In Davos, Part Iv


Friends, we have had the first three parts of this Davos Journal — I, II, and III. Let’s get started on IV.

I thought you might like to meet Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, son of you-know-who. He is the heir apparent, and he is a mini-star at Davos. He’s handsome, bald, and fairly smooth (in manner).

Before a group of journalists over coffee, he talks about Libya: No, Libya is not coming back to the international community; “the international community is coming back to Libya.” Ha, ha, ha (only young Gaddafi is serious).

Interestingly, he mounts a partial defense of George W. Bush, saying that the president is both a realist and an idealist. This combination has worked wonders in Afghanistan. And “if you fight pollution in Libya [which is idealistic], you save the shores of Italy [which is a happy pragmatic result]. If you tend to the problems of sub-Saharan Africa, you ease the strain of immigration in Europe.” You get the picture.

Gaddafi is asked whether the “resistance” in Iraq is legitimate. He says, yes–not the “bandits” and the “kidnapers”; they’re not legitimate. But everyone else, sure. You see, Kofi Annan has called the U.S.-led Iraq war “illegal,” so “resistance” to this “occupation” must be legitimate.

How about the elections of Jan. 30 (this discussion is taking place days before)? They will not be legitimate, no, because the Sunnis aren’t participating. And the Shiites will control all of Iraq.

It seems clear that Mr. Gaddafi doesn’t understand: He thinks governance must be an all-or-nothing proposition; the Sunnis ruled over everyone else; so now the majority must rule over everyone else. The idea of republicanism seems impossibly foreign.

Then he says something straight out of the pages of our David Pryce-Jones’s Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs: He says that Iraq is left “without honor and dignity, and these are very important in our part of the world.” The American invasion and occupation have robbed Iraq–and, by extension, all Arabs–of this honor and dignity. Soldiers are raiding homes, indiscriminately, and humiliating men in front of their women.

Again, right out of David’s work.

Gaddafi envisions some kind of democratic Libya. Will this include parties? Well, he answers, we can’t really have parties; we have tribes instead.

Then he says something utterly fascinating: We Arabs have lost all our wars against Israel because Israel is democratic, and we are undemocratic. In other words (Gaddafi continues), in one of our states, the worst general becomes army chief of staff, because he is no threat to carry out a coup d’état. Loyalty to the number one is all that matters. Democracy, on the other hand, is a competitive mechanism–and that’s why Israel wins.

Quips an Israeli at the table, “Please don’t ever have a democracy.”

And what has Gaddafi to say about the future of Israel/Palestine? He seizes on a line that is growing popular in the Arab world, and on the Western left: There’s no need for two states; Israel/Palestine should be like South Africa–in which blacks and whites live in harmony; Arabs and Jews should live in harmony in the same way. This is the “final solution,” says Gaddafi. (Oops.)

Of course, if Israel/Palestine becomes like South Africa–that means no more Jewish state. Which, of course, is Gaddafi’s point.

In a bow to pragmatism, Gaddafi allows that there may have to be two states, before this one, South Africa-like state can come into being. It is clear, however, that he is following the old “incrementalism,” PLO policy for several decades. At the end of that rainbow is–no Israel.

Gaddafi says that Libyan Jews in Israel should return to their homeland (from which they were kicked out, of course), because “they lived in Libya for hundreds of years, and speak our language, and share our mentality–they ought to contribute to the modernization of Libya. They were very active in trade and business.” Yeah, I bet they were.

At the end of our session, Gaddafi is asked about the Holocaust–about the general Arab denial of same. Gaddafi begins his answer very hesitantly: “I’m not a historian, I don’t know all the facts.” Uh-oh–this is creepily familiar. Then he goes into the equally familiar spiel (I have heard it all my life) that Arabs can’t be anti-Semites, because Arabs themselves are Semitic, and Jews are cousins, blah, blah, blah.

Then he senses–he appears to sense–that this isn’t flying in this particular room; that he ought not to deny–even seem to deny–the Holocaust before an international group of reporters. So he says, “It is incorrect to deny the Holocaust.” And why? Because it was the Russians who liberated Auschwitz. We learned about these horrors from the Russians–”not from the Zionists, not from the New York Times,” but from the Red Army. “So, if Arabs deny this, it is incorrect.”

The World Economic Forum official who is with us says, “On that conciliatory note, we must adjourn.”

