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David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

The Colonization of Britain



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The European Investigation Order, a term with the genuine ring of totalitarianism, is the latest project to be adopted by the Eurocrats in charge of the Brussels Empire. In essence, it is a measure to place the entire continent of Europe under a system of policing superior to every country’s police force. Prosecutors from any and every country will be granted extraordinary powers, enabling them to bug communications wherever they please, have access to bank accounts and to DNA records, even in matters that are not a crime in the country concerned. The national police forces will be powerless to do anything about these demands; they will merely have to comply.

What this means is that Britain and the other countries agree to be policed by outsiders. These outsiders are not answerable to representative processes, and they cannot be brought to account or fired. Put simply, anyone who allows such a thing to happen is consenting to be colonized.

A number of previously consolidated nation-states are accepting that in fact they are turning into failed states — moreover, in peace-time. Such a voluntary abdication of independence has never before occurred anywhere in the world.

The Conservatives are now the major party in the coalition governing Britain. In the run-up to the recent general election, David Cameron promised to hold a referendum that would determine Britain’s relationship to the Brussels Empire. He then reneged, on the flimsy grounds that the moment for questioning that relationship had passed. During the electoral campaign, he promised to regain powers already ceded to the Brussels Empire. That was the reason why many people voted Conservative. If now the Conservatives renege on that promise as well, and pass to the Brussels Empire extra powers such as the European Investigation Order, they will be seen to be as shifty and untruthful as the other political parties.

The bulk of the party is actually nationalist in spirit, and a betrayal as flagrant as this will cause a major row, probably leading to a real divide and even the collapse of the coalition. Cameron is making the huge mistake of putting the interests of his coalition government above those of the nation.

Don’t Believe a Word of It



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The whole story of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, is evidence of the shifty conduct of those supposed to represent us but who in reality disgrace themselves and their offices. Megrahi was released from prison in Scotland on the grounds that he had terminal cancer and would die within three months. Here he is a year later, at home and apparently thriving. A cancer specialist, Dr. Karol Sikora, examined him and is the one who gave him three months. It turns out that the Libyan authorities paid him, and he says now that Megrahi might live ten or even twenty years (and, of course, that he’s been quoted out of context). Never believe a word that man says.

The Scottish authorities who took the decision to return Megrahi say they had no contact with BP about commercial advantages of doing so but refuse to attend inquiries in Washington. Kenny MacAskill, Scottish minister of justice (there’s glory for you), says he is not accountable to the United States, i.e., the families of the dead are no concern of his. Never believe a word these Scottish politicians say.

Lawyers had been appealing for a retrial, allegedly with evidence that Megrahi was not the Lockerbie bomber. Because of these proceedings, Megrahi could not be released. A deal was struck whereby the appeal was dropped in return for release. Jack Straw, the British minister overseeing this and a prisoner transfer agreement that might or might not include Megrahi, also refuses to go to Washington. Never believe a word he says. Tony Blair claims to have no commercial dealings with Gaddhafi, yet the prime minister led a tour to Libya and goes there as an advisor, apparently paid. Never believe a word he says.

BP claims that the release of Megrahi had nothing to do with oil contracts signed immediately afterwards. Never believe a word of it. The Sunday Telegraph reveals that a week after hearing that Megrahi’s release was imminent, the Libyans opened a London investment office called Dalia Advisory, a front for the Libyan Investment Authority, the country’s sovereign wealth fund. Coincidence? Never believe a word they say.

It turns out, according to the Sunday Times, that Richard Lebaron, deputy head of the U.S. embassy in London, wrote a letter recommending Megrahi’s release as a better alternative than his death in prison. So, when Obama speaks about all Americans being “surprised, disappointed, and angry” to learn of the release, he is expecting us to believe that he had no idea what his officials were doing. Unbelievable.

What a crew. Either they were all afraid that the proposed appeal would reveal a miscarriage of justice in which Megrahi was set up as a fall guy, or behind closed doors a deal was struck whereby immense oil contracts were dependent on Megrahi’s return to Libya. It was a bad decision to release him, admits David Cameron, and that at last is something we can believe.

Everyone involved in this affair has adopted the practices and values of the Middle East, with the added hypocrisy of pretending to innocence and legality. At least in the Middle East they glory in the use of power to break others to their will. Everything from the blowing up of the plane over Lockerbie to the lies and prevarications about Megrahi on the part of politicians, businessmen, and even doctors, is a reflection of the shameful times we are living.

