Monday, October 31, 2005


The East German authorities launched a campaign of repression against the church and intellectuals. With the death of Stalin, things changed and the campaign was dropped. Industrial workers, however, complained they were getting nothing out of this and perceived some weakness in the regime. Their uprising was of course crushed with brutality. (Charles Wheeler, 'Germany: from misery to miracle' - Part 3)
Bertrand Benoit on Angela Merkel ('A star from the east' , FT Magazine, 10 Sept 2005):
Schroder’s style is to test the public mood, take ad hoc measures, and wait for them to take effect before making his next decision, with periods of frenetic activity alternating with spells of inaction. Merkel takes the long view. Her manifesto, with its detailed steps and precise timeline, is less a plea for votes than a roadmap to the first years of her government. Having set herself a goal (to boost employment), identified the problem (excessive labour costs as a result of high welfare levies on wages), and factored in the constraints (empty public coffers), she zeroes in on the solution: an increase in value-added tax to fund a cut in welfare contributions that would make expensive German workers cheaper to employ.
Far from being a hindrance, however, this outside view could prove her biggest asset. An easterner who has made her way in the west, she would have the ideal background to address the growing rift between the country’s 17 million easterners and their 60 million western neighbours. More importantly, her personal history means she is not emotionally bound to Germany’s old welfare state and the unwritten rule that politics should reach its ends through consensus, not creative conflict.

With Germany’s unaffordable social security system, its over-regulated markets and its cumbersome federalism in dire need of radical reform, would a perfect outsider not stand a better chance than someone raised in the system of achieving such changes?
”If I look at Scandinavia, I see we still have a long way to go in decoupling our social security system from labour,” she told me. “If I look at central and eastern European countries, I see I still have a long way to go in reforming my tax system, and when I look at the UK, I see I still have much to do to make my labour market more flexible... there is no single continental social model. There are only strengths and weaknesses.”

In private, she often mentions the collapse of the GDR. It taught her, she says, that uncompetitive political and economic models could fail. Her entire career since reunification could be seen as a battle to spare unified Germany such a fate. It seems the demise of the Soviet bloc was to Merkel what the second world war was to the rulers of Kohl’s generation.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Selected quotes

Orhan Pamuk, as we know, is facing charges of 'public denigration of Turkish identity'. He was interviewed by Maureen Freely in The Observer last week, 

 The governments of Europe were aghast, with the case raising serious questions about Turkey's attempt to join the EU. As his translator, I was only too aware that this was a bitterly ironic twist for Pamuk, who has long been a supporter of Turkey in Europe and European-style social democracy in Turkey. Like many of his friends, I suspected that his prosecution was the work of nationalists in the judiciary who want neither.

In one right-wing newspaper, selected quotes were rearranged to suggest that Pamuk had retracted his original statement, although in fact he reiterated it.

In some reports, there was also the suggestion that he had softened his statement in the hope it might lead the authorities to drop his case. A similarly worded article that had no byline found its way into the Guardian and other newspapers across Europe last Monday.


George Bush is right...

...according to Le Monde 

La vraie question, à ce jour insoluble, est de voir que l'occupation américaine de l'Irak nourrit inévitablement la guerre, mais qu'un retrait précipité pourrait être le prélude à une guerre civile d'une part, et à la création d'un nouveau sanctuaire pour Al-Qaida d'autre part.

Si Washington a eu tort d'occuper brutalement l'Irak une fois Saddam Hussein renversé, alors que les Irakiens fêtaient leur libération et espéraient davantage un soutien qu'une occupation, George Bush a raison de mettre aujourd'hui en garde contre les "illusions dangereuses" d'un départ à l'allure de débâcle.

Article paru dans l'édition du 27.10.05

DsTfW have a translation.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Proscribing the IJU

According to The Times,
HAZEL BLEARS, the Home Office minister, has been accused of misleading parliament by presenting “false” intelligence over the threat posed by an alleged Islamic terrorist group. Blears told MPs this month that an Uzbek organisation, the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), was a threat to British interests overseas and announced that it was to become a proscribed organisation. 
Blears told MPs that information on the group had been received directly from British intelligence sources which showed it to have been responsible for a series of bombings in Uzbekistan in March 2004. Her account was accepted at the time by MPs but has now been challenged by Craig Murray [...]He said that while he was ambassador he had warned the British government over accounts of bomb attacks connected to the IJU. He suspected they may have been concocted by the Uzbek government to justify local police killing a number of dissidents.

“The official accounts were not credible,” he said. “I went to one of the sites where a suicide bomber was meant to have launched an attack. It was a triangular courtyard and not one of the windows was blown out and there was no sign of significant damage. “I sent a telegram to London — copied to the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) in MI5, to the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence — about the inconsistencies of the accounts. “JTAC agreed with my assessment that the official version of events was not credible [...]

[Murray] says MI6 has no staff in central Asia and was relying on information from other sources — possibly the Uzbek government itself.
Compare this earlier account.

Friday, October 28, 2005

If only, some argue

I said in a  comment on Belgravia Dispatch that the views of David Cameron on the Iraq war, as in many other areas, are not well-defined. In this, I was reflecting a view that has been widely propagated. Michael Portillo has written

He is a political professional with years of backroom experience of politics at the highest level. Over many years he has written speeches and briefs to defend the indefensible. It is not easy for such a person to know what he really believes.

