Mar 28, 2008

Fitna: Geert Wilders Qur'an phobia


Geert Wilders anti-Islam video, Fitna, hit the web yesterday. It was a rocky debut. Wilders has been hit with copyright infringement claims. The Danish cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, responsible for the drawing of Mohammad with a bomb in his turban complained on Dutch TV that Wilders used his work without permission.

Dutch director, Rob Muntz, was caught off-guard by the clip showing him interviewing the late Theo van Gogh. Muntz is seeking legal advise. In yet another faux pas, Wilders mistakenly showed a picture of Dutch-Moroccan rapper, Salah-Edin, rather than the Van Gogh murderer, Mohammed Bouyeri. Edin will also be suing.

Fitna is sickeningly predictable on a lot of levels. Surahs from the Qur'an are chosen for their menace as the video moves from scenes of the 9/11 terrorist attack to the carnage in Madrid. Moody music plays in the background as the the lilting call of an imam announces the destruction of the infidel.

Ranting Muslims... raving imams... threatening displays... dead bodies... Nazi salutes - a tableaux of fear and loathing. A Muslim child refers to Jews as "monkeys and pigs." The video is a clever exercise in demonization. Goebbels would have been impressed.

Fitna reflects the paranoid vision of a politician who has had some highly incendiary things to say about Islam. Wilders has stated that he wants to ban the Qur'an because he believes it reflects - "the sick ideology of Allah and Mohammed as it is set out in the Islamic Mein Kampf: the Koran."

Many so-called "holy books" contain objectionable content. The Bible celebrates acts of genocide carried out by the "chosen people." The latter-day "chosen people" in the guise of Zionism pose as big a menace to world peace as any Islamist resistance you care to name and unlike Iran, Israel has nukes... it's not a matter of conjecture. Zionism and its policies in the Middle East have arguably been one of the driving forces behind the extremism that stalks the modern world.

Wilders is a wily politician, but he is also an idiot ... a useful idiot, because there is much to be learned from this. You only have to read his "analysis" of Islam to get an insight into where he is coming from. He refers to Islam as "the ideology of a retarded culture." He wants the Judeao-Christian heritage recognized as the dominant religious culture, or Leitkultur, in the Netherlands.

Wilders' extremism reflects his narrow and bigoted view of Islam. When French Muslims were polled, their two main concerns were lack of employment and Islamic extremism. But Wilders ignores poll results such as this and instead demonizes Islam by comparing the Qur'an with Mein Kampf and smearing an entire civilization. If a Muslim produced a video that showcased the dark side of the Bible and compared it with Mein Kampf, how would Christians react? We would never hear the end of it.
There are many positive aspects to Islam that a balanced portrayal should include. But Wilders of course is only interested in a message that matches his contempt.
Oriana Falacci is Wilders' hero. In his writing he quotes admiringly from her book, The Force of Reason:

A moderate Islam does not exist. It does not exist because there is no difference between Good Islam and Bad Islam. There is Islam and that it the end of it. Islam is the Koran, and nothing other than the Koran. And the Koran is the Mein Kampf of a religion that desires to eliminate others- non–Muslims - who are called infidel dogs, and inferior creatures. Read the Koran, that Mein Kampf, yet again. In whatever version and you will see that the evil which the sons of Allah against us and themselves has perpetrated comes from that book.

Wilders thinks that Dutch citizens who counsel forbearance and tolerance in their approach to Islam are cowards:

The Hague is full of cowardly members.Fearful people who are born cowards and will die as cowards. They find and promote the idea that the Dutch culture is has its foundation in Jewish-Christian- Islamic –tradition. They award a general pardon to liars and criminals.

No the coward is Wilders. It is much, much harder to take the path of steadfast endurance in the face of a great challenge, while not being afraid to criticize as the situation demands.

Not just the Koran

Mar 27, 2008

Hillary's big Bosnian adventure

Hillary Clinton

In March 1996, Hillary Clinton made a trip to Bosnia. She claims the trip was "too dangerous" to be undertaken by the President. In a speech to supporters, she regaled them with tales of "landing under sniper fire" and running "with our heads down."

This is little more than fiction and calls into question Clinton's judgment - especially given the fact that there are eye witnesses who have stepped forward to tell it like it was. The comedian Sinbad accompanied Clinton on the trip. He claims the scariest part was deciding where to eat. Responding to Sinbad's remarks, Clinton dismissed him archly as "a comedian."

There are others with clear recall who aren't comedians. The Washington Post's, John Pomfret, covered a trip to Bosnia in 1996 and is adamant that Tuzla airport is one of the safest places in Bosnia, "under the control" of the 1st Armored Division.

Hillary neither ran nor ducked, not even to avoid a rain shower. In fact, she had enough time on her hands to meet on the tarmac with US and Bosnian officials. An 8 year old Muslim girl, Emina Bicakcic, even read a poem in English for the first lady, and received a kiss in appreciation.

Emina told Clinton - "There is peace now because Mr Clinton signed it. All this peace. I love it."

Now mysteriously...  Emina's name has been redacted from the first lady's schedule, released recently from the National Archives.

