David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

On the Use and Abuse of Privilege


Here are stories that have a lot to say about two very different characters in the news at the same time — Professor Eric Hobsbawm, the historian who has just died, and Sir John Gurdon, a geneticist who has just won the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

At the end of his life, Hobsbawm, an unrepentant Stalinist, was still maintaining that it was justified to kill 15 or 20 million people to create a radiant Communist society. Tony Blair awarded Hobsbawm the Companion of Honour, a much-esteemed decoration. A good few people were at Buckingham Palace to collect their awards that day, and among them was Lord Rothschild (who tells me this story and was glad to have it out in the open). A philanthropist, he was being rewarded for public services. Rothschild was at the front of the line, Hobsbawm at the back. All of a sudden Hobsbawm started shouting in front of everyone there that his decoration was more important than Rothschild’s and they should change places. A palace official had to explain that Lord Rothschild’s decoration was in the gift of the queen and so had priority over Hobsbawm’s decoration from the prime minister. 

Gurdon was educated at Eton, most famous of British schools. Years ago, he was bottom in his science class there and keeps the master’s report framed in his office at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge: “He will not listen, but will insist on doing his work in his own way. I believe he has ideas about becoming a Scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous, if he can’t learn simple biological facts he would have no chance of doing the work of a Specialist.” When an experiment doesn’t work, Gurdon says that he tells himself, “The schoolmaster may have been right.”

Compare and contrast, as the exam questions used to put it, with special emphasis on what is to be learnt here about the use or abuse of privilege.

Leaving ‘Paradise’



The deportation of Abu Hamza from Britain to the United States brings to a close a long-running scandal. The man has made a mockery of Britain and its law in general, exposing how feeble and incompetent procedures are when it comes to protection against individuals like him. Britain, he famously jeered, is “a paradise where you can do what you like.”

Born in Egypt, Abu Hamza came to Britain nominally as a student. He lost both hands and one of his eyes fighting in Afghanistan, though this may be his romancing of an accident with explosives in his home. Strong-arm methods gave him control of the well-known Finsbury Park mosque in London. Young Muslims attended and every Friday he whipped them up to hate non-Muslims. He regularly praised the September 11 terrorists and jihad. When forbidden to preach in the mosque, he simply continued to do so in the street. The police stood around doing nothing, evidently out of fear of what might happen if these potential jihadis couldn’t do what they liked. Had an Englishman been inciting compatriots to acts of terror in Muslim countries, the lot would have been arrested on the spot. When the police at last raided the mosque, they found weapons, equipment against chemical warfare and more than a hundred stolen or forged passports.

British courts sentenced him to prison in 2004 while United States authorities requested his extradition. A federal grand jury in New York had then indicted him on eleven counts of terror-related crimes, including trying to set up an al-Qaeda training camp in Oregon. Lawyers on his behalf used every conceivable device to spare him from being brought to justice. Proceedings in the British courts and then the European Court of Human Rights dragged on for eight years and cost a million pounds. Deported with him were four other Muslims involved in terror or its funding, and one of them spun out facing justice for no less than fourteen years. Senior British judges and the Home Secretary as well have spoken out strongly against the way the process of law is itself an injustice, but it is quite clear that nothing much will happen for years, or at least until the wish to appease the unappeasable stops.


Turkey’s New Islamism


Turkey has just held show trials that bear comparison to the judicial monstrosities staged in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Three hundred senior military officers, some serving and some retired, have been handed long prison sentences. They have been accused of belonging to a terrorist organization called Ergenekon that back in 2003 was plotting the overthrow of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The trials began in 2007. They are a disgrace. The plotters are alleged to have been intending to bomb mosques, shoot down a Turkish military aircraft and other improbabilities of the sort. The “evidence” offered by the prosecution is full of anachronisms, forgeries and other evident fabrications. The defense was not permitted to call witnesses in a position to expose the nonsense.

It is true that the military have staged coups in the recent Turkish past, not in their own interest but to preserve the secular modernizing state that replaced the old Ottoman Empire. Erdogan can now be seen to have taken the major strategic decision to re-align the country as an Islamist state. To that end, he had to neutralize the army. He could never have obtained 20-year prison sentences for innocent officers unless he had already purged the judiciary and installed Islamist yes-men. Similarly the media. Turkey is the country with the highest number of journalists in prison.

