Monday, November 29, 2004
Run into machine-gun fire - But watch out for second-hand smoke!
Here's the photograph on a pro-Bush blog by Michelle Malkin. It seems CBS news anchor Dan Rather commented this photograph as follows: "For me, this one's personal. This is a warrior with his eyes on the far horizon, scanning for danger. See it. Study it. Absorb it. Think about it. Then take a deep breath of pride. And if your eyes don't dampen, you're a better man or woman than I."
So, the Americans have found their rugged, sweaty, masculine God of War. You'd think they'd be happy.
But no. As Naomi Klein's article reports, the wide coverage the photograph has received has met with criticism in some quarters. Some people remark that this cigarette-smoking Mars may not be a good example to the children.
Of course - you'd think. Running around in a country where you have no business being and alternatingly shooting people and getting shot at is not what mom and dad might have in mind for junior. Glorification of war, combat and widespread destruction is, perhaps, not what one would want the next generation to be raised with.
The problem, you see, is not that he's engaged in a senseless slaughter that has claimed tens of thousands of civilian lives. Don't be that naive. The problem is - that he's smoking.
As Naomi Klein quotes some letter-writers: ""Lots of children, particularly boys, play army, and like to imitate this young man. The clear message of the photo is that the way to relax after a battle is with a cigarette," wrote Daniel Maloney in a scolding letter to the Houston Chronicle. Linda Ortman made the same point to the editors of the Dallas Morning News: "Are there no photos of non-smoking soldiers?" A reader of the New York Post helpfully suggested more politically correct propaganda imagery: "Maybe showing a marine in a tank, helping another GI or drinking water would have a more positive impact on your readers.""
That's right. Quite aside from the little circumstance that, after having dodged bullets all day, the Marine in question probably couldn't care less about the warnings on the cigarette package, it now seems that it's okay if the current generation of children take the Marine as their role-model when playing army - after all, we want them to become good cannon fodder for the Fatherland, won't we? But God forbid that they get the idea to indulge in the disgusting habit of smoking!!! Lest they do not understand that their bodies do not belong to them, but to the State, and they are their Fueh.., erm, President's to expend, not theirs!
As Klein continues: "Yes, that's right: letter writers from across the nation are united in their outrage - not that the steely-eyed, smoking soldier makes mass killing look cool, but that the laudable act of mass killing makes the grave crime of smoking look cool."
Quite. If you needed any proof of the life-abhorring, decadent, morally vacuous nature of today's health fascists - look no further.
Friday, November 26, 2004
McRevolution comes to Ukraine
So, after the elections in Ukraine were apparently won by Viktor Yanukovich, the pro-Russian government candidate with solid backing in the heavily industrialized southeast, supporters of the other candidate, pro-Western Viktor Yuschenko, immediately took to the streets in Kiev - massive demonstrations in his favour have been held for days, with demonstrations in eastern cities like Donetsk in Yanukovich's favour being somewhat underreported here - though not by the BBC.
The EU and the US were as quick to denounce the elections as rigged as Putin was to congratulate Yanukovich - a move undertaken successfully in Yugoslavia as well: denounce the election result and have your candidate announce himself as president on the basis of, say, exit polls; besiege government buildings, and if you can, invade them (if you can't, burn them down as happened in Belgrade); overwhelm your opponent with something like shock and awe. Of course, turnout figures in the high nineties as reported from Yanukovich's base seem very fishy indeed, to be sure. The nicely contrarian British Helsinki Human Rights Group reports some dirty tricks in the western part of the country as well, though.
Now, the OSCE's condemnation only signifies which side of which candidate's bread is buttered. As Matt Taibbi noted in a blistering takedown of the OSCE's election monitoring, the OSCE quite happily sanctioned Yeltsin's elections even though most polls showed he was running with about 2% popular support. But we couldn't have had Zyuganov, a Communist, win, couldn't we?
Anyway, as Srdja Trifkovic noted in an analysis of the Ukrainan situation in the right-wing Chronicles Magazine, it is unlikely that the "McRevolution" (borrowing and bowlderizing this nice term from the Dutch NRC Handelsblad) pioneered by OTPOR in Serbia will be successful in the Ukraine. The country is too divided for that. In Serbia, as Trifkovic notes, most of the police and military switched sides before the election was actually held - whereas in the Ukraine, the government seems to have remained largely intact for now (with the exceptions of more local levels like the city of Kiev). Suppose free and totally flawless re-elections were held - it is unlikely either Yuschenko or Yanukovich would win by more than a few percentage points, and both would hold on to their respective strongholds. Yuschenko may well succeed in securing the presidency in Kiev, but that might precipitate a secession of the eastern regions - and vice versa.
