01 June 2007

The Blog Is Dead, Long Live The Blog

I used to like blogger, but those incompatibility problems with Opera are annoying me, and I lost all of those careful links that I had lovingly added to a (yet unpublished) long post, so in a fit of pique (it was my own fault, I should have been more careful) I have migrated to Word Press.

The new address for Modernity Blog, is http://modernityblog.wordpress.com/

28 May 2007

How Hard Is It to Be A Humanist?

Nowadays, we often forget how hard it is to put forward a secular or humanist approach to life, particularly in countries where there is strong religious or fundamentalist sentiment, therefore I was pleasantly surprised to find mukto-mona.

Mukto-mona is a secular site for Bengali humanists and freethinkers, it provides an interesting window into many of the issues facing secularists and humanists in developing countries.

25 May 2007

Slip Of The Tongue from Hamas?

I wonder how the apologists for Hamas, will explain away these comments:

"Abbas hates rockets just like we hate the Jews," Nizar Rayyan told reporters during a Hamas rally in the Gaza Strip.

Let’s try and guess what a few of the excuses might be?

1. “Reuters is controlled by international Zionism?”
2. “for sake of anti-imperialism, we will ignore Hamas’s virulent antisemitism”
3. “Nizar Rayyan was misquoted”
4. “Nizar Rayyan is not an offical Hamas spokesperson”
5. “it was a slip of the tongue”
6. “the cause of anti-Zionism is bigger than Hamas’s racist hatred of Jews, so we won’t dwell on it”

Hmm, still Nizar Rayyan has some history, as the Guardian points out:

“Nizar Rayyan, a Hamas leader in Gaza, brushed aside any room for ambiguity. He told Reuters: "We will never recognise Israel. There is nothing called Israel, neither in reality nor in the imagination."

Peace is clearly foremost on his mind, as detailed here:

“According to Nizar Rayyan, a Hamas leader from Gaza's Jabalya refugee camp, the terrorist group has been manufacturing hand grenades and RPG's for several years. In July 2006, a Hamas video entitled "Hosted by the Rifle," showed assembly lines for anti-tank rockets, bombs and grenades.”

And we know where guns before butter leads:

to death, how pointless and stupid.

18 May 2007

Sir Humpty and Hacker triumph

Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey Appleby would be proud of the MPs’ move to exempt Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act, as The Times reports:

"A move to exempt Parliament from freedom of information law has been approved by MPs after attempts to block it in the Commons failed.

MPs brushed aside accusations that they were creating one law for themselves and another for those they govern as they voted through the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill.

It is now passed to the House of Lords, where peers opposed to the plan will begin another attempt to stop it from becoming law.

The MP behind the Bill, the former Conservative chief whip David Maclean, maintained that the provision was needed to guarantee that information given to MPs by people seeking their help would stay confidential.

Otherwise public bodies such as councils, police authorities or health trusts might release letters from MPs about such cases in response to freedom of information requests, he argued.

“I am aware of the growing problem of correspondence being released,” he told MPs. “Theoretically it could be protected under data protection but it has not been. That is damaging. That is why my Bill is necessary to give an absolute guarantee that the correspondence of MPs on behalf of our constituents or others to a public authority remains confidential.”

But opponents fear a hidden agenda to block further embarrassing details about MPs’ expenses and other information about how the Commons is run from becoming public.

Mr Maclean, a member of the House of Commons Commission, the governing body of the Commons, cited an assurance from the Speaker, Michael Martin, that MPs’ expenses would continue to be published, but critics said such a voluntary offer did not have the force of law.

Unusually for a Private Members Bill, the measure was given a second chance by the Government which brought it back for debate after it was “talked out” by MPs who opposed the move in April.

Bridget Prentice, the Ministry of Justice minister, who spoke in the Bill, claimed that the Government was taking a neutral position on the Bill and would leave it for Parliament to decide.

But a large number of Labour MPs, who would normally be in their constituencies on the Friday, turned up at the Commons to force the legislation through in a series of votes designed to stop objectors from blocking its progress. The Conservative front bench also gave it tacit support.

