These are all the Blogs posted on Thursday, 28, 2011.
Thursday, 28 April 2011
University campuses are 'hotbeds of Islamic extremism'
From The Telegraph
Islamic fundamentalism is being allowed to flourish at universities, endangering national security, MPs and peers said yesterday.
Academics are turning a blind eye to radicals because they do not want to spy on students, a report claimed.
Despite "damning evidence" of a serious problem, little progress had been made in tackling the unsustainable situation, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Homeland Security said.
They urged the Government to tackle the issue on campuses with "utmost urgency".
Such extremism "endangers our security at home and has international implications that are serious enough to threaten our alliance relationships", said the group, which includes the former home secretary Lord Reid.
The parliamentary group was set up two years ago to carry out research into homeland security issues.
Its inaugural report comes after a separate inquiry by the umbrella organisation for universities earlier this year said animal rights extremists posed a greater problem than Islamist radicals.
Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, said it could do very little about extremism on campus. Instead it issued new guidance on the importance of freedom of speech. Their report followed the attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a former student at University College London, to blow himself up using a bomb in his underpants as a flight came in to land at Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009.
The parliamentarians' report said Britain's homeland security strategy failed to address in sufficient detail how to tackle the threat of extremism at universities, how to strengthen businesses' ability to deal with a terrorist attack and how to ensure security over the internet.
In the report, entitled Keeping Britain Safe, the MPs and peers said the problem of universities as places of radicalisation required "urgent and sustained attention by the new Government".
Several witnesses had flagged up "serious problems" evident in universities and the issue was of "grave concern." The problems they cited included examples of extremist preachers being invited on to campuses.
The report also raised “significant concerns” over unregulated foreign funding of universities. It said that, in many cases, the funding had a political purpose and could have direct effects upon the institutional structure, curriculum, appointments and the schedule of events. The London School of Economics was among the controversial recipients of foreign aid . . . quoted one witness, Prof Anthony Glees, of Buckingham University, who said Arab and other foreign governments had ploughed £240 million into Islamic studies courses at universities over the past 10 years.
Elsewhere in The Telegraph
The University of St Andrews has launched an internal investigation into academic standards because its Syrian studies centre was part-funded by the Syrian regime. Senior members of the government of Bashar al-Assad helped raise £105,000 through a UK-registered charity called the Asfari Foundation, which was the only external funding the centre received.
Niall Scott, a spokesman for the University of St Andrews, said: “The CSS is an independent academic centre established to undertake research on contemporary Syria, its role in the modern world and economic and political reform in that country. It was established with the assistance of a £105,000 donation from the Asfari Foundation, a recognised UK charity, in 2007. This is the only external funding the centre has received. The salaries of CSS staff are paid directly by the university."
Posted on 04/28/2011 2:11 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Thursday, 28 April 2011
In Nigeria, The Muslims In The North Apparently Will Not Dominate Forever
A report on the recent election, and what it means, at pmnews:
Jonathan’s Historic Victory
Posted By pmnews On April 27, 2011
The Nigerian electorate have spoken in very loud and unequivocal terms. In the freest, fairest and most credible election since June 12, 1993, Nigerians have vociferously blown the trumpet of freedom from oppression, from domination, from tyranny and from oligarchic and militaristic rule as experienced throughout the post-June 12 era.
For the first time in the history of this country, we have a presidential candidate who has scored widely above the margin of constitutional requirement and acceptability for any elected president in Nigeria. Even in the era of Maurice Iwu’s dishonourable and bribery, prone-INEC, we did not get such a historic verdict of a massive majority win and with 25% in 32 states plus the FCT.
By this overwhelming victory, the South Eastern and South South states have given a clear message: that this country belongs to all of us and that no section of the country should be given a permanent monopoly to dominate and subjugate other components of the country to permanent political slavery.
The British colonial masters who assembled Nigeria into one United Nation had sympathy for Northern Nigeria because it was then the least developed and least prepared for self-rule of independence. Britain therefore ensured a politically dominant North to keep Nigerians’ dream alive in the interest of Great Britain.
Both Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe energetically struggled to wrest power from the North but to no avail. Chief Obafemi Awolowo the then Western leader who was the most visionary of all Nigerian leaders of his time, was euphemistically and sarcastically dubbed “the best President Nigeria never had” by Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu.
As at 1998 no Southerner had emerged president after four national presidential elections. In order to stem this scandalous tide, the North agreed to allow a southerner to rule for only four years. The North then chose Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to rule Nigeria as a result of the implicit trust they had in him. How Obasanjo later did two terms of office and even tried a 3rd term is not germane to the issues at stake here.
In furtherance of the Colonial preference for Northern domination, the three big tribes now conspiratorially aspired to hedge power only around themselves. This then became known as the Wazobian Philosophy which made it impossible for any Nigerian leader to come from the Nigerian South-South geopolitical zone.
Then the Nigerian Civil war broke out in 1967 with the South Eastern states pulling out of the Nigeria Federation. The Nigerian Civil War ended in January 1970 and the power brokers then decided that it will be easier for the camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for
the Igbo man or woman to rule Nigeria. It was rationalised that if the Igbo had fought against the existence of Nigeria an Igbo president could use constitutional means to break up the country. It then became a question of patriotism and nationalistic fervour which the power-givers thought was in short supply in the Igbo states.
Nigerian governance then became a two-horse race between Northern Nigeria and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who was a Northern favourite and was chosen by the North to represent the South due to his then love for the North as brilliantly displayed during the 1979 122/3 mathematical imbroglio.
By this political equation, the Igbo who was an integral index of the
wazobian philosophy was now jettisoned because of his “suspect” allegiance to the Nigerian Nation. With the demise of this tripartite alliance, it was obvious a new political frontier was being drawn up in Nigeria as it would be impossible for Nigeria to be permanently ruled by the North and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
The inclusion of the South-South in the Leadership of the Nigeria Federation is an accident of Nigerian’s political history. It was not the intention of Nigeria’s founding fathers to include the South-South and the North Central geopolitical zones of Nigeria as producers of Nigeria’s ruling class.
And the appearance of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as a member of Nigeria’s ruling class is to say the least a divine manipulation which was wrought through Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, one of Nigeria’s undisputed power brokers.
But Northern Nigeria after ruling for 38 of Nigeria’s 50 years is still unwilling to give up power to a “junior” member of the federating units of the Nigerian federation.
There are so many reasons why President Goodluck Jonathan’s Victory on 16 April 2011 would be recorded as one of the historic landmarks of Nigeria’s political history. It is the day that 59% of Nigeria’s 38.2 million voters unanimously decided to choose a minority candidate from the smallest state of the federation as their president.
The voting pattern that gave victory to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan defied former voting patterns in Nigeria. For instance Adamawa, Taraba and Gombe in the North West all voted massively for President Jonathan even as these states are regarded as part of the core north. Gombe even hit the 60% mark while Taraba grossed 63%. The story in the North Central geopolitical zone was more palatable and cheery. This zone did not disappoint as it was pencilled down for a massive vote catching area for President Goodluck Jonathan. With an average 61% and a total vote of 3.12 million, the 6 states of the North Central zone have lived up to the expectations of the political analysts except for Niger state where Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s enormous influence swayed the votes in favour of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
In the 5 South Eastern States, it was a bounteous harvest for President Goodluck Jonathan as they contributed a whopping 4.98 million votes with an average of almost 1 million votes per state and an average of 97.87% of total votes in the states. This block vote for President Jonathan by the Igbos is an expression of a concerted will to break the jinx that has excluded them from the governance of this country. If someone from a “minor” minority can make it to the presidency the Igbos too believe that they will soon have a taste of Aso Rock as they are also a federating unit of the Nigerian Nation.
The case of the South-South geopolitical zone is very understandable. Here is the case of the home boy – the son of the soil. And from the 5 states in this zone the President grossed 4.3 million votes winning almost 100% of the votes in his Bayelsa state.
The 6 South West State did not surprise too many Nigerians as President Goodluck Jonathan visited Lagos more than any state of the Federation and his winning all the states except Osun state did not take most people unawares because of his heavy presence on the ground here.
But if there was any shocker in this presidential election, it was in Kastina state. Here is Gen. Buhari’s home state with the highly orchestrated rally crowds running into millions. And yet President Goodluck Jonathan was able to get 428,392 votes and 26.13% from the lion’s den. What a surprise victory for President Goodluck Jonathan.
There is no doubt that a wind of change is blowing through Nigeria. A change that will make it possible for the President of this country to come from any of Nigeria’s geopolitical zones.
We know that the Northwestern and Northeastern states will resist this change with the last drop of their blood as even the youth in these zones have been taught from their nursery schools to the university that they were born to rule their junior citizens from the south. It has been so ingrained into the psyche of the Northern youth that the Northerner must win any election and rule Nigeria forever. If the Northerner does not win there must be chaos and Nigeria must cease to exist. After all, all of Nigeria’s four previous elections have been won by Northern candidates.
All presidential candidates must endeavour to douse the tension in the country by addressing their various followers on national television advising the rampaging youths to sheathe their swords so that we can build on the peace we have enjoyed over the years.
In civilised countries losers are always magnanimous in defeat and immediately congratulate the lucky winner but not so in Nigeria. How many of our 19 losers have congratulated President Goodluck Jonathan? Some may never do. That is not the spirit of the game. Nigeria needs good sportsmen even in the political arena.
God bless President Goodluck Jonathan and his Team.
God bless Nigeria.
Posted on 04/28/2011 5:01 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Never Have So Few Done So Much Damage To So Many (Re-Posted)
by Hugh Fitzgerald (re-posted from April 2007)
Would it be immoral for Americans to leave Iraq, or to allow it to dissolve? [For Iraq, read Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, your Muslim country here] Some have said so. But as to the question of morality, I don't even understand the question. The Kurds resent the Arabs for good reason. Why should they not try to make a move for independence, and if by helping them the American government can weaken Syria and Iran, and have a semi-reliable ally in what was northern Iraq, why not? What is immoral about that?
And as to the sectarian divisions, they date back a thousand years before the founding of the United States. The depth and duration of that division, in other words, owes nothing to us. It is the Americans who have tried, at great human and economic cost, to make the Iraqis less tribal, less selfish, more imbued with a sense of a nation -- and a nation that is not merely a place to be controlled by their sect or tribe or family. The Americans have tried to encourage entrepreneurial activity instead of reliance, as in so many other Muslim states, on either oil money or foreign aid from Infidels, and to encourage the adoption of a Constitution that would actually move away from the Shari'a.
It has all failed. And that is despite the enormous efforts of American soldiers, who were never taught about Islam, and yet persevered, and were puzzled when the Muslims of Iraq did not behave, as those soldiers expected them to, as a grateful "Iraqi people," but rather as a collection -- with a handful of exceptions -- of grasping, whining, greedy, meretricious people, eager to have the Americans do everything for them, eager to have them lavish them with aid money (thrown around, by the billions, like confetti), and distinctly indifferent to American losses when not taking outright pleasure in such losses, yet always willing to blame the Americans for everything.
Does a Sunni bomb go off killing Shi'a? The Shi'a crowds gather, and tell reporters that they blame the Americans. The Sunnis are kidnapped by Shi'a militia, and the Sunnis rant against the Americans. And now 98% of the Sunni Arabs say that all attacks on Americans are justified and that they personally approve of them, and 75% of the Shi'a say the same thing. Only the Kurds express, by a large majority, lack of approval for such attacks.
What is the conceivable offense to morality in no longer sending Americans to fight and die for people who cannot overcome Islam, who will in large -- and ever-increasing -- numbers, take delight in the deaths of Americans? And does anyone, does even Bush, still think that Iraq could somehow become a Light Unto the Muslim Nations? Karen Hughes, Bush’s loyal and equally unintelligent aide, is the one who is most directly involved with "reaching out to Muslims." That is the extent of our propaganda effort, an effort that should be made not to win jihadists over, but to fill them with confusion and to demoralize them, and make at least some of them begin to see that their political, economic, and social failures are a direct result of what Islam inculcates -- not only the specific doctrines, but the habit of mental submission that it demands.
