Commentary Magazine


Topic: Amsterdam

The Nonviolent Victory That Wasn’t

The New York Times ran a paean this week to a new documentary, Budrus, that purports to show how 10 months of nonviolent protests in 2003-04 persuaded Israel to reroute its security fence near the eponymous West Bank village. The story has only two flaws: the protests weren’t nonviolent, and the victory was at least partly due to Israel’s own legal system. And those flaws reflect a problem far larger than the film itself.

Though the movie shows occasional stone-throwing, most of the protests look “utterly peaceful,” noted reporter Ethan Bronner. But even some of the protesters themselves told Bronner otherwise.

“It is obvious that the filmmaker was not there,” said one, Jonathan Pollak. “The movie represents what happened as more nonviolent that it really was.”

And Pollak is no Israeli flack He co-founded the Israeli group Anarchists Against the Wall, which regularly joins Palestinian protests against the fence; he’s been injured and arrested repeatedly during anti-fence demonstrations; and he even toured the U.S. with the film’s hero, Ayed Morrar, to fundraise for the anti-Israel International Solidarity Movement.

Indeed, even the usually pro-Palestinian Haaretz admits that most anti-fence demonstrations involve “a great deal of stone throwing” — generally with slingshots, which are lethal weapons — and “many [Israeli] soldiers and Border Police are wounded.”

The other issue ignored by both the film and Bronner is the role of Israel’s Supreme Court. The Budrus protests coincided with hearings on what became a landmark decision ordering the fence rerouted to reduce harm to Palestinian villagers. The verdict was issued only in July 2004. But the government had already begun rerouting the fence in various locales during the previous six months, because the justices’ comments during the hearings made the likely outcome clear.

The film thus turned a highly complex situation (let’s not forget that the fence was built to begin with only to stop the murderous Palestinian terror of those years) into a simplistic tale of good Palestinians versus evil Israelis.

The same is true of almost every other movie about the conflict — and for good reason, as Israeli filmmaker Noa Ben Hagai acknowledged in a stunning interview with Haaretz last month.

After Ben Hagai’s documentary about her own family’s discovery of Palestinian relatives in the West Bank was shown at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival,

[i]nternational producers asked me what my next film was going to be, and hinted that they would be glad if it were about the occupation, but from an extreme direction, from a new angle showing how terrible the reality can be. It was clear that they wanted something very extreme and bloody about the Israeli reality, if possible something about apartheid, and to mix in the Holocaust, too, if possible. I understood that … if I want to succeed in the world, then I have to keep on dealing with political subjects.

In short, if you want money, critical acclaim, and festival screenings, the storyline has to be “good Palestinians versus bad Israelis,” regardless of the truth. And that means viewers should take all such films with a large grain of salt.

The New York Times ran a paean this week to a new documentary, Budrus, that purports to show how 10 months of nonviolent protests in 2003-04 persuaded Israel to reroute its security fence near the eponymous West Bank village. The story has only two flaws: the protests weren’t nonviolent, and the victory was at least partly due to Israel’s own legal system. And those flaws reflect a problem far larger than the film itself.

Though the movie shows occasional stone-throwing, most of the protests look “utterly peaceful,” noted reporter Ethan Bronner. But even some of the protesters themselves told Bronner otherwise.

“It is obvious that the filmmaker was not there,” said one, Jonathan Pollak. “The movie represents what happened as more nonviolent that it really was.”

And Pollak is no Israeli flack He co-founded the Israeli group Anarchists Against the Wall, which regularly joins Palestinian protests against the fence; he’s been injured and arrested repeatedly during anti-fence demonstrations; and he even toured the U.S. with the film’s hero, Ayed Morrar, to fundraise for the anti-Israel International Solidarity Movement.

Indeed, even the usually pro-Palestinian Haaretz admits that most anti-fence demonstrations involve “a great deal of stone throwing” — generally with slingshots, which are lethal weapons — and “many [Israeli] soldiers and Border Police are wounded.”

The other issue ignored by both the film and Bronner is the role of Israel’s Supreme Court. The Budrus protests coincided with hearings on what became a landmark decision ordering the fence rerouted to reduce harm to Palestinian villagers. The verdict was issued only in July 2004. But the government had already begun rerouting the fence in various locales during the previous six months, because the justices’ comments during the hearings made the likely outcome clear.

The film thus turned a highly complex situation (let’s not forget that the fence was built to begin with only to stop the murderous Palestinian terror of those years) into a simplistic tale of good Palestinians versus evil Israelis.

The same is true of almost every other movie about the conflict — and for good reason, as Israeli filmmaker Noa Ben Hagai acknowledged in a stunning interview with Haaretz last month.

After Ben Hagai’s documentary about her own family’s discovery of Palestinian relatives in the West Bank was shown at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival,

[i]nternational producers asked me what my next film was going to be, and hinted that they would be glad if it were about the occupation, but from an extreme direction, from a new angle showing how terrible the reality can be. It was clear that they wanted something very extreme and bloody about the Israeli reality, if possible something about apartheid, and to mix in the Holocaust, too, if possible. I understood that … if I want to succeed in the world, then I have to keep on dealing with political subjects.

In short, if you want money, critical acclaim, and festival screenings, the storyline has to be “good Palestinians versus bad Israelis,” regardless of the truth. And that means viewers should take all such films with a large grain of salt.

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RE: Mosque Builders Drop Mask of ‘Reconciliation’

The other guest on that segment of This Week, Jennifer, Rabbi Joy Levitt of the Jewish Community Center, seemed awfully ignorant of the religious history of New York City. She said:

Peter Stuyvesant refused to allow synagogues to be built in New York in the 1600s. It took an act of Congress here in Washington to allow a synagogue to be built. … The British wouldn’t allow synagogues to be built in New York City. So, we understand some of this pain, and yet we’ve also experienced a tremendous amount of support in this country, so I think we actually are in a position to both understand and be helpful, to support religious tolerance in this country.

