JAKARTA, Indonesia: A suicide bomber attacked an Indonesian mosque during Friday prayers, shouting “Allahu Akbar” as he detonated his device, wounding 26 people, officials said. The bombing occurred inside a police compound in the West Java town of Cirebon, and many of the victims were officers.
Indonesia, a secular nation of 237 million with more Muslims than any other in the world, has been hit by a string of Al-Qaeda-linked suicide bombings since 2002 targeting Western hotels, restaurants and nightclubs.
Many of the 260 people killed in those attacks have been foreign tourists. In the last year, however, militants seeking to carve out an Islamic state have said the country’s moderate leaders and security forces would be their next target.
The suspect was apparently wearing a suicide vest beneath his black Islamic robes and sitting among dozens of worshippers when he set off the bomb, said Agus Riyanto, a police spokesman.
According to Reuters one of those injured is now dead.
The government has fingered an Islamic preacher as being behind recruitment of Kenyan youth to fight for Al Shabaab in Somalia. According to multiple police and intelligence sources, the preacher, who is associated with defunct Somali's Islamic courts, established contact with Al Shabaab in 2009 and has since been instrumental in the recruitment.
"The preacher (name withheld), visited Somalia in 2009 and received military training from foreign jihadists in Somalia with affiliation to Al Qaeda. He also received training on radical brand of Islam where the core tenet is that there can be no harmonious co-existence between Muslims and other faiths," the sources stated.
According to people close to the preacher, the recruitment of the youth is done at a mosque in Majengo in Mombasa, where he holds weekly lectures. "The content of the lectures portrays the Somalia clan wars as the ultimate jihad, where anyone who dies in such wars will be a martyr and the heavens is the permanent abode," stated the preacher's allies.
Also the outlawed Mombasa Republican Council, has been cautioned against involvement in the recruitment. The proscribed group believes in separation of Coast province.
According to intelligence sources, Al-Shabaab leaders and families live away from Somalia. The family of their leader, known as Godane is said be in Dubai (UAE), Fuad Mohamed Shongole (a senior Al-Shabaab leader) in Stockholm, Sweden while Omar Hamami Al Ameriki( Military strategist) is said to be in in USA. I read eslewhere that he was believed to be in Yemen.
Wikileaks cables revealed that Kenya is being used as a haven for recruiting young men to the Al-Shabaab militia. US ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger in a diplomatic cable said recruiting dens had expanded from Nairobi's Eastleigh to North Eastern province and Isiolo. The cable indicates that Al-Shabaab was offering as much as US$ 6000 (Sh492,000) to an individual who has agreed to join the group."Kenya's ethnic Somalia population in particular suffers from lower levels of development and education than their fellow Kenyans. Idle, unemployed youth are at a particular risk . . . Frustrated and aimless Kenya Somali youth, therefore, are prime target,"
The 3 remaining members of the Fact-Finding Mission on Gaza are rightly worried about their reputations, as their integrity is in ruins.
Following Richard Goldstone’s retraction in a Washington Post op-ed on April 1, 2011 of the central finding of his infamous report, the other three members of his UN committee have clearly been depressed. The committee chair had got all of the glory from the anti-Israel UN hordes for producing the blood libel that Israel had deliberately set out to murder Palestinian civilians rather than respond to years of Palestinian terrorist attacks on its own civilian population. Their names were rarely, if ever, mentioned. The retraction threatened to wipe them completely from the history books. So in another newspaper on Thursday, they are demanding the recognition they feel they so richly deserve.
Christine Chinkin, Desmond Travers and Hina Jilani published an article in The Guardian in which they complain: “We regret the personal attacks and the extraordinary pressure placed on members of the fact-finding mission since we began our work in May 2009. This campaign has been clearly aimed at undermining the integrity of the report and its authors.” Indeed, the “integrity” of both the report and its authors is exactly what is in issue.
The lack of integrity of the report itself was apparent from the start. The mandate of the so-called investigators was set by the Human Rights Council after it had decided Israel was guilty. In its words: “The Human Rights Council... decides to dispatch an urgent, independent international fact-finding mission…to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying Power, Israel, against the Palestinian people.”
No self-respecting lawyer or professional of any kind would have taken the job on those grounds alone. But these people were different, because each of them was as biased as their UN masters.
The “integrity” of Christine Chinkin, a law professor at the London School of Economics, was not difficult to discern. On January 11, 2009 in the midst of the Gaza war, Chinkin signed a letter to The Times newspaper which stated: "Israel's bombardment of Gaza is not self-defense - it's a war crime."
Allegedly, the purpose of the Goldstone mission was to investigate whether war crimes had been committed. No democratic state governed by the rule of law would ever have appointed Christine Chinkin to a Gaza war crimes inquiry after she signed that letter. No lawyer being considered for a position on such an inquiry, with the slightest concern about integrity, would ever have taken the job. But then Chinkin’s lack of integrity is precisely why she was selected.
The Times letter she signed also stated: “The rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas deplorable as they are, do not, in terms of scale and effect amount to an armed attack entitling Israel to rely on self-defense...Israel's actions amount to aggression, not self-defense.”
At the time of this statement in Chinkin’s letter, Israeli civilians had endured 12,000 mortar and rocket attacks over the eight years prior to the Gaza operation. Her words are a catalyst for more of the same. On April 7, 2011 Hamas terrorists fired an anti-tank missile from Gaza on a school bus grievously injuring a 16-year-old boy who happened to be the only child on the bus. If 12,000 mortars and rockets were not enough, then on Chinkin’s twisted logic the targeting of Jewish school children by an organization publicly dedicated to genocide against the Jewish people, would not entitle Israel to rely on self-defense today either.
TRAVERS and Jilani were similarly selected only because they had declared Israel guilty before they began their “fact-finding mission.” On March 16, 2009 both Travers and Jilani (and Goldstone) signed an open letter addressed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Security Council Ambassadors calling for the very inquiry to which they were then appointed. The letter demanded the mission on the grounds that they were “shocked” by actions in Gaza, that “gross violations of the laws of war,” “gross violations of international humanitarian law,” “targeting of civilians,” and “crimes perpetuated against civilians” had been committed, and that the criminals “responsible…should be held to account.”
Travers’ “integrity” has been on display ever since. In February 2, 2010 a verbatim transcript was published of an interview Travers gave to the pro-Palestinian rag Middle East Monitor. (Muslim Brotherhood enthusiast Tariq Ramadan is their “honorary adviser.”)
They proudly repeat the following Travers statement: “Do you realize now that there is a very fervid Rabbinate in the military? For the first time ever the rabbis travelled with the combat troops and this is a new and troubling development. It is also reported that the rabbis in the Israeli Defense Forces have on occasion challenged the authority of military commanders. This must surely be a development that has negative consequences for good order and respect for authority in the Israeli army.”
Of course, it is only troubling if moral guidance and support for an army is a bad thing – chaplains being embedded with the American armed forces without question. Or if, as Travers clearly really means, Jewish spiritual leaders are inherently evil.
It is hardly surprising that this bigot and former Goldstone sidekick went on to make an analogy comparing the situation in Gaza to that of cities that were ravaged during World War II, claiming in his hysterical 2010 rant: “Gaza has now come into the history books in the same way as… Dresden, Stalingrad… Gaza is a gulag…closed-off from food, water, air.”
As for Jilani’s “integrity” and qualifications for judging Israel’s self-defense needs, they were evident long before Gaza. She was quoted in The Jurist in 2005 as stating: “Israel is depriving Palestinians of their basic human rights using security as an excuse.”
Jilani’s pro-Arab bias cuts a broad swath. She had also been a member of the UN’s notorious 2005 International Fact-Finding Commission on Darfur, Sudan. That commission maintained that the atrocities in Darfur did not constitute an ethnic or racially-driven conflict, even though it was perpetrated by Arab militias against non-Arab African tribal victims. Hundreds of thousands raped and murdered, 2.5 million displaced. But no genocide according to Jilani and company.
Their moral blindness was exposed last July when the International Criminal Court decided to proceed on the charge of genocide against Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, because “there are reasonable grounds to believe him responsible for…genocide by killing, genocide by causing serious bodily or mental harm and genocide by deliberately inflicting on each target group conditions of life calculated to bring about the group’s physical destruction.”
Chinkin, Travers and Jilani are rightly worried about their reputations, just as Richard Goldstone was. Their integrity is in ruins. Their lack of a moral compass exposed. But there is no one to blame but themselves.
The writer is the director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
Among the groups who disclaimed the attack was Tawhid wal-Jihad, the al-Qaida-linked group that had initially said it was holding the Italian national and conditioned said they would only release him if their own leader, recently arrested by Hamas, was released, Gaza-based newspaper Palestine Today reported.
Hamas also condemned the killing, saying that it was a shameful act, contrary to the tradition of the Palestinian people. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that the "goal of this depraved band of outlaws was to spread chaos and anarchy in the Gaza Strip, a desperate attempt to strike at the stable security situation."
He added that the kidnapping and murder of Arrigoni was intended to prevent the next flotilla headed to the Gaza Strip, expected to depart next month. Barhoum explained that he believed the murder was meant to dissuade other foreign activists from arriving in the Strip.
Accordingly, Hamas accused Israel of being behind the attack, noting that Arrigoni had often spoken out against Israeli policies in Gaza, going so far as to compare what he called "Israeli crimes against Palestinians" to Nazi crimes. Additionally, he was twice arrested by Israeli authorities.
Security personnel in the Gaza Strip found Arrigoni's body in an abandoned house in the Gaza Strip following his abduction by militants, a Hamas official said on Friday.
Two men were arrested and others were being sought in the killing of Vittorio Arrigoni, the Hamas official added.
A Jihadist Salafi group in Gaza aligned with al-Qaida had threatened on Thursday to execute Arrigoni by 5 p.m. local time (2 p.m. GMT) unless their leader, arrested by Hamas last month, was freed.
Why Doesn't America -- Or Perhaps Now NATO -- Build Yemen A New One?
Yemen electricity supply hit in power plant attack
DUBAI (Reuters) - Electricity supply was hit in Yemen on Friday after tribesmen attacked a main power plant, an official said, accusing them of acting on behalf of opposition parties demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh resign.
The official said the tribesmen are blocking the road from Sanaa to Marib province, where the plant is located, preventing engineers arriving to restore full power.
The cities of Sanaa, Taiz, Hudaida and Ibb are suffering reduced electricity because of the attack.
Tribesmen in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state often challenge central government over grievances.
Protesters have been camped out in Sanaa since early February demanding political reforms. Opposition parties, clerics and many tribal leaders are demanding that Saleh step down.
Saleh, who has lost control of several provinces, has warned of civil war and the break-up of Yemen if he is forced to step aside before organizing parliamentary and presidential elections over the next year.
