Monday, March 29, 2004

Ride through a silent Hell

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Aznar Speaks

"ETA or al Qaeda--the difference is important, to be sure, but the response to what has happened should be the same: firmness, political unity and international cooperation. Each and every democrat in the world was on those trains in Madrid. It has been an attack against all of us, against everything we believe in, and against everything we have built.

"It is precisely for this reason that we must not send out confusing messages, messages that induce people to believe that we have to make concessions to those demanding that we kneel before bombs."

The whole piece. Worthwhile reading.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Voltaire and America

(This was an e-mail I sent to a well-known woman blogger from Iraq, who finds that her life now is far worse than it was under Saddam, and who never seems to pass up a chance to get in a dig at Americans. It seemed to me she shot and missed with this one. No, she didn't write back, of course.)

You wrote:

"Important note to those of you who are going to email me: The last few days, I have received at least 3 emails saying, "I read your blog and don't agree with what you say but we have a famous saying in America- I don't agree with what you say but I'll die for your right to say it." Just a note- it's not your famous American saying, it is French and it is Voltaire's famous saying:"I do not agree with a word you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it." "

Actually, you're wrong.

The quote usually appears as "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." It's often attributed to Voltaire. But it's not from his writings. The quote is first used in 1906, by a woman named Evelyn Beatrice Hall (1868-1919), who wrote a biography of Voltaire under the pseudonym S.G. Tallentyre.

Here's the relevant passage from her book:

...The men who had hated [the book], and had not particularly loved Helvétius, flocked round him now. Voltaire forgave him all injuries, intentional or unintentional. 'What a fuss about an omelette!' he had exclaimed when he heard of the burning. How abominably unjust to persecute a man for such an airy trifle as that! 'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,' was his attitude now.

She said it was a paraphrase of Voltaire's words in his "Essay on Tolerance": "Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too."

This was the source of the quote that Americans reach for when they are troubled when someone uses the free speech that we cherish, to say things that we despise. It's often said through gritted teeth, by people who are working very hard to remind themselves that this whole free speech thing is a good idea. Everyone gets tested like that sooner or later.

It wasn't a Frenchman who said the thing that we like to repeat. It was an Englishwoman.

As a footnote, Norbert Guterman, in "A Book of French Quotations" (1963) found this line in a letter from Voltaire to M. le Riche (Feb. 6, 1770): "Monsieur l'abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write." That's pretty close to the quote, and it may have been the source of Hell's quote, though she remembered it otherwise. It's a stronger statement than the usual quote, but it's a more ambivalent statement. What exactly does he mean? Especially for a man who would write, six years later, "I am very fond of truth, but not at all of martyrdom."

You're far from alone in misattributing this quote. So much so that one historical researcher has paraphrased it as, "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to mis-attribute this quote to Voltaire."

You never said your despised American correspondents said it was "our" quote, one that was unique to us and invented by us. So what's the point of pointing out that it came from a Frenchman? It can still be famous and oft-heard over here, and not be indigenous. Really, very little of America is original, and almost none of the best of it is. We know that, and it doesn't bother us. Everyone here is from somewhere else, ultimately. Every idea that formed our Declaration of Independence and Constitution was first hatched in some European mind -- a considerable chunk of it from Voltaire, in fact. Doesn't bother us. Many of the men who led the colonies into independence were born overseas.

It can still be true, even if it's not ours. It can still be "a famous saying in America" even if it's not native. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a famous American governor, but he wasn't born here.

I read your blog daily. I like the passion and articulateness of it. I wince at your sarcasm and cynicism. I disagree with your views, but your experiences are important and cannot be dismissed by people like me, who thought the war to get rid of Saddam was a good idea. And I like to test my view of things against yours, which is invariably different, to see which holds up better.

Best wishes, and keep up the good work,

Doug Harper
Pennsylvania, U.S.


A neighbour of mine refuses to let her boy play with "militaristic" toys. So when a friend gave the l'il tyke a plastic sword and shield, mom mulled it over and then took away the former and allowed him to keep the latter. And for a while, on my drive down to town, I'd pass Junior in the yard playing with his shield, mastering the art of cowering more effectively against unseen blows.

That's how the "peace" crowd thinks the West should fight terrorism: eschew the sword, but keep the shield if you absolutely have to. Yesterday, The Telegraph reported that two Greenpeace activists had climbed up to Big Ben to protest at the Iraq war. Don't ask me why Greenpeace is opposed to the liberation of Iraq. It's been marvellous for the eco-system: the marshlands of southern Iraq are now being restored after decades of Saddamite devastation.

"We tried appeasement once before..." by Mark Steyn

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

The Speech He Should Have Made

The president gave his big speech to representatives of world leaders the other, to mark the first anniversary of the Iraq War. It wasn't bad. But here's some of what I wish he had said:

We in this administration sometimes said Iraq was a threat to the world because it had weapons of mass destruction. At the time, we thought we were right about that. Looking back, we presented a few stories as evidence that turned out to be tall tales. Looking back, we spoke about some matters as certain that were in fact speculative. That was wrong, because it now comes up to cast a shadow on what was a just and proper, if painful, course of action. Good people who took risks to stand by us during this crisis now feel misled by this. And those who oppose us in everything take malicious pleasure in magnifying a handful of wrong statements into a supposed policy of perfidy.

