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David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

An Open Book



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One of the unexpected bonuses of having to do with print is the books that arrive unsolicited.  An advance copy of Distant Intimacy from the Yale University Press has just taken me by surprise.  Frederic Raphael and Joseph Epstein have been exchanging e-mails over the course of a year, the former in London, the latter in Chicago.  I can’t think of a better snapshot of the cultural landscape of today’s English-speaking world.  The mix of humor, regret, praise, and sniping is to be found nowhere else that I know of.

Both have a lifetime’s experience of this landscape on which to draw.  Epstein was editor of The American Scholar for 23 years, he’s published a great deal in every sort of outlet.  Raphael is the author of many novels, film scripts, a huge range of journalism, with classical studies including a book out a few weeks ago about Flavius Josephus, the Jewish soldier who threw his lot in with the Romans and turned historian.  They belong to the old school but are well able to navigate today’s shallows.   Gossip is one benefit that comes with experience like theirs, offering comic insight into Harold Pinter, George Steiner, Vladimir Nabokov, and a hundred others of their likes and dislikes. “I’m not a passionate admirer of Isaiah Berlin,” Raphael opens up , to go on, “Had he been a washbasin, Isaiah would have only one tap and it would’ve been tepid.” One of his best cracks is about Jean-Paul Sartre: “Maoism was his Viagra.”  Epstein commemorates the great Ed Shils and his falling-out with Saul Bellow.  If Bellow was to spend two hours on the lap of the Queen of England, Shils boiled it down, he’d have two observations, that the Queen had no understanding of the condition of the modern artist, and that she was an anti-Semite. Shils it was who improved on goyim, the Yiddish word for non-Jews, by calling another minority gayim.

You enjoy the book, I can hear the accusation, because these two are your friends and under the panache of with-it prose they’re a couple of old-style conservatives.  Raphael is indeed a friend and I hope one day to meet Epstein.  The poet Dom Moraes was a prodigy, India’s answer to Arthur Rimbaud, and I once said to him that I never wrote about books by friends.  Oh, he said, I only write about books by friends.  Literary reputations on both sides of the Atlantic are bringing me round to that point of view.

The Strange Story of Ben Zygier



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The story of Ben Zygier, emerging in dribs and drabs, is as absorbing as it is strange. He was a young Australian who emigrated to Israel. There he had passports in names other than his, and not all identifiable as Jewish or Israeli. Mossad, I presume. When a team of Mossad agents went into Dubai in January 2010 and assassinated Mahmoud al-Mabhoud, the man responsible for arming Hamas, some of them were using Australian passports. Was Zygier somehow involved in that? What we know is that in December 2010 he was found hanged in a prison cell in Israel. Not any old cell either, but one of maximum security built to keep in solitary confinement the young man who shot Yitzhak Rabin dead. What was the accusation? Nothing is known so far about a trial, or a sentence. According to reports, Zygier’s warders did not even know his name.

One theory with currency is that on some trip back to Australia he informed agents there about Mossad’s use of Australian passports. They must have found that out anyhow, and the tip-off, if tip-off it was, hardly seems a reason for putting Zygier away in a maximum-security jail, and even less reason for Zygier to hang himself. Bob Carr, the Australian Foreign Minister, tilts more towards the Palestinians than the Israelis, and he is making mileage out of this business. Prime Minister Netanyahu has let drop some cryptic words about the necessity to keep state secrets under wraps.

Naturally I have no idea of the reality, but the sole frightful treason that Zygier could have committed would be to inform the Iranians of measures to be taken against them. Discovery might be enough to prompt his superiors to put him away in that maximum security jail. Realization of what he had done might have been enough to push him to hang himself. There is bound to be speculation that Mossad will have murdered him. From what I know of Israel, that is inconceivable. I cannot help feeling that Zygier’s fate will prove like a large rock rolling down a mountain, gathering pace and crushing whoever and whatever it hits at the bottom.

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Breaking a Taboo in the Arab World



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Last October, someone by the name of Abdullatif al-Mulhim wrote an article that broke a taboo. He told fellow Arabs something they are never allowed to hear, that their wars against Israel have only harmed themselves. Hostility towards Israel is almost sacrosanct in Arab countries, and learned men on public platforms solemnly assert that Jews are descendants of apes and pigs. It is dangerous to keep people in ignorance like this. The real enemies of the Arabs, Mulhim spells out, are corruption, lack of good education and health care, and so lack of respect for human life. Arab dictators, he goes on, have committed atrocities against their own people far worse than all the full-scale Arab-Israeli wars. What decided him to write like this was starvation, killing, and destruction in one or another Arab country. The final clincher is that Palestinians in Israel or under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza are happier and in a better situation than their Arab brothers who came to liberate them.

