Commentary Magazine


Topic: the Guardian

A False Iraq Analogy

Discussing Iran on “Hardball,” John McCain explained that the case for war against Iran would be hard to make with the American people because of a “credibility gap” generated by the WMD flop in Iraq. According to Reuters,

Senator McCain said he would have to make an “even more convincing argument that it was necessary to do so because of our failure to find weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

One cannot but concur with Senator McCain that among the arguments voiced to shield Iran from Western pressure–including, possibly, a military strike–there’s the analogy with Iraq. Former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter made that argument recently in The Guardian:

Iraq had been placed in the impossible position of having to prove a negative, a doomed process which led to war. I am fearful that the EU-3 is repeating this same process, demanding Iran refute something that doesn’t exist except in the overactive imaginations of diplomats pre-programmed to accept at face value anything negative about Iran, regardless of its veracity. The implications of such a morally and intellectually shallow posture could very well be disastrous.

One must be mindful of the kind of arguments our allies and friends across the Western world consider serious and legitimate–though Ritter and the Guardian may not necessarily qualify as either. But Senator McCain should also know that this analogy is false.

Firstly, the IAEA says very clearly that the Iranian nuclear program looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck. Is it not, then, a duck? As IAEA director general, Dr. Mohammad El-Baradei wrote in November 2003,

Iran’s nuclear programme, as the Agency currently understands it, consists of a practically complete front end of a nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mining and milling, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, heavy water production, a light water reactor, a heavy water research reactor and associated research and development facilities.

Iran was given over five years to prove otherwise. So far, Iran has failed to reassure the international community on the nature and aims of its nuclear program. The passing of three UN Security Council sanctions resolutions against Iran–two unanimously, one with Indonesia abstaining–indicates that the entire international community is concerned about Iran’s motives for such a reckless pursuit of nuclear power.

So how, you ask, is Iran’s case different from Iraq’s? Precisely because of the absence of an existent Iraqi weaponization program. In Iran, the evidence is in plain sight. IAEA inspectors are currently monitoring a program that (even in its publicly visible parts) should make everyone anxious, especially in light of the fact that Iran concealed its existence for at least eighteen years and procured its initial blueprints and technology A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. According to the IAEA’s report of February 22, 2008, Iran did not deny having received from Khan the designs for a nuclear warhead in 1987. It only lamely protested that it did not ask for them. Doesn’t this admission, coupled with the subsequent two decades of concealment, comprise grounds for further suspicion?

Iran also has an advanced ballistic missile program with links to North Korea, a nuclear power with a strong record of proliferation, as well as operational missiles that can strike as far as Israel and southern Europe, and it is developing longer-range ones, too: up to 4,000 miles.

Missiles with such range make sense, strategically, only if they carry unconventional warheads. In its most recent report, the IAEA cites evidence of Iranian designs for a nuclear warhead for Iran’s existing missiles, notably the Shihab-3 (based on a North Korean design).

inally, there is the mountain of circumstantial evidence which, in light of Iran’s history of concealment and deception, should put all doubts to rest: the fact that Iran does not need to enrich uranium, since the fuel for its reactor at Bushehr is being supplied by Russial; that fact that Iran’s nuclear power infrastructure does not require a heavy water facility, like the one Iran is building in Arak. Such reactors are useful only for producing plutonium, which Iran has no use for as a reactor fuel. The only conceivable reason Iran has for trying to produce plutonium is to make nuclear weapons.

There is, in other words, a very long list of reasons why Iran is not Iraq. Senator McCain is right to be cautious in his statements. But one hopes he is aware of the difference and, when the time comes, will not abide by this false analogy.

Discussing Iran on “Hardball,” John McCain explained that the case for war against Iran would be hard to make with the American people because of a “credibility gap” generated by the WMD flop in Iraq. According to Reuters,

Senator McCain said he would have to make an “even more convincing argument that it was necessary to do so because of our failure to find weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

One cannot but concur with Senator McCain that among the arguments voiced to shield Iran from Western pressure–including, possibly, a military strike–there’s the analogy with Iraq. Former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter made that argument recently in The Guardian:

Iraq had been placed in the impossible position of having to prove a negative, a doomed process which led to war. I am fearful that the EU-3 is repeating this same process, demanding Iran refute something that doesn’t exist except in the overactive imaginations of diplomats pre-programmed to accept at face value anything negative about Iran, regardless of its veracity. The implications of such a morally and intellectually shallow posture could very well be disastrous.

One must be mindful of the kind of arguments our allies and friends across the Western world consider serious and legitimate–though Ritter and the Guardian may not necessarily qualify as either. But Senator McCain should also know that this analogy is false.

Firstly, the IAEA says very clearly that the Iranian nuclear program looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck. Is it not, then, a duck? As IAEA director general, Dr. Mohammad El-Baradei wrote in November 2003,

Iran’s nuclear programme, as the Agency currently understands it, consists of a practically complete front end of a nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mining and milling, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, heavy water production, a light water reactor, a heavy water research reactor and associated research and development facilities.

Iran was given over five years to prove otherwise. So far, Iran has failed to reassure the international community on the nature and aims of its nuclear program. The passing of three UN Security Council sanctions resolutions against Iran–two unanimously, one with Indonesia abstaining–indicates that the entire international community is concerned about Iran’s motives for such a reckless pursuit of nuclear power.

So how, you ask, is Iran’s case different from Iraq’s? Precisely because of the absence of an existent Iraqi weaponization program. In Iran, the evidence is in plain sight. IAEA inspectors are currently monitoring a program that (even in its publicly visible parts) should make everyone anxious, especially in light of the fact that Iran concealed its existence for at least eighteen years and procured its initial blueprints and technology A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. According to the IAEA’s report of February 22, 2008, Iran did not deny having received from Khan the designs for a nuclear warhead in 1987. It only lamely protested that it did not ask for them. Doesn’t this admission, coupled with the subsequent two decades of concealment, comprise grounds for further suspicion?

Iran also has an advanced ballistic missile program with links to North Korea, a nuclear power with a strong record of proliferation, as well as operational missiles that can strike as far as Israel and southern Europe, and it is developing longer-range ones, too: up to 4,000 miles.

Missiles with such range make sense, strategically, only if they carry unconventional warheads. In its most recent report, the IAEA cites evidence of Iranian designs for a nuclear warhead for Iran’s existing missiles, notably the Shihab-3 (based on a North Korean design).

inally, there is the mountain of circumstantial evidence which, in light of Iran’s history of concealment and deception, should put all doubts to rest: the fact that Iran does not need to enrich uranium, since the fuel for its reactor at Bushehr is being supplied by Russial; that fact that Iran’s nuclear power infrastructure does not require a heavy water facility, like the one Iran is building in Arak. Such reactors are useful only for producing plutonium, which Iran has no use for as a reactor fuel. The only conceivable reason Iran has for trying to produce plutonium is to make nuclear weapons.

There is, in other words, a very long list of reasons why Iran is not Iraq. Senator McCain is right to be cautious in his statements. But one hopes he is aware of the difference and, when the time comes, will not abide by this false analogy.

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The Times Gets It

It turns out that the New York Times gets it after all: Steven Erlanger admits Hamas is a “bit of a problem” to talk to because its rhetoric is not exactly “polite.” But the question remains: Will London’s Guardian and its Hamas apologist Seumas Milne ever get it?

Some have argued that Steven Erlanger’s Times piece comes on the tails of his move from the unsafe West Bank (of the Jordan river) to the safer Left Bank (of Paris’ river, the Seine). One should be cautious to attribute motives–and Erlanger’s piece was as belated as it was welcome. Let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good. Especially because when one compares the New York Times to the other Anglo-Saxon progressive daily of choice, the Guardian, what one discovers is that those who paper over Hamas’ rhetoric do not always do so because their office is in Gaza.

Truth is, apart from brief holiday trips to rub shoulders with Mideast revolutionaries and the occasional bout of nostalgia for Communism, Milne has been romanticizing Hamas, Hezbollah and just about every other anti-Western, anti-Zionist, fundamentalist organization from his comfortable Fleet Street office. It has less to do with personal safety, and more to do with genuine enthusiasm for these organizations and what they represent.