The balance of power is shifting again against the West. Turkey has renounced its status as a democracy. Suspecting that membership of the European Union was more and more probable, Turkey is instead choosing to become the leader of Sunni Islamism. Opposition to Shiite Iran and its Syrian protectorate follows, although just a short while ago Erdogan was supporting them whole-heartedly and claiming to have zero problems with neighbors. The new Islamism demands rupture with Israel and identification with Hamas.

President Obama is happy to tell everyone that he is in the habit of telephoning Erdogan frequently. He does not denounce the show trials and seems unaware that his chat-line friend in Ankara has changed.

A Real War on Women



In Islam, believers are superior to infidels, masters to slaves, and men to women. All these relationships are so fixed by the faith and the customs of Muslims that reform to bring in equality is the tallest of orders. The very idea that women are the equal of men touches masculine vanity, sexuality, opportunity for conquest, financial exploitation, the shape of the family – all issues that have the utmost social resonance. Muslim men are never going voluntarily to let go of their advantaged position. When it comes to gaining  equality in the Middle East women are on their own, and they are taking the law into their hands.

A video is circulating showing a scene in a supermarket in Saudi Arabia. A lady who seems both young and elegant is surrounded by several members of the Saudi morality police known as the Mutawwa who go around enforcing the observance of prayer time and more particularly insisting that women are behaving and dressing as they are ordered to do – the fantasy of sexual domination is unmistakable, and I wish Dr Freud was here to spell it out. The mutawwa have just told this woman that her head-scarf is tied to show too much of her hair. Furious, she starts screaming at them, making such a scene that they beat a retreat.

Last week in Iran, Hojatoleslam (meaning he’s a rank below an ayatollah) accosted two women in a street in Shahmirzad and ordered them to cover up. “Cover your eyes,” they said, and set about beating him up. They pushed him to the ground, and kicked him so hard that he had to go to hospital. Like the Saudi mutawwa, the Basij is a fascist militia that does much of the regime’s dirty work and the London Times further relates how in Tehran two of its members reprimanded a woman for listening to music in her car. Bystanders then beat up this miserable pair of sneaks. One of them revealed that the women had found blows to be good, but humiliation better: “while I was unconscious they even removed my underwear.” 

Encouraging Brutes to Do Their Worst


The murderers of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three of his colleagues in Benghazi were Salafis, that is to say Muslims who believe in returning to the violence and conquest of the early years of Islam. A few weeks ago they narrowly missed killing the British ambassador, but they did succeed in vandalizing the British Second World War cemetery, particularly smashing graves with a Star of David on them. These same Salafis have destroyed Libya’s ancient monuments of Sufism, or popular Islam.

Salafis won about a quarter of the vote in the recent Egyptian elections. Not long ago they almost stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo, which could have ended in a fire-fight. Now they had picked up a rumor that some American had made a video disrespectful of the Prophet Mohammad, and so they mobilized to storm the American embassy. Lives were lost when their Taliban counterparts stormed the American embassy in Kabul with the same belief that Islam demanded that they go killing in its name. In Benghazi, then, the Salafis hadn’t seen the video; they were acting on the rumor of a rumor.

Yet the best President Obama can find to say is that he strongly condemns the outrageous attack on the diplomatic facility — cliché and euphemism of that sort deaden the anger and sorrow that ought to be natural. As for Mrs. Clinton, she asked how this could have happened, and immediately answered her own question by exonerating the Libyan ruling council. Actually it happened because these ignorant barbarians think that killing Americans is a religious obligation, therefore right in itself, and wonderful to say, completely cost free. Obama’s “strong condemnation” and Clinton’s pitiful self-examination serve to confirm to them that they are proving the supremacy of Salafi Islam. This administration’s on-going policy of appeasement encourages a host of brutes to do their worst. 


Beppe Grillo’s Buffoonery


Political life in the European Union has become more or less irrelevant to large swathes of the population in most countries. The politicians are too insignificant to have made a mark. Few people even know their names, and fewer still have any expectation that the EU is going to get out of its mess any time soon.

