Saturday, July 30, 2005

Domino Theory Revisited? 

This is one to watch - there is a low level cold war developing between Central Europe's largest democracy and Eastern Europe's last remaining Soviet holdover quasi-dictatorship. One of Chrenkoff readers, Alex, takes a closer look.

Hidden from the front-pages of the mass-media, a struggle has been taking place between Poland and Belarus over the issue of human rights. It is focused on the fate of Belarus's large Polish minority of around 400,000 people, approximately 4% of the general population - and the organization representing it, the Union of Poles in Belarus (UPB).

The latest incident occurred early in the morning of 27 July when about 30 officers of the OMON special forces broke into the union's offices in the western Belarus town of Grodno. Around 20 persons inside were arrested, including the new chairman of the UPB and two journalists from the main Polish daily "Gazeta Wyborcza". As one witness recalled: "At first, the building was encircled by police cars. Then police demanded everybody leave the building. When nobody agreed, special forces stormed the building."

The former chairman of UPB, who had been supportive of the Belarusian autocrat-president Lukaszenko, and who had been dismissed by the last UPB Congress this past spring, has been given back the control of the building by OMON.

This incident caused the Polish government, on Thursday (28 July) to temporarily recall its ambassador to Belarus and to urge the European Union to impose sanctions on the leadership of the country.

The same-day response, from the Belarus Foreign Ministry's press service: "Today'’s decision of the Polish authorities to recall their ambassador from Minsk shows that Poland is pursuing a policy aimed at exacerbating and suspending its relations with Belarus"

The 27 July raid on UPB is just another action by the authoritarian regime of Belarus's president, Alexander Lukashenko, to maintain power at any cost. The regime's view is that everyone other than Russia is "out to get it", especially the "old enemy" of Russia's, Poland. This is a view shared by parties in Moscow.

Lukashenko is worried that Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine have been giving aid to the pro-Democracy forces in Belarus, and that his regime will be the next domino to fall.

A good summary of the historical and current background material has been assembled by Angry in the Great White North.

Chrenk adds: Says the Polish Foreign Minister Rotfeld (link in Polish, my translation):
Solving these internal Belarusian problems though diplomatic means would be an inadequate strategy. Those in power in Minsk are today defending their position, which they see as being under threat. What happened in Belarus is evidence not just of weakness, but also belief that power is slipping out of the government's grasp. To put it briefly, if the Belarusian president Alexander Lukaszenko says that he is acting in defence of the Belarusian nation, in reality he's defending that nation against itself. I have the impression that Lukaszenko believes that the government doesn't have as much support as it enjoyed a few years ago.
Pretty strong words; one doesn't hear often in the world of European diplomacy.

The Union of Poles in Belarus has been the virtually the last strong community organization with any degree of independence from the government. Lukaszenko has accused the Polish minority of "fomenting revolution". Democracy and the rule of law, more likely, but these are also dangerous concepts in Belarus today.

Says Poland's deputy Foreign Minister, Jan Truszczynski: "Belarus is one of the last bastions of authoritarianism in Europe. The European Union will have to deal with these crackdowns in a more effective way. There should be some form of sanctions imposed on the leadership, including a travel ban."

Poland is not happy, not just because it doesn't appreciate a crackdown on its minority in Belarus, but because it historically sees itself as the leader of the pro-democracy forces in the region. Poland has played an important international role in support of Ukraine's Orange Revolution last year; the presence of a Soviet throwback on its eastern border offends Poland's sense of historical progress.

The European Union has so far declined to go hard on Lukaszenko, opting for mild condemnations, as some of the member governments think economic concessions are the best ways to make the Minsk government respect democracy a bit more. That might change soon.


Friday, July 29, 2005


For the fourth straight year, the Environmental Protection Agency has recognized the Defense Department as a leader in pest management strategies.
This is just too obvious.

(hat tip: Dan Foty)


Moby Dick 

Electronica songmaister Moby used to criticize Eminem for misogynistic lyrics (really?). Eminem, in turn, reciprocated with this well-reasoned and witty riposte in his hit "Without You":
And Moby, you can get stomped by Obie,
You 36 year old bald headed fag, blow me,
You don't know me,
You're too old let go
It's over, nobody listens to techno
But regardless, Eminem has finally won Moby's seal of approval - because of his anti-Bush, anti-war in Iraq stance. "I found myself respecting him for doing that," says Moby. And so the man who not so long ago was saying "any music that glorifies abuse, misogyny, homophobia or racism is disturbing, but especially so when it's targeted to a fanbase of 10-year-old boys" is now gushing:
"Honestly, if he retired, I think the world of music would be a poorer place. He's a really fascinating public figure... I'd much rather have public figure musicians like Eminem because at least he's exciting."
And what about being called a "bald headed fag" and parodied in a video?
"To have the most successful musician in the world dress up like you in a video and sing about you in a song - it was honestly some of the best publicity I've ever had."
George W Bush - you are a truly a miracle worker. Who else, after all, could end a feud between an egomaniacal white trash rapper and a sensitive New Age electronica maestro?

