Sunday, 19 February 2006
Nick Cohen, one of the few sensible journalists to write for "The Observer", has some pertinent comments about "transgressive" art:
Last week, I went to the East End of London to witness the death of the avant-garde. At first glance, Gilbert and George's Sonofagod Pictures: Was Jesus Heterosexual?' exhibition at the White Cube did not look like a wake. The bright and glistening gallery is in Hoxton, a corner of town that has been full of life since it was colonised and gentrified by 'Young British Artists' in the early Nineties. As fashionable visitors move between its loft conversions and cafes, 'edgy' is the highest compliment they can bestow and 'taboo' the gravest insult. Taboos are taboo in Hoxton.
Even on a wet Thursday lunchtime, there were plenty of sightseers from the metropolitan intelligentsia enjoying the show rather than mourning the passing of their world. In prose that might embarrass an estate agent, novelist Michael Bracewell told them in the catalogue that Gilbert and George were engaged 'in rebellion, an assault on the laws and institutions of superstition and religious belief'.
Burbling critics agreed. Gilbert and George still get a 'frisson of excitement' by including 'f-words, turds, semen, their own pallid bodies and other affronts to bourgeois sensibilities' in their work, wrote a journalist with the impeccably bourgeois name of Cassandra Jardine in the Daily Telegraph. 'Is it the perfect Christmas card to send George Bush at Easter? Yeah, yeah,' added groovy Waldemar Januszczak of the Sunday Times
Their justifications for edgy art won't work any longer and not only because the average member of the educated bourgeoisie likes nothing better than f-words and pallid bodies on a visit to the theatre or gallery. After the refusal of the entire British press to print innocuous Danish cartoons, the stench of death is in the air. It is now ridiculous and impossible to talk about a fearless disregard for easily offended sensibilities.
Sonofagod is clearly trading under a false prospectus. Gilbert and George narcissistically present themselves as icons towering over a shrivelled Christ. 'God loves Fucking! Enjoy!' reads one inscription. This isn't a brave assault on all religions, just Catholicism.
The gallery owners know that although Catholics will be offended, they won't harm them. That knowledge invalidates their claims to be transgressive. An uprising that doesn't provoke a response isn't a 'rebellion', but a smug affirmation of the cultural status quo.
If they were to do the same to Islam, all hell would break loose. In interviews publicising the show, Gilbert and George showed that they at least understood the double standard. They're gay men who live in the East End where the legal groups of the Islamic far right - Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Muslim Association of Britain - are superseded by semi-clandestine organisations which push leaflets through their door saying: 'Verily, it is time to rejoice in the coming state of Islam. There will be no negotiation with Islam. It is only a short time before the flag of Islam flies over Downing Street.' Even if the artists found the audacity to take on the theocrats around them, they know no gallery would dare show the results.
The fear of being murdered is a perfectly rational one, but it is eating away at the cultural elite's myths. In the name of breaking taboos, the Britart movement has giggled at paedophilia (Jake and Dinos Chapman) and rubbed salt in the wounds of the parents of the Moors murderers' victims (Marcus Harvey). It can't go on as if nothing has happened because the contradictions between breaking some taboos but not others are becoming too glaring. They were on garish display last year when the Almeida Theatre, the White Cube of theatreland, showed Romance by over-praised American playwright David Mamet.
His characters hurled anti-semitic and anti-Christian abuse at each other and very edgy it sounded, too. The justification for his venom was that he had set the play against the backdrop of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. He meant the hatreds on stage to reflect the hatreds of the Middle East.
Readers with an interest in foreign affairs will have spotted that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is between Muslims and Jews, not Christians and Jews. Islamophobic abuse ought to have followed the anti-semitic abuse if the play was to make sense. Neither Mamet nor the Almeida had the nerve do that. Their edginess was no match for the desire of the prudent bourgeois to save his skin.
The insincerity extends way beyond the arts. Rory Bremner will tear into Tony Blair, but not Mohammed Khatami. Newspaper editors will print pictures of servicemen beating up demonstrators in Basra, which may place the lives of British troops in danger, but not Danish cartoons, which may place their own lives in danger.
You can't be a little bit free. If you are not willing to offend Islamists who may kill you, what excuse do you have for offending Catholics, the families of murdered children and British troops who won't?
Nick Cohen had sensible things to say about grammar schools too. All in all, a sensible chap.
Posted on 02/19/2006 5:37 AM by Mary Jackson
Saturday, 18 February 2006
An appeal to the American People
Lawrence Auster has an interesting letter from a French woman at View from the Right:
I accuse the leaders we have had for the last 30 years for the evil that they have done to our civilization, our country, our people, our religious beliefs; for allowing these people in and granting them quick citizenship.
But we are now beginning to revolt against this genocide of ethnic Europeans, against this inquisition, against the extinction of our country that many now call Francarabia. This revolutionary movement is called the Blue Revolution and it is growing rapidly. We all wear blue scarves as a sign of solidarity.
As in the former Soviet dictatorships, people who “upset the apple-cart” disappear one way or another. Methods used on Solzhenitsyn are back in vogue here and I know I am taking a great risk.
I ask for your understanding and for your support. I would like to ask for your troops to liberate us, but I know this cannot be. The important thing to remember is that we are all in the same boat, all in the same fight.
Long live Free France and the Judeo-Christian heritage!
Long live the USA!
Posted on 02/18/2006 9:33 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Saturday, 18 February 2006
Indian debates Indian in Tennessee
The Cartoon riots are causing an earthquake of tremendous proportions across America. In Nashville, Tennessee, the newspapers are under pressure for their decision not to publish the cartoons. There have been editorials and letters to the editors flying back and forth. Here are excerpts from one such letter:
I, too, am a native of Hyderabad, India, now an American citizen and resident of Tennessee for the past two decades. I have read Anantha Babbili’s guest commentary “Islam cartoon is not about free press; it’s about hatred” (Thursday, Feb. 16). [note: 10,000 rioted in Hyderabad yesterday]
I am not pleased that Mr. Babbili has decided to chide the West for its reaction to the Danish political cartoon flap. He accepts the fact that Muslims will burn and pillage over just about any perceived slight and concludes that we therefore ought not to slight them. I believe that Anantha Babbili is merely hiding here in the West, retaining the same class and ethnic defenses used in the old country in the guise of a welcome alien.
The picture of Hyderabad is not as rosy as Mr. Babbili paints it. It is one of the ten most religiously divided cities in India, and there are at least two or three riots there every year. There is a strong Islamic fundamentalist and pro-Pakistani element in Hyderabad, which has made a tactical alliance with Maoist extremist groups to destabilize India’s liberal democratic system. Al Qaeda is active in the city.