Around 30 MPs, most from the Liberal Democrats but including both Labour and Conservative backbenchers, mounted a show of resistance but were defeated by the superior numbers of its supporters and their ruthless use of parliamentary procedures.

Mark Fisher, a Labour MP, protested, saying: “This Bill shuffles everything to do with freedom of information under the carpet. People will be aghast and horrified and totally contemptuous of Parliament that we could place ourselves above the law in this country. We are going to bring this House into derision, contempt and discredit with this Bill.”

And Simon Hughes, for the Liberal Democrats, said: “I think we should say no to this Bill because it is an absolutely over-reactive Bill to a set of issues that have not been either addressed or evidenced.”

To be honest, we all knew it was going to happen that way didn't we?

Despite protestations to the contrary and calls for "greater freedom and more open government", it was always on the cards that when they could, members of Parliament and the Government,would block public access via the Freedom of Information Act

It is entirely predictable, and MPs wonder why they have such a bad reputation?

Arise Baron Humphrey of Subterfuge

17 May 2007

Site(s) of the Week/Month 22

You could be forgiven for assuming that I take a slight interest in Middle East.

Well, it is partly true, but all of those other snippets that I mean to comment on are still in draft format, awaiting a few final touches before publishing, and stuff on the Middle East seems to be so relevant nowadays:

Thanks to Engage, I ran across the work of Khaled Diab

He has a refreshing perspective on the Middle East, so his blog: without a roadmap is my site of the week/month

15 May 2007

Patiently Untrue?

Microsoft seems rattled, and their latest pronouncements on patent infringements by the Open Source community is part of a longer term strategy to undermine Linux, Eweek’s Microsoft-Watch suggests:

“Microsoft doesn't have to sue anybody. The company just needs to generate FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about open-source software. The company can insinuate that liability could extend to the enterprise using open-source software. But, c`mon. There is no way Microsoft would ever really sue enterprises because they're its customers, too. Microsoft can't sue its own customers and ever realistically hope to keep them. But the uncertainty might be enough for some customers to back away from open-source software.”

13 May 2007

Two Better Than One

The debate over One versus Two states rumbles on, and although many people may have long ago decided their views on this particular subject, I think that Uri Avnery's comments are very persuasive and rational:

"99.99% of the Jewish public do not want to dismantle the state. And that's quite natural.

There is an illusion that this can be changed through pressure from outside. Will outside pressure compel this people to give up the state?

I propose to you a simple test: think for a moment about your neighbors at home, at work or at the university. Would any one of them give up the state because somebody abroad wants them to? Because of pressure from Europe? Even pressure from the White House? No, nothing but a crushing military defeat on the battlefield will compel the Israelis to give up their state. And if that happens, our debate will become irrelevant anyhow.

The majority of the Palestinian people, too, want a state of their own. It is needed to satisfy their most basic aspirations, to restore their national pride, to heal their trauma. Even the chiefs of Hamas, with whom we have talked, want it. Anyone who thinks otherwise is laboring under an illusion. There are Palestinians who talk about One State, but for most of those, it is just a code-word for the dismantling of the State of Israel. They, too, know that it is utopian."

10 May 2007

Blair's Drama

Tony Blair’s descent from Power has all the elements of pantomime.

Will he do it? “oh, yes he will”, “oh, no he won’t” and so on.

Finally, we are told that in some seven weeks he’ll step down.

The whole process has been dragging on for months and Tony Blair’s desire to cling to power is phenomenal.

If I remember correctly Harold Wilson resigned one day and they were sorting out his successor the next, but Tony Blair’s flair for drama continues.

The next seven weeks will probably be a time of negotiation and dealmaking with Gordon Brown.

Blair will probably ascend to the House of Lords and receive some immunity from prosecution over the Peerages scandal.

Another Form of Imperialism?

Russia and China's roles in Darfur becomes clearer with the latest report from Amnesty International:

Arms, ammunition and related equipment are still being transferred to Darfur in the west of Sudan for military operations. Extremely serious violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law are being committed by the Sudanese government, the government-backed Janjawid militias and armed opposition groups in these operations.

In a report published today, Amnesty International (AI) describes the arming process and its effects on the people of Darfur and neighbouring eastern Chad, many of whom have been forcibly displaced. It describes violations of the United Nations arms embargo on Darfur by parties to the conflict that occurred during January to March 2007.

