Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has at last spoken out on the Paris attacks, calling them “blind terrorism.” But still, look at the Zionists:
Khamenei’s comments, released in a statement to “the youth in the Western countries,” were published Sunday by the Iranian IRNA news agency, the government’s official news agency....
Khamenei called terrorism “our common worry” and added “the Islamic world has been the victim of terror and brutality to a larger extent territorially, to greater amount quantitatively and for a longer period in terms of time.”
He said America had a role in “creating, nurturing and arming al-Qaida, the Taliban and their inauspicious successors,” such as the Islamic State.
He singled out “[t]he oppressed people of Palestine,” who he said: “have experienced the worst kind of terrorism for the last sixty years. If the people of Europe have now taken refuge in their homes for a few days and refrain from being present in busy places- it is decades that a Palestinian family is not secure even in its own home from the Zionist regime’s death and destruction machinery. What kind of atrocious violence today is comparable to that of the settlement constructions of the Zionists regime?”
Answers on a postcard please.
Salah Al-Bardawil, a Hamas leader in Gaza, in a November 26 interview on the Hamas Al-Aqsa TV channel:
I am referring to the ancient biblical beliefs, which instructed [the Jews] to kill children and collect their blood, in order to knead it into the bread that is eaten on Passover. This is the killing of a Palestinian child in order to collect his blood, and knead it into the bread they eat. Today, they are trying to say that these things never happened, and that it was a joke or a lie, but these are the facts of history. Anyone reading about their history will find this there.
Not to be featured anytime soon in a media outlet near you. That this kind of stuff is a regular feature of Hamas discourse cannot, apparently, be mentioned in polite society.
Carrie Cracknell, theatre director, talks about her Young Vic production of the Scottish Play in the Sunday Times (£):
“It’s an extraordinary time to be directing Macbeth,” Cracknell argues, “because it feels as if the whole world is unzipping and unravelling around us. The consequences of the West’s intervention in the Middle East and the story of that playing out around us feels so present, and the imagery we contend with is vivid and complex, unnerving and riddled with guilt.” Similarly, this play’s conflicts rip through mind and body, the elements and the social order. “Shakespeare is the ultimate poet of psychology,” Cracknell says. “It’s never just a story about individuals who want to become king and queen, but about what they then break open and destroy.”
These are entirely unremarkable sentiments. This is what people - artistic, liberal, London creative people - believe. The Middle East is unravelling, and it's all our fault - which may be bad news for the people of the Middle East, but is great for theatre, as we grapple with our guilt in artistically meaningful and profoundly significant ways.
It's quite a turn-around. In the 19th Century, we - the West, Europe - were bringing enlightenment to a benighted world. We were sharing the wonderful fruits of our science, our industry, our moral purpose, to a dark heathen world. After the traumas of the 20th Century, we now, in the 21st Century, bring only our tragedies and our guilt. Instead of spreading light, we spread darkness and death. Our science, our technology, was supposed to liberate us. Now it's bringing ecological catastrophe. That's the story we tell ourselves.
The one thing that hasn't changed is that we're still the only moral agents around. It's still all about us.
The Middle East, as we all know, is a disaster area. There has been one major Western intervention in the Middle East this century - the Iraq War of 2003. Therefore all the current problems of the region must stem from that one fatal step. We can go further back, of course: Sykes-Picot is the fons et origo of the whole business. Israel is always there too, the Jew functioning, for the purposes of this kind of analysis, as a sort of uber-European. We in the West have moral responsibility, but that's nothing to the kind of moral responsibility Jews have. When things go wrong, that is. But yes, Bush and Blair between them - forgetting Israel for the moment - carry all the weight of our guilt about the tragedy of the Middle East. Because of course, one way or another, it has to be our fault. That's just the way things are.
In fact, looking back at the Iraq War, the actual overthrow of the Saddam regime - which we were warned would bring about Armageddon or something very close - was accomplished with astonishing ease. The Iraqi army evaporated away. The death toll really started mounting afterwards, with the endless car bombs and the like, as Shia and Sunni forces clashed, Muslims killed Muslims, and the forces suppressed so brutally under Saddam for all those years were finally unleashed.