Moby, "Hotel" might just be my favorite new CD this year, but you're an idiot.


Old terror, new terror 

Good news from Ireland:
The Provisional IRA last night took the historic step of ordering its militants to end their decades-long armed campaign in Northern Ireland in favour of trying to achieve a united Ireland through political means.
Which will undoubtedly convince some sincere souls that if it can be done with the IRA, it can also be done with Al Qaeda. The problem is that while morally speaking, blowing up civilians anywhere in the world is equal, it doesn't mean that politically all terrorism is the same beast. Old style terrorist organizations such as the IRA, the Basque ETA, or even the PLO, had pretty narrow political aims (united Ireland, an independent Basque state, and Palestine replacing Israel). Al Qaeda, on the other hand, is a parasite that attaches itself to various local grievances as a way of pursuing its global totalitarian objective.

You can conceivably negotiate whether the Irish Republic and British Ulster should be united as one, Catholic-dominated, country. It's more difficult to negotiate the return of a Sunni dictatorship in Iraq, re-Talibanization of Afghanistan, or abolishment of the Jewish state. And how do you ultimately negotiate the Caliphate? The IRA represented terrorism in pursuit of bound, or limited objectives - united Ireland with zero impact on the rest of the world. Al Qaeda now represents terrorism in pursuit of unlimited, totalitarian objectives - the world-wide rule of extremist Islam.

As Mark Steyn writes in his latest (registration required):
As fascism and communism were in their day, Islamism is now the ideology of choice for the world's grievance-mongers. That means we have to destroy the ideology, or at least its potency -­ not Islam per se, but at the very minimum the malign strain of Wahabism, which thanks to Saudi oil money has been transformed from a fetish of isolated desert derelicts into the most influential radicalising force in contemporary Islam, from Indonesia to Leeds. Europeans who aren't prepared to roll back Wahabism had better be prepared to live with it, or under it.
As I've tried to say many times recently, Al Qaeda is more than just the sum of individual grievances. You can solve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict or the problem of Kashmir, but Al Qaeda will still be with us. That's not an argument for not trying to solve these international problems - by all means, a Palestinian state is a laudable end - but don't kid yourself that this will end terrorism, because:

a) Al Qaeda doesn't just want a Palestinian state - it wants a Taliban-style Palestinian state that is to the exclusion of, and not in addition to, the Jewish state, and

b) it wants a lot more than that - it's the Caliphate or bust.

Trying to eliminate various geo-political grievances might help by reducing the number of potential single-issue terror recruits - but it won't end the terror. The list of grievances is seemingly inexhaustible, which means there will always be reasons for somebody to get worked up about something happening somewhere around the world (the IRA's war largely consisted of Irishmen blowing up other Irishmen and the Brits on the British Isles; Al Qaeda's war consists of Moroccans blowing themselves up in Iraq). Secondly, there will always be enough people attracted to Al Qaeda's totalitarian dream - people who want the flag of the Prophet flying over every capital, the end of Dar Al Harb, and the conversion or death of all the infidels.


Blair versus Blair 

Two perspectives on fighting the "war on terror" (or whatever it's called now):
Sometimes democracy must fight with one hand tied behind its back. None the less, it has the upper hand. Preserving the rule of law and recognition of individual liberties constitutes an important component of its understanding of security. At the end of the day, this strengthens its spirit, and this strength allows it to overcome its difficulties.
We in the West play the anti-terrorist game with kid gloves... The enemy, the terrorist, has no rules. And yet here we are, we pussyfoot around, complaining that peoples' civil liberties are being infringed if they're held too long in custody or they're not treated properly. We are fighting, with one-and-a-half hands tied behind our back, an enemy that's totally, absolutely, viciously, murderously ruthless.
The first one, from Cherie Booth, Tony Blair's wife, addressing 1,000 lawyers, civil servants and diplomats in Malaysia. The second one, from a fellow Brit Peter Ryan, the former New South Wales Police Commissioner and chief of security for Sydney 2000 Olympics, and now Olympic security consultant.

Tory spokesman Patrick Mercer commented bitchily: "Cherie Blair or Cherie Booth, whichever name she's going under just at the moment, is entitled to her private opinions of course and to express those. But she is the Prime Minister's wife... this is a desperately insensitive time for her to be making those comments."

Must make for interesting dinner time conversations at 10 Downing Street.


Run, Dick, run 

Drudge reports that the veteran Hearts Newspaper columnists Helen Thomas might become a victim of a Republican-assisted suicide:
Helen Thomas is vowing to 'kill herself' if Dick Cheney announces he is running for president...

"The day Dick Cheney is going to run for president, I'll kill myself," she told the HILL. "All we need is one more liar."