Faced with the evidence, Clinton has been forced to backtrack. She has been attempting to downplay her remarks by claiming that she misspoke - something she characterizes as "a minor blip." Not everyone is buying her explanation. Tommy Vietor, an Obama spokesperson didn't pull any punches:

When you make a false claim that’s in your prepared remarks, it’s not misspeaking, it’s misleading ... It’s part of a troubling pattern of Senator Clinton inflating her foreign policy experience.

Mar 24, 2008

'Cool Islam' and Hadith revisions

Hadith revision being undertaken in Turkey to modernize Islam

Medine is a Muslim rapper from Le Havre. When he was younger he was on the fringes of a French society that he viewed as decadent. Not any more. Now Medine is finding a new way to dialogue, a new way to do business.

Medine wants to promote his talent and his message without in any sense selling out his Muslim heritage. He prays at the required times. He is devout. These days he is more interested in discovering common ground. He speaks of universal principles, rather than dogma. He's about reaching out.

Amel Boubekeur, of the School of Social Studies in Paris, refers to "cool Islam." In speaking of new definitions that are emerging with respect to Islam in the West, Ms Boubekeur makes the following observation: thus seems that the Islamic identity need no longer be represented as political, ideological and institutional, but as the choice of the individual consumer. Western Islamic identity appears to be departing from Islamism and to be no longer concerned with Islam's political side.

Imam, Tariq Oubrou, insists that Islam must become a Western religion, so that Muslims can thrive within European culture: "We can't afford to read our texts to the letter in a static way. We have to take a fresh approach, and ask how the Koran would have revealed itself in this time and place, in this culture - and then apply this new model to our everyday lives."

The imam accepts that this will entail taking a second hard look at Islamic texts, including the Qur'an, and the challenge of interpreting them in a manner that fits the needs of the modern era.

This reformist impulse isn't exclusive to progressive European imams such as Tariq Oubrou. In Turkey steps are being taken to revise the Hadith in the light of contemporary needs . What is being attempted has been described by some observers as the creation of a "new" Islam, designed to accommodate the needs of people in a modern secular democracy. According to Fadi Hakura, a Turkey expert from Chatham House in the UK, the transformation of Islam being undertaken in Turkey is akin in significance to the Christian Reformation.

Some Turkish Muslims have a problem with the word "reform" in describing these changes, because it could imply that there is some problem with Islam's divine sources. So it may be most accurate to say that this is an attempt to make a clear distinction between what is "historical" in the Hadith, and what is "religious."

Turkey's Department of Religious Affairs has commissioned a team of theologians from Ankara University to carry out the revision. The Hadith is the second most holy book in Islam after the Qur'an. It consists of sayings that are alleged to have come from the Prophet.

The Turks see the Hadith as problematic and claim that many of the statements attributed to Muhammad didn't in fact come from him at all. Over the centuries the Hadith has been "worked over" by those in the service of conservative Islamic regimes. Hadiths can be found that justify female genital mutilation. At other times hadiths that advocate violence have been preferred over those those that advocate peace.

The Hadith has been used to justify placing constraints on women. There are warnings that women should not be allowed to travel for three days or more without their husbands permission. However this was not a religious prohibition, it related to safety concerns that existed during the time of the Prophet. Over time this ban has been made permanent and has been given religious sanction in some cases, whereas it was a ban that was only meant to be temporary. The Prophet himself is on record saying that "he longed for the day when a woman might travel long distances alone."

A new role is being created for women in Turkey. Theological training is being given to some 450 women who will take up the position of senior imams or "vaizes". In this capacity they will travel to remote communities in the country in order to explain some of the new provisions.

These developments in Turkey reflect a wider concern on the part of many European Muslims that their religion finds a place in western society - 'within' the society, rather than in-opposition-to-it.

The media tends to project a view of European Muslims that focuses upon the negatives - alienation, unemployment, crime. When you look more deeply, you find that Muslim communities in Europe are far from static and reactionary in relation to the secular culture that surrounds them.

Mar 23, 2008

Tomb of St Peter: new documentary questions Catholic tradition

Tomb of St Peter and Roman Catholic claims about the apostolic succession

A new documentary The Secret of the Twelve Disciples, manages to put a dint in one of the pillars of the Roman Catholic tradition. The documentary features academics who accuse the Church of fabricating its connection with the apostle Peter in order to create the impression of an unbroken link to Christ.

The Roman Catholic version of events has St Peter ending up in Rome where he was allegedly crucified and buried. The documentary describes this belief as "a conspiracy of faith."

There is no scientific basis whatever for the claim that the apostle made it to Rome and even less proof that he was crucified and buried there. The Catholic Church expects its adherents to go along with this version of events based upon received knowledge, what some Catholic theologians refer to as the "great weight" of tradition.

The Catholic claims become even more suspect when you consider that in 1939, the Vatican stage managed what can only be described as an archaeological circus. Pius Xll ordered that an excavation be undertaken by the archaeologist, Antonio Ferrua. However the work was supervised by an associate of the Pope, Monsignor Ludwig Kaas and the workforce used for the dig was none other than the sampietrini, Vatican City workmen.

The eventual report turned out to be be a source of controversy. Worst of all there was no trace of St Peter. Pius Xll then enlisted the services of Margherita Guarducci, a staunch Catholic and classical epi-graphist.