Unlike the New England Puritans, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, and the Catholics in Maryland, the Dutch did not come to Manhattan to escape religious persecution or to build a shining city on a hill. They came to Manhattan to make a buck. Indeed, they did not even get around to building a proper church for 17 years. Named after St. Nicholas, Santa Claus has been the city’s patron saint ever since. (In fact, the modern version of Santa Claus is a wholly New York invention, developed by such New York writers as Clement Moore and the cartoonist Thomas Nast.)

Peter Stuyvesant, however, was a deeply religious man, adhering to the Dutch Reform Church. He banned both Jews and Quakers from New Amsterdam. They appealed to the Dutch West India Company in Amsterdam in what is known as the Flushing Remonstrance, often considered the birth of religious freedom in America. The company wrote Governor Stuyvesant and instructed him in no uncertain terms to mind his own business so that the Jews and Quakers could mind theirs.

Congregation Shearith Israel was founded in 1654, while Stuyvesant was still very much governor of New Amsterdam. It is the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, now located at Central Park West and 70th Street. It did not require an act of Congress (which wouldn’t even exist until 1789 and Washington wouldn’t be the capital until 1800). All it took was a sharp rap on the knuckles by the Dutch West India Company to remind Peter Stuyvesant what New Amsterdam was all about.

And if the British wouldn’t allow synagogues to be built in New York City, how did Shearith Israel build one on Mill Street in 1730?

The other guest on that segment of This Week, Jennifer, Rabbi Joy Levitt of the Jewish Community Center, seemed awfully ignorant of the religious history of New York City. She said:

Peter Stuyvesant refused to allow synagogues to be built in New York in the 1600s. It took an act of Congress here in Washington to allow a synagogue to be built. … The British wouldn’t allow synagogues to be built in New York City. So, we understand some of this pain, and yet we’ve also experienced a tremendous amount of support in this country, so I think we actually are in a position to both understand and be helpful, to support religious tolerance in this country.

Unlike the New England Puritans, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, and the Catholics in Maryland, the Dutch did not come to Manhattan to escape religious persecution or to build a shining city on a hill. They came to Manhattan to make a buck. Indeed, they did not even get around to building a proper church for 17 years. Named after St. Nicholas, Santa Claus has been the city’s patron saint ever since. (In fact, the modern version of Santa Claus is a wholly New York invention, developed by such New York writers as Clement Moore and the cartoonist Thomas Nast.)

Peter Stuyvesant, however, was a deeply religious man, adhering to the Dutch Reform Church. He banned both Jews and Quakers from New Amsterdam. They appealed to the Dutch West India Company in Amsterdam in what is known as the Flushing Remonstrance, often considered the birth of religious freedom in America. The company wrote Governor Stuyvesant and instructed him in no uncertain terms to mind his own business so that the Jews and Quakers could mind theirs.

Congregation Shearith Israel was founded in 1654, while Stuyvesant was still very much governor of New Amsterdam. It is the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, now located at Central Park West and 70th Street. It did not require an act of Congress (which wouldn’t even exist until 1789 and Washington wouldn’t be the capital until 1800). All it took was a sharp rap on the knuckles by the Dutch West India Company to remind Peter Stuyvesant what New Amsterdam was all about.

And if the British wouldn’t allow synagogues to be built in New York City, how did Shearith Israel build one on Mill Street in 1730?

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The South Park Test

I admit it. Until now I have always been a bit of an Islamophobia skeptic. Living in the Middle East, I have no illusions about what radical Islam, given the right kinds of fuel and the right weapons of oppression, can do in the parts of the world under its control, or to immediate neighbors who challenge its reign. And while I share in many Europeans’ concern about the spread of violent Islam’s influence across the Continent, I have never really seen it as cause for panic about the future of Western civilization, or even of Europe. An inveterate optimist, I have a great deal of faith that Europeans, deep down, understand what has made them special and will do what’s needed to defend themselves and their culture. And as for the U.S.? It frankly never occurred to me that there was any danger, not now, not ever. Americans cherish their freedom too much and are too willing to defend it even by force of arms for fans of Jefferson and Paine to be truly worried.

Until now. And all because of South Park.

For those of you who’ve missed it, this week South Park attempted to parody the prophet Muhammad, just as it’s parodied Jesus, God, Moses, and every institution of religion big enough to merit its parody. Yet after an Islamist website posted a veiled threat, to the effect that the creators of South Park would end up like Theo Van Gogh, the film director murdered in Amsterdam for publicly criticizing Islam, the folks at Comedy Central buckled. The episode was removed from the website. For more details about this and similar acts of self-censorship in the past few months, read Ross Douthat’s crucial column in the New York Times.

Something has gone terribly wrong. The core of liberal society is the belief that every new thought, every iconoclasm, every “dangerous” idea, can be uttered somewhere, by someone, as long as it doesn’t openly incite violence — and that every sacred cow is ultimately just a cow. I may watch my tongue about the things I hold sacred, but as long as others have a right to criticize, parody, or publicly rebuke even those things I revere without fear for their lives, I know that society is a free society, and that when the time comes, I too will be protected. (It is the fate of the Jew always to wonder what will happen to him when the mob goes wild. That is why so many Jews are liberals.) Religion, especially, needs to be protected — both its affirmation and its negation — precisely because religion claims to hold in its hands the ultimate truths, on which life and death, war and peace, often turn. And the more power hungry a given religion appears to be, the more we have to protect every person’s right to critique it, whether through parody or public debate. Nor is this just a matter of legal rights: the moment someone feels that his life is in danger because he publicly criticized a religious figure or institution, we are all in trouble.

