Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Widening Gyre of MSM prattling

This weekends Herald Tribune has two articles about Iraq under a common heading- The Widening Gyre. The first is 'Chaos and Unity in a fragmented Iraq' by Roger Owen, the second 'What They're Saying in Anbar' by Gary Langer. Your first thought, as was mine, was probably What is a gyre? Well, its either:

1. a ring or circle.
2. a circular course or motion.
3. Oceanography. a ringlike system of ocean currents rotating clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and counterclockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.

So God only knows what they intend to mean...

This was my first indication that little clarity or useful information was on offer here. I don't know how Iraqs current situation will work end up, but I do know lots about what is going on right now. And I know one thing for absolute sure- either everything I know is wrong or both the authors of these pieces are wrong.

Lets take a very short prefatory wizz through Iraqi history. Iraq is comprised of three old Vilayets of the Ottoman empire- the Vilayet of Basra, the Vilayet of Baghdad and the Vilayet of Mosul, plus bits of Diyarbekir. All were ruled by beys of some type (sanjak beyis, beylerbeyi and mutasarrifs). These men were direct appointees of the Ottoman Sultan. Underneath the beys, there was a merchant class, tribal kingships and the top-end clergy (either Shia or Sunni depending on the area). Roughly speaking, the same system existed up until 2003. The Sultan was Saddam Hussein, his placemen ruled the vilayets and underneath them pretty much the same tribal and clergy leaderships. I don't want to underestimate the changes that took place during the 20th century, just to point out the substantial continuities.

If you lop off the Sultan, what happens to the structure? We've been finding that out over the last four years. Roger Owens piece is very confused. Its not clear what he believes is bad about the current situation in Iraq, just that it must be bad because Bush did it. Amongst his various points are that leaders in Iraq often seem not to have followers, the British and Americans have contributed to Iraq's chaos by handing control to local militias and tribes, the central government doesn't control local areas, criminality has come in the wake of decentralisation and a there now exists a patchwork of local groups and alliances that are not neat. His assumption is that these things are new, and that they are bad. I consider them to be normal given the absence of the all-important components, the Sultan and his large army. Lets consider the recent past.

Iraq was part of someone elses empire, and politics was therefore ALL local. By this I mean, if all the big decisions are made in Istanbul, local leaders only get to squabble over local resources. Even in the absence of a 'Sultan'/Saddam/American Viceroy, thats exactly what they are doing now. There is an underlying psychological expectation on the part of most Iraqi's that they are now part of the American empire, just as they were in Saddams empire and before him the Ottoman one; and that therefore they can go back to the way of life they have become accustomed to over many hundreds of years. Being an imperial subject is the template and backdrop for much of middle eastern thought.

While Roger Owen is factually not innaccurate, his analysis does nothing to provide an understanding of the mechanics and the system properties of the Iraq situation. He says "... Bush is right to believe that the presence of a large American military force is all that now holds the country together. But, by the same token, it cannot succeed in uniting Iraq behind a strong central government because the forces of disintegration unleashed by the occupation are now far too strong." Since about 1530, the 'only thing holding together' Iraq was the large Turkish army of the Ottomans, which it managed to do until 1920, or four hundred years. Mr Owen, Iraq is (becoming) united behind a strong central government, the one in Washington D.C.

There is a tri-partite mismatch of expectations here- first, the expectations of the political class in the US, which has virtually no direct knowledge of people outside the US. US politicians imagined that Iraqi's were pretty much like Iowans, just with funny clothes. The Iraqi's, for their part, expected that the US would come in and replace the Ottoman empire and rule it by massive force and coercion. As soon as it became obvious that they weren't, Iraqi's became worried and perplexed. The third set of expectations was that of the left in America and Britain: they thought this was a simple case of imperial overreach which would end up a military meat-grinder like Vietnam, with the plucky locals fighting tooth and nail for their independence.

Two out of three of these groups of people have tried to adjust their views to what the events in Iraq indicate is the true state of affairs. Pro-Bush Republicans and the executive branch itself have started to come to terms with the fact that Iraqi's respond better to clear-cut imperial domination than the warm-fuzzy disaster of 2003-2005; hence the surge, which has worked beyond all expectation. Iraqi's have begun to adjust to the idea that an overwhelmingly dominant military nation might not just be selfish and greedy, but have genuine aspirations of humanitarianism. Because this is a novelty in Iraq, it has taken quite a long time for ordinary people to start believing it might be true.

