Saturday, April 5, 2014

Israeli Sovereignty and the Three Noes

Sovereignty gives a nation supreme power within its borders.  It involves: independence of action, control over borders and the right to enact legislation that affects the people residing within those borders. It is the renunciation of those rights that we find difficult to accept and sometimes it is with good reason, because the laws that are made represent a standard that is far too often abused. For example, the European Union defines human rights as a standard and it does create issues of gross abuse.

Racists too often aspire to deny those of us who disagree with them our rights to defend ourselves against them. Too many Muslim preachers have disproportionate influence and use that influence to peddle their hate and to incite their followers to commit murder on their behalf.

Violence is a legitimate instrument of intimidation both for the fascist who believes in divine right and, to their political acolytes on the extremes of left and right.

The prerogative to commit violence (up to and including the taking of life) is the prerogative of the state. It is the ultimate symbol of the abuse of sovereign power for those that oppose its use.  But we inadvertently (perhaps) assign that right to groups and individuals when we fail to protect other groups and other individuals from those that knowingly choose to abuse our laws.

Example: it took eleven years for the Muslim Nazi Abu Qatada to be deported back to Jordan during which time he was able to continue to spread the cancer of his ideas far and wide. “According to the British case against him, in October 1999 he made a speech in which "he effectively issued a fatwa authorizing the killing of Jews, including Jewish children". He told his congregation that Americans should be attacked, wherever they were; that in his view they were no better than Jews; and that there was no difference between English, Jewish and American people."   (Robert Booth, Prosecutor)

Freedom of speech is not an absolute unless we provide the legal instrument for the ordinary citizen who feels threatened by that speech to fight back with equal ferocity. If physical violence is a blunt tool for the everyman or woman, then we must question the academic justification for verbal and written incitement which is far more damaging to the fabric of society.  It is meant to intimidate and by its coercive nature its intent is to instill fear and through dread to create a regime of manipulation and control.

The Abu Qatada’s of this world, through their foul and poisonous words encourage those people who see nothing inherently immoral in slitting the throats of children, flying airplanes into buildings or torturing their enemies.  Where is the duty to protect their victims?  Abu Qatada described the 9/11 attacks as part of a wider battle between Christianity and Islam while Osama bin-Laden was only expressing what many ordinary folk in the West felt about the attacks and that was that the murder of 3,000 people on 9/11 was a divine celebration of sovereign Islamic power.

Sovereignty.  The Islamic republic of Turkey exercised its sovereign right to determine who and what could enter and leave from its borders when it permitted the Mavi Marmara to sail from Antalya Port in May 2010. The IHH is an Islamist and therefore religiously racist organization that is banned in Holland and Germany. It is now under investigation in Turkey also. Key members of its board were supporters of the Turkish government at the time of the Mavi Marmara incident.  The Islamist government of Turkey needed a provocation by a local group against the State of Israel as a means of repudiating Jewish sovereignty. At best, Turkey, by permitting the Mavi Marmara to sail from its shores was dictating to Israel that its right to self-defense was circumscribed by Turkey.  This is consistent with statements made by Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu warning Turks against integration into European society and, statements he has made on Israel. Simply stated, a nation either has the right to defend its borders, to identify hostile elements and either silence or remove any threats to its security or it consciously acquiesces to a diminution of its sovereign status.

Another example of sovereignty is that the State determines the laws of the land.  A person who spies for another nation must bear the consequences of their actions.  Israel would like to see Jonathon Pollard freed from his 28 year incarceration, however many Americans would take comfort from his death in prison. American law will decide Pollard’s fate when he becomes eligible for parole towards the end of 2015.   Israel may be unhappy with his long years in solitary confinement and compare his punishment unfavorably to those of Robert Hanssen, Aldrich Ames, Jerry Whitworth, and John Walker but so what? He broke the law and he was caught doing it.  This finally, leads us neatly into the 3 Noes of Mahmoud Abbas.

But first, let us begin with a brief history of genocide.  Prior to World War 2 a states citizens were the property of the state.  Post 1945 the world recognized, largely as a result of the work of one man, Raphael Lemkin, that the world could no longer be governed by the existing paradigm of the state verses the individual where the fate of the individual was solely determined by the state.  This shift in political will involved a lessening of national sovereignty for the greater good. People retained individual rights as an absolute (at least in the Western World they did).

If sovereignty is the ability to determine the fate of ones own citizens then those that commit murder are legally and morally the responsibility of the State.  Any crime may be labeled a ‘political’ crime.  There can be no ethical justification for differentiating between a crime committed from political belief and any other crime.

But something else unwelcome also changed.

For a brief period the dividing line between what constituted terrorist and freedom fighter was that the latter attacked agents of government such as the police and the military while the former sowed fear in the population in order to force them to submit to their will.  The terrorist did this by committing ‘random’ terror against civilians.  It was an interpretation by the extreme Left that all people in society were agents of society (i.e. there were no innocents in a revolutionary struggle) that returned us to an age of fear. This once more redefined the concept of warfare. In less than a single generation, post World War 2, we returned to the barbarism of pre-1945 concepts of human conflict.  Except of course that where a political struggle is defined as ‘just’ the right to commit any atrocity is justified while the target of the struggle is constrained by legal virtue to uphold the ‘rules of war.’ But this requires control of both the media and the narrative as an essential tool in the propagandist’s arsenal of weapons because without both there can be no justification for terrorism.

Mahmoud Abbas has stated his three noes as follows:

1)       He rejects Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that
Palestine recognizes Israel as a Jewish state.

2)       He refuses to abandon the Palestinian “right of return” for millions of descendants of those who lived in Israel prior to June 1948. The unique definition of a Palestinian “refugee” is any one who resided in Palestine during a two year period that encompassed the years 1946 to 1948.

