Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The fifth column

The nationalist advance on Madrid began at the end of the first week of October (1936). General Mola claimed 'that he had four columns attacking the capital and a "fifth column" of sympathizers within the city ready to revolt.'  (Beevor, 2006, p166, 168)

At around the same time, there was the 'Battle Of Cable Street' in London. Bill Fishman recalls:
It seemed like an act of solidarity because, on the same day, the Republicans in Spain were also preparing to defend Madrid against General Franco's fascists.
(DAY I FOUGHT THE FASCISTS, Daily Mirror, 23 September 2006)

Saturday, October 14, 2006

French follies

The lower house of the French parliament has approved a bill to criminalize denial of the Armenian  genocide. So, if this bill became law, it would be a crime in France to deny the genocide and a crime in Turkey to affirm it. And this comes in a context where everybody has been at great pains to defend free speech on behalf of the "secular Republic".

As Pascal Bruckner put it in another context, the problem is that in France the state is regarded as the depositary of the truth (L'état est le dépositaire de la vérité - interview on France Inter, 5 Oct.) Incidentally, Pascal Bruckner was mentioned in Paul Berman's article last year, along with Pierre Rigoulot, Michel Taubmann and André Glucksmann.

It seems likely that the government will not even present the bill to the Senate. Even so, I just can't believe the Parti Socialiste has sponsored the bill. Ségolène Royal, in particular, favours it. It's difficult to know what to make of her. I've not heard her interviewed at any length, though her "spokesman" was on the radio a week or so ago. By contrast, Nicolas Sarkozy was on France Inter on Monday (9 Oct); on the Left, Dominique Strauss-Kahn was on the Wednesday before (4 Oct) and I´ve also heard quite a lot of Laurent Fabius and François Hollande. She seems to be one who likes to 'dot the i's and cross the t's.' This makes her somewhat Blair-like (not Blairist) in control-freakery. 

We certainly seem to be getting a crash course on some of the more surprising aspects of the French constitution lately. The smoking ban, proposed for 2007 and 2008, can, apparently, be promulgated by decree, without having to be debated or voted on in parliament.


The murder of Anna Politkovskaya, North Korea's nuclear test... it's been a depressing week and just a little overwhelming.

Well, I'll start by pointing to a couple of small updates I've made to previous posts: on Iran and North Korea; on Iran. I referenced one of Anna Politkovskaya's article in a post some time back.

At least the aggregation of the Euston Manifesto bloggers seems to be working again. On an even more trivial level, my 'Number of visitors (since ...)' seems to keep getting reset. I will update the template when I get around to it.

'Was the Berlin Wall a good thing for the world?' asks the Today programme. Timothy Garton-Ash quotes Douglas Hurd as saying, 'you know, this was a situation we lived with quite happily for 40 years...' From what I remember, people in West Germany were not happy with the situation at the time.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Islamists and fascists - 2

Version 1
Pankaj Mishra ....

Version 2 (or version n-1)

I picked up a link on Harry's Place from last week to an essay by Martin Amis ('The age of horrorism', the  Observer, 10 Sept, 2006).  At the same time, I was trying to find online an article by Pankaj Mishra from the FT Magazine ('Identity crisis', 12 Aug). By chance (no, by the wonders of Google), I also found that Pankaj Mishra had written a reply to Martin Amis. Harold Evans's "Comment is free" piece, that Mishra attacks, appears to be this: 'We must stand up to Islamo-fascism', August 15, 2006. Here are some of the criticisms:
Big words like 'Salafist totalitarianism' and 'Islamo-fascism' certainly help project the illusion of profound knowledge.
People obsessed with the threat of 'Islamo-fascism' fail to notice that a loose network of fanatics and criminals hunted everywhere around the world resembles little the modern nation-state that in less than six years caused the death of tens of millions of people across Europe.
Convinced of a mortal threat from 'Islamo-fascism', an ideological chimera of their own making, many of this country's brightest men and women reflexively assert that superior force will vanquish it.
I must admit I skimmed through some of Amis's essay, but I did read Pankaj Mishra's two pieces properly.  Maybe it was things like this (from Amis) that got up his nose:
Today, in the West, there are no good excuses for religious belief - unless we think that ignorance, reaction and sentimentality are good excuses.
In all the masses of comment in the "Comment is free", there are a couple of useful links: 
Freedom & "Islamofascism", Fascism: Clarifying a Political Concept.