The fact is, nobody before the spring of 2003 knew Saddam had no powerful destructive weapons -- not even Saddam himself knew this, apparently. Ask Hans Blix. Ask the writers against the war who, before it began, predicted that a coalition attack would provoke a rain of hellish artillery on our troops, on Israel, on Saudi Arabia. The fact is, Saddam shut out the U.N. inspectors, and that left us to guess at what he was doing, and we guessed on the side of the safety of the rest of the world. Given the track record of this man, in the same situation again, we would make the same choice.

Another fact that has been overlooked, somehow, is that Saddam was in material and serious violation of the agreement with the United Nations which dealt with his weapons programs. Since we in this administration were trying to work through the U.N., and to convince the U.N. to stand up for itself, we leaned particularly hard on the point of weapons programs in the run-up to the war, rather than the other justifications for our actions.

It is highly unusual that we had to go that route with the U.N. The U.N. has an eloquent document affirming human rights around the world, but it has no inclination or desire to enforce a single word of it. And that was the other, better reason we had to go to war against Saddam: The lives of 25 million Iraqis.

Let's get this out in the open right now. American administrations and policies from the 1970s to 1991 helped keep Saddam in power and helped him expand his power. He used weapons we sold him to do horrible things to his neighbors and his own people. My father was involved in that. People who are important in this administration were involved in that in key ways. Democrats in Congress were involved in that. To the Iraqi people, we apologize. We are doing our best right now, in your country, to right the wrong we have done to you.

In the Cold War, America could make difficult ethical decisions in terms of the global conflict between freedom and communism. At times, America supported manifestly un-free regimes if they took our side. There was a certain logic to that in the Cold War, but that war is over. And as with all pacts with the Devil, there is a price to be paid.

A new war has begun. It began, for us, on Sept. 11, 2001. After that day, we learned the danger of leaving a nation without cleaning up our mess before we go. We left Osama bin Laden and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and we paid a terrible price for that. We are much more aware, now, of what monsters can grow from the dragons teeth America has sown.

And this is the third reason we went to war against Saddam. After the terror attacks in New York and Washington and over Pennsylvania, many people in the world told America, "don't just go out and kill terrorists; strike at the root cause of terrorism."

My friends, that is exactly what we are attempting to do in Iraq. World terror right now disproportionately comes from Muslim lands and the Middle East. Those are some of the poorest, most repressed, stagnant places on this earth. Their demographics leave them with a bulging population of young men, who feel little hope and much bitterness. For too long, leading voices in that world have blamed all its problems on the West. And we have allowed this to happen, and we have not challenged the distortions and the lies.

Already, since the fall of Saddam, we are doing so. They said Americans would go to Iraq to steal its oil. Instead, we are there building its schools and filling them with textbooks. They said we would go there to build an empire. Instead, coalition forces are organizing neighborhood citizens' councils and teaching the nuts and bolts of democracy. With the guidance of American and coalition leaders, a broad range of Iraqis have drafted a constitution that is a model for the Middle East.

And so forth. Of course, I'm not sure these are things he could honestly say. It's a strange position I am in and many others I know of are in: supporting people you don't entirely trust in doing something you don't entirely trust them in doing.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Quote roundup

"But let us allow, for the moment, that the mass outcry against American hegemony is the voice of the true, the eternal and the compassionate left. Allowing that, we can put the best possible construction on its pervasiveness. Not just the majority of the intellectuals, academics and schoolteachers, but most of the face-workers in the media, share the view that international terrorism is to be explained by the vices of the liberal democracies. Or, at any rate, they shared it until a few days ago. It will be interesting, in the shattering light of an explosive event, to see if that easy view continues now to be quite so widespread, and how much room is made for the more awkward view that the true instigation for terrorism might not be the vices of the liberal democracies, but their virtues."

[Clive James, after the Bali bombing, hat tip to Andrew Sullivan for digging it up again at this timely juncture.]

And this, from a "Washington Post" article on Europe's reaction to the Madrid bombings:

"Only a dreamer would believe that Germany will not be attacked," say the editors of Bild, Germany's best-selling tabloid. "Islamic terrorists are waging a war against the West, not just against individual countries."

Sociologist Emilio Lamo de Espinosa says Europeans have been dreaming. Writing in Le Monde (in French), Lamo says Europeans have thought they would be spared because they haven't supported the Bush administration's policies.

"When the Americans declared war on terrorism, many of us thought they exaggerated. Many thought terrorism was not likely to occur on our premises, [inhabited by] peaceful and civilized Europeans who speak no evil of anybody, who dialogue, who are the first [to] send assistance and offer cooperation. We are pacifists, they are warmongers. ... Don't we defend the Palestinians? Are we not pro-Arab and anti-Israeli?"

"Can we dialogue with those who desire only our death and nothing but our death?" Lamo asks. "Dialogue about what? The manner in which we will be assassinated?"

Well, Zapatero probably would try that. From today's "Guardian":

"I will listen to Mr Bush, but my position is very clear and very firm," he said. "The occupation is a fiasco. Combating terrorism with bombs -- with Tomahawk missiles, isn't the way to defeat terrorism. Terrorism is fought by the state of law. That's what I think Europe and the international community have to debate."