It is immoral for Bush and others to persist obstinately in a course that makes no sense. Like the general in "The Charge of the Light Brigade," or like the madly complacent generals who sent people to their death in the trenches in World War I, these people are not thinking straight. Others -- the soldiers and Marines of the regular army, and of the Reserves and National Guard -- at least had every right to expect that they would not be sent to Iraq except in case of absolute national emergency. Yet the war in Iraq is most definitely not a case of "national emergency" but of willful ignorance of Islam, lack of imagination, lack of wit, lack of knowledge about Iraq, at the very top. And then there is always that claque of loyalists, the assorted kagans and kristols or, for that matter, that speaking-truth-to-power admirer of Edward Said, the minor polemicist Christopher Hitchens, who only yesterday began to find out a little about Islam. He's a dab hand at running with whatever little knowledge he acquires, tout en faisant son petit Orwell.
There is nothing "machiavellian" or "immoral" about refusing to continue to keep various groups of Muslims from one another's throats. Who knows? Maybe they'll all make peace. Let's say that is the outcome. I could live with that. I could also live with the other. It is theirs to make or mar. We got rid of a murderous monster. That murderous monster, it turns out, was about what Iraq appeared to need, if the only conceivable good is an absence of the kind of strife that became inevitable, sooner or later, once the regime of Saddam Hussein was removed.
Perhaps some think the regime of Saddam Hussein was moral, and that therefore it was immoral to end it, but Christopher Hitchens is not among them. He thinks the removal of Saddam Husseini was justified and desirable. Unfortunately, he also seems to think it is Americans who should pay, and keep paying, the price for that removal -- instead of those whose belief-system makes them naturally unwilling to compromise, that makes them susceptible to crazed beliefs and conspiracy theories (the Sunni Arabs, for example, really allow themselves to believe that they constitute 42% of the Iraqi population, and they really believe that they have a right to that amount of power, or even more, and certainly they will never acquiesce in the Shi'a rule over Iraq).
Bush and his loyalists refuse to identify the enemy properly -- which consists of all those who think they have a duty to spread Islam through Jihad, until the goal that Muhammad, uswa hasana, al-insan al-kamil, is achieved, and the world is made safe for Islam because all obstacles to its spread, and imposition, have been removed, so that "Islam dominates and is not to be dominated."
The Bush Amdinistration prates about a "war on terror" and tells us that this war "can be won" but it will take time. Cheney says "a generation." Blair speaks of "twenty, even thirty years." This shows their wilful misunderstanding.
This "war" has no end. Even to think in terms of a war with an "end" shows that you have not thought through the problem of Islam. Even if Muslims are weakened, or appear to have let the doctrine of Jihad fall into desuetude, because they may appear, and may in fact be, too weak to act on it (essentially, from about 1800 to 1960, that was the case, and that was the period when some Muslims, recognizing the weakness of the Islamic world, actually tried to think of ways to "reform" it but aside from visiting Europe and noting the need to rival it in military technology, nothing every came of that "reformist" impulse, tiny and ineffectual as it was).
This war has no end, because Islam cannot everywhere be stamped out -- have Nazis, or neo-Nazis, ceased to exist? Of course not, nor have devout Communists eager for levelling by the state, nor have Fascists, nor have all kinds of human impulses that, if translated into the political sphere, are mortal enemies of civilization and intelligent freedom. But they have been held in check, their numbers limited.
The task of the non-Muslim world is to weaken the Camp of Islam, and the appeal of Islam to the psychically and economically marginal in the West, in the most effective way, and at the lowest cost. Ordinarily that can be done by exploiting the natural pre-existing divisions within Islam. Iraq, for example, offers two of the three main divisions.
The first is the sectarian (Shi'a and Sunni), and sufficiently balanced in power that neither side could easily defeat the other, despite the large Shi'a advantage in population, for the Sunnis are much more ruthless, aggressive, and determined, and have deep-pocketed allies in Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Kuwait (the Al-Sabah family doesn't want a Shi'a threat from Iran-cum-Iraq to replace what it faced with Saddam Hussein, especially since there are many Shi'a in Kuwait, who may now be regarded as a potential fifth column).
The second is the ethnic: the justified desire of the Kurds to be independent of the Arabs, who have persecuted them, and murdered them, and taken over their lands, and appropriated the oil wealth under those lands (which lands, in fact, were in reality those of the Assyrian Christians who in fact were, in the post-World War I settlement, dispossessed by some of those Kurds moving south, as in turn, the Kurds were later dispossessed --as in Kirkuk -- by the government-sponsored resettlement of Arabs moving north).
The third, not present within Iraq but certainly present among the Muslim states: is economic: the resentment of poor Arabs and Muslims over the unmerited vast wealth of the rich Arabs and Muslims, a resentment that has not been exploited because, idiotically, the Western world has, instead of drawing attention to the grand theft of "Muslim" resources by a handful of rulers and states, and their refusal to share the wealth not only with many of the people in those states, but also with other Muslims, thus showing not the slightest interest in supporting fellow members of the umma (although payments to other Muslims for spreading Islam in the West, or to engage in acts of terrorism against Israel or India or other Infidel states -- well, that can and is supported by rich Arabs).
We need first to recognize, and then to exploit, these fissures. I haven't begun to explain the kind of propaganda that would help, but most of it should be obvious.
But it is not obvious to the likes of Karen Hughes. It is not obvious to the likes of Cheney's daughter, the one involved in bringing "democracy" to Iraq (what makes her an expert? what allowed her to be put in charge of such matters?). And it certainly isn't obvious to Condoleeza Rice, with a most limited view of things, whose claim to fame is that she was a good -- i.e., obedient -- graduate student in some branch of Kremlinology, but lacks the learning, the world experience, and the imagination to push her even more limited boss into something like a comprehension of what Islam is all about, and how it makes best sense to constrain and weaken it.
There are at least three separate Sunni insurgent groups: the Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia who want to fight the Americans, and the Shi'a for being "Rafidite dogs" or the worst kind of Infidels; ; the tribes in Anbar Province who have been offended by Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia and are fighting with them and may, mistakenly, be thought of therefore as American allies; the Sunni Arabs in Iraq who refuse to acquiesce in their loss of power to the Shi'a, and to want to fight the Americans, seen as having been responsible for that loss of power, and the Shi'a, but do not quite see the Shi'a as those "Rafidite dogs" that the members of Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia do.
There are at least three Shi'a groups: the Shi'a who are genuinely secular, westernized nice. This nearly-infinitesimal group, the very group that presented itself to the Bush Administration as representative of Iraq, has people who are secular, some of whom were once even pre-Saddam members of the Ba'ath Party (see Allawi), and represent the remaining Baghdad elite (Shi'a division), all of whom, of course, were trained by the Jesuits at Baghdad College and all of whom have spent between 10 and 45 years in the West. They represent almost nobody but themselves. The second group consists of the los-de-abajo Shi'a poor, who have rallied around the troglodytic ABD (all-but-desertion) resentful Moqtada al-Sadr, whose face shows exactly what he is, and who support their own Jaish-e-Mahdi and of course some militias. The third group consists of the slightly better off, and slightly more presentable, leaders and members of SCIRI and Daw'a, competing parties, with ideologies or personal agendas that can hardly be distinguished by non-Muslim Iraqis, and need not be. They claim to listen to Sistani, and Sistani, it is claimed by the Americans, is simply solidly on the side of right (that, of course, is nonsense) -- see www.sistani.org and scroll down until you find the list of what is "najis" or "unclean" in the view of Sistani -- you'll find yourself on the list.
Then there are the others, including possibly the most touching and impressive political figure in Iraqi public life, Mithal al-Alusi, the son of a professor of classical Arabic literature, supporter and signer of the St. Petersburg Declaration of "secular" (mostly apostates) Muslims, and a brave visitor to Israel. It should be no surprise that when Mithal al-Alusi's party ran, in a nation of 27 million, it received 4,500 votes. Policy cannot be made on the basis of the nearly infinitesimal group of thoroughly secularized and westernized Muslims. Moqtada al-Sadr has at least a thousand times the support of Mithal al-Alusi, and were the most savage of Sunnis to run, he would command Shi'a millions as well. This is something that the Bush Administration and those who still wish to support its Iraq policy simply cannot comprehend, or will not allow themselves to comprehend.
No one in the intelligent past would have found anything remarkable in the notion that one needs to know what moves the minds of men -- and in the case of Muslim men, above all else what moves them is Islam -- and to know the history of a place, ancient and modern, the history of its people or peoples, their manners and customs and desires and motives.
And without some sense of Iraq's past, in a past-controlled part of the world, with adherents of a belief-system who insist on living, especially in times of mental and emotional desarroi, in that past of fabled and exaggerated greatness, no sensible policies can be constructed.
Here is a florilegium of quotations, culled quickly from both Iraqis (rulers and scholars, including the formidable Elie Kedourie, a Baghdadi Jew who at the university level was educated, and made his celebrated academic career, in England) and non-Iraqis, and how one wishes they had been known, and studied, and thought carefully about, in Washington four years ago:
#1. The Commander of the British Forces that wrested Mesopotamia [Iraq] from the Turks, 1917:
"To the People of the Baghdad Vilayet... our armies have not come into your Cities and Lands as conquerors or enemies but as liberators. Since the days of Hulaku your citizens have been subject to the tyranny of Strangers, your palaces have fallen into ruins, your gardens have sunken into desolation and you yourselves have groaned in bondage. ...It is the wish not only of my King and his peoples, but it is also the wish of the great nations with whom he is in alliance that you should prosper ...But you, the people of Baghdad, ... are not to understand that it is the wish of the British Government to impose upon you alien institutions. It is the hope of the British Government that the aspirations of your philosophers and writers shall be realised again. O! People of Baghdad. ... I am commanded to invite you, through your Nobles and Elders and Representatives to participate in the management of your civil affairs in collaboration with the Political representatives of Great Britain who accompany the British Army so that you may unite with your kinsmen in the North, East, South and West in realising the aspirations of your race."
[Source: Atiyyah, Ghassan: Iraq : 1908 - 1921 : A Socio - Political Study. - Beirut : The Arab Institute for Research and Publishing, 1973 p. 151.]
#2. Gertrude Bell, 1920:
“In the light of the events of the last two months there's no getting out of the conclusion that we have made an immense failure here. The system must have been far more at fault than anything that I or anyone else suspected. It will have to be fundamentally changed and what that may mean exactly I don't know. I suppose we have underestimated the fact that this country is really an inchoate mass of tribes which can't as yet be reduced to any system. The Turks didn't govern and we have tried to govern - and failed. I personally thought we tried to govern too much, but I hoped that things would hold out till Sir Percy came back and that the transition from British to native rule might be made peacefully, in which case much of what we have done might have been made use of. Now I fear that that will be impossible.”
[Source: Lady Gertrude Bell, 1920, The Letters of Gertrude Bell.]
#3. Gertrude Bell, 1920:
“We as outsiders can't differentiate between Sunni and Shi'ah, but leave it to them and they'll get over the difficulty by some kind of hanky panky, just as the Turks did, and for the present it's the only way of getting over it. I don't for a moment doubt that the final authority must be in the hands of the Sunnis, in spite of their numerical inferiority; otherwise you will have a mujtahid-run, theocratic state, which is the very devil.”
[Source: Lady Gertrude Bell, 1920, The Letters of Gertrude Bell.]
#4. King Faisal of Iraq, 1933:
"Regrettably, I can say there is no Iraqi people yet, but only deluded human groups void of any national idea. Iraqis are not only disunited but evil-motivated, anarchy prone and always ready to prey on their government." – King Faisal I, writing in his memoirs shortly before he died in 1933.
#5. “There are only two political parties in Iraq: the Sunni party and the Shia party.” – Tawfiq Al-Suwaidi, Iraqi Prime Minister, 1929, 1930, 1946, 1950.
#6. In "The Chatham House Version" the scholar Elie Kedourie comments dryly on the description by the far-less-great scholar Majid Kadduri (in his own book, "Independent Iraq") of “the wise leadership of Faisal, who inspired public spirit in every department of government”:
“If this [Khadduri's description of Faisal] were in any way true, there would be no accounting for the degraded and murderous politics of Iraq from the end of the mandate to the end of the monarchy.” [i.e., from 1932 to 1958, when first Qassem, and then the Ba'athists, took over, and things became even more degraded and much, much more murderous].].
