David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

European Illusions


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?


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


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


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




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


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


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



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


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


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


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.

The ‘Istanbul Process’: A Success for Muslim Diplomacy


The ease with which Muslim diplomats outdo their Western opposite numbers is impressive. An outstanding example is the brilliance with which Iranian spokesmen vary the steady progress of the Iranian nuclear program with offers to negotiate. Apparently incapable of learning from their mistakes, Western representatives fall every time for this really rather simple deception. Muslim spokesmen are equally brilliant at exploiting international forums like the United Nations and its committees, or the Arab League, to misrepresent reality and lay a smokescreen of blame over the West. The European Union often gives the impression that it is an executive arm of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The so-called “Istanbul process” is the latest development in these sinister apologetics.

This seems to be the brainchild of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation — of all 57 member states. Some of these countries have long tried to maintain that any criticism of their despotism, tribalism, oppression of women, anti-Semitism, and war-mongering has no relation to morals or humanism but merely signifies Western bias against Islam. In short, they hope that a ban on free speech in the West will enable them to carry on with the exercise of historic power. They have scored many a diplomatic success, for instance getting the American government to substitute the ridiculous phrase “man-made disaster” for an act of Islamist terror. Although its proceedings are hardly reported in the press, the “Istanbul process” is evidently the latest attempt to censure truth-telling as un-Islamic and so prohibit it. Westerners should have nothing to do with this. Yet with that mysterious surrender that seems to come naturally to him, President Obama has consented to American participation in the “Istanbul process.” That too is a success for Muslim diplomacy.

Commentators are generally writing off the Arab Spring but it has released a lot of dissent. As Patriarch Bishara al-Rai, head of the Maronite church in Lebanon, told Reuters, “We are with the Arab Spring but we are not with this spring of violence, war, destruction and killing.” Hussein Abdul-Hussein, a senior Kuwaiti journalist, wrote in his newspaper that the total number of Palestinians killed by Israelis since 1987 is around 9,000 while Assad has killed an equal number of his own in a year. Tariq al-Homayad, editor of Asharq al-Awsat, the Saudi newspaper published in London, goes further, saying that if Israelis kill Arabs then “we must all move as one to put an end to it,” but if the killer is an Arab “this is something we can accept.” He concludes, “This is a saddening and shameful state of affairs.” When the veteran PLO spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi recently demanded that the international community brand Israel an apartheid state, the Palestinian Ramzi Abu Hadid answered her. How come, he asks, that she, a Christian, never mentions the Muslim persecution of Christians, the dream of many Muslims to emigrate into Israel, the gender apartheid of Saudi Arabia where women have no rights, and much more expressed with blistering passion.

Free spirits like these are depicting reality, while the “Istanbul process” is designed to distort and obscure it. More than that, they are defending values and beliefs which craven and foolish Western statesmen and their diplomatic representatives are abandoning.

Russia and Iran: the Kinship of Tyranny


Vladimir Putin was expected to get around 64 percent of the vote for his latest seizure of the Russian presidency, and so he did. And a very nice number it is too, not too little and not too much. These arrangements are simplicity itself. Employees of the state, including the armed forces, are ordered which way to vote. Buses transport all sorts of innocents and dupes from the provinces to vote early and often. Loyalists feed the voting booths with bundles of votes from absentees to create what is jocularly known as the “carrousel” effect — one fellow was actually filmed shoving photo-copied sheets into a ballot box. Observers unanimously concur that this election has been another staged performance having nothing to do with political representation or the law.

Simultaneously the election to the Iranian majlis, or parliament, was rigged. Developments between Russia and Iran have run more or less parallel for a long time. It wasn’t an accident that Stalin read all the books about Persian despotism that he laid hands on. Neighbors borrowing from one another, both countries experienced constitutional crises starting in 1905; both after the First War had revolutions ending in dictatorship; and both are comparable police states. Although still lagging behind the figures of the Soviet gulag, Iran nowadays takes an easy lead in killing its citizens: Last year alone there were 161 secret executions there, never mind the hundreds more that were publicized, including women and children and homosexuals. But Putin copies Stalin’s famous guideline, “no man, no problem,” and he has seen to the murder of no less than 144 journalists, all carried out by anonymous killers never brought to justice. Identification, almost a kinship, underlines Russia’s arming of Iran and its defense of the Iranian nuclear program.

Huge numbers of Russians are all too well aware that Putin has set up one-man rule, enforced by a neo-KGB quite as powerful and secretive as the old Soviet KGB, reversing the reforms of the Gorbachev and Yeltsin era. What was once the protest of individual dissidents has swelled into large demonstrations against Putin and the corruption of politics and morality that he has set in place. As in the Iranian and Arab world, bloggers mobilize discontent. One such blogger, Alexei Navalny, seems to be gathering a mass movement in order to make peaceful protest a constant feature of the street.

