connivance of a public service broadcaster. It would be laughable were it not so tragic.
Lessons to learn from Gaza 27 December, 2008
Israel’s air strikes against Gaza today were inevitable. After Hamas repeatedly broke the Egyptian sponsored phony ceasefire, and after their militants fired hundreds of rockets indiscriminately into Israel’s border towns, it was only a matter of time before there would be a heavy response.
Already, the BBC pictures suggest a massacre, with Palestinian authorities all too willing to create political ‘facts’ on the ground before the real facts are known. But we should treat with caution the figure of 200 dead which has been disseminated across the world. The Palestinians are notorious for ramping up casualties, as they did in the Jenin ‘massacre’ of 2002. But even if we accept the figure, it may not be composed of non combatants alone but of terrorists, policemen and an assortment of other Hamas hangers on.
Though civilian casualties are terrible, we should never forget how cynically Palestinian extremists resort so readily to the use of human shields. As Mark Regev (Israeli spokesman) pointed out today, Hamas’ centres of terrorist operations are frequently and deliberately sited near civilian areas. Thus even the use of surgical air strikes is bound to lead to civilian deaths.
At least three lessons should be learnt from all this. Firstly all those within Israel’s political establishment who call for ‘deals’ with Hamas are deluded. It is not just that the Hamas Charter, which is virulently anti semitic, calls for the destruction of Israel. Even with a ceasefire in place, rockets were still fired into Israeli towns day after day by Gazan terrorists. Hamas’ truce (hudna) is not worth the paper it is written on.
Secondly, the Arab-Israeli peace talks are futile so long as the Islamic Republic of Iran remains a viable Middle East player. Iran is the chief sponsor and financer of the Hamas terror machine and right now, no Western power is willing to derail the country’s nuclear aspirations. As a result, Iran continues to destabilise the Middle East by empowering its terrorist proxies in the region.
Thirdly, Israel cannot afford to unilaterally withdraw from disputed territory. In 2000, the Jewish state hastily withdrew from Lebanon, creating a security vacuum that was exploited by Hezbollah. The war of 2006 showed the world the deadly but predictable results. In 2005 the Jewish state evacuated Gaza and thousands of its settlers, effectively handing the territory on a plate to Hamas. The attritional terrorism of the last three years was the inevitable consequence. Were Israel to leave the West Bank tomorrow with no guarantee of security, it would constitute a grave dereliction of duty to the country’s civilians. Withdrawal from territory with a viable security infrastructure in place, and with an end to incitement, is an altogether different matter.
Bogus arguments in Gaza 30 December, 2008
‘Disproportionate force.’ ‘Excessive force.’ Are these words becoming increasingly familiar to you? If there has been one consistent critique of Israel’s actions in Gaza in the last 3 days, it is that the IDF has used excessive force in a disproportionate display of military might against Hamas. Indeed this has become a regular feature of commentary from even pro Israeli papers, such as the Daily Telegraph. Thus the Telegraph’s Sean Rayment declared on Saturday that Israel was ‘addicted to violence’ following its shock and awe tactics on the first day of fighting. Other papers look at the difference in the casualty figures (3 dead Israelis for 300 dead Palestinians) and draw their own conclusions. In a sense, this is simply a case of history repeating itself. Hark back to the 2006 Lebanon war where you will find the same arguments about disproportionality, excessive force and so on.
This is obviously a bogus argument but one which demands a little attention. In one sense, Israel has used disproportionate force in Gaza. If you compare the firepower of each side, Israel clearly has superior weaponry and ammunition and has used it to devastating effect. If you compare the loss of life on each side then yes, the ratio of death is unequal in Israel and Gaza. Far fewer Israelis have been victims of Hamas rocket attacks than Palestinians from Israeli counter attacks.
But wait a second. Who started this latest round of fighting? Why Hamas, and their Iranian friends! Not only did they fire rockets at Israeli towns when the ‘ceasefire’ ended on December 19th but they were firing rockets during the ceasefire and before. Since 2002, the citizens of southern Israeli towns have been beleaguered by Gazan terrorists. 6,000 rockets have been fired indiscriminately in 6 years of unrelenting terror. This is war by any standard, conducted by terror groups intent on destroying the Jewish state.
In a war situation, the government under attack is not required to resort to minimal force. Quite simply, they use all the force they can muster to defeat the other side, preferably using overwhelming firepower in the initial stages of conflict to paralyze their enemy. It could hardly be any other way.
