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David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

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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. 

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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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George V., R.I.P.



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The Daily Telegraph specializes in carrying obituaries that draw attention to people who have done something remarkable about which the public knows little or nothing.  George Vujnovich is a case in point. He had his moment of inspired heroism and deserves to be commemorated.

Born in Pittsburgh as the son of Serb immigrants, he happened to be studying in Belgrade in 1941 when the Germans invaded and conquered Yugoslavia.  Escaping home, he was recruited into the OSS, the Office for Strategic Services, the war-time intelligence service and fore-runner to the CIA. He was then stationed in Bari, in southern Italy, in co-operation with British counterparts from SOE, or Special Operations Executive. The overt struggle against the occupying Germans concealed the simultaneous struggle waged between Communist partisans under Josip Tito and the militia of Colonel Draja Mihailovich, a Serb and a royalist. At stake was the future of that whole country.

Three hundred and fifty Allied bombers had been shot down during raids in the Balkans and Vojnovich made it his mission to bring home all the airmen who had bailed out. Most of these were in territory controlled by Mihailovich. However, SOE in Bari was in the hands of Communists. James Klugmann, a member of the British Party’s Central Committee, and his assistant Basil Davidson, were falsifying reports of the campaign against the Germans in order to persuade Churchill to drop Mihailovich in favor of Tito — Churchill afterwards recorded in his memoirs that this was the worst mistake he made in the war. The airmen themselves had to improvise a runway for aircraft to land, but the first six attempts to rescue them failed. The Telegraph obituary says that the OSS “began to suspect sabotage from communist moles in the SOE.” Misled by these traitors, Churchill had tried to stop Vujnovich. OSS’s director, William “Wild Bill” Donovan appealed to President Roosevelt, and is quoted saying to him, “Screw the British! Let’s get our boys out!”  In the end 512 airmen were flown out to safety without a single casualty or the loss of an aircraft. The Germans never discovered the runway.

After the war, Tito arranged for Mihailovich to be put on trial and shot. One of the more shameful features of the Cold War was the way the Western Allies excused Tito’s crimes and his Communism. For fear of giving offense, Vujnovich’s feat was carefully obscured. “We couldn’t get the truth out,” the Telegraph reports him saying as late as 2008, “Everything was covered up from beginning to end.”

It seems fitting that after the war he became a successful businessman supplying aircraft parts. He lived in New York and died there, aged 97. R.I.P.

Bunny Business



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The crisis of the European Union is gathering pace, several countries within it face insoluble economic distress, the euro is unlikely to survive this year, a number of banks are technically bankrupt – and what’s been exercising the great men with their hands on destiny? The chocolate bunny made by the famous Swiss firm of Lindt, that’s what.

The great men have been examining this chocolate bunny, and they don’t like the way it is wrapped in gold foil and has a red ribbon round its neck. This is “not sufficiently different,” so they say, from the wrappings of other chocolate products. Apparently Lindt has failed to establish the bunny’s “inherent distinctive character.” And the European Court of Justice accordingly issues a fatwa.

Imagine it. Grown men, highly paid bureaucrats, have laboured through years of committee meetings, travelling from 27 countries to attend, amassing files with pleas and recommendations for and against, when it’s all about concealed protectionism for chocolate bunnies that aren’t as popular as Swiss. Hitherto their masterstroke had been the specification of the permissible curvature of the banana. Ordinary people can respond only with a belly laugh – and this may be the only joyful thing to remember when the death throes of this whole preposterous experiment are over at last.

 

 

The Death of European Culture



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Until about a century ago, European culture was a standard for the rest of the world to emulate. Now it is moribund or non-existent. Several commentators of the caliber of Niall Ferguson and Mark Steyn have been saying for some time that the game is up for Europe. It jolted me when not long ago a book of Walter Laqueur’s foresaw that the whole continent was turning into nothing but a tourist trap, with museum attendants and gondoliers and the like preserving the past just to live off it. Perhaps it is coincidence, but in the years since the European Union imposed itself nothing of any cultural significance has been produced under its auspices.

