Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Russian English

'Russian Godfathers' concluded last Thursday on BBC2. It was mainly about Yuri Luzhkov, Mayor of Moscow. Vladimir Putin at one point supported a man called Lebedev (I didn't catch his first name - neither did The Scotsman, it seems). Lebedev spoke very good English, better than Boris Berezovsky, I would say.

One English phrase seems to have gained global currency: a woman, whom Luzhkov was trying to deprive of her flat, was asked what she would say to him if they met face to face. The reply shown in the subtitles was: 'I would tell him, " f**k off." '

The sound came over as ' [unintelligble Russian] "Fukov." '

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Relativism (Part 8)

I would just like to return to Simon Blackburn's contention that relativism is to blame for dogmatism and intolerance. He asserts this, but does not demonstrate it. Here he is again, on page 34, on 'modern relativism, seemingly enabling people to believe anything they want' leading to 'the cacophonies of astrology, homeopathy, Mayan rebirthing ceremonies and the rest.'

Some examples would be useful. Ophelia Benson suggested I read another book (in comments, at 2005-10-03 - 17:03:07).

Chris at explananda.com says, 'Well, I have [met the shameless knave that Blackburn describes]. [...] besides arguments at parties, the people I have in mind are the continental-influenced thinkers, found especially in English, Comp Lit, German, cultural studies, and other departments. You don't just get strictly relativism, though you do get that. I'm thinking of people who are still influenced by Derrida, and all that crap. [...] Take it for what it's worth - which, since you don't know me from Adam, can't be much for you'. (Comment at October 7, 2005 01:11 PM)

We can learn a lot about 'relativism' from a masterpiece by a master - Troilus and Cressida. (This was recently performed on BBC Radio 3. I wrote an essay about the play in 1977, but I can't think where I've put it.)
Troilus: Helen must needs be fair,
When with your blood you daily paint her thus.
Hector:   Brother, she is not worth what she doth cost
        The holding.
Troilus:    What is aught, but as 'tis valued?
H:    But value dwells not in particular will;
        It holds his estimate and dignity
        As well wherein 'tis precious of itself
It traces how a character proceeds from ...
Ulysses:                 Why stay we, then?
Troilus:  To make a recordation to my soul
        Of every syllable that here was spoke.
        But if I tell how these two did co-act,
        Shall I not lie in publishing a truth?
        Sith yet there is a credence in my heart,
        An esperance so obstinately strong,
        That doth invert the attest of eyes and ears,
        As if those organs had deceptious functions,
        Created only to calumniate.
        Was Cressid here?
Ulysses:                I cannot conjure, Trojan.
Troilus:  She was not, sure.
Ulysses:                Most sure she was.
Troilus:    Why, my negation hath no taste of madness.
Ulysses:   Nor mine, my lord: Cressid was here but now.
Troilus:    Let it not be believed for womanhood!
        Think, we had mothers; do not give advantage
        To stubborn critics, apt, without a theme,
        For depravation, to square the general sex
        By Cressid's rule: rather think this not Cressid.
Ulysses:  What hath she done, prince, that can soil our mothers?
Troilus:    Nothing at all, unless that this were she.
Thersites: Will he swagger himself out on's own eyes?
Troilus:     This she? no, this is Diomed's Cressida:
... to
Ulysses: May worthy Troilus be half attach'd
        With that which here his passion doth express?
Troilus: Ay, Greek; and that shall be divulged well
        In characters as red as Mars his heart
        Inflamed with Venus: never did young man fancy
        With so eternal and so fix'd a soul.
Troilus:    Brother, you have a vice of mercy in you,
        Which better fits a lion than a man.
Hector:   What vice is that, good Troilus? chide me for it.
T:    When many times the captive Grecian falls,
        Even in the fan and wind of your fair sword,
        You bid them rise, and live.
H:                            O,'tis fair play.
T:    Fool's play, by heaven, Hector.
       For the love of all the gods,
       Let's leave the hermit pity with our mothers,
Hector is in the end the victim of a disregard of the laws of warfare, from an enemy who 'disdains his courtesy':
Hector: I am unarm'd; forego this vantage, Greek.
Achilles: Strike, fellows, strike; this is the man I seek.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Shukria Barekzai

From Woman's Hour, Monday, about 40 minutes in. Luckily, it can be heard as a separate piece, One of Afghanistan's first women MPs:
On the day that the Afghan Parliament convenes for the first time, Jenni talks to Shukria Barekzai, one of 71 new women MPs and a contender for the post [of] Speaker.

Relativism (Part 7)

Parts one, two, three, four, five and six.

I actually finished reading Simon Blackburn's book some weeks ago, but here, finally are some further remarks. I admit my use of the term 'relativism' was somewhat tendentious. I have not read Rorty or Derrida or people like that, but I am one of those who have entered into 'the purgatory of trying to read Heidegger' (P78).

