Sunday, July 31, 2005

Back to reality:
The Schengen dream falters

In June 1985, representatives from seven European nations met in the town of Schengen, Luxembourg, and began the process of bringing down barriers to the free movement of people across European borders. The document that outlined this unprecedented step in civility and liberalism is called the Schengen Treaty, and the number of nations following its provisions has grown to fifteen in the years since. Well, it was fifteen until just after the July 7 attacks on London. France suspended its partipation in the Schengen zone on July 8, exercising a clause in the treaty allowing for such action when circumstances require. Their decision appears wise, given that one of the July 21 bombers has been apprehended in Italy.
Feels like old times

Unfortunately, civility and liberalism are not likely to make a big comeback anytime soon. British officials today announced quite bluntly that they will use the intelligence they have to target specific Underground riders for searches, though it will clearly amount to de facto ethnic profiling. (One British civil liberties activist said that this will merely force terrorists to recruit non-Arabs into their homocidal operations. So what? Should we be making it easier for them or harder? Besides, they've already done this at least twice in England. The shoe bomber was a West Indian convert to the religion of peace, as was one of the London bombers.) The Italian senate just passed a set of laws curtailing civil liberties and greatly increasing the powers of the state to investigate terror suspects. The new law also makes it illegal to cover your face in public, effectively banning full-face motorcycle helmets, balaclavas, and--get this--burqas. England has finally realized the foolishness of protecting Rachid Ramda from prosecution in France for a terrorist attack on Paris in 1995. The E.U. is considering making it simpler for law enforcement agencies to monitor phone calls, text messages, and emails. And back here in the U.S., it looks as if the emergence of the ummah's fifth column in England has given the Patriot Act a much-needed boost.

France has not said whether or when it will return to compliance with the Schengen Treaty. Italy and Spain are considering joining France in backing away from the agreement. Sadly, one day I may be telling my grandchildren how I once drove from Lisbon to Frankfurt without having to open my passport--that one time I had no idea I'd left Belgium and entered France until I looked at my mobile phone. They will shake their heads in disbelief. Later, on their way home through the checkpoints and past the surveillance cameras, they may wonder if their world will ever regain the freedom taken away by terrorism.

Roy G. Biv

A quiet Sunday. Showers. Then sun.
My daughter squints at the rainbow and asks me, "How does it make gold?"

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Here we go again

Uzbeks fleeing a crackdown over the anti-government uprisings in May will find refuge and possibly residence in the west, thanks to the U.N. and appeals from Human Rights Watch. Some of the 440 refugees flown out of Kyrgystan may enjoy the hospitality of Canada, Germany, or Australia. And some of them may be Muslim extremists. After witnessing the thanks Britain has received for opening its arms to political refugees from Muslim nations, it seems prudent to pause and consider the law of unintended consequences.

The reason for the protests back in May was the trial of a number of men from Andijan who claimed they were being persecuted because of allegations that they belong to Akramiya, an offshoot of the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir (that's right, it's them again). Supporters of the 23 men on trial claimed alternately that there was no such thing as an Uzbek radical Islamist group called "Akramiya" or that it existed but wasn't really that radical. Take your pick.

If Akramiya does exist, it was founded in the 1990s by Akram Yuldashev, a math teacher who belonged to Hizb ut-Tahrir and may have written a pamphlet entitled "The Path to Faith." This tract proposed a five-step plan for the Islamization of society. Those five steps begin with "underground," "financial," and "spiritual" ... no problem so far. Then comes the fourth step, in which members of this spiritually purified, well-financed underground religious community infiltrate the power structure of the society at large. Step five is called "okhirat," meaning "final" (!) and entails the "true Islamization" of society and the "natural transfer" of political authority to the leaders of the group. The translation of this text comes from an article by Igor Rotar printed in the Turkish Weekly. The BBC published a useful overview of Islamists in Uzbekistan and Central Asia back in May.

Another article by Rotar, published on the Jamestown Foundation's website, suggests that allegations of religious and political extremism are exaggerated. The photo accompanying the article, an image of Uzbek women protesting the trial of accused Muslim extremists, is not reassuring:
Protesters in Andijan
Igor Rotar has been reporting on conflicts between Islamists and authoritarian secular governments in Central Asia for years, often with decided slant in favor of the supposed Islamist parties. His article for Jamestown follows this pattern, dismissing the charges of extremism by repeating the protesters' claims that they have no intention of attempting to create an Islamic state, no desire to impose sharia law, and no vision of worldwide Muslim domination.

Part of the problem secularists (whether democratic or not) face is that Islamist organizations have gotten better at hiding their true political goals to stay under the radar of governments that might restrict their actions if they were more forthright. In Tajikistan in the 1990s, for example, the Islamic Revival Party found it convenient to change its stated aim from "the creation of an Islamic state" to "the defense of Muslim rights." This kind of obfuscation allowed their party to remain legal despite its true goal of imposing sharia law on all Tajik people. The radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir has operated in the same way in England, toning down its rhetoric to stay legal, while never really backing down from its goal of a resurrected Caliphate and subsequent jihad to spread Islam over every inhabited inch of the planet. For these groups, democracy and civil rights are useful only along the path to totalitarian theocracy.

In a 2002 article about a crackdown on political activism by imams in Tajikistan, Rotar noted the effect of Islamist "democratic" movements on society there:

In the 2000 parliamentary elections, the vast majority of votes in the Isfara district went to the Islamic Revival Party. In the town of Chorku, 15 kilometres (10 miles) to the south of Isfara itself, it received 93 % of the vote. Visiting the town on 12 October, Keston noted that no alcohol is on sale and all women wear the hijab, a scarf covering the head and neck entirely. Both are unusual for today's Tajikistan.

Well, they're less unusual now than they were a decade ago. And unless we want to see similar Islamic social changes occurring in Toronto, Hamburg, and Sydney, we should consider where Britain's policy of openness to "political" refugees led before opening our borders to more of them. In the early 1990s, the families of Muktar Said Ibrahim and Yasin Hassan Omar were welcomed into England as political refugees (from Eritrea and Somalia, respectively.) Ibrahim and Omar will soon stand trial for carrying bombs onto the London Underground on July 21 and attempting to kill scores of innocent civilians in the name of Islam.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Mi casa es WCasa

Unless I missed something, Reuters has just renamed the White House.

Reuters: Democrats challenge WHouse on Roberts documents

What I'm wondering is, do we have to keep on calling it WHouse after Dubya is gone?

Has Islam awakened a "Western tiger"?

Little Green Footballs pointed out yesterday an extraordinary opinion piece in the Middle East Times. Youssef M. Ibrahim writes with shocking bluntness about another side to the current conflict between the west and Islam: the potential for a massive, coordinated, and highly effective western backlash against the Muslim world. The historical precedent he invokes is the fight America and western Europe waged against the Communist empire for nearly half a century, until it achieved the empire's collapse and disintegration. He sees on the horizon a similar "cold and hot war" not only against the amorphous enemy of jihadi organizations but against the religion that continues to spawn them. One problem with this analogy is that western Europe did not uniformly stand together with America in the long effort to stop and reverse the spread of Communism. But Ibrahim's premise is basically correct. In fact, a new western alliance against the spread of political Islam could eventually grow stronger than any previous alliance, as Islam persists in demonstrating that it is an engine for human rights abuses, corruption, and terrorism everywhere it goes.

Ibrahim is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, which means that some on the paranoid-schizophrenic edges of the political spectrum regard him as a tool of the secret effort by America to create a "New World Order." Ibrahim's authority to write about Islam is unquestionable, however, not because he is Muslim but because he has covered the Middle East as a foreign correspondent since 1979, when he was in Tehran for the revolution. His essay does suffer from the kind of childish moral reasoning we see today all over the Muslim world. In this case, rather than state simply that the Muslim world has a problem because its faith has metamorphosed into a worldwide cult and incubator for psychotic killers, Ibrahim suggests that the Muslim world has a problem because it has misbehaved and is about to get punished. Nonetheless, it is well worth reading. Here's an excerpt:

What is more important to remember is this: When the West did unite after World War II to beat communism, the long Cold War began without pity. They took no prisoners. They all stood together, from the United States to Norway, from Britain to Spain, from Belgium to Switzerland. And they did bring down the biggest empire. Communism collapsed.

