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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Iran and the Sad Israeli Press.

I read with bored curiosity the latest front page news from Ynet (an Israeli Internet news outlet) about Iran and how the leadership, having congratulated those who carried out the terrorist atrocity against the Israeli tourists in Bulgaria are now accusing the ‘Zionist Regime of having plotted and executed the attack’.  What never fails to surprise me is the volume of space we willingly provide for the noxious views of lunatics and racists so that we may sell the news more readily.

Israel's press through the 1970’s and 1980’s retained a reputation for being incisive and was well considered internationally.  Today, its’ Paparazzi have a reputation for being the rudest and most aggressive anywhere and populism (Left and Right are equally guilty of this) seems to be the only common theme to excite those that publish to inform the general public.

When Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by militant (terrorist) forces in Gaza it was not newspaper pressure that eventually led to his release but the justified fear that he would soon die in his underground and windowless prison cell, at which point his value as a pawn would vanish with his last breath.

Every idiotic utterance by Israel’s enemies makes front page news. With respect to the banana republics out there I am sure some of them have more clarity of vision than Israel’s English language press.

A few facts about Iran follow.  Iran is a theocratic nation with a very strong vision of what it thinks Utopia should look like. There are no gays and no infidel in Iran’s heaven. All women (and girls) lie on their backs for their men in this world of peace and justice.  All Jews are killed (so says the appropriate Koranic verse about nature rising up to expose the hidden man, woman or child who once revealed will then of course be murdered).  The Koran is rather strident in its timeless devotion to world conquest, slavery and ridding the planet of non-believers. Iran under its Shiite leadership is brazenly unembarrassed that it enthusiastically embraces this primitive and barbaric theology.  It is happier with its sexual obsessions and male domination than it is with social justice. Equality is not even open to discussion unless it is to reassure Iran’s sycophants in the West who would prefer to not ask the question in the first place.

Iran is a country whose leaders allegedly believe that the 12th Imam (Muhammad’s twelfth and final successor) also known as the Mahdi, will arise in our time and bring peace to all mankind – but in what is referred to as Twelver Shiism the portents for this messianic eschatology (end of days) is that two thirds of the world’s population will have to die by violence and disease (half by each). The current President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is on record as believing that furthering chaos and human suffering around the globe will expedite the Mahdi’s return.  From an ethical point of view this has to be on the same level as the murderer who ‘sacrifices’ other human beings ‘for Islam’ being entitled to 72 virgins in the afterlife (god help the women).

Why, when we know that Reason is not a priority for the Iranian Leadership, do the newspapers bother to publicise their rants?  Why print this stuff? We dignify their obscenity by airing their propaganda.

I propose a tax on every newspaper sold and on every Internet page viewed – the proceeds to go towards the secular education system.  That way perhaps people can be taught to differentiate between what is news and what is front page filler; between what requires public attention and what is pap.

Will the Iranian regime and their acolytes continue to air their foul views and supply weapons to our enemies in order to destroy us? Of course they will. But by advertising their repugnant views we supply legitimacy to them even if only the occasional vulgar bigot listens and believes them.

If we must dignify their comments by reporting on them then please, let us set aside a section for anti-Semites and other dregs of society towards the middle of the news, next to adverts for toilet cleaners, dyspepsia tablets and Ex-Lax.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Conceit, Charity and Common Sense

How much does a political view impinge on the ability of the individual or the group to exercise common sense? How important are ethics? A friend recently pointed out, based on my writings he believes that I possess a persecution complex but he added that this was not necessarily a bad thing.  Does this affect my ability to exercise common sense or to judge current affairs? Of course it does. Is it justified?

Does it matter if the cup is half empty or half full? First, there are two questions we need to ask.  What is the nature of the liquid in the cup? And is there any benefit in filling the cup? We may strive to fill the cup, unless of course it is filled with a toxic liquid, in which case our misguided enthusiasm may not be so eloquent an act of dedication to doing what is right as opposed to what is correct.  The former is based on long term ethical considerations while the latter is based on fashionable moral, and therefore time specific practices.