Thomas added, "I think he'd like to run, but it would be a sad day for the country if he does."
I think the odds of Dick Cheney nominating, with his history of health problems and all that, are pretty long, but if you're feeling particularly uncharitable, you can pre-emptively email (helent@hearstdc.com) Helen suggestions on the best way to go out with dignity. But remember, it's impossible, not to mention probably illegal, and certainly not very nice, to send razors as an attachment.


Good news week 

It's been a good few days for the environment and the international trade.

Kyoto is dead, long live Vientiane?
Australia will host in November the first meeting of six nations which have agreed a pact to combat global warming by developing technology to cut greenhouse gas emissions, diplomatic sources said on Thursday.

The Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate will be introduced by the United States, Japan, Australia, China, India and South Korea at the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional forum later on Thursday.

In documents seen by Reuters, the six nations say the pact will "seek to address energy, climate change and air pollution issues within a paradigm of economic development" and will "complement but not replace the Kyoto protocol".
Note the contrast in approaches: Kyoto is every liberal internationalist's wet dream - a meaningless strength-in-numbers exercise that attempts to get everyone inside the tent (or greenhouse) regardless whether they actually contribute much to the problem (or the solution) or not. At the same time, it places the biggest burden on the developed world, while some of the biggest offenders come from the ranks of the developing world. And it tries to achieve its objective by regulation that would put a dampener on economic growth.

Vientiane, on the other hand, is an example of effective, targeted multilateralism - it brings together states who are the biggest greenhouse gas producers, and the states with access to cutting edge technology (with some, like the United States, in both categories), and it plans to address the problem using the best that the humanity has to offer - technological innovation, that is using our ingenuity to solve the problem without inflicting collateral damage on the world economy. To me personally, one of the greatest stories in our species' history have been the efforts to successfully have the cake and eat it too.

And the new pact has already achieved some global cooling:
A new American-led initiative to combat global warming met with a cool reaction yesterday as Europe and environmentalists warned that it risked undermining the Kyoto Protocol.
Good. Now we also need to involve Tony Blair, who's been on Bush's case about climate change for some time now. Also - Australia claims some credit for the initiative. See also the Powerline perspective.

Meanwhile, this - narrow - victory for free trade:
US President George W. Bush, in a rare piece of political theatre, walked the corridors of the US Congress yesterday to personally lobby Republican members of the House of Representatives to pass the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

Mr Bush's direct action proved the clincher, as the free trade agreement was passed 217 votes to 215, the narrowest of margins but a victory the President hopes will signal renewed momentum for his second-term agenda.
See also: Will Franklin looks how both parties in the Congress are trending on free trade - hint: looks like one of the more positive legacies of Clinton's centrist agenda is going down the toilet (hat tip: Instapundit).


Thursday, July 28, 2005

Australia's own Schiavo 

For all their many commonalities, the United States and Australia do have different cultures; a fact that becomes apparent whenever controversies involving contentious moral and social issues erupt in our two countries. What in the United States would lead to a media frenzy, an almost non-stop TV coverage, not to mention books and mini-series, and generate political storm on the op-ed pages and in the legislatures, in Australia barely raises an eyebrow. Depending on one's point of view this is either a very good or a very bad thing, but a useful reminder, nevertheless, that even among the countries of the Anglosphere there can be substantial - although arguably in practice not very consequential - cultural differences.

Maria Korp is in a Melbourne hospital in a coma. She has been in that state since mid-February. A few days ago, Public Advocate Julian Gardner has made the decision to halt artificial feeding of Mrs Korp through a tube. He justified his decision on the grounds that "[Mrs Korp] is somebody who is not being sustained by the feeding... Her body is no longer able to process it (and) her injuries are so horrific that they are making it impossible for her to live even with this treatment." It is expected that Mrs Korp will die within the next two weeks.

The story of how she got to that point is sordid, indeed.

Explains "The Age": "It fell to [the Public Advocate] to [make the decision to disconnect the tube], as her legal guardian, because of terrible conflicts of interest for the next of kin who might usually make such a decision. Her death could lead to a charge of murder being laid against her husband, Joe, who faces charges of attempted murder, conspiracy to murder and intentionally causing serious injury."

Maria Korp, a 50-year-old mother of two, disappeared from her home in outer suburbs of Melbourne in early February. Four days later, she was found in the boot of her car, assaulted and left for dead. She's been in a coma ever since.

It has been subsequently established that Maria Korp and her 47-year old husband Joseph have sometime before her disappearance joined an internet site for swingers. But unbeknownst to Maria, her husband has also been playing online by himself - he had started an affair with a woman he met via the same website, 38-year old Tania Herman.

Not long after Maria Korp was found, Joseph Korp and Tania Herman have been charged with attempted murder, and conspiracy to murder. Herman pleaded guilty to attempted murder, having confessed to the police that she had ambushed Maria Korp in the garage of her family home and strangled her with a strap, allegedly on Joseph Korp's instructions. She is now serving a 12-year sentence. Joseph Korp is still awaiting his trial, but he's denying any involvement in the attempted murder of his wife.

