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David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

Two Dismissals



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So Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy have got rid of the prime ministers of Greece and Italy within a few days of each other. It’s very remarkable that two politicians can take it upon themselves to throw out of office the democratically elected prime ministers in other countries where they themselves have no vote. They sacked George Papandreou and Silvio Berlusconi in exactly the way that the man in the Kremlin used to dismiss first secretaries or Party bosses in satellite republics. The moment Papandreou proposed to call a referendum he was doomed. Ask the people what they want? The very idea of it! Greece and Italy are now German protectorates.

At a press conference, in full view of the public, Merkel and Sarkozy gave amused grimaces at the mention of Berlusconi. Actually the latter is still quite popular at home. He fits a national stereotype immortalised in Donizetti’s masterpiece Don Pasquale of an elderly rich man deceived by the wiles of young ladies until in the end everyone contrives to live happily ever after. That he could fall asleep during an international gathering of politicians out to finish him off brings these proceedings down to their proper level of comic opera.

Greece has already defaulted, and Italy looks like doing so in the face of debt that cannot be repaid. Merkel and Sarkozy can’t remedy this, they haven’t access to funds on the scale required, and their electorates wouldn’t allow them to make fiscal transfers even if they could. Their unilateral and undemocratic decisions to prop up the euro will finish by destroying it, and the European Union into the bargain. The capitalisation of French banks is already under question, and here is Sarkozy begging China for money, in other words so desperate than he is ready for any humiliation. In another form of begging, namely anxiety to please, he didn’t realise journalists could hear him telling Obama, “I cannot bear Netanyahu any more, he is a liar.” (And if the Israeli prime minister had been a European no doubt he too would be pushed out of office.) To which Obama replies, “You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him every day.” This happens just when the Atomic Energy Agency provides the information that Iran’s nuclear program has military purposes. And these two are going to take care of that? The fate of millions is in their hands?

The Eurocrats in Brussels have just decreed that all jars of honey must carry a label specifying that there might be pollen in the contents. Let nobody say that those people can’t recognise a crisis when they see one.

Like Inspector Clouseau



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Someone has thrown Molotov cocktails into the offices in Paris of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine (whose title amalgamates the first name of the founder and a shortened version of the French for weekly). Computers, files, everything has been burnt out though nobody was hurt. The French Minister of the Interior, Claude Guéant by name, said the police were looking into the possibility that this was an act of terrorism. This is pretty brilliant detective work on the part of the Minister and the authorities.

Charlie Hebdo was in the process of bringing out  an issue with the title “Shariah Weekly,” leading with a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad and a promise put into his mouth, “100 lashes if you don’t die from laughter.” The front cover reports the laws forbidding representation of the Prophet, and there had been quite a bit of media coverage about this. Journalists at the paper were receiving anonymous threats and their website was hacked. These threats, Claude Guéant said with that flash of intuition that makes him so great a Minister and defender of Europe, might imply Muslim terrorists and “we can’t ignore this lead.”

Surely not, but fishermen in the Faroe Islands are upset by quotas on their catches, and sports coaches in Germany are complaining about inadequate facilities. They are far likelier suspects of throwing Molotov cocktails at satirists and the French law enforcement agencies, inspired by the memory of Peter Sellers’ immortal Inspector Clouseau, must pursue them with diligence.

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Will the Greeks Save Democracy?



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A bombshell! This is one to bring the house down. The Greeks are to have a referendum on whether to accept the terms of the bail-out cobbled together a few days ago in crisis conditions. The country has no possible means ever of repaying its debt, and the Brussels mob came up with a bail-out, inadequate in itself, vague except for the strings attached. Essentially they issued a diktat whereby in return for token cash, Greeks are to hand their economy to the Brussels mob, or in plain language, give up their sovereignty. Aux barricades! Of course, they have taken to the streets. Much more of it, and the country will reach social break-down.

Prime Minister George Papandreou may look moth-eaten, but the announcement of this referendum is pretty brilliant politics. He ducks the blame for giving in to the Brussels mob, and he heads off the threat of a general election that he and his Socialist Party are certain to lose. Better still, he can be sure that the voters are going to say no and reject the bail-out by a large margin. Ouf! Greece will then be able officially to default, scrap the doom-laden euro, return to the drachma that it should never have abandoned, and devalue. That way, they can become competitive again, and the society will hold together.

The panic of the Brussels mob is wonderful to behold. Of course they may yet devise another of their anti-democratic tricks to keep the show on the road, and in the great quip of long ago British prime minister David Lloyd George, die with their drawn salaries in their hand.  They may somehow rout Papandreou, or refuse to accept a referendum that says No, and insist on a second one that delivers Yes.