Amazing: that an admission that the Holocaust occurred–because the Red Army has said so–should be “conciliatory.” But, in our bizarre world, it is.

I meet a journalist named Antonio Ferrari, from the Corriere della Sera. I point out that I know a woman born Sarah Maserati (formerly of National Review). It’s nice to add a Ferrari to my collection!

I suppose I’ll run into a Lamborghini someday.

All right, I have some candy for you: A reporter for a major left-leaning American news institution is explaining to a chief of a major Middle Eastern broadcasting network that if you really want to understand the “American mindset,” you have to watch Fox News, because boobish Americans watch this all day long, are heavily propagandized, and are therefore ignorant.

I tell you, it’s right out of a paranoid conservative’s darkest fantasy.

Throughout Davos, by the way, the name “Fox News” is a bogey word, like “neocon.” To say “Fox News” is to say “Satan” or something. Everyone understands (and agrees).

At another point, I observe a bigtime American reporter–another one–explaining to a foreign journalist–another one–that Fox News has the American public captive. Fox is not interested in news, only in propaganda (and war-mongering). In addition, the Bush administration doesn’t want the facts–as revealed in Ron Suskind’s New York Times Magazine article, published before the election. The administration is not “fact-” or “reality-based,” you see.

The foreign journalist nods, understanding all.

I repeat what I said after my first visit to Davos, in 2003: To see the major journalists in action–from CNN, the BBC, etc.–is to know why the news turns out the way it does. What was that expression from 1980s Washington? “Personnel is policy”?

A famous left-wing professor says that “diaspora groups”–e.g., Jews in America–ought to “shut up, or be shut up.” Do not those words have a whiff of thuggery about them? When we hear that someone, or some group, ought to “shut up, or be shut up,” the hair on our necks should stand on end. A great many groups around the world are shut up, indeed.

I have a conversation with an American in a prominent position. He is greatly worried about the weakening of the separation of church and state, back home. I ask, What do you mean? He cites the presence of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. (The courts have declined to remove them; how this represents a weakening, I don’t know.) My friend thinks that non-religious people, in America as throughout the world, are under attack from the religious, their liberties insecure.

I suggest that this is an odd thing to worry about–the bullying of the non-religious by the religious. Certainly in the United States. And how about the persecution of religious believers all over the world? Is this not worthy of concern? For example, in China, if you go to the wrong church, or espouse the wrong beliefs, you can be tortured and killed. Not cold-shouldered, or deprived of jobs, or what have you: tortured and killed.

Having none of it, my friend leans in and say, “What are we doing at Guantanamo?”

This is the bottom line: America under George W. Bush can be seen as embodying no good at all, and every non-American government or society–so long as it’s not allied with Washington–can do no wrong. Therefore, a point about China is immediately answered with a point about Guantanamo.

I don’t say that this is new or startling; I say that it is a little depressing, year after year, decade after decade.

The president of Brazil, Lula da Silva, is back in Davos, two years after his debut, shortly after his election. He is wildly popular, but he’s less popular at the World Social Forum–held in Porto Alegre–from which he has just come.

The World Social Forum, remember, is the convocation set up to counter Davos, because Davos is seen as capitalist–if only they knew!–whereas the Social Forum is “progressive.”

Anyway, Lula used to be a darling of the WSF folks, but his name is muddier now, because he has adopted some liberal economic policies. (In America, we would call these conservative, if not right-wing. But then, our terms are eternally screwed up.)

Here in Davos, Lula speaks to a large audience in the Congress Center. He is introduced by our founder and host, Klaus Schwab, who calls him “a champion of fairness and equality.” Referring to da Silva’s progress over the last two years, Schwab declares, “Brazil is back.”

It is da Silva’s purpose to “reclaim the missing link between fairness and strategic development.” Under his leadership, Brazil “achieved stability,” and then economic growth. Two years ago, “I was greeted [in Davos] with a mixture of fear and uncertainty–what could a former lathe operator do in a country like Brazil?” That is not true. Lula was received rhapsodically–like Pele in a soccer stadium. I remember well.

The president touts two major reforms: of the tax code and of social security. And he boasts of beating back inflation, from 12.5 percent in 2002, to 7.2 percent last year.

In all, Lula comes off as a sober, responsible leader, not a rabble-rouser.

At one point, he says, “[We have done such and such,] and if God permits, [we will do such and such].” If God permits! If he said that in our country, he would be denounced as a dangerous “theocrat.” The New York Times would have a fit.

