Saturday, July 16, 2005

More comment re London 7/7

A warning from the past that the BBC does not want us to hear

Charles Moore

Daily Telegraph 16 July 2005

A small news item this week announced that BBC Radio 4 had dropped its dramatisation of John Buchan's Greenmantle from the schedule. It contained "unsuitable and insensitive material" at this difficult time. A different reaction, you may remember, from the one the BBC displayed to another of its programmes: Jerry Springer - the Opera.
Quite a lot of Christians complained that the material there was unsuitable and insensitive (Jesus, so far as I recall, was shown as an adult wearing nappies), but the broadcast went ahead anyway. The BBC said that it would not be dictated to. Faced with potential Muslim anger, its courage is less visible.
It is a pity that we are not allowed to listen to Greenmantle, particularly just now. As many Buchan fans will remember, it has some things to say about religion, conflict and the interests of this country.
The book appeared in the middle of the First World War, and one of its propaganda purposes was to get America in on our side (which happened the following year, 1917). This explains the otherwise superfluous presence of a character called Mr Blenkiron, a fat, brave, dyspeptic American, who joins the heroes' clandestine struggle against Germany.
The details of the plot are almost unimaginably silly, but such is the power of the story-telling and of the book's big idea that the reader hardly notices. The big idea is that, to win in the East and thus to win the whole war, Germany needs to annex the dreams of Islam ("I fancy religion is the only thing to knit up such a scattered empire... There is a jihad preparing").
To do this, Germany needs to control a mystical Muslim figure who can "madden the remotest Moslem peasant with dreams of Paradise". The Germans seek such a man in the mysterious Greenmantle. But the true, "honourable" Greenmantle is dying, and the Germans have a devilish scheme for passing off a false holy man (I won't give away the twist) under his colours.
The plan is foiled by Richard Hannay and Sandy Arbuthnot, a "wonderful fine horseman, with his firm English hunting seat". When Sandy turns to the German arch-villainness and says, "You must know, Madam, that I am a British officer," she realises that her game is up.
One message of the book is the importance of understanding cultures different from our own. This produces a sympathy with Islam. Sandy, who knows "something of the soul of the East", explains that: "The Turk and the Arab came out of big spaces, and they have the desire of them in their bones. They settle down and stagnate, and by and by they degenerate into that appalling subtlety which is their ruling passion gone crooked.
"And then comes a new revelation and a great simplifying. They want to live face to face with God without a screen of ritual and images and priestcraft... It isn't inhuman. It's the humanity of one part of the human race."
The problem comes, Buchan/Arbuthnot says, when this longing for purity is perverted. The "simplicity of the ascetic" is usurped by "the simplicity of the madman that grinds down all the contrivances of civilisation". The danger comes when "you can get the same language to cover both". Isn't that quite a good way of encapsulating our problem today?
True, we are not facing direct threat from another nation. There is no war. But in some ways, the situation is more dire, because the threat is in our midst. As we now know, some of our own, native citizens have successfully conspired to kill us and themselves, because they listened to that "same language". They found people, not just in Pakistan, but in Yorkshire, who would pour it into their ears.
So there has to be a huge purging of language, a careful sifting of what is legitimate from what is evil. And whenever the evil is found, it must be punished. At present, the trend is still the other way. The language is like a river in spate - muddy, turbid, full of flotsam and jetsam.
This muddle of language is not confined to the extremists, and therefore is not easy to isolate. The Leeds Grand Mosque, for example, is, so far as I know, a mainstream institution. Its leaders have readily joined in the condemnation of the London attacks.
But if you read their Friday sermons you find that running through many of them is a constant streak of paranoia, dark talk of a wicked "Great Middle East Plan", of "threats and conspiracies which are devised against Islam".
One sermon on "youth", young men like the three down the road who planted the bombs, tells the teenagers at which it aims how marvellous were the military conquests carried out by the young followers of the Prophet and how today "Your Islam, your religion, is being targeted".
No, sermons like this do not say that the hearers should go out and kill people, and no doubt the preachers do not believe that they should, but they do not say that they should not kill, and they stoke up anger. How much can you incite anger, and then throw up your hands in horror when young men take their rage to a bloody conclusion?
On the Today programme on Thursday, Inayat Bunglawala appeared on behalf of the mainstream Muslim Council of Britain. He condemned the "killing of all innocent people" which sounds fine, but leaves room for dispute about who is innocent and allows you to get in your pitch about other killings.
Sure enough, Mr Bunglawala's next shot, unprompted, was to attack Israel for making "nauseating" political capital out of the blasts. Asked about the support for suicide bombing by a leader of the Muslim Association of Britain (an affiliate of the MCB), he said that "I understand why he feels such pain for the Palestinians".
Asked why his MCB colleague had attended a memorial service for Sheikh Yassin, the spiritual leader of the terrorist organisation Hamas, Mr Bunglawala said that Yassin had been a "renowned Muslim scholar".
Translate the muddy language. The murder of British citizens is seen as an occasion to criticise Israel. Support for suicide bombers, though regrettable, is in effect defended; and one leader of the bombers, it is said, should be respected in death, because he was a Muslim scholar.
What is happening to a religion when its scholars are telling people to kill others and themselves? The BBC is notoriously shy of using the word "terrorist" about people who plant bombs: would "renowned Muslim scholar" be a useful substitute?
I said earlier that we are not facing a direct threat from another nation, but one does notice that, for western Muslims, the word "nation", in sermons and teaching, seldom means the country in which they reside and of which they are usually citizens, but the faith of which they are a part.
That creates a tension, does it not? When Sandy Arbuthnot rejects the wicked German's temptation to join her jihad, he says "I am the servant of my country, and her enemies are mine. I can have neither part nor lot with you." When will that message be heard in every British mosque, every Friday?