The seduction of unreason, as Richard Wolin called it in a recent, seminal book on the roots of Western anti-Westernism, is prevalent among a certain section of the Left not because it is expedient. They actually believe in it:

When combined with an anti-humanist-inspired Western self-hatred, ethical relativism engendered an uncritical Third Worldism, an orientation that climaxed in [Michel] Foucault’s enthusiastic endorsement of Iran’s Islamic Revolution.

That fascination with the enemies of Western values–not just the selective silence that may save a reporter’s life during a dangerous assignment–is what drives many Western commentators to downplay Hamas’ rhetoric, if not utterly glorify it in the name of the “struggle” against America and Israel.

It turns out that the New York Times gets it after all: Steven Erlanger admits Hamas is a “bit of a problem” to talk to because its rhetoric is not exactly “polite.” But the question remains: Will London’s Guardian and its Hamas apologist Seumas Milne ever get it?

Some have argued that Steven Erlanger’s Times piece comes on the tails of his move from the unsafe West Bank (of the Jordan river) to the safer Left Bank (of Paris’ river, the Seine). One should be cautious to attribute motives–and Erlanger’s piece was as belated as it was welcome. Let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good. Especially because when one compares the New York Times to the other Anglo-Saxon progressive daily of choice, the Guardian, what one discovers is that those who paper over Hamas’ rhetoric do not always do so because their office is in Gaza.

Truth is, apart from brief holiday trips to rub shoulders with Mideast revolutionaries and the occasional bout of nostalgia for Communism, Milne has been romanticizing Hamas, Hezbollah and just about every other anti-Western, anti-Zionist, fundamentalist organization from his comfortable Fleet Street office. It has less to do with personal safety, and more to do with genuine enthusiasm for these organizations and what they represent.

The seduction of unreason, as Richard Wolin called it in a recent, seminal book on the roots of Western anti-Westernism, is prevalent among a certain section of the Left not because it is expedient. They actually believe in it:

When combined with an anti-humanist-inspired Western self-hatred, ethical relativism engendered an uncritical Third Worldism, an orientation that climaxed in [Michel] Foucault’s enthusiastic endorsement of Iran’s Islamic Revolution.

That fascination with the enemies of Western values–not just the selective silence that may save a reporter’s life during a dangerous assignment–is what drives many Western commentators to downplay Hamas’ rhetoric, if not utterly glorify it in the name of the “struggle” against America and Israel.

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And Egypt’s Not For Refugees

I’m going to piggyback on Jamie’s post about the gay Palestinian  granted temporary residence status in Israel. Seth Freedman has an excellent piece at the Guardian’s comment is free about Israel’s taking in of refugees from Darfur. The nation whose very existence is an offense to so many of its Muslim neighbors is providing sanctuary for those lucky enough to escape slaughter under the Sudanese government.

Freedman interviews a refugee named Yasin, now the director of Bnei Darfur, an organization that helps other refugees who have escaped the butchery. After most of his family were slaughtered in Darfur, Yasin fled to Egypt. but pervasive and violent racism made things unlivable there. And, after all, Egypt is on the side of the Sudanese government. Freedman writes:

It doesn’t help that the Darfurians are accusing fellow Muslims of genocide, said Yassin, noting that the Muslim states who support the Sudanese government in turn claim that the refugees are collaborating with enemy states in the West. “All of the Arab countries support the government of Sudan – our problem is with the Arab League,” Yassin stated with a shake of his head at his people’s plight.

When Yasin entered Israel illegally he was jailed for many months. But Israel’s democratic institutions paved the way for his release and eventual integration into Israeli society. Israel has a free press, and Yasin’s story got a lot of media attention. NGOs, too, function without restraint there, and various humanitarian organizations intervened on his behalf and on behalf of the larger refugee community. The Israeli government has now granted 600 of the 750 Darfur refugees temporary residence status.

That’s hundreds of Muslims who owe their lives to the evil Zionist state.

I’m going to piggyback on Jamie’s post about the gay Palestinian  granted temporary residence status in Israel. Seth Freedman has an excellent piece at the Guardian’s comment is free about Israel’s taking in of refugees from Darfur. The nation whose very existence is an offense to so many of its Muslim neighbors is providing sanctuary for those lucky enough to escape slaughter under the Sudanese government.

Freedman interviews a refugee named Yasin, now the director of Bnei Darfur, an organization that helps other refugees who have escaped the butchery. After most of his family were slaughtered in Darfur, Yasin fled to Egypt. but pervasive and violent racism made things unlivable there. And, after all, Egypt is on the side of the Sudanese government. Freedman writes:

It doesn’t help that the Darfurians are accusing fellow Muslims of genocide, said Yassin, noting that the Muslim states who support the Sudanese government in turn claim that the refugees are collaborating with enemy states in the West. “All of the Arab countries support the government of Sudan – our problem is with the Arab League,” Yassin stated with a shake of his head at his people’s plight.

When Yasin entered Israel illegally he was jailed for many months. But Israel’s democratic institutions paved the way for his release and eventual integration into Israeli society. Israel has a free press, and Yasin’s story got a lot of media attention. NGOs, too, function without restraint there, and various humanitarian organizations intervened on his behalf and on behalf of the larger refugee community. The Israeli government has now granted 600 of the 750 Darfur refugees temporary residence status.

That’s hundreds of Muslims who owe their lives to the evil Zionist state.

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Expel the Journalists!

There has been a long-running debate — well, a serious one, anyway, since the second intifada — on the question of whether the Israeli government should take disciplinary action against journalists whose “reportage” on Israel is unmistakably reeking of bias and outright mendacity. To take one of the more obvious examples: should the reporters and news organizations who for weeks so enthusiastically disseminated the Jenin massacre myth really have retained their work visas and press credentials?

For Israel, which probably is the most media-saturated country in the world, the relentless procession of false stories in recent years has done real damage to the country’s image abroad, and to its morale at home. Mohammed al-Dura, Jenin, the June 2006 Gaza beach explosion, the Qana bombing during the Lebanon war, the Gaza “blackout” this winter — these are just a few examples of crises created for Israel by journalists who are either staggeringly credulous (or incredibly cynical) in their willingness to promulgate a sensational story.

The main reason Israel should never expel journalists, say government and military officials when one broaches the matter, is because Israel would be consumed by international outrage over such supposedly fascistic tactics. I’ve always been skeptical of this claim: journalists, in my experience, are far more concerned with their own careers and notoriety than they are with defending the supposedly inviolable principles of their profession (for which many reporters operating in Israel don’t have much regard in the first place). My sense of things is that, especially among foreign correspondents, maintaining access is the preeminent interest.

Well, last week Israel did the unthinkable and put the kibosh on an entire news organization: Al Jazeera.

[Israeli] Ministers will refuse to do interviews and will deny visa applications from its staff, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Majali Wahbe said.

He accused the Qatari-owned station of prioritising Palestinian suffering.

The station’s Jerusalem bureau chief denied bias and said Israel was trying to influence media coverage.

Israeli officials backed their claim by saying al-Jazeera had covered the Gaza incursion but not the Palestinian rocket attacks against the Israeli city of Ashkelon.

This story has gone almost totally unnoticed, leading one to believe that there is actually not much outrage in the offing should the Israeli government take similar measures against other organizations that operate under the false pretense of being journalistic — while actually being propagandistic — concerns (have you ever read the Guardian‘s coverage of Israel?). And even if Israel does get criticized, pushing back against the worst of the activists masquerading as journalists is a fight that desperately needs to happen. And it is a fight that Israel can win.

There has been a long-running debate — well, a serious one, anyway, since the second intifada — on the question of whether the Israeli government should take disciplinary action against journalists whose “reportage” on Israel is unmistakably reeking of bias and outright mendacity. To take one of the more obvious examples: should the reporters and news organizations who for weeks so enthusiastically disseminated the Jenin massacre myth really have retained their work visas and press credentials?

For Israel, which probably is the most media-saturated country in the world, the relentless procession of false stories in recent years has done real damage to the country’s image abroad, and to its morale at home. Mohammed al-Dura, Jenin, the June 2006 Gaza beach explosion, the Qana bombing during the Lebanon war, the Gaza “blackout” this winter — these are just a few examples of crises created for Israel by journalists who are either staggeringly credulous (or incredibly cynical) in their willingness to promulgate a sensational story.