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Unpacking Kafka



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I was once walking down Hayarkon Street in Tel Aviv when someone pointed to an elderly man on the far side and said, “That’s Max Brod.” I’ve no idea if it really was him, but it’s been enough to feed my imagination. Back in Prague in the early twentieth century, Max Brod was a close friend of Franz Kafka, and one of those who used to meet to listen to Kafka read his work aloud. They thought the stories were funny, Brod has recorded; how they all laughed! Kafka made Brod his literary executor, with instructions to burn his manuscripts. Brod didn’t.

A few years later, the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia, and Brod fled with a suitcase containing the unpublished work, including The Trial and The Castle. The world is in his debt for saving Kafka’s work not once but twice.

Kafka’s great theme is that everyone feels guilt without ever being able quite to find out why. Nobody before him had taken the measure of our times like that, but he has been proved right as totalitarianisms, political correctness, affirmative action, positive discrimination, the culture of apology and compensation, and all the rest of it tie us up in tangles of guilt about things for which we aren’t responsible — and in such a way that struggling to get free of the guilt only makes it worse.

There’s more illumination to come: Brod left that suitcase to his lady friend, Esther Hoffe, and she in turn bequeathed it to her two daughters, now in their seventies. They have prevented all researchers from looking at the material; presumably they hoped to sell what they have, and a German library is said to be their choice of buyer. The Israeli Supreme Court has now ordered that these papers be opened, and of course the Israeli National Library wants to acquire them as part of the Jewish heritage.

According to the latest news, there is indeed a complete unpublished story. This whole saga seems to prove Kafka’s vision, though whether any of us can still laugh about it is another matter.

Kukri Beats Paper



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The Gurkhas are soldiers from Nepal who volunteer for the British army. Presently they are serving in Afghanistan. They are the bravest of the brave, and over the years have done wonderful service. The roll-call of Gurkhas who have won the Victoria Cross, the highest award for bravery, is awe-inspiring. A traditional weapon of theirs is the kukri, a curved short sword. It is said that the sound of Gurkhas sharpening their kukris was enough to frighten the Japanese in the Second World War.

It so happened recently that some Gurkhas were discriminated against by foolish paper-shufflers in Whitehall, and told they were not eligible to live in England. Uproar followed. There was a mass campaign. The Gurkhas were then treated properly, and Gordon Brown was forced to apologize for the unfairness. It was a big step in the disintegration of his government.

Gurkha battalions have British officers, and they are among the best in the army, too. One of them was Major James Bowman. A renegade Afghan policeman entered the Gurkha barracks and shot Major Bowman dead in his sleep.  Now we learn that, at the same time, the Gurkhas were in action in Helmand, in pursuit of a top Taliban commander. Under heavy fire, they killed him. Orders were to establish the commander’s identity. It was too dangerous to drag him out while still engaged with the Taliban, so a Gurkha cut his head off with his kukri. Quick thinking, you may say.

This man ought to be promoted. Instead, he has been recalled to Britain and may face court-martial and jail. The foolish paper-shufflers are at it again. The story goes that by cutting off the commander’s head, the Gurkha has offended Muslims, on the grounds that their custom is to bury bodies whole. What nonsense this is, what an example of the self-abasement now habitual whenever we come up against Islam in any shape or form. And the renegade Afghan policeman who shot Major Bowman in his sleep wasn’t giving offense? If this Gurkha is indeed prosecuted, another mass campaign will start, and it may be a step in the disintegration of the Cameron government.

Sarkozy: Banning Burqas and Collecting Envelopes?



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The French are practiced hands at scandals, and there’s a fine one running at the moment. Hard to disentangle, it seems to begin with Madame Liliane Bettencourt, aged 87. She’s inherited L’Oréal cosmetics, and a fortune of about sixteen billion euros makes her one of the richest women in Europe. She’s given away vast sums to unlikely people, because in the opinion of her daughter, she has dementia. One of those she’s favoured is Eric Woerth, the Labour Minister in Sarkozy’s government and treasurer of Sarkozy’s political party. The old lady’s butler became suspicious of Woerth, and secretly taped the fellow’s conversations with his employer. (Agatha Christie, where are you?) The two talked about money, cash, secret Swiss accounts, a yacht, oh, and the Jews. An investigation has cleared Woerth of allegations that he protected Madame Bettencourt from a tax inquiry, but he has had to resign as party treasurer. President Sarkozy went on television to deny that Madame Bettencourt illegally funded him or his party; lies are flying around just to block the reforms he proposes but never quite gets round to carrying out. He put the rhetorical question to the camera, “Can you see me collecting envelopes?” To which the nation is roaring the answer, Easily!

