...Views from mid-Atlantic
23 July 2005

No doubt taken aback, the writer of this Telegraph story falls back on the British penchant for understatement in the lead he puts on his story. "The group portrait of British Muslims painted by YouGov's survey for The Daily Telegraph is at once reassuring and disturbing, in some ways even alarming." That's drivel - there is nothing reassuring about it - it's downright horrifying. Six per cent of the Muslim population of Britain believes the recent bombings in London were fully justified. The Muslim population of Britain is about 1.5 million people, so six percent is 90,000 people. That's an utterly mind-boggling figure - there's no not seeing the trees for the forest in that statistic. The Survey shows that nearly a quarter of the Muslims in Britain sympathise with the bombers.

I imagine that's why there has been so little reaction in Britain to statements like this one, in which an official of the Muslim Association of Britain, says the danger to Britain will remain as long as British forces stay in Iraq. Or this one, from a man the London Times says has lived in Britain on state handouts since being deported from Saudi Arabia as an extremist 20 years ago.

"Speaking 15 days after bombers killed over 50 people in London and a day after a series of failed attacks on the city's transport network, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed said the British capital should expect more violence. 'What happened yesterday confirmed that as long as the cause and the root problem is still there...we will see the same effect we saw on July 7,' Bakri said. Bakri, a Syrian-born cleric who...praised the September 11 hijackers, said he did not believe the bombings and attempted attacks on London were carried out by British Muslims."

In the US, there has been a certain rushing to judgement on the British reaction to the bombings - this piece by Irwin M. Stelzer in the Weekly Standard is a good example. In it, Stelzer pokes fun at the British emphasis on a police, as opposed to an armed forces, response to the bombings. He ought to know better. If he'd engaged his brain before he started to type, he'd have realised that if 9/11 had been a home-grown attack, the police and the FBI would have led the response to it, just as the police and the FBI did in the Oklahoma City bombings.

The YouGov statistics, in my mind, demonstrate that Tony Blair's political response to the attacks - to target extremists, not terrorists - is the right one for Britain.

Victor Davis Hansen understands how the British attacks fit into the terrorist strategy, and he understands how to counter them. In his weekly column for the National Review, he points out that "...global jihad avoids two billion Indians and Chinese, despite the fact that their countries are far tougher on Muslims than is the United States or Europe. In other words, the Islamicists target those whom they think they can intimidate and blackmail. Unfettered immigration, billions in cash grants to Arab autocracies, alliances of convenience with dictatorships, triangulation with Middle Eastern patrons of terror, blaming the Jews - civilization has tried all that.

"It is time to relearn the lessons from the Cold War, when we saw millions of noble Poles, Romanians, Hungarians, and Czechs as enslaved under autocracy and a hateful ideology, and in need of democracy before they could confront the Communist terror in their midst. But until the Wall fell, we did not send billions in aid to their Eastern European dictatorships nor travel freely to Prague or Warsaw nor admit millions of Communist-ruled Bulgarians and Albanians onto our shores."

It got sort of lost in the crush of news, but the Jerusalem Post reminds us that UN General Assembly President Jean Ping yesterday issued a revised blueprint for UN reform which world leaders will consider adopting at an upcoming summit. It includes, for the first time ever, a political definition of terrorism. The new draft would have world leaders affirm "that the targeting and deliberate killing of civilians and non-combatants cannot be justified or legitimized by any cause or grievance."

The Post says that "If approved by the leaders in September, the definition could break the impasse over a comprehensive treaty against terrorism, which has been stalled for years over the question of defining a terrorist. That debate has focused especially on the Arab-Israeli conflict. The blueprint issued Friday would commit world leaders to adopting a comprehensive convention against terrorism by September 2006. Negotiations are expected to resume shortly in the UN General Assembly's legal committee, which would have to turn the political definition into legal language. A comprehensive treaty, first proposed by India, would incorporate key elements from more than a dozen anti-terrorism conventions already on the books. The aim is to raise worldwide standards for fighting terrorism."

The London Times has published an obituary which seems to me to illustrate the special individuality of French adventurers. To me, the French doctor and biologist Alain Bombard illustrates the way soft and hard are combined in proportions which are different from those of English adventurers, and very different from those of American adventurers. Bombard achieved worldwide fame in 1952, the Times says, "with a scientific experiment of foolhardy audacity. He set himself to sail alone across the Atlantic in a 15ft Zodiac dinghy in order to show that a human being can survive for weeks if not months by drinking seawater and juice pressed from the flesh of fish.

"On December 23, 1952, 65 days after leaving the Canary Islands, he landed his minuscule craft, appropriately named L'Heretique, on a beach in Barbados. He was emaciated and anaemic but still able to walk the two miles to the nearest police station. He had endured terror, solitude, despair, storms and shark attacks. His belief that humans can survive drinking small quantities of seawater was forcefully vindicated."

Speaking of adventurers, this is the website of Michael Yon, who is a freelance reporter in Iraq, an unusual breed in this day and age. The Devil's Foyer is his account of a recent operation in Mosul, which turned up a huge cache of weapons. It's long, but well worth the time.

