Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Rafsanjani's return?

The FT reported on Saturday that Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani may stand in Iran's presidential election in June. He is said to be concerned about the rise of the power of 'hardline' conservatives. What seems to have happened is that the rigging of last year's parliamentary elections - to exclude the Khatami-like 'reformists' - went too far and the 'pragmatic' conservatives lost control to the hardliners.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Norm's argument over Iraq

Norman Geras has completed his series on  Iraq with Part 5 here. I have replied to him as follows.

Concerning your argument against an alternative scenario of war in 6 years, this seems to me to be a bit of a 'straw man', though I suppose you were structuring your piece to dispose of the most absurd arguments first, to concentrate on the serious ones later. Still, the idea that war would have been OK if Bush had not been at the helm is not one that was actually put forward. People did not oppose the war because Bush was in charge: they attacked, or found fresh reasons to attack, Bush because he proposed a war, which they see in its illegality as being of a piece with his previous contempt for international law - from his attitude towards the International Criminal Court to indefinite detention without trial of 'illegal combatants'.

Legality, or otherwise, is one of the key issues that draws 'moderates' - people beyond the 'usual suspects' into opposition to the war. For example, Channel 4 News Thursday leads again with the story of what  an FCO legal official thought was the Attorney-General's position on the war. The Independent the next day has the same story on its front page and 3 (tabloid) pages inside. In the second of the Attorney-General's alleged 3 positions he is supposed to have thought the war could be 'open to challenge'. I'm not sure quite where such a challenge could be mounted - even the absurd 'impeach Blair' campaign has focused more on the alleged misleading over weapons of mass destruction.

Legality, of course, meant with UN approval. At the time of the big demonstrations in 2003 the LibDems maintained that they were the 'pro-UN, not anti-war' party. The reasons given in the Attorney-General's  public summary seemed to me at the time to be casuistry. The war was not approved by the UN, but neither was it condemned (any resolution to condemn it would have run into a US veto). Exactly the same applied to the Kosovo war in 1999, enthousiastically supported by Robin Cook and Clare Short.

The real position of those who opposed the actual course of  action taken by Bush and Blair in March 2003 was either war in 6 months or war never.

The first of these positions was taken by 'moderates' - people proposing a realistic policy alternative, such as US Democrats, for example James Rubin (for references, see here). This was for continued inspections. With Saddam Hussein failing to comply, the war would have taken place anyway, in autumn 2003, with UN approval and the support of France and Russia. That was how it looked in summer 2003. Since then, with no WMD found, we have to face the possibility that there would not have been a war.

The truth is, that if there had not been a question over weapons, war to remove Saddam Hussein's regime would not have been on the agenda. Why Iraq and not Zimbabwe - or Uzbekistan. When asked this question, Tony Blair replied, I do it because I can: 'I do it' - provide diplomatic support, a military contribution (not really needed) and undoubtedly useful British presence in the current phase to establish a new Iraqi state - 'because I can' - because the US administration wanted to do it, to end the long war of manoeuvre that started in August 1990 and, in the light of 11 Sept, to reverse the policy of propping up dictators in the Middle East.

At the same time, Iraq might have been given a bit more benefit of the doubt over WMD if it had not been such a particularly brutal regime, but merely a run-of-the-mill less than fully-free-and-democratic country (like Iran?).

As for the 'war never' position, this stresses the costs in terms of human suffering of the invasion. There is rarely much consideration of the costs of doing nothing, but there was the argument from Kenneth Roth / Human Rights Watch (as you noted in your 'Part 4'), that Saddam Hussein was not actually killing enough people at the time to justify an intervention on humanitarian grounds. Of course, we will never be able to be sure of the 'balance sheet' of this, do a return on investment calculation on the lives saved over how many years, compared to the lives lost due to the invasion and its consequences. And the fascistic forces, whether islamist or old regime are still killing people.

