David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

Compromise Is Impossible in Egypt


Everyone with a voice in politics and the media is calling for General Sisi and the Muslim Brothers to avoid violence and to come to some compromise. This means power-sharing. It is of course a natural human reaction to scenes of great brutality with over 600 dead, by official counting. Some go on to support the Muslim Brothers on the grounds that they won an election, and General Sisi is therefore betraying democracy. Others point to the shambles that Mohmed Morsi made of the office of president, himself betraying democracy by ramming through an Islamist constitution to suit himself. Both points of view apply European standards and judgments that are inapplicable.

There is no democracy in Egypt, and never has been, and never will be until there are institutions to put it in place and people to ensure their proper working. No such institutions exist, and potential democrats are found, if at all, in a few think-tanks or Western universities. Identical in their pursuit of power, the army and the Muslim Brothers differ only in why they want power and what they will do with it. Elections, constitutions, law courts, are instruments of control disconnected from popular consent.

General Sisi and the Muslim Brothers are equally able to muster enough numbers for the test of strength that will give victory to one or the other. That’s how these politics were done when the military put down the Islamists in Algeria. That’s how it’s being done now in Syria and shows signs of happening in Iraq and Lebanon. Power-sharing is inconceivable, mere wishful thinking, in the circumstances. It is time for fear and pity.

President Obama’s Purposeless Foreign Policy


The disorder of today’s world is imposing a very big question: Whatever is the purpose of President Obama’s foreign policy? The United States is refusing to accept its superpower responsibility, and commentators the world over are trying to interpret this mystery. No good can possibly come of a foreign policy that indulges enemies but restrains allies. The vaunted “reset” of relations with President Putin has given Russia opportunities not seen since the Soviet era. Putin now has a lock on Iran and Syria that reduces American policy to incoherence. The Iraqi government and even the small-time Palestinian Authority have been put into a position to dictate to the United States. Joe Joffe, one of the most far-sighted political interpreters in Germany, has come up with the neat summary that the United States, inventor of the Cold War concept of containment, has turned instead to self-containment.

On the recent National Review cruise, Colonel Allen West gave an amazing example of self-containment from his service in Afghanistan. A soldier observing a Taliban laying an explosive device has to obtain permission to shoot him. His obvious intention to kill Americans is not the actual commitment of violence that would satisfy the lawyers. By the time some senior officer is contacted and gives the necessary permission, the Taliban has long since vanished. This is how to fight a war while making sure not to win it.

In a coruscating contribution to National Review Online, David French reminds us that the use of decisive force is a moral necessity. The world war was not fought against German or Japanese individuals but to destroy the Nazism and Japanese militarism that possessed them and left mass-victims in their wake. However many lives were lost fighting these systems, the world is better off for it. Another NRO writer, Michael Walsh, supports the conclusion that the decisive response is the right response.

Islamism is not the equivalent threat of Nazism or Japanese militarism, but its destruction would also save lives. Self-containment is not the necessary moral imperative for such an outcome.


Erdogan’s Show Trials


In the course of the recent National Review cruise someone suggested to me that Turkey ought to be a member of the European Union. Why anyone would wish to join the EU and be caught up in a crisis that might well blow up this whole experiment is a mystery — but let that pass. In any case, the Turkish invasion and continued occupation of half of Cyprus, a genuine EU member, always rules out EU admission. Nor does it help that on a recent visit to Germany Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, advised, indeed ordered, the 3 million or so Turks in that country to have nothing to do with Germans but to stick to their language and to Islam.

The Ergenekon isssue may show that EU membership is no longer a Turkish ambition. Over the last five years something like 300 senior officers, some journalists, and politicians have been summarily arrested on charges of planning a coup. Secular and Westernized, they were no doubt opponents of Erdogan’s more and more single-minded Islamism. However, there is no hard evidence against any of them; the whole thing looks like a show trial on the old model set up by Stalin. But 275 of the accused have just been sentenced, some of them to life imprisonment, and only 21 reprieved.