“The fact is, of course, that this kind of language is most inappropriate to Iraq under the monarchy or afterwards.”
“Lack of scruple greater or lesser, cupidity more or less unrestrained, ability to plot more or less consummate, bloodlust more or less obsessive: these rather are the terms which the historian must use who surveys this unfortunate polity [modern Iraq] and those into whose power it was deliverered.
Do you think such material, had it been thoroughly read, in its full context, and digested, might have helped make American policymakers a bit more realistic and less messianic about Iraq? Do you think Richard Perle would not have so excitedly declared in 2003 that he wouldn't be surprised if a boulevard were named after George Bush in Baghdad? Or that Wolfowitz would estimate that the "cost" of the Iraq War might be "$20 billion," and therefore so much more of a bargain, than the cost of the sanctions program --when the cost now, at a minimum, has been estimated at between $1 and $2 trillion dollars, if the costs incurred for the treatment of the wounded, and the macroeconomic costs (see the paper of Stiglitz and Bilmes, and if you wish, forget the macroeconomic costs and take the lower figure, and if you like, reduce even that to something we can all agree on as an absolute base -- say, $750 billion)? Or that Bernard Lewis would confidently predict that when the Americans overturned the regime the spectacle of rapture and gratitude in Baghdad "would make the liberation of Kabul seem like a funeral procession"?
They forgot, or didn't know, with their narrow certainties and dependence on Bernard Lewis. A false choice was offered: on the one hand there was the usual crew of appeasers and hirelings and simply ignoramuses (and they were and are appeasers, and hirelings, and ignoramuses), people who cannot conceive of Islam being the problem. These were the espositos and william-polks and scowcrofts and the djerijians, who wanted nothing done to upset anyone. There was the belief that Harold Rhode, so uncritically worshipful of Bernard Lewis, see Douglas Feith -- so dependent on Harold Rhode, see Cheney, who was so certain about so many things, and similarly thought Lewis the last word on everything to do with Islam, and Iraq -- not a hint of any consulting with the live J. B. Kelly, or the writings of the dead Kedourie. or for that matter with others, including Bat Ye'or -- it was apparently a false polarity: either Lewis, or the likes of such apologists as Esposito, or just as bad, that fake "old Iraq" hand William Polk, with his predictable appeasements. No other conceivable alternatives. There is a good deal that Bernard Lewis is able to forget, or didn't know -- (look at his enthusiasm for the Oslo Accords, and his grotesque minimizing of the menace of Islam and the mistreatment of the dhimmis, quite unlike his two coevals S. D. Goitein and Gustave von Grunebaum on the mistreatment of non-Muslims under Islam) and what would almost certainly happen once the despotism of the Sunni Saddam Hussein was removed? And wouldn't a knowledge of Islam have told them something about the prospects for real "democracy" as opposed to the vote-counting (that the Shi'a were happy to participate in, and voted for whomever their leaders told them to vote lemming-like for?). In other words, isn't a knowledge both of Islam and of the history of Iraq essential, so as not to engage in the kind of folly that is being engaged in.
The Americans, had they informed themselves, would then most likely either have
1) left Saddam Hussein in place, if indeed there was no real reason to suspect his possession, or his being able to acquire, weapons of mass destruction or,
2) if there was indeed sufficient reason to believe [we still do not know that, do but those of us who were long willing to believe that the government was reasonable in fearing the existence of WMDs or of the ability of the regime to acquire them -- I was one of them -- are looking more abashed every day] that he either had or was attempting to acquire, or could soon start acquiring or making, such weapons.
What are the most important things to study to figure out what makes sense, for the wellbeing of Infidels, at this moment, in Iraq, given the instruments of Jihad as we can now identify them, and the behavior, ignorant and often pusillanimous, of much of the Western world?
It is history. The history of Islam, both doctrine and practice. The history of Iraq, especially of Iraq since 1920.
Not "psychoanalysis." Not the "generally applicable rules of counter-insurgency" such as "insurgencies tend, on average, to last 10 years."
As Ibn Warraq noted in his brilliant essay, comparing Islam and Fascism, both are belief-systems fixed on past glories. Compare Mussolini on "Mare Nostrum" (the Mediterranean) and the greatness of Rome, or for that matter, Hitler on the supposedly bottled-up greatness of the Aryan or Germanic peoples, and his dithyrambs, and that of his ideological collaborators, on the past greatness of Deutschland, and even more than Germany, of the Germanic peoples, with that natural energy and life-force, so different from the Slavs and Latins and everyone else.
You didn't have to psychoanalyze anyone to comprehend that living in the past is essential to Islam. And that helps to explain something: the significance of Iraq and Baghdad to Sunni Arabs everywhere. Because they live in that Muslim mythology, and because Baghdad was for 500 years the most important city in Islam, at the time of Islam's greatest glory (for Arabs Constantinople doesn't count -- it was the center for their oppressors, the Ottoman Turks, not for Arab Islam), they simply cannot allow it to be controlled by those "Rafidite dogs" the Shi'a.
When historians write about the years 2000-2008, they will gasp at the expense, at the squandering, at the obstinate naiveté and failures of intelligence (of every kind) and of imagination. They will be amazed at the lack of ability of the people in charge to comprehend, to articulate, to instruct, and to protect. They will be flabbergasted at the trillion dollars wasted, at the great damage done to the morale of the military and to its capability, at a time of peril. They will not understand why nothing started to be done, then, about the campaigns of Daw'a and the slow but seemingly inexorable (it is not inexorable, it can be halted, and it can be reversed, but this requires a recognition of the problem and an intelligent awareness of what is at stake, and what is permissible – (see the Benes Decree of 1946 for a guide) considering the demographic conquest of the heart of the West -- Europe.
The historians will compare the failure of our leaders, or rather, of those "taking a leadership role" -- with the intelligent awareness, and acts of mass auto-didacticism, whereby many, including those who come to this website, have begun to undertake their own study of Islam, because they sense the discrepancy between what they are told in the press and on television and by their "taking-leadership-role" leaders, and what they see all about them, if they are not deaf, and dumb, and blind.
The political class, the ruling classes, the elites all over the West have failed. They failed when, without study or thought, they began some thirty years ago to let in Muslim migrants. They failed when they continued to avert their eyes from what such migration meant for the indigenous Infidels, their legal and political institutions, their freedoms, their art, their free inquiry, their physical safety. They failed for all kinds of reasons. Stupidity, cupidity, timidity - the Esdrujula Explanation that has been put up here many times. They will not be forgiven by posterity. So many things, now so difficult to deal with, could have been so easily avoided in the first place, had intelligence been properly applied.
Future historians will sum it up this way:
Never have so few done so much damage to so many.
Posted on 04/28/2011 9:22 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Neither Proleptic Nil-Nisi-Bonum, Nor Anything Else, Can Excuse Such Gush
From The Observer, April 24, 2011:
Amis on Hitchens: 'He's one of the most terrifying rhetoricians the world has seen'
Martin Amis hails the peerless intelligence and rhetorical ingenuity of his exceptional friend, Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens, left, on holiday with Martin Amis in Cape Cod, 1985.
Spontaneous eloquence seems to me a miracle," confessed Vladimir Nabokov in 1962. He took up the point more personally in his foreword to Strong Opinions (1973): "I have never delivered to my audience one scrap of information not prepared in typescript beforehand … My hemmings and hawings over the telephone cause long-distance callers to switch from their native English to pathetic French.
"At parties, if I attempt to entertain people with a good story, I have to go back to every other sentence for oral erasures and inserts … nobody should ask me to submit to an interview … It has been tried at least twice in the old days, and once a recording machine was present, and when the tape was rerun and I had finished laughing, I knew that never in my life would I repeat that sort of performance."
We sympathise. And most literary types, probably, would hope for inclusion somewhere or other on Nabokov's sliding scale: "I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, and I speak like a child."
Mr Hitchens isn't like that. Christopher and His Kind runs the title of one of Isherwood's famous memoirs. And yet this Christopher doesn't have a kind. Everyone is unique – but Christopher is preternatural. And it may even be that he exactly inverts the Nabokovian paradigm. He thinks like a child (that is to say, his judgments are far more instinctive and moral-visceral than they seem, and are animated by a child's eager apprehension of what feels just and true); he writes like a distinguished author; and he speaks like a genius.
As a result, Christopher is one of the most terrifying rhetoricians that the world has yet seen. Lenin used to boast that his objective, in debate, was not rebuttal and then refutation: it was the "destruction" of his interlocutor. This isn't Christopher's policy – but it is his practice. Towards the very end of the last century, all the greatest chessplayers, including Garry Kasparov, began to succumb to a computer (named Deep Blue); I had the opportunity to ask two grandmasters to describe the Deep Blue experience, and they both said: "It's like a wall coming at you." In argument, Christopher is that wall. The prototype of Deep Blue was known as Deep Thought. And there's a case for calling Christopher Deep Speech. With his vast array of geohistorical references and precedents, he is almost Google-like; but Google (with, say, its 10 million "results" in 0.7 seconds) is something of an idiot savant, and Christopher's search engine is much more finely tuned. In debate, no matter what the motion, I would back him against Cicero, against Demosthenes.
Whereas mere Earthlings get by with a mess of expletives, subordinate clauses, and finely turned tautologies, Christopher talks not only in complete sentences but also in complete paragraphs. Similarly, he is an utter stranger to what Diderot called l'esprit de l'escalier: the spirit of the staircase. This phrase is sometimes translated as "staircase wit" – far too limitingly, in my view, because l'esprit de l'escalier describes an entire stratum of one's intellectual and emotional being. The door to the debating hall, or to the contentious drinks party, or indeed to the little flat containing the focus of amatory desire, has just been firmly closed; and now the belated eureka shapes itself on your lips. These lost chances, these unexercised potencies of persuasion, can haunt you for a lifetime – particularly, of course, when the staircase was the one that might have led to the bedroom.
As a young man, Christopher was conspicuously unpredatory in the sexual sphere (while also being conspicuously pan-affectionate: "I'll just make a brief pass at everyone," he would typically and truthfully promise a mixed gathering of 14 or 15 people, "and then I'll be on my way"). I can't say how it went, earlier on, with the boys; with the girls, though, Christopher was the one who needed to be persuaded. And I do know that in this area, if in absolutely no other, he was sometimes inveigled into submission.
The habit of saying the right thing at the right time tends to get relegated to the category of the pert riposte. But the put-down, the swift comeback, when quoted, gives a false sense of finality. So-and-so, as quick as a flash, said so-and-so – and that seems to be the end of it. Christopher's most memorable rejoinders, I have found, linger, and reverberate, and eventually combine, as chess moves combine. One evening, close to 40 years ago, I said: "I know you despise all sports – but how about a game of chess?" Looking mildly puzzled and amused, he joined me over the 64 squares. Two things soon emerged. First, he showed no combative will, he offered no resistance (because this was play, you see, and earnest is all that really matters). Second, he showed an endearing disregard for common sense. This prompts a paradoxical thought.
There are many excellent commentators, in the US and the UK, who deploy far more rudimentary gumption than Christopher ever bothers with (we have a deservedly knighted columnist in London whom I always think of, with admiration, as Sir Common Sense). But it is hard to love common sense. And the salient fact about Christopher is that he is loved. What we love is fertile instability; what we love is the agitation of the unexpected. And Christopher always comes, as they say, from left field. He is not a plain speaker. He is not, I repeat, a plain man.
Over the years Christopher has spontaneously delivered many dozens of unforgettable lines. Here are four of them:
1. He was on TV for the second or third time in his life (if we exclude University Challenge), which takes us back to the mid-1970s and to Christopher's mid-twenties. He and I were already close friends (and colleagues at the New Statesman); but I remember thinking that nobody so matinee-telegenic had the right to be so exceptionally quick-tongued on the screen. At a certain point in the exchange, Christopher came out with one of his political poeticisms, an ornate but intelligible definition of (I think) national sovereignty. His host – a fair old bruiser in his own right – paused, frowned, and said with scepticism and with helpless sincerity, "I can't understand a word you're saying."