Only the third group of people, the lefties in America and Britain, are still exactly where they were in 2003 (and 2001 and every year dating back to at least the early nineteenth century). They have a rigid template for viewing events in the world, and no amount of detailed knowledge can change its terms of reference. Afghanistan and Iraq were both considered to be plain cases of patently obvious disasters-in-waiting. The Afghan war never went the way the lefties said it would, and what happened? It utterly disappeared for six years from our tv screens and our newspapers, because the large-scale media is dominated by lefties. Iraq was much more to their taste- it has never left our tv screens and newspapers, because although the violence was 90% Sunni moslem vs Shia moslem it was still violence and could therefore be passed off as America's fault. Its true, America is responsible, in the sense that once they took over Iraq it was their job to stop psychotic Sunni's from trying to murder shia and vice versa. But that is not the sense in which the vast majority of US newspapers and tv networks have portrayed the violence. America has been portrayed as the actual agent of the violence- the root cause and the main player in it. This despite the fact that dead Iraqi's murdered by other Iraqi's are on a vast scale in comparison with those killed in combat with US forces.

The impact of the Iraq intervention on American politics I contend will be enormous. What Vietnam started, I believe Iraq will end. The American left managed to achieve a US defeat in Vietnam despite the US military winning all the battles- three years AFTER the US pulled out, South vietnam was still free and non-communist. They got away with it that time, because they managed to cloud the extent their actions had bringing about the ultimate disaster. But this time is different. A large chunk of mainstream Democrats have been agitating for a US defeat for years- at every available opportunity on any platform they could find. They have nailed their colours to the mast of leaving Iraq to its terrible fate, and there's no hiding it this time. Not only that, but the ignorance shown by them this time around is more scandalous and shameful than even the Vietnam-era. As Mark Steyn recently pointed out, the US education system still educated people in the sixties.

When the US brings complete tranquillity to Iraq, the American people are going to ask some hard questions. Was four years and 4,000 lives too long and too much to spend on bringing about a vastly more hopeful future for the residents of Iraq? Why were the hyperventilators of the Democrat party so convinced American couldn't, wouldn't and shouldn't win? Should America care whether the Europeans, so recently empire-builders themselves, despise it for doing the same thing? Should America care whether socialists/communists all over the world hate them, when the latter spend a goodly portion of their time shilling on behalf of murderous despots like Mao, Pol Pot, Stalin and Mugabe? Should America care that it is regularly abused and trash-talked in the UN, when large sections of the General Assembly are dictators, kleptocrats and tyrants? Should America apologise for doing in Iraq what many of its worst critics are calling on it to do in Darfur? Do America's critics in fact have any consistent or interesting criticisms at all?

Gary Langer's piece (I bet you thought I'd forgotten about the Herald Tribune) uses a poll of 2000 Iraqi's to show that the US is unpopular in Iraq, especially amongst Sunnis in Anbar and Diyala. Did the Ottomans ever run polls amongst the populace, one wonders... I don't know how much it matters whether Iraqis love America. 155,000 American soldiers gives them the abiding impression that like them or not, they can't get rid of the by force. And that gives the US administrators and diplomats time to work out a reasonable de facto dispensation, rebuild the basic infrastructure and start to create an Iraq that can work long term. Thats all we need.

Reaping the whirlwind

A crime of the 'insurgent traitors' sprouting up all over Iraq:

“8.) Their continuing proclamations that the dangers posed by the Islamic State are greater than those posed by the Americans and apostates.” , Page 2

That, my friends, is called reaping the whirlwind.

Our sonafabitch

Artists and writer and actors. Why is it that they get politics so appallingly wrong all the time? I'm starting to develop a unified theory which says that people whose whole life revolves around the creation of novelties and unbound fictions find real stuff like accounting systems, budgeting and who the President of Burkina Faso is terribly terribly dull and so to 'brighten things up' they intrude fantasies and visions.

