Thursday, January 27, 2005


Oh Nice!

In addition to the risible Geert Wilders, another Dutch politician has decided to fish in the murky waters of the post-Pim Fortuyn, post-Theo van Gogh Netherlands, hoping to reap electoral gains from the wave of xenophobia that gripped the country since the murder of aforementioned filmmaker. This time, it's Hilbrand Nawijn, former Christian Democrat who at first made common cause with the intellectual flotsam that got into the House of Parliament on Pim Fortuyn's tailcoats, and now, apparently, tries to get out before the Lijst Pim Fortuyn ends up in the ashtray of history that that party deserves. Just recently, Hilbrand Nawijn decided to attend to the New Year Party of the Flemish brownshirts of Vlaams Belang.

By the way, it is touching to see Vlaams Belang rhapsodizing over Ayaan Hirsi Ali. This for a party whose leader used to sing to the following little tune:

Ne amadees, ne Marokkaan
Ne raller en ne nikkeriaan
Ne communist, ne vreemde tist
Die zwieren we allemaal in hun kist
Ne rode hond met ne grote mond
Die boren we in de grond!

(Free translation: the referents of a variety of racist slurs as well as communists are being killed).

Hmmm... Would their ways have really changed? Or are they just making an exception on the nikkeriaan part? My bets are on the latter.

For our German readers, here's an excellent article by Simon Kuper on the current political situation in the Netherlands.

UPDATE ON PREVIOUS POST: The rap group DHC has been sentenced to a 150-hour work order and two months conditional jail punishment because of their "Hirshi-Ali diss". I'll use the occasion to explain once again why I think this is a terrible decision. The point is, there is no difference between the freedom of DHC to write rap lyrics in which Hirshi Ali gets killed in various ways, the freedom of fundamentalist maniacs to fantasize about gays being tortured in the afterlife, the freedom of Rob Black to produce movies like Cocktails and Forced Entry, or the dramaturgist Gurpreet Bhatti's freedom to write and stage plays without having to buckle under mob vigilante pressure. That does not mean I have to like the way that freedom is exercised - in case of Bhatti's play, I have not seen it; neither have I seen video nasties from Extreme Productions; the lyrics of DHC's rap song I find, as I mentioned, quite disgusting and I'm not a sensitive person; and while I believe the people behind are hideous, revolting psychoes probably too terrified of their own sexuality, I do not believe any of them ought to appear before the courts for that - one can't get worked up over Britain's proposed law against religious hatred but support the sentencing of the The Hague hiphop kids. It's not an issue of taste.

I would tend to argue for near-total free speech (barring only the odd fire-in-a-crowded-theatre case) because I think it's an intrinsic human rights - but socialists should support it also because any infringement on it - no matter how hideous the target - will strengthen the bourgeois state. If socialists allow the courts to go after the Brotherhood of Aryan Troglodytes (BAT) or the Association of Beady-Eyed Christian Gay-Bashers (ABECGB), then the state will be much stronger once it decides to go after the workers' movement.

Here's, courtesy of B&W again, a well-written but at the very least incomplete article by Christopher Hitchens on the Dutch mess. Hitchens, commenting on the letter that was pinned to Theo van Gogh's body with a knife, argues that:

The open letter is full of lurid and gloating accounts, lifted from the Qur’an, of the tortures that await apostates like Ayaan Hirsi Ali in hell. It refers to her throughout as “Miss Hirshi Ali,” a mistake that has baffled some observers but which I think is obviously intended to make her sound more Jewish.

It's not important, but it's wrong. Searching Dutch pages, "Hirsi Ali" turns out 57,600 hits, "Hirshi Ali" 1,260 hits - many of them unrelated to the letter in question - and even "Hirschi Ali" turns up 290 hits. The reason for the spelling "Hirshi Ali" is ignorance - including my ignorance, since I must have used both "Hirshi" and "Hirschi" Ali quite often. The idea that the spelling is used to make Hirsi Ali "more Jewish" is a bit ridiculous, to be honest (though Hitchens is right that the letter is otherwise quite anti-Semitic) - I don't want to sound particularly pedantic, but I think it is rather well known in the Netherlands that she is, in fact, of Somalian origin.

Hitchens ends the article with the following:

Any thinking person can see that we will soon be facing jihad on the streets of Germany and France and England as well. A secret army has also been formed within our borders in the United States, though its triumphant first operation did not alert as many Europeans as it might have.

