Friday, December 30, 2005

Accessories to Genocide - African Union & Arab League (Eric Reeves)

New Republic Online | Post date: 12.29.05

SUDAN AND ITS GUESTS
Host of Problems
by Eric Reeves


Why does genocide in Darfur continue? One reason is that there is no real international pressure on the architects of the genocide--the National Islamic Front security cabal in Khartoum--to bring the killing to a halt. On the contrary, as the genocide enters its fourth year, the international community continues to defer to Khartoum, or even to suggest disingenuously that the regime has somehow reformed itself. Either way, the clear implication is that the lives of Darfur's civilians are not worth the diplomatic price of confronting Sudan's brutal leaders.

There is no more appalling illustration of this phenomenon than recent announcements by the African Union and the Arab League that both groups will hold their upcoming summits in Khartoum. These summits will represent symbolic triumphs for Sudan's genocidaires. And they will reinforce in very public fashion what Khartoum already knows: that none of its neighbors really cares what it does in Darfur.

Of the two, the African Union summit is certainly the more disturbing, if only because it is the organization's own troops that are, in theory, supposed to be establishing security in Darfur. To be sure, this mission has been woefully ineffective from the start. The A.U. force has been deliberately undercut by Khartoum since it was first deployed in summer 2004, with Sudan denying fuel to the African Union for its essential helicopters, blocking A.U. deployments within Darfur, and refusing to allow critical equipment and personnel into the region. For its part, the African Union hasn't committed enough resources or manpower; and key African countries have either reneged on military commitments (South Africa) or deliberately obscured Darfur's terrible realities and Khartoum's responsibility (Nigeria).

But the African Union's decision to hold its January 2006 summit in Sudan provides the strongest evidence yet that the organization has no intention of actually standing up to Khartoum and halting the genocide. Because tradition dictates that the next chair of the African Union be the head of the most recent summit's host country, Sudanese president Omar el-Bashir is now poised to lead the very organization that claims to be seeking an end to the genocide he is orchestrating. (This calls to mind the decision once made by the African Union's much-derided predecessor, the Organization of African Unity, to give its leadership position to the monstrous Idi Amin of Uganda.) It is difficult to imagine a more appalling demonstration of moral corruption on the part of the African Union--or a clearer indication that the group's claims to be working to end the Darfur genocide (in the popular phrase, to be providing "African solutions to African problems") are deeply disingenuous.

To date, only one African leader, President Deby of Chad, has objected to holding the A.U. summit in Khartoum. (And his objection was self-interested, not principled: He recently declared that a "state of belligerency" exists between Sudan and his country because of Khartoum's support for Chadian military mutineers trying to topple his weak government.) And so, in less than a month, Khartoum can expect to enjoy a diplomatic triumph amidst only scattered criticism.

The Arab League summit, slated to be held in Khartoum in March, may seem a minor victory for Sudan by comparison. But the summit's location is meaningful nonetheless: It reassures the National Islamic Front that, whatever its actions in Darfur, it will continue to receive friendship and diplomatic support from its traditional Arab allies.

It is no accident, after all, that Arab League member Algeria, which currently holds a seat on the U.N. Security Council, has been instrumental in sabotaging efforts to impose sanctions on Khartoum's genocidaires. Although the Security Council voted to create a sanctions committee to inflict penalties on Khartoum in March 2005, no sanctions have been imposed since, in large part because Algeria, along with Russia and China, has blocked all efforts to craft effective sanctions. Then there is Egypt, the powerhouse of the Arab League, which continues to urge the United Nations to stop meddling in Sudanese affairs. The Mubarak government (which at one point nearly scuttled north-south peace negotiations in Sudan) has relentlessly opposed any internationalization of either the diplomatic or military response to the Darfur genocide.

There are only two ways the vast human catastrophe in Darfur will end: international humanitarian intervention or intense diplomatic pressure on Sudan's regime. The former is nowhere on the horizon, and the latter will be profoundly undercut by the upcoming African Union and Arab League summits. We are often told that a new generation of leaders has arisen in African and Arab countries, a generation with reformist instincts. But by choosing to hold these summits in Khartoum, African and Arab leaders are showing that, like their predecessors, they are still more inclined to protect one another than act on principle. Idi Amin would be pleased.

Eric Reeves is a professor of English Language and Literature at Smith College and has written extensively on Sudan.
----------
[For some further elaboration and documentation of the arguments summed up in this piece, see two recent reports by Eric Reeves, "Darfur Betrayed-The AU Summit in Khartoum" (12/12/2005) and "Khartoum Triumphant" (12/17/2005). --JW]

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Obama & Brownback - "Policy Adrift on Darfur" (Washington Post)

It is hard to avoid mixed feelings in response to this Washington Post op-ed by two US Senators, the left-liberal Democrat Barack Obama and the right-wing Republican Sam Brownback. If one wants to look on the bright side, it is a sign that the ongoing atrocity in Darfur has not completely faded from public attention, and it reminds us that an unusually broad range of tendencies in American public opinion have come together over the past few years to protest against this atrocity.