 However, I was being unfair. In the same edition of the Sunday Times, there was this (which was also quoted the previous day by David Aaronovitch): 

Two months ago he told the Foreign Policy Centre — a London think tank bristling with Labour luminaries (patron: T Blair) — that before the war he had had concerns about the scale of what was being attempted, but he now believed Britain shared a responsibility “to promote change, reform and liberalisation” in the Middle East.

He went on: “Just as there were figures in the 1930s who misunderstood the totalitarian wickedness of Nazism and argued that Hitler had a rational set of limited political demands, so there are people today who try to explain jihadist violence with reference to a limited set of political goals.

“If only, some argue, we withdrew from Iraq, or Israel made massive concessions, then we would assuage jihadist anger. That argument . . . is as limited as the belief in the 1930s that, by allowing Germany to remilitarise the Rhineland or take over the Sudetenland, we would satisfy Nazi ambitions. A willingness to cede ground and duck confrontation is interpreted as fatal weakness.”
Update: Chris Brooke has this post about how Cameron's views have, well, evolved.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

in the Bekaa

From the BBC 2005/10/26 17:47:08 GMT  :
Lebanese troops have increased pressure on pro-Syrian Palestinian armed groups operating near the Syrian border in the eastern Bekaa valley. Shortly afterwards, the UN published a report on Lebanon's success in meeting UN demands to disarm militias based there and send its army in instead.
A Lebanese contractor working with the military was shot dead near the Syrian-Lebanese border on Tuesday.  The UN's special envoy on Syria-Lebanon, Terje Roed-Larsen, reported on the status of Security Council Resolution 1559. The resolution, passed last year, called for Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon and for the dismantling of militias there. In the report, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told the UN Security Council that he had found "tangible results were yet to be achieved in these two fields".

He also reported that there had been "an increasing influx of weaponry and personnel from Syria to some of these groups".
---  Some background.

Control of the network

Heard on the radio last night... France is planning to increase controls  on the anonymous use of the Internet (for example in cybercafés):
Projet de loi anti terroriste -
Écouter l'émission du mercredi 26 octobre 2005  
Développement de la vidéo-surveillance, conservation plus longue des données téléphoniques, contrôle des cybercafés… Etes-vous inquiets ou rassurés ?
--- More here (while searching, I found this on China; I'm not seriously suggesting...).

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The wall

'Israel and the Arabs: Elusive Peace' Part 3 on BBC TV. It was the frustration of some militants when Israel went ahead with the building of the wall on Palestinian land at top speed that led to the initial breach in the ceasefire (hudna) in August 2003. This resulted in the resignation of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as Prime Minister and a renewed cycle of retaliation and further suicide bombings.

(This post from Chris Bertram has comments on whether it was or not the same version shown on PBS in America.)
Regarding that other wall, the BBC finally realise it has come down; they are scrapping foreign language services in former communist countries, to pay for an Arabic TV service. Not too sure about the Kazakh service, though.

in the South

From Rory Stewart's article in Prospect, November 2005, 'Losing the south':
The founding leader of SCIRI, Muhammed Bakr al-Hakim, an Iraqi cleric, campaigned for a theocracy in which the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini would become the supreme leader of a Shia superstate embracing Iran and Iraq.

Immediately after the allied invasion, al-Hakim recommended compromise with the coalition, no longer calling for an Iranian theocracy but instead for "a democratic free Iraq that reflects the interests of its people." He was assassinated...
However, after the previous war, Bakr al-Hakim said 'an Islamic government in Baghdad does not necessarily have to be similar to the Iranian system'.  (*)

As Stewart says, any understanding of the current situation in southern Iraq depends on a detailed knowledge' of Da'wa, SCIRI/Badr and the Sadrists, but it is difficult to define the differences between them.One interesting little detail...
Sadr II [Muhammad Sadeq al-Sadr] reached out to the poor with a charity supported by pious Iraqis. Tens of thousands of young men, often from poor homes, began to attend the mosques where his young disciples preached. The most senior leader of the Iraqi Shia was (and is) Grand Ayatollah Sistani, a much more learned scholar. But Sistani was born in Iran and did not give public sermons—some said because he did not want people to hear him speak Arabic with a Persian accent.
On the general situation:
Despite their intolerance and violent methods, the new politicians are often young technocrats with a confident and articulate programme of anti-corruption and economic development. Their religious beliefs can be an important moderating influence in Shia society. So too are wider mechanisms of social control, confidence and moral concern. Thousands of Shia have been killed by Sunni terrorists in Iraq but the Shia community has generally refused to retaliate. Restraint has been shown not only by Sistani but also by political leaders at a district level. The leaders I met on my last visit had stopped complaining that they were the victims of a Zionist plot and seemed realistic, tolerant and humorous about progress. They had begun to find the capacity to co-operate with each other and lay the foundations for government and security.

The new order in southern Iraq is, in short, hard to define. It is an improvement on the political exclusion and sadistic inhumanity of Saddam and has a great deal to teach the Sunni areas about prosperity, security and politics. But it is also reactionary, violent, intolerant towards women and religious minorities and uncooperative with the coalition. [...]