But what is astounding about the generally extremely positive attitude in the West towards the Ukrainian revolt is that few people remember what happened in rump Yugoslavia after the OTPOR revolution - funded and assisted, as Trifkovic and also this Guardian article point out, by the US. The "Democratic Opposition of Serbia" lost the democratic part of the title pretty soon after the opposition part became irrelevant with one of the main participating parties (Djinjic's) simply expelling the other (Kostunica's) from parliament. Two successive presidential elections failed since the people were so excited and energized about the advent of democracy in their war-torn country that fewer than forty percent took to the polls (most of which voting for the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party). Only after lowering the bar of fifty percent turnout was a president actually elected. A smashing success story, indeed!
That does not mean Viktor Yanukovich is any kind of working-class titan, as the Trotskyist Newsline would have. It seems to me he represents the first wave of counterrevolution rather than some heroic defender of socialism's gains - the crooks who did the dirty job of dismantling the socialist economy, and who may now well be replaced by more sophisticated crooks who want their share of the pie.
One could say, even, that Putin's endorsement of Yanukovich should be warning enough- Putin being such a beacon of democracy that he succeeded in uniting right-wing oppositionists like Irina Khakamada, the Zyuganovist communists and the National Bolsheviks of Edward Limonov together against him.
The events in the Ukraine may thus well be the next stage in the piecemeal annexation of the former Soviet Union by the west, but as this piece in Spiked points out, there seems to be little to be liked on either side.
Monday, November 22, 2004
Burqas and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Now, this happened before the murder of Theo van Gogh exploded the Dutch tinderbox, but since then, leftists groups have started to protest the ban, which they regard as singling out muslims. A declaration by "VU tegen Racisme" (VU against racism) can be read here. The organization "opposes this ban as it represents an attack on individual beliefs and political rights. It is Muslim women themselves who must be won to see that the wearing of the burqa is a right, not a duty. VU Tegen Racisme also enforces a 'no platform' position for fascist scum who want to use our campus as a recruiting ground. All boneheads will be confronted and escorted off campus.".
The latest phrase and also the poster downloadable at the address linked to above sound pretty much International
Socialist boilerplate, and the latter group themselves have organized a petition against the ban. Anyway, the phrase I find myself stumbling over is that "Muslim women themselves who must be won to see that the wearing of the burqa is a right, not a duty" - what do they mean, that Muslim women must be convinced to like the burqa? Or that they must be won to see that they don't have to wear the thing? If the latter is the case, what about pressure from family, Muslim men, etc.? Anyway, it could be the original Dutch that the statement is doubtlessly translated from was clearer.
Anyway, my take on this. On the one hand: University students are adults. Having a dress code in a primary or secondary school is one thing, a University another. Also, I can imagine why some people would regard the wording of the VU ban as singling out muslims - even though I can hardly imagine someone would substantially disagree with such things as common and equal teaching to men and women. Particularly, it seems the ban is a bit pre-emptive in that there seem to have been no students at VU wearing a burqa or niqaab.
This notwithstanding, if someone would show up in a Burqa or Niqaab in my course, I might have a problem with that. I also might have a problem with someone wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood, an executioner's cap, a paper bag, or a Frankenstein mask in the auditorium. The reason is that as a teacher, I need to be able to see someone's face. I need to see how they respond to what I am saying, whether they are smiling, scowling, or about to fall asleep. So I can understand the VU's reasoning to an extent.
Also, I don't think there's much of a possible argument that the Burqa and the Niqaab are anything but symbols of the oppression of women.