A recent article in the American journal ‘Foreign Policy’ (“Please Don’t Send Food” page 26, July/August 2012) underlined this point when it questioned our blind enthusiasm for charity.  A joint study from Harvard and Yale Universities suggests that food aid doesn’t work. In fact it can prolong violent conflict.  By examining developing countries between 1972 and 2006 what the researchers revealed was that for every 10% increase in the amount of food aid delivered the likelihood of violent conflict increases by 1.4% - the pursuit of power over-rides any desire for good. Too often, charities and their do-gooders are as guilty of this arrogance as the gunmen that exploit them.

Maimonides (a Jewish philosopher of the 12th century whose adaptation of Aristotelian thought to Biblical faith had a significant influence both on Christianity and Judaism) categorised giving into 8 levels of benevolence – The eighth (least worthy) level was giving unwillingly while the first (final) level enabled the recipient to achieve independence from further assistance.

Of course it doesn’t mean that we can’t try to make the world a better place but in order to do that, we should first define what kind of a world we want and yes, that does mean defining the values we think are important.  Letting a thousand ideas bloom is fine as long as they do not include ‘values’ such as child marriage, female circumcision, consuming albino livers, hanging homosexuals and stoning rape victims.  Unless we know what is important to us we cannot complain that our rights have been usurped while we are too busy concerning ourselves with other activities.

During the rule of Marshall Tito (Dictator of Yugoslavia from 1945 to 1980) the ethnic rivalry and historical malevolence between the nations making up the federal republic was kept in check by strict suppression of any nationalist sentiment amongst the 8 federal units. Up to 750,000 Serbs along with Jews and Romany victims were murdered by Croatian nationalists during World War 2.  They were occasionally assisted by Bosnian (Muslim) SS units.  Given the history of the post-Tito democratic era, Marshal Tito’s dictatorship was not worse than the consequent history of the region. Unless we are willing to understand and internalise the fears of the protagonists (and we can only do this by learning of the history and the mythology of nations) only then will we learn from history and not repeat its mistakes.

Unless we willingly do this we have learnt nothing from human conflict and are doomed to repeat the past in an endless cycle of despair broken only by brief periods of triumph. Too often we dismiss history and willingly accept the teachings of a myopic education system which spoon feeds us the prejudice of cultural and moral relativism. In our post-Modern fear of conflict we refuse to take a stand based on principles that have shaped Western society. By bowing to the prejudices of others and by accepting their interpretation of our history we become no better than the rapists and murderers that we refuse to condemn.  Politics too often binds us to simplistic solutions that do little to address the complicated issues they usually subvert.

It seems that ethics really do have very little if anything to do with politics of either Left or Right.

The Left, at least in theory, dismisses the individual for the good of the group; ignoring the fact that the group is built on the collective will of the individuals within the group. The Right pays lip service to family values and ignores the collective, while parroting the limited theory that it aims to raise the individual to achievements that further the group. In both cases the individual is rarely seen as a person but as a theoretical unit, a number governed by laws to which they have no input. In practice the Left cannot relate to the individual as having rights outside of the group while the Right has had to invent the idea of ethical conservatism to accommodate those people that actually care for anyone outside of their own circle.

Left and Right care only for what the powerful can extract from the weak; cynically, they see relevance only in the demographics of the increasingly alienated electorate.

The failure of capitalism based democracy and democratic socialism is that both are based on the economics of the amphitheatre. Just as ancient Rome kept its population in check with ever increasingly expensive spectacles of gladiatorial tournaments involving condemned prisoners, slaves and ever more exotic animals so today we keep the people entertained with cheap loans by which they can keep themselves entertained, an improvement of sorts on ancient Rome. But the result for the nation state is the same.  We have bankrupted our future because the politics of power is about the present and not the future.  Our collective failure to make painful decisions that share the load fairly across all of society is why we traditionally fall prey to demagogues and dictators. It is why War is the populist solution too often applied when governments fail to equitably rebalance society.

As a society we take pride in the advances we have made in science and technology but we remain discouraged from independent thought, our ability to analyse the multi-directional information inputs we receive are still restricted by most of the former prejudices and pressures our ancestors experienced.