No cultural institution in our world has embodied this right more than South Park. Aside from being very, very funny (my apologies to the dour souls who disagree), it is also often vile, filled with offensive ideas, language, images, and more. I have often been forced to turn it off, especially if kids are watching. But that’s the whole point of it, as everyone knows. South Park has, until now, been the one place where every holy thing can be made fun of, every taboo broken — especially religion, in the best tradition of Voltaire and Monty Python. Nobody has to watch it if they don’t like it. But it should be out there, somewhere.

With the collapse of South Park‘s credibility as the slayer of all cows, something has been lost, something very deep to the inner logic of liberty. We have caught a glimpse of a world where religion is, well, so sacred as to brook no humor whatsoever. It is a dark world that we escaped several centuries ago, a world where power and claims of ultimate truths fuse together to crush freedom, creativity, and the bold human endeavors that have given us our entire world of scientific and political advancement. In a flash, we moderns are now forced to contend with the myth of our own invincibility: are we so arrogant as to think that modernity can never be undone? (Oh, and another thing: this seems especially ironic at a time when the Catholic Church has been hammered with demands for transparency and accountability an a willingness to defy centuries-old sanctities, yet many of us refuse to demand the same from Islam.)

Many of us have been hoping that the emergence of democracy and liberty around much of the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union could have an impact within the Islamic world as well — that somehow there would emerge a force of religious moderation, a realm of truly free speech, that could some day form the basis of peaceful coexistence and an end to the endless bloodshed. Instead, the battle lines are shifting the other way — and freedom is in retreat. South Park was a temple to the healthy cynicism and pushing of boundaries that have to exist somewhere if we are to feel truly free anywhere. We may hate it, and hate ourselves for enjoying it. But now we need to protect it. Or we, too, like the third-grader South Park recently depicted in a scathing assault on Facebook, will have 0 friends.

I admit it. Until now I have always been a bit of an Islamophobia skeptic. Living in the Middle East, I have no illusions about what radical Islam, given the right kinds of fuel and the right weapons of oppression, can do in the parts of the world under its control, or to immediate neighbors who challenge its reign. And while I share in many Europeans’ concern about the spread of violent Islam’s influence across the Continent, I have never really seen it as cause for panic about the future of Western civilization, or even of Europe. An inveterate optimist, I have a great deal of faith that Europeans, deep down, understand what has made them special and will do what’s needed to defend themselves and their culture. And as for the U.S.? It frankly never occurred to me that there was any danger, not now, not ever. Americans cherish their freedom too much and are too willing to defend it even by force of arms for fans of Jefferson and Paine to be truly worried.

Until now. And all because of South Park.

For those of you who’ve missed it, this week South Park attempted to parody the prophet Muhammad, just as it’s parodied Jesus, God, Moses, and every institution of religion big enough to merit its parody. Yet after an Islamist website posted a veiled threat, to the effect that the creators of South Park would end up like Theo Van Gogh, the film director murdered in Amsterdam for publicly criticizing Islam, the folks at Comedy Central buckled. The episode was removed from the website. For more details about this and similar acts of self-censorship in the past few months, read Ross Douthat’s crucial column in the New York Times.

Something has gone terribly wrong. The core of liberal society is the belief that every new thought, every iconoclasm, every “dangerous” idea, can be uttered somewhere, by someone, as long as it doesn’t openly incite violence — and that every sacred cow is ultimately just a cow. I may watch my tongue about the things I hold sacred, but as long as others have a right to criticize, parody, or publicly rebuke even those things I revere without fear for their lives, I know that society is a free society, and that when the time comes, I too will be protected. (It is the fate of the Jew always to wonder what will happen to him when the mob goes wild. That is why so many Jews are liberals.) Religion, especially, needs to be protected — both its affirmation and its negation — precisely because religion claims to hold in its hands the ultimate truths, on which life and death, war and peace, often turn. And the more power hungry a given religion appears to be, the more we have to protect every person’s right to critique it, whether through parody or public debate. Nor is this just a matter of legal rights: the moment someone feels that his life is in danger because he publicly criticized a religious figure or institution, we are all in trouble.

No cultural institution in our world has embodied this right more than South Park. Aside from being very, very funny (my apologies to the dour souls who disagree), it is also often vile, filled with offensive ideas, language, images, and more. I have often been forced to turn it off, especially if kids are watching. But that’s the whole point of it, as everyone knows. South Park has, until now, been the one place where every holy thing can be made fun of, every taboo broken — especially religion, in the best tradition of Voltaire and Monty Python. Nobody has to watch it if they don’t like it. But it should be out there, somewhere.

With the collapse of South Park‘s credibility as the slayer of all cows, something has been lost, something very deep to the inner logic of liberty. We have caught a glimpse of a world where religion is, well, so sacred as to brook no humor whatsoever. It is a dark world that we escaped several centuries ago, a world where power and claims of ultimate truths fuse together to crush freedom, creativity, and the bold human endeavors that have given us our entire world of scientific and political advancement. In a flash, we moderns are now forced to contend with the myth of our own invincibility: are we so arrogant as to think that modernity can never be undone? (Oh, and another thing: this seems especially ironic at a time when the Catholic Church has been hammered with demands for transparency and accountability an a willingness to defy centuries-old sanctities, yet many of us refuse to demand the same from Islam.)

Many of us have been hoping that the emergence of democracy and liberty around much of the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union could have an impact within the Islamic world as well — that somehow there would emerge a force of religious moderation, a realm of truly free speech, that could some day form the basis of peaceful coexistence and an end to the endless bloodshed. Instead, the battle lines are shifting the other way — and freedom is in retreat. South Park was a temple to the healthy cynicism and pushing of boundaries that have to exist somewhere if we are to feel truly free anywhere. We may hate it, and hate ourselves for enjoying it. But now we need to protect it. Or we, too, like the third-grader South Park recently depicted in a scathing assault on Facebook, will have 0 friends.