Renzo Manetti, a Florentine architect and author of several works on symbolism in art, thinks he knows why carvings and sculptures of pregnant madonnas by artists of stature is confined to Tuscany for the 130 years ending around 1467. The Guardian (surprise, surprise) reports that in a 40-page booklet published last month, Manetti points out that Florence was a major Knights Templar centre. "The Knights Templar were a military-religious order founded in the early 12th century to defend the kingdom the crusaders had carved out in the Holy Land. From modest beginnings, the order grew to wield immense political and financial power not only in the Holy Land, but also in Europe. Pope Clement V ordered its dissolution after a campaign to discredit the order which saw bogus confessions extracted by the use of often ferocious torture. Two years after the pope issued his decree, the last grand master of the Knights Templar was burned at the stake on an island in the Seine in front of Notre Dame cathedral.

"'In virgin and child paintings, the child symbolises wisdom, knowledge, truth. So what the pregnant Madonnas represent is a temporarily hidden truth,' Mr Manetti said."

22 July 2005

Polly Toynbee of the Guardian obviously wrote this piece during the hours immediately following the second series of London transport explosions yesterday. It doesn't seem to have been typed as much as it was sledge-hammered onto a sheet of iron in a white-hot fury. "In the name of God...this is about religious delusion," she exclaims.

"All religions are prone to it, given the right circumstances. How could those who preach the absolute revealed truth of every word of a primitive book not be prone to insanity?

"There have been sects of killer Christians and indeed the whole of Christendom has been at times bent on wiping out heathens. Jewish zealots in their settlements crazily claim legal rights to land from the Old Testament. Some African Pentecostal churches harbour sects of torturing exorcism and child abuse. Muslims have a very long tradition of jihadist slaughter. Sikhs rose up to stop a play that exposed deformities of abuse within their temples. Buddhism too has its sinister wing. See how far-right evangelicals have kidnapped US politics and warped its secular, liberal founding traditions.

"Intense belief, incantations, secrecy and all-male rituals breed perversions and danger, abusing women and children and infecting young men with frenzy, no matter what the name of the faith.

"It is time now to get serious about religion - all religion - and draw a firm line between the real world and the world of dreams. Tony Blair has taken entirely the wrong path. He has appeased, prevaricated and pretended, maybe because he is a man of faith himself, with a Catholic wife who consorts with crystals. But never was it more important to separate the state from all faiths and relegate all religion to the private - but well-regulated - sphere."

Several thousand miles away, in Los Angeles, her words are echoed by Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble with Islam Today. Writing in the LA Times, Manji writes: "Even now, the Muslim Council of Britain adamantly insists that Islam has nothing to do with the London attacks. It cites other motives - 'segregation' and 'alienation', for instance. Although I don't deny that living on the margins can make a vulnerable lad gravitate to radical messages of instant belonging, it takes more than that to make him detonate himself and innocent others. To blow yourself up, you need conviction. Secular society doesn't compete well on this score. Who gets deathly passionate over tuition subsidies and a summer job?

"Which is why I don't understand how moderate Muslim leaders can reject, flat-out, the notion that religion may also play a part in these bombings. What makes them so sure that Islam is an innocent bystander? What makes them sound so sure is literalism. That's the trouble with Islam today. We Muslims, including moderates living here in the West, are routinely raised to believe that the Koran is the final and therefore perfect manifesto of God's will, untouched and immutable."

A Pakistani journalist and author, Ahmed Rashid, says in a Telegraph opinion piece that Britain has allowed militant Muslim preachers entirely too much freedom "to preach their message of hate in the mosques, the meeting halls and the sitting rooms of British Muslims. Literature and videos promoting extremism have been allowed to spread deep into the Muslim community. While some outsiders saw this as typical British eccentricity or liberalism, foreign intelligence agencies have been furious with British laxity for some years.

"The four July 7 bombers did not have to enrol in a Pakistani religious school or madrassa to learn about Islamic extremism, because it was available in Yorkshire. Experts now think it unlikely that the three London bombers who came to Pakistan last year enrolled in a madrassa to become ideologised. Instead, they arrived fully brainwashed and probably used their time making contact with al-Qa'eda and Pakistani militant groups to train in explosives.

"And every Pakistani who saw the TV pictures of how British Pakistanis live in Leeds was shocked at how no attempt has been made to integrate them. The Leeds suburbs looked like ghettos or a typical poverty-stricken Punjabi village, except in red brick. British Muslims also must share a great part of the blame for failing to speak out against the extremists living in their midst, refusing to integrate or agree to mixed marriages, and insisting upon bringing prayer leaders from their home villages - men who are either totally ignorant of the world or are extremists."

The BBC has unearthed what is the holy grail for Bob Dylan fanatics, according to the Guardian. Footage of the moment the revered singer songwriter was branded 'Judas' by a hostile 60s audience, for plugging in his electric guitar for the first time, is to be aired as part of a new three-hour documentary directed by Martin Scorsese.

The UN's report on Robert Mugabe's monstrous slum clearance project in Zimbabwe seems not to equivocate, if one can believe that the Associated Press really has got hold of the executive summary in advance of the report's official release. The Globe and Mail says : "A UN report condemned Zimbabwe's government for destroying urban slums in a 'disastrous venture' that has left 700,000 people without homes or jobs, and demanded that those responsible be punished, according to excerpts obtained late Thursday. The report, to be released Friday morning, said a further 2.4 million people have been affected in varying degrees by the countrywide campaign in which thousands of shantytowns, ramshackle markets and makeshift homes have been demolished.