Southern Iraq is a democracy but we should not assume that this or any of the other terms which we deploy frequently about Iraq—insurgency, civil society, civil war, police force or even political party— mean what they do in Britain. There have been elections, but the government is not responsive to or respectful of human rights. In many ways it resembles Iran, but it is not governed by clerics. Its militias are not infiltrators, they are an integral element of the elected parties. The new government is oppressive, but has a popular mandate; it is supported by illegal militias, but it has improved security.
(*)  Anatoliya, 5 March 1991; quoted in The Gulf Conflict 1990-1991: Diplomacy and War in The New World Order, Lawrence Freedman, Efraim Karsh, 2nd Ed., 1994.

Saddam's trial in Le Monde

I was going to post this as a comment on DSTfW in response to this, but they seem to be having problems with comments, so I suppose I shall have to post it here.

I don't think the French media has generally been quite as bad as this. For example,
Procès biaisé pour Saddam - Chronique du 19 octobre 2005  ---
On aimerait applaudir le procès d’un tel tyran. On aimerait se réjouir de ce que, contrairement à Pinochet et tant d’autres dictateurs sanguinaires, Saddam Hussein ait aujourd’hui à répondre de ses crimes – de la manière dont il s’était saisi du pouvoir en assassinant 23 membres de son propre parti, le Baas ; du déclenchement des huit années de guerre contre l’Iran ; du recours systématique aux gaz de combat durant ces batailles qui ont causé un million de morts ; de la décimation, en 1982, du village de Doujaïl où l’on avait tiré contre son convoi ; du meurtre, en 1983, de 8000 membres de la tribu Barzani, celle d’un des deux dirigeants kurdes irakiens ; du massacre de 180 000 Kurdes à la fin des années 80 et tout particulièrement du gazage de 5000 d’entre eux en 1988 à Halabja ; de l’invasion du Koweït et de ses conséquences ; du massacre des chiites qui s’étaient révoltés contre lui après sa défaite dans la première guerre du Golfe et, bien sûr, des innombrables victimes de ses polices et de ses deux fils, celles dont on ne connaît ni les noms ni les tombes.

Dégoulinant de sang, Saddam fut un dictateur de la pire espèce mais le malaise que suscite l’ouverture de son procès ne s’en explique pas moins.
Admittedly, it goes on to talk about the US invasion in violation of international law and based on lies etc.

The judges may have been trained in Great Britain, but they weren't trained only by the British. It was an international effort, according to The Times.


Concerning the riots in Birmingham at the weekend: questioned on Channel 4 News, Sunday, about whether there was any evidence for the alleged rape of a 14-year-old Jamaican girl , one of the 'community leaders' said there must be evidence because the 'community' believed it to be so.
Well, at least the election result in Poland is another blow for the flat tax (taux d’imposition unique). On the other hand, the president who has just been elected seems to be a Catholic fundamentalist, wants a crackdown on homosexuals and the death penalty.

Some might count this as a negative too: he is supposed to distrust both Russia and the EU and look to the US as his sole ally.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Pact with Satan

Matt Bai on Hillary's prospects for 2008 (-- link ---):
In addition to voting for the Iraq war resolution, Clinton broke with some of the more liberal Democrats who tried to hold up $87 billion for reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, and she was one of only six Democrats to oppose a measure that would have effectively killed the president's missile-defense plan. (Clinton has taken a skeptical view of the plan's potential to work properly, but unlike most Democrats, she is willing to explore it.) The Pentagon even asked Clinton to join a select panel that is weighing future options for improving military readiness. Among the Senate as a whole, according to National Journal's latest rankings, Clinton's voting record on foreign policy last year was more conservative than all but five current Democratic senators.
Can she overcome the doubts of most of the base of her party about her position ?
And the thinking among her closest advisers holds that unlike other prospective candidates with conservative leanings  [...] Clinton doesn't have to worry about winning over more liberal base voters; she's an icon of the left, and short of climbing into a tank and invading a country all by herself, she couldn't do much to change that. By this theory, Clinton gets to have it both ways: her consistent centrist record will convince general-election voters that she is not the archetype they thought she was, and Democratic-primary voters will forgive her more conservative positions because, in their minds, she is saying such things only to make herself "electable." It's a strategy so elegant that even Karl Rove would have to smile in appreciation.
There are new forces out there, though:
What Dean's candidacy brought into the open, however, was another kind of growing and powerful tension in Democratic politics that had little to do with ideology. Activists often describe this divide as being between "insiders" and "outsiders," but the best description I've heard came from Simon Rosenberg, a Democratic operative who runs the advocacy group N.D.N. (formerly New Democrat Network), which sprang from Clintonian centrism of the early 1990's. As Rosenberg explained it, the party is currently riven between its "governing class" and its "activist class." The former includes the establishment types who populate Washington - politicians, interest groups, consultants and policy makers. The second comprises "Net roots" Democrats on the local level; that is, grass-roots Democrats, many of whom were inspired by Dean and who connect to politics primarily online, through blogs or Web-based activist groups like
Clinton's advisers disagreed about whether a bunch of 20-something bloggers really mattered. In a conversation last month, Mark Penn scoffed at my suggestion that there might be a strong backlash in the party against the ethos of Clintonism.  [...] It's true that most Democratic voters are probably too busy working and raising kids to spend a lot of time debating political tactics online, and the importance of the "Net roots" can be overstated.
As many have pointed out, it is hard to agree that the Iraq issue has 'little to do with ideology'. Someone complained about the dismissive attitude towards online activists ( comments here by: ck at October 4, 2005 12:49 AM ):
As a 50 something blog poster, I am completely dismayed at the utter cluelessness of the Beltway Democrats. They just don't get it -- the net roots are not a bunch of crazed 20 somethings...
Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias opined : [Posted at 11:45 AM  October 14, 2005 - via ]
I'd support Satan's domestic policy in order to stop the Lawrence Kaplan strategy for Iraq ("mobilizing national power on a scale not even contemplated by the administration") from taking power.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Iran and Persia