One of the best things about the book is the chapter headings from Francis Bacon. There is also this blinding insight: 'There is notorious logical trouble when Epimenides, the Cretan, says that everything Cretans say is false. But there is no problem when someone from somewhere else says it.' (P82)

What has been mentioned before as 'absolutism' is, in philosophy, properly known as 'realism' - as in Blackburn's table on P113, which I have expanded somewhat:

Eliminativism -
John Mackie; Thrasymachus, Gorgias and the sophists of Plato's day:
dismissive attitude to the very possibility of 'moral truth'.

Realism - the darling of absolutists,
stands proudly on real facts,
and, it is hoped, real knowledge of them,
and real authority for those with that knowledge.

Constructivism -
also fictionalism, instrumentalism,
pragmatism, expressivism ...

Humean, Kantean, Ramseyan.

Soggy pluralism

Scepticism: the denial that there is knowledge to be had in some area, or that we can have any justification for beliefs in the area... the view that while we may have some knowledge, we cannot know that we do, or while we might have knowledge, we cannot know that we do, or while we might have reasons for our beliefs, we cannot be sure of that either. Scepticism does not imply eliminativism, although, as the example of Hume shows, the cost of holding one and not the other is a pessimistic view of the place of knowledge and reason in human life. (P115)
Notes on Nietzsche - the popular conception of him as a 'stormtrooper for nihilism' (P79)... he puts forward contradictory arguments... 'This is far from proving a postmodernist contempt for truth. It is just as plausibly the work of someone who cares passionately about truth...' (P77).

Harry Eyres recently wrote that  Nietzsche saw the coming nihilism as “the uncanniest of all guests” and the “danger of dangers” ("The Heart of Nothingness", FT magazine,  5 Nov 2005, subscribers only). What we have now, it is argued, is 'a banal, smug nihilism, drawing sanction from philosophers such as Richard Rorty',
a cheerful nihilism, 'no longer uncanny or dangerous but something more like conversation in the Big Brother house (where no guest is uncanny).'

From Twilight of the Idols (P80)
1. The true world - attainable for the sage, the pious and the virtuous (Plato)
2. The true world - unattainable for now, but promised for the sage, the pious and the virtuous (Christianity)
3. The true world - unattainable, indemonstrable, unpromisable; but the very thought of it - a consolation, an obligation an imperative. (Kant; the old sun, but seen through mist and scepticism.)
  Link here.

Historia abscondita: history obscured or lost sight of.
The Gay Science: extracts here; German original cited here; here is Kaufmann's translation, cited by Blackburn on P96:
Historia abscondita - Every great human being exerts a retroactive force: for his sake all of history is placed in the balance again, and a thousand secrets of the past crawl out of their hiding places- into his sunshine. There is no way of telling what may yet become part of history. Perhaps the past  is still essentially undiscovered! So many retroactive forces are still needed!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Bleak House

As the Radio Times says, Anna Maxwell Martin carries off the tough job of portraying an angelically good heroine brilliantly. She does this by being completely clear-eyed and unsentimental.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Shavkatjon Madumarov

From The Economist article cited before...
Shavkatjon Madumarov was an imam working in Istanbul who was arrested when he returned home to Uzbekistan for a holiday. At his trial, he complained that his health had rapidly deteriorated after he had been forcibly injected with an unknown substance.

When the judge failed to deliver a guilty verdict, for lack of evidence, he was replaced by another who did. Shavkatjon received a six-year sentence, but four days later he was dead.

Update - a couple of links: Shavkat Madumarov was serving seven years in jail for alleged ties with Wahhabis... Craig Murray ;
Uzbek Muslim Leader Dies of Torture... The Uzbek authorities have said that Madumarov died last month from an HIV ... mosnews.

(Yahoo gives a better result than Google on this search: Madumarov Uzbekistan judge -Adaham -Adakhan -Adahan -Adakham )

Update 2 - The death certificate says: "cause of death: HIV infection".) His body was returned in a heavy metal coffin, welded shut, and with 40 security men present to make sure the father didn't open it. Mr Madumarov wants an independent autopsy...

Update 3 - another link: Jailed Uzbek imam killed by authorities -family.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Angie’s summit

According to the FT,
Angela Merkel, Germany’s new chancellor, played a crucial role in efforts to reach a deal – not least in her attempt to build bridges between France, Britain and Poland.
Update: Daniel Dombey adds that after five countries claimed be the biggest single contributor to EU coffers, she quipped that 'the sorry level of mathematics showed that European universities had to improve their standard of teaching.'

In a further article, Quentin Peel says, 'Merkel impresses with plain speaking.'
From the start of the summit, she impressed leaders with her command of the detail involved in settling a seven-year budget deal. […] French officials were impressed by her style. "She is very good on the details, but also very careful not to give away her bottom line," said one diplomat who saw her in action at bilateral meetings with Jacques Chirac, the French president.
For the British, though, "Frankly, the biggest thing is she is not Gerhard Schröder," said one official.

