Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 2, 2007

Acts of Union

The 300th anniversary of the union of England and Scotland fell on Tuesday, May 1—in a sense, the birthday of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The Act of Union of 1707 provided for the amalgamation of the two parliaments at Westminster, the Hanoverian—hence Protestant—succession, and the creation of a single flag, the Union Jack.

It may seem strange to American eyes that the English show no desire to commemorate what is in effect their country’s tricentennial. But there remains deep resentment in some quarters at the overrepresentation of Scots at Westminster and the constitutional anomaly (known as the “West Lothian Question”) that allows Scottish members of Parliament to vote on English legislation but not vice versa. Meanwhile, north of the border, the bitterest opponents of the union—the Scottish Nationalists—are predicted to become the largest party in the newly resurrected Scottish parliament when Scots go to the polls this Thursday.

These matters may seem highly parochial today. And even if Scotland were to vote for independence in a referendum, it would be greeted south of the border with a shrug: English taxpayers are quite aware how generously they subsidize their Scottish counterparts. But there was a time in the 17th century when relations between England and Scotland had implications far beyond either realm.

Read More

The 300th anniversary of the union of England and Scotland fell on Tuesday, May 1—in a sense, the birthday of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The Act of Union of 1707 provided for the amalgamation of the two parliaments at Westminster, the Hanoverian—hence Protestant—succession, and the creation of a single flag, the Union Jack.

It may seem strange to American eyes that the English show no desire to commemorate what is in effect their country’s tricentennial. But there remains deep resentment in some quarters at the overrepresentation of Scots at Westminster and the constitutional anomaly (known as the “West Lothian Question”) that allows Scottish members of Parliament to vote on English legislation but not vice versa. Meanwhile, north of the border, the bitterest opponents of the union—the Scottish Nationalists—are predicted to become the largest party in the newly resurrected Scottish parliament when Scots go to the polls this Thursday.

These matters may seem highly parochial today. And even if Scotland were to vote for independence in a referendum, it would be greeted south of the border with a shrug: English taxpayers are quite aware how generously they subsidize their Scottish counterparts. But there was a time in the 17th century when relations between England and Scotland had implications far beyond either realm.

The original union of 1603, which brought together the two kingdoms under the Stuart dynasty but preserved both as separate and intact realms, had enhanced the power of the monarchy. In 1641, however, a second union, with a very different purpose, was agreed by treaty. This Anglo-Scottish union was the work not of King Charles I but of the two parliaments in Westminster and Edinburgh.

According to The Noble Revolt: The Overthrow of Charles I (Weidenfeld and Nicolson), the magnificent and authoritative new history by John Adamson, the creation of this Anglo-Scottish union was “perhaps the deepest challenge to traditional monarchical authority, at least as it had been exercised in the half century to 1640.” Charles I was deliberately excluded from the treaty negotiations, the prime objective of which was “to ensure that London-based monarch’s permanent constraint.”

At the solemn inauguration of the 1641 union, a sermon was given by Jeremiah Burroughes, a famous Congregationalist preacher and a believer in elective monarchy on the Polish model. The union, he declared, would secure the new constitution created by the Triennial Act, whereby the power of the king to summon parliaments had been abolished in favor of automatic elections every three years.

Under the new union treaty, each parliament could call on the other for military aid against the king, and it was this threat of insurrection that Burroughes had in mind when he proclaimed that “God hath put in a barre to this our doore of hope, to keep it from being shut.” And the effect of the union was, in the view of the Venetian ambassador Giustinian, to promote “Dutch”—that is, republican—“forms of government” among the English, “for which the people here show far too much inclination.”

Already in September 1640, even before the treaty, the English rebels were making plans to raise a joint Anglo-Scottish force, to be known as the “Armies of the Commonwealth”—thereby usurping the prerogatives of the monarchy. Adamson calls this plan “unambiguously treasonous” and argues that the parliamentarians were intent upon reducing Charles I to what he calls a “Duke [Doge] of Venice,” a mere figurehead.

In many respects, the formation of the Anglo-Scottish union in 1641 and the civil war that began in the following year anticipated the events of the American Revolution. (Just as the Constitution of the United States is a working-out of ideas originally generated by the British crisis of the mid-17th century and further enunciated by European thinkers from Hobbes to Locke and Montesqieu.) Americans may be forgiven for being a little hazy about this part of their history, but their ancestors in the 1770’s knew it very well indeed. And Americans, at least, have more excuse for their ignorance than the British, most of whom seemingly neither know nor care about the origins of their own liberties. Nobody buys an antique without informing themselves of its provenance. But we treat our freedom as if its history did not matter.

