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David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished



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The hunt is up, and the quarry is former prime minister Tony Blair. Two previous inquiries have been held into the circumstances surrounding the Iraq War of 2003 and they have been innocuous and inconsequential. A new inquiry under a Whitehall mandarin, Sir John Chilcot, is proving very different.

Already other mandarins including Foreign Office advisors, British ambassadors to Washington, and the United Nations, and the head of MI6, the intelligence agency, have given testimony suggesting that Blair went to war as a favor to Mr. Bush, and not in the national interest. The legality of the war depended on Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction, and one and all looked foolish when none were found. Senior military figures have complained that their opposite numbers in the United States were remote or snubbing, and therefore no plans existed after victory in the field. Hence occupation and chaos, al-Qaeda and the Shiite militias, all of it unnecessary and incompetent.

Another mandarin, Sir Ken Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, has made things much worse. A hippy in his youth, he seemed a dubious appointment, but he was a friend of Blair’s and in the same law firm as Mrs. Blair. He has certainly learnt how to prosecute. In an article, he calls Blair a sycophant, a narcissist whose belief in himself does not amount to principle, and who deceived the British people into waging war by concocting a story that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction when this was not the case and he well knew it. President Bush made a mess, and Blair readily jumped into it on account of a misplaced sense of his own importance. British mandarins are not in the habit of speaking about anyone, never mind prime ministers, with such anger and contempt.

Blair has made matters still worse for himself by giving an interview to say that if he had known Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction he would have gone to war for the sake of regime change — Saddam was too dangerous to be allowed a free run. The pack of media critics and human-rights lawyers have immediately begun to label Blair a war criminal, and raise the prospect of tribunals to incriminate him.

In office for ten years, Blair took a series of disastrous decisions that did harm to the internal condition of Britain, casting a dark shadow over its future. Since he resigned, moreover, he has cashed in with a shamelessness that generates great resentment. But it could be said in his favor that he had a hand in helping the Arab world move towards the democracy it needs but cannot introduce by itself. “A pretty straight kind of guy,” in his own words, he has a track record of wriggling Houdini-like out of blame, but in the perspective of the moment he looks like being established in the public mind as someone whose one good deed fixes him as an irredeemable liar and warmonger.

The Wrong Crowd



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The sole discernible reason for awarding the Nobel Peace prize to President Obama just a few days after he entered the White House is that he is not George W. Bush. The Norwegians on the committee are all hard-line leftists, and unanimously suspicious of the United States, psychologically conditioned to condemn it for whatever it is or does. Thorbjorn Jagland, the chairman, was apparently some sort of informer or correspondent with the old Soviet KGB. No sane person, certainly no statesman, would want to be mixed up with this conceited and priggish bunch.

Evidently Obama couldn’t resist, just as he couldn’t resist coded swipes against George W. Bush. The fear is that these Norwegians are people whose worldview he shares, and with whom he feels comfortable, when the rest of us would head for the door as quickly as we could. So right at the beginning of his acceptance speech, he said with a truth that cannot be denied, “my accomplishments are slight.” The embarrasment that he had to overcome is that, as this slightly accomplished man, he was receiving the top peace prize for waging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and of course also against Islamist terror, which he conveniently forgot to mention). So the thrust of his speech was that for the sake of peace you often have to wage war, and he’s the commander-in-chief with the responsibility to do so. This is a statement of the obvious, but coming from him it conveyed an unmistakable groundswell of apology. The question to be asked is why ever an American president should put himself in a position with such potential for humiliation.

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No Room for Free Thought at the Inn?



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Could it be that things are beginning to turn, and people in the West will at last stand up for their beliefs? First came the referendum in Switzerland that mosques could be built, but no more minarets. Muslims of course protested that this was bigotry, racism, and the rest of it. It was not. The Swiss fully granted freedom of religion, and were merely making the point that they wanted the landscape to look the way it always had. And now comes a follow-up in Britain, in the case of Mr. Ben Vogelenzang and his wife Sharon.

The Vogelenzangs are committed Christians, two among thousands of members of a semi-missionary organisation called The Christian Institute. They own and manage a small hotel in Liverpool, catering specially to patients in a nearby hospital. Mrs. Ericka Tazi, a 60-year-old, stayed for a month in this hotel while undergoing treatment in the hospital. On the final day she came to breakfast in a hijab. Born Catholic and British, Mrs. Tazi has a Muslim husband and converted to Islam about twelve months ago.

In the dining room that morning words were obviously exchanged. Mrs. Tazi said that “the Bible is untrue anyway and Jesus is a minor prophet.” She adds that the Vogelenzangs compared Muhammad to warlords in history, including Hitler and Saddam Hussein. The Vogelenzangs admit to saying that Islam is a form of bondage for women, but also say that Mrs. Tazi exaggerates everything else.