There's a few intertwined matters here - the rising tide of anti-muslim violence in the Netherlands which needs to be protested and halted; the presence of a violent, extremist wing of islam in the Netherlands which also needs to be protested and halted; and the issue of women's rights within islamic society. The problem with the leftist boilerplate like the VU Tegen Racisme statement, and more widely with the response of the Dutch socialist left to recent events is, I believe, that it is right on the mark on the first issue - but tends to forget #2 and #3. Aforementioned Internationale Socialisten are building a Dutch Social Forum, apparently scheduling a session under the title "The headscarf and the phoney feminism of Hirshi Ali". Would I have liked to be able to be there... Really. Whatever one may think of Ayaan Hirshi Ali, she brings issues to the fore that should have been issues of the political left. But the political left has neglected them. And now, after Pim Fortuyn almost made it to Prime Minister surfing on the discontent of a lot of people whom the political left did not reach, after the foul political murder of Theo van Gogh, we have the same kneejerk reaction...
I am troubled a bit by the VU's ban - because personal rights and liberties seem to be at conflict here with the need to create a gender-equal, neutral teaching and learning atmosphere. But I won't be signing the petition.
Sunday, November 21, 2004
Now, for my own European cynical bastard perspective on the US elections... I have been hesitant to write is since I dislike the mainstream European response to the US election outcome - it has been either unbearably arrogant, like this Daily Mirror cover (I would be inclined to remind our limey friends that they have elected a Prime Minister which much the same evangelical messianism and much the same Iraq policy as the Americans) - or extremely unhelpful, like the Guardian's misconceived tell-an-American-to-vote-for-Kerry letter campaign. So, at first I thought it wiser to shut up. I changed my mind.
In 2000, I found myself rooting for Bush, rather than Gore. The main reason was that I intensely disliked the Clinton/Albright school of foreign policy, turning Bosnia in a non-state surviving only by perpetual foreign supervision, turning Kosovo in a mono-ethnic non-state after an intervention purportedly to preserve multiethnicism in Kosovo, and continuing a stranglehold with regular bombings in Iraq. Let's get one thing straight here: Bush's policies in Iraq may have turned it into an anarchic haven for homegrown guerillas and foreign terrorists to have target practice at real life Americans, and may have caused tens of thousands of civilian deaths - but the death toll of UN-sanctions in Iraq is thought to be well in the hundreds of thousands, while at the same time perpetuating Saddam Hussein's barbaric regime. Misconceived as the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the neo-conservative ideology of worldwide wallmartization behind is may have been - at least the US are now taking responsibility for the mess there (whether they want it or not).
Anyway, I expected a Bush administration to be much more reserved and cautious in its foreign policy, with possibly even a US withdrawal or at least significant downsizing in the Balkans. That was, of course, before nineteen men in three airplanes decided to hand Bush the global mission that he, fortunately, lacked before.
Were I an American, I might well have voted for Kerry holding my nose. But I'm not that surprised by his election defeat. In response to an administration that passed the Patriot Act and went into a, thus far, pretty disastrous war in Iraq, the Democrats decided to field a candidate who supported the Patriot Act and the war in Iraq - promising to get European allies in to take some of the casualties (a pretty desperate wish). In the Dec. 2003 issue of Playboy (the one with Shannen Doherty), when it still looked like Dean (who actually, unlike Kerry, could have made a credible anti-war stance) might have a chance, there's a very interesting and prophetic analysis by 1972 Dem. candidate George McGovern:
"In terms of stage presence and audience reaction at this one event, I would have to give the nod to Senator John Kerry. But Dean also came across well. When he finished, Dean asked me to meet with him privately. He plied me with questions about how I thought he was doing. I told him he seemed to be doing fine and offered him only one real bit of advice: Beware of excessive fatigue. That's sometimes the cause of political gaffes. (...) If I had felt qualified to advise Governor Dean, I would have urged him to stay with his current strategy: The way to beat George Bush is not to be like him."
And then the Democrats went with a candidate who was, politically, a milder version of George W. Bush. I have to qualify that: who was a politically milder version of George W. Bush able to read, write and speak well. If I had been an American and push had come to shove, Kerry's appearance of basic sanity and Bush's disconcerting lack of it would have probably caused me to vote Kerry - while holding my nose.
Sometime ago, during the British elections, a lefist Labour candidate from Scotland was interviewed on television. At that time, Labour already was New Labour, replacing old-fashioned socialism with a disturbing mix of neoliberalism and nanny-statism. The interviewer asked the man (whose name I don't recall) why he was still running with Labour, and not with one of the leftist alternatives that had already sprung up by then. He basically answered that for people in his constituency, the difference between a Tory administration and a Labour administration - even a New Labour one - was a matter of survival. And there's the whole problem I think the Americans are dealing with: the slight nuances of a Democratic administration as opposed to a Bush administration are extremely important if you're on the brink of survival or famine. Similarly, the different attitudes towards, say, abortion are extremely important if you happen to be a woman.
