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David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

Charlie Hebdo Our Duty to Think Freely



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All who want to shout “Allahu akbar” or wave the black flag of jihad are presumably interpreting the massacres and hostage-taking in Paris as another major step towards remaking the world in their image. They will have to suppress free speech, and this is one way to do it. Presidents and prime ministers are already intimidated enough to repeat that jihadi violence is a perversion of Islam rather than the fulfilment of its more ferocious tenets. In a particularly cowardly weasel phrase, French president Hollande informed the nation that it is the victim of “obscurantism.”

Self-censorship has already spread far and wide. Jihadis are said to have been unnecessarily provoked. Was it right, or wise, to wage war in Afghanistan and Iraq? Was it right, or wise, for Charlie Hebdo to poke fun at Islam? At any rate, the mainstream media make sure to suggest that the West has brought this trouble on itself, and even more sure not to reproduce any offending cartoons for the public to judge where offense really lies.

Apologetics and propitiation are real signs of fear. Those who enjoy freedom of speech have the duty to tell the truth. One of the seminal books of the age is Julien Benda’s The Treason of the Intellectuals, in which he argues that a free-thinker who doesn’t think freely is committing nothing less than treason to a high calling. The New York Times and CNN could do with presentation copies.

Rebecca West was an incomparable free-thinker who among other subjects made a study of treason. In the mid-1970s she stopped over in Jerusalem, where the mayor, Teddy Kollek, gave a reception in her honor. Afterwards, on the eve of the Lebanese civil war, she went on to Beirut. The telephone rang in her hotel room, and a Palestinian said that she had been observed fraternizing with the Israeli enemy and he was coming up to shoot her. She replied that she had lived a full and rewarding life, and was glad that her death now would spare her from illness and old age. Would the gunman, a dear boy as she called him, please make sure his gun was loaded, and she would leave her door open so he couldn’t mistake his target. Now why does her example come to mind at this moment?

Europe’s Islam Problem



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European governments have become practiced at pretending that their country has no problems with Muslims. The official line, endlessly repeated, is that Islam is a religion of peace, and therefore some other explanation has to be found for the ever-increasing acts of terror. This is a sure-fire way to arouse the anti-Muslim backlash it is intended to prevent.

France has a Muslim population of at least 6 million. Tension between Muslims and French natives is a fact of life, and liable to flare up on any pretext. One special ritual involves Muslims setting fire to cars and trucks and across France — on New Year’s Eve, they torched 1,067. Appearing not to notice, let alone react, the authorities are surprised to be held in even greater contempt. French jihadis have shot dead schoolchildren on one occasion, and tourists on another. Twelve people have now been murdered in the jihadi attack in Paris on the magazine Charlie Hebdo. Disguised as an issue of free speech, this is in fact a declaration of war.

Second only to France, Germany has an estimated 4.3 million Muslims. Treatment of minorities is a sore subject there, and Germans at all levels have gone out of their way to show good will. In 2010, Thilo Sarrazin, a cast-iron member of the establishment, published a book whose title can be translated as “Germany Is Deconstructing Itself,” in which he makes the flat statement that Muslim immigration has been “a gigantic mistake.” He has been ostracized but his book has sold 2 million copies. And the dam around the subject has burst.

A protest movement known as “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West,” or Pegida in its German acronym, has put thousands of supporters on to the streets in Dresden, Cologne, Stuttgart, and other cities. Counter-demonstrations immediately mobilized. From Chancellor Angela Merkel down, the authorities are obviously terrified in case this proves a popular cause, and do their utmost to compare Pegida with Nazism.

Five hundred fifty is the figure given for Muslims who have left Germany to fight for the Islamic State. About 160 are thought to have been killed in action in Syria and Iraq, and some 300 are said to have returned, been arrested, and imprisoned awaiting trial. Jürgen Todenhöfer is another cast-iron member of the establishment. Aged 74, a journalist and sometime member of parliament, he is the first Westerner to have been allowed into the territory captured and held by Islamic State. They plan mass genocide for everybody of other religions or none, and he comes to the conclusion, “The West has no conception of the threat it faces.”