Mrs. Tazi went to the police. Six inspectors from the “hate crime unit” of the local police force — yes, such units act as thought-police all over the country — duly investigated, and the Vogelenzangs were prosecuted. The couple faced costs, the folding of their hotel and bankruptcy. In court, however, the judge took very little time to throw the case out. Freedom of speech was the issue here. The Vogelenzangs, the judge ruled, had every right to speak their mind in a discussion about religion. Incidentally, he also observed that Mrs. Tazi’s resort to dirty language could not be squared with her religious views, and he as good as called her a liar and hypocrite. Mrs. Vogelenzang had the last word: “As Christmas approaches, we wish everybody peace and goodwill.”

What Goes Around Comes Around



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A little incident in Paris just now ought to cheer up George W. Bush if he bothers to keep abreast of the news. Muntader al-Zaidi is the Iraqi journalist who became well-known for throwing a shoe at the president, disrupting a press conference and obliging the president to duck. Al-Zaidi went to prison for some months, but is out now and touring the world, hoping to attract sympathy for the way the law treated him and also to raise money for a charity he has started on behalf of “the victims of the U.S. occupation in Iraq.” At al-Zaidi’s own press conference, another Iraqi stood up, and started a speech in Arabic to accuse him of “working for dictatorship in Iraq.” Then he shouted, “And here’s another shoe,” and threw it. It was al-Zaidi’s turn to duck. The shoe-thrower identifies himself only as Khayat, and maybe he judged it prudent to conceal his name, but at least here is one Iraqi emerging from the crowd to show that, unlike so many in his country and in the West, he knows how to distinguish between freedom and dictatorship. Besides, what goes around comes around — here’s a wonderfully pointed illustration of the wisdom of that saying.

A Line in the Air



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The Swiss have just taken the significant step of banning the building of minarets. Right across the continent of Europe this ban is sure to have important repercussions.

Some will say that here is evidence of racism and xenophobia, while others will hold that the Swiss are people who believe in their historic identity, and Muslims who wish to live in Switzerland will have to respect it.

The ban follows quite a bit of contention which started when the king of Saudi Arabia bought a house on the shore of Lake Geneva. Launching a building program without first obtaining the requisite permits, he was obliged to stop and pull down extensions. Geneva already had a mosque, and when the Saudis wanted to build another one, the city fathers replied that permission would be granted only when the Saudis reciprocated by allowing the building of a church in Saudi Arabia. Also following the brief arrest of his charmless son, Colonel Gaddhafi, the Libyan dictator,  uttered such threats that the authorities quickly and abjectly apologized.

In a population of some seven million there are 400,000 Muslims worshipping in about 150 mosques, half a dozen of them with minarets. In the small town of Wangen, in 2005, the imam of a largely Turkish community applied to add a minaret to his mosque. He was allowed to do so, but the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan, a crypto-Islamist, had been unwise enough to issue a blanket defiance to Western countries: “Mosques are our barracks, domes our helmets, minarets our bayonets.” A politician by the name of Christoph Blocher picked up the challenge and made a national issue of it. A lawyer by training, he is a successful industrialist, the founder of the Swiss People’s Party which has a right-wing platform, and he has been a government minister.

In Switzerland, the people are sovereign, and express their sovereignty through referendums. Blocher and the Swiss People’s Party have been campaigning for a couple of years for a referendum on the minaret issue. Posters depicted women in burkas surrounded by sharp bayonet-shaped minarets. In the minds of Swiss women, minarets herald sharia law and discrimination, and their votes appear to have been decisive. This is all the more remarkable because the institutions of government, the civil rights lobby, churchmen of every stripe, and finally the press, have been almost unanimously in favour of minarets, condemning any idea of banning them, and also putting about a fearful whisper that Islamists are bound to resort to reprisals and terror, as in the case of the cartoons in Denmark.

No country in Europe quite knows what to do about the Muslims who have come to live there. What exactly should be conceded to them, and why? These puzzling questions go to the core of national identity. Defying those who claim the right to set the terms of public debate, the Swiss have tried to draw a line. Whether the opinion-making elite of the entire continent will allow them to keep to it is quite another matter. 

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Remembering Robbie



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H.C. Robbins Landon — always known as Robbie — was one of the world’s leading musicologists. Haydn was a passion with him. Born in Boston, he was American through and through but lived in one European country after another, and came to look and behave like a ruling Grand Duke. 

Once I called on him in Vienna, where his rooms were filled with musical instruments, and he told me the story of one particular piano there. Beethoven, it appeared, had written to his patron, Prince Lichnowsky, to say that Haydn was the greatest composer of the times, but nevertheless had an unfair advantage. Haydn possessed a Broadwood, an English model then a novelty because it was the first to be fitted with pedals, thus enlarging tonality and making redundant the former keyboard instruments like the harpsichord. A Broadwood would give Beethoven the chance to be as good as Haydn. How much does it cost? Prince Lichnowsky wanted to know.  Eighty pounds — a tremendous sum then, the equivalent of many thousands now. The prince told Beethoven to send him the bill. For years, Beethoven composed on this instrument.