Everybody with a head on their shoulders has been forecasting for years that the euro was certain to come to a crisis like this. The sovereignty of nations is stronger than the Brussels mob. Union was a historic mistake. The Greeks invented democracy, and it will be poetic justice if they save it now and free us all.

A Shameful Stand-off



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Put yourself in the shoes of Bashar Assad, the fellow who inherited the presidency of Syria from his father Hafez Assad. Everyone in the country knows that Bashar hasn’t a shred of legitimacy, and most of them want him out. Fearing that the successor might be an Islamist monster, a minority hope Bashar can somehow hold things together. And how to do that?  In the ten years that he has been in power, he has regularly dropped hints about reform. This is only pro forma. Reform, he knows, is the slippery slope that leads to the end of his power. So when the Arab Spring forced the issue, he chose repression. Now he has been responsible for the deaths of 3,000 people and the arrest or disappearance of probably 30,000 or more. A film on television just now shows a large apartment block in the city of Homs being shelled by tank fire. This is war against the people he is supposed to be presiding over. Protesters are in the streets in growing numbers and he cannot fail to realise that if they lay hands on him he will be executed in the Qaddafi style. An American president who understood the Middle East would have long since made it impossible for Bashar to stay in office. Now even the protective Russia and China are pressuring him. Turkey is openly backing the embryo Syrian opposition. The defection of soldiers from the Syrian armed forces has the prospect of civil war.

As an urgent exercise in public relations, he has to get across that he’s not your usual blood-stained Arab dictator but just doing what anybody would do in his position. So he gives an interview to the Sunday Telegraph, a media outlet supposed to be conservative. Sure enough, Andrew Gilligan, an investigative journalist and no fool, gives Bashar the chance to describe himself as a perfectly normal chap, living in a bungalow without security, driving his own car to take the kids to school, concluding, “That’s why I am popular.” What he’s bringing, he wants Gilligan to report, is stability, keeping down the ill-wishers of the Muslim Brotherhood paid and armed to create trouble. The pitch is that everyone should back his stand against the Islamists. “If you play with the ground you will cause an earthquake … Do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistan?”

“I will do such things —” raved King Lear, “What they are yet I know not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth.” Bashar’s threats of more Afghanistans reveals how deeply he fears Western intervention, and like King Lear would ward it off with rhetoric, the only available weapon. What we have here, then, is a shameful stand-off between an individual who has no idea what to do except kill, and the international collective that has no idea at all, period.

The Ephrussis Brought to Life



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I have just returned from Vienna, where I went to celebrate the launch of the German edition of Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes. This tells the story of the Ephrussi family, who were bankers and businessmen originally from Odessa and once household names. Edmund has an Ephrussi grandmother (to declare an interest, I have an Ephrussi great-grandmother). By profession he is a ceramicist, very well known.  This is his first book, and a runaway success everywhere. I think the Viennese publisher Zsolnay said to me that he had already sold 30,000 copies in a few days.

The book is marvellously well written, but that doesn’t explain why it is such a hit. The reason seems to be that what happened to the Ephrussis is something everyone can identify with, something of a parable. Settling in Vienna, in the 1860s they built a Palace on the Ringstrasse, a huge and extraordinary monument on six floors around an enclosed courtyard. Here was standing evidence to their wealth, success, and their evident belief that they were assimilated, so socially acceptable that the city’s rabid anti-Semitism wouldn’t affect them. Wrong, of course. Fortune, creativity, taste, enterprise, social connections, counted for nothing when the Gestapo had its day.

The Palace today belongs to a company called Casino Austria. The rooms are a riot of painted ceilings, ornament, gilding, massive panelling and doors, all restored to former standards. A throng of maybe 200 or more gathered in the courtyard. There were speeches. A representative of the city council asked the crucial question: What had Austria lost by expelling or killing its Jews? Edmund followed up: The book was an act of restitution, meaning that memory of the expunged family was returning to Vienna. He spoke as he writes, movingly free from the anger or self-pity that might have come naturally.

Enthusiastic Nazis and anti-Semites, Austrians like to pretend that they were victims of Hitler. This is how they cover the fact that Casino Austria owns this Palace, and not the Ephrussis, or that when the family bank was Aryanised Herr Steinhausser, its manager for twenty-seven years, took possession of it and after the war saw nothing wrong in what he’d done.  If anyone can humanise the Austrians and get them to see the truth of their conduct and their history, it is Edmund de Waal.