On the day of the phony election, military vehicles lined the square in front of the Kremlin. The show of force was certainly forbidding. General Ion Pacepa, head of the Romanian secret police when he defected to the West in Communist days, calls Putin “Vladimir the Bare-Chested,” a perfect nickname. This president, self-elected into the indefinite future, is in the position of Bashar Assad. Refusing to reform, the Syrian president prefers to slaughter his fellow citizens, an atrocity he is able to carry out only with the help of the Iranian regime. Putin’s decision about the level of repression to come will almost certainly reflect the conviction common to the tyrants of Russia and Iran that harming their own people is the right and necessary prelude to harming everyone else.

At Sea and in Buenos Aires


For the last twelve days I have been sailing up the Brazilian and Argentine coast giving a lecture or two to a group from Hillsdale College. That remarkable institution takes pride in refusing financing from the government and therefore enjoys an independence that differentiates it from other universities. But for much of the time the mysteries of wi-fi and the Internet at sea blocked David Calling.

In Buenos Aires I had a small personal project. My grandfather was one of eight children. He used to tell how a brother of his claimed to have a brilliant idea and approached his siblings to invest their money with him. He then absconded with their various fortunes to the Argentine. This was just before the First World War when there was no extradition treaty.

I hesitated. I had often fantasized about this branch of the family tree. Rumor has it that they have been successful in the Argentine. It was easy to imagine my runaway cousins hanging up if I telephoned, perhaps bringing a grudge or even a claim. Maybe it was only kind to leave them alone. One Alan Pryce-Jones (also my father’s name) is to be found on Facebook, but that is another mystery to me. I could get no further than discovering that he lives in Chile. To avoid contact in the end came to seem like cowardice, and a lost opportunity. The Buenos Aires directory lists Caroline Pryce-Jones and Maria Pryce-Jones. Whoever answered the first number said that Caroline had not lived there for four years, and Maria’s number was steadily engaged and I never got through. A line in a play by the once fashionable but now neglected Christopher Fry speaks of the “unhoming” of human beings, and that seems the right word to describe the dispersal of family members too far out of touch to be contacted.

Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Marie Colvin, R. I. P.


Marie Colvin was one of the small band of absolutely fearless reporters. She was determined to find out what was going on in the front line and tell the world about it. Some are attracted by danger, but she obviously wanted to understand and present the sufferings of other people. She had lost an eye some years ago in the course of covering the suppression of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. By hook or crook she would have found some way to enter Syria at this moment of the country’s ordeal at the hands of the bloody Bashar Assad. The inhuman shelling of Homs by Assad’s stormtroopers provided the sort of atrocity that she was in the habit of exposing. Homs is the center of Bashar’s campaign to keep power by means of unlimited repression. It seems that she was sheltering in a house there when Syrian artillery opened fire and killed her.

This death brought back memories of Nicholas Tomalin, another fearless and professional reporter, who made a reputation in the Vietnam War. In the 1973 Yom Kippur War he was on the Golan Heights. A heat-seeking missile found the car he had hired and in which he happened to be sitting. It happens that I had spent the previous day with him, and had listened to his mockery of journalists who run unnecessary risks just to prove how macho they are.

These two are numbered along with the many innocent victims of brutish Syrians. A special aura of regret surrounds those who have sacrificed their lives in pursuit of information, the life-blood of democracy. Both these professionals were working for the Sunday Times of London, which says something about that newspaper.

Austerity Macht Frei


Greece has been governed these many years with recklessness and incompetence. Its politicians sought votes by creating a welfare state that the country could not afford. The introduction of the euro in place of the drachma, the national currency, seemed an unsolicited gift from heaven. Greece could spend what it liked and the bill would go to others, first of all Germany, the economic power of the euro zone. Dispensing with the strong deutschmark, its national currency, Germany was able to export more in the weak euro. For a few years, everyone pretended that this was the best of all possible arrangements for all concerned. Critics who pointed out that the euro has an insuperable design fault were dismissed with scorn as xenophobes and fuddy-duddies who couldn’t keep up with the times. As though lightning struck, at last it became obvious that Greece could never earn enough money to repay the incredible debt it had so genially built up. More dire still, other euro zone countries have been almost as profligate.

Germany’s hour had come. Today’s Germans, it must be stressed, are not in any respect like their forebears under Hitler. Of course it is hard for them to accept responsibility for other peoples’ foolish desire to have a higher standard of living than they can afford. For understandable reasons, they have balked at standing guarantor for others in the euro zone, and they search for some way around the obligation when there is no other way. What this amounts to is an exercise of power unprecedented since Hitler overran the continent. The Germans are dictating to other countries. Removing elected prime ministers and installing men chosen as “technocrats” — a synonym for obedient — they have turned Greece and Italy into protectorates. With staggering disregard of manners and statesmanship, the German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble recommends that Greece postpone forthcoming elections and install a government with no representatives of the key parties. To which the Greek president, the elderly Karolos Papoulias who as a teenager fought the Nazis, asked, “Who is Mr. Schaeuble to insult Greece?”