Jurors weighing the insider-trading case against Raj Rajaratnam in a Manhattan federal courtroom are hearing plenty about Rajat Gupta, the former head of McKinsey. They've listened to a wiretap on which he confided to Rajaratnam that the Goldman Sachs (GS) board, on which he sat, discussed acquiring Wachovia or American International Group (AIG). They've watched Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein testify that Gupta violated the company's ethics code for directors. Prosecutors have called Gupta, who has not appeared as a witness, an unindicted co-conspirator, and the Securities and Exchange Commission has filed an administrative action against him for his alleged role in the scandal. Still, nothing explains why Gupta, once one of the world's most trusted advisers to companies, would risk his reputation by sharing confidential information with a hedge fund manager.
Gupta, 62, led McKinsey, the global consulting firm, from 1994 to 2003. He sat on the boards of some of the largest multinationals, including Goldman Sachs and Procter & Gamble. He raised millions for charity, hung out with the Prime Minister of India, and attended President Barack Obama's first state dinner at the White House. He divided his time between a waterfront home in Westport, Conn., that once belonged to J.C. Penney, a Manhattan apartment, and a Florida getaway.
Yet Gupta had grander ambitions. After stepping down from the top job at McKinsey, he pursued a second career as a dealmaker. The man CEOs turned to for his expertise and sound judgment made questionable decisions as he invested with Rajaratnam, the co-founder of the hedge fund Galleon Group. The SEC has accused him of passing confidential information on earnings at P&G and Goldman Sachs, and Warren Buffett's $5 billion investment in Goldman Sachs. Those tips generated more than $17 million in illicit profits or avoided losses for Galleon, the SEC says. Gupta's lawyer, Gary Naftalis, calls those allegations "totally baseless."
The son of a man who fought for India's independence, Gupta was orphaned as a teenager. He worked his way from lower-middle-class roots in Kolkata to Harvard Business School and joined McKinsey in 1973. His big leap came in 1994 when McKinsey held elections for a new leader. Gupta won over two other candidates, becoming the first non-U.S.-born managing director of the firm. He served for three three-year terms, the maximum under McKinsey's rules.
Gupta remained at McKinsey as a senior partner until 2007. By then, financial markets were booming, and private equity and hedge fund managers were New York's new elite. Many of the CEOs he had counseled were finding positions in this lucrative world. Gupta figured he could leverage his own contacts and add to his wealth, says a senior executive at a company where Gupta was a director until March. He loved gathering Wall Street rumors and analyzing them in his professorial way, the executive says. He liked the idea of doing 8 or 10 deals a year—making introductions among executives and investors, and leaving the math and paperwork to others, says the executive, who didn't want to be named because his conversations with Gupta were private. That's also how Rajaratnam saw him. "Your value-added is not to do cash flows," Rajaratnam told Gupta in a July 2008 wiretapped phone conversation submitted at the trial. "Your value-added is to bring people together, deals together, at the right time to make the call."
Wiretapped conversations indicate Gupta coveted a role at KKR (KKR), one of the largest private equity firms. He knew Henry Kravis, KKR's co-chairman, from his philanthropic work and through some clients. "He's enamored with Kravis, and I think he wants to be in that circle," Rajaratnam told Anil Kumar, a McKinsey consultant at the time who has pled guilty to insider trading, in an Aug. 15, 2008, taped call. "That's a billionaire's circle. … I think here he sees an opportunity to make $100 million over the next 5 or 10 years without doing a lot of work."
Gupta began doing business with a group of men who, like him, had connections in the U.S. and India: Parag Saxena, Victor Menezes, and Rajaratnam. All three had had trouble with regulatory authorities. In 2006 he co-founded a fund called New Silk Route Partners with Saxena and Menezes. Rajaratnam contributed $50 million to the fund, which eventually raised $1.3 billion to invest in ventures in India and other emerging countries.
Saxena had paid the SEC a $250,000 fine in 1994 to settle civil charges that he received pre-initial-public-offering stock at big discounts and then recommended the stocks to his clients at Chancellor Capital Management after they went public. Menezes, a former Citigroup (C) senior vice-chairman, paid the SEC $2.7 million in a fine and disgorged profits in 2006 after he dumped his Citigroup stock ahead of an announcement of bad news from a subsidiary in Argentina. And in 2005, before Rajaratnam's current troubles, his Galleon Group paid $2 million in a fine and disgorged profits to settle charges that it had made improper trades.
Some worried about Gupta. "I told him once, 'If you are in a herd of pigs, you'll also smell like a pig,' " Bala Balachandran, a business professor who has known Gupta for three decades, said in an interview last year. In 2007, Gupta joined Rajaratnam and a third man to form the GB Voyager Multi-Strategy Fund, contributing $10 million of his own. The $40 million fund "invested in numerous Galleon hedge funds, including those that traded on Gupta's illegal tips," according to the SEC's complaint. Gupta asked Rajaratnam for a 10 percent stake in the Galleon International Fund in exchange for attracting investors, according to a May 28, 2008, wiretapped call between Rajaratnam and Kumar. He never got that, according to testimony at Rajaratnam's trial.
Gupta's dealmaking career never took off. The New Silk Route fund hasn't turned a profit on any of the investments it has made so far, according to Venture Intelligence, a Chennai-based research firm. The Voyager Fund was wiped out in the 2008 financial crisis, costing Gupta his $10 million investment, according to his attorney.
"I think Rajat Gupta got caught in that whole New York milieu where people measure themselves by their net worth, the size of their bonus, or square footage of their house," says Shoba Narayan, an author who was part of that circle through her husband, a former Morgan Stanley (MS) banker. "If he'd lived away from that incestuous Wall Street set, perhaps none of this would have happened."
Gupta's civil case is scheduled to be heard by an SEC administrative judge in July, and the worst punishment he could receive is a fine and a consent decree that could bar him from serving on public company boards. Naftalis has filed a suit on his behalf to get the SEC civil case transferred to a federal court where it would be heard by a jury.
Even if Gupta is not sanctioned, "he'll never recover the pristine reputation he had before," says Georges Ugeux, a former New York Stock Exchange official, now CEO of Galileo Global Advisors, a New York firm that advises investment banks. "Whether he's fined or indicted is secondary to the fact that many people have lost respect for him."
A Death in Gaza â€“ an Object Lesson for Olive Tree Initiative Advocates in America
ISM activist executed in Gaza
AP and The Jerusalem Post reported the abduction and execution by Al Qaeda Salafist extremists of 36 year old International Solidarity Movement (ISM) Palestinian activist Vittorio Arrigoni.
Roger Simon on Pajama Media’s blog, The Tattler noted in a post, “Headless in Gaza” the consequences of Arrigoni’s death vis a vis the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI) at U.C. Irvine and other UCAL system colleges and universities. Simon noted this in his blog post.
It’s hard to know what to say about this breaking AP story from Gaza – Hamas: Body of Kidnapped Activist Found:
The body of an Italian pro-Palestinian activist abducted a few hours earlier by Islamic extremists has been found hanged in a Gaza City house after a clash between Hamas police and the abductors, Hamas officials said in the early hours of Friday morning.
The officials said Hamas police stormed an apartment in Gaza City belonging to a member of the extremist group that released a video of the activist. Hamas police said they found the man dead after he was hanged. Security officials added that two men were arrested and others were being sought in the killing.
The International Solidarity Movement had identified the kidnapped activist as Vittorio Arrigoni, 36, a member [of that group] from Italy. An Italian doctor was on his way from Israel to examine the body, a Hamas official said. His abduction was first kidnapping of a foreigner since Hamas overran Gaza in 2007. In the past, all foreign kidnap victims in Gaza had been released unharmed.
The ISM, I should remind readers, is the “activist” (what a reactionary term “activist” is – only the MSM could coin it) group that sponsored the trip by UC Irvine students on which they were told to lie about their meeting with a Hamas leader. The politically unconscious souls who arranged that tour should be thankful one of the UCI students wasn’t kidnapped.
BTW, according to the JPost, poor naive Arrigoni was kidnapped by a group of Salafists allied with Al Qaida.
The abduction and execution of hapless Italian ISM advocate Vittorio Arrigoni in Gaza illustrates the dangers of misguided liberals, academics and Jewish communal leaders in Orange County, California and elsewhere in the US who believe that dialoging with the enemy will hone your skills in combating hate. As illustrated in the Arrigoni case, it will make you dead. His shaved head bearded Salafist abductors had their kafir to kill, regardless of whether he was pro-Palestinian or not. The U.C. Irvine Olive Tree Initiative (OTI) disclosures of dalliance with Hamas operatives on the West Bank during a 2009 trip should have been a wakeup call. The FOIA disclosures should have brought the benighted OTI programs at U.C .Irvine to a screeching halt and the snapping shut of purses of major Jewish donors to the Rose Project that funded those OTI trips. Instead it has resulted in accusations against the messengers. Could l’affaires Arrigoni be repeated on any upcoming OTI trips in 2011, with the kidnapping and imprisonment of hapless Jewish students by the perpetrators of Sgt. Galid Shalit’s episode? Quite possibly. Witness the solidarity meeting of OTI aficionados from several UCAL system campuses last weekend at UCLA. L’affaires Arrigoni should jar these feckless tours orchestrated by left liberals in academia and J Street sympathizers in Jewish communal organizations. Alas, it will not.
The bottom line is that OTI has to stop because of basic security concerns that no self respecting university administrator would permit; putting students in harm’s way. It is not about "censorship of views," as the multiculturalists would opine. It is about common sense protection of life and limb.
[. . .]
Multiculturalism and diversity of opinion encounters cannot put university students and the U.Cal system at risk of their possible wrongful death. No court in California, or elsewhere in America, would give any standing to waivers signed by students in the event of a wrongful death action filed by the parents against an U.Cal institution that sponsored an OTI trip in the Palestinian Territories fraught with physical peril, especially if the trip included meetings with terrorists (however spontaneous or casual the meeting appeared to be).
Given L’affaires Arrigoni in Gaza, it is time for the U.C. Irvine and UCAL system chancellors to take action and stop the OTI programs. Perhaps that action will also cause Jewish communities in Orange County and elsewhere to ask their respective Federations to take the Pledge to bar such dangerous programs putting their children at risk and defaming Israel in the process.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participates in a meeting on Libya as part of the NATO Foreign Minister meetings in Berlin this week. Clinton said that NATO was united in seeking an end to Gadhafi's rule in Libya, but some think the endgame is uncertain.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participates in a meeting on Libya as part of the NATO Foreign Minister meetings in Berlin this week. Clinton said that NATO was united in seeking an end to Gadhafi's rule in Libya, but some think the endgame is uncertain.
April 15, 2011
Steven Metz is the author of Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy.
From the moment the Soviet Union collapsed, NATO's future was in question. While it had been the most successful multinational alliance in history, partnerships of that sort seldom survive once their enemies are gone. As the Berlin Wall came down and Stalin's empire shattered, NATO's clock was ticking.