Years ago Benito Mussolini quipped that anyone can govern Italy but it is pointless to do so. Today Italians are in a particularly bad economic bind, so bad that the only valid approach is to make more quips about it. Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi laid the blame on the European Union but his bunga-bunga antics accustomed everyone to think that he couldn’t be taken seriously. Now there is someone by the name of Beppe Grillo for whom there is no distinction between politics and buffoonery. All wild curly hair and grimaces, he looks and behaves like an ageing hippy. Comic invention has given him a large public. Mario Monti, the new prime minister, is obeying the demands of the EU to impose cuts and austerity on the country, for which Grillo has coined the unforgettable pun “Rigor Montis.” He has launched V-Day — the V standing for vaffanculo, an exhortation to the high-ups too rude to be translated. He has founded the 5-Star Movement as an anti-party, and it may do well in forthcoming elections. Writing him up, the London Times guesses that the 5-Star Movement could capture 100 seats in next April’s parliamentary elections. Grillo and the EU are a case of one good joke deserving another.

A Victory for Civilization


Civilization has just won a small but rather satisfying victory. Someone opened a safe which had belonged to the pre-war Nazi party but ever since had been neglected in a cellar in Munich. Lo and behold, inside was a 334-page manuscript that the Nazis had confiscated. Experts in the know had long lamented that this work had then been lost for ever, presumed destroyed. The author is Erwin Panofsky, probably the foremost art historian in Germany at a time when he and other scholars, German Jews for the most part, were making an academic discipline of the history of art. Hitler put a stop to that. In 1933 the Nazis forced Panofsky out of his professorship at the university of Hamburg. Emigrating to the States, he became a professor at NYU.

This manuscript evaluates and compares the two great masters, Michaelangelo and Raphael. No doubt written and researched above the level of the ordinary person, it will not be an easy read. I used to attend the lectures of Professor Edgar Wind, Panofsky’s first pupil, also driven out by the Nazis, and I did not understand much of what he was explaining. Iconography was the special study he had learnt from Panofsky, and it’s for scholars. Still, the world’s furniture is the richer for having Panofsky’s missing manuscript. Now and again, the pen really is mightier than the sword.

European Court Will Hear Terrorists’ Appeals


Rangzieb Ahmed was born in Britain. Aged 37 now, he seems to have done little except join al-Qaeda and have a hand in its acts of terror in Britain, including the subway bombing of July 7, 2005, that killed 52 people and maimed or wounded some 700 others. Salahuddin Amin was also born in Britain, but from the age of four lived in Pakistan. Sixteen when he returned to Britain, he was the moving spirit in at least two attempts at mass murder. Both these terrorists have been caught and sentenced to life imprisonment. The judge called them “ruthless misfits who should be removed from society for its own protection.”

Every terrorist handbook advises whoever is arrested to claim that he has been tortured. I have sat in on trials of Palestinian terrorists and one and all said they had been tortured, put up to the lying in my judgment by their lawyers. Sure enough, Rangzieb Ahmed and Salahuddin Amin both say that they were tortured. When they appealed, however, a Court in London upheld both convictions. So both men further applied to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on the grounds that their human rights have been breached. This court receives hundreds of thousands of appeals every year concerning abuse of human rights and dismisses most of them without a hearing; the backlog is anyhow 150,000 cases. But it accepted the appeal of these two terrorists.

An eminent British lawyer, Lord Carlile, has been overseeing issues of terrorism for the government. He is quoted saying that the Strasbourg court’s interference is novel and “completely unacceptable.”  Should that court decide in favor of the terrorists then the British courts are obliged to quash their convictions. Such an over-riding of its legal system would mean that Britain has forfeited its independence and in the process given terrorists impunity to turn the country into another al-Qaeda emirate. 