Unfortunately, it serves mostly to highlight a larger failure of moral conscience, political will, and practical action. As the process of ethnic cleansing, mass murder, mass rape, and gradual extermination--what Eric Reeves has aptly termed "Rwanda in slow motion" or "genocide by attrition"--has increasingly neared the point of no return, the willingness of the outside world to do anything about it seems increasingly exhausted. The rather feeble efforts of the "international community" to prevent further slaughter in Darfur have been effectively blocked by the international supporters of the Sudanese regime, ranging from China to the Arab League. Even the US government, which--to its credit--was in the forefront of international condemnation of the Darfur atrocity for a period during 2004-2005, has increasingly moved from confrontation to 'pragmatic' accommodation with Khartoum.

Part of the reason for the US government's more aggressive stance a year and a half ago was that it was coming under pressure from an aroused public opinion to do something serious about Darfur. Unfortunately, this domestic political pressure seems to be slackening as well. Expressions of concern about Darfur by prominent US political figures have become increasingly rare. And this effort by Obama and Brownback is not without flaws of its own. Given the realities of the situation, its tone is insufficiently urgent and excessively diplomatic, its message is too unfocused, and some of its key points are oddly muffled. In a rather ill-tempered commentary on this op-ed, "How Not to Halt the Darfur Genocide," New Republic editor Marisa Katz accuses Obama and Brownback of "presenting their suggestions with less than urgent language, [...] refusing to deal honestly with our past failures in Darfur, and [...] burying the one idea that could really make a difference." I'm afraid that these criticisms are not entirely unfair, and she could have added that they also fail to make clear the complicity of Khartoum's foreign supporters and the shameful inaction of the major European governments, both of which are crucial obstacles to any serious solution.

However, Obama and Brownback do make a number of important points in this piece (read the whole thing HERE). And they come out in support of one measure that is both controversial and absolutely essential:
First, the administration must help transform the African Union protection force into a sizable, effective multinational force. [....] The African Union has begun discussions with the United Nations about folding itself into a follow-on U.N. mission, but because of the West's reluctance to offend African sensibilities, all parties seem resigned to muddling along. It has become clear that a U.N.- or NATO-led force is required, and the administration must use diplomacy to override Chinese and Sudanese opposition to such a force and persuade outside troops to join it.
As Katz correctly notes, "That's a pretty big deal coming from members of Congress." And in substantive terms, it cuts to the heart of the problem. To quote Katz again: "NATO troops with a strong mandate could clamp down on Khartoum's abuses, separate the combatants, and help the more than one million displaced people start returning to their homes. This is the most controversial proposal Obama and Brownback have to offer. But ultimately, it may be the only realistic chance we have of stopping the genocide."

For a detailed and convincing explanation of why this is so, see the powerful recent report by Eric Reeves, "Darfur Betrayed" (12/11/2005). As I said in my own comments on Reeves's piece:

"For anyone who genuinely wants to see serious action against the ongoing process of genocidal mass murder in Darfur [...] the conclusions seem clear. Neither the African Union nor the UN has either the capacity or the political will to stop the slaughter. It is completely unrealistic to expect the African Union to take on this responsibility without large-scale assistance and massive political pressure from elsewhere. As for the UN, it has to be part of the solution, but the UN framework cannot provide a genuine solution by itself. The UN's humanitarian operations are essential, and they need to be protected militarily and backed up politically. But the UN, as an institution, cannot provide the necessary protection on its own. Even if the UN were capable of moving quickly enough to deploy the required military forces before humanitarian operations collapse--which it is not--it is almost certain that any attempts to do so, or to take any other serious action in Darfur, would be blocked by the Sudanese regime's supporters on the UN Security Council, particularly China.
It remains the case, as the International Crisis Group (ICG) argued in July 2005, that a NATO “bridging force” is the only timely response to the insecurity and violence that may soon precipitate wholesale humanitarian evacuation. The force of 12,000-15,000 troops that ICG proposed may be low in comparison with other recent force estimates of what is required in Darfur: that of Refugees International (20,000-25,000), of the Brookings Institution/Bern University (20,000), or Protect Darfur (UK) (25,000). But if the force were deployed effectively and rapidly (ICG called for an early September 2005 deployment), hundreds of thousands of lives might be saved that will otherwise be imperiled if insecurity forces humanitarian evacuation.
The crucial role of NATO in any possible solution means that once again the major responsibility falls on the US and--alas-on the Europeans. (I say 'alas' because, so far, both governments and publics in western Europe have entirely failed to match even the quite inadequate and currently diminishing efforts of the US government or--with the partial exception of Britain--the amount of concern shown by sectors of US public opinion. On these matters, see here and here.) Those of us who are citizens of the US or of western European countries need to press our governments to do something serious to stop this atrocity."