Remarkably Ms Guarducci discovered archaeological wonders that had somehow escaped the attention of Antonio Ferrua. In the jumble of graffiti on Peter's alleged tomb she discovered no less than "a mystic cryptography." She even came up with the bones of the apostle and after some scientific tests (which she arranged), concluded that the bones had been wrapped in cloth of royal purple stitched with gold.

Not surprisingly Guarducci's findings were greeted with a high degree of skepticism by the scholarly community, if not outright hoots of derision.

The research discussed in the documentary, makes it more probable that St Peter died in Jerusalem. An ossuary has been discovered bearing the inscription Shimon Bar Jonah, the Hebrew name for Peter. Catholic theologians are unimpressed by this claim. John Medlin of the Latin Mass Society, refers to it as "intellectually challenged." Others have described it as "outlandish" and a "smear."

The Church has long been in the business of revisionism in order to bring the Christian revelation and message in line with Catholic priorities. However the scientific community today is less intimidated by the authority of the Church, and old claims are coming under new scrutiny.

Apostolic Succession

The Roman Catholic myth of the apostolic succession

Mar 17, 2008

Harper hides behind the law on Cadman allegations

Stephen Harper and allegations of Tory attempts to bribe Chuck Cadman
The Liberal calls for answers over what Stephen Harper knew about the Chuck Cadman deal is low key when you consider what Harper has himself dished out to opponents.

During the targeting of the Liberals during the so-called adscam affair, the mud slinging and accusations flew thick and fast. The accusations being hurled were personal and damaging. It makes the Liberal challenges in the Cadman affair seem almost polite.

Harper doesn't like criticism, even though he can dish it out. He has a self-righteous air about him that suggests he can do no wrong. His contention that he knew nothing about the details of the offer to Chuck Cadman prior to the 2005 parliamentary vote simply isn't credible.

The idea that as opposition leader on the brink of a crucial vote in the house with the outcome hinging on the "yes" or "no" offered up by Cadman, Harper was out-of-the-loop on the details of the deal is extremely unlikely.

He knew enough about the details to tell Vancouver journalist, Tom Zyturak, that the insurance policy "was only to replace financial considerations he [Cadman] might lose due to an election ... That's my understanding of what they were talking about." He also told Zytaruk that the Tories who met with Cadman were "legitimately representing the party." But we're supposed to believe he was walking around clueless on the small print of the Cadman deal?

Nearly a third of Canadians believe Harper is lying. The position taken by the Liberals reflects a common perception.

Mar 16, 2008

Omar Khadr framed: doctored evidence revealed

Toronto native Omar Khadr was 15 years old when he was arrested at an Al Qaida camp in Afghanistan. Just a kid - a child soldier under the control of a father-with-a-cause.

Khadr is now 21 and an inmate in Guantanamo Bay.

The US government claims he threw a grenade during a fire fight that killed a soldier. It now turns out that the official documents that describe the alleged grenade incident may have been doctored to suit what Khadr's lawyer calls "the reality that was most convenient to the United States government at that time.”

This came to light when the documents changed hands as a result of the discovery process. In the original report dated July 20th, 2002, a commander had written that the person who threw the grenade had died. A couple of months later a line was altered. The report then indicated that the grenade thrower had survived.

The judge in the case sided with the defense team and granted Khadr's lawyers access to information that the prosecution had previously refused to hand over.

Disgracefully, Canada has refused to seek extradition or repatriation for Omar Khadr despite appeals from Amnesty International.

Khadr's trial is set to begin in May.

Mar 13, 2008

Dow Marmur and Meir Hirsch: two tragedies, two Jewish opinions

Israeli Gaza attack and killing of yeshiva students in Jerusalem

It was interesting to note how the media covered the Israeli attack on Gaza, as compared to how it covered the tragic shooting of eight students at the yeshiva in Jerusalem.

The Israeli incursion into Gaza involved ground troops, bulldozers, tanks, helicopters and F-16's. Over 120 Palestinians were killed, including women and children. How many times have we seen this before? You begin to wonder if the faceless Palestinians who are killed and injured are simply human collateral damage that the world has grown accustomed to sweeping aside in the name of support for the state of Israel. Do we even know the name of one victim? Gazans are dispensable. No names, no faces, no family history - just more unfortunate Arabs - victims of yet more Israeli aggression.

By contrast when a lone gunman entered the Jerusalem seminary and killed eight students, the media cast it as "the moment the peace process died" with politicians right and left full of condemnation and regret. British PM, Gordon Brown, even said it was an act that "strikes at the heart of peace."

Two Jewish voices provide starkly different analysis of the tragedies in Gaza and Jerusalem.

One of the most outspoken statements in condemnation of the Gaza operation came from the Jews of Neturei Karta. In a letter to the UN general-secretary Ban Ki-Moon, Rabbi Meir Hirsch, spoke for those Orthodox Jews who believe that Zionism is a betrayal of the Jewish faith:

For sixty years the authorities of what is mischaracterized as the "Jewish State" have been undertaking a vicious campaign of oppression and ethnic cleansing against millions of Palestinians who currently still live in historic Palestine and who are refugees from Palestine in other countries. And they have been committing all these crimes in the name of the ancient and holy Jewish religion!

Full text of the letter here.