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Campaigning for a License for Tyranny



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“Assisted death” is the euphemism for killing someone who is terminally ill – weasel words for something truly awesome when described truthfully. A proposed bill to legalize this killing is most unlikely to pass through the hoops of the Westminster parliament, but 80 famous celebrities are reported to have written the letter just published in the Daily Telegraph in favor of it.  

A campaign is not under oath, of course, but why have only a handful of these signatories been identified?  The sole household name is George Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury and no doubt well meaning in his somewhat humdrum way. Otherwise Ian McEwen, Julian Barnes, and A.C. Grayling are the intellectual signatories, and Hugh Grant, Zoe Wanamaker, Jo Brand, and Eric Idle are the signatories for the stage. On the list is someone called Sir Patrick Stewart of whom I have to plead ignorance. Also Sir Chris Woodhead, a former civil servant now suffering from motor neuron disease.  

With the exception of the latter, in short, do these particular and mainly anonymous campaigners have the moral authority that would oblige the rest of us to pay attention to them? As things stand, doctors in practice are willing to relieve the terminally ill, even if that means a bit of hypocrisy, conspiracy, and law-breaking. The procedure of killing the terminally ill, the campaign assures us, would be subject to safeguards from doctors and a judge. The state, then, would ultimately have the power of life and death in its hands, which is a license for tyranny. I cannot prove it, but I feel confident that the euphemism of “Assisted death” contains the very contemporary contradiction that those eager to bring on death for some who don’t deserve it would be just as eager to oppose the death penalty for others who might deserve it.

 

 

BBC Lets Its Moral Colors Show



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Two volumes of essays by J.B. Kelly have just been just published. John, a New Zealander by birth, was a formidable scholar whose special subject was the Persian Gulf.  He knew more than anyone else about the role of the British in the region, the treaties that had been signed, and who did what to whom. Early in the nineteenth century, the British put a stop to the Arab slave trade in the Mediterranean, and then had to decide what to do about the slave trade between Zanzibar and the East coast of Africa. John’s account is scrupulously fair. Some British officials observed that Arab traders treated the African slaves quite well, that slaving was essential to the economy, and besides we had no right to interfere in Arab affairs.  Other British officials, one of them Lord Palmerston the Foreign Minister, argued that the slave trade was a moral disgrace that offended everyone. This sense that we ought to do the right thing won, and the navy did its business. Whether or not to intervene to suppress the wrong-doing of other people is of course still a red-hot unresolved issue.

In 1979, Ali Mazrui delivered the Reith Lectures on the BBC. Born in Kenya in 1933, he was a professor whose opinions were very much of his time. His speciality was to attack the West and in particular its culture, although it hardly needs saying that he made his life in the United States. In the Reith Lectures, he did his utmost to present the British in the worst possible light, all vicious exploiters, and people of the Third World by contrast in the best possible light, all innocent victims. In an unforgettable polemic, John Kelly responded that the Mazruis had been slaving on the East Africa coast for a thousand years, had resisted all attempts to stop the trade, and he was not prepared to accept moral instruction from anyone with that name.  

Ali Mazrui has just died and again it hardly needs saying that in a fulsome obituary the BBC called him “a towering intellect.” R.I.P.

 

Why Is the U.K. Funding Iranian Executions?



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Senator Dianne Feinstein takes her place in the company of those like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange who have been willing to damage the United States for their own interest. Sanctimonious beyond belief, Russian and Chinese spokesmen complain about CIA practices that are too routine even to be noticed in their countries. Advising the United States to change its ways, the regime in Iran is uniquely blending viciousness and hypocrisy.

The Left in Britain, invariably anti-American, is also trying to make political capital out of the torture charge, but the Mail on Sunday, a newspaper with sales of some three million copies, has published a shattering article as a result of which the Labour party campaign will not succeed. Reprieve, an NGO, reports that Britain has provided nearly six million pounds with which Iranian security forces have purchased specialized equipment to contain the drug trade. Britain calls for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide, but this equipment has facilitated the capture and hanging of 2,917 alleged offenders. Some of these executions are carried out in public. Under cover of a war on drugs, political dissenters are murdered in this manner. Grim photographs show corpses, sometimes several at a time and including women, hanging from cranes. The money has been channeled through the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, whose director, according to the Mail on Sunday, praises Iran’s “good practices.” Viciousness and hypocrisy are evidently not an Iranian monopoly, and is that not more reprehensible than waterboarding and sleep deprivation?