Pankaj Mishra again:
Fortunately, the mass of ordinary citizens in Britain, though largely excluded from decision-making, has sensed clearly the moral and strategic emptiness of the 'war on terror'. Recent opinion polls show a majority to be increasingly convinced that the vain policies of our political and intellectual elites have made us less safe than before.
Just in case the masses were not able to make this intuitive leap on their own, they had some help: from the Guardian / Observer, the Independent, Channel 4, the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror; from the BBC (mostly).

I doesn't look like I am going to have time to write a 'Version 1', after all, so you will have to make do with this rough version. I started it about 2 weeks ago, so when I say 'last week', it should probably read '3 weeks ago'.

Anyway, the main point of posting now is to draw you attention to last week's (2 Oct) The Ticket, though the link will be outdated on Saturday: 'celebrated British writer Martin Amis talks to us about his latest novel...' He discusses Islamism towards the end of the interview.

Killing Bush

 Night Waves (Tuesday 3 October) previews Death of A President, to be shown on More 4 TV (in the UK) on Monday 9 October. This is about 15 minutes into the programme. But you might as well listen to Billy Bragg before it.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Iran and France

Iran's offer to France concerning nuclear fuel enrichment is likely to receive short shrift, according to Dominique Bromberger:
« Ce n’est pas sérieux et c’est sans intérêt ». Tel fut aujourd’hui le cri du cœur d’un haut diplomate français qui a vécu en Iran et qui est un bon connaisseur de ce pays. Et celui-ci d’ajouter que cette offre avait déjà été faite à plusieurs reprises et constamment repoussée. Les Iraniens auraient même, dans le passé, suggéré qu’un complexe nucléaire soit établi sur l’île de Kish, dans le golfe persique, et que cette île soit à cette occasion dotée d’un statut international afin d’assurer la sécurité des installations. Si tel fut bien le cas, alors la proposition d’aujourd’hui constitue un pas en arrière.

« D’autant, ajoute notre diplomate, que les Iraniens ont le plus grand mal à mettre en ligne quelques centaines de centrifugeuses pour enrichir l’uranium alors qu’il en faudrait des milliers pour fabriquer une bombe ».

En suivant cette piste, on aboutit à l’hypothèse suivante : Areva et Eurodif, comme le propose Téhéran, construisent une usine d’enrichissement en Iran et la font fonctionner. Mais, pour une raison ou pour une autre, les relations se détériorent et le gouvernement des mollahs décide de nationaliser. Il s’avère donc que la France a apporté aux Iraniens sur un plateau toute la technologie dont ceux-ci avaient besoin et qu’ils ne possédaient pas encore.
En fait, les six, c’est-à-dire les membres permanents plus l’Allemagne, ont eux aussi proposé l’installation d’une centrale destinée à enrichir l’uranium mais en Russie et non sur le territoire iranien. (regard sur le monde, 03/10/2006 >L’offre iranienne à la France : « pas sérieuse »)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Faith and intolerance

Robert Redeker,  a philosophy teacher,  is in hiding in France after criticising Islam.

Friday,  29 Sept.,  I heard an interview on Europe 1 with Robert Redeker.  There has been a little coverage in the anglophone media.  Much citing of Voltaire: 'Je ne suis pas d'accord avec ce que vous dites,  mais je suis prêt à me battre jusqu'à la mort pour votre droit à le dire.'