Dow Marmur, rabbi emiritus at Toronto's Holy Blossom Temple, had a column in the Toronto Star on the yeshiva killings. He offers no significant comment about the Gaza operation and the loss of Palestinian lives - an event that very likely provoked the gunman to enter the yeshiva in Jerusalem. Instead Marmur focuses exclusively on the yeshiva tragedy as though it somehow exists in isolation, unconnected from other events.

Marmur plays down the inequities in Israeli society by offering the example of Arabs of East Jerusalem who are in possession of identity cards, passports and driving licenses with Israeli plates, as though this means anything at all in real terms. Any close examination of the conditions experienced by Arabs in East Jerusalem makes it clear that they are victims of systemic discrimination.

Marmur thinks that calls to build fences/walls around Arab neighborhoods in reaction to the yeshiva killings is a bad idea. He says this proposal isn't "moral." However his lack of comment on the real immorality (the elephant in the room), makes his high mindedness about fences seem disingenuous. Occupation, illegal settlements, military "incursions" by the IDF, massive and widespread discrimination is the quicksand at the root of Israel's intractable and it seems, neverending problems - fences are merely a cosmetic consideration.

While the yeshiva killing was a tragedy, it wasn't a random act but rather an act with a link to decades of injustice and oppression.

Mar 11, 2008

Muslims in Europe: everyone's favorite scapegoat

the ghettoization of Muslims in Europe

The problem in Europe is not "Islamofascism" - a term Christopher Hitchens continues to use without any embarrassment. The problem in Europe is xenophobia, racism, marginalization and unemployment faced by Muslim men and women who far from living in expectations of "Eurabia" are living in expectation of the penal colony, a very large one with no fences in which they exist as an underclass.

A percentage of Muslim youth in the Eurozone is sufficiently marginalized and angry to take to the streets. However the vast majority of European Muslims consist of families struggling to get by in societies that stigmatize them, however subtly, and relegate them to the fringes.

Fascism, not "Islamofascism" is on the rise. This is a political reality in modern Europe. Fascists can be found in local councils and parliaments. The percentage of their vote share has been steadily increasing. In Norway for example 22%, in Switzerland 29%. They have played a role in government in both Italy and Austria.

Far right demagogue Jean-Marie Le Pen received a third of the French vote not so long ago. These reactionary elements have long been waiting in the wings hoping for much needed oxygen to bring them back into the political mainstream. The oxygen fix happened with 9/11 and the subsequent invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

You don't need to listen to the rhetoric of the right to realize that there is a new mood of intolerance. Recently the English novelist, Martin Amis, felt comfortable enough to say:

Muslims are gaining on us demographically at a huge rate. A quarter of humanity now and by 2025 they'll be a third. Italy's down to 1.1 child per woman. We're just going to be outnumbered.

and this:

There's a definite urge--don't you have it?--to say, 'the Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.' What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation--further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they're from the Middle East or from Pakistan.... Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children.

Discrimination against Muslims is particularly bad in France where the name Ali or Mohammad could render you permanently unemployed. The Union's European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), released a report not so long ago. It pointed out that the chance of people with a Maghrebi name getting a job interview is five times less than people with a recognizably French name.

The discrimination faced by Muslims in France has prompted a percentage of the young to take work in the UK where skills and qualifications for the most part trump ethnic and or religious considerations.

Right wing commentators in N. America often say European Muslims should do more to "integrate" with the host societies. How do you integrate with a society that refuses to interview you for a job and views you as a walking time bomb? Answer - many give up and stop trying - and over time they get more marginalized, more angry and more defiant.

In France it isn't just a question of Muslim immigration per se, but of a post-colonial mentality that still clings to old attitudes. The secular organization Les Indigenes de la Republic makes a direct connection between the way France treated "natives" in its colonial lands, and the way Muslim immigrants are treated in France. The situation in France is complex. What appears on the surface to be a "Muslim issue" more often relates to specific Algerian, Tunisian or Moroccan concerns.

It is remarkable that given the discrimination European Muslims have and are experiencing, they haven't moved in the direction of more militant action, not on behalf of jihad but in a demand for a fair shake. The forbearance and patience of European Muslims in the face of the underdog status that has been hung on them, speaks more to the civilized nature of their culture than to their alleged fanaticism.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, the principal causes for concern on the part of Muslims in France, Germany and Spain are "unemployment" and "Islamic extremism."

Let me repeat ... Islamic extremism.

The future is ours

Muslim unemployment in Europe

Mar 10, 2008

Germany: record number of attacks by the far-right in 2007

neo-Nazi attacks on foreigners in Germany

The German activist group, Gesicht Zeigen! (Show your Faces), monitors attacks by the far-right. The stats kept by Gesicht Zeigen! show that some 600 people were assaulted in 2007. In the state of Brandenburg alone there were 11 attacks on businesses operated by immigrants.

It is claimed that over the last two decades 130 people have been killed as a result of assaults by individuals associated with the far-right. Those targeted include immigrants and asylum seekers.

An assault that was widely reported occurred in Mugeln in August of 2007. Eight men of East Indian origin were assaulted at a street party by youths who were heard yelling "foreigners out!"

In another well publicized case in 2007, a gang of neo-Nazis in Halberstadt  assaulted a group of actors. The victims sustained serious injuries and a number were taken to hospital. Although the leader of the gang returned to the scene of the crime while police were questioning the victims, there was no attempt to arrest him.