3)       He refused to commit to an “end of conflict” under which a peace deal would represent the termination of any further Palestinian demands on Israel.  Without it there would never be a peace treaty but a series of escalating demands, any of which, the failure to achieve, would result in the abrogation of the period of ‘peaceful co-existence’ between the two states.  This is an Islamic concept and it refers to a staged conquest.  It is called “Dar al-Hudna” and its sole purpose is to serve as a respite between wars.  Early Islamic jurists created different categories of interaction in order to legally justify Islamic conquest.

The Palestinian Authority Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud al-Habbash stated towards the end of March 2014 that the Western Wall was part of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and that Jews had no right to pray there.  Again, this is an issue of sovereignty.

But more than that, if I am denied my own history then I can be erased from history.

Having erased Jewish history in East Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967 the Palestinian leadership continues to insist, as a matter of political strategy and religious theology that East Jerusalem, is in its entirety, the capital of the Palestinian state.  History as propaganda and narrative justification for the armed struggle against every man, woman and child in the Yishuv (The State of Israel) begins, but does not end with Jerusalem. But if history teaches us anything, it is that cultural genocide is a common weapon within Muslim colonial enterprises.

And last, if the fourth phase of the prisoner release, consisting of 26 long term prisoners (all of them with murder convictions) was agreed by Israel, the release is unacceptable, only, if among that number are Israeli Arabs.  We are told that 14 of them were Israeli Arabs. We are being told that Secretary of State Kerry agreed this arrangement with Mahmoud Abbas without consulting Prime Minister Netanyahu.  It is unbelievable if it is true and I have not read any Western account that disputes this.

As an issue of national sovereignty Israeli Arabs are not and can never be subject to negotiation.  Unless of course. President Abbas wants to swap land and Israeli Arabs as part of any final status peace deal. Separate sovereignty between warring nations is inviolate. A person from within the nation who kills for the other side is a traitor.  Their beliefs are their personal identity but they live under the laws of the State. It is not possible that Kerry was unaware of this fact – it is of enormous concern that he could assume anything else. If it is correct, it creates huge issues of trust.

There is no debate that the issue of prisoner releases is emotive for Israel but it is also an inseparable part of the Palestinian ethos. This is the problem. If the murderer has social status, financial benefit and a guaranteed “get out of jail ‘free’ card” then violence rather than a path to reconciliation becomes a perverse expression of Palestinian sovereignty and one that will always take precedence over Jewish (Israeli) rights. The idea that Palestinians have control over Israeli citizens is to imply that Israel has limited sovereign rights.

Could anyone imagine the President of France demanding a declaration of war by French Canadians on the USA? Or as a consequence, that the “revolutionaries” be granted immunity from prosecution for any crimes they committed against either the USA or Canada?

If there is to be any chance of a peace settlement then Israel must declare its red lines in terms of its sovereignty. The strength of the Palestinian National Movement is in its Arab-Muslim narrative that defines the absolute rights of Palestinians in contradistinction to the obligations of Jews (Israelis).  Consistent with this Palestinian-Arab colonialist movement is an idea that has plagued the Near-East for far too many centuries. It is inherent within Muslim theology that non-Muslims cannot be other than second class citizens, inferior in law and society, dependent always on the good will of Muslim ‘munificence’.

Simon Shiffer in Ynet news on the 3rd of March 2014 (Proposed Pollard deal: The victory of reason) stated that “the possible release of an Israeli spy in exchange for Israeli Arab murderers proves there are no sacred  principles binding decision makers….but it appears that Abbas himself will not budge on his ‘principles’ and yes, that is the problem.” Israel must thank Mahmoud Abbas for reminding us that principles are important for us also.  Israel has disregarded too many sacred truths for no reciprocal benefit.  It is time that Israel’s diplomats pushed back.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Russian Sovereignty and the Fearful Nation

All nations have red lines which must be respected.  When nations fail to respect the integrity (whether historical memory or physical borders) of nations then we have conflict and inevitably it is this failure to appreciate red lines that escalates past the point of confrontation into military conflict.

In Western Europe and the USA we have failed to acknowledge Russian history and it is this failure of ours that has created the latest crisis in Crimea.

Sevastopol has been the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet since 1783. We study history to understand and we would hope, to learn from the past. When Hitler invaded Russia in Operation Barbarossa he opened up an Eastern Front that stretched from Estonia in the North down to Crimea in the South. That invasion was along the entire borderline of Western Russia – a distance of some 2,000 kilometers.  According to Nazi Germany’s “Generalplan Ost” or the “Master Plan for the East” first the Slav’s deemed racially ‘acceptable’ were destined for enslavement (Germanic people would colonize the Central and Eastern European territories) and the rest would be murdered.  So nearly all Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, Serbs, and Croats – in fact most of Central and Eastern Europe, was to be ‘cleared’ of what the Nazis called “Untermenschen” or sub-humans.

Russia has a long history of conflict, war and conquest.  If this is viewed as expansionism then Napoleons’ invasion of Russia, the Crimean War, the Russo-Japanese War, the Russian Civil War and the Second World War are all poignant reminders that even if Russia wins, in terms of casualties it always loses.

When empires collapse they usually leave the centre intact. The mother (or father) land retains its sovereign, national home.  Russia’s fatherland is a multi-ethnic federation.  When we disregard history, for whatever reason, we fail to appreciate that even a nuclear armed Russia can be vulnerable and therefore can fear for its safety.  With the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia has seen its empire disintegrate and its closest allies defect to the European Union.  Why then do we ignore the Russian suspicion that both the Western world and Islamic forces desire the disintegration of the Russian Federation?

Again, I do not understand why we in the West assumed that the coup d’état against the legitimately elected ruler of Ukraine would be acceptable to Vladimir Putin?  Diplomatic intimidation has never worked with Russia.  It is only the perception that Russia was and is weak that could have tempted the West to support the Ukrainian coup.   The choice for the West was understandably going to be Yulia Tymoshenko.  She served as Prime Minster in 2005 and again from December 2007 until March 2010.  She not only wanted to join the EU but also NATO. Statements she made indicated her wish to abrogate treaties the Ukraine had with Russia.  The Russian Black Sea Fleet would no longer enjoy access to Ukrainian port facilities and security protocols would be drawn up to both guarantee Ukrainian independence and to block “Russian Expansionism” – as Tymoshenko saw it.

