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David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

Mithal al-Alusi & the Future of Iraq



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Good news from Iraq!  Mithal al-Alusi has won a case which is a landmark of sorts. He’s the leader of the small (all too small) Democratic party, and a member of Parliament. Some years ago, he went to Israel, and there he proclaimed to the world that he couldn’t see occupation, only liberalism. All hell broke out in Iraq. And what did he do in the face of the storm? Why,he went back to Israel again to attend a conference, very publicly. The members of parliament voted to strip him of his parliamentary immunity, and the government brought a case against him. His lawyers argued that there is no law to forbid visiting Israel, and the judge duly acquitted him and restored all his rights. So he’ll be back in parliament.

If all Iraqis were like Mithal al-Alusi, Iraq would at last come into its own. Born in 1954, the son of an eminent professor, he was a determined opponent of Saddam Hussein, and therefore spent more than twenty years in exile in Germany. A Sunni, he nevertheless was an associate of Ahmed Chalabi’s and the Shia intellectuals around him. Returning to free Iraq, he has paid a terrible price. Terrorists murdered his two sons, and also burnt out his house. These outrages only harden his determination to do the right thing by his country. Supporting him through these atrocities, his wife is as admirable as he is. And we salute the judge who was not afraid to give the correct legal verdict in Mithal al-Alusi’s case. These are all extraordinary people, and they give real cause for hope.

Before We Re-Bury Sikorski



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Footnote to the long-drawn saga of General Sikorski’s death, and now the exhumation of his remains. At the time, the governor of Gibraltar was General Sir Frank Noel Mason-Macfarlane, known far and wide as Mason-Mac. A brilliant soldier of the old imperial type, he had been military attaché in Berlin, and in that capacity was often in the presence of Hitler. In the Public Record Office is the memorandum he wrote in 1938 proposing to shoot Hitler. It would be worth killing Hitler, as he saw it, if the coming world war was thereby averted.  He offered four scenarios, in all of which he was to be the man with the gun. Three of these proposals, he thought, would give him the chance to escape. The fourth proposal would entail his capture and certain death, but he was willing to sacrifice himself if his superiors decided that this was the course of action most likely to succeed.

The margins of this memorandum are covered with the horrified comments in red ink of the British officials who read it, up to and including Lord Halifax, the foreign minister. Appeasement was then at its height, and Halifax was a leading proponent of it. One and all thought that Mason-Mac had gone mad, and he was duly removed from his post, landing up in Gibraltar. Mason-Mac knew and admired Sikorski, and was appalled by his death.

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Exhuming History



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In Cracow the body of General Wladyslaw Sikorski has been removed from its monumental marble tomb in the cathedral, and taken for forensic examination. The Poles, from the President and the government down, hope that the remains of this great man may shed light on what happened on July 4 1943, when the general died in a plane crash just after taking off in Gibraltar. It is virtually certain that the crash was a genuine accident. The sole survivor was the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Edward Prchal, a Czech, who eventually emigrated to the United States. Until his dying day some years ago, he maintained that the crash occurred because his controls had jammed, probably through overloading or shifting mailbags.

But Sikorski’s death had a huge bearing on the course of the war, and the subsequent fate of Poland. Leader of the Polish government in exile, Sikorski was already indignant about Stalin’s evident ambition to take over Poland and make a communist satellite of it. That April, the Stalinist murder of the Polish elite at Katyn had been revealed unmistakeably. Had Stalin arranged the plane crash to smooth the way for the communists? It so happens that Kim Philby was head of the MI6 section with responsibility for Gibraltar. Was sabotage by Soviet agents feasible?

Conspiracy theories go much further. Sikorski was pressing Churchill to stand up to Stalin on the question of Polish independence, and as Yalta was to prove, this was something that could have been handled differently and better. Some Poles, and the Soviets, have accused Churchill of arranging the crash to be rid of someone who threatened the wartime alliance. In that case, really unthinkably, Churchill would have had to betray Sikorski with whom he got on well, and also to consent to the death of the liaison officer on the plane, Colonel Victor Cazalet, a well-known Conservative M.P. and a close personal friend of his.

