Commentary Magazine


Topic: House of Lords

British Pol Echoes CAIR Talking Point About Islamists

Those wondering just how far gone Britain is on the question of the influence of Islamism got another shock this week when Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the co-chair of the Conservative Party and a minister without portfolio in Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet, asserted that Islamophobia has gone mainstream there. But rather than merely issuing a call for more tolerance, Warsi’s speech last night at the University of Leicester sought to cast aspersions not only on those who espouse religious prejudice but also on those who have differentiated between moderate peaceful Muslims and radical Islamists.

The speech, which has caused quite a stir in the United Kingdom, contains this curious formulation: “The notion that all followers of Islam can be described either as ‘moderate’ or ‘extremist’ can fuel misunderstanding and intolerance.” She goes on to complain that the designation of some Muslims as moderate is inherently invidious.

The admirable Melanie Phillips analyzes Warsi’s illogical thesis this way:

“When people fail explicitly to differentiate ‘moderate’ Muslims from ‘extremists’ they are tarred and feathered as ‘Islamophobic.’ But now Warsi says that to differentiate in this way is also ‘Islamophobic.’ Of course, that’s because what she means is that any mention of any Muslim being extreme is itself ‘Islamophobic.’ Now where have we heard that before? From just about every Muslim community spokesman every time there is an act of Islamic terrorism—two words which it is not permissible in such quarters to utter together. This tactic … is designed to intimidate people into not acknowledging reality and discussing the most pressing issue of our time — Islamic extremism and the war against the free world being waged in the name of Islam.”

It speaks volumes about the political realities of Britain that the person articulating this troubling formulation is not merely a member of the House of Lords but also a highly influential member of the country’s governing political party. While this is not the sort of thing you would expect to hear from the national co-chair of either the Republicans or the Democrats, Americans need to be on their guard against this sort of attitude seeping into own our government and political establishment. That’s because this attempt to demonize any effort to differentiate between Muslims who are loyal American citizens or British subjects and those who support the Islamists’ war on the West is the main talking point these days of groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations and the American Muslim Union. And that is why such groups, which exist to blur such important distinctions, ought not to be allowed to get away with pretending to be mainstream players rather than the extremists they actually are. Though these organizations masquerade as fighters against discrimination, they are, in fact, undermining the justified fight against religious bias just as much as they are trying to torpedo the war on terror.

Those wondering just how far gone Britain is on the question of the influence of Islamism got another shock this week when Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the co-chair of the Conservative Party and a minister without portfolio in Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet, asserted that Islamophobia has gone mainstream there. But rather than merely issuing a call for more tolerance, Warsi’s speech last night at the University of Leicester sought to cast aspersions not only on those who espouse religious prejudice but also on those who have differentiated between moderate peaceful Muslims and radical Islamists.

The speech, which has caused quite a stir in the United Kingdom, contains this curious formulation: “The notion that all followers of Islam can be described either as ‘moderate’ or ‘extremist’ can fuel misunderstanding and intolerance.” She goes on to complain that the designation of some Muslims as moderate is inherently invidious.

The admirable Melanie Phillips analyzes Warsi’s illogical thesis this way:

“When people fail explicitly to differentiate ‘moderate’ Muslims from ‘extremists’ they are tarred and feathered as ‘Islamophobic.’ But now Warsi says that to differentiate in this way is also ‘Islamophobic.’ Of course, that’s because what she means is that any mention of any Muslim being extreme is itself ‘Islamophobic.’ Now where have we heard that before? From just about every Muslim community spokesman every time there is an act of Islamic terrorism—two words which it is not permissible in such quarters to utter together. This tactic … is designed to intimidate people into not acknowledging reality and discussing the most pressing issue of our time — Islamic extremism and the war against the free world being waged in the name of Islam.”