A counterpoint to this is the running saga of Islamic face veils. Everyone in the new Europe has to learn to distinguish the hijab from the burqa and the niqab. Sarkozy let it be known that France is a secular republic, and for women to hide their face behind a veil goes against the republic’s dearest values. Deputies in the Assembly have voted almost unanimously to ban Islamic face veils, 335 votes for the proposition, just one against. Belgium has already voted to do this, and Spain and Italy are about to vote on it too. Actually, only about 2,000 women are thought to wear the full veil in France. Under the law, police will have to stop veiled women in the street, and fine them 150 euros and order them to attend citizenship classes. There’s a good deal of roaring about that, too. Muslim women, supported by the Left, are insisting that the state has no business decreeing what women wear. They are also saying that it will make women’s plight worse, because now the males in charge will lock away all females. Anyhow, the policing will prove impossible, and if the law passes the next hurdles of the Senate and the Constitutional Council, it will surely fail in the European Court of Human Rights, which is the home-grown version of sharia when it comes to tenderness for Muslims.

By the way, unlike France and the issue of veiling, England is doing its best to make Muslims feel at home. A Yorkshire council has agreed to install Turkish lavatories in its shopping malls — those are the kind for squatting over a porcelain hole in the ground rather than sitting on a pedestal. Mark Steyn, are you there?

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Indecent



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Occasionally you get glimpses of how things really are, and Frances Guy has given us just such a glimpse. She has been the British Ambassador in Lebanon since 2006, and is said to have a lot of Middle East experience. Her employers, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, had up on their website this week her extraordinary obituary of Sheikh Muhammad Fadlallah, a Shia cleric and former guiding spirit of Hezbollah, Iran’s armed militia and proxy in Lebanon. The title of her obituary tells all: “The Passing of a Decent Man.” She writes, “The world needs more men like him willing to reach out across faiths.” He was a man she most respected, she burbles.

This decent man, this man to be respected, was a mass-murderer. In 1983, Fadlallah was responsible for sending Hezbollah members in trucks loaded with explosives into the barracks in Beirut of American and French troops come to keep the peace there. Almost 300 of these soldiers were killed. Fadlallah has always praised suicide bombing and hostage-taking. As for his willingness to reach out across faiths, this decent man worthy of Mrs. Guy’s respect consistently preached the extermination of Jews, praised suicide bombing, and denied the Holocaust. How a British diplomat comes to toady to prejudice and blood-lust ought to be a major scandal. Instead of firing this Ambassador, the Foreign Office is merely tut-tutting.

By coincidence, a judicial travesty unfolding at the same moment involves two convicted Islamist terrorists currently serving sentences in British jails. One of them is Abu Hamza, the cleric whose arms were blown off and fitted instead with hooks. He is wanted in the United States on charges of terrorism in Yemen. He and the other prisoner have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights against extradition orders on the grounds that they might face a life sentence without parole, and this would be a breach of their rights. They are playing one jurisdiction off against another in a lawyers’ paradise that amounts to making a mockery of justice. Instead of throwing out this flagrant abuse, the Court wants more time to examine the implications. The terrorists may well be released at the end of their present sentences before they can be extradited to face other grave charges.

I think it may have been Sadiq el-Azm, a Syrian and a philosopher, who first formulated the choice that is currently working itself out:  either Islam Europeanizes or Europe Islamizes. Ambassador Guy and the European Court are helping to bring on a future in which neither of them will have any role at all.

Dancing in the Street



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Desperate times require desperate measures, to be sure, but it is rather a joke that Belgium is hoping to save itself by getting its citizens to dance on the streets of a dozen major cities.

The fact is that there are two populations, Flemings who are of Dutch origin and Walloons who are of French origin, and neither can stand the other. They both want out, the Flemings have even voted for it, and the break-up of this artificial country looms. In an eleventh-hour ploy, some bright spark has commissioned a pop song with alternate Dutch and French lyrics, and a lady called Maria-Clara Villa Lobos is choreographing how Belgians are to dance to this. (An expatriate from Brazil, she’s presumably a relation of Villa Lobos, that country’s most prominent composer.)

The dancing couples are supposed to be staging a mock fight, hitting one another with their elbows, only to kiss and make up. “We are different,” Marie-Clara says, “we are two people but can do things together.” These are strange times in Europe, of course, but can Belgians really be infantilized to this degree?

Why the Russians Are Good Spies



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What makes the Russians good at spying? Presumably the same national trait that makes them good chess players. They think ahead. One of their best subterfuges in the Cold War was the placing of agents known as “sleepers,” who were usually young, had a false identity, and were simply left alone to make what career they could. So they put a teenager into South Africa; he joined the navy and became commander of the Simonstown base, a key component in Western defenses. So in West Germany they put in place Günter Guillaume, who after some years became the adviser of Willi Brandt, a man actually longing to be deceived by Communists.