Muslims, though in the minority, with a few notable exceptions have never bothered to learn the majority’s language, Telugu, which is spoken by sixty million Hindus and Christians in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, whose capital city is Hyderabad. Telugu has a thousand-year history of deeply philosophical and religious literature. For Mr. Babbili to call it a “local vernacular” is highly offensive to me and other Indians.
But we’re not going to riot...
Anantha Babbili does not speak for me. He speaks for a small minority of apologists in the West who fail to understand the nature of the culture or society they have adopted. The problem is not that Danish journalists insensitively caricatured the Prophet; it is that such an inane expression of Western curiosity should send Muslim populations raging, as though they never expected to see or hear such a thing in their lifetimes.
Being raised in a cultural crossroads should have given Mr. Babbili a better understanding of the Muslim worldview. His experiences are typical of youth in Hyderabad, but so is his adulthood: overlooking religious strife in order to avoid additional strife. Here we have a career journalist teaching by example that when the going gets tough, the tough collude and play down the story.
Our right to a free and critical press is our responsibility. To censor an insulting cartoon is to do a disservice to that responsibility. Beliefs do not have to be protected, but the right to criticize them must be.
Posted on 02/18/2006 9:02 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Saturday, 18 February 2006
Aiming to please
The other evening I went to a dinner party at which quail was served in an attempt to be topical. This, of course, was a reference to Dick Cheney's recent mishap. I was rather glad that Bill Clinton's mishap was not making headlines, otherwise our fare might have been less agreeable, as at this members only restaurant here.
Harry Whittington, pictured below, is "pockmarked and bruised", but it looks as if he will pull through.
He delivered a short statement, in which he showed that he has no hard feelings:
"We all assume certain risks in what we do, in what activities we pursue," he said. "Accidents do and will happen. This past weekend encompassed all of us in a cloud of misfortune and sadness that is not easy to explain especially for those who are not familiar with the great sport of quail hunting."
All's well that ends well, then. I was interested to read in The Times that this is not the first time that a Vice President has shot a man while in office:
That honour falls to Aaron Burr, Vice-President of the United States between 1801 and 1805. Rather than settle for inadvertently peppering a friendly Republican donor, Burr went the whole hog and shot dead the first Secretary of the US Treasury.
It is fair to state that the victim, Alexander Hamilton, had been getting on Burr’s nerves for some time. Their enmity dated from Burr’s defeat of Hamilton’s father-in-law for a senate seat in 1791. It was exacerbated by the 1800 presidential contest, which had produced a tie between Thomas Jefferson and Burr in the electoral college. Hamilton intrigued to ensure that Jefferson got the top job during the ensuing prolonged period of horsetrading.
Burr was a man of intense ambition and unquenchable libido. Hamilton suspected he was a Catiline, ready to sell out the Republic for his own ends. When Hamilton refused to apologise for making derogatory remarks about the Vice-President, Burr challenged the man who had established America’s first national bank to a duel.
Disregarding the illegality of duelling in New Jersey, the two men were rowed out in separate boats across the Hudson on the early morning of July 11, 1804, meeting for their “interview” on the Plains of Weehawken. Hamilton fired first, deliberately aiming wide. Burr replied shattering Hamilton’s rib cage. The former Secretary to the Treasury died the following day, in agony.
How unlike the home life of our own dear Prime Minister, UK readers might think. Well, what about John Prescott, our Deputy Prime Minister, who famously punched a heckler? Is there something about being second in command that makes people dangerous?
Posted on 02/18/2006 5:22 AM by Mary Jackson
Saturday, 18 February 2006
What's this nutter going to ban next?
Simon Heffer in The Telegraph talks sense on this wretched Labour Government's craze for banning things:
Like most patriotic people, and in the spirit of the times, my mind has been concentrated these past few days on the issue of single most importance to our society: what we can ban next.
This week key steps have been taken to restrict and trammel activities many of us have taken for granted as quite lawful. If you smoke, you soon won't be able to do it in an "enclosed space", unless you happen to be in prison at the time - in which case, your luck's in.
We have also taken a crucial step towards an even greater attack on our liberty: the day comes nearer when, just for going about your business, an officer of the law will be able to stop you and ask you to prove your identity.
And if you are some vile, contemptible little nutter who likes to go around saying al-Qa'eda is glorious, your historic right to make a berk of yourself has been removed, too. And, for this, we are all meant to feel safer and happier.
Ironically, this flurry of proscriptive activity comes as we are celebrating the anniversary of the last thing Labour thought it could ban: foxhunting. What a huge success that has been. More foxes have been killed in the past year than ever, partly because gamekeepers who used to leave them for the hunt now make a point of shooting them.
And shooting foxes is not nearly so humane a means of killing them as is the instant death of being set on by a pack of hounds, so the idea that cruelty was going to be ended by banning hunting has turned out to be drivel, too.
More people are hunting now than was the case a year ago, which only proves the point that the best way to make something really appealing is to make it illegal. I am sure that Sir John Mortimer, who graced our pages this week to state he had taken up smoking to mark the introduction of the ban on doing it in public, will not be the only person tempted to try out the weed, and to discover what all the fuss is about.
Similarly, unformed minds will at this very moment be planning to go on to the streets and do something that might never have occurred to them before: to glorify terror. And there are already legions of people (and I am one of them) who would not dream of carrying an identity card as a matter of course when going about in their own country.
The utter failure of the hunting ban ought to be a lesson to the Government, and to that new breed of MPs who see their job as being not to serve the public, but to control it. Yet we know that it won't. You will think I jest, but how long will it be before a move begins to ban drinking in pubs, too?
The health fascists, sensing they have won on smoking, are already making minatory noises about alcohol and, indeed, certain foods.
From where we are now it is a short step to making it a criminal offence for a publican to serve someone who has already drunk his government-specified quota of alcohol for the evening, or to sell such killer substances as pork scratchings to anyone whose body mass index is deemed to be too high.
And, of course, once you ban these things in order to help the public be happier and healthier, it is a short further step to criminalising their glorification - such as arresting the scriptwriters and broadcasters of EastEnders and Coronation Street if people are depicted as having an unduly good alcohol-induced time in the Queen Vic or the Rover's Return.
And there are other killers that need to be controlled. Motoring should obviously be banned at once, and Jeremy Clarkson locked up for glorifying it every week on Top Gear. And, inevitably, the Government will have to get round to banning sex.
After all, as a result of it, people are born who do terrible things, such as joining terrorist organisations, smoking in the presence of others, or hunting foxes. And, worst of all, everyone who is born faces certain death. It's amazing they haven't thought of this before, isn't it?