The Dutch are friendly and tolerant, but they do not like having this mistaken for weakness. A strong and hard reaction of decided outrage has set in. At first, the authorities misunderstood this. They sandblasted a mural that had been painted near the scene of the crime, which featured only the words “Thou shalt not kill.” (The imam of a local mosque had of course complained that such a display was “racist incitement.”) But people are now rightly fed up with having their own pluralism used against them, and the protest at this capitulation was almost as strong. I myself think it was the wrong mural to begin with. You cannot fight Islamic terror with Christianity, whether of the insipid or the crusader kind. The original commandment actually says “Thou shalt do no murder,” thus making it almost the only one of the ten that makes any sense. But we do not prepare for murder when we resolve to defend ourselves and when we take the side of people like Ms. Hirsi Ali and Ms. Bousakla in the Islamic civil war that seeks to poison our society and enslave theirs.

This seems to me to be a rather myopic view of what is going on - or, in other words, Hitchens is half right. One could add, though, that the "strong and hard outrage" in the Netherlands has materialized as a wave of firebomb attacks on Mosques, islamic schools and other targets - including some Christian schools, in the meteoric rise in opinion polls of radical rightist Geert Wilders, and a general extremely unpleasant political atmosphere. All of these are not part of a defence of secular, tolerant society - they are the other front on which it is being attacked.

A lot of the unpleasantness of the past decade or so - from the erosion of academic rigour to postmodernist pulp, the unfortunate resilience and in some cases undeserved respectability of superstitions like belief in Angels or astrology, and the generally pale, anemic safety-obsessed, health-obsessed, precaution-obsessed culture we're living in, to, indeed, the threat of islamic terrorism - can be seen as attacks on core Enlightenment values such as the autonomy of reason, or indications that the Enlightenment's job is not complete. But radical islam is not the only threat here - the other is, putting it bluntly, fascism - from a gradual erosion of civil liberties in the name of the all-important "War on Terror" - the defence of the Western Enlightenment, no less - to what intelligent right-wingers like Paul Craig Roberts and Llew Rockwell describe as respectively The Brownshirting of America and Red-State Fascism, and its European varieties that are doubtlessly waiting in the wings (see above).

Christopher Hitchens is one of the more fiery supporters of the invasion of Iraq and the War of Terror on the left (using the term loosely). Not surprising, since he also supported the bombing of Yugoslavia - only, back in 1995 or 1999, it was politically correct to do so on the (moderate) left, whereas right now, it is not. One cannot blame Hitchens for inconsistency, anyway. Hitchens also, like others on the more principled wing of the pro-war left and right, did not mince his words in denouncing the widespread use of torture by American forces in Iraq, without stooping to weasely excuses as "Yes, but at least Saddam was worse".

But can you really rely for a defence of Enlightenment values on a military machinery that has repealed the Geneva Accords, that has justified and encouraged the use of torture?

- Merlijn

Monday, January 24, 2005


Assorted stuff

Pornographers vs. Neo-Victorian Prudes 1:0 - a Federal Court has dismissed an obscenity lawsuit against porn company Extreme Associates. More here..

Meanwhile, The Hague rappers DHC are prosecuted for their "Hirshi Ali Diss" which was spread through the internet last summer. Link in English (courtesy of B&W) here.
The prosecuter demanded a 150-hour work order because the lyrics of the rap song were seen as constituting a death threat:

The court in The Hague was also asked on Thursday to impose a four-month suspended sentence on the rappers.

In a dis — a rap song written to criticise a person — DHC sang about wanting to break the Somali-born MP's neck. The number also suggested an assassination was being prepared in which she would be killed by a bomb attack.

The lyrics of the song in question are viewable here. Briefly, it's a compilation of rather crude racial slurs and even cruder sexist slurs. It's not, by any reasonable definition, a death threat. Not this side of cloud cuckoo land.

As the Expatica article noted, there is indeed a line in the lyrics about breaking Hirshi Ali's neck, as there is one about a bomb attack - there is also a line about cutting Hirshi Ali in two (in tweeën) and throwing her into the seven seas (de zeven zeeën). A demonstration of rather poor mathematical skill, yes, not to speak of poetical skill - a serious death threat, no way.

The fact that there is even a trial about this (and by Christ I hope that the judge in question sees some sense and throws out the charges) is probably testimony to the rotten atmosphere in the Netherlands today. After Pim Fortuyn got offed by an environmentalist crazy, every verbal fart from the left or the right (and particularly from the left) is taken literally with deadpan seriousness. When football commentator Jan Mulder spoke last summer about hanging the coach of the national team (and no; he wasn't serious) everyone fell all over him, with the Prime Minister sending a ridiculous open letter, etc. Something of an inverted political correctness - an rightist one instead of an leftist one - has taken root with the right seeing either islamic terrorists or shades of Volkert van de Graaf everywhere.

