Of course Anthony Daniels (Theodore Dalrymple) found William McGonagall funny:
I had laughed so much that I was weak, as if suffering from hypoglycemia; my legs felt as if my bones had dissolved, leaving the muscles and other soft tissues to support themselves.
We have laughed at him at this site. However, Anthony Daniels' piece in the New Criterion (subscription only) makes some serious observations too:
William McGonagall was a ridiculous and yet, in many ways, an admirable figure, worthy of our sympathy, compassion, and respect rather than of our disdain. If invincible delusion had not inured him to the cruel insults and practical jokes of his contemporaries, his life would have been truly tragic. But then again, were it not for that invincible delusion—that he was a theatrical and poetic genius unprecedented since the time of Shakespeare—his life would have passed in the utmost anonymity.
He was born in about 1825, the fifth child of poor parents who had emigrated from Ireland to Scotland, where there was a textile boom. Wages were very low, but high enough to make them attractive to impoverished, landless Irish. McGonagall probably received only eighteen months of formal education in his life, before being put to work on handlooms at a very early age, facts that themselves should give us pause for respect. For his letters were written in a firm, clear, and almost elegant hand; he wrote grammatically for the most part, and his orthography was superior to that of a great proportion, perhaps even of the majority, of modern Britons who have undergone at least eleven years of education. Indeed, it is better than that of many present-day graduates.
Between the ages of fifteen and twenty, McGonagall developed a passion for the theater, particularly for Shakespeare. It strikes me as both remarkable and moving that a man who was born, lived all his life, and died in abject poverty should have attached such value to high culture. At first, he worked in the theater backstage or as a scene-changer, but then began to obtain parts in an amateur or semi-professional capacity. He knew whole Shakespeare plays by heart, especially the great tragedies, and eventually obtained starring roles in Dundee, where he lived. What he never realized, because his belief in his genius was as granitic as his absence of a sense of humor was total, was that he was given these roles for the absurdity of his performances. Here is a description of one of his appearances as Macbeth (his favorite part):
McGonagall as Macbeth refused to die when run through by Macduff; he maintained his feet and flourished his weapon about the ears of his adversary in such a way that there was for some time an apparent possibility of a real tragedy. Macduff, continually telling him to go down became at length so incensed that he gave him a smart rap over the fingers with the flat of his sword. McGonagall dropped his weapon, but dodged and pranced as if to wrestle. Macduff threw his sword aside, seized Macbeth and brought the sublime tragedy to a close in a rather undignified way by taking the feet from under the principal character.
There is nothing [...] to suggest that McGonagall was other than harmless and even kindly. It was a nineteenth-century equivalent of paying to see the lunatics in Bedlam, and now, when I laugh so heartily at McGonagall’s verses, I feel that I am participating in this unfeeling cruelty. Even if the deluded are happy, you do not laugh at their delusions, for there is something intrinsically pitiable about the quality of being deluded.
A world that did not laugh at his verse, however, or refused to enjoy itself with them out of supersensitivity to his memory would be a horrible world too. Only a man with a heart of stone, said Oscar Wilde, could read the death of Little Nell without laughing; only someone with the most frightening self-control could read the following lines, from “The Wreck of the Whaler ‘Oscar,’” with a straight face, or wish them expunged altogether from the human record: “’Twas on the 1st of April, and in the year Eighteen thirteen/ That the whaler ‘Oscar’ was wrecked not far from Aberdeen.” So on the one hand cruelty, and on the other the human necessity to laugh: an irresolvable antinomy of almost Kantian proportions.
In most respects, Islam is far from modern. Its tenets are primitive; it cannot create a modern economy; it cannot invent, but ony buy in (with unearned oil revenues) modern technology. However, there is one way in which Islam chimes with the spirit of the age: like its founder Mohammed, Muslims suffer from excessive self-esteem. In a "journal of everyday virtues" called In Character, Theodore Dalrymple contrasts self-esteem and self-respect, and makes the case that many have too much of the former and not enough of the latter:
When people speak of their low self-esteem, they imply two things: first, that it is a physiological fact, rather like low hemoglobin, and second, that they have a right to more of it. What they seek, if you like, is a transfusion of self-esteem, given (curiously enough) by others; and once they have it, the quality of their lives will improve as the night succeeds the day. For the record, I never had a patient who complained of having too much self-esteem, and who therefore asked for a reduction. Self-esteem, it appears, is like money or health: you can't have too much of it.
Self-esteemists, if I may so call those who are concerned with the levels of their own self-esteem, believe that it is something to which they have a right. If they don't have self-esteem in sufficient quantity to bring about a perfectly happy life, their fundamental rights are being violated. They feel aggrieved and let down by others rather than by themselves; they ascribe their lack of rightful self-esteem to the carping, and unjustified, criticism of parents, teachers, spouses, and colleagues.
The twin qualities leading to self-esteem are (an allegedly) just appreciation of one's own importance and of one's own worth. Neither importance nor worth, however, are qualities to be found in nature without an appraising mind; it is the appraising mind that confers them upon their object.
Let us take importance first. There is no doubt a sense - that of the American Declaration of Independence, the supposedly self-evident truth that all men are created equal - in which everyone is important simply by virtue of drawing breath; but of course this kind of importance is not sufficient for the self-esteemist, who derives no comfort from it whatsoever. What he needs is to be more important than someone else in order to have his self-esteem. Nor is it sufficient that he should be more important than somebody else only in his own eyes, because we are all more important in our own eyes than anybody else.
Hence the self-esteemist demands the recognition of others - "respect," in the lexicon of the slum hoodlum - in order to prop up his self-esteem. Unfortunately for him, the world of others still usually insists upon some kind of achievement before according recognition: achievement in a broad sense, but achievement nonetheless. But the self-esteemist wants to skip this arduous requirement; the result is that he is an angry and bitter soul.
Similar strictures apply to the other component of self-esteem, namely the sense of worth. Clearly, a sense of worth is something that one would normally expect to be earned rather than conferred ex officio, as it were, similar to the right to a fair trial, but the self-esteemist wants to skip the stage of earning. He is like the man who resents the fact that he has not inherited enough to prevent the necessity of having to make a living for himself.
In other words, the self-esteemist wants something for nothing, and, because in his heart he knows that what he wants is impossible, he is wretched and ascribes all the many failures of his life to it. Self-esteem is therefore first cousin to resentment.
Muslims are "the best of peoples" - remember that and everything follows.