The main reason Israel should never expel journalists, say government and military officials when one broaches the matter, is because Israel would be consumed by international outrage over such supposedly fascistic tactics. I’ve always been skeptical of this claim: journalists, in my experience, are far more concerned with their own careers and notoriety than they are with defending the supposedly inviolable principles of their profession (for which many reporters operating in Israel don’t have much regard in the first place). My sense of things is that, especially among foreign correspondents, maintaining access is the preeminent interest.

Well, last week Israel did the unthinkable and put the kibosh on an entire news organization: Al Jazeera.

[Israeli] Ministers will refuse to do interviews and will deny visa applications from its staff, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Majali Wahbe said.

He accused the Qatari-owned station of prioritising Palestinian suffering.

The station’s Jerusalem bureau chief denied bias and said Israel was trying to influence media coverage.

Israeli officials backed their claim by saying al-Jazeera had covered the Gaza incursion but not the Palestinian rocket attacks against the Israeli city of Ashkelon.

This story has gone almost totally unnoticed, leading one to believe that there is actually not much outrage in the offing should the Israeli government take similar measures against other organizations that operate under the false pretense of being journalistic — while actually being propagandistic — concerns (have you ever read the Guardian‘s coverage of Israel?). And even if Israel does get criticized, pushing back against the worst of the activists masquerading as journalists is a fight that desperately needs to happen. And it is a fight that Israel can win.

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A Recount in Iran

Yesterday, opposition reformists asked for a vote recount in Iran’s parliamentary elections, which took place Friday. Earlier in the week they had challenged the fairness of the vote.

Despite enjoying relatively strong support in Tehran, the reformists failed to win any of the 30 seats there. Allies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, won 19 of the contests in the capital. Reformists have a chance to pick up seats in Tehran in runoff elections to be conducted either next month or in May. In the meantime, they called on the Interior Ministry to release vote counts from each of the polling sites in the capital. The Guardian Council, Iran’s constitutional watchdog, said that a full recount was not possible, but it promised a “random” recounting of ballot boxes. The government maintains that the election was fair.

Umm, no. Reformists were crippled before a single ballot was cast. The Guardian Council disqualified about 1,700 reformist candidates, with the result that reformists could contest only half the 290 seats at stake. Even so, Ahmadinejad seems to have lost support: the election was widely seen as a referendum on his policies.

In one sense, the president’s setback does not matter: he retains the confidence of the cleric who sits atop the theocracy, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Yet Ahmadinejad will now face a stronger opposition in parliament. Rigged political systems, like Iran’s, run on signals, and the signals from this election show that Ahmadinejad has lost popularity during his tenure, which could undermine his chances should he run for re-election next year.

Fortunately for the fiery president, many Iranians have simply tuned out of politics. Turnout in Tehran, for instance, appears to have been half the national rate of 60 percent announced by the Interior Ministry. And even in the conservative outlying areas there is fundamental discontent: polling shows that about 90 percent of Iranians want the right to choose—and remove—the supreme leader. That will never happen as long as the theocracy exists, however. The ayatollahs maintain their limited political system so that they can gauge shifts in public mood and react accordingly. So far, despite widespread popular dissatisfaction, the system has worked to keep the clerics in power.

Fortunately for us, limited systems like Iran’s do not stand the test of time. People either take elections seriously and push for real power or they ignore government institutions and force change from the streets. Iranians placed faith in reformers and were disappointed during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad’s predecessor. The real test for the ayatollahs will be the protests that will inevitably come.

Yesterday, opposition reformists asked for a vote recount in Iran’s parliamentary elections, which took place Friday. Earlier in the week they had challenged the fairness of the vote.

Despite enjoying relatively strong support in Tehran, the reformists failed to win any of the 30 seats there. Allies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, won 19 of the contests in the capital. Reformists have a chance to pick up seats in Tehran in runoff elections to be conducted either next month or in May. In the meantime, they called on the Interior Ministry to release vote counts from each of the polling sites in the capital. The Guardian Council, Iran’s constitutional watchdog, said that a full recount was not possible, but it promised a “random” recounting of ballot boxes. The government maintains that the election was fair.

Umm, no. Reformists were crippled before a single ballot was cast. The Guardian Council disqualified about 1,700 reformist candidates, with the result that reformists could contest only half the 290 seats at stake. Even so, Ahmadinejad seems to have lost support: the election was widely seen as a referendum on his policies.

In one sense, the president’s setback does not matter: he retains the confidence of the cleric who sits atop the theocracy, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Yet Ahmadinejad will now face a stronger opposition in parliament. Rigged political systems, like Iran’s, run on signals, and the signals from this election show that Ahmadinejad has lost popularity during his tenure, which could undermine his chances should he run for re-election next year.

Fortunately for the fiery president, many Iranians have simply tuned out of politics. Turnout in Tehran, for instance, appears to have been half the national rate of 60 percent announced by the Interior Ministry. And even in the conservative outlying areas there is fundamental discontent: polling shows that about 90 percent of Iranians want the right to choose—and remove—the supreme leader. That will never happen as long as the theocracy exists, however. The ayatollahs maintain their limited political system so that they can gauge shifts in public mood and react accordingly. So far, despite widespread popular dissatisfaction, the system has worked to keep the clerics in power.

Fortunately for us, limited systems like Iran’s do not stand the test of time. People either take elections seriously and push for real power or they ignore government institutions and force change from the streets. Iranians placed faith in reformers and were disappointed during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad’s predecessor. The real test for the ayatollahs will be the protests that will inevitably come.

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“Iran Is Number One”

“Everybody has understood that Iran is the number one power in the world,” said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the end of last month, launching another broadside against domestic critics and foreign enemies. “Today the name of Iran means a firm punch in the teeth of the powerful and it puts them in their place,” he continued. The comments of the fiery leader came as he defended his record before Friday’s parliamentary elections. The elections are correctly seen as a referendum of his policies.

The outcome of the contest is not in doubt: his most capable adversaries have been eliminated by the Guardian Council, the country’s constitutional watchdog. Yet he needs a strong turnout and high votes for his candidates. Because Ahmadinejad cannot run on his domestic record–he has not delivered on the populist pledges he made in 2005–he has chosen to raise the flag of nationalism by campaigning against foreigners. “You can see how some people here . . . try to materialize the plans of the enemies by showing that Iran is small and the enemy is big,” he said on February 28 on state television. “These are the people who put the enemies of humanity in the place of God.”

Since then, Ahmadinejad’s allies have tried to use every foreign indication of disapproval of the regime in their campaign. “They adopted a hasty resolution in order to influence the elections, so that people would not go and vote,” said senior cleric Hojatoleslam Ahmad Khatami, referring to the Security Council’s third set of sanctions against Iran, last Friday. “But with the help of God, Iranians will surprise them, and both the United States and the Security Council will be blinded.”

Surprises are always possible in Iran’s rigged elections. Ahmadinejad, for instance, was not exactly a front-runner three years ago. This time, reformists, who can point to the president’s mismanagement of the economy, could derail his chances for re-election in June next year by scoring big this week–or as big as they will be allowed. In general, the Iranian people want free elections, change, and a better economy. Many of them even want better relations with the United States. They won’t get any of these things after this week’s poll, but they will be able to signal their discontent, just as they did in Tehran’s municipal elections in 2006.

Ahmadinejad’s campaign against the Great Satan is losing its appeal with most voters in Tehran and even in his strongholds outside the capital. The fact that he continues to rail against outsiders indicates he has nothing else to offer. If he fares poorly on Friday, the international community can expect him to be even more hostile in the months ahead.

“Everybody has understood that Iran is the number one power in the world,” said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the end of last month, launching another broadside against domestic critics and foreign enemies. “Today the name of Iran means a firm punch in the teeth of the powerful and it puts them in their place,” he continued. The comments of the fiery leader came as he defended his record before Friday’s parliamentary elections. The elections are correctly seen as a referendum of his policies.

