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David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

Encouraging Brutes to Do Their Worst



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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



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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.

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A Victory for Civilization



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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



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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



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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.

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Stalin Creep



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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.

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Cultural Dishonor



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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



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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



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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



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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.

Kill-or-Be-Killed



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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



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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



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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



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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.

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Islamism’s Time



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Midway through the presidency of Hosni Mubarak, I used to go to Cairo more or less every year. The traffic in the city reflects a society in which the law is merely indicative and it is every man for himself. So I relied on Muhammad who became a friend as much as a driver. He used to warn that time was running out, the Muslim Brothers would inevitably take over Egypt, and that meant disaster. I can still see the look of unhappy resignation on his face.

The Muslim Brothers have always been prepared to use force in order to obtain power. All Egyptian presidents from Gamal Abdul Nasser and Anwar Sadat to Mubarak have kept the Muslim Brothers in check through superior force. The modern history of Egypt really consists of the struggle between these two incompatible groupings, the one standing for ideology, the other for privilege. Now and again the army would sweep up a few hundred Muslim Brothers, and execute some by way of frightening the population. Acts like the assassination of Sadat showed the extreme to which Muslim Brothers might go but on the whole they have been tacticians skilful enough to keep the army at bay. They had only to wait their time in the belief that the Islamist revolution that turned Iran into a Shia dictatorship was bound to turn Egypt into a Sunni dictatorship.

The crude dumping of Mubarak by his army colleagues put them irretrievably on the back foot. One false move led to another. They put themselves in the position of trying to fix elections to parliament and the presidency, rigging the committee set up to draft a new constitution, playing games between their candidate Ahmad Shafiq and the Muslim Brothers Muhammad al-Morsi, and all for the sake of continuing to enjoy privilege.

In theory the generals can fight a rearguard action, holding on by cunning and if necessary, violence. In practice the new president and the Muslim Brothers are in a position to claim that they have the superior force of Islam and revolution. It so happens that the Turkish Islamists have just got the Turkish army out of its political role, imprisoning scores of senior officers on the way. This is the time of Islamism everywhere, and millions like Muhammad my driver have no choice but to survive it as best they can, with law as indicative as ever and every man still for himself. 

Kissing the Feet of the Masters of Europe



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What a mess Europe is in! The election in Greece can only leave things as wretched as they were before. Greece has debts that its economy is too limited ever to repay. Whoever governs the country will have to kiss the feet of the masters of Europe for years to come. Meanwhile there are shortages of food and medicines, wages even for government employees are not paid, one person in four is unemployed, the suicide rate has gone from being one of the lowest in the world to one of the highest, the flight of money from Greek banks is already in the billions — in short, the country is breaking apart. Humanitarian aid will be needed soon.

Only a whisker separates the winning party of New Democracy under Antonis Samaras from Syriza, the party of Alexis Tsipras. Samaras will be able to govern only if he can form a coalition, but he already proved he couldn’t manage this after the earlier election six weeks ago. The former politician is said to be right-wing, the latter left-wing, but the distinction has little meaning. Both propose to keep the euro, in other words they declare willingness to kiss the feet of the masters of Europe in the expectation that obeisance will be rewarded with funds, more and more, larger and larger. At the end of that route lies a single federal monetary authority responsible for every EU budget. Never mind that there isn’t time for anything of the kind; people throughout the EU, the Germans especially, are determined not to surrender national sovereignty.

The masters of Europe have always been a small band of men determined to impose their idealized political vision even if this proved akin to a dictatorship. Fortunately stopping short of violence, they were very like the Bolsheviks in mistaking their fantasy of unity for reality. It took eighty years and much suffering to be rid of the Bolshevik fantasy. The best that can be said of this election is that if the Greeks don’t manage to rid themselves of the euro fantasy others will do it for them.

A New Burial Place for Lenin?



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One of the few features of Communism that can induce a smile is how reputations and monuments have to change in conformity with the party line. So yesterday’s Supreme Leader is transformed on the spot into today’s great monster. They made it harder for themselves in the old Soviet Union by embalming Lenin and Stalin and exhibiting them in a mausoleum on the edge of Red Square in Moscow. Stalin was put there in a mass ceremony that got so out of control that about 500 of the faithful were trampled to death. Side by side, the two were the same sinister color, giving rise to repeated rumors that they were actually waxworks. A few years later, Stalin was held to have perverted Leninist Communism, and his corpse was surreptitiously removed and buried elsewhere. “To each his mausoleum” is a slogan that has continued to fit Lenin, Mao Zedong, and Ho Chi Minh.

After the Soviet collapse, Bulgarians exceptionally vandalized the mausoleum erected in central Sofia for Georgi Dimitrov, once the head of the Comintern. The place became a dump. Boris Yeltsin as president of newly minted Russia tried to turf out Lenin but couldn’t manage it. Now Vladimir Medinsky has his turn. As the minister of culture just appointed by a Vladimir Putin claiming freehold rights to the Kremlin, he proposes to rebury Lenin and convert the Red Square mausoleum into a museum for some unspecified purpose. As befits present-day practice, however, entrance tickets will be expensive. Putin maintains in public that the Soviet collapse has been a world disaster. Spokesmen in the opposition wonder whether Medinsky and Putin aren’t playing games. Until such time as Putin ceases to believe that the Soviet collapse has been a world disaster, Lenin is sure to go on making the flesh of Red Square visitors creep.

Making a Bad Case Worse



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Drive anywhere along the coasts of Spain and you see new half-built housing that will never be finished and is already in ruins. Years of disastrous decision-making have gone into making what was bound to be a bubble that must burst. So Spain has to be bailed out with $100 billion just to tide it over for the time being. After only a few hours, the markets realized that this sum is about 10 percent of Spanish GDP, it expands the country’s national debt by an even higher percentage, and Spanish taxpayers are in no position to repay the sum. It’s a classic example of making a bad case worse.

Cyprus is next in line to be bailed out and can wait only a matter of days for the money. The Greeks have a general election coming, also in a matter of days, that will decide whether they get more money. Italy’s up next. Nominally the EU Commissioner for economic affairs is responsible for dealing with all this, and his name is Olli Rehn, a Finn. He’s happy that Spain gets the money on more favorable terms than Ireland, thus setting one country against the other. Furthermore he advocates a single banking and financial authority for all EU countries. The resulting loss of control of their budgets is for these countries really an irrevocable loss of national sovereignty. Insurrection is the likely response to anything of that kind. Rehn is out of his depth in this crisis, but nevertheless with a gift for making a bad case worse.

Negotiation with Iran over its nuclear program is another masterly example of making a bad case worse. For Iran, the issue is inextricably entwined with considerations of honor. To accede to any Western demands would bring shame, and the ayatollahs are therefore bound to resist. Threats on the part of President Obama and his officials are evidently mere posturings and leave them looking ridiculous. As for Syria, Hillary Clinton and William Hague make a point of declaring at intervals that Bashar Assad must go while simultaneously promising to take no steps that might actually bring about his downfall. This open invitation to Assad and his Russian allies to do their worst with impunity is a sure-fire way to turn civil war into regional war.

The name of Count Oxenstierna probably rings no bell, but this 17th-century Swedish statesman did make an observation to his son that applies very exactly to most things happening these days: “Do you not know, my son, with what little wisdom the world is governed?”

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