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Obama Tries Once More

In a few hours, Obama went from not wanting to point fingers to labeling the intelligence community as the root of the Christmas Day bombing fiasco. The New York Times reports:

President Obama said Tuesday that the United States government had sufficient information to uncover the terror plot to bring down an airplane on Christmas Day, but intelligence officials “failed to connect those dots” that would have prevented the young Nigerian man from boarding the plane in Amsterdam.The Obama administration also suspended the transfer of detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay to Yemen because of the deteriorating security situation there and the rising terror threats emanating in the country. Only days before the attempted bombing on Christmas, the United States sent six detainees back to Yemen. “This was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had,” Mr. Obama said after a two-hour meeting with his national security team at the White House. He added, “We have to do better, we will do better and we have to do it quickly. American lives are on the line.”

But again, Obama’s actions never quite match his rhetoric, even the newer and more improved variety. As the Times dryly notes, “His remarks suggested that he was standing by his top national security officials, including those whose agencies failed to communicate with one another.” And although he won’t for now be repopulating the terrorist ranks in Yemen with any more Guantanamo detainees, he’s still bent on closing that facility. Why? We hear the same recycled campaign lines and the same unproven and increasingly unbelievable talking points:

We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda.  In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  And, as I’ve always said, we will do so — we will close the prison in a manner that keeps the American people safe and secure.

Like health care, he told the base he would get it done, and it’s not coming off the list, now matter how many practical and political barriers remain. And as for his claim that we are shutting it down in a manner that keeps us safe, we know that simply isn’t true. In this instance, we have one or more detainees linked to the plot, and we know, although the Obami have been stingy on disclosure, that we have a significant recidivism problem. And really, how long are we going to buy into the “recruiting tool” argument?  (America’s relationship with Israel is no doubt a tool for jihadist recruitment  so. . .  Well, better not go there.) Any word on a review of the interrogation procedures employed in this instance (with the potential that more dots will be lost when we don’t ask the right questions and get every bit of data we can from one of these terrorists)? Any sign that a multi-year public trial for KSM – the mother of all “recruitment tools” — might be reconsidered? Nope.

One thing is certain: the Obami realize the political peril they are in. The rhetoric becomes more robust and the tone more serious with each day. But until those words are matched by action, the American people have every right to be concerned that the president still has not grasped the nature of our enemy and is reluctant to implement policies commensurate with the risk we face.

In a few hours, Obama went from not wanting to point fingers to labeling the intelligence community as the root of the Christmas Day bombing fiasco. The New York Times reports:

President Obama said Tuesday that the United States government had sufficient information to uncover the terror plot to bring down an airplane on Christmas Day, but intelligence officials “failed to connect those dots” that would have prevented the young Nigerian man from boarding the plane in Amsterdam.The Obama administration also suspended the transfer of detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay to Yemen because of the deteriorating security situation there and the rising terror threats emanating in the country. Only days before the attempted bombing on Christmas, the United States sent six detainees back to Yemen. “This was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had,” Mr. Obama said after a two-hour meeting with his national security team at the White House. He added, “We have to do better, we will do better and we have to do it quickly. American lives are on the line.”

But again, Obama’s actions never quite match his rhetoric, even the newer and more improved variety. As the Times dryly notes, “His remarks suggested that he was standing by his top national security officials, including those whose agencies failed to communicate with one another.” And although he won’t for now be repopulating the terrorist ranks in Yemen with any more Guantanamo detainees, he’s still bent on closing that facility. Why? We hear the same recycled campaign lines and the same unproven and increasingly unbelievable talking points:

We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda.  In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  And, as I’ve always said, we will do so — we will close the prison in a manner that keeps the American people safe and secure.

Like health care, he told the base he would get it done, and it’s not coming off the list, now matter how many practical and political barriers remain. And as for his claim that we are shutting it down in a manner that keeps us safe, we know that simply isn’t true. In this instance, we have one or more detainees linked to the plot, and we know, although the Obami have been stingy on disclosure, that we have a significant recidivism problem. And really, how long are we going to buy into the “recruiting tool” argument?  (America’s relationship with Israel is no doubt a tool for jihadist recruitment  so. . .  Well, better not go there.) Any word on a review of the interrogation procedures employed in this instance (with the potential that more dots will be lost when we don’t ask the right questions and get every bit of data we can from one of these terrorists)? Any sign that a multi-year public trial for KSM – the mother of all “recruitment tools” — might be reconsidered? Nope.

One thing is certain: the Obami realize the political peril they are in. The rhetoric becomes more robust and the tone more serious with each day. But until those words are matched by action, the American people have every right to be concerned that the president still has not grasped the nature of our enemy and is reluctant to implement policies commensurate with the risk we face.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Because they haven’t beaten this one to death: “To minimize expected losses in next fall’s election, President Barack Obama’s party is testing a line of attack that resurrects George W. Bush as a boogeyman and castigates Republicans as cozy with Wall Street.” I imagine that the GOP will be gleeful if this is the best the Democrats can do.

Kathleen Parker thinks blaming Bush is so 2008: “George W. Bush is officially retired as the fault-guy for the nation’s ills, and Barack Obama owns the game. Whether he wants to or not.”

The CIA is apparently sick of being the fall-guy for the Obami: “‘One day the President is pointing the finger and blaming the intelligence services, saying there is a systemic failure,’ said one agency official. ‘Now we are heroes. The fact is that we are doing everything humanly possible to stay on top of the security situation. The deaths of our operatives shows just how involved we are on the ground.’ But CIA bosses claim they were unfairly blamed at a time the covert government. . .Some CIA officials are angry at being criticised by the White House after Abdulmutallab, 23, was allowed to slip through the security net and board a U.S.-bound flight in Amsterdam despite evidence he was a terror threat.’” And then there is the special prosecutor who is reinvestigating the CIA operatives as well as the decision to take interrogation duties away from them. You can see why they are mad.