The outcome of the contest is not in doubt: his most capable adversaries have been eliminated by the Guardian Council, the country’s constitutional watchdog. Yet he needs a strong turnout and high votes for his candidates. Because Ahmadinejad cannot run on his domestic record–he has not delivered on the populist pledges he made in 2005–he has chosen to raise the flag of nationalism by campaigning against foreigners. “You can see how some people here . . . try to materialize the plans of the enemies by showing that Iran is small and the enemy is big,” he said on February 28 on state television. “These are the people who put the enemies of humanity in the place of God.”

Since then, Ahmadinejad’s allies have tried to use every foreign indication of disapproval of the regime in their campaign. “They adopted a hasty resolution in order to influence the elections, so that people would not go and vote,” said senior cleric Hojatoleslam Ahmad Khatami, referring to the Security Council’s third set of sanctions against Iran, last Friday. “But with the help of God, Iranians will surprise them, and both the United States and the Security Council will be blinded.”

Surprises are always possible in Iran’s rigged elections. Ahmadinejad, for instance, was not exactly a front-runner three years ago. This time, reformists, who can point to the president’s mismanagement of the economy, could derail his chances for re-election in June next year by scoring big this week–or as big as they will be allowed. In general, the Iranian people want free elections, change, and a better economy. Many of them even want better relations with the United States. They won’t get any of these things after this week’s poll, but they will be able to signal their discontent, just as they did in Tehran’s municipal elections in 2006.

Ahmadinejad’s campaign against the Great Satan is losing its appeal with most voters in Tehran and even in his strongholds outside the capital. The fact that he continues to rail against outsiders indicates he has nothing else to offer. If he fares poorly on Friday, the international community can expect him to be even more hostile in the months ahead.

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Better Late than Never?

This week offered two milestones in the history of the Palestinian media war against Israel. Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, publicly apologized for an editorial run in 2002 which declared that the Israeli operation in the Jenin refugee camp was “every bit as repellent as Osama Bin Laden’s attack on New York on September 11.” The Jenin operation, it will be recalled, was originally dubbed a “massacre” by the Palestinians and much of the Western world, but later was revealed to have been one of the most careful operations in the history of urban warfare, fighting house-to-house in the most entrenched terrorist wasp nest in the Palestinian areas, taking unprecedented risks to their own forces to avoid civilian casualties.

Second, an independent ballistics expert testified to a French court that the Mohammed Al-Dura could not possibly have been shot by Israeli forces. The incident in 2000, in which film footage showed what appeared to be a Palestinian child being shot to death by the IDF, became a rallying cry for the second intifada, yet serious evidence later emerged suggesting that the entire film was staged.

There is something tiresome about all this. If the Palestinian cause is so righteous, why do its proponents need to fabricate so much? One would hope that the Western media would learn to double-check itself, or at least that some kind of organic, internet-based mechanism would emerge to keep them in check. Oh wait: That’s us.

This week offered two milestones in the history of the Palestinian media war against Israel. Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, publicly apologized for an editorial run in 2002 which declared that the Israeli operation in the Jenin refugee camp was “every bit as repellent as Osama Bin Laden’s attack on New York on September 11.” The Jenin operation, it will be recalled, was originally dubbed a “massacre” by the Palestinians and much of the Western world, but later was revealed to have been one of the most careful operations in the history of urban warfare, fighting house-to-house in the most entrenched terrorist wasp nest in the Palestinian areas, taking unprecedented risks to their own forces to avoid civilian casualties.

Second, an independent ballistics expert testified to a French court that the Mohammed Al-Dura could not possibly have been shot by Israeli forces. The incident in 2000, in which film footage showed what appeared to be a Palestinian child being shot to death by the IDF, became a rallying cry for the second intifada, yet serious evidence later emerged suggesting that the entire film was staged.

There is something tiresome about all this. If the Palestinian cause is so righteous, why do its proponents need to fabricate so much? One would hope that the Western media would learn to double-check itself, or at least that some kind of organic, internet-based mechanism would emerge to keep them in check. Oh wait: That’s us.

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McCain’s Helpful Detractors

Once again, the far-Right pundits are on John McCain’s case. And this time they’re doing him a great favor: driving a wedge between the Senator and the far Right in the minds of Democratic and independent voters. Rush Limbaugh, Bill Cunningham, Laura Ingraham, etc. have yet to realize McCain no longer needs them on board to the degree he did a month ago. At this point, with McCain as the sure GOP nominee, their outrage carries more weight as currency among despairing Hillary supporters than it does as a scarlet letter on display for the Republican party.

Yesterday at a campaign event, McCain rejected and apologized for Cunningham’s undignified remarks about Barack Obama. Cunningham called Obama a “hack, a Chicago-style” politician, while pulling the ultimate hack move of repeating Obama’s middle name “Hussein” before the crowd. McCain immediately took full responsibility in a forthright way that tends to shock these days. “I did not know about these remarks, but I take responsibility for them. I repudiate them,” he said.

Cunningham has since told Fox News he’s voting for Hillary and he’s “had it with McCain.” Here’s the Guardian on more conservative fallout:

Right-wing firebrand Rush Limbaugh also questioned why McCain would apologise for Cunningham’s remarks, and asked why it’s inappropriate for Cunningham to use Obama’s middle name.
“What if McCain’s middle name was Adolf instead of Sidney?” Limbaugh asked.

Limbaugh is pushing McCain into the arms of the non-GOP electorate. Limbaugh and Co. are horrified by the fact that many Democratic voters see McCain as the “okay” Republican, but this kind of criticism only amplifies that impression.

Once again, the far-Right pundits are on John McCain’s case. And this time they’re doing him a great favor: driving a wedge between the Senator and the far Right in the minds of Democratic and independent voters. Rush Limbaugh, Bill Cunningham, Laura Ingraham, etc. have yet to realize McCain no longer needs them on board to the degree he did a month ago. At this point, with McCain as the sure GOP nominee, their outrage carries more weight as currency among despairing Hillary supporters than it does as a scarlet letter on display for the Republican party.

Yesterday at a campaign event, McCain rejected and apologized for Cunningham’s undignified remarks about Barack Obama. Cunningham called Obama a “hack, a Chicago-style” politician, while pulling the ultimate hack move of repeating Obama’s middle name “Hussein” before the crowd. McCain immediately took full responsibility in a forthright way that tends to shock these days. “I did not know about these remarks, but I take responsibility for them. I repudiate them,” he said.

Cunningham has since told Fox News he’s voting for Hillary and he’s “had it with McCain.” Here’s the Guardian on more conservative fallout:

Right-wing firebrand Rush Limbaugh also questioned why McCain would apologise for Cunningham’s remarks, and asked why it’s inappropriate for Cunningham to use Obama’s middle name.
“What if McCain’s middle name was Adolf instead of Sidney?” Limbaugh asked.

Limbaugh is pushing McCain into the arms of the non-GOP electorate. Limbaugh and Co. are horrified by the fact that many Democratic voters see McCain as the “okay” Republican, but this kind of criticism only amplifies that impression.

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The Red Ken and Georgeous George Show

While most political commentators are sitting on the edge of their seats watching the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries, the race which has me hooked is the one for Mayor of London. There, the Conservative Boris Johnson, perhaps the most entertaining man in Anglo-American politics, is battling against incumbent Ken Livingstone, one of its most insipid. Though he is running as Labour’s candidate, Livingstone, according to the left-of-center columnist Nick Cohen, “has never moved away from the grimy conspirators of the totalitarian left, who have always despised the democratic traditions of the Labour movement.”

As if to illustrate the point that Livingstone attracts the most unsavory elements in British politics (much like Ron Paul does in the United States), Livingstone has just picked up the coveted endorsement of George Galloway, arguably the most loathsome elected official in the Western world (hat tip: Oliver Kamm). Galloway was compelled to announce his support for the London Mayor in response to a television documentary that aired earlier this month showing Livingstone imbibing whiskey on the job. (Responding to the allegations, Livingstone said that alcohol had not impaired Winston Churchill and that the whiskey helps his bronchitis). In a piece for the Guardian website, Galloway defends his leftist comrade from a slew of latter-day “Whittaker Chambers,” “the former communist turned apostate who ‘revealed’ that celebrated senior US state department official Alger Hiss was a red under the White House bed.”