'DBC Pierre:
You don't have to travel far to see that political boundaries ill-fit the new world. Never in history have more people been in armed conflict, mostly over territory; seismic shifts among tiny cultural plates. I feel it's not a question of good dictators, but least worst: they're a naturally occurring phenomenon, organic, and having gained power, are often by definition the only ones who will maintain order.
Also, we imagine democracy can be sold off-the-rack, when the history and culture of a place won't yet support it. Take Iraq's implosion after Saddam. One good thing about dictatorships: you know exactly where you stand. Anyway, a purely academic question, as we Anglos traditionally support any dictator who kisses arse.'

To get so many things wrong in so small a space, to interpolate complete nonsenses into the mix for good measure is an achievement of note. The flippancy is very very poor judgement- 'One good thing about dictatorships: you know exactly where you stand.' That's disgusting and inaccurate at the same time. '...We support any dictator who kisses arse', apart from the multitudinous counter-examples of course. It used to be that in America, if you were an entertainer that was it- that was your full time job. Now, everybody from Sheryl Crow to George Clooney via Goldie 'moms don't cause wars' Hawn have to flash their political credentials like a little red book. I try not to pay attention, but they keep thrusting their stupid views in my face and its getting a bit tiresome.

My own answer to the question? As Mark Steyn says, the problem with supporting dictators is 'He may be our sonafabitch, but he's a sonafabitch'. Giving succour and support to evil men is never right, at any time in any place. Fighting them is right- even if the cost is high.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Well, they did have a debate

'Gore's reluctance to go toe-to-toe with global warming skeptics may have something to do with the - from the standpoint of climate change alarmists - unfortunate outcome of a global warming debate in New York last March. In the debate, a team of global warming skeptics composed of MIT scientist Richard Lindzen, University of London emeritus professor of biogeology Philip Stott, and physician-turned novelist/filmmaker Michael Crichton handily defeated a team of climate alarmists headed by NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt. Before the start of the nearly two-hour debate, the audience of several thousand polled 57.3 percent to 29.9 percent in favor of the proposition that global warming is a "crisis." At the end of the debate, the numbers had changed dramatically, with 46.2 percent favoring the skeptical point of view and 42.2 percent siding with the alarmists.'

Of course, this doesn't prove anything either way- but it does put the lie to the claim that 'all the scientists with any credibility believe in anthropogenic global warming'.

Friday, September 28, 2007

We may all get there in the end

I don't want to sound pompous or uppity, but when you're right you're right.

'Since 2001 a plethora of writers have made calls for an Islamic "Reformation". Many hopes (and careers) are pinned on the idea, but there is no such thing coming. The Islamic reformation has already happened. The Muslim equivalent of nailing the 95 theses was the desecration of a graveyard and the stoning of a woman for adultery.'

It is worth reading all of this article, as it synthesises a number of things I've been saying for the last year or so. For those who imagine that all religions are bound by some hidden rule of history to follow the same patterns through their history, I present this counter-evidence.

'Wahhab's "reformation" started Sunnism's unmooring from traditionalism. The Quran and the hadith, long bound together in a legal system (and hierarchy) so complex that, according to the orientalist John Makdisi, it gave birth to British Common Law, were now left wide open for Wahhab and his followers to access. What they now had was the power to do ijtihad. Except, in their distaste of Ottoman scholarship, they made up their "method" as they went along. It was a mixture of Quranic literalism and deference to Hanbal's hadith corpus (which was much larger than competing versions).'

For those attentive readers of my blog (I'm estimating in the low hundreds of thousands at this point) you may have noticed I have stopped parroting the Robert Spencer line that Islam Is At War With The West. It isn't. Both mainstream Sunni and Shia Islam have co-existed relatively well with their neighbors for a very long time, at least since the breaking up of the original Arab empires of the seventh century. The Ottoman empire was always more to do with empire than it was to do with Islam, although it used (and abused) Islam for its own purposes while that was useful. The people who ARE at war with the west are the Wahhabis. And they are taking over a mosque near you right now.