Amazingly, though, the Alliance persisted, largely by transforming itself. It staved off a challenge from a proposed European Union Defense Force, which might have supplanted it; provided an institutional framework for continued U.S. involvement in European security; and then, helped stabilize the former Soviet bloc by adding new members from the old Warsaw Pact. For a while, this seemed to be enough. But, as it became clear that its members were unlikely to face direct attacks but were likely to be threatened by instability outside their borders, many began to wonder whether NATO was still valuable.
As new challenges arose around the world, NATO's role and worth became increasingly unclear. Now, with internal divisions stymieing progress in NATO's intervention in Libya, the Alliance's future is all the more uncertain. Indeed, as the crisis in Libya turns to a stalemate, a question looms: Are we witnessing NATO's swan song?
The first of the challenges to NATO's role in the world came as the former Yugoslavia fragmented and devolved into a series of civil wars. While the United States willingly played the dominant role in NATO when it faced the Warsaw Pact, the Clinton administration hoped that the European states would stabilize the Balkans with American support, thus allowing the United States to concentrate on the Persian Gulf and Northeast Asia. Unfortunately, this did not pan out: NATO airstrikes did help end the civil wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, and Alliance peacekeepers helped keep the calm. But, in both instances, the United States was compelled to become much more deeply involved than it wanted, largely because the other NATO states could not or would not do it on their own. In both the military and political realms, NATO remained, for all intents and purposes, the United States plus junior partners.
The Balkans campaigns also demonstrated how unwieldy NATO was. Most operations and strikes had to be approved by every nation involved. A few times, national contingents were denied permission to undertake an operation, leaving force commanders to scramble for substitutes or redesign their operations. Luckily, this did not prove disastrous, but it was a sign of deep problems.
The second challenge to NATO came following the September 11 attacks. NATO invoked Article 5 of its Charter, which said that an attack on one member was an attack on all. The test of this assertion soon came in Afghanistan — and it was major. Unlike the Balkans, Afghanistan was very far from NATO's traditional area of concern and was a very different sort of war than those the Alliance was created to fight. NATO was designed to fend off a massive Warsaw Pact armored assault, but, in Afghanistan, it was cast into the tedious and difficult job of counterinsurgency in an alien culture.
The difficulties of the mission became starker as the United States became heavily involved in Iraq. NATO agreed to take over the U.N.'s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, but, other than the United States and the United Kingdom, few NATO nations provided large troop contingents. Some contingents faced rigid restrictions on their activities. The Germans, for instance, focused on police training but could not engage in combat, which limited their utility. Coordination between national groups also created endless problems, including ones as dire as a nation being unable or unwilling to come to the rescue of another nation's force when it was in trouble. As the Afghan insurgency spread and intensified, these problems were elevated from simple annoyances to serious dangers.
Once again, NATO as an organization was not up to the challenge it undertook. As the situation grew worse, the United States took the reins and dominated the operation. While the outcome in Afghanistan still hangs in the balance, many observers in both the United States and Europe contend that, if NATO fails there, it clearly has little utility in today's world.
And now, there's Libya, where failure would be another nail in the coffin of NATO's existence as we know it. When the UN Security Council authorized the use of force against the Qaddafi regime, NATO seemed better-suited to the challenge than it did in Afghanistan. Geography made the Libyan conflict more pressing for Europe, and the anticipated military missions — using air and naval power to protect Libyan civilians — played more to European strengths than had protracted counterinsurgency operations. The United States and the United Kingdom pressed for NATO to take control of the operation, believing that this would give the action greater international legitimacy and encourage more European states to participate, thus lessening the burden on their own militaries, both heavily committed in Afghanistan. Indeed, President Obama seemed even more determined than President Clinton in the Balkans and President Bush in Afghanistan for the United States to play a supporting role.
But, once again, NATO has not met the challenge. As the operation has developed, the French and British have been forced to undertake most of the combat missions. A few other nations, including Norway, Denmark, and Canada, have flown strike missions, but their air forces are small. Some other participants will patrol but not attack targets. And other NATO states — most importantly Germany — elected to sit out the fighting entirely.
With no end to the conflict in sight, London and Paris, the latter of which opposed having NATO at the helm, have grown increasingly frustrated. The United States continues to provide reconnaissance, aerial refueling, and some other specialized capabilities, but the French and British have asked for the U.S. to also return to offensive strike operations — something that President Obama has so far refused. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and British Foreign Secretary William Hague have called for a greater contribution from the other NATO states. Juppe openly complained that what the alliance is doing "is not sufficient." French Defense Minister Gerar Longuet amplified the point, complaining that his nation and Britain were carrying "the brunt of the burden."
And so, for the third time since the end of the cold war, NATO has accepted a major mission and then demonstrated that it does not have the unity of purpose or the military capability to perform it. At least, not without the United States dominating. Meanwhile, the United States has not fully grappled with the idea that NATO may have outlived its usefulness: Its costs may outweigh the contribution it makes to American security, and the notion that the U.S. needs to remain heavily involved in European security seems less and less evident.
It is time for this debate over NATO's viability to take place. While NATO may serve as an institutional reminder of the shared democratic values of the Atlantic community (and NATO's not-so-Atlantic new members) and help with interoperability between its members' military forces, the Alliance, in its current form, has proven it cannot lead and execute complex, sustained operations in today's world. Three strikes in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and now Libya may not be enough to put NATO out of business, but it certainly should be enough to place the question of its value on the table.
"Vik Of Gaza City" And Rallies In This "Pacifist" Fanatic's Memory
Ignorant of Islam, ignorant of the history of the Jihad against Israel, self-righteous, terminally naive -- as is, apparently, his mother, mayor of a small town, affected with her own case of sweetly certaion buonismo (the "goody-goodyness" that infuriated Oriana Fallaci, for she understood how it was undermining the West and softening it up for the forces of Islam) -- no one well-informed is likely to drop a tear for the self-proclaimed "pacifist" but, in truth, full-time propagandist for the Jihad against Israel, Vittorio Arrigoni. His murder, by hyper-Muslim Arabs who decried Italy as "that Infidel state," and Arrigoni himself as apparently the embodiment of "Western decadence," should be understood even by his fellow fellow-travellers but it won't be. Instead, they will hold rallies in Italy to decry -- what? Not the Arabs who killed him, who were simply out-Hamassing Hamas. Not the anti-Infidel sentiments so clearly on display in the video of Arrigoni just before he was killed. Hamas, having displayed the conclusive evidence about the Arabs ("Salafists") who had kidnapped him in order to get their own leader freed by Hamas but, once they had Arrigoni in their hands, whipped themselves up against the Infidel and decided -- what the hell, why not? -- to kill him, and did kill him after a little videotape was made (what fun!), decided nonetheless to blame Israel and see if it would stick. And the Solidarity Movement boys, the pro-Islam boys, the pro-PLO boys, the anti-Israel boys and girls, in Italy, impervious to reality, and full of "pacifist" hate, will hold rallies, ostensibly to "honor the memory of Arrigoni" but, in reality, to confuse everyone, and turn the murder of a pro-Arab Muslim "pacifist" fanatic by Arab Muslim fanatics into, somehow -- oh, it doesn't matter how -- an anti-Israel affair.
Why do I believe this? Oh, because when it comes to the Infidel sympathizers with those conducting Jihad, as a North African -- some turtle or Tertullian -- once told me: Credo quia absurdum.
In Arabic: He came "to spread corruption in the land." (Qur'an 5.33 -- the verse Bush and Blair and Obama always for some reason overlook and forget to add, when they complacently quote 5.32 about "he who takes the life of a single man....")
EVIDENCE IS now in that President Barack Obama grossly exaggerated the humanitarian threat to justify military action in Libya. The president claimed that intervention was necessary to prevent a “bloodbath’’ in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city and last rebel stronghold.
But Human Rights Watch has released data on Misurata, the next-biggest city in Libya and scene of protracted fighting, revealing that Moammar Khadafy is not deliberately massacring civilians but rather narrowly targeting the armed rebels who fight against his government.
Misurata’s population is roughly 400,000. In nearly two months of war, only 257 people — including combatants — have died there. Of the 949 wounded, only 22 — less than 3 percent — are women. If Khadafy were indiscriminately targeting civilians, women would comprise about half the casualties.
Obama insisted that prospects were grim without intervention. “If we waited one more day, Benghazi … could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.’’ Thus, the president concluded, “preventing genocide’’ justified US military action.
But intervention did not prevent genocide, because no such bloodbath was in the offing. To the contrary, by emboldening rebellion, US interference has prolonged Libya’s civil war and the resultant suffering of innocents.
The best evidence that Khadafy did not plan genocide in Benghazi is that he did not perpetrate it in the other cities he had recaptured either fully or partially — including Zawiya, Misurata, and Ajdabiya, which together have a population greater than Benghazi.
Libyan forces did kill hundreds as they regained control of cities. Collateral damage is inevitable in counter-insurgency. And strict laws of war may have been exceeded.
But Khadafy’s acts were a far cry from Rwanda, Darfur, Congo, Bosnia, and other killing fields. Libya’s air force, prior to imposition of a UN-authorized no-fly zone, targeted rebel positions, not civilian concentrations. Despite ubiquitous cellphones equipped with cameras and video, there is no graphic evidence of deliberate massacre. Images abound of victims killed or wounded in crossfire — each one a tragedy — but that is urban warfare, not genocide.
Nor did Khadafy ever threaten civilian massacre in Benghazi, as Obama alleged. The “no mercy’’ warning, of March 17, targeted rebels only, as reported by The New York Times, which noted that Libya’s leader promised amnesty for those “who throw their weapons away.’’ Khadafy even offered the rebels an escape route and open border to Egypt, to avoid a fight “to the bitter end.’
As if further proof were needed that New York is not the center of the universe.
The United States Postal Service has issued a new stamp featuring the Statue of Liberty. Only the statue it features is not the one in the harbor, but the replica at the New York-New York casino in Las Vegas.
You might think that the post office would have just gone with the original, the one off the tip of Lower Manhattan that for 125 years has welcomed millions of New York’s huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Instead, they accidentally used the 14-year-old statue that presides over thousands of weary gamblers a week.
The post office, which had thought the Lady Liberty “forever” stamp featured the real thing, found out otherwise when a clever stamp collector who is also what one might call a superfan of the Statue of Liberty got suspicious and contacted Linn’s Stamp News, the essential read among philatelists.
But the post office is going with it.
“We still love the stamp design and would have selected this photograph anyway,” said Roy Betts, a spokesman. Mr. Betts did say, however, that the post office regrets the error and is “re-examining our processes to prevent this situation from happening in the future.”
The service selected the image from a photography service, and issued rolls of the stamp bearing the image in December. This month, it issued a sheet of 18 Lady Liberty and flag stamps. Information accompanying the original release of the stamp included a bit of history on the real Statue of Liberty. Las Vegas was never mentioned. The whole mess was exposed by the stamp magazine, which this week ran photographs of both statues.