In some regions of Germany the far-right is gaining political clout. The neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) holds a number of seats in Saxony's state assembly. The NPD won over 9% of the vote in the 2004 state election.

Mar 8, 2008

The Passover trip and other Biblical hallucinations

archaeologists question the truth of the Exodus story

The odds that the biblical exodus was an historical event is highly unlikely according to archaeologists.

In Egypt's northern Sinai Peninsula archaeologists have uncovered remains that coincide with the timing of the alleged exodus, but there is no evidence to support the Passover story. When asked about possible evidence that might give credence to the story of the exodus, Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass wasn't encouraging ... "Really, it's a myth."

A professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Benny Shanon, has another thesis that casts a different light on the story of the wandering Israelites and the 'revelation' on Mount Sinai. Shanon believes that Moses, if there was such a person, made use of mind altering drugs.

There is frequent mention in the Old Testament of preparations made from the bark of the acacia tree. Acacia bark contains the same molecules found in the powerful hallucinogenic, ayahuasca, which is made from one or more dimethyltryptamine (DMT) plants found in the Amazon region. Ayahuasca is usually taken in potion form, although the leaves can be dried and smoked. The effects of the drug are intense and include a type of sensory 'magnification.'

Shanon believes that the Biblical reports of thunder, lightning and blaring trumpets when Moses was up on Sinai receiving the commandments from the alleged "Lord of Hosts" was a drug induced vision experienced by people who were high on a powerful hallucinogen.

Shanon points out that those under the influence of the drug often report seeing bright light and experience intense spiritual feelings. Users sometimes believe they can hear celestial music. The Biblical account of the "burning bush" if it in fact has any historical basis, was likely also a drug induced hallucination.

Perhaps the Passover celebrations should include an after-dinner toke.

Obama aide Samantha Power resigns over 'monster' comment

Samatha Power leaves Obama campaign after remarks about Hillary Clinton
Samantha Power has resigned as foreign policy adviser on the Obama campaign. She was recruited by Obama in 2005. Power is a Harvard professor and a Pulitzer prize winner. She writes a column for Time magazine.

During an interview with an Edinburgh based paper, The Scotsman, Power referred to Hillary Clinton as "a monster." She attempted to withdraw the remarks, but before speaking with The Scotsman she agreed that the interview would be "on record."

Ms Power's remarks came on the heels of Clinton's wins in Ohio and Texas - wins that some have argued were in part a result of negative campaigning, including the use of ads that played on public fears about security.

Samantha Power is a talented journalist and academic. Her comment isn't much worse than some of the remarks Clinton campaign people have directed at Obama. When Obama questioned Clinton's refusal to release her income taxes, Howard Wolfson compared Obama to Kenneth Starr, a much reviled figure among Democrats.

Ms Power issued an apology, addressed to both senators Clinton and Obama.

Opinion has been divided on her decision to resign. Former national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, disagrees with her decision. However given Obama's call for greater civility in the campaign some believed she had little choice.

Number one

Mar 7, 2008

Stephen Harper: the PM who knows nothing

Stephen Harper acts dumb on Cadman and other issues
Does Stephen Harper live in another dimension? This is not altogether a joking question, because we have a leader in Canada who at times gives the impression he knows next-to-nothing about what goes on in his inner circle. How can you be a leader and yet be so quixotically detached that you don't know your people are making decisions that could effectively damage the credibility of the government?

Harper never says anything, hears anything or sees anything that might provide a clue to some of the murky goings on in his government.

Despite audio tape evidence and the word of Chuck Cadman's wife and daughter that indicates the late MP was the subject of an attempted bribe by the Tories prior to a Parliamentary vote in 2005, Harper claims he knew nothing about it. He told Tom Zytaruk on tape that he "didn't know the details."

Harper is widely regarded as a control freak yet he claims he hadn't a clue what was actually being said or done when a matter of critical importance to the Tories was being negotiated. Can you call someone like this a leader? Is this what Canada expects from the person now sitting in the PM's office ... zenlike detachment along with continual deflection and denial on critical issues that demand an answer?

When the Mulroney affair put Harper on the hot spot recently, it was a similar story. Suddenly the PM was washing his hands with antiseptic soap and distancing himself from the affair.

A couple of days ago a memo ended up in the hands of Hillary Clinton, a Democratic candidate in the United States election. The memo was released by someone or something connected with the Canadian government, possibly one of the gargoyles on Parliament Hill.

The memo was like a torpedo aimed at the flank of the Obama campaign. It was released to the Associated Press and it contained the claim that an Obama economic adviser had assured a Canadian consular official that Obama's criticism of NAFTA should be read as "political positioning (rather) than a clear articulation of policy plans."

Clinton used the memo to attack the credibility of Obama and to infer that he was deceiving the American people. The official government memo was released to the press prior to the critical vote in Texas and Ohio, yet the person Canadians elected to lead this country is clueless ... no idea how on earth that could have happened.

Stephen Harper is insulting the intelligence of Canadians by playing these smoke-and-mirror games. Canadians don't want a figurehead in the PM's office playing the three monkey charade when leaks, memos and allegations surface that touch upon the credibility of elected officials. They want transparency, something Harper claimed he would ensure when he promised a new accountability in Ottawa.

