More attacks on Israel - and the moral equivalence goes on

1 January, 2011

At least 35 rockets have been fired from Gaza onto towns and cities in southern Israel in the last 36 hours. One Israeli has died and 4 others have been injured in an ongoing escalation of terror from Hamas and Islamic jihad. Schools have been shut in many areas, affecting 200,000 people. In response, Israel has targeted some of the cells carrying out the attacks, killing at least 10 terrorists. At least 3 obvious lessons suggest themselves here:

1) No matter what concessions Israel makes, she will be faced with a terror threat, whether from Gaza, Lebanon or (in time) the West Bank. Indeed the more concessions Israel makes in these areas, the more she will pay for them. This is because the respective parties remain intransigent foes who will interpret goodwill gestures as signs of weakness and retreat, not strength. As evidence, we have Israel's continual goodwill to the PLO from 1993-6 which saw an increase in terror attacks, the Taba talks which were followed by the second intifada, the retreat from Lebanon which led to the costly war in 2006 and the Gaza pullout in 2005, leading to nearly 10,000 rockets being fired onto southern Israeli towns.

2) There is little western goodwill following the Schalit release. Instead we have a renewal of the conventional wisdom about this conflict, as well as the spurious forms of moral equivalence that now characterise the west's misguided and incompetent foreign policy. That was in evidence today when Caroline Ashton, the EU's foreign minister in all but name, declared:

I wholeheartedly condemn the indiscriminate targeting of civilians where ever they are. I call on all sides to respect the ceasefire brokered by Egypt.

The reference to 'where ever they are' suggests that civilians are being targeted in both Gaza and Israel, which is obscene. Firstly, there is no evidence of Palestinian civilian dead but in any case, Israel strives on every occasion to avoid killing non combatants. Second, it is clear that one side is declaring war (and has long declared war) on the other, namely Hamas on Israel. Israel is entitled to defend itself with vigour until its citizens stop coming under rocket fire. To call on the country to observe a ceasefire after such belligerent provocation is tantamount to declaring that it should not be able to defend itself, or establish its deterrence vis a vis its enemies.

But at least Ashton recognises that there are attacks coming from Gaza that precipitate an Israeli response. As Melanie Phillips observes on her own blog, after 24 hours there was barely a mention on the BBC of what led to the Israeli counter strikes in the region. This can only have led to people assuming that Israel was responsible for an increase in tension.

3) Israel is damned no matter how much restraint she shows. Therefore it is essential that she re-establishes her deterrent strength vis a vis Hamas, especially now that the Schalit deal has undermined it.

Footnote added 31/10. In view of the increased terror in the last few hours, that deterrence is urgently needed.


Beware Western luminaries predicting a bright outcome in Egypt's revolution.

31 January, 2011

To outsiders, Egypt appears to be on the cusp of a democratic revolution right now. The masses that are defying government curfews and marching against autocracy have been likened to the green movement in Iran, and even to the protestors in Eastern Europe who tore down the Berlin Wall in 1989. Now they have a democratic figurehead in Mohammed El-Baradei as well as growing support for change from Western politicians.

The problem is that it is not entirely clear in what direction this revolution is heading. Western commentators often make the classic mistake of imposing a Western viewpoint on the Arab ‘street’. They seem to assume that liberal and democratic government is the only alternative to Mubarak's military rule and that the ousting of this dictator will generate better outcomes for the country and the region. (Of course the classic Western delusion is that the Arab street is aggravated solely or mainly by the Israeli occupation, a notion whose credibility has been torn to shreds - but we knew that already.)

But the point about democracy is that it cannot be built overnight. A country needs the institutions of democracy, such as a free press, a functioning police force and an independent judiciary. It also requires political parties to be committed to democratic reform and liberal ideals, rather than seeing elections as the means by which to attain power and then stifle democracy. An autocracy that has ruled through fear cannot suddenly transform itself into a Western style state.

In fact Mubarak's removal could lead to a number of scenarios, some of which are deeply injurious to Western interests. For one thing, Mubarak could come under pressure from the army to resign, paving the way for a hardline successor, such as his vice president, Omar Suleiman. This would breathe new life into the military dictatorship but do little to quell popular discontent. Alternatively, there could be a dismantling of the regime and political elections. That could lead to a stable transition to a democracy, perhaps under El-Baradei or another emerging populist figure or it could lead to gridlock.