"I'm not in the least surprised," said Christopher, and moved on.
The talk ran its course. But if this had been a frontier western, and not a chat show, the wounded man would have spent the rest of the segment leerily snapping the arrow in half and pushing its pointed end through his chest and out the other side.
2. Every novelist of his acquaintance is riveted by Christopher, not just qua friend but also qua novelist. I considered the retort I am about to quote (all four words of it) so epiphanically devastating that I put it in a novel – indeed, I put Christopher in a novel. Mutatis mutandis (and it is the novel itself that dictates the changes), Christopher "is" Nicholas Shackleton in The Pregnant Widow – though it really does matter, in this case, what the meaning of "is" is… The year was 1981. We were in a tiny Italian restaurant in west London, where we would soon be joined by our future first wives. Two elegant young men in waisted suits were unignorably and interminably fussing with the staff about rearranging the tables, to accommodate the large party they expected. It was an intensely class-conscious era (because the class system was dying); Christopher and I were candidly lower-middle bohemian, and the two young men were raffishly minor-gentry (they had the air of those who await, with epic stoicism, the deaths of elderly relatives). At length, one of them approached our table, and sank smoothly to his haunches, seeming to pout out through the fine strands of his fringe. The crouch, the fringe, the pout: these had clearly enjoyed many successes in the matter of bending others to his will. After a flirtatious pause he said, "You're going to hate us for this."
And Christopher said, "We hate you already."
3. In the summer of 1986, in Cape Cod, and during subsequent summers, I used to play a set of tennis every other day with the historian Robert Jay Lifton. I was reading, and then re-reading, his latest and most celebrated book, The Nazi Doctors; so, on Monday, during changeovers, we would talk about the chapter "Sterilisation and the Nazi Biomedical Vision"; on Wednesday, "'Wild Euthanasia': The Doctors Take Over"; on Friday, "The Auschwitz Institution"; on Sunday, "Killing with Syringes: Phenol Injections"; and so on. One afternoon, Christopher, whose family was staying with mine on Horseleech Pond, was due to show up at the court, after a heavy lunch in nearby Wellfleet, to be introduced to Bob (and to be driven back to the pond-front house). He arrived, much gratified by having come so far on foot: three or four miles – one of the greatest physical feats of his adult life. It was set point. Bob served, approached the net, and wrongfootingly dispatched my attempted pass. Now Bob was, and is, 23 years my senior; and the score was 6-0. I could, I suppose, plead preoccupation: that summer I was wondering (with eerie detachment) whether I had it in me to write a novel that dealt with the Holocaust. Christopher knew about this, and he knew about my qualms.
Elatedly towelling himself down, Bob said, "You know, there are so few areas of transcendence left to us. Sports. Sex. Art … "
"Don't forget the miseries of others," said Christopher. "Don't forget the languid contemplation of the miseries of others."
I did write that novel. And I still wonder whether Christopher's black, three-ply irony somehow emboldened me to attempt it. What remains true, to this day, to this hour, is that of all subjects (including sex and art), the one we most obsessively return to is the Shoa, and its victims – those whom the wind of death has scattered.
4. In conclusion we move on to 1999, and by now Christopher and I have acquired new wives, and gained three additional children (making eight in all). It was mid-afternoon, in Long Island, and he and I hoped to indulge a dependable pleasure: we were in search of the most violent available film. In the end we approached a multiplex in Southampton (having been pitiably reduced to Wesley Snipes). I said, "No one's recognised the Hitch for at least 10 minutes."
Ten? Twenty minutes. Twenty-five. And the longer it goes on, the more pissed off I get. I keep thinking: What's the matter with them? What can they feel, what can they care, what can they know, if they fail to recognise the Hitch?
An elderly American was sitting opposite the doors to the cinema, dressed in candy colours and awkwardly perched on a hydrant. With his trembling hands raised in an Italianate gesture, he said weakly, "Do you love us? Or do you hate us?"
This old party was not referring to humanity, or to the West. He meant America and Americans. Christopher said, "I beg your pardon?"
"Do you love us, or do you hate us?"
As Christopher pushed on through to the foyer, he said, not warmly, not coldly, but with perfect evenness, "It depends on how you behave."
Does it depend on how others behave? Or does it depend, at least in part, on the loves and hates of the Hitch?
Christopher is bored by the epithet contrarian, which has been trailing him around for a quarter of a century. What he is, in any case, is an autocontrarian: he seeks, not only the most difficult position, but the most difficult position for Christopher Hitchens. Hardly anyone agrees with him on Iraq (yet hardly anyone is keen to debate him on it). We think also of his support for Ralph Nader, his collusion with the impeachment process of the loathed Bill Clinton (who, in Christopher's new book, The Quotable Hitchens, occupies more space than any other subject), and his support for Bush-Cheney in 2004. Christopher often suffers for his isolations; this is widely sensed, and strongly contributes to his magnetism. He is in his own person the drama, as we watch the lithe contortions of a self-shackling Houdini. Could this be the crux of his charisma – that Christopher, ultimately, is locked in argument with the Hitch? Still, "contrarian" is looking shopworn. And if there must be an epithet, or what the press likes to call a (single-word) "narrative", then I can suggest a refinement: Christopher is one of nature's rebels. By which I mean that he has no automatic respect for anybody or anything.
The rebel is in fact a very rare type. In my whole life I have known only two others, both of them novelists (my father, up until the age of about 45; and my friend Will Self). This is the way to spot a rebel: they give no deference or even civility to their supposed superiors (that goes without saying); they also give no deference or even civility to their demonstrable inferiors. Thus Christopher, if need be, will be merciless to the prince, the president, and the pontiff; and, if need be, he will be merciless to the cabdriver ("Oh, you're not going our way. Well turn your light off, all right? Because it's fucking sickening the way you guys ply for trade"), to the publican ("You don't give change for the phone? OK, I'm going to report you to the Camden Consumer Council"), and to the waiter ("Service is included, I see. But you're saying it's optional. Which? … What? Listen. If you're so smart, why are you dealing them off the arm in a dump like this?"). Christopher's everyday manners are beautiful (and wholly democratic); of course they are – because he knows that in manners begins morality. But each case is dealt with exclusively on its merits. This is the rebel's way.
It is for the most part an invigorating and even a beguiling disposition, and makes Mr Average, or even Mr Above Average (whom we had better start calling Joe Laptop), seem underevolved. Most of us shakily preside over a chaos of vestigial prejudices and pieties, of semi-subliminal inhibitions, taboos and herd instincts, some of them ancient, some of them spryly contemporary (like moral relativism and the ardent xenophilia which, in Europe at least, always excludes Israelis). To speak and write without fear or favour (to hear no internal drumbeat): such voices are invaluable. On the other hand, as the rebel is well aware, compulsive insubordination risks the punishment of self-inflicted wounds.
Let us take an example from Christopher's essays on literature . In the last decade Christopher has written three raucously hostile reviews – of Saul Bellow's Ravelstein (2000), John Updike's Terrorist (2006), and Philip Roth's Exit Ghost (2007). When I read them, I found myself muttering the piece of schoolmarm advice I have given Christopher in person, more than once: Don't cheek your elders. The point being that, in these cases, respect is mandatory, because it has been earned, over many books and many years. Does anyone think that Saul Bellow, then aged 85, needed Christopher's repeated reminders that the Bellovian powers were on the wane (and in fact, read with respect, Ravelstein is an exquisite swansong, full of integrity, beauty and dignity)? If you are a writer, then all the writers who have given you joy – as Christopher was given joy by Augie March and Humboldt's Gift, for example, and by Updike's The Coup, and by Roth's Portnoy's Complaint – are among your honorary parents; and Christopher's attacks were coldly unfilial. Here, disrespect becomes the vice that so insistently exercised Shakespeare: that of ingratitude. And all novelists know, with King Lear (who was thinking of his daughters), how sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless reader.
Art is freedom; and in art, as in life, there is no freedom without law. The foundational literary principle is decorum, which means something like the opposite of its dictionary definition: "behaviour in keeping with good taste and propriety" (i.e., submission to an ovine consensus). In literature, decorum means the concurrence of style and content – together with a third element, which I can only vaguely express as earning the right weight. It doesn't matter what the style is, and it doesn't matter what the content is; but the two must concur. If the essay is something of a literary art, which it clearly is, then the same law obtains.
Here are some indecorous quotes from the The Quotable Hitchens. "Ronald Reagan is doing to the country what he can no longer do to his wife." On the Chaucerian summoner-pardoner Jerry Falwell: "If you gave Falwell an enema, he'd be buried in a matchbox." On the political entrepreneur George Galloway: "Unkind nature, which could have made a perfectly good butt out of his face, has spoiled the whole effect by taking an asshole and studding it with ill-brushed fangs." The critic DW Harding wrote a famous essay called "Regulated Hatred". It was a study of Jane Austen. We grant that hatred is a stimulant; but it should not become an intoxicant.
The difficulty is seen at its starkest in Christopher's baffling weakness for puns. This doesn't much matter when the context is less than consequential (it merely grinds the reader to a temporary halt). But a pun can have no business in a serious proposition. Consider the following, from 2007: "In the very recent past, we have seen the Church of Rome befouled by its complicity with the unpardonable sin of child rape, or, as it might be phrased in Latin form, 'no child's behind left'." Thus the ending of the sentence visits a riotous indecorum on its beginning. The great grammarian and usage-watcher Henry Fowler attacked the "assumption that puns are per se contemptible … Puns are good, bad, or indifferent … " Actually, Fowler was wrong. "Puns are the lowest form of verbal facility," Christopher elsewhere concedes. But puns are the result of an anti-facility: they offer disrespect to language, and all they manage to do is make words look stupid.
Now compare the above to the below – to the truly quotable Christopher. In his speech, it is the terse witticism that we remember; in his prose, what we thrill to is his magisterial expansiveness (the ideal anthology would run for several thousand pages, and would include whole chapters of his recent memoir, Hitch-22). The extracts that follow aren't jokes or jibes. They are more like crystallisations – insights that lead the reader to a recurring question: If this is so obviously true, and it is, why did we have to wait for Christopher to point it out to us?
"There is, especially in the American media, a deep belief that insincerity is better than no sincerity at all."
"One reason to be a decided antiracist is the plain fact that 'race' is a construct with no scientific validity. DNA can tell you who you are, but not what you are."
"A melancholy lesson of advancing years is the realisation that you can't make old friends."
On gay marriage: "This is an argument about the socialisation of homosexuality, not the homosexualisation of society. It demonstrates the spread of conservatism, not radicalism, among gays."
On Philip Larkin: "The stubborn persistence of chauvinism in our life and letters is or ought to be the proper subject for critical study, not the occasion for displays of shock."
"[I]n America, your internationalism can and should be your patriotism."
"It is only those who hope to transform human beings who end up by burning them, like the waste product of a failed experiment."
"This has always been the central absurdity of 'moral', as opposed to 'political' censorship: If the stuff does indeed have a tendency to deprave and corrupt, why then the most depraved and corrupt person must be the censor who keeps a vigilant eye on it."
And one could go on. Christopher's dictum – "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence" – has already entered the language. And so, I predict, will this: "A Holocaust denier is a Holocaust affirmer." What justice, what finality. Like all Christopher's best things, it has the simultaneous force of a proof and a law.
"Is nothing sacred?" he asks. "Of course not." And no westerner, as Ronald Dworkin pointed out, "has the right not to be offended". We accept Christopher's errancies, his recklessnesses, because they are inseparable from his courage; and true valour, axiomatically, fails to recognise discretion. As the world knows, Christopher has recently made the passage from the land of the well to the land of the ill. One can say that he has done so without a visible flinch; and he has written about the process with unparalleled honesty and eloquence, and with the highest decorum. His many friends, and his innumerable admirers, have come to dread the tone of the "living obituary". But if the story has to end too early, then its coda will contain a triumph.