Look at it from another point of view. Israel takes care to protect its citizens from rocket attacks by building a sophisticated system of shelters. By contrast, Hamas puts its citizens in harm’s way by using them as human shields, then cries foul when these civilians are killed. If Israel were to turn its citizens into human shields in order to equalise the number of casualties, would that be morally better? If Israel were to make primitive Katyusha rockets and fire them indiscriminately at crowded Palestinian population centres, that might involve more ‘proportionality’ force but it would hardly satisfy the conscience of the world.
But if Israel’s firepower is disproportionate, that does not mean that the response per se is. A genuinely proportionate response means that the country under attacks does everything it needs to weaken and paralyze an enemy nation. It does not exact revenge on civilians, nor does it engage in vindictive displays of military might or carry out atrocities. It defends itself using all necessary means.
Of course in this current round of fighting, Israel should take (and is taking) all steps to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties. Mistakes will inevitably (and tragically) occur and human shield victims will multiply, as they have done in Afghanistan and Iraq. But Israel is fighting a battle, not just against implacable Islamist terrorists but against a barrage of Hamas’ propaganda, and the usual assortment of left wing journalists, NGOs and international do gooders who willingly swallow this propaganda. Isn’t truth always the first casualty of war?
Media bile from the right too 31 December, 2008
The media bile that has been directed towards Israel in recent days has come from friend and foe alike. In an article in The Telegraph today, Tim Butcher argues rather naively that the Israeli action in Gaza has torpedoed the peace process between the Jewish state and the Palestinians. He writes: ‘As the smoke continues to rise over Gaza, the tragic truth is that the hopes of wider peace in the Middle East now lie in ashes.’
He goes on: ‘After decades of turmoil, violence and disagreement, the celestial bodies of international relations had shifted into rare alignment. Israel and a moderate Palestinian leadership under Fatah’s current chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, were actually prepared to sit down and forge two new countries: Israel, without much of the land it occupied in 1967, and a state called Palestine.’
Er, not quite. In fact Mr. Abbas, far from being a modern political messiah, remains addicted to the bogus right of return for Palestinian refugees. He is on record as saying that he will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state and has done nothing to stop anti semitic demonization in the West Bank. Some peace partner!
But the naivety does not end there: ‘As well as undermining Mr. Abbas’s moderate leadership, the air assault has a regional impact of even greater significance. Talks between Syria and Israel, brokered by Turkey, have now been called off. It is hard to exaggerate how disappointing this is. Britain has long argued that the key to peace in the Holy Land lies on the road to Damascus. Syria is a key sponsor not just of Hamas but of Hezbollah, the militant group that draws from Lebanon’s Shia minority and that has proved such a menace to Israel.’
Oh please! As if the talks between Israel and Syria were actually likely to go anywhere. If Syria wanted to come out of the diplomatic cold, it would already have broken its strategic alliance with Iran and stopped the funding of its proxies in Lebanon and Gaza. The fact that there has not been a fundamental re-alignment in the Syrian-Iranian-Hamas-Hezbullah relationship surely tells its own story.
Butcher digs a bigger hole for himself: ‘Op Cast Lead is proving a powerful recruiting drive for Hamas, encouraging thousands of young men to join, not just in Gaza but, more importantly, in the West Bank.’
Maybe Israel’s actions will have that unintended consequence. But what Butcher fails to address is what choice Israel has in the face of an unrelenting campaign of terror. When you have nearly one eighth of your population (the figure is 700,000) within range of rocket attacks, you don’t stand by idly while the casualties mount. You act of necessity; you respond. That is the prerogative of a sovereign government that wants to protect its citizens and stop them becoming body parts.
Butcher claims that this action is motivated by the forthcoming elections, with Livni and Kadima desperate to show Israelis that they are as tough as Netanyahu’s hawkish Likud. He writes: ‘Israeli voters like strong leaders. By ordering an unprecedented air assault on Gaza, Miss Livni is now able to present herself as someone in that mould. Her polling numbers have already begun to tick up.’
But that is hardly a critique of the action, unless you can prove that Israel has no right, or need, to be launching these attacks against Hamas. But that argument is hard to sustain when you consider how Southern Israeli towns have come under continual bombardment from Gazan terrorists over the last few months and years. No country would exercise a self denying ordinance on behalf of their citizens while those same citizens were forced into bunkers every day by rocket attacks. One would have thought this point so obvious that only the bigoted fanatics of the left would demur. But no. It would seem that commentators on all sides are asleep on the job.