Saturday, January 03, 2009
January 03, 2009
Fifty Years ago Fidel and Raul Castro hijacked an entire island, and ever since that New Year’s day, they have never relaxed their grip on it. What can one say about such an anniversary, if one is Cuban? This fateful date hovers over all of us like a mushroom cloud, smothering our past, present, and future.
A woman rides past a propaganda poster in downtown Santiago de Cuba on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution.
Fidel Castro always boasted that he and his so-called Revolution were loved by “the Cuban people,” and many have believed him. Don’t let that fool you. “The Cuban people” he spoke about were a grotesque abstraction, a figment of his imagination that he successfully projected onto the world stage. He loved to speak for all Cubans, and to think of himself as our embodiment. Yet he betrayed each and every Cuban, simply because he demonized all of us who disagreed with him, and enslaved a whole nation in the name of eternal class warfare, creating new elites who dedicated themselves to suppressing their neighbor’s rights. If you objected to his self-anointing as Maximum Leader or questioned his quixotic schemes, two painful choices were open to you. Just two. And nothing has changed under Raul.
One option was to oppose the so-called Revolution. But if you dared, even by murmuring in the dark, you faced certain imprisonment, torture, or death at the hands of the new elites. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans were brave enough to choose that path, but the world at large never paid much attention to them, or simply denied their existence. The other option was to beg for perpetual banishment. Nearly two million Cubans chose that route, but millions more never got the chance. No one knows for sure how many thousands have drowned at sea while trying to escape.
Exile is never easy, but it is even harder when you are turned into a villain. Fidel loved to portray all of us exiles as arrogant troglodytes who refused to share in the dreams of “the Cuban people” as he imagined them. We were vilified, stripped of our land, our families, and all our belongings, down to wedding rings and family photos. We were picked clean, and the new elites got to keep everything. And many around the world still think of us as selfish louts.
Those who remained behind lost a lot too, besides their basic human rights. As they waved their Cuban flags at mandatory rallies and waited in line with their ration books for scraps, and as they listened to countless promises about a very distant glorious future, they saw other Cubans oozing out of the island in a steady stream, like blood from a gaping wound. And they also had to watch everything crumble around them, helplessly, while new hotels sprang up and hordes of privileged tourists from the capitalist world flowed in like toxic sludge, to exploit them, the ragged noble savages, and to gawk at their ruins and reclaim Cuba as their tawdry playground.
We exiles are always asked: aren’t the free medical care and education provided by the Revolution a great achievement? “No,” we say, speaking from first-hand experience, as the only people on earth fully qualified to comment on this subject. Those programs are a sham, and their cost insufferably high. Fidel and Raul have always claimed that “the Cuban people” were incapable of achieving social justice by any means other than those dictated by them. Their legacy, like that of all despots, rests on violence: repression is the heart and soul of their Orwellian notion of social justice, which demands that free expression be stifled at every turn, and that everyone live in abject poverty, save the elites.
In the long run, it matters little that all sorts of false claims are made for Cuba’s woefully inadequate health care and education programs. Within the island itself, the state constantly reminds Cubans that they owe everything to “the Revolution” and must therefore obey it unconditionally, like slaves on a plantation. In sum, the Revolution owns you, body and soul: no subservience, no benefits.
The ultimate legacy of the Revolution may very well be its utter contempt for Cubans. For half a century now, Cuba’s leaders have strangled all political discourse, poisoning whatever common future all of us Cubans could have hoped for. The Castro regime has not only expelled twenty percent of the population and ripped apart millions of families, but also fanned hatred and intolerance. In the process, the Revolution turned us all into beggars of one sort or another, either in our own homeland or in exile, and bequeathed to us a destitute island prison, part brothel, part work camp, part freak show, where the only way to escape despair –short of suicide-- is to flee, or to become an agent of repression.
That is one hell of an achievement. Hell itself, one might say.
Carlos Eire is the T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University and author of "Waiting for Snow in Havana," winner of 2003 National Book Award, nonfiction.
Orange County Register
Friday, January 2, 2009
So how was your holiday season? Over in Gaza, whether or not they're putting the Christ back in Christmas, they're certainly putting the crucifixion back in Easter. According to the London-based Arabic newspaper al Hayat, on Dec. 23 Hamas legislators voted to introduce Sharia – Islamic law – to the Palestinian territories, including crucifixion. So next time you're visiting what my childhood books still quaintly called "the Holy Land" the re-enactments might be especially lifelike.
The following day, Christmas Eve, Samuel Huntington died at his home at Martha's Vineyard. A decade and a half ago, in his most famous book "The Clash Of Civilizations," professor Huntington argued that Western elites' view of man as homo economicuswas reductive and misleading – that cultural identity is a more profound behavioral indicator than lazy assumptions about the universal appeal of Western-style economic liberty and the benefits it brings.
Very few of us want to believe this thesis.
"The great majority of Palestinian people," Condi Rice, the secretary of state, said to commentator Cal Thomas a couple of years back, "they just want a better life. This is an educated population. I mean, they have a kind of culture of education and a culture of civil society. I just don't believe mothers want their children to grow up to be suicide bombers. I think the mothers want their children to grow up to go to university. And if you can create the right conditions, that's what people are going to do."
Thomas asked a sharp follow-up: "Do you think this or do you know this?"
"Well, I think I know it," said Secretary Rice.
"You think you know it?"
"I think I know it."
I think she knows she doesn't know it. But in the modern world there is no diplomatic vocabulary for the kind of cultural fault line represented by the Israeli/Palestinian dispute, so even a smart thinker like Dr. Rice can only frame it as an issue of economic and educational opportunity. Of course, there are plenty of Palestinians like the ones the secretary of state described: You meet them living as doctors and lawyers in Los Angeles and Montreal and Geneva … but not, on the whole, in Gaza.
In Gaza, they don't vote for Hamas because they want access to university education. Or, if they do, it's to get Junior into the Saudi-funded, Hamas-run Islamic University of Gaza, where majoring in rocket science involves making one and firing it at the Zionist Entity. In 2007, as part of their attempt to recover Gaza from Hamas, Fatah seized 1,000 Qassam rockets at the university, as well as seven Iranian military trainers.
At a certain unspoken level, we understand that the Huntington thesis is right, and the Rice view is wishful thinking. After all, when French President Sarkozy and other European critics bemoan Israel's "disproportionate" response, what really are they saying? That they expect better from the despised Jews than from Hamas. That they regard Israel as a Western society bound by civilized norms, whereas any old barbarism issuing forth from Gaza is to be excused on grounds of "desperation."
Hence, this slightly surreal headline from The New York Times: "Israel Rejects Cease-Fire, But Offers Gaza Aid." For whatever that's worth. Wafa Samir Ibrahim al-Biss, a young Palestinian woman who received considerate and exemplary treatment at an Israeli hospital in Beersheba, returned to that same hospital packed with explosives in order to blow herself up and kill the doctors and nurses who restored her to health. Well, what do you expect? It's "desperation" born of "poverty" and "occupation."
If it was, it would be easy to fix. But what if it's not? What if it's about something more primal than land borders and economic aid?
A couple of days after Hamas voted to restore crucifixion to the Holy Land, their patron in Tehran (and their primary source of "aid") put in an appearance on British TV. As multicultural "balance" to Her Majesty The Queen's traditional Christmas message, the TV network Channel 4 invited President Ahmadinejad to give an alternative Yuletide address on the grounds that it was a valuable public service to let viewers hear him "speak for himself, which people in the West don't often get the chance to see."
In fact, as Caroline Glick pointed out in The Jerusalem Post, the great man "speaks for himself" all the time – when he's at the United Nations, calling on all countries to submit to Islam; when he's presiding over his international conference of Holocaust deniers; when he's calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map" – or (in his more "moderate" moments) relocated to a couple of provinces of Germany and Austria. Caroline Glick forbore to mention that, according to President Ahmadinejad's chief adviser, Hassan Abbassi, his geopolitical strategy is based on the premise that "Britain is the mother of all evils" – the evils being America, Australia, Israel, the Gulf states, Canada and New Zealand, all the malign progeny of the British Empire. "We have established a department that will take care of England," Mr. Abbassi said in 2005. "England's demise is on our agenda."
So when Britain's Channel 4 says that we don't get the chance to see these fellows speak for themselves, it would be more accurate to say that they speak for themselves incessantly but the louder they speak the more we put our hands over our ears and go "Nya nya, can't hear you." We do this in part because, if you're as invested as most Western elites are in the idea that all anyone wants is to go to university, get a steady job and settle down in a nice house in the suburbs, a statement such as "England's demise is on our agenda" becomes almost literally untranslatable. When President Ahmadinejad threatens to wipe Israel off the face of the map, we deplore him as a genocidal fantasist. But maybe he's a genocidal realist, and we're the fantasists.