Almost certainly, exhumation and DNA tests and scans will reveal nothing. However, the whole process does underline the power of the past, especially in a country like Poland, so badly treated for so long. And it was blisteringly symbolic – or should that be prophetic? – that the day before the exhumation Polish President Lech Kaczynski was travelling in a car in Georgia with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili when Russian troops close to them opened fire.

He Fought the Good Fight



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Today General Faisal Alvi is being buried with full honours in the military cemetery in Islamabad. He lately commanded the Pakistani Special Services Group, or SSG, that spearheads the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. He was loyal to then-President Pervez Musharraf, refusing to take notice of the damaging politics of the military in Pakistan. After a career like this, I suppose he was a marked man. Although retired, he had a security escort, but the government had just withdrawn it for no very obvious reason. The gunmen, presumably from al-Qaeda and the Taliban, must have seen their chance. They ambushed his car, and shot him and the driver dead. Now they are gloating.

Not so long ago Faisal was sitting in my house. We spoke about the sad state of the Muslim world where violence rules and reforms seem impossible. Gunmen had previously shot and killed Shabbir Bokhari, his own brother-in-law and head of the Pakistani electoral commission. Youthful in his early fifties, Faisal made a formidable impression, a man with information, a practical intelligence, and a cosmopolitan outlook. Tall and handsome, he was also every inch a soldier. He spoke about his time in Waziristan, and described scenes of combat in Wana in the tribal areas. In his eyes, terrorists are cowards who don’t dare face you out in the open. He had nothing but contempt for them, and was himself evidently without fear. But now, alas, they are gloating.

We owe more than we know to General Faisal for fighting the good fight. Men like him are rare and his murder diminishes everyone.

Ali Salem



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The world needs men like Ali Salem. He’s one of Egypt’s most distinguished writers, aged 72, with a long list of books and plays behind him. In every way, intellectually and physically, he’s very big. There is tremendous humour in his face. He’s not afraid to say what he thinks, being an outspoken critic of Islamism and an active campaigner for a real peace with Israel. In 1994 he first visited Israel, and the book he wrote about it was a runaway best-seller. Since then, he’s been to Israel many times, and has received an honorary doctorate there. He keeps saying that Arabs have nothing to fear from Jews, that there’s no place for hate, and that peace is better than war. Back home in Cairo, the elite boycott him and his writings, and those on the street can kill anyone who talks and acts as he does. 

Yesterday he was awarded the Civil Courage Prize which comes with a handsome check. This is given annually by a foundation set up by John Train of New York, a financier and a genuine all-round intellectual as well. The ceremony took place in the residence of the American ambassador in London, a magnificent house once built by Barbara Hutton and sold by her to the U.S. government for just one dollar.

What an occasion! Ali Salem’s humour came out the moment he started his acceptance speech. He quoted the scene in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar when a citizen attacks Cinna the poet, shouting, “Tear him for his bad verses.” He also gave a great and apposite example of an Egyptian joke, told about a man going home one evening, only to find himself surrounded by an armed mob who demand “Are you with Us or The Others?” With Us, he replies, whereupon they shoot him dead declaring that they are The Others.

I for one went home thinking that the right man had been recognised, and that hope really does spring eternal.

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Aging Idiot



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Nobody seems to have known that a woman called Cynthia Roberts was a Soviet agent in the Cold War, and she herself must have thought she’d got away with it. In 1985 she and her husband defected to Prague, where they are living in an apartment (provided by the Communist authorities of those days, one supposes) in one of those estates whose grimness tells you all you need to know about the Soviet view of people. And there a popular newspaper, the Mail on Sunday, traced her and put the scoop on its front page, without revealing its sources or how it had access to her files in the Czech security services. Apparently quite a few of these files have been destroyed but those remaining have a story to tell.

A veteran Scottish Labour Member of Parliament called William McKelvey is thought to have set her up with a pass and an office in the House of Commons. There she was the secretary of Labour Action for Peace, a rather prominent Soviet front for attacking the nuclear weapons of the West on the pretence of opposing all nuclear weapons (as it continues to do to this day). Through this group, Mrs Roberts came to know influential socialist politicians including future cabinet ministers. In the 1970s she stood unsuccessfully as a Labour candidate, and in 1983 she accompanied Robin Cook, Mr Blair’s future foreign secretary, on a trip to Moscow. Her codename in the Czech security files is Agent Hammer, and her handlers recorded that her self-proclaimed role was “to contribute towards the downfall of capitalism.”  After defection, she provided them with character sketches of Mrs Thatcher and other Conservative politicians.  She also targeted visiting Westerners, such as diplomats or NATO officials.