Mar 5, 2008

Mark Steyn spins reality with 'America Alone'

Mark Steyn's problematic opinions about Muslim immigrants in Europe

Although this post references "America Alone", it isn't a straight review of Steyn's book, so much as a look at some of the themes in his work that attract negative attention - most recently from CIC and Human Rights in Canada. When the post was first published Steyn picked it up on Google and proceeded to invent things - claiming it was "a review." The post as a whole is very far from being a review of his book nor was it ever intended to be. He further alleged that the talking points of a Johann Hari article had been regurgitated and that the post was more or less a rehash of Hari's work. Also nonsense. According to a number of people who have done some research there are grounds to believe that Steyn has been lifting and recycling work so it's not surprising he leaped to that conclusion. If there was any intent to crib off Johann Hari on-the-fly there certainly wouldn't have been open references to Hari's New Statesman article and a link for readers to check it out for themselves. Nor would Hari have been quoted in the post. His work was referenced openly because the points he made were excellent ones worth sharing. Feel free to read Hari's original article here or from the original link beneath in the body of the post.

I've been surprised by the positive reviews Mark Steyn's book America Alone has received since it came out. The right wing applause is of course predictable but I didn't expect Hitchens to let Steyn off quite so easily. His review while not exactly glowing, seemed to suggest that Steyn merits an A or at least a B+. Hitchens must be going a bit soft with advancing years.

I dislike organized religion, but I don't dislike actual people who happen to be organized along religious lines unless they try to push their religion down my throat. The problem with Steyn's use of language in reference to Muslims is that even though he tries to set up a "we all get it" type understanding with his readers, quite a few times I not only didn't get it but found his presumptions high handed and annoying.

In past writings Steyn has made use of terms such as "gook" and "yellow peril." The problem isn't simply the terminology itself, but rather the way in which Steyn deploys offensive terms. He plays semantic games, uses other people's words in an effort to spread his bile without having to take direct responsibility for it.

The "breeding like mosquitoes" reference - often attributed to Steyn - came from a Norwegian imam originally. The "sheepshaggers" reference was also derivative. When it comes to the risky stuff, Steyn isn't above channeling the words of others believing it will allow him to wriggle off the hook. It won't. His overall intentions are clear despite his smoke-and-mirrors game. What it basically adds up to is that he is gutless and contemptible - a writer who clearly is profoundly prejudiced when it comes to Islam but who often shies away from saying the risky stuff without a back-up disclaimer.

Anyone humorously made reference to "yids" or "kikes" recently in an article, or speculated about the "Jewish peril" ... Jews propagating "like mosquitoes" ... Jews as "sheepshaggers"? I bet not. Anyone who makes free with those terms in Canada will have B'nai Brith on their case ... hell you might even get charged with a hate crime.

Muslims though are fair game, at least according to some. Steyn and Macleans magazine editors were appalled that offended Muslims and human rights tribunals didn't just grin-and-bear-it when faced with an excerpt from America Alone that was perceived by some Muslims as negative profiling. What spoilsports! When Steyn does bigotry we're all supposed to get it. Right?

For all his wit, Steyn is a bigot. His view of Muslims is a caricature. It reminds me of Orliana Falacci's paranoid portrait of Islam in The Rage and the Pride.

Steyn's futurific Eurabia, circa 2020, requires vigorous use of the imaginative faculties. In the space of the few intervening years European civilization has collapsed. This has happened in part because of an influx of Muslims who arrive, not to perform bomb making duty, but if Steyn's demographic projections are to come true ... to hump incessantly, night and day, in a sort of baby-making frenzy. Naturally, this being Steynland, the Muslims humping in the bedrooms of European nations are all presumably sharia adhering fundies with big beards and a fabulous sperm count.

I was surprised to learn that Steyn was a former DJ. He made his way in journalism with little or no formal education. Not that being formally educated necessarily makes you less liable to deploy data in careless ways but it certainly brings a research quality into play that Steyn at times glaringly lacks. I really don't care how often he makes me laugh in the course of a paragraph, if he gets it wrong, he gets it wrong, and far too many reviewers have let him off the hook on what is simply shoddy thinking.

A while back in the article US can sit back and watch Europe implode Steyn claimed that "...the EU’s population will be 40 percent Muslim by 2025." By any sane estimate this is a nutbar projection. Even with increased immigration and olympian humping of marathon proportions, for Steyn's thesis to play itself out in the space of the twelve or so intervening years before the dawning of "Eurabia" the Muslim population would have to skyrocket upwards from the present figure of 20 million to around 200 million. Who is he trying to kid? Nobody it seems, because his flock of starry eyed believers suck his comic book stats right up and beg for more.

Course Steyn prefaced his demographic projection with "by some estimates" but then he's a bit of an artist at using what other people say as cover for what he'd like to say himself. If predictions, insults, come back to bite him he can always get out of it with a "I never actually said that" disclaimer.

Steyn, Hitchens, Amis and a few other Brit educated scribes of a certain age all suffer from Albionitis. They remember a different England and although they would never come out and say it - it's a sort of a "bloody foreigner" petulance that they vent by talking endlessly around the basic truth that they are pissed off white men who dislike being bumped off their little thrones. Their long winded gripes are in large part about profound resentment that it would be bad form to express as such. Of course they would never admit that, but their writing reeks of it.

