Commentary Magazine


Topic: Johannesburg

Potemkin Futbol

Truth has it all over fiction. Sports photographers captured a poignant moment at the Brazil–North Korea match in Tuesday’s World Cup play, when North Korea’s star striker, Jong Tae-Se, stood with tears in his eyes as his national anthem was played and a tiny contingent of fans cheered wildly. The New York Times’s Rob Hughes, answering the call of sentiment, reported that the match helped “bridge the world’s divides” and urged “everyone [to move] away from the notion that the isolation of half of the Korean Peninsula makes its citizens and players somehow inferior.”

No trip back to the manufactured atmosphere of Cold War–era sporting events would be complete without some kind of deceptive show put on by the Marxist side. And this incident requited expectations: it turns out that the 100 North Korean fans vigorously waving their flags last night in the bleachers in Ellis Park were Chinese actors, hired by China to play North Korean fans.

China didn’t qualify for the 2010 World Cup. According to a Chinese TV news anchor who’s now in Johannesburg covering the tournament, “Chinese fans will stand for the Asian teams.” South Korea and Japan are also competing for the World Cup this year, but the TV anchor’s additional comments clarify why China is standing for one Asian team in particular:

… 60 years ago, China’s military forces valiantly crossed the Yalu River to fight alongside the North Koreans against their enemies.

Sixty years on, we cheer for their football team and hope they will go far.

These aren’t comments a Chinese TV personality can make without government approval. America may have common interests with China in a variety of situations, but we’ve been deceiving ourselves for too long that such commonality exists when it comes to the disposition of the Korean peninsula. In significant ways, it’s still 1950 in Beijing. What China wants is a viable North Korea that can withstand attempts at unifying the Koreas under a U.S.-friendly government. China can wait for a propitious time to foster reunification to its own advantage; the key under current conditions is to prevent the Kim regime from collapsing.

In light of North Korea’s torpedoing of the South Korean ship in March, the Chinese endorsement at the World Cup is very pointed. It’s also classic state-socialist stage management — if with a twist this time, China having straightforwardly announced what it’s doing back in May. China’s apparent sense that such signals will be either missed or shrugged off by the U.S. has deepened considerably with the Obama presidency. Asians are less obtuse in this regard, however, and they are the target audience.

Brazil defeated North Korea 2-1, incidentally — a creditable showing by the North Koreans against the world’s top-ranked team.

Truth has it all over fiction. Sports photographers captured a poignant moment at the Brazil–North Korea match in Tuesday’s World Cup play, when North Korea’s star striker, Jong Tae-Se, stood with tears in his eyes as his national anthem was played and a tiny contingent of fans cheered wildly. The New York Times’s Rob Hughes, answering the call of sentiment, reported that the match helped “bridge the world’s divides” and urged “everyone [to move] away from the notion that the isolation of half of the Korean Peninsula makes its citizens and players somehow inferior.”

No trip back to the manufactured atmosphere of Cold War–era sporting events would be complete without some kind of deceptive show put on by the Marxist side. And this incident requited expectations: it turns out that the 100 North Korean fans vigorously waving their flags last night in the bleachers in Ellis Park were Chinese actors, hired by China to play North Korean fans.

China didn’t qualify for the 2010 World Cup. According to a Chinese TV news anchor who’s now in Johannesburg covering the tournament, “Chinese fans will stand for the Asian teams.” South Korea and Japan are also competing for the World Cup this year, but the TV anchor’s additional comments clarify why China is standing for one Asian team in particular:

… 60 years ago, China’s military forces valiantly crossed the Yalu River to fight alongside the North Koreans against their enemies.

Sixty years on, we cheer for their football team and hope they will go far.

These aren’t comments a Chinese TV personality can make without government approval. America may have common interests with China in a variety of situations, but we’ve been deceiving ourselves for too long that such commonality exists when it comes to the disposition of the Korean peninsula. In significant ways, it’s still 1950 in Beijing. What China wants is a viable North Korea that can withstand attempts at unifying the Koreas under a U.S.-friendly government. China can wait for a propitious time to foster reunification to its own advantage; the key under current conditions is to prevent the Kim regime from collapsing.