Maria Korp has not recovered from the assault and Victoria's Public Advocate found himself force to make a life or death decision:
Mr Gardner also felt he had to reveal private details to explain that Mrs Korp's condition was not stable and she was not being sustained by feeding — her body was rejecting food naturally. He had acted on the advice of two separate teams of doctors that she was dying... [As he said] "It is not like Terri Schiavo who could be maintained for years."
Letting nature take its inevitable course, or the state finishing what Maria Korp's attacker did not manage to? Whatever the rights and wrongs of the decision, while the story keeps making the nightly news, it hasn't generated much heated debate. Today, two of Victoria's Catholic bishops are questioning the Public Advocate's decision, but the public remains largely disinterested. Australia, being a significantly more secular society than the US, the attitudes to issues like abortion, euthanasia or gay marriage - all big battlefields of American culture wars - are much more "liberal." And so, Maria Korp keeps dying in silence. Whether it's a dignified silence, or a shameful one, is a matter of opinion.


Stunning success 

Yasin Hassan Omar, one of the four failed London suicide bombers, has been arrested in a police raid in Birmingham with the aid of a stun gun.

This is how it works: "The Taser uses compressed gas to fire twin needle-tipped darts into the suspect, from point blank range up to 21ft (6m), with wires to transmit a 50,000-volt shock which temporarily immobilises all the suspect's muscles while officers overpower him or her."

Could this be the solution to the dilemma posed by the "shoot-to-kill" policy and the tragedies like the recent subway killing of Jean Charles de Menezes? I don't know enough about the science of these things to be able to say whether firing an electrical charge into the body in order to disable poses any risk of setting off explosives a person might have strapped to their body. If it doesn't, and the suspect is not otherwise armed and shooting at you with a real gun (not to mention if he or she is within the 6 meter range), then stun guns might be a good option.

Coincidentally, Iraq is slowly becoming a testing ground for some non-lethal military technologies, particularly those designed to deal with suspected suicide car bombs:
- Nets that pop up remotely from the road and ensnare the wheels and suspensions of oncoming vehicles.

- Instant oil slicks that cause vehicles to skid and crash and pedestrians to fall down.

- Military paint-ball guns that coat windshields to blind drivers of oncoming cars. Some troops are trying small lasers to temporarily blind opponents in cars or on foot.

- Venom, a system of small mortar-like tubes that fire rounds that explode like fireworks at a range of up to 200 yards away. The pyrotechnics keep suspect vehicles or people away. Although the rounds are still in testing, the Marines have committed $14 million to buy 250 units.

The military hopes to develop guns that fire energy pulses that destroy ignitions or other critical components to cause a car or truck to stop. A prototype of such a system is probably five years off...
Mind you, the changes aren't happening quick enough for the soldiers on the ground: "[Col Ralph] Baker, who commanded a brigade of the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad, went on the Internet and ordered remote-controlled road spikes, which pop up and shred tires on command, because he was frustrated by the Pentagon's delay in supplying alternatives."

Meanwhile, while the science-fiction type ray guns are still some way away, some interesting prototypes are already being tested: "Radiation similar to some forms of radar fired by the Active Denial System (ADS) penetrates just below the skin's surface to cause an excruciating burning sensation until it is turned off. Extensive testing has shown no lasting damage, the military said."

No doubt some of my more blood-thirsty readers will say that "no lasting damage" is too good for the bastards - still, anything that can minimize civilian casualties is worth a try.


Happy anniversary 

Best of the Web is celebrating its fifth anniversary. Congratulations to James Taranto, and thanks for half a decade of news and commentary delivered with just the right dose of wry humor.

James writes: "This column--we don't call it a 'blog' because we post on a daily schedule rather than at will--began as an exercise in editing; it was not an outlet for the bloviations of this site's editor." But, regardless, we'll recognize Best of the Web as an honorary blog.


Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Finsbury Park strikes again 

A fascinating glimpse on the authorities' search for the common intersection in the otherwise diverse lives of the eight London bombers - it looks like it might have been the infamous Finsbury Park mosque, also the launching pad for the "shoe bomber" Richard Reid and the "19th hijacker" Zacarias Moussaoui.

It's amazing how much trouble can come out of one place - and by extension, what a timely action of the type only contemplated now against those inciting jihad (such as deportation) could have possibly achieved to prevent the current troubles.

On the other hand, we shouldn't think there are easy solutions - deporting radical clerics merely exports the problem back to the countries of origin, where the imams will either continue to preach hate in an even more permissive environment, or, on the other extreme, they will land behind the bars if the local government is not as tolerant of dissent as, say, their British counterparts. Either way, the problem remains.

It's going to be a long, long conflict.


The "C" word 

If "terrorism" can often be a word too hard to swallow - or, rather, spit out - by the media, the "Caliphate" is an ambition that dare not speak its name in a respectable discussion of "what do they want?" and "why do they hate us?"