I fear those naïve Muslims who think that they are beating the West have now achieved their worst crime of all. The West is now going to war against not only Muslims, but also, sadly, Islam as a religion.

In this new cold and hot war, car bombs and suicide bombers here and there will be no match for the arsenal that those Westerners are putting together - an arsenal of laws, intelligence pooling, surveillance by satellites, armies of special forces and indeed, allies inside the Arab world who are tired of having their lives disrupted by demented so-called jihadis or those bearded preachers who, under the guise of preaching, do little to teach and much to ignite the fire, those who know little about Islam and nothing about humanity.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

More beach reading

My sister gave me a copy of The Essential Rumi last year. I immediately (and silently) questioned her motives. I hardly ever take time for fiction, so poetry is generally out of the question. I had a feeling she wanted to see me regain some of the tolerance I once possessed for Islam, back when my experience with it was limited to two trips around Morocco (on the positive side, mostly) and the Rushdie affair (negative, though I did get to stand in line next to Sigourney Weaver at a PEN meeting in support of him). After reading the book, and after thinking about it, I've decided my skepticism was misplaced. I shouldn't have questioned my sister's motives. I should have questioned the poet's.

Unbounded reverence for life-as-it-is, whether you consider it god's work or the result of nature and chance, is just a short step away from relativism and excusing the status quo. Rumi met his second great spiritual companion by dancing outside a blacksmith's shop to the rhythm of the pounding hammers. I know people who do things like that, and to me they're just annoying--and I refuse to see my annoyance as spiritual myopia. In terms of ways-to-spend-your-day, working in a blacksmith shop sucks. Certainly, there must be moments of great satisfaction to be had there, like putting the final touch on a perfectly crafted horseshoe, or like quitting time. But by and large, if you asked a bunch of blacksmiths if they'd trade places with a poetry-writing retired teacher, I don't think you'd get too many no's. You like the sound of the hammers? Put down the wine glass and pick one up.

That said, Rumi's poetry is extraordinary, and like all poetry, it has its place. Just don't take it too seriously. Rumi would probably agree with me on that, since the underlying message of his philosophy and of Sufism in general is that genuine connection with the glory of life comes from a kind of disconnection from the treadmill of daily worries. Including interpreting poetry, if that happens to be part of your treadmill.

The Essential Rumi is translated by Coleman Barks (with an assist from John Moyne and two others relegated to the title page). Sadly, Barks dispenses with what I consider an important translator's rule: Keep yourself out of it. Given the "anything-goes" nature of Rumi's poetry and philosophy, Barks has probably done nothing that would offend the author. Nonetheless, I found his introductory essays to his artificially constructed chapters nothing shy of irritating interruptions. In the context of Rumi's remarkable life and thinking, insertions about the life and thinking of his twentieth-century-translator-into-English come across as rude and presumptuous. Rumi wrote in Persian, and Barks' translations of the poems read as the unimpeachable essence of the originals. Turning Persian poetry into English poetry must be no easy task, and at that Barks succeeds so well that I imagine he must be a poet himself, and a good one. English is an exact language, one often maladroit at expressing the gentle subtleties of others. Yet Barks consistently amazes me. Here is an excerpt from a poem about a mouse and a frog bound together by a profound, spiritual friendship:
Remember the mouse on the riverbank?
There's a love-string stretching into the water
hoping for the frog.
Suddenly a raven grips the mouse
and flies off. The frog too, from the riverbottom,
with one foot tangled in invisible string,
follows, suspended in the air.
Amazed faces ask,
"When did a raven ever go underwater
and catch a frog?"
The frog answers,
This is the force of Friendship.

Barks exercises just enough freedom with his English to capture what I presume to be the beauty of the original--his inventions ("love-string" ... "riverbottom") never seem contrived, and his decisions (to use quote marks for the people but italics for the frog) reveal a surprising and admirable consideration for detail. If only he hadn't fallen so in love with Rumi and his poetry that he tried to slip into bed between them. In a typically superfluous chapter introduction, the translator reveals to us that one of his Sufi teachers was so amused by his last name that he would greet him by barking. Now when I look at the cover of the book, I can't think of anything else.

Back to the poet. Rumi was born in 1207 in what is now Afghanistan but what was at the time a tenuously-held Persian territory. When the Mongols got too close for comfort, he and his family decamped for Persia proper. There he worked as a teacher and scholar--well liked and respected, according to history--until he met Shams, a wandering Sufi dervish without a comb but apparently possessed of a considerable mystical power. Shams led Rumi into a Sufi-style annihilation of self through intense friendship, and from this spiritual metamorphosis we now have the blessing of Rumi's poetry. Shams ended up getting whacked by Rumi's jealous ex-pupils, but Rumi eventually found a reasonable Shams-facsimile in the aforementioned blacksmith. I happen to believe that poets should not be remembered for their lives, so that's enough of that.

Regardless of where it came from, Rumi left us a remarkable collection of stories, fables, and jokes. He tends to play fast and loose with metaphors--layering them one over another--which can be a little disconcerting for those of us overtrained in the art of writing and inexperienced in the art of reading. He invents a parable about restraint out of a tale of a servant who constructs a flange out of a gourd so that she can be safely topped by her master's donkey. Had Jesus attempted to relate self-restraint and bestiality in one of his hillside sermons, he would have met the cross years earlier. Or perhaps his adoring fans would have protected him until he reached a natural death.

Rumi is strangely adoring of Jesus, and Banks devotes a chapter to his poems on the topic. Though I am an ex-Catholic, I find it reassuring how much praise Rumi has for the philosopher of my upbringing:
Christ is the population of the world
and every object as well. There is no room
for hypocrisy. Why use bitter soup for healing
when sweet water is everywhere?

Apostasy if I ever heard it, though Rumi managed to save his neck from the Zarqawis of the day by heaping his poetry full of Allah and Mohammed as well. For all the beauty of Rumi's writing, it's still poetry about the glory of that which god--whichever god--has created. And as much as it makes me smile, or ponder, it's off the mark. Give me Whitman. Give me the glory of what we have made ... and the shame of the destruction we wreak. Read Rumi, but don't mistake his world for ours.

Laughing gulls

Larus atricilla visit our island from spring until late fall; then they head down south. They do this out of seagull force of habit, I suppose, since it doesn't exactly get cold here. They can't be following fish migration patterns either--they're mediocre fishermen, subsisting mostly on crabs, shrimp and whatever they can steal from the local avian population. According to a birding website at Cornell University, they were almost wiped out in the 1800s, thanks in part to a seagull-feather-hat fad. Some of the island's human population probably wish they'd gone the way of the dodo. Each year they arrive in April in massive numbers apparently intent on starting a bird rumble with the pelicans who nest around one of the island's salt marshes. If you live nearby, you're stuck listening to the argument until about 4 a.m., when the gulls lose their voices.

These gulls aren't looking for trouble, however. They've come inland to keep an eye on an approaching storm.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Les Frites

What do the Belgians and the Irish have in common? Both have a stake in my daughter's DNA, but more to the point, both have a deep appreciation for the potato. Whereas the Irish treat the potato with a dull reverence deserved of a quintessential staple (think "colcannon," mashed potatoes with boiled cabbage), the Belgians have made the humble tuber sublime. They make frites, or what Americans confusingly call "french fries."


I'm not bashing the French, who certainly do better fries than your average American restaurant. But frites are not French. They're Belgian. The Inuits eat raw fish, but that doesn't make it sushi. We shouldn't be surprised that Americans managed to bungle the job of giving frites a sensible name in English. After all, we stuck the Navaho and Sioux peoples with "Indian," we call Amish people of German ancestry "Dutch," and some Americans persist in referring to Jon Stewart as a "comedian." There are two plausible theories explaining how the french fry misnomer began. They may have been called "French" by soldiers in the first World War returning to the U.S. from southern Belgium (which is francophone, as is Brussels). Another possibility is that the "french" does not refer to France at all but is the term for a style of cut, "to french" meaning to cut into thin strips. So "frenched fried potatoes" becomes french fries.