Obama and Brownback deserve credit for recognizing this reality. Whatever complaints one might have about the flaws and limitations of their initiative, the bottom line is that they have issued a public call for serious action on Darfur--a call that should be followed up and supported by the rest of us.

--Jeff Weintraub

Friday, December 23, 2005

Children Within Darfur's Holocaust (Eric Reeves)

"This is Sudan, suffering a long way off; too few care, and far too little."
Read the whole report HERE. Selections follow. --Jeff Weintraub
==========
Children Within Darfur's Holocaust, December 23, 2005
Posted by: www.sudanreeves.org on Dec 23, 2005 - 01:35 PM
News
An overview of vulnerabilities particular to genocide’s youngest victims
Eric Reeves

The suffering and destruction of children in Darfur is an obscenity beyond reckoning, beyond redemption, beyond forgiveness. During the course of this genocidal conflict, the number of children who have been killed, raped, wounded, displaced, traumatized, or endured the loss of parents and families is well over 1 million. Most of these children have suffered multiple forms of violence, loss, and deprivation. Moreover, their futures are bleak in ways we can only now begin to discern, though that bleakness will come into steadily sharper relief as humanitarian organizations slowly withdraw their financial support for current efforts on the ground in Darfur.
Statistical assessments of suffering and destruction in Darfur, as is often the case in vast human cataclysms, tend toward aggregation, with only partial disaggregating of data that bear directly on populations under 18 years of age. [....] But there is a terrible distinctness in the suffering of children, even as their characteristic vulnerability in times of distress accounts for differences in both mortality rates and the likelihood of malnutrition. The deaths of Darfur’s children, of those least responsible for the evil that animates genocidal violence, bequeath to us a special opprobrium, a disgrace for which there can be no expiation. This analysis attempts to distill something of the peculiar suffering and destruction that has marked the experience of children in Darfur.
CAMP EXISTENCE AND THE CHILDREN OF DARFUR
A very recent “Child Alert” for Darfur from UNICEF (the UN children’s fund) has done something to elevate the profile of children in Darfur, and for this deserves commendation (summary and full report available). But the report is too brief, and frequently too superficial, to offer any real insight into the experiences of children in Darfur; there are also signs that the text was poorly reviewed prior to publication. Little from the section on “Continuing Violence and Trauma” represents either new findings or prescient summary of the data and findings currently available. Nonetheless, an overview statement from this section is a useful point of departure:
“Humanitarian workers describe a kind of mass trauma in the camps [for displaced persons]. While the protective structure of the family is crucial to recovery [for children], parents feel hopeless and powerless, prompting a widespread sense of fatalism about a future they cannot control. Children talk of the violent events they witnessed and their continuing fear of armed men on horseback [the Janjaweed], who often remain on the outskirts of camps and settlements. Since many men have either died or are mobilized in rural areas, tens of thousands of women are raising their children alone, and often those of deceased family members as well. The daily stress for these mothers can seriously impair their ability to care for their children. Exhausted and depressed, they despair about their future and that of their offspring.”(page 17)
[....]
For children, their futures in the camps hold only the prospect of meaningless days defined by efforts to supplement what will be increasingly meager humanitarian supplies. The chances for sustained, meaningful education are remote. Many boys will drift towards urban areas in Darfur, Kordofan, even Khartoum in search of employment; they will be part of a very large pool of unskilled labor, much of it unemployed or underemployed. Girls will also be tempted to seek means of augmenting income for food, shelter, and critical “non-food items” (NFI) that will be in increasingly short supply. The relatively large salaries of the African Union force in Darfur have already produced what is for these devout Muslim communities an entirely uncharacteristic social problem, prostitution.
Until the people now in the camps, young and old, can return to their lands and villages, the land available in the camp surroundings is far too limited to allow for significant agricultural production. Many children are thus now missing key years in learning the ways of producing food in this harsh land, and will find the resumption of agricultural life increasingly difficult. Without seed-stocks, agricultural implements, safe water supplies, a renewed stock of donkeys (essential to agriculture in Darfur), food provisions to last until the first harvest---in short, all that has been deliberately destroyed by Khartoum’s army and its Janjaweed militia allies---a return to the land is pointless. And without meaningful security, it is simply too dangerous to return. For many children, life within camps is coming to dominate all sense of what their lives will be. Their dispirited and often angry views of the future will be attended in most cases by recollections of unspeakable violence. It will take a great deal to heal the spirit of Darfur’s young.
[For an excellent overview of the appalling fate of children throughout Sudan under the National Islamic Front regime, see www.alertnet.org. UNICEF reports that "‘thousands and possibly millions of Sudanese children suffer from exploitation and discrimination,’ [according to] Ted Chaiban, UNICEF's representative in Sudan, at the launch of the ‘State of the World's Children 2006 Report,’” UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, December 14, 2005.]
CHILDREN AND VIOLENCE IN DARFUR
The UNICEF Darfur report devotes far too little attention to the violence that has been directly experienced by children, and indeed in many cases is clearly directed again children, especially males. These violent outrages defy summary; reportage---however gruesome---must in its very partial nature stand as a grim synecdoche:
[1] “Kaltoma Ahmed, 16, described watching her six-year-old brother
Adam die. ‘[The Janjaweed] tied the children's hands and feet,’ she said. ‘They put them in the house, and burned it to the ground.’” (Knight Ridder news service, [dateline: Nyala], August 31, 2004)
