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Recent Publications by New English Review Authors
The Oil Cringe of the West: The Collected Essays and Reviews of J.B. Kelly Vol. 2
edited by S.B. Kelly
The Impact of Islam
by Emmet Scott
Sir Walter Scott's Crusades and Other Fantasies
by Ibn Warraq
Fighting the Retreat from Arabia and the Gulf: The Collected Essays and Reviews of J.B. Kelly. Vol. 1
edited by S.B. Kelly
The Literary Culture of France
by J. E. G. Dixon
Hamlet Made Simple and Other Essays
by David P. Gontar
Farewell Fear
by Theodore Dalrymple
The Eagle and The Bible: Lessons in Liberty from Holy Writ
by Kenneth Hanson
The West Speaks
interviews by Jerry Gordon
Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited: The History of a Controversy
Emmet Scott
Why the West is Best: A Muslim Apostate's Defense of Liberal Democracy
Ibn Warraq
Anything Goes
by Theodore Dalrymple
Karimi Hotel
De Nidra Poller
The Left is Seldom Right
by Norman Berdichevsky
Allah is Dead: Why Islam is Not a Religion
by Rebecca Bynum
Virgins? What Virgins?: And Other Essays
by Ibn Warraq
An Introduction to Danish Culture
by Norman Berdichevsky
The New Vichy Syndrome:
by Theodore Dalrymple
Jihad and Genocide
by Richard L. Rubenstein
Spanish Vignettes: An Offbeat Look Into Spain's Culture, Society & History
by Norman Berdichevsky

These are all the Blogs posted on Thursday, 2, 2014.
Thursday, 2 January 2014
A Musical Interlude: Weather Man (Adrian Rollini And His Tap Room Gang)
Listen here.
Posted on 01/02/2014 8:54 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 2 January 2014
The Boy From Maida Vale
Posted on 01/02/2014 9:54 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 2 January 2014
Introducing French Historian Ferdinand Lot

An introduction here.

A better summary of his works and days, in French, here.

Among his books is one entitled Les Invasions barbares et le peuplement de l’Europe. That's a title that could be -- what's the new word? -- re-purposed to describe the current degringolade. Just insert "nouveaux" before "invasions.

I just finished reading his most famous work, that on the end of late antiquity and the arrival of the medieval period, in which I came across a paragraph comparing the world of Christendom and that of  Islam. When I can find my copy -- I've apparently misplaced it -- I'll put that paragraph right here.

Posted on 01/02/2014 9:59 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 2 January 2014
Norman Berdichevsky: The Left is Seldom Right

You can find Norman's excellent book here.

Posted on 01/02/2014 12:06 PM by NER
Thursday, 2 January 2014
Robert Satloff: When Obama Knows Best What Israel Needs For Its Security

Policy Analysis

Articles & Op-Eds

Will Israel and the U.S. Break Up over Iran?

Robert Satloff


January/February 2014

Differing approaches to Iran's nuclear program do not bode well for Israel in 2014.

Israel begins 2014 facing a truly Dickensian moment -- enjoying the best of times while staring at the worst of times.

Since Jewish DNA tends to accentuate the negative, let's first focus on the positive: the amazing resilience Israel has shown in the face of global economic adversity and the remarkable calm with which Israel has faced the regional chaos swirling around it.

First, the economy: If your early memories of Israel, like mine, included exasperating trips to Soviet-style banks to buy just enough shekels to get through the night, fearing the investment would lose half its value by sunrise, it is mind-boggling to think that Israel today has one of the strongest currencies in the world. That is a reflection of Israel's economic miracle. As former ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren was fond of recalling, this miracle extends to such feats of technological and entrepreneurial chutzpah as exporting wine to France and caviar to Russia. Last summer, Israel achieved the highest cultural status in Western civilization when an Israeli brand of hummus was named the official dip of the National Football League.

Second, stability. Israel didn't completely escape the street protests that have engulfed the Middle East and much of the rest of the world over the past two years. Tens of thousands have camped out in Israeli cities, too. But there is a real difference: Protests that were about fundamental issues of life, death and freedom in Cairo, Aleppo, Tunis and Kiev were, in Israel, about real estate prices and the high cost of cottage cheese.