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Is France Finished?



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I’ve been in France celebrating the hundredth birthday of an old friend of my family’s. World War I had hardly begun when she was born. In World War II, her husband had been taken prisoner, and came back from Germany with tuberculosis. In extraordinary good physical and mental shape, the centenarian lady bustled about at the party given in her honor, cut the chef’s huge creamy cake, and graciously accepted large bunches of flowers. Perhaps because I was a foreigner, everyone seemed to feel the urge to tell me that the present day is as bad as a world war, if not worse. François Hollande is a really, truly, inescapably awful President. People around me had been forced to close their business or lay off employees for one reason or another. Did I know the Labor Laws comprise a book of 3,371 pages? We were not so far from Amiens, and a little angry knot was soon putting me in the picture about the Goodyear tire factory there. Changes in the market meant that it had been losing $80 million a year. Half of the 1,170 workers would have to go. A tycoon from Texas, Maurice Taylor, chief executive officer of Titan International, tentatively proposed to buy the factory until he discovered that the Labor Laws were against him, he couldn’t lay anyone off, and would have to pay a severance bonus between $163,000 and $176,000 to anyone who did choose to leave. During his electoral campaign, President Hollande visited the plant to express comradely solidarity. Mr Taylor is on record saying that the French may as well become Communist.

Did I know that the workers had held two managers hostage and the police had to be called in to free them? And did I know the workers had set a fire? That’s how crazy they are. France is finished, these people were very sure of that, and sad and angry about it too. At the reception we drank champagne but the general advice was that anyone under a hundred had better get out while the going was still good.

Mark Strand, R.I.P.



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All those years ago, I was invited to teach at the Writers’ Workshop in the University of Iowa. Mark Strand was on the faculty. He looked the way poets are supposed to look, a conspicuously handsome man with humour and intelligence in his face and elegance in his dress. Clarissa and I lived round the corner from Mark and Antonia, then his wife, who was teaching Italian at the university. Playing cards and ordering pizza, the four of us would while away the severe winter nights of Iowa. The son of a literary father, I have been privileged to encounter many gifted people, but none so gifted as Mark. His poems are brilliant acts of imagination, projections of his ceaseless fantasizing about the world and himself. A genuine aesthete, he valued beauty for its own sake and was able to express it. I find his poems have a beauty that is unique. The friendship begun in Iowa lasted. We’d speak on the telephone, we exchanged our books, we discussed the merits of French wine, and one afternoon ransacked the shops of Florence in search of just the right leather jacket for a dandy. Mark was the American poet laureate; he won a Pulitzer and a Macarthur so-called “genius” award that makes a winner independent. In his view the New York Times was so biased and partisan that he refused to allow his publishers to send them review copies of any new book of his. He surely didn’t need praise or blame from such a quarter. A real great poet. Alas, R.I.P.

A Legacy of Liberty



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William Shawcross is the author of a biography of Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother, so-called because her daughter is the present Queen. He was just the person to give the address at the memorial service for Mary Soames, the daughter of Winston Churchill – a sort of royalty in her way. Over a thousand people attended the service in Westminster Abbey, and will have heard William Shawcross describing the successes of her life in private and in public. He concluded by quoting from a letter she wrote to her father that captures her spirit. “In addition to all the feelings a daughter has for a loving and generous father, I owe you what every English man, woman and child does – Liberty itself.” 

 

UKIP: A Timely Kick in Britain’s Backside



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The two main political parties in Britain, the Conservatives and Labour, have in common the fact that they no longer represent the core vote that has given them their historic identity and raison d’être. The current David Cameron government (admittedly in coalition with Liberal Democrats, a spiteful but insistent minority), has completely alienated conservatives by paying little or no attention to the national interest, cutting defense spending to the point that is a threat to military and naval operations; failed to introduce an immigration policy that regains control of national borders; legalized gay marriage, has not resolved the looming black-outs from power shortages, and so on, giving rise to the new word, omni-shambles. The sole purpose of the Labour Party was to distribute the state’s wealth, and now that there is no wealth the voters can’t be bothered.