Origins and etymology aside, Belgium is the indisputable center of the frites universe. Or rather, Antoine's friture in Place Jourdan in Brussels is the center. It's a circular structure in the middle of the square, and if you walk around back you'll see the peeling and hand-cutting of the potatoes. In front, you'll see a line stretching from the counter to the street, a line in which les Bruxellois are content to wait a half-hour or more just to place their orders. This is not fast food. And it is well worth the wait.

Maison Antoine, Place Jourdan, Brussels

Belgian fritures typically serve their product in either a paper cone or a waxed-cardboard boat. They are thicker than typical American fries, but not as thick as "steak fries." You will not find a trace of potato skin on any frite. They are salted, but not so heavily that you feel salt on your tongue or that saltiness overwhelms the flavor. If you ask for ketchup you will not receive a scowl instead, but Belgian frites usually come with an enormous dollop of mayonnaise and often with what they call pickles glopped over or next to that. The pickles are actually mustard with pickled gherkins, cauliflower, and onions. Some Belgians prefer more exotic sauces like curry-ketchup or samourai (which I think contains cayenne pepper). You're given a tiny plastic fork with which to maneuver the frites out from under the mayo and into your mouth, a miniature utensil hardly up to the task, so grab some extra napkins. If you don't want to eat standing, take your meal to one of the outdoor tables in front of the bar facing the friture. Order a beer--a pression ("PREH-see-on," meaning draft)--and they won't mind you bringing your lunch. A bar cannot compete with the art of the friture, so they co-exist in happy symbiosis. If you're with company, don't let the conversation postpone eating. Cold frites are for seagulls.

The Belgians have achieved this level of perfection by adhering strictly to tradition, understanding that certain rules cannot be compromised when making frites. First of all, bintje potatoes are the best choice, thanks to their starch and water content. They're hard to find in New York, and the ones I have seen are smaller than the Belgian variety. Regular Idaho Russet is the best stand-in for bintje. Avoid Yukon Gold, and never use potatoes that have been refrigerated. The cold makes them sweet. They should not be too new either, or they will brown too quickly. Peel all the skin off the potatoes and cut them into slices about a centimeter thick. Then cut each slice into slices. Try to keep the thickness uniform, so the cross section of each frite is square, not rectangular. Drop the sliced potatoes into a bowl of cold water as you cut them so they don't oxidize while you're obsessing over getting a perfectly square cross-section.

Now about the oil. Belgians use fat. Though there are rumors that some fritures use horse fat, beef fat is best. In Belgian supermarkets you can buy rendered beef fat called "Ossewit." It comes in 250 gram blocks of a pure white wax-like substance that will earn you some extra-special attention from U.S. Customs when you try to smuggle them back to New York, where beef fat is nearly impossible to get. Vegetable oil will not do, not if you want proper frites, meaning ones that possess a subtle but unmistakable beefy taste and that do not leave a vegetable-oil film on your fingers and tongue long after the meal is done.

Frank and Mike are the father-son owners of Los Paisanos, the best butcher in Brooklyn and possibly in all of New York. They informed me that thanks to the encroachment of health codes on tradition, butchers there are no longer permitted to render beef fat. After some hunting around, they acquired a quantity of beef fat and passed it along to me for a decent price, but the catch was in the quantity: a single fifty-pound block. My family eats a lot of frites, but I have a feeling some of that fat is going to waste.

If you cannot find beef fat, or if you value life more for its length than for its quality, use sunflower oil. My wife tells me in Greece they use olive oil, which I suppose gives you tasty fried potatoes that go soggy pretty quickly and cost a fortune to make.

Now the important part: cook the potatoes twice. This rule is non-negotiable. Even McDonald's does it. The Belgians cook them first in fat heated to about 150 degrees centigrade. This cooks them part-way, so when they hit the second "bath" (at a much hotter 190 degrees centigrade) they don't turn into hollow shells with the consistency of old potato chips. Ever had a hollow french fry? That's why--no first bath. This also explains why some frozen fries seem to turn out better than home-made. Look at the bag, they've probably been blanched--cooked once already, either in water or vegetable oil. When we're doing a large, complicated dinner and don't have time to do three batches of frites twice each at two temperatures, we use high-quality frozen fries (Terra brand are pretty good). A culinary sin, but only a venal one.

Before the first bath, take the sliced potatoes from the water and pat them dry (very dry, or you'll have to deal with lots of spattering). For the deep-frying, it's best to use a proper electric deep fryer with a basket. Fry them for about five minutes in fat or oil at 150 degrees centigrade (300 degrees Fahrenheit), just until they are cooked. They should not brown! If you're uncertain, take one out and stick it with a fork or snap it in two. If it's soft inside, that's enough. Remove the basket, shake the excess oil from the potatoes, and drop them in a bowl lined with a paper towel. Let them cool to room temperature (this is important). Do not salt them now.

Once the potatoes are cooled, raise the temperature of the fat or oil to 190 degrees centigrade (375 degrees Fahrenheit). The second bath is simpler, since you can judge when they're done by their color. This is of course also a matter of taste; most Belgian shops serve their frites done light-golden brown, as in the photo above. They should take between five and ten minutes. Do not remove the basket and plunk the frites onto a paper towel--salt them first. The easiest way to do this is over the sink while they're still in the basket, shaking the basket so they're salted evenly. If the frites are properly salted, you won't need the paper towel, as the salt absorbs the excess grease. Don't pile them too high or the ones at the bottom will tend to go soggy from trapped moisture.

For mayonnaise, Hellman's is alright, though it has a slightly stiffer consistency than what you'd get in Brussels. The pickles are hard to get. Some supermarkets sell a British condiment called picalilly, which is a reasonable substitute. And for the beer, a Stella Artois will do just fine. But if what you want are french fries instead of the real frites Belges, just drop a euro into France's culinary answer to Maison Antoine: the new "France Frites" machine. If forty-five seconds, out pop your "French fries."

France Frites
And they say Americans are always screwing things up.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Man bites newspaper:
The Guardian loses its cool

Scott Burgess of The Daily Ablution has written a devastating point-by-point rebuttal of the Guardian's bizarre follow-up to the firing of Dilpazier Aslam. Mr. Burgess uncovered Aslam's connection to Hizb ut-Tahrir after Aslam's by-line appeared on a piece describing the young, deadly Islamists of July 7 as "sassy." Once Burgess's discovery caught the attention of the blogosphere and mainstream media, and once Aslam refused to renounce Hizb ut-Tahrir's more noxious views, the Guardian had no choice but to let Aslam go. On Friday they announced their decision with uncharacteristic dignity, but the professionalism was short-lived. Another article published Friday in the Guardian's media section amounts to a thinly disguised verbal assault on Burgess, describing him as an American "recently" transplanted to London who "spends his time indoors posting repeated attacks on the Guardian." Talk about a cheap shot. Why didn't they throw in "unshaven and in his bathrobe" for good measure? Burgess quotes their piece extensively in his measured and highly professional response (which I've heard he wrote indoors). If you want to read the entire, uninterrupted version of the Guardian's vicious attack on Burgess and the blogosphere, use this link instead of the one on Daily Ablution (which presently leads to a registration page and then a subscription page).

Monday, July 25, 2005

Islamists bomb French metro,
ten years ago today

On July 25, 1995, Algerian Islamists bombed a train entering Saint-Michel station near Paris, killing eight people and wounding over 150. The Groupe Islamique Arme claimed responsibility, saying the attack was a response to France's foreign policy. The policy in question was France's decision to give military support to the Algerian government's struggle against Islamists bent on subverting the democratic process so they could take power, end elections, and impose sharia law on a resistant population. Sound familiar? Well, the French were right ... in fact, when it comes to dealing with Islamists, the French have a better track record than most nations. Two weeks ago, Daniel Pipes wrote in an article in the New York Sun that France's anti-terrorism stance is actually much stronger than Britain's. I believe this should be qualified ... their domestic approach is clearly more aggressive than their foreign-policy approach. France is now all too willing to cozy up to Islamists outside her borders.

