IT'S OUR FIFTH ANNIVERSARY! CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION. Wednesday, October 31, 2001
SO IT WAS A WARNING: "[T]he closer scientists look at the spores that have traveled through the mail, the more impressed and concerned they have become. Alan Zelicoff, senior scientist at the Center for National Security and Arms Control at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, said investigators need to begin to focus less on the microbiology than the physics, which is impressive. "We didn't think that anybody could come up with the appropriate coatings for anthrax spores to make them float through the air with the greatest of ease," Zelicoff said, adding that exposing 28 people with a single opened envelope "is no mean trick." And C.J. Peters, director of the Center for Biodefense at the University of Texas at Galveston, said that someone who has learned to produce two grams of anthrax spores milled to one to five microns -- as was true of the spores mailed to Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) - could just as easily produce two kilograms of the stuff." - Washington Post. What are the odds that a domestic crack-pot group would have been sufficiently prepared to capitalize on September 11 by having this kind of sophisticated anthrax ready and waiting? It seems clearer to me every day that biological warfare has already been launched on the United States. - 11:50:37 PM
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on that strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The Statesman who yields to war fever must realise that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events. Antiquated War Offices, weak, incompetent or arrogant Commanders, untrustworthy allies, hostile neutrals, malignant Fortune, ugly surprises, awful miscalculations all take their seat at the Council Board on the morrow of a declaration of war. Always remember, however sure you are that you can easily win, that there would not be a war if the other man did not think he also had a chance." - Winston Churchill, "My Early Life," 1930.
SHOULD IT BE A 'WAR'?: British historian Michael Howard gave a penetrating speech yesterday warning of the dangers of this war. His critique deserves serious thought. His is a criticism that doesn't come from defeatism or leftist relativism. He wants us to win, and his critique is designed to facilitate that. Besides, his analysis of the broader context seems to me to be correct, i.e. "the huge crisis that has faced that vast and populous section of the world stretching from the Mahgreb through the Middle East and central Asia into South and South-East Asia and beyond to the Philippines: overpopulated, underdeveloped, being dragged headlong by the West into the post-modern age before they have come to terms with modernity. This is not a problem of poverty as against wealth, and I am afraid that it is symptomatic of our western materialism to suppose that it is. It is the far more profound and intractable confrontation between a theistic, land-based and traditional culture, in places little different from the Europe of the Middle Ages, and the secular material values of the Enlightenment." Nicely put.
STILL A WAR: At the same time, I think Howard is wrong in asserting that the very denomination of this conflict as a 'war' is a mistake. He's right to point out that al Qaeda and other fanatical sects gain some prestige by being named a formal enemy. But they had already gained that prestige by the stunning success of their brutal assault on America. Besides, they are also a de facto state, since the Taliban regime is essentially a client of the terrorists and indistinguishable from them. So 'war' is indeed the correct term for the first part of this campaign, and this war needs to be conducted with as much ferocity as possible against the Taliban regime. That regime must be destroyed; and al Qaeda's nerve center must be obliterated. Perhaps in the second phase, such terminology can be relinquished - as the campaign goes beyond al Qaeda to terrorism in other states and entities. Howard's judgment as to the qualities required for such a conflict seem to me to be right on: "secrecy, intelligence, political sagacity, quiet ruthlessness, covert actions that remain covert, above all infinite patience." He is right too that "all these are forgotten or overridden in a media-stoked frenzy for immediate results, and nagging complaints if they do not get them." But that is where we are in Afghanistan, and the best response is to wage a full war now, and transform it into a calmer, but just as ruthless campaign thereafter.
A VIRAL ANALOGY: I know it's subjective, but I can't help relating this struggle to the battle against HIV. At first we longed for a "cure," and there was no breakthrough. Many experienced anger as the deaths mounted and the enemy seemed elusive. The first avenues of attack ran aground. But gradually, as our learning curve soared upward, and as anger turned to grief-stricken patience and iron resolution, progress was made. Even now, though, there is no absolute victory. The virus has not been defeated. It still exists in every single living person who was once infected with HIV. Infection cannot be reversed or undone. But success is measured by how powerfully it has been repressed, and by the ability of people with HIV to live as normal lives as possible. This is perhaps a model for countering terrorism in the long run. By eschewing the chimera of a cure, we can advance the possibility of a real treatment. And if the treatment is effective enough, it amounts, in the fallible world we live in, to a cure by any other name. - 6:33:14 PM
WHERE'S OSAMA?: Interesting piece from Arab News, speculating on where bin Laden could be hiding. The author makes a plausible case that it wouldn't be that hard to narrow it down, however difficult it might be to finish the job. I think we have to be wary of over-complicating our task in Afghanistan. It's doable, if tricky.
SONTAG AWARD NOMINEE: "America must have its vengeance. We're not the kind of people to sit around and mourn a few thousand dead office workers when there's some serious ass to kick. So we'll bomb or invade or something. It won't work, but that doesn't matter. It's what we do." - columnist and cartoonist Ted Rall on why we should surrender to terrorism.
- 10:58:49 AM
THE SUPERIORITY OF THE WEST?: Here's an essay you would never read in a major American newspaper (except perhaps the Wall Street Journal). It's published in the left-wing magazine, New Statesman, which makes it all the more remarkable. It's by Peter Watson, who recently wrote a book, "The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century." For the book, he interviewed intellectuals and scholars across the world for an overview of the leading innovations and new ideas of the twentieth century. There was surprising consensus about the various breakthroughs in science, and the arts. Then he writes: "What shocked me were my interviews with scholars of non-western cultures. Here, I am referring not only to western specialists in the great non-western traditions, but scholars who were themselves born into those traditions - Arab archaeologists or writers, economists and historians from India and China, poets and dramatists from Japan and Africa. All of them - there were no exceptions - said the same thing. In the 20th century, in the modern world, there were no non-western ideas of note." No non-western ideas of note. The man will be accused of ethnocentrism, of course - but then why do all the non-western scholars agree with him? It seems to me they're onto something, and this knowledge, which is largely verboten in civilized society, is a critical part of our current situation. One way of dealing with the vast disparity between western and non-western achievement is simply to negate the rationality of any such judgment - hence postmodernism. Another is to blame everything on Western colonialism - hence post-colonialism. Another, among the less deluded, is simply rage. If you grew up in a place that was, to all intents and purposes, culturally and intellectually moribund, how would you feel about the cultural and military hegemon? I think it would take enormous open-mindedness not to feel some resentment and envy. A more likely response among the not-so-virtuous is simply hatred for the symbols of such glaring cultural and material success. I do believe a certain kind of politico-religious fanaticism is a part of the Islamo-fascist equation. But I also think that Nietzsche was right in diagnosing that one of the most powerful and destructive forces of our time is simply resentment of others' achievements. This crisis has highlighted the most extreme form of that resentment in the Islamic world - and all the pettier forms that are busy rallying, half-embarrassed, half-terrified, to its defense.
WORTHY OF CLINTON: "'We want to brand Tom Ridge,' a White House official said. "When people see him, we want them to think, 'My babies are safe.''" - from Tuesday's Washington Post.
REPUBLICANS AND GAYS: Two recent stories show how deep the shift is among Bush Republicans toward greater acceptance and equality for gay citizens and their families. An Associated Press story highlights the appointment of openly gay Scott Evertz to oversee policy towards HIV and AIDS and of Michael Guest and his husband to the American embassy in Romania. In these two appointments, Bush outdid Clinton, although the number of openly gay appointees in this administration is still woefully tiny. The story also points out the Bush administration's maintenance of anti-discrimination policies in the federal government. It might have added the defense of pharmaceutical profits and therefore HIV research. We're not close to equality yet, but these steps show a real and sensible thaw, and give the lie to those who argued last fall that the Bush administration would have meant a huge step backward for gay equality. Frankly, I'd rather have these gay appointments made entirely on the basis of merit without a song and dance about it than the gay quota-mongering and financial shake-down operation of the Clinton years. Then yesterday, yet another leading Republican came out in favor of equal treatment of gay and straight couples: former president Gerald Ford. In an interview with the dependably fair Detroit News columnist, Deb Price, Ford was asked about gay couples. Ford said: "I think they ought to be treated equally. Period." He went on: 'I have always believed in an inclusive party, in welcoming gays and others into the party." So we now have Republican titans Ford and the late Barry Goldwater on the side of gay inclusion, leading lights like Alan Simpson and Mary Matalin on board, and a current president edging clearly toward acceptance. They make some of the anti-gay hysteria on the radical right seem even more irrelevant than it was even before September 11. - 12:30:00 AM
Tuesday, October 30, 2001
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "Any prince who has come to depend entirely on promises and has taken no other precautions ensures his own ruin. Friendship that is bought with money and not with greatness and nobility of mind is paid for, but does not last and it yields nothing. Men worry less about doing an injury to one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared. The bond of love is one which men, wretched creatures that they are, break when it is to their advantage to do so; but fear strengthened by a dread of punishment is always effective." - Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapter XVII.
AMERICAN ANTHRAX: In all the welter of conflicting data about the form of anthrax being wielded against Americans, I found the following article from New Scientist helpful. It leads to the notion that the fine anthrax used, in combination with certain chemical treatment, may well a residue of American experiments ceased and apparently destroyed in the 1960s. This doesn't mean, of course, that domestic terrorists are the culprits. But it does mean that whoever is doing this is smart and capable of far worse. - 7:36:48 PM
STOP KVETCHING ABOUT THE NORTHERN ALLIANCE: It seems clear enough to me that one of the reasons for the lack of sudden progress in the war has been our reluctance to endorse and give full backing to the Northern Alliance. Anne Applebaum has a good, counter-intuitive piece in Slate, pointing out the need to junk this strategy. Whether we like it or not, these guys are the only force capable of ousting the Taliban, short of a massive commitment of ground troops in a terrain treacherous to foreigners and difficult to master. I think we should stop worrying about how popular these people are, and aim directly for our objective, which is the end of the Taliban and the death or capture of every single al Qaeda soldier we can get our hands on. That means backing the Northern Alliance with meaningful force. Similarly, I hope we are preparing to pounce on the alleged thousands of Islamo-fascists gathering on the Afghan border to join the fight. The minute they enter Afghanistan, we should do all we can to bomb these forces with the intent of killing as many as possible. Their gathering in one place is a mighty convenient way to counter-attack. Salon editor David Talbot recently urged, with typical inanity, that we should wage war and peace at the same time. I say this is loopy. We are at war. The only objective in war is victory. Magnanimity and peace-mongering can come afterwards. Meanwhile, intensify, intensify ... - 3:28:04 PM
GOOD NEWS WATCH: While the media keeps pouring cold water on the war, I received a forwarded email from a young ensign aboard USS Winston Churchill (DDG-81) to her parents. It's verified on the ship's website. It happened a while back, but it's the first i've heard of it. If you need cheering up, read on: "Dear Dad, We are still at sea. The remainder of our port visits have all been canceled. We have spent every day since the attacks going back and forth within imaginary boxes drawn in the ocean, standing high-security watches, and trying to make the best of it. We have seen the articles and the photographs, and they are sickening. Being isolated, I don't think we appreciate the full scope of what is happening back home, but we are definitely feeling the effects. About two hours ago, we were hailed by the German Navy destroyer, Lutjens, requesting permission to pass close by our port side. Strange, since we're in the middle of an empty ocean, but the captain acquiesced and we prepared to render them honors from our bridge wing. As they were making their approach, our conning officer used binoculars and announced that Lutjens was flying not the German, but the American flag. As she came alongside us, we saw the American flag flying half-mast and her entire crew topside standing at silent, rigid attention in their dress uniforms. They had made a sign that was displayed on her side that read "We Stand By You." There was not a dry eye on the bridge as they stayed alongside us for a few minutes and saluted. It was the most powerful thing I have seen in my life. The German Navy did an incredible thing for this crew, and it has truly been the highest point in the days since the attacks. It's amazing to think that only half-century ago things were quite different. After Lutjens pulled away, the Officer of the Deck, who had been planning to get out of the Navy later this year, turned to me and said, 'I'm staying Navy.' I'll write you when I know more about when I'll be home, but this is it for now. Love you guys." - 1:04:36 PM
Monday, October 29, 2001
SOME BRITISH MUSLIMS LEAVE FOR WAR: In the English town of Luton, the call to Jihad is real and strong, especially among some of the young. This report from the Times of London is deeply chilling. Here's Mohammed Abdullah, a 22-year-old accountant, in his own words: "There are people leaving all the time. Not just in Luton, but all over Britain. We, as Muslims, don't perceive ourselves as British Muslims. We are Muslims who live in Britain. All we want to do is go to Afghanistan to defend the honour and sanctity of Islam." The British government has now said that such individuals, if they returned to Britain, would be tried for, among other things, treason. Good for Blair. Meanwhile, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph, a poll of 500 British Muslims between the ages of 20 and 45 found that, "an overwhelming majority - 91 per cent - believed the war was between the Christian West and Islam, while 98 per cent would not fight for Britain. In marked contrast, 48 per cent said they would fight for bin Laden or for Islam." Okay, if that is not a fifth column, could someone please tell me what is?
GOOD NEWS WATCH: I've become so depressed these past couple of weeks, I've decided to add a new feature to the site called simply "Good News Watch." One nugget captured my attention on the way back from Los Angeles today (where I had a great dinner and discussion with an as.com reader and her friends). A report in the Los Angeles Times focused on the startling decline in domestic homicides in the past two decades. According to the Times, "National crime data released last week show that although homicides between spouses increased slightly in 2000, the numbers remain close to a 25-year low at an estimated 900 or so per year. That's down nearly 60% from the more than 2,000 that occurred yearly in the late 1970s. Killings between unmarried lovers also have fallen, to an estimated 732 in 2000, down from about 900 in the mid-1980s." The question is: why? The Times posits the most plausible explanation: divorce. I've long felt that the conservative worry about high divorce rates got only part of the picture. Yes, no-one should doubt the importance of stable two-parent families (gay or straight) for the rearing of children. But no-one should doubt either the horrors that were also part of a marriage system in which women were virtually imprisoned, had few employment opportunities, and were sometimes driven to desperate measures by abusive husbands. That interpretation is borne out by the fact that the biggest drop in spousal murders has been among those committed by women against men. Those women who were driven to kill are now able to escape. That's an unmitigated good thing. And one reason that the looser divorce laws of the last few decades have not been entirely bad news. It seems to me that any critique of higher divorce rates should at least take this aspect of the matter into account.
TOM WOLFE ON SUSAN SONTAG: "The white race is the cancer of human history? Who was this woman? Who and what? An anthropological epidemiologist? A renowned authority on the history of cultures throughout the world, a synthesizer of the magnitude of a Max Weber, a Joachim Wach, a Sir James Frazer, an Arnold Toynbee? Actually, she was just another scribbler who spent her life signing up for protest meetings and lumbering to the podium encumbered by her prose style, which had a handicapped parking sticker valid at Partisan Review. Perhaps she was exceptionally hell-bent on illustrating McLuhan's line about indignation endowing the idiot with dignity, but otherwise she was just a typical American intellectual of the post-World War II period." - from "In The Land of the Rococo Marxists." - 11:38:42 PM
Sunday, October 28, 2001
LETTERS: Have we been nuked already?; a libertarian recants after September 11; etc.
TWO NEW PIECES: My recent output just posted opposite: a reflection on the anti-semitism behind Islamo-fascism; and an assessment of Bush's faith and how it impacts this crisis.