Winston Churchill smoked, of course, and drank very heavily. Presumably his trademark cigar will be airbrushed out of photographs, as happened with the front cover of a schoolbook about Isambard Kingdom Brunel .
Can I write this piece without mentioning the word "Orwellian"? Yes, I think so.
Posted on 02/18/2006 4:56 AM by Mary Jackson
Friday, 17 February 2006
Useless? Think again
I will always be grateful for my grammar school education, which gave me and many others like me the opportunity of learning Latin. The grammar school system was the greatest engine of social mobility that the UK has ever known. I will write more about it on another occasion. For now, here is Nick Cohen, whose argument can be summed up as "poor but talented children are (now) confined to the worst schools".
I was pleased to see a defence of the classics by Anthony O'Hear, writing in The Telegraph:
According to the higher education minister, a Mr Bill Rammell, it is "not necessarily a bad thing" that there have been sharp falls in the number of students applying to study history and the classics at university. At the same time, he welcomes the considerable increases in those choosing what he calls "more vocationally beneficial subjects", such as nursing, social work and pharmacology.
Certainly we need nurses, chemists and even social workers, but a civilisation needs much more than that. One wonders whether Mr Rammell has ever thought about the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages were precisely those centuries in which classical learning was lost in the West, except in a few monasteries geographically on the very limits of the known world. It was kept alive only in Byzantium and, remarkably, in parts of the Islamic world.
And what does Mr Rammell think the Renaissance was about? It was precisely the rediscovery of classical antiquity in western Europe and a new sense of its riches and beauty.
For the sake of argument, let us suppose that the Renaissance was a 15th-century phenomenon, although of course its roots were earlier, in the poetry of Dante, in the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas and in the art of Giotto.
In Europe, in every century since the 15th, there had been rediscoveries and re-evaluations of the classics: the humanism of Erasmus, the painting of Titian, Rubens and Poussin, the poetry of Milton, Dryden and Pope, the plays of Corneille and Racine, the architecture of the baroque, the archaeological researches of Wincklemann, the art of David and the poetry of Goethe - Goethe, who, on seeing ancient Greek coins from Sicily, said that it gave him new hope for mankind that so utilitarian an object could be so beautiful; and then on in the 19th century, to the Greek revival in architecture, to the painting of Ingres and the music of Berlioz, and the very different rediscoveries of what the classics actually meant by Matthew Arnold, by the great German philologists and by the philosopher Nietzsche.
It would be no exaggeration to say that European culture from the 14th century onwards has been defined by the way each age and each artistic movement has gone to the wells of ancient Greece and Rome, has drunk deep and has arisen refreshed and invigorated - every age, that is, until our own.
Nowadays, the study of classical Greek in our schools has declined to such an extent that, out of 5.7 million GCSE papers taken by 675,000 pupils, fewer than a thousand are in classical Greek and entries for Latin and Classical Civilisation number only a few thousand.
The artistic and cultural giants of eight or nine European centuries were not wrong. In Homer and Greek tragedy and in Greek sculpture, we find, as Nietzsche pointed out, a beauty and a drama that is sublime because it gazes into the abyss, without either illusion or despair.
Classical Greek architecture, as everyone who sees it recognises, is an astonishing balance of proportion and detail, luminous in its stone and marble, and never since surpassed. Western philosophy is, essentially, just the legacy of Plato and Aristotle. The poetry of Virgil, marmoreal in its splendour, lapidary in its language, has, along with that of Ovid, furnished the European imagination for centuries.
And the history of Rome is the source of the history of Europe, and the cradle both of Christianity and of the notion of the rule of law.
We are depriving our children of knowledge of all of this in our futile efforts to be modern and focused on the instrumental. We are forging a new dark age, in which the decline of the study of history is also to be welcomed.
Mr Rammell would apparently have us rejoice in the fact that we have no sense of the past; but a person with no sense of the past is a person who is a stranger both to his or her own roots and to the human condition more generally. For human beings are not creatures of nature; we are inheritors of the history that has made us what we are. Not to know our history is not to know ourselves, and that is the condition not of human beings, but of animals.
And even from a practical point of view, to be ignorant of the past is to make us impotent and unprepared before the present. How can someone without a sense of medieval history have the slightest inkling of the meaning of the current impasse the West finds itself in in its dealings with Islam?
The Crusades were not, as is often implied by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, a unique moment of anti-Islamic aggression. They were actually but one blip in the astonishing growth of Islamic empires in Europe and elsewhere, from the time of Mohammed onwards, right up to 1683 when the Turks were turned back from the gates of Vienna and 1686 when they were expelled from Budapest.
But who now remembers any of this, or ponders its consequences? It is not, needless to say, taught in National Curriculum history, which prefers to dwell on the Aztecs, about whom we have only the vaguest knowledge in comparison, and (endlessly) on the rise of Fascism (not communism) in Europe, studied by pupils who know nothing of the history of Italy and Germany before the 20th century.
Is it any wonder that, with no sense of our past or identity - as, in other moods, politicians increasingly complain - we are a culture obsessed with celebrity, football, and reality television? Most of our population know nothing else, and they have no yardstick from either history or culture with which to judge. As long ago as the 1920s, the great (classicist) poet T S Eliot stared at what he saw as the collapse of European culture: "These fragments I have shored against my ruin." Most of us have no knowledge now even of the fragments. We, or our children, will have only a desolate sense of loss, but we won't know what it is we have lost. Welcome to Rammell's world.
Leaving aside the argument that the classics are indeed relevant to the present day, the idea that education should be concerned with "relevance" in its narrow sense, for example that black children living in tower blocks only want to read about other black children living in tower blocks, is extremely patronising. But then the Left, the driving force behind the abolition of the grammar schools and behind educational "relevance", is nothing if not patronising. The Left, especially the wealthy Left, wants the working classes to remain working class, to know their place. Their own children are safely in private schools or comprehensives in rich catchment areas, and it would be quite upsetting for them to be overtaken by grammar school upstarts.
Posted on 02/17/2006 7:28 AM by Mary Jackson
Friday, 17 February 2006
Trial by tabloid
In a post two or three weeks ago about the trial of Abu Hamza, I argue that a defendant in a criminal trial should be tried solely on the evidence and that other aspects, such as the fact that he is generally agreed to be a "bad lot", or even, in this particular case, that Islam is a malign ideology, should not influence the conduct of the trial or its outcome:
The job of the prosecution counsel in the Abu Hamza trial is to demonstrate, beyond reasonable doubt, that the defendant has broken the law. At the moment, preaching from the Koran is not illegal so the Koran is irrelevant to the prosecution argument. What is relevant is whether Abu Hamza's words - Koran-inspired or not - could incite murder and racial hatred. The prosecution counsel is quite right to distance himself from the words of the Koran, to state: "This prosecution is not brought to criticize Islam or criticise the teachings of the Koran. It is brought because of what the defendant says."