In last week’s Guardian, that paper’s former comment editor Seumas Milne, portrayed London’s mayoral election as nothing less than a battle of good against evil. “A defeat for Livingstone would not just be a blow to the broadly defined left, working-class Londoners, women, ethnic minorities and greens,” he intoned. “It would represent a wider defeat for progressive politics, in Britain and beyond.” This would be the case were one’s definition of “progressive” to include the sort of violent and illiberal reactionaries whom Livingstone embraces and with whom Milne is a thinly disguised fellow traveler. A defeat for this sect of the all-too “broadly defined left” would be a victory for real liberals, in Britain and beyond.

While most political commentators are sitting on the edge of their seats watching the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries, the race which has me hooked is the one for Mayor of London. There, the Conservative Boris Johnson, perhaps the most entertaining man in Anglo-American politics, is battling against incumbent Ken Livingstone, one of its most insipid. Though he is running as Labour’s candidate, Livingstone, according to the left-of-center columnist Nick Cohen, “has never moved away from the grimy conspirators of the totalitarian left, who have always despised the democratic traditions of the Labour movement.”

As if to illustrate the point that Livingstone attracts the most unsavory elements in British politics (much like Ron Paul does in the United States), Livingstone has just picked up the coveted endorsement of George Galloway, arguably the most loathsome elected official in the Western world (hat tip: Oliver Kamm). Galloway was compelled to announce his support for the London Mayor in response to a television documentary that aired earlier this month showing Livingstone imbibing whiskey on the job. (Responding to the allegations, Livingstone said that alcohol had not impaired Winston Churchill and that the whiskey helps his bronchitis). In a piece for the Guardian website, Galloway defends his leftist comrade from a slew of latter-day “Whittaker Chambers,” “the former communist turned apostate who ‘revealed’ that celebrated senior US state department official Alger Hiss was a red under the White House bed.”

In last week’s Guardian, that paper’s former comment editor Seumas Milne, portrayed London’s mayoral election as nothing less than a battle of good against evil. “A defeat for Livingstone would not just be a blow to the broadly defined left, working-class Londoners, women, ethnic minorities and greens,” he intoned. “It would represent a wider defeat for progressive politics, in Britain and beyond.” This would be the case were one’s definition of “progressive” to include the sort of violent and illiberal reactionaries whom Livingstone embraces and with whom Milne is a thinly disguised fellow traveler. A defeat for this sect of the all-too “broadly defined left” would be a victory for real liberals, in Britain and beyond.

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Stemming the Tide

In today’s Guardian, we read:

The number of foreign jihadists entering Iraq has fallen by nearly half in recent months as a result of tougher action by the country’s neighbors and the rejection of the “al Qaeda brand” by ordinary Iraqis, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq said yesterday. General David Petraeus told the Guardian in an interview that attacks in Iraq had fallen to levels not seen since early 2005, and that “ethno-sectarian violence” which had “surged off the charts” following the bombing of the Samara mosque in February 2006 had now “fallen dramatically.” “There is still a lot of hard work to be done,” Petraeus added by way of caution. Despite the damage inflicted on al Qaeda in Iraq, he said the group remained “a dangerous enemy.”

The sharp drop in foreign jihadists entering Iraq is one more data point to add to the progress we’ve seen in 2007, including a dramatic decrease in American combat casualties, Iraqi civilian casualties, suicide bombings, and roadside bombings; the increase in local population support for our efforts; the tremendous body blows al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has absorbed; the “Anbar Awakening” and the widespread rejection of bin Ladenism we are seeing among Sunni Iraqis; Shia in Baghdad turning against Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army; the continuation of “bottom up” reconciliation efforts and the distribution of oil revenues (even absent laws mandating it); and early signs that the huge refugee flow out of Iraq has begun to reverse itself.

In light of this, it’s important to underscore two things. The first is that General Petraeus is surely right to say that there is still a lot of hard work to do in Iraq. Progress that’s been made can be stalled or even reversed. There are ebbs and flows to war—and in Iraq we have seen things change dramatically for the worse and change dramatically for the better. Those of us who have supported the surge, then, need to heed his counsel when he says, as he did to the New York Times

Nobody says anything about turning corners, seeing lights at the ends of tunnels, any of those phrases. And I think when you’ve been doing this as long as some of us have, you just keep your head down and keep moving.

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In today’s Guardian, we read:

The number of foreign jihadists entering Iraq has fallen by nearly half in recent months as a result of tougher action by the country’s neighbors and the rejection of the “al Qaeda brand” by ordinary Iraqis, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq said yesterday. General David Petraeus told the Guardian in an interview that attacks in Iraq had fallen to levels not seen since early 2005, and that “ethno-sectarian violence” which had “surged off the charts” following the bombing of the Samara mosque in February 2006 had now “fallen dramatically.” “There is still a lot of hard work to be done,” Petraeus added by way of caution. Despite the damage inflicted on al Qaeda in Iraq, he said the group remained “a dangerous enemy.”

The sharp drop in foreign jihadists entering Iraq is one more data point to add to the progress we’ve seen in 2007, including a dramatic decrease in American combat casualties, Iraqi civilian casualties, suicide bombings, and roadside bombings; the increase in local population support for our efforts; the tremendous body blows al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has absorbed; the “Anbar Awakening” and the widespread rejection of bin Ladenism we are seeing among Sunni Iraqis; Shia in Baghdad turning against Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army; the continuation of “bottom up” reconciliation efforts and the distribution of oil revenues (even absent laws mandating it); and early signs that the huge refugee flow out of Iraq has begun to reverse itself.

In light of this, it’s important to underscore two things. The first is that General Petraeus is surely right to say that there is still a lot of hard work to do in Iraq. Progress that’s been made can be stalled or even reversed. There are ebbs and flows to war—and in Iraq we have seen things change dramatically for the worse and change dramatically for the better. Those of us who have supported the surge, then, need to heed his counsel when he says, as he did to the New York Times

Nobody says anything about turning corners, seeing lights at the ends of tunnels, any of those phrases. And I think when you’ve been doing this as long as some of us have, you just keep your head down and keep moving.

Iraq remains a fragile, traumatized, and in many respects a broken country. It is nowhere near where it needs to be. And the central government still needs to do more, much more, to advance political reconciliation. But across the board, repairs are being made. We should therefore take sober satisfaction for what General Petraeus, the American military, and the people of Iraq have achieved this year and continue building on it. We have, at long last, a formula for long-term success.

At the same time, leaders of the Democratic Party continue to act in a deeply irresponsible and politically reckless way. Earlier this week, for example, we read this on the Politico blog:

Democrats are increasingly bailing on their previously held view that the troop surge in Iraq has been a “failure,” but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid isn’t ready to jump on the bandwagon with other Democrats who say the surge has worked. The Senate re-opened for business on Monday after a two-week Thanksgiving break, during which key Democrats traveled to Iraq and declared that the surge is working, at least from a security and military perspective. Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), one the top war critics, stunned fellow Democrats late last week with his statement that “the surge is working,” even though he added that political reconciliation has been lagging. Murtha’s view was backed by Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), who also said the surge worked after he returned from Iraq. But Reid, in a Monday press conference, ceded no ground. “The surge hasn’t accomplished its goals,” Reid said. ” . . . We are involved, still, in an intractable civil war.”

So despite the extraordinary progress we’ve seen this year in Iraq, Majority Leader Reid still wants to deny it, in order to force a change in strategy that would have catastrophic consequences. More and more people, even in his own party, see how destructive, and self-destructive, this would be.

Soon Harry Reid may be standing alone.

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Livingstone, Confused

In 2004, London Mayor Ken Livingstone—who has long held a soft spot in his heart for terrorists of the Muslim and (perhaps of weightier concern to his constituents) Irish variety—welcomed the fanatical Egyptian cleric (and al-Jazeera commentator) Yusuf al-Qaradawi to his city for a conference (see this great anti-Livingstone advertisement). Peter Tatchell, the heroic gay rights campaigner and anti-Islamist advocate, as well as Livingstone’s most vocal and persistent critic on this issue, offered this brief and all-encompassing summary of the Islamist “scholar”:

Qaradawi supports female genital mutilation, wife-beating, the execution of homosexuals, destruction of the Jewish people, suicide bombing of innocent civilians, and the punishment of rape victims who do not dress with sufficient modesty.