“I have nothing to say,” was how Mrs Roberts spoke to the Mail reporter who confronted her.  In all probability she was just a useful idiot who never had much to say, and was of little or no real value to the Communists. She would have been really dangerous only in the unlikely event of a Soviet take-over. But what made her do it? Self-importance, venality, credulousness, groupthink, aspiration to power, utopian illusion? She should be brought to account for herself in court, but that will not happen in today’s climate of anything-goes and never-mind. And perhaps it’s some sort of just deserts that she’s 72 now and has to live out her old age in a monstrous Soviet-era block among people whose language seemingly she struggles to speak. 

From Russia, with Love



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You thought that Russia must be on its way to becoming a normal country, did you? Well, that was to reckon without Vladimir Putin. Once a KGB officer, always a KGB officer. He’s making sure that the old ways of obtaining and holding power are as applicable as ever they were. He sees to it that stooges are given the important posts. He invades neighbours, and absorbs their territory. It just happens that critics, especially in the media, and even if they are in exile, are murdered. It is commonly said that he is also the richest man in the country, perhaps even in Europe.

The constitution specifies that the President of Russia may serve only two terms of four years. That’s why Putin gave way to a clone, Dmitri Medvedev, and made himself titular Prime Minister while actually keeping control of everything. Only a matter of hours after Barack Obama’s election this team was threatening to place missiles to counter defence plans of the United States. And the wheeze of the moment would make Stalin proud of his successors. Medvedev has submitted a constitutional amendment to the Duma, the Russian parliament, to extend the four-year term of the presidency to six, and further manipulate things so that Putin returns as soon as possible as President for another twelve years. The Duma is rushing the amendment through by voting on all the readings of it in a single day instead of the usual weeks required for legislation. So Putin looks like being in the Kremlin till 2021, well after Obama is otherwise engaged.

I am reminded that when Hafez Assad, the Syrian dictator, died, his son Bashar couldn’t succeed him because he was 34 and according to the constitution the President had to be 40. Easy — it was less than a day’s work to change that constitution. But does Russia really want to be Syria with missiles?

Tears, Idle Tears



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The victory of President-Elect Obama has generated public weeping. Lots of people captured on television have had tears running down their cheeks, and sometimes their voices have broken as they try to respond to an interviewer. It is a very disturbing phenomenon. The rational choice of the individual voter is essential to the working of democracy.

Tearfulness signifies instead the emotionalization of politics. Rather than calculate, the weepers have surrendered to feelings. And feelings are catching. A huge literature is devoted to analysing how individuals turn into crowds, and how beliefs and values change in the process, so that the crowd comes to behave collectively in ways that each individual member of it might not. This is not to imply that the tears on this occasion are the prelude to some nasty kind of mob ideology – on the contrary, it is a very human reaction. The weepers had listened to Obama’s promises of change and hope, and their wish to believe in what he was saying overcame any doubts and reservations they might have had, and so the tears flowed as they will do whenever emotions get the better of reason.

The trouble is that reality reasserts itself pretty soon in this world, and emotion is not the tool to deal with it. The return of reason comes at a cost, however. Those who couldn’t help weeping at Obama’s election displayed expectations of a very high order, and if in future they are ever disappointed with him they will also be disappointed with themselves.

Protecting Rashana



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The story of Rashana offers a glimpse into the rather invisible depths of Muslim immigration in the West. Of Pakistani origin, she grew up in Oldham, a rough place in the north of England. Something was wrong in the family, the newspaper reports don’t specify exactly what, but as a child Rashana was ceaselessly hit and injured badly enough to need being taken to hospital regularly. “My aunties, uncles and grandparents knew what my mum was doing to me,” Rashana says.  Teachers at school and other English adults reported the girl’s bruises, her unhappiness, her suicide attempt. Social workers came to the house — and here’s the extra horror — the social workers were themselves Muslim, and as Rashana explains, “because of the culture they were always going to side with my parents.”  In that culture, she adds, “the family closes ranks when there is a problem and outsiders are kept out.” At one point in her childhood, she told her teacher that her older brother had raped her. The police and the social services were called in again, but Rashana was forced by them to go back home. Eventually she was placed with a foster family.