Ironically, it was the British who stood in the way of bringing the Saint-Michel bombers to justice. A British court found that because of allegations that another suspect in the blast had been roughed up by police, London could not extradite Rachid Ramda, a suspect who had taken up residence in "Londonistan" but has been enjoying the hospitality of Belmarsh Prison for about ten years now. The problem is that British intelligence has been operating for decades under a pact with the devil--the devil being Islamists operating out of London mosques, and the pact being that MI5 will keep a close eye on what they're up to on British soil. Well, a couple of week ago, that plan started to look rather unwise. The new plan is that the London police will blow your head off if you look or act vaguely suspicious. With due process put back in its proper perspective, the British also decided that perhaps it's time to send Ramda across the Channel so he can enjoy some French hospitality for a change. Better late than never. has seen fit to print a nauseating pean to Ramda in the form of a letter from one of his former cellmates at Belmarsh.

When it comes to ideological rationalization for their bloodlust, Islamists will pretty much grab whatever's handy, whether it's Algeria or Iraq, a book that you wrote or a book that you dropped in a puddle, a movie you made or a movie you're watching, or even that offensive giant teapot you built in your backyard.

"Arrgh ... A giant teapot ... Must ... blow ... something ... up! Kill! Crush! Destroy!"

While the pacifist left eagerly follows every twist and turn of these lunatics' minds, it's a good thing more sensible people have their eye on the goal of eliminating them and their evil ideology.

Carnival of the Revolutions

This week's Carnival of the Revolutions is up at Soapgun, where Paul's done an excellent job of pointing the way to a number of fascinating stories related to humankind's struggle for freedom and democratic self-determination. In particular, take his advice and follow his second recommendation to R.J. Rummel's stunning analysis of the devastation socialist totalitarianism has wrought in Myanmar (also known as Burma, the scowling neighbor of smiling Thailand). Naturally, I'm not giving out the link ... go over to Soapgun to get it.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Times wonders why Americans don't care about Plame

The New York Times today indulges its bewilderment that no one cares anymore about the self-aggrandizing Wilson-Plame duo or their supposed tribulations. Drop it already. He's a liar. She's a manipulator who claimed that the best person for a sensitive intelligence assignment just happened also to be her husband. Haven't the Democrats learned that Americans have little patience for legal squabbles where all parties involved come off as devious and unlikeable? If they waste another minute of radio airtime on it, I'm going to start thinking that maybe Rove planned the whole thing just to get them to punch the self-destruct button again.

No one's getting impeached over this, in all likelihood no one's getting fired, and the only person going to jail is already there. Wait for the investigation to come to a conclusion. In the meantime, if you really haven't endured enough of this charade, read Hitchens (here from 2004 and here from last week) for a more insightful take. (I must say that I have a rare objection to Hitchens' analysis, in that he excuses the embarrassing use of forged documents by adopting the "fake but true" line the anti-Bush crowd tried to pull during the CBS scandal. Faked evidence of a truth is no better than faked evidence of a lie. Oh, well. Nobody's perfect.)

Update: It just occurred to me that this article will before too long vanish behind the Times' pay-per-view policy. Here's a brief excerpt:
WASHINGTON, July 23 - His former secretary of state, most of his closest aides and a parade of other senior officials have testified to a grand jury. His political strategist has emerged as a central figure in the case, as has his vice president's chief of staff. His spokesman has taken a pounding for making public statements about the matter that now appear not to be accurate.
For all that, it is still not clear what the investigation into the leak of a C.I.A. operative's identity will mean for President Bush. So far the disclosures about the involvement of Karl Rove, among others, have not exacted any substantial political price from the administration. And nobody has suggested that the investigation directly implicates the president.

"Implicates the president" in what? The investigation hasn't even determined if any crime was committed.

A brief message from the
EU Bureau of Summer Fun

You've been warned.
You've been warned.

Media complicity in Islamist deceit

I wrote yesterday about Hizb ut-Tahrir in the context of The Guardian having unwittingly invited one of its members onto its staff. The New York Times gave the group the spotlight last weekend in a piece ineptly titled, "Anger Burns on the Fringe of Britain's Muslims." (Thanks to a friend and reader for passing a copy of the article my way.) The article's author, Hassan M. Fattah, closely follows the rules of the relativist branch of journalism: one, achieve the semblance of objectivity by giving supposedly equal time to two sides of an issue; two, a "fact" doesn't need to be checked if it's in quotes; three, misspell the names of the people you interview, just to throw off the bloggers who might want to do the background research you eschewed. He manages to breeze right past two glaring contradictions in the statements of Hizb ut-Tahrir spokesman Dr. Imran (not Imram, as Fattah writes) Waheed.

Waheed has been publicly calling for an end to western liberal democracy for years. In a 1998 debate over capitalism vs. Islamic economics, Waheed ended his rambling and mystically circular argument with this statement:
"The Islamic Khilafah state will certainly place all man-made ideologies in the dustbin of history, and carry the Islamic dawa to the world."

This kind of Islamist "we will bury you" bluster has become all too familiar lately. Yet whenever some Wahabbi "spokesman" starts chirping about world domination, the media roll their eyes or wink and nod as if it's all a big joke.

But set Waheed's dustbin comment alongside Hizb ut-Tahrir's stated desire for a restoration of the caliphate, to "lead them into the battlefields of jihad to spread Islam and protect the Muslims" (from a publication in the 1999 "Leaflet" archives on the Hizb ut-Tahrir website). This is clearly a call for the expansion of Islam by violent means. And here's what Waheed has to say about the recent London bombings:
"We know that the killing of innocents is forbidden," Dr. Waheed said. "But we don't see two classes of blood; the blood of Iraqis is just as important to us as English blood." He emphasized that they in no way condoned the bombings. "But when you understand things from that perspective, why should we condemn the bombings?"

Why do reporters and editors insist on helping Islamists talk out of both sides of their mouths? Why the exculpatory paraphrase wedged into the middle of an inflammatory quote? Waheed "emphasized" that they "in no way" condoned the bombings? Just tell me what he said. Don't recast his words to make him seem less mendacious. Refusal to condemn is tacit support, and a convenient way to express support in a society seriously considering shipping you off to your ancestral shithole in Lahore.

After questioning the innocence of the victims of the London bombings (and thereby repeating an old Islamist rationale that there is no such thing as a civilian in dar al-harb), Waheed objects to recent calls in England for restrictions on Hizb ut-Tahrir. "Such efforts, Dr. Waheed said, are a 'clear attempt to blur the margins between political Islam and violence.'" (The sheer gall of some Muslim leaders lately is simply jaw-dropping. I nearly choked on my croissant while listening to a podcast of the Brian Lehrer Show a week after the attacks, when M. T. Sherwani, director of the Muslim Center of New York in Flushing, said: "Islam is the real victim today."*)

The second contradiction the Times reporter chose to let slide by unchallenged is Waheed's bizarre assertion that Hizb ut-Tahrir is "not trying to recruit people." This will come as a surprise to readers who might have been paying attention to Waheed's own description earlier in the article of how he joined the group: "Then he happened upon a Hizb ut-Tahrir member canvassing for the party, and everything clicked, he said." A few lines later, the reporter writes that Hizb ut-Tahrir "actively proselytizes within the Muslim community." Why let Waheed get in the last word, especially when the last word is an outright lie? No other cult or hate-group would be treated with such deference in the press. Islamists have managed to get our attention; let's set aside the relativist and multicultural paradigms and give their words and actions serious, critical attention instead of becoming partners in their dissembling.

*Note: My original post misattributed this statement and bungled the word order of the quote. The attribution and quote are now accurate, and the podcast is available through WNYC's podcast feed. The release date of the show is July 13, 2005.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Guardian demonstrates the foolishness of blind multiculturalism

The Guardian has announced that its efforts to "increase the diversity of its staff" resulted in the infiltration of its organization by a member of a radical Islamist group. (Thanks to LGF for pointing out this story.) Hizb ut-Tahrir states that part of its aim is "the correct revival of the Ummah through enlightened thought. It also strives to bring her back to her previous might and glory such that she wrests the reins of initiative away from other states and nations, and returns to her rightful place as the first state in the world, as she was in the past, when she governs the world according to the laws of Islam." [Emphasis mine.]

In one of their leaflets from 1999, Hizb ut-Tahrir had this advice for Muslims:
The true and effective jihad which uproots kufr and liberates the land of the Muslims from the Yahud and Kuffar cannot take place without the existence of the Khilafah State which will unite the Muslims in a single state and under the leadership of one Khalifah who will rule them with the Book of Allah and the Sunna of His Messenger, and lead them into the battlefields of jihad to spread Islam and protect the Muslims.