The journalist Auberon Waugh used to mock that the country was so badly governed that we had better hand it over to Belgian ticket inspectors. Except for a few dissenters, both political parties went along with this. Now we are discovering that the Belgian ticket inspectors superimpose another yet higher level of incompetence and self-seeking. To the British electorate, the European Union appears to be designed to do harm to Britain, to take its resources, to sever its ties with the Anglo-sphere, and to rein in its competitiveness, in short waging an underhand war.

The United Kingdom Independence Party, UKIP, steps into this bleak no-man’s-land. This party is the creation of Nigel Farage, who is a cheeky chap. UKIP stands for one thing and one thing only, and that is saying goodbye to the Belgian ticket inspectors. A few weeks ago, Douglas Carswell, a Tory Member of Parliament, defected to UKIP, resigned his seat, and was immediately re-elected. A second Tory MP, Mark Reckless, has just had the same success in his constituency. Taking votes from both main parties, UKIP cannot be categorized as right or left. Not exactly a protest either, it expresses the patriotism and sense of nationhood that the two main parties have long since suppressed. The main parties have no retort. Cameron was foolish enough to slang them off as fruitcakes. The BBC and the media pundits have so lost touch with patriotism that they write off UKIP and disparage Farage.

The two-party system works only when the parties represent genuine interests. Now that the two parties represent merely the personal ambitions of their leaders, UKIP might well be the equivalent of a timely kick in the backside.

The Papa Doc of the Muslim World



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Jay Nordlinger of this parish has been writing about Papa Doc, or Dr. François Duvalier, once upon a time the dictator of Haiti whose dealings with his unfortunate subjects made sure that they stayed poor and backward. In 1965, Graham Greene paid a short visit to Haiti, but long enough to catch the spookiness of Papa Doc’s rule. The following year, he published The Comedians, a novel that evoked the sinister atmosphere of Papa Doc’s rule.  His secret police, the Tonton Macoute, made little distinction between crime and voodoo. Greene gave his fictional characters the names Smith, Jones, and Brown, seemingly to suggest that Westerners are merely a comic touch in conditions as grim as this.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton starred in the film version of the book. A furious Papa Doc ordered his Department of Foreign Affairs to put out a riposte, a glossy hundred-page magazine in French and English with the title “Graham Greene Finally Exposed.” I have a copy of this document, in fact I have the copy that once was Greene’s, with his signature on the title page. Astonishingly primitive, the publication time and again insists that Greene is a racist, a secret agent, and a conspirator, full of “negrophobia,” an early example of the word “phobia” used to construct some fantasy. Papa Doc’s hatchet men make absurd claims for the supremacy of their ruler and go as far as they dare to threaten Greene.

Now comes Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi. In his late eighties, he is not actually a one-man ruler but the next best thing in the Muslim world, a cleric with authority to pronounce fatwas, or rulings, and a television program on Al-Jazeera that allows him to reach the masses. Originally an Egyptian, he has been a lifelong member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and now has found refuge in Qatar. By common consent, he is considered a — or more often the — leading authority of Sunni Islam. His constant and favorite enemies are the Jews whom he fantasizes as racists and “Islamophobes,” preaching that there should be no dealing with them “except with the sword.” In his latest diatribe, he exhorts Muslims to conquer Jerusalem and kill off every Israeli.

The focus of Papa Doc and Qaradawi is different but both believe that power gives them all the supremacy they require. Nobody has yet worked out how to rescue the defenseless millions from the ignorance and primitiveness of such one-dimensional brutes.  

Must Middle Eastern Christians Keep Turning the Other Cheek?