In light of North Korea’s torpedoing of the South Korean ship in March, the Chinese endorsement at the World Cup is very pointed. It’s also classic state-socialist stage management — if with a twist this time, China having straightforwardly announced what it’s doing back in May. China’s apparent sense that such signals will be either missed or shrugged off by the U.S. has deepened considerably with the Obama presidency. Asians are less obtuse in this regard, however, and they are the target audience.

Brazil defeated North Korea 2-1, incidentally — a creditable showing by the North Koreans against the world’s top-ranked team.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A disappointment to leftist civil rights groups? “The issue of race is one reason some liberals fear Kagan’s confirmation would actually tug the court to the right, particularly on voting rights, immigration and racial profiling cases that could come before the justices.”

A coward on the issue of Islamic fundamentalism? “Holder, who last year called America ‘a nation of cowards’ for refusing to talk frankly about race, plainly didn’t want to say what is plain to everyone else, that Faisal Shahzad, back from five months in Waziristan, launched his terror attack because of his Islamist beliefs.”

A sign of the administration’s obliviousness? “[T]he State Department’s showcasing of the Dar al-Hijra Islamic Center in a film about Muslim life in America — despite the mosque’s longstanding ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, its virulent Islamist ideology, its support for the murderous Hamas organization, its notorious Islamist imams and elders (including al Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki), and the ties of some of its worshippers to the 9/11 attacks and the Fort Hood massacre. Then, we learned that the federal government has struck a deal to pay Dar al-Hijra a whopping $582K just for this year (i.e., about one-tenth what it cost the Saudis to build the place), purportedly because the Census Bureau needs work space — y’know, because there are like no federal facilities anywhere near Falls Church, Virginia.”

A preview of what is to come? “A British chemicals firm is involved in a secret MI5 inquiry into the illegal export to Iran of material that could make a radioactive “dirty bomb”. HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) raided the Essex home of the firm’s former sales manager after a tip that potentially lethal chemicals, including cobalt, were sold to Iran last summer.”

A reminder that Richard Goldstone had the choice not to facilitate evil? “Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, 70, who helped South Africa chart a peaceful way out of apartheid by leading fellow whites into talks with exiled black leaders, died May 14 at his home in Johannesburg after being treated for a liver-related complication, Reuters reported. … As a political figure, he symbolized the emergence of a new breed of Afrikaner: urbane, articulate and committed to racial equality. … Mr. Slabbert tried to lead, leaving behind an early career as a sociologist in academia to enter politics. He represented the Progressive Federal Party, a precursor to the current opposition Democratic Alliance, in parliament during the apartheid years. He resigned as party leader and left parliament in 1985, during a crackdown on black activists, saying the whites-only legislature was no longer relevant.”

A nail biter in the Democratic Pennsylvania primary? The last tracking poll had Joe Sestak and Arlen Specter tied at 44 percent each.

A character witness he (and the rest of us) could do without?: “Woody Allen has restated his support for fellow filmmaker Roman Polanski, who is in house arrest in connection with a 33-year-old sex scandal. Allen said Polanski ‘was embarrassed by the whole thing,’ ”has suffered’ and ‘has paid his dues.’ He said Polanski is ‘an artist and is a nice person’ who ‘did something wrong and he paid for it.'” I must have missed the jail time Polanski served for raping a 13-year-old.

A disappointment to leftist civil rights groups? “The issue of race is one reason some liberals fear Kagan’s confirmation would actually tug the court to the right, particularly on voting rights, immigration and racial profiling cases that could come before the justices.”

A coward on the issue of Islamic fundamentalism? “Holder, who last year called America ‘a nation of cowards’ for refusing to talk frankly about race, plainly didn’t want to say what is plain to everyone else, that Faisal Shahzad, back from five months in Waziristan, launched his terror attack because of his Islamist beliefs.”