Meanwhile, Schröder’s pal, Vladimir Putin has been turning his attention further south
ON HIS fourth visit to Russia since June, President Islam Karimov last month signed an unusually close mutual defence pact with his new best friend. It is believed to pave the way for Russia's intervention in any fresh uprising like the one in the city of Andijan in May, where up to 1,000 demonstrators were killed by troops. It may also coincide with the rumoured opening of a Russian base for special forces in Ferghana, close to Andijan.…
The rest is subscribers only, but you get the idea.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Munchau and Verhofstadt

In the FT, Wolfgang Munchau reflects, for the most part approvingly, on something proposed by Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian Prime Minister ('In quest of ideas for EU's future', 12 Dec 2005).

Since the EU constitution is (probably) dead, it is argued that 'this leaves the12-nation Eurozone as the most coherent framework for further political integration.' The argument continues that 'this is not about keeping the British out.'

The ten new EU members are not only 'entitled to join the euro', they are obliged to join and they all, except Poland, have detailed plans to do so. So, it seems this is precisely about 'keeping the British out'.

Update: Pierre Moscovici, on France Inter this morning,  proposes more or less the same thing - the  Eurozone as the core for closer political integration - but only in response to a listener demanding that Britain should be entirely excluded from the EU!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


What do the FT and the Morning Star have in common? They both frontpage the M&S EU tax story (14 Dec, Morning).

The Telegraph has Blair, the lame duck (part 2); The Times has crisis for the LibDems and Charles Kennedy.

The Independent devoted its front page ('See no evil...') to the 'rendition' / torture affair. It's not surprising that The Independent would whip itself up into a froth of moral indignation over this issue. As The New York Times put it last week ('Skepticism Seems to Erode Europeans' Faith in Rice'): 
To some Americans at least, the way the charges about secret prisons and C.I.A. flights have gained currency illustrates the readiness of many Europeans always to believe the worst about the United States. More than one commentator over the last few days has referred to the secret prisons as a Gulag Archipelago, even though Romania and Poland, the countries where the prisons are said to be situated, have denied their existence. Moreover, their total prison population would be at most a few dozen - compared with the hundreds of thousands that were confined in Stalin's real Gulag Archipelago.

The Bush administration's treatment of imprisoned suspected terrorists, coupled with the problems the United States continues to encounter in Iraq and Vice President Dick Cheney's resistance to Congressional curbs on the handling of prisoners, has not made Ms. Rice's job of persuasion any easier.
The International Herald Tribune had, amongst other things, a story from Iraq, which I think was basically this one, by Edward Wong:
The guerrilla war found fertile ground in Tikrit, and defiant Sunni Arabs boycotted the elections in January. But turnout in the parliamentary elections on Thursday is expected to be high, reflecting the shift in attitude of many Sunni Arabs toward the American-engineered political process.

"Last January, the elections were quite different than they are now," Wael Ibrahim Ali, 61, the mayor of Tikrit, said as he strode Tuesday along the grounds of the palace where Mr. Hussein used to celebrate his birthdays. "The people refused to vote, and now they see it was a wrong stand or wrong position."
Update: The link to the FT does not give you anything, unless you're a subscriber. This is what it said in the linking page: M&S wins landmark EU tax case - Marks and Spencer, the British retailer, has won a landmark tax case in Europe’s top court, which could open the way for dozens of multinational companies to claim back tax paid in the European Union. Dec 13 2005 21:27

Muslims, liberals and women

Ziauddin Sardar, writing in the New Statesman:
Islamophobia is not a British disease: it is a common, if diverse, European phenomenon. It is the singular rock against which the tide of European liberalism crashes.
But the overall factor in the fear and loathing of Turks, [Wolfram] Richter says, is old-fashioned racism. "I am afraid we have not learned from our history. My main fear is that what we did to Jews we may now do to Muslims. The next holocaust would be against Muslims."
Sardar also comments on the Netherlands ('During job interviews, the much-acclaimed Dutch liberalism evaporates. "They want to know what kind of Muslim you are. Do you pray? Do you go to the mosque?" Dutch liberalism was meant only for the Dutch. Today it extends to prostitution and drugs, but not to Muslim immigrants'.), Belgium and France. Peter Schneider takes a contrary view, in an article translated for The New York Times  by Philip Boehm - 'The New Berlin Wall ' - citing three Muslim dissident authors who accuse German do-gooders of having left Muslim women in Germany in the lurch:
[Stefanie Vogelsang] points to the Imam Reza Mosque, for instance, whose home page - until a recent revision - praised the attacks of Sept. 11, designated women as second-class human beings and referred to gays and lesbians as animals. "And that kind of thing," she says, fuming, "is still defended by the left in the name of religious freedom." This is the least expected provocation of the three author rebels: a frontal assault on the relativism of the majority society. In fact, they are fighting on two fronts - against Islamist oppression of women and its proponents, and against the guilt-ridden tolerance of liberal multiculturalists.
Muslim immigrants, who initially came on their own and slept in men-only dormitories, wanted their families to join them. Schneider quotes the Swiss author Max Frisch: "Workers were called and human beings came."
Seyran Ates estimates that perhaps half of young Turkish women living in Germany are forced into marriage every year. In the wake of these forced marriages often come violence and rape; the bride has no choice but to fulfill the duties of the marriage arranged by her parents and her in-laws.