Douglas Murray in The Telegraph states the obvious, namely that the Government's Prevent strategy has done nothing to stop "extremism". Murray does not say but should that as long Islam - all Islam - remains unchallenged, there will always be "extremism".
As we are reminded on a daily basis, there is very little that government does well. Perhaps what it can do least well is theology.
Yet through its “Prevent” strategy, that is exactly what this Government has tried to do. In the past few years, it has spent millions of pounds trying to prevent Muslim radicalisation. But the effort was flawed from the outset and as the Communities and Local Government Select Committee warned yesterday, the efforts made could be backfiring
The Prevent programme was set up after the 2005 London bombings as part of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy. Yet the security services already do counter-terrorism and are remarkably successful at it. So the purpose of Prevent was not only unclear, it was a classic example of government metastasizing.
It attempted to go far beyond what government could or should do. It aimed to tackle radicalisation by providing a “counter-narrative” to that of al-Qaeda and other extremist groups. And so, instead of teaching British values and beliefs and otherwise allowing the relevant authorities to enforce the law, Prevent got involved in attempting to create what one Imam recently described to me as “MI5 Islam”.
This meant that from the outset Prevent got bogged down in the interminable ongoing civil wars in the Islamic faith while doing little to tackle the real problems. It did not stop extremist speakers being given platforms at mosques and universities across the country, nor even, as it turned out, speaking at Prevent-sponsored events.
But it did become, predictably enough, a cash cow which any enterprising Muslim group could tap into. Government funding on what were called “key Prevent deliverables” in the period 2008-2009 alone was over £140 million. Much of this money went on things which were – at best – many steps away from dealing with what drives young Muslims into extremism.
Barking Mosque received more than £5,000 to provide rap “workshops” and lunches. Something called “Bedford: Faith in Queens Park” received £9,000 for its basketball club, another £10,000 for its cricket club and £11,000 for “fusion youth singing”. It received £1,350 for a talk on “prophetic medicine”. The Cherwell “Banbury Fair Trade Society” was paid by Prevent to deliver a “multicultural food festival”.
Across the country Prevent money went to boxing, karate, judo and five-a-side football clubs, while the 1st Bristol Muslim Scout Group bafflingly received £3,180 of Prevent money for camping equipment.
Most disturbingly of all, thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money was used not to stop fundamentalism, but simply to teach Islam. Just last year, one highly conservative Muslim organisation received two payments of £20,000 to proselytise for Islam.
It didn’t take long for other “community leaders” to realise something was deeply wrong. Why should only Muslim communities receive hundreds of millions of pounds? Say you were a Hindu boy-scout in your leaky tent at scout camp. Would you not wonder at the spanking new facilities enjoyed by your Muslim neighbour? Why have young Sikh, Buddhist or – imagine – white working-class youngsters not had ping-pong tables and karate lessons thrown in their direction?
MOSCOW, March 31 (Xinhua) -- Nine people, including two police officers, were killed in two blasts on Wednesday in the town of Kizlyar in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region of Dagestan, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.
A policeman was killed on the spot and another one died on the way to hospital, the Itar-Tass quoted a source in the republic's Interior Ministry as saying.
The explosion went off when a car packed with explosives was detonated in the Moskovskaya Street near a school, the source said. There were no children in the school at the moment.
If Yemen seems like a terrorist playground today, the answer might be that its top intelligence service is run by jihadis.
According to a report in the reliable Paris-based Intelligence Online newsletter, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, “who has traveled twice to Yemen in the last six months, has been told by his advisers that Yemen's Political Security Organization has been infiltrated at the highest levels by jihadists active in the country."
A Brennan spokesman declined to comment on the report, which most likely originated in the region. But it came as no surprise to a top former CIA counterterrorism official, who said with a chuckle: “that report is stating the obvious.”
“In 2006,” the IO newsletter continues, “Political Security let Nasser al-Wahayshi, the former secretary of Osama bin Laden, and a dozen of his associates escape from prison in Sanaa. The escapees are believed to have established jihadists camps in the province of Chabwa, to the east of Sanaa. Political Security is run by Ghaled al-Qimch, President Ali Abdallah Saleh’s trusted right hand man.”
All this may be obvious, indeed, but it raises all sorts of troubling questions about Yemen, a virtual arms and manpower supply depot for al-Qaeda’s assault on Saudi Arabia and the rest of the region.
“Last October,” my Post colleague David Ignatiusreported Friday, “the Yemeni government came to the CIA with a request: Could the agency collect intelligence that might help target the network of a U.S.-born al-Qaeda recruiter named Anwar al-Aulaqi?”
Aulaqi, Ignatius reminds us, is linked to the Fort Hood shootings and the recruitment of Nigerian underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab:
“On Nov. 5, U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 of his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, Tex.; Hasan had exchanged 18 or more e-mails with Aulaqi in the months before the shootings, according to the Associated Press. Then, on Christmas Day, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian who had been living in Yemen, tried to blow up an airliner bound for Detroit; he is said to have confessed later that Aulaqi was one of his trainers for this mission,” Ignatius wrote.
The Yemenis wanted CIA help to get Aulaqi, Ignatius writes. His sources told him:
“The primary reason was that the agency lacked specific evidence that he threatened the lives of Americans -- which is the threshold for any capture-or-kill operation against a U.S. citizen. The Yemenis also wanted U.S. Special Forces' help on the ground in pursuing Aulaqi; that, too, was refused.”
But given the jihadist inclinations of some elements of the PSO, it's also an intriguing possibilty that the CIA suspected the Yemenis were playing a double game -- angling for clues about sensitive sources and sophisticated electronic methods the agency is using to pusue al-Qaeda in the region.
A Yemeni official acknowledged to me Friday that the PSO has had security problems, noting that 11 “junior officers” were prosecuted for their role in the 2006 jail break.
“It’s a poor country,” where even intelligence officers are susceptible to bribes, said the official on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
The problems began back in the late 1980s-early 1990s, he said, when the PSO recruited Yemeni veterans of the Afghan war against the Soviets.
"It was a double-edged sword," he said. Some remained jihadis, others would eventually help the PSO penetrate terrorist cells.
“We’re addressing this,” he added. “We’ve demoted and shuffled people around” and taken other measures to tighten security.
Indeed, in recent months Yemen and U.S. security services have dramatically ramped up their counterterrorism cooperation while, behind the scenes, they each play a double game.