Conversely, the job of the counsel for the defence is to defend his client, regardless of whether he personally thinks he is guilty, or, certainly, whether anyone else - the public, The Telegraph, The Sun, - think he is a "bad lot".
Ross Clark in this week's Spectator (subscription only), makes a similar argument with regard to the trial of Sion Jenkins.
I have no idea whether Sion Jenkins — the former Hastings deputy headmaster who was this week acquitted of murdering his foster daughter after juries in two successive trials failed to reach a verdict — committed the foul deed or not. I wasn’t there...All I do know is that had I been on the jury sifting through five months’ worth of evidence in one of the most eagerly followed murder trials of recent years, I would almost certainly have been one of those members who felt unable to convict. After three trials and nine years there has not been a single piece of convincing evidence which implicates Jenkins as the killer. And that, in any civilised legal system, would be that: the prisoner must go free.
Different rules apply, however, in Britain’s alternative legal system, otherwise known as tabloid journalism....The past few days have seen Jenkins tried for a fourth time in absentia — the tabloids, though choosing their words very carefully, effectively reaching the verdict that it woz Jenkins wot done it. ‘What the jury was not told’, the Mail screamed on Friday, listing three pieces of ‘missing evidence’ it claims should have been presented in court. What evidence? Jenkins, according to Lois, had a foul temper and sometimes slapped her in the face, leading her on one occasion to hide in the loft....
The Jenkins case has highlighted a little commented-upon change in the law under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 which permits use of ‘bad character’ evidence in criminal trials. In future, juries will be fed much more in the way of previous affairs, acts of dishonesty and errors of judgment which have nothing to do with the crime under consideration, and invited to draw conclusions. ...
It doesn’t take much imagination to see where this could lead: accused of rape and with little evidence to prove it, the prosecution is now free to contact your spurned girlfriends for comment and to cite in court any visit you might have made to a porn website....
We are approaching the world of Albert Camus’s Outsider, where a man is condemned to death not so much because he killed a stranger — which he maintains was done in self-defence — but because he failed to cry at his mother’s funeral.
I couldn't agree more. In the course of my recent jury service I was impressed by ordinary jurors' ability to stick to the evidence and not let irrelevant factors, opinions or prejudice cloud their judgement. Of course this was not a high profile trial and was not splashed all over the tabloids. The jury system is not perfect but generally works most of the time. However, it is in danger of being undermined by the admission of "bad character" evidence and by "trial by tabloid". This must not be allowed to happen.
Posted on 02/17/2006 7:14 AM by Mary Jackson
Thursday, 16 February 2006
Butt out, Blair
Two opinion pieces from The Telegraph dealing with the way in which Britain's wretched Labour Government wants to control and regulate our lives.
First, Boris Johnson rails against health and safety legislation, "elf and safety" as he calls it. He begins by discussing how a Japanese children's television programme "responds to a deep and unmet need in modern British life".
It is the need to see real risk, real danger, real humiliation, and of course real failure: all the things that are so expensively and so ingeniously airbrushed out of our mollycoddled and over-regulated lives...
Our modern pathetic airbagged society is the product of the lust of politicians to regulate and above all to be seen to be regulating, even when the law they are proposing is wholly unnecessary....
All they think about is whether they will appear to be "doing something", whether they look strong, whether they look in control; and of course it is always easiest to look strong and in control if you are passing some coercive piece of legislation.
Look at Patricia Hewitt, and her magnificently invertebrate performance in the smoking ban debate. She began the day wanting to preserve the right of clubs to have smoking sections; she ended on the side of a total ban - not, as she later claimed, because she had "listened to the arguments", but because she had succumbed to the politician's overwhelming lust to be seen to "act".
Secondly, the Telegraph leader argues that "the Government's appetite for passing oppressive laws grows with the eating".
Yesterday's vote in the Commons to make the "glorification" of terrorism an offence was justified by ministers as essential to combat the rise of extremism. It is nothing of the sort.
The existing laws on incitement to murder, to violence, and to racial and other forms of hatred provide all the scope needed to prevent extremists from encouraging others to support violent attacks.
There was plenty of "glorification" of terrorism in the demonstrations in London a fortnight ago over the Danish cartoons: but it also constituted incitement to murder, for which the police have not yet seen fit to have anyone prosecuted.
The "glorification" law was said to be needed to stop the likes of Abu Hamza: but without it, Hamza is already in jail. It all helps support the case eloquently put by the shadow attorney-general, Dominic Grieve, that yesterday's proceedings were merely a stunt designed to make Tony Blair look tough...
More on the smoking ban at Samizdata, commenting on one of the few exceptions to the ban - prisons:
But what about the health of non-smoking prisoners in the confined space? What about passive smoking by prison officers, whose workplace it is? N'importe. The tobacco allowance in prison is a means of control used by the authorities. Removing it would remove something of their capacity for arbitrary reward and punishment of individual prisoners. Plus withdrawing it would lead to riots, both acutely in fury at withdrawal, and chronically on losing the calming effects of nicotine.
So the lesson for prisoners in what Shami Chakrabarti calls HMP UK who do wish to smoke is plain. Threaten violence. You will either get your way as other aggressive sub-groups do, or be sent to the segregation block that is the officially acknowledged prison system - and there you may smoke all you like, provided you behave yourself.
As a non-smoker, I find this ban abhorrent. There is precious little evidence that "passive smoking" does any real harm. People who are prissy about smoking have usually got their priorities wrong. If you have people round for dinner, it is the height of bad manners to send someone outside merely because they wish to smoke, while letting someone who wishes to be boring stay put at the table. The boring should stand outside in the cold, together with their fellow bores. The same goes for offices and pubs.
This Government is getting on my nerves. I wish it would butt out.
Update: It seems Theodore Dalrymple agrees with me. A comment in "The Sun" by one opposed to the smoking ban amused me: "Cig heil".
Posted on 02/16/2006 4:50 AM by Mary Jackson
Wednesday, 15 February 2006
Tapping into our credulity
Christina Odone writes about the bottled water myth that so many of us appear to have swallowed:
I DID IT, TOO. I carried a sleek plastic bottle of water to the gym, sat a fat glass bottle beside my computer at work and asked “still or sparkling” of my dinner-party guests. Yes, I was a bottled water fanatic.