The civilizational clashes of professor Huntington's book are not inevitable. Culture is not immutable. But changing culture is tough and thankless and something the West no longer has the stomach for. Unfortunately, the Saudis do, and so do the Iranians. And not just in Gaza but elsewhere the trend is away from "moderation" and toward something fiercer and ever more implacable.
To be fair to President Ahmadinejad's hosts at Channel 4, the "department that will take care of England" probably doesn't get the lion's share of the funding in Tehran. On the other hand, when Hashemi Rafsanjani describes the Zionist Entity as "the most hideous occurrence in history," which the Muslim world "will vomit out from its midst" with "a single atomic bomb," that sounds rather more specific, if not teetering alarmingly on the "disproportionate." Unlike its international critics in North America and Europe, Israel has no margin for error.
Friday, January 02, 2009
The Washington Post
Friday, January 2, 2009; A15
Late Saturday, thousands of Gazans received Arabic-language cell-phone messages from the Israeli military, urging them to leave homes where militants might have stashed weapons.
-- Associated Press, Dec. 27
Some geopolitical conflicts are morally complicated. The Israel-Gaza war is not. It possesses a moral clarity not only rare but excruciating.
Israel is so scrupulous about civilian life that, risking the element of surprise, it contacts enemy noncombatants in advance to warn them of approaching danger. Hamas, which started this conflict with unrelenting rocket and mortar attacks on unarmed Israelis -- 6,464 launched from Gaza in the past three years -- deliberately places its weapons in and near the homes of its own people.
This has two purposes. First, counting on the moral scrupulousness of Israel, Hamas figures civilian proximity might help protect at least part of its arsenal. Second, knowing that Israelis have new precision weapons that may allow them to attack nonetheless, Hamas hopes that inevitable collateral damage -- or, if it is really fortunate, an errant Israeli bomb -- will kill large numbers of its own people for which, of course, the world will blame Israel.
For Hamas, the only thing more prized than dead Jews are dead Palestinians. The religion of Jew-murder and self-martyrdom is ubiquitous. And deeply perverse, such as the Hamas TV children's program in which an adorable live-action Palestinian Mickey Mouse is beaten to death by an Israeli (then replaced by his more militant cousin, Nahoul the Bee, who vows to continue on Mickey's path to martyrdom).
At war today in Gaza, one combatant is committed to causing the most civilian pain and suffering on both sides. The other combatant is committed to saving as many lives as possible -- also on both sides. It's a recurring theme. Israel gave similar warnings to Southern Lebanese villagers before attacking Hezbollah in the Lebanon war of 2006. The Israelis did this knowing it would lose for them the element of surprise and cost the lives of their own soldiers.
That is the asymmetry of means between Hamas and Israel. But there is equal clarity regarding the asymmetry of ends. Israel has but a single objective in Gaza -- peace: the calm, open, normal relations it offered Gaza when it withdrew in 2005. Doing something never done by the Turkish, British, Egyptian and Jordanian rulers of Palestine, the Israelis gave the Palestinians their first sovereign territory ever in Gaza.
What ensued? This is not ancient history. Did the Palestinians begin building the state that is supposedly their great national aim? No. No roads, no industry, no courts, no civil society at all. The flourishing greenhouses that Israel left behind for the Palestinians were destroyed and abandoned. Instead, Gaza's Iranian-sponsored rulers have devoted all their resources to turning it into a terror base -- importing weapons, training terrorists, building tunnels with which to kidnap Israelis on the other side. And of course firing rockets unceasingly.
The grievance? It cannot be occupation, military control or settlers. They were all removed in September 2005. There's only one grievance and Hamas is open about it. Israel's very existence.
Nor does Hamas conceal its strategy. Provoke conflict. Wait for the inevitable civilian casualties. Bring down the world's opprobrium on Israel. Force it into an untenable cease-fire -- exactly as happened in Lebanon. Then, as in Lebanon, rearm, rebuild and mobilize for the next round. Perpetual war. Since its raison d'etre is the eradication of Israel, there are only two possible outcomes: the defeat of Hamas or the extinction of Israel.
Israel's only response is to try to do what it failed to do after the Gaza withdrawal. The unpardonable strategic error of its architect, Ariel Sharon, was not the withdrawal itself but the failure to immediately establish a deterrence regime under which no violence would be tolerated after the removal of any and all Israeli presence -- the ostensible justification for previous Palestinian attacks. Instead, Israel allowed unceasing rocket fire, implicitly acquiescing to a state of active war and indiscriminate terror.
Hamas's rejection of an extension of its often-violated six-month cease-fire (during which the rockets never stopped, just were less frequent) gave Israel a rare opportunity to establish the norm it should have insisted upon three years ago: no rockets, no mortar fire, no kidnapping, no acts of war. As the U.S. government has officially stated: a sustainable and enduring cease-fire. If this fighting ends with anything less than that, Israel will have lost yet another war. The question is whether Israel still retains the nerve -- and the moral self-assurance -- to win.
Thursday, January 01, 2009
The Boston Globe
January 1, 2009
ISRAEL'S 2006 war against Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist army based in Lebanon, was a disaster - an ill-planned operation that did more damage to Israel's military reputation than to Hezbollah's resolve and influence. Now, as it fights Hamas in Gaza, Israel seems determined not to repeat the mistakes of two years ago.
This time, Israeli prewar preparations were much more meticulous. Months were devoted to gathering detailed information on scores of Hamas targets, including training camps and offices, rocket launchers, underground bunkers, weapons-making sites, tunnels from Egypt, and the homes of terrorist commanders. Israel's military and political operations appear better coordinated than in 2006, and Israeli diplomats are making use of online weapons - a dedicated YouTube channel, for example - to get its message out.
An Israeli soldier fires tear gas at Palestinian protesters in the West Bank town of Hebron, Saturday, Dec. 27, 2008. Israeli warplanes retaliating for rocket fire from the Gaza Strip pounded dozens of security compounds across the Hamas-ruled territory in unprecedented waves of airstrikes Saturday, killing more than 200 people and wounding nearly 400 in the single bloodiest day of fighting in years. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi) (Nasser Shiyoukhi - AP)
But it remains an open question whether Israel's leaders have learned the most critical lesson of all: that genocidal jihadists and other mortal foes cannot be wheedled, negotiated, bribed, or ignored into quietude. In a war with enemies like Hezbollah and Hamas and the PLO - enemies explicitly committed to Israel's destruction - goodwill gestures beget no goodwill, and peace processes do not lead to peace.
The proximate cause of the fighting in Gaza was the sharp increase in rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli civilians after Hamas refused to extend its tenuous cease-fire with Israel past Dec. 19. But the deeper cause was the transformation of Gaza into an Iranian proxy and terrorist hub following Israel's reckless "disengagement" in 2005. Israelis convinced themselves that ethnically cleansing Gaza of its Jews and handing over the territory to the Palestinians would reduce violence and make Israel safer. It did just the opposite.
In 2000, Israelis had similarly believed that a unilateral retreat from southern Lebanon would deprive Hezbollah of any pretext for continuing its war against the Jewish state. But far from extinguishing Hezbollah's jihadist dreams, it inflamed them.
The hard truth is that no matter how much Israelis crave peace, they cannot achieve it through concessions and compromises and "road maps" - not when their enemies view such overtures and agreements as signs of weakness, and as proof that terrorism works. For 60 years, Israel has had to contend with the hostility of its neighbors and the heavy costs of war; its yearning for peace is understandable. But there will be no peace without victory, and no victory without fighting for it.
For a long time now, Israel's leaders have resisted this fact - "We are tired of fighting," Ehud Olmert infamously declared in 2005. For 15 years, beginning with the sham of the Oslo peace process in 1993, Jerusalem has tried to appease its way to tranquility. It allowed Yasser Arafat and his PLO killers to take control of the West Bank and Gaza. It embraced the goal of Palestinian statehood. It responded to terrorism with ever-deeper concessions. It abandoned Lebanon and Gaza. It reiterated, over and over, the false mantra that "you make peace with your enemies." And from the ongoing captivity of Gilad Shalit to the rockets slamming into Israeli cities to the dysfunction and radicalization of Palestinian society, the results have been disastrous.
There are heartening indications this week of a more realistic and unsentimental approach. Defense Minister Ehud Barak described the offensive against Hamas as a "war to the bitter end" and told an American interviewer, "For us to be asked to have a cease-fire with Hamas is like asking you to have a cease-fire with Al-Qaeda." Both leading contenders in the upcoming Israeli election, Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister and head of Kadima, promise to make it a priority "to topple the Hamas regime" if elected prime minister. Israel's UN ambassador, Gabriela Shalev, has said that the operation in Gaza will last "as long as it takes to dismantle Hamas completely."