If the Yemen scenario sounds familiar, it’s because U.S. intelligence grapples with similar challenges today in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Indeed, throughout the Vietnam War, the CIA and military intelligence services had to work with South Vietnamese security services they knew had been thoroughly penetrated by the communists.
That’s why the CIA runs on two tracks in Yemen and virtually everywhere else around the world, including most allied countries.
On one track it works with the host country’s intelligence and military services.
Father Shafiq Abu Zaid States What Should Have Been Understood Before The Iraq Folly
Under Saddam Hussein, Christians in Iraq were more secure, were better off than they are now. Not because Saddam Hussein was a wonderful fellow, but because he understood that the Christians, terrified of standing out in a Muslim sea, were no threat to his regime,. The threat to him, as the Sunni despot (his Sunni despotism camouflaged as "Ba'athism" )in a country where the Shi'a Arabs outnumbered the Sunni Arabs 3 to 1, could only come (aside from ambitiious Sunni colonels with a coup in mind) from the Shi'a, the people whom the Christian Iraqis in exile now refer to scathingly - but for many n their Western audiences incomprehensibly -- as "the turbans."
And the Americans living in the Green Zone, who inherited the household staff of Saddam Hussein-- waiters, butlers, maids, laundresses, praegustatores -- must have asked themselves why so many of them were Christians. Or did they not take an interest?
The same reliance on Christians -- the Assads have various household guards, but there is, or was, a corps consisting of trustworthy Armenians -- can be seen in Syria, where a "Ba'athist" regime merely serves to disguise, transparent for the local Sunni Arabs but apparently quite convincing for outside Middle East "experts" --rule by the Alawite minority, who constitute 12% of the population but also control the officer corps.
Note also how various other minorities -- Alawites, Kurds, and so on -- are described, not quite accurately, by Father Shafiq Abu Zeid. He fails to distinguish between those groups that are not Arab (Kurds) and those that are not Muslim or fully Muslim (Alawites) and still others that are both non-Muslim and non-Arab. But reading between his lines, so as to grasp what he means but cannot always, even in a moment of candor, fully express, is instructive.
A number of the comments are by people who describe the failure of The Guardian's editors to mount an adequate defense of their confused and hysterical (see George Monbiot) reaction to the email business. Several also say that they would not trust "The Guardian" on this issue and that, furthermore, they would not trust The Guardian on anything.
Anyone who has read the coverage by The Guardian of the Middle East, is familiar with its campaign of vilification of israel and constant Defender-of-the-Faith stance when it comes to Islam, should be pleased.
The more people who abandon The Guardian, whatever the precipitating prompt, the better.
Late-Victorian Fugitive Political Verse: The Status Quo
THE STATUS QUO.
I'd like to be a Status Quo
That all the Powers maintain,
The Quo that just declines to go
And hangs on might and main,
It seems to me, without a doubt
The Status knows its way about.
When Beaconsfield, Bismarck and Co.
At Berlin's board did sit
They always liked the Status Quo
And thought a lot of it.
Though Gortschakoff was quite unnerved
They said " the Quo must be observed!"
When Dizzy from Berlin came back,
With Peace and all the rest of it,
He'd shuffled all the Congress pack
And always got the best of it.
He play'd it high. He play'd it low
But pacified the Status Quo.
The Status now is on the dip
At Tirnovo awaiting
A diplomatic " flip-flap " trip
A trifle oscillating,
But will it turnover? Dear me!
A Ferdinand's worth two or three
Now Europe's got the Quo in tow
(While Turkey's on the gobble)
Isvolsky nudges Clemenceau
To watch the Status wobble
But will it topple? Oh, dear, No
For Asquith hath a quid pro Quo.
I'd like to be a Status Quo
That holds its own so nicely
(I'd hold my own and others' too
To tell the truth precisely)
I'd like to feel when thrones go flop
That I would always come up top.
The Englishman, llth October 1908.
Someone forwarded to me an article about the American Embassy in Iraq posted today at the website of Daniel Pipes
By way of response, I sent a paragraph from a piece I posted in June 2008 at NER:
"That Embassy, that white-elephant-and-castle Embassy, that has cost $600 million dollars, will almost certainly never be used by the Americans in the way that they assumed they would be able to use it. I think it very possible that it will never be occupied by American diplomats. Yet members of Congress, who fidget and fuss over expenditures of five million here and ten million there, never ever asked about that Embassy, its cost, the likelihood of its use. It made no sense, unless your planning began, and ended, with senselessness. The Bush Administration, and its critics, seem determined to show the world that the comment about America made by W. H. Auden in his post-war poem, "Under Which Lyre" (An Address to The Scholars of Harvard) is in fact true: America, he cruelly-affectionately apostrophized, "so large, so stupid, and so rich."
The reference in Hugh's post to Nazi memorabilia, a subject covered more than once at this site, made me shudder as I thought that if Islam came to dominate, perhaps all that we would have left of infidel civilisation would be memorabilia. Jahiliyyah memorabilyyah could include, from my article Islam is Boring:
To which I would add the never knowingly undersold John Lewis, Pearly Kings and Purley Oaks. Best get all that put on a T-shirt now, before it's too late. To start with, I'd like a stick of rock with wine and democracy right through it.
That Little Business Of Nazis And Human Rights Watch
From The Sunday Times
March 28, 2010
Nazi scandal engulfs Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch champions the brutally repressed. But in the wake of a ‘Nazi’ scandal involving an employee, is all well in its own back yard?
Marc Garlasco lost his job at Human Rights Watch over his enthusiasm for Third Reich memorabilia
At the headquarters of Human Rights Watch, more than 30 storeys above the noise and bustle of Manhattan, there is so much high-mindedness hanging in the air you can almost taste it. This is the epicentre of a certain type of socially smart, progressive activism — the kind that persuades Hollywood grandees, power lawyers and liberal financiers to dig deeply into their pockets.
When the story broke that one of the organisation’s most prominent and vocal members of staff might be a collector of Nazi-era military memorabilia it felt like some sort of sexual scandal had erupted in the Victorian church. For a lobbying group accustomed to adulatory coverage in the media, it was a public-relations catastrophe.
Human Rights Watch is one of two global superpowers among the world’s myriad humanitarian pressure groups. It is relatively young — established in its current form in 1988 — but it has grown so quickly in size, wealth and influence that it has all but eclipsed its older, London-based rival, Amnesty International.