A Concept’s Time Has Come and Gone



In these glum days we have to find comfort where we can, and the Daily Telegraph tells me that Charles Saatchi has offered his collection of 200 examples of conceptual art to the nation, and the nation has refused them. The purpose of art is to make a statement about the human condition. The purpose of conceptual art is for the artist to make a statement about himself, to do with cows sawn in half, sharks pickled in formaldehyde, life-size naked figures strung up by their feet, and such-like. So the words “art” and “artist” ought to be replaced by ”quirk” and “exhibitionist” or “Narcissist.”  The Daily Telegraph spells out a few names, “Jake and Dinos Chapman, the Indian artist Jitish Kallat and Tracey Emin, whose unmade bed, My Bed, came to symbolise the young British Artists movement of the 1990s.”

You have to give it to Charles Saatchi. He’s the doyen of public relations, and he was using its techniques to create a market.  He’s been searching for unknown exhibitionists whose quirks he could buy at opening prices and hang in his private gallery. On the basis of sponsorship by someone so successful in the public-relations field, reputations and prices rose. Saatchi’s collection has been valued at tens of millions of pounds.

Tate Modern under its director Nicolas Serota is a home for quirks and exhibitionism but it nonetheless did not want Saatchi’s bequest. Nor did the Arts Council, the government-funded agency for the arts. Like sub-prime mortgages or Greek government bonds, conceptual art is proving just another bubble whose time to burst has come.

Stalin Creep


Let’s remember the names of the three Russian girls now turning their country upside down — Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, or more simply Nadya, Masha and Katya. They form a group called Pussy Riot, and staged a “Punk Prayer” on the altar steps of the cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. This involved shouting, “Mother of God, drive out Putin.” No doubt this performance was vulgar, even blasphemous. No doubt too the group’s name and antics are copied from Western pop-folk — I cannot call them artists.  But they were arrested, they have spent the last five months in prison, and now been brought to trial handcuffed to butch female warders who might have come straight from Gulag or even Buchenwald.  In pure totalitarian style, the verdict had been pre-arranged. In 179 trials, Judge Maria Syrova, a Party hack if ever there was one, has given just one verdict of not-guilty. The girls received sentences of two years. Their lawyers said they would appeal, and one of them risked his own future by adding that the girls would not humiliate themselves by begging pardon from “such a bastard” as Putin.

Putin is emulating Stalin in coercing the people, but the difference today is that a good number of them are not afraid of the consequences of open opposition. Outside the court Nadia’s husband declared, “I feel like we have to make a revolution.”  Demonstrations broke out in Moscow and then in New York, Paris, Brussels, Sofia, and other cities. The KGB-like police have arrested a number of opposition activists, for instance Gary Kasparov. One of the White House spokesmen who give the regular impression of being born without a spine, said that he was “deeply disappointed,” while his opposite number in the British Foreign Office was “deeply concerned.” They must just want the laughter to echo round the Kremlin and the dispatch of some champagne to Judge Syrova, for her participation in creating political prisoners once again in the country.

When the Emperor Napoleon ordered the judicial execution of a harmless Duke, Talleyrand  — a diplomat from the days before the lily-livered official creeps of the present — made the unforgettable crack that this was “worse than a crime, a mistake.” The Pussy Riot girls are also harmless, and Putin has made a mistake. Violence is more and more likely to overtake his intention to remain dictator until well into the next decade.




Cultural Dishonor


Mitt Romney lately made the very obvious point that Muslims are held back by a culture that keeps them bound in past customs, some of them really harmful, and blocks modernizing. It is election time, so critics tried to make out that he should not have said it. Such critics would do well to reflect on a case of honor killing in Britain.

Farzana and Iftikhar Ahmad came to Britain from a remote village on the northeast frontier of Pakistan. They brought with them a view of the world so limited that it may properly be called inhuman. In this culture men do what they please. Mr. Ahmad married a Danish woman and had a son with her before abandoning them. He saw nothing wrong with being an adulterer, a bigamist, and an absent father. Settling with Mrs. Ahmad in Warrington, Cheshire, he had four daughters. Again, in this culture, women are held to embody the honor of the family and the community, their marriages are arranged, and any sign of independence on their part brings shame. This is wiped out by an “honor killing,” a not very satisfactory euphemism for murder.