Marc Thiessen: “Those who argue that we should not used enhanced techniques even on the KSM’s of the world are effectively arguing from a position of radical pacifism.  They are opposed to coercion no matter what the cost in innocent lives.  We should respect their opinion, they way we respect the right of conscientious objectors to abstain from military service.  But that does not mean we put pacifists in charge of decisions on war and peace.  Same should go for decisions when it comes to interrogation.”

Terrible news: the former Washington Post ombudsperson Deborah Howell, a classy lady, has been killed. R. I. P.

The Obami have apparently convinced themselves that those “crippling sanctions” will make them unpopular with the Iranian people who have been pleading for the U.S. to adopt a policy of regime change: “Sanctions will be a difficult balancing act for the administration, since it acknowledges that three previous rounds of sanctions have failed to deter Iran, and it also wants to avoid angering Iranians protesting in the streets by depriving them of Western goods. That is why the administration is focusing on the Revolutionary Guards, who are increasingly detested by the protesters, and who have built up billions of dollars of business interests in telecommunications, oil and construction.” And we think the Revolutionary Guards can’t figure out how to evade “focused” sanctions? Oy. So many excuses for doing so little. But at least they’ve figured out (when was it exactly?) that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate was wrong about Iran’s nuclear program.

Remember when liberals used to be funny and artistic? Now they are humorless, while conservatives are the funny and poetic ones.

Marty Peretz notices that liberals are also shy these days: “Joe Klein, who spent a lot of print trying more or less to exonerate Dr. Major Nidal Malik Hasan by dint of his being a nutcase, has been curiously silent about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. In fact, there’s been a certain shyness among the whole left-wing blogosphere (and among Democrats, generally) about the skivvies terrorist. There is no place for these journalists to hide and no logic, however dubious, with which they can transfer the guilt to us. And, believe me, if they can’t invent this, there is nothing to invent—nothing.”

Because they haven’t beaten this one to death: “To minimize expected losses in next fall’s election, President Barack Obama’s party is testing a line of attack that resurrects George W. Bush as a boogeyman and castigates Republicans as cozy with Wall Street.” I imagine that the GOP will be gleeful if this is the best the Democrats can do.

Kathleen Parker thinks blaming Bush is so 2008: “George W. Bush is officially retired as the fault-guy for the nation’s ills, and Barack Obama owns the game. Whether he wants to or not.”

The CIA is apparently sick of being the fall-guy for the Obami: “‘One day the President is pointing the finger and blaming the intelligence services, saying there is a systemic failure,’ said one agency official. ‘Now we are heroes. The fact is that we are doing everything humanly possible to stay on top of the security situation. The deaths of our operatives shows just how involved we are on the ground.’ But CIA bosses claim they were unfairly blamed at a time the covert government. . .Some CIA officials are angry at being criticised by the White House after Abdulmutallab, 23, was allowed to slip through the security net and board a U.S.-bound flight in Amsterdam despite evidence he was a terror threat.’” And then there is the special prosecutor who is reinvestigating the CIA operatives as well as the decision to take interrogation duties away from them. You can see why they are mad.

Marc Thiessen: “Those who argue that we should not used enhanced techniques even on the KSM’s of the world are effectively arguing from a position of radical pacifism.  They are opposed to coercion no matter what the cost in innocent lives.  We should respect their opinion, they way we respect the right of conscientious objectors to abstain from military service.  But that does not mean we put pacifists in charge of decisions on war and peace.  Same should go for decisions when it comes to interrogation.”

Terrible news: the former Washington Post ombudsperson Deborah Howell, a classy lady, has been killed. R. I. P.

The Obami have apparently convinced themselves that those “crippling sanctions” will make them unpopular with the Iranian people who have been pleading for the U.S. to adopt a policy of regime change: “Sanctions will be a difficult balancing act for the administration, since it acknowledges that three previous rounds of sanctions have failed to deter Iran, and it also wants to avoid angering Iranians protesting in the streets by depriving them of Western goods. That is why the administration is focusing on the Revolutionary Guards, who are increasingly detested by the protesters, and who have built up billions of dollars of business interests in telecommunications, oil and construction.” And we think the Revolutionary Guards can’t figure out how to evade “focused” sanctions? Oy. So many excuses for doing so little. But at least they’ve figured out (when was it exactly?) that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate was wrong about Iran’s nuclear program.

Remember when liberals used to be funny and artistic? Now they are humorless, while conservatives are the funny and poetic ones.

Marty Peretz notices that liberals are also shy these days: “Joe Klein, who spent a lot of print trying more or less to exonerate Dr. Major Nidal Malik Hasan by dint of his being a nutcase, has been curiously silent about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. In fact, there’s been a certain shyness among the whole left-wing blogosphere (and among Democrats, generally) about the skivvies terrorist. There is no place for these journalists to hide and no logic, however dubious, with which they can transfer the guilt to us. And, believe me, if they can’t invent this, there is nothing to invent—nothing.”

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In a Nutshell

Notice the language the president employs to describe an act of terrorism on the homeland:

On Christmas Day, Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was en route from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit. As the plane made its final approach to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a passenger allegedly tried to ignite an explosive device on his body, setting off a fire.

Thanks to the quick and heroic actions of passengers and crew, the suspect was immediately subdued, the fire was put out, and the plane landed safely. The suspect is now in custody and has been charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft.

Allegedly. Suspect. Charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft. Would one ever guess this is anything but a routine criminal escapade? Of course not. We have Mirandized the “suspect” who is lawyered up. We can look forward to the civilian trial — if we can be so bold as to assume there is sufficient evidence to indict him — and if convicted (after a full trial  complete with the defendant’s explanation of his “justification” for his “crime”) he will be incarcerated in a U.S. prison where he can share his views on Islamic fundamentalism with its entire population, to which he will have full access after objecting (as did Richard Reid) to any unusual restrictions on contact with fellow prisoners or with his comrades on the outside. Feel safer yet?