DERBYSHIRE AWARD NOMINEE: "A strong case can be made that the Government regulations, along with a lack of private property responsibility, contributed to this tragedy, but what is proposed? More regulations and even a takeover of all airport security by the Government." - libertarian Ron Paul, proving that it's not just lefties who are having a hard time adjusting to the new world. - 6:59:22 PM
STEADY NERVES NEEDED: The media was full of panic stories over the weekend. We're losing! Bin Laden is still alive! Abdul Haq was killed! Quagmire! The usual panic-mongers - poor Maureen needs a vacation - are having cows. The cynics, like Frank Rich in Saturday's Times, can't wait to get back to lambasting the president for his corporate ties and the mess that's pretty evident in our attempt to mount a homeland defense. Some of such criticism is valid and important. The administration does need a kick in the butt on its passivity and disorganization in the face of bio-warfare. But much of the rest is so September 10. Look, this is going to be a long, long war. To his great credit, president Bush told us as much weeks ago. The Washington Post gets it right today with another sane editorial (the Post is fast becoming the essential national newspaper in this conflict). Sure, we need to adjust. More ground troops and fiercer attacks on the Taliban are necessary, as John McCain has argued. Military considerations - acts of self-defense, remember - should take immediate precedence over diplomatic coalition-managing. What Powell doesn't seem to understand is that there's no more persuasive diplomatic argument than military victory. So I'm sorry, but Ramadan should provide no respite for our war. And we have some good news. Much of the Taliban hard infrastructure is history. Much of the military machinery for an effective campaign are now in place. If Bob Woodward is to be believed, the anthrax campaign might have been pioneered by domestic crackpots. If this is true (and I still have my doubts), then it's very good news. It means that whatever second strike al Qaeda was planning against us has either failed or been postponed. It means that the gruesome logic that would have meant massive escalation in response to a foreign government's bio-terror can be avoided. We'll see. But I'm an optimist on this war. We've already taken a much-delayed strike at al Qaeda's network; we have revamped our laws to get a better grip on them; we have cut off their financing; we have set up a credible if still imperfect international police effort to track them. Let's keep our perspective and keep our nerve. These are very early days. And the cause is just.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "The London "Left" intelligentsia are now completely defeatist, look on the situation as hopeless and all but wish to surrender. How easy it ought to have been to foresee." - George Orwell, July 1940. It took the left intelligentsia almost a year in 1940 to submit to defeatism. It has taken them three weeks to get there today against a far less formidable foe. I was reminded of this quote by a terrific piece by Geoffrey Wheatcroft in Sunday's Observer. Orwell also got something else uncannily right: "These people live almost entirely in a masturbation fantasy, conditioned by the fact that nothing they say or do will ever influence events, not even the turning out of a single shell." Orwell: now more than ever.
SONTAG REMEMBERED: Mercifully, no professor ever forced me to read Susan Sontag and the only things I had really read were "Illness As Metaphor," which I read when I got HIV and found completely useless, and "Notes on Camp," a slight attempt to posture as someone who's hip enough to understand gay subculture. (To be fair, she made several good points.) I hadn't read any of Sontag's other work, and so was surprised to find how deep her hatred of America is. No-one should have been surprised by her knee-jerk blame-America-first reaction to September 11. Here's a quote sent to me by a reader from the penultimate essay in "Styles Of Radical Will," first published in 1966. It speaks for itself: "If America is the culmination of Western white civilization, as everyone from the Left to the Right declares, then there must be something terribly wrong with Western white civilization? The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone --- its ideologies and inventions --- which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself. What the "Mongol" hordes threaten is far less frightening than the damage that Western "Faustian" man, with his idealism, his magnificent art, his sense of intellectual adventure, his world-devouring energies for conquest, has already done, and further threatens to do." Now, the question is this. When someone hates this country that much - and in a dark, racist way - how is one to interpret her ambivalence about a war for the survival of American and Western freedom? - 6:52:23 PM
Saturday, October 27, 2001
A HOWL OF ANGER: I have to say that V.S. Naipaul, the new Nobel laureate, has some very arresting things to say about September 11 in the New York Times Magazine. Since they resonate with my own views - but from someone with an infinitely vaster knowledge of the subject, I'm particularly struck. Here's a selection of the interview:
"Q: What makes Islam's appeal so potent? A: I'll tell you something from the eighth century. The first province of India to be conquered was the province of Sindh, which is today part of Pakistan. The king of Sindh resisted quite well. Then one day it was reported to him how the invaders said their prayers in unity as one man, and the king became frightened. He understood that this was a new force in the world, and it is what in fact Muslims are very proud of: the union of people. That idea of brotherhood is very powerful. Q: What about nonfundamentalist Islam? A: I think it is a contradiction. It can always be called up to drown and overwhelm every movement. The idea in Islam, the most important thing, is paradise. No one can be a moderate in wishing to go to paradise. The idea of a moderate state is something cooked up by politicians looking to get a few loans here and there. Q: What do you think were the causes of Sept. 11? A: It had no cause. Religious hate, religious motivation, was the primary thing. I don't think it was because of American foreign policy. There is a passage in one of the Conrad short stories of the East Indies where the savage finds himself with his hands bare in the world, and he lets out a howl of anger. I think that, in its essence, is what is happening. The world is getting more and more out of reach of simple people who have only religion. And the more they depend on religion, which of course solves nothing, the more the world gets out of reach. The oil money in the 70's gave the illusion that power had come to the Islamic world. It was as though up there was a divine supermarket, and at last it had become open to people in the Muslim world. They didn't understand that the goods that gave them power in the end were made by another civilization. That was intolerable to accept, and it remains intolerable."
MBEKI'S MADNESS: Much of the world has long criticized South African president Thabo Mbeki's criminal lack of response to the AIDS epidemic in his country (although some would rather hammer the pharmaceutical companies who have made HIV a manageable disease). Many, including me, have also hoped that Mbeki would soon see the light. Recent speeches suggest otherwise. Last Wednesday in a speech to parliament, Mbeki called anti-retrovirals a plague in themselves: "I've said to the Minister of Health, have we looked at the radically revised guidelines from the US government issued at the beginning of this year, about treatment with anti-retroviral drugs, where they have said that these drugs are becoming as dangerous to health as the thing they are supposed to treat." A few weeks before, he played the race card against those South African doctors who dissented from their government's dangerously negligent policies. "And thus does it happen" Mbeki argued, "that others who consider themselves to be our leaders take to the streets carrying their placards, to demand that because we are germ carriers, and human beings of a lower order that cannot subject its passions to reason, we must perforce adopt strange opinions, to save a depraved and diseased people from perishing from self-inflicted disease... Convinced that we are but natural-born, promiscuous carriers of germs, unique in the world, they proclaim that our continent is doomed to an inevitable mortal end because of our unconquerable devotion to the sin of lust." This is just kooky - an attempt to dispel Western medicine as equivalent to bigotry. And it would be merely absurd if it weren't leading to the early deaths of millions.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "In the West, we have become habituated to a certain picture, according to which puritan zeal had accompanied the early stages of emergence of a modern economy, but in which its culmination was eventually marked by a very widespread religious lukewarmness and secularization. . . .The virtue inculcated by puritanism leads to a prosperity which subverts that virtue itself, as John Wesley had noted with regret. In the world of Islam, we encounter quite a different situation. Though long endowed with a commercial bourgeoisie and significant urbanization, this civilization failed to engender industrialism; but once industrialism and its various accompaniments had been thrust upon it, and it had experienced not only the resulting disturbance but also some of its benefits, it turned, not at all to secularization, but rather to a vehement affirmation of the puritan version of its own tradition. Perhaps this virtue has not yet been rewarded by a really generalized affluence, but there is little to indicate that a widespread affluence would erode religious commitment. Even the unearned oil-fall wealth has not had this effect." - Ernest Gellner, "Postmodernism, Reason and Religion" (1992). - 10:05:20 PM
Friday, October 26, 2001
NEW YORK: I've spent the last couple of days in New York City and I must say it's cheered me up no end. Apart from friends, the great pleasure has been the frustrating, irritating, grungy normality of it. I was stuck in traffic on Madison Avenue today and I almost felt happy to be there. A new friend even said she felt relieved to see people having fights on the sidewalk again. It reminds me of a button designed by my friend Art Carlson, the philosopher king and opera queen of C.F. Folks' diner on Washington's Nineteenth Street. He got it made a couple of weeks after September 11 so he could wear it on an upcoming trip to the Big Apple. In red, white and blue, the button screamed, "We're Tourists! Act Normal. Jerk Us Around. We Love You, New York." Well, it was great to see New Yorkers jerking people around again - uplifting actually. The place seems far calmer than D.C. My pet theory is that it's because most people in this city have real jobs and don't have to think about the war all day long. In D.C., everyone is thinking about it all the time. It's enough to give you nightmares. But New York's hustle has helped me banish some of those. And then just when you think you've got your life a little integrated again, you smell that weird breeze of burnt plastic and molten metal from as far away as Chelsea, and the dread begins again. - 2:31:02 AM
Thursday, October 25, 2001
FAITH AND FATE: My friend Robert Wright writes a typically incisive piece in Slate about why he believes Islam hasn't become as tolerant of other faiths as modern Christianity. Read the piece to see his arguments in full. His basic point is that economic and social development - by sheer chance in some respects - encouraged a more individualistic and tolerant form of Christianity after the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries. The monolithic rule in non-European parts of the world didn't allow for these experiments in democracy to take root and flourish, and so the Islamic world remains mired, for the most part, in economic stagnation and religious intolerance. I buy some of this, but not all. Here's where I differ. Wright argues that the Islamic texts and Christian ones are virtually interchangeable with regard to the use of violence, and that therefore social and economic context is the primary way to understand why they developed differently. I think this is demonstrably untrue. The call to war and intolerance in Islam is strikingly more pervasive than in Christianity. And although there is plenty of war in the Old Testament, the call to peace - even turning the other cheek to violence - is the principal message of the New Testament, which is the central text for Christians. I think it's impossible to read the Gospel of John and the Koran and not believe that they represent not just different but radically different views of morality. This is particularly true when you realize that Islam came about several centuries after Christianity's moral and spiritual revolution. The fundamental meaning of the Cross is the paradox of triumph through surrender - a thought far, far less prevalent in Islam. That's why the critical argument for social peace in the 17th century - the argument that won - was not just about social peace but about Christian morality itself. Locke argued that forcible conversion was a violation of Christ's teachings - and so should be abandoned. It would have been and still is extremely difficult to make such a Lockean argument from the texts of the Koran as a whole. That's not to say that socio-economic factors weren't involved in Christianity's softening, as well as the sheer experience of gruesome religious wars. It is to say that the meaning of the faith was also central to the shift.
BACK-EDDIES OR TIDE?: The secondary problem with Wright's argument is that modernity is not necessarily the cure for religious fanaticism. You might even argue, as I have, that the withdrawal of Christianity from warfare ironically paved the way for worse, secular fanaticisms from 1789 to 1989. In fact, the alienation of modern life can actually intensify such fanaticism, religious and secular. Wright may be right that in the long run, this might soften. And he fairly concedes that the process could be wrenching. But quite how long the long run is I don't know. Looking at many Muslims in the West - in Northern England and parts of America, for example - one sees a dogged resistance to assimilation by many, as well as integration among a few. The Muslims of France also seem radicalized by their presence in a modern state. What I was trying to explore in my New York Times essay ("This Is A Religious War," posted opposite) was the drama of this relationship between modernity and fundamentalism. I guess, my doubts about a happy resolution stem from my far less optimistic view of world history than Bob's. I don't see faith withering away as the world ages. I see it resurgent and permanently dangerous when allied to political and revolutionary goals - prone to emerge at any time and place. Look at the rise of some fanatical fundamentalism in America in recent years. Only our constitution - not our socio-economic success - keeps this at bay. In the Middle East, we also have a couple of examples of secular democracies dealing with religious fundamentalism, in Israel and Turkey. In both countries, modernization has brought with it less cultural secularism and more militant fundamentalism than, say thirty years ago. You can argue that these are mere back-eddies in a larger tide. But that's scant comfort to those who drown in the meantime. - 6:16:56 PM
PHONY CENSORSHIP CHARGE WATCH: "We've heard this song before, right? In the fifties there was a blacklist, and it ruined lives. If you're anything like me, when you watch any of the dozens of films that have been made about the blacklist, you look at that and think, my God, if I could only transport myself back in time to this period and knock a couple of heads together and say, are you out of your mind? Well, we're there, right now. It's happening all over again." - Aaron Sorkin, West Wing creator, at an Occidental College forum. Thanks to Mickey Kaus for catching this one first. - 5:33:33 PM
Wednesday, October 24, 2001
LETTERS: You tell me to calm down (okay, I'm trying, I'm trying); why NPR is driving some of you nuts; and why the Canadians aren't so bad after all. - 8:41:38 PM
THE RIDICULOUS BIDEN: After Joe Biden's dumb-as-a-doorpost comments about the war in Afghanistan, it's worth taking a look at an excellent piece, published just a tiny bit too soon, by my friend Michael Crowley at the New Republic. It's as good an account of Biden's recent silliness as you'll find.
A BIN LADEN-ANTHRAX LINK?: An interesting report in the Times of London. I agree that we should not jump to conclusions about the source of this anthrax. At the same time, I don't think we should deny what is obviously the likeliest explanation. And we certainly shouldn't stick our heads in the sand because we cannot bear to contemplate what the consequences can and must be.
PATENT NONSENSE: A credible and important study has just come out from a usually liberal source, the Kennedy School of Government (my alma mater) at Harvard. The study was designed to find if restrictive patents on anti-retroviral HIV treatments in Africa were a critical part in preventing an adequate response to the problem. The study found that patents were actually rare in most of Africa, and the main problem was a lack of Western government finance to pay for unpatented medications. Take a look at this interview with Amir Attaran and follow the link to the study itself. The key sentence: "Of the 795 patents we might have found only 172 actually exist, or about 21%. What that means is that in nearly all countries patents are not frequently a barrier to treat people with several of the antiretroviral regimens today. Lack of money explains why the many HIV-positive Africans living in countries with ZERO patented antiretrovirals are not being treated." Ah, but it's so much easier to blame the pharmaceutical companies.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York's skyline. Particularly when one can't see the details. Just the shapes. The shapes and the thought that made them. The sky over New York and the will of man made visible. What other religion do we need? And then people tell me about pilgrimages to some dank pesthole in a jungle where they go to do homage to a crumbling temple, a leering stone monster with a pot belly, created by some leprous savage. Is it beauty and genius that they want to see? Do they seek a sense of the sublime? Let them come to New York, stand on the shore of the Hudson, look and kneel. When I see the city from my window - no, I don't feel how small I am - but I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would like to throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body." - Ayn Rand, "The Fountainhead." - 8:35:16 PM
Tuesday, October 23, 2001
THE UNASKABLE QUESTION: This following awful scenario keeps occurring to me. If we shortly prove that biological warfare has indeed been launched upon the United States from a foreign source, what will our response be? In the past, we have had a doctrine that a biological attack upon American citizens would open the possibility of nuclear response. But against whom? How? Where? This is the bluff that the terrorists have just successfully called. By starting the biological war piece-meal, they have been very smart. Because the casualties are as yet minuscule, and the horror diffuse, the terrorists have managed to both break a previously unthinkable barrier in warfare and yet also avoid anything like a commensurate response. The micro-war we are witnessing is designed to avert the mass outrage that followed September 11, an outrage that has obviously hurt the terrorists badly. So they have tried a sneakier approach and, because of this, they have gotten away with one of their key objectives: to normalize the use of biological weapons. As of now, the government has said nothing coherent about this epochal event, except to continue a war that was launched in response to a separate, conventional attack. The terrorists have therefore won something big, and the Bush administration doesn't even seem to know how to respond. I can see why. If the White House were to say explicitly that it believes this weapon has been used by a named enemy, there would be enormous pressure for an appropriate response. So the administration has been confused in its public utterances, barely able to grasp what has been achieved by the enemy, seemingly unable to articulate a credible response. It seems to me that this passivity must end soon. After all, the White House itself has now been targeted with a biological weapon! We need the president to tell us what exactly the government believes about this anthrax attack, who is behind it, what it means, and what we are going to do in response. If we continue the current, passive strategy, we are not only sowing fear across this country. By our lassitude, we are almost inviting a far larger attack. Perhaps the administration is waiting for some truly huge horror before taking further action. I can see the public relations reasons for this. But isn't it their duty to prevent just such an outrage by retaliating distinctly now? This need not mean nuclear weapons, but it should be separate from our current strategy and fiercer than anything we have yet unleashed. What I'm saying is that the response to this new assault should not be measured by how many people it has killed, but by the new and terrifying means that have been deployed. We must draw a line now, or we will have normalized barbarism for the foreseeable future.