Unlike Amnesty, HRW, as it is known, gets its money from charitable foundations and wealthy individuals — such as the financier George Soros — rather than a mass membership. And, also unlike Amnesty, it seeks to make an impact, not through extensive letter-writing campaigns, but by talking to governments and the media, urging openness and candour and backing up its advocacy with research reports. It is an association that is all about influence — an influence that depends on a carefully honed image of objectivity, expertise and high moral tone. So it was perhaps a little awkward that a key member of staff was found to have such a treasure trove of Nazi regalia.
By day, Marc Garlasco was HRW’s only military expert, the person that its Emergencies Division would send to conflict zones to investigate alleged war crimes. He wrote reports condemning the dropping of cluster bombs in the Russia-Georgia war, the alleged illegal use of white phosphorus by the Israeli army in Gaza and coalition tactics that he said “unnecessarily” put Iraqi or Afghan civilians at risk. An enthusiastic source of quotes for the media, he was incessantly on the phone to journalists.
But by night, Garlasco was “Flak88”, an obsessive contributor to internet forums on Third Reich memorabilia and an avid collector of badges and medals emblazoned with swastikas and eagles.
A lavishly illustrated $100 book he compiled and self-published is dedicated to his grandfather, who served in the Luftwaffe. On members-only sites such as Wehrmachtawards.com he was writing comments like “VERY nice Hitler signature selection”; “That is so cool! The leather SS jacket makes my blood go cold it is so COOL!”
An interest in Nazi memorabilia does not necessarily suggest Nazi sympathies — but it is hardly likely to play well in the salons where Garlasco’s employer might solicit donations.
Human Rights Watch started small, but there is now a grandness about it, a deep hum of power and connectedness. In Los Angeles, its annual Hollywood dinner is said to raise more than $2m. When he was guest editor of Vanity Fair, Brad Pitt published a profile of the executive director, Kenneth Roth.
In London, HRW’s board meetings and fundraising parties are held in huge houses in Notting Hill and Hampstead, with wealthy expat Americans — “the Democratic party in exile”, one board member calls it — vying to outdo each other in lavishness. Significant contributors in the UK include Tony Elliott, the owner of Time Out, and Catherine Zennstrom, whose husband, Niklas, created Skype. When the philanthropic London-based banker John Studzinski joined the board it was proof positive that he had “made it”.
The enthusiasts for Third Reich memorabilia who meet up in cyberspace make up a cosy little community. In one posting Garlasco put up a photograph of himself wearing a sweatshirt with an Iron Cross on the front, sitting next to his daughter. One of his internet buddies comments: “Love the sweatshirt? Not one I could wear here in Germany though — well I could but it would be a lot of hassle.”
Garlasco certainly seems to have been more open with his online collector friends than he had been with his employer. “Flak88” was more than happy to talk openly about his day job. He wondered whether he should reveal his hobby to Human Rights Watch — who evidently knew nothing about it: “So I am trying to figure out what to do. My book is clsoe [sic] to done, but I am not sure if I should put my name on it. If folks at work found out I might very well lose my job.”
His dilemma did not last long. In September a blogger noted that Marc Garlasco had long been reviewing books on Third Reich memorabilia on Amazon — and that he was the same Marc Garlasco who had written controversial HRW reports about alleged Israeli violations in Gaza and Lebanon. The blogger did not accuse him of being a Nazi, but wondered if Garlasco’s “obsession with anti-Semitic Nazi genocidal lunatics” was in any way related to his “apologism for anti-Semitic genocidal Hamas lunatics”. The story soon gained momentum. Human Rights Watch was forced to investigate.
Initially HRW offered Garlasco unequivocal support. This was not surprising. The organisation is supremely self-confident. When I asked the executive director Kenneth Roth if he could think of any errors made by HRW, he replied: “Nothing major. There is an errata page on our website.” And despite his oddness, Garlasco was also an asset. Born in Manhattan and raised in Queens, his background was a useful counterpoint to the posh-boho culture that pervades the group. He is a keen gun-owner, a member of the National Rifle Association, had worked for the Pentagon and counted key members of the military as friends. More than anything, his military and strategic know-how provided the group with desperately needed credibility — especially when talking about “disproportionate” military responses.
HRW’s public-relations machine quickly went into action. Garlasco was defended as “the author of a monograph on the history of German air force and army anti-aircraft medals and a contributor to websites that promote serious historical research? and which forbid hate speech”. They said that comments by Garlasco about Nazi regalia merely “reflect the enthusiasm of a keen collector? and have no bearing on Garlasco’s work for Human Rights Watch”.
Garlasco himself wrote an apologetic column on the political website the Huffington Post in which he claimed he had “never hidden my hobby, because there’s nothing shameful in it, however weird it might seem to those who aren’t fascinated by military history. Precisely because it’s so obvious that the Nazis were evil, I never realised that other people, including friends and colleagues, might wonder why I care about these things”.
It wasn’t enough for HRW to defend Garlasco or to make the sensible distinction between an innocent interest in the second-world-war German army and an unhealthy attraction to Nazi iconography. HRW also went on the offensive. It accused those who raised the issue of Garlasco’s hobby of being part of “a campaign to deflect attention from Human Rights Watch’s rigorous and detailed reporting on violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by the Israeli government”. It even used the word “conspiracy”: its programmes director, Iain Levine, later went so far as to directly accuse the Israeli government of being behind it. But he provided no evidence for the charge.
The vehemence of Human Rights Watch in defending Garlasco surprised many. But it made sense for two reasons. Though HRW relishes complaints from infuriated dictatorships, it is not used to its personnel and methods being questioned at home. And it coincided with a series of less-well-publicised criticisms of the group. Suddenly, when its own practices came under scrutiny, it became very touchy.
On September 14 last year the organisation suspended Marc Garlasco with pay “pending an investigation”. But as the months went by, HRW said nothing about the investigation — and nothing about Garlasco’s status.
Garlasco himself kept mum. When I called him, he told me that he “had nothing more to say”. I learnt from friends of his, however, that he had been gagged by a confidentiality agreement. They said that he had in effect been fired, but would be paid for the duration of his contract as long as he kept silent.
When I visited HRW’s New York headquarters in February, I asked Kenneth Roth about Garlasco’s status. He said nothing had changed. Did he mean that Garlasco is still suspended pending an investigation? “Yes,” came the reply.