A sign of the administration’s obliviousness? “[T]he State Department’s showcasing of the Dar al-Hijra Islamic Center in a film about Muslim life in America — despite the mosque’s longstanding ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, its virulent Islamist ideology, its support for the murderous Hamas organization, its notorious Islamist imams and elders (including al Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki), and the ties of some of its worshippers to the 9/11 attacks and the Fort Hood massacre. Then, we learned that the federal government has struck a deal to pay Dar al-Hijra a whopping $582K just for this year (i.e., about one-tenth what it cost the Saudis to build the place), purportedly because the Census Bureau needs work space — y’know, because there are like no federal facilities anywhere near Falls Church, Virginia.”

A preview of what is to come? “A British chemicals firm is involved in a secret MI5 inquiry into the illegal export to Iran of material that could make a radioactive “dirty bomb”. HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) raided the Essex home of the firm’s former sales manager after a tip that potentially lethal chemicals, including cobalt, were sold to Iran last summer.”

A reminder that Richard Goldstone had the choice not to facilitate evil? “Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, 70, who helped South Africa chart a peaceful way out of apartheid by leading fellow whites into talks with exiled black leaders, died May 14 at his home in Johannesburg after being treated for a liver-related complication, Reuters reported. … As a political figure, he symbolized the emergence of a new breed of Afrikaner: urbane, articulate and committed to racial equality. … Mr. Slabbert tried to lead, leaving behind an early career as a sociologist in academia to enter politics. He represented the Progressive Federal Party, a precursor to the current opposition Democratic Alliance, in parliament during the apartheid years. He resigned as party leader and left parliament in 1985, during a crackdown on black activists, saying the whites-only legislature was no longer relevant.”

A nail biter in the Democratic Pennsylvania primary? The last tracking poll had Joe Sestak and Arlen Specter tied at 44 percent each.

A character witness he (and the rest of us) could do without?: “Woody Allen has restated his support for fellow filmmaker Roman Polanski, who is in house arrest in connection with a 33-year-old sex scandal. Allen said Polanski ‘was embarrassed by the whole thing,’ ”has suffered’ and ‘has paid his dues.’ He said Polanski is ‘an artist and is a nice person’ who ‘did something wrong and he paid for it.'” I must have missed the jail time Polanski served for raping a 13-year-old.

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The Un-Goldstone

Richard Goldstone, the former judge for apartheid South Africa (should that not be his lifelong description?), pleads that he was simply following the law when he handed out death sentences and orders to whip blacks. He had no choice, you see. What was a lawyer to do? Well, we are presented with the alternative today. A sharp-eyed reader spots an obituary for Sheena Duncan that explains her role in the South African legal system:

Sheena Duncan, who led the Black Sash, a group of middle-class white women in South Africa who protested against apartheid and counseled blacks victimized by the racist laws of that era, died Tuesday at her home in Johannesburg. She was 77. …

Over decades of volunteer work — counseling thousands of black South Africans, plotting legal strategy, writing pamphlets, holding silent vigils and speaking out in churches and at universities — Mrs. Duncan moved far beyond the traditional sphere reserved for white women of her day.

She helped people whose families were being torn apart by laws that kept black workers in the cities to serve whites while exiling their kin to impoverished rural “bantustans,” or homelands. She invited those who sought her advice to sit on the same side of the desk with her as she pored over their identity documents, especially the books blacks were required to carry to prove they were authorized to be where they were. With no formal legal training, Mrs. Duncan became an authority on the notorious pass laws, which governed the movement of blacks. She sent people with a chance of successfully challenging them to the Legal Resources Center, a human rights organization that took on such cases with financial support from American foundations and South African corporations.

So a housewife with no legal training managed to do heroic work, combating rather than facilitating the apartheid regime’s legal structure. How much more could a trained jurist like Goldstone have done? We don’t know, for he chose a different course, one of sniveling servility to a noxious legal system. That he now seeks to serve new masters at the UN — equally noxious and devoted to the delegitimization of the Jewish state — should therefore not surprise us. Goldstone is not one to buck the system. He has been and remains a self-promoter whose career advancement depends on victimizing others, be they South African blacks or Jews. You’d have to go back to the 1930s to find a more venal example of the misuse of legal training.