In short, Erdogan has taken a decisive step in Islamizing the country. The timing is significant. Erdogan shares the Islamist ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and the former Egyptian prime minister Mohamed Morsi. The Egyptian army deposed Morsi, and the Turkish army might similarly depose Erdogan. A huge crowd of secular protesters have massed in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey, and a huge crowd of secular protesters have massed in Cairo and elsewhere in the country. The Ergenekon trial serves the purpose of proving that Erdogan will stop at nothing to be a winner in this test of strength. The Muslim Brothers share that outlook; and so does Bashar Assad, and the Iranian clerics, the rejuvenated al-Qaeda, and Hamas and the rest.

Erdogan is furious that the West by and large approves General Sisi’s takeover in Egypt, or at least turns a blind eye. He had been intending to pay a visit to the Gaza Strip where Hamas seized power and runs a grim little tyranny on behalf of the Muslim Brothers. A couple of years ago, Turks and others tried to run the Israeli blockage and nine Turkish Islamists were killed in a skirmish. A vast international scream of rage followed, with the United Nations in the lead, heads of state and Western politicians in tow. Now the Egyptians are blockading Gaza, and the press reports that Egypt will not allow Erdogan into Gaza. A Hamas spokesman says that the Egyptian authorities have turned Gaza into a “big prison.” A brave Palestinian journalist asks, “Where are all the press, human rights groups, activists?”

And what, I ask in turn, is the explanation of this double standard?

Egypt’s Future


The future of Egypt depends on the character of General Abdul Fattah Sisi. Is he someone competent and fair-minded who will follow through a consistent program? Might he give way to what we may call Putinitis, the incurable condition of siphoning off public money to himself? Experts are in the habit of writing off senior Egyptian officers as politically too inept to make a success of politics.

Or maybe too privileged. At the end of the Six Day War in 1967 I went down to Qantara to observe the Egyptian soldiers being ferried home after the hostilities. They travelled the short distance across the Suez Canal in small ferry boats, 50 men at a time. An Egyptian doctor was supervising their return. He had a big ledger in which he wrote down the names of each man passing in front of him, and asked for a signature. These soldiers couldn’t write, so they pressed a finger on to a pad and left the print next to their name. On the far side of the Canal was a military post. The grass was vivid green, well watered, and five officers were sitting out on it in deck chairs, with drinks in their hand. A wall of barbed wire enclosed the post, and behind it as far as the eye could see were the mothers of Egypt come to reclaim their sons — a throng of women screaming with distress but ignored by the officers in deck chairs.  If the Muslim Brothers are dealt with like that, we are in for disaster.

And another glimpse: In old days I used to go to Cairo more or less annually. Drivers don’t usually respect traffic lights, and parking is impossible, so I always had a driver. Muhammad and I would go to Fishawi’s café, where Neguib Mahfuz was at a table writing his novels. We used to drink karkadeh, iced pomegranate juice. Even then, he predicted that in ten years the Muslim Brothers would take over the country and ruin would follow. It’s more like 20 years, actually, but he was right all the same. The last time he drove me to the airport he promised to give me pomegranates so I could have karkadeh in London. At the airport he slapped his forehead, he’d forgotten about them.  About six weeks later, my doorbell rang, and there stood an Egyptian with a bag of pomegranates, and a message from Muhammad: These are for you not to forget me.

The Human-Rights Case for Gitmo


The story of Said al-Shehri has a lot to teach. A Saudi national, he was with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. In December 2001 he was captured in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Then he spent six years in detention at Guantanamo. On the basis that he would be re-educated to lose his ideology and become a normal human being, the Saudis obtained his return to his own country. After a short period, he was considered clean. It is not too difficult to work out that either he was lying and deceived the Saudi authorities, or that they were lying and deceived the United States about his re-education, or most probably that all concerned were lying in concert. Released, by 2009 he had rejoined al-Qaeda, becoming deputy head of the branch in Yemen. Several specific murders were planned by this powerful and conscienceless thug, and he is reliably held to have blood on his hands.

 A CIA drone has taken him out. There have been previous false reports of his death but this time al-Qaeda confirms it. 40 years old, he would have had many more years of murdering to look forward to. The human-rights crowd are always looking to close Guantanamo. Some questions for them: Would it not have been better to keep this man in detention there, and so save the lives of his victims and his life too, and finally not to have to use a drone?