Christopher's personal devil is God, or rather organised religion, or rather the human "desire to worship and obey". He comprehensively understands that the desire to worship, and all the rest of it, is a direct reaction to the unmanageability of the idea of death. "Religion," wrote Larkin: "That vast moth-eaten musical brocade/ Created to pretend we never die …"
And there are other, unaffiliated intimations that the secular mind has now outgrown. "Life is a great surprise," observed Nabokov (b. 1899). "I don't see why death should not be an even greater one." Or Bellow (b. 1915), in the words of Artur Sammler: "Is God only the gossip of the living? Then we watch these living speed like birds over the surface of a water, and one will dive or plunge but not come up again and never be seen any more … But then we have no proof that there is no depth under the surface. We cannot even say that our knowledge of death is shallow. There is no knowledge."
Such thoughts still haunt us; but they no longer have the power to dilute the black ink of oblivion.
My dear Hitch: there has been much wild talk, among the believers, about your impending embrace of the sacred and the supernatural. This is of course insane. But I still hope to convert you, by sheer force of zealotry, to my own persuasion: agnosticism. In your seminal book, God Is Not Great, you put very little distance between the agnostic and the atheist; and what divides you and me (to quote Nabokov yet again) is a rut that any frog could straddle. "The measure of an education," you write elsewhere, "is that you acquire some idea of the extent of your ignorance." And that's all that "agnosticism" really means: it is an acknowledgment of ignorance. Such a fractional shift (and I know you won't make it) would seem to me consonant with your character – with your acceptance of inconsistencies and contradictions, with your intellectual romanticism, and with your love of life, which I have come to regard as superior to my own.
The atheistic position merits an adjective that no one would dream of applying to you: it is lenten. And agnosticism, I respectfully suggest, is a slightly more logical and decorous response to our situation – to the indecipherable grandeur of what is now being (hesitantly) called the multiverse. The science of cosmology is an awesome construct, while remaining embarrassingly incomplete and approximate; and over the last 30 years it has garnered little but a series of humiliations. So when I hear a man declare himself to be an atheist, I sometimes think of the enterprising termite who, while continuing to go about his tasks, declares himself to be an individualist. It cannot be altogether frivolous or wishful to talk of a "higher intelligence" – because the cosmos is itself a higher intelligence, in the simple sense that we do not and cannot understand it.
Anyway, we do know what is going to happen to you, and to everyone else who will ever live on this planet. Your corporeal existence, O Hitch, derives from the elements released by supernovae, by exploding stars. Stellar fire was your womb, and stellar fire will be your grave: a just course for one who has always blazed so very brightly. The parent star, that steady-state H-bomb we call the sun, will eventually turn from yellow dwarf to red giant, and will swell out to consume what is left of us, about six billion years from now.
Posted on 04/28/2011 9:41 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Hitchens, For 25 Years An Enthusiast Of Edward Said
A re-posting prompted by Amis' fulsome -- in the correct sense -- tribute, of a piece put up on 22 December 2007
How do you review a book that isn't a book, a 283-page pose?
It's not a rhetorical question. Some assumption of good faith by the author is an important part of how critics operate, but Hitchens simply cannot be this stupid.-- Jeremy Lott's review of Chistopher Hitchens' book, god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, here
Hitchens likes to think of himself as a brave iconoclast, speaking-truth-to-power and all that I'm-George-Orwell-of-this-age-and-I-take-no-prisoners sort of thing. I've mocked him before at this site, many times, quand il fait son petit Orwell, but the longest whack at him, with Hitchens providing the evidence against himself, is the piece "Hitchens and Said" which, by the way, is listed at the Wikipedia entry for Hitchens. It appeared on Feb. 21, 2007.
Here it is:
Hitchens and Said
There are many examples that one can find on-line of the work of this "good egg" who "writes like a dream." [these were phrases used about Hitchens by someone who objected to some previous mocking of Hitchens by me].
A great friend and unctuous admirer of Edward Said, and though his tribute to Said does not reach the bathetic depths, or yawning heights, of Hamid Dabashi's tribute (google "Hamid Dabashi" and "Edward Said" -- you won't regret it), Hitchens own tribute to Said is memorable, for the same reasons, on a slightly different scale:
"The loss of Professor Edward Said, after an arduous battle with demoralizing illness that he bore very bravely, will be unbearable for his family, insupportable to his immense circle of friends, upsetting to a vast periphery of admirers and readers who one might almost term his diaspora, and depressing to all those who continue hoping for a decent agreement in his birthplace of Jerusalem.
To address these wrenching thoughts in their reverse order, one could commence by saying quite simply that if Edward's personality had been the human and moral pattern or example, there would be no "Middle East" problem to begin with. His lovely, intelligent, and sensitive memoir Out of Place was a witness to the schools and neighborhoods in Jerusalem and Cairo where fraternity between Arabs, Jews, Druses, Armenians, and others was a matter of course. (His memory also comprised a literary Beirut where the same could be said.) He took an almost aesthetic interest in the details, eccentricities, and welfare of his own particular confession—the Anglican Christians of Jerusalem and especially St. Georges school in the eastern part of the city—but it's hard if not impossible to imagine anyone with less sectarian commitment. When talking to him about the various types of sacred rage that poison the region, one gained the impression of someone to whom this sort of fanaticism was, in every declension of the word, quite foreign.
Indeed, if it had not been for the irruption of abrupt force into the life of his extended family and the ripping apart of the region by partition and subpartition, I can easily imagine Edward evolving as an almost apolitical person, devoted to the loftier pursuits of music and literature. To see and hear him play the piano was to be filled with envy as well as joy: One was witnessing a rather angst-prone person who had developed the perfect recreation to an extraordinary pitch. To ask him for a tutorial and a reading list, as I more than once did, was to be humbled by the sheer reach of his erudition. I can still hear the doors that opened in my mind as he explicated George Eliot's rather recondite Daniel Deronda.
On one occasion in New York, after giving us a tremendous tour of the Metropolitan Museum during its show on the art of Andalusia (and filling out the most exquisite details on the syntheses and paradoxes of Islamic, Moorish, and Jewish Spain), he took my own wife on a tour of the shops to advise her expertly on the best replacement for a mislaid purse. I never met a woman who did not admire him, and I never knew him to be anything but gallant. As I look back, I am inclined to be overcome at the number of such occasions, where his bearing and address were so exemplary and his companionship such a privilege.
His feeling for the injustice done to Palestine was, in the best sense of this overused term, a visceral one. He simply could not reconcile himself to the dispossession of a people or to the lies and evasions that were used to cover up this offense. He was by no means simple-minded or one-sided about this: In a public dialogue with Salman Rushdie 15 years ago, he described the Palestinians as "victims of the victims," an ironic formulation that hasn't been improved upon. But nor did he trust those who introduced pseudo-complexities as a means of perpetuating the status quo. I know a shocking number of people who find that they can be quite calm about the collective punishment of Palestinians yet become wholly incensed at the symbolic stone he once threw—from Lebanon! Personally, I preferred his joint enterprise with Daniel Barenboim to provide musical training for Israeli and Palestinian children. But for Edward, injustice was to be rectified, not rationalized. I think that it was, for him, surpassingly a matter of dignity. People may lose a war or a struggle or be badly led or poorly advised, but they must not be humiliated or treated as alien or less than human. It was the downgrading of the Palestinians to the status of a "problem" (and this insult visited upon them in their own homeland) that aroused his indignation. That moral energy, I am certain, will outlive him.
I knew and admired him for more than a quarter-century, and I hope I will not be misunderstood if I say that his moral energy wasn't always matched by equivalent political judgment. Indeed, it should be no criticism of anyone to say that politics isn't their best milieu, especially if the political life has been forced upon them. Edward had a slight tendency to self-pity, and the same chord was struck even in the best of his literary work, which often expressed a too-highly developed sense of injury and victimhood. (I am thinking of certain passages in his Orientalism and some of the essays in Culture and Imperialism as well.) He was sometimes openly alarmed at the use made of his scholarship by younger academic poseurs who seemed to despise the classical canon of literature that he so much revered. Yet he was famously thin-skinned and irascible, as I have good reason to remember, if any criticism became directed at himself. Some of that criticism was base and outrageous and sordidly politicized—I have just finished reading the obituary in the New York Times, which in a cowardly way leaves open the question as to whether Edward, or indeed any other Palestinian, lost a home in the tragedy of 1947-48—but much of it deserved more patience than he felt he had to spare. And he was capable of stooping to mere abuse when attacking other dissidents—particularly other Arab dissidents, and most particularly Iraqi and Kurdish ones—with whom he did not agree. I simply had to stop talking to him about Iraq over the past two years. He could only imagine the lowest motives for those in favor of regime change in Baghdad, and he had a vivid tendency to take any demurral as a personal affront.
But it can be admirable in a way to go through life with one skin too few, to be easily agonized and upset and offended. Too many people survive, or imagine that they do, by coarsening themselves and by protectively dulling their sensitivity to the point of acceptance. This would never be Edward's way. His emotional strength—one has to resort to cliché sometimes—was nonetheless also a weakness.
I was astonished, when reading his memoirs, to learn that such a polished and poised fellow had never lost the sense that he was awkward and clumsy. And yet this man of enviable manners could be both those things when he chose. He did come, as a member of Yasser Arafat's Palestine National Council, to meet at Reagan's State Department with George Shultz. (Indeed, he could claim to have been the intellectual and moral architect of the "mutual recognition" policy of the PLO at the Algiers conference in 1988.) When invited to the summit between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat in Washington in 1993, however—which I happen to know that he was earnestly entreated to attend by the Clinton White House—he told me that it was quite simply beneath his dignity to take part in such a media farce. Now, by no standard did the 1993 meeting sink below the level of the Shultz one, and by no means had Arafat become on that day any more contemptible than Edward later discovered him to be. But it wasn't just that inconsistency that distressed me: It was the feeling that Edward was on the verge of extreme dudgeon before I could press the matter one inch further. I can't shake the feeling that a microcosm of the Israeli-Palestinian agony is contained in this apparently negligible anecdote.
There is at present a coalition, named the Palestinian National Initiative, which never gets reported about. It is an alliance of secular and democratic forces among the Palestinians that rejects both clerical fundamentalism and the venality of the Palestinian "Authority." It was partly launched by Edward Said, and its main spokesman is Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, a distinguished physician and very brave individual, to whom Edward introduced me last year. In our final conversation a few weeks ago, Edward challenged me angrily about my failure to write enough on this neglected group, which certainly enjoys a good deal of popular support and which deserves a great deal more international attention. Perhaps then I can do a last service, and also dip a flag in salute to a fine man, if I invite you to direct your browsers toward the sites for Barghouthi and the PNI."
From first to last, this is unbearable, stupid and sentimental and in many places, flatly false. As for that writing "like a dream" - it would take about two minutes to edit the piece, cutting here and there, to make the prose, awful as it is (there's nothing to be done about the thoughts and feelings of this "good egg"), much better.
Said was dismembered in feline fashion by Bernard Lewis in "The Question of 'Orientalism'." Last year Robert Irwin's "For Lust of Knowledge," a refutation of Said, essentially a book-length footnote to Lewis' article, appeared. Irwin demonstrates conclusively what many (but not Christopher Hitchens) knew, that Said's misrepresentations of several centuries of distinguished Orientalists was comical in the things he got wrong, the things he left out, his inability to comprehend disinterested curiosity or disinterested scholarship, so foreign were they to the mind and even imagination of Edward Said. Everything that he could get wrong, Edward Said got wrong.
A few months from now Ibn Warraq's "Defending the West: A Response to Edward Said" will be published. I have read the manuscript. That book deals with how Edward Said, and his acolytes and worshippers and epigones, have so crudely misconceived and misrepresented the nature of the Western world and its art, its literature, its scholarship, its openness to what Said and friends like to call "the Other" and to then claim for that "Other" a long history of victimisation. At long last, that Saidian wind that kills, and has had chilling and killing effects for nearly thirty years on innocent students and on fearful or careerist teachers, who have been bullied by Saidism in how they learn about, how they write about, how they teach about,how they comprehend or fail to, works of lasting artistic and literary value produced in the maligned West, works that always and everywhere, in the impoverished and thoroughly politicized mental universe of Edward Said were always reduced to ideological counters,and playthings, and weapons. For one example, consider only Said's comments on Jane Austen, and the reasons for his dismissal of her. Is that the work of a critic? Is that what Samuel Johnson, or Coleridge, or Matthew Arnold, or Jacques Barzun, or Vladimir Nabokov, or anyone of sense at all, would regard as legitimate literary criticism? Said did, and so did his worshippers. And among those worshippers was, for several decades, Christopher Hitchens, who is a "good egg" and who "writes like a dream." And Said did the same in his treatment -- not exactly reminiscent of Gombrich or Panofsky, is Edward Said -- of painters on Oriental themes (and this, too, is dealt with magnificently by Ibn Warraq).
