Friday, August 1, 2014

So, anyway, it's all about supporting the Palestinians

In an earlier blog I wrote about the limited concern for Palestinians shown by their so-called supporters in the West, suggesting that they are motivated less by that concern and more by an old and ever evolving hatred. Confirmation of that abounds.

On Wednesday we had news of certain goings on at the Edinburgh Festival that cannot be interpreted in any other way. Igor Toronyi-Lalic wrote about in the Spectator on Thursday.
When is a great international arts festival not a great international arts festival? When it can’t uphold even the most basic principles of free speech. Last night a play by an Israeli theatre company was forced to cancel its run at the Edinburgh Fringe as the result of the barracking of a group of anti-Israeli thugs. The show, The City, is now homeless and on the hunt for a new venue.

Where exactly would they like these Israelis to perform, I wondered? Outside the walls of the city possibly? Would that be more conducive to their medieval vision of the world? Owing simply to their nationality – owing simply to their race - a theatre company is being silenced. What does the artistic community have to say about this capitulation? They’re rather in favour of it actually.
So much for cultural freedom and culture overcoming political divisions. Somehow one never gets such demonstrations or this kind of pusillanimity when, say, a state owned Chinese orchestra, theatre or opera comes to town (any town). Nobody ever thinks that various Arab orchestras etc should be banned because of the way their countries treat women and religious minorities (though we do get protests in connection with gay rights sometimes). Yet an Israeli group, whose political affiliation, if there is one, is unknown and who may well be opponents of the war in Gaza (Israel being a democracy where cultural events are not controlled by the state) are banned in response to vicious demands. What is one to make of it? Hmmmm?
Why bring up race, you say? Because, make no mistake, race is the issue here. With every other nation on earth, extraordinary pains are taken to separate the government from the people. Putin, bad; Russian people, good. Chinese communist party, bad; Chinese people, great. Iranian mullahs, bad; Iranian people, lovely. Only in this one instance do we suddenly make an exception. Do we suddenly decide to demand the collective punishment of a whole population and its creative industries for the actions of its leaders. Strange, that.

When the state-funded Mariinsky Ballet come to town this weekend, there will be no letter asking the Royal Opera House to rescind the invitation. When the Qatar Philharmonic get a chance to show how cultured their slave-addicted state is at the Proms in September, there will be no commotion. When the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra drape themselves in the colours of a nation state that’s committed to abusing human rights whenever it can, we cheer.

And when, once in a blue moon, there’s a protest against an enemy that isn’t Israel, how do we behave? Last year there was the smallest, politest, most embarrassed-looking picket for the opening of the London Symphony Orchestra season with Putin-suck-up Valery Gergiev. Compare this to the ferocity of the protests when Jews are involved. Compare it to the humiliation of the Israel Philharmonic at the Proms a few years back.
To be fair to the Prommers, they showed their disgust with the protesters in no uncertain terms but I notice that the Israel Philharmonic has not been invited since. I also noted at the time that Radio 3 interrupted its broadcast of the concert together with the protests (even after the protesters were removed) and substituted a recording of a previous Prom. Not cowardly at all, our BBC, isn't.

As a matter of fact, Mr Toronyi-Lalic is wrong when it comes to Russia though there the dynamic is different, as this blog has pointed out before. Russia, it seems, is the only country in connection with which any criticism of the government, past or present, is seen as tantamount as an attack on the people. That remains true despite the temporary and, probably, short-lasting falling out between Putin and the West. Israel, however, is the one country where any criticism of the government or its policies inevitably spills over into attacks on its people and, when possible a ban on its various cultural representatives. What could be the cause of that?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Two steps forward, one step back

Readers will have noticed from the title that I am a little more optimistic than that "great thinker" and vicious political squabbler, V. I. Lenin was in 1904 when he dipped his pen into vitriol and wrote his famous attack on his colleagues in the Russian Social-Democratic Party, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.

Needless to say, Lenin was never so vehement in his attacks on the Tsarist government or the right-wing parties, once these developed in Russia, as he was when fighting for power and supremacy in his own party.