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A Moment of Respite



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The death of Muammar Qaddafi is a cautionary tale. He had the chance to make his native Libya a model country, thanks to its oil wealth, and very deliberately he did not take it. For him, power had nothing to do with such a humdrum purpose as improving the lot of ordinary people, but everything to do with personal aggrandizement. Looking for some way to dignify his ambition, he experimented in turn with Arab nationalism or pan-Arabism, Islamism, expansion into Africa, Soviet freelancing, and anti-Americanism. Violence was the common denominator. Misspent and wasted, the oil revenues sponsored war, invasion of neighbours, and international terror. One abiding mark of his infamy is the Lockerbie bombing.

Qaddafi took care that nobody and nothing could challenge his one-man rule. As his whims developed into daily injustices, the Libyan people paid the highest price. Those who dared to raise their voices were arrested, silenced, and sometimes killed in public. Dissidents disappeared. In one atrocity he ordered the mass-murder of prisoners. Absence of conscience was made both sinister and ludicrous by his poses of grandeur.  Medals and orders covered his uniforms. Bevies of girls acted as security guards. At home and abroad on official visits, he insisted on pitching a tent. But outward Bedouin simplicity masked inner dissolute indulgence.

The capture, trial, and hanging of Saddam Hussein first showed Arabs that they could be masters of their fate. The so-called Arab Spring is the principal consequence. In one Arab country after another, people have risen in large numbers to prove that they are ready to oust rulers who have been inflicting needless injustices and cruelties on them. Like so many other Arabs, Libyans revolted earlier this year to demand to be heard. To a man of Qaddafi’s character, reform is indistinguishable from surrender. He chose repression and rage, he cursed and threatened and set about killing. Western intervention alone has warded off what otherwise would have been the tyrant’s vengeance.

Qaddafi was found sheltering in a sewage drain, and then and there met the summary execution reserved for the Benito Mussolinis, Ceausescus, and their like. He deserved it, but the chance has been lost to bring him to court and confront him with his crimes. That might have been exemplary. The future of Libya is uncertain, and the Transitional Council now ruling in Tripoli is more than likely to have rocky months ahead. Libyans have to acquire in a hurry some experience in self-government, toleration, and equitable conduct. To put it no higher, at least they and the rest of the world have a moment of respite and relief.

The Dilemmas of the Gilad Shalit Case



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What has happened to Gilad Shalit is outrageous. He is the Israeli soldier who was snatched by Hamas terrorists and held in Gaza for five years. During that time, he was denied communication with the outside world, and there was every likelihood that Hamas killers had murdered him.  Hamas denied the Red Cross access to him, which was a defiance of all international practice as well as unprecedented cruelty. The Israeli government handled his case ineptly. The Israeli army entered Gaza in force in 2008 to put an end to the ceaseless firing of rockets into Israel. The release of Shalit should have been made a condition of withdrawal. In the absence of means of compulsion, the Israeli governments of Ehud Olmert and Bibi Netanyahu could do nothing except bleat. For five long years Hamas has laughed in their face.

Shalit’s case presents a horrible moral dilemma. On the one hand, his release is imperative, and it is right to pay a high price for it, even though the Hamas brutes gain by it. On the other hand, this price rewards terrorism and inhuman cruelty. Worse still, kidnapping Israelis and holding them to ransom is evidently a paying proposition. The incentive to repeat the operation could hardly be clearer. One would expect Hamas to try to do so immediately.

Hamas have obtained the exchange of 1,000 Palestinians against a single Israeli, and their spokesmen are claiming this as a great victory. They are mistaken. The 1,000 Palestinians are all terrorists caught in the act and convicted in court, while the Israeli was doing his duty only to become the victim of subterfuge and violence to his person. There is no moral equivalence between the parties. Treating Shalit as they have, Hamas reveal their viciousness in full view of the watching world. We understand whom we have to deal with. However apprehensive I am about this exchange, I find I shall be glad when Shalit is finally out of their hands, and also full of pity for the unfortunate Gazans who voted Hamas into power, only to discover that they have put themselves at the mercy of these violent and lawless men, and can do nothing about it.

Oligarchs in London



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The High Court in London is offering a fascinating insight into Russian reality. Boris Berezovsky, one of the richest Russian oligarchs and now resident in London, is suing Roman Abramovich, another of the richest Russian oligarchs and also resident in London. $6 billion seems to be at stake.

The case goes back to the unholy scramble to lay hands on state assets after the collapse of Soviet Communism. Boris Yeltsin was in the Kremlin and those who knew the ropes carved up whole industries and took them over; robber barons on an unprecedented scale. A report in the London Times describes Abramovich as “an uneducated mechanic” who once needed Berezovsky to introduce him to banks and provide “political patronage,” the euphemism covering who exactly had to be bribed, and how this was to be done. Berezovsky also alleges breach of trust and of contract. Trust? Contract?