Notice the language the president employs to describe an act of terrorism on the homeland:

On Christmas Day, Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was en route from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit. As the plane made its final approach to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a passenger allegedly tried to ignite an explosive device on his body, setting off a fire.

Thanks to the quick and heroic actions of passengers and crew, the suspect was immediately subdued, the fire was put out, and the plane landed safely. The suspect is now in custody and has been charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft.

Allegedly. Suspect. Charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft. Would one ever guess this is anything but a routine criminal escapade? Of course not. We have Mirandized the “suspect” who is lawyered up. We can look forward to the civilian trial — if we can be so bold as to assume there is sufficient evidence to indict him — and if convicted (after a full trial  complete with the defendant’s explanation of his “justification” for his “crime”) he will be incarcerated in a U.S. prison where he can share his views on Islamic fundamentalism with its entire population, to which he will have full access after objecting (as did Richard Reid) to any unusual restrictions on contact with fellow prisoners or with his comrades on the outside. Feel safer yet?

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Mixed Message

A Dutch nonprofit, send.a.message, is now offering a service whereby, for the low, low fee of 30 euros, a group of Palestinians will spraypaint whatever message you like (provided it’s not “obscene, offensive and extremist”) on their side of the security wall. Besides the generally exploitative nature of this project (the company’s website makes a point of how much economic damage the wall has done, which means, logically, that the Palestinian employees are bargaining for wages under constraint, right?) there’s a fair amount of, uh, paternalism involved. In their FAQ, the organization answers those worried about whether their haute bourgeois whimsy might put people in danger thusly:

Is it dangerous to spray on the Wall?

The ‘wallwriters’ in Palestine know the local circumstances well. Also realize: the situation on West Bank (within the Wall, where we work) is a lot more stable than in far away Gaza. However, ‘our’ Palestinians will never risk their lives to get your text on the Wall. Be sure of that.

“Our” Palestinians. You have to love the quotes around the word our. That’s right, Europe: now you can wash away three centuries of imperialism with irony-quotes! Sweet. Also, how ominous does this sound:

Where does the money go?

Part of your money stays in Holland, to cover the (minimal) costs of setting up and running ‘Sendamessage’. The bulk of the money will go to the Palestinian NGO’s (independent foundations) doing the work. They will fund small social, cultural and educational projects with the money earned (from buying bicycles to fixing the roof).

Will they buy weapons?

No, we work with organisations that are legal in Palestine and are allowed to work-also by the Israeli government. People we work with were found thanks to the network of ICCO, a large Dutch Christian NGO. The money overthere will be spent on small social, cultural and educational projects.

That fills me with confidence. Especially since

An independent board oversees and checks the activities of this registered charity Foundation, from Amsterdam, Holland. All financial matters are checked by an independent, registered financial controller.

Valentine’s day is about a month away. Place your orders now and get “our” Palestinians crackin’!

A Dutch nonprofit, send.a.message, is now offering a service whereby, for the low, low fee of 30 euros, a group of Palestinians will spraypaint whatever message you like (provided it’s not “obscene, offensive and extremist”) on their side of the security wall. Besides the generally exploitative nature of this project (the company’s website makes a point of how much economic damage the wall has done, which means, logically, that the Palestinian employees are bargaining for wages under constraint, right?) there’s a fair amount of, uh, paternalism involved. In their FAQ, the organization answers those worried about whether their haute bourgeois whimsy might put people in danger thusly:

Is it dangerous to spray on the Wall?

The ‘wallwriters’ in Palestine know the local circumstances well. Also realize: the situation on West Bank (within the Wall, where we work) is a lot more stable than in far away Gaza. However, ‘our’ Palestinians will never risk their lives to get your text on the Wall. Be sure of that.

“Our” Palestinians. You have to love the quotes around the word our. That’s right, Europe: now you can wash away three centuries of imperialism with irony-quotes! Sweet. Also, how ominous does this sound:

Where does the money go?

Part of your money stays in Holland, to cover the (minimal) costs of setting up and running ‘Sendamessage’. The bulk of the money will go to the Palestinian NGO’s (independent foundations) doing the work. They will fund small social, cultural and educational projects with the money earned (from buying bicycles to fixing the roof).

Will they buy weapons?

No, we work with organisations that are legal in Palestine and are allowed to work-also by the Israeli government. People we work with were found thanks to the network of ICCO, a large Dutch Christian NGO. The money overthere will be spent on small social, cultural and educational projects.

That fills me with confidence. Especially since

An independent board oversees and checks the activities of this registered charity Foundation, from Amsterdam, Holland. All financial matters are checked by an independent, registered financial controller.

Valentine’s day is about a month away. Place your orders now and get “our” Palestinians crackin’!

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Buying China

Legendary investor (and co-founder, with George Soros, of the Quantum Fund) Jim Rogers, speaking at an ABN Amro conference in Amsterdam on Tuesday, said that he hopes to sell all his assets denominated in U.S. dollars. What’s the investment legend buying? “I don’t see how one can really lose on the renminbi in the next decade or so,” he said, referring to China’s currency. “It’s gotta go. It’s gotta triple. It’s gotta quadruple.”

If it’s gotta do anything, Jim, it’s gotta collapse. Although it’s hard to argue with the guru who in 1999 correctly predicted the bull run in commodities, Rogers absolutely has to learn more about China.

It is true, as Rogers says, that the Bush administration has been trying to devalue the American currency. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson may talk about his strong-dollar policy, but he is not doing much to maintain the value of the greenback. On the contrary, he is trying to weaken it. And he is succeeding. The dollar is trading at historic lows against the euro and other currencies, including the Chinese one. Yesterday, for instance, the yuan, as the Chinese currency is informally known, broke the CNY7.5=US$1 mark—after blasting through 7.6 on July 3. The renminbi has appreciated about 8 percent against the dollar since July 21, 2005, when China unpegged its currency from America’s.

The yuan would go up about 35 percent—give or take twenty percentage points—if Beijing allowed its currency to trade freely. But these predictions of appreciation all assume that China will be able to maintain its elaborate capital controls. If they come down, so will the renminbi. Chinese businesses and citizens, if given the chance, will put some of their money abroad. When they do so, demand for the renminbi will shrink as they exchange local currency for foreign ones. China’s economy certainly looks strong with its 11.5 percent GDP growth, but its apparent success is built on government-created distortions that cannot be maintained for long. The Chinese know this.

All developing economies endure crisis at one time or another. Argentina’s, which started in the beginning of this decade, might be the template for China’s. When Beijing faces market turbulence of its own, all that Jim Rogers knows will become obsolete within minutes. If we have learned one thing from panics in the last hundred years, it’s that they follow the rapid creation of wealth. Chinese leaders have created a massive bubble in their country, and, despite repeated advice from others, have not really tried to stop the boom. China does not have a market economy; therefore, few mechanisms are in place to make necessary adjustments that minimize imbalances as they arise. When crisis comes, it will come big.

Crisis in China? It’s gotta happen, Jim, and when it does, you’re gonna lose a lot of money.

Legendary investor (and co-founder, with George Soros, of the Quantum Fund) Jim Rogers, speaking at an ABN Amro conference in Amsterdam on Tuesday, said that he hopes to sell all his assets denominated in U.S. dollars. What’s the investment legend buying? “I don’t see how one can really lose on the renminbi in the next decade or so,” he said, referring to China’s currency. “It’s gotta go. It’s gotta triple. It’s gotta quadruple.”

If it’s gotta do anything, Jim, it’s gotta collapse. Although it’s hard to argue with the guru who in 1999 correctly predicted the bull run in commodities, Rogers absolutely has to learn more about China.

It is true, as Rogers says, that the Bush administration has been trying to devalue the American currency. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson may talk about his strong-dollar policy, but he is not doing much to maintain the value of the greenback. On the contrary, he is trying to weaken it. And he is succeeding. The dollar is trading at historic lows against the euro and other currencies, including the Chinese one. Yesterday, for instance, the yuan, as the Chinese currency is informally known, broke the CNY7.5=US$1 mark—after blasting through 7.6 on July 3. The renminbi has appreciated about 8 percent against the dollar since July 21, 2005, when China unpegged its currency from America’s.

The yuan would go up about 35 percent—give or take twenty percentage points—if Beijing allowed its currency to trade freely. But these predictions of appreciation all assume that China will be able to maintain its elaborate capital controls. If they come down, so will the renminbi. Chinese businesses and citizens, if given the chance, will put some of their money abroad. When they do so, demand for the renminbi will shrink as they exchange local currency for foreign ones. China’s economy certainly looks strong with its 11.5 percent GDP growth, but its apparent success is built on government-created distortions that cannot be maintained for long. The Chinese know this.

All developing economies endure crisis at one time or another. Argentina’s, which started in the beginning of this decade, might be the template for China’s. When Beijing faces market turbulence of its own, all that Jim Rogers knows will become obsolete within minutes. If we have learned one thing from panics in the last hundred years, it’s that they follow the rapid creation of wealth. Chinese leaders have created a massive bubble in their country, and, despite repeated advice from others, have not really tried to stop the boom. China does not have a market economy; therefore, few mechanisms are in place to make necessary adjustments that minimize imbalances as they arise. When crisis comes, it will come big.

Crisis in China? It’s gotta happen, Jim, and when it does, you’re gonna lose a lot of money.

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Female Terrorism

The New York Times has another front-page story on the UK bombings today by Alan Cowell, who has a joint byline with Raymond Bonner. Is there a new spin today like there was in yesterday’s front-page story? Perhaps, but if so, its veers off in a strange direction.

The two Timesmen note that a woman has been arrested in the plot. They cite an unnamed Western official saying this is “not surprising,” as women have been previously arrested for failing to report suspects to the police. But the same anonymous official is then paraphrased saying that if the seized woman had been “directly involved in a terrorist attack on a Western country, it would be highly unusual and perhaps unprecedented.” The official is also quoted saying, “We’ve always worked on the assumption, given that many women share the same ideology as the men, that it was only a matter of time before women became involved.”

This official requested anonymity, reports the Times, “because he was not authorized to brief reporters.” But why was he not authorized? We are not told. But one reason might be that he is too ignorant to be a spokesman. If so, the Times reporters themselves did not catch on.

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The New York Times has another front-page story on the UK bombings today by Alan Cowell, who has a joint byline with Raymond Bonner. Is there a new spin today like there was in yesterday’s front-page story? Perhaps, but if so, its veers off in a strange direction.

The two Timesmen note that a woman has been arrested in the plot. They cite an unnamed Western official saying this is “not surprising,” as women have been previously arrested for failing to report suspects to the police. But the same anonymous official is then paraphrased saying that if the seized woman had been “directly involved in a terrorist attack on a Western country, it would be highly unusual and perhaps unprecedented.” The official is also quoted saying, “We’ve always worked on the assumption, given that many women share the same ideology as the men, that it was only a matter of time before women became involved.”

This official requested anonymity, reports the Times, “because he was not authorized to brief reporters.” But why was he not authorized? We are not told. But one reason might be that he is too ignorant to be a spokesman. If so, the Times reporters themselves did not catch on.

To begin with, if we define “Western countries” broadly to include Israel and Russia, there have been a wealth of attacks in which women have played central roles. Israel has faced a slew of female suicide bombers over the years, with the first such attack taking place against its forces in Lebanon in 1985, killing two soldiers.

In Russia, “black widows,” Chechen women whose husbands or other close relatives have been killed fighting Russian security forces, have played prominent roles in a whole series of brutal terrorist attacks. A large proportion of the 42 terrorists who seized a Moscow theater in 2002 were women; 129 of the 700 or so hostages they seized perished. Two Russian airliners that were downed by bombs simultaneously in 2004 are also thought to have been set off by Chechen women. Part of the evidence: their bodies were the only two that went unclaimed.

But if we speak of the West proper, there is West Germany, which was plagued in the 1970’s by the Red Army Faction, also known as the Baader-Meinhoff gang. Ulrike Marie Meinhof, who engaged in numerous acts of terrorism and also served as the group’s theoretician, was of course a woman. Irmgard Möller and Margrit Schiller were among her female accomplices in terrorist actions that took the lives of some 34 people.

But the most interesting case concerns England itself. In 1969, Leila Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, took part in the simultaneous hijacking of four aircraft to Jordan known as Black September. In 1970, she attempted to hijack an El Al Flight heading from Amsterdam to New York. Israeli skymarshals killed one of her compatriots and overpowered her, and the flight made an emergency landing at Heathrow airport in London.

Khaled was delivered to the British police, who treated her practically like visiting royalty. Her first visitor in jail was an immigration officer who wanted to know why she had arrived in the country without a visa. Within the month, the British had released her. “When I left, they took me on a helicopter tour, saying: ‘You must see the sights of London before you go.’”

Khaled left for Jordan, but became a regular visitor to England where she made speaking engagements, and where she was lionized by left-wing British journalists. Several months before September 11, 2001 she was interviewed by the Guardian, declaring that airline hijackings were a thing of the past and recalling her fond memories of her month in police custody, “where she played badminton with her guards, while attempting to win them over to the Palestinian cause.”

What goes around evidently comes around, sometimes in a different form. But the Timesmen know nothing of this history. There is a reason why journalism is called history’s first draft—it is often in severe need of editing.

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Is Ayaan Hirsi Ali a “Fundamentalist”?

The novelist Peter De Vries once observed that there are certain people who appear profound on the surface while deep down they remain superficial. This seems a fair characterization of anyone who could take seriously as an indictment the term “Enlightenment fundamentalist,” coined by Timothy Garton Ash to describe the fearless critic of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. As an act of verbal jujitsu, “Enlightenment fundamentalist” seems arresting at first. But just try to locate the intellectual and moral ties that bind, say, Sayyid Qutb to Baruch Spinoza, and you will come up empty-handed.

Hirsi Ali’s unapologetic preference for rationalism over “revealed” truth is not rooted in her own bone-chilling experiences, as she emphasizes in her new memoir, Infidel. (She was subjected to genital mutilation, arranged marriage, and regular beatings delivered by both kin and cleric.) Rather, through reading and common sense, she concluded that the open, secular society, where women are not treated as divinely licensed sex slaves, is self-evidently better than the closed, Islamic one, where they are.

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The novelist Peter De Vries once observed that there are certain people who appear profound on the surface while deep down they remain superficial. This seems a fair characterization of anyone who could take seriously as an indictment the term “Enlightenment fundamentalist,” coined by Timothy Garton Ash to describe the fearless critic of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. As an act of verbal jujitsu, “Enlightenment fundamentalist” seems arresting at first. But just try to locate the intellectual and moral ties that bind, say, Sayyid Qutb to Baruch Spinoza, and you will come up empty-handed.

Hirsi Ali’s unapologetic preference for rationalism over “revealed” truth is not rooted in her own bone-chilling experiences, as she emphasizes in her new memoir, Infidel. (She was subjected to genital mutilation, arranged marriage, and regular beatings delivered by both kin and cleric.) Rather, through reading and common sense, she concluded that the open, secular society, where women are not treated as divinely licensed sex slaves, is self-evidently better than the closed, Islamic one, where they are.

This did not stop Garton Ash from writing, apropos of Hirsi Ali’s previous book, The Caged Virgin, that her career exhibited “a pattern familiar to historians of political intellectuals.” As he put it, she “has gone from one extreme to the other, with an emotional energy perfectly summed up by Shakespeare: ‘As the heresies that men do leave/are hated most of those they did deceive.’” (It’s in keeping with such generous standards of analysis that Garton Ash fails to mention the high irony of the fact that his quotation’s source, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, lampoons the foolishness of . . . arranged marriage, one of Hirsi Ali’s bêtes-noires.)

In both of her books, Hirsi Ali shows that her disgust and outrage have been fueled not by a feeling of having been personally “deceived” but by the conditions she has witnessed around her. She ran for a seat in the Dutch parliament in order to force Holland to gather information about the incidence of domestic violence—including sexual abuse and incest—and the ethnic background of its perpetrators. She also wanted the government to “investigate the number of excisions of little girls that took place every year on Dutch kitchen tables.”

Right-thinking intellectuals may choose to ignore or rationalize Koranic injunctions like “Your wives are your tillage, go in unto your tillage in what manner so ever you will,” arguing that these are only interpreted literally in a few third-world countries. Yet Hirsi Ali, who grew up in Somalia and traveled with her divided family to Saudi Arabia and Kenya, stands as a living reply: these literalists really get around. They are now, in fact, comfortably ensconced in cosmopolitan cities like London and Amsterdam, where Theo van Gogh, her friend and collaborator on the film Submission, was pulled off his bicycle and shot to death by Mohammed Bouyeri in 2004.

What best refutes Garton Ash’s charge of fundamentalism is the demonstrable fact that, even in her newfound atheism, Hirsi Ali can still pay homage to the rituals of faith. She writes in Infidel: “People were patient with each other in the Grand Mosque, and communal—everyone washing his or her feet in the same fountain, with no shoving or prejudice. We were all Muslims in God’s house, and it was beautiful. It had a quality of timelessness. I think this is one reasons Muslims believe that Islam means peace: because in a large, cool place full of kindness you do feel peaceful.”

Now show me bin Laden’s public acknowledgment that the Bill of Rights has its charms, too.

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