SCHEER MADNESS: "To understand the limits of government-sponsored "unity," we might ask the soldiers of the old Soviet Union. They marched with their pledges and anthems into the treacherous terrain of Afghanistan two decades ago, while at home the dissent that could have saved them from military and economic disaster was systematically squelched." - Robert Scheer, Los Angeles Times. This, of course, is the reductio ad absurdum of the far left's inane cries of censorship, by which they mean immunity from sharp and pointed criticism. Scheer is honestly equating the fate of dissent in the United States today with the fate of dissidents under the Soviet Union. He does this while preening in a mass circulation newspaper. Go figure.
IF WE ARE AT WAR: A superb analysis by Victor Hanson in National Review Online. He gets what we need to do and the challenge our president must urge us to rise to. I know this country is ready. But the last few days have seen worryingly diffuse and reactive signs from our leaders.
THANKS, DAVID TALBOT!: Sunday was our biggest Sunday ever; Monday was our biggest Monday ever. Last weekend was also a quiet step forward for the site. We moved to a whole new server, thanks to your donation dollars. We got too big for the old one. On Monday alone, we had 27,000 visits and 123,000 page views. Thanks. - 9:34:13 PM
THE IRA GETS IT: As my readers know, I've been deeply skeptical of past IRA maneuvers in the "peace-process" and have always believed that an actual - not promised - destruction of real - not potential - weapons was necessary for peace. From everything we hear, that day has now come. It is the first piece of truly great news I've heard in weeks. What it confirms to me is that the Unionists were absolutely right to insist on this move as a prerequisite to a devolved government in Ulster and absolutely right to leave that government in the absence of real IRA "decommissioning." It's a vindication of those of us who resisted accommodating the IRA until they explicitly rejected violence in deed, not just in word. That said, Sinn Fein deserves credit for their stand, and the IRA should now be taken seriously as partners for peace. I cannot help feeling that this is also related to the events of September 11. In that context, the terrorism of the IRA must have seemed even more appalling and petty. And I'm sure that many American financiers of this terrorism began to tell their IRA friends after terrorism struck home in New York that enough was enough. This may have turned out to be the critical reason for the turn-around. In which case, the war against terrorism has just had its first clear victory. May it be one among many to come.
THE NEW YORK TIMES PLAYS CATCH-UP: Interesting piece today in the New York Times about someone the rest of us have been reporting on for some time. The Times is baffled by the notion that an allegedly moderate Imam at New York's Cultural Center, Sheik Muhammad Gemeaha, might have been responsible for the usual anti-Semitic poison that characterizes much of fundamentalist Islam. Oh, well, they get it now. It's just another sad example of how the Times' politically correct view of the world means they have been consistently scooped on this story. - 6:26:26 PM
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: A reader points out that it is now a commonplace notion that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. Well, America has been mugged.
MORE ON AL AZHAR: I'd missed a recent Smartertimes posting on al Azhar. As is often the case, Ira Stoll, who runs the site, is ahead of the curve. Take a look at the statements of what the New York Times has called the repository of moderate Islam, "the revered mosque, the distinguished university, the leading voice of the Sunni Muslim establishment." Its leading sheikh is an unreconstructed anti-semite who endorses suicide bombings and believes that "there is not a single Egyptian that maintains the normalization [of relations with Israel] and whoever does so is a traitor to his religion and his nation." This is the voice of moderation. Can you imagine what the extremists are like? - 11:54:21 AM
SO CALM DOWN, CHUCK SCHUMER: Useful piece in today's New York Times, detailing the abundant supply of many anti-biotics to treat anthrax other than Cipro. It exposes the agenda of Chuck Schumer, the Canadian government, the Consumer Project on Technology, et al. as having nothing whatsoever to do with combating anthrax infection today and everything to do with the attempt to cripple pharmaceutical profits (and therefore research) for the foreseeable future.
LETTERS: You weigh in on Talbot, Pollitt, and me; and some former liberals have epiphanies.
ANTHRAX AND THE CULTURE WAR: Apparently, some envelopes with white powder have been turning up at abortion clinics. I have no idea who has been sending them, whether they are hoaxes or what their provenance is. Alas, it hasn't stopped some pro-choicers beating the drums against their opponents, and some pro-lifers taking a page out of the paranoid Muslim book and claiming that the abortion clinics could have mailed the packages to themselves! Focus on the Family reports that "Mark Crutcher, with Life Dynamics, ... speculates that there are probably a few misguided persons out there who claim to be pro-life who might engage in such terrorism. He was quick to add that those people do not, however, represent the pro-life movement? Yet, Crutcher also does not discount the possibility that the mailings, which Planned Parenthood claims were very professional, might have come from within the pro-abortion community. 'It could be that, since they're the ones that have the most to gain from these reports, they're the ones who are doing it,' Crutcher said." Oy. Can someone please stop spinning and just call the cops?
MEMO TO FORTE III: An astute reader of the Doug Jehl piece I linked to yesterday notices the opening paragraph:" Since the September attacks, Al Azhar - the revered mosque, the distinguished university, the leading voice of the Sunni Muslim establishment - has renewed with accustomed grace the roles it has played in the world of Islam for more than 1,000 years. It has sought to advise Muslims around the world that those who kill in the name of Islam are nothing more than heretics. It has sought to guide, to reassure Westerners against any clash of civilizations." This same moderate, Western-leaning mosque and university had as its representative in New York, the Imam of the Islamic Cultural Center, the man who argued that the Jews were behind the September 11 massacre. That moderate sphere of Islam keeps getting smaller and smaller.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "Before quitting the subject of freedom of expression, it is fit to take some notice of those who say, that the free expression of all opinions should be permitted, on condition that the manner be temperate, and do not pass the bounds of fair discussion. Much might be said on the impossibility of fixing where these supposed bounds are to be placed; for if the test be offence to those whose opinion is attacked, I think experience testifies that this offence is given whenever the attack is telling and powerful, and that every opponent who pushes them hard, and whom they find it difficult to answer, appears to them, if he shows any strong feeling on the subject, an intemperate opponent." - John Stuart Mill, "On Liberty."
CHRISTIANITY AS A CANCER: "Like a cancerous growth, we are seeing Christians gain a foothold in the lands of the believers. The first time these crusading forces came with swords and suits of armor, this time they arrive with credit cards and million-dollar aid cheques. Employing Faustian machinations, these human shayateen are converting many Muslims to their false religion and serving to inject a virulent poison into the stream of the Ummah. The Muslim world is under attack." - Nida'Ul Islam, a magazine published by the Islamic Youth Movement in Australia.
GIBBON ON MOHAMMED: A reader sends in the following passage from Edward Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." The facts of Mohammed's life are subject to dispute, but his animosity to Jews and unbelievers is not in any doubt. Gibbon is actually something of a fan of Mohammed, preferring his energy to the corrupt dynasties of his time. But the portrait here doesn't exactly underscore the Oprah view of Islam as a religion dedicated to peace and love. Make of it what you will. (The Kainoka, the Nadhirites, and the 'children of Koraidha" were three Jewish tribes unlucky enough to live in Medina at the time):
"Happy would it have been for [the Jews'] temporal interest, had they recognized, in the Arabian prophet, the hope of Israel and the promised Messiah. Their obstinacy converted his friendship into implacable hatred, with which he pursued that unfortunate people to the last moment of his life; and in the double character of an apostle and a conqueror, his persecution was extended to both worlds. The Kainoka dwelt at Medina under the protection of the city; he seized the occasion of an accidental tumult, and summoned them to embrace his religion, or contend with him in battle. 'Alas!' replied the trembling Jews, 'we are ignorant of the use of arms, but we persevere in the faith and worship of our fathers; why wilt thou reduce us to the necessity of a just defence?' The unequal conflict was terminated in fifteen days; and it was with extreme reluctance that Mahomet yielded to the importunity of his allies, and consented to spare the lives of the captives. But their riches were confiscated, their arms became more effectual in the hands of the Mussulmans; and a wretched colony of seven hundred exiles was driven, with their wives and children, to implore a refuge on the confines of Syria ... The Jews had excited and joined the war of the [pagan] Koreish: no sooner had the nations retired from the ditch, than Mahomet, without laying aside his armor, marched on the same day to extirpate the hostile race of the children of Koraidha. After a resistance of twenty-five days, they surrendered at discretion. They trusted to the intercession of their old allies of Medina; they could not be ignorant that fanaticism obliterates the feelings of humanity. A venerable elder, to whose judgment they appealed, pronounced the sentence of their death; seven hundred Jews were dragged in chains to the market-place of the city; they descended alive into the grave prepared for their execution and burial; and the apostle beheld with an inflexible eye the slaughter of his helpless enemies." Not exactly turning the other cheek, huh?
Monday, October 22, 2001
MEMO TO FORTE II: Daniel Pipes has an eloquent rebuttal to David Forte's recent piece in the current National Review. My only quarrel with Pipes is that, from everything I have read these past few weeks, his notion that only 10 - 15 percent of Middle Eastern Islam is fundamentalist is, if anything, optimistic. Like Pipes, I agree that there is little propaganda value in this. But it's important to know the enemy we are confronting. Fundamentalism is a deep and dangerous part of it. I wish this were not so, and have respect for sincere and moderate Muslims. But I also have respect for Germans. And in the early 1940s, the vast majority became Nazi criminals. The same process is at work today; and blindness toward the grim reality of it will help no-one. - 4:38:25 PM
MEMO TO FORTE: Here is Australian boxer Anthony Mundine's comments about the war on al Qaeda, as reported by an Australian news channel: "I really feel that it's not our problem. They call it an act of terrorism but if you can understand religion and our way of life it's not about terrorism. It's about fighting for God's laws, and America's brought it upon themselves (for) what they've done in the history of time." The article also states that, "Mundine's stance is consistent with most Muslims in Australia, according to Dr Mohsen Labban from the Supreme Islamic Council." Ok. This is the view of a Western Muslim thousands of miles away from the Middle East. How does David Forte explain that away?
- 2:34:09 PM
THE BIOLOGICAL RUBICON: What happened last week? And how should we respond? Check out my new piece opposite. - 11:52:29 AM
Sunday, October 21, 2001
TALBOT'S JIHAD: A simple question. What does my birthplace (England), sex-life (gay and active), or the medications I take for HIV (testosterone replacement therapy) have to do with my views on this war? Last time I checked, nothing. Still, David Talbot takes me to task on these grounds in Salon. Since it's twenty years since I graduated high-school, I won't respond to these slurs. The ad hominem attacks seem to me to be a sign of intellectual desperation, which in Talbot's case, is understandable. Still, he makes a couple of points that are worth addressing. The first is the notion that I have criticized some individuals, including Talbot, for lack of patriotism. This is simply untrue. I challenge Talbot to prove it. Sure, I've seared some writers on the left for defeatism, illogic and escapism for not having anything constructive to say since September 11, and I have seized a chance to discredit their view of the world. I have also pointed out that there are enclaves on the decadent left whose nihilism runs so deep they want terrorism to win. Maybe Talbot should take a trip to Berkeley or Amherst to fact-check this. What I haven't done is attack any named individual for lack of patriotism. I cannot look into someone's soul and say she is not a true patriot. All I can say is that her version of patriotism is, to my mind, deeply misguided, foolish and immoral. That is my exercise of free speech - and in America, most do not say that immigrants cannot contribute to that free speech. When Talbot says, "It's repellent to be lectured about my commitment to America, which is deep and true, by an arrogant and self-important Brit," he is engaging not only in a fantasy - I did no such thing - but in a nativism that shames him.
THE CENSORSHIP CANARD: My second point is that this debate has nothing whatsoever to do with censorship - and the charge is a blatant attempt to change the subject. Talbot knows I'm a First Amendment fanatic, and I have more experience publishing and writing truly radical, dissenting views than he has. He also knows there is no chance of actual government censorship in this war, and that most of the attacks on free speech in recent years have come from his friends on the p.c. left. I have no ability or desire to censor anyone. What I've been trying to do is expose and ridicule the views of many on the far left whom Talbot still won't take on, and whom he still fawns over (e.g. the ridiculous Sontag). Talbot further claims I have lumped everyone on the left into the same camp. Again, untrue. I have praised many liberals in these dark days - including several, like Jake Tapper, at Salon. I have commended the American Prospect, NOW, the NAACP, Hitchens, Rushdie, and on and on. I deeply respect liberals whose views about how best to defeat terrorism are different from mine. But I simply do not respect those, like Sontag and Pollitt and Moore and Chomsky, who have nothing to say except that it's largely our fault that we are in this war, and that we should take no action against the enemy that has launched a brutal war against us. This is a contemptible position. It is not censorship to say this. It is a service to the truth.
AND ANOTHER THING: Talbot's deeper argument is that I should go easy on the left at a time like this because the pro-war hawks on the right are homophobes and would lock me up if they could. This is the kind of argument I have spent most of my career countering. A writer's job is not to look around him and see which camp it is in his best interests to join. A writer's job is to call things as he sees them, regardless of how many friends he loses or enemies he gains. When you're an ideological hodge-podge like me, this makes for a difficult intellectual life. Your friends in some matters are your enemies in others and you get isolated pretty fast. But Talbot knows that I have never turned a blind eye to intolerance on the right, and have battle scars fighting fundamentalism in every form. My biggest contribution to this war debate so far has been an essay in the New York Times dedicated to the exposure of both Christian and Muslim fundamentalism. To describe my writing as Taliban-like is therefore simply loopy. And Talbot is blind if he does not also see that homophobia, nativism, prejudice and every other human failing are also present on the left. In some ways, I am encouraged that the most homophobic attacks on my private and public life have come from the left. It shows that ideas can matter more than simple identity; and that the resort to ugly prejudice is not unique to any politics. Talbot's desperate smears are merely further proof of that.