The idea that Saddam's Iraq could ever transition smoothly to a functioning post-Saddam state was never realistic. There was always too much tension: a Sunni minority ruling with devastating cruelty over a Shia majority; never mind the genocide against the Kurds: Iran lying in wait next door, with the Sunni states led by Saudi Arabia looking on. This after all vestiges of civil society had been brutalised away by 25 years or so of Baathist rule. Yes, the Allies could have handled things better. With hindsight things could always have been handled better. But there was no easy path to peace and security.
Compare with Syria, the other Baathist state. It's the nearest we're going to get to a controlled experiment, in this imperfect political world, on the effects of Western intervention. One dictator, Saddam, overthrown. One dictator, Assad, left in place. And whichever way you look at it, Syria has proved by far the more disastrous both in terms of direct casualties and suffering, and in terms of the effects on the region generally. But still, it's Iraq which is always cited as the disaster. Because it was us who did it.
So now, after Paris and the growth of ISIS, we have the prospect of greater Western intervention in Syria. Western leaders should bear in mind the lessons learned by Bush and Blair: whatever the outcome, from the moment our first planes fly over Syria, everything that happens - especially everything bad that happens - will be our fault.
Egyptian conglomerate Orascom, it may be recalled, paid for the recent face-lift given to what is, by common consent, the world's ugliest building: Pyongyang's Ryugyong Hotel, aka The Hotel of Doom. In return they were allowed to provide North Korea - or at least the elite and the security services of North Korea - with a mobile telephone network. But, unsurprisingly, it's all gone wrong:
Egyptian telecommunications firm Orascom, which launched North Korea's first mobile network provider Koryolink in 2008, believes it has now lost control of the joint venture with Pyongyang, the company's latest financial results report showed.
The assessment underscores the difficulty in doing business in and with North Korea, one of the world's most closed nations that is known for flouting international norms and has long been under a string of international sanctions for its nuclear and missile programs.
Orascom has struggled with a series of problems in the North, including its inability to bring profits out of the heavily sanctioned nation. Adding to Orascom's woes, the North's government has also launched a competing local telecom operator wholly owned by the state.
Orascom has been in talks to merge the two operators, but Pyongyang wants to take control in case of a merger.
"In the group's management view, the control over the Koryolink's activities was lost," Orascom said in its third-quarter financial results report released last week, citing "a disagreement from the Korean side to grant the management the rights to control in case of the merger."
Joshua Stanton has the full story.
Writer Robert Harris is a notable Blair basher, so on seeing his name on the front page of the Sunday Times this morning, in a piece about Syria and Corbyn, I feared the worst. But it's worth reading (£):
When Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour party, the event caused widespread merriment, not least among his political opponents. Now the laughter has died on everyone’s lips. It turns out it’s no joke to live in a country without a serious opposition, especially when the times call for military action.
This week the government goes to the Commons to ask for the authority to strike terrorist targets in Syria. It will want the backing of as many Labour MPs as possible to present a show of national unity. But those same MPs, thanks to the Corbyn insurgency, will know that they face the threat of deselection if they appear to challenge his leadership — above all, on the emotive issue of war.
Far earlier than anticipated, the moral and political crisis that was always implicit in Corbyn’s election has arrived.
Corbyn is, to all intents and purposes, a pacifist. But Labour has never been a pacifist party. It condemned the 1938 Munich agreement with Hitler and then joined the wartime coalition only on condition that Chamberlain stood down as prime minister. It helped found Nato. It developed the atom bomb. It fought the communists in Korea. It maintained and improved the British nuclear deterrent.
After more than 75 years of active internationalism and willingness to use force, it is Corbyn who is the aberration. As the historian Glen O’Hara pointed out recently in the New Statesman: “Labour has never before been led by a politician so far from its historic centre of gravity.”
Great parties split. The Conservatives split in the 1840s, the Liberals in the 1920s, Labour in 1931 and again in 1981, when two dozen MPs left to join the Social Democratic party. But today Labour faces more than a mere split. It faces an existential crisis.
By his disastrous widening of the franchise for electing the party leader, Ed Miliband has handed control of it to what a previous leader, Hugh Gaitskell, memorably denounced as “pacifists, unilateralists and fellow travellers” — people not only antipathetic to ordinary voters but anathema even to most ordinary Labour MPs. It will be hard, it may even be impossible, to get the institution back....
Such chaos cannot go on much longer.. Those MPs who either defy a three-line whip to vote for military action against Isis, or who are permitted to follow their consciences in a free vote, may well prove to be the nucleus of a new party.