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Christianity is under attack throughout the Muslim world. Iraq and Egypt still have sizable Christian communities but hundreds of thousands of Christians from both countries have fled abroad. Since Lebanon came under the thumb of Hezbollah, the Shiite terrorists sponsored by Iran, the Christian community there has just about halved. Anecdotal evidence of persecution piles up. Christians old and young in Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Nigeria, and West Africa are accused of disrespecting some aspect of Islam, and are lucky to escape with their lives. Two nuns have been seized in Syria and it is impossible to find out their fates. A bishop has been murdered in Turkey. Churches and sacred monuments of various Christian denominations in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan have been vandalized, sometimes burnt out. The one and only Middle East country where the Christian population has grown in numbers is Israel.

Nobody much seems to care. The accepted attitude is evidently that Christians must expect persecution and make what they can of it instead of defending themselves. The Christian injunction to turn the other cheek is really the antithesis of the moral guidelines in the Koran. Occasionally a pope or an archbishop in Europe remonstrates, only to be overwhelmed with such shrieks of “Islamophobia” that he retracts and apologizes. There is one exception. To judge by his knowledge and probably his name, Raymond Ibrahim is a Christian from the Middle East. Every month, he puts out a catalogue of the crimes Muslims have committed everywhere in the name of their faith against Christian persons and property. He pleads for jihad to be recognized for what it is, and for taking measures of defense.

Aid to the Church in Need is a Catholic charity that has taken the unusual step of putting out a report on Christians as “the world’s most persecuted minority.” Even more unusual, they have got Prince Charles to add a statement in support. One sentence is, “It is an indescribable tragedy that Christianity is under such threat in the Middle East.” To be sure, he covers himself from the inevitable accusations of “Islamophobia” by saying that people of all faiths have to get together to respect faiths other than their own.  

A day will come when he becomes a constitutional monarch, therefore constrained from giving any opinion with political repercussions like this. Then he has hitherto always gone out of his way to flatter Islam. So much so, that some years ago two American academics published an article in the scholarly journal Middle East Quarterly under the title, “Prince Charles of Arabia.” Their case rested in part on the regular visits that he was paying to an imam in Konya, in Turkey.  In this new statement, however, he proclaims himself a believing Christian, and raises the issue of Britain’s “future as a free society.” The phrase is veiled with goodwill abstractions about faith, but surely it goes down the Raymond Ibrahim path with the implication that nobody can be expected to turn the other cheek forever.

‘Poster Girls for Jihad’



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Sabina Selimovic and Samra Kesinovic are girls who fled from Vienna to Raqqa, the town in Syria where the Islamic State has its headquarters and enforces sharia. Born in Vienna, they are daughters of Bosnian Muslim refugees. Sabina is 15, Samra 17. They left letters for their parents saying, “No point looking for us: see you in paradise . . . We will serve Allah and die for him.”

In Raqqa, both have found husbands and share apartments. In an interview with the French magazine Paris Match, Sabina is quoted, “Here I am free. I can practice my religion freely. In Vienna, I could not.” Bewildered by their stories, the Austrian media describe the two as “poster girls for jihad.”

Other jihad poster girls are reported running away to Raqqa from Britain, Holland, Germany and Belgium. These jihad girls have rejected life in the West, in the belief that Islamic State has something much better to offer even though, or because, they may well die for Allah.  Muslim girls are allowed, even encouraged, to marry young and these two have set up house. In her interview Sabina mentions foodstuffs she might have eaten in Vienna.

The blend of normality and outlandishness is a feature so unusual that no comparisons come to mind. Evidently an important cultural transformation is under way. It is a huge leap of mind and body to submit willingly to sharia with its irrational demands, its customs and restrictions and appalling punishments for transgression, especially for girls and women. Yet this leap is occurring on an ever-larger scale all round the world, and what’s more seems to be attracting converts, some of whom have committed acts of terrorism.

Lee Smith is someone who reflects on this phenomenon. His book The Strong Horse is a penetrating study of the Muslim mindset. Now in a sobering article in The Tablet he addresses the question why teenage girls leave Europe for the Islamic State. Teenage girls, he observes, are the West’s center of gravity. Our civilization has succeeded largely in making young girls feel safe in school, in jobs, and in marriage. They reject that safety, he concludes, because Europe proves incapable of endowing the lives of its citizens with meaning and purpose. The Islamic State is stupid and vicious but those in it have a cause. We Westerners don’t believe there is anything worth fighting for. The Islamic State, then, does not mark the success of Islam so much as the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of Europe. 