Now post-Cold War Russians are shown to have put in place in the United States a whole ring of agents. Christopher Metsos, no doubt not his real name, was the man who gave them their funds. Arrested in Cyprus, he was bailed for not much more than $20,000, which was small beer to him, to be paid right then and there in cash. The Cypriot judge responsible has some explaining to do. Russia uses Cyprus as an off-shore bank. Of course Metsos has vanished, presumably via the Turkish part of Cyprus, buying his way out.

It’s all very well to joke about these people, and mock them as pseudo-suburbanites with out-of-date techniques who attracted the CIA’s attention and could not achieve anything. It is impossible to know how far they penetrated and whom they may have suborned. The mere fact of their activity also reveals how fatuous it is to babble about the reset button in relations with the Kremlin.

Another thing: A couple of these spies have been passing themselves off as British. The British authorities threw a fit recently when someone cloned British identities in order to kill a Hamas armorer in Dubai, and with impeccable self-righteousness they ordered an Israeli diplomat out of the country. When Russians fake British identity, these same British authorities are merely amused. Now why the disproportion?

And while we’re on disproportion, take today’s International Herald Tribune. I happen to be in Europe right now, and it was available, so I read it, always a mistake. As though the world has no other subject, its paltry pages carry no fewer than three hostile articles about Israel, and also a letter from an Arab in Amman defending Gaza. One article claims that foreign workers in Israel get a bad deal. The second article says the Israelis have messed up, and there is a rift in the government. In the third article, Nicholas D. Kristof outdoes the others. He writes that the Israeli occupation is immoral, wrong, carefully omitting any mention that the occupation exists in the first place only because the former Arab owners came to make war on Israel, were warned not to, but came all the same and now don’t like paying the price for their aggression. Oh, how pleasant it is for a journalist to moralize on matters for which he has no responsibility. I award an annual prize for Outstanding Prig of the Year, and Kristof is a strong contender.

Editor’s note: This item has been amended since its original posting.

The Cost of Despotism



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Let’s consider Iran and Saudi Arabia; imagine for a moment what life in either of these leading Muslim countries must be like. Both are in the grip of Islamist ideologies, rivals because the one is Shia and the other Sunni, but both have the common property of promoting fantasies so far removed from human reality that they have to maintain police states for the sake of enforcement. The costs are terrible.

Where Iran is concerned, it is hard to be accurate, but human-rights organizations identify at least 50 people who have been hanged in the month of June alone, and at least 30 more were hanged in May. Several victims have been hoisted for execution on a crane, and in public, too. A photograph on the web shows ten men in Ghezel Hesar prison standing side by side on a scaffold with a noose round their necks, in effect torturing before killing them. The victims are accused of drug trafficking or rape, though Abdolmalek Rigi, aged 26, was hanged like his brother before him supposedly for leading an armed Sunni group in this Shia dictatorship. Were the two brothers really guilty? Their confessions on television followed closely the model of Stalin’s show trials: The old Communist accusation of “enemy of the people” neatly morphs into “enemy of God.” Ayatollah Khamenei has just reprieved 81 political prisoners, but another 450 are said to be held in detention without trial. Babak Heshmat Saran is just one of them. A student, he went to demonstrate on the anniversary of last year’s stolen election, was picked up by the police, and has disappeared ever since.

It’s also not clear how many people have been publicly beheaded this year in Saudi Arabia. But daily existence brings its cruelties and absurdities, especially through the deranged view held there about the relationship between the sexes. A young woman at a college was taken ill. The ambulance men arrived, but were refused entry because they were men. While they were all prevaricating, the woman died. Elsewhere, the police arrested a group for having a mixed party, and sentenced 15 of them to prison and flogging. One woman, a minor, was sentenced to 80 lashes, enough to disfigure permanently, even to cause death. Saudi women are allowed to be in the company only of male relatives, but a sheikh who is also an adviser to the ruling family has found a way to get round this prohibition. According to his fatwa, women who come into contact with unrelated men have to breastfeed them, whereupon they are considered members of the family rather than potential lovers. The big disputed issues of the day in Saudi Arabia are whether the man should suckle directly, which might prove erotic, or whether the woman should express her milk for him into a glass, and what is to be done about women who do not lactate.

In previous times, the view here would have been that, if Iranian and Saudi despots set up a society that depends on murdering or denaturing their subjects and making laughingstocks of them, so be it, they’re the losers. That won’t do now. Iran and Saudi Arabia are extending their range and influence among us, and though their Shia and Sunni ideologies are at loggerheads, both are making universal claims that no free individual could possibly accommodate. Failure to confront them would leave civilization itself the loser.