Amongst other things, it shows how the Government of Sudan violates the UN arms embargo and disguises some of its military logistics operations in Darfur. It details what types of arms supplied to Sudan from China and Russia -- two Permanent Members of the Security Council -- have been used by the government of Sudan for violations of the Security Council’s own mandatory arms embargo.

States supplying weapons, munitions and other military equipment to Sudan and to other parties to the conflict know, or at least should know, that these arms are often used to commit serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Darfur and now in eastern Chad. The fact that the UN Security Council has left the UN arms embargo on Darfur somewhat vaguely formulated and especially lacking a strong UN monitoring, verification and public reporting mechanism is allowing some states and persons to violate it with impunity.

AI is urgently calling upon the international community to assert its authority and immediately adopt steps to strengthen the implementation of the UN arms embargo and stem the flow of arms to Darfur as part of a package of immediate measures to help protect civilians and uphold their human rights as is required by international law.

A Global Arms Trade Treaty is needed to prevent arms fuelling such catastrophic conflicts. AI has been campaigning for such a treaty since its beginning in October 2003, as part of the Control Arms Campaign.”

07 May 2007

France Has Chosen?

Nicolas Sarkozy has won the French presidential elections, it was close but he won, Bloomberg reports:

"Sarkozy, candidate of the governing Union for a Popular Movement, took 53.2 percent against 46.8 percent for Royal, the Interior Ministry said, with 96 percent of the vote counted.

Provided his party wins June parliamentary elections, lawmakers will be asked to vote on a budget that scraps payroll charges and income taxes on overtime hours. It would also eliminate inheritance taxes for all but the richest 5 or 10 percent and introduce a tax deduction for mortgage-interest payments."

His presidency heralds a heightened level of expectation, the "radicalism" that he employed, as a minister in French government posts was his unique selling point and now it may be his weakness.

For all the talk of Sarko as a French Margaret Thatcher, it is far from clear if he will carry out the Thatcherisation of France.

Sarko might, as Jacques Chirac did, talk a good game but when it comes down to it, Sarko might just prefer the trappings of power and ditch any radical programme.

If he does turn out to be a Thatcherite, then I pity the French people, as libraries are closed, the welfare state shrinks, medical services close and unemployment rises.

I can't put my finger on it, there is something malevolent about Sarko and I hope for the people of Europe that I'm wrong.

Oh and it is probably a good idea to visit France before the Thatcherism sets in.

05 May 2007

Another Reason to Give Up?

Need an incentive to give up smoking?

According to reports, smoking may lead to an increased risk of dementia:

"Living with a smoker can make people 2.5 times more likely to develop dementia than residing with non-smokers, say U.S. doctors."

That follows a report from 2004:

"March 22, 2004 -- Smokers have faster mental decline in elderly years -- up to fivefold faster, a new study shows.

Only a few studies have looked at this link between smoking and mental function in elderly people who don't have dementia or Alzheimer's disease. In recent studies, researchers have found a significantly increased risk of both dementia and Alzheimer's disease among smokers.

Smoking likely puts into effect a vicious cycle of artery damage, clotting, and increased risk of stroke causing mental decline, writes researcher A. Ott, MD, a medical microbiologist with Erasmus University Medical Centre in the Netherlands.


Cheerful stuff eh?

03 May 2007

About Time?

The international criminal court has finally issued some arrest warrants over Darfur.

The International Herald Tribune, reports:

"Issuing its first arrest warrants on Darfur, the International Criminal Court said Wednesday there were "reasonable grounds to believe" that a Sudanese government minister and a janjaweed militia leader were responsible for the murderous 2003 attack on the town of Bindisi.

Sudan swiftly rejected the court's demand to arrest its humanitarian affairs minister, Ahmed Harun, and Ali Kushayb, known as a "colonel of colonels" among the janjaweed Arab militias who have terrorized Darfur villages.

"Our position is very, very clear — the ICC cannot assume any jurisdiction to judge any Sudanese outside the country," Justice Minister Mohamed Ali al-Mardi told The Associated Press in Khartoum.