Sigh. Now this level-headed bit from "The Economist":

Some critics of the war in Iraq say that there is no such danger. There was no genuine link between toppling Saddam and fighting al-Qaeda, so to punish governments for what opponents claim was an illegal invasion is a quite separate matter. Mr Zapatero even appears to think that pulling troops out of Iraq will make things better, on the view that the occupation is itself the cause of terrorism. Yet that policy is irresponsible, because it increases the risk of civil war in Iraq. Even those who opposed the war should now want to help make Iraq secure enough for Iraqis themselves to take back their sovereignty. If other new governments copy Mr Zapatero and prove their anti-war point by withdrawing from Iraq, they will make everyone less safe as a result. And it is a delusion to claim, as Mr Zapatero does, that all would be well if the UN were to take over from the Americans. Few Iraqis think so. It is as well to recall the Dutch UN peacekeepers who looked on helplessly during the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia in 1995.

And finally, Clifford D. May, in a guest
column at

Keep in mind that bin Laden claimed two primary reasons for attacking Americans on September 11, 2001: (1) American, infidel forces were stationed on holy Saudi soil, and (2) the US had imposed painful sanctions on Iraqis. Today, our forces have left Saudi Arabia and sanctions have been lifted – indeed, were in not for the terrorists, Iraqis would be well on their way to unprecedented prosperity.

The truth is al Qaeda seeks more than it demands. It is intent on nothing less than the West's defeat and destruction. Are there really people in the West – even Europeans –willing to negotiate that?

Patience, patience

The Spanish election result last week may be interpreted as "capitulation" and "appeasament." They certainly will be seen that way in Islamist circles, which is tragic for the West.

But this poll done by Noxa Consulting the day before the bombings, showed the Socialists already ahead with a 2 percent majority. "A similar poll conducted Friday -- a day after the attacks, gave the Socialists an even greater lead. The big difference -- and the clear reason of the Socialist victory -- was the nearly 3 million votes the Socialists added while Aznar's now not so Popular Party lost about 690,000 votes." [UPI]. But I'm suspicious of a poll whose results don't turn up until after the election.

And is there really a UPI anymore?

Even according to other polls, though, the "flip" after the Madrid terror attacks was not massive. It was enough to swing the election. And there was enough suspicion of duplicity by the standing government to account for some of that. But to say the Spanish as a whole voted for the Socialists in 2004 is like saying all Americans voted for Bush in 2000. Here, courtesy of CNN:

Party: Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), Leader: Jose Luis RODRIGUEZ ZAPATERO

  • Seats won in this election to the Chamber of Deputies: 164
  • Seats won in this election to the Senate: 81
  • Seats won in last election to the Chamber of Deputies: 125
  • Seats won in last election to the Senate: 61

Party: People’s Party (PP), Leader: Mariano RAJOY (Aznar's party)

  • Seats won in this election to the Chamber of Deputies:148
  • Seats won in this election to the Senate: 102
  • Seats won in last election to the Chamber of Deputies: 183
  • Seats won in last election to the Senate: 127

Even in a nation where, as we constantly are reminded, nine out of 10 people opposed Spain's participation in the Iraq war, nearly half of the voters still backed Anzar's party.

Meanwhile, in Iraq

Some strange results in this exhaustive, and apparently unbiased, poll of Iraqis. "Asked whether their lives were better now than in the spring of 2003, nearly six in ten Iraqis said the situation was somewhat better or much better than it was, according to the survey of 2,500 people conducted for a group of broadcasting organizations by Oxford Research International. ... Asked how things were going in their lives these days, seven in 10 said the situation was very good or quite good, and only 15 percent said things were very bad. Looking ahead, 71 percent said they expected conditions in their lives to be much better or somewhat better a year from now."

Yet, "[w]hile half of those questioned believe the invasion was the right thing to do, compared with 39 percent who said it was wrong, more than four in 10 said they had no confidence whatsoever in U.S. and British occupation troops, and 51 percent oppose the presence of coalition forces in Iraq. ... Asked whether attacks on coalition forces were justified, 17 percent said yes. Nearly 14 percent said attacks on the CPA were justified. Four percent said attacks on foreigners working for the United Nations and aid agencies were justified.

Here are the full poll results:

Warning, PDF file.

But the seeming ambivalence may not be so, when it's overlaid with this survey ABC News (not a particularly pro-war set) has done in a poll of more than 2,500 Iraqis. This one broke down the statistics by ethno-religious groups: Sunni Arab, Shia Arab, or Kurd.

To the question "Was the US-led invasion right or wrong?" the answers were:

  • Sunni: right=24% wrong=63%
  • Shia: right=51% wrong=35%
  • Kurds: right=87% wrong=9%

To the question "Are attacks on Coalition forces acceptable?" the answers were:

  • Sunni: acceptable=36% unacceptable=57%
  • Shia: acceptable=12% unacceptable=85%
  • Kurds: acceptable=2% unacceptable=96%

To the statement "Coalition should leave now" agreement was:

  • Sunni: yes=29%
  • Shia: yes=12%
  • Kurds: yes=2%

That's more like what I expect.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Respect it.

It's unfortunate that the Spanish had to vote while numb with the shock of a murderous attack. But respect the outcome. Democracy is still better than the alternatives. They often don't like who we elevate to power, either. And it's not as though the whole country lost its head and voted to appease. Some 46 percent voted for the Popular Party. The "swing" after the March 11 attacks was something like 4 percent between the pre-attack polls and the final vote. It's hardly like the whole country threw in the towel. The Spanish may be back with us someday.

Europe's moral nihilism ...