The journalist Nahum Barnea wrote that “Ukraine is a failed state, slowly, inextricably crumbling due to rampant corruption and ethnic and religious tension.” Former President Viktor Yanukovych was elected president in 2010, defeating Yulia Tymoshenko. Yanukovych rejected a proposed agreement for closer ties with the EU (in November 2013) and what followed were protests that were centered on Kiev. As the civil unrest spread across the Ukraine the specter of civil war grew with the casualties. President Yanukovych fled to Russia in late February 2014. He left behind a 340 acre Estate with its own palace that was packed with priceless treasures.  So he was a gold plated thief who seems to have stolen wholesale from his people. But he was Putin’s gold plated thief and he opposed whatever Tymoshenko the Capitalist believed in.

If we truly understood Russia then the best case scenario is Ukrainian neutrality and Russian indirect authority over its neighbours.  The USA and Europe can continue to confront Russian power or they can engage in and create a practical compromise by which all parties gain confidence and long term security through military de-escalation and economic and social integration. But this will only occur if a buffer is created between Russia and its perceived antagonists.

We cannot continue to seek to contain Russia as if the Cold War had moved eastward into the Russian Federation itself because it is clear that under those conditions Russia will fight back. The only beneficiary in this latest conflict is going to be the world’s other superpower, China, which can happily watch as Europe, America and Central Asia descend into another bleak period of uncertainty and instability.

Global economic dislocation has created opportunities to realign superpower interests. After the fall of the Soviet Empire the world was briefly held together by US unipolarity.  It may not be a bad thing if Russian intervention in Ukraine has forced the EU to re-consider its role in global affairs.  It has rarely demonstrated a position that differed from the USA because its economic and political interests were congruent with American interests. And Europe would have been the primary beneficiary in any diminution of Russian economic power because of its proximity to and its geographical accessibility to Eastern Europe.

In “Syria, a Russian–American failure” (29/6/2013) I wrote that “Big Power cooperation would cause others to pause before interfering militarily, and may even constrain the colonial ambitions of other nations.” My criticism was then, and is now that “this is an area where America has failed to grasp an historic opportunity to create a strategic partnership with Russia ….. Cooperation rather than competition (between the USA and Russia) is the only way to defuse tensions….”

Détente between the two great nations could mark the next transformative stage in global international diplomacy.  It would lead to peaceful cooperation between former enemies and it could lead to less robust Chinese expansionism in the South East Asian region.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Crimea a Game of Lost Opportunities

I attended the debate in the House of Commons (the British Lower House of Parliament) on 18th March 2014 as the honorable members debated the Russian Anschluss. Technically, the political union between the Crimea and Russia is a work in progress but with the issuance of passports for Crimean citizens already talking place the administrative protocols are no more than an ongoing technicality.

It might sound from the above that I am against this unilateral move by President Putin and I am, but only because of the unilateralism of the current Russian machinations. They neither encourage détente (perhaps they were never meant to) nor do they bode well for future pan European relations which must put Russia at its centre stage in spite of it being geographically peripheral.

In fact geography is the only means by which we can afford to describe Russia as somehow peripheral! Russia is central to Europe and Asia. It is the largest country in the world, (considerably more than double the size of contiguous USA), it is the world’s 9th most populous nation (143 million people), and the 8th largest economy in the world (2 trillion dollars). Militarily it is the world’s 3rd largest defense spender ($91 Billion in 2012) which even so, amounts to 4.4% of its GDP. It retains the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.

I provide the above because on a superficial level we cannot ignore Russia or feign concern for its difficulties or its history. And yet, the British debate on the Russia – Ukraine crisis has been facile, shallow, and insincere. If it was possible to do so, it has created greater animus between Russia and its acolytes on the one side and the Western World, on the other side. And while the incipient nature of this reinvigorated Cold War should not deter us from trying to find a way out of the mess that has been created, it is truly frightening to observe the pack mentality displayed by the press, by Western governments and by our British parliamentarians. 

That debate I witnessed in London displayed near unanimity of condemnation accompanied by bluster and threats of sanctions against Russian interests in the UK “Let him (Putin) feel the cold wind of isolation” said Ben Wallace MP. Future historians will refer to those parliamentary deliberations as borderline racist incitement.  Almost every speaker referred to the “Russians in our schools” and “the Russians buying up our London properties” etc.  This came from British MP’s, both Left wing and Right wing.  The Shadow Leader of the House, Angela Eagle threatened to “hit the oligarchs in their pockets” and opined that “Russia is acting out of weakness”.  It took a conservative member of parliament to be the sole voice of verbal restraint. Sir Edward Leigh MP first explained that he was not a disinterested party, that his wife is Russian Orthodox.  Nevertheless he reminded his fellow MPs that the Ukraine is “an extraordinarily divided country.”

The President of Russia is portrayed as a caricature.  Vladimir Putin, the former KGB colonel is portrayed by the media as the neighborhood bully, an uncivilized street thug and either dismissed as a joke to be deprived (unsuccessfully) of media attention, or feared like a lunatic.

Russia is a country with a complex identity and I identify three principal attributes to that identity: nationalism, orthodoxy and autocracy.  Religious identity (orthodox) has never returned to its 1917, pre revolutionary popularity. If Marxism-Leninism was the new orthodoxy post 1917 then what may have replaced it post 1991 was alcoholism and loss of national status.  Alcoholism is Russia’s biggest killer. The world is in a process of rejecting internationalism even as we embrace the global economy. So nationalism is increasing, which as a source of identity is problematic but only if it becomes jingoism.  And global identity politics are going to be the source of increasing international tensions as the global economy expands. Russia has rarely if ever known anything aside from autocratic government.   The threat of conflict is used to consolidate national identity and to suppress opposition to unpopular policies that are not in the interests of a free economy, free speech or political and social pluralism.