Said's "Orientalism" gave license not only for him but for others to offer the same approach to books and paintings, and the results we see, circumspectly, all about us. And "Orientalism" was not the only ludicrous work that Said produced. There is his work of blatant propaganda, "The Question of Palestine" which a week in the library would cure anyone of taking seriously. It is so full of falsity, so easily rebutted, but apparently a great many people never took the trouble to rebut, the same people who go about prating about the "Palestinian people" who since time immemorial have been tilling the soil of a place called "Palestine." One wishes that those who took Said's work seriously, as Hitchens did, to have the decency, before continuing to spout off, to read something sober on the matter, such as the studies by the the Australian scholar of jurisprudence Julius Stone, and then the nonsense would stop. But Christopher Hitchens never had time to spare, and still doesn't, to engage in such reading, though he continues to hold all kinds of self-assured views on the "Palestinians" and on Israel, views entirely unaffected, one might note, by the glimmer of understanding he is beginning to show -- but just a glimmer -- about Islam. Nor would he likely to engage in a thorough study of the demographic and cadastral history of the area known as "Israel" or "Palestine," over the past two millennia or over the past few centuries, or even during the period from the establishment of the Mandate for Palestine. Why should Christopher Hitchens, at any time during the past three decades of pontificating about "Palestine" and the "Palestinians," ever have bothered to study the exact terms and intentions of the Mandates Commission of the League of Nations in establishing that particular Mandate, and how the Charter of the U.N. requires it to honor those terms and intentions, not to change them. That's too much for Christopher Hitchens. He's got a column to write. He's got lectures to give. He's got appearances on television to get ready for. He's got to have opinions on so many things. So many opinions to give, so little time. It would be like asking him to discuss Resolution 242, what those who carefully crafted it intended that Resolution to mean, and who opposed its adoption, or tried before its adoption to change its wording, or who afterwards deliberately denied that it meant what they knew perfectly well it meant (which is why they had tried so long to change it), and endowed it with a different meaning, one which they then convinced many others to accept. Does Christopher Hitchens have the time to find out Lord Caradon said, and Ambassador Arthur Goldberg, and British Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart, about Resolution 242, or such "details" and that little phrase "secure and defensible borders"? Of course he doesn't. It's too complicated, for the broad sweep of that truth-to-power legitimate heir to Orwell, Christopher Hitchens.
Hitchens never saw through Edward Said -- but Edward Said was a collection of things that could be seen through, and were seen through, by those whose, such as Bernard Lewis or Clive Dewey or Keith Windschuttle or a thousand other historians, art historians, literary scholars, were not for one minute taken in by, or inveigled to agreeing with, the primitive notions of art and literature and history that Edward Said held, and put into practice, and preached. This should not be forgotten or forgiven just because more recently Hitchens has properly denounced George Galloway (is that an achievement?)and others of that ilk. If the bar is to be set that low, then all should win the glittering prizes.
What is offered here is just a sample of the quality of the thought, and of the prose, of Christopher Hitchens. Some are apparently satisfied with little here below -- Norman Mailer, say, rather than Nabokov or Joyce. Some may find Hitchens is perfectly acceptable, a "good egg" who even, another someone suggests, "writes like a dream." But I allow myself to believe that not everyone is so easily pleased, and that many not-easily-pleased souls come to this website because they expect something better, from those not so easily pleased. .
Much more might be offered into evidence, but I don't have the time. All kinds of things have come up. But for now that is enough. That is more than enough.
Posted on 04/28/2011 9:48 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 28 April 2011
A Cinematic Musical And Foreign-Policy Interlude: Whistling In The Dark (from "Pennies From Heaven")
Posted on 04/28/2011 9:52 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Syria Does Sandhurst -- As Do Many Arab And Muslim Lands
And the maghrebins go to St.-Cyr, and Egyptians and some Gulf Arabs go for training at war colleges in the United States, while Pakistanis are trained both by the British and the Americans. Arabs and other Muslims receive their military training, their rifles and tanks and anti-tank missiles, their planes and their air-defense systems, their missiles, their advanced technology, their4 everything -- from the Infidels, mainly from the United States, Great Britain, France and, for weapons, from Germany and Italy and Russia too. They have no military capacity outside what the Infidels supply. Quaere: Why do the Infidels continue to do so? Money? But the cost to the West of tamping down trouble, of defening itself against arms that might be transferred (think of those "Islamic bombs" in Pakistan that is driving the American government to distraction) is far more than any sums made by selling those weapons.; Influence? But what is that "influence"? Are the Bahrainis -- that is, the Sunnis who are sent for training -- less willing to come down hard on Shi'a civilians? What about the Syrian officers -- more often syncretistic Alawites but with a smattering of Sunnis --
From The Guardian:
Syrian officers received training in Britain
Ministry of Defence colleges trained military personnel loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad
Syrian officers received training at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian
The British government has defended its training programme for foreign military leaders after it emerged that it had educated several Syrian officers at Ministry of Defence colleges. Three officers from the Syrian armed forces were trained in Britain from 2005 to 2010, and a further two were enrolled in 2003 at Sandhurst, the army officer training college in Surrey, and at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. The data was released following a freedom of information request by the Guardian.
News of Britain's role training officers loyal to Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, came after allegations his regime's forces have killed at least 450 civilians in a violent attempt to suppress the uprising. They have reportedly used tanks, snipers and armoured vehicles to crush the opposition movement.
The Syrian officers trained by the MoD were among hundreds from Middle Eastern countries whose governments pay for them to attend Britain's world-renowned officer training colleges each year. It trained 104 Bahraini officers over the same period, seven from Libya, three from Tunisia and 56 from Yemen, according to MoD figures.
Asked about why Britain has been training Syrian troops, a spokeswoman for the defence department said she could not talk about individual cases but claimed no training would be given if it would lead to human rights abuses. "The British military provide places on our flagship courses, such as officer training at Sandhurst, to develop a nation's future military leaders and instil the same values of accountability and commitment to the rule of law that underpin our own armed forces," she said. "All overseas requests for defence training are considered on a case-by-case basis and it would not be provided if we thought such training would lead to human rights abuses. Indeed, providing training to the same high standards used by UK armed forces helps to save lives and raise awareness of human rights."
Meanwhile, Lord Bell, the chairman of Chime, the London public relations company that includes Bell Pottinger, told on Wednesday how he acted for Syria's first lady, Asma al-Assad, in 2007 and 2008 at the beginning of a public relations drive to place her at the forefront of Syria's international image, which culminated earlier this year in a sympathetic Vogue article that branded her "a rose in the desert".
"She wanted to set up a first lady's office rather like Laura Bush and Queen Rania of Jordan," Bell said.
"At the time she didn't want to appear in fashion magazines and she wanted to be taken seriously. She was interested in pitching for Damascus to become a city of culture and we set up an office and communications structure for her, did speech writing and set up interviews with serious media." [yes, just like the Emir of Qatar's attractive wife, who wants so much to be taken seriously as a "force for change" -- though not, of course, for the slightest change to the Al-Thani rule in the rich city-state of Qatar, that funds, and constarins, the Arab propaganda network Al Jazeera].
Posted on 04/28/2011 9:58 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 28 April 2011
That Plutonium-Producing Project That Went Agley In Syria
Syria secretly tried to build nuclear reactor, UN watchdog says
IAEA secretary general unequivocally confirms suggestions made in previous watchdog reports that the structure hit allegedly by Israel in 2007 could have been a reactor under construction.
By The Associated Press Tags: Israel news Syria Iran nuclear
The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog said Thursday for the first time that Syria had tried to secretly build a nuclear reactor, after years of speculation by the international community.
The target allegedly destroyed by Israeli warplanes in the desert area of Dair Alzour in September 2007 was actually a reactor under construction, said Yukiya Amano, the secretary general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Syria denies that the bombed building had any nuclear uses and rejects allegations that it is conducting secret atomic activities.
Previous IAEA reports have suggested that the structure hit could have been a reactor, but Amano's comments on Thursday were the first time the agency has said so unequivocally.
For over two years, Syria has refused IAEA follow-up access to the remains of the complex that was being built at Dair Alzour. U.S. intelligence reports said it was a nascent North Korean-designed nuclear reactor intended to produce bomb fuel.
Inspectors found traces of uranium there in June 2008 that were not in Syria's declared nuclear inventory, heightening concerns. Syria stonewalled IAEA attempts to follow up that visit.
In early April, however, the IARA carried out an agreed inspection of another Syrian plant, as part of its wider inquiry into U.S. intelligence suggesting Syria location tried to build a nuclear reactor at another suited to producing plutonium for atomic bombs.
Syria, which denies any nuclear weapons ambitions, agreed with the IAEA the months prior that its inspectors could travel to the Homs acid purification plant, where uranium concentrates, or yellowcake, have been a by-product. In the event that yellowcake is further processed, they could be used as nuclear fuel. Syria says the plant is for making fertilizers.
The IAEA saw the April visit as a possible positive step, even though the United States said the gesture would not be enough to address allegations of covert atomic activity.
Syria, an ally of Iran, whose nuclear program is also under IAEA investigation, denies ever concealing work on nuclear weapons and says the IAEA should focus on Israel instead because of its undeclared nuclear arsenal.
Posted on 04/28/2011 11:09 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Beyond The Self-Aggrandizing Certainties Of Jeffrey Sachs
But what if the experts are wrong?
BY ABHIJIT BANERJEE, ESTHER DUFLO | MAY/JUNE 2011
For many in the West, poverty is almost synonymous with hunger. Indeed, the announcement by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in 2009 that more than 1 billion people are suffering from hunger grabbed headlines in a way that any number of World Bank estimates of how many poor people live on less than a dollar a day never did.
But is it really true? Are there really more than a billion people going to bed hungry each night? Our research on this question has taken us to rural villages and teeming urban slums around the world, collecting data and speaking with poor people about what they eat and what else they buy, from Morocco to Kenya, Indonesia to India. We've also tapped into a wealth of insights from our academic colleagues. What we've found is that the story of hunger, and of poverty more broadly, is far more complex than any one statistic or grand theory; it is a world where those without enough to eat may save up to buy a TV instead, where more money doesn't necessarily translate into more food, and where making rice cheaper can sometimes even lead people to buy less rice.
But unfortunately, this is not always the world as the experts view it. All too many of them still promote sweeping, ideological solutions to problems that defy one-size-fits-all answers, arguing over foreign aid, for example, while the facts on the ground bear little resemblance to the fierce policy battles they wage.
Jeffrey Sachs, an advisor to the United Nations and director of Columbia University's Earth Institute[and World's Greatest Authority], is one such expert. In books and countless speeches and television appearances, he has argued that poor countries are poor because they are hot, infertile, malaria-infested, and often landlocked; these factors, however, make it hard for them to be productive without an initial large investment to help them deal with such endemic problems. But they cannot pay for the investments precisely because they are poor -- they are in what economists call a "poverty trap." Until something is done about these problems, neither free markets nor democracy will do very much for them.
But then there are others, equally vocal, who believe that all of Sachs's answers are wrong. William Easterly, who battles Sachs from New York University at the other end of Manhattan, has become one of the most influential aid critics in his books, The Elusive Quest for Growth and The White Man's Burden. Dambisa Moyo, an economist who worked at Goldman Sachs and the World Bank, has joined her voice to Easterly's with her recent book, Dead Aid. Both argue that aid does more bad than good. It prevents people from searching for their own solutions, while corrupting and undermining local institutions and creating a self-perpetuating lobby of aid agencies. The best bet for poor countries, they argue, is to rely on one simple idea: When markets are free and the incentives are right, people can find ways to solve their problems. They do not need handouts from foreigners or their own governments. In this sense, the aid pessimists are actually quite optimistic about the way the world works. According to Easterly, there is no such thing as a poverty trap.