[2] “So who killed 2-year-old Zahra Abdullah for belonging to the Fur tribe? At one level, the answer is simple: The murderers were members of the janjaweed militia that stormed into this mud-brick village in the South Darfur region at dawn four weeks ago on horses, camels and trucks. Zahra's mother, Fatima Omar Adam, woke to gunfire and soke and knew at once what was happening. She jumped up from her sleeping mat and put Zahra on her back, then grabbed the hands of her two older children and raced out of her thatch-roof hut with her husband. Some of the marauders were right outside. They yanked Zahra from Ms. Fatima's back and began bludgeoning her on the ground in front of her shrieking mother and sister. Then the men began beating Ms. Fatima and the other two children, so she grabbed them and fled---and the men returned to beating the life out of Zahra.” (Nicholas Kristof, New York Times [dateline: Tama, Darfur] November 20, 2005)
[3] George Wolf, member of a Refugees International fact-finding team to Darfur, wrote in a Washington Post op/ed of July 31, 2004:
“On the morning of July 12, hell descended on the village of Donki Dereisa. Shortly before sunrise, Fatima Ibrahim, 28, awoke to the deafening sound of exploding ordnance falling from the sky. As she emerged from her mud hut with her 10-year-old daughter, she saw fires blazing all around and scores of heavily armed men on horseback attacking from every direction. With bullets whistling past, Ibrahim and her daughter ran for their lives, ducking into a nearby ravine, where they hid without food or water for the next two days.”
“From the ditch, Ibrahim witnessed a horrific avalanche of violence that will haunt her for life. With Sudanese foot soldiers at their side, the mounted attackers shot the panicked and unarmed villagers in cold blood. Approximately 150 people, including 10 women, were killed. But the worst was to come.”
“Ibrahim told Refugees International about a week after the attack that among those captured during the assault were four of her brothers and six young children, including three of her cousins. As Ibrahim watched in horror, several of the attackers began grabbing the screaming children and throwing them one by one into a raging fire. One of the male villagers ran from his hiding place to plead for their lives. It was a fatal error. The raiders subdued the man and later beheaded him and dismembered his body. All six of the children were burned. Ibrahim's four brothers have not been heard from since.” (Washington Post, July 31, 2004)
[4] [The “civilians” referred to in the following Associated Press dispatch were subsequently authoritatively identified as school girls, chained together and burned within their schoolhouse---ER]
“Arab militias chained civilians together and set them on fire in Sudan's western Darfur region, where tens of thousands have been killed in a 17-month conflict, according to a report by an African Union monitoring team.”
“The immolation came during a July 3 [2004] attack on the village of Suleia by pro-government militias known as the Janjaweed, the African Union monitoring team said in its report. ‘The attackers looted the market and killed civilians, in some cases, by chaining them and burning them alive,’ according to the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated.” (Associated Press [Addis Ababa] July 29, 2004)
[....]
[7] “A recent United Nations investigation into war crimes in Darfur laid out, in page after graphic page, evidence of widespread and systematic rape in the two-year conflict. In one incident, a woman in Wadi Tina was raped 14 times by different men in January 2003. In March 2004, 150 soldiers and janjaweed abducted and raped 16 girls in Kutum, the report said. In Kailek, it said girls as young as 10 were raped by militants.” (New York Times [dateline: el-Geneina, West Darfur], February 11, 2005)
[8] (from “Report: A UN Inter-Agency fact-finding and humanitarian needs assessment mission, Kailek, South Darfur,” 24 April 2004):
“The stories that we [the UN Inter-Agency mission] have received from the survivors of the acts of mass murder are very painful for us and they remind us of the brutalities of the Rwanda genocide. [We found that] the circumstances of the internally displaced persons in Kailek [must] be described as imprisonment. [We found that] with an under-five child mortality rate of 8-9 children per day due to malnutrition, and with the Government of Sudan security representatives permanently located in the town without having reported this phenomena to the UN, despite it having taken place for several weeks, [this] also indicates a local policy of forced starvation.’”
[An under-five child mortality rate of 8-9 per day is four times the emergency threshold; in short, these very young children were being deliberately starved to death, at an extremely rapid rate, while being militarily imprisoned.]
[....]
[10] “Maryam Ahmad had travelled with her 21-day-old son, Ahmad, on another road controlled by Janjawid, between Tawila and Kabkabiya. The Janjawid had stopped her, taken Ahmad from her and cut off his penis. He died in her arms. ‘It’s what they do to boys,’ said Afaf, two months pregnant and preparing to return to al-Fasher to deliver.” (Julie Flint, Middle East International [dateline: Darfur], February 17, 2005)
These are ten reports; there are many hundreds more, in various human rights and other publications, representing violence directed against hundreds of thousands of children.
[....]
The aerial military targeting of civilians, including children---in the Nuba, in southern Sudan, in Darfur---is an entirely characteristic military response by Khartoum (see my August 15, 2000 op/ed in The Washington Post on the bombing of humanitarian operations in southern Sudan, and multiple analyses of bombing incidents throughout southern Sudan under the rubric: Briefs & Advocacy: Pre-Machakos).
There is nothing new in such barbarism by the Khartoum regime, unfathomably the host to the January 2006 African Union summit and the March 2006 Arab League summit.
ACQUIESCENCE
The deliberate destruction of children, on an ethnic basis, is the known and calculated policy of Khartoum and its Janjaweed militia---the inevitable consequence of a counter-insurgency strategy of civilian destruction, by various means, chosen with full knowledge. This is the atrocity the international community has chosen to accept, and before which it daily continues to acquiesce---responding only with humanitarian assistance and a conspicuously, radically inadequate African Union cease-fire monitoring force.
This is Sudan, suffering a long way off; too few care, and far too little.