Unless we help normal, average Muslims fight the taking over of their mosques by these noxious apostates, expect a lot more backpack bombers and 'lads' from Yorkshire trying to kill large numbers of us. Like I said before, first you identify the enemy. THEN you kill him.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Another pseudo debate about blogging

'When Andrew Keen attacks bloggers, saying, "No one wants to know what you had for breakfast," he's ignoring the fact that many bloggers are professional journalists, and many others come to the party perfectly well-equipped to promulgate an idea or construct an opinion. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has been published in Time; Duncan Black of Eschaton has a Ph.D. in Economics; Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos is an Army veteran, an accomplished pianist, and boasts a law degree from Boston College; libertarian Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit teaches law at Tennessee; Glenn Greenwald of Salon is a veteran constitutional lawyer; and conservative Atlantic Monthly blogger Andrew Sullivan is the former editor of the New Republic.'

Linked to this from Instapundit. What I find strange about the 'debate' about blogs is that some bloggers feel the need to defend themselves from comments like 'No one wants to know what you had for breakfast'. By now, most people have worked out that of the 70 million blogs, at least 69 million are crap, and are no interest to anyone but the author and their immediate friends and family. You would notice the same sort of statistical pattern if you walked up to 70 million people and chatted with them for half an hour. But does that mean the 69 million people are ruining the internet? Thats ludicrous. Does that mean that the hundreds of thousands of really good, thoughtful, interesting blogs are discredited by the presence of the other 69 million? Also ludicrous. In fact, the whole 'debate' is ludicrous.

Would someone aver that all newspapers are crap because the Daily Sport exists? No, I don't imagine anyone has, or will. So why do we have to keep coming back to this psuedo-debate about whether all blogs are amateur rubbish that just distracts people from the superb, deeply thoughtful New York Times? A couple of years ago, I thought blogging was all teenage girls writing about the onset of an amazingly obvious zit and nerdy guys laying out in vast detail their latest conspiracy theory. But it isn't. And that should be obvious by now.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Columbia univeristy- high-ups should be committed

'Columbia's president Lee Bollinger defended the decision to invite Mr Ahmadinejad, saying the university was "committed to confronting ideas", AFP news agency reported. '

Shaped charges are not ideas. Latest model Chinese anti-aircraft missiles are not ideas. These things kill and maim British and American troops in wars being fought right now. Ahmadinejad heads a government that is committed to destroying Israel, has subverted two and a half middle-eastern countries already, and is in the processes of subverting Iraq. The leaders of all the non-subverted countries in the middle east understand this. How is it that the Columbia great and good don't?

What ideas are they expecting to encounter? The soft-left talking points that Ahmadinejad wheels out every time he thinks a western journo is writing down his words? What a bunch of morons.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Insane mofo's

I can have perfectly nice discussion with lefties. I do it all the time, being surrounded by them in my office. But the left in America are moving beyond their normal hunting grounds into territory that only the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Rote Army Faction and the Red Brigade occupied before. This Kos article gives precise instructions for making an IED. I'm not kidding.

It may well be time for America to react to its internal terrorists, as the British security services have since the 7/7 bombings in London. For 25 years, we sat by while these people propagandized and stated clearly and publicly their murderous and treacherous intentions. Enough is enough.

The Media war is ours to lose

'By the first week of October 2001, American's chit-chat class had lost patience with America's new war in Afghanistan. Television's hype-drenched talk shows claimed the Pentagon had botched it. The gloomiest prognosticators (most of them from the political left) foresaw a Himalayan defeat, with U.S. soldiers outsmarted by wily, inspired "resistance fighters." As fighting raged and Afghan winter blizzards arrived, millions would starve.'

Not just the chit-chat class either- I talked to numerous people who mentioned the two 19th century British defeats in Afghanistan and knew therefore that the intervention was doomed from the start. But thats the trouble with a little knowledge. If we used the talking points of public debate as a tool for determining foreign policy, we would be persistantly make catastrophic judgements. A case in point- the 'Blackhawk Down' intervention in Somalia. By military standards, the incident involving US special forces and the private armies of a couple of warlords was not even worthy of being called a battle. It was a skirmish, involving a few dozen combatants on the US side. Neither side can really claim to have won, although vastly greater numbers of Somalis died. But because the US removed its forces directly afterwards, it became a cause celebre amongst those who like to see America fail. It became mythologised as a US defeat and has appeared in Wahhabist/Deobandi propaganda all over the world as such ever since.