I am in Italy where the newspapers convey this sense of dying out. Here’s an issue of the left-wing La Repubblica with one downbeat headline after another: for instance, “Too much sacrifice and little hope,” or “the Economy is to blame for so many human dramas.” One article states that more than 1,000 businesses are closing each month, and another records how the unemployed are committing suicide, leaving notes like this one from a man who hanged himself in Salerno: “I’m afraid of the taxes to be paid, I’m afraid of what’s awaiting me.”

“Americans in Florence” is a wonderful exhibition in the Strozzi palace that gives a glimpse of how very different things were when Europe still mattered for its creativity. At the end of the 19th century American artists came to that city to absorb its culture. John Singer Sargent was one who painted in the great tradition. His portrait of Henry James, bequeathed by James himself to the National Portrait Gallery in London, shows a man of the same stamp, able and willing to be the master of them all. I knew little or nothing of artists such as Frank Duveneck, the Fabbri brother and sister, Frank Weston Benson and others, but the energy with which they threw themselves into everything around them is unmistakable. The thought came to me unbidden that this American interest in human life is the cultural dynamic that Europeans have lost and that Islamists with their vaunted love of death could never know.

A Betrayal



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Abdul Baset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, has died a free man in his native Libya. The all-encompassing aura of incompetence and subterfuge on the part of the British authorities will not die with him. British officials from top to bottom gave a textbook example of how not to handle issues between themselves and Middle East tyrannies.

Megrahi’s guilt or innocence was a matter for the British police and courts. Instead the government of Tony Blair allowed the Libyan dictator Muammer Gaddhafi to become involved. The case was then open to haggling behind the scene. Justice no longer depended on facts but on the terms that could be struck with Gaddhafi. Dangling lucrative oil contracts, he obtained the release first of another Libyan accused with Megrahi and finally of Megrahi himself. Lockerbie is in Scotland, and a fiction was arranged that the British government had no say when the Scots conveniently sent Megrahi to Libya. A final deal had been struck whereby he obtained freedom in return for withdrawing the appeal for another trial that might have proved his innocence. Adding insult to injury, the three months the doctors gave him to live before his cancer proved fatal turned into three years. By that time, Gaddhafi was dead, and British arms had helped to kill him.

The net result of this episode is that Britain looks venal if not dishonest, shameful, and totally confused between surrender to a Third World dictator and overpowering him. And the families of those murdered in the Lockerbie bombing can be sure only that they have been betrayed.

European Illusions



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The level of unreality created by the masters of Europe is reaching new heights. It is like hallucinating to observe the politicians driving in expensive cars to meet one another, inspecting guards of honor, arranging for ministerial get-togethers, and all the while the construct that put them into office is collapsing all around them. These same politicians chatter extensively about saving the euro and the European Union, about bailouts and firewalls and fiscal pacts, as though words were deeds. No satirist could do justice to the sight of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and newly elected French President François Hollande shaking hands and vowing to work together to save the union and its currency. Insofar as this pair has any coherent ideas, they disagree. All they have in common is the precariousness of their position. Just trounced in local elections, Mrs. Merkel and her party are well on the way to joining the gathering crowd of electoral rejects. As for Hollande, he believes that growth comes from higher taxes and hundreds of thousands more state jobs, and all in arch-protectionist France. It can’t be long before such socialist illusion comes back to haunt that country.

Our satirist will also find it comic that the masters of Europe blame the Greeks while determined to ensure that the Greeks are rescued to carry on regardless. I cannot hold it against the Greeks. Entry into the EU was their opportunity as rather poor people to enrich themselves on other peoples’ money. Who would refuse such a gift? Of course they want to go on free-loading so pleasantly. It’s all part of the joke that they have voted for a politician called Alexis Tsipras, who in his well-honed Communist style believes that Greece should continue to pocket other peoples’ money. There’s consistency! But Greece came up with the wrong answer in its general election, and the masters of Europe may well make it vote and vote again until they have the right answer — though nobody can tell what that might be.

Ordinary people everywhere recognize reality, and now do not believe a thing they hear from the masters of Europe. The last world war and the Cold War survive in folk memory, and everyone is hunkering down for the hardships and injustices now brewing — defaults, conversions into new currencies, runs on banks, mass unemployment, everything that Mrs. Lagarde of the IMF in her elegant French salon way calls “messy.” Not forgetting violence. Fascist parties are rising once more. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party did well in the last Greek election and will do better in the next. The other side of it is the climbing suicide rate, especially among retired professional people who are defenseless as their pensions are cut.