I know nothing about Mulhim except that he is described as a retired officer of the Saudi navy. And now Amal al-Hazzani publishes two articles with similar observations. She is Assistant Professor of Molecular Genetics at King Saud University in Riyadh with quite a list of contributions to professional journals to her credit. In Israel, she writes, “politicians are distinguished by their sincerity and devotion to the higher interests of the state.” Arabs listen to the cheap words of poets and politicians who heap insults on Israel from their luxurious hotel rooms. They are still unaware where, why, and how their feelings of hate towards Israel come about. While they have sunk into hating, the Israelis have built eight public universities and 200 museums and become a rival to America in the programming and software industry. Israelis have got where they are by intelligence, or as she explains, by learning Arabic and studying the culture of Arabs. Her admiration for these achievements is clear.

The Middle East is exploding and the explanation for these articles may lie in the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, that is to say Sunni versus Shiite, or Arab versus Persian. The Saudis are frightened of the imminent finalization of an Iranian nuclear bomb and they see President Obama as weak, variable, more likely to surrender rather than use military measures to stop the nuclear threat. Israel would certainly take military measures and so there is a coincidence of interests. The Arab press is controlled, and it may be that the ground is being prepared for welcoming a strike. As far as I know, neither has been pressured by authorities, let alone punished. Both of these writers may also be free spirits with the courage of their opinions. If ever the word gets out to the masses that hatred of Israel is irrational and counterproductive then there will be a repeat of perestroika and the Arab Spring will become a reality.

The Demonization of Jews by the British Establishment



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Gerald Scarfe is the main cartoonist of the Sunday Times of London, and that newspaper sells over a million copies and is addressed to educated people. The latest cartoon is a caricature of Benjamin Netanyahu, looking murderous, holding a bloody trowel with which he is building a wall. The body parts and tortured faces of Palestinian men and women are depicted in this wall. The caption reads, “Israeli elections. Will Cementing Peace Continue?”

A Liberal Democrat member of parliament by the name of David Ward coincidentally issues a statement accusing Jews “within a few years of liberation from the death camps” of “inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new state of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.”

The Sunday Times and the Liberal Democrat party aren’t sets of mindless street brawlers like the pre-war British fascists but defining components of the Establishment. For years, the media have been misrepresenting the Palestinians as blameless underdogs who want nothing but peace and never do anything that might drive Jews to defend themselves. Scarfe and Ward evidently believe that their demonization of Jews is neither shocking nor repulsive but a rightful and heart-felt expression of public opinion. So liberals and leftists easily finish up as storm-troopers after all.

Great Britain to Exit the EU?



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For years now, I have experienced the strange sense of living in a Britain that is abandoning its identity, and might even disintegrate. The country is the fourth or fifth largest economy in the world. Educated and creative people are all around. The proposition that others had to govern us has always been incomprehensible. Did the British lose an empire only to be incorporated in someone else’s empire?

Part of the strangeness was that Conservative prime ministers advocated this surrender. Mrs. Thatcher, a patriot, resisted only when she was out of office. Apparently the Conservative party could not stand up for its beliefs and would let itself be destroyed. David Cameron has at last made a speech to the contrary. It is not the Churchillian speech required by the circumstances, but a good speech none the less. He claims — I imagine masking the truth — to want the country to stay in the European Union. He proposes to negotiate over the next four years — repeat four — for terms that allow for membership and independence. Then a referendum in 2017 will decide whether Britain is to stay in or get out. One of the many fools who populate the Obama administration instantly spouted that the United States wants Britain to stay in, apparently unaware that in this course of action America’s most reliable ally would become a small part of a bloc designed to stand against America. The polls gave Cameron a boost. A large unanswered question is what he will do if the Europeans refuse to negotiate. It’s been a long decline, and Cameron can be accused of playing for more time, but the first irreversible step has been taken, and Britain at last looks likely to leave the EU and recover itself.

Coincidental with Cameron’s speech, someone called Neelie Kroes illustrated why Britain must have nothing to do with the EU. Not one in a hundred thousand Brits have heard of this Dutch lady, who occupies the grand position of vice president of the European Commission (the body akin to a civil service, unelected, but giving the orders). She commissioned a report that recommends EU control of the media in every country: watchdogs, fines, permanent banning of journalists, all to ensure that standards “comply with European values.” The blood freezes.