A Book that Shines



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Sometimes you come across people who elevate the meaning of life by showing courage in the face of adversity. Simon Lewis is one such. A young and successful movie maker in Los Angeles, he and his recently married wife Marcy went out to celebrate the purchase of a new car. Marcy was the marketing director at the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County. On the road, an unregistered white Chevy van shot a stop sign and hit them sideways at high speed. Marcy was killed outright. Simon was so badly hurt that he was given no chance of surviving. There was nothing that could have saved them. This was really the hand of black fate.

Simon has just published Rise and Shine, his account of the fifteen years of medical care, operations, and personal and family heartbreak that finally culminated in his recovery. Self-pity would have been only normal, but the book is magnificently free of it. Instead, it is an account of the struggle to recover from a blow as severe as this. Here also are insights into the practice of medicine in the United States, and the many fine doctors, surgeons, and nurses who restored Simon. The costs were beyond the family’s means (and, of course, kept on rising), but the insurance company did the right thing in the end. All of it is heart-warming.

I have never actually met Simon, though we have spoken on the telephone and we exchanged e-mails when I gave him some advice on how he should write his book. He is the son of friends from London who long ago emigrated to California, and he is a cousin of Bernard Lewis, the renowned scholar of Islam. The publisher of Rise and Shine is the Santa Monica Press, not one of the nation’s great publishing houses and maybe unable to command the publicity this book deserves. I think every reader will have a lump in the throat in memory of Marcy, murdered by a stranger who did not stop and who escaped from the law, too. And every reader will also be moved to salute Simon for setting an extraordinary example of the human spirit.

The Fall of France



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Seventy years ago, the German general Kurt von Briesen led his troops in a parade down the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Photographs and film show the general rising on his stirrups in the excitement of victory, and rank upon rank of Wehrmacht soldiers marching in good order. Not a shot had been fired at them. When these troops had entered the city 24 hours previously, a French colonel tried to mount a machine gun, but two of his own fleeing soldiers shot him dead. Now these photographs and film show many Parisians lining the street as their conquerors marched past, and there is no element of defiance to be discerned. The physical and moral collapse of the French was complete.

And so Nazism had defeated democracy. Hitler had the whole continent of Europe at his mercy, and could have ruled it till the end of his days, so destroying freedom and culture, in effect knocking out everything the West is supposed to stand for. On June 23, Hitler made his one and only visit to Paris, to see the Opera, whose architecture he admired. In his entourage were Gen. Hans Speidel, the post-war commander of NATO, no less, and the sculptor Arno Breker. Instead of consolidating, he miscalculated that the invasion of the Soviet Union was the necessary preliminary to eliminating Britain. By the time he was proven wrong, Germany and most of Europe was a ruin.

And 70 years ago, Marshal Philippe Pétain asked for an armistice; in other words, surrendered. At which point, Gen. Charles de Gaulle flew to London, where he went to the BBC and broadcast that he was forming a resistance movement. Afterwards he inspected his men, who numbered just above 100. At the time, thousands of French soldiers and sailors had just been evacuated from Dunkirk, but almost unanimously they chose to return to France and enjoy surrendering. Practically no Frenchmen seem to have heard de Gaulle’s broadcast, let alone obeyed it. The Pétain regime condemned him to death for treason. Of course he was a rather preposterous fellow, but that June 18 was his moment of greatness.

The drama of that moment has something to say about the role played by character in the making of history. Five grim years were to pass before the human overcame the inhuman. If only it was easy to believe that this must always be the outcome.

The Nation-State Is Making a Comeback



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The European Union exists to overcome the nationalism that has put the countries of the continent to cross-purposes. As W. H. Auden put it in another context, we must love one another or die. Away with the nation-state, then, as a necessary step in the love-in.

Well, in Belgium, the heart of the EU, whose capital Brussels is also the EU’s capital, they don’t love one another, not one bit. The country is divided into Dutch-speaking Flemings and French-speaking people known as Walloons. The Flemings think that the Walloons are living on hand-outs from them, and the Walloons resent being patronized and talked down to. In the general election that’s just been held, the New Flemish Alliance, led by a chubby young man called Bart de Wever, came out with more seats than any other party. And its platform is separatist; it wants an independent Flemish state, in effect telling the Walloons to go walk the plank.

Something of the same thing has happened simultaneously in the Netherlands. Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party have greatly increased their share of the vote in the general election there. Wilders wants the Netherlands to be for the Dutch, which means stopping Muslim immigration and making sure that those Muslims already in the country adopt Dutch values.

Belgium and the Netherlands have long traditions of government by coalition, but in these circumstances they are going to have great trouble forming coalitions, trouble to the point of having to do without a government for an extended period, trying to make ever shabbier deals in back rooms. That’s also how the EU operates, but the examples of Belgium and the Netherlands make the whole process superfluous, pointless, too ironic to be anything except laughable.