The article in question had been published in Le Figaro some days before.  By Saturday,  as someone on Le Figaro's forum complains,  the article had been taken offline.  A search takes you to other opinion pieces with a link to the article,  but the links point back to the France front page.  But at least this gives the title of the piece - "Face aux intimidations islamistes". From there it is simple enough to find several websites that give the text:  for example,  prochoix.org.

Contrary to the passages which have been continually quoted,  the core of the argument in the Papal Address at the University of Regensburg against Islam is the following:
The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this:  Not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor,  Theodore Khoury,  observes: For the emperor,  as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy,  this statement is self-evident.  But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent.  His will is not bound up with any of our categories,  even that of rationality. 
Islam is not the only thing that Pope Benedict "attacks":
The thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a de-Hellenization of Christianity [..] De-Hellenization first emerges in connection with the fundamental postulates of the Reformation in the 16th century.  Looking at the tradition of scholastic theology,  the Reformers thought they were confronted with a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy,  that is to say an articulation of the faith based on an alien system of thought. As a result,  faith no longer appeared as a living historical Word but as one element of an overarching philosophical system.  [..] The principle of "sola scriptura," on the other hand,  sought faith in its pure,  primordial form,  as originally found in the biblical Word.
Protestants no doubt would respond to this through dialogue,  rather than violence,  or threats of violence.  As indeed would those who hold to 'a reason which is deaf to the divine'.  (Personally,  I don't think I am deaf to the divine; I just don't believe in it.)

Another interview on Europe 1,  Monday (2 Oct),  this time with Bernard-Henri Lévy,  who does not agree with Redeker's ideas,  but,  again,  defends his right to express them. 

The affair can be compared to the Berlin Opera cancelling performances of Mozart's Idomeneo.  

Tariq Ramadan accused some muslim countries of instrumentalisation in their criticism of the Pope's lecture (news on France Inter,  19:00 CET 20 Sept.).  I could not find any further details of this.  However,  Christopher Caldwell wrote about it in the FT of 30 Sept.  ("At the borders of free speech"), noting the US state department's recent announcement that it would not revisit a 2004 decision to revoke Mr Ramadan's visa (see here and here) .  Tariq Ramadan contributed to an online forum in Le Monde this week and 'writing in the Swiss daily Le Temps,  Mr Ramadan accused undemocratic Muslim governments of having fomented much of the criticism of the Pope.' Mr Ramadan is barred from countries like Tunisia,  though,  as Caldwell comments 'whether those countries fear him as a liberal moderniser or a religious radical is subject to debate.'

Caldwell's article was not "Subscriber's Only" when I accessed it,  but just in case,  see Controverse autour du serpent Ramadan...  Curiously enough,  this blogger,  even as he quotes Voltaire in his masthead,  calls Tariq Ramadan a 'serpent'...

Monday, October 02, 2006

(The) Children of Men

The film Children of Men is based on PD James' novel The Children of Men. Very loosely based. Fans of PD James are likely to be disappointed. Her words, or the words of the main character, Theo, at the end of Chapter 21, are oddly prophetic: 'You can reduce everything, even this, to the level of a cheap feature film.'

The novel, published in 1992, posits that human fertility comes to an end in 1995 and the main action is set in 2021, when the 25-year-old youngest human dies. The 2006 film has the infertility starting in 2009 and sets the action in 2027, when the 18-year-old youngest human dies.

In the novel, Theo had had a wife, Helena, and meets a female activist, Julian. In the film, Julian had been, probably not his wife, but his 'partner' and had borne him a child. In both cases, the child is killed young - in the novel Theo runs over her accidentally, in the film by a 'flu pandemic.

The film works towards a denouement involving very violent scenes of street-fighting - Falluja replayed on the streets of Bexhill-on-Sea. Among the cuttings and so on that a character pastes on his wall as reminders of the past, there are handbills reading 'Don't attack Iraq' and 'Stop the war'. And, of course, Theo and Julian met at a 'demonstation where there were a million people.'