This is not, however, a posting about Lenin or the Bolsheviks, so everyone can relax, assuming they have got this far.

My sorrowful and, to some extent, angry complaint is about our own so-called Eurosceptic movement, which is, despite many things, both in British and in European politics, being in our favour, in a parlous state.

For once, I am going to keep off the subject of UKIP (mostly) and its spectacular ability to set the debate back by a couple of decades just as we were beginning to make headway with more people than ever before saying that they did not think leaving the EU would be a catastrophe for any part of the country or its economy. At which point, along came UKIP and produced its latest version of "Euroscepticism" as a protectionist, statist and, yes, I am sorry to say xenophobic idea. (I hope nobody bothers to tell me that UKIP's policy is controlled immigration as they have neither explained what they mean by that nor bothered to voice it in their election pamphlets in May.)

After that extensive throat clearing let me get on to the main theme of this posting, which was brought to my mind by a conversation I had with an intelligent, politically astute and well-meaning friend who entered the Eurosceptic political scene considerably later than I did for reasons of age. Said friend explained to me that she (doesn't narrow it very much) had not yet reached the position of being a withdrawalist from the EU despite having worked with people who are for the last few years. First, she wanted to explore all the possibilities of reform and other long-term plans.

I did not groan but pointed out soberly that I have learnt very clearly in the years I have been involved that the idea of an adequate reform of the EU in the direction we (and, supposedly, the Conservative Party) would like to see it is moonshine while long-term planning is pointless as long as we remain part of the European project.

Ah yes, came the reply but we have to arrive at that conclusion in our own way not simply rely on what people tell us. My response continued to be sober and firm: the country cannot afford to wait while each new generation goes through the process of learning from its mistakes of expecting some kind of a reform and being disappointed over and over again.

The conversation moved on to other subjects but it stayed with me. That is really the problem: for some reason the notion that people should learn from previous mistakes and build on previous achievements is not popular with Eurosceptics who, like particularly inept teachers in primary schools (and I have seen a few), assume that everyone must re-invent the wheel over and over again. Then they (and the parents of the children unlucky enough to be in those schools) wonder why there is no progress.

Actually, I am wrong. The teachers do not care about lack of progress but, more importantly from our point of view, the constantly new generation of Eurosceptics who keep re-inventing the wheel and insist that it is right and proper that they should do so, believe that each time there is progress being made. Unfortunately that progress is only to the same point we had reached before or just a little bit beyond it instead of the sort of large steps forward that we ought to be making by this time and in this particular atmosphere.

Given that the new generation of wheel re-inventers are those who populate the various Eurosceptic organizations and, above all, the well funded campaigns for a referendum, which, let me repeat for the umpteenth time, we shall lose unless we move forward in our arguments a little faster, my unhappy summary stands: two steps forward, one step back. That's true for the time being but it may all get worse.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

News from the House of Lords

On July 22 both Houses heard a Statement about the so-called Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham, a story that has been covered more or less adequately in the media and, therefore, needs no repetition from me. It is worth reading the Statement, though, because it sets out some of the facts in order and with cogency as well as giving some idea of what the government and the local authorities (these are schools that are or have been for most of their existence, part of the state education structure, inadequate in many ways but rarely so scandalous) intend to do.

I think we can discard the usual bleating about better training of governors, here produced in the first place by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch. Does she really think that it is lack of training that caused people to institute a system whereby any head teacher who opposed a noxious ideology was eased out of position? Was it lack of training that turned Birmingham councillors into pusillanimous collaborators? I think not.

The following contributions are of some interest, too, and probably worth reading but they do not convey anything of great value, except for Lord Rooker's perfectly sensible suggestion that Birmingham should really be turned into three local boroughs instead of one, though how that would have solved the twin problem of the determined promoters of an intolerant ideology and of pusillanimous collaborators is not clear.