AND NOW, FORTE: On a more pleasant note, I'd like to address the arguments of David Forte, who has written a critique of my piece, "This Is a Religious War," in the current National Review. Forte wants to argue that Osama bin Laden's extremist fundamentalism is not what he calls "essential Islam." I don't disagree. As I wrote, there is obviously a great and glorious past in Islam, and much within Islam today that could never be used to justify the massacre of thousands of civilians. But my point is that bin Laden's appeal specifically blurs such distinctions, and that there is enough within mainstream Islam to help his effort. Whether we like it or not, this ideology obviously has wide appeal in the Islamic world and is gaining adherents daily. If bin Laden really were a complete crank with no real connection to Islam as a whole, then this simply wouldn't be happening. Look at Doug Jehl's piece in the New York Times today. What it tells us is that it matters very little what mainstream Islam says any more. The message has been overwhelmed by a culture of extremism and discontent in societies where there is no space for political opposition, and where a truly terrifying politicized Islam is on the march. Is this new form of Islam still Islam? In some ways, this is semantics. In a very basic sense, it obviously is - just as the Inquisition was a part of Catholicism and the Salem witch trials were a part of Protestantism. But my beef with Forte is not over religion. I am passionate about the importance of religious faith. My beef is about the fusion of politics and religion. Every time this happens, it's dangerous. In many instances, the fusion has been truly terrifying. Forte disagrees and he wants to blur the distinction between politics and religion in the United States. That's our deep disagreement. On the empirical question of what kind of Islam is now prevalent in the Middle East, we will soon find out. All I can say is that I'm far less optimistic than Forte. - 11:42:14 PM
Friday, October 19, 2001
NOT THE ONION: But it could be. This is true. Well, as true as anything in the British tabloids can be. A janitor mistook a modern art exhibit for trash and cleaned it up and put it in the trash can. It was worth $8000. ďAs soon as I clapped eyes on it I sighed because there was so much mess," the janitor comments. ďI didnít think for a second that it was a work of art ó it didnít look much like art to me. So I cleared it all into bin-bags and dumped it.Ē
- 12:53:19 PM
ARAB ANTI-SEMITISM WATCH: Now, it's official. The Syrian Defense Minister has endorsed the notion that Israel was responsible for the World Trade Center massacre. Another unreliable poll in Lebanon finds a plurality believing it. Abraham Foxman has called on president Bush to debunk this rumor. I agree, but in these circumstances, an American denial would merely prove the rumor to these crazy paranoiacs. Nor should we be surprised. The man making this statement previously wrote a pamphlet called "The Matzah of Zion," whose arguments were summed up in the mainstream Egyptian newspaper al Ahram thus: "The bestial drive to knead Passover matzahs with the blood of non-Jews is [confirmed] in the records of the Palestinian police where there are many recorded cases of the bodies of Arab children who had disappeared being found, torn to pieces without a single drop of blood. The most reasonable explanation is that the blood was taken to be kneaded into the dough of extremist Jews to be used in matzahs to be devoured during Passover." Yes, folks. This is the blood libel. And this text will shortly become a movie. The justification? According to the invaluable Middle East Media and Research Institute, "The producer stated that the primary goal of the film is 'to respond to all of the Zionist films distributed by the American film industry, which is backed by the Zionist propaganda apparatus. Among these films is Schindler's List, which supports the idea of the Jews' right to the land of Palestine.'" We need to be clear here. We are dealing with the moral equivalent of Nazis. And these people now have a seat on the U.N. Security Council and are being considered possible allies in the war against terrorism. Who on earth are we kidding? - 12:46:15 PM
Thursday, October 18, 2001
SONTAG HEDGES: David Talbot's interview with Susan Sontag, conducted, so far as I can tell, on his knees, starts with a preposterous amount of throat clearing and excuse making and silly swipes at alleged "censorship." These pampered journalists, who have never seen a moment of real censorship in their lives, and who have marginalized conservative voices for their entire careers in their own organs and field of influence, take the occasion of the massacre of thousands of their fellow citizens to worry about themselves - and preen self-righteously at the same time. Then there's the sheer pretentiousness of it all. I'm particularly fond of Talbot's use of the word "texts" to discuss Sontag's works. (I'm not the first weblogger to notice this). Not books; not pieces; not articles; not essays - but "texts." Ooooh. That must mean she's a real intellectual. The silver lining is that Sontag has now stated her belief in the notion that we are indeed confronting a jihad and that there can be no compromise with these murderers. But the rest of the interview completely belies this view. Item one: if there is no negotiating with these killers, what do we do? According to Sontag, we don't bomb. The Taliban soldiers are just "a lot of kids." We don't even drop food packages, which, in her eyes, are a cover for an unholy war. In fact, you can read this interview again to see whether she has any practical recommendations for our response, and you will come up empty. Like Katha Pollitt, she has absolutely nothing to say, except that we all need to read the latest "text" by Stanley Hoffmann in the New York Review of Books. I'm sorry, but this is self-parody. Her only practical recommendations are that we should stop military action against the Taliban and urge a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Gee, that will terrify the terrorists. They won't dare murder us again after that. She dismisses out of hand the notion that the anthrax attacks could be the work of al Qaeda. She refers to them as "what I think are 99 percent certain to be just domestic copycat crazies on their own war path." Why does she have such certainty? No reason given. When you're that brilliant, why bother with reasons? She further complains that the media has "censored" pictures of grisly horror at the WTC site because it would demoralize the people. Is she kidding? Pictures of severed hands and tangled limbs would not demoralize this country. It would enrage this country. If such pictures have been held back, it is out of respect for the dead and their families, and precisely in order to restrain possible anger. That piece of loopy judgment alone should tell us all we need to know about what planet Sontag is living on. Throughout it all, she denigrates the Brits for their support of the United States and calls president Bush "ridiculous." No, Ms Sontag. It is you who are ridiculous.
THE STRANGEST OF ALLIANCES: It didn't take long for the activists who loathe the pharmaceutical industry to use the current crisis for their own advantage. Encouraged by Senator Charles Schumer, Jamie Love, of the Naderite Consumer Project on Technology, now has Bayer's Cipro in his sights. He wants HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson to break Bayer's patent in order to address what Love sees as an anthrax emergency. "He's the damn secretary of Health and Human Services," Love tells Salon's Anthony York. "He should be trying to protect the American people. He's just afraid to break the patent. He says that the U.S. will respect the patent right, even if it means endangering public health. That's a hell of a lot of respect, I must say. He seems to lack a little bit of guts. He's not lacking any legal authority, but does seem to be missing a bit in the courage department. He's afraid to say the truth -- he doesn't want to send the wrong signal on the patent issue, even if that means putting people in danger." A few points. Cipro isn't the only anti-biotic that can treat anthrax. Plenty of others can as well. If anything, public health experts worry that over-prescribing the great but strong Cipro could accelerate the emergence of an anthrax super-strain that truly would be immune to most anti-biotics. So retaining the patent for Bayer is in no way a real danger to public health. Second, Bayer is ramping up production as fast as it can. It seems to me that Love is engaging in a classic piece of opportunism. He wants to cripple the patent system in general and sees an opportunity to do it now. No doubt he's sincere, and sees no future threat to research in wrecking pharmaceutical profits. But he's wrong, and could do far more harm to public health in the short and long term if he succeeds.
POLITESSE: I have heard from some that I was too aggressive in my discussion with Katha Pollitt, even uncivil. I feel bad if I was rude. But I want to make the following point about civility. It's not everything. Sometimes, it's corrupting. When thousands of people have been murdered, biological warfare has been launched, and American soldiers are putting their lives on the line, I don't find cozy twittering about how hilarious it is that a woman had a fight with her daughter about flag-waving to be appropriate. I don't find condescending disparagement of other people's patriotism as somehow mindless appropriate. In fact, this kind of denial in the face of this horror strikes me as deeply wrong. It angers me. I reserved my anger for Pollitt's arguments, not her person. And fierce criticism is not the same as censorship or intimidation. I've long enjoyed Katha's company; have had pleasant encounters with her; and have no reason to doubt that she is a kind and genuine person. But I find her insouciance toward these events and inability to come up with a coherent response to them appalling. At some point, acquiescence in civility is a surrender of moral seriousness. I know many people are having similar confrontations in less formal settings, and they must know what I mean. I'd rather be remembered for losing friends in this conflict than going along to get along, while the threat deepens. Sorry, but it's the only way I can live with myself.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "[O]f all the forms of foreign disturbance suffered by Syria in these new days of change, Zionism is the most violent and the most detested by the native population. That hatred may be called ineffective; the Jewish advance is bound to continue so long as there is peace and so long as the English are in undisturbed possession. The Jews bring with them a much higher material civilization, trained scientific experts, a largely increased exploitation of the land, and of all natural resources.... It [Zionism] has behind it what none of the other forces intruding upon the Syrian world can boast -- a strong moral motive, not technically religious, but having the force of a religion. The Jewish race as a whole, in spite of certain dissidents, and certainly the Jewish immigrants pouring into Palestine, are inspired by as strong a motive as can move men to action. But this strength alone would not maintain the Jews against the fierce hostility of the Moslem world which surrounds them. That hostility is another moral force with which the future cannot but be filled. We in the West do not appreciate it because we do not hear its expression, we are not witnesses of the gestures nor partner in the conversations which fill the Near East; but if we ignore it we are ignoring something which may change our fate." - Hillaire Belloc, "The Battle Ground" (1936). - 8:26:32 PM
ISLAM'S WARLIKE NATURE: A very helpful primer from Seth Stevenson in Slate on the debate about how violent Islam inherently is. My own view (after an admitted crash-course in the subject) is that violence is one deep strain in Islam, deeper than in Christianity or Judaism. This doesn't mean that peaceful Islam doesn't exist; it doesn't mean that violent Christianity hasn't existed. It does mean that we ignore the violent tendencies in Islam at our peril, and that the linkage between this violent propensity and fundamentalism and anti-Semitism makes for a truly dangerous ideology. Let's drop the Oprah nonsense about Islam being Episcopalians in turbans. It's intellectually flabby and deeply condescending.
LETTERS: A great new batch. Two left-wingers return from Damascus; time to drop all references to Clinton; reviews of the Pollit-Sullivan mud-wrestle; etc. - 3:50:08 PM
THREE CHEERS FOR TODD GITLIN: Here is the best left-wing attack on visceral, knee-jerk anti-Americanism I've yet read. Gitlin gets it. And he's brave to take this canard on. - 1:00:25 PM
THE WORLD TURNS: I didn't think I'd read such an editorial in the newspaper that has become ground central for appeasement. But here it is in the Guardian, exhibiting solidarity with the United States and admiration for the American people. In the end, people get it. Our best weapons against appeasement are the terrorists themselves.
MORE BELLOC: I have some qualms reprinting Hillaire Belloc. He was a complicated fellow, a bigot, a genius of a writer (A.N. Wilson wrote a memorable and sadly out-of-print biography of him), and an anti-semite of spectacular proportions. He was also fiercely intelligent. Here's an extract from his 1938 book, "The Great Heresies." Worth a re-read: "May not Islam rise again? In a sense the question is already answered because Islam has never departed. It still commands the fixed loyalty and unquestioning adhesion of all the millions between the Atlantic and the Indus and further afield throughout scattered communities of further Asia. But I ask the question in the sense: 'Will not perhaps the temporal power of Islam return and with it the menace of an armed Mohammedan world which will shake the dominion of Europeans - still nominally Christian - and reappear again as the prime enemy of our civilization?' The future always comes as a surprise but political wisdom consists in attempting at least some partial judgment of what that surprise may be. And for my part I cannot but believe that a main unexpected thing in the future is the return of Islam. Since religion is at the root of all political movements and changes and since we have here a very great religion physically paralysed, but morally intensely alive, we are in the presence of an unstable equilibrium which cannot remain permanently unstable."
- 12:02:53 PM
CLINTON VS BUSH - NO CONTEST: Zogby just did a poll which has barely been reported in the media. I wonder why. I guess these considerations seem petty and I'll get another blizzard of hate mail for noting it. But Zogby is one of the best pollsters we have; and he's no conservative. His poll found that when voters were asked who they would prefer to be president in a crisis like this one, they prefer Bush to Clinton by 72 to 20 percent. Now of course this reflects a natural rally-round-our prez attitude. But its margin is striking, no? I've also been struck anecdotally by how many liberal friends of mine have quietly noted that at times like these, they are half-glad the Republicans are in office. Me too. Except, today at least, for Dennis Hastert.
WOOLSEY ON CLINTON: "The other, less generous possibility is that the Clinton administration was engaged here in its trademark behavior of focusing first and foremost on spin, expectation-adjustment, and short-term public relations, and deriving policy therefrom. If you assume that all terrorism flows from loose networks and not state action, then you will usually be able to find at least someone who was involved in a terrorist attack to convict. You can then claim success, get some good press and avoid confronting a state. The alternative approach--a thorough search for any state actor--presents two PR risks, neither attractive. If you find no state actor, there might be the appearance of an investigative failure. If, on the other hand, you find that a state was involved, you might then risk confrontation, even conflict, and possibly body bags on the evening news."- James Woolsey, the Wall Street Journal today. Woolsey takes Bush I to task too. His broader argument about what kind of evidence we need to convict a state of sponsoring terrorism strikes me as an important one.
Wednesday, October 17, 2001
SONTAG AWARD NOMINEE: "Michael Eisner decides, 'I can't make a movie about Martin Luther King, Jr.-they'll be rioting at the gates of Disneyland!' That's bullshit! But that's what the new world order is. They control culture, they control ideas. And I think the revolt of September 11th was about 'Fuck you! Fuck your order-' ... The studios bought television stations. Why? Why did the telecommunications bill get passed at midnight, a hidden bill at midnight? The Arabs have a point! They're going to be joined by the people who objected in Seattle, and the usual ten per cent who are against everything, and it's going to be, like, twenty-five per cent of this country that's against the new world order." - Oliver Stone, as captured in this week's New Yorker. Funny, but I haven't heard bin Laden rail against Michael Eisner yet. - 7:00:35 PM
ME AND KATHA: I took no prisoners. Here's an audio transcript of our often testy exchange.
SEPTEMBER 11: A reader notices a passage in Hillaire Belloc's "Heresies" from 1936. He is speaking about the lifting of the Turkish siege of Vienna: "Vienna, as we saw, was almost taken and only saved by the Christian army under the command of the King of Poland on a date that ought to be among the most famous in history -- September 11, 1683." Maybe that date is no accident.