Recent developments in Iranian politics almost caused the cancellation of an exhibition in London (see 'Enlightened empire' by Peter Aspden,  FT Magazine,3 Sept --- link).
Curtis [the British Museum’s keeper of the ancient Near East department] explains how the works nearly became an early victim of the surprise election in June of Iran’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad [...]. The pieces, which will take pride of place in the museum’s galleries for four months, were all packed and ready to leave - until Ahmadi-Nejad’s victory. After the election there was, in Curtis’s words, “an entirely understandable reluctance” on behalf of the officials who had arranged the loan to take the final decision to send them on their way. Cultural co-operation can be too easily seen as unseemly political compliance. “It was decided to take the decision to the Council of Ministers, following a flurry of comment in the Iranian press on the wisdom of exporting such iconical pieces, given the risks involved,” says Curtis. The council, chaired by the outgoing president Mohammad Khatami, gave the go-ahead at its meeting on July 24.
There are some interesting reflections on ancient history:
Evidence shows the Persian empire to have been a tolerant one. “We think the Achaemenid kings were Zoroastrians, but it wasn’t a state religion. Archives describe the worship of other gods and when kings travelled abroad they paid lip service to local gods. It was clear that local religions were allowed to flourish.”
Nor should the Persians be regarded as excessively bellicose, despite the notoriety of the Greco-Persian wars under Darius and Xerxes. The former’s incursion into Greece was prompted by unwelcome Greek interference in Asia Minor. “The Persians never entertained serious thoughts of holding and annexing mainland Greece. It would have been a bridge too far,” says Curtis. “The sole purpose of the exercise was punitive.” Yet the spin of Greek historians, from Herodotus onwards, ensured that it was the heroic rearguard action at Marathon that captured the public imagination, to the extent that it is still celebrated in every major athletics championship.

For the late Edward Said, in his highly influential essay “Orientalism”, the depiction of Persia in the tragedies of Aeschylus was nothing less than the beginning of the west’s wilful misunderstanding of the east, which he believed played such a crucial historical role in present-day conflicts. When I talk to Neil MacGregor, the British Museum’s director, about the exhibition, he concurs. “The Greeks helped create the division between Europe and Asia, those stereotypes of the freedom-loving, tough European versus the servile, luxurious, effeminate, despotic Asian. We have gone on living with those stereotypes in an extraordinary way, because of the way Greek literature was absorbed into the mainstream.”
And then, he says, it is the way in which Persia worked out how to rule over its empire. “It was a multinational organism, and it is very fascinating to see how quickly the issues that any multinational organism has to deal with are identified. They showed that you can leave alone and foster local religions and habits, and all you really need [to be centrally controlled] are communications, the law and military security. The rest can be devolved.”
To return to the recent past, in the early days of the Iranian revolution of 1979,
Rumours abounded that some religious fanatics wanted to destroy some of the monuments in Persepolis. John Curtis rebuts these rumours, attributing them to a single ayatollah who made some derogatory remarks about the site. “It was never in any danger at all. [All the sites] have been very well looked after and tended throughout.”
Read the rest, especially the passage on the Shah and the one on the decision to pull the complementary show on the Shia tradition of martyrdom, in the wake of the London bombings of July 7.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Quote of the day

From the sports pages! Simon Barnes, "Yesterday's Rebels" in The Times, quoting Margaret Thatcher circa 1984:
“Anyone who thinks that the ANC will govern South Africa is living in cloud cuckoo land.”
Oh, and I have gone back into the C4 News Forum on the Uranium from Niger issue. Don't miss "A Tale of two trials" by Gerard Baker.


From the FT Magazine, 15 Oct, 'Weak leaders' by John Lloyd:
One of Nietzsche’s aphorisms (in Human, All Too Human) is that degenerates foster change - degenerates, that is, to those within the system being changed. Noting that societies with “good, robust mores” learn how to subordinate the individual and inculcate character according to their moral laws, he writes: “The danger to those strong communities founded on homogeneous individuals who have character is growing stupidity, which follows all stability like a shadow. It is the individuals who have fewer ties and are much more uncertain and morally weaker upon whom spiritual progress depends in such communities; they are the men who make new and manifold experiments.”