Da Silva is trolling for investments, and he has picked a good pond, for Davos is stuffed with investors. Several times, he mentions that he will be available at the Belvedere Hotel “tomorrow morning,” to discuss opportunities. This is almost touching.

After the president’s formal remarks, Klaus Schwab has a question for him: Two years from now, what would he like to have happened? Brazil’s admission to the U.N. Security Council? Lula answers, “If all Brazilians can have breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I can die in peace.” Huge applause.

He also speaks of “lessons I learned in the labor movement.” Can you think of another world leader who learned lessons in the labor movement? How about Ronald Reagan? I think he and Lula would have had much to talk about. Of course, Reagan learned how to stand up to Communists.

Da Silva stresses the need to “democratize the United Nations,” meaning that we must put more countries on the Security Council: “We would not have had the Iraq war, a unilateral decision of a single country,” with a better United Nations.

And the people of Iraq would still live in what one great man–Kanan Makiya–dubbed “the Republic of Fear.”

Just want to say something ultra-Impromptus-ish: “Porto Alegre”–the site of the World Social Forum, in southern Brazil–is an incredibly beautiful place name.

Expanding on the Middle East, Bill Clinton says, “Whenever we [the U.S.] get involved, fewer people die. What we must not do is let the delay [the DeLay?] destroy the prospects for peace. We need to not let the thing just simmer.”

Hmm: Whenever we get involved, fewer people die. No one has ever been involved in anything more than the U.S. was in Oslo. And how many people died, as Arafat toyed with Washington (and Jerusalem)?

This claim will not stand up to the facts.

Who was saying what about who was “fact-” or “reality-based,” and who was not?

Sorry that that last line sounded a little Abbott-and-Costello-ish–but it was deliberate.

We meet with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister of Turkey. (There’s a fellow with a difficult job–a perennially difficult job.) (Although I stick to the assertion that prime minister of Pakistan and prime minister of Israel are the two hardest jobs in the world. I may be wrong–especially by not putting president of the United States at the top of the list–but that is my feeling.) Asked about a possible U.S. strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, Erdogan says that it is “too early” to talk about. Interesting that he does not dismiss the idea out of hand.

Later, Erdogan takes the stage at the Congress Center, to make his pitch–and his pitch, in essence, is that Turkey is European, ready to assume its place in the Union. The Ottoman Empire, he notes, was called “the sick man of Europe”–not “the sick man of Asia.”

He complains that many Europeans are not yet ready to accept the Turks, even though the Turks “by deed and culture are compatible with Europe.” Moreover, there are over 4 million Turkish citizens in European countries right now.

Accession, he argues, will represent a “reconciliation of civilizations.” And the EU is not “a union of steel and coal. It is no longer an economic union” at all. Nor is it a “religious club.” It stands for “a totality of values.”

After the speech, a woman in the crowd asks an excellent question: “You were elected, from a Muslim party, without bashing the U.S. or Israel. How can you explain to Arab Muslim leaders how to do this?” As the translation is being spoken to him, he breaks into a slow smile. It is a wonderful sight. Then he gives some answer having to do with jobs and social security–and the need to address the immediate problems of the people.

Some moments later, he discusses those of Turkish origin, living in Europe, saying that they should not “assimilate”–”I am not in favor of assimilation”–but rather “integrate.” I’m afraid the distinction is lost on me. Probably he means that he would not like the people to forget their Turkish roots.

Finally, Klaus Schwab asks an inspired question: “If Turkish accession reaches a certain stage, there will be referenda, in various countries. The referenda will ask, ‘Should Turkey be admitted to the EU or not?’ If you met an average voter, who had to decide on this question–not a hostile voter, but a negative one, let’s say–what would you say to him? How would you convince him?”

At first, Erdogan pleads that he can’t answer the question, because he doesn’t know what the voter’s objections are. But then he says–and I paraphrase–”People are valuable as human beings. We are created by the same God. A Turkish poet said, ‘I love the created, because I love the Creator.’ This is my approach, and this should be our approach, and, with it, we will have a reconciliation of civilizations–not a clash of civilizations.

“I would tell this voter, ‘We have to succeed in this: You’re responsible, and I’m responsible, and we have to go hand in hand.’ I don’t think he would say no to that.”

With those bites of Turkish delight, I think I’ll bid adieu, and see you tomorrow.


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