Richard Goldstone, the former judge for apartheid South Africa (should that not be his lifelong description?), pleads that he was simply following the law when he handed out death sentences and orders to whip blacks. He had no choice, you see. What was a lawyer to do? Well, we are presented with the alternative today. A sharp-eyed reader spots an obituary for Sheena Duncan that explains her role in the South African legal system:

Sheena Duncan, who led the Black Sash, a group of middle-class white women in South Africa who protested against apartheid and counseled blacks victimized by the racist laws of that era, died Tuesday at her home in Johannesburg. She was 77. …

Over decades of volunteer work — counseling thousands of black South Africans, plotting legal strategy, writing pamphlets, holding silent vigils and speaking out in churches and at universities — Mrs. Duncan moved far beyond the traditional sphere reserved for white women of her day.

She helped people whose families were being torn apart by laws that kept black workers in the cities to serve whites while exiling their kin to impoverished rural “bantustans,” or homelands. She invited those who sought her advice to sit on the same side of the desk with her as she pored over their identity documents, especially the books blacks were required to carry to prove they were authorized to be where they were. With no formal legal training, Mrs. Duncan became an authority on the notorious pass laws, which governed the movement of blacks. She sent people with a chance of successfully challenging them to the Legal Resources Center, a human rights organization that took on such cases with financial support from American foundations and South African corporations.

So a housewife with no legal training managed to do heroic work, combating rather than facilitating the apartheid regime’s legal structure. How much more could a trained jurist like Goldstone have done? We don’t know, for he chose a different course, one of sniveling servility to a noxious legal system. That he now seeks to serve new masters at the UN — equally noxious and devoted to the delegitimization of the Jewish state — should therefore not surprise us. Goldstone is not one to buck the system. He has been and remains a self-promoter whose career advancement depends on victimizing others, be they South African blacks or Jews. You’d have to go back to the 1930s to find a more venal example of the misuse of legal training.

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A Very Unserious Summit

The nuclear summit is underway in Washington, D.C. An air of unreality pervades because the greatest nuclear threat of our time goes unaddressed. At times, the degree to which Obama evades the Iranian issue is jaw-dropping. This report explains:

“The central focus of this nuclear summit is the fact that the single biggest threat to U.S. security — both short term, medium term and long term — would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama said Sunday afternoon. “If there was ever a detonation in New York City, or London, or Johannesburg, the ramifications economically, politically and from a security perspective would be devastating. And we know that organizations like al-Qaeda are in the process of trying to secure a nuclear weapon — a weapon of mass destruction that they have no compunction at using.”

Actually, the single greatest threat — and the most likely means for a terrorist organization to possibly obtain a nuclear weapon — is the mullahs’ nuclear program. About that, the president offers the moral power of example (i.e., our own disarmament) and watered-down sanctions.

Neither Obama’s credibility nor America’s deterrent capability was enhanced by either the START treaty or the Nuclear Posture Review. So Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates took to the airwaves Sunday to assure us that the Obami really weren’t doing great damage to our national security. Hillary seemed to fudge on the “no nuclear response to a NPT signtory’s attack” when she tried to bluster her way through her interview on Face the Nation:

SCHIEFFER: Are non-nuclear weapons so good now, Madam Secretary, that we don`t have to rely on nuclear weapons anymore?

CLINTON: We rely on both, Bob. And I think that`s the point that Secretary Gates is making. We`ve maintained a strong, robust nuclear deterrent as set forth in the nuclear posture review. But we have also in this administration moved toward a global strike capability to enhance our conventional response.

And we have an enormous amount of firepower conventionally. And it is also clear that this is putting everybody on notice. We don`t want more countries to go down the path that North Korea and Iran are. And some countries might have gotten the wrong idea if they looked at those two over the last years. And so we want to be very clear. We will not use nuclear weapons in retaliation if you do not have nuclear weapons and are in compliance with the NPT.