In 1940, a book with the title “Guilty Men” became a historic marker by naming and shaming the democratic politicians whose ineptitude had allowed the Hitler catastrophe to unfold. What’s wanted now is an onslaught of just that kind to excoriate and drive out of the public arena the politicians whose fantasies about power, lack of insight into human nature, and refusal to acknowledge mistakes, have brought Europe to another perilous pass.

The European Union: A Noble Enterprise?



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A few years ago a well-known historian told me that the European Union was a noble undertaking. I replied that surely he had lived long enough to know the dreadful ends to which noble enterprises have come within living memory. Yet he and those who think like him refuse to accept this reality. No matter what the cost, the determination of such people is what keeps the EU going. This is very like the determination that was all that kept the Soviet Union going in the dim and pointless era of Brezhnev when everyone could see that Communism was a busted flush.

The elections in France and Greece have thrown up Trotskyite and neo-Nazi parties. Such extremes pretend to be noble enterprises but are expressions of pure will, disconnected from reality, from anything that people actually want. Even François Hollande’s socialism is an act of pure will. His remedies of taxing and spending by centralized government have been proved time and again not to work. The European crisis, in other words, is opening the way to totalitarians who by definition cannot correct their mistakes and so must make the crisis worse. It’s the 1930s all over again, but fortunately for the time being without a Hitler on the horizon.

Anti-Semitism: the Last Refuge of the Left



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Should Israel Exist? is the title of a new and excellent book by Michael Curtis, professor emeritus at Rutgers and well-known as a political scientist. In a very measured way he reflects on the dominant fact concerning Israel, namely that, from the earliest proposal for such a state right up to the present, the Arabs have always refused to recognize that Israel has any right to exist; at intervals they go to war and would destroy it if they could. The United Nations, the European Union, the old Soviet Union, sometimes the American president, are among the various bodies and personalities that time and again intervene to take victory away from Israel and rescue Arabs from the consequences of their obsession. Geopolitics thus ensures that another war is bound to occur one day. Determination to defend itself, and success in doing so, is the cause of the international hostility Israel attracts.

In order to focus their hostility, the enemies of Israel ascribe to it all the sins today associated with abstract nouns like imperialism, colonialism and the like. This defies rational explanation, Professor Curtis writes, but it is serviceable. People with nothing to say about North Korea or Zimbabwe willingly dream of reducing Tel Aviv to the ruined level of Homs. In the past Jews were singled out and condemned for reasons now obviously malicious fictions. Today’s liberals and leftists are making common cause with Islamists who share falsehoods and fantasies with them.

Essentially rooted in superstition, this phenomenon keeps cropping up. Professor Moty Cristal is an Israeli expert on negotiation, and what has happened to him illustrates very clearly the racism now the proud prerogative of the Left. The British National Health Service had invited him to a workshop on “The Role of Negotiation in Dealing with Conflict.” The very man for it, you might think. But no. Unison is the trade union representing the NHS, and according to the media its members have requested the withdrawal of Cristal’s invitation,” as part of “a direct boycott of all Israeli people.” In 1933 the Nazis also declared a direct boycott of Jews, so without apparent self-consciousness or shame Unison is asking to be compared with stormtroopers.

Most of the million members of Unison, we may well suspect, will have no strong feelings about Israel and Palestine or Professor Cristal and his specialty. The insult to him is likely to be the work of a few surviving Stalinist or Trotskyite pit-ponies in a position to hijack some relevant committee in the moribund trade union.

