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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Obama and a Failure of Leadership

In 2008 Obama’s bid for the Presidency of the United States of America became embroiled in controversy because of his support for his pastor and long term friend, the Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright.  In support of Obama’s dubious associations a journalist and great nephew of Martin Luther King, writing for the Chicago Tribune, (also named King) advised Senator Obama to support his local church and its pastor because he was black and it was part of his identity.

In what was for me a remarkably succinct note (two short paragraphs) I emailed Mr King and reminded him that the second word of the country in which he lived was ‘United.’ I explained further that in order to be electable Senator Obama would need to convince people that he could be the President of all the people and not just his Afro-American constituents.  The fears expressed that this potentially divisive, controversial and close personal friend might have tainted Barack Obama’s views were reflected in the column inches given to the Reverend Wrights pronouncements.

What defines leadership is the ability to rally others towards a common goal. It is in times of crisis that leaders provide comfort even in the face of ongoing terror.  What defines a great leader from the mediocrity with which they are often surrounded is that during periods of uncertainty and confusion they guide their flock.

What is happening in Afghanistan is an abomination.

The last time someone committed violence against the Koran (in April 2011), in Afghanistan over a dozen people working for the UN were slaughtered, some were beheaded. The press initially suppressed this fact because they wanted to show the virtue in Islamic outrage.  And now it has happened again.  But this time the Taliban are alleged to have hidden instructions to prisoners in a copy (or copies) of the Koran sent to their people.  The over-enthusiastic guards discovered this and subsequently burned the book (s) in which the instructions were concealed.

The apology delivered by President Obama to the Afghan people for the destruction of a copy of the Koran had no balance in the face of violence and murder by a population so enthusiastic for killing.

Why should we demand balance?  We should not forget that the barbarians chipping away at Rome’s empire in the 4th Century AD (CE) were not devoid of culture. ‘Barbarian’ was simply a derogatory term for one who came from outside the Roman Empire.  A lopsided condemnation encourages violence by people who need none, and it sends a message to the barbarians that we will not defend the values we cherish.

What has come to pass in Afghanistan over the last 33 years can only be recounted with shame.  The ethnic cleansing of Eurasian Muslims by Islamists has been all but ignored as has the destruction of The Buddha’s of Bamiyan (two 6th century monumental statues, the tallest in the world, carved into the side of a cliff, they were dynamited and destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001).  Between 1980 and the overthrow of the Taliban following 9/11 (also in 2001), it has been estimated that 1,800,000 Afghani’s died in the series of conflicts that took place there (Gunnar Heinsohn and Daniel Pipes).

I do not understand why we keep silent when our values are attacked or trampled into the dust.  In Saudi Arabia a bible carried into the country is thrown into the garbage by passport control since no religious books other than Islamic ones are allowed into this state of malevolent bigotry, described as the centre of the Muslim world. The humiliation of non-believers has been a too common practise of missionary faith for all of human history.  When a sacred Jewish site in the West Bank was destroyed, the conquering Muslim ‘freedom fighters’ murdered the 6 soldiers guarding the site who thought that by their surrender they would protect the edifice and its contents; in an act of execration they defiled Torah scrolls and dozens of Jewish prayer books before burning them.  Missionary theology seeks humiliation and violence as proof of superiority.

We are not perfect.  Some years ago a secular member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, made some disparaging comments about King David.  Ancient Jewish personalities are human, so unsurprisingly, they display human foibles.  Being mortal, from time to time they erred.  It is the lessons we have learned from discussing their all too human failures that has helped to make humanity better.  King David plotted the demise of his love rival. An ultra-orthodox member of the Knesset was furious that the secular could criticise King David.  But it is a sanitised version of David that is the abomination and not the criticism.  I was not surprised an alienated and secular society would ignore the challenge of reclaiming David’s narrative; it is what one expected of a leaderless and mediocre Knesset.

Celebrating brutality and the propensity for taking Islamic tribalism to its logical extreme; enjoying a savagery and contempt for human life makes Afghanistan a tainted country.  It is a land that has enjoyed Pakistani, Saudi as well as Iranian spiritual, military and financial support. We tend to place all the blame on Soviet and American proxy wars but omit the Islamic angle at our peril.

Leadership means more than displaying a talent for oration and embracing every photo opportunity. Barack Obama must manage his diplomatic global responsibilities based on an American vision and that means having tolerance towards book burners of all faiths. He has no obligation to placate his diabolical Afghani ally. Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, all of them want geopolitical control of Afghanistan. It is the choices we make as well as the choices we fail to make that define our place in history. President Obama’s shallowness is his greatest disappointment to me. The president represents not just America but also the free world.  What the New York Times described as ‘visceral disgust’ (23rd February 2012) is what I feel for this kowtowing to religious hysteria.