This debate cannot be solved in the abstract. To find out whether there are in fact poverty traps, and, if so, where they are and how to help the poor get out of them, we need to better understand the concrete problems they face. Some aid programs help more than others, but which ones? Finding out required us to step out of the office and look more carefully at the world. In 2003, we founded what became the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, or J-PAL. A key part of our mission is to research by using randomized control trials -- similar to experiments used in medicine to test the effectiveness of a drug -- to understand what works and what doesn't in the real-world fight against poverty. In practical terms, that meant we'd have to start understanding how the poor really live their lives.
Take, for example, Pak Solhin, who lives in a small village in West Java, Indonesia. He once explained to us exactly how a poverty trap worked. His parents used to have a bit of land, but they also had 13 children and had to build so many houses for each of them and their families that there was no land left for cultivation. Pak Solhin had been working as a casual agricultural worker, which paid up to 10,000 rupiah per day (about $2) for work in the fields. A recent hike in fertilizer and fuel prices, however, had forced farmers to economize. The local farmers decided not to cut wages, Pak Solhin told us, but to stop hiring workers instead. As a result, in the two months before we met him in 2008, he had not found a single day of agricultural labor. He was too weak for the most physical work, too inexperienced for more skilled labor, and, at 40, too old to be an apprentice. No one would hire him.
Pak Solhin, his wife, and their three children took drastic steps to survive. His wife left for Jakarta, some 80 miles away, where she found a job as a maid. But she did not earn enough to feed the children. The oldest son, a good student, dropped out of school at 12 and started as an apprentice on a construction site. The two younger children were sent to live with their grandparents. Pak Solhin himself survived on the roughly 9 pounds of subsidized rice he got every week from the government and on fish he caught at a nearby lake. His brother fed him once in a while. In the week before we last spoke with him, he had eaten two meals a day for four days, and just one for the other three.
Pak Solhin appeared to be out of options, and he clearly attributed his problem to a lack of food. As he saw it, farmers weren't interested in hiring him because they feared they couldn't pay him enough to avoid starvation; and if he was starving, he would be useless in the field. What he described was the classic nutrition-based poverty trap, as it is known in the academic world. The idea is simple: The human body needs a certain number of calories just to survive. So when someone is very poor, all the food he or she can afford is barely enough to allow for going through the motions of living and earning the meager income used to buy that food. But as people get richer, they can buy more food and that extra food goes into building strength, allowing people to produce much more than they need to eat merely to stay alive. This creates a link between income today and income tomorrow: The very poor earn less than they need to be able to do significant work, but those who have enough to eat can work even more. There's the poverty trap: The poor get poorer, and the rich get richer and eat even better, and get stronger and even richer, and the gap keeps increasing.
But though Pak Solhin's explanation of how someone might get trapped in starvation was perfectly logical, there was something vaguely troubling about his narrative. We met him not in war-infested Sudan or in a flooded area of Bangladesh, but in a village in prosperous Java, where, even after the increase in food prices in 2007 and 2008, there was clearly plenty of food available and a basic meal did not cost much. He was still eating enough to survive; why wouldn't someone be willing to offer him the extra bit of nutrition that would make him productive in return for a full day's work? More generally, although a hunger-based poverty trap is certainly a logical possibility, is it really relevant for most poor people today? What's the best way, if any, for the world to help?
THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY [there is no such thing] has certainly bought into the idea that poverty traps exist -- and that they are the reason that millions are starving. The first U.N. Millennium Development Goal, for instance, is to "eradicate extreme poverty and hunger." In many countries, the definition of poverty itself has been connected to food; the thresholds for determining that someone was poor were originally calculated as the budget necessary to buy a certain number of calories, plus some other indispensable purchases, such as housing. A "poor" person has essentially been classified as someone without enough to eat.
So it is no surprise that government efforts to help the poor are largely based on the idea that the poor desperately need food and that quantity is what matters. Food subsidies are ubiquitous in the Middle East: Egypt spent $3.8 billion on food subsidies in the 2008 fiscal year, some 2 percent of its GDP. Indonesia distributes subsidized rice. Many states in India have a similar program. In the state of Orissa, for example, the poor are entitled to 55 pounds of rice a month at about 1 rupee per pound, less than 20 percent of the market price. Currently, the Indian Parliament is debating a Right to Food Act, which would allow people to sue the government if they are starving. Delivering such food aid is a logistical nightmare. In India it is estimated that more than half of the wheat and one-third of the rice gets "lost" along the way. To support direct food aid in this circumstance, one would have to be quite convinced that what the poor need more than anything is more grain.
But what if the poor are not, in general, eating too little food? What if, instead, they are eating the wrong kinds of food, depriving them of nutrients needed to be successful, healthy adults? What if the poor aren't starving, but choosing to spend their money on other priorities? Development experts and policymakers would have to completely reimagine the way they think about hunger. And governments and aid agencies would need to stop pouring money into failed programs and focus instead on finding new ways to truly improve the lives of the world's poorest.
Consider India, one of the great puzzles in this age of food crises. The standard media story about the country, at least when it comes to food, is about the rapid rise of obesity and diabetes as the urban upper-middle class gets richer. Yet the real story of nutrition in India over the last quarter-century, as Princeton professor Angus Deaton and Jean Drèze, a professor at Allahabad University and a special advisor to the Indian government, have shown, is not that Indians are becoming fatter: It is that they are in fact eating less and less. Despite the country's rapid economic growth, per capita calorie consumption in India has declined; moreover, the consumption of all other nutrients except fat also appears to have gone down among all groups, even the poorest. Today, more than three-quarters of the population live in households whose per capita calorie consumption is less than 2,100 calories in urban areas and 2,400 in rural areas -- numbers that are often cited as "minimum requirements" in India for those engaged in manual labor. Richer people still eat more than poorer people. But at all levels of income, the share of the budget devoted to food has declined and people consume fewer calories.
What is going on? The change is not driven by declining incomes; by all accounts, Indians are making more money than ever before. Nor is it because of rising food prices -- between the early 1980s and 2005, food prices declined relative to the prices of other things, both in rural and urban India. Although food prices have increased again since 2005, Indians began eating less precisely when the price of food was going down.
So the poor, even those whom the FAO would classify as hungry on the basis of what they eat, do not seem to want to eat much more even when they can. Indeed, they seem to be eating less. What could explain this? Well, to start, let's assume that the poor know what they are doing. After all, they are the ones who eat and work. If they could be tremendously more productive and earn much more by eating more, then they probably would. So could it be that eating more doesn't actually make us particularly more productive, and as a result, there is no nutrition-based poverty trap?
One reason the poverty trap might not exist is that most people have enough to eat. We live in a world today that is theoretically capable of feeding every person on the planet. In 1996, the FAO estimated that world food production was enough to provide at least 2,700 calories per person per day. Starvation still exists, but only as a result of the way food gets shared among us. There is no absolute scarcity. Using price data from the Philippines, we calculated the cost of the cheapest diet sufficient to give 2,400 calories. It would cost only about 21 cents a day, very affordable even for the very poor (the worldwide poverty line is set at roughly a dollar per day). The catch is, it would involve eating only bananas and eggs, something no one would like to do day in, day out. But so long as people are prepared to eat bananas and eggs when they need to, we should find very few people stuck in poverty because they do not get enough to eat. Indian surveys bear this out: The percentage of people who say they do not have enough food has dropped dramatically over time, from 17 percent in 1983 to 2 percent in 2004. So, perhaps people eat less because they are less hungry.
And perhaps they are really less hungry, despite eating fewer calories. It could be that because of improvements in water and sanitation, they are leaking fewer calories in bouts of diarrhea and other ailments. Or maybe they are less hungry because of the decline of heavy physical work. With the availability of drinking water in villages, women do not need to carry heavy loads for long distances; improvements in transportation have reduced the need to travel on foot; in even the poorest villages, flour is now milled using a motorized mill, instead of women grinding it by hand. Using the average calorie requirements calculated by the Indian Council of Medical Research, Deaton and Drèze note that the decline in calorie consumption over the last quarter-century could be entirely explained by a modest decrease in the number of people engaged in heavy physical work.
Beyond India, one hidden assumption in our description of the poverty trap is that the poor eat as much as they can. If there is any chance that by eating a bit more the poor could start doing meaningful work and get out of the poverty trap zone, then they should eat as much as possible. Yet most people living on less than a dollar a day do not seem to act as if they are starving. If they were, surely they would put every available penny into buying more calories. But they do not. In an 18-country data set we assembled on the lives of the poor, food represents 36 to 79 percent of consumption among the rural extremely poor, and 53 to 74 percent among their urban counterparts.
It is not because they spend all the rest on other necessities. In Udaipur, India, for example, we find that the typical poor household could spend up to 30 percent more on food, if it completely cut expenditures on alcohol, tobacco, and festivals. The poor seem to have many choices, and they don't choose to spend as much as they can on food. Equally remarkable is that even the money that people do spend on food is not spent to maximize the intake of calories or micronutrients. Studies have shown that when very poor people get a chance to spend a little bit more on food, they don't put everything into getting more calories. Instead, they buy better-tasting, more expensive calories.
In one study conducted in two regions of China, researchers offered randomly selected poor households a large subsidy on the price of the basic staple (wheat noodles in one region, rice in the other). We usually expect that when the price of something goes down, people buy more of it. The opposite happened. Households that received subsidies for rice or wheat consumed less of those two foods and ate more shrimp and meat, even though their staples now cost less. Overall, the caloric intake of those who received the subsidy did not increase (and may even have decreased), despite the fact that their purchasing power had increased. Nor did the nutritional content improve in any other sense. The likely reason is that because the rice and wheat noodles were cheap but not particularly tasty, feeling richer might actually have made them consume less of those staples. This reasoning suggests that at least among these very poor urban households, getting more calories was not a priority: Getting better-tasting ones was.
All told, many poor people might eat fewer calories than we -- or the FAO -- think is appropriate. But this does not seem to be because they have no other choice; rather, they are not hungry enough to seize every opportunity to eat more. So perhaps there aren't a billion "hungry" people in the world after all.
NONE OF THIS IS TO SAY that the logic of the hunger-based poverty trap is flawed. The idea that better nutrition would propel someone on the path to prosperity was almost surely very important at some point in history, and it may still be today. Nobel Prize-winning economic historian Robert Fogel calculated that in Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, food production did not provide enough calories to sustain a full working population. This could explain why there were large numbers of beggars -- they were literally incapable of any work. The pressure of just getting enough food to survive seems to have driven some people to take rather extreme steps. There was an epidemic of witch killing in Europe during the Little Ice Age (from the mid-1500s to 1800), when crop failures were common and fish was less abundant. Even today, Tanzania experiences a rash of such killings whenever there is a drought -- a convenient way to get rid of an unproductive mouth to feed at times when resources are very tight. Families, it seems, suddenly discover that an older woman living with them (usually a grandmother) is a witch, after which she gets chased away or killed by others in the village.
But the world we live in today is for the most part too rich for the occasional lack of food to be a big part of the story of the persistence of poverty on a large scale. This is of course different during natural or man-made disasters, or in famines that kill and weaken millions. As Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has shown, most recent famines have been caused not because food wasn't available but because of bad governance -- institutional failures that led to poor distribution of the available food, or even hoarding and storage in the face of starvation elsewhere. As Sen put it, "No substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press."
Should we let it rest there, then? Can we assume that the poor, though they may be eating little, do eat as much as they need to?
That also does not seem plausible. While Indians may prefer to buy things other than food as they get richer, they and their children are certainly not well nourished by any objective standard. Anemia is rampant; body-mass indices are some of the lowest in the world; almost half of children under 5 are much too short for their age, and one-fifth are so skinny that they are considered to be "wasted."