The simultaneous death of Khalil Dale seems to offer another insight into the Islamo-leftist alliance. He was a British convert to Islam, had a long experience of do-gooding among Muslims, and was finally an aid worker in Pakistan. Islamists there took him hostage and then abandoned his decapitated corpse by a roadside. He has been the subject of a number of admiring articles, one of them in the London Times by Abdal Hakim Murad. Also a Muslim convert, he had been born in England as Tim Winters and now holds a lectureship in Islamic Studies at Cambridge University paid for by one of the Gulf rulers. He rejoices in the growing number of British people like him and Khalil Dale who have converted, especially women since 9/11, concluding, “We have found Islam to be a path to God.” Actually the unfortunate Khalil Dale found it to be a path to a grisly death. Michael Curtis argues that Jew-hatred has no rational explanation, but the subconscious sense that Islamists are unstoppable is widening. To be pleading for mercy is not enough; it’s too late for that, so it’s best to be on their side — and if that means sacrificing Israel and Jews, so be it.

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee



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Queen Elizabeth II is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee. A year or two more, and she will have been on the throne longer than her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. Her intention is to visit every county in Britain, and yesterday was the turn of Powys, in Wales. If you live here you had better get accustomed to rain. My father used to say, “I’m Welsh, I don’t get wet.” Yesterday the sky was extremely grey and low, and everyone got wet.

There are few grand houses hereabout, but one of them is Glanusk. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh flew in by helicopter at midday for lunch, and drove through the park afterwards in a motorcade. Perfunctory, you might say, merely fulfilling an obligation. I suppose you might also say that it was merely the occasion for a day off for the thousands of people present. Most of us in Powys are sheep farmers. Tents and marquees and stalls stretched around the park; children from almost 50 schools were taking part and singing; the brass band played; the flags flapped.

Since I am in the business of generalizing, I would say that most people here take life as they find it, with a sense that government is going to be against you, much like the weather. And here they all were soaked to the skin and slipping on mud underfoot, yet with expectation rising as the moment approached when the Queen would drive past. And there she was, in the back of a Rolls Royce driven at walking pace, dressed in turquoise blue, waving through the open window and looking half her age.

What can this lady mean to these cheering and excited people? Continuity, I suppose, though the country today is very different from what it was when she began her reign. Duty, perhaps responsibility, just being loyal to the things it is right and proper to be loyal to. Walter Laqueur is one of the most experienced and far-sighted political analysts of the day, and his new book After the Fall lays out how Europe has come to a dead end, with no way out of the inextricable mess its foolish leaders have got the continent into while the Queen has been getting on with public service these 50 years. In a judicious questioning tone which is particularly convincing, he unfolds why the nations of Europe have no further part to play in history. And yet the emotional energy of the crowd at the sight — really only a momentary glimpse — of the lady who is the national emblem made me wonder whether for once Walter Laqueur mightn’t be wrong, and in fact the world hasn’t heard the last of Britain.

Defending the Indefensible



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Nazir Ahmad is the first Muslim immigrant to have been made a member of the House of Lords. Born in Pakistani Kashmir in 1955, he came to Rotherham in Yorkshire at the age of seven, and lives there still. A municipal councilor and Labour Party activist, he was ennobled by Tony Blair in 1998. Ahmad was unknown nationally but Blair liked to imagine that gestures of the kind brought him popularity at no cost and the Muslim vote into the bargain. For Ahmad, this was an honor that ought to have carried responsibility with it.

Ahmad instead has pushed Muslims and everyone else into mutual confrontations. He gave a book launch in the House of Lords for one Israel Shamir, a renegade Jew turned Swedish who builds a literary career by writing disgusting anti-Semitic books. In 2006 Ahmad wrote an open letter to Blair criticizing British foreign policy on the grounds that involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan is criminal. He was very upset when Salman Rushdie became another Muslim to receive a title. Other members of the House of Lords invited Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician, in 2009 to show his film about Muslim extremism, and Ahmad threatened to bring 10,000 Muslims to Westminster to prevent it. The government swiftly caved in and prohibited Wilders, an elected parliamentarian, from entering the country.

Lashkar-e-Taiba is the terror group that killed 166 people in Mumbai. The United States announced a bounty of ten million dollars to whoever brings in its leader, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. Happening to be in Pakistan, Ahmad responded. It was first reported that he was offering a bounty of ten million pounds to the captor of Barack Obama or George Bush. In fact he was recorded on camera saying something not so very different, “Even if I have to beg I am willing to raise and offer £10 million so that George Bush and Tony Blair can be brought to the International Court of Justice on war crimes charges.” The Labour Party suspended him while investigations are made into this speech.