Another marvelous bit of doublespeak from Hizb ut-Tahrir's website claims this of their goal that Islam take over the world:
Conquest is Mercy

For nine months, Dilpazier Aslam was a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir and a member of The Guardian's staff. The newspaper published his writing the day after it was proven that the July 7th London bombings were perpetrated by Muslims. In a piece titled, "We rock the boat: Today's Muslims aren't prepared to ignore injustice," Aslam revealed himself not only as a sickening apologist for terrorism, but as a bad writer as well. Aslam refused to repudiate the views of Hizb ut-Tahrir, and he has been fired by the Guardian.

The umma's fifth column

A poll conducted by the London Telegraph reveals the extent to which western society is compromised by a force desiring its destruction.
A majority, 56 per cent, believe "Western society may not be perfect but Muslims should live with it and not seek to bring it to an end".
However, nearly a third of British Muslims, 32 per cent, are far more censorious, believing that "Western society is decadent and immoral and that Muslims should seek to bring it to an end".

The Telegraph finds it "impressive" that three-quarters of British Muslims would inform the authorities if they knew of a planned terrorist attack.

One quarter would not.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Annan: Darfur genocide nearly halted ... no one left to kill

The U.N. keeps such close tabs on its own ineffectuality these days, I'll have to find something else to do.
Violence in Sudan's Darfur region has diminished greatly over the past year, partly because militia have run out of targets after razing countless villages, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said.
"The decrease in attacks on civilians may also be a function of a reduced number of targets," Annan said. "So many villages have been destroyed since the war began that there are now fewer locations for militia to strike."

Two things are happening here. First, Arab aggression has succeeded in exterminating or driving out much of the population of Darfur. Second, and rather obviously, the rate of extermination and eviction will necessarily decline as they progress unimpeded. Reuters finds the second fact more significant than the first:
Reuters: Darfur deaths drop, few villages left to raze

Or, as Leonard Cohen puts it in "The Future":
It's lonely here, there's no one left to torture.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

For those still unclear about what's at stake

Watching America is another indispensible resource for monitoring what goes on beyond the insular sphere of U.S. mainstream media. Their translations of articles, interviews, and opinion pieces from various media sources around the globe offer an interesting--if somewhat depressing--view of what the rest of the world thinks. Here's Saad Al-Ansi in the Kuwaiti Al-Ray Al-Aam, clearly defining for his readers what exactly he feels is at stake in today's global conflict between the west and Islam:
If the U.S. and its Western allies succeed in their bid to democratize the Islamic world, this would bring the extermination of the last civilizations that have stood against the West and its ideologies. In the long run, this Islamic civilization represents a real threat to them [the West]. This threat begins with the emergence of a unifying Islamic nationalistic core, represented by an Islamic regime at the social and governing levels. A new Islamic governing body would offer alternatives to the social, economic and political systems of the West. It would challenge to the West's hegemony and end the pillaging of the wealth of Muslim nations and other helpless countries around the world.

"A new Islamic governing body would offer alternatives to the social, economic and political systems of the West." I don't have the energy to list once again the horrors that have occurred in every land where Islamic social "regimes" have been imposed. If you just emerged from a forty-year coma, please scroll down to my previous posts and you'll find plenty to bring you up to speed. An "alternative" to the economic system of the west. If it weren't for oil and child labor, there would hardly be a viable Muslim economy anywhere on earth, save Pakistan (which enjoys the historical benefit of a century of British occupation), Turkey (which likewise benefits from having been temporarily rescued from Islam by secularist forces), and perhaps Afghanistan (which now and again has made herion a decent stand-in for oil). Islamic political systems range from psychotic theocracies (Iran, Afghanistan in the 1990s) to monarchic or dynastic holdovers from the eighteenth century (Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Yemen). Those Muslim nations that managed to take steps toward creating reasonably democratic secular governments are now fighting against a tide of Islamist sentiment that threatens to undo years of progress (Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan). A number of non-Muslim-majority nations now even find their democratic (France, Holland) or monarchic (Thailand) traditions challenged by calls for regional sharia courts, integration of Islamic banking laws, or acceptance of social codes embraced by Islamists (gender apartheid, female circumcision, discrimination against gays).

Pacifists, multiculturalists, and anti-globalists who strain credulity to blame the west's sacrifice of countless lives and immeasurable resources on a phantom neo-con cabal or on Halliburton should take note of Al-Ansi's words. He understands better than they do what this is all about.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Required reading

After promising myself that today would be reserved for reading and research, I've just found something that forces me to break my promise, if only to write this introduction. When I made Christopher Hitchens the sole link in my "required reading" blogroll, I wasn't being facetious. Those who still do not know why he deserves that place--or who still doubt me--must read this, his essay in Slate on the anniversary of the Srebrenica massacres. Everyone else merely should. An excerpt:
Why did Saddam Hussein, that great lion of the Arab and Muslim world, denounce the American bombing of the Muslim-killing Milosevic? Why did Qaddafi do the same? For the very same reason that Christian fascists in Serbia now denounce the intervention in Iraq: They know that the main foe is the United States and that this fact transcends all the others. There has been a great deal of nonsense published in the last week to the effect that an alliance with the United States can put other countries like Britain in the position of being "targeted." Why deny this? I reflect on what was not done at Srebrenica, and on what ought to have been done in Rwanda, and on what was put off too long with the Taliban and the Baathists, and I think what an honor it is to have such enemies.

Please read it in its entirety:

From Srebrenica to Baghdad - What the genocide taught us about intervention. By Christopher Hitchens


A rather late night makes today more research than writing oriented. Until Tuesday ...

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Angola thinks about wrapping up elections begun thirteen years ago

In 1992, Angolans cast their votes in the first presidential elections since independence in 1975. Jose Eduardo Dos Santos won the election, but only by a plurality. This should have forced a second round of voting, but the nation was instead plunged back into civil war when runner-up Jonas Savimbi rejected the results outright. Savimbi was killed in 2002--either in combat, or by a CIA grown tired of its erstwhile puppet's pulling a Pinocchio on them, or by agents of Angola's old colonizer, Portugal. It hardly matters, since the relative peace and quiet since his passing sure makes it look like he needed to be shown the door.

Oddly, Dos Santos' government wants to explore the feasibility of finishing the elections started thirteen years ago, now that the runner-up is a corpse. Now I'm not too familiar with Angolan politics, but this looks to me like a tricky scheme to sideline all other opposition candidates by telling them that they cannot run in the elections in 2006, since the citizens will actually be voting in a run-off and not in a general election. Santos would be pretty much guaranteed to win a run-off between him and a replacement candidate from UNITA, partly because the return to violence in 1992 hurt UNITA's support but mainly because Dos Santos has since used his power to consolidate control over the media. I suppose this could also justify Dos Santos' declaring that he's actually beginning his first term in 2006, circumventing Angola's constitution's limit of two five-year terms. And speaking of the constitution, let's look at Article 57, Section 2:
The President of the Republic shall be elected by an absolute majority of valid votes. If no candidate obtains one, there shall be a second vote in which only the two candidates who obtained the greatest number of votes in the first and who have not withdrawn may compete. [Emphasis mine.]

It seems obvious to me that dying is tantamount to withdrawing from the race, since you've effectively withdrawn from all things earthly. Dos Santos' apparent inclination to a run-off against his deceased nemesis starts to look less and less like principled adherence to rule of law.

Dos Santos at the White House last year. The question is, is he coming or going?

As Angola lurches toward freedom and democracy, there are other issues of liberation at stake as well. Dos Santos' government maintains tight-fisted control over the Cabinda Province, where a half-million people claim they are a distinct cultural and national identity screwed by Portugal and handed to Angola for the sake of oil revenues. Cabinda has accused the Dos Santos government of kidnappings, torture, and killings in the region. Human Rights Watch published a report in late 2004 backing up these assertions.

Cabinda is frequently described as being in the north of Angola, which is like saying Vancouver is in the north of the United States. Cabinda shares no border with Angola, and whether it prefers to be Luanda's Alaska or its Panama should be up to its own people, especially in light of its claim that Angola violated international law by ignoring treaties and collaborating with Chevron-Texaco to raid Cabinda's oil wealth. The Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) wants Dos Santos' government troops out, but whether FLEC can fill the void is debatable, given that they've already got two separate governments in exile, with two leaders and two websites. Not a good sign. (Click FLEC above for one website; click here for the second.) An independent Cabinda wouldn't be the smallest nation in Africa, but it would be a tiny, potentially rich and possibly politically divided country sandwiched between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo, two much larger states that have themselves been riven by ethnic strife and civil war lately.