But we leave ourselves a lot of room for contingencies. If we can prove that a biological attack originated in a country that attacked us, then all bets are off, if these countries have gone to that extent. So we want to deal with the nuclear threat first and foremost, because that’s the one that we face right today.

All bets are off? Well, the nuclear option is, if we believe the Nuclear Posture Review. But maybe it doesn’t say what we mean. Or maybe it’s getting increasingly hard to figure out whether we are serious about deterring rogue states or not. Indeed, the administration is increasingly flighty and obtuse, making it hard to parse the often inconsistent rhetoric. Iran’s nuclear bomb would be unacceptable, but maybe we can’t do anything about it. The greatest threat is a terrorist organization with a nuclear bomb, but we’re increasingly lackadaisical about denying one to the most active state sponsor of Islamic terrorists. We aren’t going to retaliate against an NPT signatory after a devastating chemical or biological attack, but who knows.

If there is any rhyme or reason to this, it no doubt eludes both friends and foes. It does, however, convince many that this president doesn’t really appreciate how to project American strength and keep our adversaries at bay. The summit, therefore, promises not only to be irrelevant but also counterproductive to our national-security interests.

The nuclear summit is underway in Washington, D.C. An air of unreality pervades because the greatest nuclear threat of our time goes unaddressed. At times, the degree to which Obama evades the Iranian issue is jaw-dropping. This report explains:

“The central focus of this nuclear summit is the fact that the single biggest threat to U.S. security — both short term, medium term and long term — would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama said Sunday afternoon. “If there was ever a detonation in New York City, or London, or Johannesburg, the ramifications economically, politically and from a security perspective would be devastating. And we know that organizations like al-Qaeda are in the process of trying to secure a nuclear weapon — a weapon of mass destruction that they have no compunction at using.”

Actually, the single greatest threat — and the most likely means for a terrorist organization to possibly obtain a nuclear weapon — is the mullahs’ nuclear program. About that, the president offers the moral power of example (i.e., our own disarmament) and watered-down sanctions.

Neither Obama’s credibility nor America’s deterrent capability was enhanced by either the START treaty or the Nuclear Posture Review. So Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates took to the airwaves Sunday to assure us that the Obami really weren’t doing great damage to our national security. Hillary seemed to fudge on the “no nuclear response to a NPT signtory’s attack” when she tried to bluster her way through her interview on Face the Nation:

SCHIEFFER: Are non-nuclear weapons so good now, Madam Secretary, that we don`t have to rely on nuclear weapons anymore?

CLINTON: We rely on both, Bob. And I think that`s the point that Secretary Gates is making. We`ve maintained a strong, robust nuclear deterrent as set forth in the nuclear posture review. But we have also in this administration moved toward a global strike capability to enhance our conventional response.

And we have an enormous amount of firepower conventionally. And it is also clear that this is putting everybody on notice. We don`t want more countries to go down the path that North Korea and Iran are. And some countries might have gotten the wrong idea if they looked at those two over the last years. And so we want to be very clear. We will not use nuclear weapons in retaliation if you do not have nuclear weapons and are in compliance with the NPT.

But we leave ourselves a lot of room for contingencies. If we can prove that a biological attack originated in a country that attacked us, then all bets are off, if these countries have gone to that extent. So we want to deal with the nuclear threat first and foremost, because that’s the one that we face right today.

All bets are off? Well, the nuclear option is, if we believe the Nuclear Posture Review. But maybe it doesn’t say what we mean. Or maybe it’s getting increasingly hard to figure out whether we are serious about deterring rogue states or not. Indeed, the administration is increasingly flighty and obtuse, making it hard to parse the often inconsistent rhetoric. Iran’s nuclear bomb would be unacceptable, but maybe we can’t do anything about it. The greatest threat is a terrorist organization with a nuclear bomb, but we’re increasingly lackadaisical about denying one to the most active state sponsor of Islamic terrorists. We aren’t going to retaliate against an NPT signatory after a devastating chemical or biological attack, but who knows.