"Operation Murambatsvina, or Drive Out Trash, has been 'carried out in an indiscriminate and unjustified manner, with indifference to human suffering,' said the report's executive summary, obtained by the Associated Press." It will be interesting to see what Mr Annan intends should be done about it.

I don't want in any way to diminish the horror of the London bombing attacks, but they do have one tiny silver lining. Popular British support for Palestinian terrorists is many things, but at least in some small part, it must be a failure to be able to empathise with the Israeli victims of terror attacks. The Wall Street Journal comments on what Londoners can learn from the Israeli experience: "Due to some combination of good luck and possible incompetence, Londoners were spared serious casualties in yesterday's apparent bus and train bombings. This is not something to take much comfort in. As the second attack in as many weeks, it means the Israelization of the war on terror may now be upon Britain and, sooner or later perhaps, Europe and America, too. By 'Israelization', we refer to the steady stream of bus, cafe, grocery, mall and street bombings to which Israeli civilians have been wantonly subjected these past several years. Unlike the September 11 attacks in the US or last year's Madrid bombings, none of these have been terrorist 'spectaculars', in the sense that they required extensive preparation and resulted in three- or four-figure death tolls.

"Even so, the effects of Palestinian-style terror are in many ways more devastating. No place feels safe; ordinary living becomes vastly more difficult; security costs to government and businesses are massive. And the killing adds up: In a country as small as Israel, nearly everyone had a personal connection to one of the 1,000 Israelis murdered in terrorist attacks over the past five years."

21 July 2005

Thomas Sowell is talking about the way the language is being distorted by those who have an interest in sowing confusion over the appointment of a new Supreme Court Justice. He writes, in the Washington Times, that "Those who want to see judges apply the law rather than impose their own policies face not only political obstruction to appointment of such judges but calculated confusion about the words used in discussing what is at issue. Judges who impose their own preferences, instead of following the law as it is written, have long been known as 'judicial activists' while those who carry out the law, instead of rewriting it to suit themselves, have been said to follow the 'original intent' of the law. But now a massive effort to muddy the waters has been launched by those who want judges who will continue to impose the liberal agenda from the bench. Words like 'activists' and 'intent' are being twisted beyond recognition."

The Washington Times is speaking admiringly of Tony Blair's decision to focus on extremists, not terrorists: "British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who yesterday called for an international conference on Islamic extremism, is proving far more willing than President Bush to demand that Muslim leaders confront their own failings in the global war on terror. In the two weeks since coordinated suicide bombings killed at least 56 persons on London's subways and a bus, Mr. Blair has repeatedly said the Islamic community and scholars face a special responsibility to curb the 'evil ideology' behind the attacks. Britain's Muslims must 'confront this evil ideology, take it on and defeat it by the force of reason and argument,' Mr. Blair told reporters in London on Monday."

To be fair to George Bush, circumstances were markedly different after 9/11, when the American administration was deciding its strategy. Any suggestion that Muslims should "take on this evil ideology" would have been seen as proof that the American Government was targeting the whole religion, not just its lunatic fringe.

Claudia Rosett, who was herself instrumental in drawing attention to the activities of the Geneva-based UN Compensation Commission, reports in the New York Sun this morning that "There are reports that the Volcker committee is now looking into the secretive, Geneva-based U.N. Compensation Commission, which for years has been tasked with paying out billions in Iraqi oil revenues to parties claiming compensation as victims of Saddam's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

"Most of the UNCC's $19.2 billion in payouts flowed from oil for food. During the first few years of oil for food, the UNCC was led by a Haitian, Jean-Claude Aime. No one has accused Mr. Aime of any wrongdoing, but he might have some insights to offer about his previous superior officer, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who launched oil for food in 1996, just before Mr. Annan took over. Mr. Aime that same year served as chief of staff for Mr. Boutros-Ghali, whose cousin, Fakhry Abdelnour, owned the company African Middle East Petroleum, on behalf of which Mr. Sevan has been accused of soliciting oil allocations from Saddam."

Ms Rosett's story focuses on the sticky web of people Kofi Annan has pulled around himself during his years at the UN. "Mr. Sevan was selected by Mr. Annan to run the biggest UN program ever, overseeing more than $110 billion of deals done by a tyrant under UN sanctions. Mr. Strong was not tapped by Mr. Annan to tweak gender awareness either at Turtle Bay or in Pyongyang; he was an adviser influencing major efforts to reshape the United Nations and an envoy dealing with the crisis point of a nuclear armed totalitarian North Korea. The document-shredding Mr. Riza, the Sevan-supervising Ms. Frechette, and now the house-renting Mr. Malloch Brown all enjoy the dignity, clout, and immunities that come with high office at the United Nations."

In an editorial on a related subject, the Washington Times points out how ridiculous it is that "The people who brought you the oil-for-food scandal now want to get their hands on the Internet. On Tuesday, a UN organization called the Working Group on Internet Governance proposed that the United Nations take control of regulating the Internet's inner workings. Apparently, UN leaders think their failures in global security and humanitarianism qualify them to regulate the engine of the high-tech industry.