Those within any system imbibe and live by its morality, its “this-is-how-we-do-things-here” code. People who don’t observe that morality are seen as degenerates, or “morally weaker” - which they are, judged by the morality of the system. But they are also - to repeat a phrase of Tony Blair’s - the “change-makers”.

The rest of this article is for subscribers only
Lloyd argues:
Labour, perhaps because historically it has seen itself as the party of outsiders, has had fewer obvious degenerates ("we're all degenerates here"). Clement Atlee [...] was, like Harold Wilson after him, in a familiar line of middle-class leftist intellectuals.
(This is in the way of being an experiment. I shall google for the article in a week or so and see what turns up.)

Mehlis report

Much has been leaked in the last few days, especially in the German press (the investigator is German), but the Mehlis report on the assassination of Rafik Hariri has now been published.
Comments here and here ( Michel Aoun on France Inter, not saying very much, but asked whether President Emile Lahoud should be singled out for blame: 'il y avait beaucoup de méchants'.
 08:20 (CET) Question Directe,   08:41 Radio-Com, c'est vous).

Update: I've listened to the Michel Aoun interview again. This is roughly what he said at the end (in the Radio-Com piece, about 14 minutes in).
'President Lahoud est un seul homme parmi d'autres. Lahoud est responsable pour 7 ans, [les autres] sont responsables pour 15 ans. Il ne faut pas fractionner le problème du Liban, disant qu'il y a des bons et des méchants. Il y avait beaucoup de méchants: tous ont collaboré avec les Syriens.'

Analysis on the BBC WS, last night (Thursday), was about the ´al-Zawahiri letter´
The web site was not up to date when I looked, but maybe it will be soon. Meanwhile, you can listen to the one about... Mr Hariri's death.

On Today, Thursday: ´0833 Jean-Louis Bruguiere, France's top anti-terror judge, tells us why he believes the terrorist threat in Europe is still very high.´  Listen. I've only heard a shortened version of this.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Oil and the constitution

Jeff Weintraub, writing at Normblog quotes Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer :
Nor can Sistani always control Shiite politicians. Despite his opposition, key Shiite leaders demanded the right to form a regional confederation in southern Iraq that would control much of Iraq's future oil flow and enshrined that right in the constitution.
The constitution also asserted two other things: that the oil belonged to the Iraqi people; and that its revenues were to be shared between all regions.

Weintraub, however, goes on to make an important point:
Although Sunni Arabs amount to 20% of the Iraqi population at most, as the long-time dominant minority they have disproportionate military capacities and expertise, especially since many of the Ba'athist organizational and secret-police networks remain active. They also have support from the rest of the Arab world, where Sunni Arabs are the dominant majority (and are mostly appalled at the idea of Iraq being run by a bunch of Shiites and Kurds). As my friend Ben Braude has argued, the fact that Sunni Arabs are a small minority within Iraq but a heavy majority in the region (unlike South African whites - or, one might add, Lebanon's Maronite Christians) is undoubtedly a crucial factor in shaping their perception of the situation.
More comments on Iraq at Mick Hartley's.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Ears and forehead

I got round last week to watching a programme about the French headscarf ban, which was shown some time ago on BBC´s This World series, earlier this year, certainly before May. One of the people who took the side of the girls was Pierre Tévanian, introduced by the programme as a humble philosophy teacher, but who curiously I had already come across before on the web - for example  here - and who has now appeared in print. Some extracts from his book (in French, bien sûr)  can be found here and here

Those on the other side (favouring the ban) spoke of girls coming under pressure from their families to wear the headscarf, though the only evidence offered for this was second-hand. In fact, in many instances the girls were encouraged by their parents to put the continuance of their education ahead of insisting on wearing the headscarf.

If the girls expressed themselves articulately, this was taken as evidence that they had come under the influence of the fundamentalists (intégristes).

The school that was featured in the programme offered a compromise where the bandana could be worn (almost all other French schools did not even allow this), but it had to be pushed up to reveal the ears and all of the forehead and be in a light colour.

No comment.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Resistance (part 2)

In the world of blogs, Eric has this: Galloway and Israel. It certainly clears up a few things. 

Pick of the press: The Times on America's offer of a 'Gaddafi deal' to Syria

Ian Buruma writing inThe Guardian ('Tainted ground'). The article is OK, but he's done more robust pieces in the FT. Also, Martin Kettle argues for a more level-headed, less zero-sum approach to discussing on the terrorism  legislation.


Condoleezza Rice on the BBC: whereas John Bolton, a few days ago, repeated the familiar line: 'Iran is floating on oil and gas, developing nuclear weapons can be the only reason for their programme', Condi says 'the Iranians, if they want a civil nuclear programme, have to satisfy international concerns.'


Further to the point which unusually had Norman Geras agreeing with Seumas Milne a few days ago - 'Under the terms of the [terrorism] bill, anyone who voices support for armed resistance to any state or occupation, however repressive or illegitimate, will be committing a criminal offence...', there is a quite specific test case: Chechnya.

Moscow is angry with Britain for continuing to shelter Ahmed Zakayev, who has called the attacks in Nalchik "legitimate" (FT, 15 Oct).