The question of Cabinda is just one issue that will be better resolved in a free and democratic Angola. The actions of the Dos Santos government in the lead up to the planned 2006 elections should not be overlooked by the U.S. and the European Union. Pressure should be put on Luanda to relax restrictions on the press and on freedom of assembly. This is a region that has proven all too capable of returning to civil war after periods of peace and democratic progress. Let's do our best to help Angolans make sure it doesn't happen again.

Late-night reading

I just finished The Face of a Naked Lady by Michael Rips. Started reading it right before leaving New York, then had to take a forced hiatus from the book after leaving it on the plane coming down here. (Along with a "to do" list I was using as a bookmark. I missed Naked Lady more than the list, but since I got a new copy, I find I can't shake the feeling that there was something on that list I'm forgetting.) Now that I've finished the book, I feel I committed an inadvertent act of real kindness by giving one away to a stranger.

The Face of a Naked Lady is an exercise in and a philosophical justification for the art of delving outward in life. Rips turns his own philosophical regard back on his childhood, his family, and his hometown, and writes with stark honesty about what he finds. His exploration is set in motion by the discovery--several years after his father's death--that his father may have had a side he did not know. By seeking to understand his father through others who knew him and through the stories they tell, Rips uncovers all kinds of complexities--of individuals, of relationships, of the history of a city and its people. This is not the titillation of watching someone drag dusty secrets down from the attic. It's a testimony to the importance of not missing a thing. Each time I set down the book, I found that Rips' stories had struck in me some sort of harmonic frequency of memory, bringing to mind people and events in my own family whose importance I'd overlooked or forgotten. Rips never lets his gravitas drown out his humor. The light he casts on his characters is flattering without fawning, and when he pokes fun he never mocks:
[T]he longer I worked at the plant, the less likely I was to dismiss his observations; he was a sociologist, albeit one who had a penis strapped to his shoe.

Rips' Omaha is marvelous and sad, and all the more real for the quirks he refuses to let pass unmentioned.

And to the passenger in seat 27D, I hope you appreciate what you found. The list you can toss in the garbage. I think I've gotten everything done by now, and as my grandmother used to say: "If it's important, you'll remember it."

Saturday, July 16, 2005

In search of normative Islam

Dr. Mohammed T. Al-Rashid writes in Arab News that when it comes to London, he'd "rather it spoke one language and had one nationality"--English and British, specifically (whew!). Still, it seems the baby is destined for the gutter along with the bathwater. I'm not a fan of multiculturalism, but neither do I like the idea that if we can't play nice, the party's over and everyone goes home. To quote a certain angel-dust-smoking, arrest-resisting American: "Please, we can get along here." Well, we should be able to get along, except that some of us are insane. As much as I like Al-Rashid's call for Muslims to "clean house," he undermines his own argument by repeating the increasingly worn-out line that Islam is basically benign.

Islam, in its normative form, will live side by side with other faiths and nationalities. But some Muslims, as is seen today, are not ready for cohabitation. Sure enough, the majority of Muslims, and I am one of them, would say that they can do so, but unless we as Muslims clean our house, the issue is rather academic.

A "normative form" is one that is evidently typical, and necessarily more common than any other form. Where does Al-Rashid get the idea that Islam typically coexists peacefully with other faiths? (Nationalities is another matter. Though Islamists harbor nationalistic prejudices like the rest of us, the ideal of world-encompassing Islam is necessarily a "big-tent" affair.) More Muslims live in Indonesia than in any other nation, and there we see churches firebombed and non-Muslims expected to adapt to Muslim codes of dress and behavior. Then we have Iran, where a military officer is on trial for converting to Christianity without informing his superiors (see my earlier post on this case). Saudi Arabia, where possession of a Bible will get you arrested and saying mass can get you tortured. Muslims in the south of Thailand have taken to beheading Buddhists to demonstrate their eagerness to live side by side with other faiths. The Taliban refused to live side by side with statues of Buddha, so actual Buddhists were clearly out of the question. And as Al-Rashid mentioned in his essay, the Egyptian envoy to Iraq was killed last week by jihadis who accused him of refusing to regard Christians as kafir, unbelievers to be shunned. (Oddly, the envoy knew his Koran better than his captors, since it suggests with typical inconsistency that Christians and Jews, as "People of the Book," may not qualify as kafir.)

A big part of the problem is that Muslims around the world today waste their time picking over mental garbage like the question of who is kafir and who is not, instead of pursuing modernity, prosperity, and peace. The enormous popularity of internet fatwa services demonstrates how the umma cannot shake this habit. On-line imams now field questions from young Muslims around the world curious if they can befriend Christians (the answer is no, unless it is to convert them to Islam), if they are permitted to initiate greetings with non-Muslims (the answer is no), or if committing a crime against an infidel is the same as doing so against a Muslim (the answer is no). I'm sorry, Dr. Al-Rashid, but your vision of normative Islam hardly even describes British Islam, and it's way off base with regard to Islam around the globe.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

J'accuse! Better yet, je sue!

One sure sign of weakness is responding to criticism with lawsuits. I'm not sure what freedom-of-speech guarantees exist in Japan, but this suit against the governor of Tokyo has to fail. Governor Shintaro Ishihara is being hauled into court by a group of French teachers and translators for making two simple points about their beloved tongue. His first point was that French is a "failed international language." Well, this is debatable, but it does appear that English is eclipsing French as the world's lingua franca.


Actually, the "franca" in the phrase lingua franca means Europeans in general, not the French (medieval Arabs referred to all Europeans as "Franks," and the Franks spoke German, anyway). The "Frankish language" to which the phrase refers was a sort of pidgin spoken by traders in Mediterranean ports, more Italian than French, and borrowing from Greek, Arabic, and Spanish as well. It fell out of use in the nineteenth century, though bits and pieces made their way into Polari, a mid-twentieth-century gay slang (those macho dockworkers ... who would've thought?). Today the term lingua franca more commonly refers to a language used to facilitate communication among speakers of different languages, as at the U.N. or the E.U.

French remains the most widely used common language of the U.N., but since the accession of ten new nations into the E.U. last year, English has superseded French in the hallways of Brussels. Technically, the E.U. has no official language, and all meetings, proposals, drafts, minutes, etc. must be interpreted and translated into all of the twenty currently recognized official E.U. languages, including Maltese, at a cost of half a billion euros per year. There have been proposals to streamline communications by adopting an official, "working" language, but that might offend the Maltese, so we can expect bureaucratic inefficiency to persist.

Calling French a "failed" international language is extreme, or at least premature. Despite the rise of English, French is undoubtedly the language that diplomats from most of Africa and much of southeast Asia and the middle east use when conversing with Europeans. It's still in U.S. passports alongside English, though it has been demoted somewhat by the recent addition of Spanish. To see true failure as an international language, look at Esperanto. Incredibly, the U.N. persists in wasting money on what never should have been more than an award-winning science-fair project. Esperanto turned out to be more of an exercise in creating a new dead language--another linguistic cause for fanatics to desperately attempt to keep afloat through newsletters, vanity-press publishing, and hotel conferences. Dockworkers and circus performers in Marseille, Tripoli, and Genoa proved better at creating an international language than the United Nations. Perhaps we should create a special seat on the Security Council for them, or put them in charge of peacekeeping operations.

So what exactly is Ishihara's beef with the most romantic of the Romance languages? Well, his second point is better reasoned than the first: You just can't count on the French. Oops, I mean you can't count in French. Not clearly, anyway.