Indeed, just as Israel now has a physical barrier helping prevent terrorist attacks, it seems to have a sort of political barrier against external uncertainty. Although chaos has become the new normal in the two largest states on Israel's border, Egypt and Syria, it hasn't affected the stability in Israel's "near abroad" -- the inner circle of Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. Even a hardened skeptic should note that the prospects for progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are higher today than at any time in a decade, though the obstacles to a real breakthrough remain entrenched. There are many scenarios in which this relatively rosy picture could turn dark, of course, but it hasn't yet. This calm at the heart of the Middle East storm is striking.

The good news, then, is really good. The bad news, however, is really, really bad -- at least, it could be. Ultimately, it all comes down to Iran and America.

Advocates of the "first-step" nuclear agreement reached between Iran and the U.S.-led coalition of nations say it has stopped the clock on Iran's nuclear progress to give diplomacy a chance to roll back the program altogether, thereby denying Iran the ability to become a state on the threshold of achieving a nuclear weapon. The agreement's detractors say that the Obama administration has squandered maximum leverage for minimal result, leaving the international coalition with less leverage to compel a comprehensive agreement that truly shuts the door on Iran's bomb-making potential. Though administration spokespeople have -- disgracefully, in my view -- attacked the bona fides of critics, reasonable people can disagree on this. I hope the deal's advocates are right; I have my doubts. What is incontestable, however, is that Iran's march to regional influence continues apace -- in Syria, where it is winning a stunning victory in partnership with Hezbollah and Bashar "the Butcher" al-Assad; in Iraq, where its influence is growing in the wake of America's departure; and even in the Gulf, where some local leaders see the writing on the wall and may be hedging their bets. Israel, however, can't hedge its bets -- its relationship with America is too important.

To offer the obligatory reminder: Washington and Jerusalem have always had their differences, some truly profound. From 1948 to 1967, America opposed Israel's expansion beyond the borders envisioned in the UN partition resolution. And America has never recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, despite Israel's repeated requests. At times, the two nations even disagree on the reason for the lack of progress toward peace -- is it Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories or the Arabs' refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state? Despite all this, America and Israel have found a way to build a partnership that is the envy of countries around the world.

But given the depths of U.S.-Israeli division over Iran, this partnership may face its most severe test ever in 2014. It has been decades (1982) since an Israeli prime minister so directly opposed a diplomatic initiative of the American president. It has been even longer (1956) since an American president stated publicly and emphatically that he, not Israel's prime minister, knew what was in Israel's best interests.

Looking forward, even President Obama gave no more than 50/50 odds that U.S. diplomats will reach a comprehensive agreement with Iran. The alternative would likely be to extend the temporary deal, triggering a deeper crisis with Israel. That could heighten the potential for a unilateral Israeli military attack on Iran's nuclear sites, with U.S.-Israel ties suffering massive collateral damage. Since Israel needs American support when the dust clears, that might not qualify as the worst of times, but it comes close.

So let's hope 2014 sees U.S. diplomats pulling a nuclear rabbit out of the hat with a final Iran deal that meets Israel's concerns, consigning this moment of crisis to a chapter in some future history book. Otherwise, Israelis will have a lot more on their minds than the price of cottage cheese.
Posted on 01/02/2014 8:39 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 2 January 2014
Manuel Valls Goes After The Vicious Antisemite Dieudonné M'bala M'bala
Posted on 01/02/2014 9:45 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 2 January 2014
Alain Finkielkraut On The Conditions That Permit An Intelligent Nationalism
Posted on 01/02/2014 11:08 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 2 January 2014
Norway's Problem with Anti-Semitism

Julie Bindle writes in Standpoint:

Norway regularly tops surveys of wealth and wellbeing. The 2012 Legatum Prosperity Index last month ranked it the most prosperous nation on earth.

For many people, however, the first image that now comes to mind when they think of Norway is the Breivik massacre. The 77 victims who died on July 22, 2011 were mostly young supporters of the ruling Labour party, which the far-right gunman Anders Behring Breivik accused of permitting the country's "Islamisation". 

Norway could soon come top of another ranking: as the first country in Europe to be Judenfrei or Judenrein (the Nazi terms for the ethnic cleansing of Jews).  

Anti-Semitism in Norway has become such a serious threat that many Jews are emigrating to Israel and elsewhere to escape it. Human rights activists, police and leaders of the rapidly shrinking Jewish community fear that soon, for the first time in centuries, Jews will have no visible presence in Norway at all.