On March 5, Garlasco’s name was removed from the list of staff members on HRW’s website. Later that day, the Jerusalem Post newspaper asked about Garlasco’s status. A spokeswoman replied by email that HRW had “regretfully accepted Marc Garlasco’s resignation” two weeks before. Kenneth Roth has sent an email to staff, board members and some key donors insisting that they do not respond to any media inquiries about the matter. Garlasco, meanwhile, prefers to stay out of the limelight: when The Sunday Times Magazine inquired about using the picture of Garlasco wearing a sweatshirt featuring an Iron Cross, we received this reply:
“It is my understanding that you intend on using a photo or likeness of him, which is copyrighted, without his permission. Should you do so? we will prosecute this matter to the fullest extent of the law. Sincerely, Attorney Paul James Garlasco.”
We contacted Attorney Garlasco to find out if he was related to Marc Garlasco; he did not return our calls or emails.
HRW was also cagey about the photograph. Garlasco has become a non-person. “It might be him,” hedged the communications director Emma Daly, but “he doesn’t work here any more.”
Every year, Human Rights Watch puts out up to 100 glossy reports — essentially mini books — and 600-700 press releases, according to Daly, a former journalist for The Independent.
Some conflict zones get much more coverage than others. For instance, HRW has published five heavily publicised reports on Israel and the Palestinian territories since the January 2009 war.
In 20 years they have published only four reports on the conflict in Indian-controlled Kashmir, for example, even though the conflict has taken at least 80,000 lives in these two decades, and torture and extrajudicial murder have taken place on a vast scale. Perhaps even more tellingly, HRW has not published any report on the postelection violence and repression in Iran more than six months after the event.
When I asked the Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson if HRW was ever going to release one, she said: “We have a draft, but I’m not sure I want to put one out.” Asked the same question, executive director Kenneth Roth told me that the problem with doing a report on Iran was the difficulty of getting into the country.
I interviewed a human-rights expert at a competing organisation in Washington who did not wish to be named because “we operate in a very small world and it’s not done to criticise other human-rights organisations”. He told me he was “not surprised” that HRW has still not produced a report on the violence in Iran: “They are thinking about how it’s going to be used politically in Washington. And it’s not a priority for them because Iran is just not a bad guy that they are interested in highlighting. Their hearts are not in it. Let’s face it, the thing that really excites them is Israel.”
Noah Pollak, a New York writer who has led some of the criticisms against HRW, points out that it cares about Palestinians when maltreated by Israelis, but is less concerned if perpetrators are fellow Arabs. For instance, in 2007 the Lebanese army shelled the Nahr al Bared refugee camp near Tripoli (then under the control of Fatah al Islam radicals), killing more than 100 civilians and displacing 30,000. HRW put out a press release — but it never produced a report.
Such imbalance was at the heart of a public dressing-down that shook HRW in October. It came from the organisation’s own founder and chairman emeritus, the renowned publisher Robert Bernstein, who took it to task in The New York Times for devoting its resources to open and democratic societies rather than closed ones. (Originally set up as Helsinki Watch, the group’s original brief was to expose abuses of human rights behind the iron curtain.)
“Nowhere is this more evident than its work in the Middle East,” he wrote. “The region is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human-rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel? than of any other country in the region.”
Bernstein pointed out that Israel has “a population of 7.4m, is home to at least 80 human-rights organisations, a vibrant free press, a democratically elected government, a judiciary that frequently rules against the government?and probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world? Meanwhile the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350m people and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic”.
Bernstein concluded that if HRW did not “return to its founding mission and the spirit of humility that animated it? its credibility will be seriously undermined and its important role in the world significantly diminished”. HRW’s response was ferocious — and disingenuous. In their letters to the paper, Roth and others made it sound as if Bernstein had said that open societies and democracies should not be monitored at all.
I met Robert Bernstein at an office he keeps in midtown Manhattan. Though he has been retired from publishing for more than two decades, and from HRW for 12 years, he remains active in human rights, especially in China. He said: “It broke my heart to write that article? Of course open societies should be watched very carefully, but HRW is one of the very few organisations that is supposed to go into closed societies. Why should HRW be covering Guantanamo? It’s already covered by a lot of other organisations.”
The revelation of Marc Garlasco’s hobby was also significant because he was the first and only person at Human Rights Watch with any kind of military expertise. While staff members at HRW tend to be lawyers, journalists or political activists, Garlasco, 40, had worked as a civilian employee at the Pentagon for seven years before joining HRW in 2004. According to his HRW biography, he had served as “a senior intelligence analyst covering Iraq” and his last position there was as “chief of high-value targeting” at the very beginning of the Iraq war.
This apparently meant that it was he who selected targets for air strikes.
According to an interview Garlasco gave to Der Spiegel, he was a key player in an air strike on Basra on April 5, 2003 intended to kill Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as Chemical Ali, but which instead took the lives of 17 civilians.
In another interview, Garlasco said he was responsible for up to 50 other air strikes — none of which killed anyone on the target list but which accounted for several hundred civilian deaths. Soon after the Chemical Ali air strike, he left to join Human Rights Watch. In interviews he has suggested that he did so because he was sickened by his responsibility for these deaths, and had always been opposed to the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Associates of Garlasco have told me that there had long been tensions between Garlasco and HRW’s Middle East Division in New York — perhaps because he sometimes stuck his neck out and did not follow the HRW line. Garlasco himself apparently resented what he felt was pressure to sex up claims of Israeli violations of laws of war in Gaza and Lebanon, or to stick by initial assessments even when they turned out to be incorrect.
In June 2006, Garlasco had alleged that an explosion on a Gaza beach that killed seven people had been caused by Israeli shelling. However, after seeing the details of an Israeli army investigation that closely examined the relevant ballistics and blast patterns, he subsequently told the Jerusalem Post that he had been wrong and that the deaths were probably caused by an unexploded munition in the sand. But this went down badly at Human Rights Watch HQ in New York, and the admission was retracted by an HRW press release the next day.
Since the Garlasco affair blew up, critics of Human Rights Watch have raised questions about other appointments. An Israeli newspaper revealed that Joe Stork, the deputy head of HRW’s Middle East department, was a radical leftist who put out a magazine in the 1970s that praised the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. In 1976 he attended an anti-Zionist conference in Baghdad hosted by the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
As Kenneth Roth pointed out to me, this was all three decades ago, Stork was just one of seven editors of the magazine when its editorial praised the massacre, and he later became a staunch critic of Saddam Hussein. Certainly, he no longer spices up reports with talk of “revolutionary potential of the Palestinian masses.” That said, when Stork was hired by HRW in 1996 he had never worked for a human-rights group, had never held an academic position, and had a history of anti-Israel activism.
