I saw the original story here (£), from two weeks ago in the Sunday Times, and filed it in the back of my mind as another tale of greed and the over-exploitation of natural resources without, to be honest, thinking about it very much. Well - shrug - what can you do?
Now it turns out that it's complete bollocks - nicely taken apart by Hannah Barnes & Richard Knight here, and an interesting insight into how nonsense, especially when it's about ecological doom, can be up and running halfway round the track while the truth is still tying up its shoelaces. Or however that saying goes.
Shashank Joshi at the Sunday Times, on the West’s weakening defence of free speech. It's behind the paywall, so here's a chunk:
Four years ago Harry Taylor walked into Liverpool John Lennon airport and left “anti-religious” cartoons — some from Private Eye — in the multi-faith prayer room. He was handed a six-month suspended prison term for causing distress. The prosecutor in that case told the jury: “You are 12 tolerant British people who know what freedom of speech is all about.” In the event, it turns out they didn’t have the slightest idea of the concept.
This is a good time to revisit that incident. Earlier this month some hardline Egyptian clerics, stumbling across a crude piece of Islamophobic agitprop on YouTube, decided, curiously, that the best way to show their outrage was to broadcast it on their television station. As riots unfolded Salman Rushdie — no stranger to manufactured controversies — released his memoirs, warning that the only proper response from the West was to declare starkly, “We live like this.” But do we really?
If you sift out the sound and fury of the past weeks you will find a more thoughtful line of attack from the Islamic world. As a columnist in Pakistan’s respected The News International paper put it: “There exists no absolute right to free speech, expression or action anywhere in the world,” and so “the hypocrisy and double standards are all too obvious in the West”.
Indeed, the campaigning organisation Index on Censorship recently made a persuasive case, focused on Europe, that “people in democratic countries find themselves increasingly subjected to restrictions on free speech”. What’s a little more restriction for the sake of global harmony?
Over the past week many states at the United Nations general assembly — most of them with appalling records on free speech — have been pushing for a global blasphemy law to this end. They have argued this is the only way to resolve the hypocrisy. But it is not.
The solution is to dismantle the existing restrictions — to level the playing field and make it clear that freedom of speech is not a term of art designed to exclude specifically Muslim icons and values from protection. Free speech should indeed start at home.
Two years ago, why did we allow the Advertising Standards Authority to ban a satirical picture of a pregnant nun simply because it was “a distortion and mockery of the beliefs of Roman Catholics”? Why was France’s Catholic Church granted an injunction against a parody of da Vinci’s The Last Supper in an advertising poster on the basis that it was “a gratuitous and aggressive act of intrusion on people’s innermost beliefs”? Do we wish to live in a society where an arm of the state inventories the contents of our soul?
Let’s move on to our absurd prosecutions based on social media postings. In March a student was sentenced to 56 days in jail for a “racially aggravated public order offence” after abusing Fabrice Muamba, the footballer. This month a teenager was convicted for a “grossly offensive message” about dead British soldiers. But why is it illegal to be an obnoxious boor? ...
These are not the only troubling restrictions. In Europe, why should Holocaust and other genocide denial laws stand? Citizens are perfectly capable of policing bigots through diligent scholarship and public argument, rather than legal censure. Then, of course, you have our stultifying British libel laws that impinge even on vital scientific debate, let alone less decorous speech.
Many reasonable people around the world see us as hypocrites and they have a point. It is difficult to persuade Muslims in Egypt or Pakistan that vulgar insult to the prophet is protected as free speech in the West, when we are seemingly happy to criminalise, selectively but generously, offensive speech and expression on the absurd grounds of “alarm or distress”. We don’t have too much free speech in Britain; we have too little.
We should start by scrapping the clause of the Public Order Act that prohibits “insulting words or behaviour”. Britain should also build an international coalition against the countries agitating for a global blasphemy ban.
Above all, we should remember this is not about persuading others. This is about consistency in the bedrock principles of a self-confident liberal democracy.
Featuring the only man in North Korea who has weight to lose (via):
The cigarette (you can see it at around 1:06) may not be entirely in keeping with the surroundings - but then, who's going to tell him to put it out?
Ah well, here we go again. The leading article in the Times this morning (£):
Tony Blair was the one person who could have stopped President Bush starting the Iraq war had he tried to do so, Kofi Annan has claimed in an interview with The Times.
“I think I will for ever wonder what would have happened if, without a second [UN] resolution ... Blair had said ‘George, this is where we part company. You’re on your own’,” the former UN Secretary-General says of Mr Blair in an interview published today to mark the launch of his memoirs: Interventions — a Life in War and Peace.
“I really think it could have stopped the war ... It would have given the Americans a pause. It would have given them a very serious pause to think it through ... All this would have raised a question: ‘Do we go this alone?’ ”
Mr Annan argues that neither his own resignation as UN Secretary-General, or that of Colin Powell as US Secretary of State, would have dissuaded Mr Bush. But Mr Blair could have done so, had he spoken out, “because of the special relationship and also the fact that ... when you think of the big countries, Britain was the only one that teamed up with him.”
Mr Annan insists that he did everything in his power to forestall a conflict that replaced Saddam Hussein with a fragile democracy, but plunged Iraq into eight years of sectarian strife, cost more than 100,000 civilian and nearly 5,000 allied lives, and never found the weapons of mass destruction that were the pretext for the US-led invasion.
He disagrees with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a fellow Nobel peace laureate who recently suggested that Mr Bush and Mr Blair should be hauled before the International Criminal Court. He says that they were democratically elected leaders acting in what they believed were their national interests.