One of the daughters, 17-year-old Shafilia, had English friends, wrote poetry, wanted to be a lawyer; in other words, was Westernized. Shafilia asked the police and social workers for protection, but they turned a blind eye. One day in 2003 Mr. and Mrs. Ahmad held her down on a sofa, and Mrs Ahmad, her mother, said, “Just finish it here.” They suffocated her by stuffing plastic bags down her throat. The other daughters watched. It has taken until now to bring the Ahmads to court, a process which of course the Ahmads charged was “racism.” The judge put his finger on the crime with the words, “an expectation that she live in a sealed cultural environment separate from the culture of the country in which she lived was unrealistic, destructive and cruel.” He sentenced both Ahmads to life imprisonment.

I may be wrong, but I can find no outcry against the practice of honor killing. An independent member of the local Police Authority, Salma Afzal, herself another Muslim, flatly gave a figure of 10,000 honor crimes a year, but even more flatly went on, “We don’t know how many women disappear.” The authorities, the human-rights throng, the columnists and do-gooders, apparently have no intention to push for preventive action, but are willing to wait out these killings and with luck then punish the killers. This is a domestic microcosm of the much larger clash of cultures brought upon the whole world by the likes of the Iranian ayatollahs and the Muslim Brothers whose intention is to kill everyone outside their Muslim culture.

Damaging Bunkum


Nil de mortuis nisi bunkum, as the ancient Romans so well expressed the decorum that anyone writing an obituary about the recent dead should keep in mind. The death of Gore Vidal spurred The Times of London yesterday into a magnificent outburst of bunkum. The paper carried five items about him, a two page obituary, an editorial with the title “The Best Man,” and no less than three separate articles, and all of it eulogy.

Here is an outstanding example of the way the media manipulate public opinion and so create fake reputations. Vidal became a media mascot by imputing every sort of evil to his own country. That’s what they want to hear out there, isn’t it, that the United States is going down, and deserves to, though it’s taking the world with it. Besides, Vidal was connected to some upper class people, so he must have been telling it like it is. One of the Times eulogists heard a critic on television describe his novels as meretricious. To which Vidal responded, “meretricious — and a happy new year.” Someone will have to explain to me why this journalist thinks that ranks Vidal as a wit the equal of Oscar Wilde.

For the record, I have never succeeded in reading more than a few pages of a Vidal novel. Twice I have been sent books of his to review, and twice I had to return them because there is nothing to them except concealed boasting. Devoid of interest in anything human, the writer’s voice oppresses. For the record again, I can’t remember meeting anyone so full of himself as Vidal. Oozing self-love, he was insufferable. I crossed the room to avoid him. The bunkum will fade fast, but it has done the damage of keeping out better writers and making a travesty out of what long ago was a living culture.

The Moral Equivalent of War


I find it difficult to get my head round the fighting in Aleppo. Are the great walls and the citadel and musty old Barons Hotel where Lawrence of Arabia signed the visitors’ book about to be flattened? Such destruction would be a loss for humankind comparable to the destruction some years ago of Sarajevo where all sorts of institutions including museums and libraries were hit. How is such a fate to be avoided? These cases, and many just like them, are genuine tests of strength, with winners and losers. So great are the rewards, so punishing is failure, that those engaged resort to extremes. Scruples are inhibiting, no more than a sign of weakness.

William James, the philosophical brother of the novelist Henry James, proposed a solution: We needed what he called in a fine phrase, “the moral equivalent of war.” Obviously there was no moral equivalent that could have saved Sarajevo or Aleppo. It’s all about the killing of your enemy and the disposal of him on your terms. That’s been going on in this part of the world for centuries. “Once in Aleppo a base Turk I slew,” Shakespeare makes Othello say in a version of “him or me.”

The quite widespread view that the Olympic Games are a moral equivalent of war seems untenable. That torch parade round the country where the Games are held is a legacy from Adolf Hitler and Albert Speer, the impresario who delivered just what his patron wanted. There is something totalitarian about it, and about the conception of purpose-built new stadiums and columns of athletes marching in step under their national flag. What on earth is the point of national teams with national flags when the Games exist to discover the individual with the top performance? Instead of being the moral equivalent of war, this is more like war by other means.  The East Germans used to be outstanding at this, giving the impression that they were a power to be reckoned with. At the moment China heads the table with many more medals than the United States, and millions will be drawing the conclusion that the former is winning a war that is very real though undeclared, while the latter is losing it.