It speaks volumes about the political realities of Britain that the person articulating this troubling formulation is not merely a member of the House of Lords but also a highly influential member of the country’s governing political party. While this is not the sort of thing you would expect to hear from the national co-chair of either the Republicans or the Democrats, Americans need to be on their guard against this sort of attitude seeping into own our government and political establishment. That’s because this attempt to demonize any effort to differentiate between Muslims who are loyal American citizens or British subjects and those who support the Islamists’ war on the West is the main talking point these days of groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations and the American Muslim Union. And that is why such groups, which exist to blur such important distinctions, ought not to be allowed to get away with pretending to be mainstream players rather than the extremists they actually are. Though these organizations masquerade as fighters against discrimination, they are, in fact, undermining the justified fight against religious bias just as much as they are trying to torpedo the war on terror.

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WikiLeaks, Treason, and Plot

You can’t make any WikiLeaks-related calendar date fit the Gunpowder Plot ditty:

Remember, remember the fifth of November:
Gunpowder, treason, and plot!

But as yet another historical analogy, the Gunpowder Plot has illuminating features. WikiLeaks plays a role similar to that of gunpowder in the Gunpowder Plot. Like the 36 barrels of gunpowder deployed by Guy Fawkes under the House of Lords in 1605, WikiLeaks is a fascinating agent — the iconic tool of its technological age — giving unique shape and unprecedented scope to a treasonous impulse. And as with the Gunpowder Plot, the real story with WikiLeaks and the Web isn’t the technological agent; it’s the treason.

In this regard, I endorse the related point made on Friday by “Zombie” at Pajamas Media. The criminal act in the case of the WikiLeaks data dumps was committed by the person with the government clearance who made unauthorized copies of classified documents and turned them over to WikiLeaks. The individual charged with these crimes is Private First Class Bradley Manning, formerly an Army intelligence analyst. He is being held in the Quantico brig until his court-martial date in 2011.

Unsavory as Julian Assange is, it’s not clear that he has committed a crime with his WikiLeaks publications. He has never held a U.S. government clearance. He’s not even an American citizen. It’s not at all certain that he could legitimately be prosecuted for failing to protect U.S. government information. European nations — Britain, Sweden — could reasonably balk at extraditing him for prosecution in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Americans should think hard about how much Web oversight we want to cede to the federal government (or to foreign governments) in response to the WikiLeaks disclosures. The Internet certainly accelerates and amplifies the effects of the crime in this case. There is a sense in which the prospect of Internet publication justifies calling this treason, rather than merely a disclosure crime (which is what Manning is charged with). The managers of WikiLeaks are not themselves known to be agents of an enemy government; it is Manning’s pursuit of damaging, high-profile Web publication that makes it clear he intended to act against his country’s interests in wartime. Read More

You can’t make any WikiLeaks-related calendar date fit the Gunpowder Plot ditty:

Remember, remember the fifth of November:
Gunpowder, treason, and plot!

But as yet another historical analogy, the Gunpowder Plot has illuminating features. WikiLeaks plays a role similar to that of gunpowder in the Gunpowder Plot. Like the 36 barrels of gunpowder deployed by Guy Fawkes under the House of Lords in 1605, WikiLeaks is a fascinating agent — the iconic tool of its technological age — giving unique shape and unprecedented scope to a treasonous impulse. And as with the Gunpowder Plot, the real story with WikiLeaks and the Web isn’t the technological agent; it’s the treason.

In this regard, I endorse the related point made on Friday by “Zombie” at Pajamas Media. The criminal act in the case of the WikiLeaks data dumps was committed by the person with the government clearance who made unauthorized copies of classified documents and turned them over to WikiLeaks. The individual charged with these crimes is Private First Class Bradley Manning, formerly an Army intelligence analyst. He is being held in the Quantico brig until his court-martial date in 2011.