I remember that a few years ago, radical Moloccan groups in the Netherlands attempted to push the government into firmer action against Indonesia. One of their representatives came on TV to announce there would be "arson attacks" (brandaanslagen) if the government would not move, and then, well, maybe there would be "murder attacks" (moordaanslagen). The guy in question didn't even bother to mask his face. Yet I believe that the police let him go after a good talking-to. And indeed, the promised attacks never materialized. And, the Moloccans showed in the late seventies and early eighties that they're quite prepared to walk the walk as well.

And now there's all this hubbub about some acne-ridden hiphop kids from The Hague.

As one Theo Van Gogh commented the affair (my translation):

Two weeks ago I already wrote here that I hope the The Hague rappers would not be prosecuted, 'since their freedom of speech' is mine too. Even if I am not impressed with the 'free expression' of hitmen who, how telling, only dare to be caught on camera with their faces hidden (...) Hirshi Ali has every reason to feel threatened, but I do not understand how a judge is going to tell which rap does and which one does not cross the boundaries of the law."

Friday, January 14, 2005



More Huygens images, including a beautiful one from the surface, here.


The Huygens has landed

And it's sending back images from Titan!


The StWC are right! Well, partially at least...

I'll confess to having no particular love for the British Socialist Workers Party and their sister organizations elsewhere. I don't particularly like their overly simplistic slogans, their quaintly prefab placards, their horrid tabloid three-words-filling-a-whole-page newspaper style, or, indeed, their analysis of the former Soviet Union, with which I disagree strenuously. The same goes for mass organizations strongly influenced by the SWP or their international co-thinkers, such as the Stop the War Coalition.

That does not mean I agree with whatever shit is being flung at them from the right.

On January 4, the international secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, Hadi Saleh, member of the Communist Party of Iraq, was brutally murdered. Subsequently, a number of progressive individuals and organizations both anti-war and pro-war, signed an open letter at Labour Friends of Iraq criticizing the Stop the War Coalition for their perceived silence on the murder of Hadi Saleh, as well as arguing that the Stop the War Coalition's perceived blanket support for the Iraqi resistance prevent them from unequivocally condemning Hadi Saleh's murder. The same criticism has been argued elsewhere, here by Johann Hari, here by Harry's Place.

Now, I must agree that the statement issued by the StWC's chairman Andrew Murray, readable here, isn't nearly as strong as I would have liked to read, whereas another statement linked to on the StWC's website, by one Sami Radamani here, succeeds in condemning the murder while all but painting Saleh as a quisling collaborationist, and leaves a slightly odd taste in my mouth.

This said, a lot of the criticism levelled at the StWC recently seems to me to be fundamentally misguided. The statement by Labour Friends of Iraq starts with a statement by the otherwise admirably principled Peter Tatchell:

“The StWC reaffirms its call for an end to the occupation, the return of all British troops in Iraq to this country and recognises once more the legitimacy of the struggle of Iraqis, by whatever means they find necessary, to secure such ends”. Statement issued by the officers of the Stop the war Coalition, signed by Lindsey German, Convenor, and Andrew Murray, Chair of the StWC.

“Right now, the STWC supports “the resistance” in Iraq by any means necessary – a tacit endorsement of the suicide bombing, hostage-taking and execution of innocent civilians, including brave, selfless aid workers, election supervisors and ordinary Iraqis on their way to school and work. The STWC justifies this carnage in the name of “national liberation” (sic). Motivated more by hatred of the US and British governments than by love for the Iraqi people, many so-called leftists support a “resistance” that, if victorious, would bring to power Baathists, Islamic fundamentalists and pro-al-Qaeda militants. Is that what the left now stands for? Neo-fascism, so long as it is anti-western?”

The problem is here, that, as Lenin's Tomb have pointed out here, and Dead Men Left have pointed out here, the Stop the War Coalition never endorsed a statement supporting the resistance by any means necessary. The phrase in question entered into a proposed motion which was never, in fact, passed by the Stop the War Coalition. Now, whereas Lindsey German or Andrew Murray may be hold personally accountable for that particular phrase, the StWC as a whole, of course, cannot. Politics would become quite funny indeed if every proposed motion would be taken as representative of the group as a whole.

The actual statement of the StWC is this:

The StWC reaffirms its call for an end to the occupation, the return of all British troops in Iraq to this country and recognises once more the legitimacy of the struggle of the Iraqi people to secure such ends.