A Copy-Cat Mass-Murderer


You have to have strong nerves to look at the videos of the dreadful scenes in Syria. Day after day, the television channels are showing corpses, and the commentators add to the horror by saying that the films cannot be verified — the implication being that they have been faked. Damascus and Aleppo now undergo heavy shelling and bombing. When Hitler’s Luftwaffe destroyed Rotterdam or Belgrade, the world learnt of it without benefit of video film of these events. When Hafez Assad smashed Hama in 1982 and killed tens of thousands of his people, he could still do so more or less secretly. His son and successor, Bashar Assad, is a copy-cat mass-murderer out in the open.

In the sad days of Hafez Assad, I became familiar with some instinct inborn in every Middle Easterner, which is to sense the degree of danger pertaining around you. The mood on the street is all the information necessary. You just have that prickle that something bad is about to happen. Syrians mostly did not dare to meet someone researching a book like me. Those who did usually behaved like secret policemen. I have paid bribes to more officials in Syria than in any other country.

Damascus is a wonderful and historic city long in the grip of habitual thuggery. One day I saw overt secret policemen beating people away from the famous souk because half a dozen women from the Saudi royal harem did not want to be observed shopping. On another day, my wife and I were visiting the Great Mosque which has the head supposedly of John the Baptist, when a crowd gathered round us and someone slipped a black abaya over her head while whispering, “I will save you from the fanatics.”

On yet another trip I had made sure that nothing revealed the fact that I had come from Israel. In my hotel room I suddenly saw that I had talcum powder bought in Tel Aviv, with a giveaway label in Hebrew. White powder, no scent — Mossad or what. I threw the canister out of the window, where it lay on the lawn in full view. Retrieval would obviously compromise me. It wasn’t paranoia. Hafez was easily recognizable as a cunning brute. How trivial the opposition to him now seems, games-playing really, as Russian-made fighter-bombers and helicopter gunships are raising fire and flame on behalf of another brute, this one just a crude killer.



Put yourself into the shoes of Bashar Assad. He and his wife and children could make a run for it, and the Russian soldiers and sailors in the port of Tartus are no doubt on standby to ship him to Moscow. But what is there to do there? No more power, no more looting billions from the Syrian state, no more travel in case someone thinks of arrest and an international court. Besides, the Syrian state forces are huge, and far better equipped than the raggle-taggle opponents.

The rewards that come from fighting it out successfully, then, look more appealing than the loss and the risks of throwing the hand in. And in any case the political culture dictates the decision to fight it out. There aren’t — and never have been — the institutions to mediate clashes of interests, and so victory goes to the strongest and everyone else has to make what terms they can with that. The one certain way of dislodging the strong man is to kill him, and his only certain insurance against such a fate is to get his killing in first.

Since the Arabs obtained independence, kill-or-be-killed has been the ultimate political mainspring of their politics. In a ghastly precedent, the Hashemite family once ruling Iraq, and their prime minister Nuri Said, were trampled to death by a mob in the street. King Abdullah of Jordan, Anwar Sadat, Saddam Hussein, Saad Hariri, Moammar Qaddafi — their fates illustrate what happens in the operation of this political culture.

Torture, massacre, and defilement of the dead replace every moral consideration in people afraid that they are likely to be killed. The murder with a bomb of Assef Shawkat, Bashar’s brother-in-law, is certain to up violence in reprisal. But the more Bashar and his henchmen in the Alawite minority kill the majority Sunnis, the closer comes the threat that they will use their chemical weapons. When push came to shove for Saddam Hussein in another frightful precedent, he saw no obstacle to gassing his Kurdish minority.

Bashar Assad had the opportunity to break the regressive political culture, but instead he exemplifies it. Russia and China and Iran form an Unholy Alliance that licenses his rule and ensures that the political culture of kill-or-be-killed has to work its grim way out. He will not be regretted, but unless or until that same political culture is reformed it must repeat itself in any successor, and everyone is going to have to fear whatever then happens.