We then get to Baroness Hussein-Ece, a new name to me, possibly explained by the fact, that she is one of the enormous cohort of peers nominated by this government that has been even better at packing the Upper House with people who are unlikely to stray off  message than the previous one. Her career in the purely administrative and minority rights related parts of the public sector, does not inspire one with great confidence. And, indeed, her comments are exactly what one would expect:
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend for the Statement. It is a relief that this applies to a very small number of schools, however important it is, and to note that there are serious problems of governance. It is important to underline that there is no evidence, as we saw in the lurid headlines, of a “plot” or of violent extremism.

We know that there is a difference between religious conservatism and extremism. That has not really come out in a lot of the narrative from these schools. It has been quite damaging. Can the Minister comment on that? Does he agree with me that when we talk about values, we need a shared level of standards, values and accountability for all schools, be they faith schools, free schools, academies or private schools? Would he also agree that we need to refrain from the generalisation that we have seen that stigmatises whole communities and faiths. This has been very damaging and will make it more difficult for moderate people in Muslim and other communities who want to get engaged in public life to become school governors and councillors, and to play a full role in British civic society.
Naturally, one has to agree that whole communities and faiths should not be stigmatized and that Muslim moderates should engage in public life and to make their moderate ideas very clear, indeed. Some, undoubtedly, do though the noble Lady seems to have been less than active on that score. But it is time for more members of that community to engage and to make their voices heard. Historically, the silent majority achieved very little against a vocal and ill-intentioned minority. We then come to Lord Pearson of Rannoch, a great favourite of this blog, as readers will have realized and he has tried to widen the question:
My Lords, do the Government agree that this scandal, like Muslim segregation and Islamist violence more generally, is a problem that arises from within Islam and can be cured only from within Islam? Given all that is happening in Africa as well, why do the Government go on intoning that Islam is a religion of peace?
There are two issues here: one is the obvious one, raised above that it is the "silent majority" of Muslims that needs to speak out "from within Islam"; the other is the ridiculous insistence on that moniker, "religion of peace". No other religion is described consistently as such, in the teeth of all evidence. As we look round the world, we have to say that while the vast majority of Muslims are not violent and are not terrorists, most (though not all) of the violence and terrorism comes from people who use their adherence to Islam as the reason for it. Indeed, the few Muslims who do speak out against that trend say so, themselves.

Sadly, the Minister, Lord Nash, (and here) found it impossible to depart from the script that his minions had prepared for him:
I think that what has happened in Birmingham is unacceptable to all the communities there, including most of the Muslim parents and teachers. I do not recognise the noble Lord’s analysis of the religion of Islam, which I see as a religion of peace. I do think that there are issues in relation to developing counter-narratives to extremism, but I do not think that there is time to go into that here.
What is missing from this account is the unseemly row that broke out in the House when Lord Pearson put his question. (Well, what do you expect will happen when even the Upper House, the last bastion of this country's constitutional edifice that is more or less standing, is packed to the extent it has been?) There were demands that the Minister should simply ignore the comment as it was so seditious and more than sotto voce suggestions that the noble Lord was obviously mad. So, in a way, it is to Lord Nash's credit that he preferred to give a measured though unilluminating response and did not, unlike the councillors of the good city of Birmingham, succumb to the hysteria.

Of the subsequent discussion [I am afraid people have to scroll down to read all contributions but it is not a long debate] Lord Bew's comment and question about the teachers, criticized in Peter Clarke's report is the most interesting one.

Press Association picked up the story on the same day and cobbled together a reasonable article, which was published by the Daily Mail on line. The Guardian, as so often, managed to muddy the issue in this piece.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Much noise about victims but very limited sympathy

Yesterday's Prom concert was Bach's St John Passion, a very fine work and a very fine performance, though I have to admit to listening to it on the radio. In the interval there was a discussion with a couple of the performers about the work and about the Gospel on which it was based. In the course of that discussion there was talk about the fact that of the four Gospels, St John's is the one that makes the Jews as a whole the guilty party. This was not the main point of the discussion but it is worth noting that, in many ways, the Mediaeval anti-Semitism grew out of that extraordinarily beautiful work, the Gospel according to St John.