After the collapse of Communism, as one of the lawyers explained in the British judge, ”There was no rule of law. The police were corrupt. The courts were unpredictable at best — at worst open to manipulation. Nobody could go into business without access to political power. If you didn’t have access to political power you needed access to a godfather who did.” According to the London Times, Berezovsky had indeed been “indispensable” in helping the uneducated mechanic to acquire an oil company from the Russian state “in a corrupt auction.” In return he had received $2 billion. This was not a fee, even less a dividend, just a gratuity. Yes, that is the word the lawyers used for this sum. “Libel tourism” is a well-known scandal whereby foreigners find a pretext to get damages under British law for libel committed in some other country. Legal tourism for oligarchs is a novelty.

Vladimir Putin emerged fully-fledged from these swamps. He doesn’t bother with the London courts. On the contrary, he protected one Lugovoi from extradition and trial on suspicion of murdering Litvinenko in London on behalf of the Kremlin. He simply has his opponents put away in Siberia. Time was when Mikhail Khodorkovsky was as rich as any Russian oligarch, and in the Kremlin godfather business too. Putin had no trouble sending him to prison for eight years on charges of financial irregularity, further extending the sentence by seven more. Khodorkovsky has just published a book with reflections on prison and on Russia, concluding: “Until Russia has independent courts, it will not have freedom.” There is no foreseeable chance of that. When the Soviet Union collapsed, General Shebarshin, head of the First Division of the KGB, told me in an interview that the weight of Russia one day would be enough to reconstruct the lost Communist empire. Today’s proposal of a Eurasian Union is Putin’s attempt to regroup under Russian control as many former Soviet republics and countries as possible. “We have a great inheritance from the Soviet Union,” an Izvestia article written in his name has just proclaimed. Didn’t someone say that those who do not learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat their mistakes?

The Targeted Killing of a Formidable Enemy



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Anwar al-Awlaki had attributes that made him a serious enemy. A promoter of Islamist fanaticism, he had become the leader of al-Qaeda in Yemen, and was set for greater things in the jihad against the West.

Granted the limitations of his intellectual horizon, he was intelligent and certainly capable. Born and brought up in the United States, he spoke fluent English and could give the impression to his acolytes that he knew from experience how decadent and wicked the ways of the West are. The Fort Hood murderer, the underpants bomber, and the Time Square fire-raiser are evidence that he had the power to persuade people that killing is a God-given task.

His death while on the road in Yemen is obviously the result of first-rate intelligence. Somebody must have got close enough to discover his movements and then be able to pass the information on to controllers of the Predator that then took Awlaki out. Three other Islamist fanatics are said to have died in this targeted killing.

The Israelis have similarly killed Hamas leaders in Gaza and Hezbollah sheiks in Lebanon, and the threat of repeating such attacks constrains the movements of some major enemies, for instance keeping the Lebanese Hezbollah Sheikh Nasrallah in permanent hiding. Contentious as it is sometimes made out to be, targeted killing is a war measure. In the Second World War, the Allies made deliberate efforts to take down everything and everyone military or civilian contributing to the German cause. Some are delving now into all sorts of legalisms to make targeted killings illegal on grounds of nationality or the absence of declared war. That is the way to ensure that the present civilizational and cultural confrontation is extended indefinitely.

Dictators’ Options Narrow



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A BBC documentary about the uprising in Syria brought out very clearly the plight that Bashar Assad has brought on himself. The uprising began in Deraa when boys painted graffiti on walls. Assad’s security forces rounded up the boys, tortured them, and returned to his family the mutilated corpse of one of them. A confident regime would never have resorted to brutality like that. After that, the regime’s fear of dispossession dictates the policy of violence now in full spate. There can be no going back for Assad or his goons, they have so reduced their choices that they have to kill or be killed. In any case Syria is a country in which the consent of the ruled is of no account to the ruler. It will be a matter of luck if civil war is avoided.

Palestinians are not yet in such desperate straits, but getting there gradually. Mahmoud Abbas should have held elections two years ago, but postponed them from the all too well-founded fear that Hamas, his implacable rivals in Gaza, would win. Throughout the West Bank his own Fatah are loathed and despised for their corruption and arrogance. So Abbas rules by decree, a dictator although on a smaller scale than, say, Assad. The decision to ask the United Nations to endorse a Palestinian state was his and his alone. The Palestinians were not asked for their opinion. A number seem to have backed him, but a silent majority is apprehensive. Abbas cannot really have thought he would succeed in obtaining a state by refusing to make the least concession to Israel. He will never acknowledge a Jewish state, and his assertion that no Jew will be allowed to live in a Palestinian state is racism. So the United Nations delegations gave an ovation to someone without legitimacy, riding roughshod over the concept of consent or representation, and making proposals so one-sided that nothing constructive could come out of them. It will be a matter of luck if this peace process does not end in war.