Putin’s Russia


Russia has just concluded the trial of Sergei Magnitsky and found him guilty of tax evasion. The judge declared that he would send Magnitsky to prison except for the fact that Magnitsky has been dead for four years. A cry went up in the West that this trial was reminiscent of the Stalin era, but it isn’t really because the victims of those show trials were still alive.

Magnitsky was a young lawyer who had caught out high officials robbing the state of the handsome sum of $230 million. So they had him arrested, put him in the Lubyanka, tortured, and killed him.  That is certainly a straightforward continuation of Stalinism. Indescribable ghoulish and barbaric, the trial of a dead man surely couldn’t happen in other countries. The horror is quintessentially Russian and has been recorded and mocked 150 years ago in Nikolai Gogol’s great novel, Dead Souls. That is the tale of Chichikov, who in the days when there were serfs finds a way of getting rich by discovering those who have died and cutting deals with their former owners.  A straight line goes from Chichikov to Magnitsky. A famous passage in the novel likens Russia to a troika speeding to God knows where. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is speeding there too. 

Confrontation, Coups, and Bloodshed


The military coup in Egypt is a stand against Islamism.  Islamism is a movement built on the despair many Muslims feel about the injustices of their society today. They hark back to a time when Islam meant supremacy and prosperity.  The past was not a triumph like that, needless to say, and fantasy of the kind cannot contribute anything to modern life. Muhammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were in the process of instituting disaster. The military may well prove to have no political competence, but theirs will be a disaster easier to rectify. 

The ideology of Islamism, the strength of the despair driving it, means that force is the sole way to stop its spread. The recent turmoil in Turkey was a dry run for a military coup against Islamism. Civil war in Syria is another by-product of Islamism. The ideology, in sum, can contribute nothing except confrontation, coups, and bloodshed.

Until now, the United States has been reasonably effective at projecting the requisite power to keep peace in the Middle East. Islamism was contained in the Egypt of Presidents Sadat and Mubarak. However, failure to devise a policy that stopped the Islamism of Iran created a vacuum into which rushed the various versions of the ideology. After his election, President Obama signalled that the United States will from now on do little or nothing to restrain Islamism.  The father of today’s military coup, therefore, Obama is responsible for what is coming to Egypt, the tyranny or the anarchy.

A footnote. Channel Four, Britain’s public service television channel, is to broadcast the call to prayer during Ramadan. The program director, a Mr. Lee, proclaims that he is doing this as a provocation, by which he means that he wants to show Islam to be merely peaceful. This is part and parcel of the steady abandoning of British culture, not a provocation at all but a propitiation that derives from craven fear.

Why We Need NSA Tapping in Europe


According to Edward Snowden, whose career is now progressing in airport-transit lounges, his late employer the U.S. National Security Agency was busy spying on the Europeans. In particular the NSA is said to tap half a billion phone calls and e-mails in Germany every month. Set up to be a rival to the United States, the European Union has never hidden its structural anti-Americanism. An inexplicable feature of the last fifty years is the support successive American administrations have given to the EU, in plain words encouraging those who intend to hurt them. In actual fact, the geniuses who run Europe have reduced the continent to a crisis of impotence and penury.

Unwittingly, Mr. Snowden’s revelations have released the adrenalin of today’s geniuses. Here, they believe, is an issue that serves to substantiate their fantasy of American wrongdoing and on which they can make capital. Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Mr. Van Rompuy and Mr. Barroso, respectively president of the European Council and president of the European Commission, call for the U.S. to explain itself, or else. A former Belgian prime minister orders the spying to stop at once. The unfortunately named Mr. Asselborn occupies the Napoleonic office of foreign minister in Luxembourg, and “disgusting” is his word for the NSA.

Not so long ago, Mohamed Atta was living in Germany. Counter-terrorist units had identified him but they then did nothing about it. The three thousand people whose murder in the States Atta organized and perpetrated might have been saved by a few billion tapped calls. The Germans go to such extraordinary lengths to appease their four or five million Muslims that they are in the process of Islamizing the country. They can’t be relied on to identify a future Atta. For NSA to be trying to do so is not only a wise precaution but a duty.