But no more. The Earth Policy Institute, an American independent environmental research organisation, has just published a report that paints a galling picture of a giant con being perpetrated upon a thirsty and gullible people. Every time we buy a bottle of water — carbonated or still, in plastic or glass — we are enriching people and businesses that not only rip us off, but also mock us as sentimentalist, innumerate and scientifically illiterate.
For years the sales strategy of the large mineral water conglomerates has tapped into our bucolic myths of sparkling clear streams and pure Alpine lakes. It didn’t matter that almost 40 per cent of bottled water began its life as tap water from a municipal source; we were led to believe that a sip of this stuff and our urban, stressed-out rat race of a life would be instantly detoxed. After a glass or two, we would be as close to Nature as a Rousseau hero in his birthday suit, as alive with pleasure as Julie Andrews trilling and twirling in those hills. We were assured that there was a genie in every bottle, and our wish for a long and healthy life was its command.
While luring us with the promise of purity and regeneration, the makers of bottled water sneered at our inability to play the numbers game. It was clear from their booming business that we, the consumers, could not work out that by selling a bottle of water for £1 that had cost them pennies at source, the producers were raking in 1,000 per cent profit. We had obviously not figured out that the £57 billion spent each year on bottled water was nearly seven times the sum that is invested in providing safe drinking water in developing countries.
Worst of all, the producers of bottled water sneered at our scientific ignorance. They figured that we could not possibly know that a plastic bottle of water takes 1,000 years to biodegrade; or that distributing 154 billion litres a year by train, truck and boat would incur huge costs in terms of energy and pollution.
When it came to water, we were mugs. But not a drop more will pass my lips. Turn on that tap.
I couldn't agree more when it comes to still water. Fashionable restaurants such as London's Nobu charge £5 for a small bottle, which is outrageous. However, sparkling water is rather different. The bubbles do add value, although not as much as the price of the bottle. And sparkling water is preferable to ghastly soft drinks like coke or orange juice if you are ever in the unpleasant position of not being able to drink wine. More usefully, it is a good palate cleanser between glasses of different wine. But I have never bought a bottle of still water in a restaurant, and this will not change.
Posted on 02/15/2006 6:23 AM by Mary Jackson
Tuesday, 14 February 2006
Stuttaford on the Cartoons
Andrew Stuttaford is another bright spot at National Review. It's probably just a coincidence he's English.
It was this freedom that van Gogh was testing, it was this freedom that Jyllands-Posten is testing, and it is this freedom that the Dutch foreign minister will be compromising when he travels this week to the Middle East alongside Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, for talks aimed at reducing the tension over the cartoons, a pointless and humiliating exercise that can only reinforce the dangerous impression held by many of the region's Muslims that Europe's governments somehow control Europe's newspapers and can thus be blamed for their contents.
The fact that such a mission is unlikely to take much account of the opinions of Dutch voters should surprise nobody. Europe's leaders have long tended to prefer the top-down and the technocratic to the views of electorates they see as atavistic, irrational, and prone to disturbing nationalist enthusiasms. This is why they had the arrogance to prescribe multiculturalism as an appropriate response to mass immigration, an idea of remarkable stupidity that goes a long way toward explaining the predicament in which Europe now finds itself.
Of course, we don't yet know what this delegation to the Middle East will be saying, but comments made in an interview with the London Daily Telegraph by the EU's sinisterly named Commissioner for Freedom, Security and Justice reveal some clues. Saying that millions of Muslims felt "humiliated" by the cartoons, and referring to a supposed "real problem" faced by the EU in reconciling freedom of expression with freedom of religion (actually, there's no "problem" at all, unless fanatics choose to make one), he suggested that the press should adopt a voluntary code of conduct. By agreeing to this "the press will give the Muslim world the message: we are aware of the consequences of exercising the right of free expression, we can and we are ready to self-regulate that right." Why the "Muslim world" outside Europe, much of which is represented by dictatorships, mullah-states and kleptocracies, should have any say in the contents of the continent's supposedly free press was not discussed.
In fairness it should be mentioned that the commissioner, Franco Frattini, subsequently put out a vague, ambiguous, and confusing press release purportedly intended to clarify his remarks, but once you have cut through the waffle, checked out the full text of the original interview, and grasped the fact that he was already talking about some sort of code before the current crisis, the commissioner's intentions become all too clear. One way or another, he wants the press muzzled...
After the events of these last days, we can be sure that other acts of censorship or self-censorship will pass insidiously and in silence, unnoticed, un-mourned, or, at best, explained away as a gesture of that "respect" that Europe's elites are now so eager to proclaim.
And as for the Danes, they must be feeling very, very alone. The notion of European solidarity has been revealed as the myth it always was. Denmark, and its tradition of free speech, has been left to twist in the wind, trashed, abused, and betrayed. An article published in Jyllands-Posten (yes, them again) on Friday revealed clear frustration over the way that the country is being treated. It's in Danish only, but one phrase ("Ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed. Der er intet men.") stands out, and it deserves to be translated and repeated again, and again, and again: "Free speech is free speech is free speech. There is no but."
Fine words. Is anyone listening?
Posted on 02/14/2006 8:19 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Tuesday, 14 February 2006
The Pakistan Daily Tribune carries an op-ed by Syed Mateen saying this:
To make clear to the blasphemous cartoonists and the publishers of the newspapers, let me remind them that Jesus Christ (PBUH) was the second-last prophet of Al-Mighty Allah. He foretold the coming of the last Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Ah yes, I do seem to remember something in the Gospels about "beware false prophets" and "you will know them by their fruits."
Posted on 02/14/2006 7:52 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Tuesday, 14 February 2006
Dalrymple in Cato Unbound
NER's own Theodore Dalrymple writes in Cato Unbound, Is "Old Europe" Doomed?
Doom or further decline is not inevitable, however, though avoidance of it requires active effort. The auguries are not good, not only because of the political immobilism that elaborate systems of social security have caused in most European countries, but because of the European multinational entity that is being created against the wishes of the peoples of Europe (insofar as they can be gauged).
The European Union serves several purposes, none of which have much to do with the real challenges facing the continent. The Union helps Germans to forget that they are Germans, and gives them another identity rather more pleasing in their own estimation; it allows the French to forget that they are now a medium sized nation, one among many, and gives them the illusion of power and importance; it acts as a giant pension fund for politicians who are no longer willing or able successfully to compete in the rough and tumble of electoral politics, and enables them to hang on to influence and power long after they have been rejected at the polls; and it acts as a potential fortress against the winds of competition that are now blowing from all over the world, and that are deeply unsettling to people who desire security above all else.