Monday, March 15, 2004

"Al-Qaida ... will be emboldened"

"The Guardian" today offers this frank nut-graph about the Madrid murders and their political aftermath:
Al-Qaida and its sympathisers will be emboldened by the impact of what is now assumed to be its first attack in western Europe. The governing party has lost the election and Spain is planning to pull its troops out of Iraq.

If it was al-Qaida, Spain will have become the first country "to have a prime minister owing his position to Bin Laden," said Jonathan Eyal, the director of studies at the London-based Royal United Services Institute.

And it offers this assessment from Rohan Gunaratna, "author of Inside al-Qaida, one of the most detailed accounts of the organisation to be published":

"The al-Qaida strategy is to isolate the US because the US has, by building a coalition, weakened al-Qaida. One way to isolate the US is to target the countries helping the US. You can see they have attacked the British in Turkey, the French in Karachi, the Australians in Bali and the Italians in Iraq."

It's unlikely that even "success-addicts" like the Islamists anticipated succeeding as spectacularly as they have in the past week, but they certainly had an inkling this was possible, given their conviction of the "softness" of the West. The "Guardian" article (citing Spain's "La Razón") notes that such a double-barrelled victory -- in carnage and at the polls -- had been outlined in December, by the "Institute of Information in Support of the Iraqi People," one of the anti-American organizations operation in that country.

The Arabic language document suggested attacks in Iraq rather than in Spain, but predicted accurately what the outcome on the Spanish elections would be. "We believe that the Spanish government will not be able to resist more than two or three attacks, after which they would be obliged to withdraw as a result of popular pressure," it said.

"If their troops remain in Iraq after the attacks, a Socialist victory is practically guaranteed and withdrawal of the troops will feature in its election manifesto."

It added ominously: "The withdrawal of Spanish or Italian forces from Iraq would produce tremendous pressure on the British presence [in Iraq], a pressure that Tony Blair would not be able to withstand."

Dormez vous?

You saw the pictures from Madrid. You saw the parents cradling their dead and dying children.

Those who did this can do this to you. Whenever they want. They don't care about the nuances of your Israel policies. What did Spain do? No frontline troops in Iraq, 1,300 or so of what could legitimately be called "peacekeepers." Yet Spain got it. Germany isn't in Iraq? So what. Germany is in Afghanistan. And al Qaida makes no distinction there: both are crusades against Islam, in Osama's eyes. France isn't in Iraq? So what. The ban on the headscarf is as offensive as anything you can imagine George Bush doing to them. Go back and read the Osama tapes. You're on the deathlist, too.

They can do this, and now they'll be even more delighted to do it than before, because not only did it accomplish their purpose of killing a lot of infidels in the crusader land, but it actually knocked one enemy out of the crusade entirely. One down. Who's next? Poland? Italy? Britain?

Yet still the Europeans will blame Bush. Still they'll march against the Americans. At what point do you ask the terrorists to be responsible for their own actions. Oh, and they'll call a meeting -- Europeans only, please, no Americans -- and devise a policy on paper, and that will make them feel safe. No doubt the policy will eschew the use of violence to solve this problem. Romano Prodi, the chief of the European Commission, already has said so. "It is clear that using force is not the answer to resolving the conflict with terrorists. Terrorism is infinitely more powerful than a year ago."

tick tick tick tick

Link o the Day

Friday, March 12, 2004

More Left and Right

The idea is that there is a serious cleaving between people who believe America has been at war since 9-11-01 and people who do not. And many people who do not realize this simply think the people on the "other side" have lost their minds, or, more darkly, have revealed their true viciousness.

In October, in a poll in Iowa taken by Democratic strategists, just one percent of Democrats who planned to vote said they worried about terrorism, with another two percent saying they worried about homeland security. In three states covered in the poll (including also New Hampshire and South Carolina) terrorism/homeland security placed dead last on the list of Democratic concerns.

A new Gallup poll, taken from March 5 to 7, asked, "Thinking ahead to the elections for president in 2004, if you had to choose, which of the following issues will be more important to your vote?" The choices were economic conditions or terrorism. According to a breakdown provided by Gallup, 76 percent of Democrats answered the economy. Just 10 percent of Democrats said terrorism would be more important to their vote, and 13 percent said both equally.

In contrast, 48 percent of Republicans said terrorism was their greater concern, while 46 percent said the economy, and four percent said both equally.

Gallup also asked, "If you had to choose, which of the following presidential candidates would you be more likely to vote for — a candidate would do a good job on the economy, or a candidate who would do a good job protecting the country from terrorism?"

Seventy percent of Democrats chose a candidate who would do a good job on the economy. Just 25 percent chose a candidate who would do a good job protecting the country from terrorism. Sixty-two percent of Republicans chose a leader who would be strong on terrorism, while 32 percent chose one who would do a good job on the economy.

If you don't believe there's a war on, those who do believe it will look like mindless, soulless, flag-draped mongers of violence. If you do believe we're at war, the other side can look like a pack of feeble-minded effete cowards, wanna-be quislings, and traitors.

Victor Davis Hanson

It has now been almost a year since the liberation of Iraq, the fury of the antiwar rallies, and the publicized hectoring of Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Sean Penn, and other assorted conspiracy freaks — and we have enough evidence to lay some of their myths to rest.

I just filled up and paid $2.19 a gallon. How can that be, when the war was undertaken to help us get our hands on "cheap" oil? Where is the mythical Afghan pipeline when we need it?