Preparing for Battle in Syria and Egypt: Tests of Power


They’re gearing up for definitive violence in Egypt. On June 30 the Muslim Brothers will have been in power for a whole year. The country used to be militarized and nationalistic on the standard Third World model. The Muslim Brothers have done their best to introduce the new Islamist model. The experiment does not correspond to the outlook and aspirations of so large a proportion of the population that it could never succeed. Millions who repudiate the incoming Islamism are due to take to the streets on June 30. And the regime is mobilizing its equally numerous supporters for counter-demonstrations. Tanks are already in place to guard key buildings, including the American and British embassies.

They’re gearing up for definitive violence in Syria, too. That’s another country militarized and nationalistic on the standard Third World model. However the nationalism is a pretext serving to keep Islamism at bay. For two ghastly years the rival ideologies have been fighting it out. Those in touch with Syria say that the regime and the rebels are mustering in Aleppo in large numbers and preparing for battle.

Neither in Egypt nor in Syria, then, is there the element of surprise that commanders usually like to achieve. These aren’t proper battles capable of settling some concrete issue, territorial or dynastic as it might be, but tests to discover what the numbers are and therefore where the power will go. That’s how things are settled in the absence of a constitutional framework. The coming violence is publicized because it is to this context what a general election is to a democracy.

Factors influencing the individual to be violent in one cause or another are many and various, to do with faith, ethnicity, tribal loyalty, education, worldliness, etc. Robert Spencer writes and speaks in the conviction that Islam is the mainspring of violence, and he supports his view with scholarship. He and Pam Geller, another writer and speaker with this same conviction, were invited to speak in Britain, but the Home Office refuses them entry, basically for fear of what they might say. I wrote the introduction to one of Mr. Spencer’s earlier books, and since this is still a democracy, just, I may say that this Home Office ban on free speech is what lawyers call ultra vires, an abuse of bureaucratic powers. To treat Islam as a protected subject insults the British and infantilizes Muslims.

Useful Idiots Aid Iran


The new President of Iran, the cleric Mr. Rowhani, accompanied Ayatollah Khomeini into exile in France in 1978, while they were finalizing the overthrow of the Shah. It’s all that needs to be known about Mr. Rowhani. He was then, and has been ever since, a front-line defender of the Islamic Republic. For front-line read hard-line. The positions he has held on the various governing councils compromise him fully. He has been recorded making death threats, boasting that Iran cheats the West with its nuclear program and will get away with it. His election as president is anyhow a political conjuring trick. Iran is a dictatorship. Power is in the hands of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and he vetted the candidates who stood for the office of president — whose function anyhow is only to implement the Supreme Leader’s policies. The voice is Mr. Rowhani’s but the thought is the Ayatollah’s.

Lo and behold! Mr. Rowhani’s qualification is that he replaces Mr. Ahmadinejad. He talks more courteously, and some of his words may be interpreted as soothing. Useful idiots in Britain like former Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont and former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw fantasize that everything will now be all right if only we make sure to give the Iranians whatever they ask for. The New York Times of course greets Mr. Rowhani as a moderate.

Time was when Stalin had to be helped because his enemies might dislodge him. The Foreign Office did not want to upset Hitler for fear of letting Goebbels take over. Andropov had butchered the Hungarian revolution but drank whisky and so had to be forgiven. Mr. Rowhani, it is amazing to read, is another Gorbachev, oh yes, a reformer.

The fact is that these dictators wish us ill. Propitiating them, the swarms of useful idiots are trying to postpone the day when we have to defend ourselves. The Iranians know this, and they play on it with a brilliance that we are unable to match. There is not the slightest chance that Iran will compromise its nuclear program or allow Syria to slip away. How pleased they must be in Tehran to be thought of as moderates, but how comic they must find it.  

Middle East Lessons from Turkey


The rioting in Turkey has a great deal to teach about the Muslim Middle East and the way they do things there. A protest about the development of a park in Istanbul was the starting point. Open space is to be replaced with a shopping mall, a mosque, and the reconstruction of an Ottoman-era barracks. In other words, another incremental step towards Islamism is masked by commerce. Everyone also knows that cronies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be enriching themselves by means of the construction contracts.

A Western prime minister might well find himself caught like this. In which case, he would be obliged to back-pedal and come to terms with the protesters. Either the development could be justified or a scandal might ensue that opens the prime minister to inspection. Muslim culture rules out such a process. Real or even implicit criticism shames a Muslim leader and therefore cannot be allowed. Reversing reality, the leader attributes shame to the protesters, and at the same time he has to make a show of strength.