Update (29  Mar):  I heard 'The interview' on the BBC World Service at the weekend (link here). It was with Philippe Sands, who is in the same chamber as Cherie Booth / Blair. He is a strong advocate of the illegality of the Iraq war, but he does see the Kosovo war as justified, due to the imminent 'humanitarian crisis' (in other words, massacre of large numbers of Kosovans).

Thursday, March 24, 2005

l'Europe social

On France Inter, an interview with Laurent Fabius, 24 Mar ( listen again, not yet online when I looked) sets out the arguments on the French left for a 'no'. He favours deepening of the EU before widening and says we need a new text of the  constitution, with 3 circles: France / Germany, Spain / Portugal, Benelux and possibly others; the new countries from Eastern Europe; Turkey, Ukraine and the Maghreb;

In the first or inner circle, France and Germany would be able to keep their 'social protection'.

The new countries from Eastern Europe are said to be not like Spain and Portugal: they seek a niche (créneau) exactly through their lack of social protection. According to Bernard Guetta's earlier commentary, they are seen as strengthening the camp of Great Britain, the 'liberal' and atlanticist camp. (Spain's position could of course be seen as temporary: would it have been accorded the honour of inclusion in the inner core if Aznar or the PP were still in power?)

Turkey, then, is banished to the outer circle, along with the North African countries, which nobody expects to join the EU even within the next 20 years. They will however be offered 'democracy and peace'. Europe is either divided or diminished, depending to how you look at it, a Europe-wide market in the services sector is not allowed and the economies of the core are carefully protected.

The Independent had this story on its front page - 'A smoking gun, at last?' - Law of the war ...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Watching and listening

Watched Yasmin, which was shown on Channel 4 a month or two ago. This is about British Muslims. There is not much I can say that would do justice to it, so I will just say, watch it if you get the chance.

Listened to In search of time past from the BBC. There's plenty of the homosexuality and about the war (see here), but minor characters like the Prince de Guermantes are dropped, not surprisingly since the series is a mere 6 parts, and also the Dreyfus affair (as far as I heard, though I did miss part of the series). This could be hard for a British audience to relate to (even my late French teacher had not heard of it). It is though still occasionally mentioned in French literary discussions, for example on the radio. One snippet: the idea that Zola, as somebody born of Italian immigrants, was not a 'true Frenchman' and so took Dreyfus's side.

David Kelly, maybe, was the Dreyfus de nos jours (not to mention, de notre pays). The Government Inspector, shown last week, again on Channel 4, is a treat still to come for me.

The French CSA's ban on al Manar (see here) has been ratified and adopted at the EU level, even transmissions by the Internet being blocked, apparently.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Syria Comment

Worth reading - this for example:
In the midst of the demonstration coverage on Syria TV yesterday, the programers cut away to a prerecorded interview with a Baath Party hack intellectual about the significance of the March 8th Baath Revolution of 1963. It was quite extraordinary. The Syrian interviewer asked the Baathist analyst, "Why do we celebrate March 8th if it was really a military coup?" The Baathist had to explain that even though the military took over, the Baath was helped to power too. Then the interviewer asked if democracy had really been established in Syria as the Baath Party insists. The Baathist had to deliver a tortured explanation about how Syria is like a ship in a storm. Due to outside pressures, the ship needs a strong captain, etc. "Mistakes have been made," he ultimately confessed. It was [quite] extraordinary to see a Syrian TV moderator press a Baathist like this. His answers were convincing to few, to be sure.
And this from February:
What would Hafiz al-Asad have done” is one of the often asked questions here [in Damascus]? One closely placed source answered this question without hesitation: “The father would have joined Bush’s “coalition of the willing,” just as he joined Bush the father in 1991. In exchange he would have secured a free hand in Lebanon.” The president stood against America in Iraq. For that he will have to pay with Lebanon – perhaps more.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Lebanon and Syria

The comments on this post on Harry's place were removed, leaving little more than the two pictures. This did not give me the chance to correct this remark of mine:

Seriously though, it could go the other way. Bashar could be punished for having lost Lebanon and be replaced by more hard-line elements. After all, he's a nice dentist from the UK, isn't he?
He was in fact an ophthalmologist. The dentist of course was Allawi.