CNN THANKS A MURDERER: In an interview with a man representing a group that openly claims responsibility for killing an Israeli cabinet minister, the interviewer, Leon Harris, concludes with the following words: "HARRIS: Mr. Rabah Mihanna, thank you very much for your time... MIHANNA: Thank you. HARRIS: ... this morning and for your insight and your side of the story." This is disgusting. It's disgusting even to have such a person on the air, let alone to treat him with respect. It is even more disgusting that CNN is now cooperating with al Qaeda's propaganda program by submitting six questions to bin Laden. Can you imagine them in 1940? Mr Goebbels, thank you so much for your insight ... - 5:58:13 PM
MUSLIM ANTI-SEMITISM WATCH: Here's an interview with the Imam of New York's Islamic Cultural Center. He has since left New York and is residing in Egypt. Here is one of the leading Muslim leaders in the United States. These are some of his comments: "You see these people (i.e. the Jews) all the time, everywhere, disseminating corruption, heresy, homosexuality, alcoholism, and drugs. [Because of them] there are strip clubs, homosexuals, and lesbians everywhere. They do this to impose their hegemony and colonialism on the world. Now, they are riding on the back of the world powers. These people always seek out the superpower of the generation and develop coexistence with it. Before this, they rode on the back of England and on the back of the French empire. After that, they rode on the back of Germany. But Hitler annihilated them because they betrayed him and violated their contract with him." The rest of the interview, which continues to propagate the psychotic notion that Jews were behind the September 11 massacre contains even worse passages. This isn't like Nazism. It is the direct Muslim equivalent of Nazism. And like Nazism, it cannot be appeased. - 4:48:08 PM
THE COMING CONFLICT: The sophisticated form of anthrax delivered to Tom Daschle's office forces us to ask a simple question. What are these people trying to do? I think they're testing the waters. They want to know how we will respond to what is still a minor biological threat, as a softener to a major biological threat in the coming weeks. They must be encouraged by the panic-mongering of the tabloids, Hollywood and hoaxsters. They must also be encouraged by the fact that some elements in the administration already seem to be saying we need to keep our coalition together rather than destroy the many-headed enemy. So the terrorists are pondering their next move. The chilling aspect of the news in the New York Times today is that the terrorists clearly have access to the kind of anthrax that could be used against large numbers of civilians. My hopes yesterday that this was a minor attack seem absurdly naÔve in retrospect. So they are warning us and testing us. At this point, it seems to me that a refusal to extend the war to Iraq is not even an option. We have to extend it to Iraq. It is by far the most likely source of this weapon; it is clearly willing to use such weapons in the future; and no war against terrorism of this kind can be won without dealing decisively with the Iraqi threat. We no longer have any choice in the matter. Slowly, incrementally, a Rubicon has been crossed. The terrorists have launched a biological weapon against the United States. They have therefore made biological warfare thinkable and thus repeatable. We once had a doctrine that such a Rubicon would be answered with a nuclear response. We backed down on that threat in the Gulf War but Saddam didn't dare use biological weapons then. Someone has dared to use them now. Our response must be as grave as this new threat. I know that this means that this conflict is deepening and widening beyond its initial phony stage. But what choice do we have? Inaction in the face of biological warfare is an invitation for more in a world where that is now thinkable. Appropriate response will no doubt inflame an already inflamed region, as people seek solace through the usual ideological fire. Either way the war will grow and I feel nothing but dread in my heart. But we didn't seek this conflict. It has sought us. If we do not wage war now, we may have to wage an even bloodier war in the very near future. These are bleak choices, but what else do we have?
LETTERS: In defense of Maggie Gallagher, Stanley Fish's reading list, etc.
MCCAIN'S CLARITY: Take a moment to read John McCain's extraordinary speech October 9 to the U.S. Naval Academy. It's as good a speech about this war as one can imagine - and its greatness lies in McCain's intuitive sense that we are now in a truly epic struggle, and one that will truly test the limits of our faith and our endurance. I'm sure he's right, and he is also on the mark about the importance of ruthlessness. Even now, we are squeamish about minor civilian casualties; even now, voices quibbling, worrying, panicking are urging us to down-size the war, avoid a direct confrontation, buy off peace or placate the enemy with palliatives. That might have worked ten years ago. It's quite clear it won't work now. As McCain clearly says, "Our goal is to vanquish terrorism, not reduce it, not change its operations, not temporarily subdue it, but vanquish it. All other concerns are secondary. It is a difficult, demanding task we have undertaken. We must expect and prepare for our enemies to strike us again before they are vanquished. Some of this war will be fought at home. And the casualties that we will suffer may again include civilians. We must keep our nerve at all costs. We should use no more force than necessary, but no less than necessary. Fighting this war in half measures will only give our enemies time and opportunity to strike us again. We must change and change permanently the mindset of terrorists, those who give them sanctuary and support, and those parts of Islamic populations who believe the terrorist conceit that they will ultimately prevail in a conflict with the West, that America has not the stomach to wage a relentless, long term, and, at times, ruthless war to destroy them." Yes, that is the message. We must destroy them.
MOVE OVER, CHOMSKY: "Since September 11 my imam has extended Friday prayers with a special supplication reserved for times of affliction, imploring God to annihilate Islam's enemies, to "rock the ground underneath their feet" ... Operation Enduring Freedom is in fact a war against liberty, a war against those Muslims who cling to the hope that, just like their counterparts in the west, they too will one day be able to determine and direct their own fate. Ever since independence, Muslim societies from Marakesh to Mindanao have had their aspirations for self-rule repressed by western-backed elites and dictators." - Faisal Bodi, calling for the defeat of his own country in a war against fundamentalist Islam, in - where else? - the Guardian. - 1:18:31 AM
Tuesday, October 16, 2001
CHOMSKY AND BIN LADEN: I'm indebted to Jeffrey Isaac of the American Prospect for noticing the following sentences in a recent book by Noam Chomsky, A New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West. Chomsky, with a moral relativism straight out of Stanley Fish's playbook, argues that there is no difference between the actions of NATO countries attempting to stop the genocide in Bosnia and terrorists seeking their own violent solution to various problems. And he makes a crazy logical leap to assert that Britain and the U.S. are as responsible for the oppression in East Timor as the rulers in Jakarta. Then this obscenity: "If proponents of the "repetition of Bosnia" thesis intend it seriously, they should certainly have been calling for the bombing of Jakarta - indeed Washington and London - in early 1999 so as not to allow in East Timor a repetition of the crimes that Indonesia, the U.S., and the UK, had perpetrated there for a quarter-century. And when the new generation of leaders [i.e. Clinton and Blair] refused to pursue this honorable course, they should have been leading honest citizens to do so themselves, perhaps joining the Bin Laden network. These conclusions follow straightforwardly, if we assume that the thesis is intended as something more than apologetics for state violence." Thus the nihilism that fuels Chomsky and Fish and others leads inexorably to a call for individuals to join the bin Laden network and bomb Washington and London. Chomsky wrote this before September 11. In the wake of the fact that terrorists took his cynical, rhetorical advice and actually killed thousands of people in Washington and New York, is it too much to ask that Chomsky take responsibility for his words, disown them, and apologize? - 5:37:00 PM
NPR TONIGHT: I'll be debating the "war among the intellectuals" with Katha Pollitt tonight on NPR's Special Coverage of the war, broadcast from WBUR in Boston, from 8 - 9 pm EST tonight. - 2:59:41 PM
FALWELL'S FOLLOWER: Maggie Gallagher sympathizes with Islam over contemporary American culture for the following reasons: "Islam remains a successful civilization because it fulfills the two minimum functions any culture must: It channels intense social energy of individuals into the two great sacrifices of self: war and babies. The children in Islamic societies suffer, and the women even more. But though individuals suffer, the family system itself works. The society perpetuates itself. It even finds new adherents in our country, primarily among those who have suffered most deeply from our current sexual disorder, African-Americans." Thus the far right's loathing of recreational, non-procreative sex (a major achievement of a free society in my book) leads her into a qualified defense of Muslim abuse of women and of children (girls are ignored, boys are routinely sodomized by adult males), and of a militarism which is truly primitive. Once again, the Fundamentalist American right seems as conflicted about this war as the postmodern left. How clarifying this conflict is becoming. - 1:27:19 PM
AN AMERICAN MUSLIM TAKES ON MUSLIM ANTI-SEMITISM: "While we loudly and consistently condemn Israel for its ill treatment of Palestinians we are silent when Muslim regimes abuse the rights of Muslims and slaughter thousands of them. Remember Saddam and his use of chemical weapons against Muslims (Kurds)?. Remember Pakistani army's excesses against Muslims (Bengalis)?. Remember the Mujahideen of Afghanistan and their mutual slaughter? Have we ever condemned them for their excesses? Have we demanded international intervention or retribution against them? Do you know how the Saudis treat their minority Shiis? Have we protested the violation of their rights? But we all are eager to condemn Israel; not because we care for rights and lives of the Palestinians, we don't. We condemn Israel because we hate "them"." Couldn't put it better myself. Check out the rest of Muqtedar Khan's brave and interesting essay on the position of America's Muslims today.
FEAR ITSELF: If you haven't already, check out my latest column on Americans' difficulty with stoicism opposite. - 1:16:13 PM
MILLER TIME: Judith Miller is a great and courageous journalist. In the current circumstances, when she is clearly a target for terrorist attack, her candor is truly remarkable. Here's her terrific interchange with Dana Suyyagh from the al Jazeera cable network on Larry King last night:
"MILLER: Do you call a people who blow themselves up on the West Bank and in Gaza and in Israel martyrs, because that's another thing we have heard about your network?
SUYYAGH: Yes, we do. We do. Only since...
MILLER: And do you think that's objective or...
MILLER: And do you think that's objective reporting? Did you call the people who blew the Twin Towers up martyrs?
SUYYAGH: No. We never called them martyrs. That is an act of terror. We go with international opinion on that one, yes.
MILLER: I see...
SUYYAGH: The West Bank is a different issue altogether.
MILLER: So terrorists who kill people, civilians in Israel, are martyrs, and terrorists who kill Americans are terrorists? Is that your news standard?
SUYYAGH: I'm sorry I didn't hear the last sentence.
MILLER: I said is that your news standard -- to distinguish between the people who kill Americans and people who kill Israelis -- one are martyrs and the other is terrorists?
SUYYAGH: No. We have a standing policy that people who are martyrs are people who give themselves for a cause.
What happened in New York and Washington, we believe, was causeless."
The reason I bring this up is because it truly does reflect a hatred of Israel and of Jews in general that is so embedded in the region that we almost don't notice it. Killing Americans is wrong. Killing Israelis is an act of martyrdom. And this is a moderate voice! Yes, some Arabs and Muslims may object to some Israeli policies in the West Bank. That may give them a cause. But the murder of innocent civilians is not martyrdom, even if the killer dies in the process. It's mass murder outside of any moral rules of conventional war. If it isn't terrorism, nothing is. But Larry King will happily give time and space to an individual who celebrates the difference on American cable television. Good for Miller for penetrating through this moral fog. - 12:56:28 PM
THE PSYCHOSIS WE WON'T NAME: I read today that a Newsweek poll in Pakistan found that 48 percent of Pakistanis believe that Israel was behind the September 11 massacre. Reports from around the Middle East also show this to be a widespread belief among Arabs and Muslims. It is also echoed by the defeatist factions on the far left and the far right in this country. Prince Alaweed responded yesterday to Rudy Giuliani's heroic return of the Saudi prince's blood money in these words: "The whole issue is that I spoke about their position [on the Middle East conflict] and they didn't like it because there are Jewish pressures and they were afraid of them." This quote was to the newspaper Okaz, according to the New York Post. Alaweed knew exactly how to explain the affront to his native audience. There is only one word for this sickness and it is anti-Semitism. Somehow, we have not yet named the psychosis that affects large numbers of Muslims. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Israel's policies toward the Palestinians, whatever Tony Blair naively believes. The overwhelming majority of Arab Muslims do not want an accommodation with Israel. They want its obliteration and the expulsion or murder of every Jew that lives there. This anti-Semitism is openly fostered and fomented by many of the "moderate" Arab regimes we are now busy cozying up to. It is widely believed across the Muslim world - from the Philippines to Morocco to the denizens of our own native Muslim, Mr. Farrakhan. One of our greatest mistakes in the past few years has been to avoid calling this what it is: a sickness that only half a century ago was responsible for the greatest crime in the history of mankind. Why, one wonders, have no Western leaders confronted this ugly truth and condemned it? Why hasn't the Pope? The rhetoric of bin Laden is not simply fundamentalist. In its structure and paranoia, it is not so different from the doctrines propagated by Hitler. These bin Laden-supporting Muslims want non-Muslims expelled from a wide swathe of Arab territory. They want Lebensraum, and the primary victim of such Lebensraum will once again be the Jews. Israel may not be the first cause cited by bin Laden but it surely is a critical one. It seems to me that our squeamishness in naming and recognizing this phenomenon is blunting our ability to confront it. Once again, we are faced with an expansionist, terrorist ideology that uses the demonization of Jews as one of its major rallying cries. What more do we need to know?
FISH RISES TO THE BAIT: Post-modernist Stanley Fish doesn't believe that relativism prevents us from condemning terrorism or indeed Islamo-fascism. "If by relativism one means a cast of mind that renders you unable to prefer your own convictions to those of your adversary, then relativism could hardly end because it never began," he argues. "Our convictions are by definition preferred; that's what makes them our convictions. Relativizing them is neither an option nor a danger. But if by relativism one means the practice of putting yourself in your adversary's shoes, not in order to wear them as your own but in order to have some understanding (far short of approval) of why someone else might want to wear them, then relativism will not and should not end, because it is simply another name for serious thought." Well, if relativism is simply a synonym for serious thought, of course it doesn't prevent us from making moral judgments. Many, many of us who regard this war as a moral necessity have indeed attempted to understand the arguments of the enemy and have found them for the most part repugnant and evil. But this is a semantic dodge. What relativism forbids is being able to state that something is actually evil as an objective truth. It's just our conception of truth. And our truth is no more objectively valid than bin Laden's truth, or Pol Pot's or Stalin's. So we fight this war simply as a function of our own will to power. Think about this for a minute and you realize that it's a version of "my country, right or wrong," a belief divorced from any attempt to subject ourselves and our enemy to neutral judgment or inspection. Jingoism from the left! And it's this lazy jingoism, this worship of power for its own solipsistic sake, that led great philosophers like Heidegger to embrace the Nazis. It's also this philosophical lassitude that leads Western "intellectuals" into the moral dead-end which this crisis has exposed like a flash-light and from which they are belatedly trying to rescue themselves. Fish's op-ed is a worthy attempt to do just that. But he still doesn't get it, does he?
ANTHRAX HYSTERIA: I feel a bit bad, as I was one of the first to say that biological warfare was clearly the next phase of the attack. But the current wave of anthrax hysteria is getting absurd. Don't get me wrong. Only the F.B.I. could have taken this long to recognize this wave of attacks as an obvious coordinated act of terrorism. According to the New York Times today, they're beginning to contemplate the possibility. Way to go, guys! I also believe we need far more government action to get a smallpox vaccine developed and distributed, and a far more proactive policy with regard to Iraq's intent to use chemical and biological weapons against the U.S. and Israel. But beneath all this, there's a silver lining to the latest attack. If this is the best they've got, it's truly pathetic. I always thought that bin Laden must have planned a second strike to back up his first one. I cannot believe he wouldn't have launched it by now if he could. Perhaps intelligence and law enforcement here and in Europe have stymied larger attacks. Perhaps anthrax is a horrifying intro to worse horrors. But if not, we have reason to be glad. This wave could kill at most a handful of people. It's a truly puny weapon. Its main purpose (which is why the terrorists have targeted media types) is to spread chaos and alarm, which we are in danger of letting them get away with. Looked at objectively, the campaign is risible. One thing we have to guard against, I think, is over-estimating the enemy. Look how swiftly we have crippled the Taliban regime. It's only our own caution that is preventing their complete collapse. With this biological attack, we have incurred very very few casualties and have been given a classic casus belli for extending the war. Advantage: America. So buck up and stop the freak-outs.