If it is wrong to destroy a book written by humans because we worship the book or what the book stands for then we are guilty of idolatry.   It is wrong to commit murder in the name of a deity, or their saints, or their prophets.  And if it is indeed correct to do so then humanity is incapable of salvation. The enemies of civilisation and their acolytes take comfort from the blood sacrifice.

President Obama has not been the global statesman we expected of the so called leader of the ‘free’ world. As The Leader this is his greatest failure.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Anti-Semitism & the Pseudo Intellectual question

Whenever someone in the news asks the question “why are ‘the Jews’ an object of persecution” and “are they responsible for their own suffering” (“why are people anti-Semitic” is a slightly more subtle take on the question) I momentarily sadden and then in a rush of mental images I formulate the answer. Only afterwards do I feel any anger towards the questioner.

The question is no more than a pseudo intellectual dialectic employed to sanitise a racists’ position.  I will not dwell on the identity of the most recent questioner (a leading British Catholic writer) because to do so is arguably irrelevant. He could have been as easily a she and ethnicity or faith is similarly of little consequence other than to provide the historical fertiliser for this fetid and facile denunciation of me and my kind.  Repetition reinforces prejudice and promotes bigotry. We have banished an anti-black narrative and are wary of stereotyping Arabs. In Britain Anti-Muslim sentiment has been similarly cast out from the quality media. In fact the BBC has stated publicly that it would trash the Talmud and bury the New Testament but will never touch the Koran.

So excuse me if I decline the opportunity to regurgitate someone else’s discrimination. I will however, answer the question my way.

We are all moulded by history. Two thousand years ago The Romans had an empire. The only significant opposition to Roman civilisation was Israel. The Jews had their own god and their own culture; they had a unique economic structure and an ethical system of government.  By their celebration of the Sabbath they rejected unrestrained capitalism and put limitations on the institution of slavery, both of which sustained the ancient world (and not just the ancient world, for without the two missionary faiths slavery could not have survived for as long as it did).

Israel and the Jewish system that clothed it was adopted by huge numbers of converts throughout the Roman Empire.  Judaism was embraced by patricians, by plebeians, by slaves and by barbarians alike.  Roman ethics were suited to conquest, domination and self-adulation. Israel was not.  In order to survive, early Christianity had to distance itself from both its roots and its ethical antecedents. Rendering unto Caesar ‘that which was his’ was a cop-out but it did enable Christianity to take control of Rome and ultimately the empire.  But in distancing itself from its roots it also had to justify its distance and the hatred it encouraged in order to convince Rome that it was not a threat was the price the Jewish people paid in facilitating the accession of Christianity to dominance.

There are two missionary faiths on planet Earth (if, that is, we exclude the extremist political movements that mimic religion in all but ceremony).  A faith that declares itself to be universal can only prove its worth by reference to its numeric superiority and the constant stream of converts to its flag.   Dehumanisation, persecution, conspiracy theories, violence and ethnic cleansing are tools without which a missionary faith soon loses focus and purpose. Without ‘the other’ to demonise, its own internal contradictions create a spiral of decay and violent renewal; unless its theological focus shifts away from and is a rejection of the original sin of its aggressive birth, entropy is as inevitable as the violence from which it is nourished.

1.700 to 1,800 years of anti-Semitic instruction, defining us as inferior, as worthy of derision, ridicule and hatred, will inevitably lead to intermittent rounds of persecution, ethnic cleansing and genocide. This is Christianity’s legacy and few are willing to admit to this fact.  The Church spent almost 2,000 years telling its parishioners that they must turn the other cheek. But that instruction counted only to reinforce the control of the church hierarchy over its constituents and never applied to its conduct towards those it perceived as either competitor or enemy.

Islam, the other missionary faith, rejects ‘turning the other cheek’ as a meaningless concession to opposing forces and a theologically unacceptable sign of weakness. At best it is permitted to agree to a ‘Hudna,’ the Arabic term for an armistice. Based on an incident that is alleged to have happened during Muhammad’s conquest of Saudi, a truce is permitted as long as ten years is the maximum period required to overcome any disadvantage and defeat the enemy.  Ridiculing the infidel (the non-Muslim or non-believer) has been intrinsic to Koranic lore since Islam’s creation almost 1,400 years ago.  It is this active imposition of inferior status that reinforces the tension existing between the global Islamic nation and the rest of humanity.  I have known an eight year old Muslim child from an African refugee family to verbally abuse his teacher because she was inferior, Christian and a woman.  This 8 year old child spat out his words with an indifference that showed he was not angry, he simply lacked any sympathy for the other.  The child could only have absorbed this internal emotional and intellectual narrative from his parents.

Two missionary faiths have fought each other for as long as they have interacted with each other.  But the balance of terror has been sufficient to create uneasy fault lines which only occasionally slip.  As a perpetual minority the Jews have never been lucky enough to stand at a safe distance from the fault lines of religious struggle.