In today's "Australian", Daniel Pipes again hammers in on jihadis' true objectives:
The Islamists who assassinated Anwar Sadat in 1981 decorated their holding cages with banners proclaiming "The caliphate or death".

A biography of Abdullah Azzam, one of the most influential Islamist thinkers of recent times and an influence on Osama bin Laden, declares that his life "revolved around a single goal, namely the establishment of Allah's rule on earth" and restoring the caliphate.

Bin Laden spoke of ensuring that "the pious caliphate will start from Afghanistan". His chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, also dreamed of re-establishing the caliphate, for then, he wrote, "history would make a new turn, God willing, in the opposite direction against the empire of the US and the world's Jewish government". Another al-Qa'ida leader, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, publishes a magazine that declares: "Due to the blessings of jihad, America's countdown has begun. It will declare defeat soon", to be followed by the creation of a caliphate.
The common reaction in the enlightened West is something along the lines of "Oh well, they're just saying that" or "Yeah, yeah, as if that's ever going to happen." Even after all the carnage of the twentieth century, large sections of our elites still have a problem conceptualizing totalitarianism and totalitarian objectives. Specific grievances are much easier to grasp conceptually and focus on - and they fit better with the Western no-nonsense problem-solving attitude: let's discuss it, negotiate on it, and fix it. That someone might actually want to take a mile instead of an inch is a concept difficult to comprehend. Why would anyone want to exercise a total dominion over me? Why not live and let live?

We've had similar problems in the past with Nazism and communism. It was all too easy to focus on specific grievances (the rights of German minorities living outside the borders, the punitive peace of Versailles, reparations in the former case; poverty and exploitation of the working class in the latter). Whether genuine or not, these could at least elicit some broad sympathy. It was easier, in any case, than facing up the stark reality that Nazi Germany didn't just want to become a normal sovereign state again but wanted to build an Aryan empire from the Atlantic to the Urals and then beyond, or that the Soviet Union didn't really care all that much about the well-being of the proletariat but was more interested in spreading the dictatorship f the party around the world.

And so, not surprisingly, today we all talk about Iraq, or Afghanistan, or the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, as if solving these problems will make terrorism disappear. Bin Laden will not say to his followers, "OK, guys, well done - the foreign troops are out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and Palestinians now have their own state - let's pack up and go. Who's up for some after-work drinks? It's on me." And he won't say that not only because Al Qaeda wants more than just the end of foreign occupation of Muslim lands and the Palestinian statehood (instead the Talibanization and the end of Israel respectively), but because the ultimate goal is the Caliphate - today the Middle East, tomorrow the world. This objective might seems too preposterous and too far-fetched, but just because we think the chance of it ever coming to fruition are very remote means nothing to the people who will be trying to make it happen.

Addressing any of the grievances might at best reduce the levels of sympathy or understanding that the jihadis enjoy in the Islamic world, but it won't eliminate jihadi terrorism because as long as the dream of the Caliphate holds sway, there will be enough people willing to blow up some infidels to achieve that dream.


Another celebrity who gets it 

Bush and Tony [Blair] have difficult jobs to do.

Is it possible to enter a world that's full of violence, anger and hatred and not have some consequences that are unpleasant for people?

Is it a sin to kill? Yes it is. Is it a sin to defend oneself? No. It's a great, difficult decision to stand up and say, 'I will dedicate lives to this cause. I will take on an unpopular position in order to secure the wellbeing of my country.'
And that's Doctor Frasier Crane, signing off for the tonight. Goodnight, Seattle.

See also:

Kid Rock

Alice Cooper


Watch what you wear 

Photos of Japanese grandmothers wearing T-shirts embroided with English-language obscenities, unaware of their meaning, have been doing round on the email for as long as I can remember. Even older are the urban legends of high society ladies wearing charming Oriental pendants whose Chinese calligraphs, it is eventually explained to them by a knowledgeable traveler, spell "prostitute" or some such.

But if you're a well-known celebrity, the risks are even greater - and in the long run unavoidable. Take Ricky Martin:
The "Livin' La Vida Loca" singer was in Jordan yesterday (25 July 05), where he attended the silver jubilee of the Arab Children's Congress, which was set up 25 years ago by the country's Queen Nour to promote creativity, peace, cross-cultural understanding and tolerance.

And at one point while posing for photographs with fans, he draped the kaffiyeh over his shoulders, without being able to understand the statement it carried.
In case you were wondering, the slogan written in Arabic said "Jerusalem Is Ours".


White lines 

A sneak-peak from Drudge on Osama's Weapons of Mass Snorting:
Osama bin Laden tried to buy a massive amount of cocaine, spike it with poison and sell it in the United States, hoping to kill thousands of Americans one year after the 9/11 attacks, the NEW YORK POST reported on Tuesday.

The evil plot failed when the Colombian drug lords bin Laden approached decided it would be bad for their business - and, possibly, for their own health, according to law-enforcement sources familiar with the Drug Enforcement Administration's probe of the aborted transaction.
What a great scheme to paralyze the entertainment industry and the world of the beautiful people!