The worst outcome would be the populist election of a government dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood, the banned Islamist group with links to Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbullah, has championed the revolution against Mubarak from the start. In recent days, two leaders of the Brotherhood have been set free from prisons by a mob and received a rapturous reception in Cairo, an ominous sign of things to come.

A government led by such people would seek to undermine the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979 in every possible way. Short of abrogating the treaty, which would lead to the loss of substantial military aid from the US, they would no doubt end all intelligence co-operation with Israel, including on vital border issues in Gaza. They could assist jihadis across the region at a time when the West is at war with radical Islam, helping to ignite a serious regional conflagration just when the West does not need it. If the views of ordinary Egyptians are anything to go by, there is a visceral loathing for Israel which would be translated into hardline fundamentalist opposition. (It is hardly a surprise that the Israelis are desperate to see Mubarak cling to power, if only because an Islamist dominated Egypt would prove a catastrophe for the Jewish state's security).

The Brotherhood in power would not be benign, as Daniel Hannan suggests in today's Telegraph. It would blow apart the assumptions that have long underpinned the West’s (and Israel’s) regional strategy for three decades. Jihadis are not necessarily tamed by elections as a quick observation of Gaza and Tehran will tell you. There elections have been used to undermine democracy as we understand it.

This is not to suggest that democracy is wrong for the Arab world. Liberal governance is the birthright of every people. But democracy cannot be built on shaky foundations, certainly not in a tough neighbourhood where radical religious fundamentalism has taken root so powerfully. Anyone who claims to know the outcome of this revolution, or who declares that it will be benign, is probably a fool.

Egypt is about to head in a very uncertain direction.


The Guardian sinks into the moral abyss

27 January, 2011

Yesterday the Guardian took an unprecedented step into the journalistic gutter, abandoning any pretence to integrity. Following its revelations in 'Palileaks,' the paper published a full length article by a leading Hamas spokesman, Osama Hamdan who ended his diatribe against the PA by promising that there would be 'practical measures' taken to 'protect our cause.'

The paper was giving prominent coverage to an organisation whose charter was full of vicious, anti semitic conspiratorial language and which remains dedicated to the outright destruction of Israel. Funny that the Guardian claims that the two state solution is the only game in town, yet indulges the advocates of a one state approach. Worse, they published a letter from the academic Ted Honderich which must be quoted in full to be believed:

The revelations in detail (Report, 25 January) of the intransigent greed, the escape from decency, of Israeli governments in negotiation with our selected leaders of the Palestinians, serve one purpose among others. They provide a further part of what is now an overwhelming argument for a certain proposition. It is that the Palestinians have a moral right to their terrorism within historic Palestine against neo-Zionism. The latter, neither Zionism nor of course Jewishness, is the taking from the Palestinians of at least their autonomy in the last one-fifth of their historic homeland. Terrorism, as in this case, can as exactly be self-defence, a freedom struggle, martyrdom, the conclusion of an argument based on true humanity, etc.

The statement in italics is arguably an incitement to terror, in direct contravention of the Terrorism Act 2000. A person commits an offence if 'he incites another person to commit an act of terrorism wholly or partly outside the United Kingdom' and where it is understood that the motive is political or religious.

But wait, it gets worse, much worse. As the excellent CIF Watch reports, the paper's editors descended even further into the moral gutter after they published yesterday a cartoon by the notorious anti semitic cartoonist, Carlos Latuff. Look at other examples of his 'work' and you can see what a depraved racist he really is. This is ugliness and bigotry taken to the furthest extremes and by giving this individual a platform, the Guardian has helped to transform itself into Britain's Der Stuermer.


The Palestinian papers (if true) destroy the left's credibility

24 January, 2011

A major sign of pathology is when you remain impervious to the facts. Judged by that standard, the left's view of Israel is patently pathological as the reaction to the explosive release of Palestinian documents reveals so clearly. The reaction from the Guardian, the BBC, Channel 4 news and other left/liberal outlets is to express rage at Israeli 'intransigence' and, more so, bitter hostility to the PA's leaders who are collectively viewed as surrender monkeys. The Guardian editorial today hit out at a 'craven' PA leadership which had given in to Israeli demands for the last decade.