Unsavory as Julian Assange is, it’s not clear that he has committed a crime with his WikiLeaks publications. He has never held a U.S. government clearance. He’s not even an American citizen. It’s not at all certain that he could legitimately be prosecuted for failing to protect U.S. government information. European nations — Britain, Sweden — could reasonably balk at extraditing him for prosecution in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Americans should think hard about how much Web oversight we want to cede to the federal government (or to foreign governments) in response to the WikiLeaks disclosures. The Internet certainly accelerates and amplifies the effects of the crime in this case. There is a sense in which the prospect of Internet publication justifies calling this treason, rather than merely a disclosure crime (which is what Manning is charged with). The managers of WikiLeaks are not themselves known to be agents of an enemy government; it is Manning’s pursuit of damaging, high-profile Web publication that makes it clear he intended to act against his country’s interests in wartime.

But we should note that the military already has an elaborate set of rules for information security. The problem in this case, if Manning’s own account is valid, is that some of those rules were not being enforced in his work facility in Iraq. There is nothing unusual about junior personnel having access to secret information; intelligence analysts need it to do their jobs. But Manning says he took writable CDs into a secure area and pretended to listen to music from them while copying files to them on a secret-level computer. Everything about this is a breach of sound security policy, and the military is well aware of that.

I signed a dozen oaths in my 20 years in Naval Intelligence to never do — on pain of severe penalties — what Bradley Manning is charged with doing. The rules to prevent it have long been in place. The apparent systemic failures in this case were the poor IT security at Manning’s former command and the inattention of supervisors to the red flags in Manning’s personnel profile, such as his propensity to get into fights with other soldiers. Better application of prudent policy guidelines could well have prevented the whole incident.

Expanding government supervision and control of the Internet, however, would be a disproportionate and mistargeted response. As with gunpowder, the inherent nature of the tool can’t be altered; it can only be made the pretext for restrictions and limitations on the human users. And as with 17th-century England’s prohibitions on the ownership of gunpowder by Catholics, such regulatory prophylaxis invites invidious application.

Criminalizing the role of Julian Assange, meanwhile, could easily carry unintended consequences. We in the liberal nations are not always aligned against the disclosers of government secrets. Should Iran or Cuba be able to demand extradition of a foreigner who publishes their governments’ secrets? Should Russia or China? There is the real danger of a misapplied remedy here. Bluster from our senators is about as close as we need to get to making bad law on the basis of a hard case.

The gunpowder analogy isn’t perfect. But the last two lines of the Gunpowder Plot ditty frame the correct priority for addressing the WikiLeaks Plot:

I see no reason why Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

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Something Must Be Done

A.A. Gill’s much-forwarded piece in the Times on Britain’s election is a delightfully readable mixture of wrong-headedness, error, and sputtering confusion, with some sensible ideas and superb acidity mixed in. There is a case to be made that the House of Commons is too big — though reducing it would only mean larger constituencies, and thus an even more tenuous connection between MPs and those constituencies. And there is an even better case to be made that, as the expenses scandal revealed, the Commons has been far too concerned with feathering its own nest.

On the other hand, some of his ideas are revealing in their errors. Gill’s worried about the role of the House of Lords, as if the Lords has really been a vital political issue at any point over the past 99 years. He’s angry that the constituency boundaries give Labour a substantial advantage. Actually, Labour’s built-in advantage is between six and 16 seats: it’s real, but it’s not huge. He’s angry that MPs have to concern themselves with “pointless” local matters like “potholes, traffic lights, arguments with the police and admissions to schools and hospitals,” as if these kinds of concerns are beneath the dignity of democratic politics.

And he’s annoyed that he has “never covered an election in a democracy where candidates have been so reluctant to speak to the electorate through the press.” Of course, one reason for that is that public appearances by Gordon Brown tend to alienate more voters than they attract. Another, more substantial one is that political speech in Britain during an election is heavily controlled by law, a fact that sheds some useful light on the merits of the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision.