To the average tourist, there are obvious differences. The Las Vegas statue is half the size of the real Statue of Liberty. And of course, they are in different cities. But it takes a real student of Lady Liberty to notice the contrasts in a stamp-size photo of her head. The hair is different. The replica’s eyes are much more sharply defined. A rectangular patch — a plaque, maybe? — is on the replica’s center spike.
The post office, while perhaps chagrined, is standing by the stamp but changing its informational material about it.
At the New York-New York casino, where a permanent Sept. 11 memorial is positioned in front of the fake New York Harbor in which the fake Statue of Liberty sits, there is nothing but pride.
“Everyone thought the post office was honoring just one great American institution when in reality they were honoring two — the Statue of Liberty and Las Vegas,” said Gordon Absher, spokesman for MGM Resorts International.
Meanwhile, back in the real New York, Edward I. Koch, who declared that the city was the center of the universe when he was mayor, offered some insight into what it all means: “It simply means the post office is doing a stupid thing.”
Perhaps You Live Outside Italy, And Have Never Heard Of Roberto Saviano
From The Independent:
Man who took on the Mafia [actually the Camorra, the more powerful Neapolitan embodiment of the malavita]: The truth about Italy's gangsters
Roberto Saviano's explosive revelations about the Camorra of Naples- a racket he says is bigger than Sicily's Mafia - have led to death threats and, belatedly, an armed guard. By Peter Popham reports
17 October 2006
Roberto Saviano is in mortal danger. Yesterday he was - very belatedly - granted an armed bodyguard by the district of Naples where he lives. He is in grave danger of being shot, stabbed, blown up, and done away with because he has had the courage and the recklessness to spill a large number of beans about the Camorra, the Mafia of Naples. This sprawling network of criminal gangs, according to him, now dwarfs both the original Mafia of Sicily, the 'Ndrangheta and southern Italy's other organised gangs, in numbers, in economic power and in ruthless violence.
The mafias of Italy have never hesitated to kill, but for reasons of prudence, and to keep the police and the media off their backs as far as possible, they usually go to some lengths to keep the killing within the criminal underworld: there is nothing to be gained from collateral damage.
For those outsiders, whether magistrates, politicians or journalists, who meddle in their affairs, who dishonour them, spill their secrets or threaten to break their cosy arrangement with the courts, retribution is often swift and drastic. And this is what Roberto Saviano now fears.
His crime, in the eyes of the gangs, is to have published a book, Gomorra (a word play on Camorra, and a reference to the disastrously lawless situation of Naples) that digs deep inside the gangsters' world, naming names, spelling out criminal structures and their ways of working, drawing a detailed picture of a city which, in his analysis, has largely surrendered to the criminals.
Gomorra was published by Mondadori, one of Italy's top publishers, six months ago and has been on the best-seller list for five months: sales now top 100,000. Saviano was also awarded a major prize, the Premio Viareggio, for the book, his first, and it is soon to be published in Britain, America, Germany and France. But the greater his book's fame, the more irritating it has become for his subjects. The threats began as a subtle murmur in the background of daily life: the phone that went dead when he picked it up, waiters in local restaurants who told him, "You're not welcome here," shopkeepers who whispered in a pleading tone, "Must you really keep on buying your bread at this shop?".
Then there was the gesture of rejection by the top elected official in the city. When Rosa Rossa Iervolino, the Mayor of Naples, awarded him a prize for the book, she gave him a slap in the face with a barbed comment. "Saviano," she said, "is a symbol of the Naples that he denounces."
Clearly the temperature was rising. But the moment that Saviano realised his life was at risk came as a weird counterpoint to his new fame and prominence.
On 23 September a campaign conducted by the Ministry of Justice against the Naples gangs was wrapped up with a public meeting in Casal di Principe, a tough suburb of Naples, addressed by Saviano. The author did not mince his words. "Iovine, Schiavone, Zagaria," he told the crowd, naming the local Camorra bosses, "are worth nothing. Their power is founded on your fear, they must clear out of this land." It was a moment of great courage - and recklessness.
Nothing went amiss for Saviano that day. But the local newspaper, the Corriere di Caserta, put a striking spin on the story. In their report they noted that none of the city's MPs had shown up for the meeting. They also reported that a cousin of "Sandokan", another of the gang leaders named by Saviona, "pinned one man to the wall with his ferocious stare and made him say, one by one, who was applauding too enthusiastically." The report went on to say that "not everyone was impressed by the invective of Saviona". The small change of local press reporting, one might think - except for the fact that the newspaper's editor is soon to go on trial accused of blackmail.
As Saviona's book makes clear, to live in these badlands and not come to terms with the gangs who rule them is to put one's life at risk. And Saviona has not only made it very clear that he is deeply opposed to the gangs; his work has already had an effect.
According to L'Espresso, the magazine that has published much of his work, "Gomorra ... has forced the state to act. The Interior Ministry is putting in place a plan to restore public order in Campania, and there is a reawakening of resistance among the civilian population. While everybody has been looking at Naples and the outskirts, the book has put under the eyes of everyone the economic and military power of the clans of Caserta," the area at the heart of Gomorra.
When Italy's criminal gangs, which are always in league with powers deep inside the bureaucracy and the government, decide to eliminate an enemy, they do not strike without due preparation. The preparation consists of rendering their victim weak, friendless and alone. It was the strategy followed in the assassination of the Sicilian magistrates Falcone and Borsellino, and many others. Saviano's enemies seem to have been following a similar script themselves.
Now Saviano's friends have started to declare themselves. The first was the celebrated writer Enzo Siciliano, who just before he died said: "Let's remember that this is not just a good book; this lad's life is at risk, too."
As word of the threats spread, a supportive blog was launched. On Sunday the great Umberto Eco, author of The Name of the Rose, went on national TV news to appeal for Saviona's protection. "We must not leave Saviano alone like Falcone and Borsellino," he said. "In this case, appeals to writers for solidarity are of no use... We know where the threats are coming from, we know the Christian and surnames of those who are making them. What's required is a public intervention by the state."
Yesterday the Prefect of Caserta answered that appeal by granting Saviano a bodyguard. The writer himself is currently taking "a break" away from the Naples region. "Only a stay of a few weeks," reports L'Espresso, "to relieve the pressure and concentrate on new projects."
But how long it will be before Saviano can breathe easy again is anybody's guess.
A Vespa ride through 'the pusher's piazza'
From "The War of Secondigliano", chapter three of Gomorra: "I had been hanging out in Secondigliano for some time. Since he gave up working as a tailor, Pasquale (a friend) kept me up to date with the buzz in the area, a place that was changing at blinding speed...
I used to cruise around the area north of Naples on my Vespa. I liked the light in Secondigliano and Scampia. The streets were huge and wide, airy compared to the tangle in the centre of Naples... it was like being in the open country... Scampia was the rotten symbol of the architectural delirium (of the Sixties), or perhaps more simply a utopia of cement which was able to put nothing in the way of construction of the machine of the drug trade that wore down the social fabric of this part of the earth.
Chronic unemployment and a total absence of plans for social growth turned this into a place capable of storing tons of drugs, and a laboratory for laundering dirty money into legal commercial activity... In 1989, it was reported that the north of Naples had one of the highest incidences of drug dealers per head of population in Italy. Fifteen years later it had become the highest in Europe and among the top five in the world.
My face had become known for some time to the lookouts of the gangs, the "pali", and I was regarded as neutral. In an area riddled with lookouts like this one, at every second there are people who have a negative value - police, carabinieri, people working for enemy clans - and a positive value, namely the customers. Everything that is neither negative nor positive is neutral and useless. To enter into this category signifies not to exist.
The pushers' piazza has always fascinated me because of its perfect organisation, which contradicts its reputation as a place of pure degradation. The mechanism of pushing is as regular as clockwork. It's as if the individuals move exactly like the machinery that keeps the time ticking.
Nobody moves without causing the movement of somebody else. Every time I see it I find it enchanting. The wages are paid out weekly, €100 for the lookouts, €500 for the co-ordinator and the man who collects the money from the dealers in a piazza, €800 to the individual pushers and €1,000 to those who take charge of the warehouses and hide the drugs at home.
The shifts run from 3pm to midnight and from midnight to four in the morning. In the morning it's difficult to deal because there are too many police around. Everyone has one day off per week, and anyone who comes to the piazza late loses €50 from his wages for every hour missed..."
But the calm of the piazza was exploded by a feud between the Camorra clans, with dozens of deaths:
"I drove back and forth on my Vespa through this blanket of tension. Every time I went to Secondigliano during the conflict, I was stopped and searched dozens of times a day. If I had had as much as a Swiss army knife on me I would have been done for. The police stopped me, the carabinieri, the lookouts of the Di Lauro clan and of the Spagnoli. All with the same little authority, mechanical gestures, identical words. The forces of order took my ID papers and scrutinised them, the guards of the clans bombarded me with questions, checking for an accent, on the lookout for lies..."
From 'Gomorra' by Roberto Saviano, published and copyright 2006 Arnoldo Mondadori Editore. Extracted with permission
They knew too much
* The most celebrated and widely mourned victims of the Mafia in recent times were Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, both assassinated by car bombs in Palermo in 1992 in retribution for their success in bringing hundreds of high-ranking mafiosi to trial.
As seems to be the case with Roberto Saviano, it was not only the gangsters but their secret allies within the institutions of state that first isolated the two investigators, then plotted their deaths. The murders provoked the first ever mass demonstrations against the Mafia by ordinary Sicilians, and prompted a resolute attempt by the state to clamp down on the mob which resulted in the breaking of the leadership. The life and death of Falcone was recently made into a hugely popular television drama series.
* A celebrated investigative journalist, Mauro de Mauro, disappeared suddenly in Palermo in 1970 while in the middle of investigating Mafia crimes. His body was never found and his fate remained a mystery until last week, when a Mafia supergrass claimed that the journalist had been strangled and his body dissolved in acid.
* Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, a general in the carabinieri, scored heroic successes in the fight against ultra-left terrorism in the 1970s, but was assassinated by the Mafia in Palermo in 1982 when he tried to repeat the performance.
* Francesco Fortugno, politician and vice-president of the regional council of Calabria, was shot dead by gangsters at a polling station in Locri, Calabria, one year ago. The murderers have yet to be arrested and the crime remains a mystery.
* Don Giuseppe Diana, a priest in Naples, was shot dead in his church while celebrating Mass on 19 March 1994. A popular scout leader, he had showed a defiant attitude to the Camorra and paid with his life.