"No Blood for Oil" (never mind the people who drove upscale gas-guzzlers to the rallies at which they chanted such slogans) was supposed to respond to one of two possibilities: American oil companies were either simply going to steal the Iraqi fields, or indirectly prime the pumps to such an extent that the world would be awash with petroleum and the price for profligate Western consumers would crash.

Neither came true. Iraqis themselves control their natural resources; the price of gasoline, despite heroic restoration of much of Iraqi prewar petroleum output, is at an all-time high.

So did Shell and Exxon want too much — or too little — pumping? Was the Iraq conspiracy a messy crisis to disrupt production as an excuse to jack up prices, or a surgical strike to garner Third-World resources on the cheap to power wasteful American SUVs?

The truth is, as usual, far more simple. The United States never did intend to steal or manipulate the oil market — not necessarily because we are always above such chicanery, but because it is nearly impossible in a fungible market under constant global scrutiny, and suicidal in the Byzantine politics of the Middle East.

On target, as usual.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Where's George?

And where's our brave president, the day after Spain is blown to hell?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush on Thursday sought to solidify his standing with evangelical Christians by restating support for a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage as part of his championship of conservative causes.

"I will defend the sanctity of marriage against activist courts and local officials who want to redefine marriage. The union of a man and woman is the most enduring human institution," Bush, himself a born-again Christian, told the National Association of Evangelicals Convention in Colorado via satellite from the White House.

Or Maybe Not

MARK STEYN doesn't think it was ETA. Neither do most of the Iraqi bloggers I read. Despite the dynamite fingerprint of the Basque group, the tactics and precision are very al-Qaida.

By the by, he points out that, after suicide bombers blew up a French oil tanker two years ago, a spokesman for the Islamic Army of Aden said, "We would have preferred to hit a US frigate, but no problem because they are all infidels." And he quotes Hussein Massawi, former leader of Hezbollah: "We are not fighting so that you will offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you."

And he wonders at something that I've noticed, too: the number of people in the West who simply don't believe that Islamist leaders mean what they say when they say such things. Even after they proved they could and would do it (Manhattan, Bali, Istanbul, Daniel Pearl). Wake up.

The Spanish Embassy in the U.S. has a user-friendly e-mail on its site. Send them a note of condolence. Send flowers. Remember what the Europeans did for us after 9-11.

Spanish Bombs

There are people who fight their wars by dynamiting airplanes and trains full of little girls in school uniforms and guys going to work. I recognize them in America and in Spain and in New Delhi and in Karbala and in Tel Aviv. They avoid military targets -- too hard. They try to kill as many people as possible who are unarmed and unsuspecting.

Then there are nation-states. Thousands of years of human political evolution brought them about. They can do horrible things to their citizens and other people -- North Korea is (and Iraq and Afghanistan were) examples. But in most cases, nowadays, they fight their wars with particular care to kill only the combatant enemies.

Gods know that goes wrong, and the result is tragic. But they don't seek that result.

Hard fact of life: Not every cause, not every subgroup, not every dialect has a nation-state. Not every cause deserves one. Terrorism is the necessary weapon of the weak against the strong? Then so is violent crime. That's hardly a justification.

On one side, a battlefield screw-up means some innocent people get killed. When the other side screws up its battle plan, none do.
"There were pieces of flesh and ribs all over the road," [one witness] said. "There were ribs, brains all over. I never saw anything like this. The train was blown apart. I saw a lot of smoke, people running all over, crying. I saw part of a hand up to the elbow and a body without a head face down on the ground. Flesh all over. I started to cry from nerves. There was a 3-year-old boy all burnt and a father was holding him in his arms, crying."

The ETA looks like the prime suspect. The Quranic tapes in the van might be a crude diversion. And of course, whenever innocent people are getting killed on a mass scale, jealous Islamists are going to jump up and claim the credit for the good deed, which ETA perhaps counted on. [Abu Hafs al-Masri has a track record of claiming to be behind any calamity that befalls the West, including the big Great Lakes blackout in August]. A third possibility, which I haven't seen discussed yet is that this was some sort of joint operation.

Where's Rambo?

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Lawyer Fern Holland went to Iraq to help the nation's women: She investigated human-rights violations, set up conferences and assisted in writing the women's rights section of the new constitution.

"If I die, know that I'm doing precisely what I want to be doing," Holland wrote in an e-mail to a friend on Jan. 21.

Holland was one of three civilians killed Tuesday after several gunmen posing as Iraqi police officers stopped her vehicle at a makeshift checkpoint near the town of Hillah, about 35 miles south of Baghdad. ...

Holland's family believes she was targeted by assassins because of her work, which included opening women's centers around Iraq.

"She believed in freedom. She believed that every man and woman born should enjoy the right of freedom," her sister Vi Holland said. ...

Holland, a 1996 graduate of the University of Tulsa College of Law, worked at two law firms in Tulsa before joining the Peace Corps and traveling to Namibia.

She returned to the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but did not stay long.

Tulsa attorney Stephen Rodolf, who kept in touch with Holland through e-mail, said she seemed to be aware of growing threats to her safety.

"We stand out, and those who dislike us know precisely when we come to town," she wrote to him.

Her job required her to travel almost every day on highways where snipers and roadside bombs lurked. And yet, she asked to travel with an unarmed escort because she felt the high security around her was a barrier to her work, he said.

"She was an extraordinary person who honestly wanted to help people," Rodolf said. "Anybody who knew her would tell you that."