The sobering of America US foreign policy is getting better - and that's partly because Iraq has got worse

Timothy Garton Ash

Guardian June 30, 2005

[See the last paragraph]

To return to America after an absence of six months is to find a nation sobered by reality. The reality of debt and lost jobs. The reality of rising China. Above all, the reality of Iraq.
This new sobriety was exemplified by President Bush's speech at Fort Bragg on Tuesday night. Beforehand, as the camera panned across row upon row of soldiers in red berets, the television commentator warned us that the speech might last a long time, since it was likely to be interrupted by numerous rounds of heartfelt applause from this loyal military audience. In fact, the audience interrupted him with applause just once. Once! Lines that during last autumn's election rallies drummed up a certain storm ("We will not allow our future to be determined by car bombers and assassins") were now met with a deafening silence. Stolidly they sat, the serried soldiers, clean-shaven, square-jawed, looking slightly bored and, in at least one case that I spotted, rhythmically chewing gum.

Article continues

Bush ploughed on with his sober, rather wooden speech, wearing that curious, rigid half-smile of his, with the mouth turning down rather than up at each end. A demi-rictus. The eerie silence made him look, at moments, like a stand-up comic whose jokes were falling flat; but of course this was no laughing matter. Afterwards, the same television commentators who had warned us to expect rounds of applause speculated, with an equally authoritative air, that the White House had suggested restraint to this audience, so it would not look as if the president was both requesting blanket coverage from the television networks and exploiting the nation's military for the purposes of a party-political rally. But then perhaps soldiers who actually risk their lives for Bush's policies in Iraq, and have lost comrades there, would not have been in a great mood to applaud anyway. Afterwards, as he mingled with the troops in the hall, their faces showed little more than mild curiosity at the prospect of meeting their commander-in-chief.
Bush's Fort Bragg speech once again presented Iraq as part of the global war on terror - the Gwot. He mentioned the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks five times; weapons of mass destruction not once. We have to defeat the terrorists abroad, he said, before they attack us at home. As freedom spreads in the Middle East, the terrorists will lose their support. Then he made this extraordinary statement: "To complete the mission, we will prevent al-Qaida and other foreign terrorists from turning Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban - a safe haven from which they could launch attacks on America and our friends."
Consider. Three years ago, when the Bush administration started ramping up the case for invading Iraq, Afghanistan had recently been liberated from both the Taliban and the al-Qaida terrorists who had attacked the US. There was still a vast amount to be done to make Afghanistan a safe place. Iraq, meanwhile, was a hideous dictatorship under Saddam Hussein. But, as the United States' own September 11 commission subsequently concluded, Saddam's regime had no connection with the 9/11 attacks. Iraq was not then a recruiting sergeant or training ground for jihadist terrorists. Now it is. The US-led invasion, and Washington's grievous mishandling of the subsequent occupation, have made it so. General Wesley Clark puts it plainly: "We are creating enemies." And the president observes: our great achievement will be to prevent Iraq becoming another Taliban-style, al-Qaida-harbouring Afghanistan! This is like a man who shoots himself in the foot and then says: "We must prevent it turning gangrenous, then you'll understand why I was right to shoot myself in the foot."