So to answer the original questions I asked, common sense is not a natural state and Ethics generally falls prey to political expediency. The sycophancy of global cultural simplification guarantees that if we are all brothers and sisters then the embarrassing differences that define us must be tolerated even though they directly contradict our most cherished values.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Britain and the Church of England Synod

Recent events at the Church of England (CofE) Synod have exposed the true nature of the relationship between those that manage the Church and the Jewish Community.  It highlights irreconcilable differences between the CofE Synod and the Jewish community and I do think that if our community has any self-respect it should now sever all ties.  Those people that still believe in interfaith dialogue have to ask honestly what benefit remains in retaining a relationship that is so asymmetrical. For those people who are offended by the following article I apologise but I also feel that although this may seem outrageous it is also long overdue in airing what is clearly a serious failure in the relationship between the Jewish community and British governing society.

Britain became Great Britain because it championed economic exploitation and was one of the earliest nations to embrace slavery.  Slavery was after all, a logical extension of serfdom.  The UK purchased its slaves through a prolific trade with the predominantly Arab, overwhelmingly Muslim world.  Britain was the last Western nation to reject Jewish emancipation and only reluctantly gave in to near equality for its Jewish population in the late 1800’s.  The British Royal Family has remained the principle guardians of this exclusion from society to this day.  It is ironic that Germany was far more liberal in the rights it gave to its Jews than Britain.  We need not question what fate would have befallen the Jews of Britain if Hitler’s armies had conquered Britannia. My two great-aunts worked in military industries during World War 2.  They always carried arsenic pills, just in case.  UK plc, the nation that permitted the unrestricted immigration of Arabs to Palestine (those same Arabs we now label as “Palestinian” even though they may not have been born there) rejected at the same time, even a restricted right of entry for any Jews to Palestine, though it was clear that by doing so they condemned those Jews to certain death.

And today British newspapers and Britain’s principal Protestant organizations question Israel’s legitimacy and its people’s right to self-defence. They foster racial apartheid between Israelis born in the same land, an artificial separation that they then use to condemn the majority of those same inhabitants.

In the absence of any balance in the British press the reason for this narrative blindness has to be questioned.  Acquiescence to Islamic propaganda is never going to be difficult for British society because it is apparently already receptive to bigotry and historical revisionism. If that is correct it is hardly surprising that any story will be accepted without reference to the facts.  Conversely, it is true that any narrative that does not agree with the Palestinian or Arab or Muslim version of events will be as easily dismissed. This process is central to the marginalisation of Zionism and the delegitimization of Israel. Where there is no fear of consequences there is no honour.

Literary apartheid is created in the British press and is being spread across the globe. Arabs are excised from any positive debate about Israeli society.  They are excluded from what we define as “Israeli”, or “ethnically Arab Israeli” and are re-created as “Palestinian” even when they are born and raised in Israel.  This artificial but deliberate separation of the races is driven by Arab racial bigotry and is wholly embraced by the British press.  In international legal and historic terms it is wrong. It is historically inaccurate, without precedent; an act of ethical and moral sophism. It is re-writing the history books because the truth is inconvenient. It is time to question the relationship between the civilised west and anti-Semitic Britain, the nation that never forgave us for surviving the Shoah (Holocaust).  Britain appears to be more concerned with encouraging injustice and religious equality than it is with fostering peace on earth.

Material deprivation is the most common result of marginalisation but it can also be cultural and social deprivation.    In its extreme, as in Nazi Germany, exclusion was used as a weapon to relegate to the edges of the society all those groups deemed undesirable and was therefore a step that ran concurrent with other measures employed, to separate out the persecuted under-classes.

Judaism has fallen into the trap of perceiving that there is something morally redeeming in victimhood. There is not.  It empowers torturers and celebrates the victory of the ethically blind.  There is no virtue in what Bertrand Russell mocked as “the fallacy of the superior virtue of the oppressed” because it justifies everything and denies the so called “oppressed” nothing.

There is in Britain, an unhealthy and inexplicable obsession with Israel (and in this case Jews are synonymous with Israel unless they deliberately ‘join the other side’) but more about that later.  A separate set of standards for any debate that refers to Jews is automatically assumed.  The UK being wretched in its historical ambivalence to Jewish self-rule to this day remains the Jewish people’s greatest enemy and not because it openly threatens the State of Israel with destruction as Iran does but because it has never stopped working to undermine Israel, the people or Israel, the State.   It begins in the classroom.  At its purest, Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice’ is anti-Semitic and its continued popularity offers only to reinforce prejudice in British society. It represents the acceptable face of British literary bigotry, no matter how it is taught.  One would search far to find a Christian or Muslim character equivalent to Fagin in Charles Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’ or the theme enunciated throughout Caryl Churchill’s ‘Seven Jewish Children.’