Anyway, some serious analysis here - 'Syria's Leader Moves to Consolidate His Power', HASSAN M. FATTAH, DAMASCUS, March 16.
It is widely felt that maintaining control is central to his long-term survival, because of Lebanon's importance to Syria's economy.
See also Syriacomment.com

Thursday, March 17, 2005


Several months ago, Philip Sabin appeared on a TV programme about Hannibal, discussing Carthage and Rome. More on him here: interview with... 

He made another contribution to the Efraim Karsh's book that I mentioned previously - 'Escalation in The Iran-Iraq War'. This seemed to me to be a very penetrating and succint analysis:

Likewise, the Iraqis used chemical weapons initially as a last resort device to forestall Iranian breakthroughs, a fact which may have made it harder for NATO nations to issue an uncompromising condemnation given their own dependence on escalation to nuclear strikes in such a circumstance.'

The initial use was at Majnoun in March 1984.  Chemical weapons were used in the final offensive in July 1988, after Iran had already agreed to the UN ceasefire.

'Just as one reason for President Sadat’s attack on Israel in 1973 was to shock the United States into doing something to settle the issue of the occupied territorrities, so a major reason why Saddam Hussein launched the ‘tanker war’ in 1984 was that he wished to provoke Iranian reprisals against the shipping of the Gulf states. This, he hoped, would either bring the united States into the war against Iran or would create sufficient international pressure to compel the ceasefire which Iraq desired.

Iran, the Gulf states and the USA itself were all understandably reluctant to fall in with this plan, but the Iranians were eventually provoked into sufficient reprisals to make Kuwait appeal for superpower protection. The Kuwaitis overcame US reluctance to be dragged in by playing on superpower rivalry and threatening to invite Soviet intervention instead. Fortunately, both superpowers had now gravitated against Iran for refusing to end this increasingly dangerous conflict, and direct US involvement did not go far before the combined pressues of the major powers impelled the antagonists to reach a ceasefire.

Wolfowitz again

Paul Wolfowitz is in the news again. Clare Short, on Channel 4 News last night, said that Europe could reject the nomination, just as the US had rejected Europe's nomination for the IMF not so long ago. But that was under Clinton, in 2000.

Further reaction this morning. Wolfowitz's nomination to the World Bank is criticized on two axes: he is seen as being an 'amateur'; more crucially, it seen as the US opening another front in the 'war on terrorism'. By attacking poverty and corruption. How terrible.

Update (18 Mar): Comments on BD's Wolfy Shocks Europe! To quote from a piece I  linked to there:
le projet européen prendrait, aux bas mots, une quinzaine d’années de retard supplémentaire car il faudrait rebâtir un consensus sur la manière de le remettre en route alors même que l’élargissement fait coexister dans l’Union des pays essentiellement atlantistes et des partisans d’une affirmation politique de l’Europe, des pays qui ont des acquis sociaux à défendre et d’autres qui ne peuvent pas encore s’offrir ce luxe.
Non seulement il serait long et difficile de recoller les morceaux après un « non » français mais, ayant rejeté l’actuel projet de Constitution sans offrir de projet alternatif, ayant réduit à néant un effort commun par le seul effet de son bon plaisir, la France n’aurait ni les idées ni le crédit nécessaires pour reprendre les rênes politiques de l’Europe.

L’Europe stagnerait. L’influence française y serait réduite. A l’heure de la toute puissance américaine et de l’envol chinois, ce serait pour le moins dommageable mais y aurait-il au moins là le moyen de mieux défendre la protection sociale puisque tel est l’objectif dont se réclament la plupart des avocats du « non » ? La réponse est que le seul moyen de le faire est d’accélérer la marche vers une Europe politique

Links to obituaries of George Kennan here. His outlook previously discussed here and here.