"The UN group - which is a team of bureaucrats from, among other places, Cuba, Tunisia and Iran - envisions taking control of such Internet functions as registering domain names, settling disputes, conducting arbitration and fighting cybercrime. Currently, a US-based nonprofit called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, handles basic registration functions. Traditional law enforcement bodies handle the rest. The United Nations would like to wrest all this from ICANN and governments because it thinks it is more inclusive and more transparent than the people who currently run the Internet. In all but one of its proposals, the UN envisions itself setting "international Internet public policy."

There doesn't seem much danger that they'll succeed, however. A few days ago, the Globe and Mail reported that the US has made it policy to resist the plan: "The US government said Thursday it would indefinitely retain oversight of the Internet's main traffic-controlling computers, ignoring calls by some countries to turn the function over to an international body. The announcement marked a departure from previously stated U.S. policy. Michael D. Gallagher, assistant secretary for communications and information at the US Commerce Department, shied away from terming the declaration a reversal, calling it instead 'the foundation of US policy going forward.'"

Since the Israeli army's swift eviction of anti-disengagement activists on June 30 from a beachside hotel in the Gaza strip, a realisation of the truth seems to have overcome the wishful thinking of the Gaza settlers. According to the Washington Post, they've started making plans to get out. "Many of Nissanit's people had put off making post-evacuation plans, heeding the advice of settlement leaders who had cast cooperation with the government as a sign of weakening resolve. But in the past two weeks the settlement's administrative office has filled each day with couples wanting to know how to apply for government assistance that could amount to between $100,000 to $280,000 per family here. The numbers have shot up since the Israeli army's swift eviction of anti-disengagement activists on June 30 from a beachside hotel south of here. Many settlers took that as proof of the government's determination. Israeli officials have begun predicting a large-scale departure from the settlements before Aug. 15, when soldiers will begin knocking on doors and asking residents to leave voluntarily. If they have not departed 48 hours later, the army will remove them by force."

Not so very far away, though, the picture is not as hopeful. Washington Times, reporting on the anarchic struggle between Hamas and Fatah - "Just two hours after reaching a ceasefire with Fatah, Hamas gunmen opened fire on the homes of two senior Palestinian leaders, including Gaza's police chief. Because of Mr. Abbas's failure to exert control, Israeli troops are poised on Gaza's border, ready to go in and deal with the terrorists themselves."

A little more anecdotal evidence of the hold that corruption has on many countries in Africa. This Globe and Mail piece reports that hopes have been dashed that the 2003 takeover of the Daniel Arap Moi government of Kenya by Mwai Kibaki might wipe out the country's corrupt way of life.

"Consensus here is that most members of the coalition headed by Mr. Kibaki were initially sincere about their intention to wipe out corruption, but a combination of factors dampened their enthusiasm. For one thing, they discovered that the country's vast bureaucracy was difficult to change - and meanwhile they were quickly learning to enjoy the Mercedes staff cars and cabinet retreats on the beach in Mombasa. Second, Mr. Kibaki suffered a serious stroke just weeks after taking office, and they realized how fragile their hold on power was.

"Today, the newspapers report a scam known as Anglo Leasing in which inflated contracts were awarded to a mysterious British company, with millions of dollars kicked back to Kenyan politicians. Donors profess deep disappointment, and the United States has suspended some aid. Canada spent $19.5-million in aid to the country last year. The human-rights commission says the police still routinely beat, torture and extort prisoners. More than half the population still lack access to safe drinking water and only 10 per cent have access to electricity."

And this story in the London Times gives details of what the son of the ailing President of Equatorial Guinea (most of whose citizens earn about $1 a day) spent his money on during a recent trip to South Africa. "Teodorin Nguema Obiang, the Minister of Forestry, Environment and Housing in his father's Government, bought a black Bentley Arnage and a cream Bentley Mulliner worth 600,000 pounds last weekend. He then added a white six-litre Lamborghini Murcielago worth 275,000 pounds to his fleet, according to The Star newspaper.

"Mr Obiang, 34, is renowned for his playboy lifestyle. A regular on the international party circuit, he owns a hip-hop record label in the United States and the only private radio station in Equatorial Guinea. He is believed to own homes in London, Paris and Los Angeles, and to have two Cape Town mansions, each costing more than 2 million pounds."

But you know, there may be nothing to this. Obiang Sr took power in 1979 and is said now to have a personal fortune of about 1.7 billion pounds. I guess when your country pays you a salary that allows you to accumulate at the rate of 680 million pounds a year, you can afford a son who likes to spend. True?

20 July 2005

The Miami Herald is one of few American newspapers following the case of Luis Posada Carriles with anything approaching enthusiasm. That's a bit of a misjudgement, because virtually the entire Spanish-speaking world, along with Portugal and Brazil, have had their faith in the American government's commitment to the fight on terrorism challenged by this story. This morning, the Herald notes that "A lawyer for anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles is asking an immigration judge to throw out the US government's case against his client, arguing that it hangs on hearsay testimony that Posada masterminded the bombing of Cuban tourist sites and other terrorist acts. Attorney Eduardo Soto is also fighting Posada's deportation, saying that his client has had a relapse of skin cancer and has a worsening heart condition. U.S. immigration authorities declined to comment on the motion.