According to Jonah Goldberg in his book “Liberal Fascism” the means by which ‘undesirables’ are targeted is (if we take the logical approach) that if it is good, it cannot be bad; while if it is bad, it cannot be good.  The irreducible logic of modern day British (especially Lib-Left) fascism is that the chosen are flawless and therefore to argue for objective or principled reason falls on deaf ears.  In this way it is no different to fundamentalist Islam or the Church that gave us the Inquisition.

From what I can only call a disempowering derogation of personal responsibility towards all of humankind there are many within society that declare themselves, let us call it “racially guilty” in that they are “personally responsible” for the bigotry and racism of previous generations and with this “cowards clause” they remove themselves from any discussion of responsibility for atrocities committed in the name of black and or Muslim empowerment.

In a similar vein the recent decision by the CofE Synod to formally endorse the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) should be the final nail in the coffin of Anglo-Jewish / CofE co-operation at any level, until its latest anti-Semitic decision is reversed and full apology made in both word and deed.

But the failure of the Jewish community is that its Board of Deputies and activist committees continue to be subservient in their demeanour and more liable to displays of obsequious self-denial and acquiescence to the bigotry of those whose fearless criticism and foreign policy concerns appears to start and stop with Jews and Israel.

Unlike in the USA, in Britain there is no true separation of Church and State. In Britain the Anglican Church is state supported and many of its bishops sit, by ancient right, in the British upper house of parliament.  The head of the worldwide Anglican church Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is a left-wing intellectual.  Sadly, in the UK that is likely to mean that he may empathise with Jewish suffering but not suffer Jewish self-assertion unless it is on terms dictated by the state (and hence the Church).  In Britain one is expected to join the long queue of house Jews who bash Israel before every meal, in their public and private pronouncement; who repetitively demonstrate (to their betters) their patriotism and their politically correct credentials. Jewish Israel-bashers are popular because the Jewish Uncle Tom supports a gentile anti-Semitic narrative and by doing so, he or she makes that narrative kosher.

But more important than this, the objective of keeping ‘us’ in our place is undermined when we respond. In the latest Jew-bashing debate in the godly Anglican synod what truly offended the bishops and their lay supporters were Jewish pro-Israel lobbying efforts. An anti-Semitic narrative is consistent with the synods view on Jewish minority status and therefore in their eyes at least, it is wholly appropriate. The stronger pro-Palestinian lobby offended no one because it represents the acceptable face of the Synods efforts at delegitimization.

And no doubt the Board of Deputies of British Jews will do nothing.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Israel and the Economics of Superpower Politics

Global Economic dislocation has created opportunities to realign superpower interests. After the fall of the Soviet Empire the world was briefly held together by US unipolarity.  That has now been replaced by an emerging multipolarity that includes Russia, China and the United States of America. Traditional or transient alliances will fall away.  All nations should be wary of promises of protection.  The future is neither guaranteed nor at all clear. Those nations that depend for their economic well-being on the largess of their patrons should be looking further afield and weaning their economies off their addiction to easy money.

US Aid to Egypt, the most populous Arab country, between 1948 and 2012 totalled $72bn while during the slightly later period of 1949 till 2012 aid to Israel totalled $109bn.  US government loan guarantees have eased Israel’s access to global capital markets but it has also meant that Israel’s second largest budget item is its repayment of these loans.

Russia has a substantial investment in Syria. It is a significant and prestigious strategic asset which it cannot consider the possibility of losing. The Syrian port of Tartus is Russia’s only Mediterranean naval base for its Black Sea Fleet. American fear of Russian influence in Turkey means that it will forgive almost any Turkish geopolitical transgression in order to slow down the burgeoning Russian-Turkish economic relationship. China will trade with anyone who supplies it with oil and has extensive dealings with Iran through its China National Petroleum Company.

In most cases, economics will always trump morality. So where does this leave Israel, surrounded by nations that have rarely recognised the rights of their ethnic and religious minorities?