I travelled to Norway last month with an open mind about the plight of the Jews and the rumours of the growing hostility toward them. As a leftwing critic of Zionism, of mixed Jewish and Catholic heritage, I was sceptical about the claims in some of the Israeli and alternative Norwegian press about the rise in anti-Semitism being the result of searching for scapegoats. What I found was a mixture of cowardly cultural relativism, examples of rabid Jew-hatred and a liberal Left that had joined forces with radical Islamists. 

Norway has a history of anti-Semitism dating back to before the Second World War. Many Norwegians collaborated during the five-year Nazi occupation and the Quisling regime, and about a third of all Jews—some 750 out of 2,100—were sent to concentration camps. But the prevailing view is that, until recently, Jews had existed alongside gentiles without too much fuss.  

Estimates of the number of Jews in Norway range from 800 to 1,200 out of a total population of five million. It is hard to be precise because of an increasing tendency of Norwegian Jews to distance themselves from their community and to live outside the remaining cultural and religious centres.  

Some put the blame for the new wave of anti-Semitism on the influx of Muslims during recent years—at least 200,000 Muslims now live in Norway. But the primary reason that Jews feel under attack appears to be their rejection by the Norwegian liberal elite, who have abandoned them to a vicious form of anti-Semitism thinly disguised as anti-Zionism. 

These so-called progressives collude with hardline anti-Israel activists. The country's tiny population of Jews is subject to the obsessive attention of the Norwegian elite, who blame them for the plight of the Palestinians.

Such hostility filters down to the young and translates into playground anti-Semitism. One recent survey found that 60 per cent of school-age children in Norway had heard the word "Jew" being used as a derogatory term.  They are not only hearing this from radical Muslims.

Breivik, like many extremists whose primary targets are Muslim migrants and asylum seekers, professed "support" for Israel in his "war" against Islam, but at the same time recorded some deeply anti-Semitic views in his "manifesto".

My research began with the Centre for Holocaust Studies (CHS), which has recently published a report on anti-Semitism in Norway. Tor Bach, a respected anti-racist campaigner and former editor of Monitor magazine, told me that recent studies showed "no rise in anti-Semitism". When I mentioned that some Jewish activists had suggested that the influx of Muslims from the Middle East was at least part of the reason for the apparent rise, he said that to suggest that there is an "ongoing Islamification of a country with 200,000 Muslims out of a population of five million is . . . simply ridiculous." 

Having been refused a face-to-face interview with Bach, I turned to the CHS report and read that almost two-thirds of respondents agree with the statement: "I am disappointed in the way the Jews, with their particular history, treat the Palestinians".  Thirty-eight per cent said that they believe that Israel's treatment of the Palestinians is similar to Nazi treatment of the Jews during World War II. One out of four believes that Jews today exploit the memory of the Holocaust to their own advantage, while 13 per cent believe that Jews themselves are to blame for their persecution. 

This, remember, is a survey of Norwegian gentiles (fewer than 5 per cent of whom are Muslim) speaking about Norwegian Jews. The left-liberal elite in Norway is going down the same road as some of the hard-Left in the UK and elsewhere: excusing and tolerating anti-Semitism against Jews because of their opposition to Israel and support of anti-Zionism.

Anti-Semitism in Norway, states the report, is "on a par with Great Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden". But some particularly pernicious and dangerous beliefs are more widespread in the Norwegian populace; for example, 19 per cent of respondents agree with the assertion that "world Jewry works behind the scenes to promote Jewish interests", and 26 per cent believe that "Jews consider themselves to be better than other people". 

Both views are straight out of Mein Kampf and are echoed in the Norwegian media. For example, in 2008 a popular comedian, Otto Jespersen, said during a show on Norwegian national television: "I would like to take the opportunity to remember all the billions of fleas and lice that lost their lives in German gas chambers without having done anything wrong other than settling on persons of Jewish background." 

When the Norwegian media do focus on the problem, they tend to link anti-Semitism to Islam. In 2010, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation reported that anti-Semitic attitudes were prevalent at a number of Norwegian schools with significant Muslim minorities. Teachers revealed that Muslim students often "praise or admire Adolf Hitler for his killing of Jews", that "Jew-hate is legitimate within vast groups of Muslim students" and that "Muslims laugh or demand teachers to stop when trying to educate about the Holocaust". 

The earliest Muslim migrants to Norway in the 1960s were primarily from Pakistan but today they are mainly from Middle Eastern countries and Somalia. The first generation had no interest or connection with the Middle East but some of the young men from those communities are becoming radicalised and supportive of other Muslims from that region. A number, say police, are committed to jihad and motivated to take up arms in support of their "Muslim brothers" from the Middle East.

