Archive for August 2006

Stop Making Sense

August 30, 2006

I count myself as a fan and admirer of Salman Rushdie‘s novelistic work. And in recent years I have been deeply impressed with some of his polemical efforts. He has been a steady voice of reason on the left, a voice which has exhibited – pardon the overused and much-abused phrase – moral clarity. And so I eagerly sat down to read a wide-ranging interview he recently gave to the terrific German magazine Der Spiegel. In which I came across the following exchange:

SPIEGEL:
So are Bush and Blair going too far?

Rushdie: This is the problem with politicians who by nature tend towards being authoritarian: When they are given the chance, they go too far. We have to watch out there. I find it deeply depressing that the Anglo-American politics and Arab politics are currently corroborating each other — that is: their worst prejudices. Take a look at Iraq, at Lebanon. There is no just side in either conflict. But at the same time we need moral clarity, something I have often missed recently in many liberally minded people — and I myself am liberal. We need clarity about what is right and wrong, the willingness to defend our values with clear words and to actually call the guilty persons guilty.

Leaving aside whether Bush or Blair have authoritarian personalities, I am left scratching my head wondering what in the hell Rushdie is struggling to say. Obviously, he is trying to balance his criticism of Bush and Blair with his detestation of those who accord themselves divine sanction to slaughter and terrorize. But instead, he uttered an inane and flatulent sentence, and from what I know of Rushdie, I do not think it intentional. For it is almost comical to read him saying that in Iraq and Lebanon there is “no just side in either conflict.” Excuse me?

As I have previously written, when it comes to the unfortunate war in Lebanon and northern Israel, decent minds cannot be neutral in a battle between irredentist religious fanatics who fight as a proxy force for an expansionist theocratic regime in Tehran and a liberal democracy defending itself. To write this is not to support every specific action Israel (or the United States) takes in an effort to defend herself, but it is to take a stand. Thoughtful people can differ on the best strategy Israel (and the United States) should undertake in her own defense. But let us at least be clear about who is struggling for a tyrannical future and who is struggling for something far more honorable.

What is most irksome about the Rushdie statement is that he jumps directly from making an equivalency between warring parties in Iraq and Lebanon directly to a call for “moral clarity” – (“We need clarity about what is right and wrong, the willingness to defend our values with clear words and to actually call the guilty persons guilty.”) The juxtaposition here is jarring and unfortunate. Rushdie is better than that.

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Sweets and Tear Gas

August 30, 2006

From Sudan, an intriguing study in contrasts. On the one hand, we have a manufactured anti-US and UN protest at the prospect of international intervention to stop the Sudanese government’s campaign of massacre in Darfur. (It should be noted though that, however orchestrated, the government can still produce a sizable and no doubt genuinely enraged cacophony – never forget that tyrants have constituents.) The placards proclaiming the protesters desire for “peace” (above) are particularly and grimly ironic. On Monday, Amnesty International reported an ominous new build-up of Sudanese military forces in Darfur.

On the other hand, we have what appears to be an actual grassroots opposition rally protesting rising sugar and gas prices, that attempted to demonstrate at the same time nearby. “The oil we have goes straight into the government’s pockets and not to the people. People need democracy – this is just the beginning,” protester Sarah Lugdallah told Reuters. The Sudanese authorities proceeded to savagely disperse the rally, beating journalists and firing canisters of tear gas as banner-clutching demonstrators fled baton-wielding riot police. The anti-UN rally went on unharassed. “They give out sweets at one protest and tear gas bombs at the other,” said one Sudanese bystander.

Free Speech in Africa

August 29, 2006

“The conditions of press freedom and freedom of expression are deteriorating rapidly or systematically in all regions of Africa.”