But when you come right down to it, Gill’s big beef is with Britain itself. He’s wonderfully dismissive of Nick Clegg (“He speaks five languages but can’t say boo in any of them”) and Gordon Brown (“He wrestles with an Old Testament temper, and it’s said that he has no friends. Certainly, none of them have come out to contradict this”), and his dismissal of proportional representation is excellent. Like Edward VIII, he believes that “something must be done,” but he’s not clear exactly what, apart to be sure that Britain’s traditions are at the root of its problems.

This is, frankly, ridiculous. The problem in Britain isn’t too much tradition. It’s the demolition of it. The vast majority of law in Britain is now made in Brussels. Parliament is immeasurably less important to politics than it has been in the past, as evidenced by the American-style debates that Gill praises. The idea that Parliament still works today as it did in Trollope’s age doesn’t bear up under scrutiny for more than a second.

Britain’s fundamental problem is that in a parliamentary system, you need both strong support for the government (otherwise it can be gone in minutes) and strong scrutiny of government (otherwise it’s omnipotent at worst or corrupt at best). The presidentialization of politics means a weakening of parties, and the decline of the Commons means less public scrutiny of government (and of the EU), as well as all manner of petty snouts in the trough. The system is being nibbled away — or gnawed away — at both ends. And predictably, inevitably, hopelessly, the call of the commentators is for more change, faster.

A.A. Gill’s much-forwarded piece in the Times on Britain’s election is a delightfully readable mixture of wrong-headedness, error, and sputtering confusion, with some sensible ideas and superb acidity mixed in. There is a case to be made that the House of Commons is too big — though reducing it would only mean larger constituencies, and thus an even more tenuous connection between MPs and those constituencies. And there is an even better case to be made that, as the expenses scandal revealed, the Commons has been far too concerned with feathering its own nest.

On the other hand, some of his ideas are revealing in their errors. Gill’s worried about the role of the House of Lords, as if the Lords has really been a vital political issue at any point over the past 99 years. He’s angry that the constituency boundaries give Labour a substantial advantage. Actually, Labour’s built-in advantage is between six and 16 seats: it’s real, but it’s not huge. He’s angry that MPs have to concern themselves with “pointless” local matters like “potholes, traffic lights, arguments with the police and admissions to schools and hospitals,” as if these kinds of concerns are beneath the dignity of democratic politics.

And he’s annoyed that he has “never covered an election in a democracy where candidates have been so reluctant to speak to the electorate through the press.” Of course, one reason for that is that public appearances by Gordon Brown tend to alienate more voters than they attract. Another, more substantial one is that political speech in Britain during an election is heavily controlled by law, a fact that sheds some useful light on the merits of the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision.

But when you come right down to it, Gill’s big beef is with Britain itself. He’s wonderfully dismissive of Nick Clegg (“He speaks five languages but can’t say boo in any of them”) and Gordon Brown (“He wrestles with an Old Testament temper, and it’s said that he has no friends. Certainly, none of them have come out to contradict this”), and his dismissal of proportional representation is excellent. Like Edward VIII, he believes that “something must be done,” but he’s not clear exactly what, apart to be sure that Britain’s traditions are at the root of its problems.

This is, frankly, ridiculous. The problem in Britain isn’t too much tradition. It’s the demolition of it. The vast majority of law in Britain is now made in Brussels. Parliament is immeasurably less important to politics than it has been in the past, as evidenced by the American-style debates that Gill praises. The idea that Parliament still works today as it did in Trollope’s age doesn’t bear up under scrutiny for more than a second.

Britain’s fundamental problem is that in a parliamentary system, you need both strong support for the government (otherwise it can be gone in minutes) and strong scrutiny of government (otherwise it’s omnipotent at worst or corrupt at best). The presidentialization of politics means a weakening of parties, and the decline of the Commons means less public scrutiny of government (and of the EU), as well as all manner of petty snouts in the trough. The system is being nibbled away — or gnawed away — at both ends. And predictably, inevitably, hopelessly, the call of the commentators is for more change, faster.