Iran and Israel

John Simpson's book, as its title suggests, deals with the 3 wars involving Iraq since 1980 and the bits in between - like 'containment'. On the first of these wars, as is familiar from his earlier works, he takes a rather over-simplified view - that Israel backed Iran.

One analysis that gives more idea of the complexities is Joseph Alpher's 'Israel and The Iran-Iraq War' (in The Iran-Iraq War: Impact and Implications, Efraim Karsh, ed., London: Macmillan, 1989). I have recommended this previously, in other places, but I don't think I have published the following before. I have tidied it up a bit, but it is still largely in note-form. Notes in '( )' are references of the original. 

The 'periphery doctrine' was originally argued by David Ben_Gurion. Some of its subleties were lost 'by his disciples of recent years'. The idea was to seek allies around the Arab core, which was unremittingly opposed to Israel's existence. These were sometimes pro-western countries -  Turkey, Iran, Ethiopia and Morocco, the Sahel states of Africa. Also support could be sought among non-Arab or non-Muslim minorities - Maronites in Lebanon, Kurds in Iraq. (Note 3) In the 1920's,  Shi'ites in Lebanon and Alawites in Syria, after 1967 the Druze in Syria. The habit of co-ordination with Shah's Iran left a number of vested interests. By the late '70's, the doctrine was less viable. The Arab core and the periphery exchanged roles. The Sunni Arab countries were more moderate, the periphery more radical - Marxist in Ethiopia, Islamic fundamentalist in Iran.

The actual arms supplied to Iran in the '80s was insignificant, but Israel's involvement symbolized a lack of recognition that a major change had taken place. (Note 6) Moshe Dayan's attempts 1977-8 to torpedo last ties to Ethiopia, infuriated Israeli elite. But Egypt and US were both anti-Ethiopia and it later emerged that at this period he was intent on laying the foundations for peace accords with Egypt.

The advantages of the war for Israel at the beginning were the 'tying down Iraq's legions around the Shatt Al-Arab' and to provide a 'strategic pause'.

The 'anachronism of support for Iran' became evident with the 'emergence in the mid-1980's of Iran as the prime instigator of a radical Shi'ite movement in Lebanon dedicated to Israel's destruction' and in Gaza, but fears of Arabs were 'so thoroughly ingrained, so instinctive'.

At one point, there were even discussions with Iraq on pipelines, etc. from Kirkuk to Haifa.

Israel, it was argued, was 'aligned with "the wrong camp" in the eyes of their friends [the US]'. (Note 12) For 'a discussion, somewhat behind the pace of events' on the shift in attitudes, see Thomas Friedman in the NYT.

Iran-Contra exposed flawed assumptions : 'that the Iran of the 1970's so familiar to Israeli decision makers was the true, inevitable Iran that would be restored in the near future.' (Note 14) Abba Eban said 'I wouldn't sell [Khomeini's] Iran a broken typewriter'.

American reflagging. (Note 15) US warned President Chaim Herzog that Israel 'must not shoot across our bow' in the Gulf. The strategic relationship with the US was paramount. (Note 16) Spurious reports of continued arms sales to Iran in the Arab press, 'eventually found their way into the western press'.

Israel's policy swung to neutrality and condemning the war.

Eventually, some argued for a 'tilt to Iraq'. This was favoured by Peres and Shamir. Rabin and Sharon opposed. They favoured neutrality until Khomeini passed from the scene. Iran was still 'the strategic prize for Israel and the West'. Both sides made 'frequent use of newspaper columnists..., preferring to say little that was directly quotable'. Nov 1987. 'Nothing in Rabin's nostalgic view of Iran... to indicate a pro-Iranian tilt by Israel at the time. [?]'  Remarks from some Iraqi ministers: 'Iraq now considers Iran to be a greater danger than Israel to the Arab world'. (Note 33) Iraq had not convinced Israel that it [it's relative moderation on Palestine] was 'a strategy and not a stratagem'.