On a different note, the death of Robert Kee reminds me of something he used to tell. Robert was a television personality, a novelist and historian of Irish troubles. A pilot in the war, he had been shot down, captured and finished up in a prisoner-of-war camp some miles outside Dresden. In February 1945, Stalin requested the bombing of Dresden to prevent German reinforcements coming through to the eastern front. The British consented, and are sometimes accused of committing a war crime. Robert in his camp could see the night sky illuminated by flames, and he and the other prisoners cheered and sang the national anthem.

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They Never Would Be Slaves?



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Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin are Christians who have had their lives made miserable for their faith. Nadia Eweida wore a silver cross on a chain round her neck, until her employers, British Airways, suspended her for it. Shirley Chaplin, a nurse, for 30 years had a crucifix on a necklace over her uniform, and the management of the Royal Devon National Health Hospital ordered her to remove it, on the absurd grounds of health and safety. A patient, they said, might have an accident pulling it. At the same moment, Gary McFarlane, a marriage counselor, and Lillian Ladele, a registrar, have also given offence on account of their Christian conscience. Neither had any objection to homosexuality as such, but Mr. McFarlane asked to be excused from counseling same-sex couples, and Miss Ladele from marrying them. Both were fired.

Legal proceedings finished in front of seven judges, none of them British, in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This court found in favor only of Miss Eweida; BA had interfered with her right to express her religion. Rejecting the claims of the three other defendants, the court is giving priority to political correctness over freedom of religious conscience.

Many sad aspects come together. The childish conformity of those taking these decisions to ban religious symbolism on behalf of BA and that Royal Devon hospital is unimaginable. One prejudice is being utilized to suppress another prejudice. Freedom of worship is compromised. Christianity is further marginalized. Not a single churchman has come forward to defend these Christians, or if there is one, then he is doing it so discreetly that the mainstream media do not report him. Saddest of all, foreign judges now decide the behavior and beliefs of British people. Those same British people once used to sing that they never never never would be slaves.

The Mess in Mali



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Failed states are common these days, and the latest of them is Mali. Most of it is the Sahara desert, awesome and beautiful in its way but not productive. When I was there, the British taxpayer had just made a gift to the Malians of 250 Land Rovers. Vandalized as soon as they were unloaded, 250 unusable carcasses filled a derelict lot. After the desert came miles and miles of sandy scrub, with here and there villages too remote to be in touch with each other. The villagers had open sores due to diet deficiencies which should have been easy and cheap to remedy.

Nomads, the Tuaregs are different from the villagers. They have their own language, too recently codified to have a literature yet. The men are tall, turbaned and often veiled, and nobody is allowed to see Tuareg women. There’s not much to be done locally except camel-herding, so Tuaregs enrolled as mercenaries in Libya. Some seem to have been with Qaddhafi to the end. Returning embittered to Mali, they staged a coup, drove out the president and declared the Tuareg state of Azawad.

It’s none too clear how al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, AQIM for short, got into the act, but they did. So did affiliates and rival groups, all of whom are now struggling for power in a free-for-all of Islamists and war-lords. Reports describe public executions and floggings, and the destruction, Taliban-style, of historic mosques and mausoleums built of hardened mud bricks for Sufis, that is to say the wrong kind of Muslims. On my journey towards Gao and Timbuktoo in old days, I stopped in the desert to search for the battlefield where the Moroccan sultan had conquered the Songhrai emperor in the fifteenth century. Out of nowhere, the police arrived and stuck a parking ticket on our Land Rover, with a penalty larger than the one current in London. Three days of negotiation followed with the police chief, the chef de gendarmerie.

Mali now is like Somalia, Afghanistan, or Yemen, a mess that nobody has any practical ideas for cleaning up. The African neighbors know the danger. Nigeria is already bedeviled by the Islamist fanatics of a movement called Boko Haram. The United Nations, France, the Obama administration, occasionally chatter in a way that proves their lack of resolve and inability to get to grips. Another part of the landscape is disappearing, as it looks as though nobody yet is likely to give even a parking ticket to AQIM and the Islamists.

Miscellany



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Georgetown University in Washington some years ago accepted an endowment of $20 million from a rich Saudi to found what is known as the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. More properly, it should be renamed the Center for Misleading Christians about Islam. This is the work of its long-term director, Professor John Esposito. On every available platform, in books and lectures and debates, he masks the violent reality of the Arab and Muslim world as progressive and peace-loving. Hamas, the missile-firing terrorists in Gaza, for instance to him is, “a community-focused group that engages in honey, cheese-making and home-based clothing manufacture.” The Center is carrying on the tradition of the old Soviet front organizations whose aim was deliberate disinformation. This Christmas, the police in Saudi Arabia entered the house of a diplomat, unnamed but said to be Asian, and arrested 41 people for intending to hold a Christian service. That’s the sort of Muslim-Christian Understanding the Saudis actually go in for, and the Georgetown Center then fictionalizes.