In June 2011, a survey by the Oslo municipality found that 33 per cent of Jewish students in Oslo were physically threatened or abused by other high-school teens at least two to three times a month (compared to 10 per cent for Buddhists and 5.3 per cent of Muslims). The survey also found that 51 per cent of high school students considered "Jew" a negative expression and 60 per cent had heard other students use the term as an insult.

Sara Azmeh Rasmussen is a Norwegian writer of Syrian origin who has been commended for speaking out about anti-Semitism. Rasmussen has written extensively about her time in Syria with the Social Nationalist Party, which she describes as "virulently anti-Semitic". I asked her what effect the party doctrine had on her views. 

"I believed that Jews were the source of all evils on the planet, that their conspiracy aimed to destroy my nation," she said, "and that it was right to kill Jews. Eventually it was no longer necessary to explain the hatred towards Jews. Unfortunately the political Left can't escape the blame. The liberal middle class has little contact with the new realities. They are to be found in the fine residential districts, in their offices, writing articles about liberal thoughts. How many of them have been in immigrant neighbourhoods or had a direct contact with radical Islamists?"

Does the liberal elite support anti-Semitic sentiment when expressed by Muslims?

"I wouldn't say that they support it, but that their fear of stigmatising Muslims makes them blind to anti-Semitism flourishing among Muslims. They are not able to deal with hatred between two minorities."

Both Jews and gentiles referred to a tipping point in the winter of 2008-09 during the Israeli incursion into Gaza, when pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrators clashed in Oslo in one of the worst manifestations of anti-Semitism the Norwegian capital had witnessed since 1945. Shouts of "Death to the Jews" were heard, and elderly pro-Israeli demonstrators were threatened and assaulted. 

During this time a young man described by witnesses as Middle Eastern handed out anti-Semitic fliers on a busy street in central Oslo that instructed the public how to harass Jews by dumping garbage by the synagogue, desecrating the Jewish cemetery, and drawing anti-Semitic cartoons. Young white pro-Palestinians marched with placards bearing the slogan "Kill Jews" daubed across them in Arabic. 

I visited the only kosher café in Oslo, tucked into the corner of an attractive store selling pottery and vintage goods. With enough space for just six people, Oscar's Gate 54 is owned and run by Janne Jaffe Hesstvedt, a leading member of the Norway branch of the Women's International Zionist Organisation. Her views on Israel are moderate (she is married to an Israeli with whom she argues passionately about some issues) and she is bewildered at the situation she, a third-generation Norwegian, finds herself in. 

"It was a pogrom," she said, referring to the anti-Israel demonstrations of January 2009. "I think some of the migrant Muslims get the message that they have a free reign here."

Hesstvedt told about the changes she has seen in Oslo in recent years. "After 9/11 my daughter was verbally attacked by some Muslim boys who shouted, ‘Bloody Jews, go back to where you came from.' The school principal did not take it   seriously."

I ask if she dislikes Muslims. "No. Look at us, we are so similar, we are like cousins, but there is this terrible thing between us. I don't hate them but I do not trust them. I am scared of them."

I was invited to Hesstvedt's home for Shabbat dinner and met her husband Moshe and various friends and family. We ate gefilte fish and challah and the atmosphere was as warm and inclusive an occasion as Friday night with Jews is supposed to be. 

Two of the dinner guests told me they have heard the term "Jew" being used by young Muslim men as a term of abuse. "It did not use to be like this," said one. "We were good at assimilating and were left alone by the [other] Norwegians."

The next day I met Cora Alexa Doving and Vibeke Moe from CHS, who were keen to assure me that there was no real recorded rise in anti-Semitism and that it was clear that radical Muslims were the main instigators. They told me the police are monitoring approximately 100 such radicals, all of whom have criminal records and/or connections with jihadist groups. 

Anti-Semitic hate crimes are not recorded as such since the category does not exist in Norwegian law. However, under pressure from the Jewish community to take note of specific reports, the police recently stated that there was an increase in reports of hate crime towards Jews. 

 "It is a little bit tricky that the Norwegians say that Jews should take a stand against Israel," says Moe, "and that so many compare what is happening in Israel with the Nazi regime. But maybe they have a lack of knowledge about the situation in Israel, and ‘Nazi' is used casually to describe something bad."