Eric Reeves
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063
413-585-3326
ereeves@smith.edu
www.sudanreeves.org

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Bush's Snoopgate (Jonathan Alter)

This excellent and unusually forceful column by Jonathan Alter (to which I was tipped off by Brad DeLong) gets right to the point:
Dec. 19, 2005 - Finally we have a Washington scandal that goes beyond sex, corruption and political intrigue to big issues like security versus liberty and the reasonable bounds of presidential power. President Bush came out swinging on Snoopgate—he made it seem as if those who didn’t agree with him wanted to leave us vulnerable to Al Qaeda—but it will not work. We’re seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator, or in his own mind, no doubt, like Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. [It's hard to improve on this cogent formulation. --JW]
The problem was not that the disclosures would compromise national security, as Bush claimed at his press conference. [....] No, Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story—which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year—because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker. He insists he had “legal authority derived from the Constitution and congressional resolution authorizing force.” But the Constitution explicitly requires the president to obey the law. [....]
What is especially perplexing about this story is that the 1978 law set up a special court to approve eavesdropping in hours, even minutes, if necessary. In fact, the law allows the government to eavesdrop on its own, then retroactively justify it to the court, essentially obtaining a warrant after the fact. Since 1979, the FISA court has approved tens of thousands of eavesdropping requests and rejected only four. There was no indication the existing system was slow—as the president seemed to claim in his press conference—or in any way required extraconstitutional action. [Instead, it's increasingly clear that this administration is committed to sweeping assertions of arbitrary executive privilege, and to contempt for the restraints of constitutional government and the rule of law, almost for their own sake ... somewhere between a matter of principle and a matter of habit. --JW]
This will all play out eventually in congressional committees and in the United States Supreme Court. If the Democrats regain control of Congress, there may even be articles of impeachment introduced. Similar abuse of power was part of the impeachment charge brought against Richard Nixon in 1974.
Will this happen? Frankly, I doubt it. Would it really be a good idea to get into the habit of impeaching Presidents all the time? I'm not so sure (even in this case). But I can't resist pointing out that this certainly looks a lot more like valid grounds for impeachment than, say, lying about semi-sex in the Oval Office.
Read the whole piece HERE.
--Jeff Weintraub