KINGSOLVER'S GAFFE: In the piece of drivel I linked to yesterday by Barbara Kingsolver, the following sentences appeared: "I would like us to sign the Kyoto agreement today, and reduce our fossil-fuel emissions with legislation that will ease us into safer, less gluttonous, sensibly reorganized lives. If this were the face we showed the world, and the model we helped bring about elsewhere, I expect we could get along with a military budget the size of Iceland's." A reader helpfully points out that Iceland has no defense budget whatsoever. Its entire defense structure is provided by the United States, and has been since 1951. Always nice to see the arguments of peaceniks not just exposed but demolished.
MATH: It never was my strong point. The proportion of the American population killed on September 11 was not 0.02 percent, but 0.002 percent. Actually, the correct number strengthens my point about the tiny risk of being killed by terrorists. - 2:03:47 AM
Monday, October 15, 2001
THE BEST ANTIDOTE: I guess we've all been having some nervous attacks about this war. My own amount to a nagging fear that the administration is not as serious as it says it is and that Americans may get faint-hearted when the going gets tougher. The president's constant reiteration of the importance of this war and his crystal-clear moral understanding of the stakes involved have more than allayed my worries on the former front. I'm also cheered by Time Magazine's poll, showing increasing support for military action, rising levels of approval for the president's conduct, and only mild panic about anthrax. "Seventy-one percent of those polled October 12th favor the use of U.S. ground troops versus the 64 percent who favored the idea on September 27th," reports Time. Better still, over half of Americans support ground troops even if it means 1000 casualties. A full third are happy to see ground troop action, even if it means 10,000 casualties. So long, Vietnam Syndrome, I hope. The only thing as heart-warming as these numbers is the heart-burn they are giving Barbara Kingsolver.
IRAQ AGAIN: No-one seems to know whether Iraq is involved in the anthrax outbreaks. But here's what we do know. According to Jane's Defense Weekly, "It is known that Iraq obtained anthrax cultures, for example -- quite legally -- from the American Type Culture Centre (ATCC) in the 1980s at a time when the West tacitly supported the regime. No questions were asked." And someone's been leaking to the Guardian that some in the administration suspect an Iraqi link. I don't trust everything in the Guardian's story, but the possibility of some state sponsorship of this operation has to be considered. The Wall Street Journal has an eminently sensible editorial making this point today. It seems to me this doesn't have to lead to a conventional war against Iraq. But couldn't it lead to a war-like inspection regime for Saddam's biological and chemical warfare plants? As one reader has suggested, why couldn't we cite our suspicions about biological warfare to demand immediate access to Saddam's suspicious bio-cehmical installations? If he refuses, why not destroy them from the air? Give him 48 hours notice and then annihilate them, rather as Israel did to prevent his earlier attempt at nuclear capability. It would be better if we could get hard evidence. But even without it, it's justifiable. In my view, it's self-defense. Do we have to wait for the worst to happen in a major U.S. city before we take action?
Q & A: Who said the following: "We Americans have every right to be bitterly angry against the terrorists. But we also must go one step beyond our anger, for when something goes terribly wrong in an individual's life or even in the life of a nation; it is time for introspection. We must courageously ask ourselves what we might have done that has made us vulnerable to such ferocious attacks. That kind of thinking sometimes takes courage." Edward Said? Susan Sontag? Alice Walker? Nah. It's our old friend, David Duke. And who says there isn't a political realignment?
LETTERS: From a former attack pilot on bomb-messages, white-washing Islam, nasty atheists, etc.
RUDY'S GOOD CALL: Rudy Giuliani's disgusted return of Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal blood money donation to New York City is another sign of his sanity. It's clearer than ever that the extremist Wahhabist form of Islam that fuels Osama bin Laden's terror has been aided, abetted, and appeased by the Saudis for years. They haven't given us their bases; they haven't shut down bin Laden's finances; the prince even voiced a belief that the United States played a part in inviting the attacks. The Saudis' only purpose right now is to prevent Wahhabist forces taking over their satrapy completely and providing a fig-leaf for further U.S. action. Why we need to suck up to them beyond that defeats me. They are a central part of this problem, and they refuse to be an active part of the solution. In fact, a firm sign of our seriousness might help bring about a better outcome in the succession struggle now underway in the Saudi royal family. A further sign of Rudy's justified outrage is the response of Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. McKinney sucks up to bin Talal by criticizing Israel and then not-so-subtly makes a pitch for some of the money for her own causes. McKinney watchers have known her to be biased against Jews for years, but this piece of opportunism is breath-taking even for her.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "DOC HOLLIDAY: What do you want, Wyatt? WYATT EARP: Just to live a normal life. DOC HOLLIDAY: There is no normal life, there's just life."
- Kevin Jarre, Screenplay for "Tombstone" (1993).
KUMBAYA WATCH: The Unitarian Universalists have managed to put together a war aim: write to Barbara Lee to tell her how much you support her. I prefer the peacenik approach outlined in this amusing web-cartoon (be aware you need a macromedia plug-in).
FAGS AND ATHEISTS: Some of you have taken issue with my statement that I trust an atheist more than a religious fundamentalist in matters of politics. I should have been clearer that I meant this in the context of American domestic politics at this particular time. Stalin wasn't a nice fellow and he sure was an atheist. Point taken. As for writing "fags" on missiles, I'm aware that this kind of bravado is not exactly absent among the manly culture beloved of Peggy Noonan et al. If it didn't also lead to the murder of American soldiers in their beds, and the vicious waste of resources of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," I'd be less squeamish. And I'm not reassured by the notion that "fags" doesn't simply refer to homosexuals but to any low-lifes. Stand in a gay man's shoes for a second and you'll see why. In the last resort, it's hardly good propaganda to photograph this obscenity and send it around the world. Not exactly on message. I might also point out that no-one's tougher on fags than the people we're attacking. And part of the reason we're attacking is a defense of freedom which includes a defense of the freedom of sexual minorities. The military's message is about as appropriate as a bomb dropped on Berlin during the Second World War with, "Screw You, Kikes," written on it. - 12:46:46 AM
Saturday, October 13, 2001
OOPS: For some reason, the link I posted for this photograph (see "YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK" below) was changed soon after I posted it. Sorry. - 10:08:45 PM
Friday, October 12, 2001
EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT ANTHRAX: But were afraid to ask. One response to terror is information. Here's some. - 1:41:00 PM
"NIGGERIZED" BY TERRORISTS?: Oh, yes, the academics have only started. Here's an account of Cornel West's Harvard lecture Wednesday that spliced hip-hop lyrics with calls for reparations. Enjoy.
PAYBACK TIME: It looks like terrorist-appeaser Barbara Lee is going to be challenged for re-election. Too bad her opponent is almost as squishy, but, hey, it's Oakland. The most important thing is that there is a challenge from the left that will likely focus on Lee's refusal to counter terrorism with anything more robust than a peace-rally. - 1:29:09 PM
OUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK: A charming inscription on a missile aimed at Afghanistan. Two questions: who allowed this message to be scrawled? Who allowed it to be photographed? - 1:00:31 PM
IRAQ AGAIN: Superb column by Jim Hoagland in the Washington Post today highlighting both Iraq's continued sponsorship of terrorists and the Clinton administration's fecklessness in coming to grips with it in the past. The CIA is directly responsible for much of this, which is why it is still a mystery to me how George Tenet has clung to his post. From Bush's press conference, I gleaned little about the administration's plans for Iraq, except that Bush is keeping his options open and refusing to pick between the factions in his own administration. My hunch is that there will indeed be action against Iraq, but that it will be covert and we may never know about it. That solves Bush's political problem, deploys his favorite method of secrecy, and keeps his commitment to a serious war.
WAR AND RELIGION: Some of you emailed me to ask why I had written a while back in an aside that I didn't think much of David Forte's "bromides" about Islamic fundamentalism. I hope my piece in the New York Times Magazine helps explain why. Frankie Foer does a good job on Forte in the new TNR. Forte gets his facts wrong, and his views of Islam seem strained through his own (and Bush's) unfortunate belief that faith - any faith - is somehow better than none. (In my view, atheists are far less politically dangerous than fundamentalists of any stripe.) Forte's also close to many of the theocons on the right who have done their best to blur the clear distinctions between Church and State that make the United States such a unique experiment in world history. Such theocons have far too much clout, in my view, in the Bush White House, and may be blurring some of our vision in the current conflict with Islamo-fascism. Michael Novak does the same thing in National Review, in an excruciating call to arms for a religious America. No, Mr. Novak. America is politically a secular country. Only civilly is it a deeply religious one. And those two facts are deeply connected. It's clear that there are some on the religious right - and I don't blame them - who are rattled by the recent exposure of what fundamentalism can achieve if welded to political power. One small silver lining from Osama bin Laden is to remind us of the evil of the fusion of religion and politics - a fusion that the theocons keep wanting to dilute.
FEAR ITSELF: I suppose the Department of Justice had good reason to warn us all of credible threats of imminent terrorist attacks in the next few days. But I wonder what the true rationale is. Giving this kind of generalized warning scares people in ways the terrorists actively want. And for what? Since there's been no specific warning about any specific target, there's not much we can do to prevent it or prepare for it. We know we're threatened. Vigilance is necessary. But terrifying people about completely amorphous threats seems to me to be more about covering the government's ass than actually doing any tangible good. I was feeling fine until this evening. And my low-level anxiety tonight is not going to help anyone. In future, the warnings should be specific or none at all. - 1:30:59 AM
Thursday, October 11, 2001
AND THEN THERE WERE THREE: And you thought I was being paranoid? The key thing to look for is whether there is any Iraqi connection to the Florida anthrax outbreak. If there is, then this war will be expanded, whatever Colin Powell wants. I had my own bio-chemical jitter today. Walking back from NPR, I saw two separate pigeons flailing in distress on the sidewalk, one block apart. A man walking nearby saw me notice and said he had contacted the public health department. Almost certainly nothing - but you don't realize how unconsciously you're looking out for things until you see them in front of you. I felt like I was in the opening chapters of Camus' "La Peste." - 12:19:39 AM
Wednesday, October 10, 2001
SESAME STREET'S FIFTH COLUMN: Well, I wanted some humor. A weird story here about how collage posters of bin Laden circulating in the Middle East somehow have Sesame Street's Bert poking up over Osama's shoulder. Say it ain't so, Bert. And have you told Ernie that the relationship is finally over? Next up: Cartman backs Saddam. - 6:34:26 PM
LETTERS: An Osama limerick; Blair's balance; a liberal agrees with me!; and other earth-shattering moments. - 6:28:13 PM
THE FRUITS OF NEGLIGENCE, CTD: Smart and helpful piece by Richard Miniter in the WSJ today, taking us through the extraordinary missed opportunity of 1996 when the Clinton administration refused a Sudanese offer to hand over Osama bin Laden. Sandy Berger turned the Sudanese down. If I were him, I'd have trouble sleeping at night.
CENSORING HEROISM: The Houston Chronicle strikes a blow for p.c. censorship. In running a piece from the San Jose Mercury News about Mark Bingham's life and death, the Chronicle took pains to remove any references to Bingham's sexual orientation. Bingham, a gay Republican rugby player, was one of those who almost certainly wrestled the plane destined for Washington to the ground in Pennsylvania. Gay people as American heroes? Too much information for the Chronicle's squeamish editors. I guess they're just following the policies of the Air Force.
- 6:21:30 PM
WHAT ARAB COALITION?: The saddest fact of this war so far is how luke-warm the Arab states have been. In the Gulf War, many Arab states were terrified by Saddam's belligerence and fully backed the military alliance over a period of months. This time, there is no real unanimity and only token support after only a few days. We cannot even use the American-built Saudi bases! And the Saudis have helped foster and finance the Wahhabism that gave birth to al Qaeda. Arafat is doing what he can to avoid either being killed by his own people or siding with the losers, as he did last time. Mubarak gave a terse word of support yesterday. But no major Arab regime has given unqualified backing to the strikes in Afghanistan and the Pakistani leader is walking a tightrope. So what on earth is the point of Colin Powell's marvelous alliance? The answer is obviously propagandistic. Any sign that this is a Western assault on a Muslim fundamentalist threat is rightly resisted in Washington because it would give bin Laden a propaganda coup and perhaps deepen the conflict unnecessarily. But the idea that we can keep this broad coalition going for much longer - or anywhere near as long as this effort will require - seems to me to be far-fetched. As each day goes by, as the public opinion of the Arab street makes itself heard more defiantly, and as the corrupt regimes in the Arab world get even more scared of the masses, something will crack. At some point, we will be forced to do something the Arab states will have to condemn: an attack on Iraq (I wish); an encounter with Hamas; a collateral destruction of something that can be made out to have some religious significance; or something simply unpredictable. What do we do then? That will be the moment of truth for Powell, Bush, Cheney and Blair. My bet is that we will continue with a fractured coalition and a widening conflict, at which point the two sides are going to look an awful lot like a Sam Huntington nightmare. No, we have no quarrel with Islam itself. No, we don't want to unite the Arab world against the West. But we sure do have a problem with radicalized political Islam of the Wahhabist strain; further terrorist acts will only intensify our resolve; and we cannot and will not abandon Israel. Therefore some Western-Muslim conflict is close to inevitable. I think the chances of this conflict restricting itself to Afghanistan with this coalition intact are next to zero. At some point, we will have to decide whether to win this one and walk right into a clash of civilizations; or walk away and merely postpone the clash for an even bloodier future re-match. Meanwhile, our two most important allies are Britain and Russia, the last two conquerors of Afghanistan. How very reassuring and unnerving at the same time.
THE POINT OF HUMOR: During all this horror, I've found it a great relief to laugh. It took a while, since I spent most of the first week bawling. But my first smile came on September 12, when some friends and I rented a video of twelve Bugs Bunny classics because we just couldn't bear reality for much longer. Cartoons transport you to another world - and Bugs' is about as calming and uplifting as one could find. Can you imagine Bugs versus the Taliban? No contest. A few days later, we watched six episodes of AbFab, another outside-the-box spirit-lifter. And as the weeks went by, it became increasingly possible to laugh not at the event but at our responses - as the Onion triumphantly showed. As to finding humor in the conflict itself, I don't think we've made enough fun of bin Laden himself yet. Like Hitler, bin Laden is not just evil, he's ridiculous - and seeing his absurdity is a critical part of overcoming fear. Maybe it's because I'd just seen (for the umpteenth time) "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" but that video of the turbaned maniac surrounded by characters out of central casting struck me as faintly hilarious. Where are the knights that say "Ni!" when you need them? I see no reason why we shouldn't laugh at bin Laden's preposterous medievalism, with that microphone perched in front of him, like a cross between Phil Donahue and the Ayatollah Khomeini. Laughter is a vital response to terror: it neutralizes fear. I remember that from the AIDS years and it kept many of us alive. Besides, one thing that separates the civilized world from these religious thugs is that we have a sense of humor. Let's use it. And let's start by occasionally laughing at the monstrous spectacle of these bearded beady-eyed bullies on a rock.
IRAQ WATCH: There are signs that the Bush administration gets the Iraq problem. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Negroponte, marched into the Iraqis' U.N. office and told them to keep their heads down in the coming days and weeks. The anthrax attack in Florida might well have an Iraqi connection. As the Washington Post reports, "Czech officials said that Mohamed Atta, believed to have piloted one of the commercial airliners that slammed into the World Trade Center, met in Prague with Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir Al-Ani, a former consul and second secretary at the Iraqi Embassy in Prague, before traveling to the United States in June 2000. Al-Ani was expelled from the Czech Republic last April for what the Czech foreign ministry described as activities 'incompatible with his diplomatic status.'" There's no sign yet that we're preparing an attack on Iraq, but every sign that this is still an option - if one that Colin Powell seems sure to oppose. Lets hope events make this second phase possible; and that Colin Powell sees the light.