Perhaps the temptation is always there to rule without the consent of the ruled. The European Union is another example of it. I woke up one day to discover that I had a president, a Belgian, of whom I had never heard. Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy take decisions for whole populations like the Greeks who are expected to obey. Such figureheads have no legitimacy to be acting for people who are not their constituents and never will be. It is painfully plain that those who set up this EU made a historic mistake. It will be a matter of luck if the world gets out of it without a major crisis.

The French Farce



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Since I am in Paris, I couldn’t help watching Dominique Strauss-Kahn answering the questions put to him by a television journalist, Claire Chazal. He had not spoken before because he wanted the French to hear him out first. To do a DSK has entered French slang for making a pass, and it is not a compliment. He’d been running the International Monetary Fund and might very well have been elected President of France, and now he’s a bad joke with sexual innuendoes.

Here’s a man who destroyed himself, and that is one of the great themes of classical drama, and that is what he aimed to convey, unsmiling and harsh. At the outset he claimed to have used no violence or constraint. What he’d done, he said, was inappropriate, it was a weakness, or worse than that, a fault, a moral fault. He had wronged his wife and all the French too, coming out with grandiloquence, “I missed my rendezvous with France.”

And what was his opinion of American justice? “I was afraid, I was very afraid.” Legal machinery caught him and might have crushed him. This was too severe. If he hadn’t had money and a rich wife, injustice might well have been done. Which led him to say that the hotel maid kept on changing her story, and was a liar. Chazal mentioned the French novelist Tristane Banon who claims that DSK attacked her like a “rutting chimpanzee.” Did DSK realize how he had shocked women? He had a passage about how he’d never abused the power that went with his position.

He expressed regret when it was obvious that he didn’t feel it, but had the inner conviction that he was someone who was entitled to do exactly as he pleased. Chazal allowed him to end up with a lot of hot air in praise of the Left and socialist candidate Martine Aubry in the presidential elections he won’t be running in. Television exposes character remorselessly. This isn’t a classical drama at all, just a French farce.

Who Is Deceiving Whom



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Muslims in France take over whole streets and hold open-air prayers in them. This began some years back when Muslims gathered at the spot where Princess Diana died in the car accident, and prayed there as though at a shrine. If you happen to live in such a street and want to leave or enter your house, or if you need to drive a car there, bad luck, the weight of numbers makes it impossible. Muslims in this way are asserting that they already have a space of their own and the local French can do nothing about it. Marine Le Pen, daughter of the founder of the National Front, has a chance of doing well in next year’s presidential elections, and she called the street prayers an “occupation.” The word recalls the Nazis taking over the country after 1940.

Claude Guéant, the Interior Minister, has made a political issue of it. “Street prayers must stop because they hurt the feelings of many of our compatriots who are shocked by the occupation of a public space for a religious practice,” he says, bringing in that useful word “occupation.” From today, Muslims are banned from praying outdoors. The police may arrest any who persist. 

The French are fighting back, then, pushed too hard by immigrants with different values and customs. Except that on that very day President Nicolas Sarkozy had a triumphal tour of Libya. While he was talking up the glories of France, whole brigades of anti-Qaddafi rebels were prostrate praying in the roadway in front of television cameras. Hasn’t Sarkozy helped to make possible here exactly what he is forbidding at home? Who knows who is deceiving whom.  

Hari Returns Prize



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Remember Johann Hari, a journalist who writes for The Independent? He crossed our path when he came on an NR cruise under false pretences, always intending to write it up with a sneer. Under the false name of David Rose, he edited Wikipedia entries about people he had clashed with, and in his own admission he did so “in ways that were juvenile or malicious.” Another of his habits has been to pretend that he was providing original quotations from people when actually he was lifting them from other sources: The word for that is plagiarism. A prize exists in commemoration of George Orwell. When the judges in their innocence awarded it to Hari, a storm of protest led to the exposure of his various tricks and fakeries, so that today he has been obliged to admit his guilt, apologize, and return the prize. The next winner ought to be someone having a shot at writing the essay that George Orwell would have written about Hari.

Whither the ‘Arab Spring’?



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The Israeli ambassador to Cairo and about eighty other Israelis flew out of Cairo to Tel Aviv on a military plane under cover of darkness. They were lucky to escape with their lives. A huge crowd had attacked the Israeli embassy, overpowering the ninety police on duty, storming into several rooms and throwing files out into the street. The military officers now ruling the country have declared an emergency.

Some days ago, Palestinian terrorists from Gaza disguised themselves in Egyptian uniforms and crossed Egyptian territory to attack southern Israel. In the firefight the terrorists and eight Israelis were killed, but so were five Egyptian border guards whom the Israelis identified wrongly. The Muslim Brothers refuse to accept this as the sort of mistake that occurs all too easily in such circumstances, and they have whipped up this crisis in order to break off the treaty that has kept the peace with Israel since 1979.