Whether this strong rhetoric will be backed up by strong action in the long run remains to be seen. Yesterday, the Israeli cabinet rejected a French proposal for a 48-hour truce. Perhaps, at long last, the lesson has been learned: With an enemy like Hamas, which boasts that it "loves death" and "drinks blood," truces and deals are illusory. If Israel seeks lasting peace, it must first win a lasting victory.
Jeff Jacoby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, January 01, 2009
It’s a safe bet that Geert Wilders won’t be Time magazine’s Man of the Year any time soon. If anything, the unusually coiffed Dutch MP is a favorite hate figure of the Western media, which has spent years vilifying him as a “reactionary,” a “particularly dangerous type of demagogue,” a “racist” and an “Islamophobe.” Wilders would almost certainly plead guilty to the last charge, and with ample reason. His tireless campaign to sound the alarm about the growing threat of Islamic radicalism in the West has turned him into a target of Islamic jihadists and the object of untold assassination plots. A 2006 death threat, one of hundreds he’s received, declared that his “infidel blood will flow freely on cursed Dutch streets.” Al-Qaeda has specifically singled him out for slaughter.
Against this menacing background, it would have been no failing in his character if Wilders had decided that the price of speaking out about Islamic fundamentalism was too high; others in his prominent position would have reached just that conclusion. Instead, Wilders has persevered. Braving daily death threats and sacrificing the security that his critics take for granted, he has opted for the often-thankless task of saving Western civilization from its Islamist discontents – beginning with the valuable reminder that the demands of Islamic zealots are not only not congruent with Western values but are, in fact, in direct conflict with them. For his impressive personal courage, his steadfast political commitment, and his refreshing disdain for the suffocating pieties of political correctness, Geert Wilders is Front Page Magazine’s Man of the Year in 2008.
The steep risks involved in Wilders’s anti-Islamist campaign are tragically illustrated by the fates of two of his countrymen. Pim Fortuyn, the popular Dutch politician who warned against the Islamisation of Dutch society and railed against the “backwardness” of certain Islamic traditions, was gunned down by a crazed animal-rights activist in 2002. His killer later claimed that he had shot Fortuyn in order to defend Dutch Muslims from persecution.
Next on the hit list was Dutch provocateur and documentarian Theo Van Gogh. In 2004, Van Gogh was gruesomely murdered in Amsterdam by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch-born Islamist who judged Van Gogh’s film on the mistreatment of women in Islam, Submission, to be a crime deserving of death. To Van Gogh’s butchered body, Bouyeri pinned a list of “infidels” who “deserved to be slaughtered.” Among the names singled out for execution was Geert Wilders.
The threats were all too real. Shortly after Van Gogh’s murder, Dutch authorities discovered an Islamist network with advanced plans to kill Wilders, and an internet video surfaced promising 72 virgins to anyone who carried out the deed. As police investigated, Wilders was forced into 24-hour protection, traveling from safe house to safe house to avoid his pursuers. Even today he is never without dark-suited bodyguards by his side. “There’s no freedom, no privacy,” Wilders says. “If I said I was not afraid, I would be lying.”
Yet, Wilders remains undaunted. This March, he again incensed Islamists when he released a short but explosive film called Fitna, which seeks to show that Islamic terrorism is directly inspired by the Koran. Artistically rough, the film is nevertheless effective, juxtaposing graphic footage of Islamic terrorism – including the 9/11 attacks, the Madrid train bombings, and the beheading of American contractor Nicholas Berg – with Koranic verses and clips of Islamic clerics preaching the murder of non-Muslims. If nothing else, the film makes it impossible to argue that Islamic texts have nothing at all to with the terrorist violence committed in their name.
Fitna is often translated from the Arabic as “persecution.” That’s grimly appropriate, because the film’s release unleashed a veritable war on Wilders, as jihadists and their unwitting allies in the West sought in different ways to silence the Dutch politician. Anticipating Fitna’s release, muftis across the Middle East promised violence if the film were released. The Taliban pledged to step-up attacks against Dutch troops in Afghanistan. In Indonesia, a group calling itself the Islamic Defenders Front surrounded the Dutch Embassy in Jakarta with signs urging “Kill Geert Wilders.” An al-Qaeda linked website duly ordered his death.
Less bloodthirsty – but more spineless – was the response in the West. Dutch television stations flinched from airing the film, forcing Wilders to release it on the video hosting site LiveLeak.com, which soon pulled it due to “threats to our staff of a very serious nature.” (LiveLeak later restored the film.) Political leaders meanwhile went out of their way to denounce Wilders. Thus Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende insisted that Fitna “serves no other purpose than to cause offense,” while U.N .Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called it “offensively anti-Islamic.” A white flag was also unfurled by Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen, who urged Wilders to give in to Islamist demands not to show the film, warning that it could “endanger the lives of Dutch nationals” abroad if he did. Dutch Muslims – inadvertently proving Wilders’s point about the incompatibility of Islamic beliefs and Western freedoms – demanded that the film be banned.
But just as the tide of elite Western opinion was turning against him, Wilders was vindicated by an unlikely observer: Libyan-based jihadist cleric Omar Bakri. Not only were Fitna’s attempts to link terrorist violence with Islamic teachings not offensive, Bakri explained, but they were entirely accurate. Indeed, Bakri said, Fitna “could be a film made by the mujahedeen.” In other words, Wilders was exactly right.
He’s been right about a lot of things. To take one example of many, Wilders has been resoundingly right about the dangers of surging Islamic radicalism in Europe. While he has been condemned for calling for the closure of radical mosques and the deportation of militant clerics, back in 2004 Wilders accurately pointed out that 25 Dutch mosques had terrorist connections, while their resident imams preached against the evils of democracy and Dutch values. One such preacher, Tilburg-based Syrian imam Ahmad Salam, first came to Dutch public attention with sermons urging Muslim men to beat their wives, then refused to shake hands with Dutch Integration Minister Rita Verdonk in 2004, and again courted notoriety when he urged his followers to avoid paying taxes in order to “damage the state.” Despite his undisguised contempt for Dutch laws and culture, Salam continues to call Holland home. It would be hard to find more telling confirmation of Wilders’s warnings.
Wilders has also been correct that Western ideals of tolerance and equality are under assault by Islamic radicals. European police report that Islamic honor killings are on the rise. In 2005, for instance, a review by British police of 22 domestic homicides led to 18 of the cases being reclassified as “murder in the name of so-called ‘honor.’” Polls routinely find that a disturbingly large percentage of Muslims – one in 10 according to a 2006 BBC poll – would condone the murder of someone seen to have disrespected their families honor. The situation is equally dire in Wilders’s native Netherlands. In Amsterdam, once the “gay capital of Europe,” gays are frequently attacked and beaten up by roving gangs of Muslim thugs. An August 2007 survey by current affairs program EenVandaag found that nearly half of Dutch gays feel less safe in the country’s streets.
No wonder that many Dutch citizens are coming around to Wilders’s view of the Islamist threat. According to a May 2005 poll, 43 percent of the Dutch now believe that Islam is incompatible with Western society. Similarly, a 2006 poll found that the majority of native Dutch regard Islam as intolerant, violent, and hostile to women. Not that Wilders has gotten credit for bringing these matters to national attention. For his troubles, he has been tarred as a “far-right” bigot and xenophobe.
The truth is that Wilders is a liberal in a uniquely European sense. What he champions are quintessentially Western values: separation of church and state; equality of the sexes; free expression; the right to provoke and even, yes, to offend. His proposal to ban the all-covering burqa owes more to the ideals of gender equality than to religious discrimination. Even his more controversial measure to stop the Islamisation of Europe – an end to all Muslim immigration – is more about safeguarding Western traditions than locking out foreigners. That is why he has always stressed that Europe should remain a place of refuge, including, for instance, for gay Muslims fleeing persecution. True, Wilders is an unabashed believer in the superiority of Western culture. But the fact that this is now considered a thought crime is more of an indictment of the contemporary Western world than it is of Wilders.
Given the great personal costs he has suffered, it must be asked: Has it all been worth it? It is a measure of Wilders the man that he never struggles with the question. “Speaking out boldly cost me my personal liberty, with 24-hour security and police protection for more than four years now,” Wilders told Front Page Magazine last week. “But if I and others don’t at least try, and if I would not do my modest bit, millions of westerners will lose their liberty. You see, there is so much at stake. Our liberty and freedom are being bargained away and only so few speak out against it. I am no hero but I would rather be killed for what I say and believe than submit in silence to Islamic totalitarianism. If I regret anything at all, it’s is not being too bold but not being bold enough.”