Friday, October 14, 2005

One Brave woman

Report from the BBC:
An Uzbek woman says she saw government troops open fire on unarmed civilians during protests in Andijan in May. Her testimony, at the trial of 15 men alleged to have led the revolt, contradicts government accounts of what happened during the unrest.
Makhbuba Zakirova told the court that she saw soldiers shooting at people waving a white flag. "Even Hitler did not do such things," she said.

Mrs Zakirova said that after speaking out in court, she feared for her life and freedom.

Correspondents say her statement undermines three weeks of testimony in what many foreign observers had dismissed as a show trial.
Mrs Zakirova, 33, said she was walking with her children near the centre of town, when she came across the demonstration.
She said she stayed out of curiosity when she heard Uzbek President Islam Karimov was supposed to talk with the protesters. "There were people in helmets everywhere. I twice saw soldiers shooting from military vehicles. The shooting was intense," she said, the Reuters news agency reported.
As the protesters fled towards Kyrgyzstan, they used women's shawls as white flags. But it made no difference.
Mrs Zakirova was interrupted by the prosecutor, who asked: "Do you realise what you are saying? Are you sure?" She replied: "Are you going to arrest me now? I was telling only the truth, and you yourself asked me to give a truthful testimony... I am only saying what I saw."
Her testimony was consistent with accounts of refugees, but contradicted 100 other witnesses at the trial.

Updated: to incorporate some details from the report on the radio (BBC WS).

al-Z to al-Z

A few days ago on Belgravia Dispatch, Dan Darling wrote about the letter from Ayman al-Zawahiri to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zawahari complains about some of Zarqawi's violent tactics particularly the videotaped beheadings of hostages. ' "We don't need this," the letter says. "Use a bullet instead." '. As Dan says, it is as well to see the actual text of the letter.

The full text has now been released (via Norm). Here is the relevant passage:

'things which the feelings of the Muslim populace who love and support you will never find palatable - also- are the scenes of slaughtering the hostages. ...we are in a battle, and ... more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. And that we are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of our Umma. And that however far our capabilities reach, they will never be equal to one thousandth of the capabilities of the kingdom of Satan that is waging war on us. And we can kill the captives by bullet.'

Here are some more edited highlights:

The Shia
'the Shia [the Iranians] cooperated with the Americans in the invasion of Afghanistan and they cooperated with them in the overthrow of Saddam and the occupation of Iraq in exchange for the Shia's assumption of power ...

'... the Twelve'er school of Shiism .. is a religious school based on excess and falsehood ... Their prior history in cooperating with the enemies of Islam is consistent with their current reality of connivance with the Crusaders.

'The collision between any state based on the model of prophecy with the Shia is a matter that will happen sooner or later. these are the fruits to be expected from the rejectionist Shia sect and their opinion of the Sunnis.

'the majority of Muslims don't comprehend this and possibly could not even imagine it. For that reason, many of your Muslim admirers amongst the common folk are wondering about your attacks on the Shia [,especially] when the attacks are on one of their mosques...

'questions will circulate among mujahedeen circles and their opinion makers about the correctness of this conflict with the Shia at this time. Is it something that is unavoidable? Or, is it something can be put off until the force of the mujahed movement in Iraq gets stronger?

'we have more than one hundred prisoners - many of whom are from the leadership who are wanted in their countries - in the custody of the Iranians? And even if we attack the Shia out of necessity, then why do you announce this matter and make it public, which compels the Iranians to take counter measures?

Stages towards 'the establishment of a caliphate in the manner of the Prophet
'The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq. The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or amirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate- over as much territory as you can to spread its power in Iraq, i.e., in Sunni areas...

'The third stage: Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq.

The fourth stage: It may coincide with what came before: the clash with Israel, because Israel was established only to challenge any new Islamic entity.

The mujahedeen must not have their mission end with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay down their weapons, and silence the fighting zeal. We will return to having the secularists and traitors holding sway over us.

the enemies of Islam ... did not establish Israel in this triangle surrounded by Egypt and Syria and overlooking the Hijaz except for their own interests.

The Muslim masses ... do not rally except against an outside occupying enemy, especially if the enemy is firstly Jewish, and secondly American.

Preparing for the aftermath of the exit of the Americans: things may develop faster than we imagine. The aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam-and how they ran and left their agents-is noteworthy.

Theological purity
Also, the active mujahedeen ulema - even if there may be some heresy or fault in them that is not blasphemous - we must find a means to include them and to benefit from their energy. ... all Muslims are speaking of jihad, whether they are Salafi or non-Salafi, then you would understand that it is a duty of the mujahed movement to include the energies of the Umma. ... I do not want us to repeat the mistake of Jamil al-Rahman~, who was killed and whose organization was shattered, because he neglected the realities on the ground.'

Strangely, Afghanistan seems almost like a lost cause: 'We don't want to repeat the mistake of the Taliban, who restricted participation in governance to the students and the people of Qandahar alone. They did not have any representation for the Afghan people in their ruling regime, so the result was that the Afghan people disengaged themselves from them. Even devout ones took the stance of the spectator and, when the invasion came, the amirate collapsed in days, because the people were either passive or hostile.'