Stork’s boss, Sarah Leah Whitson, and most of his colleagues in the Middle East department of Human Rights Watch, also have activist backgrounds — it was typical that one newly hired researcher came to HRW from the extremist anti-Israel publication Electronic Intifada — unlikely to reassure anyone who thinks that human-rights organisations should be non-partisan. While it may be hard to find people who are genuinely neutral about Middle East politics, theoretically an organisation like HRW would not select as its researchers people who are so evidently on one side.
While HRW was dealing with the fallout from the Garlasco affair, it was already on the defensive as a result of criticism of a fundraising effort in Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s worst human-rights violators. This involved two dinners for members of the Saudi elite in Riyadh, at which Sarah Leah Whitson curried favour with her hosts by boasting about HRW’s “battles” with pro-Israel pressure groups, such as NGO Monitor.
Although HRW has a policy of not taking money from governments, there were at least two Saudi officials present. One was a member of the Shura Council, which, among other things, oversees the implementation of the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islamic law. HRW has not given out a transcript of its appeal for donations or to publish a list of attendees at the dinners.
I asked the HRW executive director Kenneth Roth about the controversy that surrounded the Saudi dinners. He said: “Because somebody is the victim of a repressive government, should they have no right to contribute to a human-rights organisation?” Even if they had been invited, few victims would have been able to make the dinners — most Saudi dissidents are either in prison or live abroad in exile.
It probably gives little comfort to Human Rights Watch that Amnesty International, the association’s great rival, is also dealing with a queasy scandal involving questionable links. Amnesty’s image suffered a blow in February when Gita Sahgal, the director of its gender programme, told The Sunday Times she was concerned that the organisation was compromising its core values by getting into bed with radical Islamists.
Amnesty has allied itself with the Cageprisoners programme that Sahgal said “actively promotes Islamic Right ideals and individuals”. The programme is led by Moazzam Begg, the former Guantanamo Bay detainee whom Sahgal called “Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban”.
Amnesty’s reaction to Sahgal’s criticism was swift and jaw-droppingly incompatible with the work of an outfit that actively encourages whistleblowing: she was suspended from her job. Although this provoked a fierce response from Salman Rushdie and a Facebook campaign, it is sticking to its guns while denying that Sahgal was suspended “for raising these issues internally”.
Many of those on the left of the human-rights “community” may feel conflicting emotions when it comes to dealing with radical Islam, as if the former is somehow a dangerous distraction from the real struggle. In 2006 Scott Long, the director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights programme at Human Rights Watch, attacked the British campaigner Peter Tatchell, accusing him of racism, Islamophobia and colonialism for having the temerity to lead a campaign against Iran’s executions of homosexuals — a campaign that Long believed was unconstructive and based on “a Western social-constructionist trope”.
Human Rights Watch does perform a useful task, but its critics raise troubling questions that go beyond Garlasco’s hobby or raising money from Saudis. Why put such effort into publicising alleged human-rights violations in some countries but not others? Why does HRW seem so credulous of civilian witnesses in places like Gaza and Afghanistan but so sceptical of anyone in a uniform?
It may be that organisations like HRW that depend on the media for their profile — and therefore their donations — concentrate too much on places that the media already cares about.
HRW’s reaction to the scandals has perhaps cost it more credibility than the scandals themselves. It has revealed an organisation that does not always practice the transparency, tolerance and accountability it urges on others n nalways practice the transparency and accountability it urges on others.
Russia’s security services believe that the women who blew themselves up in two Moscow Metro stations yesterday were part of a group of up to 30 suicide bombers trained by a Chechen terrorist leader.
Agents from the Federal Security Service (FSB) are investigating the theory that the “Black Widows” were sent to avenge the death of Said Buryatsky, the leading ideologue of the Islamist rebels in Russia’s North Caucasus. Investigators are now desperately trying to establish whether the attack was a simple response to Buryatsky’s death, or whether it signalled the start of a suicide bombing campaign that he had already prepared before the FSB tracked him down
Kommersant newspaper reported today that the FSB believed that nine of the 30 trainees had already blown themselves up on suicide missions. The rest were still at large, raising fears that more could already be in Moscow and preparing to carry out attacks.
Mr Yevkurov today ordered security services in Ingushetia to check on relatives of militants killed in recent police operations in the republic, to establish if any were linked to the Metro attacks. The FSB was also reportedly checking lists of relatives of those killed alongside Buryatsky, paying particular attention to women. Buryatsky was the right-hand man to terrorist leader Doku Umarov, the self-styled “Emir” of an Islamist statee that he dreams of establishing across the North Caucasus. Umarov threatened last month that he would soon take the war to Russia, saying: “Blood will no longer be limited to our cities and towns. The war is coming to their cities.”
Dozens of contributors to three websites affiliated with al-Qaida left messages praising the attacks in Moscow, which killed 39 people. One site opened a special page to “receive congratulations” for the Black Widows, who it said had “started the dark tunnel attacks in the apostate countries”.
BAKU, March 29 (Reuters) ht/Jw- Azerbaijan said on Monday it had detained eight people including a Chechen man on suspicion of planning "terrorist acts" against a school and kindergarten in the capital of the oil-producing Caucasus state.
Secular authorities in mainly Muslim Azerbaijan, a tightly controlled former Soviet republic, are concerned over what they say is the rising influence of radical Islam and the threat posed to the country's oil-fuelled economic growth.
Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry said police had arrested eight members of an "organised criminal group, crossing illegally from Georgia into Azerbaijan with the aim of carrying out terrorist acts".
A ministry statement said seven were Azeris, including three women, and the eighth was from Russia's southern Chechnya republic.
It said the group had earlier concealed weapons and ammunition in the roof of a kindergarten and a school in the capital Baku and planned to attack both. The suspected ringleader is still at large, it added.
The department store chain John Lewis has a price promise: "Never knowingly undersold." This means that if you buy something from John Lewis and then find an identical product cheaper in another store, John Lewis will refund the difference. I know what it means, of course - everyone does - but I struggle to see quite why it means what it does.