So why would we think that abusing the leader of the Russian Federation is the right way to encourage dialogue with that leader?  Russia does have legitimate national interests in Ukraine even if its recent conduct over Crimea is regarded as revanchist and therefore illegal. People are comparing Putin to Hitler and Crimea to Czechoslovakia in 1938.  This is wrong.  The Sudetenland is neither Crimea nor is it Sevastopol. Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Adolph Hitler did not bring “Peace in our time”, nor will all the bluster from President Obama for the USA and the European Union’s foreign policy leaders.

I am not condoning Russian misbehavior in the Ukraine nor its nuclear threats against the USA.  But we are not offering anything like a realistic path to future peace, or even an opening gambit to engagement.  Our response is panicked, ill conceived and ill thought out.  That should worry us all.

With instability in the Near East creating the potential loss of Russia’s naval facilities at Tartus (due to the ongoing Syrian civil war), Russia may potentially lose its only military facility outside of the former Soviet Union. Tartus is Russia’s only Mediterranean facility. Therefore Sevastopol takes on greater significance as the only other stock and repair base on its Southern flank.

The possibility, even suggestion, that Ukraine could join NATO or become part of the European Union was never going to sit well with Russia. Memories of war may  have receded into the distant past for us in Western Europe and for the USA but those memories inform Russian thinking and therefore remain central to its geomilitary strategic policy.  Just as the US would not tolerate missiles on Cuban territory in 1962 so it is infantile to consider that Russia would happily embrace a potential Western military presence in its strategically important underbelly.

Instead of wooing Russia and nurturing the relationship we have jumped in without considering that Russia is still a superpower. We neither appreciated Russian history nor offered any alternative to the threatening scenarios that were on offer.  If we anticipated compliance we returned instead to insecurity and fear.

In a world of increasing tensions based on irreconcilable but competing, too often clashing community interests, we have also alienation and unemployment.  And they breed twin demons of xenophobia and hate, chaos and despair.

Instead of economic assistance to Western Ukraine (in terms of sheer size Ukraine is huge) I would offer both Western and Eastern Ukraine a free-trade Zone following Hong Kong’s example.  Sevastopol is the home to both the Russian and Ukrainian Black Sea Naval Fleet. It is Russia’s only warm water port. (Odessa, while part of the former Imperial Russian State, is now part of Ukraine and Yalta is not a naval base).  While the example of the sovereign city-state of Singapore is a poor example of a possible solution for Sevastopol, it is possible for two nations to share the administration of an autonomous city particularly one that is both strategically and geopolitically so important to Russia.

Suspicion and mistrust are byproducts of bad faith initiatives.

Instead of intelligence our leaders have fallen back on old world rancor. It seems that strategic policy initiatives are an ‘after-the-fact’ crisis management tool. My fear is that we seem to have reverted to pre-21st Century methods of dealing with international conflict as if nothing that happened in the last century taught us anything.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Education and Pop Culture

News reporting is usually politically subjective and rarely does it convey any depth of information. It should not be a surprise to anyone that we then discuss current events without possessing either knowledge or familiarity, except perhaps through popular cultural references.

One of the issues that society faces is the competition between ‘high-culture’ and what is derogatorily referred to as ‘low-culture’ in what is traditionally viewed as two opposing sides to the class war.  What is problematic is that Pop-culture legitimises a reductive approach to everything.  It decomplexifies the irreducible to a sound bite. When an English rose twittered that Barraco Barner was our President (the UK has a Prime Minister and his name is David Cameron) and asked why we were getting involved with Russia (!) she was simply demonstrating her lack of knowledge.  Ignorance has an appeal to many. If we discount the trolls that abused our internet lass, we truly live in a world that celebrates it. To many people the claim that we are ‘dumbing’ down society is contentious because it assumes a judgment on taste that remains relatively static or is complex. To the critic of high culture the simplification of cultural values nullifies class distinction.  My fear is that if you give em what they want and they are happy with what they have, ‘doing’ it cheap is fine, except that ‘cheap’ is too often a by-product of exploitation.  In a degraded society people who are easily satisfied are as easily controlled by government.

We are living in an age of unparalleled communications and this excited mass of electrons surging around us soaks us with a shower of enormous amounts of knowledge. That knowledge floats around us, through us and over us without really giving us any insight into its significance. And here is the problem. Without a basic grounding in history and geography the world truly is just around the corner and over the next hill. 

Unless we are grounded in knowledge of our past we cannot understand  the present and because we live in a world of transparent borders there are multiple ‘presents’ from which to choose.  It is part of the reason that our contemporary identities are diverse but for many people, fractured.  People who believe themselves to be above history have no identity to define them and will seek out a new one. Often it is they who are vulnerable to extremism because the ‘soul’ is a book whose blank pages we may choose to drench in wisdom or soak in poison. Too often, it is those people who have an opinion and given the opportunity to spread knowledge, subvert knowledge instead with their sullied enthusiasm and their bullying tactics.

Knowing history is the key to unlocking the reason behind events as they unfold.  Understanding the geography behind the development of societies and nations creates the background for understanding history.

But we live in a world of some 200 countries and each has its own story. It does not mean that we cannot try to understand but if a lifetime does not prepare us for knowing everything there is to know then certainly twelve years allocated to our full time education must be treated with care and respect. And yet, education is something that we abuse constantly – we use our children as objects of experimentation; we study them as much as we study the subject matter to be taught.  A change in the education system creates a generation of children whose education is disrupted.  Systems regularly change.  New books are not the result of greater knowledge but too often the result of political interference. And they cost tens if not hundreds of millions of pounds in publishing costs, the cost of withdrawing text books, and training because often the teachers must be taught a new truth.