Ahmad repays the man who ennobled him by asking for that man to be brought to court. This is effectively a defense of terror. Justice for those murdered in Mumbai counts for nothing. Gratitude to Blair and responsibility to the British people are forfeit. A recent David Calling drew attention to David Hume’s observation that good manners are the pre-requisite of democracy. Nazir Ahmad has brought to a head a career of bad manners which makes him an enemy of democracy and all decent people.

Miss Manners’ Guide to Democracy



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Every European country is in the throes of dealing with the Muslim minority that is settling in its midst. At this point nobody knows whether accommodation is possible, or on what terms. Looking back on the civil war in the England of the 1640s, the great philosopher David Hume concluded that democracy in the last resort rests on good manners. Among Europeans, the Swiss have set an example of manners that allow different ethnicities and religions to live peacefully in a single nation state.

The number of Muslims in Switzerland has now risen to about 400,000, or five percent of the population. There are at least 300 Muslim associations in the country, and with them comes friction. Geneva already had a mosque, for example, and the City Fathers were prepared to grant permission for a second one only when a church could be built reciprocally in Saudi Arabia. The Swiss flag has an emblematic white cross at its center, and Muslims have called for its removal on the grounds that it offends multiculturalism. 

The Swiss People’s Party is on one side of such issues. At a conference a few months ago, one of its members of parliament had a pie thrown in his face for speaking about “a certain religious dogma” alien to everything Swiss. A referendum in 2009 passed the banning of minarets on future mosques and the wearing of burqas looks like being banned as well. 

The major Muslim associations for their part want to set up a Muslim parliament, to be called Umma Schweiz — Umma being the Arabic for the worldwide Muslim collective. This is intended to be a legislative body parallel to the Swiss parliament, and operating on principles of Sharia law. It is very bad manners even to raise the prospect of what would be a big step in colonialism.

Swiss national independence is celebrated in the story of William Tell and his rebellion against tyranny. It so happens that Rossini’s heroic opera about Tell is being currently staged in Zurich. The tyrant’s soldiers march under the twelve star banner of the European Union, another collective that bullies Switzerland and pressures it to change its ways and become a member. To my knowledge, it is the first time that the European Union has been openly represented anywhere as a militarized tyranny, and this response to another set of very bad manners is therefore also a portent. Lots of students unexpectedly entered the auditorium to join in singing Rossini’s final great chorus in praise of the Swiss nation. 

The moral of the story is that David Hume had an important insight: Good manners will always determine democracy.

 

Poisonous Poetry



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Günter Grass thinks that Israel is a threat to world peace, and he’s written a poem to say so with the title “What must be said.” It is really rather amazing how adept and persistent the man is at getting things wrong.

He lived through the Nazi experience, and his explanation of it is that Hitler was a magician who bewitched the Germans. Metaphysical fantasy, in other words, replaces the political reality that Germans became enthusiastic Nazis in the belief that Hitler was fulfilling huge national ambitions. This imaginative excuse for the intellectual and moral breakdown of the Germans made Grass popular and won him the Nobel Prize.

Throughout his career Grass insisted that Germans had to confess to the wrongful ways in which they had allowed themselves to be deceived. Only after some six decades of heavy moral bombardment of other Germans did he let drop that he too had been a member of the Waffen SS. The hypocrisy of the concealment is as rich as any example to be found.

This expert in double-dealing now claims that he is tired of “Western hypocrisy” for calling to end the Iranian nuclear program while tolerating the Israeli nuclear program.  Not so fast, please. It was Nazism that finally drove numbers of post-war Jewish survivors to seek safety in the state of Israel.  Again it is intellectually and morally bankrupt for a former member of the SS to come up with warnings and prescriptions to these survivors or their descendants, most of whom have been driven to extremes precisely by the SS.  Grass is blaming the Jews of Israel for taking steps to stay alive and also delighting those who still want to kill them — and that’s what must be said.