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Conspiracy Theorists Flocking Together

You may remember Baroness Jenny Tonge. Back in February, she was sacked as the Liberal Democratic spokeswoman on health in the House of Lords after she publicly called for an inquiry into allegations that the Israeli relief mission in Haiti was a front for organ-trafficking. It wasn’t the first time she’d been shown the door: in 2004 she was sacked as spokeswoman on children’s issues after she said she would consider becoming a suicide bomber if she lived in the Palestinian territories. The Lib Dems would appear to have a high tolerance for repeat offenders, at least as long as they’re anti-Israel.

The Haiti story derived from the Palestinian Telegraph, an online newspaper of which Baroness Tonge was then an official patron. The PT is a cesspool of anti-Semitism, relentlessly dedicated to the belief that all Western political parties are part of a vast Jewish conspiracy, directly funded by Jews, to which Baroness Tonge fell victim. Its response to Tonge’s February dismissal was — amid tears for “a highly moral and ethical lady and a true friend of Palestine” — the irrefutable and nonsensical “if you’re innocent, you’d welcome an inquiry” argument.

Well, the other shoe has now dropped. A couple of days ago, the PT pulled off its latest journalistic coup: a lengthy video by David Duke, in which the former KKK Grand Wizard rants about “Israeli terrorism against America.” If you’ve got a strong stomach, you can watch it on YouTube. In response, Tonge resigned from PT’s board of patrons. But not to worry: she was immediately replaced by George Galloway, MP, Saddam Hussein’s best friend in Britain. Standing alongside him are British journalist Lauren Booth and Italian Communist MEP Luisa Morgantini.

Belief in conspiracy theories is a sign of mental or ideological derangement, and the PT is the best proof of that. But it’s impossible not to be struck by the way birds that wouldn’t seem to be of a feather flock together around the questions of Israel and the Jews: David Duke on the extremist right, and Galloway, Morgantini, and Booth on the left. And then there’s Tonge, the twice-former Lib Dem spokeswoman. The best one can possibly say of her is that, in spite of her close association with the PT, it took Duke’s appearance to make it clear to her what kind of people she was working with. And that is a very charitable view indeed.

You may remember Baroness Jenny Tonge. Back in February, she was sacked as the Liberal Democratic spokeswoman on health in the House of Lords after she publicly called for an inquiry into allegations that the Israeli relief mission in Haiti was a front for organ-trafficking. It wasn’t the first time she’d been shown the door: in 2004 she was sacked as spokeswoman on children’s issues after she said she would consider becoming a suicide bomber if she lived in the Palestinian territories. The Lib Dems would appear to have a high tolerance for repeat offenders, at least as long as they’re anti-Israel.

The Haiti story derived from the Palestinian Telegraph, an online newspaper of which Baroness Tonge was then an official patron. The PT is a cesspool of anti-Semitism, relentlessly dedicated to the belief that all Western political parties are part of a vast Jewish conspiracy, directly funded by Jews, to which Baroness Tonge fell victim. Its response to Tonge’s February dismissal was — amid tears for “a highly moral and ethical lady and a true friend of Palestine” — the irrefutable and nonsensical “if you’re innocent, you’d welcome an inquiry” argument.

Well, the other shoe has now dropped. A couple of days ago, the PT pulled off its latest journalistic coup: a lengthy video by David Duke, in which the former KKK Grand Wizard rants about “Israeli terrorism against America.” If you’ve got a strong stomach, you can watch it on YouTube. In response, Tonge resigned from PT’s board of patrons. But not to worry: she was immediately replaced by George Galloway, MP, Saddam Hussein’s best friend in Britain. Standing alongside him are British journalist Lauren Booth and Italian Communist MEP Luisa Morgantini.