This is a repeat of the earlier row that also originated from Gaza. Turkish Islamists were determined to run the blockade imposed by Israel to prevent the smuggling of weapons to Hamas. Israeli commandos boarded the incoming ship, and in the ensuing fracas killed nine Turkish Islamists. The Israeli government refused to apologize for this act of self-defense, whereupon Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan declared the Israeli ambassador to Ankara persona non grata.

Two major Muslim countries have simultaneously experienced, or engineered, a diplomatic confrontation with Israel. On another front, Hamas has its headquarters in Damascus. In the light of the massacres committed daily by the Syrian security forces, Hamas seems to be about to move its headquarters to Cairo. In that case, Hamas may be able to mobilize popular support in Egypt for future terrorism against Israel, greatly inhibiting Israel’s counter-terror options.

Later this month the United Nations will be pursuing a two-track anti-Israel policy, voting on the establishment of a Palestinian state, and on a resolution that Israel is uniquely racist. Iranian President Ahmedinejad has promised that he will be attending in New York to make his familiar speech about the imminent genocide of all Jews.

Quite possibly all this is posturing, but it is beginning to look as if the Arab Spring is the fancy description of another dire round of self-destruction.

Fighting On



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Some years before the September 11 attacks, I was invited to talk to a private group about Muslim fundamentalism.Such a way of thinking, I said and I believed, might last for a time but in the end must die away because it is irrational, and reason in the end comes to compel human behavior everywhere. In the audience was Frank Johnson, one of the clearest-minded journalists of the day, and he asked, “But are we going to have to fight them?” He had put his finger on it.

An effort of imagination is required to accept that people will kill you for no better reason than that you are who you are, and not because of anything you might have done. Of course Hitler and Stalin ordered the killing of millions on just these grounds, and many lives were lost in order to remedy the consequent breakdown in civilization. September 11 heralds another such breakdown, and it too will be hard to remedy.

In the manner of a Hitler or a Stalin, Arab and Muslim leaders day in and day out are calling for the murder of those they think are in their way, or whose deaths will somehow bring political advantage. President Ahmedinejad, for instance, Sheikh Qaradawi, or Saudi clerics and Palestinian imams are in the habit of promising genocide as though this were normal and not just a primitive response. Besides, they aren’t primitive, but educated, yet still condemning their subjects to injustice and a dangerous fate.

So the question becomes: Are the masses really convinced that they must do as they are told and become murderers of Westerners, or is the apparent hatred part of a strategy to protect themselves by pretending to hatreds they don’t feel? There is a paradox: Muslims who have come to have some experience of the West are the likeliest to hate it and resort to war against it. The majority who remain in their own countries are getting on with life like everyone else.

Intellectual and emotional separation has occurred, it seems to me, between Arab and Muslim leaders and those they claim to be leading (and this seems to be a factor in the uprisings of the Arab Spring). The leaders well understand that hatred of the West serves several expedient purposes, notably relieving the inferiority complex arising from comparisons between civilizations and also deflecting attention away from their own deficiencies. Islamists in general, the September 11 attackers, al-Qaeda itself, figures like Anwar al-Awlaki or the Fort Hood killer, are ideologues, brainwashed as the S.S. and the KGB once were to obey what is dictated to them from above.

In the last ten years there have been a number of Islamist outrages causing death and injury and many more that have been thwarted by good intelligence. Powerful voices in Washington and London argue that Islamist terrorists should be considered ordinary criminals, and therefore dealt with exclusively by the law. The numbers of such men, and their education, tell against a comforting interpretation of this kind. Islamists are never going to accept that they are mere wrongdoers unless they suddenly start conducting themselves as Westerners would like. September 11 was a declaration of war, and it will have to be fought to the finish.

Scandalous Behavior



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Documents discovered in Libya cast light on the sordid behavior of people supposedly acting in the name of Britain. MI6, the British secret service, evidently struck up a cozy relationship with Libyan opposite numbers. The British have not only hounded Libyan dissidents in England but handed them over to Libya where they were certain to be tortured. These dissidents were held to be active Islamist terrorists, who therefore deserved whatever was coming to them.

The outstanding example of what is now euphemistically called extraordinary rendition occurred in 1940 in the period of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. The Soviet secret police handed to the Gestapo a number of prominent German Communists who had sought refuge in the  Soviet Union. Margarete Buber-Neumann, one of the few who survived, has left an unforgettable description of this frightful betrayal. Now it turns out that one of the Libyans betrayed by MI6 is Abdul Hakim Belhaj, certainly an Islamist, possibly a terrorist, but presently a senior military commander of the anti-Qaddafi rebels. MI6 couldn’t have guessed that this man treated as an enemy would emerge a few years later as a hero they were sponsoring. It is uncomfortable to have to admit that the secret services of a democracy operate by the inhuman logic of a totalitarian state.