The French cling to an archaic system of naming numbers that can lead to serious confusion. You're fine until you get up into the seventies. Instead of inventing a word for seventy, and then giving the subsequent values names like seventy-one and seventy-two, the French call them sixty-eleven, sixty-twelve, and so on. Anyone who's ever taken down a phone number spoken in French can tell you this is a pain in the ass, since you write a six when you hear "soixante" and then cross it out when the number turns out to be "soixante-dix-sept," meaning sixty-ten-seven, or sixty-seventeen, or what those who value efficiency over tradition would call seventy-seven. You run into the same problems with the nineties, but even worse: ninety-eight is "quatre-vingt-dix-huit," meaning four-twenty-ten-eight. Roman numerals start to look like a better option. (Dictating IP addresses can be loads of fun in French, I discovered recently.) Naturally, native speakers of French are accustomed to this problem and no doubt rarely fall into this trap, but Ishihara does have a point. A language that aspires to become "international" should facilitate communication, not inhibit it.

Not all francophones have stuck mindlessly to this confusing system. The Belgians happily call seventy "septante" and ninety "nonante," and for embracing this simple solution they earn the endless derision of the French. As my wife says, the French would sooner cut off their legs than admit the Belgians are right, so don't expect a change anytime soon. (The Belgians also refused to go along with France's decision to eliminate "lunch" and start calling it "breakfast" just because Louis XIV liked to sleep late. They also make better French fries, but that's a topic for another post.) Whether this numbers foible is cause for the language's "failure" and whether French has failed at all as an international language are both debatable points. Whether that debate should take place in a courtroom is not debatable--let's hope a Japanese judge sees the absurdity behind this lawsuit and puts this issue back where it belongs, in the cafes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The household of war

In a post on Saturday I suggested that Londoners are living in what many Muslims call "Dar al-Harb," which translates literally as "household of war." This phrase distinguishes places still ruled by secularism and sanity from "Dar al-Islam," or "household of submission," which would mean Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, parts of Indonesia, parts of Nigeria, parts of Sudan, and a number of other regions in various states of slipping backwards into darkness. Well, the director of the Al-Maqreze Centre for Historical Studies in London, Hani Al-Siba'i, apparently agrees. (Thanks to Little Green Footballs for spotting this, and to MEMRI for not letting guys like Al-Siba'i get away with speaking one way to the British public and another way to Arab audiences.)


"The term 'civilians' does not exist in Islamic religious law. Dr. Karmi is sitting here, and I am sitting here, and I'm familiar with religious law. There is no such term as 'civilians' in the modern Western sense. People are either of Dar Al-Harb or not."

The implication here is that civilians in any nation not yet absorbed into the umma are effectively combatants and therefore are fair game for homocidal Islamists.

Al-Siba'i's organization supports unrepentant Islamist terrorists. Close it down. Deport him. If he likes Dar al-Islam so much, let him live in it.


Unbelievable. This morning, Reuters thinks I should give a crap if real estate developers and Salafi lunatics modernize Mecca.

Developers and purists erase Mecca's history

Tell me again why I should care?

What idiocy. The only thing that makes Mecca newsworthy is its status as the only city on earth officially closed to the five billion humans who have declined to sign up for Muhammed's primitivist cult of submission. Let's put this in perspective: Pope Benedict XVI wakes up tomorrow and says to himself, "Enough of this heathen riff-raff tromping through my house! Christians only, from now on ... better yet, Roman Catholics only!" An hour later, a sign goes up at the entrance to the Vatican City, and the Swiss Guard start doing spot inspections of tour buses and informing Muslims, Jews, and Lutherans on board that they face the death penalty if they enter the holy city.

What do you think Reuters would have to say about that? Why always the double standard when it comes to Islam? Why is the rest of the world always making excuses and allowances for this backward behavior? Sometimes I feel like that guy running down the highway at the beginning of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

You can support the U.N., but will it support you?

The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC ... another winner from the U.N. Department of Inscrutable Acronyms) has issued a press release reporting the murder of more than thirty civilians there by Rwandan Hutu rebels angry at Congolese support for the U.N.

U.N. peacekeepers have in a number of cases proven tragically inept at keeping their charges in one piece. The recent anniversary of the Srebrenica massacres turned the spotlight back on that miserable failure, in which the first declared U.N. "protected enclave" turned out to be nothing more than a way-station for thousands of Muslim boys and men on their way to summary execution by Serbian forces.

To honor the memory of those killed, the U.N. has set up an espresso machine next to a map of Bosnia fashioned out of dirt.

small consolation

How about an exhibit examining the U.N. blundering that cost the lives of 7,000 people? We should remember that these were civilians who had chosen not to take up arms in defense of their community and instead entrusted their safety to the peacekeepers. In a speech at the anniversary ceremony of the massacre, Kofi Annan had this to say:
[W]e made serious errors of judgement, rooted in a philosophy of impartiality and non-violence which, however admirable, was unsuited to the conflict in Bosnia.

Well put, Mr. Secretary General, but what about all the conflicts in the decade since that have proven equally unsuitable for the U.N.'s continuing modus operandi of sticking its head in the sand any time it encounters injustice or evil? What about Rwanda? What about Iraq? What about Darfur? What about Zimbabwe? The U.N. still prefers mush-mouthed "condemnations" to military action or even sanctions. Ritual breast-beating and brewing lots of little cups of coffee is no comfort for those you have failed, and it offers meagre hope for those who expect you to do better in the future.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

"There are only two directions we can take now."

More and more Muslims finally seem to be facing up to their fair share of the mess their fanatical brethren have made of the world. Now will they turn against the primitivist monsters their religion has spawned over the past fifty years? An article in today's New York Times suggests that some British Arabs who live and work near the site of the Edgware Road bombing see the necessity for a change of mindset. One man interviewed even said he volunteered his help to the police. I wonder if they come to his door tomorrow asking him to name speakers at his local mosque who have glorified jihad, will he truly step over the line and join the modern, secular society that welcomed him, that gave him and his family the chance for peace and prosperity? Or will he shrink back into the shadows of complacency that blur the lines between friend and enemy in so many western cities today?

The article is by registration only, but here's an excerpt:
'We have to be honest and realistic with ourselves,' said Laith Abdel Fattah, a part owner of Panini Cafe, tucked on a side street a block from the bombed train station. 'We are living in an age that is simply unnatural. Is there anywhere in Islam that says you have to kill? Nowhere does it say you can take away somebody's right to live. And yet they do this in the name of Islam.'
Like many here, Mr. Abdel Fattah said he was indignant that the bombing could possibly be done in the name of his faith and his community. Out of a sense of duty, he said, he approached the police on Friday and offered any help they required.
'I wanted to show them that we too believe that what happened was unacceptable,' he said. 'There are only two directions we can take now. Either we wait and see what's coming, and that can only be bad, or we have to speak out and say unequivocally this is unacceptable. We need to show people what the right example is.'
At the Rafidain Real Estate Agency on Edgware Road, Abu Ahmad al-Sharif sat with his nephew and a friend, pondering the bombings. Mr. Sharif, an immigrant from Iraq, was riding a bus as the Edgware Road bomb went off a few blocks away from him.
The bus service was halted and he walked to work, leading him past the carnage at the Edgware Road station, where he grasped the gravity of the incident. He realized his son had taken one of the routes to work and broke into tears, then grew furious.
'In my homeland, Iraq, terrorism is no longer a surprise,' Mr. Sharif said. 'But I never imagined it could happen in a place like this. This place always seemed so far from terrorism,' he said, noting the safe harbor England has given many Iraqis.
'I blame the fathers, the mothers and the schools of these people who let them get to this point,' he said. 'It is our duty to find these groups because they are like a cancer and will only continue to grow unless we cut it from its roots.''Someone has to show them the boundary,' said Sabah al-Hamdani, who had been listening intently. 'We need to stand in their way.'

"Our duty to find these groups." Indeed, your duty is to help. Now get a bunch of your friends together and go up to Finsbury Park next Friday. Spread the word. And stop linking your outrage to being touched personally by such attacks--"He realized his son had taken one of the routes [that was bombed] ... and broke into tears, then grew furious." This kind of "what's in it for me" attitude toward terrorism reveals either profound callousness or the moral sensibility of a toddler.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

It's just a crescent moon ...

... over my palm tree.  Hmmm.
... over my palm tree. Hmmm.