Belief in conspiracy theories is a sign of mental or ideological derangement, and the PT is the best proof of that. But it’s impossible not to be struck by the way birds that wouldn’t seem to be of a feather flock together around the questions of Israel and the Jews: David Duke on the extremist right, and Galloway, Morgantini, and Booth on the left. And then there’s Tonge, the twice-former Lib Dem spokeswoman. The best one can possibly say of her is that, in spite of her close association with the PT, it took Duke’s appearance to make it clear to her what kind of people she was working with. And that is a very charitable view indeed.

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British Corruption

Britain has fallen a notch in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruptions Perceptions Index. It now ranks 17th out of the 180 countries surveyed. Transparency said that the decline “reflects the damage to its international standing caused by the MPs’ expenses scandal and the weakness of its efforts to prosecute foreign bribery.”

The second item, the “foreign bribery” problem, relates to the long-running saga of allegations against BAE and arms sales to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Tanzania. I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of these allegations, which shed revealing light on the hypocrisy of the UK’s support for the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, but they are old news. It’s probable that Britain’s decline was driven by the expenses scandal. Read More

Britain has fallen a notch in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruptions Perceptions Index. It now ranks 17th out of the 180 countries surveyed. Transparency said that the decline “reflects the damage to its international standing caused by the MPs’ expenses scandal and the weakness of its efforts to prosecute foreign bribery.”

The second item, the “foreign bribery” problem, relates to the long-running saga of allegations against BAE and arms sales to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Tanzania. I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of these allegations, which shed revealing light on the hypocrisy of the UK’s support for the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, but they are old news. It’s probable that Britain’s decline was driven by the expenses scandal.

The impact of that scandal is an illustration of John Hay’s remark that “it is curious how a concise impropriety hits the public.” But it is also small beer: New Labour has brought Britain many “improprieties” that were a good deal worse but that failed to catch Transparency’s eye. There was the 2005-07 “cash for peerages” controversy, in which it was alleged that the Labour party was selling seats in the House of Lords in exchange for donations. There was — indeed, there is — the scandal of Labour’s immigration policy, which a former Labour speechwriter confessed last month deliberately sought to deceive Parliament, the public, and its own supporters.

There is the ongoing refusal of ministers to treat Parliament with any seriousness, as witnessed by the relentless leaking of government proposals in advance of the Queen’s Speech, a formerly great occasion of state. And, above all, there is the fact that more than 90 percent of all British law is now made by the EU. Compared to this, the expenses scandal is nothing: if the MPs can’t make law for their own constituents, the money they pocket on the side by fiddling second mortgages and buying expensive wallpaper is hardly the most vital national issue. Not all government corruption is financial, and the nonmonetary kinds are by far the most vicious.

But the expenses scandal is an attention grabber nonetheless. It is a very British saga — only in the UK, and a few other countries, would the public be exercised by this kind of corruption. In too many countries, it’s taken for granted that public service is an opportunity for personal enrichment. It goes to show that, though the standards have been traduced, the British public’s view of what is right in political life still stems from the Victorian era. And in my eyes, there is no higher praise than that.

It is of course true that that era was not free from corruption. If you’re a fan of old political scandals, I recommend G.R. Searle’s superb study of “Corruption in British Politics, 1895-1930,” which proves that this century was not the first time the House of Lords has been for sale. But that era nonetheless created standards that, even if they were in part aspirational, are of real value. MPs are not supposed to seek their private good. The British armed forces are not supposed to have their budget cut in the face of the enemy. Brussels is not supposed to make British law. Yet all these things happen openly and repeatedly.

Part of the sour tone of British politics today is obviously the result of the recession. But it is more than that: it is the result of the grating divergence between basic political ideals and obvious political realities in Britain. And given how influential those ideals have been around the world, and the high expectations that people abroad still have of Britain, it is not surprising that Britain has been punished by the Transparency survey.