Readers who pick up Rebecca Bynum’s provocatively titled new book will certainly expect to find there an unflinching critique of Islam, and in this respect, Allah is Dead does not disappoint. Those who are familiar with Ms. Bynum’s work through the web journal New English Review (where she serves as both Senior Editor and one of the leading writers) know her to be one of the most intelligent and fair-minded augurs regarding the portentous spread of Islam throughout the west, and that cautionary skill is fully demonstrated in her book. But Allah is Dead offers far more than the usual warnings about the dangers of Islamic doctrine, for what Ms. Bynum recognizes, and what she carefully explains to her readers, is that the impotence of western societies to resist the invasion of this foreign ideology is a consequence of their own pathologies. The greater portion of her book is devoted to addressing those pathologies, and applying the appropriate intellectual remedies; in the course of doing so, she offers a truly unique interpretation of the causes of western demoralization, and one which will undoubtedly challenge the comfortable assumptions of many of her readers.
Ms. Bynum lays out her case against Islam most forcefully in the first two chapters; her belief is that it is essentially an overly formalistic creed, which reduces the good life to conformity with a series of unquestionable dictates. Obedience, and not love, is its primary value. Man exists for the sake of Islam, and not Islam for the sake of man. It is fixated on the material world, and leads its adherents to similarly fixate on that same realm; the consequences of this fixation are at once a spiritual stagnation and the lust for territorial expansion: “the focus of Islam is entirely upon the material world. Its notions of pure and impure are expressly material as is its concept of religious sovereignty. Islamic sovereignty is territorial sovereignty, not the sovereignty of the spirit over the hearts of men.” In brief, Islam impinges upon the dignity of the individual, and asks its devotees to forfeit their intellectual and moral freedom, in ways that are perfectly unacceptable to western peoples, and thoroughly inconsistent with their cultures.
This is the point in the argument where we have come to expect appeals to our post-Enlightenment, secular values, perhaps spiced with some infantile railing against religion per se, as emanates, for instance, from that kindergarten of theological commentary known as the New Atheism. Much to her credit though, Ms. Bynum never peddles this modish yet facile line. To the contrary, she carefully explains how secularism has deracinated the very vocabulary which we need to confront Islam in an ideological struggle.
To say, for instance, that Islam threatens human liberty requires us to possess a sensible definition of liberty. However, in the modern west, the word has become so debased that it is used synonymously with any spontaneous motion of the will; to get what you want is to exercise your liberty. And this makes it all too easy for the Islamist propagandist to dismiss western liberty as mere libertinism. But this was never how liberty was understood before the advent of secularism; as Ms. Bynum notes, liberty used to be understood in the light of an essentialist metaphysics, as the ability of a natural thing to fulfill, or perfect, its nature: “we witness in living things a seeking after an ever more perfect expression. Plants, for example, are constantly moving and jockeying for a more perfect position in relation to light above and water beneath. There seems to be inherent in life a yearning, not simply to be, but to become, and to become ‘more perfect.’” It is this kind of liberty which is worth fighting for, and which we must oppose to the doctrinal strictures of Islam. But such a notion of liberty, of a nature free to perfect itself, can only be grounded in a recognition of “a universe containing moral law,” that is to say, in a pre-Enlightenment cosmology.
Similarly, Ms. Bynum rejects the fundamental liberal tenet (or, more properly, the fundamental liberal attitude) of ideological neutrality, that tenet which reaches its apotheosis in the contemporary cult of multiculturalism. She is at pains to emphasize that we have a positive duty to weigh and choose which creeds ought to be tolerated in a civil society, and which should not: “a man’s belief, that is, his fundamental view of reality, determines his attitude toward and reaction to the world of reality and to other human beings. Thus belief systems must be of utmost concern if one cares about the destiny of humanity.”
Nor should we ever mistake the nature of tolerance to such an extent that we exalt its importance above all else: “There are things that our society cannot tolerate and expect to survive. Justice must take its rightful place above tolerance.” What Ms. Bynum understands so well is that Islam is a narrative of final reference. It cannot be met in the polemical arena by pleas for ideological neutrality, since that is ultimately a nihilistic appeal – literally, an appeal to nothingness: “one cannot effectively counter the God of Fear with the God of Nothing.” Islam, if it is to be checked at all, must be checked by another narrative of final reference.
Unfortunately, the narrative routinely on offer these days from the western “intelligentsia” is the materialist, Darwinian one, according to which man is but one more branch hanging off the phylogenetic tree, whose every last trait – no matter how apparently distinctive – can finally be explained in terms of the brute, mechanistic causality of evolutionary history. On this scheme of things, free will is an illusion of our genes, notions of human dignity but the remnants of a recalcitrant anthropomorphism. If the tenor of these claims sounds familiar, that is because they match the essential philosophical purport of Islamic belief:
It is because science has progressively diminished man in his own eyes that philosophy has been stunted. We stand dumb in the face of confident Islamic assertions because we long ago abandoned the search for an effective and modern philosophical response to materialism. Islam is, in essence, an extremely materialistic religion, with many similarities to secular materialism: both remove human dignity and envision man as a slave.
It is ridiculous to suppose that we can offer a robust defense of human freedom if we all believe, like Richard Dawkins, that human beings are “robot machines.” It is absurd to think that we can stand up vigorously for human dignity if we are convinced, like Steven Pinker, that the very concept of dignity is a useless relic of a long obsolete cosmology. It is the height of folly to suppose that contemporary Darwinian materialism offers us any rational grip in the ideological tug-of-war which we must now contest with Islam, when it effectively pushes the same ugly theory of human nature as the adversarial creed. Yet it is obviously true that materialism is one of the enduring legacies of modern secularism. So Ms. Bynum has very effectively punctured the complacent self-regard of the typical modern liberal, wedded to his post-Enlightenment values, and convinced that the cure to our age’s ills is simply to persuade more people to think just as he does.
In contrast, Ms. Bynum offers the unabashed, and highly unfashionable, thesis that the proper answer to the challenge of Islam lies in the west’s return to religion: “When we contemplate how our rapidly decaying culture might be revitalized, the obvious solution is through religion, the ultimate basis of culture and the source of cultural nourishment.” Yet such a revival of religion should not be uncritical; Ms. Bynum makes it clear that there is much in the religious traditions of the west which needs to be rejected as well. Her book concludes with a chapter delineating the reasons why Islam should not qualify as a religion: it fails to nurture the individual or promote social harmony, among other things. But one can surmise that Ms. Bynum’s intentions pass beyond proposing a policy for wrestling with the advance of Islamic doctrine; what she is doing also is reminding us of what religion has been at its best, a means for enlarging the moral imagination, and an unrivaled vehicle for human exaltation and improvement. In very large part, we become what we believe: “Religion answers the primal question, what is the nature of reality? Do we inhabit a benevolent universe, a malevolent universe, or an indifferent universe? These are not trivial questions and their answers determine the basis of all human interaction.”
Because we in the west have been neglectful of our own religious traditions for so long, we have mistakenly assumed that religion itself is something unimportant. But it is not so; religion is the only important thing, and the future belongs to whatever creed offers mankind the most compelling and edifying picture of the reality that he inhabits.
"Una Cicatrice Sulla Carne": Arrigoni's Appeal To Robert Saviano To Be Less Pro-Israel
When, in Gaza, the far-left pro-"Palestinian" fanatic Vittorio Arrigoni found out that Roberto Saviano, an Italian hero because of his work on the malavita (mainly the Camorra based in Naples, but also the Mafia in Sicily and the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria), who had spent time in Israel, had spoken out publicly in defense of the permanently beleaguered Jewish state, Arrigoni was offended, horrified, and decided to make a video "rebutting" Saviano.
At 1.44 you can savor -- as you know what would happen a few months later -- Arrigoni's description of Saviano's remarks on Israel (briefly shown at the beginning of the video) and pointing to his own memory of Israel as leaving him with -- literally, for he points to his arm -- "una cicatrice sulla carne." Presumably those bestial Israelis -- or so he wants the audience to believe -- left a slight scratch on his beefy tattooed arm when they took him off whatever "Peace Flotilla" he was on.
NATO Should Seize The Opportunity To Destroy The Libyan Air Force
The West's stated reasons for military intervention in Libya are, as Alan Kuperman has shown, absurd. And the way in which Obama decided that what the Arab League -- the Arab League! -- decided it wanted somehow possessed moral force (the only reason most of the members of the Arab League voted for a No-Fly Zone was because Qaddafy had mocked the Arab League, and many of its leaders, for years, and had nothing to do with solicitude for "civilians" in Libya), stupidly set a bad precedent, by endowing the sinister Arab League with a moral authority it does not, and cannot possibly, possess.And the conduct of the operation has merely served to reveal fissures within NATO -- not only among European allies, but between the Americans, who are fed up with being counted on by European allies to supply military forces that the European members have been unwilling to acquire, and pay for, themselves.
But while NATO is at it, at the very least intelligent cool-headed people should take the occasion, exploit the situtation for what it can do for the world's Infidels, and destroy as much of an Arab Muslim state's troublemaking military capacity as they can. And that doesn't mean the weapons with which Qaddafy's men fire at other Arab Muslims in Misurata or Ajdabiya. It means the planes and missiles he has accumulated. He's got quite a lot, and these weapons could remain in his hands, or in the hands of a far more ruthlessly and sysematically anti-Infidel regime, and as much as possible should be destroyed now, with the claim -- not completely untrue -- that they "might" be used by Qaddafy later against his domestic enemies, or for him to lash out, as he has in the past, in black Africa. After all, he made war on Chad. He intervented in black Africa as far south as in the Uganda-Tanzania war. Why trust him? And he once bombed Italian territory. Why trust him, or his sons, or those who want to kill and replace him and his sons, with such weaponry?
Take the occasion now. That's a worthy undertaking. That's the kind of task NATO should assume.
And to remind you of how large his airforce his, a little note lifted from Wikipedia:
The Libyan Air Force was created after the U.S. and UK pressured then-ruling King Idris to modernise his armed forces so that they could better stand off against revolutionary regimes in the Middle East. The LAF was created in 1963. The Libyan Air Force had an estimated personnel strength of 22,000 in 2005(?). There are 13 military airbases in Libya.
After U.S. forces had left Libya in 1970, Wheelus Air Base, a previous U.S. facility about seven miles from Tripoli, became a Libyan Air Force installation and was renamed Okba Ben Nafi Air Base. OBN AB housed the LPAF's headquarters and a large share of its major training facilities.
The Libyan Air Defence Force is part of the Air Force and has the second largest defence network in region (second to Egypt). However the equipment – which is mainly Soviet weaponry from the 60s and 70s – is outdated and during the 1986 bombing of Libya by the US air force it proved inefficient. Only one of the 45 attacking US aircraft was shot down. Due to an embargo during the 1980s the system could not be upgraded following the US attack.
Saudi Shi'ites rally for second day to call for rights
April 15, 2011
RIYADH (Reuters) - Hundreds of Saudi Shi'ites protested in the oil-producing east for a second day on Friday, calling for the release of prisoners held without trial and political and religious rights, activists said.
The protesters took to the streets in the Shi'ite Muslim center of Qatif in Eastern Province and in the nearby village of Awwamiya. They carried banners showing solidarity with the Shi'ites of neighboring Bahrain who have been targeted by police after the government cracked down on a protest movement.