"Soto contends the case is tainted because it is partly based on an interview Posada gave a New York Times correspondent who likely will refuse to testify. The Posada interview with The New York Times in 1998 is a key component in the US government's case to deny him asylum because Posada reportedly acknowledged his involvement in the Havana blasts, which killed an Italian tourist."

Washington Times columnist (and president of the Center for Security Policy)Frank J. Gaffney Jr., is exercised about UN taxes and proposed taxes this morning. "On September 14-16," he says, "the UN General Assembly is scheduled to hold a high-level plenary meeting to consider the implementation of 'Millennium Development Goals' contained in the report of the UN's 2002 International Conference on Financing for Development. According to this so-called 'Monterrey Consensus', the United States and other developed nations are obliged to provide 0.7 percent of their Gross National Income in foreign aid...Secretary-General Annan's special adviser, Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, contends the United States has only provided 0.15 percent of its GNI. Mr. Sachs and his friends at the United Nations maintain we therefore 'owe' the international community $65 billion each year from 2002 to the target year of 2015, for a total of $845 billion in additional foreign aid."

"Since no one in their right mind expects either this president or any other - let alone any foreseeable US Congress, to provide these vast amounts in notoriously ill-spent foreign aid, the UN types have come up with an alternative means of making Americans pay their huge 'debt' to the undeveloped world: international taxation (hereafter known as 'globotaxes').

You certainly can't accuse the British authorities of letting the grass grow under their feet in the wake of the 7/7 bombings! Yesterday, Tony Blair met with Muslim leaders and announced a task force to combat, not terrorism, but Muslim extremism, which seems an intelligent step. Today, Home Secretary Charles Clarke has announced the creation of a global database of, not terrorists, but extremists. Meantime, Pakistan is in the middle of a serious crackdown on Islamist militants across the country, in a move officials have explicitly linked to the investigation of 7/7. This story says "at least 25 people" have been detained in raids in several major cities, but I've seen stories this morning saying the total is ten times that number.

The database is going to make for a lively debate between the growing population of British "hard liners", for lack of a better term, and people concerned about civil liberties. The Home Office is dealing today with the proposed visit to Britain of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi who, as the Telegraph notes, "is either a moderate Islamic scholar of international standing whose presence in Britain would do much to foster improved inter-community relations, or he is a bigoted, fire-and-brimstone preacher who should be kept out of the country because his pronouncements encourage the radicalisation of young Muslims."

The British Home Office says, quite rightly: "We do not exclude people solely for their views, however abhorrent they may be to the vast majority of the people of this country."

But there is obviously a line somewhere between controversial views and exhortations to murder and other crimes. The Telegraph lists some of the things this particular gentleman has said:

"The Israelis might have nuclear bombs but we have the children bomb and these human bombs must continue until liberation.

"We must all realise that the Israeli society is a military society - men and women. We cannot describe the society as civilian - they are not civilians or innocent.

"It is not suicide; it is martyrdom in the name of God. I consider this type of martyrdom operation as an indication of the justice of Allah almighty. Allah is just. Through his infinite wisdom, he has given the weak what the strong do not possess and that is the ability to turn their bodies into bombs as the Palestinians do."

Does that encourage people to commit crimes? Stay tuned.

All extremists, terrorists and other firebrands should be warned that this is what the future holds for them, if they survive.

19 July 2005

The columnist Daniel Pipes tells the story of making an innocent remark that was first twisted by leftist university professor Juan Cole, then exaggerated by others to the point that he was accused by Wahida Valiante of the Canadian Islamic Congress, an Ontario-based group, of being a follower of Hitler, using the tactics of Hitler to ethnically cleanse America of its Muslim presence. In the New York Sun he says that instead of simply continuing to try to deny it, he sued. That got action pretty quickly. The Islamic Congress has now apologized, and acknowledged that Wahida Valiente's allegations were nonsense.

Pipes comments: "Western Islamist organizations until now have relentlessly attacked, successfully extracting apologies from press figures like Paul Harvey and Mortimer Zuckerman, from businesses like Amazon and Nike, from pastors, columnists, and even from state politicians, a top American general, and Mr. Bush. Never before have they apologized for having libeled someone. The CIC retraction breaks the Islamists' spell of privilege and their miasma of immunity. It establishes, at least in Canada and at present, that Islamist groups do not have impunity to fabricate lies about their opponents. The rule of law does prevail, and it applies even to them."

Maurice Strong, the Canadian businessman who was the UN's top envoy to North Korea, and who was foolish enough to ask a very dodgy Korean businessman to advise him in that role, has lost his job. This piece in Mercury News is typical of widespread coverage: "The decision not to renew Maurice Strong's contract follows criticism that he gave his stepdaughter a job at the United Nations and concerns over his ties to a South Korean businessman accused of accepting kickbacks from Saddam Hussein's government. (Tongsun) Park, a native of North Korea and citizen of South Korea, was charged by the US Attorney's Office in April with allegedly accepting millions of dollars from Saddam's government to lobby illegally for Iraq in the United States on behalf of the oil-for-food program."