We have moved on from there and over the ages anti-Semitism has changed shape and turned up in many forms. I do not think it is particularly controversial to point out that its most recent manifestation is not connected with the Christian Church or the more traditional right-wing groups: it is now almost entirely on the Left and is "justified" by horror at Israel's actions against the Palestinians who are clearly everybody's favourite victims in one way or another.

The day saw yet more anti-Israeli demonstrations, including one that brought the centre of London to a halt, though, it fell far short of the projected march of a million.

As ever we saw and heard a mixture of slogans and chants. Many carried the usual mass-produced Socialist Workers' Party posters that called for an end to the siege of Gaza. Clearly these people had not considered the possibility that if Hamas stopped spending the money it gathers from the world in the form of huge international aid on rockets that are fired into Israel day after day or tunnels through which they try to smuggle terrorists into that country, the "siege" might be lifted.

Nor do they consider that, possibly, if Hamas abandoned parts of its Charter, acknowledged Israel's right to exist, stopped using the Palestinians in Gaza as gun and propaganda fodder but started negotiating, concentrating on economic development (by which I don't mean luxurious existence for the Hamas leaders), there might be some change in the situation.

In fact, there would be some change if Hamas agreed to the various cease-fire proposals. We did have a few hours of it earlier today but Hamas has, apparently, not agreed to its extension and so fighting will resume.

Well, one cannot expect people who turn out to demonstrate for the currently most fashionable cause to do much thinking.

The other slogans, as ever, were a curious mixture: on the one hand, Israel was compared to Nazi Germany (the comparison, regardless of what one thinks about events in Gaza, is not in the slightest valid but is likely to be particularly hurtful to Jews), on the other there were, as usual, threats or promises to finish what Hitler started (an unlikely scenario). In a number of cities, Paris being one, there were attacks on Jewish premises and businesses. As in the past, what may have started as support for the people of Gaza has gone well beyond criticism of a particular country's policy and has morphed into anti-Semitism. There really is no other way of describing what is happening in this picture, taken in Paris yesterday.

This description on Breitbart gives a fair account of what was going on.
The activists were keen to avoid discussing the thorny issue of the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. Instead they chanted things like: "1,2,3,4, Occupation No More" and "5,6,7,8 Israel is the terrorist state." Then they went on to a familiar classic: "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free"; a reference to wiping out the State of Israel, and relates to the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan - better known as the Jewish state.
In the meantime, the Middle East is, indeed, burning and far worse things are happening in other countries. The media has more or less given up on events in Syria but the activities of ISIS in Iraq still merit some mention though not exactly any great horror. One wonders whether the feminist organizations that, for some reason, have ranged themselves against the only Middle Eastern country where women have equal rights think about the news that
Islamic State (Isis), the al-Qaida offshoot that seized large swathes of northern Iraq last month, has warned women in the city of Mosul to wear full-face veils or risk severe punishment.

The Sunni insurgents, who have declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria and have threatened to march on Baghdad, also listed guidelines on how veils and clothes should be worn, part of a campaign to violently impose their radical brand of Islam.
Mosul, let us not forget is the place where one of the world's oldest Christian communities is being destroyed through murder, rapine and what might be called religious cleansing. We hear little from the world about it.

We hear little about the fact that in Libya there is now a full scale civil war going on and the United States has evacuated its embassy (a wise precaution, given certain events in that not too distant past).

We hear little about the daily figures of dead, wounded and displaced in a number of Middle Eastern countries. If Israel is not involved, the media and the loud-mouthed "supporters of the Palestinians" don't want to know. Muslims who try to raise the issue of the far greater number of victims in other countries on various sites, get barracked.

In fact, those "supporters" do not want to know that even UNWRA, an organization that exists, against all the supposed rules on which the UN and its off-shoots are based, to aid and abet the Palestinians and their leaders, are saying that it might well have been Hamas rockets that hit the UN school in Gaza, killing several children and wounding more.