The German recipe is to make the debtor countries acknowledge their manifold faults and pay as much of their debts as is feasible. Austerity is the watchword. Greeks must cut expenditure, raise taxes, and hand the money over. The new Greek government under its approved prime minister Lucas Papademos has the grim task of enforcing this policy. This at once invites the comparison, too close for comfort, with General Tsolakoglou or Ioannis Rallis, prime ministers who collaborated under German occupation in the war. Then as now, the economy collapsed. Greeks were made to pay the costs of the occupation and they were forced to sell whatever supplies the Germans wanted. In return they received worthless paper marks, issued locally. In Athens alone, 300,000 people died of starvation. Mussolini’s son-in-law and his foreign minister, no soft heart either, noted in his diary, “The Germans have taken from the Greeks even their shoelaces.” The costs of the occupation and a compulsory “war loan” were never repaid. Jacques Delpla, an economist and adviser to the French government, estimated in July 2011 that Germany owes Greece 575 billion euros.

Today the Greek government has long since ceased to pay its bills. Pensions have been slashed, the budgets of schools and hospitals cut. Unemployment is over 20 percent. The middle classes are ruined. People accustomed to look after themselves and their families, to run a business and provide work, are becoming homeless and living off charity and public soup kitchens. It is not surprising that newspapers are drawing comparisons with the Nazi-dominated past. At Kalavryta in December 1943 the Germans in one among scores of massacres summarily executed 696 men. Thirteen survived, and the last one still alive gives interviews. In a celebrated act of resistance, 82-year-old Manolis Glezos pulled the swastika flag off the Acropolis, and he too is giving interviews. A columnist in the Daily Telegraph reproaches German policy for its unbelievably heedless cruelty towards Greece.

It is a strange freak of history that Greece was the staunch ally of Britain from the first days of the war onwards, and resisted the German occupation with courage, only to find itself under the German cosh at a moment when Britain has rejected the euro zone and cannot be a meaningful ally. A debate has taken place in the House of Lords, in which Lord Lamont, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, pointed out that Greece is being forced to choose between the “utterly impossible and utterly incredible.” A friend of mine, Lord Willoughby de Broke, went further. German policy, he said, was down to “austerity macht frei,” an echo of the slogan “work makes you free” set over the entrance to Auschwitz. The past is catching up with the present and the European Union autodestructs.

The West’s Weakness on Syria



What’s happening in Syria proves yet again the difficulties and disadvantages of dealing with tyranny. The diplomatic ineptitude of the good guys merges with their lack of will to evolve a military strategy. Poor Ban Ki-moon, the mouse-like U.N. secretary general, can only moan about Bashar Assad’s “appalling brutality” and the Russian and Chinese veto on what might otherwise have led to unanimous condemnation and perhaps eventual action, Kosovo style. Hillary Clinton speaks of “sending a clear message of support” to the Free Syrian Army, and invites Assad to step down — that will really rattle the brute. William Hague talks of “tightening the stranglehold” while also assuring everyone that he is in touch with dissidents abroad and no arms are being sent to those who are fighting on the streets for regime change. The response to Assad’s mass murder of his people, then, is meaningless cliché-mongering and pitiful evasion.


The tyrants are free as usual to do their worst. Far from stepping down, Assad is fighting for his life while nothing and nobody prevents him from deploying tanks and artillery against towns like Homs, and villages in the provinces. Clips of film show housing on fire and men filling mass graves under cover of night. The Russian foreign minister, a man as cold and mendacious as any commissar from Soviet times, says it is not illegal to arm Assad. Themselves experts in suppressing populations, the ayatollahs of Tehran have seconded hundreds and perhaps thousands of Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and their general commanding as well, to help kill Syrians. These various promoters of tyranny have no compunction either about getting their way through brutal diplomacy or by reducing politics to simple murder.


As things now stand, Assad looks likely to stay in power at the head of a hateful police state for an indefinite time. The Iranian ayatollahs will be handed a victory in that case, leaving them well placed to manipulate Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, to provoke revolts of fellow Shiites in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and to finalize their nuclear-weapons program against Israel. To arm the Free Syrian Army is self-defense, as it may be the only measure still available to prevent the Syrian civil war from swelling and bursting from a regional issue into an international crisis.

The Queen and Abu Qatada


Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her diamond jubilee on the throne. In a statement characteristic of the lady, she said that she would continue to serve for the rest of her life. A few years more, and she will have exceeded even Queen Victoria’s reign. Both queens succeeded in giving Britain a sense of continuity and stability. In Queen Victoria’s case, this corresponded to reality. The abiding symbol was a coinage that did not change. Queen Elizabeth has lived in the same palaces as her august predecessor, performed the same ceremonial duties, set an extraordinary example of dedication, and won the admiration of pretty well all her subjects.