That's the best of this country. No conflict whatsoever between serving in the Peace Corps and helping to rebuild Iraq. People on both sides of the U.S. political equation should wake up to that one. It's the same good work.

And today in Greece, hundreds march against American participation in the security for the Olympics Games, under posters that read "Rambo, Go Home."

See Fern Holland; meet your "Rambo."

Because we're in the early battles of World War IV, and they could use some back-up from home, adopt a soldier.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

'Not in My Name'

The coincidence of the politics of feeling and an apolitical populism is one of the distinctive features of contemporary protest. By focusing on an individual politician's personality, it personalises politics. But even more importantly, protest has become a strikingly personal matter. It is about the protester as an individual, and says more about how he feels about himself than what he thinks of the issue at stake. That is why it is difficult to define today's acts of protest as constituting a political movement. On the contrary: they are the product of a profound mood of political disengagement that afflicts most Western societies.


'Not in my name' is self-consciously framed as a personal proclamation. It is not a political statement designed to involve others, and does not seek to offer an alternative. It does not call on anyone to choose sides or even insist on a particular course of action. Insofar as it represents an attitude, 'Not in my name' is a statement of individual preference and represents an opt-out clause, rather than an attempt to alter the course of events. This is a shrug of the shoulder, which reflects a mood of general anti-engagement as much as it does a weariness towards war.

More good stuff in Frank Furedi's "Spiked" essay, here.


The question isn't whether Iraq is a mess right now. By anyone's measure of civic life, it is. Some observers prefer to focus on the progress being made (there's a lot of that), but that doesn't erase the kidnappings, killings and thug law that affect too many people's lives over there. The country still has a long way to go.

But the difference in people over here is, whether they are pulling for it to succeed, or whether they are sitting back on the fence and gloating over every evidence of failure, magnifying every setback, simply because they want to see GWB stew in his juices. As though one life were worth more than 25 million. These people attach way too much importance to one Republican president.

Odd, too, how people who insist that the U.S. administration is to be damned because it has no respect for Islam, will turn around and sneer at Sistani, who, whether you agree with him or not, seems to be as clever and politically savvy as any ward boss in America, and who seems to know how to balance religious leadership and political power.

Come back soon, ya'll

From an article, "Defending America," by British Conservative politician Benedict Rogers

“Americans are the friendliest people you will encounter, but they have few friends,” writes Dinesh D’Souza in his best-selling book What’s So Great About America. There’s a lot of truth in that. The growth of anti-Americanism, and in particular anti-Bushism, in Europe is frightening and, for me, incomprehensible. For the past six months I have lived in Washington, D.C. It has been a profoundly revealing time for me. Before I came here from my native England, I was apathetic about America —- I didn’t hate Americans, but I wasn’t overly enthusiastic either. Now, however, having tasted what this great nation has to offer, I return to Europe with a reluctance I had not expected. In fact I dread returning to the woolly-minded, dictator-coddling, morally bankrupt, decadent continent. And I return determined to defend the nation that is, rightly, our best friend.

More compassion

Not that Attorney General John Ashcroft is any friend of mine. He's probably my least favorite person in the current administration. If I could send just one of them off the island, it would be him.

But I still expect better from the left, which supposedly has compassion even for killers. Here's what turns up on the Web site, in ref. to the news of Ashcroft's medical condition:

  • "He has it coming. He is utterly sub-human and evil. Suffer, bastard."
  • "[T]he world would be better off without him."
  • "I hope he is in the most severe pain a human being can suffer, and after that, I hope he remains in constant pain with no hope of relief."

In the same place, just a day before, tears were shed over the death of cold-blooded killer Abul Abbas in U.S. custody.

Left and Right

Most of my adult life I've been on what is called, in our degraded political language, "the left."

That is, I was in favor of protecting the environment from rapacious exploitation, of an economy with safety nets and protection for the little guys against unscrupulous corporate predators. I led editorial battles to save farmland and woods from suburban sprawl. A $50 million bond issue to save open space in one county passed, in part, because of editorials I wrote about it. I've spent hours and dollars working to keep religious fundamentalists from taking over local school boards (a much more important job than simply bashing on Jerry Falwell). I've advocated for minorities and sick Vietnam veterans. I sought to vote for statesmen who would offer a generous foreign policy that shared America's good fortune with the world. I was in favor of Enlightenment virtues and freedoms in opposition to fundamentalist strictures and darkness, peaceful solutions over violent ones.

Which means I spent much of the '80s and '90s in active, public disputation with "the right." When I thought of "them" I pictured zealous, pious, ignorant, self-assured demagogues of crusading ideologies, inflexible mean men clad in expensive suits and cheap ethics.

Yet, as a small-town newspaper editor, the people I dealt with on the "right," with three or four odious exceptions, were fine and decent. The head of the local anti-abortion group was a soft-spoken young widowed mother of two. A school-prayer advocate was a cheerfully avuncular man who always asked about my son and would as gladly sit in my office and chat about the things we agreed on -- such as the genius of George Washington -- as the ones we didn't. The ex-mayor, a hardcore law-and-order cop, used to regale me with sotires of law enforcement in the old days. I welcomed visits and phone calls from them.

I still hate SUVs and corporate malfeasance, executives who jilt retirees out of their hard-earned savings and foul the waters. I still think police should be held to a high standard in exchange for the power we grant them. I'm still a friend of freedoms and Enlightenment values, and an ally of whoever embraces them, in whatever place or culture. I reject the notion of school prayer as a panacaea for society's ills. I think abortion is tragic, but a necessary evil.