Apocalyptic thought is curiously pleasurable. Doom is too strong a word, in my view; I think it would be more accurate to say that Europe is sleepwalking to further relative decline. But we should also modestly remember that the future is, ultimately, unknowable.
To which I would simply add, the fact that the future is unknowable, is often its greatest mercy.
Posted on 02/14/2006 6:18 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Tuesday, 14 February 2006
Credit where credit is due
Why we reproduced the Mohammed cartoons.
by William Kristol
02/12/2006 12:35:00 PM
TO ACCOMPANY the editorial in the new issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD, we have reproduced the page with the Mohammed cartoons from the September 30 Jyllands-Posten. Readers should be able to see what this controversy is about. More important, in light of recent instances of capitulation to the threats of radical Islamists, and in response to eloquent pleas by individuals like Walid-al-Kubaisi in Norway to publish the cartoons in order to protect freedom of expression, we wanted to do our small part to stand against intimidation by extremists.
Posted on 02/14/2006 5:37 AM by Andy Bostom
Monday, 13 February 2006
Carry on up the Kaba
Mark Steyn has a good piece on blow-up doll rage. Yes, you did read that correctly:
From Europe's biggest-selling newspaper, the Sun: 'Furious Muslims have blasted adult shop [i.e., sex shop] Ann Summers for selling a blowup male doll called Mustafa Shag."
Not literally "blasted" in the Danish Embassy sense, or at least not yet. Quite how Britain's Muslim Association found out about Mustafa Shag in order to be offended by him is not clear. It may be that there was some confusion: given that "blowup males" are one of Islam's leading exports, perhaps some believers went along expecting to find Ahmed and Walid modeling the new line of Semtex belts. Instead, they were confronted by just another filthy infidel sex gag. The Muslim Association's complaint, needless to say, is that the sex toy "insults the Prophet Muhammad -- who also has the title al-Mustapha.'
In a world in which Danish cartoons insult the prophet and Disney Piglet mugs insult the prophet and Burger King chocolate ice-cream swirl designs insult the prophet, maybe it would just be easier to make a list of things that don't insult him. Nonetheless, the Muslim Association wrote to the Ann Summers sex-shop chain, "We are asking you to have our Most Revered Prophet's name 'Mustafa' and the afflicted word 'shag' removed.".....
...When Samuel Huntington formulated his famous "clash of civilizations" thesis, I'm sure he hoped it would play out as something nobler than shaggers vs. nutters. But in a sense that's the core British value these days. If it's inherent in Muslim culture to take umbrage at everything, it's inherent in English culture to turn everything into a lame sex gag. The "Mustafa" template is one of the most revered in the English music-hall tradition: "I've been reading the latest scholarly monograph -- 'Sexual Practices of the Middle East by Mustapha Camel.'" If they wanted to appease the surging Muslim demographic, the British could conceivably withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan but it's hard to imagine they could withdraw from vulgar sex jokes and still be recognizably British. They are, in the Muslim Association's choice of words, "afflicted" with shag fever.
That is not true. If a Sun editor sees a lame sex gag in his paper he will whip it out straightaway.
Posted on 02/13/2006 1:21 PM by Mary Jackson
Monday, 13 February 2006
UK readers, take a trip down memory lane. The BBC is featuring classic public information films from the last 60 years. Any US readers who consider the English to be rather quaint with poor dress sense and plummy accents will find that this is really true.
"Today's film is a real treasure. It's got everything you could want from a public information film - a slogan, dated costumes, a bit of nostalgia - but is also unintentionally amusing.
The Green Cross Code was introduced in 1971, with "splink" as a supposedly handy mnemonic. But surprise, surprise children found it too complicated. The Times of 10 July, 1974 (before this Pertwee film was released) reported that in a survey of 595 children aged between seven and 15, precisely none could remember the drill in full. Furthermore, only 18% of children chose the safest place to cross the road. "
"Splink" has to be the worst mnemonic ever. Not only is it meaningless, but the individual letters don't stand for anything that makes sense. The video clip is a must, though, if only for those tank tops.
Posted on 02/13/2006 8:54 AM by Mary Jackson
Sunday, 12 February 2006
Theodore Dalrymple on free speech
Two very good articles from Theodore Dalrymple on the cartoon controversy.
In the first, he contrasts the spineless response of the British and Americans to the courageous and robust stance of the French:
The French have emerged in this crisis as far stauncher and more fearless and unapologetic defenders of freedom than the Americans or the British. In this instance, they have stuck to an important principle without calculation of immediate interest or even short-term consequences. They find the equivocations of the Anglo-Saxons strange, spineless, and reprehensible, and in this instance they are absolutely right.
True. It has been argued that there are concerns for British and American troops in Iraq. Still, they were spineless. According to a poll in The Sunday Times, '86% of people think the protests were “a gross overreaction”. By 56% to 29% respondents said it was right to publish the cartoons in Denmark and republish them elsewhere.' So why do our leaders not reflect the wishes of the British public?
The second article argues that appeasement of Muslim extremists means surrendering Western liberties. Furthermore, it achieves nothing:
The supposition that the kind of people who call publicly for beheadings, or tell Europe to prepare itself for the real holocaust (the connection between Muslim extremism and Holocaust denial being a very strong one), will feel placated by a few expressions of sympathy for their supposedly offended feelings is psychologically preposterous and demonstrably false empirically. It is the reductio ad absurdum of the Clintonian propensity to feel other people’s pain as a substitute for a policy.
Posted on 02/12/2006 9:37 AM by Mary Jackson
Sunday, 12 February 2006
Posted on 02/12/2006 6:31 AM by Mary Jackson
Saturday, 11 February 2006
more London cartoon demonstrations
More than 4,000 UK mainstream Muslims joined a protest against controversial cartoons satirising their Prophet Muhammad in London's Trafalgar Square, according to the BBC:
A series of speakers gathered to support the Muslim community, including MP Jeremy Corbyn.
In his speech, which was met with cheers from the crowd, he said: "The only way our community can survive is by showing mutual respect to each other.
"We demand that people show respect for each other's community, each other's faith and each other's religion."
Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather described the cartoons as "a juvenile posturing exercise".
"Nothing was done to further the cause of liberal values or the freedom of speech - the publication of the cartoons was just plain racist," she added.
No one has ever explained to my satisfaction how opposing the domination of a totalitarian religion is racist, though this is easily and simply assumed along with a superior attittude, the affectation of an empty thought, no more. How can standing up for the principle of free speech be a racist act? These are dangerous slogans.