The warrants on a total of 51 war crimes and crimes against humanity could be a crucial step toward bringing atrocities in the Sudanese province to international justice.

They also are likely to increase international pressure on the Sudanese government, which has resisted outside political intervention or enough military force to end the four-year slaughter in its western desert.

Richard Dicker of New York-based Human Rights Watch said it signaled that "the days of absolute impunity ... for horrible crimes in Darfur are winding down."

Driving home the ferocity of the conflict, the ICC judges cited the horrific onslaught on Bindisi on Aug. 15, 2003, one of four attacks cited in the prosecution's case between August 2003 and March 2004.

The incident started with Sudanese army troops telling villagers that the Arab janjaweed militia would be visiting a nearby village to collect an Islamic tax, said the 58-page judicial ruling.

The town, which had no rebel activity, was then "attacked by members of the Sudanese Armed Forces traveling in a number of camouflaged colored Land Cruisers mounted with heavy machine guns together with ... janjaweed on horse- and camel-back and some on foot," they wrote.

Four of the machine gun-toting four-wheel drive vehicles packed with troops drove into the village, backed up by more than 500 janjaweed.

"Three Sudanese Air Force planes also dropped bombs," the judges wrote. Sudanese troops and janjaweed then went "from house to house in search of the remaining residents and killing those they found."

Prosecutors said villagers were murdered, women and girls raped and homes pillaged by the government forces and militiamen.

Human rights groups and international observers have long reported such attacks in Darfur, but the decision to issue arrest warrants based on evidence gathered in a painstaking 20-month investigation marks the first time such allegations have been examined by such a high-ranking judicial body.

Sudan bristled at the allegations and warrants.

"Whatever the ICC does, is totally unrealistic, illegal, and repugnant to any form of international law," al-Mardi said.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and human rights groups said the Khartoum government was legally bound to arrest the men.

Harun is currently in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

Al-Mardi has said a Sudanese investigation into Harun's activities found "not a speck of evidence" against him. The Sudanese government says it has arrested Kushayb pending an internal investigation, but several witnesses told the AP in Darfur that he was moving freely in Darfur under police protection.

Dicker, of Human Rights Watch, said the international community, especially China, must press Sudan to arrest the men and send them to The Hague.

Amnesty International suggested U.N. forces already in the country could enforce the arrests. The U.N. has a mission in southern Sudan following a peace treaty in an unrelated north-south war. But Sudan has refused to agree to a large U.N. deployment in Darfur, where an undermanned, under-equipped African Union peacekeeping force is struggling.

The prosecution accuses Harun and Kushayb of being part of a conspiracy to stamp out support for anti-government rebels by "indiscriminate attacks against the civilian population," including murder and rape.

Fighting in Darfur, which erupted in February 2003, has left more than 200,000 dead and displaced 2.5 million in a campaign the U.S. has called genocide.

The judges said evidence pointed to a "unified strategy" by Khartoum of using troops, police, intelligence services and the janjaweed to fight the rebels. Janjaweed fighters were trained at government camps, paid and armed by Sudanese authorities, and their leaders wore Sudanese Armed Forces or police uniforms, they said.

At the time of the crimes, Harun, considered part of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's inner circle, was an interior minister responsible for security in Darfur who helped recruit, arm and fund the janjaweed, prosecutors say. Kushayb was one of his main contacts in western Darfur."

Great news, I only hope that they carry it through.

I somehow feel that we will be told by some previous supporters of the ICC, that now it has been taken over by "the Imperialists" or "Great Satan"?

27 April 2007

UN Planes Bomb Darfur?

Not exactly, but that what the Sudanese government did.

On the fourth anniversary, as if it were needed there is further evidence of the Sudanese government's involvement in the support and funding of the conflict in Darfur, as reported by The Times:

"Britain and America threatened yesterday to impose new sanctions on Khartoum after a United Nations report accused Sudan of disguising its military planes and helicopters as UN aircraft and using them to attack villages in Darfur.

The confidential report says that military aircraft were painted white — a colour usually reserved for the UN — and used to ferry arms to the janjawid militia, for reconnaissance flights and bombing missions.