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The local weekly in the part of Wales where I live is the Brecon and Radnor Gazette. Good people, mostly farmers, read it for the advertisements of second-hand cars and tractors, or reports of sports and sheep sales. Bernard Levin, the late great journalist, often poked fun at the B&R for its provinciality, though how he’d ever heard of it is a mystery. The current issue has an article that is short but completely unprecedented, about a woman educated in a Brecon convent and now described as an “ex brothel madam.” She is helping a Swansea university study into students working in all the varieties of the sex industry. The university is funding this study with public money from the national lottery. That’s it, then. No objections. Not even surprise. Modernity has blighted deepest rural Wales.

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William Rees-Mogg was someone out of the ordinary. Owlish, bookish, he seemed a hangover from the eighteenth century. A landed gentleman, a Catholic, a proud member of the Establishment, he stood for parliament unsuccessfully but finished up as editor of the London Times. Years ago, he and I shared an office and together wrote a daily column for the Financial Times. His opinions were marvelously erratic. Noel Coward’s play, The Vortex, he thought was as good as Hamlet. One day a photograph was published of the prime minister asleep at the Wimbledon finals. I thought this a bit unkind, but William said the whole point of having that job was precisely to be able to snooze at Wimbledon. Taken to hospital with terminal cancer, he made a remark worthy of his deathbed, “This is going to be very interesting.”

Mistakes & Salman Rushdie



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Salman Rushdie versus Islamism: The world became accustomed to this contest, and even bored by it. Besides, Rushdie wasn’t very nice, was he? He’d brought his troubles on himself, hadn’t he? The Satanic Verses was bound to give offense, and there’s never any need to do that. A memoir just published with the title Joseph Anton is Rushdie’s detailed account of the ordeal he went through, and it serves as a major document of these uncertain times.

Issuing the fatwa that condemned Rushdie to death for blackguarding the Prophet Muhammad, Ayatollah Khomeini was not concerned with theology or literature, and anyhow couldn’t read a book written in English. He had found the pretext he wanted to declare that he would be imposing his version of Islam on the world and was ready to kill to do so. To call for the murder of someone not within the jurisdiction is an enormity, nothing less than the staged opening to a war, the equivalent of the SS storming the Polish radio station of Gleiwitz to launch the Second World War.

Faced with the fatwa, the British Foreign Office reactivated the Chamberlain policy of appeasement. Instead of opposing the Iranians with uncompromising statements that freedom of speech is not negotiable, the officials concerned were always seeking a deal. In other countries, presidents, heads of government, men who ought to have known better, ducked their responsibilities, usually promising help which petered out to nothing. Shameful Western surrender only aroused more Iranian contempt. In a moment of weakness, Rushdie falsely declared that he was a good Muslim. This surrender to intimidation was a Mistake, the word duly capitalized by him.

Representative Leftists like Edward Said or Michel Foucault had greeted the new Islamist Iran with delight as a valuable new source of anti-Americanism. Rushdie’s friends, much praised in this book, are all Leftists of the sort, such as Günter Grass, Nadine Gordimer, Susan Sontag, Harold Pinter and others. The fatwa caused a split between Iran and its potential allies on the Left. The Mistake of the Iranians was to put Rushdie and his supporters in the position of arguing principle while themselves arguing politics, bigoted politics at that.

Full disclosure: I have met Rushdie very occasionally and briefly. Until I read this memoir, however, I had not properly grasped how much we owe him. Armed only with his pen and his wits, this unlikely immigrant from India won the first big campaign in a war most of us don’t even realize we are engaged in.

June 1940, and Today



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On June 14, 1940, the German army entered Paris unopposed. German generals took the salute as the Wehrmacht marched in soldierly fashion down the Champs Elysées. This was a moment when the fate of the continent and the wider world hung in the balance. Nazism had proved stronger than democracy. Capturing Paris, Adolf Hitler became the master of Europe, and had he chosen peace instead of further war, the course of history would have been different and he might be remembered for setting up a whole new order.