Neither they nor organizations that are supposed to be fighting for children's rights are interested in the story that Hamas used children to build the network of tunnels (though not terror tunnels as the author of the piece explains in the comments section) during which 160 of them were killed.

The conclusion one has to draw from all this is that not only do these people not care about other problems and other violence in the Middle East, they do not even care all that much about the Palestinians, unless they are under Israeli attack. Here is an excellent piece by Cranmer, written on Thursday but nothing much has changed since then.
Curiously, there is no mention of Assad's persecution of Palestinian communities or the fact that he has "starved and murdered" thousands of them.

No mention of the Palestinians in Iraq who are subject to "discrimination, sectarian violence and ruthless killing by the Iraqi government".

No mention of the mass expulsion of Palestinians by Arab Muslim countries, like Saudi Arabia, Libya and Kuwait, of which Yasser Arafat declared that "what Kuwait did to the Palestinian people is worse than what has been done by Israel to Palestinians in the occupied territories".

Israel has killed some 700 Palestinians in its latest offensive in Gaza. Every death is a tragedy, especially those of children. Some of the pictures coming out of the war zone are brutal, distressing and heartbreaking. God weeps at the suffering. If He has meaning and purpose in the pain, it is lost to the world's baffled intellects.

But it is a curious that Israel should be constantly singled out for special treatment.
After all, the Palestinians have suffered far greater atrocities at the hands of their Arab brothers and co-religionists. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced; tens of thousands terrorised, persecuted and ethnically cleansed; and many hundreds summarily slaughtered.
It is, indeed, curious. One is driven to the conclusion that what motivates all these "activists" of whatever nationality is not so much sympathy for the Palestinians, which is obviously very limited, as something very different: a much older and much uglier emotion.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A modest proposal to businessmen with eyes on Russia and Ukraine

To be accurate, what I intend to write is not even a proposal, more of a suggestion, brought about by my continuing astonishment at the naiveté or stupidity or hopefulness beyond experience of businessmen who still think that they can go into Russia or Ukraine (until recently), buy property, set up a business or open a branch of existing one and get away with it, perhaps to make profits. How many cases of people being bullied, cheated, robbed, reduced to a nervous break-down and having their Russian employees murdered must we witness before people abandon all hope?

Now, don't get me wrong: I do not consider those businessmen to be motivated by charitable impulses. Not only do I not think that they are, I do not think that they should be and I would not trust them if they were, NGOs and large charities not being among my favourite organizations. 

Nor do I think those Western businessmen are particularly honest or honourable themselves and I came across a number of people who saw a chance in the collapse of the Soviet Union for a quick buck or a thousand in the chaos that was around them. But, surely, they have realized by now that the state and its minions in those countries, Vlad and his Chekists as well as Yanukovich and his "family" until recently are more corrupt, more brazen, less scrupulous and can command more power of different kinds than any Western business. 

Curiously enough, the problem of bullying, violent expropriation and nullification or subversion of contracts is greater in Russia and Ukraine than in the Caucasian and Central Asian republics not because these are not corrupt or oppressive but because, as the evidence seems to show, their officials, once bought, stay bought. Not so with the "European" parts of the former Soviet Union (excluding the Baltic states, always an anomaly) who have always been rather contemptuous of their Caucasian and Central Asian brothers and comrades. Perhaps, they should rethink that attitude. 

These thoughts were passing through my head as I was reading Oliver Bullough's recent report, published by Legatum Institute and Institute of Modern Russia, entitled Looting Ukraine: How East and West Teamed up to Steal a Country

I shall write in greater detail about the report, its somewhat emotional title and the presentation of it I went to. In this posting I want to concentrate on one tiny example Mr Bullough cites. Discussing how corruption worked under then President Yanukovich he explains that towards the end "property rights became so loose, and rule of law so weak, that state officials and insiders began, simply, to seize businesses", giving Yanukovich a hefty share of the profits. 