But look more closely and you can see just why the Guardian is so outraged. The central assumption of this anti Israeli paper is that settlements are the prime obstacle to peace in the Middle East. The PA has now made this position look preposterous. If you accept the validity of these documents (a big assumption), it suggests that the Palestinian leaders did not regard settlements as totemic at all. If the PA's leaders were prepared to allow Israel control of nearly every settlement around Jerusalem, why did the Americans, Europeans and our own government regard them as so vital?

The other big story is of the mighty Goliath, Israel, apparently turning down all the generous Palestinian concessions on settlements and the right of return. But again, this is rudely contradicted by another document on the Guardian's website that shows Ehud Olmert offering the PA the vast majority of the West Bank (with agreed land swaps), as well as deals on refugees and settlements. In other words, a deal that appears to mirror the very Palestinian concessions made by Abbas and Erekat. Somehow this Israeli generosity has been airbrushed from the record, proving how the left is wedded to its agenda driven, anti Israeli pathology.

But now consider the Palestinian reaction to the leaks. It is they who are furiously denying making any concessions to Israel and the US for fear of the reaction from the Palestinian street. After all, the idea of reneging on the right of return and sovereignty over Jerusalem is anathema to the majority of Palestinians. Put simply, the PA might have offered concession after concession in private but it dare not have sold these concessions to a sceptical public, something that reveals all too clearly why this tragic conflict continues.


Baroness Warsi's speech

21 January, 2011

It’s rather hard to know what to make of Baroness Warsi after she gave a speech yesterday that was riddled with contradictions, muddled thinking and downright bigotry. Invited to give the annual Sigmund Sternberg lecture, she started by voicing sentiments that seemed perfectly reasonable and sound.

She sought to attack ‘the rising tide of anti-religious bigotry’ and ‘unreasonable, unfounded, irrational bigotry.’ She spoke of a ‘sensationalist media’ that drowned out ‘free speech’ and which made rational discussion of religion almost impossible. Britain is indeed in the grip of such forces. The straitjacket of left-liberal thinking has made a rational discussion of such topics as Islamic extremism, climate change, immigration and multiculturalism taboo for a long time. But this is not what the Baroness was referring to. Instead she had a very different topic in mind. Talking of the ‘belief in equality before the law’ as a key part of British identity she declared:

‘Deep, entrenched anti-Muslim bigotry challenges that tradition...’

For this entrenched anti Muslim bigotry she uses the now ubiquitous term ‘Islamophobia:’

‘For far too many people, Islamophobia is seen as a legitimate – even commendable – thing. You could even say that Islamophobia has now passed the dinner-table-test.’ It has ‘now crossed the threshold of middle class respectability.’

Any rational observer must be left asking what her evidence is for this? Which dinner parties has she been to where discussions about Muslims, and British attitudes to Muslims, now dominate? Does she believe that Islam bashing is now part of polite discourse, considering the British obsession with avoiding offence and being tolerant to others? To harbour unfounded (and completely negative) views about large groups of people is itself a form of irrational prejudice, surely?

To her credit, she does condemn those of her co-religionists who ‘try to justify their criminal conduct and activity by suggesting that it is sanctioned by their faith.’ Muslims, she says, ‘must speak out’ against violence in their name.’ Extremists, she says, are ‘minority of a minority.’ This is true, though with a caveat. Those Muslims who say they support separatism and Sharia law, and who try to justify the extremism of their brethren, are a minority among the British community, yet this is a shockingly large minority if opinion polls are anything to go by. Warsi makes no mention of this.

The problem of extremism, she says, ‘should not lead to unfounded suspicions of all Muslims.’ But surely the majority of sensible people in Britain do realise this and refuse to offer blanket condemnations as a result. That is why they will often make a distinction between Islamists and Muslims, precisely to differentiate between a Muslim majority that quietly embraces their faith and the smaller number who reject secularism and the West, often violently. But this distinction is no good for Warsi.

‘We need to think harder about the language we use. And we should be careful about language around religious “moderates”…We need to stop talking about moderate Muslims, and instead talk about British Muslims.’

So when we do try to make a distinction between moderates and extremists, precisely to avoid tarring all Muslims with the same brush, then we are Islamophobic apparently. Such a view renders the term Islamophobia meaningless.