Quite a few people accepted that something irreversible had happened. A documentary film made at the time shows Parisians lining the streets and mostly applauding, presumably thankful that their lives and their homes had been spared. But others elsewhere recognized that this was a crisis so great that it endangered the future, and many registered their shock, anger, and finally their determination to confront Hitler’s nightmare vision.

This Christmas I have printed and sent out to friends a little booklet quoting reactions to the fall of Paris to be found in diaries and correspondence. They range from Anna Akhmatova in Moscow to Stefan Zweig in exile in London, taking in testimonies not just from intellectuals but from people in all walks of life.

Those responses to that moment illustrate how public opinion takes shape. Parallels should not be drawn too closely, but in the troubled Europe of today the future is again in the balance. The European Union has just received the Nobel Peace Prize. It is the one good joke that all can enjoy, as everyone understands that NATO alone has kept the peace while the EU is setting nations against each other and breaking up populations. What about the malign EU role in the civil wars of Yugoslavia? What about the riots and embittered nationalism resulting from the straitjacket of the euro? There are no realistic foreign or defense policies. Wealth is draining away. Prestige has sunk irretrievably. The solution that EU representatives propose is to maximize the measures that have created this latest nightmare vision of a new order in the first place.

Hope springs eternal, especially at Christmas time. Publication of my booklet, I sense, coincides with the intention of more and more angry and shocked people to determine their lives for themselves. The way they did after June 1940.

Viewing the Middle East from Australia



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The Australian/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, otherwise AIJAC, had invited me to Australia, but perhaps I ought to be kept away as outbreaks of Middle East violence seem to coincide with my visits. The first time I went there Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait and the First Gulf war erupted. Next time Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. Now Hamas has waged its latest campaign, in the knowledge that its attack on Israel was certain to bring retaliation down on its own subjects, the Palestinians in Gaza. For Hamas, in short, massive self-destruction is worthwhile if it wreaks even a little destruction on the enemy. Irrational calculation of the kind is a measure of the ideology motivating the leaders. Unfortunately, it is rational to conclude that the cease-fire will last only until Hamas leaders again think the ideology has the chance to advance the cause and they start attacking once more.

Hamas is in a peculiar position, midway between its natural backers, the Muslim Brothers under President Morsi in Egypt, and its sponsors and armament suppliers in Iran. These two regimes, the one Sunni and the other Shiite, are testing out their mutual relationship. Egypt gives medical supplies to Hamas; Iran ships missiles. In another peculiar triangle, Hamas is in the midst of a silent coup to swallow Fatah, the Palestinian rival on the West Bank. Israel is ensuring the survival of Fatah at the very moment when its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has won a vote in the United Nations General Assembly for Palestine to be accepted there with the status of observer rather than member. A Hamas takeover of the West Bank would bring Tel Aviv within close range of those Iranian-supplied missiles. At AIJAC functions where I spoke, I didn’t like to rub in that the two-state solution is dead for the time being and maybe the next two or three centuries.

On the final evening of my visit, AIJAC held a dinner to honor John Howard, statesman and nonpareil parliamentarian who won three consecutive elections before retiring. His lengthy speech of thanks was a brilliant blend of reminiscence, anecdote, and political generalization, all spoken without notes. “I can see that’s not the first speech you’ve ever made,” I said on being introduced afterwards. Next morning I spent an hour with him, and then flew home wishing someone of that caliber were my prime minister.

Russian Informer Alexander Perepilichny Found Dead



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Alexander Perepilichny had been a Russian exile in Britain for the past three years. Aged 44, and in good health, he was rich enough to be paying a huge five-figure monthly rent for a house in Weybridge, a spot in Surrey where nouveau-riche people cluster. A couple of weeks ago, he went out jogging, and was found dead by the side of the road. Tests have failed to reveal the cause of death. Toxology tests are due in case he was poisoned by radiation like Alexander Litvinenko in an earlier and somewhat similar case. There may be an innocent explanation, but more probably here is another of the crimes that give frightening insight into today’s Russia.

According to press reports, Perepilichny was an associate of the Klyuev Group, who were tax officials in Russia skimming off public funds. They framed Hermitage Capital, an investment company whose chief executive officer was, and is, William Browder. (He is the grandson of Earl Browder, once general secretary of the American Communist party. “The smiling moustaches of Earl Browder,” runs a line in a poem by Roy Fuller that exemplifies the fellow-travelling absurdity of the Thirties.)