This seems to me to be an eminently agreeable position. I do believe that the military resistance against the US, British and allied military is fully justified - for crying out loud, Iraq is under a foreign military occupation; is armed resistance is not justified under such circumstances, when indeed would it be? That does not mean I believe blowing up hundreds of Shi'a pilgrims in Kerbala is justified, or that shooting Iraqi policy and army recruits is justified, or that the beheading of foreign aid workers is justified, or that the murder of Trade Union activists is justified. As Dead Man Left quite rightly points out, even the statement by whatever means they find necessary does not imply such a blanket endorsement of atrocities - since, after all, there are a few guerilla wars going on at the same time in Iraq currently, and obviously the murder of Saleh is not conductive to the liberation of Iraq.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander. If sincere pro-war progressives like the ones at Harry's place or Johann Hari want to support the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent overthrow of Saddam Hussein without necessarily approving of the use of cluster bombs, the razing of Fallujah, the shooting down of unarmed demonstrators, and the atrocities at Abu Ghraib (and I accept that position), then they must allow the same leeway of opinion among their anti-war opponents. Anything else would be intellectual dishonesty.

And hereby, the opponents of the StWC seem, to me, to fall in the same trap where they would believe the StWC fell. There's a range of "resistance" groups currently active in Iraq, with probably (in case of, say, Al-Sadrs Mehdi Army and the Sunni Baathists, definitely) contradictory purposes. A blanket condemnation of the "resistance" as being responsible for Saleh's death seems to me to make as little sense as blanket support of the "resistance" despite the murder of Saleh and so many others.

So, I'm quite at a loss on how to gauge the recent criticism at the StWC. Is it simple intellectual dishonesty, is it a question of some people having jumped the gun after which the story got a life of its own; or is it a question of people cutting some corners in terms of accuracy because of other beefs with the SWP or the Stop the War Coalition? I'm betting on the last one, for now.

After the toppling of Saddam Hussein, there may have been an opening to create the conditions for an Iraqi trade union and workers' movement to arise. That opening was progressively narrowed by the actions of the armed resistance (which Juan Cole believes to be largely Baathist), and by the actions of the occupying forces (such as shooting into a crowd in Fallujah). I think that, technically, a respectable position could have been possible in which the US invasion would be supported until the toppling of the Hussein regime, after which it would have been strongly opposed. But I haven't seen such a position among the "pro-war" left (though some of them, not all, unfortunately, are admittedly critical enough of US excesses).

But the ideology of military humanism, the idea that one can rely on the cruise missiles and cluster bombs of the great powers to defend Enlightenment values, is dead, anyway. It died at Djakovica, the Grdelica Canyon Bridge, Varvarin Bridge, and let's not forget that multi-ethnic eldorado of contemporary Kosovo... Oops! Kosova. The idea of humanitarianism by cluster bomb - never much to begin with, as propagated by such "progressives" as Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Tony Blair and Susan Sontag was torn asunder there and then, and there is no way it can be sewn back together - but I've been told lobsters can crawl on for some time after having been torn in two, and I'm sure so will the idea of the US Army defending Enlightenment values in Mideastern deserts (while repudiating the Geneva Convention and practising torture of prisoners).

The Stop the War Coalition, and, more widely, the anti-war left can be blamed for a lot of things. For not stopping the war, for instance. For having neglected such matters as the Kurdish question in the ten or so years before the war. And, doubtlessly, for showing too much solidarity with clerical obscurantists and not enough with secular leftists and trade unionists when it mattered. But what they cannot be blamed for is for the war having turned out into an absolute fiasco. When all is said and done, the pro-war left will have issues to think about at least as serious (OK, much more serious, really), than the anti-war portion of it.

- Merlijn

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


Going down....

You have to hand it to him. Probably few people thought that George Bush could come up with a worse choice for Attorney General than a religious fundamentalist maniac like John Ashcroft - but he did it anyway. As White House counsel, nominee Alberto Gonzales requested a memo from the Justice Department justifying torture practices during interrogation of prisoners, and argued that the War on Terror made the Geneva Conventions obsolete. And now it seems indeed this creep will be confirmed as Attorney General. It would be hilarious if it wasn't so sickening.

The nomination seems to have sparked some interesting debate, with one Jonah Goldberg supporting Gonzales:

As for the Geneva Convention and al Qaeda, you'd have to be higher than a moonbat to treat them as signatories to it. Everything they do is a violation of the convention. It may be fun to mug for the cameras and criticize Gonzales for saying that the Geneva Convention is "outdated" when it comes to al Qaeda. But unless you think Khaleed Sheikh Mohammed deserves an allowance in Swiss francs that he can spend at the local canteen, you have to concede Gonzales is right

Well, Al Qaeda may not have signed the Geneva Convention - but the US has (this aside from the question how much of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay are actually Al Qaeda-members). Earlier, Goldberg argued that the photographs from Aby Ghraib should have been kept secret.