Worse, she is in denial about the very Islamic dimension of today’s extremism. Talking of Islamist terrorists, she says that ‘These people are extremists, plain and simple, because their behaviour has detached them from the thought process within their religion. But these extremists are radicalised in mosques, madrassahs and university societies which preach a virulent strain of extremist Islam. They are following the thought processes of particular clerics and imams who believe that their faith mandates perpetual warfare against the unbeliever.

She then goes on to say: ‘The other worrying argument that also forms a basis for justifying Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred is the idea that Islam is a particularly violent creed.......and therefore that an irrational reaction to it is somehow appropriate.’

Again, this is a particularly insidious way of addressing the problem. First, it clumps together criticism (whether rational or otherwise) of a faith with hatred of a people, suggesting that one must somehow tolerate a religion if one is not to be a bigoted racist. Second, it ignores the evidence from around the world that Islam does indeed have a violent strain: homosexuals executed in Iran and Saudi Arabia, Christians persecuted in Egypt and Nigeria, the terrorist violence engineered in Pakistani madrassahs, the women oppressed across the world.

Certainly it would be wrong headed to deny that there are some British people who are bigoted towards Muslims. These people are likely to be prejudiced against many ethnic groups and demonstrate a highly unsavoury brand of xenophobia. But they hardly speak for middle Britain.

How ironic that Warsi ends her speech by talking about not ‘burying our heads in the sand and denying the problem...’ She should start by looking at herself.


Overthrowing dictatorships

18 January, 2011

One of the lessons to be learned from the Tunisian revolution is that the received wisdom about what drives the Arab masses is patently false. The riots and violent upheaval in that country appear to have been caused by a mixture of high unemployment, falling living standards and the rising cost of basic commodities, all of which were exacerbated by the country's brutal dictatorship. A toxic combination of economic misery and repression have tipped people over the edge.

But for Western liberals, Arab anger is focused on the grievances of the suffering Palestinians and thus on Israel's perceived crimes. Of course, that analysis is beyond far fetched in this instance. It is hard to believe that the rioting Tunisians were focusing on the alleged iniquities of Israeli behaviour when they took to the streets. As Caroline Glick argues in the Jerusalem Post today:

Like people everywhere, what most interests Arabs is their own standard of living, their relative freedom or lack thereof, and their prospects for the future. Mohammed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old Tunisian college graduate who set himself on fire last month after regime security forces destroyed his unlicensed produce cart did not act as he did because of Israel.

Yet the Western liberal elite, particularly the diplomatic and foreign policy elite, seem to argue that you cannot calm tensions in the Arab world without resolving this burning issue of Israel/Palestine. What this elite have imbibed is the self justifying rhetoric of Arab dictators who look for a scapegoat onto which the natural anger of the masses can be directed. What better scapegoat can there be than the non Arab state of Israel which is pictured as being perpetually at war with the Muslim world. As Glick puts it:

The chief concern of Arab dictators is not Israel, but the prolongation of their grip on power. From their perspective, one of the keys to maintaining their iron grip on power is neutralizing US support for freedom. By arguing that Israel is the root cause of all Arab pathologies, Arab despots put the US on the defensive. Having to defend its support for the hated Jews, the US feels less comfortable criticizing the dictators for their repression of their own people. And without the Americans breathing down their backs, Arab dictators can sleep more or less easily.

The Tunisian dictatorship has now gone and so much the better for that. The obvious lesson, and one which our foreign officer minister refused to accept on last night's Newsnight, is that democracies make much more stable allies for the West than autocracies. Alliances outlast Presidents and Prime Ministers because they do not define the country's politics. By contrast, dictators do not see beyond their own personal rule, making power dependent on their own personality and political whims. Israel is therefore a key strategic ally for the West, both because it is on the front line against radical Islam, but also because its democratic nature gives it the stability that the West requires. The foreign policy elites need to think again.