When I met Bill Browder, he told me how these tax officials had set him up and run him out of Russia. He engaged Sergei Magnitsky, a well-known young human-rights lawyer, to defend him. The day after Magnitsky named names, he was arrested. Then he was found dead in the Lubyianka, the old Soviet hell-hole in Moscow. But there was a paper trail of hundreds of millions of stolen dollars leading through banks to Switzerland and the purchase of property abroad. Perepilichny apparently could document the whole vast scam, and he handed the information to the Swiss authorities. One can only guess at his motives, but the reports describe him as a “supergrass,” an activity that may have cost him his life. In Soviet times, the top officials took steps to kill whoever gave secrets away, and this case might prove they haven’t changed.

An Orwellian Inversion of Alliances



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For the past eight days I have been in Australia on a speaking tour, hence out of the blogosphere. Right now I am overlooking the boats and yachts criss-crossing Sydney bay. What a relief it is to be in a country with the free and easy spirit that once characterized England. A visitor like me has no stake in an ongoing public row here with accusations and rebuttals about misappropriation of trade-union money, a slush fund, a mortgage, all of which dates from long ago and may or may not involve the young Julia Gillard, now prime minister. Those on the right say she cannot survive, those on the left say there’s nothing to it. Happy the nation with that sort of worry.

And unhappy the nation like Egypt, where President Mohamed Morsi has thrown off the mask of democracy and declared that his word is final in matters of law and the constitution. He is resorting to a Vatican-like claim of infallibility in order to install the Islamist state the Muslim Brothers dream of. The judiciary would be an obstacle, but he has sacked the chief prosecutor and judges appointed by the previous regime. Resisting for the sake of judicial independence, the judges can call upon enough popular support to divide the country. Morsi is following precedents in Pakistan where the judges and the government fought for power, and in Turkey where President Tayyip Recep Erdogan sacked two or three thousand judges in the process of converting a secular state to Islamism.

Not the least surprising feature of this coup is the White House’s approval. No doubt Washington is grateful to Morsi for his help in dealing with Hamas in the latest crisis with Israel. All Muslim Brothers together, he could have thrown his weight behind Hamas but instead brokered the cease-fire. Washington used to describe the Muslim Brotherhood and its activities as “state-sponsored terrorism,” but now Mrs. Clinton speaks of Morsi’s “leadership and responsibility.” It stretches credulity to find Egypt suddenly praised for the peace and stability it brings to the region.

In 1984, George Orwell’s masterpiece of insight into the immorality of power politics, perpetual violence is punctuated by Two-Minute Hates, whereby former enemies unexpectedly become allies, and vice versa. The Hamas-Israeli clash has been a Two-Minute Hate, and at its culmination we have experienced an Orwellian inversion of alliances.

Israel’s Line in the Sand



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The late Ahmed Jabari was the leader of the military wing of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood movement that took power after a coup in Gaza. The several thousand men under his command served as a kind of secret police force, far more powerful than the other Islamist or tribal armed groups in Gaza. More powerful too than political leaders like Ismail Haniya or Khalid Mashaal, who in effect are civilians.

Over the last few days the Hamas military wing has fired 115 missiles and rockets out of Gaza into Israel. A number like that reflects the state of politics. In the usual run of things only a few rockets are fired, not enough to do more than prove that Hamas is active, and certainly not enough to warrant an armed Israeli response. One hundred and fifteen in a few days is a very different matter. Hamas leaders can only have wanted to test out the balance of power after the American election. They may well have concluded that Israel would not dare respond for fear of President Obama’s condemnation. In which case, they could fire off another 115. They have a fail-safe option as well. They are confident of the support of the parent Muslim Brotherhood group now in power in Egypt. The Egyptian leadership is bound to condemn Israel in public, for otherwise it will be exposed as hypocritical — talking enmity with Israel but in practice inactive.

Taking out Jabari, Israel has drawn a line. Token rockets, yes perhaps; a barrage, no. Jabari lived underground out of precaution. To have identified his whereabouts accurately and to have struck the car he was in is a feat requiring the highest levels of intelligence and technical skills. The pity of it is that previous Hamas leaders have deceived themselves that this strategy of violence will eliminate Israel, only to pay for such folly with their lives. Each time a master terrorist like Jabari is killed, they swear they will open the gates of hell on Israel, only to find that they are herding themselves through those very gates.

Israel’s Line in the Sand



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The late Ahmed Jaabari was the leader of the military wing of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood movement that took power after a coup in Gaza. The several thousand men under his command served as a kind of secret police force, far more powerful than the other Islamist or tribal armed groups in Gaza. More powerful too than political leaders like Ismail Haniya or Khalid Mashaal, who in effect are civilians.