History is a cruel teacher.  If you tell enough lies about someone and if you hit them often enough; it is almost impossible to stop. By example: all those bleeding hearts that accept ‘Palestinian’ (i.e. Christian or Muslim) immigration to Palestine but label me ‘a colonialist’ are either intentional or unintentional anti Semites;  intentional if they appreciate the dishonesty of their position, remarkably stupid if they do not.

A neat definition of an anti Semite is a person who treats a Jew in a way that is different to the way he treats anyone else.

Despite my history I refuse to hate, but do not ask me to respect the questioner.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Russia, Syria and Regional Instability

Russia is a nation with a long memory of strong rulers.  If unity evaporates a strong leader will be embraced with gratitude and he will likely abolish any institution that stands in the way of reinstating the unity of the fatherland.

Russian was proclaimed an empire in 1721.  It is today, the worlds’ largest nation state. By size it is almost double the size of the Unites States but with less than half the population.  It is almost 80% ethnic Russian and has some 160 additional recognised ethnic groups.

Its ideological imperialism during the communist era spanned the period between 1917 and 1991 and left it destitute.  Oil wealth saved it from collapse and provided Russia with an opportunity to claw back some national honour which it felt it had lost when the USSR collapsed.

But here is the problem. The combination of long history, glorious past, invasion and insecurity makes for a complex narrative that cannot be easily set aside. Russia has never known full democracy and even today its incomplete adherence to the rites of democratic dysfunction is treated with ill concealed disdain, xenophobia and contempt. We still assume Russia to be diminished and therefore somehow geopolitically unimportant.  We have already made the error of thinking that Russia would be unable to either defend its borders or unwilling to challenge its competitors.

A sphere of influence can be geographically at a distance of thousands of miles.  It may be based on military outposts situated in-country or it can be economic support.  Today China is purchasing the strategic support of much of Africa which perhaps because of indifference and racism, the Arab world with its trillions of dollars of oil wealth failed over the past forty years to do. Russia can no longer rely on its communist cadres scattered globally to do its bidding as they did in the past. Its influence is therefore diminished while other nations like China vie to take its place. America erred when it thought it could simple grab Russia’s former Satellite territories.

And a wounded former prize fighter is as dangerous if not more so, than the incumbent. Honour is a terrible thing because it becomes the principle determinant governing behaviour.

A sphere of influence is at its simplest, a buffer zone between enemies (old and new). For Russia, the USA, China, Japan, Germany, Iran and Turkey are its main rivals. The list is large but the memory of conflict is of even greater significance. Russia has been in conflict with all of these nations in the past.  Russia itself has a large Muslim population estimated to be between 6 and 25 million (depending on how the population is counted). Like its European brothers and sisters Russia’s Muslims are sometimes accused of nurturing a characteristic trend towards intolerance and extremism. The question is whether this minority will demand the blood sacrifice it is accustomed to receiving elsewhere?  All these factors make for some difficult decisions on how Russia will relate to regional conflict in the Mediterranean Basin.

Russia’s Syrian naval base at Tartus is capable of taking nuclear armed warships and submarines.  This is a significant and prestigious strategic asset for Russia. If it wants to project its power past its immediate neighbourhood Syria is an essential military asset.

Would it go so far as to incite a hot war between Israel and Iran to protect its Syrian ally?  After all, Haffez al-Assad murdered up to 40,000 of his own countrymen in February 1982 when he flattened the city of Hama in order to destroy the Muslim Brotherhoods opposition to his regime.  The first Western article that discussed this war crime appeared in Time Magazine a full six months after the event.

Public communication via twitter, Face-book and mobile phone may be ubiquitous but it won’t help if the son of the father, Bashar al-Assad decides it is time to crush the opposition to Alawite rule with the same ruthlessness his father employed.  With 12% of the population, supported by Christians who make up a further 9% of Syria’s 22 million people this regime should it fall could witness an unprecedented settling of scores on the scale of the Kampuchean or Rwandan Genocide.

Two old enemies are competing diplomatically on a variety of  fronts: Russia and Iran and Germany and Iran;  Russia and its former colonies, Germany and its new allies.  Germany’s sphere of influence in Eastern Europe now stretches across most of the former USSR’s partner states.  Syria is an unwelcome distraction that damages Russian credibility.
It is possible that an attack on Israel or an Israeli attack on Iran would precipitate the kind of regional instability that would provide a diversion and therefore the opportunity for Assad to annihilate the opposition to his regime.  Another possibility is that Hezbollah and Hamas, as Iranian proxies could similarly, create a diversion that would allow Syria to again, settle scores.  While both Iran and Syria are competitors for regional influence and therefore power, there is no rule that forbids them from assisting each other against their enemies or opponents.