Erdogan played exactly according to these values. Unable to admit that the protesters are ordinary people with a reasonable demand, he insulted them as riffraff, looters, vandals, and even terrorists – a keyword these days. He could see no inconsistency in fantasizing that they are foreign agents or speculators out to harm the stock market. Since this was bound to make him look ridiculous, he sent in the police to prove that he is really a strong man. Five thousand people have been treated in hospital, according to the latest figures, and nearly 1,000 arrested. It is great good fortune that he has not taken the next step of ordering up live ammunition instead of tear gas and water cannons.

Of course it is unintentional, but Erdogan’s conduct in Turkey is parallel to Bashar Assad’s in Syria. He too responded to a reasonable demand for reforms by trying to shame and then kill protesters real or imaginary. Throughout the Muslim Middle East, the culture predetermines the violence.

Bringing Back that Ottoman Feeling


Rioting in Turkey has been as sudden and quick to spread as a forest fire. An ecological protest about the destruction of a park in Istanbul has grown into a mass movement in favor of democracy. It’s not yet the Turkish Spring. What’s happened is that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country’s prime minister these past ten years is suffering from a bad bout of dictator’s mania.

Everywhere in Turkey are photographs of Ataturk, who after the First War built the Turkish republic out of the Ottoman ruins. He had no trouble boxing the ears of imams and having mosques pulled down. Erdogan is busy restoring the old order. His advisers talk about the neo-Ottoman empire. Democracy, he is on record saying, is like a streetcar, you ride until it reaches your stop and then you get off. Inventing a preposterous conspiracy worthy of Stalin, he purged the armed forces, the judiciary, the media including the universities, and put in his apparatchiks. More journalists and generals are in prison in Turkey than anywhere else in the world. Particularly disastrous is his foreign policy that has alienated Iran, Syria and Israel and convinced the European Union not to admit Turkey now or ever. Finally he is arranging for Turkey to go over to a presidential system of rule that would make him a Dear Leader in perpetual power.

His supporters are country people who want to trust their leader and haven’t the education or the means to ask if their trust in Erdogan is justified. He says he’s a good Muslim and knows what’s best, and that is good enough for them. Those now rioting see him destroying Ataturk’s legacy by playing to prejudice and they want none of it. Who could have thought that this wily man would respond in the Bashar Assad mode of not giving an inch, calling them terrorists and unleashing the police on them. It will be hard to paper over this division. It’s an object lesson in the arrogance of office. Much more of that must lead to the Turkish version of the political spring blasting its way through the Middle East.


More Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks: Whistling in the Wind


It is of course easier to repeat mistakes than to learn from them. Hence Einstein’s famous crack about repeatedly banging your head against a brick wall in the expectation of getting a different reaction. There is something hallucinatory about the efforts of President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry setting about their version of Einstein’s head-banging, namely forcing another round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. This has been going on for six decades and more, and will go on for another six decades or more.

The foundation of the state of Israel certainly presented the Palestinians with the difficult choice of resisting, or accommodating, or finding some path between. Their misfortune has been to have leaders determined to resist. Violence has brought them nothing but loss of life, loss of territory, and loss of pride. Just imagine the horrible mixed feelings of greed and shame that a Palestinian must have hearing that Kerry wants to hand them four billion dollars, just buying them off.

Their leadership, from the notorious pre-war Mufti of Jerusalem to Yasser Arafat and now Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas group in Gaza, has succeeded in making violence seem a collective response. Any and every Palestine with a smidgeon of authority has to subscribe to this response, which is why little boys are now training to become suicide bombers.

It didn’t have to be like this. It was, and still is, possible to be a proud Arab and find accommodation with Israel. Ever since I first went to Israel I have known such a man, and his name is Atallah Mansour. A journalist, he was the Haaretz correspondent for Galilee. He was the first Arab to write a novel in Hebrew, titled In a New Light (full disclosure: I wrote the introduction to the English translation.) Now he sends me a reprint of his memoir, Still Waiting for the Dawn. If he has a secret, it is that his parents brought him up to feel no resentment against Jews. Which does not mean that he cannot criticize them if they deserve it. He has shown the respect for all human beings without which there isn’t going to be any peace.