If our education system is an exercise in Social Darwinism then logically, private schools will always win out over state schools if only because they have reduced class sizes. This enables greater focus on creating understanding.  State schools are temples to mass-production and so, they will always fail the majority of their students. Education is Darwinian competition in which case, perhaps we are phrasing the debate badly.  Society has become such an expensive beast to maintain we inevitably defer consideration of the outcome of the education debate to a mythical future time where resources may magically become available and meanwhile, we experiment with our children’s future.

From time to time we ‘go back to basics’ which means we strip off the accumulation of current social fashion that surrounds our education system, we endeavor to teach our children in a way that actually makes sense and delivers results that benefit both our children and society.  It is when we add layers of complexity that we lose sight of the child we are meant to be educating.  Part of that process seems to have been lost so long ago that I do not know if we can ever regain it.

We teach history and geography, the two cannot be separated; geography defines us and it is the bedrock onto which our history is built. For instance the major economic powers of the modern era have all been served by extensive water based transport systems.  The ‘Cradle of (Western) Civilization’ arose within the perimeters of the Fertile Crescent, an area of rivers and marshlands.

But what we teach is suitably banal – it does not assist us in understanding our world better or prepare us for future confrontations.  The enormous diversity that is the source of so much of our inspiration as well as our conflict can teach us greater tolerance but only if that knowledge is taught without censorship.  It is not possible to appreciate even a basic understanding of the world around us if we have only partial familiarity with the facts.  But this is the way that propaganda is delivered.  Why do we fail in our responsibility to educate? In part it is fear.  What history should we teach and why? Do we teach about Mohammed the predatory prophet and his legacy of conquest? Is King David’s adultery relevant? How do we teach the sexual oppression of women throughout history? Why do we not teach that slavery was a global institution and that almost thirty million people are enslaved even now? At what age do we teach children about war, and which ones? Define a moral war, in which case, who defines an immoral war?

Our history frames our identity. If we have a secure identity then no question will be so difficult we cannot respond to it.  We create a human encyclopaedia by building layers of understanding and not by throwing thousands of pages of unrelated garbage together and then expecting the child to sort through mountains of detritus.

Our education system has provided us with a generation that idolises inanity; that worships the mundane.  ‘Hello Magazine’ and the latest batch of reality TV shows are what drive society.  And that is a frightening fact.  It is frightening because it leaves the management of people in society to those who manipulate reality: entertainers, journalists and politicians, media managers all.

We as a species are supposed to continuously develop as human beings.  But this generation has given us insights into the cosmos without progressing in our understanding of humanity. The education system is failing society. Knowledge and understanding should give us purpose, and with purpose, hope for a better future. Here, overwhelmingly, lies our present failure.  We continue as if the last few centuries were not numerically, the bloodiest in human history.  If our education system does not help us to understand why things happen in the world how can we avoid further human conflict?

Friday, February 28, 2014

Semantics and the Illegal Settlements

On the 24th of February, I attended a discussion on the illegality of the settlement enterprise. The purpose, to emphasise the validity of Jewish habitation in what, depending upon your political viewpoint, are usually referred to as the “Shtuchim ha’ k’vushim” (occupied territories) or “agadah ha’ma’aravite” (the West Bank) or “Yehudah v’Shomron” (Judea and Samaria).

The speaker reminded us that it is an act of heresy to describe the settlements as anything but an obstacle to peace. Grandstanding based on historical fictions has doomed peace talks in the past.  There is no reason to believe, at least from the public statements of politicians and religious leaders that the situation surrounding the current talks is any different from previous negotiations.

And here is the problem.

The speaker is the editor of a right wing Internet newspaper but even he was incapable of breaking free from our mutual enemy’s tactics and linguistic speech patterns.  And he failed to appreciate that in a war there is only black and white. Shades of grey are rightly viewed as signs of weakness and ruthlessly manipulated.

As an example of this attitude I read the following day an article that was written by Dr Mustafa Barghouti and published in Ma’ariv, the Israeli daily newspaper.  He said he could not ever recognise a Jewish state because this would be recognition of an Israeli narrative, or put another way, it would mean the renunciation of the Palestinian narrative.  That Palestinian narrative is based on distortion of religious beliefs, denial of history, and an ideological disposition towards conquest.  In fact the colonial narrative is incapable of sharing either the past or the future and is therefore powerless to change its direction in the present. And this, more than anything else, is the reason that peace talks are likely doomed, to failure.

Based on an irredentist doctrine of Arab cultural and ethno-religious homogeneity the Arab world is truly unable to accept any narrative that differs from its own. For that reason it must monopolize the discourse in order to delegitimize the opposing version of events, in fact any contrary version of events. 

It is against this backdrop that any objections will be dismissed, ignored or violently opposed.   Fear of dissension or any debate that veers away from the catechism is viewed as heretical or schismatic and is crushed.  This is what has nearly always characterized Arab, Muslim and Palestinian history.

If my use of religious terminology has been noticed I deliberately used it because submission (that or surrender is usually meant to be the meaning of the word “Islam”) is deeply embedded in the culture of our enemies and the ramifications of this mindset undermines and is fatal to successful reflection or negotiation.

The only way to create an atmosphere of shared history with all of its mutual pain is to make it unsafe not to do so.

The Temple Mount and the Western Wall are singularly and together, the holiest sites in the Jewish faith. On 27 June 1967, Israel’s government formally declared the Temple Mount compound to be under Jordanian Islamic administration which meant Israel gave up its sovereignty in favor of the Jordanian government.  What makes this singular act remarkable is that Israel remained in a state of war with Jordan for twenty seven years after this date (until the signing of a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994).  To this day this act of self-denial remains unique, unprecedented in human history.  Denying itself the mantle of sovereignty was more than an act of generosity by a conquering nation.  Against a setting of Muslim-Arab ethnic cleansing that included the desecration and destruction of almost all of ancient Jewish Jerusalem the decision by Moshe Dayan to ignore the physical destruction and ethnic cleansing by Israel’s Arab enemies appears saintly by comparison.  And it continues to psychically burn many on the right of Israeli politics as if the proclamation of non-sovereignty remains a suppurating wound to this day.