The Galloway Way



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George Galloway is the founder and sole personality of a political party that he calls Respect. A veteran of the hard Left, he is the most prominent person in Britain to have made the transition from Communism to Islamism. Both ideologies are dictatorships in embryo and they can only be realized with violent persecution of non-believers. Their common aim here is twofold: the replacement of traditional Britain with their own political model, and the destruction of Israel. Whether as capitalists or Israelis, Jews are for it either way. 

Once a Labour member of parliament, Galloway was thrown out of the party and had to resign his seat. His enthusiasm for Stalin, Castro, and Chavez then seemed freakish. On the eve of the Iraq war he sat facing Saddam Hussein on a television program and praised his courage and “indefatigability,” an odd but carefully chosen word. As though out to create an even bigger shock, he called Bashar Assad “a breath of fresh air,” and “a man of reforming zeal.” He has made a point of leading or accompanying expeditions to Gaza to campaign on behalf of Hamas while it was firing rockets into Israel. 

Everything is different now because Galloway has won a by-election in the constituency of Bradford West, and re-enters parliament as an independent. The Labour Party has held this seat since 1974 and expected to do so again. But Muslims, mostly from Pakistan, have replaced the old Labour voters in huge numbers and they like Galloway’s Islamism. Presenting himself as a pseudo-Muslim, he talked about Allah and dropped Arabic words into his speeches, had posters put up in Urdu, had supporters speaking in praise of sharia, and criticized his Labour opponent, a Muslim by birth, for drinking alcohol. A landslide followed. Galloway had a majority of over 10,000 and a swing from Labour to Respect of 36 percent.

According to the media, this swing is due to the discontent of the working class who would like the Labour Party to be old-style Socialists. Class resentment is in order but Muslim separatism and racism is taboo. Reporting the news of the by-election, the BBC couldn’t bring itself even to utter the word Muslim. A senior Labour Party ex-minister could only say there was a local “problem” and refused to elaborate what that might be even though a crowd of young men with beards could be seen on television swarming round Galloway. Denial of the causes of his victory compounds its damage.

The country has previously experienced a movement that formed behind a single figure. In the 1930s Sir Oswald Mosley — also a renegade Labour member of parliament — founded the British Union of Fascists. His party worked for the replacement of traditional Britain with the Nazi model of his friends Hitler and Goebbels, and the elimination from society of Jews. Mosley was never elected to parliament as a fascist and took to the streets to get his way through violence. Galloway is the Oswald Mosley of today, a rabble-rouser every bit as ambitious, articulate and confident that Jew-hatred is central to his party. It is not yet clear whether Islamists will march and mobilize as Mosley’s Fascists did, but Galloway has given them the opportunity to be as ugly and divisive as their hateful predecessors.

Hilton Kramer and Great Art



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A visit to an exhibition of modern art is a sure way to feel downcast. All those good people wandering past the works on show and trying to make sense of them. This can’t be done because your run-of-the-mill modern artist is not concerned with making sense, only with doing his own thing. Modern art museums exhibit this petty egoism and why should anyone care for that? These thoughts are prompted by the death of Hilton Kramer, for many years the art critic of the New York Times.

Hilton was a scholar and aesthete whose gentle manner hid firm classical convictions. Western art holds its place in civilization as a commentary down the centuries on humankind in the flesh and in the spirit. Great art leads to appreciation of life and reconciliation to death, and Hilton took it upon himself to say so.

He would have been pleased to learn about a new book with the title Con Art — Why You Ought To Sell Your Damien Hirsts While You Can by Julian Spalding (a critic and former gallery director, of whom, I have to confess in my ignorance, I had not previously heard). Damien Hirst is the chap who pickles a shark or half a sheep in formaldehyde. A few curators and collectors have driven up the price of these wheezes into the millions. None of it is worth a cent, says Spalding, “not because it isn’t great art, good art or even bad art, but because it isn’t art at all.” Many in the field are artists only because they say they are — Hilton put it elegantly and definitively.