Nahum Barnea wrote about Egypt that even ordinary Egyptians saw themselves as having “…the confidence that a direct line connects the magnificent culture of the Pharaohs to modern-day Egypt, and the confidence that Egypt is the sole leader of the Arab world; the military, political and cultural superpower.”  Israel’s situation could not be further from this. Widespread secularism has failed to find a cultural narrative that both left and right can share which facilitates a vision of who they, as Israelis, are. The political system is largely to blame for this failure of identity because it disenfranchises the majority in favour of peripheral and radical interests.  It is one of the main reasons for Islamic / Arab confidence that Israel’s days are numbered. The Islamic view is far simpler – suffused throughout with Islamism and Colonialism; it cherishes an historic memory of ancient empires reflecting past glories down through the millennia, even when the history has to be re-written to accommodate the self-delusion of eternal superiority.

If Israeli politics is ever to regain the middle ground it must first discard the visionless economic free-for-all that has so alienated most Israelis, forcing both rich and poor alike into extreme positions that no reasonable Israeli could accept.   But as the numbers of alienated citizens grow the critical mass of extremists will likewise expand ensuring deadlock and violent confrontation.  The current controversy over universal conscription is evidence of the widening gap between those who identify with the nation and those that not only do not identify but are also unwilling to contribute as equal partners in the national enterprise.

What is the danger for Israel today? While Israel must reduce its areas of strategic threat they are increasing. Instead of the two fronts of Gaza and Lebanon we now also have Turkey, anxious to flex its muscles in a war with anyone, so that it may demonstrate its strength as an Islamic superpower.  And Jordan which has refused to even meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu but blames Israel for the deadlock with the Palestinians (while it retains its own expansionist dreams).  Egypt in modern times has always viewed itself as leading the Arab world and has made lots of threatening noises about annulling the Peace treaty with Israel. Bereft of President Mubarak, Egypt no longer has the fig leaf of a secular (military backed) one party president to pretend that it is serious about peace with Israel. And Iran, contemptuously chauvinistic of its Persian Imperial past and Shiite present, it manipulates Shiite dissatisfaction in order to export its own brand of extremism with missionary zeal across the Arab world. Syria fears Turkey and Lebanon fears Syria which also sees Israel as part of its historic imperial patrimony.  A destabilised region creates few if any opportunities for peaceful co-existence.

The real question for Israel is whether the limits to which she can respond to any significant provocation from any direction in the future is restricted by a radicalised Islamist Egypt? And for this Israel must be prepared.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Making Peace – Israel’s way or the US way?

The US refers to those nations with whom they have a strategic interest in accommodating, as ‘our friends,’ and with that designation those friends receive military and financial aid.  It does not help to change fundamental attitudes to war and peace and it only works for as long as it is in the interest of the recipient nation to let it work.  Like George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, propaganda and historical revisionism are tools used by nations to mould the national mood, dictate behaviours and manipulate the past to create the future.

The basic requirements for making Peace with Israel were never fulfilled either by Anwar Sadat or his successor Hosni Mubarak. The fundamental requirement for peaceful co-existence, the humanisation of the enemy, was never permitted to take root in Egyptian soil.

We may never know how or even if Anwar El-Sadat would have nurtured the Israeli-Egyptian peace had he lived but we do know that he was conflicted by virtue of his faith. According to Salim Mansur “Sadat, the Quran, and Jews in the Holy Land” (Centre for Security Policy Jan. 22, 2007) Sadat’s journey to Jerusalem was a spiritual acceptance of the Jews right to their homeland and it was a repudiation of the Philo-Nazi ideology of the Brotherhood.  He was however unable to reconcile his journey with his Koranic learning which ridiculed Jewish faith and delegitimized its followers humanity.

Israel’s problem is that Egypt, being the most populous and powerful of the Arab nations never intended to fully honour its commitments under the peace accord it signed in Washington in 1979, either to Israel or to the United States. It prevented its citizens from visiting Israel. It encouraged its racist press to incite against Israelis as Jews, and by focusing popular discontent against Israel as a religious obligation, denied Israelis the same right to self-determination that it demanded and continues to demand for the Palestinians. In effect it dismissed the Peace Treaty it signed with Israel as no more than a piece of paper.  It blocked cultural exchanges and ensured minimal interaction between Israelis and Egyptians as undesirable.