But he makes no effort to hide his disappointment with Mr Blair, for whom he says he still feels affection. “Blair had the potential to be one of the most brilliant politicians of his time and really for a period was a star. And now you ask me the questions, ‘What went wrong? What changed him?’ It is very difficult to say.”
Of course Kofi Annan's many triumphs as UN Secretary-General - the details escape me for the moment - are the reason he can adopt such a superior tone.
I wonder how long it'll be - 20 years? 30 years? 50 years? - before some bright young historian will publish a ground-breaking book on Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein suggesting, to general astonishment and disbelief, that it may not perhaps have been quite the disaster that commentators ever since have assumed: that newly uncovered documents show, against all conventional wisdom, that the cause of the Allied invasion wasn't in fact the false belief that Saddam had WMDs, but rather his non-compliance with UN resolutions over a number of years, plus the fact that the UN sanctions imposed after the First Gulf War had turned into a farce which hurt the people of Iraq while doing nothing to curb Saddam's grip on power - not to mention the invasion of two neighbouring countries. And that Saddam was, all in all, a man who made Bashar al-Assad look like a teddy bear. And, moreover - this revolutionary book might go on to suggest - the idea that the alternative to invasion would have been a smooth and bloodless transition to a mature democracy while neighbours like Iran and Syria stood back and applauded was always, after decades of the most intense repression which included a genocidal campaign against the Kurds and the systematic and brutal suppression of the Shi'ite majority, and with Saddam's deranged psychopathic sons waiting to take over, a ludicrous fantasy.
And then this:
Mr Annan also attempts to discard the show of neutrality that he had maintained during the six fruitless months that he spent trying to end the Syrian conflict as the UN’s special envoy this year. “Assad has to go,” he says. “It’s a question of when and how. You cannot kill that many people and expect to remain legitimate and in charge of your people.”
He defends his mediation efforts in the face of charges that the UN gave the regime of President Assad more time to crush the rebels. “If you don’t talk to these people, if you don’t even try, how do you influence them?” he says.
But in both his book and during the interview, he offers a bleak assessment of Syria’s prospects. The cleavages in that country are “as deep and bitter as those of Lebanon and on a scale that threatens a clash of sectarian animosities that could dwarf even those that shook Iraq after 2003”, he writes.
“It is a conflict that threatens the disintegration of a state at the crossroads of numerous regional and international forces, of religious and sectarian rivalries, and in a region stalked by extremism.”
Asked what will happen, he replies: “Thousands will die.”
And how, exactly, will Assad go then?
No awareness that he might just be twisting himself into knots here. But then he does have a book to sell.
Sense from Michael J Totten at the WSJ - give Egypt's aid money to Libya:
The U.S. Senate voted down a bill this weekend that would have frozen aid money to Pakistan, Egypt and Libya. The bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Rand Paul, was right that Egypt no longer deserves American aid. But Libya does. Libya needs help, and it needs help right now. Libya should not only continue receiving the aid it's already slated to get from Washington. Libya should also get Egypt's....
Egypt and Libya are as politically opposite from each other right now as they could be. In Egypt, Islamists beat secular parties in the elections last year by a two-to-one margin. In Libyan elections this year, the Islamists lost. This month Salafist preachers in Cairo ginned up an anti-American mob with the government's tacit blessing. Meanwhile a terrorist attack by like-minded people in Libya galvanized citizens and the state in the other direction.
How does it make sense for the American government to give aid money to both?
The odds that the U.S. will get in a shooting war with Egypt are not large. But it's a distinct possibility that Israel will, especially now that Mr. Morsi says he wants to "renegotiate" the peace treaty. The U.S. shouldn't arm, train or fund both sides in a conflict anywhere in the world, and least of all in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Either way, bankrolling radical Islamists is idiotic. Leave that to the Saudis and the emir of Qatar. Sheer diplomatic inertia is the only reason the U.S. is still doing it....
Libya is in a transition phase. The country will cohere under a strong central government or come apart. If it comes apart, al Qaeda could break off a piece, as it did in Mali in April. The last thing the West needs right now is an oil-rich terrorist nest a short boat ride from Italy.
Popular sentiment in Libya toward the U.S. and the West in general is the opposite of sentiment in Egypt and pretty much everywhere else in the Arab world. That shouldn't surprise us. Gadhafi fed his cowering subjects a steady diet of anti-Americanism for decades, but most Libyans hated him. They hated him so much they hardly even bothered to protest once the Arab Spring started. They just picked up their rifles and aimed to shoot him out of his palace. They knew Americans hated him, too. He was a common enemy. It matters, and it matters a lot. Libya's relative pro-Americanism is similar at least in that way to Eastern Europe's.
It may not last. Libyans could end up joining the Arab world's anti-American mainstream. For now, though, they're standing apart from all that. They need American help against the militias, and they're worth the risk. The alternative is worse by far than anything we're seeing in Cairo.
Any excuse to play Gillian Welch. This one appeared on my "recommended" list when I logged on to YouTube just now in search of Friday morning inspiration, so...OK then, that'll do nicely:
Another reason: she's just won the 'Artist Of The Year' award at the 2012 Americana Honors & Awards in Nashville. Partner David Rawlings won 'Instrumentalist Of The Year'.
The song's from Time (The Revelator) - her last but one album. From a BBC broadcast filmed at the LSO's St Luke's on Old Street; posted on YouTube in May 2007.
Wonderful playing from Rawlings - when he slips that capo on at around 1:52....