Geert Wilders has made all the right enemies. At a time when many counsel accommodation of Islamist demands, Wilders remains defiant. In an era of civilizational self-loathing, he defends the West without apology. Despite the threats to his life, he refuses to be silenced. For all this, Wilders deserves the praise of many – including the many in the West who scorn his name.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Tuesday, 30th December 2008
When Ed Husain famously renounced Islamism there were some who warned that, despite his denunciation of Hizb ut Tahrir and Islamist ideology, he remained dangerously confused and should not be treated as a serious reformer. I thought this was too harsh. He had, after all, bravely taken an enormous step out of the darkness; surely he had to be given time and encouragement to adjust properly to the light. Surely it was a good thing that he was encouraging young British Muslims to turn away from Islamic radicalism. The extreme importance of that task was such that, even when he wrote a stupid and ignorant piece about Zionism, I hoped that if he was now told the truth about the history of Israel and the Jewish people, he would realise the error of his thinking on that particular issue. So I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
I was wrong.
With first this press release from the Quilliam Foundation soon after the start of the current Israeli operation in Gaza, and now his poisonous piece on the Guardian’s Comment is Free today, Ed Husain has shown that in the great battle to defend civilisation against barbarism he is on the wrong side.
Israel’s massacre of innocent Palestinians
But this is totally untrue. The vast majority of Gazans who have been killed were Hamas terrorists. According to today’s UN figures, 364 have been killed of whom only 62 were civilians. Israel has been targeting only the Hamas infrastructure and its terror-masters, as detailed here. While some civilian casualties are unfortunately inevitable, Israel is clearly attempting to minimise them. It is Hamas which deliberately targets Israeli civilians when it fires its rockets and detonates its human bombs specifically at Israeli civilian targets. It is Hamas which deliberately turns its own civilians into targets by siting its rockets and other military equipment under apartment blocks and in centres of densely crowded population. Hamas tries to kill as many Israeli innocents as possible; Israel’s military operation is conducted solely to defend its people against such attack and is designed to minimise the loss of civilian life in Gaza. To draw an equivalence between the two is obscene.
Ed Husain argues that this war will strengthen Hamas in Gaza and radicalise yet more Muslims. It is surely rather more likely that many Palestinians, who have themselves been terrorised by Hamas, will blame Hamas for the current situation, just as Fatah and Egypt have done. Moreover, since any measure Israel takes to defend itself against mass murder – and for that matter, any and every military action in defence of the west by Britain or America -- is used to radicalise Muslims, he is in effect saying that Israel should never take any military action to defend itself, even after being attacked by 5000 rockets in three years.
Indeed, since the very existence of Israel is used to radicalise Muslims, it also implies that Israel should cease to exist at all. Which is implicitly to endorse a second genocide of the Jews. But then Ed Husain comes perilously close to doing just that in this article. Having declared
I’ve spoken out in support of Israel’s right to exist
-- big deal! – he vitiates even this by saying he is now having second thoughts:
But Israel's cold, politically timed killing of more than 300 Palestinians makes me, and millions more, rethink our attitude towards Israel.
‘Cold politically timed killings’? But Israel only launched this offensive because -- as Mahmoud Abbas has said -- Hamas ended its ‘truce’ and started lobbing dozens of rockets at Israel. And the fact that he can even apparently entertain the idea that Israel might no longer have ‘the right to exist’ puts him outside the moral pale altogether. Does he say China has no right to exist on account of Tibet? Syria on account of the thousands it killed in Hama in one weekend in 1982? Iran on account of its barbaric killings of women, gays and political dissidents? No, of course not – only Israel. He goes on:
Israel’s calculated killing and attempts at deception cannot be overlooked. How can the children of Holocaust survivors become such brutal killers? And during the Sabbath?
This takes the blood libel onto another plane still. The implication that the victims of brutal killing have themselves become brutal killers – when all they are doing is trying to prevent another Holocaust, explicitly threatened in the foundational charter of the people against whose genocidal onslaught Israel is merely defending itself – is unconscionable. And the dig at Jewish religious practice is as ignorant as it is gratuitous. Wars of self-defence, as this one is, to save innocent lives threatened by murderous aggression, take precedence in Judaism over sabbath observance. How telling that Ed Husain, ostensibly condemning Israel over the conduct of a war, cannot resist having a sly poke at Judaism itself.
An Israeli soldier walks past a tank at a staging area on the Israel-Gaza border Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2008.
(AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Then there’s his lamentable historical illiteracy. He writes:
I’ve sat in homes of poor, hospitable Palestinians who still yearn to return to their homeland, taken by force from them in the turmoil after Britain hurriedly left Palestine in 1948...At schools across the Arab world children are taught about the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916. Here in Britain, we might want to forget this imperial past, but ask any Arab and they will reel off these dates and confirm Britain's involvement in creating Israel. As a country, we have a moral duty to right our historical wrongs. We helped create Israel. We must now help create a Palestine.
For goodness sake! To repeat for the nth time: Israel was never the Palestinians’ ‘homeland’. It was never taken from them ‘by force’. On the contrary, they tried to take the Jews’ homeland from them by force – and are still trying. It was the Jews alone for whom historically ‘Palestine’ was ever their national homeland. On account of that history and the inalienable right to the land that it conferred, Britain was given a mandate to re-establish that national home and establish accordingly ‘close settlement’ of the Jews within the whole of Palestine – which included what is now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. To appease Arab violence, the Arabs who lived there were offered their own state around the areas where they were concentrated. But they refused and, backed by neighbouring Arab states, went to war to destroy at birth the Jewish state established by the UN under international law – a war that has continued uninterrupted to this day.
There is only one way to de-radicalise people who are being brainwashed by murderous lies, and that is to tell them the truth. If Ed Husain were really interested in de-radicalising Britain’s Muslims, he would tell them that they have been fed a diet of incendiary lies and blood libels about Israel and the Jews, and that justice demands they are taught instead the truth. But instead, he has now adopted the very narrative and rhetoric that are driving Muslims to mass murder.
The issue of Israel sits at the very apex of the fight to defend civilisation. Those who wish to destroy western civilisation need to destroy the Jews, whose moral precepts formed its foundation stones. The deranged hatred of the Jews lies at the core of the Islamists’ hatred of America, the ‘infidel’ west and modernity, and is the reason why they wish to destroy Israel. Unless people in the west understand that Israel’s fight is their own fight, they will be on the wrong side of the war to defend not just the west but civilisation in general.
The British government has invested huge hopes in Ed Husain as an attractive and plausible antidote to Islamist extremism in Britain. But how can anyone now believe anything he has ever said when he promulgates such a gross libel as the canard of Israel’s ‘massacre’ of hundreds of ‘innocent' Gazans? How can the government believe that Ed Husain will de-radicalise British Muslims when through articles such as this one he is inciting them to yet more hatred of Israel, the west’s forward salient against Islamist aggression?
Of course, his arguments are -- tragically, appallingly -- replicated in large measure amongst the British intelligentsia, media and indeed members of the government itself and the broad political class. Indeed, this is a far, far wider problem than one not-so-reformed-after-all Islamic extremist. It is a profound moral corruption that has infected the British body politic. The fact that so many among Britain’s educated class think like this means that they too are on the wrong side in the great battle to defend civilisation. And it’s not just Israel that in their moral confusion they are thus preparing to throw to the Islamist wolves. It is their own society too.
(Click on title to play video)
We live in a political world,
Love don't have any place.
We're living in times where men commit crimes
And crime don't have a face
We live in a political world,
Icicles hanging down,
Wedding bells ring and angels sing,
clouds cover up the ground.
We live in a political world,
Wisdom is thrown into jail,
It rots in a cell, is misguided as hell
Leaving no one to pick up a trail.
We live in a political world
Where mercy walks the plank,
Life is in mirrors, death disappears
Up the steps into the nearest bank.
We live in a political world
Where courage is a thing of the past
Houses are haunted, children are unwanted
The next day could be your last.
We live in a political world.
The one we can see and can feel
But there's no one to check, it's all a stacked deck,
We all know for sure that it's real.
We live in a political world
In the cities of lonesome fear,
Little by little you turn in the middle
But you're never why you're here.
We live in a political world
Under the microscope,
You can travel anywhere and hang yourself there
You always got more than enough rope.
We live in a political world
Turning and a'thrashing about,
As soon as you're awake, you're trained to take
What looks like the easy way out.
We live in a political world
Where peace is not welcome at all,
It's turned away from the door to wander some more
Or put up against the wall.
We live in a political world
Everything is hers or his,
Climb into the frame and shout God's name
But you're never sure what it is.
By Quin Hillyer on 12.31.08 @ 6:08AM
The American Spectator
Far too many members of the establishment media seem to wish for a world where it is always winter but never Christmas.
Fans of C.S. Lewis' "Narnia" series will immediately recognize that phrase -- "always winter but never Christmas" -- as the situation that prevailed in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (henceforth LWW) before the return to the land of Narnia of Aslan, the great lion-Christ. But consider the phrase more broadly and metaphorically. The establishment media continues to give copious evidence of ignorance of, and often outright hostility to, Western religion and to the moral values shaped by it. Their ignorance and hostility is unprofessional, and it is despicable. A reader could be excused for often getting the impression that, like the White Witch, the establishment media would love to turn all believers to stone and keep us from ever celebrating Christmas -- or Easter, or (for that matter) any Jewish observance, either, unless treated as merely a cultural observance rather than a true religious celebration.