For Norwegian Jews to be told they are responsible for the Middle East crisis, or that they should "take a stand" against Israel is analogous to telling all British Muslims that they are to blame for the Asian sex-grooming gangs.

I left Oslo with a sense of foreboding. This tiny Jewish community, despite its tenacious spirit that survived Nazi occupation, could well become extinct in a country that prides itself on being a liberal and tolerant nation.

No one, it seems, is protecting them. More than 60 years after the wartime collaborationist leader Vidkun Quisling was executed, the word "quisling" remains a synonym for traitor. If the Jews were now to be forced out of Norway altogether, future generations of Norwegians will be left with an equally shameful legacy. 

Posted on 01/02/2014 11:31 AM by Geoffrey Clarfield
Thursday, 2 January 2014
Reconsider Wilson

Reading Scott Berg’s recent biography of Woodrow Wilson to write a review of it for another magazine has brought to mind a couple of striking developments in the evolution of the U.S. presidency. Woodrow Wilson has been much maligned as an unrealistic idealist who was supposedly afflicted by naïveté in seeking a League of Nations and proposing open international negotiations, reductions of armaments, and the supremacy of impartially administered international law. Certainly, the shambles of hypocrisy and corruption of the United Nations incites some thoughts of this kind. But Wilson was undoubtedly correct that the American public would not sustain controversial foreign-policy initiatives, especially recourses to force, if they did not think they were morally compatible with the espoused ideals and ambitions of the country. And it is not reprehensible to require that going to war be morally justified. The dubious circumstances of the provocation of the Mexican War, which added a million square miles to the country — more than it started with or gained with the Louisiana Purchase — and led to the restoration of slavery in Texas, where it had been abolished by the Mexicans, would not be so easily sold to the country in the more searching and exigent media age we have known at least since World War II.

Prior to the 20th century, American foreign policy consisted of establishing the country, responding to British outrages on the high seas with the War of 1812, proclaiming the Monroe Doctrine of restricting foreign influence in the Americas (although for 40 years it was enforced by the British and not the Americans), and asserting hemispheric prerogatives against the Mexicans and the Spanish. Theodore Roosevelt expanded the Navy and sent it around the world (after painting it white), built the Panama Canal (after seizing and inventing the country of Panama), and spoke of “carrying a big stick.” But Theodore Roosevelt was largely a warmonger. He had wanted to go to war with Britain over the nonsensical dispute between Great Britain and Venezuela about the border between Venezuela and British Guyana in the mid 1890s. He thought a war would be good for Americans, to toughen them up; that it would be a salutary experience for American coastal cities to be bombarded by the Royal Navy, to shake Americans out of their softness and complacency; and that it would furnish an excuse for the seizure of Canada. This would be the perfect sequel to the Louisiana Purchase, the Mexican War, and the acquisition of Alaska; and would be a development Canadians would welcome, because of the ambiguity of their condition as citizens of a country that was at that time not entirely autonomous of the British. (Roosevelt had never been in Canada, knew nothing about it, and didn’t realize that Canadians retained, in foreign-policy terms, a subordinate position to Britain only in order to ensure that they had a British military guarantee against American annexationist tendencies, of which TR was so illustrative.)

This episode isn’t in Berg’s life of Wilson, but TR’s desire to plunge into World War I is, and his opposition to any form of international organization except the authority conferred by military and economic force was always in contrast with Wilson’s view.

Wilson rendered a great service in establishing the requirement that has, to some appreciable extent, been followed or, at the least, has received some lip service since: that American foreign policy must not only serve the national interest but not be unconscionable by traditionally espoused American humanitarian standards, in concept or in execution. More important, he was the first person to inspire the masses of the world with the vision of enduring peace and with the elevation of international law to a serious level of international deference and enforcement. Of course, it didn’t work, Wilson was a tragedy, and his presidency ended in disaster, failure, and premature incapacitation; but his achievement was durable, even if it required the horrors of World War II and the atrocities of Germany, Japan, the Soviet Union, and some other countries to sell aspects of the Wilsonian message to Americans and many other peoples.

The evolution of the presidency has been to a routinization of foreign intervention. The United States had never been militarily active outside its hemisphere prior to Wilson (apart from the Philippines, as a result of the war with Spain that began in Cuba; and Jefferson’s picturesque naval mission against the Tripoli pirates). In the last 60 years, there have been deployments of ground forces to Lebanon, of a vast conscript army to Indochina, of two invasion forces to Iraq, and of one to Afghanistan; there have also been the large military presences generated by alliances in Western Europe and the Far East that have successfully deterred military action since the Korean War. All of these modern military initiatives would have passed Wilson’s test of moral justification, including Vietnam and the second Iraq War, but not all were as militarily effective as Wilson’s brilliant management of the World War I intervention, and whether they were as clearly in the national interest is a doubtful proposition.