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Weizmann’s Answer

It feels a bit grubby to address an argument that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly employed to deny the legitimacy of the state of Israel. But in this instance the Iranian president has said something on behalf of a surprising number of people—people who may not agree with Ahmadinejad’s tone, or the choice of words he employs, but who at bottom are sympathetic to core of Ahmadinejad’s case. He recently used Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day, the annual hate-Israel festival of the Muslim Middle East inaugurated in 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini, to offer once again his final solution to the problem of the existence of Israel: Hold a referendum on the “settlement of Zionists in Europe or in big lands such as Canada and Alaska so they would be able to own their own land.”

In Ahmadinejad’s telling, Israel was created because of European Holocaust guilt—ignore his psychotic logic, which also holds that the Holocaust never happened—and so not only is Israel an illegitimate presence, but it is one that Europe and the West have a responsibility to remove. There are of course many layers of absurdity here: the fact that Zionism predates the Holocaust by more than a half-century, the Biblical promise of Israel to the Jews, the fact that the Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917, that there has been a Jewish presence in Israel for thousands of years, and that it grew substantially in waves of aliya that started in the 19th century—never mind all of that. Ahmadinejad, with an obviously false note of curiosity, wonders why Jews won’t just go somewhere else.

Chaim Weizmann, the renowned chemist, Zionist statesman, and founding father of Israel, answered exactly this question in Great Britain in the years before the Balfour Declaration. A member of the House of Lords asked him, “Why do you Jews insist on Palestine when there are so many undeveloped countries you could settle in more conveniently?” Weizmann said: “That is like my asking you why you drove twenty miles to visit your mother last Sunday when there are so many old ladies living on your street.”

It feels a bit grubby to address an argument that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly employed to deny the legitimacy of the state of Israel. But in this instance the Iranian president has said something on behalf of a surprising number of people—people who may not agree with Ahmadinejad’s tone, or the choice of words he employs, but who at bottom are sympathetic to core of Ahmadinejad’s case. He recently used Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day, the annual hate-Israel festival of the Muslim Middle East inaugurated in 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini, to offer once again his final solution to the problem of the existence of Israel: Hold a referendum on the “settlement of Zionists in Europe or in big lands such as Canada and Alaska so they would be able to own their own land.”

In Ahmadinejad’s telling, Israel was created because of European Holocaust guilt—ignore his psychotic logic, which also holds that the Holocaust never happened—and so not only is Israel an illegitimate presence, but it is one that Europe and the West have a responsibility to remove. There are of course many layers of absurdity here: the fact that Zionism predates the Holocaust by more than a half-century, the Biblical promise of Israel to the Jews, the fact that the Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917, that there has been a Jewish presence in Israel for thousands of years, and that it grew substantially in waves of aliya that started in the 19th century—never mind all of that. Ahmadinejad, with an obviously false note of curiosity, wonders why Jews won’t just go somewhere else.

Chaim Weizmann, the renowned chemist, Zionist statesman, and founding father of Israel, answered exactly this question in Great Britain in the years before the Balfour Declaration. A member of the House of Lords asked him, “Why do you Jews insist on Palestine when there are so many undeveloped countries you could settle in more conveniently?” Weizmann said: “That is like my asking you why you drove twenty miles to visit your mother last Sunday when there are so many old ladies living on your street.”

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A Most Superior Person

Long before Lord Curzon became foreign secretary and viceroy of India, a fellow undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford, summed up the future statesman in two immortal, ironic lines: “My name is George Nathaniel Curzon/ and I am a most superior person.”

I was reminded of Curzon while listening to the present chancellor of Oxford University address a fund-raising dinner in the City of London for the Oxford Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Chris Patten—or Baron Patten of Barnes, Companion of Honor and Privy Counsellor, to give him his full title—is what passes for a most superior person in England these days.

Once a speechwriter for Margaret Thatcher—a fact that is now a source of mutual embarrassment—Patten rose to be a cabinet minister and chairman of the Conservative party before the electors of Bath ejected him unceremoniously from Parliament in 1992. This meant that Patten was unable to take up the post he had coveted and been promised, namely foreign secretary. However, then-Prime Minister John Major gave him the consolation prize of making him the last governor of Hong Kong. Read More

Long before Lord Curzon became foreign secretary and viceroy of India, a fellow undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford, summed up the future statesman in two immortal, ironic lines: “My name is George Nathaniel Curzon/ and I am a most superior person.”