Over the last few days the Hamas military wing has fired 115 missiles and rockets out of Gaza into Israel. A number like that reflects the state of politics. In the usual run of things only a few rockets are fired, not enough to do more than prove that Hamas is active, and certainly not enough to warrant an armed Israeli response. 115 in a few days is a very different matter. Hamas leaders can only have wanted to test out the balance of power after the American election.  They may well have concluded that Israel would not dare respond for fear of President Obama’s condemnation. In which case, they could fire off another 115. They have a fail-safe option as well. They are confident of the support of the parent Muslim Brotherhood group now in power in Egypt. The Egyptian leadership is bound to condemn Israel in public, for otherwise it will be exposed as hypocritical — talking enmity with Israel but in practice inactive.

Taking out Jaabari, Israel has drawn a line. Token rockets, yes perhaps, a barrage, no. Jaabari lived underground out of precaution. To have identified his whereabouts accurately and to have struck the car he was in is a feat requiring the highest levels of intelligence and technical skills.  The pity of it is that previous Hamas leaders have deceived themselves that this strategy of violence will eliminate Israel, only to pay for such folly with their lives. Each time a master terrorist like Jaabari is killed, they swear they will open the gates of hell on Israel, only to find that they are herding themselves through those very gates.

With Whose Rights Are Western Governments Concerned?



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Abu Qatada and Ali Musa Daqduq are two prominent figures in the worldwide Islamist jihad against the West. They are united in their determination to do everything in their power to advance that jihad, which of course means violence and terror. Abu Qatada, a Jordanian, came to Britain to raise funds for bin Laden’s al-Qaeda. He was in contact with terrorists; he recruited through preaching. In Jordan he is wanted on a murder charge. Ten years ago, he was arrested in London and ever since he has used every twist of the law to avoid deportation to his own country. Judge Mitting, presiding over a Special Immigration Appeals Commission, has just decided that Abu Qatada cannot be deported but instead could be released on bail. Prime Minister Cameron told parliament that he is “completely fed up” with this failure to deport Abu Qatada.

Ali Musa Daqduq is Lebanese, and a member of Hezbollah, the Shia terrorist group, who traveled to Iraq. In 2007 he and others kidnapped five American soldiers in Karbala, and tortured and killed them. Captured, he admitted to his crimes. When President Obama pulled American forces out of Iraq, they did not take Daqduq with them but handed him over to the Iraqi authorities. An Iraqi court now orders his release.

What it comes to is that Britain and America are less concerned with the safety of their citizens than with the well-being of enemies willing to murder them. The rights of nationals are secondary to the rights of those who would destroy those nationals. Games-playing with the law has protected wrongdoing and crime, and denied the course of natural justice.  We shall lose to the jihadis until such time as we recognize them as the terrorists that they are, and deal with them accordingly.

The same unrealistic and pettifogging view of human behaviour is evident in the hoo-ha about General David Petraeus and General John Allen. Their private relations have no bearing on their military capacities. Remember Harriet Wilson. She threatened to expose her affair with the Duke of Wellington, only to be told, “Publish and be damned.” They did things differently once.

Europeans, Obama, and Schadenfreude



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Europeans by and large wanted Barack Obama to win the election. There is little or no genuine elation, however, as for some time now the man has lost the power to inspire that once made him seem so singular. In 2008, he was seen as the incarnation of American energy and renewal. People admired that, but anyone listening to public discourse could also catch some of the usual resentment that America would soon be throwing its weight about once again. By 2012, Obama has proved himself the kind of politician Europeans are familiar with, someone incapable of dealing with the problems he faces, and without the character to come to terms with his own limitations. Europeans are in crisis; they have no understanding of how or why this has happened to them nor what should be done about it.

I cannot prove it, but I am confident that many if not most Europeans welcome Obama out of a sense that he is bringing the United States down to their level of helplessness and confusion. What they are expressing is really schadenfreude, that untranslatable word for taking pleasure in the misfortune of others.

Something Is Rotten



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The BBC is known familiarly as Aunty. The British police have the nickname of Old Bill, and an individual copper might be referred to as Mr. Plod. Nice, isn’t it, domestic, all part of one big family that can be trusted.