Now that the world watches the same news/propaganda from Cape Town to Kathmandu, the need to fight the media war has become widely recognised. Making sure that your real victories become visible, and the defeats of your enemies even more so is a high priority. The various insurgent groups in Iraq have been shredded, pulverised and at times completely wiped out, but you'd never guess from the media coverage. The only statistics you ever hear are the US troops deaths and the number of car bombs. If you read only the New York Times or the BBC news website, the fact that many thousands of jihadis, criminals and death squad members have been killed by the US/UK forces could have easily escaped your notice.

And when we win, it will come as a huge surprise to many millions of lefties in Britain and America. Because the victories have gone largely unreported, winning must seem like a distant dream. Michael Totten, just returned from Ramadi and Baghdad, would be able to set them straight, if they were open-minded enough to allow it. But the point is despite our amazing skill in killing people, winning military contests and ending up victorious, we are terrible at the public drama of showing off our victories to the world. The Romans staged huge processions led by the leaders of the defeated people in chains which would pass by the assembled great and good and the proles too. No one was in any doubt what happened and who won and who lost. That kind of triumphalism is seen as bad taste and unpleasant in the modern world- but most people in the world understand what it is for. Just like the honours system, public recognition is essential to the health of a society which values success and honour.

Will the American officers who have presided over the triumphs in Iraq get a ticker-tape parade down 5th Avenue? And if not, why not?

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Lib Dems sorry state

Tim Hames has a comment piece in todays Times advising the Lib Dems not to get rid of Ming Campbell. I'm not sure why he cares, as he doesn't seem to be a Lib Dem himself, but never mind. His argument regarding the general state of the Lib Dems seems sound though. They have been squeezed because both the Tories and Labour have new leaders, and both of those leaders are natural non-risk-takers. Ok, in his words the latter are centre-ground occupiers, but there is no centre ground in politics. There are the wise things to do, and there are the stupid ones. Often the wise things annoy a great many people, and are therefore ignored. Also, large numbers of people often want politicians to do a stupid thing, and to garner their votes, non-risk-taking politicians promise to do it. Risk-taking politicians go with the wise actions, and put up with the flak. The Lib-Dems are comprised completely of non-risk-takers. They promise the electorate many stupid things, because they understand that they will never actually be in a position do them.

At the moment, both Labour and the Conservatives are led by men who will promise things to their potential electors which they won't follow through on after the election. This gives the Lib-Dems no room for maneuver. Everybody in British politics is promising to stop global warming (totally impossible), improve public services (almost impossible) and make us all happier (don't even go there). In a situation where the sober gentlemen are offering these miracles, what hope do the dorks from dweebville have of getting our votes?

What we DON'T have in Britain is a Spartan party- a voice of harsh reason and unstinting honesty. One which will approach Britains problems with a genuine commitment to solving them, and then drive on determinedly until that is done. Nobody wants to be that party. They'd all rather promise a new ford cortina in every garage, and a fondue set in every parlour.

The domino effect?

Amazing news via Michael Totten. The Awakenings in Iraq have only been a Sunni phenomenon in the last year and a half. But because of the criminality and disgusting behaviour of the Shia militias, it looks like the Shia sheiks are copying the model. This is fantastic news for the US, for Iraq and for everyone in the world who wishes the Iraqi nation well. If the militia's are defeated, there will be no entry point into Iraqi politics for the Iranians and the Syrians, and for groups like AQiI. Long may this continue.

As an afterthought- did Muqtada Al-Sadr know that this development was imminent when he declared his unilateral ceasefire a couple of weeks back? If so, it shows how important it is to the future development of Iraq.

Anbar Awakening in no danger of collapse

Hey, BBC.

'Angry and grieving mourners carried Abu Risha's body to a local cemetery in Ramadi, capital of the western desert province, in a procession amid tight security by Iraqi and US forces.
"Revenge on Al-Qaeda," mourners shouted. "There is no God but God, and Al-Qaeda is the enemy of Allah. Abdel-Sattar is the pride of Ramadi."'