"Never knowingly undersold" niggles. It is too concise for its own good: "knowingly" is made to work too hard. "Undersold" is a past participle of a verb, undersell, that already plays with subjects and objects ("to sell goods cheaper than [a competitor]"), and so it needs some amplification to help the passive voice along. John Lewis should substitute something like "to our knowledge", "if we know about it", or "if we can help it". Knowing me, knowing you it's the best you can, knowingly, do.
I wondered if anyone else had taken issue with "Never knowingly undersold". A Chris Kimble from the University of York mistrusts it, but not because of the syntax; he sees it as a metaphor for "Communities of Practice". At least I think that's what he means:
Like John Lewis' famous tag-line "Never Knowingly Undersold", the term "Communities of Practice" has proved to be both durable and capable of holding many levels of meaning and seems like an appropriate metaphor for the way that the term Communities of Practice is used by some.
Communities of Practice are an area of increasing interest for academics, consultants and practitioners. Perhaps this interest is not too surprising: they provide a useful socio-cultural description of the process of the creation and reproduction of knowledge, an account of agency and structure that can be applied to the business environment, as well as a social constructivist theory of learning applicable to groups.
On days when I work from home, I often buy a sandwich for lunch from a small baker just up the road. The home-baked bread and cakes are no pricier and much tastier than the bland, chemically-preserved stuff you get in ordinary shops, and the staff, who range in age from twenties to sixties, know me and other customers, and always have time for a chat. Foreigners think that England, especially London, no longer has shops like this, but they're wrong.
Today I fancied a hot cross bun - it is nearly Easter, after all. I was disappointed to find that the baker's didn't have any. "Is it because of the Muslims?" I asked, heart sinking at the surrender of this very English shop. "No way," said Peggy, the manager, "We're sold out. They've all gone." "Like hot cakes?" "You could say that. We're going to make a lot more tomorrow."
Phew. I decided not to buy the inferior kind from the Co-op to tide me over, and will return tomorrow.
To be fair, I have yet to hear a Muslim object to hot cross buns. Like the "no-piggy-bank" decrees, such bans are sometimes product of over-zealous local councils, and more often than not, whipped up out of nothing by the tabloids. In any case, like so many Christian "traditions", hot cross buns may pre-date Christianity:
In many historically Christian countries, buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday, with the cross standing as a symbol of the crucifixion. They are believed by some to pre-date Christianity, although the first recorded use of the term "hot cross bun" is not until 1733;it is believed that buns marked with a cross were eaten by Saxons in honour of the goddess Eostre (the cross is thought to have symbolised the four quarters of the moon); "Eostre" is probably the origin of the name "Easter". Others claim that the Greeks marked cakes with a cross, much earlier.
Englishfolklore includes many superstitions surrounding hot cross buns. One of them says that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or become mouldy during the subsequent year. Another encourages keeping such a bun for medicinal purposes. A piece of it given to someone who is ill is said to help them recover.
Sharing a hot cross bun with another is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year, particularly if "Half for you and half for me, Between us two shall goodwill be" is said at the time. Because of the cross on the buns, some say they should be kissed before being eaten. If taken on a sea voyage, hot cross buns are said to protect against shipwreck. If hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly. The hanging bun is replaced each year.
Cue for a song. Notice the incipient feminism in the unlikely context of an old nursery rhyme: if you have no daughters give them to your sons. Bear in mind that the daughter may already have one in the oven. An American version has the more egalitarian "Give them to your daughters, give them to your sons."
This AP story about the Christian militia group arrested today contains this quote:
Hutaree says on its Web site its name means "Christian warrior" and describes the word as part of a secret language few are privileged to know. The group quotes several Bible passages and declares: "We believe that one day, as prophecy says, there will be an Anti-Christ. ... Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment."
I was curious about what kind of Biblical quotations a Christian militia would use on their website. Their website contains these quotations:
John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Hebrews 11:1 "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, The Evidence of things not yet seen."
I Peter 5:11 "And this is the Testimony, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son."
Revelation 3:19 Jesus told the Church of Laodicea, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent."
Jeremiah 4:1-4 "If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the LORD, return unto me: and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of my sight, then shalt thou not remove. And thou shalt swear, The LORD liveth, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; and the nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory. For thus saith the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings."
Jeremiah 24:7 "And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart."
Luke 13:1-5 "There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
Genesis 3:7-10 "And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself."
Genesis 3:12 “And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat."
Genesis 3:13 “And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.”
2 Corinthians 7:10 “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.
Acts 2:37 "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?"
Matthew 27:3-5 “Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.”
Nothing shocking there. Nothing about killing policemen. Nothing about killing, period. If the members of Hutaree are actually guilty of planning attacks on police, government officials, and Muslims, their plans were not based on following the words of the Bible. There are no "Slay the non-believers wherever you find them" verses on their website, or in the Bible. Whatever motivated them, it was not Biblical quotations.
Compare and contrast that to the Qur'anic quotations of jihadists that unambiguously call for faithful Muslims to commit violence against non-Muslims. The quote from AP was intended, I believe, to suggest an equivalence between the Hutaree group and Muslim jihadists, when in fact there is no equivalence at all. There are no mainstream Christian scholars who teach that the Bible calls for the murder of policemen, government officials, or Muslims. However, there ARE mainstream Islamic scholars, the most respected senior Islamic scholars in the most devoutly Islamic nations, that DO teach that the Qur'an calls for violent jihad against non-Muslims. They provide the quotations, and anyone can look them up and verify their authenticity and their relevance.
Here are some other quotes from the AP story:
Prosecutors said David Stone had identified certain law enforcement officers near his home as potential targets. He and other members discussed setting off bombs at a police funeral, using a fake 911 call to lure an officer to his death, killing an officer after a traffic stop, or attacking the family of an officer, according to the indictment.
After such attacks, the group allegedly planned to retreat to "rally points" protected by trip-wired explosives for a violent standoff with the law.
"It is believed by the Hutaree that this engagement would then serve as a catalyst for a more widespread uprising against the government," the indictment said.
[Kelly Sickles, wife of one of the arrested men] said she couldn't believe her 27-year-old husband could be involved in anything violent.
"It was just survival skills," she said. "That's what they were learning. And it's just patriotism. It's in our Constitution."
Now, please. There is nothing patriotic about trying to start an uprising against the government. We have a democratic republic, which has mechanisms for concerned citizens to get involved and influence public policy. That does not include using explosives or attacking the family of a police officer. If the Hutaree think that our government is so corrupt that the only solution is to start blowing people up, they are the exact opposites of patriots. They hate our system of government, they hate the members of our society.