CORRECTION: Only one poor fellow has died of anthrax in Florida.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "A further reason for my hatred of National Socialism and other ideologies is quite a primitive one. I have an aversion to killing people for the fun of it. What the fun is, I did not quite understand at the time, but in the intervening years the ample exploration of revolutionary consciousness has cast some light on this matter. The fun consists in gaining a pseudo-identity through asserting one's power, optimally by killing somebody - a pseudo-identity that serves as a substitute for the human self that has been lost." - Eric Voegelin, "Autobiographical Reflections," (dictated 1973, published 1989).
A NEW WORLD ORDER CTD.: Tunku Varadarajan has a good little piece on the complementarity of the British and American expeditionary forces in the Wall Street Journal today. He's also right about the extraordinary usefulness of the British alliance right now - diplomatically, rhetorically and militarily. But I'd go one step further. It seems to me that crises like the current one tell you something about underlying geo-political realities. One of those realities is that Britain is now and has been for the better part of a century far closer in culture, interests, and economics to the United States than to Continental Europe. When push comes to shove, the British elites know this, use this, rely on this. But in calmer times, they gravitate toward the often tortuous goal of immersion in a pan-European super-state. In Tony Blair's speech last week, you saw this tension in full force. On the one hand, he gave one of the most pro-American speeches in the history of British politics. In the same breath, he reiterated his support for British entry into the euro. What gives? In the aftermath of this war, one thing that could and should be revived is an attempt to add more political heft to what Churchill understood as the deep connection of the English-speaking peoples. Why not counter the lure of the euro by inviting Britain to join NAFTA? Instead of pegging the pound to the euro, why not link it to the dollar? The EU will of course object. But in some ways, NAFTA membership for Britain would be a great way to call the EU's bluff. If the point of the EU is in part free trade, why does an expansion of free trade between an EU member and the U.S. represent a threat to anyone? If Britain's membership in NAFTA were to lead to a further opening up of European markets to Americans and vice-versa, what's the harm? Except to French hopes that Europe will eventually become not a vital partner for America, but a menacing rival.
SCHEER MADNESS: An overdue hit-job on the insufferable and mendacious Los Angeles Times columnist, Robert Scheer, by the often sharp and fair website, Spinsanity. Ben Fritz is particularly acute in pointing out how Scheer first invented the notion that the United States had given $43 million in aid to the Taliban and so was hypocritical in turning on the mullahs in Kabul and Kandahar after 9/11. In fact, that $43 million was food aid, dispensed through the U.N. and non-governmental agencies, bypassing the Islamo-fascist leadership. Well, we all make mistakes. What's truly troubling about Scheer is that even after this was revealed, he continued disseminating the lie. In fact, he larded it up, hedged it with new spin, and fomented its repetition in such places as The Nation, The New Yorker, The Denver Post and Salon. Read this piece and never read Scheer again. - 1:31:40 AM
Tuesday, October 09, 2001
AIRLINE HELL: Just an update to apologize for the absence of the Dish for a few hours. My bag was searched at Dulles; it was emptied and taken away and then returned. I assumed they put my laptop back in it. They hadn't. I found out it was missing on the airplane to Chicago. Happily, it was not detonated. I was told I could pick up my trusty Dell Inspiron when I came back through Dulles - and used the computer of a friend of my boyfriend's while I was in Chi-town. But when I returned, the police station and the Lost and Found were - of course - closed. Today, I hired a Dulles courier to track the thing down for me, and after shuttling between various offices for half a day, he found it. Anyway, it's a boring story and I need to get a back-up. But the lesson is: traveling seems to be extremely safe but incredibly boring and frustrating. It's a worthwhile trade-off, but I'm sure glad to get my laptop back. Normal service should resume shortly. - 5:41:51 PM
Monday, October 08, 2001
THE FIRST BIOLOGICAL ATTACK: It seems certain that two Americans have now died in a terrorist biological attack in Florida. The first case of anthrax inhalation never struck me as a fluke. The second renders such a benign possibility extinct. Just as chilling as the attack itself is the fact that it was directed at a tabloid paper which has recently run the usual tabloid fare on Osama bin Laden. Who did this? I hope the current somewhat complacent attitude of the authorities begins to shift as we contemplate the next round of terrorist warfare on Americans. In some ways, a repeat of the massive toll in New York City is unnecessary. Random mini-attacks everywhere in the country could actually be more effective in creating the widespread panic and fear that al Qaeda obviously wants to foster. The FBI needs to throw as much effort into tracking down these suspects as into bombarding military targets in Afghanistan. And the perpetrators should not be treated as regular criminals with the usual rights. They are military forces, conducted by a military enemy. If captured, they need to be put in military detention centers, not regular prisons. We have to resist at all costs the trap of terrorists, which is that they can be treated as mere criminals while conducting a war.
LARKIN ON BIOLOGICAL TERRORISM: "Caught in the center of a soundless field While hot inexplicable hours go by What trap is this? Where were its teeth concealed? You seem to ask. I make a sharp reply, Then clean my stick. I'm glad I can't explain Just in what jaws you were to suppurate: You may have thought things would come right again If you could only keep quite still and wait." - Myxomatosis, by Philip Larkin.
DID OSAMA CONFESS?: Bin Laden's nauseating propaganda video seemed to me to come extremely close to acknowledging that he was indeed behind the massacre of September 11. Would he hail a "vanguard" of Muslim warriors if he were not directing it? If he were still trying to play the victim, would he not add to his condemnation of our initial attacks on "innocent" countries another assertion of his own innocence? I would think so. I was also struck by the intensely religious nature of his address. As I argued in yesterday's New York Times Magazine, we ignore the religious dimension of this war at our peril. The enemy is not Islam as such, but fundamentalism. And Islamic fundamentalism is of a particularly brutal kind.
LETTERS: Riffing on Caligula and Claudius; is Heidegger at fault?; leaving the far far left alone.
COLUMBUS DAY: The lite dish today is because of the holiday. I'm traveling back to DC from Chicago. Wish me luck.
SALON ON CLINTON'S FAILURES: Interesting interview with a special forces expert, Mark Bowden, in Clinton-supporting Salon magazine. Here's the relevant passage: "Q: Were they targeting Osama bin Laden under the Clinton administration's executive order to track him down and, if possible, capture him? A: The Clinton administration's executive order authorized drawing up plans to go after bin Laden, meaning that his administration allowed the planning of an operation, training for it and putting special forces into position in that part of the world waiting for the green light, but it didn't authorize the action to capture him. Someone's conscience must weigh heavily that they didn't authorize that mission. I expect that after the initial shock of our reactions to the Sept. 11 bombing wears off there will be a serious evaluation of who made the decision not to go ahead with this. It doesn't take a genius to know that something bad would come of this. There were people preaching exactly this sort of attack. People will be asking a lot about policy failures. It's not like we didn't know that Osama bin Laden was planning to do something awful; he told us that he would do it and started doing it. He bombed our embassies, bombed the USS Cole and our forces in Saudi Arabia. Looking back we're going to have to ask why we allowed this to happen: Was it that they thought they couldn't have pulled it off or were inept?" So when I raise this troubling idea, it's a function of my pathological hatred of Clinton. What excuse do the Clintonites have for someone with expertise in this area in a left-leaning magazine?
Friday, October 05, 2001
THIS SUNDAY'S FIRST READING: A priest reader sends in what the Catholic Church, by coincidence, mandates as the first reading this coming Sunday: Hab. 1:2-3; 2:2-4.
"How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, "Violence!" but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord. Then the LORD answered me and said: Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live." - 3:22:54 PM
THE DANISH ANGLE: Several joyful lefties have emailed me to say that the United People's website is based in Denmark, not the U.S. Hence no fifth column. I wish. Check out the names and faces of the "committed organizers" - there are many Americans, on campuses and elsewhere throughout the country. Websites can be registered anywhere (the one you're reading is written in D.C., Ptown and Chicago, uploaded in Seattle, managed in New York, and transmitted worldwide). What matters is the provenance of the people behind it. A core group of these people are indeed Americans, from, among other places, Minnesota, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Redwood Valley, and Albuquerque. One of them, Kevin Danaher, named as a "committed organizer" of this organization, just had an op-ed published in the Washington Post. Did the Post's editors vet his credentials?
HERE THEY GO AGAIN: Fresh on the heels of the news that gay servicemembers risking their lives for their country will nevertheless risk expulsion at any time, come the pleasant remarks of Lou Sheldon, a major figure of the religious right. According to the Washington Post, Sheldon wants to bar any aid for the spouses or families of gay victims of the September 11 attacks. Do these people have any clue about the true meaning of the Gospels? Or any clue about the meaning of America?
POSEUR ALERT: "We'd abided so long in our shimmering impassive skins, sealed like airplanes ourselves, stationary airplanes: climate-controlled, with weather and pestilence and human frailty all sheltered inside. More than just the world's largest filing cabinets, my other and I were bodies undertaking a long consideration of space, ticking off earth-rotations, swatting birds. When after so very long the new body entered mine I was accepting, more than I might have predicted. Though I shivered I tried to permit myself to learn what it had to teach me, this intersection of presences. Beside me was another struggle with the same knowledge: two brides, two grooms. But the marriages were brief. The lesson opaque. No, J.G. Ballard crap isn't going to do it either, exaggerated empathy for the machines and buildings won't help anything, won't get me out of what I'm still trying not to feel." - Jonathan Lethem, Rolling Stone. I think he's talking about the WTC massacre. - 2:50:25 PM
THE WAR NOW: Bush continues to surprise. The $300 million food drop into Afghanistan gives a whole new meaning to compassionate conservatism. I must say I'm cautiously impressed. If this stage in the campaign is designed to foster as broad a coalition for the destruction of al Qaeda and the Taliban, so far so good. If these actions are designed to minimize domestic and foreign opposition while preparing for a major and relentless attack on terrorism, so much the better. If Bush is handing over our foreign policy to Colin Powell now for the important task of diplomacy prior to a systematic campaign to wipe out terrorism and the states that still sponsor it, better still. But there's a chance that something else is happening. There's a chance that Bush is simply taking a minimalist approach to this war, after a rhetorical fusillade. If all this amounts to is a few commando raids against bin Laden, if Saddam is allowed to stay and prepare yet another counter-attack, if Hamas and Hezbollah are left intact, if the Saudis are allowed to continue their policy of fostering extreme Islamo-fundamentalism, then this policy is worse than nothing at all. Anything less than a full-frontal assault on terrorism and terrorist-sponsoring states would be sending a clear signal to bin Laden and his ilk. That signal would be that, for all our bluster, we are not serious, that we can absorb and accept an act of war upon us with mere minor retaliation as a consequence. The terrorists will understand from this that they can strike again with relative impunity, and next time, make it even bigger. I worry every time I hear president Bush tell us to get back to normal. Normal is the last thing we should feel. What happened on September 11 was a brutal invasion of this country. There is no normality after it. The only thing that follows should be an extermination of the enemy in all its forms - relentlessly, constantly, insistently. No, I'm not for rushing into an unfocused action. I'm not for alienating any friendly state we can find. But everything - everything - must be subordinate to the ultimate goal of extinguishing the terrorism that threatens the United States and the West. I still believe this is what president Bush is aiming for. But there are some signs that he is going wobbly. I'm hoping and praying that those signs disappear soon. Whatever the dangers of action, the dangers of inaction are now far, far greater. I pray to God the president understands this - and doesn't let this unique opportunity slip between his fingers.
IF CLINTON IS CALIGULA...: Doesn't that make B-b-b-Bush C-c-c-c-Claudius?
THE ENEMY WITHIN: The notion that there might be the chance among some enclaves of the decadent left for a fifth column during this war was roundly condemned when I mentioned it in an aside in a recent piece. Anthony Lewis called my suggestion a "disgusting diatribe." Tim Noah called on me to retract it. Having attended the protests in Washington last weekend in which it was quite clear that many of these nihilists openly want a defeat of the West, I beg to differ. These people may not be many; they may be obscure; they may even be unhinged. But they exist - just as there existed, now beyond historical dispute, a cadre of Americans who worked actively for Moscow during the Cold War. Anyway, I hope Lewis and Noah take a moment to look at the following website, run by a group called the United Peoples. Among the contentions of this group is that the massacre was actually perpetrated by the U.S. government, that 4,000 Jews were given advance warning and stayed away from the WTC on September 11, that the U.S. military trained the terrorists, and that this whole event was orchestrated to foment new defense spending and a crackdown on the "anti-globalization" movement of which these people are an integral part. I quote: "[T]hese terror actions were precisely what Sharon and Bush at this particular moment needed to get out of their deadlocks, and ? hardly any other move could have brought about the present favorable situation for their genocidal policies. A very high percentage of probability therefore speaks in favour of the assumption that more than 6,000 working class people (NOT CEOs: they together with 4000 Jews had been warned beforehand!) of many different nationalities were killed by their host country in order to produce the present situation." Yes, of course these people are cracked, and there are very few of them. But they exist, and they are Americans. If they do not constitute a fifth column, then maybe Messrs Noah and Lewis could tell me what does. - 12:37:29 AM
Thursday, October 04, 2001
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "How many intellectuals have come to the revolutionary party via the path of moral indignation, only to connive ultimately at terror and autocracy?" - Raymond Aron, "The Opium of the Intellectuals" (1955).
ALICE WALKER'S PBS SOURCE: Yesterday, I wondered how Alice Walker could refer to any "good works" Osama bin Laden can be credited with. A reader reminds me of a PBS documentary in which the following was said: "NARRATOR: In the Sudan, bin Laden set up a host of businesses, among them a tannery, two large farms and a major road construction company, and he reportedly paid for 480 Afghan vets to come work with him. The Sudan liked this wealthy Saudi who was enthusiastic about investing in their fledgling Islamic state. When bin Laden finished a major road construction project, President al-Bashir treated him like a national hero. " Ah, the moral achievement of road construction. Where have we seen that before?