This column topic suggested itself when the December 14 Washington Post contained not one but two cultural articles at least somewhat offensive to traditionalist sensibilities. The first was a glowing book review called "Saving C.S. Lewis." Written by foreign desk editor Elizabeth Ward, also described in the byline as "a longtime reviewer of children's books," the review assessed a new literary endeavor by a woman named Laura Miller called The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia.
According to Ward, Miller was an especially devoted Narnia fan as a child, but felt a "sense of betrayal" when she realized in her early teens that the Narnia series contained not only wonderful fairy tales but also "really just the doctrines of the Church in disguise." Raised a Catholic but turned off by what she considered the church's "guilt-mongering," Miller was so upset by what she now considered to be "appallingly transfigured" stories that she then wanted nothing to do with the books. That decision changed again, though, when a reading assignment as an adult helped her discover that Lewis's series remained radiant apart from its subtext as Christian apologetics.
Oh, the joy! The sheer joy to find out that Narnia wasn't utterly ruined by its Christianity! Miller responded by writing this learned, 311-page discourse on all things Narnia and their roots in other literature and other realms of culture -- or at least all things not polluted by their Christian context.
Not having read Miller's book itself, one might be accused of snarkiness for noting, first, that Miller must not have been terribly sharp as a Catholic child if it took her until her teens to realize that Narnia involved Christian allegory. (I once read LWW to a six-year-old who, two minutes after hearing the resurrection scene, smiled and pointed to the sky and said Aslan was "like Jesus.") Or for noting, second, that it seems almost a psychological deficiency among so many literati when they find faith not just unconvincing or unimportant personally, but actually an affront even when in the form of a relatively gentle faith allegory. It is a peculiar mindset that takes umbrage at something that brings joy to others but demands no tribute from the unbeliever. After all, we do not see Miller or the establishment media take offense at The Iliad and The Odyssey because Greek gods play huge roles in those stories -- do we?
NEVERTHELESS, THE PROBLEM HERE is not Miller, who is of course entitled to her views. The problem is with the reviewer, Ward. Ward, as a reviewer in a "mainstream" journal, embraces wholeheartedly the decidedly anti-Christian bias she describes in Miller's book. It is Ward, not Miller, who blasts LWW co-producer Disney because its "unsubtle blockbuster movie in 2005 left the whole series more or less hijacked by Christian fundamentalists." One can almost see the scorn for "Christian fundamentalists" dripping, like rancid buttermilk, from Ward's pen. And her over-sensitivity to the Christian element of the movie itself is remarkable; literally at random, I googled Los Angeles Times reviewer Carina Chocano's contemporary reaction to the movie, which far more accurately noted as follows: "The Christian allegory embedded at its chewy center serves less as evangelical cudgel than a primer on morality and the myths we create to explain it…. If it weren't for Lewis' stated intention to write a fantastical story to make the dogma go down, it might even come across as a liberal humanist parable about myth and its function in society, especially during times of trouble."
That sure doesn't sound like a movie "hijacked by fundamentalists."
But Ward doesn't stop there. The whole tone of her review in the Post is that of agreeing that the Christian elements of Narnia are decidedly disagreeable. The last paragraph approvingly asserts that "Miller largely succeeds in rescuing the Narnia series from the narrow Christian box into which it has been crammed." Note the language: rescued. And narrow Christian box.
Yes, that's it: Lewis's storytelling was so good that it rescues his tales from their obnoxious Christian undertones. Right. That's like saying that Jefferson's prose was so inspirational that it rescued the Declaration of Independence from its obnoxious themes celebrating liberty and life. And wasn't it a shame, too, that Martin Luther King had to pollute his quest for racial equality with his narrow Christian superstructure?
If the Washington Post's editors can't understand how insulting Ward's review is to anybody of traditional faith, their ignorance is astonishing.
BUT THE POST'S OFFENSIVENESS didn't stop there. That same day, the Sunday Washington Post Magazine contained a curious essay by an "M. Lynn Miller," supposedly her "first published piece," charmingly called "My Mom, the Adulteress." It's all about her mother's 35-year, on-again, off-again romance (through the course of two of her mother's own marriages) with a married man. The tenor of the essay is captured in a few sentences of the last paragraph: "I am happy for her. There are a few great loves out there, and my mom found one. He says that he'll leave his wife this time.…"
Okay, maybe from a certain angle this strange little essay can be seen to be, uh, touching, almost sweet: a daughter writing about her concern for her mother's happiness. But what the heck is it doing in a daily newspaper? What's the news value, or the point? Seen objectively, the piece offends the basic standards of decency still adhered to by most Americans. Somehow, it's just not right for a daughter to write touchingly, indeed somewhat approvingly, in a general forum, about her mother's adultery. There's both an immorality factor and, well, an ick factor. Perhaps the essay might be worthwhile in a literary magazine, but not a broad-circulation daily deliberately written to be accessible to teenagers as well. Indeed, the Sunday magazine is one of the sections most accessible, most attractive, to younger readers. This particular Sunday magazine was especially a lure to teens; its cover illustration, with two figures drawn like comic-book heroes, advertised the lead story about "the brutal odds of making it in the comic book business!"
With such a cover, even an 8-year-old would be likely to pick up the magazine, start thumbing through it… and find himself reading a story whose first paragraph reads: "My mother is a really, really good person…. And she's having sex with a married man."
While this weird essay contains no direct insult to any particular faith by name, its whole subject matter, in such a forum, amounts to a deliberate flouting of the morals important to just about every faith tradition on earth. How a newspaper editor approved it is beyond belief. The deliberate nose-thumbing at social and religious mores is astonishing.
But, as has been shown by a spate of post-election columns even by nominal "conservatives" blasting the "religious right" without even evincing the slightest understanding of who the religious right's adherents are or what they actually believe, this sort of thing is par for the course in the establishment media. When the media isn't obliviously offending traditionalists, it is outright sneering at them, insulting them, or even describing them in terms usually reserved for evildoers like the Red Brigades or the Gestapo.
NINE DAYS AFTER the Post's one-two punch, the Wall Street Journal ran a book review by Vincent Carroll of the Rocky Mountain News of a book called Blind Spot, a collection of essays well described by the book's subtitle: "When Journalists Don't Get Religion." Carroll cites a number of the book's examples of journalists treating faith and religion with about the same level of understanding as an ordinary American would show for Egyptian hieroglyphics. When jihadist terrorists, for example, target Jewish centers or kill Christian hostages while sparing Muslim ones, news outlets such as the New York Times or CNN International proclaim that the terrorists' motives were unclear.
As an example of missing the obvious, that's akin to reporting that it is unclear why Red Sox fans boo when a Yankee star steps to the plate. But for the establishment media, it's a common occurrence. The media not only fails to understand basic things about religions and the motives of various religiously driven newsmakers, but doesn't even appear to want to understand.
As Carroll concludes in his review, the result isn't merely a snubbing of the faithful, but a failure of basic standards of journalistic competence. Failure at least to understand religion and to take it seriously means, Carroll writes, that "the news media will continue to miss a vast dimension of mankind's story."
This state of affairs is nothing new, of course, but the problem seems to have become even worse, if possible, than it was in 1993 when the Post infamously described Evangelicals as being overwhelmingly "poor, uneducated and easy to command." It was in the same year, I believe (my files have gotten misplaced, but the quotation is seared in my memory), that one of the major new magazines (I think Newsweek) featured a lengthy article well summed up by its subtitle: "The Surprising Unsecularity of the American Public." Note that "secularity" is seen as the norm (despite the fact that 90 percent or so of Americans continually call themselves at least somewhat religious), so that the magazine felt compelled to invent the ungainly word "unsecularity" rather than use a perfectly good, and more accurate, word such as "faithfulness" or even "religiosity."
And for anybody who has spent more than about three months in these United States to find our level of faith "surprising" is for that person not just to be so unobservant as to be wholly unsuited for reporting, but to be almost willfully blind and deaf to the religious dimension of the lives most Americans lead.
Such willful blindness amounts either to a fundamental dishonesty or to a fundamental failure of both the imagination and the empirical skill-set any journalist should boast -- or to a combination of all three of those fundamental flaws.
Such flaws amount to failures of character or training, or both. On the training side, the establishment media today increasingly reserves its jobs for highly degreed graduates of famous colleges. Indeed, in Deborah Howell's farewell column as the Washington Post's ombudsman last Sunday, she acknowledged a growing problem: "Now journalists are highly trained, mobile and, especially in Washington, more elite. We make a lot more money, drive better cars and have nicer homes. Some of us think we're just a little more special than some of the folks we want to buy the paper or read us online."