There have been 49 known "honor crimes," most involving female victims, during the past nine years - 16 in Berlin alone. Such crimes are reported in the "miscellaneous" column along with other family tragedies and given a five-line treatment. Indeed, it's possible that the murder of Hatun Surucu never would have made the headlines at all but for another piece of news that stirred up the press. Just a few hundred yards from where Surucu was killed, at the Thomas Morus High School, three Muslim students soon openly declared their approval of the murder. Shortly before that, the same students had bullied a fellow pupil because her clothing was "not in keeping with the religious regulations."
One of the authors, Serap Cileli, has a great title - "We're Your Daughters, Not Your Honor".

Outside of the religious/secular argument, women are often naked (literally) before power relations, forced into selling sex for money. The best of ethical teaching, inspired by Christianity or Islam, can, and has, emphasised the sanctity of choice in sexual relations. As Schneider says, there is no line in the Koran that would justify murder. No more does it justify forcing women to marry (to have sex).

Here is another irony, that a strand of 'liberal' thinking, concerned by thin-end-of-the-wedge arguments, ends up  forcing women to remove the headscarf, to reveal part of their nakedness. It is not as bad as forcing them to have sex, admittedly, but it cannot form part of a principled response. 

I would not, on practical grounds, go as far as allowing something like the burqa, covering the face. As for the issue of demands to excuse girls from swimming and gym classes, I admit I don't know the answer.

By the way, I saw Caroline Fourest in a debate on French TV, Monday night - est-ce que la France est vraiment laïque. There seems to be some rethinking, not by her, of issues like the headscarf ban. Discussion followe on another piece of legislation, mandating the teaching in French schools of 'the positive role of France' during the colonial period.  This was passed almost unnoticed in February, but has since led to weeks of agonised debate.

Ayman Nur, again

See previous post. 'Not yet a democracy' from The Economist Global Agenda:
What troubled some observers as much as the Brotherhood’s surge or the government’s panicked response was the near-extinction at the polls of the secular opposition. Enfeebled by emergency laws that preclude normal political activity, the country’s 15 featherweight legal opposition parties failed to gain a dozen seats between them. Oddly, that has not prevented the government from continuing to hound them. Ayman Nour, a liberal who won 8% of votes cast, making him the closest challenger to Mr Mubarak in September’s presidential elections, not only lost his parliamentary seat to a heavily funded NDP challenger but has been remanded in custody on a flimsy forgery charge.

Prospects for Iraq

'Who will run the show next?' from The Economist:
In January, Mr Allawi got 14% of the vote, and hopes to improve on that. He has drawn some support from Shia secularists, military families and others opposed to the UIA's clerical links and its ties to Iran. [...] But Mr Allawi no longer has the advantage of incumbency, which he used in January to promote himself as a strong leader who could put Iraq together again.
Some American and western officials in Baghdad hope that Mr Allawi can stage a comeback, even with a modest share of the vote, since many Sunni politicians say that they would back him as prime minister.
The bumbling current prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, of the Dawa party, is said to want to keep his job but is unlikely to do so. Adel Abd al-Mahdi, the able former finance minister who is a SCIRI man, has a fair chance of replacing him.
Interestingly, in The Economist's table, Laith Kubba, who I think used to be a spokesman for Mr al-Jaafari is listed as a leading personality in the Iraq National Peace List, one of three breakaway groups from the UIA.

Forecast, Dec 8th 2005, from the Economist Intelligence Unit:
On the assumption, though, that some of the factors driving Sunni Arab and wider Iraqi alienation can be eased through negotiation, and thus that a clearer separation of Iraqi insurgents from the community they purport to represent will begin to emerge, there should be some improvement in security by end-2007. Oil production growth will be constrained over the forecast period by security problems and long-standing underinvestment, but modest increases in output will aid real GDP growth.
We have revised down our estimate of oil output in 2005. This has had a knock-on effect and has prompted a reduction in our projection for real GDP growth to around 6% in 2006. We have revised down our debt stock forecast for 2007 to US$62.9bn, as we now expect former Soviet bloc creditors to soon fall in line with the Paris Club agreement.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Israel ups Iran pressure