In other words, I still disagree with my old enemies. But on one major issue, I've come down on the other side from my former friends.

After much studying and soul-searching, I came to the conclusion that the world probably, and Iraqis definitely, would be better off if the U.S. used its military might for once to remove a corrupt fascist who had been occasionally useful to us. He was our mess, largely, so it was our job to clean him out.

On a larger scale, I'm one of those who believes America is at war, and ought to behave like it, since Sept. 11. Many people seem to regard that attack not as a second Pearl Harbor, but as an "isolated incident." I do not.

It strikes me as a decision a principled man could possibly make. But it doesn't strike my liberal friends that way. I understand their vexation, but they can only see venality and psychopathia in me.

And having once stood on the other side from them, and seen them in that perspective, I can't imagine going back to their camp (not that they are inviting me back).

Every day I have to go to work and sit there with my mouth shut, for the sake of peace -- yes, peace -- and listen to a half dozen thoughtless people talk very, very loudly about things they know very little about. They are obsessed with Bush, who is the throbbing boil that collects their systematic hatred of something I can't quite figure out, but seems to include the United States, the idea of power, and authority figures in general.

All they read is "Stupid Bushisms" Web sites and e-mail forwards. They wouldn't know where to look for Samuel Huntington in bookstore. They couldn't find an average Iraqi's blog on the Internet. I doubt they can name a single Iranian legislator or begin to describe the difference between Twelve Imam Shiism and the Seven Imam variety.

I have to hear these people explain that it everything done by the current administration is the work of madmen and fools who follow them. They give detailed theories of the kind of venality or pathology that is the only possible explanation for why anyone would agree with Bush that deposing Saddam Hussein was a good thing. They gloat over deaths of Americans in Iraq, heedless of the fact that other people we work with have sons in the Army over there.

I give money every month to humanitarian groups working in Iraq. For all their supposed sympathy and solidarity with the "oppressed" people of that land, my anti-war co-workers wouldn't give a dime to buy a schoolbook or a pump filter for Kurdish villagers. Because doing so would "help Bush." They don't care a fig for the intellectual class in Baghdad -- the people who share their values. They only wait impatiently for the country to dissolve in chaos so they can crow about how right they were all along.

People generally are reasonable, pragmatic and practical when they have the power and the opportunity to effect their policies. When the world is going their way, they are good-natured. When it's not and they feel powerless, they get strident and negative. The apoplectic rage against Bill Clinton in 1999 was a good example.

For the anti-war people today, the world is not going their way. The war happened (whether they know it or not -- they still carry "no war" signs every weekend), and it was not the quagmire they wanted it to be. Iraq is about to have the most progressive constitution in the Arab world. Yet the people on the local right in the '80s were not getting their way, either. Ronald Reagan was in the White House, but he wasn't actively pushing a social conservative agenda. Abortion and pornography were legal. School prayer wasn't.

On the whole, my old adversaries never forgot that their opponents were human beings. And thus they never stopped being human themselves. I wish I could say the same of the self-proclaimed humanists around me today.

"The death of the paranoid style would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to people with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant." [Richard Hofstadter, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics"]

Start of a story

When my son turned 13, I discovered I didn't know the first thing about him. I discovered his name was not what I thought it meant.

It had seemed so obvious when he was born that I hadn't bothered to look it up. "Luke" = "light," from Latin lucere "to shine," a name for a boy who came blazing into the world and lighted my life.

But recently, while looking up something unrelated, I saw in Klein's Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary that my son's name is utterly unrelated to "light." It's Greek, not Roman, and derived from some obscure place-name, a rugged coastal district that was named, the etymologists think, for a local cult of Apollo worshiped as a wolf (Greek lycos).

Thirteen years ago, before my son had hair on his upper lip, before Sept. 11, before the Internet, before the divorce, it had been a compromise name between secular me and my Methodist-leaning wife, who wanted "something from the Bible."

[Actually, because his due date was Dec. 7, I wanted to call the child "Pearl." "Pearl Harper. Get it?" I told Laura DeAngelo, from the office. I had not told my wife this. "What if it's a boy?" she asked. "Burle!"]

Monday, March 08, 2004

Blair clears the air

To hear the anti-war voices yap, you'd think that the only justification ever offered for overthrowing Saddam Hussein were the now-dubious intelligence about WMD, and the only opposition was from people too smart to be fooled by Bush's simplistic lies (or words to that effect).

So here's Tony Blair laying out the facts of the case in a simple, straightforward speech.

"We have seen one element -- intelligence about some WMD being ready for use in 45 minutes -- elevated into virtually the one fact that persuaded the nation into war.

"This intelligence was mentioned by me once in my statement to the House of Commons on 24 September and not mentioned by me again in any debate. It was mentioned by no-one in the crucial debate on 18 March 2003.

"In the period from 24 September to 29 May, the date of the BBC broadcast on it, it was raised twice in almost 40,000 written parliamentary questions in the House of Commons; and not once in almost 5,000 oral questions."

And so forth. To which I would add that, In the build up to the war, the most potent argument in the anti-war camp was that, if attacked and cornered, Saddam would use battlefield WMD, and he would lob nuclear-tipped Scuds at Tel Aviv. This fear was elaborately articulated, and it was a worthwhile and intelligent argument.