The Government is also accused of shipping arms and fighters into the province, which is subject to an international arms ban. It has further failed to enforce a travel ban or freeze the assets of suspected war criminals.

The report’s most astonishing revelation was the use by the Sudanese armed forces of white-painted military aircraft in Darfur. On March 7 a photograph was taken of an Antonov AN26 aircraft on the military apron of al-Fasher airport, the Darfuri regional capital. Guarded by soldiers and with bombs piled alongside, the plane was painted white and has the initials “UN” stencilled on its upper left wing. Another Sudanese military aircraft was disguised in the same manner. The report said that white Antonovs were used to bombard Darfur villages on at least three occasions in January.

A similar ploy was employed to conceal the identity of three Mi171 military helicopters which were painted white. The report said that from a distance the aircraft could be mistaken for similar helicopters operated by the UN and peacekeepers."

And still nothing happens to the Sudanese government, it make sure wonder:

what exactly would the Sudanese government have to do before the "international community" did something meaningful about Darfur??

24 April 2007

Almost Sixty.

Well nearly.

The celebrations of the 59th Independence Day in Israel are a reminder of diligence, tenacity, guile and humanity which brought about the creation of the State of Israel, in the face of concerted opposition.

If we turn back the clock some 60 odd years ago what would we find?

At the end of WW2, many European Jews had been languishing in British concentration camps for up to 5 years, as Britain enforced the MacDonald White Paper severely restricting immigration to Palestine, even in light of widespread Nazi persecution. Soon after the end of WW2, Britain had decided to give up the mandate for Palestine (or in reality the remaining one fifth, as the other 4/5ths had passed to Transjordan). There were many proposals for the shape of a new state in Palestine: bi-national, federated cantons and finally partition.

Although the UN voted to partition Palestine, allowing the creation of a Jewish homeland, this was bitterly opposed by feudal Arab rulers and local dictators. Whilst many in the region welcomed the return of Jews to Palestine the invading armies from five neighbouring nations sought to “solve” the quaintly named “Jewish question” by force.

They failed and in the wake of their defeat the conflict in the Middle East has been allowed to fester on, deliberately stoked by local rulers, but the existence of Israel is a constant reminder that the use of military force to solve political problems will not succeed, and how the perseverance of the Israelis in the face of constant and unnecessary conflict should be applauded.

Roll on 60!

[PS: Israel is that really small country, middle to top left on that map]

21 April 2007

Countdown in France

Today's election in France and the choice of President may well have profound knock-on effects in Europe and other countries, so to keep up with the various stages see this handy schedule, printed in The Times:

"April 22 First-round vote. There are twelve candidates, seven on the Left, five on the Right. To win, a candidate must score more than 50 per cent of the vote. Otherwise the first two go to a run-off

May 6 Run-off between the two leaders from the first round. The presidency goes to the one who receives the most votes

After May 6 The new president appoints a prime minister and Cabinet to run the country pending parliamentary elections in June

May 17 President Chirac leaves office. The new president takes office in the Elysée Palace and the new prime minister is installed with a new, temporary, government

June 10 First round of general parliamentary elections. It is a straight majority system, not proportional, but candidates must achieve more than 50 per cent to win a seat

June 17 Second round of parliamentary elections to decide seats that were not won outright in the first round

June 25 (approximately) The president is likely to reshuffle the government in light of the outcome of the elections. If the new parliamentary majority is from the president’s opposition, it will chose a new prime minister, who will appoint a government in opposition to the president. No parliamentary election has yet produced such a “cohabitation” in the aftermath of a presidential election, although nothing rules it out."

18 April 2007

Glass and Goodheart

I had hoped to avoid a post on the Middle East, but the Spring edition of Dissent carried an article on Hezbollah and I have been shocked by the number of (otherwise intelligent) people who wish to deny Hezbollah's antisemitism.