Analysts say the more evident Israeli pressure – due in part to the dynamics of domestic electioneering – is driven by worries that the US is going soft on Iran and that negotiations are dragging on. This concern is focused on the EU-backed “Russian proposal” [...]The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful Washington lobby group, has decried the US embrace of this proposal as a “disturbing shift” in policy. “Israel is very concerned that a form of defeatism has taken over the White House,” said Trita Parsi, a Middle East specialist at Johns Hopkins University. Each time the US signals possible compromises with Iran, Israel raises its threat level to bring the US back in line, he said.European diplomats say Israel’s threats are aimed at shaping the Russian “proposal”, which is a set of ideas rather than a specific plan on paper. They also believe the US support was directed at getting President Vladimir Putin on side, calculating that Iran would reject the plan anyway.
From Saturday's FT.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

magical fascism

OK, I admit it. I've been to see the new Narnia film.
In Britain, an allegiance to C.S. Lewis is merely a marker for middle-classness, but in the US Narnia has become a shining city on a hill for Christians of all stripes; the chronicles are among the favourite books of home-schoolers. Churches are being pressed into service to promote the new film, as they were for The Passion of The Christ. [...] In this context, Rowling's vision is radical. Harry is at first so glad to escape his oppressed life as an orphan that the wizarding world seems to him a utopia. But the realisation dawns on him - at about the same time it dawns on the reader - that his new community is just as deeply flawed. It is governed by a myopic, rent-seeking bureaucracy that reacts to crisis by resorting to magical fascism. The Wizengamot, the wizarding court, is less a Nuremberg tribunal, more a show trial of which Beria might have been proud.
David Honigmann in 'Away with the fairies'.

The 'realist'

For anyone who hates the neo-conservatives so much that they look back with nostalgia to the 'realist' school of foreign policy, here is a cautionary tale, from a TV programme produced by Norma Percy (not the most recent one, but an earlier one: '50 Years' War: Israel and the Arabs'. As early as Nasser's funeral, the Americans were surprised to receive overtures from his successor, Anwar Sadat. (In case you believe the Adam Curtis version of history, Egypt was largely a Soviet client up to that time.) Sadat proposed a deal with Israel, which was rebuffed by Golda Meir. The Egyptians turned to the US. Kissinger told Sadat, "If all you have is a problem, I cannot deal with it. But if it becomes a crisis, then I can intervene." Sadat drew the conclusion that there was no hope of a peaceful solution and started plotting for what became known as the Yom Kippur War in 1973. We were given the impression at the time that Kissinger was such a genius, a 'modern Machiavelli', but what he said was just f**king stupid.
Boris Berezovsky, in BBC's series 'Russian Godfathers', claimed at the time that he was not funding the Ukrainian revolution, but it turned out later that he had been providing money toYushenko's supporters. Not that that means there was not genuine popular support behind it.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Sarkozy's economics

Sorry I didn't post this before: a long article on Nicolas Sarkozy by John Thornhill - 'The reactionary revolutionary' (probably subscription only now). Some quotations:
Sarkozy put in a feisty performance. “In Britain, they call me dirigiste. In France, they call me a liberal. And in Germany, they call me a nationalist,” he said with a grin.
Sarkozy’s solution to France’s ills combines a Thatcherite emphasis on hard work, low taxes and entrepreneurship, with a Blairite obsession with social inclusion, education and equal opportunity for all. In private, he hails these two British prime ministers, one from the right, the other from the left, as inspirational leaders who have regenerated their country.  [...]

Jacques Delpla, a former economic adviser to Sarkozy, says that the UMP is drawing up a detailed economic reform programme, which could be rapidly implemented if Sarkozy were to win the presidency. “Sarkozy’s economic programme is a mix of economic liberalism and French dirigisme,” he says. “He is liberal in European rather than US terms in wanting to reform labour and product markets and social security. But he is interventionist in terms of industrial policy, foreign trade and agriculture, which is a must for any French presidential candidate.”
Jack Lang, the popular former culture minister and self-declared presidential contender from the left, says: “I consider that for me, for us, Sarkozy is a good candidate. He is clearly a man of the right. Economically, he is American. He is for wild capitalism. Politically, he is Bonapartist. He is authoritarian. I am exactly the opposite.”


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Torture again

It was the 200th anniversary of Austerlitz last week. It has been remarked in the French media that they celebrated the anniversary of a naval defeat (Trafalgar), but not this land victory. Some of Napoleon's more negative aspects have been given prominence recently, like his re-introduction of slavery (see the interview with Jack Lang this morning, for example). Napoleon cast a shadow over most of the 19th century, as a hero or superman figure, and not just in France - read Dostoevsky's
'Crime and punishment'.

Part of Channel 4's 'season', which included Peter Oborne's progammes, was something by  Andrew Gilligan about torture. My first reaction was  'hasn´t it been on before ?' As I noted before, 'Torture: the Dirty Business'  was shown on Channel 4 in March. Another programme shown at that time was 'We have ways of making you talk...' I've just started watching a tape of this. I've only seen a few minutes, but it is actually quite interesting. They interviewed people who had tortured for France back at the time of Algeria's war for independence. One said he saw the effect the methods used by the Nazis against the Resistance had.

One of the techniques used was to turn on a tap and give the victim the choice of talking or drowning. This seems to be the same as what is now called water-boarding, which, according to the media, some Americans do not regard as 'torture'...

Monday, December 05, 2005

The process in Iraq

It's hard to be sure what's going on in Iraq, but there are some encouraging signs. Edward Wong from Najaf for The New York Times, 3 Dec 2005:
"I don't think I'd go so far as to recommend that we totally pull out," said Lt. Col. James Oliver, the commander of the First Battalion, 198th Armor of the 155th Brigade, a National Guard unit from Mississippi that is the main American force here. Nothing less than an American battalion, up to 1,000 troops, should remain in the area through 2006 and perhaps longer, he said.

Yet, for the most part, American officers here praise the work of the Iraqi security forces, saying they have trained well and kept the number of major attacks on American and Iraqi troops to an average of one per month. The American commanders say their soldiers have largely halted combat missions and now play a training and backup role for the Iraqi forces - a model, perhaps, for the 160,000 American troops in other parts of the country.

In early September, the 500 soldiers of Colonel Oliver's battalion moved from a forward base on the outskirts of this city to a larger headquarters in the desert about a 40-minute drive away. A 900-person battalion of the Iraqi Army moved into the old American compound. It was one of the 28 American forward bases in Iraq that had been shut down by mid-November, with 15 of those having been transferred to Iraqi forces, said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a spokesman for the American command. He said the military expects to close four more of the remaining 82 forward bases within three months.

Colonel Oliver's unit, backed by 700 soldiers from a logistics battalion, acts as a guarantor of last resort for the Iraqi forces, remaining on call in case of overwhelming trouble. Emergency requests from the Iraqis come in about once a month, officers say. American advisers also work with Iraqi officers at a security command center inside Najaf, and, since last spring, one company each has been assigned to train and advise the Iraqi police and army. [... According to Sgt. Paul Bedford], part of a reconnaissance platoon that patrols the roads outside Najaf, "Assessment would be more the word than training at this point."
Colonel Oliver said that while some militiamen might have joined the Iraqi forces here, their numbers were probably small. Of greater concern, he said, is the enormous size of the police force. The Interior Ministry has given the police chief permission to hire 5,500 people, he said, but there are now more than 10,000 on the payroll. "The problem that that creates for them is resources," Colonel Oliver said. "I don't know how they're doing it."
In a furious statement issued Wednesday, the provincial council accused the Americans of "a typical crime committed during the Saddam regime - the killing of a young man." The council said he had been stabbed to death by American soldiers in a raid Sunday. Colonel Oliver said the man was killed by Iraqi soldiers during a raid on a house believed to be used by insurgents. The man was reportedly armed with a pistol, and an Iraqi soldier may have lunged at him with a bayonet, the colonel said.
Meanwhile, Ashraf Khalil reports for the FT and the Los Angeles Times on Haifa Street:
US and Iraqi patrols in the street faced daily attacks from an openly hostile population. The apartment blocks, many towering 15 stories over the low-slung capital, turned Haifa Street into a shooting gallery. In January, the US army opened a base at the head of the street. A month later, it became one of the first handed over to Iraqi control. The area has since quietened down.
Young boys busily hung up dozens of posters for a parliamentary candidate in the December 15 elections, a remarkable sight in a neighbourhood where any support for the US-backed political process would have once been life-threatening. A year ago, for example, three employees of the electoral commission were ambushed on Haifa Street and executed amid the morning traffic. And the black flags of Abu Musab Zarqawi’s insurgent group fluttered brazenly from palm trees.

Many residents credit the new atmosphere to the hand-over of security responsibilities to Iraqis in January. At first, relations were tense and the police tactics rough. “When they first arrived, they would just grab people for questioning. But at least they would let him go when they figured out he was clean,” said Haidar Akram, 35, a produce vendor. “Then gradually they started to get to know the residents more.”

At the Iraqi army’s concrete walled base, Sgt Nasser Ali, 31, said the initial crackdown was meant to set a tone. “We identified the heads of the terrorist activity,” he said, “then we cut them off.” Now, he boasted, his soldiers could sit in coffee shops without fear. “The Americans with all their heavy weapons couldn’t control this area. It took Iraqi minds and experience,” said Mr Ali, who complimented the US training they received.

Mr Akram said Iraqi soldiers and residents had since found their comfort level and that soldiers who used to come to work with their uniforms in a bag now hail taxis from outside the base. “We understand them and they understand us,” he said. “The Americans, you couldn’t explain anything to them.”
See also this analysis in The Economist:
At least four groups—the Iraqi Islamic Army, the 1920 Revolution Group, the Mujahideen Army and the al-Jamaa Brigades—may be preparing delegations to meet Mr Talabani. Despite their Islamist names, they probably represent members of Mr Hussein's army, intelligence service and formerly ruling Baath party. The Americans have long hoped to split such “nationalist” guerrillas from the jihadists who follow such leaders as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi [... M]any Iraqis say that the nationalist insurgents above all want an amnesty, an investigation into recent human-rights abuses, the political rehabilitation of former Baathists and the rebuilding of the old Iraqi army: a guarantee, in other words, that Iraq's former ruling minority will have a secure place in a new and multi-sectarian Iraq.

A lot of Kurds, who have been comparatively safe in their self-ruling northern zone, are probably ready to discuss such demands. So are many in the American administration. But they are unlikely to get the Islamist Shia parties who now dominate Iraq's government to agree—especially the Iran-backed Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), whose bitter hatred of Iraq's old Sunni-led army and ruling party goes back to the eight-year war with Iran [...] SCIRI officials sometimes say that the Baathists see negotiations as a tactical ploy to get the Americans out—after which they will try to recover their old place as Iraq's top dogs.
However, the influence of Shia hardliners may be waning. The Sunni Arab minority, which generally boycotted the last general election in January, is expected to vote in large numbers in the coming election. This should water down the Islamist parties' dominance in government.


A few weeks ago, the FT Magazine had an issue focusing on women and business. I don't really find these '50 most important rich people' type of thing very interesting, even if they are about women. As Graham Watts in his 'Editor's Letter' admitted, 'Cynics might want to know when we are going to publish a list of the world's top 25 left-handed executives.'

Pilita Clark's article, 'The accidental feminist' (subscribers only), however,  was fascinating: 'Norwegian men are financially penalised if they don't use their "papa quota" of four weeks leave to look after their new babies and their are plans to increase it to 10 weeks.' One businesswoman said that until employers look at male staff and think "he's going to disappear when the baby comes", nothing will really change for women in business.

The main thrust of the article, however, was a measure to impose quotas of female directors on company boards: state-owned companies had to meet the 40 per cent targets almost immediately. Public limited companies were given until mid-2005 to voluntarily meet the quotas. Otherwise, by 2007 they faced being "dissolved by order of the court of probate and bankruptcy".

Under Norway's constitution, half the cabinet is supposed to belong to the Lutheran state church of Norway. Ansgar Gabrielsen, then Norway's trade and industry minister, appeared to be typical of the conservatives produced by this system, but he explained that 'he had been reading studies showing that the more women there were at the top of a company, the better its financial position was likely to be.'

Sunday, December 04, 2005

More on Meyer

More on Meyer's revelations - review of his book by Ed Owen, special adviser to Jack Straw at the Foreign Office from 2001 to 2005:
The truth, however, is that Meyer was rarely bigger than a marginal figure on the issue. Most of the "heavy lifting" was done by direct communication between the two governments through Rice and David Manning (then the Prime Minister's foreign policy adviser, now Meyer's successor in Washington), Straw and Powell, and - of course - Bush and Blair.

This may explain why much of Meyer's detail of the run-up to war is confused and incomplete. Documenting events in the summer of 2002, he complains that Blair is making no headway in persuading Bush to go to the United Nations to seek a further Security Council resolution on Iraq. Then, only a few lines later, he blithely tells us: "I was pretty clear that Powell and Blair were going to get what they wanted."

I can only assume that Meyer is ignorant of much of the intensive work that went on during this period, including a secret mission by Straw to visit Powell at his home in the US in August, with the intention of making clear that a UN process was essential. [...]

Meyer makes the further, fanciful suggestion that military action could have been delayed for roughly six months so that the allies could create a greater international consensus. It was patently clear that Saddam Hussein was flouting Security Council Resolution 1441 - painstakingly agreed over two months of intensive negotiations between Straw, Powell, Dominique de Villepin and the others. Yet the French, for their own reasons, refused to issue an ultimatum in a second resolution in March 2003 (by which time Meyer had left Washington). All the evidence suggests that, far from supporting military action at a later date, Paris would have sought to use such a delay to dilute any international pressure on Iraq further still.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


... in Europe! Here the term is, as John Lloyd notes, for the most part, one of insult.
Nicolas Sarkozy burnished his credentials as a toughie during the riots in France, but he’s given no sign that his foreign policy would extend to agreeing with a strategy of spreading democracy.

In the US, the attacks on the Bush administration increase, from both liberals and conservatives. Will a future Republican candidate pick up Bush’s baton and remain as wedded to exporting democracy as he has been? And will a Democratic candidate craft a version of it? The answer to these questions might be, first, he will if he’s John McCain and, second, she will if she’s Hillary Clinton. [...]

If the US is the most important country in this regard, the UK is the most intriguing. Of the Labour cabinet, probably only one would have taken the decision to support the US so wholeheartedly in Iraq - and he was prime minister.
Thus there’s much to play for and, to make the play more interesting, a new society was recently launched at a crowded, sweaty reception in the House of Commons. The Henry Jackson Society is named for the US congressman who insisted that US governments consider the internal character of the states with which they deal. The society is seeking to occupy the ground of an intellectual buttress for these ideas which have come to be known as neo-conservative: a ground crowded in the US, but empty in Europe.
Its main movers are a mix of academics and policy wonks, with a few MPs. The Tories are led by Michael Gove, a former Times journalist and among the brightest of the 2005 intake. Labour is headed up by Gisela Stuart, the determined, German-born former junior health minister who, with the former European minister Denis MacShane, are the only two of the party’s MPs willing to put their signatures to the founding statement. Labour supporters among the organisers and signatories include the banker-writer Oliver Kamm and Cambridge historian Brendan Simms.
In the same issue of the FT Magazine, Lloyd also features in 'Epistles at dawn', an exchange of letters with John Humphrys on the role of the media. Just as a sample JL says:
we should take much more care and time to be carriers of debates that take place outside of the media - in parliament above all, but also in other assemblies, in conferences, associations, union meetings, ad hoc groups, boards - everywhere where citizens commune, argue and seek to agree. We need to be what we call ourselves - media, channels to carry other messages than those we create or affect. Above all, we can’t take the place of an opposition.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Slavoj Zizek

(I shall probably rewrite this post completely, when I have more time.)

Update: I heard him interviewed France Inter on Thursday. This is the same link as  before. (I should point out that these links may only be valid for one day.)  So, Zizek has another new book out in time for Christmas (last year's mentioned here). Actually, the book,'Bienvenue dans le désert du réel' , is a translation of one written in 2002 in the immediate aftermath of 11 September. I should think his English is better than his French, but as Julian Barnes has mentioned, when you have a book out in France, you do a tour of the TV and radio studios.

Seriously though, here are some of the themes he touched upon:

false choices;
Katrina / New Orleans and the Paris riots;
Traditional parents would say, "do this because I say so"; post-modern parents say, "do this because it will upset someone if you don't". In other words, they seek to control the vouloir, not just the devoir. [ I don't  know what he proposes, though. A return to the authoritarian model? ]

He was against the war (of course), but warns against the over-simplified analyses of some on the left. Saddam Hussein was a dreadful dictator, but he has not been put on trial for his worst crime, which was the war against Iran.

He defends Slovenia against criticism of it for pulling out of the Yugoslav federation, saying that it was evident what was coming (Croatia, Bosnia,Kosovo) and that Yugoslavia was doomed from the moment Milosevic took power.

He believes in Europe as more than a buffer between America and Asia, between a capitalism based on a US liberal model and a capitalism based on a Chinese authoritarian model, as a place where 'things can still happen.'

Addendum: here is a quotation from the France Inter website:
Il [...] se déclare « anti-capitaliste convaincu » mais adore mettre la gauche européenne face à ses contradictions, ses impasses, ses illusions. [...] il parlera de la crise des banlieues, du référendum européen ou de ce qu’il appelle le « totalitarisme émotionnel ».

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Tariq Ramadan, Denis MacShane

Concerning the question about Tariq Ramadan raised by Denis MacShane's article,  I've written a letter to the New Statesman:
Turkey's disgrace
email: letters@newstatesman.co.uk

Denis MacShane (Turkey's disgrace, 28th November 2005) refers to Tariq Ramadan mounting a campaign in 1993 to stop a play by Voltaire being staged, a case that does not cease to be cited by islamophobes like Daniel Pipes.

The denial of free speech, however, cuts both ways: as is well known, Mr Ramadan has been refused, on unspecified grounds, entry to the US to take up an academic post; he defended himself in a court case in France against a charge that he was - very indirectly - encouraging terrorism; he was barred from France, probably due to pressure from the Egyptians.

The most direct equivalent, though, comes from an article in Vanity Fair, April 2004: Shimon Samuels,  director of the Wiesenthal Center in Paris, noticed that Tariq Ramadan was going to speak at the European Social Forum in 2003 and wrote to the mayor of Paris, who had committed one million euros to the forum, saying that unless he distanced himself he was going to be "financing hate."

28 Nov 2005.

Anti-Anti-Americans revisited

Paul Berman in The New Republic, 28 Nov via David T at Harry's Place). It's a long article: read especially the passage starting
These three hatreds--of women, of Jews, and of Americans--happen to be the three pillars on which modern radical Islamism stands, the hatreds that led Khomeini to launch his Islamist revolution by veiling women and by declaring his jihad against Zionism and the American Great Satan. Glucksmann is not interested in parsing the Islamist ideology, though. He takes up these hatreds in their Western or European version, and he shows that, in this version, the differences between these seemingly disparate hatreds are not so vast as all that.

For why do men hate women? No one ever declares such a hatred. What men speak about, instead, is a perfection of love--a world of the perfect couple, created by the perfect woman, without fault or blemish. And yet, neither the perfect couple nor the perfect woman can ever exist, the human condition being what it is. And so, the more that a man extols a woman's love as the apogee of perfection and bliss, the more his attention focuses on the failings of any given flesh-and-blood woman at hand. And what are these failings, if not the human condition itself--the inability to be perfect? Men rail at women, and even set out to murder women, sometimes in gigantic numbers, as in the classic witch-hunts of Europe. This is always done in the name of a perfection that would surely exist, if only women weren't so damnably imperfect.
Damn it, read the whole thing. (I do recall reading the original article cited by David T towards the end of 2003.) See also an excerpt from POWER AND THE IDEALISTS.