What was that crap about Abdel-Sattar Abu Risha's death being a disaster for America and a huge setback for their efforts to get the Sunni Arabs to fight Al-Q? Kill one, make deadly enemies of thousands. That's not a winning tactic. The Anbar Awakening, indeed all the Sunni Arab tribal cohorts, are now committed enemies of Al-Qaeda. They are not going away, no matter how much the BBC's collection of old hippies wish they would. The Sunni have been ruling Iraq for many generations- they aren't stupid and they aren't suicidal, and thats why they know they have to cooperate with both the Americans and the Shia government.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Are you a real man?

If you can't do these things, you ain't no man (allegedly):

The List: How to...
1. Patch a radiator hose
2. Protect your computer
3. Rescue a boater who as capsized
4. Frame a wall
5. Retouch digital photos
6. Back up a trailer
7. Build a campfire
8. Fix a dead outlet
9. Navigate with a map and compass
10. Use a torque wrench
11. Sharpen a knife
12. Perform CPR
13. Fillet a fish
14. Maneuver a car out of a skid
15. Get a car unstuck
16. Back up data
17. Paint a room
18. Mix concrete
19. Clean a bolt-action rifle
20. Change oil and filter
21. Hook up an HDTV
22. Bleed brakes
23. Paddle a canoe
24. Fix a bike flat
25. Extend your wireless network

I would add one of my own-
26. Put together a flat-pack cupboard (without doing damage to yourself requiring a visit to the emergency room)

If you can do all of these, If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds' worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Any bad news is good news

'Abu Risha's assassination will be a severe blow to the "Awakening" in Anbar, says the BBC's Hugh Sykes in Baghdad.'

'This [the Anbar Awakening] is a spontaneous popular uprising against al-Qaeda, because, as you know, al-Qaeda killed our people' Abdul Sattar Abu Risha

The BBC make me laugh. Talk about not being able to follow the most straightforward plot developments. The Awakenings in Sunni Arab provinces of Iraq have occured because the Al Qaeda wahhabist geniuses over-rode two very important local cultural practises- you don't screw their women, and you don't kill their relatives. Al-Qaeda operatives care nothing about other peoples cultures, and believe only in a grotesquely simplified Moslem utopia. If you don't share their views, they'll kill you. If you are Moslem, they'll take your women as wives as of right. Both of these strategies have ruined their chances of existing long-term in Iraq.

Once enough Sunni tribesmen had had relatives murdered and daughters pro-rogued by AQ operatives, the kick-back was pretty much inevitable.

So, just to recap the BBC argument: the murder of yet another Sunni sheikh who wouldn't tow the AQ party line by AQ is a blow to the Sunni tribes and the US... somebody get these guys a dunces cap.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq are going nowhere. They are going to kill a lot of people, but as day follows night they are going to be destroyed root and brunch in Iraq, and mainly by Arab Iraqi's rather than Americans. I'm sure the BBC will work all this out eventually. Then again, perhaps not.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

How do we get the picture?

'I wrote recently that Baghdad, while dangerous and mind-bogglingly dysfunctional, isn’t as bad as it looks on TV. Almost everywhere I have been in the Middle East is more “normal” than it appears in the media. Nowhere is this more true than in Beirut, but it is true to a lesser extent in Baghdad as well. Baghdad isn’t a normal city, but it appears normal in most places most of the time. Ramadi, in my experience, is the great exception. Ramadi was worse than it appeared in the media. '

As someone who works in the 'media', it is a perennial concern of mine that the news which gets to the consumer is such a poor replica of the world as it is constituted. Given the amazing tools at our disposal, isn't it time that we gave people all the information, rather than just tiny, hugely pre-digested nuggets? Nuggets which together form an idiotic whole. A 'whole' which not only distorts the world, but carries with it a heavy cargo of ideological content.

As the war between western propaganda and Wahhabist propaganda hots up, a massive gap in the market is becoming apparent- for a comprehensive, trustworthy, well-resourced news provider. Not a provider with the appearance of being one of those- we already have CNN, the BBC, FOX and quite a lot more. On my recent trip to the Netherlands, I had a chance to watch BBC World. Because it is not available in the UK, I don't get to see it much. Zienab Badawi, who seems to be permanently glued to the presenters chair at BBC World, is very much in the mainstream of lefty, UN-loving, America-hating, John Bolton-loathing BBC presenters. Speaking of whom, I was privileged to fly home with the latter today from Amsterdam. God Bless him, and keep his tongue as sharp as ever, and his brain as fast.