Legacy of Iraqi participation in 3 major Arab wars with Israel, expulsion of 200,000 Jews in early 1950's. Nuclear and chemical weapons. By March-July 1988, 'war had outlived its usefulness' -  spawning an arms race, missiles and chemical weapons. For Palestinian-Israeli peace process, Israel needed goodwill of US, Egypt and Jordan who were friendly with Iraq.

(Note 39) Tamir,  Jul 1988 : interesting 'new variant on periphery policy, with Iraq distracting Syria away from Israel'.

After the ceasefire, the Intentions of Iran and Iraq were unclear. Capabilities : Iran's limited. Iraq's a  'significant potential strategic threat to Israel'. 'Iran's and Syria's strange strategic alliance'.

The conclusion: 'Clearly, evolving Iranian and Iraqi attitudes... could soon provide surprises for Israel and the Arab states together.' 

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

anti-war people

John Simpson, in a book written in October 2003,  had an interesting analysis of the political reasons for the British policy on Iraq: to have not adopted the US line
would have had serious repercussions at home. The Conservatives, demoralized and divided, would immediately have discovered a function for themselves as the saviours of the Atlantic alliance. ...

Hard though it was for many people in Britain to understand why their government had to follow the United States so closely, Tony Blair had no real alternative.
(The Wars Against Saddam, P257-8)

Of course, in the event some of the right-wing press attacked Blair for precisely the opposite reason - for following too closely the US line. For example, Corelli Barnett in The Daily Mail Saturday, on the second anniversary of Blair's eve-of-war speech to Parliament, says that he either lied or showed bad judgement and then put the blame on France. Never mind that some of the French rhetoric, especially de Villepin's, was extravant and unhelpful. Certainly Blair and Campbell did seize on this as a lifeline. My recollection is that even The Daily Mail did buy this anti-French angle for a while. But then the imperative to attack Blair and Labour reasserted itself. Similarly, at the time of the Hutton enquiry, sorely tempted as it was to beat up the BBC, the Mail eventually came down on the side of supporting the (exaggerated) claims of some of its journalists.

Another curious thing: when Channel 4 showed a debate on immigration on Sunday, on the anti-immigration side they had Andrew Green and Rod Liddle. Green was one of the ex-diplomats who signed a critical letter to Blair on his Iraq policy. Liddle was frequently heard  at the time of the Hutton enquiry, speaking in favour of Andrew Gilligan. He has apparently produced a documentary  critical of immigration (which I did not see) and written an article in the Radio Times (cut-out and keep). On the other side was David Aaronovitch. Dave A's bombshell, or surprise piece of evidence, was a recording of the leader of the British National Party supporting the other side.

What is interesting is that people can be found from within the supposedly left-liberal spectrum to support this position. Green at least passes the consensus-view test by being anti-the Iraq war.

There is a danger of sliding from the secularism of Harry's Place or Crooked Timber, the insistence on 'Enlightenment' values (i.e. an obsessive anti-clericism, rooted in 18th century France), to a generalized hostility to Islam - Liddle cites the murder of Theo van Gogh - and then to the overt racism of a Pim Fortuyn kind.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Working-class Shi'a

The speech was also remarkable for its venue - downtown Beirut - and the absence of the trademark Hezbollah backdrop, its green and yellow banner with a fist brandishing a Kalashnikov rifle. Manar Television, the organization's satellite channel, ended its somewhat triumphant reporting with a tight shot of Sheik Nasrallah, standing on the balcony of a sparkling white sandstone building and in front of a Lebanese flag.