Hosni Mubarak famously stated that “….We [Egypt] have outwitted them, and what have we given them in return? A piece of paper! We managed to hamper their steps in every direction. We have established sophisticated machinery to control and limit to the minimum contacts with the Jews.” (Ephraim Dowek, Israeli-Egyptian Relations 1980-2000.  London: Cass, 2001.  pp. 120-21).

It became the accepted wisdom that with the signing of the Peace Agreement with Egypt there would be no cooperation with Israel other than in matters concerning security. As such, the Peace with Egypt was destined to eventually fail because it was predicated on the Arab assumption that Israel would itself eventually fall.

The failure of Arab and overall Muslim imagination is inherent in the hypothesis that Islam is the perfection of human development and that therefore its enemies must eventually succumb to its superiority.  This innate prejudice is hardly surprising. A nation in maintaining peace with an adversary does so for its own benefit not because of some spurious altruistic intent.  The Islamic neighbourhood is neither ready nor able to provide either guarantees or a willingness to pursue peaceful intentions with Israel or for that matter, with any one else, unless that is, the alternative is a collapse of its own enterprise.  As I have referred to in other blogs (see “Mira Awad boycotted by Arabs” 6th June 2012), the third stage in this war against Israel is “the international campaign to delegitimize the state as it seeks the dehumanisation of the Jewish citizens of that state”.  This propaganda war is a logical consequence of assuming ‘the fall’.

Some years after the signing of the peace treaty with Israel, Egyptian Arab farmers sued the State of Israel before the Egyptian Supreme Court to regain the property they claim Saladin gave their forefathers 900 years ago.  That property is the Wailing Wall, the Jewish peoples’ holiest religious site. Those farmers won their case.

Egyptians generally do not make any distinction between Jewish people and Israelis. Israelis are seen as the enemy, so likewise are Jews. Thus wrote Michael Slackman in an article for the New York Times on September 7, 2009. The problem is that peaceful co-existence between neighbours is dependent not just on the foreign policy pursued by neighbours but on the attitudes and behaviours of its society. Egypt is misogynistic (as emphasised in the May/June 2012 Foreign Policy Magazine “The Sex Issue”), ethnically racist against its non-Arab inhabitants and religiously bigoted; a problem given that Islam is the invader and its 10 million Coptic Christians, the persecuted native minority.

The greatest impediment to peace and not just with Egypt but with the entire Muslim world is our reluctance to fight as Jews for our rights in our homeland against a Muslim hegemonic and racist theology that precludes minority rights.  Israel’s enemies are legion. Until they also fear as Israel fears, they will be unstoppable.  Only with acceptance by the Islamic world (and not just the Islamic world) of the equality of all peoples: Kurds, Assyrians (Chaldeans), Turkmen and Copts, Christians, Jews, polytheists and pagans, will peace be possible in the Near-East.

Former Army Chief of Staff, Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon, said that Egypt facilitated arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip allowing the Palestinians to continue smuggling arms from Sinai into Gaza despite Israeli protests.  It is no longer wise to pretend that Egypt will honour its commitment to sealing its international border with Israel.  And honouring ones neighbours sovereignty is a basic requirement for peaceful co-existence.

Israel’s Western border (Southern Command) will have to be renewed. This is going to cost billions of dollars in hardware and new bases as well as a significant increase in the size of the standing army.  The State of Israel can no longer afford the coalition wrangling over mass deferments and exemptions from conscription that have plagued the national debate over the last few decades.

Israel is located in a region where the inalienable right to secure borders and to living ones life with an absence of fear is deemed conditional and transitory.   In March 2012, 33 years after the signing of the second framework agreement, ending a state of war that had existed between Israel and Egypt for almost as long (31 years), Egypt’s parliament issued a report that referred to Israel as “The Zionist Entity.” So let me make a controversial statement. The trappings of democracy do not guarantee peace.

Security is an attitude to human rights which has little to do with democracy.  Those people in the West that support the Palestinians (Arabs)  usually insist on their ‘inalienable rights’ but omit the three inextricably linked concepts that must attach to those rights in order for all people to live in peace and harmony.  Those words are ‘mutuality,’ ‘respect’ and ‘truth’.  We all have an inalienable right to live life without fear of persecution, violence, discrimination or dehumanisation.