The rally was a continuation of protests held in Qatif and Awwamiya a day earlier calling for release of detainees, an end of arbitrary arrests, and political and religious freedoms including an end to official ban on protests.
"The rally was in a main street in Qatif... They were showing solidarity with the Bahraini people and also calling for the release of some prisoners held for over 16 years without a trial," one activist told Reuters by telephone.
He said the two-hour rally had around 400-500 protesters who did not clash with police forces stationed around the area.
Another activist, in the village of Awwamiya, said he took part in a rally that also had around 400-500 protestors and also avoided conflict with police.
"They were calling for human rights and showing solidarity with the Bahraini people as well as calling for reforms in Saudi Arabia and the release of prisoners," he said. "The security forces were very close but there were no clashes."
A police spokesperson in Eastern Province did not answer requests for comment.
Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter and major U.S. ally, is an absolute Sunni Muslim monarchy that tolerates no form of dissent. It has not seen the kind of mass uprisings that have rocked other autocratic Arab elites in the last few months.
Shi'ites in Eastern Province have long complained of discrimination, a charge denied by the government.
They have held some protests over the past few weeks resulting in police detentions of some demonstrators, but almost no Saudis answered a Facebook call for protests in Sunni cities in the kingdom on March 11, amid a high security presence.
On Wednesday activists in Eastern Province said the Saudi authorities released 13 Shi'ite prisoners who were detained after taking part in demonstrations last month. Many others are still in custody, they said.
It's London, it's Friday, its Muslims against Crusaders
Trying to enjoy a pleasant Easter holiday excursion to one of London's Royal parks the peace of the wildfowl lake was disturbed by the sound of what turned out to be this march by Muslims against Crusaders forming up and moving off from the Regent's Park Mosque. Thank you , gentlemen (not) for reminding me, on yet another day out, of what dangers menace my family.
The photographs speak for themselves.
This is the London Central Mosque.
This is the speech given to rouse the marchers. Most of the congregation were streaming away; they gave the Muslims against Crusaders no support, but did not make any effort that I saw to oppose them either.
The sisters were also forming up with their children.
The march was led by a child of 7 or so. Her mahram carried her scooter while she carried the poster.
The reason for the march was to protest about the burning of the koran by Terry Jones in Florida.
The Qu'ran will destroy man made law.
The women followed behind the men.
There were some familiar faces bringing up the rear.
I have found out that the march made its way to the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square where a reception committee was waiting for them. However back in the park there were some who had a far better way of spending a pleasant spring afternoon.
Photographs E Weatherwax and S Sto Helit April 2011
Dealing With Muslim Upheaval Drives A Wedge Between Britain And France
From The Guardian:
Libya strategy splits Britain and France
France says overthrow of Gaddafi is beyond scope of UN resolution but Britain says no new resolution is needed
Gérard Longuet, the French defence minister. Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters
Britain and France, close allies in the Libyan campaign, are at odds over whether the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi could be achieved without a new resolution by the UN security council.
The sense of diplomatic disarray was underlined when France also made clear that it was pushing for wider Nato strategic strikes on Gaddafi regime military targets – even though there is no sign that more members of the alliance are prepared to take part in combat missions.
The urgency was underlined by reports from the coastal city of Misrata in western Libya, which was hit by more than 100 rockets on Friday. Hundreds of civilians have died there during a six-week siege. Libyan TV said Nato planes had hit targets in Gaddafi's birthplace of Sirte and al-Aziziyah, south of Tripoli.
Gérard Longuet, the French defence minister, agreed in an interview that removing the Libyan leader appeared to be beyond the scope of UN resolution 1973, which was passed to protect Libyan civilians. Britain's Foreign Office insisted, however, that no new resolution was needed and that there were no plans for one. Russia and China would almost certainly veto anything that smacked of explicitly authorising regime change.
Worries about "mission creep" in Libya were fuelled by a joint statement by Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy, warning that it would be "an unconscionable betrayal" if Gaddafi remained in power. "Our duty and our mandate under UN security council resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that," the three leaders said. "It is not to remove Gaddafi by force. But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gaddafi in power."
Analysts suggested that personalising the issue by focusing on Gaddafi was a subtle but deliberate shift towards regime change, as was a reference to the suffering of the "Libyan people" rather than the "civilians" mentioned by the UN.
British MPs, including the senior conservative David Davis, called for a recall of parliament because the military mission in Libya had changed. But Foreign Office officials said the leaders' statement was a reiteration of existing policy, not a new one. Differences from the UN language were "stylistic rather than substantive".
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato's secretary general, was forced on to the defensive to argue that operations to protect Libyan civilians were in line with what the security council had approved and not an undeclared policy of regime change.
Rasmussen, chairing a meeting of foreign ministers in Berlin, was responding to criticism from Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, who had claimed that the situation in Libya had "spun out of control". Rasmussen said Nato was acting "in strict conformity with both the spirit and the letter of the resolution, and authorised member states to take "all necessary measures... to protect civilians and civilian areas under threat of attack".
France was meanwhile leading a push, which diplomats said was backed by Britain, to hit more strategic military targets in Libya, beyond tactical airstrikes on Gaddafi's armour in the vicinity of cities such as Misrata and Ajdabiya.
Officials in Paris and London say they believe it will prove more effective to destroy Libyan regime command and control centres than to arm the poorly-organised Benghazi-based rebels, as several other countries are demanding.
Yet efforts to drum up more military resources are not working. Rasmussen admitted he had not yet had any firm offers from other allies to "step up to the plate" and offer the precision planes which Nato's commander for Libya requested.
Only 14 of Nato's 28 members are actively participating in the operation – joined by Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Sweden – and only six of those are striking targets on the ground in Libya.
Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said the Libya crisis needed a political solution that should be led from the region, particularly by the African Union, rather than outside it. "There is no magic bullet," he said. Asked about whether Nato should boost military operations to oust Gaddafi, Lavrov said: "The UN has not authorised regime change."
Friday-Prayer-Induced Frenzy Or, Post Prex, A Maddened Grex
The expected agitation on the Arab streets, by the Arab street, now that everyone knows that the "Arab Spring" is in the air and Arabs are now expected to protest -- the Western press and Internet are waiting to take it all in -- in order to conform to the spirit of the breathlessly-reported age.
SANAA/AMMAN (Reuters) - Mass protests spread to the capital of Syria for the first time on Friday and looked closer than ever to driving out the leader of Yemen, nearly four months since unrest erupted across the Arab world.
Fridays, the traditional Muslim prayer day, have been the focus of protests since a Tunisian vegetable seller set himself on fire in December, triggering a wave of unrest that swept away the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt and sparked civil war in Libya.
Protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad swept into the capital, Damascus and flared across the country, with demonstrators chanting "God, Freedom, Syria."
In Yemen, a defiant President Ali Abdullah Saleh denounced his opponents as liars and bandits, while urging them to join peace talks that would see him hand over power. Demonstrations across the country were vast but appeared to be less violent than in previous weeks.
In Jordan, at least 20 people were hospitalized after clashes between pro-monarchy youths wielding batons and throwing rocks, and ultra-conservative Sunni Muslims who held a rally at a mosque demanding freedom for detainees.
In Saudi Arabia, where all protests are forbidden and demonstrations are rare, hundreds of Shi'ites in the oil-producing east took to the streets. They carried banners showing solidarity with Shi'ites in neighboring Bahrain, who have faced a crackdown from their Sunni Muslim rulers.
The Arab world's unrest has suddenly weakened the grip of autocrats across the region, few of whom had seemed more secure than Syria's Assad, 45, who inherited the presidency from his father 11 years ago. Their Baath party has run the country under emergency law for nearly five decades, brooking no opposition.
In Damascus, security forces used batons and tear gas to prevent thousands of protesters marching from several suburbs from reaching the main Abbasside Square.
"I counted 15 mukhabarat (secret police) busloads," one eyewitness said. "They went into the alleyways just north of the square chasing protesters and yelling 'you pimps, you infiltrators, you want freedom? we will give it to you'."
A witness who accompanied marchers from the suburb of Harasta said thousands chanted "the people want the overthrow of the regime" and tore down posters of Assad along the route.
On Thursday Assad unveiled a new cabinet, which has little power in the one-party state, and ordered the release of some detainees, a move a human rights lawyer said was a "drop in the ocean" compared with thousands of political prisoners still held.
Rights activists reported protests in Deir al-Zor near the Iraqi border, the coastal city of Banias and the southern city of Deraa. Rights groups say at least 200 people have been killed since the protests began in Deraa last month, when authorities detained teenagers for scrawling revolutionary graffiti.
In Yemen -- a poor and politically fragile country plagued by a powerful regional wing of al Qaeda, a separatist movement in the south and a Shi'ite uprising in the north -- Saleh has offered to step down by 2013 but opponents want him to go now.
"We call on the opposition to consult their consciences and come to dialogue and reach an agreement for the security and stability of the country," he told supporters at a rally.
Yemen's Gulf Arab neighbors have offered to mediate an end to the crisis, but Saleh's opponents have rejected that offer, fearing that talks in Riyadh, long an ally of Saleh, would seek to keep him in office.
Saleh says leaving office immediately would put the country in danger, and he wants to oversee elections himself or give interim power to "safe hands."
Hundred of thousands of people demonstrated against his rule in Sanaa, Aden and Taiz. Clerics and tribal leaders who were once his allies issued a statement saying he must go now , and his relatives in the security forces must be dismissed.
"It's only a matter of days before this regime is over. This revolution cannot be defeated. Our aim is to bring down corrupt family rule," preacher Abubakr Obaid told worshippers near Sanaa University, where protesters have camped out since February.
In Jordan, police used teargas to break up the fighting between supporters of King Abdullah and Salafis, religious ultra-conservatives who follow preachers sympathetic to al Qaeda and had demonstrated to call for detainees to be freed.
"They want us to stop our sit-ins to demand the release of our brothers in prisons. Our demands are peaceful and they wanted to provoke us," Sheikh Abdul Qader Tahawi, who witnessed the clashes, told Reuters.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has promised billions of dollars in social spending to head off unrest spreading to the world's top oil exporter, especially disaffected Shi'ite communities in the east. Last month Saudi troops helped put down demonstrations by Shi'ites in neighboring Bahrain.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Saudi Arabia's Shi'ite center of Qatif for a second straight day on Friday.
"The rally was in a main street in Qatif... They were showing solidarity with the Bahraini people and also calling for the release of some prisoners held for over 16 years without a trial," one activist told Reuters by telephone.
In Egypt, demonstrators have been demanding prosecution of ousted leader Hosni Mubarak and accusing the generals who seized power after he resigned of shielding him from justice.
Protests were called off this week after authorities detained Mubarak and his two sons for questioning on accusations of abuse of power, embezzlement and the killing of protesters.