Muslims want us to "understand" Islamist aggression

An excerpt from a story by Paisley Dodds of the Associated Press:

At King's Cross station, near the site of the deadliest of the three subway bombings, service was partially restored on Saturday. Flowers and sympathy cards were piling up outside to honor the 21 known dead as the train was bombed between King's Cross and Russell Square stations.
A group of Muslims held a peaceful vigil outside St. Mary's Hospital on Saturday in solidarity with victims.
'We must remember that terror is all around us these days, that terror has no homeland or nationality and no religion and that we all face the same problems together,' said Iman Hassan Ali, from the Dar Al Islam Foundation.
'We all want to understand these incidents and today we are here to give our support to the victims and say that we will stand together despite terrorism.'

A "peaceful vigil." I hate those violent vigils. Now every time five Muslims get together and don't blow something up it's news?

Additionally, the Dar al Islam Foundation should probably keep its collective mouth shut or file for a change of name. "Dar al Islam" translates literally as "Household of Submission," a widely used phrase that refers to lands subjugated by Muslim rule and subject to Muslim "jurisprudence," usually understood to mean sharia law. The opposite is Dar al Harb, which translates literally as "Household of War." I'm not sure what Hassan Ali and his brethren are implying, but I think the people of London are quite evidently living in Dar al Harb and have no wish to "submit" to monsters.

Dar al Harb

Dar al Islam

And lastly, Imam Hassan Ali (he is not a female supermodel but more likely holds a position of authority at his local mosque): We do not wish to "understand" these incidents, but to prevent them by discovering and apprehending terrorists before they strike. If you wish to show support, and if you truly stand together with non-Muslims, then help greater society defeat terrorism by ending the encouragement of violence that pervades your community.

Friday, July 08, 2005

M- M- M- My Chelonia


This is one of two tortoises who share a garden with us. He's a red-footed tortoise, so named because of the red feet. Actually, not all red-footed tortoises have red feet. Some have yellow or orange markings on their feet and legs instead. He's of the genus geochelone, "geo" because he's land dwelling, "chelone" because he's a reptile with a shell. Tortoises and turtles are the only animals with shells composed of bone (as opposed to keratin in crocodiles and armadillos or chitin in horseshoe crabs). As anyone who's ever made turtle soup can tell you (no, I haven't), a turtle's shell is not a bony box in which a soft-bodied reptile lives. It is a continuation of the animal's vertebrae and ribcage, as you can see in this photo:

The inside of a tortoise shell

(By the way, the term "tortoise" generally means chelonia that live on land, "turtle" means those that spend some or most of their time in water. The little-used "terrapin" means exclusively aquatic, except for the moonlit egg-laying forays onto the beach.) So the tortoise's shell is a neat evolutionary trick, one which gives an otherwise pretty vulnerable animal an average lifespan nearly equal to our own.

The red-footed tortoise's species is carbonaria, for the coal-like hue of its shell. They like to eat fruit, and for that they need some patience, since tree-climbing is out of the question. They also like hibiscus flowers and will eat grass when it's all they can get. Some tortoises are coprophagic. Thankfully, ours are not (or if they are, they keep that nasty habit well hidden). We know this one is probably a male by the hourglass shape of his shell. They grow to about a foot in length, so this one is probably quite young, though there is no way to accurately determine a tortoise's age (counting the scutes of the shell doesn't tell you anything). During courtship, a male red-footed tortoise will stand beside another tortoise (one he hopes is female), doing a sort of repeated double-take with his head while clucking like a hen. This apparently works for tortoises. A female red-footed tortoise usually lays about five eggs at a time, hiding them in a burrow shielded by rocks or a wall. The eggs gestate for up to a year.

The red-footed tortoise was probably brought to this island from more southern regions by the Carib, who roamed the Caribbean hundreds of years ago searching for more timid humans to shake down or eat. The tortoise made a handy portable food source for these expeditions, since it can remain alive for weeks with very little food and almost no water. Since Columbus claimed to have found this island uninhabited, perhaps the Carib had already been through before his arrival, gobbling up the local population and leaving the suddenly redundant tortoises behind. Given their life span, our friend here may be merely the tenth generation since his ancestor was left blinking on the beach while the longboats headed away with their cargo of Taino slaves/snacks.

Hell is other places

An amusing quote from Penn Jillette made the rounds last week thanks to The New York Post's Page Six. I've been hoping to get my hands on Mean Magazine to read the whole interview, but that's just not possible down here.

I have managed to find a more complete excerpt, however. I can't say I agree with him entirely about the United States compared to the rest of the world. From time to time, like when I'm sitting in a cab on the Van Wyck after returning to New York from Belgium, I look around at my hometown and think to myself: "I live in a dumpster." Here's what Jillette has to say on the topic:

Every place outside the U.S. is an absolute hellhole ... I hate it all because I am very used to the American way of life. As much as we can complain about the U.S.'s lack of freedom [huh?], I just can't stand when they force women to dress like Batman, when they leave little girls out to die. I mean, at least we address the issues of equality and freedom, which are not even addressed in a place like Egypt or China or India ...


Other countries are pieces of shit, so they have a holier-than-thou attitude ... I'm not saying that the U.S. is better ... I'm saying it's what I'm used to. I think you have to be proud of who you are and what you've done; you can't be proud of being white or black or from New Jersey. Any sort of tribalism, being proud of anything that isn't individual, is anti-American and unpatriotic.

The more he says the less sense he makes. Basing pride on achievement certainly does make sense, but requiring that the achievement be individual does not. I believe that American patriotism is usually fueled by a conviction that we as a nation have achieved great things, not only for ourselves but for others as well. Anyway, Jillette's a magician, for chrissake, so there's no requirement that his worldview and politics should be any more coherent than Bono's, or Bob Geldof's, or mine.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Another example of the left's toxicity

Just out of curiosity, I headed over to Democratic Underground to see how the muddleheaded pacificists and tin-foil-helmet contingent are dealing with London. I was not disappointed.

Democratic Underground - How can we actually know London was caused by "Islamic terrorists"?

I think the quotes around the phrase Islamic terrorists are meant to indicate that such a thing may not even exist. It's beginning to look like Zarqawi could personally saw off the head of the last American resister live on Good Morning America and the moonbats would find a way to explain it away.

One of the comments on the thread actually says, "Some group claiming to be a European al qaeda has supposedly claimed [the attack], but no one has ever heard of them before, and they may just be opportunists." No one ever heard of them before? I think there are some ears in Madrid still ringing from the last time this group made itself known. Here's the text of al-Qaeda in Europe's statement at the time:

We declare our responsibility for what happened in Madrid exactly two-and-a-half years after the attacks on New York and Washington.
It is a response to your collaboration with the criminals Bush and his allies.
This is a response to the crimes that you have caused in the world, and specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there will be more, if God wills it.
You love life and we love death, which gives an example of what the Prophet Muhammad said.
If you don't stop your injustices, more and more blood will flow and these attacks will seem very small compared to what can occur in what you call terrorism.
This is a statement by the military spokesman for al-Qaeda in Europe, Abu Dujan al-Afghani.

Islamists versus civilization

Londoners are responding to the bombings in their city with typical pluck. EuroNews TV is showing images of emergency workers calmly and efficiently tending to the wounded while police commence the investigation that no doubt will lead back to the Finsbury Park mosque.

Friday afternoon, deport everyone inside, shutter the place.

Scotland Yard has just announced that there are 33 confirmed fatalities from the three train explosions and an unknown number from the the bus explosion.

Then DAC Brian Paddick of the Metropolitan police answered a question at the press conference with this dhimmi-ism: "As far as I am concerned, 'Islamic' and 'terrorist' are two words that do not go together." Good grief.

London bus no. 30

The same group that attacked civilians on trains in Madrid last year has taken credit for the London bombings. According to the Associated Press, al-Qaida in Europe issued a statement on an Islamist website:
Rejoice, Islamic nation. Rejoice, Arab world. The time has come for vengeance against the Zionist crusader government of Britain in response to the massacres Britain committed in Iraq and Afghanistan ... We warned the British government and the British people repeatedly. We have carried out our promise and carried out a military attack in Britain after great efforts by the heroic mujahedeen over a long period to ensure its success ... We continue to warn the governments of Denmark and Italy and all crusader governments that they will receive the same punishment if they do not withdraw their troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Londoners react to the murder of scores of civilians, 2005

Palestinians react to Yassin's assassination, 2004

The G8 protesters and Geldof groupies wearing "insurgent" t-shirts should consider the company they keep, and how their allegiances call into question their goals.