"Today Sayyid Nasrallah has become a national leader," the announcer intoned.
March 13, 2005, Hezbollah Leader's New Fray: Lebanese Politics, NEIL MacFARQUHAR on  Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. On the significance of 'downtown':
Sheik Nasrallah... spoke from a balcony right above the trendy Buddha Bar and just a few buildings away from Bank Street, lined with the country's premier financial institutions, which together hold an estimated $65 billion to $85 billion.

It is not turf frequented by the bulk of the working-class Shiite Muslims from the capital's unkempt southern suburbs who form Hezbollah's backbone.
'Mr. Hariri was a Sunni Muslim who believed in Arab causes, but he also spoke to the many Lebanese, particularly Christians, who consider themselves misplaced Europeans.'  Thus, it was coalition of Christians, Sunni Muslims and Druze who have led the opposition to Syria's presence since his death.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Convergence on Iran

The NYT reports ('Europe and U.S. Agree on Carrot-and-Stick Approach to Iran') that the EU-3 are getting tougher while there is 'a statement by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confirming that the United States, too, had shifted its position on Iran - in its case toward a more conciliatory approach'.
Ms. Rice said Mr. Bush would drop his objections to Iran's application to the World Trade Organization and would "consider, on a case-by-case basis, the licensing of spare parts of Iranian civilian aircraft."
See also the report from the BBC and this background of views. On BBC WS Friday night, a former Iranian ambassador now resident in the US said that the latest shift in the US position was a trap to lay the blame for a failure of negotiations at Iran's door.

Update (15 Mar): this was mostly foreshadowed in the NYT a couple of weeks ago - see here.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Those dossiers again

The FT Magazine slips from its usual high standards by warming up a story from last summer - The ditch Blair project, by Isabel Hilton, 4 March 2005. One glaring error:
the Cambridge academic Glen Rangwalla, who had exposed the fact that the government's dossier on Iraq's WMD contained plagiarised text from an obsolete academic thesis.
What Rangwalla exposed was the dossier of February 2003, not the far more famous, and important, dossier of September 2002 on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Hua’er (flower)

As you may be aware, BBC radio is focussing on China this week. The World Service had this Thursday It is heartbreaking, even at 05:45 in the morning (CET).

During the Cultural Revolution, her father was imprisoned as an imperialist secret agent (because he was Japanese). Her mother had to attend 'special classes'. The girl was taken to a darkened room by Red Guards, to be examined for counter-revolutionary influences. In reality, she was raped. She was 11 years old. As soon as her mother saw her in the light, she knew what had happened. She killed herself. When her father was released, he did not recognize his children: he had lost his mind after being told of his wife's suicide.

When the girl married, she had problems: she could not stand being touched in the dark. She was unable to tell her husband the truth. She invented terrible lies - that he did not satisfy her sexually.

Last word on the 'classics'

So, to try to sum up the case on Chomsky's classics, remembering that this all started with Christopher Hitchens' remark in an interview.

First, it is quite possible that as we grow older we become more conservative, yet reluctant to abandon positions once held passionately. 

Then, I think the tone was different in Chomsky's earlier works. True, the strained irony has always been there, but the distortions were less blatant, though Kamm does give a good example in the Samuel Huntingdon affair. There is more of a struggle over what action should be taken (which Kamm may see as 'feeble equivocation'), for example in 'On Resistance'.

Thirdly, the objective circumstances have changed between 1968 and 2003. The elections in Vietnam (mentioned here), were a farce according to Chomsky, again if he is to be believed, with the Vietcong and other opposition groups excluded. Now, the US and the Iraqi majority are keen, begging even, for the Sunnis to to take part in the political process, rather than continue the insurgency. The objective circumstances may have changed, but the rhetoric of Chomsky (and Pilger and so on) remains the same.

Christopher Hitchens used to belong to a group that later became the SWP. According to Oliver Kamm here, the Stop the War Coalition 'is in fact a front organisation for the Socialist Workers’ Party.' As I said before, the process was very sad. The norm became knee-jerk reactions and exaggerated rhetoric, rather than reasoned analysis. To illustrate the point, from Jim Higgins' book again (see here), an example from the 1950s and an even earlier forerunner of the SWP:

during the German rearmament debate, it was necessary to deter SR Group members from seconding resolutions with such preambles as:  "The Germans who have already started two world wars ...".