And this is not without consequences. There is a lot of evidence that children suffering from malnutrition generally grow into less successful adults. In Kenya, children who were given deworming pills in school for two years went to school longer and earned, as young adults, 20 percent more than children in comparable schools who received deworming for just one year. Worms contribute to anemia and general malnutrition, essentially because they compete with the child for nutrients. And the negative impact of undernutrition starts before birth. In Tanzania, to cite just one example, children born to mothers who received sufficient amounts of iodine during pregnancy completed between one-third and one-half of a year more schooling than their siblings who were in utero when their mothers weren't being treated. It is a substantial increase, given that most of these children will complete only four or five years of schooling in total. In fact, the study concludes that if every mother took iodine capsules, there would be a 7.5 percent increase in the total educational attainment of children in Central and Southern Africa. This, in turn, could measurably affect lifetime productivity.
Better nutrition matters for adults, too. In another study, in Indonesia, researchers tested the effects of boosting people's intake of iron, a key nutrient that prevents anemia. They found that iron supplements made men able to work harder and significantly boosted income. A year's supply of iron-fortified fish sauce cost the equivalent of $6, and for a self-employed male, the yearly gain in earnings was nearly $40 -- an excellent investment.
If the gains are so obvious, why don't the poor eat better? Eating well doesn't have to be prohibitively expensive. Most mothers could surely afford iodized salt, which is now standard in many parts of the world, or one dose of iodine every two years (at 51 cents per dose). Poor households could easily get a lot more calories and other nutrients by spending less on expensive grains (like rice and wheat), sugar, and processed foods, and more on leafy vegetables and coarse grains. But in Kenya, when the NGO that was running the deworming program asked parents in some schools to pay a few cents for deworming their children, almost all refused, thus depriving their children of hundreds of dollars of extra earnings over their lifetime.
Why? And why did anemic Indonesian workers not buy iron-fortified fish sauce on their own? One answer is that they don't believe it will matter -- their employers may not realize that they are more productive now. (In fact, in Indonesia, earnings improved only for the self-employed workers.) But this does not explain why all pregnant women in India aren't using only iodine-fortified salt, which is now available in every village. Another possibility is that people may not realize the value of feeding themselves and their children better -- not everyone has the right information, even in the United States. Moreover, people tend to be suspicious of outsiders who tell them that they should change their diet. When rice prices went up sharply in 1966 and 1967, the chief minister of West Bengal suggested that eating less rice and more vegetables would be both good for people's health and easier on their budgets. This set off a flurry of outrage, and the chief minister was greeted by protesters bearing garlands of vegetables wherever he went.
It is simply not very easy to learn about the value of many of these nutrients based on personal experience. Iodine might make your children smarter, but the difference is not huge, and in most cases you will not find out either way for many years. Iron, even if it makes people stronger, does not suddenly turn you into a superhero. The $40 extra a year the self-employed man earned may not even have been apparent to him, given the many ups and downs of his weekly income.
So it shouldn't surprise us that the poor choose their foods not mainly for their cheap prices and nutritional value, but for how good they taste. George Orwell, in his masterful description of the life of poor British workers in The Road to Wigan Pier, observes:
The basis of their diet, therefore, is white bread and margarine, corned beef, sugared tea and potatoes -- an appalling diet. Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn't.… When you are unemployed … you don't want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit "tasty." There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you.
The poor often resist the wonderful plans we think up for them because they do not share our faith that those plans work, or work as well as we claim. We shouldn't forget, too, that other things may be more important in their lives than food. Poor people in the developing world spend large amounts on weddings, dowries, and christenings. Part of the reason is probably that they don't want to lose face, when the social custom is to spend a lot on those occasions. In South Africa, poor families often spend so lavishly on funerals that they skimp on food for months afterward. [And what about inshallah-fatalism?]
And don't underestimate the power of factors like boredom. Life can be quite dull in a village. There is no movie theater, no concert hall. And not a lot of work, either. In rural Morocco, Oucha Mbarbk and his two neighbors told us they had worked about 70 days in agriculture and about 30 days in construction that year. Otherwise, they took care of their cattle and waited for jobs to materialize. All three men lived in small houses without water or sanitation. They struggled to find enough money to give their children a good education. But they each had a television, a parabolic antenna, a DVD player, and a cell phone.
This is something that Orwell captured as well, when he described how poor families survived the Depression:
Instead of raging against their destiny they have made things tolerable by reducing their standards.
But they don't necessarily lower their standards by cutting out luxuries and concentrating on necessities; more often it is the other way around -- the more natural way, if you come to think of it. Hence the fact that in a decade of unparalleled depression, the consumption of all cheap luxuries has increased.
These "indulgences" are not the impulsive purchases of people who are not thinking hard about what they are doing. Oucha Mbarbk did not buy his TV on credit -- he saved up over many months to scrape enough money together, just as the mother in India starts saving for her young daughter's wedding by buying a small piece of jewelry here and a stainless-steel bucket there.
We often see the world of the poor as a land of missed opportunities and wonder why they don't invest in what would really make their lives better. But the poor may well be more skeptical about supposed opportunities and the possibility of any radical change in their lives. They often behave as if they think that any change that is significant enough to be worth sacrificing for will simply take too long. This could explain why they focus on the here and now, on living their lives as pleasantly as possible and celebrating when occasion demands it.
We asked Oucha Mbarbk what he would do if he had more money. He said he would buy more food. Then we asked him what he would do if he had even more money. He said he would buy better-tasting food. We were starting to feel very bad for him and his family, when we noticed the TV and other high-tech gadgets. Why had he bought all these things if he felt the family did not have enough to eat? He laughed, and said, "Oh, but television is more important than food!"
Posted on 04/28/2011 11:17 AM by Hugh Fitzggerald
Thursday, 28 April 2011
What Business Is It Of American Diplomats To Abase Themselves, And Meddle In France Too, By A "Making-Amends" Visit To A Lyons Mosque?
And still worse will be the respectful hearing the American ambassador in Paris, Charles Rivlin, intends to give a delegation of Muslims from the Lyoin mosque, apparently unhappy that that mosque has been revealed, by Wikileaks, to be suspected of being a fruitful source for recruitment by Al Qaeda.
Mosquée/Lyon: visite du consul US
Deux jours après la publication par Wikileaks d'une liste du Pentagone recensant la mosquée de Lyon parmi les lieux censés avoir été utilisées par al-Qaida pour recruter, aider et entraîner ses militants, le recteur de la grande mosquée de Lyon a reçu jeudi le consul de Etats-Unis.
"Il est venu me dire toute l'amitié et le respect qu'il avait vis-à-vis de la mosquée, de ses dirigeants et de la communauté musulmane", a expliqué Kamel Kabtane.
Par ailleurs, "nous serons reçus mardi matin par l'ambassadeur des Etats-Unis" auquel "nous exprimerons notre mécontentement" et dirons "notre souci et notre indignation de voir l'islam déjà stigmatisé l'être beaucoup plus encore avec ce genre de document", a-t-il ajouté.
Posted on 04/28/2011 11:59 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 28 April 2011
'British national among 14 dead in Morocco suicide attack'
A British national and two French people are among 14 killed in a suicide bomb attack in a popular tourist cafe in Marrakesh, according to reports by French newspaper Le Figaro.
Evidence collected from the scene of an explosion on Thursday in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh confirms it was a bomb attack, the interior ministry said. The blast in the iconic Jamaa el-Fna square is Morocco's deadliest bombing in eight years.
Witnesses reported rescue services pulling casualties from the cafe.
"There was a huge bang, and lots of smoke went up, there was debris raining down from the sky. Hundreds of people were running in panic, some towards the cafe, some away from the square. The whole front of the cafe is blown away," Andy Birnie, of north London, told The Associated Press by telephone. Mr Birnie is honeymooning in Marrakech. "It was lunchtime so the square was very busy. We had just walked into the square, but were shielded by some stalls. The locals are telling us it was gas bottles exploding."
Portuguese tourist Alexandre Carvalho, a 34-year-old call centre worker from southern Portugal said: "I had just arrived at the square, the area where most cafes are located. Suddenly I heard this massive explosion, I had my back turned to it, I turned around to see it the explosion had happened on the veranda of a cafe. There were at least 10 injured people, lots of debris, things flying up in the air. I saw people in a panic running towards the area with fire extinguishers, some people being carried away. I believe the injured were mostly tourists, judging by what they were wearing."
Posted on 04/28/2011 12:34 PM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Overreaching Outreaching From Charles Rivkin And His Crew
I posted earlier a piece from Le Figaro about American diplomats paying a call, to express their deep anguish about the Wikipedia-leaked information about a report on the mosque in Lyon that was a recruiting center, the Americans reported, for Al Qaeda. The same article told of an upcoming meeting to be held in Paris by the American Ambassador, Charles Rivkin, with a delegation from the Lyon Muslim community that intends to express its great unhappiness with the Americans, and presumably at that time the American Ambassador will abase himself, and assure the whining delegation of his deep respect, etc. for the faith -- the sinister faith, the dangerous-to-Infidels faith -- of Islam.
I had a vague memory that I had written about the egregious Charles Rivkin before. That vague memory was right:
Friday, 3 December 2010
Charles Hammerman Rivkin (born April 1962) is the current United States Ambassador to France. Selected by President Barack Obama, he was confirmed by the United States Senate on July 10, 2009. Early life, family and education Rivkin earned a B.A. (international relations) from Yale University ...Read More...
Thursday, 23 September 2010
Feeling Slighted by France, and Respected by U.S. Corentin Fohlen for The New York Times A mural outside a school in Bondy was created as part of an artistic exchange with the Mural Arts Program of Philadelphia. By SCOTT SAYARE Published: September 22, 201 BONDY, France - The residents of ...Read More...
Thursday, 23 September 2010
The Obama Administration is apparently content to continue to squander, by continuiing the policies of the Bush Administration, American resources -- -- men, money, materiel, morale -- in mad policies based on the dreamy notion that Islam is not a threat, that only "violent extremists" or "Islamist ...Read More...
Thursday, 23 September 2010
Watch here. Thus you can enjoy, to your heart's content, clean-cut media mogul and Obama contribgutor Charles H. Rivkin, who left sunny California to become what he so ardently desired as his privatye payoff, that is Ambassador of the United States to France, practicing his French as he unconvincingly ...Read More...
So he's been overreaching diplomatically, not just this week and next, but last year, and possibly next year too.
Will no one in Congress ask why the American Ambassador, and lesser diplomats at the Embassy, feel they have a right to conduct diplomacy with Muslims in France, as a separate group, and not stick to their last, which is relations with the French government, and the people of France who, the Embassy staff must surely be aware, are getting fed up with the Muslims in their midst and will not take kindly to Americans who think they have a right to meddle?
Posted on 04/28/2011 1:49 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 28 April 2011
A Musical Interlude: He Hadn't Up Till Yesterday (Sophie Tucker)
Posted on 04/28/2011 2:30 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Today I shopped online for a friend's birthday present. As I tried to check out, I was unable to get past the "basket" because of a demand to fill in "required fields marked with a *". "Required" as those fields might be, there were no ****ing **** to be seen, and I was stuck. I emailed the firm to complain, but rather than wait for a response, I dived back in and managed to find a secret back passage - perhaps a tradesman's entrance - through which I got to the desired end point. I then emailed my discovery, so that the "team" could share it with others caught in the same web-trap.
Who says no good deed goes unpunished? Mine was rewarded:
We are sorry to read that you were experiencing difficulties placing your order, however we are pleased to read that you were able to rectify the issue and place your order.
We would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused, please rest assured that your feedback has been escalated.
Well I'll go to t'foot of our stairs, as they say in Lancashire. A step change and no mistake. Won't it make it worse, though?
Posted on 04/28/2011 2:56 PM by Mary Jackson
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Royal Wedding - bring it on.
2 tubes of sour cream and onion Pringles, buy 1 get 1 free at Tescos.
Also from Tescos1 bottle each of Wells Bombardier Burning Gold, Morland's Old Speckled hen, Shepherd Neame Spitfire and Fuller's London Pride, 4 for £5
News that Anjem Choudhary, Abu Izzadeen, Anthony Small and the rest of MAC and fellow travellers have been rounded up and placed in the tower - unlikely but priceless.
I think I am prepared for the day.
Posted on 04/28/2011 4:30 PM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Tomorrow It's Friday In Syria, In Bahrain, In -- You Name It
What's to come is still unsure.
But you know that something will happen.
In the Middle East, it's going to be Friday.
Posted on 04/28/2011 10:10 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald