Commentary Magazine


Topic: BBC

Shari’a in Britain

Yesterday, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, suggested that shari’a law apply in Britain in limited circumstances. In a BBC interview, he said that it is “a bit of danger” that “there’s one law for everybody and that’s all there is to be said.” So it would be okay if, for example, marital disputes or financial matters would be tried in an Islamic court. Williams argues “a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law” will help social cohesion. (He must have had this in mind.)

Whatever happened to the concept that one law applies to everyone? In the country that greatly contributed to the concept of the West’s legal principles, there is already precedent for separate law and tribunals. The Archbishop of Canterbury noted that Britain’s Jewish community has its religious courts, the Beth Din. What’s good for Jews, Dr. Williams argues, is also good for Muslims.

So shouldn’t each person have the right to choose his or her own legal system? In the contractual setting, parties can select their own law as well as designate the court that will hear any dispute. They may even decide on arbitration—in other words, private settlement largely outside the judicial system. Yet this is voluntary, as are cases in Britain’s Jewish tribunals. “There’s no compulsion,” says David Frei, the registrar of the London Beth Din. “We can’t drag people in off the streets.” Moreover, the Jewish courts hear only civil disputes, and then only within the strictures of British law. In essence, the Beth Din is a private arbitration organization.

The risk of applying shari’a is drawing—and enforcing—the line for adherents who seek no bounds. The BBC reports that Somalis living in Britain have their unofficial courts, or “gar,” which have, without legal justification, begun to handle criminal cases. Unfortunately, Britain’s Muslims are already growing apart from the rest of society, as the Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali, noted when he said last month that parts of England had become “no-go” areas for infidels. So the risk of introducing Muslim law is that it will, as a practical matter, become compulsory in Britain’s increasingly exclusionist and radical Islamic communities.

So I’m with the Sun, Britain’s tabloid. “It’s easy to dismiss Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams as a silly old goat,” the paper said today. “In fact he’s a dangerous threat to our nation.” And Western society as well.

Yesterday, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, suggested that shari’a law apply in Britain in limited circumstances. In a BBC interview, he said that it is “a bit of danger” that “there’s one law for everybody and that’s all there is to be said.” So it would be okay if, for example, marital disputes or financial matters would be tried in an Islamic court. Williams argues “a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law” will help social cohesion. (He must have had this in mind.)

Whatever happened to the concept that one law applies to everyone? In the country that greatly contributed to the concept of the West’s legal principles, there is already precedent for separate law and tribunals. The Archbishop of Canterbury noted that Britain’s Jewish community has its religious courts, the Beth Din. What’s good for Jews, Dr. Williams argues, is also good for Muslims.

So shouldn’t each person have the right to choose his or her own legal system? In the contractual setting, parties can select their own law as well as designate the court that will hear any dispute. They may even decide on arbitration—in other words, private settlement largely outside the judicial system. Yet this is voluntary, as are cases in Britain’s Jewish tribunals. “There’s no compulsion,” says David Frei, the registrar of the London Beth Din. “We can’t drag people in off the streets.” Moreover, the Jewish courts hear only civil disputes, and then only within the strictures of British law. In essence, the Beth Din is a private arbitration organization.

The risk of applying shari’a is drawing—and enforcing—the line for adherents who seek no bounds. The BBC reports that Somalis living in Britain have their unofficial courts, or “gar,” which have, without legal justification, begun to handle criminal cases. Unfortunately, Britain’s Muslims are already growing apart from the rest of society, as the Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali, noted when he said last month that parts of England had become “no-go” areas for infidels. So the risk of introducing Muslim law is that it will, as a practical matter, become compulsory in Britain’s increasingly exclusionist and radical Islamic communities.

So I’m with the Sun, Britain’s tabloid. “It’s easy to dismiss Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams as a silly old goat,” the paper said today. “In fact he’s a dangerous threat to our nation.” And Western society as well.

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Iran’s Law

Saeed Jalili, the Secretary General of the Supreme National Security Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran, visited Brussels last week, to engage in dialogue with European counterparts. Little did he know that Members of the European Parliament would be particularly keen to have a candid exchange of views on the way Iran customarily hangs people from cranes in the public square. Though he did not answer, Jalili must have taken the outrage to heart, because barely a week later, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, the head of Iran’s judiciary, has banned all public executions unless he personally authorizes them. He has also banned photographs and films of the executions, though not the executions themselves. This is a far cry from abiding by the moratorium on public executions called for by the UN on December 18 of last year. It is just a way to avoid embarrassment of the kind suffered by Jalili last week. According to the BBC,

Correspondents say it appears Ayatollah Shahrudi wants to lower the profile of executions as Iran has been widely criticised by Western countries and international organisations.

Since the UN moratorium, Iran has carried out 62 executions in 40 days, many of them in public, including two minors, two women and two political prisoners. More will no doubt be soon scheduled, though far from the public eye. Far from the eye, far from the heart, as they say—and the international outrage that so impedes Iran’s dialogue with Europe.

From now on, the international community will not be able to easily see the brutality of Iran’s regime as previously possible, courtesy of Iran’s official press agencies. So, before the lights go out, readers should take a look at the pictures below the jump (not for the faint of heart) and remember what Iran’s regime is truly about. (The three UNIC hangings are from a hanging on August 2, 2007 in Tehran; the hangings in the snow were public executions in Qom, on January 2.)

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Saeed Jalili, the Secretary General of the Supreme National Security Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran, visited Brussels last week, to engage in dialogue with European counterparts. Little did he know that Members of the European Parliament would be particularly keen to have a candid exchange of views on the way Iran customarily hangs people from cranes in the public square. Though he did not answer, Jalili must have taken the outrage to heart, because barely a week later, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, the head of Iran’s judiciary, has banned all public executions unless he personally authorizes them. He has also banned photographs and films of the executions, though not the executions themselves. This is a far cry from abiding by the moratorium on public executions called for by the UN on December 18 of last year. It is just a way to avoid embarrassment of the kind suffered by Jalili last week. According to the BBC,

Correspondents say it appears Ayatollah Shahrudi wants to lower the profile of executions as Iran has been widely criticised by Western countries and international organisations.

Since the UN moratorium, Iran has carried out 62 executions in 40 days, many of them in public, including two minors, two women and two political prisoners. More will no doubt be soon scheduled, though far from the public eye. Far from the eye, far from the heart, as they say—and the international outrage that so impedes Iran’s dialogue with Europe.

From now on, the international community will not be able to easily see the brutality of Iran’s regime as previously possible, courtesy of Iran’s official press agencies. So, before the lights go out, readers should take a look at the pictures below the jump (not for the faint of heart) and remember what Iran’s regime is truly about. (The three UNIC hangings are from a hanging on August 2, 2007 in Tehran; the hangings in the snow were public executions in Qom, on January 2.)

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Bloody Lies!

Joel Pollak (no relation) reports on his blog that Charles Enderlin, the France 2 television reporter implicated in the Mohammed al-Dura fabrication, admitted at a talk at Harvard last night that the famous scenes of Yasser Arafat donating blood after the 9/11 attacks were, like the footage of the IDF killing al-Dura, staged:

Enderlin said the event had been staged for the media to counteract the embarrassing television images of Palestinians celebrating in the streets after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

The blood donation story made headlines around the world. It was reported by esteemed news agencies like the BBC, and photographs of Arafat lying with an outstretched arm ran on many front pages. But the whole scene was staged, Enderlin said. Arafat didn’t like needles, and so the doctor put a needle near his arm and agitated a bag of blood. The reporters took the requisite photographs.

Arafat, it’s worth noting, died in 2005 of AIDS, and it is thus a good thing that he didn’t actually donate blood. Is it possible that the reputation of the international press corps in Israel, especially its European members, could get any worse?

Joel Pollak (no relation) reports on his blog that Charles Enderlin, the France 2 television reporter implicated in the Mohammed al-Dura fabrication, admitted at a talk at Harvard last night that the famous scenes of Yasser Arafat donating blood after the 9/11 attacks were, like the footage of the IDF killing al-Dura, staged:

Enderlin said the event had been staged for the media to counteract the embarrassing television images of Palestinians celebrating in the streets after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

The blood donation story made headlines around the world. It was reported by esteemed news agencies like the BBC, and photographs of Arafat lying with an outstretched arm ran on many front pages. But the whole scene was staged, Enderlin said. Arafat didn’t like needles, and so the doctor put a needle near his arm and agitated a bag of blood. The reporters took the requisite photographs.

Arafat, it’s worth noting, died in 2005 of AIDS, and it is thus a good thing that he didn’t actually donate blood. Is it possible that the reputation of the international press corps in Israel, especially its European members, could get any worse?

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Yes Minister — From the 1980s, A Practical Guide to Politics in 2008

During this season of strenuously given promises for political “change,” I find myself  turning to the DVDs of Yes Minister, the 1980-84 BBC sitcom I’ve been watching via Netflix. (British shows require less commitment than American ones; Yes Minister aired only 22 episodes over those four years, then inspired a less well-regarded sequel of 16 more, Yes Prime Minister.) Yes Minister ruthlessly satirizes the way idealistic politicians find themselves stumbling into the gears of bureaucracy that may be greased by their carcasses or may spit them out — but in any case will keep running smoothly. 

The series is an advanced seminar in political reality. Member of Parliament and newly elected cabinet  minister Jim Hacker arrives at his office — he’s the new head of the Department of Administrative Affairs — ready to clean up government. He wants less waste, more transparency and fewer perks for office-holders. He is opposed at every turn by his Permanent Secretary, a natty, smiling, witty and unfailingly courteous blot on Hacker’s ambitions. The Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, parries every effort to improve government, sometimes out of direct self-interest (planning to retire one day and take a sinecure at a bank, he helps guide the bank’s application to add six stories to its headquarters despite the minister’s pleas that the move would mar the beauty of the skyline). More often Sir Humphrey seems to act out of an instinctive sense that the way things have always been done is the correct way.

By the end of the first episode, when Sir Humphrey has briskly shoved Hacker’s political consultant to the side and proven his own indispensability by withholding a press release that would have destroyed the minister’s career, it’s clear both that Hacker can’t function without Sir Humphrey – and can’t accomplish anything with him around. And the follies begin.

Sir Humphrey loves red tape, overstaffing, centralized planning and needless regulation. The more complicated everything is, the more power civil servants have. In one classic episode about a just-completed hospital that has 500 employees but no patients, Sir Humphrey gives an eloquent explanation why every employee is absolutely necessary. In another episode, in which it is revealed that a hangar used only to store copper wire is kept heated at 70 degrees at all times, Sir Humphrey privately reveals to Hacker the real reason — employees have been growing mushrooms there since 1945, the only perk in a tedious job — but in a public hearing frames the issue as one of compassion and welfare. The workers, he announces, spend a great deal of time going in and out of the building, and it can get cold there in winter.

In the same episode, Sir Humphrey argues that office supplies, the purchase of which is centrally directed at a cost of four times the retail price, must continue to be requisitioned through a central authority because otherwise the power of “considerable government patronage” would be placed in the hands of junior staff.

Every reform Hacker proposes is a noble one, yet the reason why each is shot down also makes a loony kind of sense. As Sir Humphey puts it in one of many hilarious aphorisms, “There’s an implicit pact offered to every minister by his senior officials. If the minister will help us to implement the opposite policy to the one he’s pledged to — which once he’s in office he will see is obviously incorrect — we will help him to pretend that he is in fact doing what he said he was going to do in his manifesto.” You can hear the clank and whirr of those forklifts, laden with regulations, that Bill Clinton and Al Gore drove cheerfully around for the cameras when they first arrived in the White House before they added mountains of more regulations. And when Hacker grasps his lapel and delivers his next big idea, he has a habit of slurring his words into Churchillian tones of righteousness that make you giggle at the gap, known to all except him, between principle and reality. One pictures Barack Obama arriving in the White House and discovering that rhetorical splendor doesn’t hold anyone’s taxes down or improve anyone’s health care.

The work of two remarkable satirists, Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, Yes Minister has more to say about politics than a hundred pundits all speaking simultaneously.

During this season of strenuously given promises for political “change,” I find myself  turning to the DVDs of Yes Minister, the 1980-84 BBC sitcom I’ve been watching via Netflix. (British shows require less commitment than American ones; Yes Minister aired only 22 episodes over those four years, then inspired a less well-regarded sequel of 16 more, Yes Prime Minister.) Yes Minister ruthlessly satirizes the way idealistic politicians find themselves stumbling into the gears of bureaucracy that may be greased by their carcasses or may spit them out — but in any case will keep running smoothly. 

The series is an advanced seminar in political reality. Member of Parliament and newly elected cabinet  minister Jim Hacker arrives at his office — he’s the new head of the Department of Administrative Affairs — ready to clean up government. He wants less waste, more transparency and fewer perks for office-holders. He is opposed at every turn by his Permanent Secretary, a natty, smiling, witty and unfailingly courteous blot on Hacker’s ambitions. The Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, parries every effort to improve government, sometimes out of direct self-interest (planning to retire one day and take a sinecure at a bank, he helps guide the bank’s application to add six stories to its headquarters despite the minister’s pleas that the move would mar the beauty of the skyline). More often Sir Humphrey seems to act out of an instinctive sense that the way things have always been done is the correct way.

By the end of the first episode, when Sir Humphrey has briskly shoved Hacker’s political consultant to the side and proven his own indispensability by withholding a press release that would have destroyed the minister’s career, it’s clear both that Hacker can’t function without Sir Humphrey – and can’t accomplish anything with him around. And the follies begin.

Sir Humphrey loves red tape, overstaffing, centralized planning and needless regulation. The more complicated everything is, the more power civil servants have. In one classic episode about a just-completed hospital that has 500 employees but no patients, Sir Humphrey gives an eloquent explanation why every employee is absolutely necessary. In another episode, in which it is revealed that a hangar used only to store copper wire is kept heated at 70 degrees at all times, Sir Humphrey privately reveals to Hacker the real reason — employees have been growing mushrooms there since 1945, the only perk in a tedious job — but in a public hearing frames the issue as one of compassion and welfare. The workers, he announces, spend a great deal of time going in and out of the building, and it can get cold there in winter.

In the same episode, Sir Humphrey argues that office supplies, the purchase of which is centrally directed at a cost of four times the retail price, must continue to be requisitioned through a central authority because otherwise the power of “considerable government patronage” would be placed in the hands of junior staff.

Every reform Hacker proposes is a noble one, yet the reason why each is shot down also makes a loony kind of sense. As Sir Humphey puts it in one of many hilarious aphorisms, “There’s an implicit pact offered to every minister by his senior officials. If the minister will help us to implement the opposite policy to the one he’s pledged to — which once he’s in office he will see is obviously incorrect — we will help him to pretend that he is in fact doing what he said he was going to do in his manifesto.” You can hear the clank and whirr of those forklifts, laden with regulations, that Bill Clinton and Al Gore drove cheerfully around for the cameras when they first arrived in the White House before they added mountains of more regulations. And when Hacker grasps his lapel and delivers his next big idea, he has a habit of slurring his words into Churchillian tones of righteousness that make you giggle at the gap, known to all except him, between principle and reality. One pictures Barack Obama arriving in the White House and discovering that rhetorical splendor doesn’t hold anyone’s taxes down or improve anyone’s health care.

The work of two remarkable satirists, Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, Yes Minister has more to say about politics than a hundred pundits all speaking simultaneously.

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Rice Signals Iran

In her year-end press conference last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice touched on many subjects: Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Taiwan, Sudan, Somalia, Congo, Peru, Colombia, Panama, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Yet despite this wide variety of issues, media coverage of Rice’s address focused on one sentence buried deeply in the Q/A session: “Look, we don’t have permanent enemies; the United States doesn’t,” she said, referencing North Korea and Iran. “What we have is a policy that is open to ending conflict and confrontation with any country that is willing to meet us on those terms.”

Of course, that the U.S. doesn’t have “permanent enemies” is self-evident—in foreign affairs, an enemy is largely defined by what it does, rather than what it is. When it comes to post-revolutionary Iran, the U.S. has been overwhelmingly concerned with the taking of hostages, financing of terrorist organizations, and pursuit of nuclear power; its theocratic regime and human rights abuses are, realistically, secondary concerns, with similarly repressive features hardly encumbering relations with Saudi Arabia, among other states.

But in the game of international relations, even the most obvious remarks—particularly when they are plastered in international headlines—hold tremendous value. Indeed, Rice’s statement that the U.S. has no “permanent enemies” is consistent with a clear shift in approach towards Iran that she has been signaling since the release of the National Intelligence Estimate earlier this month. According to this shift, Rice is prepared to negotiate with Iranian leaders if they agree to suspend uranium enrichment; as Rice told Jonathan Beale of BBC News last Thursday:

. . . I’ve said we would reverse 28 years of American policy. I would sit down with my counterpart, anyplace, anytime, anywhere to talk about anything. They only have to do what two Security Council resolutions told them to do.

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In her year-end press conference last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice touched on many subjects: Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Taiwan, Sudan, Somalia, Congo, Peru, Colombia, Panama, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Yet despite this wide variety of issues, media coverage of Rice’s address focused on one sentence buried deeply in the Q/A session: “Look, we don’t have permanent enemies; the United States doesn’t,” she said, referencing North Korea and Iran. “What we have is a policy that is open to ending conflict and confrontation with any country that is willing to meet us on those terms.”

Of course, that the U.S. doesn’t have “permanent enemies” is self-evident—in foreign affairs, an enemy is largely defined by what it does, rather than what it is. When it comes to post-revolutionary Iran, the U.S. has been overwhelmingly concerned with the taking of hostages, financing of terrorist organizations, and pursuit of nuclear power; its theocratic regime and human rights abuses are, realistically, secondary concerns, with similarly repressive features hardly encumbering relations with Saudi Arabia, among other states.

But in the game of international relations, even the most obvious remarks—particularly when they are plastered in international headlines—hold tremendous value. Indeed, Rice’s statement that the U.S. has no “permanent enemies” is consistent with a clear shift in approach towards Iran that she has been signaling since the release of the National Intelligence Estimate earlier this month. According to this shift, Rice is prepared to negotiate with Iranian leaders if they agree to suspend uranium enrichment; as Rice told Jonathan Beale of BBC News last Thursday:

. . . I’ve said we would reverse 28 years of American policy. I would sit down with my counterpart, anyplace, anytime, anywhere to talk about anything. They only have to do what two Security Council resolutions told them to do.