Edward Heath wasn't one of my favourite British prime ministers, but I did admire the way he went about his life as himself, not as some caricature of what a PM should be. There have been a lot of tributes to him, but none, I think, quite so nicely-judged as this one, written by Libby Purves of the London Times. To prepare herself, she spent time in an archive of copies of Private Eye, which seems to have allowed her to describe him in the context of the times in which he lived and worked a little better than others have been able to.

She ends it this way. "The Heath era, and those before it, had their boring and hypocritical moments; but their merit was that those who governed us felt little pressure to be blandly attractive and 'ordinary'. They had to talk sense, wear a tie, be scrupulously honest in personal matters and not let the country down. Today we forgive politicians far too easily for lying, wasting public money on stupid projects, taking freebies or letting family members capitalise on their position; yet we are merciless about their wives' frocks, their children's peccadillos, their beer gut or their social personality. We may have lost some interesting and honest leaders along the way.

"Goodbye, Ted. No - sorry - make that Sir Edward. Let's have some dignity round here."

Mark Steyn says, in a column that seems longer on pique than humour, that Cherie Blair is one of those in Britain guilty of having hampered a proper assimilation of the Muslim community into the larger British community. In his Telegraph column this morning he says: "It was the Prime Minister's wife, you'll recall, who last year won a famous court victory for Shabina Begum, as a result of which schools across the land must now permit students to wear the full 'jilbab' - ie, Muslim garb that covers the entire body except the eyes and hands. Ms Booth hailed this as 'a victory for all Muslims who wish to preserve their identity and values despite prejudice and bigotry'.

"It seems almost too banal to observe that such an extreme preservation of Miss Begum's Muslim identity must perforce be at the expense of any British identity. Nor, incidentally, is Miss Begum 'preserving' any identity: she's of Bangladeshi origin, and her adolescent adoption of the jilbab is a symbol of the Arabisation of South Asian (and African and European) Islam that's at the root of so many problems. It's no more part of her inherited identity than my five-year- old dressing up in his head-to-toe Darth Vader costume, to which at a casual glance it's not dissimilar."

Israel is an interesting hybrid where the relationship of church and state is concerned. The church is meant, not to guide the Government, but to act as a kind of buffer between it and the Israeli people. As Haaretz explains, "The Chief Rabbinate was established as an arm of the state. It was defined as an entity that is supposed to function subject to the democratic structure adopted by the country, to represent and serve all of Israel's Jewish citizens. Within this framework, the rabbis were supposed to tone down the inherent conflict between religion and state and, in contrast, to express a consistent desire for the synthesis between statehood and tradition. Until a few years ago, the rabbinate generally upheld these principles, while sanctifying, sometimes in an exaggerated fashion, the state and the army.

But the withdrawal from Gaza has turned the relationship up on its ear. Haaretz says: "The Israeli public is witnessing the unfolding of the most dangerous scenario of all, which is tearing apart the thin fabric of democracy and civil solidarity. This act of sedition threatens to whip up individuals and groups within the army. The phenomenon is particularly severe in the hesder units. The Israel Defense Forces was forced Sunday to disband a company afflicted with this scourge, and there are grave concerns that with the intensification of the conflict at the entrance to Gaza, the inciters will influence and sway others."

Whew! Dr Fu Manchu would have been proud. The Mysterious Round Room Under the Tea Pot's Lid emerges from the shadows in an Independent expose. But despite what you might think, this is not a British story - it's more on that tea-worshipping Malaysian sect that was burned by Islamic religious enforcers yesterday.

The giant teapot was built, apparently, to symbolise the pouring of blessings on mankind. For nearly 10 years the teapot has dominated Ayah Pin's commune, named "Sky Kingdom", and worshippers flock to the village to test its healing powers. An umbrella-shaped building stands nearby, and there is a floating ark and a huge vase to store holy drinking water that is distributed to devotees. People from Malaysia, neighbouring countries and beyond come for healing sessions in the mysterious round room under the lid. According to the Independent, one of the things that ticks off Malaysia's Islamic Religious Department is that although Pin says he wants people from other religions to adhere to their own rites, since he himself is God Almighty, "All prayers are go through me."

Through him to where, one wonders.

18 July 2005

Investigators have discovered overseas bank accounts belonging to disgraced UN oil-for-food program head Benon Sevan that could unlock the mystery over whether he profited from dirty deals with Saddam Hussein, according to the New York Post. "Sources close to the numerous probes of the giant UN scandal revealed that investigators have recently discovered that Sevan, who lives in New York, has accounts in Switzerland, Turkey and Cyprus - countries with notoriously tight bank secrecy laws."

Earlier today, a mob in Malaysia attacked a commune owned by an interfaith sect that Muslims say encouraged beliefs contrary to Islam. Although no one was injured, the mob torched buildings and smashed vehicles at the site, in the northeastern state of Terengganu. AlJazeera says the mob also set fire to the house-sized teapot, umbrella and boat that the members of the commune built, saying they were structures of interfaith harmony.

A notoriously inefficient, corrupt bureaucracy, Investors.com comments, "wants to regulate the world's fastest-growing industry. Note to Internet companies: Start worrying...