Mubarak was brought to hospital this week with what state media called a "heart crisis." The public prosecutor said on Friday he would be moved to a military hospital until he is well enough to face interrogation.
The central problem of writing about South Africa is that it is almost impossible to explain the country's slow-motion catastrophe in terms that make sense to foreigners. Consider these headlines, culled from just a fortnight's newspapers. Johannesburg's City Press reports that the head of the ruling party's Political School—set up to nurture "revolutionary morality" among thieving civil servants—is declining to explain how he has come to own two new BMWs and a Maserati. South Africa's Sunday Times alleges rampant corruption in the administration of Northern Cape province. The same paper reports new attempts to silence a trade-union leader who likens the nation's rulers to "hyenas" who feed off the poor. Elsewhere, we have FAILED BILLION-DOLLAR EDUCATION PROGRAM; WHISTLE-BLOWER MURDERED; WIFE OF NIA CHIEF ON TRIAL FOR SMUGGLING COCAINE, the NIA being our CIA. And finally, the story of the hour: The National Prosecuting Authority has abandoned its investigation into the whereabouts of $130 million in bribes generated by South Africa's notorious 1990s arms deal.
In the West, scandals of this magnitude would topple governments. Here, they are almost meaningless. Most will never be pursued or resolved satisfactorily. The electorate will not stand up and scream, "Enough!" In many cases, the alleged culprits won't even be investigated, and the incompetent bureaucrats who presided over the education fiasco will not be fired. In a week or two, these stories will be blown off the front pages by equally hair-raising scandals, most of which will also just fade away. It's been like this for years, and there comes a time when you stop paying attention lest the drumbeat of bad news drive you mad.
Against this backdrop, I didn't exactly welcome the arrival of R. W. Johnson's latest tome, because I knew it would further aggravate my dyspepsia. Johnson is an Oxford politics don who spent his teens in South Africa, hanging around the fringes of the Communist Party and fleeing into exile circa 1964, when the security police started asking uncomfortable questions. Back then, he was a slender young idealist. The Johnson who returned to live here in 1995 was a portly, Churchillian figure, armored with the sort of absolute self-assurance one associates with the British establishment. Decades of exile had turned him into a liberal in the stern nineteenth-century British tradition, meaning that he stood for free markets, free speech, and constitutional democracy and against the silly buggery of his former comrades in the socialist movement. Johnson was also a gifted writer, or perhaps I should say orator; essays and articles just rolled off his tongue and into a tape recorder, ready for transcription by his assistant. The resulting prose was imperious in tone and consistently offensive to the leftish journalists and academics who sought to control perceptions of Nelson Mandela and his Rainbow Nation. Johnson dismissed their output as "ideological wilfulness or sheer pretence." They retaliated by branding him a racist.
In South Africa, in the mid-1990s, the term racist was indiscriminately applied to almost all critics of Mandela's fledgling government. By this definition, Johnson was a very bad racist indeed. He described one of Mandela's cabinet appointees as "utterly incompetent," another as "disastrous," queried the moral caliber of influential African National Congress donors, and warned that corruption was threatening to turn into a "Gadarene stampede" as the Spartan revolutionaries of yore eased into the business of governing Africa's richest country. As a result, his work was effectively banned here—not by the government, but by editors who felt Johnson was undermining a noble experiment in racial reconciliation.
Such considerations didn't apply in London, where the editors of the Sunday Times and the London Review of Books prized Johnson's dispatches and published everything he sent them. Irked by the ex-don's growing influence, left-liberals took to poring over his scribblings in search of errors and thought crimes. In 1998 or thereabouts, Mandela himself sent an emissary to Fleet Street to lay the results before British editors and demand that Johnson be silenced. The central charge was, of course, racism. Over the years, the ex-don's teeming enemies have indeed found two plausible outbreaks of the dread disease in Johnson's vast output. One was a passing reference to the manner in which "our enterprising Asian countrymen" had captured the ears of important ANC leaders. The other was a blog entry that drew a clumsy comparison between the desperate baboons who raid Cape Town's garbage bins and the desperate economic refugees flooding into South Africa from failed states north of our borders. The resulting disputes are worth Googling, but they tend to obscure the central truth about Johnson: His early skepticism about the ruling party has been thunderously vindicated by the course of events.
The leaders of South Africa: From left, Jacob Zuma, Nelson Mandela, and Thabo Mbeki, 2008.
Five years ago, such a statement would have got me lynched in polite South African society, but things have lately come to a pass where the disillusion is so deep that we might just be ready to acknowledge the painful truths embodied in South Africa's Brave New World, Johnson's magisterial history of the country in the first fourteen years of its liberation (1994–2008). This is a big book in every sense, 720 pages long and reminiscent in its tone and scope of the work of his (unrelated) namesake Paul Johnson, author of A History of the Jews and The Birth of the Modern. Both Johnsons are firmly opinionated and intolerant of messy ambiguity. Both have the ability to render the dreariest subject readable by clever deployment of anecdote and broad generalization. And both are inclined to annihilate those they regard as fools.
I'd hesitate to include Mandela in this category, because Johnson, despite his criticisms, admires the old man's courage and praises his attempts to unite a nation divided by yodeling chasms of race and class. He also has a soft spot for the current state president, Jacob Zuma, the colorful Zulu polygamist who was elected in 2009. (Zuma and Johnson are of an age and share a nostalgia for the lush subtropical lowlands of Natal, where both spent their boyhoods.) Johnson's real target in these pages is Thabo Mbeki, the power behind Mandela's throne from 1994 to 1999, and state president in his own right for the nine years thereafter. In Johnson's estimation, Mbeki's rule was ruinous in every sense.
Johnson sees Mbeki as a prince of darkness, simultaneously beset by crippling insecurities and overweening arrogance. The former rendered him paranoid, prone to imagining enemies where none existed and pathologically sensitive to criticism. The latter caused him to view himself as Africa's savior, an architect of grandiose foreign-policy projects that consumed most of his energy while his own country began to show worrying signs of a slide into classically African dysfunctionality. Johnson describes the symptoms thus:
A government increasingly racked by corruption and incompetence. Illogical policies blindly pursued with predictable and dire results. All power concentrated in the hands of an over-mighty President who attempts to prolong his rule. The decay of infrastructure through poor maintenance alongside a pronounced taste for prestige expenditures. Power cuts for the people, the arrogance of power for the elite and an ever-growing chasm of inequality between.
There are many books about South Africa, but Brave New World is the only one that comes close to explaining how we got to this point. For me, reading it was like awakening from a self-induced coma; every third page resurrected an episode I'd blocked out of my consciousness in hopes of preserving at least a vestige of optimism. Let's start with the death of Chris Hani, cut down by a white right-wing assassin in 1993. Hani was the popular leader of the ANC's insurrectionary faction and, as such, Mbeki's chief rival in the race to succeed Mandela. South African Communists have always maintained that Hani's murder was the result of a vast and somewhat improbable conspiracy orchestrated by someone close to Mbeki. Johnson resurrects this theory in the opening pages of Brave New World and likewise fails to sustain it, but no matter: The real purpose of his thriller-novel prologue is to establish Mbeki as a deep schemer, perpetually engaged in a three-dimensional chess game against anyone who would threaten his rise to power.
By 1996, he'd sidelined Cyril Ramaphosa and Tokyo Sexwale, key rivals in the struggle for leadership of the ruling party. In 1998, he picked off Matthews Phosa, a lawyer who served as premier of Mpumalanga, one of South Africa's most beautiful and unspoiled provinces. Shortly after coming to power, Phosa discovered that members of his cabinet were on the brink of concluding a secret deal with a Dubai-based hotel group that was willing to pay three billion dollars for exclusive development rights in the province's game parks. The politicians were planning to collect lavish commissions, but Phosa exposed their scheme and ordered a crackdown. Instead of backing him, Mbeki sided with the miscreants, reversing their suspensions and eventually promoting two to positions of greater power. Phosa, on the other hand, was driven into the political wilderness. His crime? He was intelligent, charismatic, and popular with the party's rank and file. As such, he was a threat to Mbeki and had to go.
As Johnson says, episodes like this—and there were many—sent an unfortunate message to ANC politicians and civil servants: Mbeki was willing to overlook sins of venality in return for political support. What made this dangerous is that Mbeki, once he became president, commanded a giant patronage machine bent on placing all South African institutions under the control of loyal ANC cadres. In theory, this implied loyalty to the party or to "the revolution." In practice, it meant loyalty to Mbeki. Those who obeyed this unspoken rule were protected. Those who didn't found themselves in trouble.
In the former category, we find figures like Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the tragically incompetent health minister who made South Africa a laughing stock with her bizarre proclamations about alternative cures for aids—"garlic, olive, beetroot, and the African potato"—in the 1999–2003 period. In the latter, we find Zuma, Mbeki's deputy, who pocketed about two hundred thousand dollars in payments that allegedly originated from a French arms manufacturer. This was a mere thousandth of the total paid out in arms-related bribes, but Zuma dared to imagine that he might topple Mbeki and step into his shoes and was thus singled out for prosecution. Those who hogged the balance presented no threat and proved untouchable.
Hand in hand: South Africa's Thabo Mbeki (left) visits Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, 2008.
Interestingly, Johnson provides no evidence that Mbeki was personally corrupt. He was an otherworldly figure, bookish and intellectual, with his eyes on a prize far higher than filthy lucre. Indeed, he seemed to live in a fantasy in which he starred as the eminent statesman, forever stepping off the presidential jet and striding up the red carpet into a forest of microphones to deliver a speech whose intellectual power caused adoring throngs to weep, cheer, and kiss his feet. The theme of these speeches—and again, there were many—was Africa's sufferings at the hands of colonialists and imperialists, and the appalling condescension with which the continent was presently viewed by whites everywhere. In Mbeki's estimation, this perception—or rather, misperception—was the root of Africa's problems. And the cure was the African Renaissance, his project to remake Africa's image.
In theory, the Renaissance project was a sort of moral-regeneration campaign, aimed at putting an end to the postcolonial tradition of one-man rule by authoritarian kleptocrats. But Mbeki could never say this too directly for fear of confirming the very perceptions he was trying to eradicate. He was also deeply concerned about the dignity of African leaders, starting with himself, which meant that any criticism had to be phrased in terms so oblique and flowery as to be meaningless. Mbeki's greatest sins, writes Johnson, were grandiosity and bombast: "He wanted to lead Africa, to revolutionize it . . . to speak for the South—and to be regarded as a major intellectual. These were absurdly ambitious goals, driven by arrogance, based on little that was real. . . . There was no leadership because there was no humility and no realism."
This might strike you as an exceptionally harsh thing to say about a leader who was, after all, making the correct noises about democracy and human rights. But Johnson is right. Mbeki never had much to say about nearby Angola, where the entire economy is controlled by the ruling dos Santos family, or about neighboring Mozambique, where the head of state is simultaneously the nation's richest man. He couldn't even bring himself to criticize Robert Mugabe, the cocky little martinet who reduced neighboring Zimbabwe to a basket case.