Time for the educational establishment to wake up

13 January, 2011

Nothing better sums up the wretched state of our education system than the revelation that fewer than 1 in 6 (about 15%) of last year’s GCSE pupils obtained the government’s new baccalaureate. This qualification is awarded to those pupils obtaining five A* to C grades in the core traditional subjects: English, Maths, a foreign language, science and a humanities subject, such as history or geography. In other words, they show who obtained five passes in subjects that are a vital component of modern learning and are essential for understanding the modern world. 85% failed to achieve this, truly a national scandal of epic proportions. We can now see the ever rising annual figures of GCSE attainment for what they are: a deceit on the public and a betrayal of pupils themselves. Year after year, we were assured that educational standards were rising as more and more students got the hallowed 5 passes. Yet this was only because schools were ditching the tougher subjects (sciences and modern languages) and switching increasingly to vocational GNVQs which were absurdly worth 4 GCSEs. All this did was inflate the school’s position in increasingly meaningless league tables, ones which have also failed to reflect those schools (such as Harrow) that have ditched traditional GCSEs altogether. The predictable bleating from teaching unions is merely symptomatic of a debased educational culture which no longer recognises academic excellence, and which seeks an egalitarian approach to examinations. Admittedly, the baccalaureate leaves little room for certain valuable ‘non humanities’ subjects which might be considered a part of the ‘core’ curriculum. But in general, Michael Gove has given Britain’s educational establishment a much needed wake up call. Let’s hope they are listening.


Attacking Palin for the US shooting is itself an abuse of speech

10 January, 2011

The fevered debate that has followed the tragic shootings in Arizona says more about the corrosion of public debate in America than it does about Sarah Palin or the tea party. Already the knives are out for the Republicans and everything associated with America's right which is, as everyone knows, the pure embodiment of evil. If an assassin tried to kill a Democrat congresswoman, that could only be because of the machinations of right wing pundits.

Mr.Loughner could not have acted on his own personal initiative, you see. He was instead driven by the vitriol of talk show hosts, incited to murder by Republican websites, stirred into action by the tea party. Right wing rhetoric has sudden become 'hate speech' of the most incendiary kind. Naturally the left wingers who accuse their opponents of hate speech and then imply that they have indirect responsibility for murder need an irony transplant.

For sure, America's political debate is characterised by personal attacks, unsavoury language and vitriolic abuse. No doubt, that makes supporters of each side that much angrier about their political rivals. But, and this is surely the point, it does not turn them into killers or assassins. We may never know why Mr. Loughner turned his gun on the congresswoman and killed 6 other people, though the Guardian carries an interesting report today that may shed some light on this.

If the report is true, it suggests that this 'socially awkward' loner had a long standing grudge against the Congresswoman which had little to do with right wing rhetoric. In other words, he was a time bomb waiting to go off. In recent years America has seen a succession of such socially inadequate loners using murderous violence to express their rage. This one may prove to be no different to the others.

Perhaps the real lesson from this shooting is not that American politicians need to tone down ad hominem attacks - we knew that already. It is that we all have to live with unpredictable acts of mass violence, and with what Hannah Arendt once called 'the banality of evil.' That applies to Loughner as much as it applies to Derrick Bird, Raul Moat or any of the other nightmarish killers who target the innocent when they least expect it. And for most of us, that is very hard to take.


Another jihadi massacre – but let’s not call it that

4 January, 2011

The New Year has started with the appalling massacre of 21 Coptic Christians in Egypt. The scenes of misery and devastation, to say nothing of the scale of the destruction, are shocking to behold. This barbarity follows previous attacks on vulnerable Christian communities by Islamist extremists. In December last year in the Philippines, 11 Christians were injured in a bomb attack on their chapel. In December last year, 38 Christians were savagely killed in Nigeria in another Islamist attack. The more one surveys the Arab and Muslim world, the more one sees relentless assaults on beleaguered Christians and on the Christian way of life. From Saudi Arabia to Cairo, from Yemen to Iran, one takes a grave risk in openly professing one's Christian outlook.

So in the light of this most recent barbarity, it was interesting to see how Obama chose his words ever so carefully in his condemnation. To be fair, he condemned the Egyptian bombing forcefully, but he spoke of an attack that killed and injured people from both ‘the Christian and Muslim communities’ and refused to even state the (Islamist) identity of the perpetrators. In other words, it was the usual agenda driven response where political correctness and multiculturalism trumped truth and fairness.

But some people do see the tragic significance of the lame response to these events. The excellent Robin Shepherd in his new year blog has this to say:

It is precisely at this stage in the discussion that we should (but, due to multiculturalist pathologies, do not) bring in the question of Israel and the Jews. For what we are now seeing against Christians has been going on with regard to the Jews for decades. The genocidal anti-Semitism long rife across the Middle East (and long ignored by the media) forms part of a much bigger picture. In common with previous totalitarianisms, it may be Jews first, but there are plenty of others on the list of targets.

Little more needs to be said really.