Mark Steyn aims to please with his eloquence and wit. I'm sure nothing thrills him more than knowing that the power brokers in the corporate suites are chortling over his latest witty remark about those dreadful backward Muslims who are out to take over the world. At times when you read Steyn, you get the feeling he has never outgrown the need to show-off as a way of obtaining validation. He's become the sort of jester-scribe of the conservative establishment. Maybe it all goes back to the need to be a crowd pleaser during his disc jockey days.

Steyn's views on Islam in Europe insults the intelligence of anyone who understands that the situation is much less comic-book, much more complex. It's one thing to take on religion, but it's another thing to cook up a dodgy scenario and make it the subject of a book intended to enlighten and inform. I often wonder if the people who buy Steyn's line, only read him on these topics. There is a lot of excellent opinion out there that provides in-depth analysis that is a lot more balanced and fact-based, minus the comic relief. Satire is often used to shore up implausible arguments, something Steyn is very adept at doing.

I would never try to argue that Muslim immigration hasn't posed a challenge for Europe, or that multiculturalism isn't a flawed experiment. Some of Steyn's analysis with respect to the emergence of a more militant form of Islam around the globe is right on the mark. However his European scenario has most to do with his idiosyncratic view of things, his closeted prejudices and of course the internal pressure that doubtless comes with having a few million fans waiting-in-the-wings for the next round of shocking predictions larded with witty insights.

In his review of the book for The New Statesman, Johann Hari offers astute in-depth analysis along with the occasional cutting remark along the lines of:

Every delusional statement is sweetened with such a screwball one-liner; like Ann Coulter, Steyn writes in a demonic demotic that makes you chuckle even as you retch.

What is most interesting about the Steyn phenomena, is the number of otherwise sharp and informed members of the intellectual classes who gear down their critical faculties when cruising the pages of America Alone. I guess many are afflicted with a primal fear about the dread Muslim masses and are prepared to give kudos to a writer who dares to go where others fear to tread.

Steyn has been wrong about lots of things, so I wouldn't place any bets on his Eurabia projections. He thought the invaders of Iraq would be greeted like saviors and when the insurgency started up claimed it would fade out in a few weeks. But hey, the guy is funny... focus on that.

I was at one time further to the right in my thinking than I am now, and I liked some of Steyn's earlier work. Since 2005, I have been engaged in a gradual defection from my former position, and I now regard people like Mark Steyn as more dangerous than your basic hate monger. He seduces a lot of readers into buying into a position that is divisive and that feeds into the worst in human nature. When you look at some of his biggest fans and where they are coming from this becomes clear.

When you take the logic of his argument to its conclusion, you have to ask what the solution is. Mass deportations? Genocide? Mayhem? Steyn may never advocate "final solutions", but those fired up by his arguments very well might.

He seems to have no grasp of the middle ground. There is an emerging cultural understanding that doesn't take inspiration from either the flag of St George or sharia. It just doesn't happen to suit Mark Steyn's personal prejudices or the "interests" he serves. But then sometimes people need to know when to cut their losses and get out, and in many cases it won't be immigrants of Muslim descent with a positive contribution to make doing the packing, it will be people like Mark Steyn and his ilk. Good riddance!

Link to follow-up post on this story "Macleans, Mark Steyn and Rex Murphy."

Update: Steyn's comic book demographic projections have taken a hit. According to a 2011 Pew Study the Muslim birth rate is s l o w i n g down, not speeding up. Other forecasts indicate that "alone" America may not in fact remain a citadel of "civilization" you would want to place all your bets on. Oh and what do you know... Steyn has turned his sketchy talents from pending "Eurabia" horror to pending Armageddon horror.

Operation Fertility: Mark Steyn's worst nightmare

Hillary wins - without winning

Hillary Clinton uses 'fear factor' in attempt to get nomination
Negative campaigning, bloody-minded entitlement and ice cold ambition is obviously a winning combo because Hillary "I-am-the-nominee" Clinton has clawed her way back into the fight.

It helps when the media experiences what seems like collective remorse about claims of "unbalanced coverage." It also helps when you use fear as a weapon, as the Clinton campaign has been doing with some of the most fear oriented political ads that have hit the airwaves in some time.

Hillary's wins don't put her much further ahead in real terms. Obama has won double the number of primary and caucus states as Clinton, and he's out in front in the popular vote. On the delegate end of things, he is also far ahead of his rival.

A number of pundits have speculated that even if Clinton wins all remaining 16 contests, she will still be short on the delegate count. If down the road the Superdelegates side with her and throw her the nomination, there is a strong possibility of civil war in the Democratic party. This thing could get very messy. It might even make Chicago look like one big party.

Four more years of the Clintons in the White House? Is that what Americans really want. I will put down serious money that it isn't. We haven't really seen the widespread anti-Hillary sentiment kick in yet, but it will in the Presidential race. If Hillary Clinton is nominated - McCain will have wind in his sails.

Mar 3, 2008

Bill O'Reilly compares blog comment with Goebbel's propaganda

Bill O'Reilly compares Huffington Post to the NazisBill O'Reilly is always reliably himself. Always reliably smug, flash, complacent, accusing, cynical, smirking - depending on what piece of raw meat has been tossed into his cage on a given day.