These documents also reveal correspondence from Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, to Colonel Qaddafi. At the time, Blair delighted in playing up to this monstrous dictator and embracing him for photo-ops. Supposedly this was a reward for the abandonment of Libya’s weapons of mass destruction. Blair was abasing himself voluntarily. In private, he was addressing letters to “Dear Muammar.” In one letter dated 28 December 2006 he wishes his dear Muammar “Eid mubarak,” or the Muslim equivalent of Happy Festival. MI6 was nasty but at least not creepy like this.

Turkey Expels an Ambassador



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To declare an ambassador persona non grata is a serious step, signifying that relations with that ambassador’s country are in crisis. The Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken this serious step, declaring hostility to Israel by demanding the recall of the Israeli ambassador by next Wednesday. What’s been happening is worth studying as a prime example of values within the Muslim world that compel foolish and dangerous behavior.

Turkey and Israel had long enjoyed a good relationship. Trade and tourism have prospered. The two armed forces held joint exercises, and Israel sold advanced weaponry, including drones, to the Turkish air force. In office for almost ten years now, Erdogan has been undermining the secular state by degrees, and imposing his version of Islamism. The break with Israel was implicit in such a policy. Erdogan calculated that the Arabs would then look to him and his so-called neo-Ottoman Turkey for leadership.

Last year, the Erdogan government hit upon a pretext to bring about the reversal of alliances. Israel maintained a blockade of Gaza to stop the smuggling of arms to Hamas, an openly murderous enemy. Turkey admitted to sponsoring a ship to sail to Gaza. The declared purpose was to bring humanitarian aid (although there was no need of that), but the reality was to engineer the desired quarrel with Israel. Israeli commandos duly boarded the ship, and in the ensuing fracas nine Turks, all of them known anti-Israeli Islamists, were killed.

Erdogan demanded an apology. This at once triggered the calculus of shame and honor that runs throughout the Muslim world. The Israeli government expressed regret and willingness to pay compensation, but refuses to apologize for exercising its legal rights in self-defense.

Worse still, the United Nations investigated the incident, only to conclude in a report published this week that Israel was indeed within its rights. Demanding an apology that it cannot receive, Turkey has manipulated itself into a position of shame in full public view. To throw out the Israeli ambassador is an attempt to recover honor.

Over the past 30 years, Turkey has killed about 45,000 Kurds and displaced at least 2 million more. Shortly prior to the dismissal of the Israeli ambassador, Turkish armed forces shelled and bombed the Kurds in Iraq, announcing that they had killed up to 160 of them. In the Turkish town of Cukurca, Kurds then held a peaceful protest. The police fired tear-gas cartridges at them, and one hit Yildirim Ayhan in the chest, killing him. He had been a Kurdish member of parliament. Another Kurdish parliamentarian, Sebahat Tuncel, risks her life by organizing Mothers of Peace, a group prepared to be human shields against Turkish soldiers.

Turkish anger over nine men killed by Israelis and pride over their massive killing of Kurds is plain hypocrisy, of course, but responses of shame and honor energize and certify it. It is shameful to have your men killed — especially if they are evidently wrong-doers — but honorable to go killing people who are making unwanted demands on you.

This way of behaving is a mechanism of violence in perpetual motion, as everyone seeks to acquire honor and avoid shame at the expense of everyone else.

Islamic Honor and the Flotilla



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To declare an ambassador persona non grata is a serious step, signifying that relations with that ambassador’s country are in crisis.

The Turkish government of Tayyip Recep Erdogan has taken this serious step, declaring hostility to Israel by demanding the recall of the Israeli ambassador by next Wednesday. What’s been happening is worth studying as a prime example of values within the Muslim world that compel foolish and dangerous behavior.

Turkey and Israel had long enjoyed a good mutual relationship. Trade and tourism have prospered. The two armed forces held joint exercises, and Israel sold advanced weaponry including drones to the Turkish air force. In office for almost ten years now, Erdogan has been undermining the secular state by degrees, and imposing his version of Islamism. The break with Israel was implicit in such a policy. Erdogan calculated that the Arabs would then look to him and his so-called neo-Ottoman Turkey for leadership.

Last year the Erdogan government hit upon a pretext to bring about the reversal of alliances. Israel maintained a blockade of Gaza to stop the smuggling of arms to Hamas, an openly murderous enemy. Turkey admitted to sponsoring a ship to sail to Gaza. The declared purpose was to bring humanitarian aid, although there was no need of that; the reality was to engineer the desired quarrel with Israel. Israeli commandos duly boarded the ship, and in the ensuing fracas nine Turks, all of them known anti-Israeli Islamists, were killed.