That superciliousness, that false feeling of superiority, ought not be what is produced by a liberal education. And it raises a deceptively probing question. It was a question asked several times in LWW by the old professor who was amazed that some of the Pevensie children refused to believe the reality of magic occurring almost under their noses.
"Bless me," said the Professor, "what do they teach them at these schools?"
- Quin Hillyer is an associate editor at the Washington Examiner and a senior editor of The American Spectator. He can be reached at email@example.com.
December 30, 2008
Michelle Malkin Archive
Nero fiddled while Rome burned. The UAW golfed. While carmakers soak up $17 billion in taxpayer bailout funds and demand more for their ailing industry, United Auto Workers bosses have wasted tens of millions of their workers' dues on gold-plated resorts and rotten investments. The labor organization's money-losing golf compound is just the tip of the iceberg.
Last week on my blog I noted that the UAW owns and operates Black Lake Golf Course—a "championship caliber" course opened in 2000 that's part of a larger "family education center" and retreat nestled in 1,000 acres of property in Onaway, Mich. Spearheaded by former UAW president Steve Yokich, the resort also includes "a beautiful gym with two full-sized basketball courts, an Olympic-size indoor pool, exercise and weight room, table-tennis and pool tables, a sauna, beaches, walking and bike trails, softball and soccer fields and a boat launch ramp." Like everything else we're subsidizing these days, the UAW's playground is a money pit. The Detroit Free Press reported earlier this year that the golf course (valued at $6 million) and education center (valued at $27 million) have together lost $23 million over the past five years. While membership in the union has plummeted, the UAW retains assets worth $1.2 billion.
Curious about how the UAW will be spending my money and yours, I sifted through the union's most recent annual report filed with the U.S. Department of Labor (which you can find at unionreports.gov). Who knew hitting the links was so central to the business of making cars?
In May and November 2007, the UAW forked over nearly $53,000 for union staff meetings at the Thousand Hills Golf Resort in Branson, Mo. In September 2007, the UAW dropped another $5,000 at the Lakes of Taylor Golf Club in Taylor, Mich., and another $9,000 at the Thunderbird Hills Golf Club in Huron, Ohio. Another bill for $5,772 showed up for the Branson, Mo., golf resort. On Oct. 26, 2007, the union spent $5,000 on another "golf outing" in Detroit. In May and June 2007, UAW bosses spent nearly $11,000 on a golf tournament and related expenses at the Hawthorne Hill Country Club in Lima, Ohio. And in April 2007, the UAW spent $12,000 for a charity golf sponsorship in Dearborn, Mich. In August 2007, the UAW paid nearly $10,000 to its for-profit Black Lake golf course operator, UBG, for something itemized as "Golf 2007 Summer School." UBG had nearly $4.4 million worth of outstanding loans from the union. Another for-profit entity that runs the education center, UBE, had nearly $20 million in outstanding loans from the union.
Perhaps, the union bosses might argue, they need all this fresh air and exercise to clear their heads in order to make wise financial decisions on behalf of their workers. If only. UAW management has proven to be a money-squandering corruptocracy with faux blue-collar trim. Former UAW head Yokich, who built the Black Lake black hole, is also responsible for bidding $9.75 million of workers' funds in a botched bid to purchase the gated La Mancha Resort Village in Palm Springs. The 100-room walled resort with spas, poolside massages and a "croquet lawn lit for night use" was on the verge of bankruptcy with $5.2 million in debt. Despite outrage from rank-and-file union members who thought one gold-plated golf resort was quite enough, leaders defended the La Mancha bid because, as union spokesman Paul Krell put it, "You can never tell if you are going to become snowbound." Always putting the workers first!
That deal didn't go through, but the UAW's quixotic dalliance with a failed airline did. In February 2000, the union poured $14.7 million into Pro Air, a Detroit start-up airline that, well, didn't get off the ground. Plagued by safety problems, the feds shuttered the company less than a year later. The union didn't fare much better in its venture with a liberal radio network. In 1996, union heavies got the bright idea to invest $5 million in United Broadcasting Network, a left-wing precursor to Air America that the UAW hoped to use to spread its corporate-bashing propaganda. They shelled out for a $2 million, state-of-the-art studio in Detroit and incurred years of losses of a reported $75,000 a month before closing the network down in 2003.
And while the UAW and carmakers cry poor, they've operated massive joint funds for years that have paid for lavish items such as multi-million-dollar NASCAR racer sponsorships and Las Vegas junkets. The dire economic downturn hasn't changed the behavior of profligate union bigs at the front office or the shop floor. Local Detroit TV station WDIV recently caught local UAW bosses Ron Seroka and Jim Modzelewski—both of whom make six-figure salaries—on tape squandering thousands of hours of overtime on such important labor security matters as on-the-clock beer runs and bowling tournaments.
At least the groveling Big Three CEOs gave up their corporate jets. Where's the public flogging for the greed-infested UAW fat cats reaching into our pockets to keep them afloat?
COPYRIGHT CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
- Michelle Malkin [email her] is author of Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals, and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores. Click here for Peter Brimelow’s review. Click here for Michelle Malkin's website. Michelle Malkin's latest book is Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild.
Carlos M. Gutierrez
The Washington Times
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Fifty years ago on Jan 1, 1959, Fidel Castro's rebels marched into Havana overthrowing the Batista dictatorship and promising the people of Cuba a revolution based on democracy, prosperity and social justice. Instead, the Cuban people have been abused and repressed for half a century. The prosperity Castro promised was never realized as the economy stagnated under the weight of communism. Those who dared to criticize Castro's government were executed, imprisoned, or forced to flee their country.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Raul Castro (right) succeeded his ailing brother Fidel (left).
The "revolutionary" promises never materialized. Instead, the Cuban people have experienced the most tyrannical regime in the modern history of the Western Hemisphere, with the same political elite in power for the past 50 years.
Today, the average Cuban lives on $20 a month and relies on government ration cards. There are shortages of basic foodstuffs and supplies such as cooking oil and soap. It is illegal for Cubans to open their own businesses to provide for their families.
If Cubans speak out against the government, corruption, or their lack of food, they face intimidation, violence, and imprisonment. If they decide to emigrate, they lose their jobs and are harassed. The Cuban government is currently holding at least 240 political prisoners whose only crime is that they spoke out against the injustice of the system.
The question I am always asked is: "When will the United States change its policy towards Cuba?" The real question should be: "When will the Cuban government change its policy towards its people?"
One must understand that Castro is first and foremost anti-American. His regime has maintained power for 50 years by blaming the United States for the hardships of the Cuban people. Whenever the Cuban government has had surplus resources, ordinary Cubans have never benefited. Instead, resources were used to finance Cuban adventurism abroad by sending money, soldiers, and arms to support insurgencies in Africa and Latin America.
Like the nine administrations before it, the Bush administration has pressed Cuba to respect its citizens' fundamental human rights, release its political prisoners, and hold free and fair elections. Over the past 50 years, the Cuban government has made it close to impossible to improve relations between our two countries. This can be easily confirmed with a review of history over the past half century.
In 1959, after Castro traveled to the United States, he instructed his ministers to reject U.S. aid. In 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he urged the Soviet Union to launch a preemptive nuclear strike on the United States. In 1977, President Carter sought to improve relations by opening a U.S. interests section in Cuba. The Cuban government responded by including dangerous prisoners and patients from its jails and mental health facilities in the Mariel Boatlift. In the mid-1990s, President Clinton eased restrictions on travel and remittances. Havana responded by creating a migration crisis and shooting down two U.S. civilian planes over international waters.
This year, Cuba was ravaged by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. The United States offered five humanitarian aid packages, without conditions, but the Cuban government refused, once again putting politics above the welfare of its people.
Those who hold power in Cuba are determined to maintain their positions of privilege even if it means the people of Cuba must continue to suffer. The communist regime of Cuba has made no secret that it is a staunch enemy of the United States. The regime's disdain for human rights is appalling, yet the United States is criticized for its policies towards Cuba.
The goal of U.S. policy must remain focused on helping the Cuban people transition to a free society, while denying Castro resources. That has always been the endgame. But, there are those today who would accept less. To suggest unconditional dialogue with the Castro brothers would only signal that the conditions in Cuba are acceptable. If the United States does not continue to stand for the ideals of freedom and human rights and against the many guises of tyranny and oppression, who will?
Carlos M. Gutierrez is U.S. Secretary of Commerce.
December 31, 2008
Since he was federally charged with trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder, Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been wrongly caricatured as some kind of hapless jester prancing on the edge of madness.
Jesters hold rattles with a likeness of their heads on the end of a stick, and they hop off into a corner, prattling to themselves. That's what jesters do.
Jesters don't pick up the race card in a nationally televised news conference and slam it into the face of every Democrat in the U.S. Senate, a palm heel strike to the tip of the nose, leaving all of them watery-eyed, their lips stinging.