Monday, December 19, 2005

"Dangerous Territory" - Paul Berman & Bob Herbert

As Paul Berman insightfully pointed out in a reflective piece on the Iraq war in mid-2004, Silence and Cruelty: Five Lessons from a Bad Year:
We have learned that F. Scott Fitzgerald's axiom--about intelligence as the ability to hold in mind two contradictory thoughts at the same time--has a corollary in the field of emotion. Sometimes you also have to hold in your heart two contradictory emotions. This is difficult. To understand Saddam Hussein and the history of modern Iraq, you have to feel anger--or else you have understood nothing.
But what if, in addition to feeling anger at Saddam (and at Sadr in his shroud, and at Mussab Al Zarqawi with his knife, and at Saddam's army, which was organizing suicide terrorists even before the invasion), you have also come to feel more than a little anger at George W. Bush? What if you gaze at events in Iraq and say to yourself: Things did not have to be this way. [....] Here is the challenge: to rage at Saddam and other enemies, and, at the same time, to rage in a somewhat different register at Bush, and to keep those two responses in proper proportion to one another. That can be a difficult thing to do, requiring emotional balance, maturity, and analytic clarity--a huge effort. [....] Bush has asked a great deal of America. He has asked us to draw on our emotional balance, maturity, and analytic clarity: the qualities that are needed to help us distinguish our feelings about the enemy from our feelings about the commander in chief. To distinguish between outright hatred and a certain kind of contempt.
I am often reminded of these wise and illuminating remarks, most recently by reading a column in today's New York Times by Bob Herbert, "Dangerous Territory":
There has been some encouraging news lately for those who cherish freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
No, I'm not talking about last week's election in Iraq. I mean the recent developments here at home, in the United States.
Sure, why should he talk about something so trivial as the first real parliamentary election in Iraq in a half-century, which also happened to be one of the most free and possibly consequential national elections in the history of the Arab Middle East--accomplished in the midst of massive social dislocation, ongoing civil war, a savage campaign of terrorism against Iraqi civilians, and credible threats to murder anyone who voted? I might slide over this remark as simply an example of bad taste, except I know that Herbert has consistently advocated that the US simply abandon Iraq, so that the Iraqis who voted last week can be slaughtered by the fascists and jihadis at the heart of the so-called "insurgency." Since Herbert is committed to this position, why complicate it by offering more than a dismissive passing mention of the Iraqi election--just enough to make it clear that no intelligent person should take that nonsense seriously? And now, back to Washington ....

To be perfectly honest, I have to admit that reading this kind of stuff--with its breezy, irresponsible, and ultimately cynical dismissal of Iraqis, their suffering, and their struggles--makes me sick. Is that unfair? I also have to admit that at times one of the few things that can counteract my own rage at the Bush administration and its works is to listen to some of its critics and opponents, at home and abroad, from Jacques Chirac and Brent Scowcroft to Ramsey Clark and the clearly deranged Harold Pinter and so many others--"realists," pseudo-humanitarians, pseudo-radicals, and pseudo-statesmen alike. (I've occasionally wondered whether people like the appalling Naomi Klein, for example, are really on Karl Rove's payroll. That's a joke, of course, but it would be good value for money. No, most of them are free-lancing ... and some of them, like George Galloway, appear to have been on Saddam Hussein's payroll, not Karl Rove's.)