Erdogan demanded an apology. This at once triggered the calculus of shame and honor that runs throughout the Muslim world. The Israeli government expressed regret and willingness to pay compensation, but refuses to apologize for exercising its legal rights in self-defense.

Worse still for the Turks, the United Nations investigated the incident, only to conclude in a report published this week that Israel was indeed within its rights. Demanding an apology that it cannot receive, Turkey has manipulated itself into a position of shame in full public view. Throwing out the Israeli ambassador is an attempt to recover honor.

Over the past 30 years Turkey has killed about 45,000 Kurds and displaced at least two million more. Shortly prior to the dismissal of the Israeli ambassador, Turkish armed forces shelled and bombed the Kurds in Iraq, announcing that they had killed up to 160 of them. In the Turkish town of Cukurca, Kurds then held a peaceful protest. The police fired tear-gas cartridges at them, and one hit Yildirim Ayhan in the chest, killing him. He had been a Kurdish member of parliament.

Another Kurdish parliamentarian, Sebahat Tuncel, risks her life by organizing Mothers of Peace, a group prepared to be human shields against Turkish soldiers.

Turkish anger over nine men killed by Israelis and pride over their massive killing of Kurds is plain hypocrisy, of course, but responses of shame and honor energize and certify it. It is shameful to have your men killed — especially if they are evidently wrongdoers – but honorable to go killing people who are making unwanted demands on you.

This way of behaving is a mechanism of violence in perpetual motion, as everyone seeks to acquire honor and avoid shame at the expense of everyone else.

Lauren and Unity



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Lauren Booth is a well-connected woman, as her sister Cherie is married to Tony Blair. In the premiership of her brother-in-law she visited Downing Street and on the strength of her social standing now and again had an article published in the press. Hatred of Israel is her topic and so she is a standing embarrassment to Tony Blair as he tries to create a Middle East peace process.

Lately she sailed with the Islamist flotilla to Gaza. Now she has taken part in a demonstration in central London. Listen to the report of her words: “We say here today to you, Israel, we see your crimes and we loathe your crimes. And to us your nation does not exist, because it is a criminal injustice against humanity.” She finished by appealing to Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt to invade Jerusalem. And just to make sure we get the point, a man and a boy are shown in a photograph standing by the speakers’ platform with placards that read, “For World Peace Israel Must Be Destroyed” and“Israel Your Days Are Numbered.” This is a call for mass-murder.

For Lauren Booth, Jews are all criminal, a nation that deserves to be killed. It is pointless to wonder whether she has had an experience of Jews, and equally pointless to wonder if she has any idea what her desired genocide would look like in practice — Jerusalem burning, piles of corpses, many of them Palestinian as the Jews go down fighting.

We have been here before. Lauren Booth startlingly resembles Unity Mitford, the Nazi whose biography I once wrote. She too was well-connected and could get the occasional anti-Jewish article into print. She attended demonstrations. At one of them, in Germany in 1935, she took the microphone to express solidarity with Germany and the struggle against the Jews. Jews, she thought, posed a danger to all the peoples of the world and the world would have to be rid of them. Her sentiments and her wording are absolutely interchangeable with those of Lauren Booth, and vice versa.

Lauren Booth and Unity Mitford are a pair of dizzy females, mere social oddities of no real interest, but in a context where the political process has broken down, their fanaticism becomes a danger to other people.

Where Stands the Arab Spring?



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 “A hundred years of tyranny is better than a day of anarchy,” is one of the innumerable proverbs that have always reconciled Arabs to daily reality. Under a tyranny you have some stability, some certainty about where you stand, and you can always negotiate and bribe to find a way through the obstacles. You have to be very trusting, or a devout believer that Allah wills everything, to put up with today’s Arab tyrants, one and all greedy and selfish brutes indifferent to the masses. The educated, the young, have shown themselves willing to demand something better, hence the Arab Spring.  What might look like a protest against injustice and lack of opportunity is taking place in settings without a real political alternative to the discredited tyranny.  This results in the anarchy of sects and tribes and ethnicities struggling to keep their identities afloat and even on top in a free-for-all. What you would expect in a situation as dire as the present is a Bonapartist solution, namely the emergence of a general or strongman who will refashion tyranny in his own image, and call it reform to keep outsiders happy. Islamists are so hungry for power that it is possible they will succeed in taking over.  Muslim clerico-fascist regimes might even be welcomed as putting a stop to anarchy, but they would also guarantee at least a hundred years of tyranny.

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