"Giving the UN control over the Internet would be giving it control over the future - which rightly belongs to entrepreneurs, inventors and dreamers, not faceless bureaucrats who can scarcely conceal their loathing for the free-market success the US represents." That about nails that issue down, I'd say.

A technique called 'gene doping' produces such muscle strength in rodents, according to this fascinating story in the LA Times, that some University of Pennsylvania researchers flatly doubt we'll ever have an Olympics again that does not involve genetically altered humans. The 2004 Athens Olympics may have been the last one.

The article was written by Joel Garreau, a Washington Post reporter and editor, who is also the author of the newly published Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies - and What It Means to Be Human. He says: "We are at a turning point in history. For millenniums our technologies - fire, clothes, agriculture, cities, space travel - have been aimed outward at modifying our environment. Now, for the first time, our technologies are increasingly aimed inward - at altering our minds, memories, metabolisms, personalities and progeny.

"This is not some science fiction future. Such innovations are in the labs and hitting the market on our watch. Inexorable increases in ingenuity are opening vistas, especially in what we may call GRIN - genetic, robotic, information and nano technologies. The curve of innovation is rising exponentially. The significance of all this is not the gee-whiz gear. It is in how we will wrestle with what this means to relationships, loves and lives as we enter a period of engineered evolution that we create and adopt ourselves...

"Five companies in the U.S. alone are competing to bring memory pills to market. No wonder. They could be a bigger commercial blockbuster than Viagra. They promise not only to ban the senior moments of the baby boomers but to revolutionize education of the young. Think of what it will do to language acquisition alone. Some analysts believe that it could increase our kids' SAT scores by 200 points or more."

A study in China is demonstrating that male elephants are now being born without tusks in a response by the species to being hunted for ivory. The London Times says "The tusk-free gene, which was found in between 2 and 5 per cent of male Asian elephants, has increased to between 5 and 10 per cent in elephants in China, according to the study by Zhang Li, an associate professor of zoology at Beijing Normal University. 'This decrease in the number of elephants born with tusks shows the poaching pressure for ivory on the animal,' said Mr Zhang, who has been conducting research since 1999 at a nature reserve in the lush southwestern Xishuangbanna region, where two thirds of China's Asian elephants live."

So...if people started to hunt creationists, what do you suppose the response of that species would be?

Although Iraqi lawmakers acknowledge that drafting a permanent constitution is one of the biggest challenges facing the country, the team charged with producing the document is cautiously optimistic that it will complete the job on time, by August 15. Arthur Chrenkoff reports in his twice-monthly roundup of good news from Iraq, published in the Wall Street Journal, that the 55-member drafting committee is in the throes of dealing with knotty problems like federalism, the role of Islam in governance and the status of oil-rich Kirkuk.

"'We hope that, God willing, things will go well and we'll finish our work on time, particularly if we deal with the thorny issues in a way that satisfies all parties,' said Humam Hammoodi, head of the Constitutional Drafting Committee and a member of the ruling United Iraqi Alliance. The committee, which was formed in mid-May, now meets every week and has divided into five groups, each dealing with a different topic: the basic principles of the constitution, rights and liberties, laws and the formation of the state, federalism, and final principles."

17 July 2005

I posted something yesterday about a poorly-written story in the Toronto Globe and Mail that concerned a terrorist in US custody having informed on a Canadian terrorist (now also in custody). This morning, the Independent says the same snitch has informed on one of the 7/7 bombers: "Dramatic new evidence linking al-Qa'ida to the London attacks has emerged as a terrorist in US custody identified one of the bombers.

"The al-Qa'ida aide, who attended a 'terror summit' in the tribal areas of Pakistan last year, told investigators in America that he recognised Mohammed Sidique Khan, the 30-year-old who triggered a bomb at Edgware Road station. Mohammed Junaid Babar, 29, is reported to have picked out Khan after being shown photographs of the four suicide bombers who killed at least 55 people in the 7 July outrage.

"Babar, a Pakistani-American computer expert, was arrested on his return to the US from the al-Qa'ida summit in Waziristan. He has admitted a string of charges, including helping a foiled plot to bomb restaurants, pubs and railway stations in Britain, and has subsequently provided authorities with valuable information about the worldwide terrorist network."

I'm a sucker for lists. This story showed me that I'm such a blind sucker I'll read one even if I think the premise that gave it birth is wrong. The Guardian asks, ever so responsibly: "What is the right age for children to get into 'grown-up' books, music, art and films? The British Film Institute thinks parents are too cautious and has come up with a list of must-sees for under-14s. Here are our own recommendations."

That rubs me the wrong way in a big way. The right age for children to get into those things is when children are ready to get into those things. And if the path to appreciation of those things happens to be lined with tits and ass and skipping ahead to the good bits, get over it. Be thankful something got them there.

Poor old Jacques Chirac. The French public is kicking his ass. Tony Blair's kicking his ass. Nicholas Sarkozy's kicking his ass. Half of the countries in the EU are kicking his ass. Now Heaven itself seems to have joined in.