José Manuel Barroso, Comedian


Someone called José Manuel Barroso a great stand-up comic. He has only to come to the microphone, open his mouth and a belly laugh runs through Europe. True, as the president of the European Commission he’s only one among others appointed to impersonate a president, all of them Great Men by tacit agreement among themselves. In Mexico recently he did a splendid turn about having nothing to learn from the United States. Now he excels himself by telling the British that they have an international role but it depends on staying in the EU. What a jolly paradox! And if they leave the EU then Britain will be like Norway and Switzerland. Groucho Marx couldn’t have put it better.

Norway and Switzerland indeed! The former has the second highest GDP in the world, the latter the fourth highest. Offered the choice between being another Norway or Switzerland, and continuing under the thumb of Great Men like Barroso, pretty well every British voter will opt out of the EU. The return of sovereignty is coming anyhow, as the alternative is unemployment currently at 11 percent in the EU, riots and bloodshed, and poverty at Third World levels because there isn’t the money to bail out the culture of entitlement.  The death throes are unpleasant, but at least we have Barroso to distract us.

Mrs. Clinton’s Deluded Statement


The United States has no policy towards Syria, and it shows. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the awkward position of trying to make something out of nothing. Things are going from bad to worse in Syria, and all Mrs. Clinton finds to do is to make a statement that the departure from that country of Manaf Tlass is a positive step. “Regime insiders and the military establishment,” she burbles, “are starting to vote with their feet.”

In reality, the entire Tlass family embody everything that is harmful in Arab political culture. The one and only principle of such people is to do whatever advances them, and everyone else can go to the wall. Sunnis themselves, they have become rich and powerful by obsequious service to the ruling Alawite dictators, first Hafez Assad and then his son Bashar. The head of the family is Mustapha Tlass, and as Minister of Defense for 32 years, no less, he made sure to reward himself. A master of crude brutality, he boasted that he gave the orders that led to the killing of 241 U.S. marines in Beirut, and also to the beheading of 28 Israelis taken prisoner in the Yom Kippur war. He had a publishing company whose purpose was to market racist rubbish about Jews, putting his name to some of it. For the past year or so he has been in Paris.

In the usual manner of these careerists, Mustapha has made use of his offspring. Manaf was promoted a general in the regime’s elite forces, most of them Alawites now busily butchering Sunnis by the thousand. Another son, Firas, heads a company identified as MAS, which has a monopoly supplying the army with the weapons doing the butchering. They have left Syria but they are not voting with their feet, in Mrs. Clinton’s deluded phrase; they are calculating their next advance. All that can be expected of such odious opportunists is more of the same.

Western Wrongs


Bashar Assad looked a beaten man in the interview he gave a few days ago. When he said that his responsibility as president was to fight the “terrorists” you could see from his expression that he knew how false and feeble he sounded. At the outset early last year, he could have maneuvered to keep power through skillful compromise, on the lines of the Army Council now ruling Egypt. Deliberately limiting his options, he made sure to engage in a test of strength. That is consistent with the culture, witness how Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddhafi and many another Arab ruler had done the very same. And it is why the notion going round that the Arabs are progressing towards democracy is wishful thinking. To be interpreting events according to Western culture is to be condescending and wrong. 

In the last few days at least 1,000 Syrians have been killed. It is all too likely that the total figure of 15,000 dead is too low by a factor of three and even four. Blood-letting and savagery on this scale makes it impossible for Bashar to revert to being the head of state that he was. By now, his sole available option is more force. Sure enough, helicopter gunships are flying over Damascus and other towns. The shooting down of a Turkish jet follows the strict logic of a ruler who has engaged in a trial of strength. Another Turkish jet coming close, or Turkish tanks crossing the border, would up the level of violence. If it so chooses, Turkey can exercise the option to wage war.

In this pass, the West has no idea what to do. Geneva is a city prone to stage treachery and delusion, but even so it is hard to credit that Hillary Clinton would allow herself at the start of the meeting there about Syria to appear on television giggling and shaking hands with the odious Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister and prime accomplice in murder. Unchecked, Bashar’s test of strength will go to extremes and end in catastrophe. This is a moment when the whole Western order is proving its irrelevance.

Test --



Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

Subscribe to National Review