I doubt though, if the plan would have worked as well as Osama had hoped for. I think a panic would erupt very quickly, leaving many dead to be sure, but also leaving a lot of angry dealers with a lot of merchandise which they did not manage to sell before all hell broke loose. There's already been reports that American ghetto gangs are infiltrating the armed forces and using the Iraq tours of duty as valuable training in urban warfare. Maybe Osama just needs a posse of irate Bloods and Crips on his trail for messing with their business.

It would be interesting to watch the overall cocaine use drop, as dabblers would decline playing the Colombian roulette, not knowing whether they're buying the poisoned coke or a clean one (for the lack of a better word).

It would also be interesting to see if Michael Moore, who a few years ago was lamenting that Osama had attacked all the blue areas instead of the states that voted Republican, would now whine that Al Qaeda is targeting coke users, instead of, say, evangelical Christians.

Anyway, here's the full story.


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

See no Israel, hear no Israel 

Pope Benedict is getting his ears chewed off about leaving Israel off the list of countries recently hit by terrorism.

A few days ago, the Pope prayed for God to stop "the murderous hand" of terrorists who recently struck in "countries including Egypt, Turkey, Iraq and Britain".

Hey, at least the Pope mentioned Iraq, unlike Tony Blair who omitted both Israel and Iraq from his list.


The passion for the obscure 

After making "the most successful Aramaic-language film ever" (put that on your CV!), Mel Gibson is going again where major studios fear to tread - an ultra-violent picture with unknown actors set five centuries ago in what is now Mexico, spoken in "an obscure Mayan dialect" (are there any non-obscure ones? Yes, I know, I know, some are still spoken today around Yukatan).

Perhaps Oliver Stone should have filmed "Alexander" in Greek - it would have been easier to tune out subtitles than the awful dialogue.

Some Hollywood directors never produce a good movie in English. Mel Gibson will probably produce yet another good one in a dead language.


Assimilation or alienation? 

An interesting opinion poll of British Muslims.

Good news first: 9 out of ten think that violence has no place in politics, and similar number say they should help police tackle extremism in their community.

A small group, unquantified but described by "The Guardian" as "a small rump, potentially running into thousands" (out of the total Muslim population of 1.6 million) support the 7/7 terrorist attack, and 5 per cent said that further attacks would be justified. That's not a lot, but still a potentially large pool of terror supporters (and one has to assume that many of those polled would have been reluctant to admit to interviewers that they support domestic terrorism).

Sixty three percent have considered whether to remain in Great Britain:
The figure illustrates how widespread fears are of an anti-Muslim backlash following the July 7 bombings which were carried out by British born suicide bombers.

The poll also shows that tens of thousands of Muslims have suffered from increased Islamophobia, with one in five saying they or a family member have faced abuse or hostility since the attacks.
Interestingly, when asked about the factors behind the bombing, 80 per cent pointed to the war in Iraq, nearly two thirds said racism and Islamophobia was to blame. On the other hand, 57 per cent thought the community leaders' failure to root out extremism contributed, and 80 per cent blamed the bombers and their handlers.

As I said, a mixed bag. Widespread condemnation of violence and terrorism is certainly encouraging, but the results paint a picture of a community somewhat stuck in a passive victimhood mode. The terrorists might have been bad, but it's the "society", in the form of a war abroad and racism at home, that made them do it, and now the "society", with its prejudice and bigotry, is making the whole community pay the price for the sins of the few.

How to deal with these challenges - aside from engaging in terrorism or migrating - is an interesting question: "One in five polled said Muslim communities had integrated with society too much already, while 40% said more was needed and a third said the level was about right."

Two other recent polls, commissioned by "The Daily Telegraph" and "Sky News" shine an additional light on this conundrum. Both have very similar figures in response to 7/7 (around 90 per cent condemn, between 2 and 5 per cent support) - although the "Telly" one finds that around the quarter have a lot or little (i.e. some) sympathy with the motives and feelings of terrorists, and over half of those polled understand why some behave this way - but both polls paint a more pessimistic picture of a community where a substantial minority feels alienated from and even hostile towards their host society.

For example, 26 per cent disagree with Tony Blair that ideas motivating terrorists are "perverted and poisonous", 16 per cent feel no or little loyalty to their country, 32 per cent consider Western society "decadent and immoral" and agree that it should be brought to an end (though only 1 per cent think through violence - a difference between Al Qaeda and Hizb ut-Tahrir), and 14 per cent feel no duty to report suspicious activity to the police (and majorities, or close to majorities, are distrustful of politicians, the police and the judicial system).

In addition, this from the Sky poll:
The interviewees were asked to respond to the statement: "Muslim clerics who preach violence against the West are out of touch with mainstream Muslim opinion."

Nearly half - 46% - disagreed or strongly disagreed, while 54% thought they were out of touch.