A member of the Israeli Knesset organized the first ever Knesset debate on the subject of Jewish rights on the Temple Mount on the 25th of February 2014.  Jordan informed Israel that “attacking places which are holy to Islam will ignite a diplomatic conflict between the countries”.

Here is the issue in a single sentence.  The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and his Arab brethren deny any connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem. They deny the evidence of more than 3,000 years of continuous Jewish habitation in Jerusalem.  Or they destroy it.  It is irrelevant whether this aberrant mental tic is a negotiating tactic or a grotesque display of genuine ignorance. Any negotiation that is not based on a priori mutual recognition is doomed to fail.

Part of that mutual recognition must involve the renunciation of the war of words but propaganda is meant to score points, not negotiate an equitable peace and once we adopt the language of our enemies we have already lost the argument, if not the war.

The only way we can change the course of this debate is to reclaim the “moral” high-ground. So I lay out a few facts that need to be repeated by our diplomats, by our politicians and by all of us, at every possible opportunity:

  1. In 1948 the indigenous Jews of Palestine as well as immigrant Jews to Palestine were ethnically cleansed from Judea and Samaria
  2. In 1948 the indigenous Jews of Palestine as well as immigrant Jews to Palestine were ethnically cleansed from the ancient City of Jerusalem.
  3. The persecution that Christians are suffering today as a consequence of Arab religious bigotry was the fate of Jews throughout Arab history and culminated in the ethnic cleansing of the Jews of Arab lands in 1948. They travelled overwhelmingly to the only country in the region that offered them safety and the opportunities offered by self-determination and that country was and remains to this day, Israel.
  4. As a consequence of points one through three, the Nakba exists but it was the rejectionism of Muslim nationalists and religious figures throughout the Muslim world that created the momentum for it.  In terms of scope that Nakba was Jewish and those that take only an Arab narrative view of events are racists.
  5. The West Bank did not ever exist until Jordan captured Judea and Samaria in 1948 and illegally annexed it in the same year. The term was created to differentiate the West Bank of the Jordan River from the East Bank of the Jordan River and served to create a border between the two parts of the nascent Jordanian ‘empire.’
  6. 70% of Jordanians are Palestinian but following on from point five, that 70% excludes “West Bank” Palestinians.
  7. Islamic antisemitism as well as Islamic anti-Christian belief are both doctrinally anchored in the primary texts of Islam.
  8. This prejudice is not therefore a foreign Christian or Western import, nor is it the result of Israeli self-determination in Palestine.  Church massacres and the desecration of Jewish as well as other faith’s holy sites have taken place throughout Islamic history and will continue to occur world-wide because the Islamic world refuses to acknowledge the original sin of its theological malevolence and aggression.  The Koran and the Hadith refer to Jews as apes and pigs, and there is far worse extracted from the Muslim holy texts.  Jews that refuse to embrace the only true faith can be killed, quickly or slowly.  The Muslims that perpetrated the Mumbai Massacre in 2008 made that point only too clearly when they tortured to death a woman in the late stages of her pregnancy.

In spite of all this horror, Jews are favoured in their treatment compared to ‘heretics’ and ‘idolaters’.

  1. “Be you apes, despised and loathed.”   Jews and Christians are equated with pigs which are loathed by Muslims. Ridicule is central to demonization and delegitimization.
  2. Massacres such as occurred in Hebron in 1929, Jaffa in 1936, and Kfar Etzion in 1948 reinforced the contempt that Arabs already had for Jewish rights in Palestine. The denial by Abbas and his ilk of Jewish history is consistent with Muslim and Arab cultural terrorism. The theft of classical history is an Islamic tactic used to reject both Jewish and Christian land based ties to the holy land and to anchor Muslim – Arab conquest as firmly in the past to justify the present, as is possible.
  3. If the Koran is not logically consistent, this is also useful as inconsistencies are used to ‘prove’ the peaceful nature of the faith while ignoring any calls to violence, bigotry and hate that are also integral to a conquest based Muslim world view.
  4. Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention involves forced transfers of populations into or out of occupied territories.  Judea and Samaria are contested territories and forced, mass expulsions have not taken place.
  5. The United Nations Organisation has been the propaganda arm of the OIC (Organisation of the Islamic Conference) in its continued war against the Jews for almost four decades and Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention proves the point. Turkey is guilty of repeated violations of the 4th Geneva Convention in both its conquest of North Cyprus and its forced population transfers. But the UN has remained completely silent on this.
  6. And finally, with reference to the alleged illegality of the Settlements, Oslo 2 gave Israel unrestricted building rights in Area C.  If the Arab World is so contemptuous of any treaty obligations then why should Israel ever trust its neighbours with whom it has been in mortal combat in modern times, for over a century?  This obsession with Israel resettlement reinforces the belief that any treaties signed with a Muslim state are no more than one more stage in a war that is only permitted to end in Islamic victory. In theological terms this is referred to as Dar al-Hudna (a treaty signed between Muslim and non-Muslim nations with the intent that it serves only as a respite). 

There will always be the apologists who proclaim that you do not learn about a religion by examining the conduct of its followers.  They will warn you that “true faith” is based on the scriptures and the lessons that should be learnt from embracing them. With respect to those who think this, much of human history is a response to what we as human beings have taken from religious texts. And that interpretation is an ongoing conversation between human beings and not deities and their followers.

If we excuse the behaviour of the conqueror and the slave master instead of demanding a full account of their actions then civilisation is no longer a conversation. It is no longer a thing of hope and love; both a terrible historical journey and a beautiful opportunity for growth and development. Instead it is a cursed thing that can only ever celebrate pain.  And that is something that civilised people refuse to believe.  Hope for a better future is part of our Western tradition and we must not forget it.