Eugene Goodheart exposes the underbelly of Charles Glass and the London Review of Books on this topic:

"The London Review of Books is an egregious instance of this one-sidedness. Almost every issue contains several articles devoted to attacks on Israel, and the target is not simply the governing party, but the whole spectrum of Israeli political life. Absent from the columns of the Review are the injustices and cruelties of political Islam. In an article by Charles Glass, Lebanon’s Hezbollah is eulogized for its capacity to learn from mistakes, its decency in treating prisoners, “its refusal to murder collaborators,” its intelligent use of “car bombs, ambushes, small rockets and suicide bombers.” Glass speaks of Hezbollah’s uncompromising political program, of which he apparently approves, without mentioning that at its core is the destruction of Israel. Any two-state solution requires a capacity and willingness to compromise, but compromise is anathema to Hezbollah. He claims that the movement had “jettisoned its early rhetoric about making Lebanon an Islamic republic, and [now] spoke of Christians, Muslims and Druze living in harmony.” Missing from this article (in the August 17, 2006, issue) is any reference to its anti-Semitism. In a letter to LRB printed in the September 7, 2006, issue, I pointed out that Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, is not simply a resistance fighter, he is also an anti-Semite with genocidal fantasies. I cited the following statements attributed to him: “If they [the Jews] all gather in Israel it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.” “They [the Jews] are a cancer which is liable to spread at any moment.” I also noted that the name “Party of God,” should worry anyone of enlightened, democratic persuasion, but does not seem to bother Glass. (Would he be equally indulgent of the religious fanatics in Israel who assert their divine right to Greater Israel?) Parties of God, wherever they are to be found, mean tyranny should they ever acquire power. In the article, Glass mentions the fact that he had been kidnapped by Hezbollah at a Syrian checkpoint. Wanting to prove that the movement was independent of Syrian control, he writes that when “Syria insisted that I be released to show that Syrian control of Lebanon could not be flouted [,] Hezbollah, unfortunately, ignored the request.” What virtue! In my letter, I wondered whether he had not succumbed to Stockholm syndrome.

His response, printed in the October 5, 2006, issue, focused on the anti-Semitic statements attributed to Nasrallah, which he dismissed as fabrications, “circulated widely on neo-conservative web sites.” Whatever the agenda of the Web sites, the original source of the statements, as Glass’s letter makes clear, is “an article by Badih Chayban in Beirut’s English-language Daily Star in 23 October 2002.” The newspaper sympathizes with Palestinian aspirations and is critical of American neoconservatism. Glass reports that the managing editor of the Star has “faith in neither the accuracy of the translation (from Arabic to English) nor of the agenda of the translator [Chayban].” The editor in chief of the paper refers to Chayban as “a reporter and briefly local desk sub,” who did not interview Nasrallah. Glass does not explain why, given its misgivings about the reporter, the Star would choose to publish Chayban’s article, nor does he say what Chayban’s agenda was, leaving it to the reader to assume that the agenda was somehow linked to neoconservatism, therefore discrediting the attribution of the statements to Nasrallah. The source of one of the quotations was a Web site of the Israeli government and therefore not to be trusted. To clinch the argument, Glass cites a spokeswoman for Hezbollah who denies that such statements were ever made.

I wrote back to the LRB, first noting that in invoking the nefarious neocons as the vehicles of fabrication, Glass reminded me of the apologists for the Soviet Union who denied the existence of anti-Semitism in their beloved country, because the reports of its existence came from the bourgeois press. I challenged the LRB to make a disinterested effort to determine whether these statements were fabrications. Its animus against Israel was clear and bad enough; a willingness to indulge anti-Semitism, a much more serious matter. If they are not fabrications, the journal has a moral obligation to say so and to repudiate the kind of article that Glass has written.