Rashana managed to go to university, and graduated with a degree in business. She’s 32 now, and seven years ago she started a legal process to sue Oldham Council for negligence because they had full knowledge of the way she’d been abused. At last, in an out-of-court settlement, she has been awarded about $200,000 compensation, though whether the Council will be able to claim the money from the family is an open question.

The Oldham authorities evidently believed that the cruelty going on before their eyes should not be prevented on the grounds that Muslim culture is like that. That’s a form of racism, as well as a shameful denial of our own culture, indeed of simple human empathy for other people. “All my life I have longed to belong somewhere and I cannot see any kind of future for myself,” is Rashana’s summary of where she is now.

Britain has just accepted officially the institution of sharia courts, where the inequality of women will find Islamic sanction. How are the Rashanas in our midst to be protected from wilful and legal perpetuation of a culture that discriminates against them and must obstruct their hopes of belonging and having a future like other British women? 

MV Iran Deyant



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Anyone who googles MV Iran Deyant will find hundreds of entries, all more or less identical, and all from hardened bloggers, as far as I can see. They tell the story of a ship purportedly owned by the Iranian government, and sailing with a cargo of radioactive sand that was to be released off the coast of Israel to kill many people.

In August, the Deyant is supposed to have left Nanjing in China, with falsified shipping documents and its containers locked. Rounding the Horn of Africa, the ship was boarded by Somali pirates and escorted to a Somali harbour. When the pirates broke open a container, they found “gritty sand-like contents.”  Health complications followed and within two weeks sixteen pirates died. Negotiations for a ransom with the Iranian authorities came to nothing. American, French and Russian naval units are alleged to have the Deyant under supervision, and from the Russians comes the idea that she is “an enormous dirty floating bomb.” Here in short is the “long-anticipated Iranian attack on Israel.”  The details related are so identical, as well as so very circumstantial, that they suggest that there may indeed be a single source.

Only a few years back, of course, the Iranians did send on this route a ship, the Karine B, with a load of arms to be used against Israel by Yasser Arafat’s PLO. The Deyant embroiders that theme.  However, a scientifically minded friend informs me that radioactive sand is not likely in fact to kill a lot of victims, because an inbuilt process of vitrification dispels the toxicity rather fast. The whole story sounds as if it emerged from the imagination of a thriller writer with the plotting skills of a Frederick Forsyth, and who has an interest in depicting the Iranian regime as inhuman and monstrous.

No mainstream media have picked the story up, again as far as I know. If it’s all invention put about for the credulous, as I suspect, it is fascinating that the modern technology of the internet should be the perfect medium for spreading conspiracy theories all over the world, and creating devilish fears that might have come straight out of the Dark Ages.

Europe Embraces Obama



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Boris Johnson is the mayor of London, a former Conservative Member of Parliament, a most intelligent, open-minded and genial man, and incidentally a friend of mine. He writes a very well-received column in the conservative Daily Telegraph, and he is endorsing Barack Obama with enthusiasm. Nor is he alone among Conservatives to be doing so. His colleague Charles Moore, one of the most thoughtful of commentators, is another who wants Obama to win. The Times, the self-styled paper of record, endorses Obama as well. One of its star columnists, William Rees-Mogg, (another highly intelligent man, also a friend of mine), has been an Obamaist since the start of the campaign. 

The Left, and pretty well all the Europeans, hope that the United States elects a president who will be something of a socialist, and this might mean thrillingly that the country falls flat on its face, no longer a super-power but wracked with thoroughly European doubts and confusions. But the Right surely does not want anything like that to happen. Why, then, are the most informed and influential Conservatives with regular media outlets taking a position that contradicts their basic political convictions? 

Boris Johnson’s latest article goes over this ground. He thinks that President Bush rocked democracy and capitalism, “the two great pillars of the American idea.”  He himself supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003 but now in spite of growing evidence of success condemns it as “catastrophic.”  In subjective mode, he then praises Obama for seeming talented, compassionate and offering hope. And the final kicker for voting for him – “the glaring reason” – is race. If Obama wins, we could see the end of race-based politics, the grievance culture and political correctness. And this is pretty much the main point Charles Moore, William Rees-Mogg and others come up with.

No doubt this is well-meant, but Obama has to win or lose for being the man and the candidate he is, and anything else would be no good. If color were really to play a part in Obama’s election, then it would also influence how people come to judge him in office. Suppose that he were a failure, that he made some domestic or foreign policy choices of the kind he proposes but they proved divisive and indeed made the country fall on its face. Then anyone and everyone who’d supported Obama on grounds of color would be caught in the wake of real and unwelcome race-based politics.

Who’s Isn’t for Sale?



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What part does bribery play in politics? The buying and selling of opinions and decisions is almost entirely invisible, and the glimpses we obtain into this murkiness are usually not to be trusted. But it happens. When I was writing about the German occupation of France in the world war, a collaborating editor from that time explained to me how the Germans had secretly subsidised the French press. In France, he said, free speech was always for sale. The Soviets were to pay similar subsidies in the Cold War. Oleg Gordievsky, the KGB defector, revealed for instance that Moscow had given money to the left-wing paper Tribune, (which has just closed after a long and misguided ideological run). An excellent French investigative journalist, Jean Montaldo, one day came across heaps of bank documents that were being discarded in Paris, showing the secret payments that Moscow was making to all sorts of Frenchmen whose Communist affiliations were otherwise unknown. A former member of MI6, the British intelligence service, once told me how his wartime job had been to suborn the government of an important country to keep it from joining the German Axis — I had better not say which country. In detail, he described transporting boxes of gold sovereigns packed in straw, and how he had handed them out. By the end of the war, he said, he had every single member of that government on the take.

A persistent rumour from the world war is that Winston Churchill was bribing the Spanish to stay out and not become allies of Nazi Germany. It makes sense. Had General Franco, the Spanish dictator, allowed the German army into the country, and then to capture Gibraltar, the British could have been shut out of the Mediterranean, losing Egypt and the oil coming through the Suez Canal, and might well have lost the war. In October 1940 Hitler met Franco at Hendaye on the frontier with France in order to pursue this strategy. Franco haggled, and Hitler afterwards said he would rather have teeth pulled out than go through that negotiation again. All Franco would eventually allow was landing rights to Axis aircraft, access to ports for submarines, and spying look-outs near Gibraltar. Most oddly, in the middle of the war Churchill caused a rumpus by telling parliament that Franco was “a gallant Christian gentleman.”

In 2005 the British writer Richard Bassett published a life of Admiral Canaris, Hitler’s spy master, saying that Churchill was paying Franco. Now Pere Ferrer, a Spanish historian, goes further in a biography of a shady Spanish buccaneer by the name of Juan March. It seems that a British officer called Alan Hillgarth advised Churchill that the Spanish generals were so poorly paid that they could be bribed. Among the evidence is a letter from a U.S. agent, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Solberg, to his boss Wild Bill Donovan then in charge of a proto-CIA intelligence outfit, telling him that March had been chosen as the conduit for payment. Ten million dollars were paid into a New York bank, and as many as 30 Spanish generals were approached and received up to half that sum. Just to add to the confusion, Ferrer thinks that March may also have been in the pay of the Germans.

The facts may have been invented to fit the conspiracy, of course, or the conspiracy invented to fit the facts.

Visa Lessons



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We learn from our mistakes, do we not?  We — that is my wife and I — have just had the chance to do so. Due to what Hillary Clinton might call a “misstatement,” we concluded that as from next January British visitors to the United States would no longer enjoy a visa waiver, but would need to have a proper visa in their passports. An embassy official explained that the pressure of applicants was so great that we could have an appointment to see a consul only in four weeks time. And the cost, payable in advance, was $131 per person. We booked a time and paid.

The day duly arrived. We took a cab as parking a car is out of the question in central London. Another $25 (and the same again leaving.) Approach roads to the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square have been narrowed, and fortified with bollards, concrete barriers and wire fences reminiscent of Baghdad’s Green Zone.  British policemen were cradling sub-machine guns — not long ago the British were specially proud that their police were unarmed. We queued for almost an hour until reaching the metal detector. Car keys with locking devices were not permitted, but had to be deposited in a pharmacy some hundreds of yards away (and for a fee.)