Update: A couple of points from Bernard Haykel's New York Times article (referenced by Norm):
'Abu Baseer al-Tartusi, has issued a fatwa arguing that all suicide bombing that targets Muslims, or innocent non-Muslims, is unlawful.'  With the 7 July bombings, I've a suspicion that the Jihadis do not regard British citizens as innocent, since they re-elected Tony Blair, even after he supported the intervention in Iraq.

Al-Tartusi 'no doubt fears that in Britain's changing legal climate, he might be extradited to [Syria], where he would face certain imprisonment and torture.'  While the British government is having negotiations on this with some North African countries, it seems unlikely they would negotiate anything with Syria.

Update 2:According to the FT (15 Oct), the letter may have been to Abu Musab al-Suri, rather than Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  Al-Suri was an intermediary for al-Qaeda in Europe during the 1990s. This would explain the reference to al-Zarqawi in the third person, which certainly puzzled me when I read it: "if by chance you are going to Fallujah..."

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Diplomatic fiasco

Interesting programme (the first in a series) on the attempts to settle the Arab/Israeli conflict (shown last night on BBC2). One thing that emerged was the paramount importance of Jerusalem, above all Temple Mount/Haram al-sharif. Refugees, other land issues have not been mentioned (yet). Also, I'd heard about Camp David in 2000 and Taba in January 2001 (see one of my previous posts, for example),  but I wasn't aware that important talks had taken place at the American Embassy in Paris, early 2001, where Chirac didn't help with his inept attempts to intervene.

Norm highlights Mark Townsend's report in The Observer of firefighter Aaron Roche's experience in carriage 346A of the 8.51am Piccadilly Line service from King's Cross on 7 July. As Norm says, 'you may prefer not to read this',  but I think everybody should. Unable to radio, Roche makes his way back from the train: 'He did hear one scream, a wail from a woman beneath the train. "She was screaming for help, she must have seen my legs as I ran," he said. Roche faltered as he toyed with whether to free her, but then he remembered the cold, bureaucratic language of their emergency coda; he had to keep moving; he had to let the world know of the horrors he had seen.' ...
But Roche could never bring himself to ask if the woman beneath the train survived. 'I never followed up what happened to her. I can't bear to think she didn't make it. I still feel guilty.'

Monday, October 10, 2005

Dangers of blogging

Saturday, the FT reported that, in Singapore, two Bloggers have been jailed (subscribers only, but see The FT continued by commenting that 'the internet is the last largely uncensored medium'; Singapore prefers to use legal sanctions rather than filtering technology, as in China; the Sedition Act was introduced in 1948 by the former British colonial government.
Still on the subject of blogging, BBC Radio 4 have a drama series this week, called 'The World of Margaret'  (10.45am - repeated at 7.45pm). It is a comedy, supposedly.

Sunday, October 09, 2005


John Mortimer in The Mail on Sunday, on 2 Oct(for someone with any liberal or progressive pretentions, to write in the Mail loses all credibility to my mind, but let that pass) on the incident with the heckler at the Labour conference, Blair's disregard for the 'golden thread' etc.

One point, though, struck me in particular: in his youth, Mortimer says, we applauded the resistance in France which murdered German oficers and threw bombs into cafes frequented by Nazi sympathizers. On the second category, there may have been some incidents, but not anything like the sustained attacks on civilians that we have seen in Iraq. On the first category, I don't think the word 'murder' is appropriate: we have to accept that British soldiers in Iraq or Israeli soldiers in the occupied territories are 'fair game', though it's hard not to apply the word to the killing of the 6 Military Police in al-Amara.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

European values

More from a Tory on Turkey: Oliver Letwin, on the BBC (Broadcasting House, 2 Oct ), speaking against the idea that the 'Christian identity' of Europe might be threatened: 'I am a Jew. There are Muslim, Hindu communities and so on in this country'. So, the 'anglo-saxon' position (Britain, with the backing of the US) is quite solid. Things are more complicated in France, for example.

Chirac (*) put it quite well: 'In the name of what, in the name of which humanist, European tradition, could we say to people who say to us "we want to have the same values as you" that, well, we don't want you.' (Le Figaro, 5 Oct).

So, what of the decision on 3 Oct to carry on with talks for Turkish entry into the EU? A historic date perhaps, but I don't see how the French are ever going to vote to allow them in in the referendum which Chirac proposed back in May, a promise he has now repeated.

Where Villepin is sticking doggedly to the Chirac position in favour of Turkey, Sarkozy, no doubt for 'populist' reasons, is opposed to its accession. It is argued that this is a project of the political elite, that is (again) not listening to the public.

On the other hand, Giscard d'Estaing, who accused Chirac of 'not taking into account French public opinion', opposes Turkish entry because it makes more distant that equally 'elitist' project, that of a closely integrated Europe (a federal Europe or a European super-state, depending on your view).

(*) Because of his medical condition, Chirac is advised to avoid air travel and is confined to France for the time being.

Benefits of research

(4 Oct) Long programme on 5 /Arte in France/Germany about 'Europe' (*). I was particulary interested by an item about a research project in America staffed entirely by well-qualified people of French and other European nationality (forced to work there due to a lack of funding for research in France). That is, it was argued, they were working for the benefit of the US. If they had been working for an American company, one could perhaps have seen the validity of the point, but they were working for a university in New York on cancer research. I would have thought that was for the benefit of all humanity.