The Met’s Bad Taste Dressed Up as Principle



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The Met is putting on an opera called The Death of Klinghoffer. Leon Klinghoffer was an elderly Jewish man with physical disabilities that necessitated using a wheel-chair.  He was on a cruise in the Mediterranean when Palestinian gunmen hijacked the ship, shot him dead, and threw him in his wheelchair overboard. In the interest of truth, the word “death” in the title should read “murder,” and be qualified by an adjective like “foul” or ”inhuman.”

Klinghoffer’s daughters and many others object to the staging. The libretto at times is openly anti-Semitic, and also condones Palestinian brutality. The Met management holds that artistic freedom is sufficient defense.

As long ago as 1830, Parisians showed how to deal with bad taste dressed up as principle. In a historic row that has set a precedent, audiences booed so much at Victor Hugo’s play Hernani that they broke it up.  Opera-goers have as much right to their opinion as the Met managers, and at every performance should easily be able to make noises louder than the singers.

A Surrender to Fantasy



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“Do you not see, my son, with what little wisdom the world is governed?” is one of my favorite quotes. It comes from the long-ago days when Sweden was a great power and Count Oxenstierna, the Chancellor, was instructing his son in politics. There’s a now new Red–Green government in Sweden — short-hand for socialists and ecologists — and their first action is to recognize the state of Palestine.

Playing copycat, the British parliament has also passed a vote to recognize the state of Palestine. I can’t recall a previous surrender to fantasy quite like that. Actually neither Sweden nor Britain can do a thing with a vote that’s not enforceable. In any case, the part of Palestine on the West Bank is incompatible with the part in Gaza. How weird that these votes in Western democracies in favor of a state with no boundaries come at a moment when the jihadi movement that calls itself the Islamic State is building a state whose boundaries are also unsettled. None of the agents really believe in the statehoods they are pushing for, it’s political theater and — as in a Shakespeare tragedy — the curtain must come down on many corpses.

A Retreat as Disastrous as Yalta



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The moral, intellectual, and now military disarray of the Western democracies is blinding. The beheading of American, British and French hostages by brutes from Islamic State is filmed and shown to the world. Our leaders speechify about bringing them to justice while at the same time adding that they will not send troops. Justice is beside the question. Did we bring justice to the SS or battle? “No boots on the ground” is a sickening euphemism for surrender. Our men are murdered with impunity. That’s where we are.

Israelis and Kurds are defending themselves primarily, but in the process holding the line for us against the brutes. And what happens to those whose battle is also ours? The White House puts barriers in the way of resupplying Israel with weaponry. Hamas boasts in public that when it rules the West Bank it will destroy Israel with a speed that will astonish everybody, and John Kerry starts to burble all over again about a peace process.

There’s a precedent of sorts. In 1944 the Poles rose up against the Germans. Lying to the Allies about his intention to take Poland after the war, Stalin ordered the Red Army to stand by outside Warsaw and watch while the Poles died. Months later, at Yalta, Roosevelt and Churchill conceded Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe to Stalin. Millions of people were left to suffer from this victory of brute force.

President Obama is now facing decisions as weighty as those facing Roosevelt. The Islamic State is poised to take Kobani, a small town to be sure, but to the defending Kurds what Warsaw once was to the Poles. The Kurds are receiving no help. So desperate is their situation that women are fighting like men, and one who ran out of ammunition ended her life as a suicide bomber. The Islamic State also looks as if it’s taking Baghdad, and has already made probes in Lebanon and Jordan. Turkey, nominally an ally, has mobilized but only for show; it has been fighting off the Kurds for decades.

Turning towards the Mediterranean, the Islamic State would encounter the Israelis, and, turning inland, the Iranians. A mysterious explosion has just occurred in Parchin, a site in Iran said to be involved in the nuclear-weapons program. Somebody is attempting to do what President Obama has decided not to do. It is clear that in the final talks due in November about the Iranian nuclear program he intends to go to any lengths to avoid military measures and will settle with Iran on its terms. Conceding the Middle East to one or another set of brutes, Obama will go down in history as the president responsible for a retreat as disastrous as Yalta.