Eventually we reached the embassy itself, received a number and sat in a vast room with the other visa applicants — they do seven hundred a day, every day. Around me were people speaking Russian, Greek and French, also people from India and Africa speaking languages I couldn’t identify, the old and the young and babies in arms. Several hours later, our number was called, and we received a visa valid for ten years, plus the information — gently delivered — that it was unnecessary. (And we’d have to pay a courier service another $40 to deliver our passports next week.)

And the lessons of this experience, in addition to mortification and the costs of it? That terrorists have contrived to add a new level of ugliness to the surroundings, and much bureaucratic inconvenience, which is a success of sorts for them.  And also that no matter what critics may say, and no matter any crisis, ordinary people from everywhere continue in untold numbers to set their hopes on entering the United States.

Meet Yasmin



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A rather delicious story is surfacing in the British press, and as is so often the case with delicious stories there’s no means of knowing if it is true. At its core is one Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammad, a very typical Islamist fanatic, the usual figure in robe and sporting a big beard. It’s impossible to tell if he’s a real menace or a clown. In the past he’s been expelled from his native Syria, left Saudi Arabia in murky circumstances, and settled in London. There he founded the usual sort of gang, called Al Muhajiroun, threatening to kill us all and to plant the flag of Islam over the prime minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street. He seems to have been in touch with Osama bin Laden, but this may have been boasting. His activities were financed naturally by the benefits he could claim from the welfare state, so he lived and flourished at British expense. Lately, in a hurry and seemingly with the law after him, he left London, to move to Beirut, where he has been threatening to kill Beatle Paul McCartney for giving a concert in Tel Aviv.

His daughter Yasmin remains in London, however. She’s 26, a single mother, and in the words of the Daily Mail, “The busty blonde has been revealed as a topless, tattooed pole dancer….  Hundreds of youngsters go wild over the daughter of the preacher of hate who rants against Western depravity.” She is quoted saying, “I’m willing to go topless if the venue is right,” and a photograph reveals what this would look like. Sheikh Bakri at first reacted with horror, saying, “If this is true I am deeply shocked.” As far as he knew, she has a husband, and he should control her. Later he apparently had the better idea that all his children are practicing Muslims, and his daughter has told him the story is all lies.

Perhaps some bright spark did indeed invent the pole dancing to discredit the ineffable Sheikh Bakri. It’s long been clear that one very successful line of defense against Islamism is to laugh at it. But Muslims are always being asked to assimilate, and maybe that’s what Yasmin has done.

Rowan in the Wrong Direction



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“Marx long ago observed the way in which unbridled capitalism became a kind of mythology, ascribing reality, power and agency to things that had no life in themselves; he was right about that.” This sentence appears in an article criticizing capitalism in the current issue of the Spectator, the British weekly magazine, and several readers have rung me up to ask if we all have the same words before our eyes.

Because who is coming to the defense of Marxism like this so long after every aspect of it has been tested to destruction?  Some professor on the West Coast perhaps? Not a bit of it. It is nobody else but the Archbishop of Canterbury, a fellow by the name of Rowan Williams. When appointed, he thought to ingratiate himself by confiding to the public that he was a “hairy leftie.”  His prose style certainly suits his self-presentation. Take that sentence quoted above. What is a kind of mythology? How is mythology something other than itself? What are these things said to have no life in themselves but nonetheless with power and agency? Agency is too vague a term to carry meaning here, and how do unspecified things have a life? In any case Marx observed nothing of the kind, and Williams is only giving his own reduction of what he thinks that other hairy leftie was trying to say.

Once an Archbishop of Canterbury was prepared to go to the stake for his Christian belief. Subsequent Archbishops have tried to live up to the position as head of the Anglican community world-wide. In living memory, great Christian churchmen like Cardinal Wyszynski in Poland, Cardinal Josif Slipyi in Ukraine, the saintly Cardinal Frantisek Tomasek in Czechoslovakia, criticised Marxist doctrine and practice, and went to prison for it. And rather than calling Marx in aid, might an Archbishop today not have a duty rather to confront Marx’s famous jibe that religion is the opium of the people?