A friend of his was Rashid Hussein, author of the sort of nationalist poems that form the base for violence. In his house, bony hands came around the door to proffer food but I never saw the face of his mother who had prepared it. One day he fled the country and became a PLO propagandist in the States. His eventual suicide seemed to be the natural end of choosing violence and so symbolized the Palestinian plight. Until some Palestinian has the authority to convince others that standing up for themselves is not a matter of killing Jews, the call of American presidents and secretaries of state for peace negotiations is just whistling in the wind.

Woolwich and Britain’s Approaching Show-down


On Wednesday, two young Muslims butchered a serving British soldier in the London district of Woolwich in the early afternoon in front of bystanders. Shouts of “Allahu Akhbar” were heard. One of the murderers was caught on film, holding a weapon, his hands dripping blood. He said to the camera, “We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you.” In the light of what he had just done, his calmness could only signify ideological certainty that he had committed a good deed and was about to publicize it. Making no attempt to escape, both killers waited until the police arrived and overpowered the murderers with a minimum of force.

The IRA also murdered serving British soldiers. In this very same week, as it happens, an IRA man has been arrested in connection with the murder of four soldiers back in 1982. Recognition of IRA ideology has been the key to dealing with it and in the end defeating it.

People have no difficulty recognizing that these Muslims killers also have an ideology. Interviewed by the media, witnesses of the murder and others who live in Woolwich expressed anxiety about what the repercussions might be. Many Muslims in the country were also anxious, for fear of reprisals. Imams and Muslims prominent in the community repudiated the murder even as congregations were gathering in case mosques were attacked. Sure enough, members of the English Defence League took to the streets – the EDL, about 20,000 strong, openly resents and opposes Muslims.

The authorities evidently dread a future confrontation between the EDL and the Muslims. Their response is to contend that Islam forbids killing and therefore bombings on the subway or murder in Woolwich have nothing at all to do with Islam. Prime Minister David Cameron showed how to obscure reality by declaring that “there is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly terrible act.”  The murder in Woolwich is “solely and purely the responsibility of the individuals involved,” as though they were deranged rather than fulfilling what they think is an Islamic obligation. His advice to “stand up to these people whoever they are” supposes that they might be anybody, and not Muslims at all.

This misrepresentation verges on apologetics. People on the street know otherwise. In the immediate aftermath of the Woolwich barbarity, the EDL has attracted 60,000 new subscribers and could easily develop into a quasi-patriotic, quasi-fascist mass-movement. Refusing to admit that Islam is more ideology than faith, the authorities are unwittingly bringing about the show-down that so greatly scares them.

Another ‘Solution’ from EU Bureaucrats


A decent restaurant usually places on the table a little glass bottle of olive oil — you pour some out and dip bread into it, season the salad or whatever. Aha! Here is the opening for the bureaucrats of the European Union in Brussels to score another magnificent triumph by banning the serving of olive oil in restaurants in an open glass bottle. Well, unemployment in the EU is over 12 percent, that is tens of millions of people, and the repackaging, labeling, and sealing of new little glass bottles of olive oil is the EU’s idea of productive work.

The BBC is a most loyal supporter of the EU, so uncritical that it often seems like a paid mouthpiece, and so far it is silent over the new olive-oil dispensation. Surprisingly, a BBC correspondent in France has had the temerity to uncover anti-Brussels initiatives. He has been to a town in the Lot-et-Garonne in southwest France where people are trading in their own currency, called the “abeille,” or honey-bee. One abeille is worth one euro, but it depreciates after six months without circulation, which is an incentive to buy. Business is thriving. In this one town, 112 companies are in the abeille, and 120,000 of them have been traded to date; another 20 towns issue their currency too, and soon there will be 40.

France has been in recession for two consecutive quarters and things are getting worse. President Hollande thinks that recovery will come by virtue of those bureaucrats in Brussels who are bound to come up with something once the banning of open bottles of olive oil on restaurant tables is statutory. Polls show that he is the most unpopular president ever recorded. Practical people, the French are more and more disillusioned. The plight of the diminishing number of EU fans brings to mind the famous remark of Lord Melbourne, then British prime minister, even though he was speaking in another context in another age: “ What all the wise men promised has not happened, and what all the damned fools said would happen has come to pass.”