Studying the documentation, Robbie worked out that this historic piano might have finished up in a castle near Salzburg belonging to a Count Herberstein. The count said he knew nothing about this, but the castle was huge with many abandoned wings and towers, and Robbie was welcome to have a look. Sure enough, in some remote and dusty attic, there it was. The count then said to Robbie, We didn’t know it was here, you traced it, it’s yours.

Is not this sequence of events a sufficient defence of aristocracy? Incidentally, Robbie often travelled behind the Iron Curtain in search of musical scores, and he was almost as passionate in his criticism of Communism as in his devotion to Haydn. He’s just died, aged 83, and they don’t make characters like this any more. R.I.P.

‘The Great EU Stitch-Up’



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Surprise greeted the morning’s news that one Herman van Rompuy, a Belgian unknown until a few days ago, had become first president of the newly ratified European Union, and one Catherine Ashton, a British peeress every bit as unknown, had become what is modestly called High Representative, in other words in charge of the EU’s foreign policy. Surprise almost immediately turned into a belly laugh that rumbles far and wide. British papers of opposing political outlook have carried the same headline: “The Great EU Stitch-Up.”

These two dim figures have emerged through an invisible process of horse-dealing between the 27 heads of state within the EU. Former prime minister Blair had always let it be known that he expected to be the European president, and I thought that he is such a master of charm and smarm that he would achieve this ambition. The return of an unpopular and retired prime minister as a superior president would have been felt as an insult throughout England, and presumably the 27 horse-dealers took note of that.

Party politics in Belgium has been the sum total of Mr. Van Rompuy’s experience in life. To his credit, he immediately said he hadn’t asked for this post. Lady Ashton’s career is even smaller and duller. She has never been elected to anything,but always risen by appointment and party affiliation. Your standard 20th-century leftie, she is unable to think anything that has not been thought and approved by others. Of course she worked for the Campaign of Nuclear Disarmament that, during the Cold War, did what it could to give the Soviet Union victory. The peak of her career was to head Hertfordshire Health Authority, a local body with the true socialist purpose of exercising state control over the health of others. By chance, I heard her speak — drone, actually — in the House of Lords as the treaty under which she is now promoted was being debated. She was reading a brief in so muffled and unintelligible a way that I doubt she could have understood the words. Prime Minister Gordon Brown is said to have lobbied for her. Praising her promotion, he launched another whole round of belly laughs by referring to her repeatedly as Lady Ashdown. So even he can’t be quite sure who she is.  

If only it was all just farce! Step by step, the precedent of replacing democracy with absolute monarchy is becoming a reality.

Something Other Than Divine



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A modern parody of absolute monarchy and the divine right of kings is being staged in Europe right now. The 27 heads of the executive — some of them presidents, others prime ministers — in the countries of the EU are in the process of choosing the president or fixed term head of state in the EU, as mandated by the new constitution that has just been ratified.

We have lately witnessed the primaries, television debates and nation-wide electioneering to which candidates for the American presidency have to submit. This reveals the character of those standing for high office. In Europe, by contrast, the 27 heads of state form an exclusive electoral roll of their own. At this very moment, each one of them is wholly employed telephoning the other 26, trying to find out who is going to vote for whom, to canvass for their candidate, and to discover some means of influencing or discreetly buying votes. The people of Europe will never know the true ins and outs of this horse-dealing, but tomorrow or within a few days if more time is needed,  they will be presented with the winner. The Bourbon-Parmas and the Hohenzollerns would thoroughly appreciate the closed-doors intimacy of the selection, especially the total elimination of any participation by their hapless subjects.

The press, you might have supposed, would be ridiculing this situation. With a few exceptions, commentators everywhere are behaving like courtiers, as though what is happening is in the proper order of things. Some weeks ago, Tony Blair was trumpeted as the likely president. Then several of the 27 graciously let it be known through careful leaks that they would oppose him on the grounds that he had been a friend and ally of George W. Bush.  Unfortunate Blair! He wrecked his own country for ten long years, but now is punished for about the only policy he got right. Quite probably, this is all spin as practised in courts and palaces, and many, including me, still expect Blair to be the rabbit popping out of the hat.

Instead, we are invited to contemplate one Herman van Rompuy. Before his name was suddenly leaked in its turn, it is safe to say that virtually nobody had ever heard of him. The 27 voters and their courtiers like to declare that this very insignificance is his finest claim to be president. A Flemish Christian Democrat who has been polishing obscure committee benches all his born days, for the last few months he was promoted to be prime minister of Belgium, a country that has had to do without such an office-holder for long and troubled spells. In 1830 Lord Palmerston, British foreign minister, invented Belgium in order for that space to be neither French nor German. Its French and its Flemish citizens hate one another to the point of advocating a split, which makes Belgium a perfect microcosm of the EU. In photographs, van Rompuy has the looks of a rarely observed humanoid insect. Here are a couple of samples of the haikus which apparently he jots down whenever he can: “A fly zooms, buzzes/ Spins and is lost in the room/ He does no one harm,” and “Hair blows in the wind/ After years there is still wind/  Sadly no more hair.” Perhaps this sounds less trite in its original Flemish, but it ought to disqualify him from any responsible office. The man wants to impose all sorts of new taxes across the whole continent and that is no doubt why the 27 voters warm to him. 

Who knows, the hectic telephoning may lead to the coronation of some other candidate.  Here is an odiously elitist contempt for the masses who in the past have struggled for freedom and democracy.  Common sense tells you that Europeans are not going to accept the return to this form of absolute monarchy. Should they do so, they will prove as intellectually and morally bankrupt as the 27 voters leading them down that path.

A Tale of Intrigue



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The story of Shabtai Kalmanovich, resumed in just four short and amazing paragraphs in the Daily Telegraph, is a challenge that a thriller writer would have to be very inventive to match. Kalmanovich, it appears, emigrated to Israel from his native Lithuania in 1971. Lithuania was then a fully-fledged Soviet republic, and by the look of it the KGB must have already recruited Kalmanovich. Once an Israeli citizen, he joined the Labour party, worked as a parliamentary aide, and is reported to have “penetrated Golda Meir’s government on behalf of the KGB.” Detected, he fled to Africa in the 1980s but was extradited to Israel to serve five years in prison. Then, in an intelligence deal in 1993, he was handed back to Russia where he evolved somehow into a prominent businessman with links to the Russian mafia.

A few days ago, a gunman in Moscow killed him by firing about 20 shots into his chauffeur-driven Mercedes. One would like to know the ins and outs of Kalmanovich’s doings as an agent (posing as a double agent?) in Israel, of how the Israelis persuaded some African government or other to return him, and the nature of that intelligence deal with the Russians. Mossad or the successors to the KGB may have wanted to settle scores, but disgruntled Africans or Russian mafiosi are just as likely to have had reasons to take him out. Was he a victim of circumstances, navigating the times with a certain black brilliance, or just an utter crook?

Remembering the Fall of the Berlin Wall



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The sight of the Berlin Wall told you all you needed to know about Communism. The way it ran through the city, the ugliness, the armed guards with field-glasses dominating it, were a monument in cement to inhumanity. As a soldier stationed in Germany I had had sightings of the whole Iron Curtain, its minefields, electrified wiring, and watchtowers. Later journalistic assignments in East Berlin were enough to convince me that Soviet Communism had East Germany in its grip and would never relent. In October 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev came to East Berlin and warned his faithful party servant Erich Honecker not to be left behind by history. Gorbachev and Honecker — I didn’t believe anything they might be saying, and prepared myself for a declaration of emergency, military rule, the shooting of large numbers of demonstrators, nuclear alert, the lot.

Honecker would have had no scruple about giving orders to fire on the crowd, and nor would Erich Mielke, brutal head of the Stasi. Egon Krenz likes to boast that as prime minister he killed nobody but this was because he lost the chance to do so. Plans for armed repression certainly existed. Instead, as often seems the case at historic turning points, accident took over. Gyula Horn, on behalf of the Hungarian Communist party, decided to open the Hungarian section of the Iron Curtain. To a certain extent, the Hungarians wanted to make life difficult for the Soviets, but more generally, they hadn’t perceived that from that moment East Germans would come and go as they pleased in huge numbers. The moment the Soviet bloc was no longer a properly controlled entity the Berlin Wall became a relic.

That November 20 years ago, Günter Schabowski was the East German Politburo member who had the task of explaining to the world’s press this sudden and unexpected breech in the Soviet empire. He had drawn the short straw. Maybe he was even an honest man, as such types go. Once he was no longer a Communist apparatchik, he took a job as a lowly journalist in Rothenburg, an unspoilt little town in West Germany, and there I interviewed him. At the outset of his famous press conference, he was to say, he had had no intention of declaring that the Berlin Wall was now open. But the questions threw him off balance, (Daniel Johnson, son of Paul Johnson, was one of the questioners) and he misspoke — as politicians like to put it — giving the unintended impression that people could indeed now cross the Wall freely.

Within a short time, the picks and jack-hammers were out and cheering people were dismantling the Wall. In another interview, I questioned the Stasi officer who had been on duty that night at the crucial point. When Schabowski’s press conference brought the demonstrators charging towards him and his men, he would willingly have opened fire but needed the order to do so to cover himself. His urgent telephone call to his superiors for instructions went unanswered. What is the likelihood that this was deliberate rather than incompetent? So this officer and his bewildered Stasi men were overrun with their weapons in hand, and so Schabowski played the sort of minor role on whom the plot turns that Shakespeare loved to write about, and so Gorbachev was as surprised as the rest of the world to be granted the great good fortune of entering the history books as the man who freed millions from Communism.

Stop Press



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Abdulbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, is alive and doing quite well, thank you. In July he was declared to have terminal cancer and therefore was sure to be dead within three months. On compassionate grounds, therefore, he was released from prison and sent back to a rapturous reception in his native Libya. The three months have passed, and Megrahi is reported in the Sunday Telegraph to be showing “no sign of deterioration” but having telephone conversations long enough “to suggest that Megrahi is not at death’s door,” as the Telegraph puts it. If he dies within a short span — a year or two, say, it will come as a surprise. I rather expect him to turn up in Cairo or somewhere like Monte Carlo. The man is a walking lie, and everything that has passed between him, Muammer Gaddhafi and the British government stinks to high heaven. 

We Need a Muggeridge for Iran



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Malcolm Muggeridge in his day was one of the rare foreign correspondents who reported what the Soviet Union was really like under Stalin. And what satirical scorn he reserved for those who thought they were wandering in Utopia. Listen to this extract from a book of his about the rich idiots then to be encountered:

There were earnest advocates of the humane killing of cattle who looked up at the massive headquarters of the OGPU [the secret police at the time] with tears of gratitude in their eyes, earnest advocates of proportional representation who eagerly assented when the necessity for a Dictatorship of the Proletariat was explained to them, earnest clergymen who walked reverently through anti-God museums and reverently turned over the pages of atheistic literature, earnest pacifists who watched delightedly tanks rattle across Red Square and bombing planes darken the sky, earnest town-planning specialists who stood outside over-crowded, ramshackle tenements and muttered: ‘If only we had something like this in England!’

The credulity of these fellow-travellers, Muggeridge recorded, astonished even hardened Soviet officials.

This anthology passage has come to mind several times recently in connection with present-day fellow-travellers visiting Iran in just that same spirit of willing self-deception. Here are advocates of human rights enthusing over the general happiness of Iranians even while disgusting crimes of murder and rape are routine in the prisons. Here are ecologists promoting windmills everywhere at home, obsessed with their carbon footprint while oblivious to the Iranian nuclear program. Socialists and Leftists in a permanent fury about American foreign policy have nothing to say about Iranian sponsorship of terror far and wide. Pacifists and aesthetes are so eager to see the splendours of Qom and Mashhad that they are oblivious to the Islamist Republic’s testing of long-range missiles and repeated threats to exterminate its enemies. Feminists eager to uncover gender discrimination in their own sphere respond to the plight of Iranian women by praising the attractive colours of their clothing. Tourism to Iran is apparently the latest fashion among rich Westerners, and they come back saying that the country is peaceful, prosperous, no danger to anyone but altogether a brilliant success. My dear, let’s meet up at Isfahan, you have to see those mosques.

Only a few short years ago, these very same rich Westerners were adamant about refusing to go to South Africa for fear of seeming to condone apartheid. As for Franco’s Spain, it was out of bounds for such people for decades on the strict moral principle that the regime’s violence was intolerable. Even Salazar’s Portugal was forbidden. Iran is a great deal more vicious, indeed fascist, than those formerly pariah states, yet it is excused as they were not. There doesn’t seem to be anyone with Malcolm Muggeridge’s powers of mockery to explode this latest odious example of double standards.

Blairly Hopeful



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England is a strange place these days. A sort of political volcano has exploded, and the significance of it is not clear. According to pretty well everyone with access to free speech, fascism has erupted. The British National party has been making surreptitious headway for some time now, but restricted to winning a seat on some local council here or there. Suddenly in elections for the European parliament in Brussels, the BNP got about 900,000 votes, entitling it under proportional representation to two seats. One of those seats goes to Nick Griffin, the BNP leader.

Griffin is far from a Hitler or Mussolini, far even from suitably streamlined European fascists of today like Jorg Haidar or Jean-Marie Le Pen. Overweight, he waddles. His face seems designed to be incapable of smiling, and he has no humour, no powers of persuasion, no gift for repartee. This glum figure is undoubtedly a racist, an anti-Semite, an ignoramus, and a liar about the unsavory things he has done and said on his way towards the top of the BNP.

Was it right of the BBC to invite this man on to Any Questions, its flagship program devoted to discussions of the political and social issues of the day? By and large, the public approves that decision, seeing this as an issue of free speech and the need for debate. But unfortunately the chairman of the program and the other panellists — party political hacks for the most part — and especially the hand-picked audience, behaved as though they were there to lynch Griffin. Opinion polls afterwards showed that this created a backlash, and as many as 22 percent have said that they now would consider voting BNP. Argument and good sense should have destroyed Griffin but instead rudeness revealed only the poor character of those being so offensive.

Griffin has only one point to make, namely that immigration is out of control and British people no longer feel that this is their country. He hasn’t the intelligence to make this point very well, but it resonates with the people who find themselves living amidst the immigrants. Nobody seems to have worked out that mass immigration and the welfare state are incompatible. British people see immigrants receiving benefits, housing, and the rest of it on a scale that is neither deserved nor available to them. Post-war governments, whether Conservative or Labour, have created this confusion and taken every measure to pretend either that it is not happening or that it doesn’t matter. In short, these politicians have been effective fascist-spawning agents. The BNP and Griffin are monuments to their incompetence and cowardly dissembling.

As though on cue, a speechwriter for Tony Blair now reveals that the Blair government had a deliberate policy of encouraging mass immigration while ensuring that the electorate was told nothing about it. As the well-known columnist Melanie Phillips has put it, here was “a deliberate and secret policy of national cultural sabotage.” In the next 25 years, moreover, some 7 million more immigrants are expected to be added to the population.

There is of course a genuinely fascist element in the country, consisting of groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, al-Muhajiroun, al-Ghurabaa, and others who also have only one point — they want a Muslim Britain as part of their projected Muslim caliphate, and they are working for what is ultimately conquest of everyone else. So as might be expected, the Islamo-fascist front and the BNP feed one another.

Again as though on cue, Tony Blair is in the headlines, as he looks set to fill the new post of president of Europe for a fixed term. His supporters are waging a campaign to soften up the electorate to his appointment. Democracy in Europe being what it is, the decision will be taken by the 27 heads of state meeting in secret conclave, a process just as closed and pre-determined as the selection of the Communist party general secretary in Soviet days, or a new pope in the Vatican. If President Blair handles immigration in Europe with the dishonesty and fecklessness that he did in Britain, then the continent will have to deal with other and nastier Griffins and their nationalist parties.

The Zeal of the Converts



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The Pakistani army is advancing in strength into South Waziristan, and in that wild and tribal region it is encountering training camps. A sort of Muslim International Brigade has been forming, on the lines of the volunteers who once flocked to the Spanish civil war. Ominously, those being trained, according to the Washington Post, include a number of jihadis recruited abroad. Some are Muslims who have taken up citizenship in one or another country in Europe. For instance, four Swedes have been arrested, one of them being Mehdi Ghezali, an alumnus of Guantanamo.

Quite a few come from Britain, which already has its quota of home-grown and Pakistan-trained Muslim terrorists, including the four who exploded the bombs in the London subway, killing over 50 people and wounding 700, and the two who set off bombs in Tel Aviv. The U.S. has in custody one Bryant Neal Vinas of Long Island, N.Y., but originally from Peru and Argentina. On a Taliban video released for German consumption appears a gunman identified as “Abu Ibrahim the American,” whose real identity remains to be discovered.

Not so long ago in Iraq, a Frenchman was killed fighting American troops, and a Belgian woman blew herself up. Both these were converts to Islam. Figures are very uncertain, but I have seen 50,000 mentioned in the French press as a figure for converts to Islam every year, while the Dutch press has had a figure of 30,000 converts annually to Islam. A rather pathetic convert, a man with a medical condition, injured himself setting off a bomb in a restaurant in the British city of Exeter. No doubt many or most Muslim converts are sincere, but some are sad cases of the kind, globalistas who travel the world to attack G7 meetings, ecology and climate-change freaks, and others whose identity rests on the shaky foundations of discontent and conspiracy. Just a few of such types are enough to wreak havoc. The more successful the Pakistan army is in Waziristan, or the surge forces in Afghanistan are, the more likely we are to have to deal with this new International Brigade.  

Defenseless



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To the Obama administration the key to dealing with Iran evidently lies in Moscow. Get the Russians on board, the thinking goes, and then there will be a united front, and hey presto, diplomacy will somehow convince the Iranians that their nuclear ambitions will have to be suspended, or perhaps emended, or perhaps redirected, or perhaps something else which we will be excited, or perhaps dismayed, or perhaps terrified, to discover in due course.

To that end, Mrs. Hillary Clinton has just been to Moscow, in the role of humble petitioner. She might have expected a welcome and even a hearing, granted that President Obama has scrapped the projected missile shield in central Europe that Moscow liked to pretend was a threat. Not a bit of it: This gratuitous gift cut no ice with Vladimir Putin, who in any case doesn’t take kindly to humble petitioners, much preferring to kick them. Putin came out in favor of leaving Iran to carry on with everything it is doing. Talk of sanctions, he said, was “premature.” At a subsequent meeting with the Chinese, he summarized his policy of choice towards Iran, “We need to look for a compromise. If a compromise is not found, and the discussions end in fiasco, then we will see.” That should have them sitting up and begging for mercy in Tehran. The discussions are already a six-year fiasco. As for Putin, he doesn’t hesitate to send the tanks into Chechnya or Georgia, to threaten all his neighbours and cut off gas supplies at will, and even wage cyber-war against Estonia. Who does he think he’s deceiving?

I happened to catch Mrs. Clinton being interviewed about her trip to Moscow on BBC television. Her body language indicated that she knew Putin had delivered the good kicking reserved for weak petitioners there. But as best she could, she let it be understood that the Russians are really on board, never mind what they say or do, never mind the lengths they go to in order to thwart the United States even if that means sabotaging any hope of world order.  Who does she think she’s deceiving?

The Obama Prize



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The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama is an outstanding example of European anti-Americanism. The Norwegian prize givers are evidently full of glee because in their view Obama is diminishing the standing of the United States all over the world, surrendering power on multiple fronts, abandoning missile shields in Central Europe, hesitating to reinforce the mission in Afghanistan, buckling to Iran, and much more of that kind in prospect. The motive for encouraging all possible American retreats is almost wholly malicious, spiteful. Europeans are all too well aware that their own continent is going fast down a slippery slope towards a total loss of power, with immense social and political trials in store. It becomes unbearable for them to observe the strength and vitality of the United States, that upstart who made its way by rejecting Europe in the first place. Few will say so, but most will be gloating that this award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama may look like rewarding a president but actually is a rebuke, even an insult, to the American nation. Obama would be wise to refuse the prize.

A Dangerous Place to Be



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The uncertainty in Washington about how to proceed with the war in Afghanistan is dismaying, and potentially very dangerous. Disagreement between politicians and the military is the sure-fire path to disaster in war. It’s a bad omen that members of Congress are trooping into the White House to give their opinion about what should be done in Afghanistan. What does Nancy Pelosi, say, know about the conduct of war? Nor is any member of the general public in a position to judge whether General McChrystal is right to ask for 40,000 more troops, or what the number ought to be. The general has to be assumed to be making a correct estimate. What is totally fatuous is to measure this request for reinforcements against public opinion, and come up with some compromise figure, as reports are suggesting. The aim to satisfy all parties will end by satisfying none. The men in the field are demoralized by the political process going on over their heads, allies become even more cynical and unhelpful, and the polls show a quickening disapproval of the war itself. Delaying, prevaricating about “strategy,” President Obama is going wobbly in full view of everyone.

General McChrystal has made it clear that in present circumstances failure in Afghanistan is as likely as success. At the tactical level it is indeed wasteful to capture a position from the Taliban only to withdraw because there are not enough troops to hold it, thus allowing the Taliban to return only to be thrown out again — it’s a vicious circle that needs to be broken. It’s also a microcosm of the entire predicament. We are in Afghanistan because the terror attacks of 9/11 were originally conceived and mounted there, and inaction on our part was bound to encourage Islamists of every stripe to further acts of terror. In their mindset, they destroyed the Soviet superpower, and now are tackling the United States, so weak-willed that it is virtually a pushover, hardly a superpower at all. Nation-building in Afghanistan is the only possible riposte, and that is going to be a long haul, demanding, and probably imperfect on account of the ethnic, tribal, and sectarian mix. The alternative of leaving the country to the Taliban is also to offer nuclear-armed Pakistan as their next objective, and then other Muslim countries too. Should Islamism have a free hand both against other Muslims and against us, all sorts of wars become all too easy to imagine, and we won’t be speaking of needing 40,000 more troops here or there but more likely 4 million.

Lisbon, Falling



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Democracies play by the rules. That’s the test, is it not? A country with a political system that does not play by the rules cannot be a democracy. Witness Iran or Afghanistan or Russia, where the powers that be have openly and recently rigged votes. Such countries are dictatorships even though they may not declare themselves as such. And now Europe joins them.

Those who run the European Union have been trying to create a single state out of the 27 component countries. The so-called Lisbon Treaty was drawn up for the purpose. If ordinary people everywhere were asked for their opinion, this treaty would be rejected outright. The French and the Dutch did actually vote to reject the treaty, but their rulers simply ignored that fact. In Britain, Mr. Blair promised to hold a referendum, but then with no apparent strain on his conscience decided not to, leaving his successor to sign up to it without the legitimacy to do so. The majority of European governments have followed this path, cheating their electorates one by one, moreover keeping them in the dark as though they were Romanov or Habsburg emperors, and politics were some private domain about which voters should not be consulted.

Except for Ireland, whose constitution mandated a referendum. Irish voters then rejected the Lisbon Treaty, whereupon the powers that be in Europe insisted that the Irish vote a second time in order to reverse the first vote, spending a great deal of money to gain support and raising all sorts of fears about the future that Ireland might face. Operating more or less clandestinely, refusing to play by the rules, a junta of determined European politicians have succeeded today in getting the Irish to obey them — in plain language they have rigged the vote to obtain the outcome they wanted. The Lisbon Treaty is virtually certain to be certified. Among other consequences, the people of Europe are likely to have a president for whom they never asked but chosen for them by the junta of heads of state in an exclusive process of horse-trading behind closed doors. Worse still, they can neither vote for him nor dismiss him from office. According to leaked reports, Mr. Blair will soon become president of Europe as his reward for having broken his promise to hold a referendum in Britain — without doubt the British would have said no to the Lisbon Treaty with an overwhelming majority (incidentally throwing a spanner into the complete works of the European Union). In which case the Irish who sought so long and so hard for independence from Britain will have a British super-official wished on to them above their heads, about which they can do nothing.