Just recently, and incredibly, Rowan Williams was advocating the introduction of sharia law into England as “unavoidable” and “desirable.”  In the Spectator he takes a different swipe at society, seeming to think that the market is idolatry, though his critique of capitalism is actually so poorly and opaquely expressed that it is close to burble. But it is surely a novelty, indeed unique to this age, that an Archbishop of Canterbury can assault and diminish the institutions without which he would have no function at all.

A Chilling Art Review



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The writings of art and architectural critics, indeed pretty well anyone connected with aesthetics, are almost always such a laboratory of pretence and bogusness that sensible people will never read the stuff. A friend has just given me a master example. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has been trying for some years to abandon any claims to seriousness in order to be politically correct, and it is currently mounting an exhibition about design in the Cold War. The purpose is to show that everything manufactured in the West, no matter how domestic or trivial, was designed to prove the superiority of capitalism to Communism.

And here is how the Times critic (by the way someone hitherto unknown to me) raved about what he saw and heard:

Wisps of spooky music emanate from the back of the room in the kind of pre-Kraftwerk analogue electronica that would accompany sci-fi B movies or TV documentaries in those days to denote the future. It comes from a recreation of the Poème Electronique, a son-et-lumière and architectural “immersive experience” created for the electronic company Philips at the Brussels World Expo in 1958 by Le Corbusier, the Greek architect Iannis Xenakis and the French composer Edgard Varèse, which bombarded  visitors with a visual essay….

Etc etc etc.

Could anything be worse? Well, yes, it could. The Times critic concludes with a reflection on the Cold War. “And who won? Neither side, of course. Both were morally bankrupt. But, by God, we had the prettier table lamps.”  Now there’s real moral bankruptcy for you.

Sharia in Britain



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A few months ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury, nominal head of the Anglican Church, astonished the faithful and the unfaithful alike by announcing that in Britain the introduction of Islamic law, or sharia, was not only “unavoidable” but “desirable.”  In his wake the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Philips, titular representative of British law and legal procedure, also recommended sharia law. Instead of exclaiming at the strangeness of these pronouncements, we should have smelled a rat. They were actually preparing us in advance for what those on the inner circle must have been aware of, namely that sharia law is already operating. The deed has been done in secret, carried out quite typically by an establishment that does not bother with tiresome things that might get in the way, like public debate or consultation. Never mind the general good, they act by the divine right of their positions.

As so often, everything turns on a clause that those with a mind for it have been able to exploit. The Arbitration Act of 1996 classified sharia courts as arbitration tribunals, whose ruling is binding by law if both parties agree to it. Sheikh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi controls a body called the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, and according to a report in the Sunday Times, he said that he had taken advantage of the Arbitration Act to classify sharia courts as arbitration tribunals. Sharp man to spot the opening! Courts have been set up already in the major cities, and apparently have been operating this past year and have dealt with more than 100 cases.

Most Muslim countries have long since found sharia law to be retrograde, and have abandoned it. Believe it or not, it doesn’t even apply in Iran, so Amir Taheri informs me. In British instances so far, husbands committing domestic violence have only been sentenced to classes in management of anger. Abused women in each case have withdrawn their complaints. In cases of inheritance, women have also been discriminated against because sharia law favours men.

The only protests seem to have come from Muslims themselves, one or two of whom say that they came to Britain to escape sharia and all that goes with it. Not a peep from the feminists or the civil rights gang or the socialists (if there are any left). Equality for all citizens under the law was once a proud boast in Britain. No longer. Sharia law sets Muslims apart, sanctioning judgements that would never be upheld in British courts, and its introduction is a significant step in the Islamization of Britain.

Military Refusal



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Corporal Tomas Stringer is a Welshman (hence the spelling of his Christian name). A paratrooper, he’s serving in Afghanistan, and he has one arm in plaster because he’d broken his wrist jumping from a truck when a roadside bomb went off. Back in Britain to recuperate, he was helping organize the funeral of a friend killed in action. He’s made a reservation at the Metro Hotel in Woking, a quiet and somewhat suburban town in Surrey, where incidentally in the nineteenth century the first mosque in Britain was built. Corporal Stringer arrived at the Metro in civilian clothes, but when he checked in the reception desk turned him away because company policy did not allow Armed Forces personnel to stay at the hotel. It was already late and Stringer therefore spent the night in his car. The hotel is owned by American Amusements Limited, a company based in Woking but, it seems, under British management.