Rice similarly promised to meet with her counterparts in a December 10 address at the Women’s Foreign Policy Group’s annual luncheon, and made similar remarks in a December 18 interview with al-Arabiya. For its part, Iran has acknowledged Rice’s signal, with state-run Iranian television reporting that she might visit Tehran in the coming year if certain preconditions are satisfied.

Rice’s shift is both pragmatic and disappointing. Insofar as Iran’s pursuit of nuclear power represents its greatest threat to the international community, Rice is correct in offering considerable carrots for the cessation of Iran’s nuclear program. But Iranian support for terrorism is also a major concern, and Rice’s offer to “talk about anything” with her Iranian counterparts opens the possibility that Iranian support for Hizballah and Hamas will become legitimate bargaining chips in forthcoming U.S.-Iranian negotiations.

For this reason, Rice should be reminded of her December 11 interview with the USA Today editorial board, in which she argued that the NIE indicated that Iran “is apparently responsive to international pressure and scrutiny.” As the Bush administration pursues Israeli-Palestinian peace and urges anti-Syrian lawmakers to choose a President in Lebanon, the cessation of Iran’s sponsorship of Hamas and Hizballah must remain a precondition for top-level U.S.-Iranian talks.

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Bush Has Had It With Assad

At yesterday’s year-end White House press conference, President Bush let his feelings about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad be known. BBC News reports:

“My patience ran out on President Assad a long time ago,” Mr. Bush told reporters at the White House.

“The reason why is because he houses Hamas, he facilitates Hizballah, suiciders go from his country into Iraq, and he destabilizes Lebanon.”

For that, the President gets a B+. He left out Syria’s active interest in conspiring with Iran on WMD. The Assad regime constitutes the full spectrum of Middle East threats: Baathist tyranny, Sunni terrorism, Shia terrorism, Iraq sabotage, and coddling of Iran.

Additionally, the Syrian regime exercises suzerainty by assassination in Lebanon. Lebanese statesmen actually live in their offices for fear of Syrian bombs. The Lebanese government is in near-literal paralysis. George Bush’s pronouncement is a welcome return to common sense. While Assad took a state hostage before the eyes of the world, Madame Speaker Nancy Pelosi thought it only right to pay a visit to Syria’s President “with the assurance that we came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace.” Recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suffered a similar lapse in reaching out to Syria during peace talks in Annapolis.

In early January, President Bush is taking a diplomatic tour of the region. He’ll visit a handful of countries—none of them Syria. One crucial benefit of progress in Iraq is that it allows the U.S. to exercise a credibly muscular foreign policy. In so doing, we can embolden Syrian and Lebanese reformers (such as the March 14 coalition), who must have wept while Nancy Pelosi flattered their tormentor.

At yesterday’s year-end White House press conference, President Bush let his feelings about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad be known. BBC News reports:

“My patience ran out on President Assad a long time ago,” Mr. Bush told reporters at the White House.

“The reason why is because he houses Hamas, he facilitates Hizballah, suiciders go from his country into Iraq, and he destabilizes Lebanon.”

For that, the President gets a B+. He left out Syria’s active interest in conspiring with Iran on WMD. The Assad regime constitutes the full spectrum of Middle East threats: Baathist tyranny, Sunni terrorism, Shia terrorism, Iraq sabotage, and coddling of Iran.

Additionally, the Syrian regime exercises suzerainty by assassination in Lebanon. Lebanese statesmen actually live in their offices for fear of Syrian bombs. The Lebanese government is in near-literal paralysis. George Bush’s pronouncement is a welcome return to common sense. While Assad took a state hostage before the eyes of the world, Madame Speaker Nancy Pelosi thought it only right to pay a visit to Syria’s President “with the assurance that we came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace.” Recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suffered a similar lapse in reaching out to Syria during peace talks in Annapolis.

In early January, President Bush is taking a diplomatic tour of the region. He’ll visit a handful of countries—none of them Syria. One crucial benefit of progress in Iraq is that it allows the U.S. to exercise a credibly muscular foreign policy. In so doing, we can embolden Syrian and Lebanese reformers (such as the March 14 coalition), who must have wept while Nancy Pelosi flattered their tormentor.

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A Different Christmas Story

This holiday season, while other stocking stuffers hash out the comparative merits of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling, and Philip Pullman, why not cut these confections from your diet and go straight for the meat and potatoes (or bangers and mash) of Middle English poetry? I don’t mean the new Beowulf in 3-D—though that poem is in Old English, of course, which is why it looks like somebody dumped a sack of Scrabble tiles on the floor. If O.E. is your poison, Alex Nazaryan has posted some thoughts on the new Beowulf at Armavirumque. It would seem that this poem is unfilmable: Here on the horizon, Peter Suderman wrote that “[c]omparing it to its source material is of little use. It’s been streamlined and modernized, and now bears more resemblance to a computer game than an ancient epic.”

Whether or not you check out Beowulf, have a look at Simon Armitage’s new verse translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a poem whose hairy green villain gets less attention than Grendel for the simple reason that he rarely appears on high school curricula. Paul Johnson wrote, “No one ever reads Beowulf unless forced to do so (in schools or universities) or paid to do so (as on the BBC). Gawayn and the Green Knight is little more attractive.” I disagree vehemently on both counts. A few days ago, the poet Edward Hirsch explained in the New York Times what makes Gawain so great:

In 1967, Ted Hughes’s third book, “Wodwo”—raw, spooky, elemental—sent me scurrying to find out the meaning of this strange Middle English word. The figure of “wodwo,” which Hughes elsewhere characterized as a sort of “half-man, half-animal spirit of the forests,” seemed to have loomed up out of the unconscious of English poetry. The book’s epigraph came from a ferocious passage in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” and soon I was parsing the somewhat resistant Middle English text and bounding through J. R. R. Tolkien’s faithful translation. I was transfixed. I had stumbled upon the underground alliterative tradition of English poetry. . . .

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of the founding narratives of English literature. The storyteller nods to the Aeneid, thus invoking his epic lineage, and then settles down to tell his tale, which begins in the court of King Arthur, “most regal of rulers in the royal line.” It is Christmastime at Camelot, and the chivalrous Knights of the Round Table are carrying on and carousing when suddenly an enormous stranger appears, a hulking interloper, “a most massive man, the mightiest of mortals.” The astonishing stranger is green from head to foot, a kind of emanation from nature. Even his horse is “a steed of pure green stock.”

You can read the poem “Wodwo” here, but I suspect you’ll get more out of Gawain. It’s stranger than just about any Christmas story you’re likely to encounter—after all, it does substitute “You’ll lose your head” for “You’ll shoot your eye out“—and of course it shows us what English literature looked and sounded like it its infancy. As Hirsch writes, the poem “still wields an uncanny power after 600 years. We’re fortunate that ‘our coffers have been crammed/ with stories such as these.’”

This holiday season, while other stocking stuffers hash out the comparative merits of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling, and Philip Pullman, why not cut these confections from your diet and go straight for the meat and potatoes (or bangers and mash) of Middle English poetry? I don’t mean the new Beowulf in 3-D—though that poem is in Old English, of course, which is why it looks like somebody dumped a sack of Scrabble tiles on the floor. If O.E. is your poison, Alex Nazaryan has posted some thoughts on the new Beowulf at Armavirumque. It would seem that this poem is unfilmable: Here on the horizon, Peter Suderman wrote that “[c]omparing it to its source material is of little use. It’s been streamlined and modernized, and now bears more resemblance to a computer game than an ancient epic.”

Whether or not you check out Beowulf, have a look at Simon Armitage’s new verse translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a poem whose hairy green villain gets less attention than Grendel for the simple reason that he rarely appears on high school curricula. Paul Johnson wrote, “No one ever reads Beowulf unless forced to do so (in schools or universities) or paid to do so (as on the BBC). Gawayn and the Green Knight is little more attractive.” I disagree vehemently on both counts. A few days ago, the poet Edward Hirsch explained in the New York Times what makes Gawain so great:

In 1967, Ted Hughes’s third book, “Wodwo”—raw, spooky, elemental—sent me scurrying to find out the meaning of this strange Middle English word. The figure of “wodwo,” which Hughes elsewhere characterized as a sort of “half-man, half-animal spirit of the forests,” seemed to have loomed up out of the unconscious of English poetry. The book’s epigraph came from a ferocious passage in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” and soon I was parsing the somewhat resistant Middle English text and bounding through J. R. R. Tolkien’s faithful translation. I was transfixed. I had stumbled upon the underground alliterative tradition of English poetry. . . .

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of the founding narratives of English literature. The storyteller nods to the Aeneid, thus invoking his epic lineage, and then settles down to tell his tale, which begins in the court of King Arthur, “most regal of rulers in the royal line.” It is Christmastime at Camelot, and the chivalrous Knights of the Round Table are carrying on and carousing when suddenly an enormous stranger appears, a hulking interloper, “a most massive man, the mightiest of mortals.” The astonishing stranger is green from head to foot, a kind of emanation from nature. Even his horse is “a steed of pure green stock.”

You can read the poem “Wodwo” here, but I suspect you’ll get more out of Gawain. It’s stranger than just about any Christmas story you’re likely to encounter—after all, it does substitute “You’ll lose your head” for “You’ll shoot your eye out“—and of course it shows us what English literature looked and sounded like it its infancy. As Hirsch writes, the poem “still wields an uncanny power after 600 years. We’re fortunate that ‘our coffers have been crammed/ with stories such as these.’”

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No War on Puberty

Jewcy blogger Abe Greenwald lets us know today just how far reporters from the New York Times to Time to the BBC are willing to go not to admit the obvious about the participants in the riots that began in France this past weekend.

For some reason, I can’t imagine why, these news outlets avoid stating that the rioters are Muslim. In fact, consistently referring to the rioters as “youths,” the news outlets make it sound as though, as Greenwald points out, what France and Nicolas Sarkozy are confronting is “teenage extremism” that “demands nothing less than a fully committed War on Puberty.”

Jewcy blogger Abe Greenwald lets us know today just how far reporters from the New York Times to Time to the BBC are willing to go not to admit the obvious about the participants in the riots that began in France this past weekend.

For some reason, I can’t imagine why, these news outlets avoid stating that the rioters are Muslim. In fact, consistently referring to the rioters as “youths,” the news outlets make it sound as though, as Greenwald points out, what France and Nicolas Sarkozy are confronting is “teenage extremism” that “demands nothing less than a fully committed War on Puberty.”

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BBC Crimes and Misdemeanors

Peter Fincham, the controller for England’s BBC One broadcasting channel, recently resigned. Fincham quit after the “Beeb,” as it is known in the UK, showed a documentary that misleadingly suggested (by juggling images) that Queen Elizabeth had stormed out of a photo session with American photographer Annie Leibovitz. Although leaving any session with Leibovitz, the much-overpraised ex-lover of the late writer Susan Sontag, might merely be a sign of good taste, the Beeb has elsewhere shown a murky relationship with factual accuracy, notably in its wildly biased anti-Israel posturing.

In 2003, the British Ministry of Defense weapons expert David Kelly committed suicide after BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan cited him (falsely, according to Kelly as well as a later public inquiry) as having said that Tony Blair’s government had “sexed up” a report on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction prior to the invasion of Iraq. More recently, the BBC’s crimes against accuracy and humanity are most visible in that abomination of a channel known as BBC America, which panders to the lowest imaginable level of viewer, filling its program schedule with miserable fare like a show in which pathetic Brits desperately sell all their belongings in order to purchase a Jacuzzi, or some such. In another program, harridans accuse hapless guests of having filthy homes. BBC America also presents rude English sociopaths as quiz hosts, fashion advisers and chefs, no doubt based on some marketing study that points to execrable Brit multi-millionaires like American Idol’s Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell, who have cashed in by following the theory that it is impossible to underestimate the intelligence of the American public. Never mind that BBC-TV contains a matchless archival library of great performances on film by actors like John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, and Judi Dench, not to mention fascinating classical music concerts and other riches. BBC America offers no culture, none whatsoever, since blatant monetary greed as a cash cow is its only reason for existing.

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Peter Fincham, the controller for England’s BBC One broadcasting channel, recently resigned. Fincham quit after the “Beeb,” as it is known in the UK, showed a documentary that misleadingly suggested (by juggling images) that Queen Elizabeth had stormed out of a photo session with American photographer Annie Leibovitz. Although leaving any session with Leibovitz, the much-overpraised ex-lover of the late writer Susan Sontag, might merely be a sign of good taste, the Beeb has elsewhere shown a murky relationship with factual accuracy, notably in its wildly biased anti-Israel posturing.

In 2003, the British Ministry of Defense weapons expert David Kelly committed suicide after BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan cited him (falsely, according to Kelly as well as a later public inquiry) as having said that Tony Blair’s government had “sexed up” a report on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction prior to the invasion of Iraq. More recently, the BBC’s crimes against accuracy and humanity are most visible in that abomination of a channel known as BBC America, which panders to the lowest imaginable level of viewer, filling its program schedule with miserable fare like a show in which pathetic Brits desperately sell all their belongings in order to purchase a Jacuzzi, or some such. In another program, harridans accuse hapless guests of having filthy homes. BBC America also presents rude English sociopaths as quiz hosts, fashion advisers and chefs, no doubt based on some marketing study that points to execrable Brit multi-millionaires like American Idol’s Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell, who have cashed in by following the theory that it is impossible to underestimate the intelligence of the American public. Never mind that BBC-TV contains a matchless archival library of great performances on film by actors like John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, and Judi Dench, not to mention fascinating classical music concerts and other riches. BBC America offers no culture, none whatsoever, since blatant monetary greed as a cash cow is its only reason for existing.

A report in the Guardian last April that BBC America plans to stop showing its unbearable Benny Hill reruns is cold comfort, considering its slew of newly minted trash TV like the brainless Footballers’ Wives, a miserable Brit wannabe fantasy based on ancient American TV trash like Dynasty, Falcon Crest, and The Love Boat.

It is clear from its programming over the years that the dim bulbs in charge of BBC America truly believe that Aaron Spelling is to be worshiped and slavishly imitated. As in the case of Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell, what is vilest in Brit broadcasting all too easily becomes assimilated as part of America’s imbecilic TV scene. Paul Lee, who launched BBC America in 1998, was hired as president of the ABC Family network in 2004, doubtless due to his track record of providing the stupidest, most crassly profitable viewing material imaginable. Until the BBC and BBC America recall that some aspects of British culture are in fact admirable and of permanent interest, it looks like the channels will maintain their TV imitation of Yankee stupidity.

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More on the Air Strikes

On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that American officials, speaking anonymously, confirmed that Israel had bombed one or more targets in Syria last Thursday. Jerusalem has not officially commented on the strikes, its first on Syria since 2003.

What exactly was Israel doing? The BBC suggested that Israeli pilots might have been testing Syrian air defenses. The Times reported that American officials said the most likely target was one or more conventional weapons caches. If so, Israel may have been targeting rockets on their way to Hizballah.

Yet the Times seems to suggest that the raid targeted a Syrian nuclear weapons program linked to Pyongyang. “The Israelis think North Korea is selling to Iran and Syria what little they have left,” an unidentified Bush administration official, referring to fissile material, is quoted as saying. Thursday’s Washington Post states that an unidentified former Israeli official had been told that the attack on Syria was intended to take out a facility that could make unconventional weapons. The paper also reported that satellite imagery has revealed a Syrian facility that could be part of a nuclear weapons program. North Korea, known to merchandise any dangerous item it possesses, has been doing its best to appear guilty. Departing from its usual practice of not commenting on world affairs, Pyongyang on Tuesday denounced Israel’s raid.

Damascus undoubtedly has a nuclear weapons program, but at worst it is decades away from building a bomb on its own. Yet Iran is just years from mastering the techniques needed to construct an atomic device. If the raid last week had any significance, it was a warning to the theocrats in Tehran that Jerusalem is capable of another Osirak-type raid. And perhaps the air strikes were intended to send messages to European capitals and Washington as well: disarm Iran now or prepare for war. Syria’s U.N. ambassador said his country sustained no “material damage” in the Israeli raid. That may be true, but it is completely beside the point. Despite where the bombs landed on Thursday, Syrians were not the real target.

On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that American officials, speaking anonymously, confirmed that Israel had bombed one or more targets in Syria last Thursday. Jerusalem has not officially commented on the strikes, its first on Syria since 2003.

What exactly was Israel doing? The BBC suggested that Israeli pilots might have been testing Syrian air defenses. The Times reported that American officials said the most likely target was one or more conventional weapons caches. If so, Israel may have been targeting rockets on their way to Hizballah.

Yet the Times seems to suggest that the raid targeted a Syrian nuclear weapons program linked to Pyongyang. “The Israelis think North Korea is selling to Iran and Syria what little they have left,” an unidentified Bush administration official, referring to fissile material, is quoted as saying. Thursday’s Washington Post states that an unidentified former Israeli official had been told that the attack on Syria was intended to take out a facility that could make unconventional weapons. The paper also reported that satellite imagery has revealed a Syrian facility that could be part of a nuclear weapons program. North Korea, known to merchandise any dangerous item it possesses, has been doing its best to appear guilty. Departing from its usual practice of not commenting on world affairs, Pyongyang on Tuesday denounced Israel’s raid.

Damascus undoubtedly has a nuclear weapons program, but at worst it is decades away from building a bomb on its own. Yet Iran is just years from mastering the techniques needed to construct an atomic device. If the raid last week had any significance, it was a warning to the theocrats in Tehran that Jerusalem is capable of another Osirak-type raid. And perhaps the air strikes were intended to send messages to European capitals and Washington as well: disarm Iran now or prepare for war. Syria’s U.N. ambassador said his country sustained no “material damage” in the Israeli raid. That may be true, but it is completely beside the point. Despite where the bombs landed on Thursday, Syrians were not the real target.

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Ambiguity in Iraq

A new BBC/ABC News poll of Iraq attitudes does indeed make for “grim reading,” as the BBC headline has it. Two of the main findings:

- between 67 and 70 percent of Iraqis, or more than two-thirds, say the surge has made things worse.

- Since the last BBC/ABC News poll in February, the number of Iraqis who think that US-led coalition forces should leave immediately has risen sharply, from 35 to 47 percent, although that does mean that a small majority–53 percent—still says the forces should stay until security has improved.

I have cited polls from Iraq in the past. Everyone who writes on the subject has. But we should be careful in doing so: Iraq, after all, is a country where, for many decades, no one has been encouraged to speak his mind without fearing the consequences. If you were an Iraqi who thought that the surge was going very well and that attacks on American forces were not justified, would you say so to a stranger when you knew that if some terrorist group found out your views they would be likely to kill you and your entire family?

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A new BBC/ABC News poll of Iraq attitudes does indeed make for “grim reading,” as the BBC headline has it. Two of the main findings:

- between 67 and 70 percent of Iraqis, or more than two-thirds, say the surge has made things worse.

- Since the last BBC/ABC News poll in February, the number of Iraqis who think that US-led coalition forces should leave immediately has risen sharply, from 35 to 47 percent, although that does mean that a small majority–53 percent—still says the forces should stay until security has improved.

I have cited polls from Iraq in the past. Everyone who writes on the subject has. But we should be careful in doing so: Iraq, after all, is a country where, for many decades, no one has been encouraged to speak his mind without fearing the consequences. If you were an Iraqi who thought that the surge was going very well and that attacks on American forces were not justified, would you say so to a stranger when you knew that if some terrorist group found out your views they would be likely to kill you and your entire family?

There is also a complexity to Iraqi thinking that is hard to capture in polls but is well summed up by this New York Times interview:

A city employee in Baquba, the capital of Diyala Province, vividly described his ambivalence.

“The withdrawal of the occupation forces is a must because they have caused the destruction of Iraq, they committed massacres against the innocents, they have double-crossed the Iraqis with dreams,” said the worker, Ahmad Umar al Esawi, a Sunni. “I want them to withdraw all their troops in one day.”

Dropping his voice, he continued: “There is something that I want to say although I hate to say it. The American forces, which are an ugly occupation force, have become something important to us, the Sunnis. We are a minority and we do not have a force to face the militias. If the Americans leave, it will mean a total elimination of the Sunnis in Iraq.”

Mr. Esawi added, “I know I said I want them to leave, but if we think about it, then I have to say I want them to stay for a while until we end all the suspicions we have of each other and have a strong national government.”

That’s been my own experience with Iraqis—they all want America to leave someday; just not yet. That type of ambivalence is hard to capture in polls.

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Jihad on Campus?

Many Americans I know are dismayed by the British academic boycott of Israel. What, they wonder, lies behind the rise of such attitudes on British campuses? The truth is, however, we do not know the half of it. A case that has just ended at the Old Bailey criminal court in London—a case that has gone largely unreported—throws light on this dark corner of university life.

This morning, the BBC’s flagship radio news program, Today, reported on the case. It involves a schoolboy and four Muslim students at Bradford University who have been convicted of “possessing articles for terrorism”—in other words, downloading jihadist material from the Internet. The only reason this particular group came to light was that a 17-year-old member, who had run away from home, told his parents about the group’s activities. The parents decided to tell the police, who arrested the other group members.

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Many Americans I know are dismayed by the British academic boycott of Israel. What, they wonder, lies behind the rise of such attitudes on British campuses? The truth is, however, we do not know the half of it. A case that has just ended at the Old Bailey criminal court in London—a case that has gone largely unreported—throws light on this dark corner of university life.

This morning, the BBC’s flagship radio news program, Today, reported on the case. It involves a schoolboy and four Muslim students at Bradford University who have been convicted of “possessing articles for terrorism”—in other words, downloading jihadist material from the Internet. The only reason this particular group came to light was that a 17-year-old member, who had run away from home, told his parents about the group’s activities. The parents decided to tell the police, who arrested the other group members.

It is, to say the least, unusual in Britain to interview a convicted felon about his crime before he has even been sentenced. Nobody explained why the authorities had permitted an exception in this case, but the Today program gave its prime breakfast time slot at 8:10 a.m. to one of the students, in order that he might explain why the jury had been wrong to convict him. The student was handled very gently by the interviewer, a Muslim woman, who seemed to assume that he was just a kid who had gotten mixed up with the wrong crowd. The interviewer did not challenge the student’s claim that he had not actually seen or read the violent material, including terrorism manuals, found on his computer. Unfortunately for the BBC, the young man did not quite follow its script: he insisted that he still believed he had a duty to fight those who “invaded Muslim lands.”

Today then brought in David Livingstone, who had been an expert witness in the trial, and who works for Chatham House—yes, the place where the famous “Chatham House rules” for conferences was invented. Chatham House is also the more sinister source of the Arabist “Chatham House version” of Middle East history, which was dissected many years ago by the great scholar Elie Kedourie, but which is still as influential as ever in the western academy.

It took Professor Anthony Glees to introduce some sanity into the proceedings. Professor Glees is the only person who has taken the Islamist radicalization of the British campus with the seriousness that it deserves. In a series of reports, Glees has forced the government and the media to take some notice of the threat that such radicalization poses.

Regarding the case involving the Bradford University students, Glees thanked the jury for its courage, and welcomed the deterrent effect that the guilty verdict might have. Glees also praised the parents who went to the police, thereby setting an example for other members of the Muslim community, who rarely inform on family or neighbors whom they suspect of terrorist involvement.

Glees also, however, revealed the extent of complacency among the authorities. The Minister for Higher Education, Bill Rammell, has often dismissed Professor Glees’s warnings about Islamist activism on campus. Now, Rammell is sufficiently worried about it to have proposed what Glees described as “modest” guidelines to make academics and administrators more aware of the danger of infiltration by Islamists, some of whom come from abroad specifically to target British universities. According to Glees, the guidelines were rejected unanimously by the academic unions and by Universities U.K., which represents administrators. As things stand, the administrators have no idea how widespread the phenomenon of Islamism on campus is: students are not asked about their views or affiliations before being accepted.

Ultimately, the five Bradford students are unlikely to be unique. It is possible, in fact, that we are witnessing a prelude to a generational radicalization such that we have not witnessed since the 1960′s—and perhaps not even then. Left-wing terrorism of the Baader-Meinhof or Red Brigade variety never enjoyed the popular base that Islamism can now boast, nor did it have the Internet as a tool of propaganda and organization. American universities are still dominated by the coat-and-tie radicals of the 1960′s. How long before the headscarf radicals of the Oughts dominate British campuses?

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Hassan Butt’s Good Sense

The eight Arabs just arrested in connection with terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow are all doctors or medical staff in a hospital, in one way or another employed by the National Health Service. The pursuit of medical careers got them into Britain without proper scrutiny and then provided a cover that cunningly shielded them from suspicion. These may well be the most educated and capable of all the Islamist terrorists revealed to date.

Their intention, clearly, is to set Muslims irretrievably against the British. Civil strife, the Islamists believe, is the necessary prelude to their victory over the degenerate infidels. In Baghdad, Afghanistan, Gaza, Pakistan, this same fantasy runs wild.

Some courage is required on the part of a Muslim to impose reality on the Islamist fantasy. Fatwas and murder prevent dialogue. But just as there once were faithful Communists whose inside knowledge of the party transformed them into informed and determined anti-Communists, so now there are jihadis whose experience has led them to expose Islamism.

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The eight Arabs just arrested in connection with terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow are all doctors or medical staff in a hospital, in one way or another employed by the National Health Service. The pursuit of medical careers got them into Britain without proper scrutiny and then provided a cover that cunningly shielded them from suspicion. These may well be the most educated and capable of all the Islamist terrorists revealed to date.

Their intention, clearly, is to set Muslims irretrievably against the British. Civil strife, the Islamists believe, is the necessary prelude to their victory over the degenerate infidels. In Baghdad, Afghanistan, Gaza, Pakistan, this same fantasy runs wild.

Some courage is required on the part of a Muslim to impose reality on the Islamist fantasy. Fatwas and murder prevent dialogue. But just as there once were faithful Communists whose inside knowledge of the party transformed them into informed and determined anti-Communists, so now there are jihadis whose experience has led them to expose Islamism.

One such is Hassan Butt. He still dresses as he would in Pakistan, with the skullcap and full beard of a pious Muslim, though he speaks with a regional British accent. By his own account, he was a recruiter for jihad. But in the past months, on the BBC and in the mainstream press, he has suddenly sprung into prominence explaining the psychology of his former comrades. What jihadis are fighting for, in his words, is “a revolutionary worldwide Islamic state that would dispense Islamic justice.” The loaded question, “Are you British or Muslim?,” is the invariable root of fantasy, alienation, and violence. About a year ago, he realized that he was promoting what he now calls “mindless killers,” a danger to themselves and everyone else. Reality, then, proved stronger than fantasy.

The jihadi vision, Hassan Butt says loudly and clearly, arises from Islamic doctrine, and it has little or nothing to do with specific grievances, let alone with the foreign policy of Western countries in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, or wherever. He offers a remedy, however. In Britain, Muslims have been allowed every freedom to assert their identity, and in return, he argues, they have to revise those passages of the Qur’an that command the killing of infidels. Muslim scholars must go back to the books and the theological doctrines, in order to come up with a revised understanding of the rights and responsibilities of Muslims. With those eight doctors now in custody and the whole country thoroughly angry over the continued Islamist threat, there is not that much time left to settle this issue according to Hassan Butt’s good sense.

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By Hook or by Crooke

The release of Alan Johnston, the BBC Gaza correspondent held hostage for four months, is the biggest propaganda coup that Hamas has achieved so far. Predictable demands for “engagement with” (i.e., recognition of) Hamas as a reward for obtaining Johnston’s freedom from his kidnappers, the Army of Islam, were made on the BBC by Alastair Crooke.

Who is he? He seems to surface every time Islamist organizations need a Western spokesman to lend respectability to their cause. Crooke was an MI6 intelligence officer for some 30 years, specializing in the Middle East. After leaving the security service, he landed a series of international jobs: as a staff member of the Mitchell committee on the intifada convened after the Israeli-Palestinian summit at Sharm al Sheikh in 2000; then as “security adviser” to Javier Solana, the European Union’s High Representative and de-facto foreign minister. Crooke was assigned to the EU’s Middle East envoy Miguel Moratinos in 2002, but was recalled by the British Foreign Office in 2003 after he held a series of secret meetings with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorists. At one of these, Crooke told the then-leader of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin: “The main problem is the Israeli occupation.” Crooke went on to say that “I hate that word [terrorism]” when applied to Hamas, whose suicide bombers were then slaughtering Israeli civilians. Crooke was already working hard to legitimize Hamas as “freedom fighters” while speaking on behalf of the EU.

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The release of Alan Johnston, the BBC Gaza correspondent held hostage for four months, is the biggest propaganda coup that Hamas has achieved so far. Predictable demands for “engagement with” (i.e., recognition of) Hamas as a reward for obtaining Johnston’s freedom from his kidnappers, the Army of Islam, were made on the BBC by Alastair Crooke.

Who is he? He seems to surface every time Islamist organizations need a Western spokesman to lend respectability to their cause. Crooke was an MI6 intelligence officer for some 30 years, specializing in the Middle East. After leaving the security service, he landed a series of international jobs: as a staff member of the Mitchell committee on the intifada convened after the Israeli-Palestinian summit at Sharm al Sheikh in 2000; then as “security adviser” to Javier Solana, the European Union’s High Representative and de-facto foreign minister. Crooke was assigned to the EU’s Middle East envoy Miguel Moratinos in 2002, but was recalled by the British Foreign Office in 2003 after he held a series of secret meetings with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorists. At one of these, Crooke told the then-leader of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin: “The main problem is the Israeli occupation.” Crooke went on to say that “I hate that word [terrorism]” when applied to Hamas, whose suicide bombers were then slaughtering Israeli civilians. Crooke was already working hard to legitimize Hamas as “freedom fighters” while speaking on behalf of the EU.

In 2004, together with Mark Perry, Crooke set up Conflicts Forum, a lobbying group with branches in London, Beirut, and Washington. Though it claims to “connect the West and the Muslim world,” by the latter it means radical Islamists. Conflicts Forum’s stated aim is “to engage and listen to Islamists, while challenging Western misconceptions and misrepresentations of the region’s leading agents of change.” It brings together the Arabists who have always dominated the Foreign Office and security services, and serves as a vehicle to put pressure on Western governments to appease Islamists, from the Muslim Brotherhood to Hizballah. The Conflicts Forum website boasts of a recent 500,000 euro grant from the E.U. under its Partnership for Peace program “for a project to help develop more inclusive and legitimate approaches to transforming the Middle East conflict.” (This sounds like a euphemism for pressure to legalize Hamas.)

Crooke makes “the case for Hamas” in the lead article of the current issue of the London Review of Books. Throughout the piece, Crooke speaks of Hamas as “moderate” and praises its “effective and corruption-free” record in government. He warns that Islamists everywhere are becoming impatient with the democratic route to power. He describes a conference in Beirut last April that debated “whether moderate Islamist groups such as Hamas and Hizballah will manage to retain their influence over this process of radicalization.” Meanwhile, Hizballah, Syria, and Iran are “actively preparing for conflict” with Israel and the West. All the blame for this conflict, and the radicalization that feeds it, needless to say, lies with America, Europe, and Israel.

Finally, Crooke has a chilling warning to Israel: unless it gives Hamas-led Palestine what it wants, not only will more Israeli Arabs be drawn into terrorism, but Israel will confront Islamist governments in Egypt and Jordan, too. “Conflict with Iran, were it to occur, might finish up by sweeping away many of the region’s landmarks.” (Is this an implied threat of a second Holocaust?)

However one reads Crooke’s remarks, he and they are deeply sinister. On the BBC, he claimed that Hamas had already met the three “benchmarks” stipulated by the U.S. and EU as necessary for recognition. Unusually, the BBC then gave the right of reply to an Israeli spokesman, Mark Regev. The Australian-born Regev made short work of Crooke’s mendacious claims, pointing out that for Hamas to state that it accepts Israel’s existence “as a fact” means no more than accepting AIDS, say, as a fact. Regev also reminded listeners that while Israelis were pleased by Alan Johnston’s release, their own hostage, Gilad Shalit, has been held in Gaza for much longer.

On the back of the Alan Johnston affair, we should expect a new attempt to persuade the EU to resume financing Hamas, and we should anticipate finding Alastair Crooke, a T.E. Lawrence wannabe, in the forefront of it.

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Waiting for the Palestinians

Is Hamas showing some statesmanship? According to recent reports, its security forces have arrested a member of the terrorist organization thought to be holding captive the BBC reporter Alan Johnston. If Hamas manages to impose order on the lawlessness that has engulfed Gaza for years, the international community will have little option but to acknowledge its rule. Acknowledging this fact would not necessarily be synonymous with recognizing Hamas (or opening diplomatic relations with it). But it bears noting that while Hamas is trying to restore order in Gaza—its own brand of brutal Islamist order, of course—the Palestinian government the West has chosen to recognize and support looks more and more inept. Fatah is dependent for its survival on Israel’s continued presence (to say nothing of future Israeli military mop-up operations in Gaza to vanquish the party’s bitter rivals).

The international community, naturally, could not have done otherwise than throw its weight behind Fatah: given what it stands for, it had to support Abbas and reject Hamas. It has no alternative now but to focus on the West Bank and help Abbas extricate himself and his followers from the current morass. Still, it is remarkable that only six weeks ago Abbas (with the support of the international community) was decrying Israel’s round-up of Hamas leaders in the West Bank. Now, nobody seems to mind those arrests. Were it not for Hamas’s significant weakening in the West Bank—to say nothing of Israel’s continued military presence there—it might have overrun Ramallah too. One should be under no illusion about the ability of Fatah to assert its authority.

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Is Hamas showing some statesmanship? According to recent reports, its security forces have arrested a member of the terrorist organization thought to be holding captive the BBC reporter Alan Johnston. If Hamas manages to impose order on the lawlessness that has engulfed Gaza for years, the international community will have little option but to acknowledge its rule. Acknowledging this fact would not necessarily be synonymous with recognizing Hamas (or opening diplomatic relations with it). But it bears noting that while Hamas is trying to restore order in Gaza—its own brand of brutal Islamist order, of course—the Palestinian government the West has chosen to recognize and support looks more and more inept. Fatah is dependent for its survival on Israel’s continued presence (to say nothing of future Israeli military mop-up operations in Gaza to vanquish the party’s bitter rivals).

The international community, naturally, could not have done otherwise than throw its weight behind Fatah: given what it stands for, it had to support Abbas and reject Hamas. It has no alternative now but to focus on the West Bank and help Abbas extricate himself and his followers from the current morass. Still, it is remarkable that only six weeks ago Abbas (with the support of the international community) was decrying Israel’s round-up of Hamas leaders in the West Bank. Now, nobody seems to mind those arrests. Were it not for Hamas’s significant weakening in the West Bank—to say nothing of Israel’s continued military presence there—it might have overrun Ramallah too. One should be under no illusion about the ability of Fatah to assert its authority.

Four years too late, Abbas has begun to implement the clauses of the road map that the Palestinian Authority had so far ignored, attempting to impose one law, one army, and one authority over its own territory. (Abbas’s shorthand for this objective—“one gun”— says a great deal about political means and ends among the Palestinians.) It is tragic that Abbas has begun this work only now. But the point, surely, is this: as soon as Hamas emerged victorious in its Gaza takeover, it proceeded to establish its authority, whereas the PA under Fatah studiously avoided doing so, even when it still had the capacity to govern the territories, quell the intifada, and disarm Hamas. This situation raises an impossible dilemma for the international community: the Palestinian government it would like to see in charge is ineffectual; and the Palestinian government with a real chance to impose law and order on the territories is completely unpalatable.

What will come of this increasingly disastrous situation? Abbas and his new prime minister, Salam Fayyad, will move to re-establish their credentials and authority with calls for a return to the Mecca accords and attempts at reconciliation. Given the language they have been using against one another, and the spilled blood of recent weeks, it is hard to believe that Fatah and Hamas could restore any sort of relations. Fatah will end up looking still more ineffectual. Hamas, ever dependent on Iranian help and therefore at the mercy of Tehran’s whims, can survive only if it continues to do Iran’s bidding (i.e., to prosecute its campaign against Israel) in exchange for lavish financial and military support.

And what should the international community do? Having supported a corrupt and ineffectual government for many years, it should now hold Hamas to the clear performance benchmarks the road map sets for the Palestinian Authority. (Direct military aid to Fatah would not be wise: weapons recently delivered to Abbas’s government somehow ended up in Hamas’s hands.) However unlikely it is that Hamas will meet these benchmarks, waiting and hoping are, sad to say, the only real options left.

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Appeasing the Imam?