Yesterday, at the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” site, in an exercise that truly strains belief, Livingstone published a piece supporting the British Labour government’s attempts to pass a law banning incitement to homophobic hatred.

Livingstone writes:

Consistency in the protection the law provides is essential for two reasons: to provide justice to the individuals concerned, and as a line drawn by society against prejudice. This is the approach I have taken towards the government’s impending Single Equality Act and it is the approach that politicians and government must adopt in providing equal protection against incitement to hatred.

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In 2004, London Mayor Ken Livingstone—who has long held a soft spot in his heart for terrorists of the Muslim and (perhaps of weightier concern to his constituents) Irish variety—welcomed the fanatical Egyptian cleric (and al-Jazeera commentator) Yusuf al-Qaradawi to his city for a conference (see this great anti-Livingstone advertisement). Peter Tatchell, the heroic gay rights campaigner and anti-Islamist advocate, as well as Livingstone’s most vocal and persistent critic on this issue, offered this brief and all-encompassing summary of the Islamist “scholar”:

Qaradawi supports female genital mutilation, wife-beating, the execution of homosexuals, destruction of the Jewish people, suicide bombing of innocent civilians, and the punishment of rape victims who do not dress with sufficient modesty.

Yesterday, at the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” site, in an exercise that truly strains belief, Livingstone published a piece supporting the British Labour government’s attempts to pass a law banning incitement to homophobic hatred.

Livingstone writes:

Consistency in the protection the law provides is essential for two reasons: to provide justice to the individuals concerned, and as a line drawn by society against prejudice. This is the approach I have taken towards the government’s impending Single Equality Act and it is the approach that politicians and government must adopt in providing equal protection against incitement to hatred.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote that “an intelligent person is one who can hold two contradictory ideas in mind simultaneously.” There’s a degree of truth in that assertion. But this is just ridiculous.

To be sure, hate-crimes laws are in and of themselves a specious proposition: aren’t all violent crimes, in the end, motivated by hatred? Proponents have not sufficiently explained why crimes committed due to the perpetrator’s racism or homophobia—as opposed to his hatred, say, for an ex-lover—should be treated more harshly, and such laws therefore run the risk of valuing certain victims more than others. The proposed law in Britain goes even further by rendering whole categories of speech illegal. Actual hate crimes already are prosecuted more vigorously than other violent crimes.

But the debate about the merits of the suggested law is an academic one and secondary to addressing the unmitigated gall behind Livingstone’s assuming the mantle of gay-rights champion. It’s frankly shocking that an ostensible progressive like Livingstone, who has hosted a prominent religious fascist advocating the execution of gays, would not see the inconsistency in his arguing on behalf of a law to ban incitement to violence against gays.

Normally, the reader comments section at the Guardian is rife with Stalinist apologetics and conspiratorial anti-Semitism. This time, however, the commentators outdo themselves in expressing amazement at how Livingstone could pen such an outrageously oblivious article without any mention of his own affiliations with inciters to homophobic crime. Were this bill law at the time Livingstone welcomed Qaradawi to London, the mayor quite possibly could have been prosecuted under its statues for aiding and abetting incitement to murder. Given his remarkable obtuseness, one cannot help but conclude that the irony of this situation is lost on Livingstone.

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Cheapening Free Speech

When Columbia University invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak last month, the most common refrain uttered by the University’s defenders was that, by doing so, the University was honoring the time-tested and proudly American principle of “free speech.” This country was founded upon a resistance to monarchical authority; a corollary to that impulse is the individual’s freedom to say or publish what he thinks. No one can quibble with this understanding of a bedrock American freedom. But where Columbia’s defenders went wrong was in their contention that protesting Ahmadinejad’s presence would contradict thi fundamentally American notion.

This has always been a silly and unsophisticated understanding of what the Bill of Rights actually says, or what the “spirit” of free speech actually means. No one has denied Ahmadinejad a platform for his odious views; indeed, just the day after his rant at Columbia he was given an international soapbox at the United Nations General Assembly. And the fact that his views on matters ranging from the existence of the Holocaust to the future existence of Israel are so well known further lays waste to the claim that not inviting Ahmadinejad would strike a blow to “free speech.”

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When Columbia University invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak last month, the most common refrain uttered by the University’s defenders was that, by doing so, the University was honoring the time-tested and proudly American principle of “free speech.” This country was founded upon a resistance to monarchical authority; a corollary to that impulse is the individual’s freedom to say or publish what he thinks. No one can quibble with this understanding of a bedrock American freedom. But where Columbia’s defenders went wrong was in their contention that protesting Ahmadinejad’s presence would contradict thi fundamentally American notion.

This has always been a silly and unsophisticated understanding of what the Bill of Rights actually says, or what the “spirit” of free speech actually means. No one has denied Ahmadinejad a platform for his odious views; indeed, just the day after his rant at Columbia he was given an international soapbox at the United Nations General Assembly. And the fact that his views on matters ranging from the existence of the Holocaust to the future existence of Israel are so well known further lays waste to the claim that not inviting Ahmadinejad would strike a blow to “free speech.”

What ultimately mattered was that a distinguished University lent credence to his views. Columbia’s physics department would never host a speech by a member of the Flat Earth Society, nor should it. People who think the moon landing was a hoax or that the Holocaust never happened have every right to utter and publish these beliefs; they have no “right” to a speaking engagement at an Ivy League School.

This crucial distinction is one that has long been lost on those people who organize events on college campuses. The latest example occurs across the pond at Oxford University, where the Oxford Union—the school’s prestigious debating society that counts leading politicians, journalists, and business leaders as alumnae—has invited a rogue’s gallery to take part in a “Free Speech Forum” set for the end of November. The Union has already been excoriated by critics, as noted on contentions, for staging a debate on the Middle East conflict and loading it with anti-Israel activists.

Among those invited to the “Free Speech Forum” are David Irving (the notorious Holocaust denier), Nick Griffin (the leader of the anti-Semitic, racist, and fascist British National Party), and Alexander Lukoshenko, the dictator of Belarus. The Union’s president told the Guardian that, “The Oxford Union is famous for is commitment to free speech and although I do think these people have awful and abhorrent views I do think Oxford students are intelligent enough to challenge and ridicule them.” Indeed, one Oxford Union committee member even used Columbia’s example as a justification for the invite: “If Columbia can invite Ahmadinejad, then why shouldn’t we invite Irving?” Thankfully, Lukoshenko is under a European Union travel ban and will not be able to attend. Unfortunately, both the fascist and the Holocaust denier have indicated their eager anticipation.

The primary outcome of this invitation is the Oxford Union’s discrediting of itself. As with Ahmadinejad at Columbia, there is nothing to be “learned” from engaging in dialogue with fascists and Holocaust-deniers. Oxford students are indeed an “intelligent” bunch: all the more reason that they do not need to spend an evening listening to these men, thus granting them legitimacy. One presumes that the motivating impulse behind Oxford’s “Free Speech Forum” is to present some of the most outlandish views possible. But the purpose of freedom of speech is to elevate discussion and broaden our common understanding, not to promote lies and hate (Griffin’s and Irving’s specialty).

To honor “free speech,” ought not the Oxford Union instead extend invitations to individuals living in countries where the principle is non-existent? Why not invite democracy activists in China or exiled Zimbabwean journalists, of which there is no shortage in the United Kingdom?

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Mind the Gap

According to the London Times, “Shibboleth,” the Tate Modern’s new installation, has already claimed its first victims. Last week, three visitors fell into the work, a 548-foot-long crack that runs through the floor of the former power plant like an earthquake fissure. Since the visitors were not injured (unlike a young lawyer who fell to his death at the Tate earlier this year), the British press treated the incident light-heartedly. “Mind the gap,” joked the Guardian, invoking the loudspeaker warning at London underground stops. But if the press has been light-hearted, “Shibboleth” is anything but.