Except that this is evidently no longer the case, if ever it was. The BBC is at the center of a scandal that reveals something rotten at the core of the institution. It concerns someone called Jimmy Savile. Just the sight of him was as good as a warning. He had a permanent knowing grin, he wore preposterous clothes and had straggly hair down to his shoulders; he drove a Bentley, waved cigars in other people’s face and boasted continuously. But he raised money for charity and became a television personality, cultivated celebrities and received a knighthood. Charles Moore in his column in the Spectator rightly remarks that a culture that made an idol of such a narcissistic show-off is sick. Savile died last year. For Christmas day, the BBC was scheduling a program celebrating the man. Those at the top knew that they were covering up the essential fact that under cover of his public life Savile had been all along a notorious pedophile. Three hundred men and women have come forward to testify that as children they were abused, on some occasions in hospital wards. Put straightforwardly, the national broadcaster found it convenient to lie.

On the police front, a blind man of 61 was walking in the street when a policeman knocked him down from behind by firing his Taser gun under the impression that the man’s white stick was a Samurai sword. No apologies are offered. Andrew Mitchell, chief whip for the Tories in parliament, swore at a policeman outside 10 Downing Street, and the police had him sacked — as in the old Soviet Union, then, the police decide who is to be a politician.

Celebrating the Anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution



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The Hungarian revolution of 1956 started on October 23. Here was a nation refusing to be Sovietized. A crowd gathered at the monstrous bronze statue of Stalin and pulled it down, to leave only vast empty boots sticking out of the pedestal. Stalin’s hollow head, the size of a car, was rolled away to block off a road. The symbolic drama was re-enacted when Iraqis and American marines toppled the bronze statue of Saddam Hussein.

In the period when Communism was then suspended, political prisoners were released from the Hungarian version of Gulag. One of them was Cardinal Mindszenty who sought asylum in the American embassy. Prince Esterhazy had the honor of being imprisoned for the crime of being a large landowner by the Nazis and then the Communists, and he now escaped to Switzerland. Pal Ignotus, a prisoner in the labor camp of Vac and author of a beautiful memoir, crossed by night into Austria on foot. His wife then lost the baby she had been carrying.

By the time I reached Budapest, the Russians had tricked Imre Nagy and his government including General Pal Maleter, leader of the armed resistance, into surrendering. Offered safe passage, these men were arrested and later put to death in secret. An atmosphere of murder and treachery hung over everything. Russian tanks were in the street. People hardly dared speak. I interviewed Gyorgy Lukacs, the author of the kind of Marxist literary studies we were supposed to read and admire in universities like Oxford. He was gloom itself. I seem to recall that he was made to suffer for being a wrong kind of Communist.

Today the Hungarian embassy threw a party to celebrate the anniversary. The speaker was a chap called Lord Boswell whom I had to look up in the reference books where I found that his recreations are snooker, shooting, and poetry. Gerbeaud’s is a famous café in the main square of Budapest, and lots of its special chocolate-covered cake had been flown in for the occasion. But for some reason, the memory of those empty bronze boots doesn’t let go.

A Demoralizing Conversation with a French Ambassador



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I have just returned from a pretty grand party in France. And there I was, fork in hand, when I am introduced to a French ambassador. Pronounced with a French accent, my name is a mouthful and I do not think the ambassador identified me. But I identified him. I had attacked him in Betrayal, a book I published recently to spell out the damage France has done in the Middle East. The French foreign ministry, known as the Quai d’Orsay, has a long record of trying to obtain Arab favors. In this view, first the Zionists and then the Israelis have made the great mistake of wanting to stay alive, and that will never do. Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat were only the latest in the list of murderers whom the Quai d’Orsay befriended and protected.

The ambassador couldn’t have been more charming. We got on the Middle East as though by accident. It so happens that he thought President Chirac had been right to oppose George W. Bush over the invasion of Iraq. The then–foreign minister Villepin had made a brilliant speech for the same purpose. We moved on to the subject of the French Orientalist Louis Massignon (1883–1963) who in his day convinced the Quai d’Orsay that France and the world of Islam share a common destiny. “Ignominy” is the word Massignon reserved for Zionists. The passage of time has made no difference: The ambassador has the highest esteem for Massignon.

Perhaps it was mischievous of me, but I suggested that we should sing the old French colonial song “Partons pour la Syrie,” and France should save Syria from its terrible fate by reoccupying the country, and dividing it as before with an enclave reserved for the Alawites. The ambassador was strongly of the opinion that intervention by any outside power would be disastrous. Look at Afghanistan, he said, where the people we had come to save now kill us. It’s too demoralizing. We have to get out as soon as possible. But, I said, there will then be massacres on a large scale. “It will be atrocious,” the ambassador agreed.

Nobody could have put the case for defeatism and surrender more convincingly than this eloquent and civilized man. The world that he foresees will have no room in it for someone with his qualities. That’s what we are up against.

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