Stephen Hawking’s Boycott of Israel


It is always morbidly fascinating when someone famous makes an idiot of himself, as Professor Stephen Hawking has just done. Seventy-one now, he has had a career at Cambridge University as a theoretical physicist. His book, A Brief History of Time, was a big bestseller written for the general reader, but I must confess that I am too backward at physics to have got beyond a page or two. Hawking suffers from motor neuron disease, and shows great courage in dealing with it, so the public, me included, is on his side. He knows about adversity, then, and as a scientist he also knows about verification. In spite of that, he suddenly announces that he is boycotting Israel. He had accepted an invitation to a big conference there, and now has withdrawn on the grounds that Israel denies rights to Palestinians.

A unanimous wave of criticism has hit him. No doubt he’s been naïve.

Politics is not his line. He happily visited China and Iran without making statements about civil rights. He couldn’t communicate at all without a machine containing a chip designed in Israel — so will he boycott himself? His decision seemed more and more inexplicable until it was revealed that as many as 20 academics had lobbied him to stay away from Israel and one of them was Noam Chomsky.

A Brief History of Chomsky would be as impenetrable a book as Hawking’s. American and Jewish himself, he inhabits a mysterious universe in which everything wrong is the fault of Americans and Jews and everything right is to the credit of enemies of Americans and Jews.

Among other inversions of reality he has defended Holocaust denial and genocide in Cambodia. To read his books and journalism is to find oneself at Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter’s Tea Party where familiar things and meanings dissolve into a web of fantasy that is seamless. Now and again, I receive letters from strangers who in Chomskyesque style interpret events in a single obsessive dimension, alleging for instance that the Queen of England controls drug trafficking or President Bush organized 9/11. On their own demented terms such fictions are often so consistent that even intelligent people can fall for them, as seems likely to be the case in the Chomsky-Hawking interaction.

The French Sour on Hollande


It’s like old times to come back to France and find how discontented the French are. There hasn’t been a Socialist president since the late François Mitterand, and so the voters decided to give another socialist a go. A mistake, much to be regretted. In the space of a year, François Hollande has become the most unpopular president ever recorded; three quarters of those polled want him out. Recession has led to 3.2 million unemployed, another record number. Taxes have also never been higher; the better-off have fled abroad, and with them 150,000 young people. The French lady I sat next to yesterday in the south of France told me that her two children in their thirties have been laid off and have no chance of finding jobs now.

It’s as though the voters have forgotten that socialism is the tried and tested instrument to impoverish any country unwise enough to adopt it. The Left in France clings to a decayed Marxism, so one alternative to Hollande is the rabid Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who sees himself as Che Guevara. He and his followers are out in the street, and yesterday assembled for theatrics in the Place de la Bastille. Bigger demonstrations are mounted in Paris and other cities against the law to allow gay marriage, which has passed in the Assembly but still has to be ratified. “Manif pour tous,” is currently the national cry, or “A demo for everyone.”

Listen to the screams of Figaro, a choice example of mainstream media. Yesterday’s issue chronicles Hollande’s failure to implement any of the promises he made while campaigning for office. No less than four other articles pitch into Hollande, one of them by François Fillon, a former prime minister. The title of his contribution says it all: “Hollande is leading the country to catastrophe” — the last word in immense type.

Most dramatic of all, Hollande is blaming Germany for forcing austerity down the throats of the EU members, on the grounds that this is the way to prolong and deepen an already severe recession. Pierre Moscovici, the finance minister, collaborates with other socialists to accuse German chancellor Angela Merkel of “selfish intransigence.” All she really wants, a memo of theirs says, is reelection in the fall. They are calling for confrontation.

France’s abject surrender to Germany ever since 1940 has left Europe on its knees. This break between the two countries may be a foretaste of the larger break-up of the Europe Union. If Hollande engineers that, even unconsciously, he will have redeemed socialism.