Posted on 02/11/2006 5:14 PM by Rebecca Bynum
Saturday, 11 February 2006
Hirsi Ali: The Right to Offend
Full speech here
.. Berlin is rich in the history of ideological challenges to the open society. This is the city where a wall kept people within the boundaries of the Communist state. It was the city which focalized the battle for the hearts and minds of citizens. Defenders of the open society educated people in the shortcomings of Communism. The work of Marx was discussed in universities, in op-ed pages and in schools. Dissidents who escaped from the East could write, make films, cartoons and use their creativity to persuade those in the West that Communism was far from paradise on earth.
Despite the self-censorship of many in the West, who idealised and defended Communism, and the brutal censorship of the East, that battle was won.
Today, the open society is challenged by Islamism, ascribed to a man named Muhammad Abdullah who lived in the seventh century, and who is regarded as a prophet. Many Muslims are peaceful people; not all are fanatics. As far as I am concerned they have every right to be faithful to their convictions. But within Islam exists a hard-line Islamist movement that rejects democratic freedoms and wants to destroy them. These Islamists seek to convince other Muslims that their way of life is the best. But when opponents of Islamism try to expose the fallacies in the teachings of Muhammad then they are accused of being offensive, blasphemous, socially irresponsible – even Islamophobic or racist.
The issue is not about race, colour or heritage. It is a conflict of ideas, which transcend borders and races.
Why me? I am a dissident, like those from the Eastern side of this city who defected to the West. I too defected to the West. I was born in Somalia, and grew up in Saudi Arabic and Kenya. I used to be faithful to the guidelines laid down by the prophet Muhammad. Like the thousands demonstrating against the Danish drawings, I used to hold the view that Muhammad was perfect -- the only source of, and indeed, the criterion between good and bad. In 1989 when Khomeini called for Salman Rushdie to be killed for insulting Muhammad, I thought he was right. Now I don’t.
I think that the prophet was wrong to have placed himself and his ideas above critical thought.
I think that the prophet Muhammad was wrong to have subordinated women to men.
I think that the prophet Muhammad was wrong to have decreed that gays be murdered.
I think that the prophet Muhammad was wrong to have said that apostates must be killed.
He was wrong in saying that adulterers should be flogged and stoned, and the hands of thieves should be cut off.
He was wrong in saying that those who die in the cause of Allah will be rewarded with paradise.
He was wrong in claiming that a proper society could be built only on his ideas.
The prophet did and said good things. He encouraged charity to others. But I wish to defend the position that he was also disrespectful and insensitive to those who disagreed with him.
I think it is right to make critical drawings and films of Muhammad. It is necessary to write books on him in order to educate ordinary citizens on Muhammad.
I do not seek to offend religious sentiment, but I will not submit to tyranny. Demanding that people who do not accept Muhammad’s teachings should refrain from drawing him is not a request for respect but a demand for submission.
I am not the only dissident in Islam. There are more like me here in the West. If they have no bodyguards they work under false identities to protect themselves from harm. But there are also others who refuse to conform: in Teheran, in Doha and Riyadh, in Amman and Cairo, in Khartoum and in Mogadishu, in Lahore and in Kabul.
The dissidents of Islamism, like the dissidents of communism, don’t have nuclear bombs or any other weapons. We have no money from oil like the Saudis. We will not burn embassies and flags. We refuse to get carried away in a frenzy of collective violence. In number we are too small and too scattered to become a collective of anything. In electoral terms here in the west we are practically useless.
All we have are our thoughts; and all we ask is a fair chance to express them. Our opponents will use force to silence us. They will use manipulation; they will claim they are mortally offended. They will claim we are mentally unstable and should not be taken seriously. The defenders of Communism, too, used these methods.
Berlin is a city of optimism. Communism failed. The wall was broken down. Things may seem difficult and confusing today. But I am optimistic that the virtual wall, between lovers of liberty and those who succumb to the seduction and safety of totalitarian ideas will also, one day, come down.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Posted on 02/11/2006 1:47 PM by Rebecca Bynum
Saturday, 11 February 2006
Today's Telegraph leader argues that we should be celebrating the abolition of slavery rather than continuing to wallow in guilt:
The bicentenary of the abolition of slavery in Britain is an occasion for celebration and renewed commitment. It reminds us of the heroic efforts of William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson in revolutionising public opinion, and of the Royal Navy in enforcing the legislation passed by Parliament in 1807.
Their achievement was no less than to challenge what had been standard practice for centuries, whether in ancient Rome, modern Europe, Africa, America or Asia. But we must also acknowledge that millions of people are still subject to modern forms of slavery - human trafficking, forced, bonded, indentured and child labour - and pledge to work for their release.
A resolution put this week to the General Synod of the Church of England made that pledge but had nothing to say about the reformers. What is worse, it was hijacked by an amendment that asserted the Church's complicity in the slave trade and offered an apology to the descendants of its victims. Following an intervention in its favour by Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who spoke of sharing "the shame and sinfulness of our predecessors", the amended text was passed nem con.
Instead of using the bicentenary to celebrate one of this country's greatest achievements, the established Church has chosen to beat its breast in vicarious guilt for the sins of previous generations. In the matter of the slave trade, Britain was peculiar in merit, not in guilt. By emphasising the crime of slavery rather than the victory of abolition, the Synod has shown itself inward-looking and sanctimonious.
Still, one has come to expect little better from a body that combines hypocrisy in handling its own internal contradictions with faulty judgment on more distant matters, be it the past or foreign policy.
Indeed. And let us not forget the Arab slave trade, discussed by Hugh Fitzgerald here.
"In the matter of the slave trade, Britain was peculiar in merit, not in guilt." This is true of the slave trade as it is true in so many other areas, not least the principle of the rule of law. As Lawrence Mead argues in his article Why Anglos Lead:
The British passed the rule of law, like capitalism, on to their colonies, and it was the most precious of their gifts. In America, political and economic competition can look like a free-for-all, but it is undergirded by a formidable legal order. Enterprise is free yet regulated to limit collusion and other abuses. Most people pay their taxes and obey the law. A civic ethos suffuses the regime. Abuses and corruption occur, but they are exposed and redressed, as in the recent Enron scandal. American judges and juries are not for sale, which is why drug kingpins fear extradition to the United States. Equal opportunity, based on an elaborate education system, is generous. The whole system rests on a commitment to public impartiality that America imbibed, like mother's milk, from its British forebears.
Why are we so reluctant to take credit for what we have got right? Self-deprecation is a traditional English characteristic, but it only works when others admire us, not when they take it at face value. They say that a gentleman is someone who knows how to play the trombone but doesn't. However, occasionally a little trumpet blowing would not go amiss. The bicentenary of the abolition of slavery is one such occasion.