He creates the impression that he's nailing it all down when he talks, even though he may be using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. He's fly when it comes to playing on popular fears and prejudices - knows what buttons to push to generate a reaction. None of this though has anything to do with being fair and balanced. It has to do with O'Reilly, his agenda and his ego. Calling his line of commentary "fair and balanced" is a joke.

O'Reilly's interest in any given news story depends on the degree of prejudice it whips up in him. He thinks nothing of using Nazi or KKK references to smear opponents. Stretching a far-fetched comparison to the max isn't a problem for him. It doesn't matter how idiotic the comparison is so long as it produces the required sensation value.

The other day he had a go at Arianna Huffington.

O'Reilly got heated because a commentator on one of HuffPo's many comment threads made some disparaging reference to Nancy Reagan. The remark included the wish that she suffer terribly before dying.

In the build-up to his attack, O'Reilly dragged up Nazi attempts to demonize the Jews. He then went on to suggest that the comment about Nancy Reagan made HuffPo no different from the Nazi propaganda employed by Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister for Enlightenment and Propaganda. This knee-jerk comparison would draw accusations of "moron" in the company of sane people, but O'Reilly carries on like this on the public airwaves and then has the audacity to describe his brand of lunacy as "fair and balanced."

Channeling one of the darkest periods of modern history in order to make a point about a random comment on a blog thread isn't just unbalanced, it is the type of overkill that draws attention back to O'Reilly. You seriously wonder if the guy is right in the head.

O'Reilly's tactics could come straight out of the Nazi playbook. He routinely distorts the facts, blurs reality and caricatures his opponents in an effort to ram home his smear-of-the-day ... which is precisely what the Nazis did.

Goebbels digs Bill O'Reilly

Mar 1, 2008

Why Ireland should say 'no' to the Lisbon treaty

Ireland faces a 'yes' or 'no' vote on the Lisbon TreatyAs Ireland prepares for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty in June of 2008, polling indicates that some 60% of the Irish are undecided. Opposition to this treaty doesn't imply opposition to Europe, so much as opposition to a Brussels elite and a mammoth European institution that is out-of-touch with realities on the ground.

Unlike other member states that have ratified the treaty in their national parliaments, the Irish constitution requires a referendum on the type of amendments being proposed by the treaty of Lisbon.

Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and his Fianna Fail party have their work cut out for them over the next few months. Ahern is an EU cheerleader. He has issued rather high handed warnings to those keen to use the Irish referendum to exercise their democratic rights in opposition to the treaty of Lisbon. In an effort to convince the public to go for ratification, the government plans to mail bilingual booklets (in English and Irish) to every household - some 2.5 million all told.

The treaty would effectively hand significant power over Irish affairs to Brussels. It would subjugate the Irish people to the will of a political entity that they will not be in a position to influence via the usual democratic mechanisms. According to Spanish foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, there is an "unspoken agreement" among EU leaders not to hold any further referenda because they believe that public consultation is being used against the EU. This blatantly undemocratic stance is particularly worrisome when you consider that Article 48 of Lisbon gives the EU powers to amend its own treaties without any process of national ratification. The EU council will be able to make amendments on the basis of unanimity.

Article 9 states that the European Council will change from an inter-governmental institution to a European Union institution. Moreover it would seek to "promote its [the Union’s] values, advance its objectives, its interests." These values, objectives and interests would essentially be determined not via the ballot box but by EU law.

New areas of EU law-making will extend to civil and criminal law, justice and policing, immigration, public services, energy, transport, tourism, space, sport, culture, civil protection, public health and the EU budget. If the treaty is passed, increasingly the direction of Irish affairs will be determined by the directives of a non-elected Brussels Commission.

When you look in detail at what is being proposed it becomes evident that the corporate entity will be in many respects be separate from and superior to, the member states - in other words a European superstate. This is a view that supporters of the treaty seek to tone down. In the words of Giuliano Amato, the Italian president - "It is psychological terrorism to suggest the specter of a European superstate."

Detailed objections to the treaty are outlined in the weekly An Phoblacht, in a point-by-point article by Eoin O Broin. It makes an interesting read because it highlights major areas of concern from the Sinn Fein perspective.

Reservations about the growing power of the EU aren't restricted to the Irish. Former President of Germany, Roman Herzog, puts it this way:

People have an ever-increasing feeling that something is going wrong; that an untransparent, complex, mammoth institution has evolved: divorced from practical problems and national traditions; grabbing ever greater competences and areas of power; that the democratic control mechanisms are failing – in brief, that it cannot go on like this.

It's wrong to characterize opposition to this treaty as anti-European per se. In fact the contrary is true. Those who oppose the treaty are expressing democratic solidarity with the people of Europe. A no vote is a protest against the erosion of the principles of democracy within the EU and the empowerment of a small elite. Nicolas Sarkozy is on record saying that if this treaty was placed before the people of Europe in a truly democratic fashion, it would fail. I believe Sarkozy is correct in this assessment.

The Irish are a proud and a free people, who have paid in blood for their liberty. It is my hope that the people of Ireland will seize the initiative and answer "no" - not to reject Europe, but rather to secure an EU that is more, rather than less democratic.