It is not easy for a non-Muslim to gain the approval of Sheikh Abdal-Hakim Murad. A prominent British convert to Islam, he is the secretary of the Muslim Academic Trust in London and director of the Sunna Project at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge University. He is also the imam of the Cambridge mosque and an influential commentator on the BBC and in the British press.

Abdal-Hakim regards himself as a moderate, and is taken at his own valuation by the British media. A careful study of his website (which, as it happens, shares its name with this one) causes me to doubt the sheikh’s moderation. This, after all, is a man who sees the Bush administration as “theocratic” but who warns the West that “the Caliph’s first task will be to flog those who call Islam an ideology.” It is clear that the years he spent at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and later in Saudi Arabia, have left their mark: Abdal-Hakim is a Sunni fundamentalist.

He is, however, broad-minded enough to write for a Christian newspaper, the Catholic Herald. Last week he reviewed Islam: Past, Present, and Future, the new book on Islam by Hans Küng. Küng is a controversial Swiss theologian who has been in conflict with the Catholic Church for some 30 years, but remains a Catholic priest “in good standing,” as he likes to remind his critics.

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It is not easy for a non-Muslim to gain the approval of Sheikh Abdal-Hakim Murad. A prominent British convert to Islam, he is the secretary of the Muslim Academic Trust in London and director of the Sunna Project at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge University. He is also the imam of the Cambridge mosque and an influential commentator on the BBC and in the British press.

Abdal-Hakim regards himself as a moderate, and is taken at his own valuation by the British media. A careful study of his website (which, as it happens, shares its name with this one) causes me to doubt the sheikh’s moderation. This, after all, is a man who sees the Bush administration as “theocratic” but who warns the West that “the Caliph’s first task will be to flog those who call Islam an ideology.” It is clear that the years he spent at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and later in Saudi Arabia, have left their mark: Abdal-Hakim is a Sunni fundamentalist.

He is, however, broad-minded enough to write for a Christian newspaper, the Catholic Herald. Last week he reviewed Islam: Past, Present, and Future, the new book on Islam by Hans Küng. Küng is a controversial Swiss theologian who has been in conflict with the Catholic Church for some 30 years, but remains a Catholic priest “in good standing,” as he likes to remind his critics.

Here is Abdal-Hakim’s approving summary of Küng’s treatment of Islam:

Its bearer, the Prophet Mohammed, must be regarded by Christians as a true messenger from God. The Qu’ran is, “in principle,” God’s word. Islam was not imposed at the point of a scimitar; on the contrary, the early Muslim conquests were generally welcomed by Christians and Jews who had been oppressed by Byzantine officialdom. Jihad is not “holy war,” but is comparable to Christian just-war traditions. Islamist terrorism is not organically related to the religion, but is denounced by the religion’s leaders, being the consequence of external factors, chief among them being the creation of the state of Israel.

What a meeting of minds between the “moderate” Muslim and the “liberal” Catholic who asserts the truth of Islam! (Though I think it unlikely that the sheikh will be writing a book any time soon that returns any of these favors.)

And yet, not even this obeisance before Islam is enough. Küng is a theologian notorious for scathing attacks on his own church leadership, particularly the last pope and the present one, and has nothing but praise for “the Other.” But Murad denounces his book’s “huge crop of factual errors,” its “disengagement from Muslims,” and its repetition of “old myths” that “will make this book useless to historians of ideas despite some moments of profound and, some would say, long-overdue insight.”

It is reasonable to conclude from this rebuff that Küng’s attempt at appeasement is not only intellectually disreputable but almost entirely ineffectual. It seems that nothing other than an abjuration of Küng’s minimalist Catholicism in favor of a full-scale embrace of Islam—in short, conversion—would satisfy Abdal-Hakim Murad. The literal meaning of “Islam” is “submission,” and that is what it demands from the infidel—nothing more but certainly nothing less.

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The EU and the Palestinians

At the beginning of May, during a visit to Ramallah on the West Bank, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany declared that

Realistically, one must say that there are opportunities now that were not there in the past, but at the same time the risks are just as high. The opportunity lies in the fact that the Arab world is being much more constructive—the Arab League’s decision to renew its peace initiative was more than helpful—and I am pleased that it was also welcomed by the Israeli government.

Steinmeier—who made this statement during a session with President Mahmoud Abbas and Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr—was referring to the Arab peace initiative, whose envoys are soon expected in Israel for talks. Given the circumstances on the ground, this may yet be another signal that the Europeans are warming up to the idea of trying to renew the Arab-Israeli peace process. In theory, the new initiative would make possible an agreement between Israel and the larger Arab world while bypassing and imposing a settlement on the recalcitrant Palestinian factions.

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At the beginning of May, during a visit to Ramallah on the West Bank, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany declared that

Realistically, one must say that there are opportunities now that were not there in the past, but at the same time the risks are just as high. The opportunity lies in the fact that the Arab world is being much more constructive—the Arab League’s decision to renew its peace initiative was more than helpful—and I am pleased that it was also welcomed by the Israeli government.

Steinmeier—who made this statement during a session with President Mahmoud Abbas and Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr—was referring to the Arab peace initiative, whose envoys are soon expected in Israel for talks. Given the circumstances on the ground, this may yet be another signal that the Europeans are warming up to the idea of trying to renew the Arab-Israeli peace process. In theory, the new initiative would make possible an agreement between Israel and the larger Arab world while bypassing and imposing a settlement on the recalcitrant Palestinian factions.

Though under its German presidency—due to end on June 30—the EU made a strong commitment to advance the Middle East peace process, it has been cautious in dealing with the Palestinian Authority, and has so far stuck to its embargo on aid. Even after the establishment of the Hamas-Fatah national unity government, the EU did not budge, limiting itself to contact with non-Hamas ministers, dialogue with Abbas, and a renewed commitment to the temporary aid mechanism instituted by the EU after the elections in January 2006. As recently as late April, EU Commissioner Louis Michel said

There is no change as long as you have in the government a party that refuses to leave its armed wing and armed action. . . . We cannot deal with people who have an armed wing. It would be a very dangerous precedent.

But calls for a change of direction are mounting, with EU parliamentarians taking the lead. A delegation of them recently visited Gaza and met with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, defying the EU ban on direct contact with Hamas ministers. And a new petition, signed by dozens of members of the European Parliament, calls for recognition of the Hamas-Fatah government and for direct EU engagement with it.

Unfortunately for the parliamentarians, Palestinian reality quickly reasserted itself. Less than a week after their visit, two members of Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade were gunned down in a Gaza ambush during which an additional fourteen were wounded. (Revealing, perhaps the true colors of Palestinian “moderation and maturity,” to quote one of the European parliamentarians arguing for direct engagement.)

Factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah has increased; the survival of the unity government hangs in the balance; efforts by both Abbas and Haniyeh to secure the release of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston have failed; and Palestinian society is on the brink of implosion. Given these circumstances, it is no wonder that EU officials—ever a cautious lot—should ignore the wishes of Europe’s parliamentarians and attempt to carve out a diplomatic path that bypasses the Palestinians altogether.

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British Journalism v. Israel

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ)—Britain’s main professional association of journalists and reporters—recently joined an international boycott of Israeli goods.

In the UK, such boycotts have become something of a spring ritual, akin to elaborate animal-mating dances. Much has been said about the questionable motives behind these campaigns and their obsessive targeting of Israel. No other government—no matter how grievous a violator of human rights—is, apparently, worthy of such treatment.

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The National Union of Journalists (NUJ)—Britain’s main professional association of journalists and reporters—recently joined an international boycott of Israeli goods.

In the UK, such boycotts have become something of a spring ritual, akin to elaborate animal-mating dances. Much has been said about the questionable motives behind these campaigns and their obsessive targeting of Israel. No other government—no matter how grievous a violator of human rights—is, apparently, worthy of such treatment.

What makes the NUJ’s involvement in the boycott so egregious is that, by placing journalists openly on one side of the public debate about Israel, it patently violates the basic ethical guidelines of the profession. In adopting it, the NUJ has abandoned much of the British media’s pretense to objective coverage of the Middle East.

This should raise eyebrows even among the staunchest critics of Israel. And to their credit, at least a few such critics have expressed dismay at the NUJ’s decision, for a variety of reasons, from the double standard it applies to the damage it will do to basic journalistic integrity. A recent Guardian editorial, in fact, described the NUJ’s participation in the boycott as “neither balanced nor fair.”

Britain’s boycott culture, it should be noted, has begun to make inroads even among specifically Jewish organizations. As the anti-boycott website Engage notes in a recent post, Great Britain is the home of a number of Jewish organizations highly critical of Israel, such as the newly launched Independent Jewish Voices, Jews for Justice for the Palestinians, and the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights. All such organizations claim to be engaged in a struggle for freedom; all see themselves as champions of human rights; all claim independence of mind and routinely criticize other Jewish organizations for what they see as a betrayal of universal values in favor of a tribal allegiance to Israel.

But this means little more, apparently, than their being ever at the ready to denounce other Jews for their silence when Israel allegedly violates human rights. These “independent” voices have so far been remarkably silent when the human rights of Israelis, or of non-Palestinian Arabs, are violated. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, some of the most prominent members of such organizations are at the forefront of boycott initiatives.