As bad luck would have it, the actual day on which the diamond jubilee was celebrated was also the day when Abu Qatada, the European representative of Osama bin Laden, was released from prison on bail. The man is wanted in his native Jordan on charges of murder and terrorism, but the European Court of Human Rights forbids the British from deporting him, and the British comply. Abu Qatada’s defending counsel concedes that his client poses a danger to national security, but the hapless judge babbles about assurances from Jordan without which “a continued deprivation of liberty is no longer justified” and in the end Abu Qatada will simply go free.

Britain is no longer a sovereign country, in plain language, but subject to another jurisdiction. By force of personality, the Queen holds to precedence and example. When she is no longer there, the institutions of the country will be seen to have the substance of mirage.

Netanyahu’s Existential Choice


 I wouldn’t like to be in Bibi Netanyahu’s shoes right now. The moment is approaching when finally Iran possesses a weaponized nuclear bomb and is in a position to carry out its repeated threat to wipe Israel off the map, or clandestinely pass the bomb to a terrorist proxy like Hezbollah. World opinion invariably condemns Israel’s measures of self-defense as aggression. Iranian nuclear production is scattered over more than twenty sites, some of them deep underground and all well fortified. Partially successful military measures might commit Israel to all manner of reprisals. The fate of the Jews, then, rests on decisions that Netanyahu will have to take.

The fundamental ideology of the state of Israel is that Jews can rely only on themselves. It is obvious from hints dropped that Netanyahu perceives Barack Obama as a typical false friend of the Jews, deceiving them with promises of support that he has no intention of delivering. Obama plays up shamelessly to the ayatollahs of Iran, even when they rig elections and silence opponents, if necessary by murder. American (and European) policy of using sanctions to persuade Iran to drop its nuclear ambition is too half-hearted, too selective, and too pathetic to amount to more than make-believe. The latest agreed sanctions to suspend buying Iranian oil are not to apply until July, for instance, and ignore the willingness of China, Russia, and India to carry on buying regardless. Just a placebo, in fact, and quite probably designed to give Israel an impression of activity enough to stop it from attacking Iran. And if by July the Iranians still need more time they will offer to negotiate, and yet again prove that their diplomacy makes rings round everyone else.

According to the Washington Post, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran this April, May, or June. It is hard to work out whether the primary intention here is to warn Iran or to thwart Israel. The New York Times has just carried a long article by Ronen Bergman, a very well-informed security expert who has done a number of high-level interviews with politicians and soldiers, though not with Netanyahu. On balance, he too thinks that an Israeli attack will soon occur. On the other hand, the prolific and equally well-informed Professor Barry Rubin puts his foot down firmly that there will be no attack.

Out of this confusion Netanyahu has to come to a conclusion with existential dimensions. Only someone with a sense of destiny could do that.

The Iron Lady


How the media hated Mrs. Thatcher! A very British snobbery was the basic impulse. The op-eds used to make sure to remind readers that her views about politics and economics derived from her upbringing as the daughter of a grocer. A blue-stocking by the name of Lady Warnock, foremost among the great and the good, once said seriously that Mrs. Thatcher couldn’t be up to much because she bought her clothes at popular stores like Marks and Spencer, while others accused her of wearing a hat and a brooch as though imitating the Queen. And her accent was much mocked. Why, she took elocution lessons. I well remember the disdain with which fellow Conservatives up to the level of her Cabinet ministers used to speak about her. In the end, they contrived to get her out, and in the process wrecked their party.

Mrs. Thatcher has been out of office for years now. A widow, whenever she appears in public she looks frail and vulnerable. Roman emperors used to have a slave behind them whispering, “Remember you must die.” That is the spirit infusing today’s much-touted docudrama, The Iron Lady. The film opens with Meryl Streep impersonating Mrs. Thatcher as a sad old crone having trouble taking the top off a boiled egg. This is a metaphor for her whole life. Yes, the film-makers allow, she had her triumphs in her day, privatizing state concerns, making Britain competitive, regaining the independence of the Falkland Islands, but all was futile, a waste of energy. Vanity of vanity, all is vanity, this Mrs. Thatcher is at last revealed as someone with no grasp of reality, hallucinating about her dead husband Denis Thatcher. The film reaches some sort of emotional climax when she throws his wardrobe out, a scene surely as fictitious as it is displeasing.

I suppose it makes some people feel better to think that old age has caught up with Mrs. Thatcher and overwhelmed her. The film convinced me that as long as there is any living memory of her, such people will always believe that intelligence and will power were qualities unsuitable in a woman like her.


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