If that sounds apocalyptic then so is the mood of many Labour MPs: obliged to watch at close quarters day in, day out, the incompetent antics of a leadership that has no hope of ever winning a general election but which is nonetheless impossible to dislodge.
Let us hope, then, that enough Labour MPs have the courage to defy their leader and his virtual army and ensure that Britain plays its part in the UN coalition against Isis. Because if the vote goes the other way it won’t only be the Labour party that will have been revealed as supine, unreliable and irrelevant in the teeth of this crisis — it will be the entire country.
As a number of commenters point out though, Corbyn's "pacifism" is selective. He doesn't generally have a problem with violence against the West,.
There are plenty of fine articles prompted by the Paris killings. This, by Adam Shatz in the LRB, isn't one of them:
IS can’t ‘win’ in any conventional sense, but it doesn’t have to expand the caliphate in order to remain in business. In the global society of the spectacle, it’s on a roll. Paris has seen its share of terrorist attacks since the 1970s, but the assault on the Bataclan felt very different, and even more disquieting than al-Qaida’s strikes in Madrid and London. Bombings on trains, because the perpetrators are invisible and death is as sudden as in an earthquake, are somehow more easily absorbed than killings by men in balaclavas, armed with Kalashnikovs, haranguing their victims before methodically mowing them down. The message seemed to be: this is what it feels like in Baghdad and Aleppo, this is what it feels like to be utterly helpless, this is what it feels like to be at war. And because the massacre was followed by promises of similar attacks in Paris and other ‘crusader’ cities, it has thrown into relief the impasse in which the West now finds itself, an impasse in large part of its own making.
If that's what the message "seemed to be" to Shatz, then clearly the ISIS killers are once again failing to get their message across - to western intellectuals and LRB readers, at least. No matter how much they shout out their mantra of death to the infidels and the Jews, they're still seen - the poor misunderstood dears - as latter-day Situationists intent on revenge for Sykes-Picot and all the rest. How much clearer - they must be wondering - can we make it?
IS has managed to insert itself, with no small amount of cunning, and with acute sensitivity to feelings of humiliation, into two of the most intractable conflicts of our time: the relationship of European societies to their internal, Muslim ‘others’ and the sectarian power struggles that have engulfed the lands of Iraq and Syria since 2003.
In an earlier era, these conflicts might have remained separate, but they are now linked thanks to the very devices that are the symbol of globalisation, our phones and laptops. It no longer makes sense to speak of near and far, or even of ‘blowback’: the theatre of conflict has no clear borders, and its causes are multiple, overlapping and deeply rooted in histories of postcolonial rage and Western-assisted state collapse. The attacks in Paris don’t reflect a clash of civilisations but rather the fact that we really do live in a single, if unequal world, where the torments in one region inevitably spill over into another, where everything connects, sometimes with lethal consequences. For all its medieval airs, the caliphate holds up a mirror to the world we have made, not only in Raqqa and Mosul, but in Paris, Moscow and Washington.
Of course, it's all about us. Always. It's impossible to imagine an LRB piece on ISIS ending any other way.
As Marc Weitzmann puts it:
So let’s try to understand. Let’s find a rational cause for what is, obviously, irrational. Or, in other words: Reason needs reason in order to think.
The intellectual effort in writing a sophisticated analysis of the situation can never find room for the irrational fanaticism of Islamism and ISIS, with its apocalyptic vision burnished in anti-Semitism and hatred. It just drops through the holes. It doesn't fit the pattern. The lost keys have always been found under the familiar street-lights of post-colonial rage, the anti-imperialist struggle, structural racism in western society. So that's where they look...and once again, they find that, yes, it is indeed our fault.
We may not have learnt anything from reading all that smart analysis, but we probably feel a good deal smugger.
A worthy addition to yesterday's list...
Students at the University of Minnesota have killed a proposed resolution calling for a moment of silence to commemorate 9/11 victims, due to concerns that Muslim students would be offended. The proposal was defeated by student government representatives in a 36-23 vote. Said Minnesota Students Association representative and Director of Diversity and Inclusion David Algadi, “The passing of this resolution might make a space that is unsafe for students on campus even more unsafe. Islamophobia and racism fueled through that are alive and well.”