Obituaries in the newspapers still reveal almost every day what sort of men fought in the last world war. Here is Ian Fraser, awarded the Victoria Cross for piloting a two-man submarine and attaching a limpet bomb under a Japanese cruiser, to sink it. Here is Lieutenant Colonel Mike Tomkin, wounded at the battle of El Alamein but nevertheless continuing in action and destroying six German tanks. Here is Colonel Charlie McHardy of the Seaforth Highlanders, first decorated in the field in Tunisia, and then severely wounded after D-Day. Before today, would any hotel in Britain ever have had a policy of refusing a room to such men? It’s inconceivable. The treatment meted out to Corporal Stringer – and the failure of the media to raise the roof about it – reveals a very profound shift in public attitudes, and it is an ominous portent for the future that in the heart of England people can be so contemptuously dismissive of those defending them. I wish I had some explanation for it.

Granny Melita



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Remember Melita Norwood, known as the “granny spy” ?  She was of Latvian origins, ostensibly a nice and well assimilated lady living in the comfortable London suburbs and holding down a good job. That was cover.  She was secretary to the director of the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association, the body responsible in the 1940s for the development of Britain’s secret atom bomb. Granny Melita was in fact a Communist, recruited to spy, and passing on to Moscow information that speeded up by several years the Soviet nuclear bomb program. Though aware that she was a Communist, and suspecting her of spying, officials did nothing. Their dereliction remains mind-boggling. She was unmasked only in 1999, and again nothing at all was done to bring her to account in any way. No legal proceedings, no financial deprivations, just a huge shrug of indifference. A historian, David Burke, was in touch with her at the time, and he has just written a book about the case. Simpering with the joy of it, she told him that she had been “rather a naughty girl,” but “I thought I’d gotten away with it.”  She had, she had.

Compare and contrast now the reaction to Putin and Saddam Hussein. The latter invaded and annexed an independent country recognised by the United Nation, and the former has similarly invaded another UN member, and is in the process of annexing it. If it had been left to the Europeans, Saddam would still be in Kuwait. Today European Union leaders are discussing the invasion of Georgia. It’s a foregone conclusion that they will behave like the officials who condoned Granny Melita. The French want no talk of punishing Russia. “The important thing is that Europe should talk in one voice, firmly and calmly,” says the French foreign minister, naturally not specifying the purpose of firmness and calm, or what good it will do to talk to those who refuse to listen. His German counterpart says: “We need a strong and sensible European role to return to reason and responsibility.”  It would be impossible to find a more inflected euphemism for complete and instant surrender. The British Foreign Office outdoes them all in passivity and impotence, bleating, “Russia does not like it when people get together and talk about them.”  Not even the shadow of a policy there.

When the Kremlin perceives weakness, it moves in to take advantage, sometimes with spies and sometimes with tanks. Granny Melita once contributed to the construction of the nuclear bomb, and Putin is now threatening to target Poland and Ukraine with it. No measures of defense, nothing in the arena of international law, no financial deprivations, hardly even a complaint, just another huge shrug of indifference. The continuity of the Russian advance against everyone else is impressive. Putin is entitled to think that he too is getting away with it.

Could It Be a Hoax?



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Some photographs are beginning to circulate more or less covertly of an astonishing air crash. This took place in France, at Toulouse, where a European consortium is building the Airbus 340-600, the largest passenger airliner ever designed or built. All sorts of criticisms have been made of this gigantic project, but the aircraft is in production regardless.

Etihad Airways (ultimately Iranian-owned, I believe, but am not in a position to confirm) is interested in purchasing the Airbus, and an Arab flight crew of seven men from Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies (ADAT) arrived in Toulouse for pre-delivery testing. In a brand new aircraft with no previous airtime, the crew taxied to the run-up area. They couldn’t handle it, they made one mistake after another, losing control and finally wrecking the aircraft against a blast barrier. The photographs show impressive heaps of scrap, with the Etihad logo legible on the fusillage. And that’s $200 million down the drain. The fate of the ADAT crew is unknown.

I have the story from a source I think is reliable, but a news blackout in the media in France and elsewhere means that it cannot be checked. The reason for the secrecy, according to my informant, is that the story is deemed insulting to Muslims.

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