Monday, March 07, 2005


France Inter, in their press review on Friday, mentioned Ken Livingstone’s article in The Guardian. Strangely, BBC Radio 4 in theirs didn't,  preferring to concentrate on the war of Mrs Dixon's shoulder and Michael Jackson's trial.  


Andrew Gilligan's career is not quite in tatters: he is making documentaries shown on Channel 4 like 'Torture: the Dirty Business' (first shown Tuesday, 1 March). This dealt with 'rendition', the removal of persons held by the US to Syria (of all places) and Egypt for torture.

The last part featured Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Tashkent. He argued that MI6 was making use of intelligence produced by torture and therefore encouraging it - 'selling our souls for dross.' He was told his view not shared in Whitehall, that his position was not tenable and he left his job at the end of 2004. The British government claim that they are keeping to the treaty against torture by not carrying out or 'instigating' it.

Much was made in the programme of the alleged fiction of the link with al Qaeda. Certainly there are islamic groups in Uzbekistan and there probably would be some sort of tie-up with al Q, but how close I don't know. The real point is that they are the only credible opposition to Karimov's brutal rule.


The former head of the Metropolitan police in London claimed that there were 1 to 2 hundred al Qaeda operatives in Britain. Monday, on Today at around 7:15, somebody said that in France, say, with cases under an investigating judge, suspects could be held for up to 4 years. And all without derogating from European Human Rights.

Well, obviously the British system has always been different: we don't have investigating judges. The police do the investigating and people are kept in prison, if they are denied bail, pending trial ... but  4 years ??

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Madina Louemba

Don't miss Caroline Moorehead in The Financial Times, A life in limbo --- link

Sahib, Madina, her brother Aleksandr and their friends set up a human-rights group, opened an office and collected money and medicine for the refugee families, as well as campaigning on their behalf. They received occasional warning visits from the secret services: their too-keen interest in human rights was being monitored — and frowned upon.
Madina and Sahib reluctantly moved to St Petersburg [from Baku]...Soon they made new friends with people who had recently started the Committee for Human Rights, which worked with refugees from the Chechen wars and the troubles in the Caucasus.
One evening, when she was alone in the office, the police came to get her. She was questioned, beaten, slapped, her arms pinioned painfully behind her back. Released after 24 hours, she spent a week in hospital. ...

Madina could now, should now, have kept silent. It is hard, sometimes, to comprehend the kind of admirable courage that makes people press on. The Committee closed its office, but Madina and Sahib continued to help the refugees, inviting them to their own house and finding doctors to look after them. The telephone threats continued. Madina was again arrested. This time they put a bucket on her head and beat it until her ears rang, and they hit her with a plastic bottle full of water so that her body turned blue with bruises. Two broken ribs and concussion took her back into hospital.
Chechens, and all those supporting Chechens, have routinely been arrested, ill-treated and even "disappeared". The second Chechen war was labelled a "counter-terrorist" operation, and a "law on countering terrorist activities" has been brought in under President Putin...
There's more on her treatment in Russia. Eventually, she sought asylum. After eight months in England, she was sent to Italy. Since it was for there that she had obtained a visa, that was 'her country of apparent first choice'.

In 2004, 9,018 asylum seekers had their first hearings: they came from Liberia, Eritrea, Sudan, Kosovo, Iraq and elsewhere. Most — 8,150 — were eventually turned down and directed to leave Italy, putting the acceptance rate at around 10 per cent on a first interview, similar to the rest of Europe. The Iranians, with 31 out of 71, had the highest acceptance rate; of the 37 Russians who applied for asylum, only three were recognised. Luck and politics, as the CIR sees it, play their part in Italy as elsewhere: since Berlusconi and Putin became such friends, recognition for Russian asylum seekers has dropped. "Whether states like it or not," says Daniella di Rado at the CIR offices in Rome, "the granting of asylum is highly political." In a system so arbitrary, it is no surprise that asylum seekers prefer to try their luck in some countries over others: between January and September 2004, Austria recognised 94 per cent of Russians asking for asylum as true refugees, while the Slovak Republic accepted only two out of 1,081 applicants.