So says the Network of African Freedom of Expression Organizations (NAFEO). At a June meeting in Lagos, Nigeria NAFEO took note of significant increase in the arrests, detention, repression and harassment of journalists and other media professionals, singling out six countries for particular opprobrium:

• The Gambia
• Ethiopia
• Eritrea
• Zimbabwe
• Tunisia, and
• Swaziland

NAFEO is planning a campaign to pressure governments to repeal laws criminalizing press offenses and to free individuals who have been detained or imprisoned for exercising their free speech rights. We will keep you posted. 

“Violence in Search of a Cause”

August 29, 2006

I don’t usually link to opinion or news analysis columns, both because it strikes me as a little cannibalistic and because my esteemed blogging partner is better at it than me. But this column from Times writer, “decent” leftist and bete noire of common-or-garden lefties David Aaronovitch is so arresting and insightful (at least to me) that I felt compelled to share his thoughts. Essentially, Aaronovitch points out what perhaps should be obvious: terrorists, or at least the current generation of Islamist ones, are not misguided champions of the wretched of the Earth or desperate purveyors of Stygian rage provoked by the West’s injustice (see anything by Noam Chomsky or Arundhati Roy) but simply psychopaths: self-pitying, with an epic sense of aggrieved entitlement, a fantasy of lost or plundered grandeur and an almost total lack of sympathy, let alone empathy, for their victims.

Something to Hide?

August 29, 2006

The Sudanese government has detained Pulitzer-prize winning foreign correspondent Paul Salopek and charged him as a spy after he crossed into Darfur from Chad without a visa a few weeks ago. Given that the government-backed slaughter and forced starvation of hundreds of thousands in Darfur is now common (if largely ignored) knowledge, one wonders what secrets Mr. Salopek was supposedly trying to get his hands on.

Candor? In Gaza?

August 29, 2006

Yes, I know: unbelieveable. But true!

Ghazi Hamad, the spokesman for the Hamas-led Palestinian government, penned an article in Al Ayyam placing much of the blame for anarchy in Gaza on the armed thugs that have come to rule the streets. “We’ve all been attacked by the bacteria of stupidity,” Mr. Hamad wrote. “We have lost our sense of direction.” He addressed the armed groups: “Please have mercy on Gaza. Have mercy on us from your demagogy, chaos, guns, thugs, infighting. Let Gaza breathe a bit. Let it live.”

Of even more potential import , Hamad questioned the utility of firing rockets into Israel that cause few casualties but result in many Palestinian deaths when the Israelis retaliate.

Creepy Incompetence in Boulder

August 29, 2006

For the past ten years prosecutorial and investigative blunders stemming from the murder of Jon Benet Ramsey have hung heavily around the neck of the Boulder, Colorado district attorney office and the police department. And then, out of nowhere, comes news that a suspect has been found, in Thailand of all places. He is a creepy looking guy (as one would expect of such an insidious culprit) and his journey from Bangkok to Boulder was covered with great thoroughness by every major media outlet. The suspect, John Karr, even had a surreal press conference in Thailand in which he said cryptic and spooky things like that he was with Jon Benet at the time of her death.

But from the outset there was never any evidence in the media that linked Karr to the crime. Cable TV news was forced to speculate for hours on end. Of course, they had no problem doing so. And yet, you had to figure that with the dark cloud of incompetence that has hung over Boulder law enforcement because of this case, the authorities had to have something very concrete linking Karr to the murder.

It now turns out that after all the fanfare, the spilled ink, and the hours of inane televised chatter, the only thing linking Karr to the murder was his own confession. A DNA sample provided by Karr does not match the DNA found out at the scene of the crime. Why this could not have been determined by obtaining a DNA sample from Karr in Thailand remains unclear. What is clear is that the Boulder DA has one-upped themselves when it comes to their legendary incompetence. This time it is simply staggering.

The only positive note to come out of this is that Karr will now be turned over to authorities in California where he is wanted on charges possessing child pornography. Although may be innocent of the Ramsey murder, Karr is clearly a deranged, sexually perverse individual who seems to have built his entire life around the goal of having easy access to school-age girls.

How long until heads roll in Boulder? Not soon enough.