And European liberal society will always find an excuse to blame Israel for whatever happens. Emanuele Ottolenghi describes their “morbid fascination with dictatorship and power as a world view animated by a peculiar blend of post-colonial rage against the West and a grievance –driven pseudo-scholarship, cloaked in the language and footnotes of the late Edward Said.”

This period is therefore as dangerous for Israel as any in its history. Pre-Nuclear Iran is an unknown variable in this strategically restless and unpredictable region but we omit Russia from this brew at our peril.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Israel & the Winds of War

The Winds of War blow throughout the Near East and as always many will attempt to entice us into thinking that Israel is somehow to blame.   The New York Times in an editorial a couple of days ago tells its readers that now is not the time for Israel to attack Iran and that sanctions must be given more time.  How convenient it is that we all forget the previous sanctions regime.  The world imposed sanctions on Iraq for a decade leading up to the Second Gulf War in 2003.  Russia and France earned $100 billion by exploiting that sanctions regime. The only effect this embargo had was to ensure the Iraqi people suffered. On the other hand, in Iraq, those in power felt no pain.  The New York Times is militantly assimilationist, at least with reference to Jewish self-identification.  While it has no problem with other nations or other peoples’ self-identification it will always be opposed to Israel’s existence as a Jewish entity.  Therefore, NYT editorial pleas for self-control will always be tainted by self-interest rather than honest analysis.

Leon Panetta is the current US Secretary of Defense.  In comments attributed to him in the Washington Post on the Second of February (which pointedly, he did not deny), it was reported that he believes Israel will attack Iran sometime between April and June 2012.  Israel’s head of military intelligence Aviv Kochavi reported that some 200,000 missiles were aimed at Israel from Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Iran; and Iran's Defense Minister (Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi) claimed that Iran possesses 150,000 missiles ear-marked for destroying the Jewish state. While Europe quivers with fear and despair, it appears to be baffled as to what further it can do to prevent Israel from upsetting the balance of terror.  But what Israel has missed from its so called allies is any publicly demonstrable evidence that they are capable of learning from the Shoah and therefore not standing idly by as Israel’s enemies talk up its downfall.
Politics dictates that voting at the UN is always pragmatic and therefore governed by apparent economic self-interest. This has rendered the UN a mouthpiece for global anti Semitic propaganda, to which Europe contributes its cash and its votes. And Europe then queries why Israel is unable to block out the racism and calls for genocide that bombard the Israeli public either from Iran or from any other Islamic leader.

I was recently taken to task for calling some on the Left and in the Islamic world ‘Nazis.’ There are specific traits to Nazism that are shared with other ideologies without labeling them as ‘Nazi’ but perhaps it is the cruelty, brutality and doctrine of extermination at the centre of the ideology that creates the ‘Nazi’ tag.  Most, except the extreme Left, can stomach Jewish self-determination.  Most on the Left have not internalized the deified bigotry of the proto-deity Marx.  But Islam has a problem. Its holy book calls for global conquest and the physical annihilation of all those who stand in their way.

So when ayatollah Mohammad Ali Hoseyn Khamenei, the Iranian clergyman and supreme leader of Islamic Iran describes Israel in terms reminiscent of Hitler’s Germany and the world ignores it, Israel, the physical state and Israel, the people, would be remarkably stupid not to pay attention either to the bile excreted from the lips of the most influential and senior political and religious leader in Iran today just as it would be na├»ve to not take note of the global lack of any reaction to the Iranian leaders latest speech.   And when the Palestinian Mufti (its senior religious leader), Muhammad Hussein, calls on all Muslims to kill (all) Jews, as he did in Ramallah two weeks ago, it would be suicidal for Israel not to react. His excuse that the quote was taken out of context; that he was quoting the Prophet Mohammad, is unacceptable to all reasonable human beings save those whose agenda cannot be trusted. The Palestinian Minister for Religious Affairs has added that “no man has authority to dispute or alter” the words of the prophet.   That these statements were broadcast on the official Palestinian TV cannot help with peace making.

The only relevance that the authority of these words may have is to strengthen the hand of those who say that the difference between Mein Kampf and the Koran is authorship, not intent. What both books do share is the desire for global domination by one nation or one people, the expression of racial purity by its adherents, justification for genocide as a means to furthering their ends and, the achievement of an end by absolute submission to the worship of a human being. This is why Germany today bans cults (the logic could extend to banning any faith based on such an ideology).

Israel must not display tolerance towards Islamic Nazism.  The bigots may quote who they will but Israel must act against them to hold them and their evil theology to account.  The reaction of Israel’s allies when they justify evil pronounced or committed against her can only be interpreted as giving comfort to Israel’s and to the Jewish peoples existential enemies.

Israel neither has another decade to appease the New York Times nor the patience to listen to the platitudes of European appeasement.