And 46% said they thought of themselves as Muslim first and British second, with another 42% not differentiating.

Only 12% saw themselves as British first and Muslim second.
The polls tell us what we have always known - namely that the great majority of Muslims living in the West (Great Britain in this case) are peaceful and law-abiding moderates, reasonably well at ease with the society around them (this another recent Mori poll is perhaps the most optimistic in that regard); but also that there is a not insignificant minority that is alienated from the rest of the community and hostile to the idea of assimilation.

Alienation is not a Muslim phenomenon - many people in Western societies feel ambiguous or even hostile towards the political and economic system, but after the long and bloody twentieth century history indeed ended to the extent that specific radical alternatives to current order are lacking appeal as is the idea of violent transformation of the current order, with all the upheaval that would entail. By contrast, radical Islam - or Islamism, or Islamofascism, whatever you choose to call it - continues to offer what is for many a viable and attractive vision of a different, better world.

The challenge for our multicultural societies, be it the United States, Australia, Great Britain, and increasingly most other European countries, is how well we deal not just with those who seek an apocalyptic end to our way of life, but with a significantly greater number of people - virtual strangers in our midst - who might not sympathize with the means, but wouldn't be averse to the end result.


Terrorizing Castro 

Luis Posada Carriles is applying for asylum in the United States. Cuba and Venezuela (whose citizenship he holds and where he previously resided) want him extradited for his role in bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976, which left 73 people dead (involvement that Posada denies).

Bombing passenger planes is terrorism, whichever way one looks at it. However, in a truly bizarre move, the US immigration judge hearing Posada's case has asked for legal briefs on whether Posada's role in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion (planning but not the fighting) was a terrorist act.

At the time when so many in the media are bending over backwards not to use the "t" word to describe anyone or any action (it's bombings in London, it's insurgents in Iraq, etc.), it is interesting to see a judicial official trying to go to the other extreme. It should be apparent to everyone that landing an armed force on a beach with a view of overthrowing a (totalitarian) government can be called many things - armed insurrection, insurgency, guerrilla warfare - but since it essentially involves armed paramilitary fighting a standing army, one thing it cannot be called is terrorism, unless one subscribes to the school of though that anything that the United States does internationally is an act of terrorism.


The not-so-eminent domain 

Here's an update on the efforts of New Hampshire residents to take over Justice Souter's family farm and build a hotel on his land. In a state where 93 per cent of the population oppose the taking of private land through eminent domain for private development, Souter's contribution to the Kelo majority was not very popular.

Enough to lose the roof over your heard? Probably not; for one, the local authorities are unlikely to go through with "the people's revenge." But it's an interesting thought.

Politicians, of course, have to live with the consequences of their decisions; they either stay in the office or get voted out, depending on whether the majority of voters think they've done a good job. Judges never do, and nor should they, to the extent that their role is different to that of legislators. Legislators, in general, have to reflect the views of people they represent - judges, on the other hand, are there to interpret the laws and adjudicate appropriately, without fear or favor. If only that was all they did - alas, the protestations from the benches that the courts don't engage in law-making have been wearing very thin over the last few decades. Behind the increasing public frustration with the judicial system lies the perception that judges have tried to have the best of both worlds; the power of the legislature with the lack of accountability of the judicature.


A stop-over in Iraq 

After meeting George Bush in Washington and Tony Blair in London (and having time to talk some sense to the media), on his way back, Australia's Prime Minister John Howard dropped in to see the Iraqi PM Jaffari and visit the Australian troops stationed in Al-Muthanna province in the south of the country, where they are providing security for Japanese military engineers.

"We have never had a war-like military tradition we Australians, we only deploy military force in a right and a just cause and we do it in a way that is sympathetic to the concerns and interests of local people and I warmly thank all of you for that," the Prime Minister told the troops.

Photos: Andrew Taylor, Reuters


Monday, July 25, 2005

Not a "Happy Week" 

No candy from strangers in Indonesia:
Three Indonesian housewives face up to five years in prison for allegedly trying to lure Muslim children into Christianity at a Sunday School "Happy Week"...

The three women faced threats from a yelling mob of 150 fundamentalists during a court appearance in West Java last week. It is claimed that the women were teaching lessons in reading and writing to mixed classes of Christian and Muslim children, taking them on trips to parks and swimming pools, and rewarding them with treats such as pencils for memorising Christian prayers and Bible verses. Many of the alleged offences took place at a special Happy Week earlier this year, although the lessons began in 2003.
I actually have problems with trying to covertly convert children, if that indeed is what has been taking place here, but criminalization of proselytizing is truly repulsive.

As "The Times" story helpfully reminds us:
About 10,000 Christians were killed in Indonesia between 1998 and 2003 and about 1,000 churches were burnt down by Muslim mobs, according to campaigners. Although religious conflict has eased in recent years campaigners say that about 100 churches have been closed down in the past five years in West Java.
Strangely, I don't recall any Christian suicide bombers blowing themselves up around the world to avenge the death toll that's around three times as much as the number of Palestinians killed in a comparable five year period (2000-–05). Can't think either of any youth in Great Britain or France who have been radicalized by this bloodshed. Those Christians just don't care.