The expulsions of the Iraqis from Kuwait and of al-Qaeda from Afghanistan were unexceptionable, but whether the other actions were strategically wise is not clear. The U.S. has practically negligible returns that are durably useful to it to show for the scores of thousands of American lives and trillions of dollars spent in the Vietnam, second Iraq, and Afghanistan wars. In plunging into and then abandoning nation-building in Iraq, waffling about the morally correct course in Syria, and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (and still piping up for its deposed leaders even after the Egyptian government has branded it, as it always has been, a terrorist organization), coherence has been lost so thoroughly that nostalgia is incited both for the Theodore Rooseveltian policy of muscularity in the national interest and the Wilsonian practice of imposing strict ethical criteria for recourse to military intervention but intervening with crisp efficiency when those criteria are met. (This was after his ludicrous fiasco in Mexico, when he sent a punitive mission to mill about among the bandit factions in that country’s civil war.)

The other point of contrast that emerges from comparisons with the presidency of a century ago is that Wilson came to office with an extensive and specific platform that included currency reform, tariff reduction, more comprehensive discouragement of monopoly practices, and modest reallocation of fiscal resources to alleviate the most depressed socioeconomic sections of the population. Even TR called Wilson “a less virile version of me.” (There are several definitions of virility, but the ardent Presbyterian Wilson was, in fact, an almost uncontrollable womanizer at times.) Wilson enacted his entire program, including setting up the Federal Reserve and passing the Clayton Antitrust Act. Not since Nixon has there been a president who seriously set out to pass laws to make conditions of American life better. Reagan was the most successful president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, and his program essentially consisted of a tax cut, tax reform, welfare decentralization, and a defense buildup. These policies led to a huge, non-inflationary boom in job creation, GDP growth, and productivity increases, and won the Cold War as well — but it wasn’t a comprehensive reform program, like Wilson’s, the Roosevelts’, LBJ’s, or, up to a point, Nixon’s.

This isn’t all bad, and the arguments for less government are strong. (The current administration staked all its bets on “affordable health care,” which has been a disaster.) No one since Nixon has really had a reform program. Practically all the members of Congress (of both parties and houses) present measures of economic benefit to their states or districts, and trade votes with other legislators engaged in the same endeavor. It is democracy of a sort, but it amplifies the role of money in politics and government and has nothing to do with presidential leadership. There is one other point: Woodrow Wilson was rivaled only by Jefferson (and conceivably John Quincy Adams) as the greatest intellect ever to occupy the White House. He wrote his own speeches and delivered them with passion and overpowering eloquence. He didn’t have speechwriters or teleprompters and he frequently profoundly stirred the nation. We haven’t heard much of that since Reagan either.

First published in National Review online.

Posted on 01/02/2014 9:14 AM by Conrad Black
Thursday, 2 January 2014
Persecution and Death: Legal Punishment in Islamic Societies

Capital punishment continues to be one of the most controversial and heated issues in American public life on several levels -- political, religious, intellectual, and legal.  The controversy comes to a head particularly when the practice is applied improperly.  Courts in the United States at all levels, including the Supreme Court, are still grappling with the question.

Throughout the world, 140 nations in one way or another have abolished capital punishment, while 58 still insist on their legal right to practice it.  Some of the latter countries are discussed in a new report issued in Brussels on December 30, 2013 by Human Rights Without Frontiers International (HRWF).  This body, established in Brussels in 1988, seeks to promote human rights around the world.

In its present report, which is limited to countries where access to information was possible, the HRWF is concerned with the general problem of individuals put in prison and executed due to laws forbidding or restricting their basic rights to freedom of religion or belief.  It identifies 24 countries, eight of which are members of the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC), as depriving religious believers of their freedom.  This would include forbidding people to change religion or belief, sharing one's religion or beliefs, freedom of association, and freedom of worship and assembly.

Since World War II, attempts have been made to affirm freedom of religion, and even more to end capital punishment.  The first affirmation was made in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18): "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) used similar language in its own Article 18, which recognized the right "to have or to adopt a religion or belief" of one's choice.  It continued, "No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice."  The U.N. General Assembly has also adopted non-binding resolutions for a moratorium on executions.