(Tribune photo by Phil Velasquez / December 30, 2008)
Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., steps forward to address reporters after Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (left), selected former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris (right), to succeed President-elect Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate.
Yet that's what Blagojevich—aided by former Black Panther-turned-Daley-machine-functionary Bobby Rush—did at that stupendous news conference in Chicago on Tuesday. That's when the governor appointed Democratic empty suit Roland Burris, an African-American, to fill the Senate seat vacated by Obama.
"Please don't allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man," said Blagojevich.
It was a brazen move, and a smart one, and though the race card was ugly, there was no passion in it. There was no lunacy involved.
"This is not about Roland, this is about Rod," said savvy political consultant Thom Serafin when I called him while watching the circus of the politically bizarre. Serafin correctly predicted weeks ago that it would be Burris, shortly after Blagojevich was arrested and most other Senate hopefuls pulled out lest they be infected by the governor's dilemma.
"This is Rod telling the political class that he's still active, that he's still around, that he's still the governor," Serafin said. "And how do they deny Roland Burris? They can't."
On TV, Burris was chattering amiably, saying nothing as usual, and this time he forgot to mention several key facts about himself: That he's waited his turn and now it's his turn; that he's had his gravestone carved with all his political titles but he left room for more, and that he helped elect Blagojevich by running in the Democratic primary for governor and pulling African-American votes from Blagojevich's strongest challenger, former Chicago schools chief Paul Vallas.
It's that kind of arithmetic that politicians find impossible to deny.
"Let me just remind you that there is presently no African-American in the Senate," said Rush, the U.S. representative of the 1st Congressional District, whom the young Obama challenged years ago and got trounced by, teaching Obama to embrace the realities of Chicago politics: Go along and get along.
On Tuesday, Rush was obviously quite ill, but he was not mentally unstable. He was certainly strong enough to use the angry race language of the 1960s as he stood next to Burris and Blagojevich. Rush warned that no sitting Democrat would go on record for long to bar an African-American from taking the seat.
"I would ask you to not hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer. Roland Burris is worthy," Rush said.
Isn't that the old politics of race that Obama was to have transcended for us?
But there it was, out in the open again, the images of young men hanging from trees in old black-and-white photos offered up easily by Rush, who has himself cozied up to Mayor Richard Daley and for a time was in charge of a Daley political fund.
"And I don't think any senators want to go on the record to deny an African-American from taking a seat in the U.S. Senate," Rush said, ominously.
Grown-ups have seen such theater before. The only things missing were cameo performances by those two prolific race card players, Al Sharpton and Chicago's own Rev. Jesse Jackson.
But Sharpton was preoccupied, giving photo ops to Caroline Kennedy for her New York Senate campaign. That video clip of the two having a cozy lunch, chatting amiably like old friends as they spear their vegetables, continues to run endlessly on cable TV news. While Sharpton might think the Kennedy lunch was expensive, she will no doubt consider it cheap at the price.
Meanwhile, Jackson has his own issues. His son, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Bud Light), is mentioned in the Blagojevich federal criminal complaint as Senate Candidate 5, whose emissaries reportedly promised Blagojevich $1 million in campaign cash in exchange for his appointment. Congressman Jackson has denied making any such arrangement.
Senate Democrats are talking tough now, saying they won't seat Burris, but that won't hold. The debate has been framed. The only African-American in the Senate leaves for the White House, another African-American is appointed to fill that spot, and Democratic politicians know they owe their livelihoods to African-American voters.
That talk about transcending race was just talk. Skin pigment trumps ideas, and Blagojevich, who may be facing a jury soon, wants all the friends he can get.
Of course, Tuesday's fiasco could have been avoided. Democrats in the state legislature could have stripped Blagojevich of his appointment powers and imposed a special election. Obama also could have demanded it. But as he has done so often in his career, Obama avoided a confrontation and looked the other way.
Democrats tried to finesse this, and they allowed Blagojevich the opening he needed, to hold that news conference and defy everybody. And so I'm forced to tip my hat to Gov. Dead Meat on this one, for sheer brazenness.
He's no jester. And it takes guts to keep a straight face while Democrats about you are losing theirs.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Tuesday, 30 December 2008
from National Review
My personal chronology of the Bush years is simple enough:
For the first eight months, I did shtick. We all did. In April of 2001, he went to Quebec for the Summit of the Americas and was greeted by the then Canadian Prime Minister, whose name escapes me, as I trust it does you. “Bienvenue,” he said to Dubya. “That means ‘Welcome’.” Ha-ha. What fun we had. There were the usual riots, of course, led by that French farmer famous for destroying his local McDonald’s on the grounds that “the free market is violence”. He was accompanied by various weekending trustafarians who’d motored up from the Ivy League, plus large numbers of Canadian students who’d had their exams postponed and were given $300,000 of taxpayers’ money in order to enable them to get to Quebec City and smash the place up. I forget what the Summit was about, although I had plenty of one-on-one face-time with lonely Latin American foreign ministers who couldn’t find anyone else to talk to, and I may even have filed a couple of widely unread thumbsuckers on the lines of: “The Guatemalan Deputy Trade Minister gets it. Why don’t we?” In the end, the Summit wasn’t really “about” anything. Not a lot was in those days.
Then came a Tuesday morning in September. And “Steyn butched up”, as a Canadian columnist recently put it. There was a lot of that about. Even mild-mannered coves like the State Department’s Richard Armitage were getting General Musharraf on the phone and threatening to bomb his country back to the Stone Age. The Taliban fell, and Mullah Omar scuttled out of town, hitching up his skirts and pausing only to put a false beard over his real beard, with no time to pack even the Rod Stewart cassettes subsequently found in the compound of the man who famously banned music throughout the land. (The old “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” Rod, not the namby-pamby Rod Stewart Slays The Great American Songbook stuff.) When the troops got to Tora Bora, they discovered our enemies really did live in caves – and not the Bond-villain underground lairs the CNN graphics department mocked up, vast inverted Trump Towers burrowing deep into the earth with Osama stroking a Persian as he plotted world domination from the upside-down penthouse in Sub-Basement Level 43; but just regular caves – as in a smelly hole in the ground with a carelessly demarcated communal latrine at the back.
And then, with the Taliban gone and the world’s slowest “rush to war” with Iraq just getting underway, I made the mistake of going to Europe to visit the famous banlieues of Paris and other Muslim quartiers of the Continent. And at that point I started to get the queasy feeling the bewildered investigator does when he’s standing in the strange indentation at the edge of town and, just as he works out it’s a giant left-foot print, he glances up to see Godzilla’s right foot totaling his Honda Civic. I began to see that it’s not really about angry young men in caves in the Hindu Kush; it’s not even about angry young men in the fast growing Muslim populations of the west – although that’s certainly part of the seven-eighths of the iceberg bobbing just below the surface of 9/11. But the bulk of that iceberg is the profound and perhaps fatal weakness of the civilization that built the modern world. We’re witnessing the early stages of what the United Nations Population Division calls a “global upheaval” that’s “without parallel in human history”. Demographically and psychologically, Europeans have chosen to commit societal suicide, and their principal heir and beneficiary will be Islam.
And once I’d stumbled on that even the thought of Mullah Omar prancing round the room to Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs” couldn’t cheer me up.
When I go hither and yon doing my apocalyptic vaudeville, I’m often asked a variant of the following: If what you say is true – that Islam is likely, if only by default, to take over much of the west in a generation or two - why would it be so dumb as to jump the gun on 9/11? After all, before that Tuesday morning, few of us gave any thought to the subject.
Great mosque, Paris
The short answer is that Islam is not monolithic, and that it’s perfectly understandable for Osama bin Laden to play bad cop to the radical Muslim lobby group’s good cop, granted that they share the same aim: the wish to annex the crusader lands to the House of Islam.
The longer answer is that, even if 9/11 was a strictly unnecessary provocation, it was still a useful revelation of the limits of the Great Satan’s resolve. Or to look at it another way: A couple of years back, over in The Corner at National Review Online, some of the more bloodthirsty lads were demanding to know why Bush didn’t do this and why Bush didn’t do that. I forget what it was now - knock off Assad, freeze Saudi bank accounts, whatever. John Podhoretz responded that we were missing the point, which was this: Bush was as good as it was going to get.
The electors have made a bet that we can return to that happy capering playground at the Summit of the Americas where all the great questions have been settled and indulgent governments can subsidize their own anarchists. If 9/11 ultimately revealed America’s self-imposed constraints, November 4th is already understood as a comprehensive repudiation even of that qualified resolve. Like I said: for America's enemies, that’s useful to know.