However, Berman is quite right. It's crucial to maintain one's intellectual and emotional balance in these matters, now matter how hard that can sometimes be. For a start, what Herbert has to say in the rest of his column is correct and important:
President Bush, who bloodied John McCain in the brutal Republican primary in South Carolina in 2000, had to cry uncle last Thursday and accept Senator McCain's demand that the U.S. ban cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners in American custody.
It was an embarrassing defeat for the Bush administration, which, in its high-handed approach to governing, has shown no qualms about trampling the fundamental tenets of a free, open and democratic society.
But worse was to come for the president. On Thursday night, The New York Times disclosed that Mr. Bush had secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for terrorist activity ''without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying.''
Warrants? Why bother with warrants?
The Times article reminded me of the famous scene from ''The Treasure of the Sierra Madre'' in which the character played by Humphrey Bogart asks to see the badges of a group of Mexican bandits posing as government officials.
Incredulous, one of the bandits says: ''We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges.''
Mr. Bush apparently feels the same way about warrants. He said over the weekend that he had no intention of changing his eavesdropping policy.
Stubbornness is a well-known trait of this president. But increasing numbers of Americans are objecting to the administration's contemptuous attitude toward liberty and the law. On Friday, the Senate blocked reauthorization of the Patriot Act because of its dangerous intrusions on privacy and threats to civil liberties.
The domestic eavesdropping authorized by President Bush was an important and at times emotional part of the floor debate over the Patriot Act. ''You want to talk about abuses?'' said Senator Russell Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat. ''I can't imagine a more shocking example of an abuse of power, to eavesdrop on American citizens without first getting a court order based on some evidence that they are possibly criminals, terrorists or spies.''
Mr. Feingold worried that we were playing into the hands of terrorists by giving up such quintessentially American values as ''freedom, justice and privacy.''
The Bush version of American values, as least with regard to the so-called war on terror, has been a throwback to the Middle Ages. Detainees were herded like animals into the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where many were abused and denied the right to challenge -- or even hear -- the charges against them. Whether they were innocent or guilty made no difference. How's that for an American value?
Others were swept up in that peculiar form of justice called extraordinary rendition. That's when someone is abducted by Americans and sent off to a regime skilled in the art of torture. I spent a little time in Ottawa with Maher Arar, a family man from Canada who was kidnapped at Kennedy Airport and taken to Syria.
He wasn't a terrorist and he hadn't done anything wrong, but that was no defense against the sweeping madness of the Bush antiterror policies.
''It was so scary,'' Mr. Arar told me. ''After a while I became like an animal.''
Another blow to America's self-proclaimed standing as a pillar of moral values was the revelation that the C.I.A. has been operating a super-secret network of prisons overseas, presumably for terror suspects. If someone who is innocent gets caught in that particular hell, too bad. The inmates have been deprived of all rights.
This is dangerous territory, indeed. Nightmarish territory. These secret prisons are the dungeons of the 21st century.
[Right. Incidentally, how often does Herbert become indignant about the fact that arbitrary imprisonment and routine torture are standard practices for regimes in Syria and a lot of other countries--all those regimes "skilled in the art of torture" that, of course, we would not want to 'destabilize'? Perhaps I missed that column. --JW]
The voices against the serial outrages of the Bush administration are growing steadily louder, and that's good news. It's widely understood now that the Bush crowd has gone much too far. When Americans cover their hearts and pledge allegiance, this is not the kind of behavior from their government they usually have in mind. This is not what the American flag is supposed to represent.
Herbert is right--not only about the outrages of the Bush administration and the dangers they pose, but also about the fact that some of its abuses are finally beginning to encounter some serious resistance (too little and too late, frankly, but it's a welcome start).

On the other hand, honesty compels me to add that when it comes to talking about torture, political repression, and other threats to "freedom, democracy, and the rule of law," then in my humble opinion people who favored leaving Iraq under the rule of a genocidal fascist regime with a proven history of ongoing torture, mutilation, rape, ethnic cleansing, and mass murder on a massive scale, and who now favor unconditional surrender to the fascists and jihadis engaged in murdering Iraqi civilians in order to bring back this kind of regime--in other words, people like Bob Herbert ... well, it doesn't seem to me that such people really have a lot of moral credibility on these issues. (Unlike, say, John McCain.) Am I being unfair? I don't think so.

Yours for freedom, democracy, and the rule of law,
Jeff Weintraub

[P.S. I appreciate these sympathetic comments by Norman Geras, a kindred spririt, in a post that deserves to be read for its own sake.]

Sunday, December 18, 2005

"Life Reeked with Joy"

Around 1981 Anders Henriksson, an academic with several years of experience teaching history in the Canadian university system, composed a small underground classic--an overview of European history from the Middle Ages to the present made up of statements from undergraduate essays. (He lifted the title, "Life Reeked with Joy," from one of these student essays.) This little gem circulated for a while in xeroxed copies, becoming famous within a remarkably short time--especially among educators and graduate students--and was eventually published in 1983. There have been many imitations since then, but (in my opinion) none has really matched the original.

It occurred to me only recently that "Life Reeked with Joy" must be available on Google, like everything else. So I pass it along for the benefit and illumination of those people unfortunate enough that they've never seen it ... and of those who would like to be reminded of it. The holiday season seems like a good time for this, since I hope everyone's life will reek with joy for the next few weeks (once the latest round of student essays have all been written and read).

--Jeff Weintraub

=================
‘Life Reeked with Joy’
Anders Henriksson
The Wilson Quarterly, Spring 1983.

“History,” declared Henry Ford, “is bunk.” And yet, to paraphrase George Santayana, those who forget history and the English language are condemned to mangle them. Historian Anders Henriksson, a five-year veteran of the university classroom, has faithfully recorded, from papers submitted by freshmen at McMaster University and the university of Alberta, his students' more striking insights into European history from the Middle Ages to the present. Possibly as an act of vengeance, Professor Henriksson has now assembled these individual fragments into a chronological narrative which we present here.


History, as we know, is always bias, because human beings have to be studied by other human beings, not by independent observers of another species.

During the Middle Ages, everybody was middle aged. Church and state were co-operatic. Middle Evil society was made up of monks, lords, and surfs. It is unfortunate that we do not have a medievel European laid out on a table before us, ready for dissection. After a revival of infantile commerce slowly creeped into Europe, merchants appeared. Some were sitters and some were drifters. They roamed from town to town exposing themselves and organized big fairies in the countryside. Mideval people were violent. Murder during this period was nothing. Everybody killed someone. England fought numerously for land in France and ended up winning and losing. The Crusades were a series of military expaditions made by Christians seeking to free the holy land (the “Home Town” of Christ) from the Islams.