“Shibboleth” is the creation of Doris Salcedo, who was born in Colombia and studied at New York University, and whose work invariably is political. She first won international attention five years ago, when she encrusted Bogota’s Palace of Justice with a mantle of wooden chairs, her memorial to the violent coup attempt of 1985. Her new work aspires to more universal symbolism. As the Tate proclaims, it depicts the

long legacy of racism and colonialism that underlies the modern world. A ‘shibboleth’ is a custom, phrase, or use of language that acts as a test of belonging to a particular social group or class. By definition, it is used to exclude those deemed unsuitable to join this group.

It is hardly novel for an artist to mutilate, disfigure, or otherwise violate an object in order to represent violence; on the contrary, one might call it art school vernacular. It is the atrophied symbolism of the political poster, the absolute literalism of graphic art, rather than the imaginative language of allegory. But what is novel about Salcedo’s project is that the artist was able to persuade one of Britain’s most prestigious art institutions to mutilate itself, as it were, and at considerable expense.

Of course it is possible, as the Independent points out, to enjoy the spectacle without subscribing to its ponderous theoretical program. Perhaps this is why the British press has been generally respectful about the exhibition (apart from waggish comments about “Doris’s crack”). Only the Times brought a refreshing skepticism to the spacious claims made on behalf of Shibboleth. Its review concludes with this gem of British dryness:

According to Salcedo, the fissure is “bottomless . . . as deep as humanity.” However, it appears to be around three feet at its deepest point.

When artists practice such blatant literalism as Salcedo does, they can hardly blame their critics for doing the same.

According to the London Times, “Shibboleth,” the Tate Modern’s new installation, has already claimed its first victims. Last week, three visitors fell into the work, a 548-foot-long crack that runs through the floor of the former power plant like an earthquake fissure. Since the visitors were not injured (unlike a young lawyer who fell to his death at the Tate earlier this year), the British press treated the incident light-heartedly. “Mind the gap,” joked the Guardian, invoking the loudspeaker warning at London underground stops. But if the press has been light-hearted, “Shibboleth” is anything but.

“Shibboleth” is the creation of Doris Salcedo, who was born in Colombia and studied at New York University, and whose work invariably is political. She first won international attention five years ago, when she encrusted Bogota’s Palace of Justice with a mantle of wooden chairs, her memorial to the violent coup attempt of 1985. Her new work aspires to more universal symbolism. As the Tate proclaims, it depicts the

long legacy of racism and colonialism that underlies the modern world. A ‘shibboleth’ is a custom, phrase, or use of language that acts as a test of belonging to a particular social group or class. By definition, it is used to exclude those deemed unsuitable to join this group.

It is hardly novel for an artist to mutilate, disfigure, or otherwise violate an object in order to represent violence; on the contrary, one might call it art school vernacular. It is the atrophied symbolism of the political poster, the absolute literalism of graphic art, rather than the imaginative language of allegory. But what is novel about Salcedo’s project is that the artist was able to persuade one of Britain’s most prestigious art institutions to mutilate itself, as it were, and at considerable expense.

Of course it is possible, as the Independent points out, to enjoy the spectacle without subscribing to its ponderous theoretical program. Perhaps this is why the British press has been generally respectful about the exhibition (apart from waggish comments about “Doris’s crack”). Only the Times brought a refreshing skepticism to the spacious claims made on behalf of Shibboleth. Its review concludes with this gem of British dryness:

According to Salcedo, the fissure is “bottomless . . . as deep as humanity.” However, it appears to be around three feet at its deepest point.

When artists practice such blatant literalism as Salcedo does, they can hardly blame their critics for doing the same.

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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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Victory for a Dictator

What is the point of putting sanctions on a dictator if you refuse to enforce them? This was the question that the world community faced in its dealings with Saddam Hussein, who, over a twelve-year period, violated sixteen Chapter VII Security Council resolutions with impunity. The question has come up again in the person of Robert Mugabe. In 2002, the European Union placed a travel ban on the Zimbabwean dictator and his top associates, which it has repeatedly allowed them to break. This December, a European Union-African Union summit is planned for Lisbon, Portugal, and at the insistence of African governments, the Portuguese will be inviting Mugabe. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, however, has issued an ultimatum that he would not attend the conference were Mugabe seated across the table. Now, the Guardian reports:

“It’s the working assumption that Mugabe will be coming if invited by the Portuguese as expected,” said a European Commission official familiar with the preparations for the first Europe-Africa summit in seven years.

It appears that Brown will not be in attendance, then, and that the European and African Unions have chosen a dictator over a democrat.

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What is the point of putting sanctions on a dictator if you refuse to enforce them? This was the question that the world community faced in its dealings with Saddam Hussein, who, over a twelve-year period, violated sixteen Chapter VII Security Council resolutions with impunity. The question has come up again in the person of Robert Mugabe. In 2002, the European Union placed a travel ban on the Zimbabwean dictator and his top associates, which it has repeatedly allowed them to break. This December, a European Union-African Union summit is planned for Lisbon, Portugal, and at the insistence of African governments, the Portuguese will be inviting Mugabe. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, however, has issued an ultimatum that he would not attend the conference were Mugabe seated across the table. Now, the Guardian reports:

“It’s the working assumption that Mugabe will be coming if invited by the Portuguese as expected,” said a European Commission official familiar with the preparations for the first Europe-Africa summit in seven years.

It appears that Brown will not be in attendance, then, and that the European and African Unions have chosen a dictator over a democrat.

This is not good news for Zimbabwe’s democrats, either, who have been working tirelessly, under very difficult conditions, to discredit Mugabe internationally. One would not imagine this to be a difficult task, considering the fact that the man is responsible for the deaths of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of innocent civilians and is slowly starving his own people to death. The EU invitation will send a message to other African leaders: not only are their governments able to hold European diplomacy hostage, but the Europeans respect Mugabe. According to the Guardian, “EU diplomats hope that Mugabe will come under ‘peer pressure’ from fellow African leaders.” As long as the international community acts like a high school guidance counselor when dealing with African politics, it should expect little to get done.

On the bright side, now that Mugabe is set to come to Europe, perhaps the European Union is deftly executing the plan I proposed earlier this week. One can hope.

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Richard Dawkins’s Selective Rationality

On Monday, this article in the Guardian, “Atheists arise: Dawkins spreads the A-word among America’s unbelievers,” about what is best described as an evangelical crusade by the celebrated Oxford professor Richard Dawkins, caught my eye.

I confess to being a bit puzzled by the current wave of attacks on religion. I am both a Ph.D. (with lots of science) and a regular church-goer, long under the impression that the alleged incompatibility of the two was a 19th century notion, associated with such organizations as The National Secular Society in England (to which Annie Besant devoted her estimable talents during the years before she helped found Theosophy), and perhaps best exemplified by vigorous period pieces, such as Andrew Dickson White’s massive two volumes, published in 1898, on The Warfare Between Science and Theology in Christendom. Over the last year or so, however, a powerful new wave of distinctly old-fashioned anti-religious campaigning has begun, with people like Christopher Hitchens and Professor Dawkins in the lead. I find myself asking why.

Many factors can be adduced: merits in the atheist argument; a desire to forestall criticism that secular and scientific politics as practiced in the last century proved disastrous; resentment of the way some politicians constantly invoke God. But maybe more sinister forces are at work.

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On Monday, this article in the Guardian, “Atheists arise: Dawkins spreads the A-word among America’s unbelievers,” about what is best described as an evangelical crusade by the celebrated Oxford professor Richard Dawkins, caught my eye.

I confess to being a bit puzzled by the current wave of attacks on religion. I am both a Ph.D. (with lots of science) and a regular church-goer, long under the impression that the alleged incompatibility of the two was a 19th century notion, associated with such organizations as The National Secular Society in England (to which Annie Besant devoted her estimable talents during the years before she helped found Theosophy), and perhaps best exemplified by vigorous period pieces, such as Andrew Dickson White’s massive two volumes, published in 1898, on The Warfare Between Science and Theology in Christendom. Over the last year or so, however, a powerful new wave of distinctly old-fashioned anti-religious campaigning has begun, with people like Christopher Hitchens and Professor Dawkins in the lead. I find myself asking why.

Many factors can be adduced: merits in the atheist argument; a desire to forestall criticism that secular and scientific politics as practiced in the last century proved disastrous; resentment of the way some politicians constantly invoke God. But maybe more sinister forces are at work.