Monday, 29th December 2008
So there is indeed now a war. In Gaza. Actually, there are two wars going on: one involving rockets and warplanes, and the other involving the media, as Barry Rubin notes:
Nothing is clearer than Hamas’s strategy. It gives Israel the choice between rockets and media, and Hamas thinks it is a situation of, ‘We win or you lose.’...The smug smiles are wiped off the faces of Hamas leaders. Yet they have one more weapon, their reserves, they call up the media. Those arrogant, heroic, macho victors of yesterday--literally yesterday as the process takes only a few hours--are transformed into pitiful victims. Casualty figures are announced by Hamas, and accepted by reporters who are not on the spot. Everyone hit is, of course, a civilian. No soldiers here. And the casualties are disproportionate: Hamas has arranged it that way. If necessary, sympathetic photographers take pictures of children who pretend to be injured, and once they are published in Western newspapers these claims become fact.
Israeli soldiers stand near armoured military vehicles at a staging area just outside the northern Gaza Strip December 29, 2008.
All too predictable – and going to plan, with assistance from the Club of Terror (aka the UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who condemned ‘excessive use of force leading to the killing and injuring of civilians’, and Navi Pillay, the ludicrous UN High Commissioner for ‘Human Rights’, who ‘strongly condemned Israel’s disproportionate use of force.’ Of course, the Club of Terror (aka the UN) has been silent about the actual violations of international law by the Palestinians, as pointed out here by Justus Reid Weiner and Avi Bell:
The Palestinian attacks violate one of the most basic rules of international humanitarian law: the rule of distinction, which requires combatants to aim all their attacks at legitimate targets - enemy combatants or objects that contribute to enemy military actions. Violations of the rule of distinction - attacks deliberately aimed at civilians or protected objects as such - are war crimes.
Furthermore, say Weiner and Bell, Israel actually has a legal duty to take action against Hamas under the Genocide Convention:
In carrying out their attacks on Israeli Jews as part of a larger aim to kill Jews, as demonstrated by the Hamas Covenant, many of the Palestinian terrorists are also violating the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Under Article 1 of the Genocide Convention, Israel and other signatories are required to ‘prevent and punish’ not only persons who carry out such genocidal acts, but those who conspire with them, incite them to kill and are complicit with their actions. The Convention thus requires Israel to prevent and punish the terrorists themselves, as well as leading figures that have publicly supported the Palestinian attacks. Article 2 of the Convention defines any killing with intent ‘to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such’ as an act of genocide.
But for exercising its legal duty in accordance with international law, Israel is condemned and told to stop by politicians such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband. The moral inversion is staggering. Miliband has called for an immediate ceasefire by Israel. The implication is that Israel should suffer the Palestinian rockets attacks indefinitely.
If anything has been ‘disproportionate’, it’s been Israel’s refusal to take such action during the years when its southern citizens have been terrorised by rockets and other missiles raining down on them from Gaza. No other country in the world would have sat on its hands for so long in such circumstances. But whenever Israel defends itself militarily, its response is said to be ‘disproportionate’. The malice, ignorance and sheer idiocy of this claim is refuted here comprehensively by Dore Gold, who points out that Israel’s actions in Gaza are wholly in accordance with international law. This permits Israel to launch such an operation to prevent itself from being further attacked. Moreover, it defines ‘disproportionate’ force as when
force becomes excessive if it is employed for another purpose, like causing unnecessary harm to civilians.
But Israel has demonstrably not been targeting civilians but Hamas terrorists. Despite the wicked impression given by the media, most of the casualties in this operation have been Hamas operatives. Even Hamas itself has admitted that the vast majority of sites Israel has hit were part of their military infrastructure. UNRWA officials in the Gaza Strip have put the number of deaths at 310, of whom 51 were civilians. The rest were Hamas terrorists.
Certainly, some civilian casualties are regrettably inevitable in any such situation – but particularly so in Gaza, since Hamas has deliberately sited its terrorist infrastructure amongst the civilian population.
Those who scream ‘disproportionate’ think – grotesquely -- that not enough Israelis have been killed. But that’s in part because Israel cares enough about human life to construct air raid shelters where its beleaguered civilians take cover; Hamas deliberately stores its rockets and other apparatus of mass murder below apartment blocks and in centres of population in order to get as many of its own people killed as possible as a propaganda weapon. Hamas is thus guilty of war crimes not just against Israelis but against the Palestinian people. Yet on this there is – fantastically, surreally – almost total silence in the west, which blames Israel instead. Historical resonances, anyone?
In any event, if by ‘disproportionate’ is meant merely an imbalance in the numbers who are killed on either side, this is actually inescapable if the infrastructure of aggression is to be defeated. Many more died in Afghanistan than in the 9/11 attacks; yet that war was necessary to destroy the Taleban. Many more died in Nazi Germany or Japan than in Britain or America during World War Two. Yet the scale of the Allied offensive was necessary to defeat Nazism and prevent yet more carnage amongst its designated victims.
Protesters demonstrate in front of the Israeli embassy in Vienna December 30, 2008, against Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip.
REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader (AUSTRIA)
The disgusting fifth column in the Gaza conflict, however, is – as ever – the western media. It was telling to witness the sight of British TV camera crews heading out to Israel on Saturday night. The point was that they weren’t already there – because their editors had not thought it necessary to send them to cover the resumed rocket attacks on southern Israel. Indeed, hardly anyone in Britain is aware that Israel is only now finally responding to some 6000 rocket attacks since 2001, with a fifty per cent increase after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. British journalists were only dispatched to the battle zone when Israel finally retaliated – because, appallingly, it is only Jewish violence that is ever the story.
As a result, Israel is painted – wholly unjustly and untruthfully -- as the aggressor. The ineffable BBC reported in radio bulletins on Saturday that Israel’s attack had ‘put back the chance of peace in the region’. Most sane people would think that the reason peace in the region had been put back was that Hamas was continuing to wage aggressive war. And indeed, even now it is still firing rockets at Israel, including Katyushas and Iranian Grads which are reaching as far as Ashkelon and Ashdod. Today they killed another Israeli in Ashkelon and injured many more -- including several Israeli Arabs.
If the media have mentioned the attacks on Israel at all, they have done so as an afterthought. The main story is ‘disproportionate’ Israeli violence. As far as I can see, there has been no mention of the extraordinary fact that on the day prior to the start of the Israeli operation, a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip was admitted to hospital in Israel for medical treatment for a severe wound -- inflicted upon him by a stray Hamas rocket which had been fired at Israel.
What other country would treat its enemies in its own hospitals – which Israel does routinely with Palestinians from Gaza -- even when they are wounded as a direct consequence of their own side trying to murder yet more Israelis? What other country would provide or enable the supply of electricity, gas and other essentials to people who use such facilities to continue trying to murder as many of its cititzens as possible? On Sunday, for instance, as Ha’aretz reported, the Kerem Shalom crossing was opened to let through 26 trucks carrying food and medical equipment. Today it was opened again and about 40 trucks had entered with food and medical supplies by midday. Yet organizations such as Amnesty International have condemned Israel's imposition of all ‘blockades’ on the Gaza Strip as ‘collective punishment’, and Jeremy Hobbs, Director of Oxfam International, has called on Israel ‘immediately [to] lift its inhumane and illegal siege’.
Yet it is Hamas that is refusing wounded Gazans access into Egypt for treatment -- and indeed the Egyptians even opened fire on them. So where are the screams about Egyptian and Hamas brutality? Where are Amnesty and Oxfam’s condemnation of Hamas and Egypt? And might all those from the Foreign Secretary down screaming about a ‘humanitarian disaster’ in Gaza pause for one second and look at the well-fed, healthy Gazans parading across their TV screens? If that’s a ‘humanitarian disaster’ – with supplies constantly pouring through the illegal tunnels from Egypt, along with billions of dollars-worth of missiles with which to commit mass murder -- what do they call what’s happening in Zimbabwe, which for some unaccountable reason inspires among the high-minded merely indifference?
Such bigotry and malice are not confined to British media and NGOs. On Salon, Glenn Greenwald whines about
America’s one-sided support for whatever Israel does from our political class, and one-sided condemnation of Israel's enemies (who are, ipso facto, American enemies) -- all of it, as usual, sharply divergent from the consensus in much of the rest of the world.
Oh really? Well, Hamas has been blamed for this war by Mahmoud Abbas, who said Hamas could have avoided this attack if it had prolonged its ‘cease-fire’. It has been blamed for this war by Egypt; and Arab states which are terrified of Islamism in general and Iran in particular are privately rooting for Israel to wipe Hamas out. Even the Israeli left is supporting this operation. The only people taking the side of the genocidal terrorists of Hamas are the western media, parroting their propaganda and thus inciting yet more to join the murderous rampage against Israel as well as ratcheting up the pressure on world leaders to force Israel to stop before Hamas is destroyed.
Isn’t there a case for legal action against these media outlets on account of their blood libels, for indirectly aiding the perpetrators of attempted genocide?