In any case, most of them expressed the wish to return to France, if suitable opportunities should arise. It is hard to see that this is a loss for France...

From radio coverage the day of, the day after the strikes... the anger is directed not against capitalism as such, but against profits going out of France (big job losses at HP France, not because the company was unprofitable, but because it was not making big enough profits for its shareholders.)
(*) Also included a studio discussion with commentators from around the continent. Jon Henley of The Guardian, representing Britain, speaking very good French, but repeating the same point: 'Europe needs to be seen as doing something concrete for its citizens'.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Relative truth

Further comments here about Simon Blackburn's Truth: a Guide for the Perplexed, which I've started to read. On another point, Blackburn writes:
The relativist would not be surprised by a Lord Hutton, whereas the absolutist would be outraged [continuing in Note 10, that the Hutton's inquiry 'accumulated vast and to most people incontrovertible evidence of government manipulation and deceit, all of which he gave the impression of ignoring, and seemingly following a theory of evidence and law of his own invention was able to declare the government innocent of everything.'] The relativist would be happy to think that final legal authority rests with some sovereign, human, lawmaking assembly, such as Parliament. The absolutist will hold that when Parliament tramples on rights and trangresses against the moral truth, for instance by denying people the right to due process as contemporary parliaments in Britain and America are happy to do, its edicts are no laws at all, but only the commands of a gang that happens to have gained power.
By getting elected and putting themselves up for re-election.

Many people, though, did not find the view opposite to Hutton 'incontrovertible'. Note the slight legerdemain: at first Hutton is opposed by 'most people', so he is in a minority (perhaps of 49%); Then, he is on his own. Hutton, even if he is in a minority (in reality much smaller than 49%), at least heard all the evidence and weighed it up, whereas many of those who took the opposite view started with their minds already made up and managed to shout loud enough to convince others. (One is tempted to take Homer's and Socrates'  'thick thousands' ('Truth', P25) and use it in a more vulgar sense.)

Much of the fury about Hutton's verdict came from the sort of people who are keen on conspiracy theories.  Here I have to say I find it bizarre to associate today's relativists with conspiracy theories (see passage quoted by Ophelia Benson in 'Simon Blackburn'). Amongst  all the people who advance the nutcase theories, I have never come across any who say 'this is just what we think'; they always argue with complete belief, convinced they have found the truth that was out there, about the evil of the American empire (Zionist controlled).

And if modern relativism is in essence the same as the scepticism of the 2nd or 3rd centuries, how can it have led to such different, opposite even, outcomes, with ancient scepticism leading to a lofty detachment or withdrawal and relativism leading to a passionate belief in absurdities?

Update: I got Ophelia Benson's name wrong.

'They have began to...'

I begin (present) / I began (simple past) / I have begun (past participle), as sing / sang / sung or swim / swam / swum, still sound like 'proper' English to me. (These are one group in the remnants of 'strong' verbs in English and its predecessors, where the vowel changes in the stem.)

But I did hear the other day: 'operas sang in languages you can't understand'. OK, that was just something heard in the pub, but on the radio,  from an 'expert' : 'They have began to...' ?

The Times on Blair

From Wednesday's edition of The Times, the leader, "Blair on Blair", says, 'Many in his party may be pushing him towards the door marked “exit” but they will miss him more than they anticipate today once he has departed.'

Daniel Finkelstein makes the same point in "Why a mobile phone on a beach sends out a stark message to Gordon Brown" and adds that Brown
very rarely moves successfully from these rational components of a political message to the emotional ones. If ever he does, it is to touch the emotions of Labour activists rather than those of Middle England.

Mr Blair, by contrast, finds ascending the communications ladder simple. He brings his arguments back time after time to real people and their concerns — to the patient anxious for the results of a diagnostic test, the young family struggling to afford their first home, the disabled person needing help to get back into the workforce.

He makes real arguments too. For all that he has a formidable intellect, Mr Brown’s speech was simply relentless. That of Mr Blair was compelling.
Patience Wheatcroft gets to the nub of the 'efficiency' issue ("Give us reform and no regrets, Mr Blair"):
One professional outsourcing company that took on the running of a public sector organisation was staggered to find that it brought with it nine miles of filing cabinets. It also had an appalling record for staff-absenteeism, with an annual average days lost through sickness of almost 25 per employee. Within two years the new operator reduced the average absence to just seven days. The scope for other such efficiencies is huge.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Uranium from Niger mythology

‘Ridiculous claims’ about uranium from Niger, said Jon Snow on C4 News last night in a dialogue with their Washington correspondent in connection with the testimony of Judith Miller.

Compare and contrast the Butler report (Para 499) which concluded:
that, on the basis of the intelligence assessments at the time, covering both Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the statements on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa in the Government’s dossier, and by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, were well-founded. By extension, we conclude also that the statement in President Bush’s State of the Union Address of 28 January 2003 that:
The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought
significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
was well-founded.
The New York Times, as one might expect, put it more truthfully:
Mr. Wilson […] had accused the administration of exaggerating some of the intelligence that it used to justify invading Iraq.