It apparently was something the coalition war planners considered, too, though this, too, has been allowed to be forgotten. Remember the thousands and thousands of protective suits ordered up and distributed to the U.S. troops? That wasn't the work of planners who know their talk of an enemy armed with chemical agents is all hollow. Especially because the activation of those suits was a clear and undisguisable signal to the other side that the attack was about to begin. Remember, too the scrambling around the western desert of Iraq in the early days of the war, at great risk and diversion of resources, to find the mobile launchers that could reach Israel and which we now know probably never existed.

Yet now it's as though that argument never existed. And no wonder: the anti-war camp is eager to have history forget that it, too, once considered Saddam's WMD a credible threat. If anything, the exaggerated fear of them was greater among those who opposed the war than those who supported it.

Thursday, March 04, 2004


KANAN MAKIYA, speaking to Mansour Farhang in a panel discussion at New York University, November 2002:

You certainly couldn't even think about democratizing Saudi Arabia. That would be a pipedream -- if you were to hold elections there today, Saudis would overwhelmingly vote for bin Laden. But Iraq provides an alternative. Think for a moment, Mansour, of the two revolutions that happened in the Islamic world. One was very noisy -- of which you were a part in Iran. The other was very quiet, insidious and infinitely more dangerous. I'm talking about the export (after the oil revolution of 73) of an austere little sect, which meant nothing to anybody and now today is Islam -- substituting itself for a great religion and civilization, exporting hundreds and thousands of madrassas whose graduates become bin Ladens and al Qaeda. It's Saudi money that did all this.

Now look I'm pretending to be an American strategist. These guys know 9/11 wasn't about Afghanistan. That country was a poor fractured one that became a campground for Arabs. These are Arab problems exported to Afghanistan through Saudi money, which led to 9/11. The heart of the problem is in the Middle East. Something in this part of the world (since 1967 I'd argue) has gone terribly, horribly wrong.

To sum it up -- what's apparent is that the Middle East needs a success story. In the Clinton years that was thought to be Oslo. But that's all finished for the time being. Iraq is being thought of by this of school of thinkers as an alternative. I'm just trying to say that they have a strategic design, a way of thinking about what they see as the root of the problem -- namely a turn to democracy and an end to America's support for regimes like Saddam Hussein, or regimes like Saudi Arabia, which has been the rule for as long as I've been active in politics. It could be that that formula has finally proven itself to be a failure. That's what some of these people are thinking. (It's not what Colin Powell is thinking!) From their point of view, Iraq could be an alternative to Saudi Arabia. Its oil reserves are second to none. Iraq also has things that Afghanistan doesn't have -- a developed infrastructure, a highly educated class. They have a sense that democracy could work in Iraq where it might not work elsewhere. I'll leave it there.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004


I bought a Sanskrit-English dictionary online from When I got it this week, I realized it's going to be almost useless to me. It's only Sanskrit-English, with no English-to-Sanskrit section, and all the Indic words are in the Devanagari script, which I do not read. By the typeface it looks to be an older book, possibly 19th century, originally published in India and reprinted in the 1990s in England.

Still, it's fascinating, and I find myself sitting up at night, thumbing through it, scanning the columns of strange script and familiar definitions. A dictionary half in an unknown language is a fountain of inspiration. Delightful connections are expressed there, along with conceptions that convince me that, in ancient India, the world had a civilization that has hardly been matched in subtlety and sophistication.

  • A man who does not cook for himself; a bad cook [a term of abuse].
  • A mouse; a miser.
  • Licked; surrounded.
  • m. A bee; a scorpion. f. A woman's female friend.
  • A whirlpool, a crowded place.
  • Inaccessible; unfit for sexual intercourse; difficult to understand.

There are whole sermons and life lessons in a single word:

  • Repentance, intense enmity, close attachment.
  • Fire; appetite; gold.
  • A great danger; a desperate act.
  • Supported; haughty; near; obstructed.
  • Touched; violated; judged; endured.
  • Relaxation; independence.

There are mysteries fit to be taken whole as a poem by Wallace Stevens or William Carlos Williams, or to inspire a Borges ficcione:

  • A benediction; a serpent's fang.
  • Homeless, imperishable.
  • Ungovernable; necessary.
  • Painting figures on the body; feathering an arrow.

I meet words I wish I had; that is, words for which there is no single word in English that covers the same territory:

  • Pleasure arising from sympathy.
  • One who has suppressed his tears.
  • An illustration of a thing by its reverse.
  • A practice not usually proper to the caste but allowable in time of distress.
  • A figure of speech dependent on sense and not on sound.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Worth a look

David Horsey is political cartoonist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the big paper in one of the big liberal cities in America. So you might expect him to be in sympathy with the European attitude toward Americans these days. He seems to be a bit ambivalent about it, though, especially after getting a first-hand look.

If anything, I think he's got the beginning of an awakening there. Like, he might half have thought, "If I had gone to Saudi Arabia or Pakistan and done this exercise in, say 1985, wouldn't the pictures have looked an awful lot like these?"

Christopher Hitchens goes to see "The Passion of Christ." He is disturbed by what he sees, and by what Mel Gibson has been saying off to the side. As always, his writing is vigorous and provocative.

New Perspectives Quarterly is an indispensible publication for anyone who wants to understand the world we inhabit. And Samuel Huntington's thesis about the "clash of civilizations" is that rare event in political science: the theory that may actually shape the future as well as describe it. So the combination of the two is worth a trip.