If there is any rhyme or reason to this, it no doubt eludes both friends and foes. It does, however, convince many that this president doesn’t really appreciate how to project American strength and keep our adversaries at bay. The summit, therefore, promises not only to be irrelevant but also counterproductive to our national-security interests.

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Reaping the Whirlwind

The riots which swept Johannesburg yesterday were, according to the Guardian, “the worst violence to hit Johannesburg since the politically-driven killings of the final years of apartheid.” Judging by the photographs, one could be forgiven for thinking yesterday’s uproar actually were scenes from the 1980’s. The targets of these roving mobs–which rampaged through not only the poor, sprawling townships on the outskirts of Johannesburg but also ravaged the city’s downtown business district–were foreigners, most of whom are Zimbabwean. South Africa has an unofficial employment rate believed to be hovering around 40%, and the presence of outsiders willing to work cheaply has for many years been a source of embitterment for South Africa’s poor blacks. (And a glaring shortcoming of the African National Congress’s promise to redistribute the country’s wealth.)

This latest outburst, while reprehensible, was bound to happen. Over the past eight years, what started as a steady stream of migrants fleeing the tyranny of Robert Mugabe has turned into a flood. At least three million (and perhaps many, many more) Zimbabweans (a full quarter of the country’s native population) now reside illegally in South Africa. Some 3,000 people cross the border every week. Zimbabwe has become, as a South African economist told me in 2006, “South Africa’s Mexico.”

Yet the situation is far more dire than that of Mexico and America. The glaring deficiency with this analysis is that we don’t have a 40% unemployment rate. Moreover, you can be sure that were Mexico experiencing the tumult that Zimbabwe has over the past 8 years–a dictator stealing elections, killing his political opponents, and starving his people–America would do something about it, from enforcing stringent sanctions to carrying out regime change.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, meanwhile, has carried out a policy that has amounted to saying nothing about the human rights catastrophe next door while keeping the United Nations and Western countries at bay. South Africa is beginning to experience the chaos wrought by its negligence towards Mugabe. The only beneficial outcome of the growing refugee crisis within its borders is the possibility that it may change the government’s attitude towards the dictator.

The riots which swept Johannesburg yesterday were, according to the Guardian, “the worst violence to hit Johannesburg since the politically-driven killings of the final years of apartheid.” Judging by the photographs, one could be forgiven for thinking yesterday’s uproar actually were scenes from the 1980’s. The targets of these roving mobs–which rampaged through not only the poor, sprawling townships on the outskirts of Johannesburg but also ravaged the city’s downtown business district–were foreigners, most of whom are Zimbabwean. South Africa has an unofficial employment rate believed to be hovering around 40%, and the presence of outsiders willing to work cheaply has for many years been a source of embitterment for South Africa’s poor blacks. (And a glaring shortcoming of the African National Congress’s promise to redistribute the country’s wealth.)

This latest outburst, while reprehensible, was bound to happen. Over the past eight years, what started as a steady stream of migrants fleeing the tyranny of Robert Mugabe has turned into a flood. At least three million (and perhaps many, many more) Zimbabweans (a full quarter of the country’s native population) now reside illegally in South Africa. Some 3,000 people cross the border every week. Zimbabwe has become, as a South African economist told me in 2006, “South Africa’s Mexico.”

Yet the situation is far more dire than that of Mexico and America. The glaring deficiency with this analysis is that we don’t have a 40% unemployment rate. Moreover, you can be sure that were Mexico experiencing the tumult that Zimbabwe has over the past 8 years–a dictator stealing elections, killing his political opponents, and starving his people–America would do something about it, from enforcing stringent sanctions to carrying out regime change.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, meanwhile, has carried out a policy that has amounted to saying nothing about the human rights catastrophe next door while keeping the United Nations and Western countries at bay. South Africa is beginning to experience the chaos wrought by its negligence towards Mugabe. The only beneficial outcome of the growing refugee crisis within its borders is the possibility that it may change the government’s attitude towards the dictator.