The European Union has gone farther through its legally binding Charter of Fundamental Rights, passed in 2000 and effective in December 2009.  Article 2 of the Charter states, "No one shall be condemned to the death penalty or executed."

It is saddening that the HRWF Report states that hundreds of prisoners are in the 24 countries discussed, including the eight states who have been accepted as members of the U.N. Human Rights Council despite their dismal record on human rights and their refusal to allow or their rigid control over religious freedom.  The report identifies 10 of the 24 countries as the worst in grossly violating individual freedom to change religion or belief.  Apostasy is a capital offense punishable by death in eight of them: Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

Other studies note the use of capital punishment.  In Iran in 2011-2012, there were 360 juridical executions; in Saudi Arabia, 60 in 2012, with another 250 on death row; and in Yemen, 41 in 2011.  There can be no greater defining distinction between the cultures of the Western world -- certainly in Europe and increasingly in the U.S. -- all of which are concerned with constitutional questions of due process and equal protection, and countries abiding by sharia law than this use of capital punishment on the basis of religious intolerance.

While the countries that hold the largest number of prisoners are China, Eritrea, Iran, and North Korea, it is pertinent to say it is the Muslim countries that are the most wedded to capital punishment.  They make conversion from Islam to another religious belief a criminal offense, and they persecute or intimidate those of other religions who may emigrate, as have Egyptian Copts, to escape the threat of imprisonment or capital punishment.

It is the Islamic nations where freedom of religion and expression on religious issues is most violated, largely because of the laws against what are said to be blasphemy or defamation of religion or of the Prophet.  In these countries there is total denial of religious freedom other than Islam, or else punishment for any change of religion or belief from Islam, or controls over freedom of association, worship, and assembly.

Even if capital punishment is not always carried out as the penalty in these countries, those punished for their beliefs are subjugated to threats of the death penalty, flogging, stoning, amputation, and imprisonment.  They may also suffer "civic death" by deprivation of citizenship, by marriage being annulled, by losing rights over children.  

In Saudi Arabia, which has no codified penal code and where judicial rulings are arbitrary and indeterminate, 52 Ethiopian Christians were recently arrested for taking part in a service in a private home; some were imprisoned and others deported.  In Libya, a number of Copts were imprisoned for trying to convert others.  In Egypt, the government for some time used the Penal Code to prosecute supposed proselytizing by non-Muslims.  In Egypt and other Arab and Islamic countries, the charge of blasphemy has been used to prosecute and imprison those who do not accept the official Islamic beliefs, and who are accused of "insulting Islam or the Prophet."

A typical example is Iran, which defines itself as follows: "The official religion of Iran is Islam and the Twelver Ja'fari school, and this will remain eternally immutable."  The law states that capital punishment will be the penalty for male apostates, a penalty the courts must apply on the basis of sharia law.

Individuals who were simply celebrating the Christmas festival or were building a non-religious orphanage were arrested and imprisoned on the basis of absurd allegations that they had converted from Islam to Christianity, thatthey were encouraging the conversion of others to Christianity, that they wereacting against the regime by promoting Christianity, that they were insulting the supreme leader, and that they were committing crimes against Iran's national security.  They were tortured and severely beaten during interrogation in prison.  The activity of Christians is closely monitored, Bibles are often confiscated, security cameras are present outside churches, and worshipers are subjected to identity checks.

Moreover, Iran persecutes not only Christians, but also others. It regards Bahá'ís as apostates from Islam, who have no right to believe in the Bahá'í faith or profess it individually or in community. They have therefore been accused of espionage, anti-Islamic activity, and acting in cooperation with Israel.  More than 100 Bahá'ís are currently in prison.

Whatever one's views about the retention of capital punishment for the direst offenses, two actions are necessary.  One is the immediate release of all those imprisoned for religious reasons.  The other is the necessity to work toward changing the Islamic attitude to freedom of religion or belief.  Laws that criminalize "blasphemy" and restrict freedom of expression should be abolished.  Individuals belonging to non-Muslim faiths should not be intimidated or mistreated.  By adopting principles of freedom of religion and belief, Islamic society will take a giant step in moving to democratic development, the exercise of the rule of law, and real human rights.

Michael Curtis is author of Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East.

First published in the American Thinker.

Posted on 01/02/2014 9:05 AM by Michael Curtis

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