Split the party, and, ostensively, the Republicans will carry the day for a while. There goes the Supreme Court, there goes Roe vs. Wade.
Yet I am not sure whether there is a choice here. If anything, this election revealed the impotence of the Democratic Party towards a Republican one which actually has a base. A base, ironically, in the white working class and underclass that gets screwed over by any Republican administration. Facing that, the Democrats could not do better than to field a candidate who agrees on most burning issues of policy with Bush, and to ward off any third-party intervention on the left (Nader) by court challenges.
The biggest difference between European politics and US ones is of course the presence of a well-entrenched social democracy in Europe (even if it seems on the wane for now). I'm not sure whether an European-style workers' party could take root in the US - it'd probably have to be a different kind of party.
Anyway, the good side of this election result is probably that Bush will now have to take the responsibility for the mess created in Iraq the past four years - the Republicans will have four more years to dig their own graves. But I think that if this election result should teach the American left anything - it's that they should stop fielding centrist candidates looking like Republicans with an education, they should stop trying to suffocate third-party alternatives like Nader's with court challenged, and they should perhaps stop to look to the Democratic Party alltogether.
My take on this would be that the left's best chances lie with the rural, non-unionized working class and middle classes, with the small shopkeepers who have been pushed out of business by Walmart and with the people working there, with people living in trailers rather than houses; not with the educated, urban liberals. With Michael Moore rather than Noam Chomsky.
Friday, November 19, 2004
given an interview on AP in which he apparently proposes a five-year halt to non-Western immigrants and also claims that "If you chose radical Islam you can leave, and if you don't leave voluntarily then we will send you away. This is the only message possible."
"Sending back" people of dual nationality who committed crimes has been brought up in Dutch politics some years ago - but never quite seriously. After all, if you have a Dutch passport, you're entitled to the same treatment before the law as anyone else. But here, Wilders does not even refer to criminal behaviour - just "radical islam". So I'm not sure where Wilders wants to go with this. One cannot eject people from the country on the basis of their ideas alone - unpleasant as those ideas may be. The reason is, of course, that any repressive action against a singular political ideology leaves all political ideologies unprotected - left, right and centre, islamic, christian and atheist.
In Iran, meanwhile, a 14-year old boy has been reported to whipped to death after having broken Ramadan fast. Unfortunately, this seems to be far from an unique occurrence in Iran. In August, a 16-year old girl was hanged for "acts incompatible with chastity", whatever that may be.
Thanks to Butterflies and Wheels for keeping the world informed of disheartening news like the above.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
"Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."
And I can only hope that the above applies to the 58-odd million people in the US who voted for Bush. Doubtful.
When Kerry conceded with, what seemed to us over here in Old Europe, conspiracy-theory speed, I walked through my house and consoled the panicked Germans, many of whom seemed more concerned about the turnout than the Americans, and spoke just the above words, "Forgive us, forgive them," and tried to appear, myself, calm and subdued.
I pointed them to the interesting (and humorous) apologies offered on behalf of those who voted for Kerry, and even for those who did not, archived at www.sorryeverybody.com. I switched the computer on and began to do the same with my network of online friends in the US and around the world as we all screamed silently in our heads and wondered just what the world would be like in four years time.
I, an American who currently lives in Germany, will have to return to the United States to another 3 years and some odd months of Bush's reign of terror, round 2.
I began considering my options. Stay and fight. Marry and move. Transfer to a foreign university. That's all still to be decided...
Not to say that Kerry would have been a perfect alternative. He would not have, to be sure. But better is better and in a two-party system that most seem happy enough with to leave alone those there are rarely choices.
As a result of Bush's winning, I have joined two organizations I've been meaning to join for awhile now: the ACLU and the HRC. We'll need them.
So... who's to say what the world will look like in four years. Surely, not I since I don't even want to begin thinking about it.
I voted for Kerry and I'm sorry fewer of my country(wo)men didn't do the same. Forgive them, because I know I sure cannot.