When Mugabe took power in 1980, Zimbabwe was regarded as one of Africa's jewels, a country with good infrastructure, deep soil, and a thriving agricultural sector, whose exports were the country's largest sources of foreign earnings. At the outset, Mugabe himself cut a Mandela-like figure, going to extraordinary lengths to allay white insecurities and paying close attention to reform of the educational system. In this regard, his efforts were wildly successful, producing a generation of luminously self-confident youngsters, almost all of whom seemed able to quote Shakespeare and hum Handel.
But with this came a tendency toward skepticism and freethinking that didn't sit well with Mugabe. When the nation rejected (in 2000) constitutional reforms that would have extended his increasingly corrupt rule for another decade, Mugabe turned nasty, organizing mobs to drive white farmers off their land—a move intended to restore the dictator's popularity with the masses. Instead, it destroyed the country's banking system, which in turn led to soaring inflation and generalized economic collapse. With most of his subjects facing starvation, Mugabe and his generals resorted to naked repression.
This is the subject of The Fear, Peter Godwin's latest work. Born into a liberal family in Zimbabwe's Eastern Highlands, Godwin has written several excellent books on his country's torments, including When a Crocodile Eats the Sun (2007), an account of his family's descent into abject poverty after the great collapse. In 2008, Vanity Fair sent him to cover an astonishing story—Mugabe, for reasons best known to himself, had allowed Zimbabwe's latest election to proceed more or less freely and, when it became clear that he had lost, indicated that he was willing to accept the outcome and step down.
Godwin arrived in Harare to find the capital in a state of euphoria, but the party came to an abrupt end when authorities suspended the vote counting. Early results had shown opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai winning by a comfortable margin, even in Mugabe's strongholds. But Zimbabwe's rapacious "vulture" caste—an agglomeration of army generals and their business cronies—refused to surrender its privileges and prevailed on the aging dictator to dig in. When the counting resumed, Mugabe's support showed a sudden and inexplicable surge, boosting his share of the vote to 40 percent and pulling Tsvangirai under the 50 percent required for outright victory—an outcome that necessitated a runoff.
What followed was macabre. The ethnic cleansing of Zimbabwe's white farmers had been cruel and violent, but it had claimed relatively few lives; people were beaten and humiliated but seldom murdered. Similar tactics were now applied to Zimbabwe's "disrespectful" voters. It was as if Mugabe, a God-fearing Catholic in his boyhood, had instructed his thugs to stop short of committing murders for which he might have to answer at the Pearly Gates. That's one reading, at any rate. Godwin presents a chilling alternative: Mugabe calculated that his aims were better served by leaving his maimed and terrified victims alive to testify about the horrors awaiting anyone who dared vote against him again.
Godwin often visits Johannesburg on his way to Zimbabwe, and I have seen him reduced to apoplectic rage by the standing ovations accorded to Mugabe in the outside world, where some still regard him as a hero. At its heart, The Fear is a beautiful and terrible weapon against such stupidity, a book that thrashes the reader almost as relentlessly as Mugabe thrashed Zimbabwe's electorate in the run-up to the second round of presidential elections. Each scene is more horrifying than the last, though they're all similar: Mugabe loyalists, backed by elements of the military and the dreaded Central Intelligence Organization, surround a village that voted for the opposition, single out a few leaders, and subject them to unspeakable tortures: breaking jaws and limbs, raping women, flogging buttocks until the flesh disintegrates and falls away, exposing the bone beneath. Godwin seems mesmerized by the horror, incapable of tearing his eyes away. Ultimately, this becomes a drawback, as he concedes. "I often know now, before they speak, what they will say next," he says, after days of interviewing the victims of what he calls "this torture factory." But he carries on anyway, driven by the compulsion to record the sustained and indeed "industrial" cruelty of it all.
Which is not to say there are not moments of respite. The rains come, antelope cross a lonely road, survivors crack brave jokes about their hopeless situations. In one particularly sweet passage, a battered opposition activist named Roy Bennett describes an "incredible honor" done to him during a recent spell in one of Mugabe's dungeons. Wide-eyed guards bring him a tiny vial of sacred medicine, telling him it was sent by ambuya Mapoka, the awesomely powerful spiritual leader of the Ndau people. The ancient crone has come down from the mountains to secure a white man's release, and when it happens, she is waiting for Bennett at the prison gates; she calls him "my child" and begins to weep.
Such anecdotes suggest that Mugabe's tyranny is forging unbreakable bounds of love between black and white Zimbabweans, an outcome he might not exactly welcome. But this is not Godwin's theme. He soon returns to the Great Thrashing, following it until rival presidential candidate Tsvangirai throws in the towel, hoping his withdrawal from the race will put an end to the cruelty. It doesn't. The thrashings continue, now with a view to warning the masses not to shame Mugabe by abstaining. They have to vote and to vote for the president. So they do, and Mugabe is returned to power with his dignity intact.
As for Mbeki, the godfather of the African Renaissance backed Mugabe from the outset, shielding him against condemnatory United Nations and Commonwealth resolutions and blocking the Human Rights Commission's attempts to investigate his atrocities. South Africans were told that Mbeki was working behind the scenes to prevent Zimbabwe's implosion, but the country imploded anyway, driving millions of refugees into South Africa, where they sat on street corners, attempting to exchange worthless billion-dollar Zimbabwe banknotes for bread crusts. Zimbabwe's implosion had become part of our implosion, and still Mbeki remained silent. Actually, that's not true. As the Great Thrashing began, he made a state visit to Zimbabwe, where he and Mugabe were photographed smiling and holding hands, a traditional expression of affection between African males. Mbeki said there was "no crisis" in Zimbabwe.
This telling moment is not mentioned in Southern Africa: Old Treacheries and New Deceits, Stephen Chan's analysis of the present state of the region. A modish chap with shoulder-length hair who teaches at London's School of Oriental and African Studies, Chan ran the Commonwealth's southern African operation in the early '80s, and one gathers he supported Mbeki and Mugabe in their revolutionary heydays. Five years ago, a man of such progressive inclinations might have attempted to eviscerate Godwin and Johnson, but now, he barely bothers; all that's left is to place the heroes of yore in a broader historical context. Old Treacheries is fairly successful in this regard, reminding us of Mbeki and Mugabe's roles in the liberation struggle and offering some pop-psych insight into their motivations. This renders both men more human and slightly more likable, but only at the cost of downplaying their less pleasant sides. Chan devotes just one paragraph to the gory details of Mugabe's Great Thrashing, and his attempts to portray Mbeki as a just and wise mediator are rather lame.
Six months after the hand-holding episode, Mbeki persuaded Zimbabwe's desperate opposition leaders to enter a power-sharing peace deal with the man who had recently robbed them of their election victory and then beaten thousands of their followers half to death. Chan offers this as proof of Mbeki's masterly diplomatic skills and a "breakthrough" for the African Renaissance, but the outcome suggests otherwise. Mugabe held on to the critical police and military portfolios, threw Bennett back into prison, and routinely ignored his coalition partners' helpless appeals for fairness and justice. In recent months, he has taken to thrashing his opponents again, and forty-six Zimbabwe democrats have just been charged with treason. Their crime? Watching video footage of the Tunisian uprising.
Alas, poor Stephen Chan. It must be a bitter thing to discover that the idols of one's youth are in clay up to their armpits. Indeed, the situation is now so dire that Chan is forced to turn to former apartheid leader F. W. de Klerk for an upbeat closing assessment. Being an Afrikaner, ex-president de Klerk is less easily dismayed by Africa than your average liberal. In fact, he's recently taken to playing the role once filled by Mandela, urging the troops to keep their spirits up and remember that we are not entirely done for. In the communiqué quoted by Chan, de Klerk limns the performance of our national rugby squad, commends our successful staging of last year's soccer World Cup, and draws attention to minor economic miracles, including slow but consistent economic growth and a tax harvest large enough to provide welfare grants to the poorest poor, thirteen million of whom now survive on state handouts. According to Chan, such silver linings make Johnson a Chicken Little.
I'll avoid contesting the issue, if you don't mind, and close with a photograph that speaks more eloquently than any of us. It was taken just the other day in Cape Town and shows a blond girl, seminaked, draped over the hood of a sports car in a cavernous nightclub. Over her looms a jovial black man wearing Roberto Cavalli shades and a white tuxedo jacket with pink trimming. This is Kenny Kunene, who has recently become famous for all the wrong reasons. He is eating sushi off the model's pale flesh while a gallery of leering drunkards applauds in the background.
Four years ago, Kenny was a penniless ex-convict. Today, he owns two Porsches, a BMW, and a Lamborghini. The source of his money remains a mystery, but there is a lot of it, and Kenny spends it lavishly, inter alia on parties where he sips Dom Perignon while eating sushi off the bodies of seminaked girls in a firestorm of camera flashes. These orgies are publicity stunts for Kenny's chain of ZAR nightclubs, expensive joints that cater to rich black businessmen and their political friends. Some find the ZAR clubs obscene, given that most South Africans struggle to find enough to eat. Others, like Kenny's "best friend," Julius Malema, think Kenny is "a role model for the new generation."
Julius is the thirty-year-old leader of the ANC's Youth League, famous for his radical anticapitalist utterances and his admiration of Mugabe. Julius claims to speak for the poor, but his own style is the epitome of capitalist piggery—Breitling watches, Italian suits and shoes, giant SUVs and gleaming suburban mansions, also acquired by mysterious means. Julius is of course here tonight, sweat pouring off his shaven pate as he swills Kenny's champagne. Julius can be quite dangerous when he's in party mode. Last year, he punched one of his neighbors for daring to suggest that he turn the music down. Tonight, he's picking a fight with Helen Zille, white leader of the Democratic Alliance, South Africa's premier opposition party, which controls Cape Town and the surrounding region. Zille's provincial administration is clean, efficient, transparent—and loathed by Julius, who bitterly resents that there remains a corner of the country where a "racist little girl" can tell him what to do. "Helen Zille will not close ZAR at 2 AM, like she does other nightclubs in Cape Town," he declares. "The ANC owns ZAR—and we will party until the morning!"
Ah, what a rich canvas. It's all here—the ostentatious display of wealth by a greedy elite, buffoonish utterances from a politician renowned for crass racial demagoguery, and the insinuation that this bacchanalia is taking place under the auspices of the ruling party and is therefore above the law. All that's missing is the reaction, which was equally interesting. Older, wiser ANC leaders issued a furious press release, denouncing the eating of sushi off bikini-clad women as "antirevolutionary." The mighty ANC Women's League was equally scandalized. The press emitted a great roar of derision. Kenny was so viciously lampooned that he promised to behave, and even the bombastic Julius was forced to issue a grudging statement. It was a nothing event in the overall scheme of things, but it shows something worth remembering: The battle to save South Africa is far from over.