If the Hutaree planned to kill Muslims in our country, they are dangerous and belong in prison. The fight against jihad does not justify individuals to take the law into their own hands and become judge, jury, and executioners. This is not Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia, or the Sudan. Our government does not kill people because of their religious affiliation, nor does it sanction citizens to do so. The fight against jihad is mostly educational, in teaching non-Muslims about what Islam actually teaches. The fight against jihad is defensive, it is about protecting our rights and protecting our physical safety.
Regardless of how they are portrayed in the media, the Hutarees are not "Christian jihadists." Their alleged plans are not based on Christian doctrine.
Is it just me, or does anyone else think last week's drama surrounding Vice President Joe Biden's supposed "embarrassment" and Hillary Clinton's rage over an Israeli decision to build 1600 apartments in East Jerusalem seems manufactured?
I have struggled mightily and sincerely to keep an open mind, and my respect for the Presidency--as well as my sincere hope that President Obama will do the right things vis a vis U.S. security and U.S. allies--have prevented me from being too critical of him thus far about anything, including foreign policy. But last week's brouhaha struck me as unfair towards Israel. It also struck me initially as downright weird, and given deeper thought, as potentially ominous.
At the center of the controversy is the decision--announced by a bureaucratic entity, Israel's Interior Ministry--to approve construction of 1,600 new homes for Israelis in East Jerusalem. This announcement, which was made during Vice President Biden's visit to discuss the "peace process," unleashed a tsunami of anger and reprimand by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and VP Biden towards Israel. Or so we are to believe.
Hmmm. Could there be some projection going on here?
For his part, Netanyahu apologized for the timing of the announcement. He said he had been surprised by the timing also. But he did not apologize for Israel's decision to build apartment buildings within its capital city.
Another thread in the drama concerned U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, who was said to have been gravely "embarrassed" by this announcement of building construction, to the point that he, too, rang up Bibi to express his mortification. (It's surprising, by the way, that if Biden were so embarrassed, he would voluntarily call so much attention his alleged embarrassment).
Is it credible that an Israeli announcement of building construction inflicted grave embarrassment on Biden? Or does it strike anyone as more likely that this claim is manufactured - as is this "crisis?"
For starters, these apartment buildings are not settlements in some disputed outpost. They are to be built in Jerusalem. Granted, in East Jerusalem, which is largely Arab. But the units are to be located in Ramat Shlomo, an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. Apparently Ramat Shlomo is next to French Hill, a neighborhood of apartment buildings in Jerusalem where I stayed for a month when I visited Israel during college. Having spent quite a bit of time there, I can say it is no remote outpost, but squarely in the heart of Jerusalem.
Since when does Israel have no right to announce the building of apartment houses in its capital? Since when does any country have to get clearance to build on its sovereign territory?
It's true that Palestinians envision East Jerusalem as their capital city some day. But for now, and until Palestinians, including Palestinian leadership, demonstrate they want peace, East Jerusalem is not under their control. East Jerusalem is Israel. There is nothing illegal about building apartment buildings there. (Incidentally, I can entirely believe Netanyahu did not know about the timing of the announcement; as anyone who has spent time in Israel knows, it is a socialist state where almost any enterprise involves red tape and bureaucracy. It is not a stretch to imagine that Netanyahu had no idea when exactly this building project was scheduled to break ground, much less when it was going to be announced).
More significantly, last fall, in discussions with Netanyahu over settlement construction, President Obama accepted a limited 10-month moratorium that did not include the East Jerusalem area where the construction announced this week is to take place. In other words, President Obama knew Israel might build in this area - and had accepted it. Clinton at the time characterized Israel's concessions as "unprecedented."
Thus it is the Obama Administration--not Netanyahu's government--that is reneging. The Obama Administration knew--and even explicitly agreed to--accept construction in the very area where these housing units are to be built. It is the Obama Administration that is pulling the rug out from under Israel--and trying to characterize it as the reverse.
This crisis seems like an excuse--and a flimsy one, at that--to put distance between the U.S. and Israel.
Why might the Obama Administration want to do that?
The white elephant in the room is Iran. Sadly, it is appearing likely that, at least while Obama is in office, Israel will stand alone in the face of this existential threat.
I do not want to make too much of one incident, or to jump to conclusions. As an American, I believe that this great country would not abandon or turn on a small ally in a time of great need. I have faith in the U.S. Congress, which reflects the solid moral instincts of the American people. But this wedge between the Obama Administration and Netanyahu's is concerning.
Given its highly staged quality, it could be a sham designed to fool Iran's radical leadership into thinking there is a rift between the U.S. and Israel so that the U.S. can in fact support regime change in Iran more effectively, without incurring suspicion. Or, similarly, if it could be a decoy to lull Iran's radical leadership into thinking the U.S. would never participate in military action to produce regime change in Iran, when in fact the latter is actually a possibility.
Recently I shared these theories with Iraqi Parliamentarian Mithal al-Alusi, one of my best sources in Iraq. Mr. Alusi's only two sons were murdered by terrorists after he visited the Jewish state, and he--refusing to be intimidated--stayed in Iraq and built a political party championing human rights. He characterizes Israel as "a modern state and an important part of the middle east" and believes it is in Iraq's security interest cooperate with Israel on counter-terrorism and other issues.
He is interested in not only Israeli/Iraqi alliance but also Iraqi alliance with other democracies including the U.S., Turkey, and Jordan. A practical man, he sees no benefit in maintaining what he terms the "Israel complex"--or the obsession with hating Israel that he thinks ultimately holds many Arab countries back from true progress.
Although we were speaking about other matters (he has been consumed with the Iraqi provincial elections, in which he is running as an incumbent), we took a break to discuss this diplomatic crisis. I asked him if he thought this flap could be staged - to pacify radical elements in the Arab world. If so, could it indicate that, behind the scenes, the U.S. is preparing to take a tougher stand against against Iran, or at least to support Israel in defending itself?
"Not likely," Alusi said. "Why would America need to do that?"
He pointed out that many Arab countries--all those that are considered comparatively more moderate including Jordan, Turkey, the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, and Iraq--are afraid of Iran and would not object to the U.S. and Israel preventing Tehran from getting nuclear weapons. Mr. Alusi believes instead that this action reflects President Obama's world view, and his desire to appease Iran by "bringing them closer." Mr. Alusi qualified his thoughts by saying he hopes he is wrong.