News of the day
Meanwhile, we may have to look for a new sponsor for our colony on Mars, with portraits of Kim Jong-Il having mysteriously disappeared all over Pyongyang. Usually, it's no good news in those kinds of countries of your portraits suddenly disappear. It usually happens right before or after YOU mysteriously disappear. I love the reaction from the North Korean diplomat, though: ""This is false information, lies. Can the sun be removed from the sky? It is not possible."
NASA succesfully tested a cool new airplane that broke speed records by flying at Mach 10. Unfortunately, this won't help our Mars expedition much since they use an air-breathing engine, and there isn't much air between here and Mars. So, we will place our bets on our intertial hyperspace decelerator which will grant us a negative speed of one kilometer per minus one second.
Of course, the physicists say there's no such thing as negative speed. But that only makes us meaner!
In Colorado, Secret Service are investigating a bunch of school kids who had the dangerous plan of playing Bob Dylan's 1963 song "Masters of War"! I suppose there aren't any REAL psychos left to investigate since they all turned out to vote for the president on Nov. 2 - but what are the Secret Service thinking? Intimidating school kids for playing BOB DYLAN songs?
If any of you is Secret Service, I want to report a song with DANGEROUS REVOLUTIONARY lyrics, celebrating the formation of ARMED UNITS to use POLITICAL VIOLENCE and even ARTILLERY against the LEGITIMATE GOVERNMENT:
Yankee doodle, keep it up
Yankee doodle dandy
Mind the music and the step
And with the girls be handy.
There was Captain Washington
Upon a slapping stallion
A-giving orders to his men
I guess there was a million.
And then the feathers on his hat
They looked so' tarnal fin-a
I wanted pockily to get
To give to my Jemima.
And then we saw a swamping gun
Large as a log of maple
Upon a deuced little cart
A load for father's cattle.
And every time they shoot it off
It takes a horn of powder
It makes a noise like father's gun
Only a nation louder.
I'd advise them to get the writer of these lyrics before some POLITICAL EXTREMISTS will get the idea! This Captain Washington guy sounds like an extremely dangerous fellow as well. I'd launch an immediate investigation into what he is up to.
UPDATE: For those of you who read Dutch, on an art photography course in the Netherland, nudy pictures have been censored and removed for fear of offending islamic participants. One answer I could have to this crap is that I am extremely offended by anyone censoring images of the naked female body or the naked male body. Not offended, disgusted.
If you feel the naked human body is vile, filthy or sinful - do not go to an art photography course! Go study accountancy or something.
UPDATE II: The photographs were removed not to offend islamic participants in other courses in the same building, not the art photography course - but they have been put back. Apparently, they had been removed pre-emptively: without actually asking whether anyone found them offensive - and it turns out that the only person happy with the censoring was the Bible trainer of the local evangelical youth centre. More here
Monday, November 15, 2004
Well, it was a done deal, really. He only had to compete against, say, Johan van Oldebarneveldt (founder of the Dutch republic), Hugo Grotius (pioneer of international law), Johan and Cornelius de Wit, Anthony van Leeuwenhoek (inventor of the microscope), Christiaan Huygens, Michiel de Ruyter (great sea admiral), Abel Tasman (discoverer of New Zealand and Tasmania), Kamerlingh Onnes (liquefied helium and got a Nobel prize), Baruch de Spinoza, hell, RUTGER HAUER!!! - they could have chosen Rutger Hauer!
I'd have settled for Rutger Hauer.
For what it is worth, I'll stick it out in Sweden for the time being.
Here's an interesting article by one Colin Shea about election irregularities in the US. It seems though that the reported overvote in some Ohio counties has resulted from spreading out absentee ballots evenly across pretincts. I'll probably ask "J" to post something here on the US elections.
Anyway, if there was election fraud (which might well be the case) it'll probably never reach the surface, and if it does, it won't help the US left much. Kerry's Iraq policy would not be that different from Bush but having Kerry as president would allow the right to snipe at the Democrats and probably by extension most of progressive America for the mistakes that their own favourite idiot made. Four more years of Bush, though, is for more years of the Republican US digging its own grave.