The June 17, 2012 decision to rewrite the constitution effectively makes the President of Egypt a disempowered figurehead. A military coup – with the stroke of a pen has for now, shunted aside the Muslim Brotherhood and slowed its political ascendancy.  Extremism can only increase with the inevitable slide towards economic failure.  Israel will remain as always, a whipping boy to be used as the means of focusing and diverting popular discontent.  Unless that is, it is no longer advantageous for Israel to be that whipping boy and for that to happen, incitement must be rendered unpalatable to all who think it acceptable.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

America - Decline and Chaos in a Fractured Region

American decline is viewed as one of the potential catastrophic game changers for instability in the Near East.

The recent mishap involving Syria, which shot down a Turkish F-4 Phantom jet, is one example of a trigger, a planned or unfortunate mishap that could ignite the region in a populist war.

Iran, via its proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah could precipitate a conflict in order to divert the attention of the international community away from its nuclear programme.  Spread by religiously driven hubris and spiralling out of control through a confrontation engineered by political and military zealots it could escalate into a bloody contagion of violence that experience has taught us would not be easily contained. Providing the fuel for this bleak scenario are the foul mouthed ravings of Ayatollahs, Imams and itinerant street preachers.  And before we raise the spectre of 21st Century Reason to dismiss such fears we should remember that being swept up by passion is a timeless human pursuit.

Egypt and Turkey, with increasing poverty rates fuelled by rapid population growth nourishing their fundamentalist constituency’s extremist agendas, could provoke a regional firestorm that will be difficult to bring under safe control.

If Egypt with some 40 security agencies cannot maintain either domestic stability or conformity of message in its own society then other less organised regimes should be anxiously reviewing their own exit strategies. If we exclude Gaza and the West Bank, 21 other Arab countries govern by exploiting ethnic prejudice and religious division. Perhaps the best way of bringing stability to the whole region is to begin serious discussion about breaking up the artificially created Arab states and giving self determination to all the minorities within their borders. There is no logical reason that the Arab ethnic minority in Israel should demand separate development and the same privilege is denied to those ethnic minorities living in the rest of the Near East.  For that matter, why stop with the Near East?

Sayyid Qutb was possibly the 20th Centuries most famous Egyptian propagandist of the Muslim Brotherhood. He saw Jews as the people preaching a ‘one world’ culture where everyone has the right to their beliefs.  But for Qutb there was no such thing as a market place of ideas. His fear of this ‘Jewish’ vision was the opposite of the tyranny he preached.  To quote “Occidentalism – A short history of Anti Westernism” (Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit): “Qutb’s idea of community is defined by pure faith, as the Nazi State was based on pure race.”  That last sentence encapsulates Islamic Fundamentalism.  Its theologically derived hatred is incompatible with peace.

The US remains Saudi Arabia’s closest ally and the nation Saudis most revile. It is not only the Saudi approach that is troublesome.  Xenophobia in the Arab world, toward the infidel and not just the infidel but any non-Arab, will only be debated once it is appreciated that it is in their best interest to open up their societies. But with Islamist governments sweeping away previous dictatorships the future is bleak unless incitement becomes something of an Islamic ‘own goal.’  Because Egypt is seen as the cornerstone of a revolutionary fundamentalist process it reinforces Egypt’s self image as being the centre of the Arab world. It places Egypt on a strategic path that views peace with Israel, the rest of the region and Europe as no more than a currency of negotiable value.

It is a view that is shared throughout the Near-East.

America will remain, for our foreseeable future, the chief wielder of the big stick in world affairs. US global intervention is necessary because there is no other superpower that can protect Western interests.   If we choose to live a life that is governed by identification with Western values (whatever that may mean) then we must defend those values. It is neither colonialism nor arrogance to make choices in ones life.  Discrimination as a positive virtue means making choices. We choose to differentiate between lifestyles and ways in which we relate to each other. US interests and global capitalism may or may not be wholly consonant with every Western nation’s vision of Western society but they are the only ones preventing us from falling onto our own sword.

To take responsibility for the triumphalism of our enemies is not self-abnegation, it is suicide. In a world we all share there is still time to speak up against the Islam of the Fundamentalists.  Only then will we have a chance to achieve peace.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Egypt and the Arab Spring Revisited (Part 2)

We often condemn European history.  But much of the 20th Century was dominated by powerful leaders and not all of them were European (Emperor Hirohito and Chairman Mao Zedong to name just two of them). The phenomenon of 21st Century autocratic rule is even more problematic than its 20th Century antecedents because nuclear armed regimes may initiate a conflict that they will not be able to control and the catastrophic result of which no one of sane mind will want to contemplate.