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Khalid Meshal’s Doublespeak

Imagine if Barack Obama had been able to control completely the public’s awareness of his relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. In all likelihood, he would have emphasized this connection to a small segment of the African-American community, and otherwise denounced Wright forcefully when addressing the broader American public. Of course, this was hardly a realistic option: in the United States, such bold attempts at duplicitous crowd-pleasing are quickly exposed, and accusations of hypocrisy often become overwhelming. For Obama, an attempt to reconcile his connection to Wright with his campaign’s unifying claims thus became a necessity.

Yet the rules are substantially different in Palestinian politics, where audience-dependent double-speak—in which mutually exclusive positions are routinely aired to separate constituencies—is a long-cherished art form. Indeed, Yasser Arafat refined this strategy down to a science, saying entirely different things to his Arabic- and English-language audiences. For example, not long after vowing to pursue “coexistence” on the White House lawn during the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords, Arafat promised a Johannesburg mosque audience, “The jihad will continue!” Through this strategy, Arafat kept western diplomatic and financial support flowing, even while satisfying his Palestinian base and preparing for future war with Israel via the Second Intifada.

Naturally, the double-speak strategy that Arafat employed requires access to both Arabic- and English-speaking audiences, as well as proficiency in English. But for Hamas politburo chief Khalid Meshal, these qualifications are deeply problematic. After all, Meshal generally confines himself to his Damascus headquarters and, if his recent interview with Sky News (a must-watch) is any indicator, his command of English is quite rudimentary.

Well, Meshal has apparently located an alternate strategy for producing effective double-speak: issuing conciliatory statements towards Israel that are withheld from his Palestinian base through Hamas’ press censorship. Indeed, in an interview with the pro-Fatah al-Ayyam, Meshal declared Hamas’ support for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza—in theory, a major concession considering the Hamas Charter’s call for raising “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” Yet Hamas’ political base will never hear of Meshal’s statement, as Hamas has banned al-Ayyam in Gaza for the past fifty days. Even Gaza’s Internet users will be left in the dark: the online edition of al-Ayyam says nothing of Meshal’s openness to a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, and only carries his statements regarding Palestinian prisoners and failed ceasefire negotiations. As a result, Meshal’s supposed concession carries no political price, and therefore no political significance.

For the time being, there is good news: with the exception of the ever-optimistic Ha’aretz, Meshal’s statements have gone entirely unnoticed in the western press. Let’s hope that this is because the top media outlets have learned from previous experiences with Arafat, and not because they’re stuck in Gaza.

Imagine if Barack Obama had been able to control completely the public’s awareness of his relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. In all likelihood, he would have emphasized this connection to a small segment of the African-American community, and otherwise denounced Wright forcefully when addressing the broader American public. Of course, this was hardly a realistic option: in the United States, such bold attempts at duplicitous crowd-pleasing are quickly exposed, and accusations of hypocrisy often become overwhelming. For Obama, an attempt to reconcile his connection to Wright with his campaign’s unifying claims thus became a necessity.

Yet the rules are substantially different in Palestinian politics, where audience-dependent double-speak—in which mutually exclusive positions are routinely aired to separate constituencies—is a long-cherished art form. Indeed, Yasser Arafat refined this strategy down to a science, saying entirely different things to his Arabic- and English-language audiences. For example, not long after vowing to pursue “coexistence” on the White House lawn during the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords, Arafat promised a Johannesburg mosque audience, “The jihad will continue!” Through this strategy, Arafat kept western diplomatic and financial support flowing, even while satisfying his Palestinian base and preparing for future war with Israel via the Second Intifada.

Naturally, the double-speak strategy that Arafat employed requires access to both Arabic- and English-speaking audiences, as well as proficiency in English. But for Hamas politburo chief Khalid Meshal, these qualifications are deeply problematic. After all, Meshal generally confines himself to his Damascus headquarters and, if his recent interview with Sky News (a must-watch) is any indicator, his command of English is quite rudimentary.