It may come as some surprise to my reader that I include FOX in my list of baddies, it being right-wing and all. Well, I may be partisan, but I'm not stupid. Sound journalism and accurate, honest, comprehensive reporting need to always come before propaganda-generation. Not that the latter isn't necessary, just much less important. What has happened at the BBC in particular is that agitation for the lefty-greeny world-view has gradually supplanted the primary task of getting the facts out for public viewing. The world, especially the lazy, rich western world, needs a trustworthy bearer of the facts. At the moment, we don't really have an excellent example of that.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I'll be sticking to BA

'Nepal's state-run airline has confirmed that it sacrificed two goats to appease a Hindu god, following technical problems with one of its aircraft.'

At least Fletch thought it was the ball-bearings...

Monday, September 03, 2007

Gods Warriors on CNN

I watched the first part of this series a week or two back. It is from the 'A plague on all their houses' school of secular critique of religion. It is not journalism at all, but an attempt to derive the causation of war in religious belief. Very few wars in history have been caused by religious belief- vast numbers have been caused by ambition, greed, tribal/national prestige and jealousy. Was the Arab conquest of the middle east, Asia and north Africa in the seventh century about spreading religion, or about building a huge and lucrative empire? History tells us it was the latter. Was the Spanish conquest of central and south America for spreading Catholicism or to gain a huge and lucrative empire? 99% of the evidence points to the latter motivation. Even wars that are ostensibly about religion turn out not to be; the Crusades were supposed to be about freeing the Holy Places from Muslim control, but the Crusader kingdoms that were formed as a result were all about worldly gain and political maneuvering. Quite often, the rulers of Crusader kingdoms cooperated with the Muslims against the Byzantines, fellow Christians.

The common canard that all wars and problems in the world can conveniently be blamed on religion is long-overdue being debunked. Its true that cultures which encourage peoples and nations to go out and conquer because they are holders of the ultimate truth often include a religious component. But it is also true that imperial ambition often feels it must hide its true nature with the fig leaf of religion. I believe that the core motivations for human behaviour are roughly constant throughout history, and the desire to be top dog, to dominate and rule and possess are the ones which really drive men to act. Religion is useful for controlling and ordering people, and giving them purpose and morals and high morale. It is much less useful for giving them the motivation to go out and conquer the world. Both Christianity and Judaism, if adhered to in the proper spirit, preclude the building of worldly empires. Christians and Jews who strive to do that do not do so with the blessing of their religions. They do so in spite of religious strictures against doing so. Islam is a slightly different case- before the Greater Jihad replaced the Lesser Jihad as a Muslims primary goal in life, you could have argued that warfare with the aim of taking over non-Muslim countries was justified. But as the Greater Jihad is nothing to do with the outside world, but is about the internal state of goodness of the Muslim individual, Lesser Jihad (the violent one) is no longer an imperative. Which is why there haven't been any religiously motivated Islamic invasions for a very long time. The Ottoman empire was a turkic enterprise running on the same lines as the other great empires, with the same goals- money, prestige and control. It had the fig leaf of the Caliphate, but ditched it in 1919 as soon as it no longer served a useful function (ie when Turkish nationalism replaced Ottoman empire islamism).

Most of the arguments proffered that 'most wars are caused by religion' return to the same few events- the Catholic-Protestant wars of the 16th century, the Spanish invasion of Mexico, the Islamic invasions of the seventh century and the Crusades of the eleventh and twelth centuries. As I have argued, none of these cases properly evidences religion as the prime motivating cause. For every Catholic-Protest war, there were twenty English-Dutch (protestant vs protestant) or Spanish -French (catholic vs catholic) wars. The Catholic church itself behaved for much of the middle ages like an uber-empire, a multi-territorial empire where the pope had the ultimate say-so. It was perfectly happy to have Christians die fighting other Christians if the purposes of the universal church were served. So thats not really about religion, but about ostensibly religious organisations which actually have completely earth-bound secular concerns and motivations.

I hope one day people will stop abusing religion both by stealing its clothes to disguise their true motivations, and by blaming it for events completely outside its purview.