Read Less

Have We Become Complacent About Terrorism?

Now that Afghanistan is no longer a sanctuary for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, many Islamist attacks or attempted attacks have been mounted by individuals who have spent time in Pakistan. Here in the U.S. we have had a spate of recent cases.

On April 12, an Ohio man, Christopher Paul, was indicted on federal charges that he conspired to bomb European tourist resorts and U.S. military bases overseas. According to prosecutors, he had been schooled in paramilitary techniques at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in the 1990’s and later signed up with the terrorist group in Pakistan.

On April 2, a Maryland taxicab driver, Mahmud Faruq Brent al Mutazzim, pleaded guilty to conspiring to aid a terrorist organization after admitting he attended training camps operated by Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan in 2002 and was involved with that terrorist group from 2001 through 2005.

On January 8, Shahawar Matin Sira, a Pakistani immigrant living in New York, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his part in an unsuccessful plot to blow up a Manhattan subway station as revenge for alleged wartime abuses of Iraqis.

If we connect these three dots—and there are many more such dots overseas—we can see why Michael Chertoff, secretary of homeland security, has been dickering with his British counterparts about curbing the travel of British citizens of Pakistani origin to the United States.

Read More

Now that Afghanistan is no longer a sanctuary for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, many Islamist attacks or attempted attacks have been mounted by individuals who have spent time in Pakistan. Here in the U.S. we have had a spate of recent cases.

On April 12, an Ohio man, Christopher Paul, was indicted on federal charges that he conspired to bomb European tourist resorts and U.S. military bases overseas. According to prosecutors, he had been schooled in paramilitary techniques at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in the 1990’s and later signed up with the terrorist group in Pakistan.

On April 2, a Maryland taxicab driver, Mahmud Faruq Brent al Mutazzim, pleaded guilty to conspiring to aid a terrorist organization after admitting he attended training camps operated by Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan in 2002 and was involved with that terrorist group from 2001 through 2005.

On January 8, Shahawar Matin Sira, a Pakistani immigrant living in New York, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his part in an unsuccessful plot to blow up a Manhattan subway station as revenge for alleged wartime abuses of Iraqis.

If we connect these three dots—and there are many more such dots overseas—we can see why Michael Chertoff, secretary of homeland security, has been dickering with his British counterparts about curbing the travel of British citizens of Pakistani origin to the United States.

Today’s New York Times reports that all British citizens currently enjoy the right to enter the U.S. without a visa. There are approximately 800,000 Britons of Pakistani origin in the United Kingdom. Members of this subgroup have been disproportionately behind recent successful and thwarted terrorist plots in England.

But the effort to address the problems posed by a particular nationality raises delicate political issues. Thus, one proposal put forward by the U.S. would be “to single out Britons of Pakistani origin, requiring them to make visa applications for the United States.” The Times reports that, at the moment, “the British are resistant, fearing that restrictions on the group of Britons would incur a backlash from a population that has always sided with the Labor party.”

Will such political considerations trump the imperative of protecting our security? It is impossible to say. But strange things are taking place in American counterterrorism that raise all sorts of questions about whether, nearly six years after 9/11, we have become complacent.

In late April, the New York Times reported that under a system set up by the FBI in 2004, every time a terrorism suspect tries to buy a gun in the U.S., counterterrorism officials have three days to block the transaction. If the officials are successful in doing so, they can then find out what kind of gun was being sought and where exactly the transaction was to have taken place. But if they are unsuccessful, they are barred from gaining any further information.

To end this unsatisfactory state of affairs, the Justice Department has proposed legislation that would empower the attorney general to block gun purchases by buyers found “to be or [to] have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism.”

But what, one wonders, are these terrorism suspects doing roaming freely around? How many are there of them? Are they being monitored, or is it only when they try to buy a firearm that authorities even learn of their whereabouts?

That is not the end of it. In mid-March, the FBI issued a bulletin to local police departments noting that it was investigating foreigners, “some with ties to extremist groups,” who had been engaged in “recent suspicious activity” and been purchasing school buses and acquiring licenses to drive them. Facing public alarm as word of the advisory leaked out, the FBI issued a statement: “Parents and children have nothing to fear.”

Perhaps we do have nothing to fear. But I, for one, doubt that the FBI, an agency beset with profound internal problems, has a handle on counterterrorism. See my How Inept is the FBI? for a picture of some of their earlier failures.