In normal circumstances, democracies will not tolerate trickery of the kind. Treated with such open contempt, genuine electorates take to the streets and build barricades and start burning institutions that do not represent them. A state built on deception is not worth having, and for the future it looks as if force alone will be able to maintain it. Europe is set either to collapse with unimaginable consequences or harden into some sort of authoritarian monster. It so happens that I have just finished reading Christopher Caldwell’s far-sighted Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, with its final conclusion that Europe is “a civilization in decline.” The handling of the Irish proves his point, and it bodes ill for all of us.

The Association for the Elimination of Trendy Opera Producers



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The destruction of opera has been the aim of opera-house managers and producers for a good many years now. It isn’t too difficult an objective. Ignore the composer’s intention in order to insult and offend the audience, which in any case has no right of reply. Recast the setting to make some present-day social point, most usually to do with sexuality. Design brutalist sets, for instance furnishing a Renaissance palace with tank traps or oil drums, and if at all possible getting in some reference to Auschwitz, with barbed wire or striped prisoner garb. The predictability is boring beyond boredom.

The house managers and producers do all this for fear of being taken as elitists, catering to people with a taste for an art form requiring appreciation and knowledge, and therefore not for everyone. Taking the easy way out, they prefer to ruin the art form rather than perpetuate it. This has led to the formation of the Association for the Elimination of Trendy Opera Producers, and I must declare an interest, namely that I am the ex-officio president. A producer or house manager on whom the Association passes the verdict of guilty faces summary execution, without right of appeal.

The Association attended Tosca last night at the Met. “It’s a New Met. Get Over It,” the New York Times has just declared, and this patronizing sergeant-major-type instruction was a dire warning of what to expect from the house manager Peter Gelb, and the producer Luc Bondy, the latter already on our Association’s books for horrors perpetrated on his Zurich stage.  

Gelb is quoted in the paper boasting that he’s always tried to popularize classical music, that he favors “realism” and “theatricality” and “stripping away clutter.” These are all sure signs that he is a populist destroyer terrified of being thought elitist. The previous Zeffirelli production had paid due respect to Puccini’s masterpiece, and so a new production under this regime was bound not to do so. Predictably of course, the sets are hideously bleak, with Scarpia’s apartments in the grandiose Palazzo Farnese reduced to something like an antechamber in the Lubianka. Scarpia, supposed to be the archetypal police chief of an authoritarian regime, here is represented primarily as a crude sexual sadist. Predictably again, this misreading of the character provides the opportunity to introduce call-girls, one of whom shows her breasts. The poverty of imagination at work here is truly stupefying. Puccini was famously angry with whoever took liberties with his scores; he made clear how he wanted this supreme opera to be staged, and small-minded men like Gelb and Bondy do not know better than the great composer. Tosca finishes with a firing squad and a summary execution. My Association is taking note. 

Obama and the Iranians



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Let’s grant that it is difficult to deal with masters of deception — all right, liars — like Iran. Apparently Western intelligence services have known for some time that Iran has been building a secret plant for nuclear enrichment. The plant is situated underground within a Revolutionary Guard base near Qom, a city of shrines and mosques and seminaries. The plant’s size, furthermore, is right for bomb building but not for civil purposes.

This is a matter that has to be discussed at the negotiations next Thursday with Iran upon which President Obama has staked his credibility. Someone must have leaked to the Iranians that the United States knew about the secret plant at Qom. So Iranian officials at the last minute delivered a note to say that indeed they had a small “pilot” nuclear facility there, further describing it as a “semi-industrial fuel enrichment facility,” whatever that may mean.

Obama, flanked by the British prime minster and the French president, for all the world looking like attentive waiters in a restaurant, then used a public platform to accuse Iran of representing a direct challenge to “the basic foundation of the non-proliferation regime.” Oh, is that what it is doing? The rest of us thought Iran was aiming to throw the United States out of the Middle East and diminish its world standing everywhere, develop missiles to threaten its homeland and eliminate allies like Israel, with Egypt and Saudi Arabia chucked in for good measure. Obama is going round in circles, meeting the trickery of the Iranians with illusions that they can be talked out of their ambitions, and confusing the issue with euphemisms that do not match the real danger of what is evolving.

Pretty well everyone in the know thinks that in this coming week Iran will concede nothing, fail to negotiate, break off the meeting, claim to be victorious and do whatever it can to humiliate Obama. He is going to have to spell out to the Iranians that he sees through their deceptions, and is not going to allow a re-ordering of the world on Iranian terms. Otherwise negotiations will merely have endangered the lives of millions of people.

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