Consider this statement by Professor Dawkins in an interview with the Guardian:

When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been, though in fact they are less numerous, I am told—religious Jews anyway—than atheists and (yet they) more or less monopolize American foreign policy as far as many people can see. So if atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence the world would be a better place.

What do we make of a professor of science who claims to be so rational as to have no tolerance for The God Delusion—the title of his latest book—but who nevertheless accepts uncritically that Jews “more or less monopolize American foreign policy”? Dawkins does not say “influence” or even “disproportionately influence,” both of which would be debatable but empirically defensible. He says “monopolize,” which is simply untrue.

This quotation suggests that, if not actually hostile to Jews, Dawkins focuses on them and their alleged monopoly of influence in a way that bodes nothing welcome. Will the new, passionate non-believers Dawkins seeks to awaken now join the long procession of mobs, demagogues, religious zealots, and conspiracy theorists who have likewise focused irrationally on Jews? I sense worrying disorder in the mind of this self-proclaimed rationalist.

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Hitler’s Record Collection?

It is ironic that just as the death of the distinguished Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg is announced, the media here and abroad should broadcast news of the rediscovery of Hitler’s presumed “record collection.” Der Spiegel reported that the daughter of Lev Bezymensky (1920-2007), a World War II Soviet military intelligence officer, revealed some 100 records, which her father reportedly stole from the Berlin Reich chancellery in 1945, after the Red Army invasion. Readers may remember that the same Lev Bezymensky (his name transliterated as Bezymenski) authored the 1968 book The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives, in which Bezymensky claimed to have been present at Hitler’s autopsy. Bezymensky himself later admitted the claim was a lie. Toeing the line of the notorious Soviet counter-intelligence organization SMERSH, Bezymensky’s memoir of the autopsy was persuasively exposed as fraud in Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil.

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It is ironic that just as the death of the distinguished Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg is announced, the media here and abroad should broadcast news of the rediscovery of Hitler’s presumed “record collection.” Der Spiegel reported that the daughter of Lev Bezymensky (1920-2007), a World War II Soviet military intelligence officer, revealed some 100 records, which her father reportedly stole from the Berlin Reich chancellery in 1945, after the Red Army invasion. Readers may remember that the same Lev Bezymensky (his name transliterated as Bezymenski) authored the 1968 book The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives, in which Bezymensky claimed to have been present at Hitler’s autopsy. Bezymensky himself later admitted the claim was a lie. Toeing the line of the notorious Soviet counter-intelligence organization SMERSH, Bezymensky’s memoir of the autopsy was persuasively exposed as fraud in Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil.

The London Times trumpeted the story about Hitler’s record collection with headlines like “Hitler’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ turn up in a dead Russian soldier’s attic” and “A cultivated taste that went for very best,” lauding the dictator’s musical acumen. This praise was based on information that the collection includes recordings by the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin singing Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, the violinist Bronislaw Huberman, a Polish Jew, playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, and pianist Artur Schnabel, an Austrian Jew, performing a Mozart sonata. These recordings are available on CD from Naxos, Pearl, and Music & Arts Records respectively; they are exceptional performances from a time when the choice of major musical repertory on disc was limited.

The London Times goes so far as to praise Hitler as a recordings connoisseur: “Hitler appeared to enjoy a good tune.” This sentiment echoes such mock kudos from Mel Brooks’s The Producers as “Hitler was a better dancer than Churchill.” Other media reports managed to find a moral to the story. A headline in the Australian proclaimed that “Hitler relaxed to music of Jews”; the article that followed suggested he was guilty of hypocrisy. The cellist Steven Isserlis claims in the Guardian that “racial rules could be stretched where the glory and comfort of supermen were concerned.”

Do we really need new reasons to despise Hitler? The hoopla surrounding this record collection rates as the most frivolous innovation in Third Reich studies since Lothar Machtan’s 2001 The Hidden Hitler claimed that Hitler was gay (an idea also advanced by The Producers). Even during the slow news days of summer, the media would do well to maintain a sense of the ridiculous, as well as a healthy suspicion of reports originating from deceased Soviet intelligence officers.

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Female Terrorism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jerusalem: The Scandal of Particularity

On May 24th, COMMENTARY’s editor-at-large Norman Podhoretz received the Guardian of Zion Award from the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies at Bar-Ilan University. The Guardian of Zion Award is one of the most prestigious in its field; past recipients include Charles Krauthammer, Cynthia Ozick, Daniel Pipes, Elie Wiesel, and Ruth Wisse. The full text of Podhoretz’s lecture—Jerusalem: The Scandal of Particularity—is now available at COMMENTARY’s website. (And make sure to read Rick Richman’s take on the lecture at Jewish Current Issues.)

On May 24th, COMMENTARY’s editor-at-large Norman Podhoretz received the Guardian of Zion Award from the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies at Bar-Ilan University. The Guardian of Zion Award is one of the most prestigious in its field; past recipients include Charles Krauthammer, Cynthia Ozick, Daniel Pipes, Elie Wiesel, and Ruth Wisse. The full text of Podhoretz’s lecture—Jerusalem: The Scandal of Particularity—is now available at COMMENTARY’s website. (And make sure to read Rick Richman’s take on the lecture at Jewish Current Issues.)

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Jamestown, 400 Years Later

We mark our wedding anniversaries with ever more precious materials—progressing from paper to gold to diamonds—but the process seems to be reversed with our national anniversaries. Over the years, the establishment of the first successful English colony in North America, which took place in 1607 at Jamestown, Virginia, has been commemorated with ever diminishing means. This month, the 400th anniversary of the settlement was marked with a curiously stilted ceremony that, by official policy, actually avoided the word “celebration” itself.

One can understand why Native Americans and blacks might find little in this anniversary to celebrate. But it is noteworthy that the angriest attack of all should come from a British newspaper. According to the Guardian, if Jamestown is to be remembered at all, it should be as “the birthplace of African slavery, Native American genocide, and the global tobacco trade,” a veritable trifecta of human misery.

The newspaper has been widely and justly ridiculed for its remarks. African slavery, of course, existed long before 1607. It’s true that the American colonies served as a point of expansion for the international slave market into the New World. But the nation that grew from those colonies, along with its mother country, participated powerfully in the moral critique of slavery that led to its eventual extirpation in the West.

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We mark our wedding anniversaries with ever more precious materials—progressing from paper to gold to diamonds—but the process seems to be reversed with our national anniversaries. Over the years, the establishment of the first successful English colony in North America, which took place in 1607 at Jamestown, Virginia, has been commemorated with ever diminishing means. This month, the 400th anniversary of the settlement was marked with a curiously stilted ceremony that, by official policy, actually avoided the word “celebration” itself.

One can understand why Native Americans and blacks might find little in this anniversary to celebrate. But it is noteworthy that the angriest attack of all should come from a British newspaper. According to the Guardian, if Jamestown is to be remembered at all, it should be as “the birthplace of African slavery, Native American genocide, and the global tobacco trade,” a veritable trifecta of human misery.

The newspaper has been widely and justly ridiculed for its remarks. African slavery, of course, existed long before 1607. It’s true that the American colonies served as a point of expansion for the international slave market into the New World. But the nation that grew from those colonies, along with its mother country, participated powerfully in the moral critique of slavery that led to its eventual extirpation in the West.

But this is not the most remarkable part of the Guardian’s essay. What really shocks the reader is the casual way in which it lists the export of tobacco as a historical crime alongside slavery and genocide. This is morally ridiculous, and factually inaccurate to boot. Tobacco was given by Native Americans (the Powhatan, specifically) to the Europeans, not the other way round. (The Guardian is evasive on this, speaking only of the “global tobacco trade,” as if the truly heinous crime were not the health risks of tobacco but capitalism itself.)

The consequences of tobacco’s importation were momentous, affecting everything from the balance of economic power in Europe to the rhythm and pattern of everyday life; only the potato (another New World product) rivaled its impact. The usual term for such a dynamic exchange of products, customs, and ideas between peoples is multiculturalism. It is amusing that the Guardian, a stalwart champion of “multicultural Britain” (as one can confirm by a simple check on Google) should be so squeamish about this.

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