Meanwhile the euro is hanging on by its fingernails. Greece is very likely to default on its gigantic debt, amassed by long-term lying. Every top Spaniard is shouting that Spanish banks are fully capitalized and aren’t in financial trouble; the media say the opposite and point out that one Spaniard in five is unemployed. Much the same in Ireland, Portugal, and Italy. The trillions for bailing them out aren’t there. Unions everywhere are responding to the coming cuts in public-sector spending by preparing to strike. It’s front-page news when the German chancellor and the French president address each other civilly. The political gang-masters are too busy condemning Israel for defending itself to find time for anything constructive. That noise audible in the background, in short, is the death rattle of the European Union and the rebirth of the nation-state.

Say a Prayer for Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum



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The whole world has heard of the Guggenheim museum that has put the Spanish city of Bilbao on the map. Its architect is Frank Gehry, and lots of people consider what he built a work of genius. The King of Spain is quoted as saying that this is the very best of modern buildings. I had looked forward to seeing it.

However, I went first to the Museum of Fine Arts. It was virtually empty. Spanish Christian art is well represented. So is El Greco. There is a very fine and thoughtful portrait by Goya of his friend Martin Zapater. Also some beautiful pictures by an eighteenth century landscapist Luis Paret.

Nearby is the Guggenheim. The building gives you a charge of ugliness like an electric shock. It looks like a heap of gigantic discarded sardine tins, all without form, meaningless. The interior is a mess of struts, iron girders, asymmetrical shapes, and corridors. Unlike the contents of the Museum of Fine Arts, there is nothing on show that connects with human beings, either in body or spirit. Everything here is remote from lived experience, without sympathy for the human condition and therefore with nothing to say. The notes on the wall about one “artist” serve to represent them all. This poor fellow “researched, materialised, and drew connections between concepts such as the limit, the void, space, and scale, subjected to the signification of the material, which constitutes his artistic vocabulary.” That sentence could cover any of the works on show, and it is as meaningless as everything else here.

Worst of all, the museum was packed. Groups of schoolchildren had evidently been dragooned to come here for brainwashing. But the many outwardly normal visitors were more disturbing. What are they doing in this temple of fraud? Do they not realize that this is anti-art, a denial of everything human, in a word degradation?

Bilbao is a city with an attractive historic centre, in which is a cathedral, not one of the greatest, but Gothic, at least, a place in which to cleanse the spirit after the Guggenheim and even to say a prayer for poor Europe, whose culture has been reduced to this.

Hamas and Its Enablers



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The Gaza flotilla and its fate have brought into relief the crisis which must one day burst in the Middle East. Ensconced after a coup in the Gaza strip, and more than just a political obstacle to peace, Hamas is deliberately seeking war with Israel, and a war of extermination at that. This challenge is inhuman on the one hand, but on the other it appears so uneven that it is ridiculous. However, Hamas pays no heed to considerations like morality or the balance of power because it is not the usual type of nationalist movement, but an ideology, and as such driven by irrational forces, for instance faith, for instance emotion. An ideology fails only when reality catches up with it. Reality may come in the shape of superior force, as was the case with Nazism, or in the shape of bankruptcy, as was the case with Communism.

Either outcome is possible here. Israel might be obliged one day to put a stop to the belligerence of Hamas, which continues to allow rockets to be fired from Gaza and has held for four years a kidnapped Israeli soldier. Iran finances and arms the movement, and might one day realize that this investment brings only costs, not benefits.

The people of Gaza are also prisoners of the ideology. Ostensibly, they turn out for demonstrations, they claim to be volunteering for suicide and martyrdom, they militarize their children. What they are really thinking in their inner selves is unknowable. In my experience, they wish for peace at any price but they are in the position of everyone forced to live under ideological leadership, too terrified of repression to speak out.

The activists on the ships are helping the leaders of Hamas to retain power, and thus postponing the moment of reality when the ordinary people might have the chance to be responsible for themselves. It is disgusting that these activists almost all live abroad, and so are running a small risk but exposing the Gazans to a much larger and more frightening risk in the future. The activists on the Rachel Corrie, for example — the Irish Nobel Prize lady, the Swedish writer by the name of Mankell — usually wearing the fancy dress of a Palestinian scarf or keffiya, are engaged in a theatre of self-promotion, for which the Gazans will pay the price. Which leads to one further question. If Hamas happened to be successful in its war of extermination, would these activists be proud to have played their part in piling up corpses in Tel Aviv? It’s a simple matter — either they are moral idiots, or crypto-Nazis.

The Palestinian Template



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You have to give it to the Palestinians — their publicity-military stunts are in a class of their own. The Gaza flotilla in the news today is an outstanding example of the cunning and imaginative aggression that Palestinian activists have been perfecting for years now.