Michael Fitzpatrick at Spiked has a good article about the passive smoking myth. It sounds pretty impressive that regular "passive smoking" increases your chance of getting lung cancer with some fifteen or twenty percent - but a lot less impressive when you know that the base chance of getting lung cancer (for a non-smoker) is so minute that the elevated chance is just hovering on the edge of statistical significance. I especially like Fitzpatrick's closing words:
"For the anti-smoking zealots, the loss of civil liberties resulting from their widening range of bans and proscriptions is justified by the anticipated health gain. Yet, as the great microbiologist Rene Dubos observed, health should not be considered an end in itself, but as 'the condition best suited to reach goals that each individual formulates for himself' (26). By curtailing the autonomy of the self-determining individual, authoritarian public health policies infantilise society, weaken democracy and diminish humanity."
Amen to that.
In other news, madness in the Netherlands continues, with another attempted arson attack on a mosque yesterday. Also, some retards in Dokkum, Friesland, tried to set fire to a local school, adorning it with white power signs, etc. The thing is that it was a Public school, named after a famous Frisian socialist (Pieter Jelles Troelstra). Either these guys are too dim-witted to actually find a real islamic school to attack and therefore go for the second best alternative, or they're disgruntled pupils burning down their own school. Perhaps both.
Sunday, November 14, 2004
PYONGYANG, NOV. 14 - Proletarian masses around the world jubilate at Merlijn de Smit's decision to re-launch the Party for Socialism and Space Travel (PSST), now renamed the Party for Subversion, Socialism and Space Travel (Kicks Ass) - PSSST(KA).
Amid raucuous cheers, M. de Smit announced during an impromptu press conference in Pyongyang that the ultimate goal of the PSSST(KA) remained to build a socialist colony on Mars, to be renamed Marx.
"A decent-sized asteroid in the general vicinity of Mars would be good too." Great Leader Kim Jong-Il added sagaciously.
M. de Smit continued to announce that until the construction of the spaceship "Red Planet" was finished, the PSST(KA) would endeavour to uphold a weblog dedicated to "the fresher ideas from the socialist left and the libertarian right."
The last four words, however, were drowned out by spontaneous cheers, jubilations, cries of "Forward the PSSST(KA)" and the roar of fifty North Korean aircraft suddenly flying over low.
The PSSST(KA)'s logs may be accessed at: http://pssstka.blogspot.com.
Though the headquarters of the Party are located in an ultra-secret hollowed-out mountain in Haarlemmermeer municipality in the Netherlands, the party may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
"The Party for Subversion, Socialism and Space Travel kicks ass!" Great Leader Kim Jong-Il added sagaciously.
After the press conference, a spontaneous protest march of North Korean workers was held, with such catchy slogans as "The brotherhood between Earthling workers and workers from other Star Systems will constitute an iron fist in the face of US imperialism!", "Forward the socialist colony on Marx, whose tremendous technical advances will utterly overshadow those of all the capitalist nations combined!" and "Bring us to your leader!"
The problem with the hailing of the Iraqi resistance by such leftists as Tariq Ali or say the Socialist Worker is that there are many resistances in Iraq. There's the actions against American military patrols in the Sunni Triangle and more and more outside of it as well, the Mehdi Army of Muqtada Al-Sadr, the unknown jihadists (?) that massacred Shi'ites in Kerbala during a muslim holiday last spring and the occasional beheading of an abducted foreigner - surely not all of them supportable! I strongly doubt whether an Al-Sadr-dominated (rump?) Iraq would be seriously a better alternative to the current status quo. Whatever reaches the press here about conditions inside rebel-controlled Falluja by the way - which isn't much - seems contradictory, some stressing a largely indigenous pro-Iraqi resistance, some a rather noxious mix between foreign fighters and Iraqi radical islamists.
An Indian novelist, Arundathi Roy, recently seems to have argued that we should "become the Iraqi resistance", even, only to add that she apparently meant it metaphorically, or so: "One wasn't urging them to join the Mehdi Army, you know, but to become the resistance, to become part of what ought to be a non-violent resistance against a very violent occupation. So that is to redefine what resistance means, you know, we can't just assume that resistance means terrorism, because that would be playing right into the hands of the occupation." I wonder whether the Iraqis agree that the resistance should be a non-violent resistance against a very violent occupation. Anyway, I think I'll decline the invitation - I have a nasty feeling that I'd become the star in Al-Zarqawi's newest video pretty quickly.