Well, Meshal has apparently located an alternate strategy for producing effective double-speak: issuing conciliatory statements towards Israel that are withheld from his Palestinian base through Hamas’ press censorship. Indeed, in an interview with the pro-Fatah al-Ayyam, Meshal declared Hamas’ support for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza—in theory, a major concession considering the Hamas Charter’s call for raising “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” Yet Hamas’ political base will never hear of Meshal’s statement, as Hamas has banned al-Ayyam in Gaza for the past fifty days. Even Gaza’s Internet users will be left in the dark: the online edition of al-Ayyam says nothing of Meshal’s openness to a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, and only carries his statements regarding Palestinian prisoners and failed ceasefire negotiations. As a result, Meshal’s supposed concession carries no political price, and therefore no political significance.

For the time being, there is good news: with the exception of the ever-optimistic Ha’aretz, Meshal’s statements have gone entirely unnoticed in the western press. Let’s hope that this is because the top media outlets have learned from previous experiences with Arafat, and not because they’re stuck in Gaza.

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The Sun Sets on British Airways

The very first thing you see upon entering Harare International Airport is a portrait of His Excellency, the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. I recall my very first steps off the South African Airways flight from Johannesburg last year, seeing that grim visage and understanding immediately that I was entering a totalitarian state (the photo below is from the entrance to the departure lounge).

kirchick-image-3.jpg
As a prominent South African told me before I left for Zimbabwe, a surefire sign that you’re in an undemocratic country is the proliferation of presidential pictures. Writing in the Sowetan, a South African newspaper serving the country’s black townships, about a recent trip to Harare Airport, Andrew Molefe observers:

To step out of an aircraft at Harare International Airport is to step into a chamber of horrors.

If an international airport is supposed to be the face of a country, Zimbabwe is slipping dangerously towards the edge of a precipice.

The airport ablution facilities aren’t working. Human waste greets visitors who need to use the toilets. The taps have run dry.

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The very first thing you see upon entering Harare International Airport is a portrait of His Excellency, the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. I recall my very first steps off the South African Airways flight from Johannesburg last year, seeing that grim visage and understanding immediately that I was entering a totalitarian state (the photo below is from the entrance to the departure lounge).

kirchick-image-3.jpg
As a prominent South African told me before I left for Zimbabwe, a surefire sign that you’re in an undemocratic country is the proliferation of presidential pictures. Writing in the Sowetan, a South African newspaper serving the country’s black townships, about a recent trip to Harare Airport, Andrew Molefe observers:

To step out of an aircraft at Harare International Airport is to step into a chamber of horrors.

If an international airport is supposed to be the face of a country, Zimbabwe is slipping dangerously towards the edge of a precipice.

The airport ablution facilities aren’t working. Human waste greets visitors who need to use the toilets. The taps have run dry.

The latest bad news to emerge about Zimbabwe is that British Airlines has decided to cut all flights to and from the country due to the fluctuating state of the economy. This is a major development, considering Britain’s historic ties to Zimbabwe and the relatively large number of people holding British citizenship who live in Zimbabwe. BA has also been an important transport method by which Zimbabwean asylum seekers have made their way into the United Kingdom. To understand the gravity of this news, keep in mind that the only other time in history that British Airways cut off service to Zimbabwe was in 1965 after the then-rebel colony of Rhodesia declared a Unilateral Declaration of Independence from the United Kingdom, which the British government declared to be an act of treason warranting severe international sanctions. Things have changed considerably for this service cutoff, however: Zimbabwe is no longer a fledgling nation, but a failing or failed state run by a brutal autocrat.

For now, the only way Zimbabweans will be able to travel to England is via Air Zimbabwe, which, in the words one Zimbabwean, “has developed what you might call a reputation for being unreliable.” Not only is jet fuel hard to come by in Zimbabwe—causing flights to be delayed for days—but the carrier has only one international aircraft, which Mugabe frequently commandeers for his jaunts abroad, oftentimes without advance notice.

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