Who are you calling inflammatory? 

Sheik Mohammed Omran: "I believe there is a... conspiracy against Islams and Muslims... There is a mastermind behind these things [9/11 and 7/7] and the mastermind is 100 per cent... from the US Government."

Prime Minister John Howard: "I make no bones about saying it, when I hear one of the imams in Melbourne saying that in effect bin Laden is a good man and that the attacks in London were the responsibility of the Americans, I mean I think that is an appalling thing."

And a few days earlier: "We shouldn't complacently imagine that there aren't potentially suicide bombers in this country."

Sheik Mohammed Omran: "Australia does not have a culture of suicide bombers... This statement does nothing but entice fear into the hearts of Australians. It is your [Prime Minister's] statement which is 'inflammatory'."

Very true - Australia indeed doesn't have a culture of suicide bombers. Neither did Britain until a few weeks ago. Oopps, sorry, according to the Sheik these weren't suicide bombers but an inside job by the Americans.

The PM Howard also had this to say:
There is an obligation of tolerance and respect on the part of all of us for bona fide different views on religion and politics and so forth... But there is a reciprocal obligation on leaders of communities, be they religious or otherwise, not to incite hatred, not to preach intolerance and that's a responsibility Islamic leaders in Australia carry very heavily. I think some have not been as strong in denouncing these acts as they should have been.
Eliciting this response:
A spokesman for radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir, Wassim Doureihi, said Mr Howard's comments were an attack on the core of Islam and that his group, which is being investigated for links to one of the London bombers, would continue to recruit new members in Australia.

"It is becoming more and more clear that the issue is Islam itself, not just radicals or moderates," Mr Doureihi said. "(Mr Howard) is implying we should not advocate an Islam that is a threat to Western capitalism."
Precisely illustrating the point made by the Prime Minister - unless the moderates speak out, hatred and intolerance might indeed become "the core of Islam".

Hizb ut-Tahrir, by the way, is an organisation that advocates the same ends as Al Qaeda (i.e. a world-wide Islamic Caliphate), but to be achieved through peaceful means. The British branch has been in the news lately as the spiritual home of the now former "Guardian" trainee and sometime columnist Dilpazier "Sassy" Aslam.


Mom, where does Andorra go? 

This is pretty cool - test your knowledge of European geography by dragging and dropping European countries into their right spots on a blank map of the continent (hint: however tempting, don't try to drop France into the Atlantic Ocean).

I got most of it right (42 out of 45), with accuracy to within 7 miles - my only problems being giving Belgium to France (to the annoyance of the Flemish part of the population), and putting San Marino too far north and Lichtenstein too far west.

I haven't have done as well with putting all the US states in their right places (isn't Vermont somewhere between Belgium and France?). And if you really want to stump yourself, try African geography.


Steyn again 

Words to warm one's heart in Australia: "Mark Steyn is a regular contributor to The Australian." Don't miss his latest on trendy multiculturalism as societal Stockholm Syndrome:
Anyone can be tolerant of the tolerant, but tolerance of intolerance gives an even more intense frisson of pleasure to the multiculti masochists. Australia's old cultural cringe had a certain market rationality; the new multicultural cringe is pure nihilism.


Back to the future 

Before September 11, before Afghanistan, before Iraq, before the Coalition of the Willing:
Mohammed Abdul Afroz Razzak, who lived in Melbourne in 1997, was jailed last Friday for seven years for "committing depredation on territories at peace with India".

The Mumbai court heard that, between 1997 and 2001, Afroz, along with two other men, planned to hijack passenger planes and crash them into Melbourne's Rialto Towers, the Indian parliament and the House of Commons in London.
The Australian authorities had in the past cast doubts on parts of his story - such as meeting an Al Qaeda chief in Melbourne -– but no one is denying that Afroz took flying lessons in 1997 at Moorabbin airport in Victoria, Australia, as well as in Great Britain and the United States.

Afroz must have been another one of those people pre-emptively radicalized by the Australia's future involvement in the illegal invasion of Iraq, not to mention Australia's future involvement in helping East Timor's transition to independence.

Yes, Virginia, these people hate us because we're filthy infidels. Deal with it before they deal with you.


Congratulations, General Abizaid 

Recently, the Polish Armed Forces have presented the CENTCOM commander General John Abizaid with the Golden Medal.
The Medal of The Polish Armed Forces is designed to honor foreign citizens and Poles living abroad who made an exceptional contribution in the area of cooperation between Polish Military and Armed Forces of other countries.

The presentation of the Golden Medal of the Polish Armed Forces to General Abizaid is a symbol of Polish appreciation for the outstanding support which the Polish Armed Forces received in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.


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