In the Western World we have the extremist, fascist Left which will always sycophantically accept the obliteration of our history in favour of the Islamic (Arab) narrative because of its own logical inconsistencies.  If the Muslim world is portrayed as “victims” of Western Imperialism and not collaborators (or worse) instigators and perpetrators of great evil then that Muslim nation must have its terrible enemy.  The fascist Left would collapse under the weight of its antisemitism if its choices – its contradictions could not be explained away by reference to the ongoing conflict with the Zionist occupation.

Perpetual peace is no empty idea, but a practical thing which, through its gradual solution, is coming always nearer its final realization..." Immanuel Kant

We will not achieve peace of any kind while an Islamic – Arab narrative continues to demand our fidelity to a false tale of Islamic tolerance and peaceful co-existence. That tolerance is a myth and peace has not ever existed except through obeisance. Until we recognize this sad fact and until we shout it from the rooftops the Muslim world will continue to use us as its whipping boy. It will blame us for all of its crimes and the world will continue to ignore its inhumanity.

The Islamic migration to the West is based on a narrative of faith based peace and tolerance. I have read of Muslim conditional tolerance but rarely have I read of Islamic peace.

In the Western World they have the attention and the obedience of our intellectuals and most journalists.  Governments fear offending their Muslim constituent’s and will always be loathe to cause offense to the wider 1,500 million strong, Muslim market.  They have economic levers based on oil and demographics. We cannot impact the demographics and journalists are mostly careful – they rarely behave in a way that antagonizes their Muslim hosts (they have never feared Jewish reprisals).  That leaves us with the war of information.

Israel must encourage its Palestinian adversaries to accept Jewish prior sovereignty and the fact that the earlier sin of Arab conquest does not validate its claims against Israel’s.

We are the enemy so let them fear what we can say about their conduct towards us.  The Arab and greater Muslim nation will not thank the Palestinians for being the reason that we demolish their carefully crafted deceptions if we repay some of their most outrageous crimes by publicly denouncing their continued assault on all of us at every opportunity.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Inequality and the Sanitised Bully

We refer to inequality as if it is a conspiracy perpetrated by factions within society rather than being simply an act of domination by the strong over the weak. It is the action of human beings everywhere, whether we disagree with them or not.  Political parties manipulate inequality all the time. The Right demands of us the freedom to make mistakes but of more importance, it wants us to live with our mistakes, to pay their price for our failures, and usually, it wants us to pay for their mistakes too.  The Liberals understand that we all make mistakes and want to protect us from making them in the first place while the Left will demand compensation on our behalf. Of course, this is a bit of an oversimplification. There is altruism in some political policy but compassion in conservatism, liberalism or the left is a necessity rather than a virtue of politics. If our members of parliament know what is good for us whether we like it or not, their behavior is tempered by another maxim and that is that politics is the art of the achievable; therefore, fear of failure rather than respect for the electorate is what determines policy.

If our politicians know what is good for us then imposing their will is rationalized by means of political virtue. Of course they will always tell us that our acquiescence indicates our agreement. But the reality is much more mundane. Britain does not have Political Action Committees like the USA possesses.  If we feel aggrieved we cannot simply petition higher courts of justice. Our voice in politics is heard when our politicians want to listen.  The "Tyranny of the Majority" I referred to in an earlier article is what our politicians use in order to maintain discipline within society.  The European Union has magnified the injustice within society by trying to ensure that every activity has the same outcome.  In leveling society it has had to cater to the lowest common denominator in society without considering that when we deal with 28 separate nation states we have 28 separate lowest common denominators and not one.  Frustration and anger breeds discontent that the consumer society will be unable to appease because not everyone shares either the vision or the wealth generated by the Union. Access that is a right and not a privilege creates expectations which constantly escalate without reference to the prevalent circumstances.

But the European Community (the EU) was an American construction – a last attempt at civilizing the murderous ‘Old World’ which to outsiders appeared incapable of containing its passions. Those passions had created centuries of hatred and warfare.

So we have a different kind of domination today. The tyranny of European parliamentary bureaucracy – tens of thousands of regulations define every aspect of society. Those regulations define every aspect of our existence: What may be called Camembert, what may claim to be champagne, even the angle of a banana; in summary, what is permitted and what is not.

It was recently revealed that corruption costs the EU at least £100 billion per year.  That is only £200 per person for every man, woman and child living in the EU. But to put it into perspective, that is £200 that is stolen from every one of us every year.

We could argue that peace has never been achieved so cheaply or so painlessly.  £12 billion per year is then, a peace tax for Britain, and perhaps it represents good value. But that all depends on whether or not all that regulation and the necessity to cede sovereignty deliver harmony or something else less welcome.  If society is gradually becoming eroded and if our attempts to scale any heights are increasingly curtailed by group-think and the terror of the collective we may one day wish to return to an era of irrepressible passion vicariously or directly played out before us.

Or perhaps we have already begun to take that journey.  We as a society have become enamored of violence in our everyday speech and in our visual entertainment (in our movies and in the ubiquity of aggression in our video games). The popular movie franchise, “The Hunger Games” is one futuristic nod to the Roman amphitheater of two thousand years ago.  It is not so long ago that war was seen as a noble expression of manliness which brought out the best in us.  We have advanced one hundred years so that we can now make our war games sexually egalitarian while retaining their deathly malice.

Some of our music refers to our women and girls as “bitches”, our music videos often add to their debasement rather than their empowerment. We have opened many doors to equality while simultaneously we facilitate the advancement of the pedophile, the rapist and the chauvinistic thug.  It appears that in honor of free speech and civil liberty we are losing all sense of voluntary self-control.

The artistic and the intellectual thug, and the professional demagogue are two sides to the same sickness that we have refused to tackle for fear of violating our sacred principles. But those are the same principles, the abuse of which undermines society and,  whose misuse we appear to be powerless to dispel.