The opening move has invariably been to discover what is in their capacity to harm Israel. If Israel decides simply to absorb losses, then the Palestinians have a satisfying sense of being one up. Suicide bombers are an excellent example. They killed lots of Israelis and further militarized the Palestinians, and all that happened was that the Israelis cut their losses by building a fence. And this gave rise to the next move, turning what was their initial aggression into propaganda that Israel has put up another Berlin Wall, had stolen land, was an apartheid state, and the rest of it. In short, it was a win for the Palestinians either way.

Firing thousands of rockets against Israel, Hamas was similarly on a two-way bet. For a long time Israel did nothing, which allowed Hamas to boast that it was the “resistance.” When Israel finally retaliated, Hamas depicted the damage they brought on themselves as a war crime, neatly and rewardingly reversing the roles of aggressor and victim.

The Gaza flotilla was another certain winner of the same kind. Either Israel let it through, in which case Hamas had scored a coup. In the tried and tested Palestinian style, the flotilla’s organizers made sure to have on board children, elderly people, and Europeans, whose possible injury would certainly make the Israelis look bad. They couldn’t have cared less about that. They anticipated correctly that Israel was certain to inspect the ships for possible smuggling of armaments and ferrying in gunmen, that casualties were likely, and that the world would condemn Israel for defending itself. Easy, once you have the template for it.

Turkish sponsorship of this stunt is the one thing that matters. Whipping up anti-Israeli hysterics, the Turkish prime minister and his government openly declare that Turkey now opts for a Muslim and not a secular or Western identity. The consequences of losing Turkey are going to cause a lot of grief to a lot of people.

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The EU Takes on the Father of the Bride



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I spent the week-end celebrating a wedding. The bride and bridegroom made a fine couple. The church was very old, with a magnificent Norman arch and medieval wall decorations. Afterwards we repaired to a nearby great house built in the seventeenth century of beautiful grey stone, with a chapel of its own, mullion windows, statues, a vast lawn and gardens which I in my ignorance only then learnt are famous. Everything was perfect, in other words, here was a traditional moment of the kind that has made England what it is, and formed the loyalty of its daughters and sons.

In the course of his speech in her honour, the father of the bride then informed the audience that the European Union has passed a Gender Equality Bill. One provision of this preposterous and impudent measure is that fathers are no longer allowed to give away their daughters in the traditional church ceremony. Apparently that is to treat daughters as chattels. The whole European Union is on the point of breaking up, Greece is in flames and the Germans about to rebel, several countries in the eurozone are bankrupt beyond redemption, the euro itself has failed and soon there may be no currency for Europeans to trade in — and the giant statesmen of Brussels come up with a prohibition on fathers giving away their daughters in marriage as fathers have done in country after country, century after century.

All is not lost. Princess Victoria of Sweden is engaged to be married. I shall never forget the grace and elegance with which she escorted an aged prize-winner who could hardly walk to dinner at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm in 2000. She has presence. Heir to the throne, she is insisting that her father, the King, give her away. The more the Swedish church says this can’t now be done, the more she protests that she will have her way. May she and the King remember their Vasa royal predecessors, Queen Christina, Charles XII, the days when Sweden was a great power, and may they help cover the great statesmen of Brussels with well-deserved ridicule.

Yesterday in Parliament



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Yesterday was the first day of a Parliament in Westminster with David Cameron as prime minister. Hope refreshed, no? All that change we were promised?

Well, the first piece of business was the installation of the speaker, one John Bercow. Towards the end of the previous Parliament, he was railroaded into the office in place of the previous speaker, a venal and foolish old buffer who was the first speaker to be ejected since the 17th century. Bercow is a trimmer who changes his politics like a chameleon, all things to all men, unpopular, nicknamed the Greaser in the press. Gordon Brown and the Labour party voted for Bercow in a scorched-earth mood, to hurt the Conservatives. It is customary for speakers to be unopposed in general elections, but a raft of candidates stood against him, in, alas, a seat so safe that he got reelected. At the beginning of a Parliament, it is a convention that members have only to shout No to the nomination of the speaker. Some duly shouted, but it was then judged that those who shouted Yes were louder. So this Parliament has a speaker whom nobody respects.

Meanwhile George Osborne, the new chancellor of the exchequer, was in Brussels because the European Union is deciding to regulate the hedge-fund industry, almost all of which operates out of London. As usual, the measure is designed to hurt British interests. And what does the hapless Osborne do? He concedes, saying it is too late to do anything about it, and he doesn’t want to lose political capital by objecting.