I was reminded of Curzon while listening to the present chancellor of Oxford University address a fund-raising dinner in the City of London for the Oxford Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Chris Patten—or Baron Patten of Barnes, Companion of Honor and Privy Counsellor, to give him his full title—is what passes for a most superior person in England these days.

Once a speechwriter for Margaret Thatcher—a fact that is now a source of mutual embarrassment—Patten rose to be a cabinet minister and chairman of the Conservative party before the electors of Bath ejected him unceremoniously from Parliament in 1992. This meant that Patten was unable to take up the post he had coveted and been promised, namely foreign secretary. However, then-Prime Minister John Major gave him the consolation prize of making him the last governor of Hong Kong. In 1999, two years after handing over the colony, Patten was parachuted into Brussels to take up the post of European commissioner for external relations. Despite bearing considerable responsibility for the European Union’s animus against the Bush administration during the period before and after the invasion of Iraq, Patten was not considered sufficiently anti-American by the French and the Germans, and so he failed in his bid for the presidency of the European Commission. On his return to England in 2004, he was rewarded with a seat in the House of Lords.

Thwarted in politics, Patten has carved out a new career for himself as the figurehead of one of the most famous universities in the world. In liberal donnish circles, he is fêted as a most superior spokesperson. And it was in this capacity that he spoke last Thursday.

In the course of his speech, which dealt with the alleged threat that what he called “identity politics” poses to Britain’s domestic peace, Patten compared the situation of British Muslims today with that of British Catholics during the IRA terrorist campaign between 1969 and 1998. But Patten, who authored the Patten Report on the policing of Northern Ireland, should know better than anyone how suspect this analogy is.

A few weeks before Patten’s speech, in fact, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, the head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command, anticipated and deconstructed precisely this analogy, contrasting al Qaeda’s nature and methods with those of the IRA. He called the latter “a domestic campaign using conventional weaponry, carried out by terrorists in tightly knit networks who were desperate to avoid capture and certainly had no wish to die.” The threat from al Qaeda, on the other hand, “is global in origin, reach, and ambition. The networks are large, fluid, mobile, and incredibly resilient.” Suicide is normal. “There is no evidence of looking to restrict casualties. There are no warnings given. . . . [T]he intention is to kill as many people as possible. We have seen both conventional and unconventional weaponry, and to date . . . there has not been an obvious political agenda around which meaningful negotiations can be built.”

Patten’s analogy ignores another highly significant fact cited by Clarke. IRA terrorists were eventually forced to abandon “the armed struggle” because they enjoyed virtually no support from Catholics in mainland Britain. British Muslims, by contrast, appear reluctant to help the police to detect, arrest, and convict al-Qaeda terrorists. As Clarke put it bluntly: “Almost all of our prosecutions have their origins in intelligence that came from overseas, the intelligence agencies, or from technical means. Few have yet originated from what is sometimes called ‘community intelligence.’” For whatever reasons, British Muslims are not yet prepared to inform on other Muslims.

And as Patten’s wrongheaded comparison might suggest, he sees himself engaged in quite a different battle—not against European Islamists at all, but against American neoconservatives. In his latest book, Not Quite the Diplomat, he writes: “There is still, in America—in newspaper columns, think tanks, academia, Congress, and the administration—an intellectual battle to be won. Even the Iraq debacle has not permanently silenced all the sovereigntists and neoconservatives.” Lord Patten may fancy himself intellectually superior to these poor benighted neocons, but he deceives himself if he thinks the so-called realists have won. The only thing that would silence the neoconservatives—those who want to defeat the jihad rather than appease it or pretend it doesn’t exist—would be a final victory for the Islamists. And should that happen, I suspect Patten might find himself silenced as well.

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