Britain is going through a serious soul-searching exercise in the wake of the bombings on 7/7. The British know they got it wrong, in their belief that something in the British understanding of the world, something in their way of looking at life, would prevent violent extremism from taking root in British soil. They suspect, I think, that what people like Clare Short and Robin Cooke are saying - that it's all about Iraq - can't be true, not least because extremist Muslim terrorism predates Iraq. They seem to have reached a consensus that the country has in some way been too tolerant, and needs to do more to protect itself.

I was tempted to giggle and move on when I read the headline on Niall Ferguson's piece in the Telegraph this morning - If they pass the 'cricket test', how do we stop the suicide bombers?. But he's the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, and deserves a little more respect than that. I was glad I stopped and read on. He thinks the problem is not British as much as it is European, and it's not a problem of immigration, which is the easy conclusion, but "it is the fact that a pernicious ideology has been allowed to infiltrate Europe's immigrant communities...

"The official line is that this is the work of a criminal minority, and should not be blamed on Islam or the wider Muslim community. Quite so. The trouble is that this criminal minority considers that it is acting on the basis of Islam. And it seems to be hatching its schemes right under the noses of the wider Muslim community."

In an editorial, the Guardian underscores that simple, but sometimes hard-to-grasp point - Muslim extremism is a Muslim problem, and must be tackled by Muslims. Non-Muslims can do all kinds of things to prevent extremist crime and to catch those who commit it, but pulling the roots of their "evil ideology" out of Muslim soil is beyond our reach.

"The suicidal fury of young men is not a new phenomenon," the Guardian says. "We have seen it in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen and Morocco. But we have refused to acknowledge that this violent and repugnant cult of death was certain to happen inside Britain. Now that it has, we find it almost impossible to comprehend why apparently integrated young Britons feel so much hate. The London bombings have marked a terrible shift in the onward march of Islamic extremism.

"We have good reason to be pleased that so far the response of our leaders, our police, and the religious communities has been measured and intelligent. But we cannot go on congratulating ourselves for our forbearance, or Blitz spirit or reason in the face of madness. If we want to keep hold of a free and democratic society, then we must defend our values a little more actively."

I hope that word 'little' can be taken as a sign that that newspaper, at any rate, understands that the protective adjustments that need to be made are more in the nature of fine-tuning than they are Draconian, because that's the key to achieving consensus on making any adjustments at all.

Elsewhere in the paper, staffers Martin Bright and Paul Harris acknowledge what Daniel Pipes said in the US a few days ago - "To frustrated foreign intelligence services, the British capital city has long been known as Beirut-on-Thames or Londonistan, a safe haven for dissident Islamic groups of varying degrees of extremism from across the Muslim world. Dissident political leaders of radical Islamic parties, firebrand clerics preaching holy war, the footsoldiers of 'jihad' in Afghanistan, Algeria and Chechnya, and the innocent refugees caught in the crossfire: all have found refuge on our shores." And they report, a little obliquely, that things are changing. They refer to "a gradual shift in British policy that began seven years ago when al-Qaeda first came to public attention."

Cynics will say that the Bright/Harris story is probably spin, fed to them by one British Government agency or another. But so what? The fact that the information, which would have been denied vehemently by the British authorities a few weeks ago, is being used at all is a declaration that things are going to move suddenly and quickly in a new direction. The fact that it is being used at more or less the same time that Tony Blair tells his Labour Party colleagues that extremists are following an "evil ideology" which cannot be accommodated, but must be stood up to, supports that contention.

Britain is a going to be a tough place to deal with, where the changes that need to be made are concerned. Tony Blair runs one of the cleverer PR operations in the world, but is it up to changing minds about the very things the Brits believe define their character? Tory MP Michael Portillo tackles one of the really hard bits in the Times this morning: "It is tempting in a tolerant society to want to see other people's point of view. If Islam has thrown up its extremists, we can recall the excesses committed over centuries in the name of Christianity. We can understand that a devout Muslim might find western society licentious and irreligious. But the time for sophistry has passed. Our citizens and our society are under threat from those who believe that difference is a justification for terror and murder. Our country has the right to assert its values and require from everyone living here compliance with our laws and respect for our standards.

"Britain's woolly thinking about multiculturalism has helped to make us vulnerable. We were reluctant to heed warnings passed to us by the French about the dangers of Islamic extremists settling here. Last week the Conservatives were in no position to criticise the government because the last Conservative government was no more inclined to recognise the perils."

Multiculturalism doesn't work? Hah! You can see what kind of uphill road lies ahead.


Art in Bermuda
Bermuda's Cuban Connection
Death of the Nation State
Helen Lives!
Joe Wilson and Michael Moore
Linton Kwesi Johnson's Dub Poetry
Me and Evergreen Review
Michael Howard's Vision
Miss Lou and Jamaican Patois
More Doomsday Nonsense
Mullah Nasrudin's Lessons
New York Dogs
OECD's Unfair to Competition
On Catullus
On Charles Ives
On Colin MacInnes
On Collecting Books
On Collecting Books - Part Two
On Gambling in Bermuda
On Napoleon
On Patrick Leigh Fermor
Race and Bermuda's Election
The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Gift of Slang
The Limits of Knowledge
The Nature of Intelligence
The Shared European Dream
The US Supreme Court's First Terrorism Decisions
Useful Yiddish
Yukio Mishima's Death

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