Mention should be made, of course, of those pro-war writers who have spoken out against torture practices in Iraq, notably, and very eloquently, Christopher Hitchens here.

A favourite argument of those supportive of torture or "extreme interrogation techniques" or whatever is the simplistic fantasy situation in which an impending, massively murderous terrorist strike can be averted by roughing up the prisoner a bit. Justin Raimondo makes short work of this argument on, arguing, correctly of course, that there is no way to know if information extracted under torture is correct. At Reason, Jeff A. Taylor offers another, interesting counterargument, arguing that the scenario in which a terrorist attack is avoided by a suspect confessing under physical duress is unrealistic:

This premise continues to escape any serious examination. For in addition to the rather mundane fact that the extra-legal status and treatment of terror detainees has not produced significant, actionable intelligence to anyone's knowledge, it may just be that playing rough is not a sound long-term strategy for the United States. In addition to being tactically ineffective, torture may be a bad grand strategy for the United States to pursue.

Finally, Llew Rockwell has produced a brilliant article, arguing that the main enemy for US libertarians is no longer the left, but a "Red State Fascism", as he dubs it:

The American right today has managed to be solidly anti-leftist while adopting an ideology – even without knowing it or being entirely conscious of the change – that is also frighteningly anti-liberty. This reality turns out to be very difficult for libertarians to understand or accept. For a long time, we've tended to see the primary threat to liberty as coming from the left, from the socialists who sought to control the economy from the center. But we must also remember that the sweep of history shows that there are two main dangers to liberty, one that comes from the left and the other that comes from the right. Europe and Latin America have long faced the latter threat, but its reality is only now hitting us fully.

What is the most pressing and urgent threat to freedom that we face in our time? It is not from the left. If anything, the left has been solid on civil liberties and has been crucial in drawing attention to the lies and abuses of the Bush administration. No, today, the clear and present danger to freedom comes from the right side of the ideological spectrum, those people who are pleased to preserve most of free enterprise but favor top-down management of society, culture, family, and school, and seek to use a messianic and belligerent nationalism to impose their vision of politics on the world.

- Merlijn


Irish no longer what they were; Italians soon to give in

Italy seems set to introduce a smoking ban in bars and restaurants. More on Italian anti-smoking decadence here. I don't expect any of the rows predicted in the BBCs first article to materialize, unfortunately. The Irish seem to have given in to similar nonsense earlier last year - though there are signs that pubs are slowly emptying. Nonetheless, I had expected better from the Irish. Then again, I recalled this morning that Ireland is the country of Bono and Bob Geldof as well as that of Brendan Behan and Shane McGowan - and it seems the first side is winning, for now.

The most pathetic of it all is how some smokers actually welcome the ban. As one commentator to the first linked article says:

The ban on smoking is a great way to give up the habit. I was smoking for 13 years prior to Ireland introducing their ban. I admit that I was very much against the ban before it was introduced. However, I soon got tired of having to nip outside for a cigarette. Two weeks after the ban, I got patches. Now nine months later I haven't had another cigarette. I feel great, and I don't have to stand out in the rain!

Gee, I'm very happy for you! I would have been even happier if you had been able to quit without other smokers having had to be chased about by the government for it to happen.

A smoking ban in bars and restaurants is set to be introduced in Sweden in the summer. Swedes won't be bothered that much about it, since chewing tobacco is legal here, and nicotinists will probably massively shift to chewing tobacco in the pub. I've tried out the stuff myself, but it doesn't beat a cigarette. Still, I may partially switch to it over the summer.

And of course, I believe non-smokers have a right not to inhale cigarette smoke. They also have a right not to enter a bar or restaurant where people smoke. But both of these, for me, are trumped by the bar or restaurant owner's right to determine what goes on in his bar. If there is such a market for smokeless bars as proponents of bans argue - why do they need the government to enforce one? Why not start a few non-smoking bars?

Oh, and before someone mentions the health risks of passive smoke, read here, and in particular this. Short answer: yes, a lifetime of inhaling second-hand smoke increases your chance of lung cancer or heart disease, but by such a minute amount that it hovers on the edge of statistical significance, if even that.



New Year

The PSSST(KA) wishes everybody a better new year than the last one was.

New link to sidebar: Biogeographist and environmental skeptic Philip Stotts EnviroSpin Watch which has some excellent commentary on the recent tsunami disaster in South Asia.

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