‘You’ll remember this for a long time.’



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No novelist or historian could sum up the entire experience of Communism in so short and perfect a form as this report of just one hundred and five words taken from the newspaper Sovietskaya Rossiya in the days when the late Leonid Brezhnev was in charge of the dictatorship of the proletariat:

Vadim Mikhailovich, an old age pensioner, was paying his weekly visit to his local steam bath in Moscow when there was a shout of “There he is” and he was seized by the arm and led away by officials. Protesting he had done nothing wrong, he was led into a room full of white-coated men and told: “You’ll remember this for a long time.” Vadim fainted. When he regained consciousness, he was told he was the bath’s millionth visitor and was handed a birch broom and two bars of soap. Vadim fainted again and five days later was still recovering from shock in hospital.

 

Scotland’s Retro Moment



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The move for Scottish independence always seemed retrograde.  Whatever did the Scots need a state for?  For a long time they have been a very recognizable and successful nation thanks to being in the state of the English, Welsh and northern Irish. In an era when we are supposed to celebrate diversity, the Scottish National Party and its leader Alex Salmond sounded small-minded, provincial. A deputy of Salmond’s by the name of Jim Sillars suddenly blurted out that in the event of victory the SNP would nationalize banks and oil companies. Property holders had a whiff of 1917.

When it seemed that the Scots might really vote for statehood, I retrieved from my memory the account of the departure from Britain in 416 (I haven’t checked this date) of the Roman legions under Honorius.  Some native British apparently watched them leave, and realized that now they were on the own and wouldn’t survive. It felt as if the Dark Ages were again descending on a country where barbarians could do as they pleased.

“Good news! Salmond has resigned,” a smiling stranger said to me Friday afternoon in the street with tremendous pleasure. Coming to the house, an Arab friend from Lebanon is outraged that the tennis player Andy Murray lobbied for Salmond. “Nobody’s going to cheer him again, are they?” he asked, before we got on to the crimes of ISIS and the horrors of sectarianism. It’s been that kind of a moment.

Great Britain, R.I.P.?



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Great Britain might no longer exist a few days from now. On September 18 the Scots are holding a referendum to decide whether to break away from the union with England and become an independent state. Earlier in the summer the No-to-independence vote had a lead of 22 percent. When I met Professor Vernon Bogdanor, who has claims to be the leading expert on the British constitution, he assured me that there was no question of the Yes-to-independence winning. That 22 percent has vanished. For the first time, the Yes-vote is in the lead.

Panic is in the air. “Right: it’s time to speak for Britain,” is the opening sentence in a fighting article in today’s Daily Telegraph by Boris Johnson, one of the few politicians who may survive in the event of Yes-victory. He makes the point that Britain’s history, its empire, its contributions to law, government, medicine, invention, are joint efforts of all British people. The present fiasco of separation has been wished upon us by sheer ineptitude. Tony Blair is one culprit. Under a policy known as devolution, he gave the Scots a parliament with limited powers. Devolution was bound to lead to the demand for independence, but Blair ludicrously argued the opposite, that it made independence impossible. David Cameron is another culprit. His concession to the referendum was thoughtless, conceitedly assuming he’d get the vote he wanted. He’s probably lost Scotland as stupidly as Lord North lost the American colonies.

The prospective victor, the uncrowned king or future president, looks to be Alex Salmond. He has persuaded fellow Scots that the English do them down. His is the usual nationalism built on grievance and self-pity. A socialist on top of that, he keeps promising equality and justice and prosperity, none of which he can deliver. Nationalists and socialists are proven carriers of disease, not doctors. Currency, debt repayment, banking, defense, membership in the EU, are among the unknowns. Expropriation of Scottish estates seems quite likely. The English will have to live through the malign consequences to the pound, the flight of the disillusioned away from Scotland, and all the economic, social, and psychological consequences of rejection.

And to think that this creepy and outmoded manipulator could well go down in history for doing what Philip of Spain, Napoleon, and Hitler couldn’t do: bring down Great Britain.