While waiting for a reply, I decided to look into the literature on Hezbollah, and what I found left no doubt about its view of the Jews. Here is Nasrallah in one of his diatribes against Israel: “If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice I do not say the Israeli.”[1]
Quoted in Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, Hizbu’llah: Politics and Religion, University of Michigan Press, 2001, p. 170. Original source, televised interview, Muhammad Fnayash. Wuhhat Nazar Future Television (FTV, July 2, 1997). Naim Qassem, the deputy secretary general of Hezbollah, author of Inside Hezbollah, which Charles Glass cites for its humane view of how collaborators with Israel should be treated, has this to say: “The history of the Jews has proven that, regardless of the Zionist proposal, they are a people who are evil in their ideas” (Quoted in Saad-Ghorayeb, p. 174; original source, Abbas al-Mussawi, Amiru’l-Zakira, Dhu al-Hujja 1406). Hezbollah’s denial of the existence of the Holocaust takes many forms. “The Jews have never been able to prove the existence of the infamous gas chambers.” Only “160,000 civilians died [and this was] as a result of US bombing of Germany.” Jews collaborated with the Nazis in killing their brethren: “From what we know about the Jews, their tricks and their deception, we do not think it unlikely that they partook in the planning of the Holocaust.” Saad-Ghorayeb, the source of these quotes, is a Briton of Muslim Lebanese extraction, who is sympathetic to Hezbollah. “As a Lebanese, I was appalled by the apparent ease with which this movement was accused of sundry terrorist activities by Western journalists and policy-makers, and on their insistence on referring to its guerrilla fighters, who were practicing their legitimate right to resist a foreign occupation, as terrorists.” She writes favorably of Hezbollah’s political evolution in Lebanese society, so there is no reason to doubt the scholarly accuracy of her representation of the movement’s unreconstructed view of Israel and the Jews. (As I write this, I am pleased to see a letter to the LRB from the distinguished lawyer and literary scholar Anthony Julius, citing Saad-Ghorayeb as evidence for Hezbollah’s anti-Judaism. Julius invited Glass to confirm the implication of his response to my letter that I am wrong in attributing anti-Semitism to Hezbollah and to comment on the “material assembled by Saad-Ghorayeb.” So far there has been no reply from Glass, nor any statement from the editors on the matter.)

17 April 2007

Blogs and France?

I don't normally comment on elections via this blog, rather I keep the blog for my occasional rambling thoughts at 03:00 in the morning, but the French presidential elections are different.

Irrespective of what this week's Economist thinks, Nicolas Sarkozy’s right wing popularism might go down well with ex-FN supporters, but I would argue that the election of Sarkozy would be a disaster for France and Europe.

Still, to keep an eye on events in French I might as well post some useful web sites:

French presidential elections 2007

The FT’s coverage

Some Reuter’s coverage of the election

Ralph's Point of View

Ralph Seliger comments are always worth reading and in particular his recent article, Politicization of the Holocaust

"These facts do not make Jews better than anyone else, but they do entitle us to recall the bitter memories of our past, and to consider the ongoing threats to our future, without apology. We are entitled to compassion and understanding from the rest of the world, not least being those who profess humanitarian and universalist values as activists on the left."

[Hat tip: Zionation]

16 April 2007

How Will This Be Excused Away?

As the battalions of “anti-imperialists” rolled back the frontiers with every car bomb attack, kidnapping, gas attack and beheading there is news from Algeria.

According to reports, a statement has been released by the Al-Qaeda Movement in Islamic Countries of the Maghreb:

"We will not be in peace until we have liberated all the land of Islam from crusaders, apostates and agents, and we have retaken our Andalusia (in southern Spain) and our violated Al-Quds (Jerusalem)."

So far it is reported that they have “... killed 33… with 222 people injured in the bomb attacks, 21 were still in hospital on Sunday.”

I shouldn't wonder that they will get a standing ovation from Respect/SWP delegates to the Cairo conference, or their killing spree will at least be excused away, has so often occurs in “anti-imperialist” circles.

[Enough sarcasm, I think I am going to be sick]

Update: John Rees welcomes a good chinwag with some very dubious company, according to reports in Al-Ahram Weekly:

"Where else can you sit down in a single evening and listen to senior people from Hamas, Hizbullah, the Muslim Brotherhood..."

I wonder what the topics were?

Hamas and Hezbollah's expertise in bomb-making, organising suicide bombings or perhaps how best to place rockets among civilians?

The Muslim brotherhood probably lectured on the implementation of Sharia law and the caliphate? Or possibly how best to dispense with civil rights for women, gays, Jews or anyone disagreeing with them?

I'll bet that Comrade Rees was clapping his hands throughout their talks.

12 April 2007

Another 300

No, not the film, but another 300.