CLINTON'S REGRET: In last Friday's New York Times, an anonymous close friend of Bill Clinton's reflected on the former president's mixed emotions after the WTC Massacre: "He has said there has to be a defining moment in a presidency that really makes a great presidency. He didn't have one." A reader points out how similar these feelings are to another character in history as captured by the Roman historian, Suetonius: "He even used openly to deplore the state of his times, because they had been marked by no public disasters, saying that the rule of Augustus had been made famous by the Varus massacre, and that of Tiberius by the collapse of the amphitheatre at Fidenae, while his own was threatened with oblivion because of its prosperity, and every now and then he wished for the destruction of his armies, for famine, pestilence, fires, or a great earthquake." To whom was Suetonius referring? Caligula. - 2:20:20 PM
Wednesday, October 03, 2001
FRUITS OF NEGLIGENCE, CTD: As each new story comes in about the scale of the intelligence failure before the September 11 massacre, the clearer it becomes that a large amount of anger is the appropriate response. Bart Gellman's piece in the Washington Post actually shows that the Clinton administration had a chance to nab bin Laden as he was being expelled from Sudan. The reason they fumbled the ball was that the Saudis were unwilling to take custody of bin Laden, and the Clintonites decided they didn't have enough evidence to indict bin Laden in an American court. Indict him? Why wasn't he killed? Such are the fruits of treating terrorism as a simple criminal offense, rather than an act of war. Thanks to former national security adviser, Tony Lake, and to the secretary of state, Warren Christopher, bin Laden escaped to Afghanistan to plot the further murders of Americans. The Post also has a damning article about Clinton's lame cruise missile strike against bin Laden after the embassy bombings. As one expert put it, "I think that raid really helped elevate bin Laden's reputation in a big way, building him up in the Muslim world. My sense is that because the attack was so limited and incompetent, we turned this guy into a folk hero." In other words, the Clinton administration let the guy go, then succeeded in cementing his reputation. Way to go, guys. A similar sorry tale is told by Sy Hersh in the New Yorker. If any of you think George Tenet has any reason to be still running the CIA, you should read Hersh's article. Yes, the first Bush administration needs to take a hit. But the largest responsibility for running our intelligence services into the ground must be the Clinton administration's. "From Bush to Clinton, what happened [in Afghanistan] is one of the most embarrassing American foreign policy decisions, as bad as Vietnam," says Bob Kerrey. "We also had a half-baked Iraqi operation and sent a signal that we're not serious." Amen. Yes, I know this is hindsight. But accountability matters. When will Tenet resign? And when will Clinton himself fess up to his record of appalling negligence? In the last resort, the only ultimate responsibility of the president of the United States is the security of its citizens from foreign attack. Yes, both Bushes share part of the blame for our intelligence collapse. But Bill Clinton shoulders by far the most.
SPECIAL CLINTON-BASHING EXTRA: On the plane to Chicago today, I was busy reading the New Yorker and came across Nick Lemann's piece on Hillary Clinton. Nick's reporting on this administration has, I think, been easily the best out there, so I hope he doesn't take this personally. But Senator Clinton's response to a question Lemann posed is simply jaw-dropping. In the context of the World Trade Center massacre, he asked her "how she thought people would react to knowing they are on the receiving end of a murderous anger." Clinton's reply: "Oh I am well aware that it is out there. One of the most difficult experiences I personally had in the White House was during the health-care debate, being the object of extraordinary rage." She talks about hecklers and the threat of violence and the rhetoric spewed by radio talk show hosts. I've no doubt these things hurt. Heck, I've had my fair share of the same kind of thing. But to equate that with the murder of thousands of innocent people by terrorists is simply deranged. Or rather, it's just another sign that this woman adds whole universes of meaning to the word narcissism. Even after a massacre, it's still all about her.
- 11:21:09 PM
GLADSTONE LIVES: Tony Blair's speech to the Labour Party Conference yesterday was the most memorable since Margaret Thatcher's stunning performance the day after her hotel and cabinet had been bombed into a pile of rubble and dust by the IRA. How strange that one of the greatest evils of the modern world should have brought out the best in two prime ministers. But how fitting as well. Take a moment to read the full text of Blair's speech. There are some marvelous passages: "Understand the causes of terror. Yes, we should try, but let there be no moral ambiguity about this: nothing could ever justify the events of September 11. The action we take will be proportionate, targeted; we will do all we humanly can to avoid civilian casualties. There is no compromise possible with such people, no meeting of minds, no point of understanding with such terror. Just a choice: defeat it or be defeated by it. And defeat it we must." Thus a Labour prime minister sends a rhetorical cruise missile into the leftist editorial offices of the Guardian, the Observer, and the Independent. Then there's his passionate defense of America: "America has its faults as a society, as we have ours. But I think of the Union of America born out of the defeat of slavery. I think of its constitution, with its inalienable rights granted to every citizen still a model for the world. I think of a black man, born in poverty, who became chief of their armed forces and is now secretary of state, Colin Powell, and I wonder frankly whether such a thing could have happened here. I think of all this and I reflect: yes, America has its faults, but it is a free country, it is our ally and some of the reaction to September 11 betrays a hatred of America that shames those that feel it." Take that, Mr. Chomsky. Blair's pro-Americanism isn't like Thatcher's. She revered America's defense of freedom, its relatively small government, its defeat of tyranny abroad. Blair admires its liberalism and search for social justice. Both, of course, are right. And neither, strictly speaking, is or was a Tory in foreign policy. They're Gladstonians - convinced of their morality, determined to defeat what they see as evil, and committed to semi-utopian visions of the possibility of world progress and the duty of the righteous to impose it. My own vision is closer to Thatcher's than Blair's, but grown-ups realize that these two strains in Anglo-American politics - conservative liberalism and liberal liberalism - are both necessary for a healthy politics in both countries. What neither Thatcher nor Blair really believed in was the dark pessimism of real Toryism or the true socialism of the British Labour past. As such they represent the two political wings of Britain's Americanophilia. The United States - in Reagan and, now, Bush - was lucky to have each of them at exactly the right time. - 12:36:38 AM
Tuesday, October 02, 2001
THE AMERICAN PROSPECT'S LEARNING CURVE: Having barely noticed in its first few years that foreign policy actually exists, the leftist magazine, the American Prospect, runs a splendidly honest piece about the anti-war demonstrations I also witnessed this weekend. I like this sentence: "We shouldn't expect much charity toward the president from protesters capable of airing slogans like "The Real Terrorist Works in the White House." I consider George W. Bush a dim bulb, even an impostor -- and certainly oppose many aspects of his foreign policy -- but calling him a terrorist is a truly vile form of moral equivalency." I know this shouldn't be a hard call, but, hey, it's progress.
SONTAG AWARD NOMINEE: "In a war on Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden will either be left alive, while thousands of impoverished, frightened people are bombed into oblivion around him, or he will be killed in a bombing attack for which he seems quite prepared. But what would happen to his cool armor if he could be reminded of all the good, nonviolent things he has done? Further, what would happen to him if he could be brought to understand the preciousness of the lives he has destroyed? I firmly believe the only punishment that works is love." - Alice Walker, Village Voice. Just give that old Osama a big ol' hug. But what exactly are the "good, nonviolent things" he has done?
THE FIRST FAKED ANTI-MUSLIM HATE CRIME: It had to happen, but this soon? Here's the first report of the incident; and here's the truth. I've no doubt that some Arab-Americans are being targeted for despicable abuse, although the evidence so far seems mercifully thin - which is an enormous credit to the people of this country and to the president who has admirably spoken out against discrimination. But equally, it doesn't surprise me that this happened on a campus. The highest status imaginable among the left-marinated universities is ethnic victimization. No surprise that some poor souls are trying to exploit that warped value-system.
HALBERSTAM ABSOLVES CLINTON: Interesting insight into the minds of some liberals who simply will not acknowledge that Bill Clinton bears a great deal of responsibility for the failures of U.S. foreign policy, security and intelligence in the 1990s. In Salon, David Halberstam blames himself (fair enough) and other journalists (I'm happy to beat my breast as well) but he won't finger Clinton. This despite this anecdote from his new book: "The most telling story is about Clinton's election in 1992 right before he was inaugurated. He comes to Washington to meet with the House Democratic chairmen. When he gets to Lee Hamilton of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Hamilton says, "Well, Mr. President, we have China. Whatever you do on China, you're only going to please half the people. Then, there's Saddam Hussein ... " Clinton interrupts him and says, "Lee, I've been traveling around our country for a year and no one cares about foreign policy other than about six journalists." Hamilton is taken aback and replies, "That may be true, but the last presidents have been defined by foreign affairs."" When pushed by Salon to acknowledge that a president might actually be required to lead the people, rather than follow them, Halberstam simply stammers: "In essence, Clinton reflected the national mood. Had there been one more term, had he not been pulled down by the Lewinsky thing, thereby losing two years of his second term, it might have been different." Of course, in this, Halberstam reflects the view of the Clintonites that the president had no responsibility for the appalling trauma he put the country through in 1998 - just while Osama bin Laden's plot was thickening. Some things never change.
- 8:03:25 PM
MORE EVIDENCE OF CLINTON'S FAILURE: Fascinating report in the left-wing British paper, the Observer, about the extent of the Clinton administration's responsibility for hobbling our intelligence operations in the last ten years. Vast files of intelligence from Sudan, specifically about Osama bin Laden, were simply ignored or spurned by Clinton officials. According to the Observer, "One senior CIA source admitted last night: 'This represents the worst single intelligence failure in this whole terrible business. It is the key to the whole thing right now. It is reasonable to say that had we had this data we may have had a better chance of preventing the attacks.' He said the blame for the failure lay in the 'irrational hatred' the Clinton administration felt for the source of the proffered intelligence - Sudan, where bin Laden and his leading followers were based from 1992-96. He added that after a slow thaw in relations which began last year, it was only now that the Sudanese information was being properly examined for the first time." Quick, Sandy. Better leak something to the New York Times to spin this one away.
RUSHDIE AND THE LEFT: I agree with almost everything Salman Rushdie says today in the Washington Post. It is a gorgeous piece in some ways - and a watershed. Why? Because of the following sentences: "It's time to stop making enemies and start making friends [in the world]. To say this is in no way to join in the savaging of America by sections of the left that has been among the most unpleasant consequences of the terrorists' attacks on the United States ... Let's be clear about why this bien-pensant anti-American onslaught is such appalling rubbish. Terrorism is the murder of the innocent; this time, it was mass murder. To excuse such an atrocity by blaming U.S. government policies is to deny the basic idea of all morality: that individuals are responsible for their actions." Thank you, Salman. Thank you. - 12:33:54 PM
THE NEW ALLIANCE: Edward Luttwak shrewdly dissects our new foreign policy in today's Times. I think he's right in arguing that this really is the new new world order. What has been truly remarkable in the last two weeks is the alacrity with which Russia and China have joined the coalition against Islamic Fundamentalist terrorism. Many will worry about our new allies - their violation of human rights, their unsavory actions in, say, Tibet and Chechnya. Those worries are real and important. But they must take second billing to international order of the most basic kind. This crisis has taught us that lesson. In fact, one of the encouraging things since the massacre has been the unity of major states. Before, each state dealt with terrorism in its own way after its own fashion. Because the United States was never fully involved in this battle, coordination was difficult and took a back seat to rivalry, or even playing one country's terrorists off against another's. But as we saw earlier this summer, as IRA terrorists emerged from the Colombian jungle after training sessions, these networks are linked. We are right to start with al Qaeda, but we would be terribly wrong if we ended there. We have a unique opportunity to put in place an architecture for world order unknown since the nineteenth century. And so far, the Bush administration seems to be doing an effective job in constructing it.
LETTERS: Intelligent, non-abusive criticism of my piece on Clinton; input from a former Israeli Special Forces guy; etc.
THE SUPREME COURT BARS CLINTON: Well, well. How could they? After enduring a full day of relentless, organized, abusive emails from the Clinton apparatchiks, all I can say is: at least some people understand the concept of accountability.
THE MILITARY AMENDS: It seems as if I and other media outlets jumped the gun in thinking that the military had suspended its ban on honest gay servicemembers for the duration of the war. A "stop-loss" order was indeed authorized by the president and secretary of defense, and it was assumed that this would apply to all discharges including gay ones. This was the case in the Gulf War. Perhaps aware that such a suspension would, in the current climate, completely undermine any credibility that the military has in insisting that gay soldiers are a threat to military competence, the Airforce's top brass have decided to exempt gays from the stop-loss order. It's the only exemption - and a patent attempt to ensure the viability of the policy if and when this war is over. None of the other services has yet spelled out the details of its own stop-loss procedures, so we'll see if this is more widespread. This nuance means a lot to servicemembers who might have breathed a little easier in this war. But it will be interesting to see if any actual discharges occur during the war. We'll see. My bet is that there will be very few. But one thing is clear. This country may be unified, but gay soldiers, sailors, marines and airforce fighters - those who are putting their lives at stake for us - are still very much second class citizens. Mark Bingham's legacy has not yet reached the Pentagon.
BRAVE WORDS OF REASON: "I have no hesitation in describing this mentality, carefully and without heat, as soft on crime and soft on fascism. No political coalition is possible with such people and, I'm thankful to say, no political coalition with them is now necessary. It no longer matters what they think." - Christopher Hitchens, on the left-liberals who have equivocated in their response to the September 11 Massacre.
HOME NEWS: This month marks the first full year of this site. This is no time for celebration, but I'd like to express my thanks to my readers, who not only have supported the site financially and emotionally, but have also provided many of my tips, links, and ideas over the past twelve months - from all sides of the political spectrum. Many of you I even count as new friends, especially those who often differ from me but keep coming back at me with good criticism and ideas. When I started, I really had no idea whether this would work. October 2000 saw us get 35,000 unique visits, 175,000 page-views and 1.3 million hits. In September 2001, we got over a quarter of a million unique visits, a million page-views and well over 6 million hits. Thanks to my soulmate and webmaster, Robert Cameron, and to his crew at Fantascope, especially Vince Allen and Jonathan Keller, for their design work and constant attention. The much-promised redesign is almost ready to go, but my sudden work load has postponed it for a few weeks. Fear not: it's coming. Thanks again to you, the readers who make this whole thing work. Don't forget to click on the Tipping Point to support our efforts, if you feel like it. - 1:02:37 AM
Monday, October 01, 2001
ASS-COVERING WATCH: Robert Rubin, who, as Joe Klein showed, was a major obstacle to shutting down terrorist financial networks in the last decade, now steps up to the plate. No mention of his own past failures. Perhaps he hopes no-one will notice.
THE PACIFIST LEFT ORGANIZES: If the following excerpt from the September 27 newsletter of the left-liberal group ActForChange is any guide, the Taliban need to be very, very scared by the way some activists are gearing up to respond to the September 11 Massacre. One suggestion? Write the Taliban ambassador! "We have even located a way to contact the only accessible public representative of the Taliban!" the excited activists write. "It remains important to let decision-makers know that we are engaged in civic life and attentive to the responses being made on behalf of the American people ... Please consider the following actions ... Tell the Taliban What You Think. The Taliban has been roundly condemned in the international community for providing a safe haven for Osama bin Laden and other known terrorists in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon. If you wish to send a message to Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan, calling on the group to turn over bin Laden and ease the oppression of women and relief workers in Afghanistan, ActForChange will print out your e-mail and mail or fax it to him." I'm sure you can arrange a flowery American greetings card as well.
IT'S NOT CLINTON'S FAULT - NOTHING EVER IS: One theme of the largely obscene torrent of pro-Clinton emails is a revealing one. Rather than question the obvious fact of the last administration's ultimate responsibility for national security, they argue that the Republicans are at fault for distracting Clinton with what they now call a "jihad" against the president. This follows the usual pattern, fomented by Clinton himself, that he is never to be held responsible for anything ever (except all the good things that happened on his watch). Even after close to 7,000 innocent deaths, Clinton is still the victim. I have a brief response to this in three parts. The president need not have done things that resulted in a sexual harassment lawsuit against him in the first place. The president could easily have settled such a suit years before it metastasized into impeachment. The president could have told the truth as soon a the Lewinsky scandal hit and defused the entire situation. The responsibility for his distraction is ultimately his alone. That's what responsibility means. That's what accountability means. As president, he actually had a duty to defuse that situation in order to function effectively as commander-in-chief. But he chose his own political suicide instead. I opposed convicting the president; and thoroughly criticized the Starr Report. But that doesn't mean the president should be excused for avoiding responsibility and accountability. And the fact that those ideas were so thoroughly trashed by Clinton himself is only further proof of the damage he did to the culture and the government. - 12:16:42 PM