The whole point, I suppose, is that the anti-war left first succeeded to build a massive but politically quite impotent movement around the lowest common denominator of "Not in our name". Now, we have an Iraqi resistance part of which seems to be quite legitimate, parts of which seem to be very, very bad news - and we have the anti-war left hailing this undifferentiated Iraqi resistance. The Americans will lose this war - they're losing it pretty quickly. The whole question is what will happen to Iraq after it. Will there be a secular Iraq with a strong trade-union movement, or an islamic Iraq which is a sattelite state of Iran? Will the Kurds secede, and should the left support the right to self-determination of the Kurds? These are questions that will become urgent pretty soon.
Theo Van Gogh
Had a quick look at the radical left's reactions. The stalinists of DeWaarheid.nu published a letter drawing a comparison between Van Gogh's murder and the events preceding the Kristallnacht - the murder of a Nazi diplomat by a young Jew in France whose family had just been deported. How very tasteful.
The Internationale Socialisten - who reacted to Pim Fortuyn with the brilliant slogan "Stop de Hollandse Haider!" - have a remarkably mealy-mouthed condemnation, not mentioning such details as the right to free speech, but instead arguing that "whatever motives the individual that shot him may have had, it is certain that the murder can only have negative consequences." Ummmm... Yes.
The Trotskyist Offensief, which generally tend to have both legs on the ground, have a much better statement, as have the anarchists of the magazine Ravage, whose statement can be read here, and whose reaction is by far the best I have seen so far.
I am a strong believer in the freedom to say offensive things. Freedom of speech should not be qualified. No "yes, free speech is important, but..." cop-outs. The murder of Theo Van Gogh was an attack on that freedom - my freedom, your freedom, everyone else's.
Anti-Muslim violence in the Netherlands
I'm not optimistic. The problem in the Netherlands, I believe, is that it tried to be multicultural without a single unifying basis for those cultures, that it tried to nurture a reputation of tolerance without an underlying ideology of tolerance - basically, various cultures living alongside each other without interacting much - until now, that is. There's a pattern here. In the 17th century, the Netherlands were a Republic without an idea of Republicanism - with large swaths of the country controlled by nominally elected stewards, in practice, however, hereditary princes. There's nothing in the Netherlands like the French idea of the republic arisen from the revolution, or the American idea of the constitution as a central underlying document defining what an American is. Our national anthem, even, is a ditty from the 16th century about fighting the Spanish - nothing like the German "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit".
So, "tolerance" in the Netherlands was entirely pragmatic: based on the peaceful co-existence of first a host of religious factions, then, after secularization in the 1960s, a host of ethnic groups, various lifestyles, etc. without ever defining "Dutchness" in terms of this tolerance. There's a recent article in International Herald Tribune which gets some things right.
Anyway, it's too late now. Ever since the meteoric rise of Pim Fortuyn threw Dutch politics in a turmoil, the established parties are way too afraid to lose ground to a next populist or far-right challenger. One such challenger, Geert Wilders, has already rising up and is soaring in the polls. That's real hair, by the way.
As an answer to this, I suppose the Dutch government will tighten up security even more and probably drift to the right to take the wind out of Wilders' sails if he continues to do well in public opinion. Meanwhile, the extremists on both sides will carry the day.
Saturday, November 13, 2004
And one induced by this piece by one Stefan Kanfer on Chomsky. Needless to say I don't agree with the thrust of the article. It however raised some thoughts with me on arguably the most widely-known leftist intellectual.
I am a bit biased against Chomsky because of his linguistics. That does not mean his linguistics are bad - however, the Chomskyan syntax-centered "paradigm" of linguistics had a tendency in the 1960s and 1970s to overshadow all other areas of linguistics. However, when Chomsky is criticizing the US for its invasion of Hawai'i, mentioning that "Hawai'ians voted to become the fiftieth state" in the 1950s as Stefan Kanfer does is a, well, astonishingly weak defence.
The problem with Chomsky, if any, is probably that he thinks and speaks like a Vulcan. That's why his criticisms on the U.S. right after 9/11 sounded so terribly flat. They were also, in broad lines, correct. In his log (see sidebar) Ken MacLeod recently remarked that socialists (and I know Chomsky is an anarchist) should "Read Gramsci, but talk like Debs". Chomsky, however, writes and talks like Mr. Spock.
However, there's one reason why I respect the man. Chomsky may be an academic, and a leftist, but he's always stayed clear from "academic leftism" in as far as the latter means a concern with pseudo-radical postmodernist "deconstruction" of the world, rather than an actual analysis of it.