Obama’s Shameful Obeisance to Russia



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The world has seen President Obama doing obeisance to the King of Saudi Arabia and the Emperor of Japan. At a pinch, this self-abasement could be put down to some idea of good manners. To be asking favors of Dmitri Medvedev, the Russian president, is not open to any benign interpretation. In a previous exchange captured by a microphone switched on without his knowledge, the real Obama was revealed in his scorn for Bibi Netanyahu. In another such exchange he has just been caught saying that he wanted “space” for talks with Russia about the missile defenses against Iran, and to which the Russians object. “I understand,” said Medvedev, his interlocutor, adding that he would tell Vladimir Putin, the incoming president with whom his relationship is that of a feudal lord to a serf. What Medvedev has to have understood is that “space” is a euphemism for giving way. Obama spelled it out by saying that after the election he would have more “flexibility.” Instead of having a firm policy and sticking to it, he is deliberately putting himself into the position of a postulant, a subordinate inviting the Russians to set conditions in future important talks and showing himself willing to be satisfied with what they would grant him. Had Ronald Reagan taken this line in the 1980s Russia would still be Communist.

The Putin-Medvedev combination has played tricks with the constitution in order to stay in power, and is plainly throwing its weight about in what has to be called the Soviet manner. The Iran against which the United States would like to build a missile defense is the same Iran that Russia is helping to complete its nuclear program, and arming it — quite soon it will be able to do serious harm to the United States and its allies. No less disgusting, this Russia is arming and defending at every level the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. As if it wasn’t enough to be killing its own Muslims in the Caucasus, this Russia is providing the means to kill another country’s Muslims. Furthermore the arrival of a Russian aircraft carrier at the Syrian port of Tartus is an open menace that the United States had better not take any initiative to help — never mind arm — any Syrians who might be trying to save their lives from Bashar’s genocidal goons.

Putin is able to arrange mass rallies to support him, but someone living in Moscow tells me that most Russians, especially in the cities, know perfectly well that he has the soul of a secret policeman. The man has no trace of moral structure. He is thought to be the richest man in Europe. Vladimir the Bare-Chested presides over a kleptocracy at home and out in Europe. He orders the arrest of those he objects to, from democratic politicians to young women who sing what are said to be punk songs. Murder is part of daily life. Sergei Magnitsky, a young lawyer who tried to protect human rights, was beaten to death in his prison cell. A banker by the name of German Gorbuntsov fled to London this month, only to be gunned down at his front door in a typically murky tale of debts and killings.

The politics exposed by that unintentional microphone exchange may with luck come to nothing, but the explosion of shame is quite another matter.

Ken Livingstone Promises to Make London a ‘Beacon’ of Islam



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Abu Hamza is the fellow who says he was careless with a bomb in Afghanistan and so has hooks instead of arms. In his mosque in London’s Finsbury Park he used to preach terrorism. Young Muslims who followed him were victims just as much as non-Muslims they killed. Serving a prison sentence at present, he is also wanted on a charge of murder in the United States. The extradition process is proving interminable, and that is a current mystery.

In that same death-dealing mosque, Ken Livingstone has just preached, as part of the Jummah prayer according to the Daily Telegraph (as though that term needs no further explanation). He has made himself a public figure as a lifelong Communist of the Trotskyite persuasion. The thrust on this occasion is very different. A former mayor of London, he is standing again for that office against the incumbent and Conservative mayor Boris Johnson. His intention, he promises, is to educate the mass of Londoners in Islam. The city should be “a beacon that demonstrates the meaning of the words of the Prophet.” These words, he went on, are “an agenda for all humanity,” and he’d like to make sure that every non-Muslim in London gets that message.

The mayoral election is only a few weeks off, but electioneering can’t really account for this performance. Even the total Muslim vote (which he won’t obtain) is certain to be far outweighed by the number of non-Muslims he has outraged. He often catches himself in contradictions of this sort. Speaking in favor of homosexuality not long ago, for instance, he invited Sheikh Qaradawi, spokesman of the Muslim Brotherhood, to share a platform with him. This famous old bigot wants to put homosexuals to death and all of a sudden that didn’t trouble Livingstone. He is a foremost example of that weird current stereotype, the hard-core Leftist who promotes with apparent sincerity an Islam hostile to everything he claims to believe. Communists in the past were like that. The likes of Anthony Blunt and Kim Philby worked to build a Soviet society that they either shunned or sometimes had to live in unhappily. Leftists take up the Muslim cause but couldn’t possibly live with the beliefs and values that go with it. Here’s a real mystery. Explanations, please.

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