A certain British businessman, here named Bernard Carr, lost an office building to "competitors" who gained access to the land registry. This is his account:
It's basically about who pays the police more. The problem was that the police were being paid by both sides. We were paying the police and so was he. So we went to court and tried to buy our way through the court. The lawyers said if we paid 6,000 euros we would win, but you can't guarantee the other guy won't pay 7,000 euros. And you don't get a refund if you lose, which we did ... I have lost count of the number of times I've been told that if I pay someone a couple of grand a problem would go away, but then not have it go away.
I do not expect anyone to feel particularly sorry for Mr "Carr" or be sympathetic to his plight. It did, however, led me to that suggestion. It is that every businessman who thinks that he can do business in Russia and Ukraine and all he has to do is shell out a few appropriate bribes ought to have the following two lines inscribed on the wall of his office and, perhaps, as a screen-saver on his laptop:

That if once you have paid him the Danegeld,    
You never get rid of the Dane.

Monday, July 21, 2014

This time even the BBC noticed

There is a reasonable argument that this time round Hamas has overplayed its hand. Not that we don't see the usual fanatical and usually quite ignorant anti-Israeli comments but, as this piece on Bloomberg points out, the voices that usually pressurize that country have been mooted somewhat. It also places the blame for this round of fighting firmly on the Hamas leadership, who have stirred up Israeli reprisals without endangering themselves very much. Well, perhaps, the day will come when the Palestinians will finally realize who their real enemy is and go after the leaders.

It seems that Hamas is being blamed by the Fatah leader, Mahmoud Abbas, as well. Then there is this curious clip that indicates a certain dissatisfaction with Hamas on the part of Arab states and, above all, leaders. The speaker is the Egyptian journalist, Abdel Bari Atwan. More on the Egyptian media here. There have been other similar pronouncements and a certain lack of enthusiasm for Hamas and its fight.

That has not prevented a number of very violent demonstrations in the West, which degenerated into torchings and riots (a picture from Paris but there are many more) and were accompanied by vicious anti-Semitic and Judaeophobic slogans that invoked positively Hitler and the Holocaust, expressing the wish that it will now be completed by Islamists. (One can't help laughing at the thought of these losers, for what else have the Palestinians been all this time, completing what Hitler did not manage but the intentions and slogans are nasty enough.)

Naturally enough, we have seen many pictures of dead Palestinian children, something that we are used to though some of us have been asking questions about those pictures for some time. Remember Green Helmet Guy? Similar stories were uncovered by other bloggers but these were left severely alone by the MSM though little by little some acknowledged the word Pallywood. Come to think of it, remember the whole saga of Mohammed Al-Dura?

So what of the various pictures of the children and the "innocent civilians" of Gaza? Well, something odd has been happening. As the Blaze points out, no less than the BBC found that a number of them have been recycled from previous wars in Gaza, from Iraq and from another war of which we hear next to nothing from these angry twitters and Facebook posters, and that is the far more ferocious one in Syria.

Here is the BBC's report on the subject. If these people have lost the BBC they are in a bad state.

So let me end this posting with a picture of a singularly unfortunate lady who seems to have been wounded in Syria and in Gaza in precisely the same way, in the company of the same old lady. Some people have no luck. (Ignore the comment on the green strip, which is superfluous in my opinion.)

Why am I not surprised?

Guido Fawkes reports a quote from the recently dismissed former Secretary for the Environment, Owen Paterson:
I received more death threats in a few months at Defra than I ever did as secretary of state for Northern Ireland.
Not only I can well believe it, Mr Paterson having to contend with DEFRA as well as the Greenie mafia, who are completely unhinged (this does not apply to all people who are concerned with the environment just the soi-disant Green activists), I am not even surprised.

It reminded me of a comment made by one of Mr Paterson's predecessors, though he had a junior role at DEFRA, being at that time already in the House of Lords, made when I was working on a Committee that was looking into the meat industry and how it had been affected by EU and domestic regulations (badly).

The ex-Minister (by this stage) said that, despite his long career in politics, he had not really believed any conspiracy theories until he took on DEFRA, who, in his opinion, was a conspiracy all by itself.