As CNN’s Glenn Beck has put it, the FBI’s reassurances about the school buses are “kind of like saying, ‘Your drinking water is now laced with anthrax and Clorox, but don’t worry about it. I’m sure you’re going to be fine,’. . . [it] sounds a little like the Muslims who were taking flying lessons without learning how to land the plane. How can the FBI warn law enforcement about this and then tell us, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it,’”?

A very good question. Let’s hope that we do not have to wait for another September 11 for some answers.

Read Less

Ricciardone’s Copt-Out

Since the unexpectedly strong showing by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s parliamentary elections in late 2005—and other rough seas that President Bush’s policies encountered in Iraq and Palestine—the administration has pulled in its horns on the promotion of democracy in the Middle East. Tactical retreats are not tantamount to an abandonment of policy, but apparently no one has told this to the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Frances Ricciardone. In recent public comments Ricciardone has gone out of his way to excuse and cover up some of the most serious violations of democracy and human rights in Egypt.

In a television interview (the transcript of which is posted on the embassy’s website), the ambassador was asked about the circumstances of the Coptic Christians who constitute an estimated 10 percent of Egypt’s population. Here is the relevant exchange:

Read More

Since the unexpectedly strong showing by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s parliamentary elections in late 2005—and other rough seas that President Bush’s policies encountered in Iraq and Palestine—the administration has pulled in its horns on the promotion of democracy in the Middle East. Tactical retreats are not tantamount to an abandonment of policy, but apparently no one has told this to the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Frances Ricciardone. In recent public comments Ricciardone has gone out of his way to excuse and cover up some of the most serious violations of democracy and human rights in Egypt.

In a television interview (the transcript of which is posted on the embassy’s website), the ambassador was asked about the circumstances of the Coptic Christians who constitute an estimated 10 percent of Egypt’s population. Here is the relevant exchange:

Interviewer: Do [Copts] have a problem? Are they a minority who suffers discrimination?

Ambassador: Even in the U.S., minorities may feel that they are discriminated against. This happens in every country of the world. What is important is that there should be legal protection for all minorities. This is found in Egypt. You even have what is more powerful than law, and by that I mean strong traditions, and the Egyptian spirit of tolerance and brotherhood.

Interviewer: Then you see no problem or discrimination against Copts in Egypt? And when you write reports as an American ambassador to the American administration, upon which the Congress or others make decisions, you don’t write that there is discrimination or bias against the Copts in Egypt?

Ambassador: Naturally, here in Egypt as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech, so it is possible for anyone to complain about any personal or social problem. If there is a problem, there are legal ways to deal with it, whether here or in the U.S.

Interviewer: But you don’t see that there is a Coptic problem or discrimination in Egypt?

Ambassador: Of course, I have not seen that personally, as I am not a Coptic Egyptian citizen.

Interviewer: If the American administration asked you one day, “We are writing a religious-freedom report in Egypt, and we need to know the position of the Copts in Egypt. Are they discriminated against or not?” How would you answer them? What would your report be here from the embassy in Egypt?

Ambassador: I will say that it is normal to have social issues, as with any place in the world. But I do not think that there is organized discrimination by the Egyptian state. There might be individual discrimination, or people who lack good manners, and as a result, complaints are voiced. This happens everywhere, even in the U.S. Egypt is no exception. This is something we must all stand against.

Here are a few items about the status of Copts that have no analogue in the U.S., items that Ricciardone seems to have overlooked:

• The Egyptian constitution specifies that Islamic law is “the main source” of Egyptian law.

• Copts do not have the right to build churches. They must get approval from the president of the country or from a regional governor. Such approval is not routinely granted. In one town, Asyut, the Christians have been waiting since 1935. There are also constraints on the height and location of churches vis à vis nearby mosques. The requirement for high government approval applies not only to building new churches but also to renovating or even repairing existing ones. Needless to say, there are no comparable constraints on mosque building or repair.

• Compulsory military service in Egypt is for three years—unless you can recite the Qur’an by heart, in which case it is reduced to one year.

• Al Azhar University is funded by the state, including the taxes of Christians. Although it is best known as a center of Sunni scholarship, you can also study medicine or history or other subjects there—but only if you are a Muslim. Non-Muslims are not admitted.

• Muslim clergy—like other employees in Egypt—receive social insurance from the state; Christian clergy do not.

Bad “manners,” indeed. Ricciardone’s whitewash of all this is bad enough, but his comment that “here in Egypt, as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech” adds insult to injury, coming just when the Egyptian government has begun imprisoning bloggers. One of them, Abdel Kareem Suleiman, was given three years* for insulting Islam. What is the penalty for insulting Christianity?

*Suleiman’s sentence length was originally misstated.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.