As if all this wasn’t damaging enough, a High Court judge, Mr. Justice Mitting, declared that two al-Qaeda terrorists — caught red-handed about to kill a large number of people in a shopping mall — could not be deported to their native Pakistan because they might be ill-treated there. On the contrary, they have to be released. Their human rights count for more than the human rights of those they were planning to murder. A society with an attitude like that will not survive, and doesn’t deserve to.

Yesterday was a bad day, and if we are to continue in this way, then the electorate will conclude that tomorrow is no different from Labour’s disastrous yesterday, and a Conservative government serves no useful purpose.

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Brown’s Hubris



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Here I am on the NR cruise, isolated on the river Douro somewhere between Portugal and Spain, and this is not a position in which to follow political events in Britain. I have felt nothing but forebodings since the Conservatives failed to win a majority. It has seemed clear that David Cameron would abandon some principles to become prime minister, and the question was which principles, how far he would go to accommodate the Liberal Democrats, and whether this wouldn’t lead to irreparable damage to the Conservatives. Whether he has abandoned principles remains to be seen.

Of course it is a relief to be rid of Gordon Brown. He was a disastrous Prime Minister. It is hard to think of anything that he did right. After plotting for years against his colleague Tony Blair, he finally ousted him. How he wanted the job, how he and his spin-doctors presented him as someone whose whole career was directed towards this end! At last the right man was supposed to be in the right place. The Labour Party did not then elect him but had a coronation. Things went wrong thereafter. He immediately flunked a general election which he almost certainly would have won, in which case none of this downfall would have occurred and he’d still have a couple of years in office. Virtually all decisions Brown took were soon revealed to be mistaken. Worse, the man’s character was exposed. Evidently he was weak, defending himself as weak men do by being a bully. Nastiness in a prime minister makes for the disloyalty of subordinates and general inefficiency.

In Greek tragedy a favourite theme consists of the character who badly wants something, only to destroy himself when he obtains what he has wanted. Self-destruction comes from hubris, from the character’s mistaken belief that he has qualities, indeed a destiny, that in reality he does not have. As we NR cruisers enjoyed the Douro landscape I couldn’t help reflecting how perfectly Brown exemplifies this notion of tragedy. I felt what the spectator of a Greek tragedy is supposed to feel, at once delighted that nemesis has overtaken a flawed character, while also being sorry that he has to pay so humiliatingly for his faults. And naturally the famous judgement of Tacitus on the Emperor Galba also came to mind – “capax imperii nisi imperasset.” My English translation of the idiomatic Latin will have to do, “He seemed capable of ruling until he actually came to rule.”
 

The U.K. Scandals



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These are the last 48 hours before the general election in Britain. On all sides you hear that the campaign of all parties has been boring and irrelevant. Commentators are attaching the label of “anti-politics” to the general attitude of the public. Two immense scandals are in the air, it is true, and the voters can do little about it. The first scandal is that Members of Parliament almost without exception have taken advantage of a procedure that has been unbelievably lax but hidden from view allowing them to claim expenses. In effect they have been leeching money out of the taxpayer on a massive and disgraceful scale. You have to go back to the eighteenth century, to two notorious figures, the Duke of Newcastle and Lord Rockingham, to find this sort of naked embezzling. Those aristocrats at least built splendid houses and lived in style. Today’s wretches have nothing to show for their greed.

The second scandal is that Britain is in disastrous economic shape. The 13 years of Blair and Brown have left the country on the edge of insolvency. Again, you have to go back 200 years to find incompetence at this level. Outgoing prime minister Gordon Brown is the culprit, totally unbelievable when he repeats in his grim way that he alone can get the country out of the mess which is his gift to the nation. Nick Clegg on behalf of the other left-wing party, the Liberal Democrats, evidently doesn’t understand basic economics. Which leaves David Cameron, the Conservative challenger, who has an appealing manner but basically differs only in minute details from Brown. The winner of this election is going to have to cut public spending enormously and raise taxes. Greece, here we come.

Even at this late hour, the outcome of the election is unforeseeable, given the anomalies of the British system and the three-party race. Brown may have the lowest popular vote but still win the most seats, in which case in spite of the loss of authority he may cling Mugabe-like to the office of prime minister. A strange constitutional hiatus – a determined effort to dodge the electorate’s rejection — is a possibility.

The broader more interesting question is why Britain has come to this pass. In part or perhaps wholly, the answer seems to be that any form of socialism, even the Blair-Brown soft version of it, is a brilliant and unfailing device for impoverishing and infantilizing any country implementing it. Brown and Clegg promise more of the same, unable to recognize reality. Cameron may well win, and it would be for the best that he does so, but he too has so far been unable to engage the country in the adult and truthful debate that has to come, and soon.

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