In short, whether or not the invasion of Iraq was a crime, it's now clear that - at least in the form in which the invasion and occupation was executed by the Bush administration - it was a massive blunder. And the American people are beginning to see this. Before Bush spoke at Fort Bragg, 53% of those asked in a CNN/Gallup poll said it was a mistake to go into Iraq. Just 40% approved of how he has handled Iraq, down from 50% at the time of the presidential election last November. Contrary to what many Europeans believe, you can fool some of the Americans all of the time, and all of the Americans some of the time, but you can't fool most Americans most of the time - even with the help of Fox News. Reality gets through. Hence the new sobriety.
I don't want to overstate this. One is still gobsmacked by things American Republicans say. Take the glorification of the military, for example. In his speech, Bush insisted "there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces". What? No higher calling! How about being a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, an aid worker? Unimaginable that any European leader could say such a thing.
None the less, here are a few indicators of the new sobriety. First of all, neocons are no longer calling the shots. As a well-informed Washingtonian tells me, the nominations of Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank and John Bolton to be ambassador to the UN actually show they have been kicked upstairs. There is little talk now of proud unilateralism and America winning the Gwot on its own. Everyone stresses the importance of allies. Bush quoted with approval Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, on our shared interest in a stable Iraq, and proudly averred that "Iraqi army and police are being trained by personnel from Italy, Germany, Ukraine, Turkey, Poland, Romania, Australia and the United Kingdom".
The state department, under Condoleezza Rice, is setting out to repair old American alliances and to forge new ones. One of America's most dynamically developing alliances is with India, a country in which America is also much loved. If anyone in Foggy Bottom (the wonderfully named neighbourhood of the state department) feels a twinge of schadenfreude at the crisis of the EU, they are not showing it. They want a strong European partner too. On Iran, which even six months ago threatened to become a new Iraq crisis, the US is letting the so-called E3 - Britain, France and Germany - take the diplomatic lead. Even with the election of a hardline Iranian president, military options are not being seriously canvassed. And if the European diplomacy with Iran does not work, what is Washington's plan B? To take the issue to the United Nations! What a difference three years make.
Schröder is right, of course. It would be suicidally dumb for any European to think, in relation to Iraq, "the worse the better". Jihadists now cutting their teeth in Iraq will make no fine distinctions between Washington and London, Berlin or Madrid. Any reader tempted to luxuriate schadenfreudishly in the prospect of a Vietnam-style US evacuation from Baghdad may be woken from that reverie by the blast from a bomb, planted in Charing Cross tube station by an Iraq-hardened terrorist. But it is a fair and justified historical observation that American policy has got better - more sober, more realistic - at least partly because things in Iraq have gone so badly. This is the cunning of history.


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