I must thank adloyada for this link to OnTheFace, it shows us how a sense of memory and shared humanity has helped some Darfurians, far away from their home:

Israel and Sudan are officially “enemies,” which makes the status of the 300 or so Darfur refugees in Israel very complex, because Israeli law does not permit the granting of asylum to citizens of enemy states. So when those refugees surrendered themselves to the Israeli authorities after crossing the border from Egypt, they were detained and jailed under the Law to Prevent Infiltration [from enemy states]. The stories of those jailed refugees, who had seen their families murdered and / or experienced horrible torture at the hands of the Janjaweed, were widely and sympathetically covered by the Israeli media, and many Israelis responded with horror: Given the all-too-fresh memory of what happened to the Jewish people during the Second World War, how could Israel fail to grant asylum to refugees fleeing genocide?

“Jeanine looked at me sternly. “Do you know what happened at the Evian Conference in 1938?” she asked. “When all the countries gathered to try to find a solution for the Jews of Germany and Austria but no-one was willing to give them refuge?”

Yes, I answered, of course.

“So that’s why,” answered Jeanine. “We knew that we had a moral obligation, after what happened to us.”

Did people mention that at the meeting? I asked.

“No,” said Jeanine. “They didn’t have to. It was understood.”

11 April 2007

Map Darfur

Google has launched a very worthwhile project, along with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum to publicise the terrible situation in Darfur.

07 April 2007

Summer War in Lebanon

The BBC radio programme, The Summer War in Lebanon, is well worth a listen.

06 April 2007

Taken For Granted?

It is a truism to say that, far too often we take for granted those things around us and that point was brought home to me last week with the passing of John Backus.

John Backus was the inventor of FORTRAN.

Now that may not mean a lot too many people, but FORTRAN was probably the first universal high-level computer programming language.

Without the advent of high-level programming languages there would be no browsers, there would be few wordprocessors and still less many of today's modern computer operating system.

As the Guardian observes:

“In 1954, IBM introduced the Model 704 Electronic Data-Processing Machine, the world's first mass-produced computer. Backus had worked on the design of the machine, but he was frustrated at the difficulties inherent in programming it. The machine only understood sequences of numerical codes, so programming was slow.

Backus decided that there had to be an easier way. It should be possible, he reasoned, to write the instructions for the computer in something resembling plain English, and have the computer translate that into the proper sequence of codes. He put this idea to his manager, who had the foresight to allow him to put together a small team to try it out. The result, announced in late 1956, was a "formula translation" language named FORTRAN, which enabled complex calculations to be expressed as a combination of English commands and mathematical formulae. Backus and his team confounded sceptics by demonstrating that programs written in FORTRAN were as efficient as those written in numerical codes. This was an important factor in ensuring the adoption of FORTRAN by the scientists and engineers who used the IBM 704.

Its success led to the creation of many other programming languages in the following years. …”

04 April 2007

End Of The Drama ?

The theocracy in Tehran seems to think that it has milked the capture of the British Marines/sailors sufficiently.

No doubt the spectacle of that British officer admitting culpability for being in Iranian territorial waters played very well with the Iranian domestic audience, and further enhanced the Iranian leaderships’ “anti-imperialist” credentials.

Had this drama continued on, I was about to suggest a radical solution: a prisoner swap.

But a swap with the difference, in the vogue of contemporary “anti-imperialism” I was about to suggest that George Galloway be exchanged for the captured service personnel.

Sadly that is not on the cards now. Shame, though.

02 April 2007

The UN and Darfur

Adam LeBor's article in The Times on the failure of the UN over Darfur raises important questions:

"The slaughter in Darfur could be curtailed or even brought to a close without military intervention. Measures might include: deploying UN troops in Chad to prevent cross-border raids; targeted sanctions on Sudan’s oil industry; using trade to pressure China to stop its support for Khartoum; and even threats to boycott the Beijing Olympics.

If there were sufficient political will. It seems there is not. If we cannot act to help to stop the killing, at least we could provide a safe home for Darfuris here. On January 27, on Holocaust Memorial Day, government ministers once more pledged “never again”. How empty those words sound now. The Home Office organised the first Holocaust Memorial Day ceremonies. Now civil servants in the same ministry are overseeing the deportation to likely imprisonment, torture, even death, of refugees fleeing the 21st-century’s first genocide. Have we no shame?"