The Standard Middle East Strategy: Bewilderment



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“Strip Tease” is the title of an article I wrote about Gaza for The New Republic way back in 1988. Tidying up my papers, I found it and read something that with a minimum of updating would serve to describe the present. Gaza is like a laboratory repeating an experiment time after time to show there is no alternative to the rule of the strong. The British in their day had had no clue what to do about it, and simply went away bewildered to leave incompatible societies to fight it out.

At the time I wrote that article, the Israelis had taken over the Strip since the Six-Day War. Palestinians had no way of representing themselves except by violence. There were days when the Israelis would find that Yasser Arafat’s PLO had hung up the corpses of dissident Palestinians on meat hooks. Reacting, Ariel Sharon sent in tanks in the style of any Arab strongman. At which point a junior minister of the British Foreign Office by the name of David Mellor came to Gaza and uttered the words “Something must be done,” but what this something might be he couldn’t say. In the end, and ironically, it fell to Sharon to follow the British example and he and his soldiers and settlers simply went away bewildered. So Hamas has taken the chance it was given to come to absolute power, and resorts to violence against its own people as well as against Israel. In that article long ago I concluded that the pull-out of the Israelis would surrender the Gazans to anarchy or tyranny. That’s still how it is.

In my papers were also notes about how the bewilderment of the British had developed. Sir Stafford Cripps belonged to an eminent family, and that added to the damage he could do. In a speech in 1935 he said, “You have only to look at the pages of British imperial history to hide your head in shame that you are British.” A year later, with Hitler already a threat, Cripps was even worse: “I do not think it would be a bad thing for the British working classes if Germany defeated us.” An economist and a Marxist, Cripps became British ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1940 on the grounds that he’d get on well with Stalin. Then his next mission was to India to be rid of the imperial “shame” that made him hide his head.

Public figures in these modern times habitually respond to trouble spots by saying that “something must be done.” In the absence of feeling for their own country and its interests, this can only mean bewilderment and surrender. An American president has gone a step further into the wilderness by announcing to a world in crisis that he hasn’t got a strategy yet.

Same as It Ever Was, Only Worse



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“Strip Tease” is the title of an article I wrote about Gaza for The New Republic way back in 1988.  Tidying up my papers, I found it and read something that with a minimum of updating would serve to describe the present. Gaza is like a laboratory repeating an experiment time after time to show there is no alternative to the rule of the strong. The British in their day had had no clue what to do about it, and simply went away bewildered to leave incompatible societies to fight it out.

At the time I wrote that article, the Israelis had taken over the Strip since the Six Day War. Palestinians had no way of representing themselves except by violence. There were days when the Israelis would find that Yasser Arafat’s PLO had hung up the corpses of dissident Palestinians on meat hooks. Reacting, Ariel Sharon sent in tanks in the style of any Arab strong man. At which point a junior minister of the British Foreign Office by the name of David Mellor came to Gaza and uttered the words, “Something must be done” but what this something might be he couldn’t say. In the end, and ironically, it fell to Sharon to follow the British example and he and his soldiers and settlers simply went away bewildered.  So Hamas has taken the chance it was given to come to absolute power, and resorts to violence against its own people as well as against Israel. In that article long ago I concluded that the pull-out of the Israelis would surrender the Gazans to anarchy or tyranny.  That’s still how it is.

In my papers were also notes about how the bewilderment of the British had developed. Sir Stafford Cripps belonged to an eminent family, and that added to the damage he could do. In a speech in 1935 he said, “You have only to look at the pages of British Imperial History to hide your head in shame that you are British.” A year later, with Hitler already a threat, Cripps was even worse.  “I do not think it would be a bad thing for the British working classes if Germany defeated us.”   An economist and a Marxist, Cripps became British ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1940 on the grounds that he’d get on well with Stalin.  Then his next mission was to India to be rid of the Imperial “shame” that made him hide his head.

Public figures in these modern times habitually respond to trouble spots by saying that “something must be done.” In the absence of feeling for their own country and its interests, this can only mean bewilderment and surrender. An American president has gone a step further into the wilderness by announcing to a world in crisis that he hasn’t got a strategy yet.

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