We appear to forget that our fear of war does not transfer magically to everyone else.  When the President of a nation that aspires to own nuclear weapons is on record as stating that the difference between him and us is that ‘his kind’ worship death as we worship life, then we need to be constantly fearful of the intentions of ‘his kind’.

First let us appreciate that Egypt is not Syria where a small minority of Alawi (and Shia) representing 12% of the total population has dominated the countries military and politics since 1920 when France received its mandate to rule.

Whereas Assad Senior ensured the succession of Assad Junior, in Egypt it was the Generals who disagreed with Mubarak Senior grooming Mubarak Junior to take over from Papa. The leadership of Egypt is watched over by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forcers (SCAF). It is they that forced out Hosni Mubarak and they do not represent a small minority of secular stakeholders.

What the Generals do represent is a pragmatic military elite with its claws deeply embedded in the cookie jar. The Egyptian military is said to control up to 40% of the Egyptian economy and it was dissatisfaction with how the biscuit was divided that led to the current revolution. The people despaired of ever sharing the spoils of corruption.  And just as Turkeys secular rulers were defeated by the demographic curse of a ballooning population with no prospects for secure or even temporary employment and therefore no opportunities to emerge from poverty, Egypt’s fundamentalists were able to take advantage of this aching often inchoate desire for change to create conflict and align a mushrooming constituency of fundamentalists towards regime change. Nevertheless in this life they promised no more than an outlet for their anger and frustration, and solace in the afterlife.

Religious Muslims, practising a time honoured path to power in order to ensure the dominance of their brand of faith are connecting with others of similar mindset across the region. If that is a threat to regional stability it is because there is nothing standing in their way to say their way is wrong.  It is because of this lack of opposition that there is no need for restraint.  And by manipulating dissatisfaction with the government they do not have to offer a credible solution or even hope. 

In Egypt, the military toppled one of its own. But whether or not it could control the centrifuge once it has begun to spin is another question entirely. The Generals may have wanted to incite the Brotherhood into violent opposition. Remember that in Algeria in 1991 the fundamentalists appeared to have won the first round of elections. As a consequence the ruling party cancelled the elections and the Generals sacked the government, taking control. The resulting civil disturbances cost 200,000 lives in a bloody celebration of wholesale kidnapping, rape and butchery that was carried out overwhelmingly not by the military, but by Islamic purists whose ethical compass did not hold them back from the commission of countless atrocities against fellow Algerians.

A conflict in Egypt would be catastrophic.  While Algeria is ethnically, almost entirely homogenous, Egypt is more diverse.  It is also the birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood and arguably, the epicentre of its intellectualised bigotry.  The potential for a civil war could destabilise the entire region because Egypt is, by simple virtue of its size, the most powerful Arab country in the region.  Against it, Turkey and Iran could and would exploit the resulting chaos in order to build new alliances and reinforce old ones, further undermining order within already fragmented societies. 

Why should we fear the Muslim Brotherhood? To quote Yehudit Barsky, the following is their slogan:

Allah is our objective.
The Prophet is our leader.
Quran is our law.
Jihad is our way.
Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.

The aim of the Muslim Brotherhood is to eliminate all Western influence and create an Islamist state in Egypt and ultimately, the world. It aims to dominate the rest of society and to return Muslims to the pinnacle of their power over others.  Jihad is described as ‘physical warfare’ and is the obligation of ALL Muslims.

Eighty per cent of the Egyptian electorate that voted in the second round of elections held in May 2012 voted for the Muslim Brotherhood and the even more extreme Salafist party.

The Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt was signed on the White House lawn in the presence of US President Jimmy Carter on the 26th of March 1979.  Normalisation (the key component of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel) was never seriously implemented. Gaza continues to be an Iranian proxy (through Hamas) and an Egyptian proxy (though the control of its border with Gaza). Both of them are waging a war of attrition against Israel.

The strategic threat to Israel is in the nature of the regime. The best we can hope for is a neutral, militarily stable power but we must remember that it is a power that has only ever clamped down on the extremists when they threatened the political survival of their own regime.