Most non-Europeans did not feel the existential terror of the Nazi era.  It may be the reason that in Britain as well as in the rest of the English speaking world we misinterpret the malevolent power that is represented by the Quenelle.  The excuse that it is no more than a symbol of social disharmony and the muted articulation of French frustration has not prevented some from seeing in it the slow break down of French society; while for others it is nothing less than a portent of the collapse of civil society. The Quenelle is symbolic of all that is dysfunctional within society, a visual representation of the poison within. We seem to have ignored the simple undiluted fundamental here.  The Quenelle is a modern Nazi salute. Does it matter whether it is left wing Nazism, right wing Nazism or Islam that fuels its popularity?

If we have re-awoken to an era of distractions, of rediscovered faith outside of faith, of devotion to the mundane as well as the hateful, it is perhaps no more than our latest descent into a void characterised by barbarism.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Slavery, Islam and the Arab world-view

We all accept that slavery is bad but ignore the reality, which is that without Islam, slavery would never have become as pervasive as it was, or is, today.  We accept the Atlantic (Western) slave trade as if it was possible to exclude the crucial contribution to that trade made by the Arab slave traders. But without the Arab slave trade, without their physical labor and the financial benefit they derived from it, little of the western trade would have been possible. It was possible because that trade was at least eight centuries older than the Atlantic slave trade. The Muslim Prophet Mohamed did not refute the legitimacy of the slave trade. In fact the taking of slaves was encouraged as war ‘booty’. He saw it as a normal economic activity that benefited the Arab people. Because the Arab people were ‘gifted’ the Koran by Mohammed, they were the only and true ‘Chosen people’ and their racial superiority became part of the legacy of their history and of their successful conquest across three continents (Africa, Asia and Europe). Contempt for the ‘Other’ as personified in the institution of slavery followed the Muslim immigrant everywhere.

This ethnic bigotry was part fashion (fair skinned slaves being favored as concubines), part history (successful conquest equates with self-justification for the means employed and the profits enjoyed) and finally, part Koranic incitement (the Islamic faithful were exercising their right to benefit from the willful attitude of non-Muslims in not converting to the true faith).  The ease with which black slaves were seized made for the reinforcement of this prejudice which often saw the captive placed on a level little higher than beasts.   Europeans often fared little better. 

The racial aspect of the Arab trade was an inevitable reaction to Western engagement with the Arab world in the 18th and 19th Centuries – which was on Christian terms, not Muslim. But European nationalism and the intellectual expression of racial theories in the 19th Century soon found resonance in an Islamic world fed a narrative of millennia old, blood drenched glory against the infidel.  After all, if the Arabs were gifted Gods favor, then infidel encroachment must have a purpose. Islamic faith was (and is) inseparable from imperial endeavor so this violation of Muslim-Arab suzerainty could (and still is) only possible to explain in theological terms, as testing the resolution of the faithful.

Ronald Segal wrote in ‘Islam’s Black Slaves’ that slavery in Islam was mainly a service industry. “Slavery itself was primarily a form of consumption rather than a factor of production.”  There existed in Arab lands a substantial peasant class so early attempts at using slave-labor for production ended very badly.  Uprisings and massacres (the Zanj Revolt for example) were of unbelievable scope (according to the 10th Century historian al-Masudi 300,000 people died in Basra alone). So instead, usually, slaves were utilized as concubines, servants and soldiers.  In fact, while the ratio of male to female slaves in the Atlantic slave trade was 2:1 in favor of men (as an indicator of slave use as a unit of production), in the Muslim world the ratio was reversed (2:1 in favor of women as an indicator of slave use as a unit of service).

While the manumission (freeing) of slaves was certainly encouraged, in opposition to this, Slavery was heavily regulated by Sharia law.  In distinct contradiction to the Atlantic slave trade, slaves and former slaves could attain great status in the Muslim world, but they experienced a terrible mortality rate. And the soldier slave could be killed at will.  This kept the slave trade active well into the twentieth century and it continues to this day because the Islamic faithful do not view any part of the Koran as time specific.

In the Muslim world there is no precedent for the legal annulment of a theological mandate. In this Muslim world, the institution of Slavery is an economic resource that is mandated by God; therefore, it cannot be theologically abrogated. To the purist, the trade is strictly and humanely administered, the safeguards laid down as holy writ. But if the sanction against abuse exists, it has been violated so often, and so egregiously, we can only conclude that prejudice and ideas of superior racial purpose make the institution of slavery an ideal means for demonstrating power. And to the fundamentalist, what took place in the Seventh Century is as relevant today as it was fourteen centuries ago. To paraphrase Thomas Mann: Compassion, veils her face.

Today, Slavery remains as it has always been, a blemish smeared across the human stage. Two short examples will suffice:

Saudi Arabia abolished slavery in 1962 but it needed further legislation in 1990 to reinforce the original law. In 2007 Slavery was abolished for the fifth time in the Islamic republic of Mauritania.

At a conference organized by UN Watch in February 2013 it was explained that “some 20 percent of Mauritanians, about 600,000 people, are still slaves. Mauritania uses Sharia to justify a racist system where Arabs exploit the country's black African population.” In fact the number of people enslaved is believed to be somewhere between 600,000 and 800,000. In another case: “Saudi Princess Meshael Alayban was accused of human trafficking in the U.S., this has caused a stir throughout the world” but how was this story uncovered? “A few weeks ago, the victim, identified as 'Jane Doe,' escaped Alayban’s home where she alleges she was forced to work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week; her passport held by Alayban to prevent escape. Jane Doe then flagged down a bus, explained her situation to another passenger who helped her phone police. When the police went to investigate, they found four other women at the home claiming to be in the same situation.” 31st July 2013

I watched Steve McQueen’s movie, ‘12 years a Slave’. For me it was grueling, for the black woman next to me it was worse and from time to time she quietly sobbed. I understood why. I cannot sit though a movie about the Shoah. I would not have voluntarily chosen this one either, nevertheless, ‘12 years a slave’ stands as a reminder that the fruits of inaction are an assumption of indifference and through indifference, approval.

Today there are estimated to be thirty million human beings held as slaves around the world. They generate some thirty billion dollars worth of income to their slave owners.