The boycotts have failed, so far, to accomplish any of the stated goals of the groups initiating them. And it’s tempting to dismiss them as a persistent but ineffectual fringe phenomenon in the acrimonious public debate over Israel. But such dismissal is becoming harder and harder. The National Union of Journalists is no fringe political organization; it’s an institution of long standing and high visibility in British life. Now that it has come clean about its stance on this issue, and in so doing has compromised gravely the journalistic integrity of its members, we can only ask who will be next. The BBC, perhaps?

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News from Ramadi

It is always tempting fate to write about a success story in Iraq: by the time your article sees print, some terrible atrocity may well have been perpetrated. Case in point: Ramadi.

Last week, I wrote in both the Weekly Standard and the Los Angeles Times about the remarkable success that U.S. forces have had recently in pacifying this one-time al-Qaeda stronghold. Sure enough, on Monday, April 23, and Tuesday, April 24, just as these articles were appearing, several car bombs went off near Ramadi.

Do these bombings call into question how much success U.S. forces have been having? I asked Colonel John Charlton, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division, with responsibility for Ramadi and the surrounding area. Below is the response he emailed back to me yesterday, which he agreed to let me share with contentions readers. (Note that the estimated toll he gives for the bombings—thirteen killed—is much lower than the death toll cited in most news accounts, such as this BBC story, which reported at least 45 dead).

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It is always tempting fate to write about a success story in Iraq: by the time your article sees print, some terrible atrocity may well have been perpetrated. Case in point: Ramadi.

Last week, I wrote in both the Weekly Standard and the Los Angeles Times about the remarkable success that U.S. forces have had recently in pacifying this one-time al-Qaeda stronghold. Sure enough, on Monday, April 23, and Tuesday, April 24, just as these articles were appearing, several car bombs went off near Ramadi.

Do these bombings call into question how much success U.S. forces have been having? I asked Colonel John Charlton, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division, with responsibility for Ramadi and the surrounding area. Below is the response he emailed back to me yesterday, which he agreed to let me share with contentions readers. (Note that the estimated toll he gives for the bombings—thirteen killed—is much lower than the death toll cited in most news accounts, such as this BBC story, which reported at least 45 dead).

Max,

Sorry about the delayed response, but email went down and then I had a couple real busy days. Bottom line on last week’s VBIED [vehicle-borne improvised explosive device] attacks—

The first one targeted an IP [Iraqi Police] station. It was intercepted and destroyed prior to reaching the station but caused 5 IP WIA’s [wounded in action] and over 20 civilian WIA’s. Another VBIED attacked an IP checkpoint on the highway resulting in 13 IP KIA [killed in action] and 8 IP WIA. This VBIED was also attempting to destroy an IP station but was intercepted before it could reach its target. The casualty count was so high because the IP’s were in the process of shift change at that location.

Last week the IP’s successfully intercepted a VBIED on the highway with no civilian or IP casualties. The IP’s did the same thing yesterday with no casualties. I gave awards to last week’s heroes and will do the same for those who stopped yesterday’s VBIED attack.

The IP’s in Ramadi are constantly on guard against VBIED’s. Unfortunately, even if the VBIED fails to reach its target, they still are deadly to anyone nearby. Al Qaeda will continue to try to attack the Ramadi IP’s and civilians with these VBIED’s in order to gain headlines. They know they were defeated in Ramadi so this is their attempt to save face and strike back at the force that drove them out of town. These murderers don’t care how many civilians are killed as long as they get a headline. Unfortunately, U.S. media seems to reinforce this behavior. One thing is certain, the people of Anbar will never accept al Qaeda and the police here will continue to fight back regardless of the danger they face. These attacks only strengthen their resolve.

We are currently conducting a large operation to clear terrorists out of the Abu Bali tribal region east of Ramadi. This area developed into a terrorist safe haven after we cleared Ramadi. Using coalition forces and ISF [Iraqi Security Forces], we are doing the same, deliberate clearing methods that we used in our previous operations. We have encountered many IED’s (reminds me of [Operation] Murfreesboro [in February-March]) but have cleared the area and are building another new JSS [Joint Security Station]. Almost immediately, the local population asked to start a neighborhood watch, and now these citizens are pointing out caches and IED’s.

We also successfully cleared an area to our south called al Tash. This was another area al Qaeda moved to when we cleared the city. We started getting increased IED attacks from this area so we went and cleared this town and established a JSS. Locals there now want to join the police force, and we haven’t had a single incident down there in about 2 weeks. I think al Qaeda is beginning to get the idea that we don’t like them in the neighborhood.

We are also working very hard with local religious leaders to improve popular support and conditions here in Ramadi. I have been meeting with prominent Sunni clerics from Anbar, and we think we will be able to reopen the main mosque here in Ramadi next week (I’m sure you saw it while you were here—it’s the really big one just north of the Malaab). This will be a huge event since this mosque is the centerpiece of Islamic worship here in Ramadi and has not been in operation for years due to the fighting. We are working religious-leader engagement at every level, and it is really paying off. A couple months ago, about half the mosques in Ramadi were broadcasting anti-coalition messages. Last Friday, there wasn’t a single anti-coalition sermon, and there were even a couple mosques that broadcast a pro-coalition message—I’ve never seen that before in my three tours over here.

Have to get back to work now . . . will give you an update on our efforts to help the Iraqis rebuild in my next email. This is an important aspect of counterinsurgency that will take a little time to explain.

Take care, John.

Rock of the Marne!
John W. Charlton
COL, Infantry
Commanding
Camp Ar Ramadi, Iraq

As Colonel Charlton keeps me posted, I will pass along his updates. They are not all likely to be positive. There is a war on, after all, and the enemy remains tenacious and brutal. We mustn’t set unrealistic goals in Ramadi (or anywhere else in Iraq) and then engage in self-flagellation if we don’t achieve them. Anbar, and the rest of Iraq, will remain violent for years, probably decades, to come. The question is whether we can get that violence down to a sustainable level, a level that doesn’t threaten the functioning of Iraq’s emerging government and civil society. So far that’s just what Colonel Charlton and his men have managed to pull off in Ramadi. Even the New York Times is taking notice. But all such accomplishments are fragile.

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Britain’s Humiliation

An American friend asks what I, as an Englishman, think about the hostage affair. My answer is that words cannot express how sickened, humiliated, soiled, contaminated, and ashamed I feel.

I feel sickened by the fact that a ship in the navy of Nelson could be captured without a shot being fired, and that British sailors and marines could participate in propaganda stunts that go far beyond the old rubric of giving name, rank and number only, and finally parade before Ahmadinejad to beg his forgiveness.

I feel humiliated by the impotence of our government and armed forces in the face of naked aggression, a humiliation compounded by the disloyalty of our European partners and the refusal of Russia and China to support British forces kidnapped while carrying out a UN mission.

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An American friend asks what I, as an Englishman, think about the hostage affair. My answer is that words cannot express how sickened, humiliated, soiled, contaminated, and ashamed I feel.

I feel sickened by the fact that a ship in the navy of Nelson could be captured without a shot being fired, and that British sailors and marines could participate in propaganda stunts that go far beyond the old rubric of giving name, rank and number only, and finally parade before Ahmadinejad to beg his forgiveness.

I feel humiliated by the impotence of our government and armed forces in the face of naked aggression, a humiliation compounded by the disloyalty of our European partners and the refusal of Russia and China to support British forces kidnapped while carrying out a UN mission.

I feel soiled by the apologists for Iran who pervade our airwaves and press, led by the former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont, now chairman of the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce. Lamont claims that Tony Blair’s support for American policy is to blame for Iran’s hostility, and that the release of the hostages proves that “neocons” were wrong to urge a tough line.

I feel contaminated by the sight of Ahmadinejad posing as a benefactor even as he orders yet more terrorist attacks in Iraq. One of the most recent: a bomb that killed four British soldiers and an interpreter in Basra just as the hostages were being released.

I feel ashamed of Patricia Hewitt, our health secretary, who criticized the woman sailor held hostage for smoking a cigarette, but said nothing about the indignity of her being deprived of her uniform, forced to wear a Muslim headscarf, and patronized by Ahmadinejad because she was a mother.

Tony Blair waited until the sailors and marines were safely home before reminding the British people that Iran is arming, financing, and inciting terrorism throughout the region while defying the will of the international community in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, reported the prime minister’s remarks as responding to a gesture of friendship from Iran with “a slap in the face.”

In reality, Blair has been frustrated by his inability to respond more robustly to the Iranian provocation. America’s former ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, told the BBC that the Iranians were testing the British to see if there would be any price to pay for their outrageous behavior. Now they had their answer, said Bolton: “Softly, softly.” I don’t think he meant it as a compliment.

The Iranians will be emboldened, realizing that the media’s sentimentality in hostage crises imposes a crippling handicap on Western leaders who, like Blair, wish to avoid appeasement at all costs. Negotiations with Tehran almost certainly made no difference to Ahmadinejad’s decision. (They may even have been counter-productive in their bestowal of a spurious legitimacy on Iran.) Such negotiations were nonetheless demanded by the arbiters of public opinion in preference to other diplomatic or military responses.

In the U.S., Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi are demanding similar negotiations with Syria. Wrong for Iran; wrong for Syria. To jaw-jaw may, as Churchill said to Eisenhower in 1954, always be better than to war-war, but not if the guy you are jaw-jawing with is quietly war-warring behind your back.

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