Posted on 02/11/2006 6:58 AM by Mary Jackson
Friday, 10 February 2006
Fitzgerald: Three Cheers for European Colonialism
NER's Hugh Fitzgerald writes at Jihad Watch, ending with:
Arab Muslims suffered far less from European colonialism than did any other people in the soi-disant Third World -- far less than those in sub-Saharan Africa, in Central and South America, and in Asia. Indeed, it might be argued, and has been by many non-Arab ex-Muslims such as Anwar Shaikh (in his "Islam: The Arab Imperialism") that the most successful imperialism or colonialism of all time, has been that of the Arabs, who used Islam as a vehicle for arabization, especially of the cultural and linguistic kind: the taking of Arab names and false Arab lineages, using 7th century Arab customs as a model for all time, being required to read one's holy books in Arabic, and so on. That is what the Berbers are keenly aware of, and the Kurds, and the black African Muslims in Darfur.
It was the Arabs from Arabia who settled themselves in, and laid down the law to, every non-Arab and non-Muslim people they conquered. Even so, it took quite a while to become a majority in these lands. In Egypt, for example, the Christian Copts, the original Egyptians, were still a majority in the first part of the 13th century. But then a campaign of persecution, murder, and forcible conversion began, and within a short period they were reduced from more than 50% of the population to about 10% -- their proportion today.
Let us discuss the thousand years, and more, of Arab "colonialism" in the Sudan, in the Kabyle, in the East Indies (look at what happened to the Hindus and the Buddhists who once made up the population of that vast archipelago), in Persia. Let us compare that to the almost complete absence of "colonialism" in the classic sense, anywhere that Europeans ruled over Arabs and Muslims -- save for the one exception of Algeria.
And that was, in comparison to what preceded it, or what came after, a lucid interval of Western civilization.
Posted on 02/10/2006 9:33 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Friday, 10 February 2006
Check out the photo display of recent cartoon protests over at Jawa Report.
Posted on 02/10/2006 6:32 PM by Rebecca Bynum
Friday, 10 February 2006
National Review Dhimmis
The National Review editors have evidently joined Tom Friedman and others in a call to nominate the Ayatollah Sistani for a Nobel Peace Prize. The ignorance of this is beyond astounding at this late date, when a quick gander at the man's website (yes, Sistani has a website), he explains how non-Muslims are unclean, on par with things like urine, pigs and feces, which leads Robert Spencer to wonder aloud: "If Sistani won the Nobel, would he deign to accept the prize from the unclean hands of an unbeliever?"
Hugh Fitzgerald has his take on the matter here.
Posted on 02/10/2006 3:23 PM by Rebecca Bynum
Friday, 10 February 2006
Coming soon to a fleapit near you! (Hopefully not)
There I was reading the obituary to Akira Ifukube, who composed the music to the Godzilla films and who has just died at the age of 91 when out of the corner of my eye I spotted this. It sounds like a pleasant afternoon of family entertainment. It seems to be a big hit in Turkey but I doubt it will do Billy Zane's career much good. I think I will enjoy King Kong v Godzilla more.
From the BBC website entertainment section
It is rabidly anti-American, and it is the biggest draw in town.
With a budget of $10m (£5.7m), Valley of the Wolves Iraq is the most expensive film ever made in Turkey - and it is pulling record crowds.
At one of Istanbul's biggest multiplex cinemas the blockbuster is showing on five separate screens and nearly all the seats are sold out. It's the same story across the country.
"I'm back to see it for the second time already," says one student, waiting impatiently outside Screen 10.
"It is anti-American, but we already know what they've done in Iraq. That's the reality. Now we can see it on screen."
The movie opens with a real-life incident: the arrest in July 2003 of Turkish special forces in Sulaymaniyah, Northern Iraq.
The soldiers were led out of their headquarters at gunpoint, with hoods over their heads. America later apologised, but it appears the offense ran deep.
At the time Turkey took the incident as national humiliation. In this film the fictional hero sets out for revenge.
From then on, the action pits good Turks against very bad Americans in a mix of fact and fiction with a deeply nationalistic flavour.
The film is proving to be a sensation at the box office
In one scene, trigger-happy US troops massacre civilians at a wedding party.
In another they firebomb a mosque during evening prayer. There are multiple summary executions.
And for the first time, the real-life abuses by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison, are played out on the big screen.
Even the doctor - played by Gary Busey - is evil, removing human organs from Iraqi prisoners to send to patients in the US, Israel and Britain.
"Our film's a sort of political action," explains script-writer Bahadir Ozdener at the production company's stylish office on the Asian side of Istanbul.
"Maybe 60 or 70% of what happens on screen is factually true. Turkey and America are allies but Turkey wants to say something to its friend. We want to say the bitter truth. We want to say that this is wrong."
In a mainly Muslim country that has enjoyed a long strategic partnership with the US, Valley of the Wolves has sparked intense interest.
The US ambassador to Ankara was quizzed for his reaction to the film on a major news channel; even Turkey's foreign minister has felt moved to comment on it. Both were anxious to appear conciliatory.
The film is unashamedly anti-American
But the film clearly capitalises on a wave of anti-American feeling that peaked with the Sulaymaniyah controversy, but began to swell with preparation for the invasion of Iraq.
Posted on 02/10/2006 5:20 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Friday, 10 February 2006
A woman was yesterday celebrating the end of a seven-year battle to be removed from Spain's register of deaths after officials insisted she died in 1992.
María Antonia Calvo, 43, from Malaga, had a double reason to celebrate as a court's decision to declare her alive now paves the way for her to marry her fiancé, Antonio Guzmán.
Previously, bureaucrats had refused to allow the wedding to go ahead as her entry in the Civil Register clearly showed that she had been dead for 14 years.
The Kafkaesque nightmare may have been originally triggered by foul play, possibly connected to an inheritance dispute, she said.
"They have resuscitated me, they have rescued me from the darkness, and I no longer have to sleep in a coffin," she said, thanking officials for resurrecting her.
"Now my little son is not an orphan in the eyes of the law."
Mr Guzman said he had been the subject of mockery with friends telling him he was "marrying a corpse".
I wonder why it took them seven years, and why, if they didn't believe her at first - perhaps she's very pale or something - they came round in the end. I also wonder if the reverse case has ever happened, and officials have insisted that someone is still alive long after they are dead. Presumably if a widow or widower re-married, they could be prosecuted for bigamy.
I'm glad we don't yet have ID cards in Britain. I can just imagine some New Labour jobsworth insisting that you were dead because it says so on the computer. Then again, you could smack him in the mouth and get away with it, as presumably the dead cannot be prosecuted.
Posted on 02/10/2006 4:47 AM by Mary Jackson