The Financial Times reports that, in spite of Condoleeza Rice's Soviet expertise,

Mr Bush has effectively taken charge of the Russia portfolio.
...she was outside the room on Thursday, as the most sensitive issues between Washington and Moscow - Yukos, Chechnya, freedom of the press, centralisation of power, arms sales to Syria and dealing with North Korea and Iran's nuclear ambitions - were left on the agenda for discussion by Mr Bush and Mr Putin alone.
('Europe trip shows Bush taste for diplomacy', James Harding and Guy Dinmore in Washington, February 26, 2005  - subscribers only. )

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Online sources

In 'The revolutionary pacifism of A J Muste' (American Power and the New Mandarins -see )  Chomsky compares US counter-insurgency efforts in South-east Asia in the 1960s to those of Japan 30 years earlier. There are no prizes for guessing who comes worse out of this comparison: after all the Japanese were encircled.

One of his sources (Note 77) is Chong-sik Lee,  Counter insurgency in Manchuria: The Japanese Experience, RAND  Corporation Memorandum RM-5012-ARPA, January 1967. Since ARPANET was a forerunner to the Internet, I thought it worth seeing if this was available online. It can be downloaded  for free here (be aware it is quite big - 15Mb, 361 pages).

It is striking that, compared to the all too familiar polemic of recent years, little has changed in the tone of the rhetoric, even if the 'enemy' has. From 'The Responsibility Of Intellectuals'   (Op.Cit., Chatto & Windus, 1969, Note 29, P289):
It is con­ceivable that at some future time a powerful China may be expan­sionist. We may speculate about such possibilities if we wish, but it is American aggressiveness that is the central fact of current politics.
He also wilfully misrepresents the idea of an "open society": 'in our peculiar sense of this term-a society, that is, which remains open to American economic penetration or political control.' 

Oliver Kamm has also been (re-)reading Chomsky's classics - see, for example, Chomsky and the Vietnam War - a study in failure . In fact, look at the whole of the January 2005 and November 2004 archives. This pretty well sums it up:
He runs separate passages together, adding tendentious interpolation, in order to give a false account of the argument he claims to be presenting. It is intellectual dishonesty of a high order. If you are summarising someone else’s argument – especially an argument you are criticising – you are duty-bound to give an accurate account of it. Ellipses must not be used to omit relevant material; interpolations must be aids to clarity of exposition and not editorial devices; passages must not be shorn of context that would alter their meaning.
Chomsky and the Vietnam War - a study in propaganda  I can't resist quoting this, too:  'It’s encouraging to learn that The Guardian, then [in 1973] a liberal newspaper, wrote a leading article on the affair entitled “Closed minds at Sussex”. '

A search for the title ('The revolutionary pacifism...') and Manchuria also gives an interesting result.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Lebanese media

Interesting report on the BBC World Service this morning: the 2 main non-state run TV channels in Lebanon, which usually provide light entertainment have been carrying continuous coverage of the political crisis. One of them was owned by the murdered Rafik Hariri, by the way. These are seen throughout the rest of the Arab world, as are al Jazeera and al Arabya. Mr Hariri also had a stake in the latter.

Chomsky in 'The Logic of Withdrawal' (see, P216-7) quotes Bernard Fall quoting a Vietnamese remarking to an American general, 'but aren't your victories coming closer and closer to Saigon?' The Vietnamese must have been well read in Proust where someone remarks that French victories are coming closer and closer to Paris (in the First World War - Le temps retrouvé).