On Syria, Obama Offers Words Alone


The outcome of the civil war in Syria is bound to test the balance of forces in the Levant, and further afield too. The United States has enemies in Iran and Hezbollah and vulnerable allies in Israel and Jordan. The predicament has evidently been too much for President Obama, and instead of a coherent policy he has so far come up with words alone. Among those words was a warning to Bashar Assad not to resort to poison gas. To do so, the president declared, would be to cross a red line, or in the other thumping cliché of realpolitik, a game-changer. There are precedents. Intervening in the Yemeni civil war, Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser had used poison gas, and Saddam Hussein devastated his Kurdish population that way. Assad is another despot who will stop at nothing.

Well, Assad has crossed the red line and changed the game. Sarin is a nerve gas with unmistakable symptoms, and victims showing those symptoms and dying from them have been named and photographed. British intelligence confirms their death through gas, and so does Israeli military intelligence. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has a response, “We still have some uncertainties about what was used.” An official spokesman has “varying degrees of confidence” that sarin has been correctly identified. Politico reports that the White House has called for a “comprehensive United Nations investigation.”

More words, then, and weasel words at that. Temporarily, this may just pass muster as fact-checking. But if it turns out that when President Obama lays down red lines and games-changers he doesn’t actually mean it but is only prevaricating, then the position of the United States is compromised, its word becomes meaningless, and its enemies are free to do as they please while its allies are left in the lurch. The warfare certain to break out in such an eventuality will be multiple, bloody, and dangerous.

The Wall of Prats


In these grim times, the French are showing a bit of form. Magistrates there are extremely influential, perhaps more so than politicians. They form a union, and have premises in Paris. In a rather sturdy joke, the legal chaps have now turned one of the walls there into “Le Mur des Cons.” This consists of photographs of the people in public life whom they don’t like and want to hound. The rude word here has rather lost its force through repetition, so in English we speak about the Wall of Prats.

The magistrates are tendentious lefties, of course, so former president Sarkozy is prominently up on the wall. So is a former prime minister Edouard Balladur, and intellectuals such as Guy Sorman, Alain Minc and — to balance things out a bit — President Mitterand’s side-kick, Jacques Attali, and sporting figures who have let down the national team. Paris is echoing with the sound and fury of it. Here is also a reminder that in the hearing of General de Gaulle someone once said famously that “cons” ought to be eliminated. “A vast enterprise!” was the general’s response, valid for all times.

Nice Boy Terrorism


In the years since 9/11 there have been lethal acts of Islamist terrorism, notably in Britain and Spain, but many more have been detected in time and thwarted. Security forces are becoming more proficient. Still, Islamist terrorists are certain to search for ways to succeed. No amount of interpretation or argument is going to stop those who are ready to kill and to die for the sake of religious ideology. These acts and their perpetrators have to be seen for what they are.

The moment Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were identified, everyone with a voice started asking what their motivation was. This is the archetypal Western misunderstanding of the archetypal Islamist attack. Surely they must have had some grudge, some insult to be revenged. Or it was “workplace violence,” in the absurd apologia for Major Nidal Hasan, the Islamist killer of Fort Hood. People came forward to say how amazed they were that two such nice boys who knew America and Americans could be big-time criminals. But the two had studied how to turn pressure-cookers into bombs, and they went out wearing suicide vests. Nice boys and religious ideology, alas, can be compatible.

During the crisis, Memri, the invaluable agency translating the Arab media, showed an interview with one of the multitude of intransigent Muslim clerics who are keepers of the religious ideology. Justification for bombings of non-Muslims depends on men like him and he promised more of them. The brothers were mujahideen (jihadists, that is), he said, and Muslims have the duty imposed on them by their faith to go on jihad. That’s all the motivation they need. The elder brother is quoted saying that he didn’t understand Americans. No more did Sayyid Qutb, the philosopher of Islamism who has influenced this generation of Muslims to believe that if only they go on jihad their values must one day rule the world. Men of the kind can’t understand Americans; their ideology precludes it.

It is of course right to make sure not to pin collective guilt onto Muslims. The uncle of the two brothers repudiated in noble language what they had done, saying they had shamed their own Chechen people. From the days of the czars down to Yeltsin and Putin, Chechens have mobilized by means of Islam. Extremists from Saudi Arabia have been radicalizing them further, and many are to be found fighting wherever the clerics are promoting jihad. A freelance fraternity, a sort of New Model International Brigade, are already stretching our physical and intellectual resources. Think what it will be like when Iran hands over to them a nuclear bomb. 


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