In the 1400 hundreds most Englishmen were perpendicular. A class of yeowls arose. Finally, Europe caught the Black Death. The bubonic plague is a social disease in the sense that it can be transmitted by intercourse and other etceteras. It was spread from port to port by inflected rats. Victims of the Black Death grew boobs on their necks. The plague also helped the emergance of the English language as the national language of England, France, and Italy.

The Middle Ages slimpared to a halt. The renasence bolted in from the blue. Life reeked with joy. Italy became robust, and more individuals felt the value of their human beings. Italy, of course, was much closer to the rest of the world, thanks to nothern Europe. Man was determined to civilise himself and his brothers, even if heads had to roll! It became sheik to be educated. Art was on a more associated level. Europe was full of incredable churches with great art bulging out their doors. Renaissance merchants were beautiful and almost lifelike.

The Reformnation happened when German nobles resented the idea that tithes were going to Papal France or the Pope thus enriching Catholic coiffures. Traditions had become oppressive so they too were crushed in the wake of man's quest for resurrection above the not-just-social beast he had become. An angry Martin Luther nailed 95 theocrats to a church door. Theologically, Luthar was into reorientation mutation. Calvinism was the most convenient religion since the days of the ancients. Anabaptist services tended to be migratory. The Popes, of course, were usually Catholic. Monks went right on seeing themselves as worms. The last Jesuit priest died in the 19th century.

After the refirmation were wars both foreign and infernal. If the Spanish could gain the Netherlands they would have a stronghold throughout northern Europe which would include their posetions in Italy, Burgangy, central Europe and India thus serrounding France. The German Emperor's lower passage was blocked by the French for years and years.

Louis XIV became King of the Sun. He gave people food and artillery. If he didn't like someone, he sent them to the gallows to row for the rest of their lives. Vauban was the royal minister of flirtation. In Russia the 17th century was known as the time of the bounding of the serfs. Russian nobles wore clothes only to humour Peter the Great. Peter filled his government with accidental people and built a new capital near the European boarder. Orthodox priests became government antennae.

The enlightenment was a reasonable time. Voltare wrote a book called Candy that got him into trouble with Frederick the Great. Philosophers were unknown yet, and the fundamental stake was one of religious toleration slightly confused with defeatism. France was in a very serious state. Taxation was a great drain on the state budget. The French revolution was accomplished before it happened. The revolution evolved through monarchial, republican and tolarian phases until it catapulted into Napolean. Napoleon was ill with bladder problems and was very tense and unrestrained.

History, a record of things left behind by past generations, started in 1815. Throughout the comparatively radical years 1815-1870 the western European continent was undergoing a Rampant period of economic modification. Industrialization was precipitating in England. Problems were so complexicated that in Paris, out of a city population of one million people, two million able bodies were on the loose.

Great Brittian, the USA and other European countrys had demicratic leanings. The middle class was tired and needed a rest. The old order could see the lid holding down new ideas beginning to shake. Among the goals of the chartists were universal suferage and an anal parliment. Voting was to be done by ballad.

A new time zone of national unification roared over the horizon. Founder of the new Italy was Cavour, an intelligent Sardine from the north. Nationalism aided Itally because nationalism is the growth of an army. We can see that nationalism succeeded for Itally because of France's big army. Napoleon III-IV mounted the French thrown. One thinks of Napoleon III as a live extension of the late, but great, Napoleon. Here too was the new Germany: loud, bold, vulgar and full of reality.

Culture fomented from Europe's tip to its top. Richard Strauss, who was violent but methodical like his wife made him, plunged into vicious and perverse plays. Dramatized were adventures in seduction and abortion. Music reeked with reality. Wagner was master of music, and people did not forget his contribution. When he died they labeled his seat “historical.” Other countries had their own artists. France had Chekhov.

World War I broke out around 1912-1914. Germany was on one side of France and Russia was on the other. At war people get killed, and then they aren't people any more, but friends. Peace was proclaimed at Versigh, which was attended by George Loid, Primal Minister of England. President Wilson arrived with 14 pointers. In 1937 Lenin revolted Russia. Communism raged among the peasants, and the civil war “team colours” were red and white.

Germany was displaced after WWI. This gave rise to Hitler. Germany was morbidly overexcited and unbalanced. Berlin became the decadent capital, where all forms of sexual deprivations were practised. A huge anti-semantic movement arose. Attractive slogans like “death to all Jews” were used by governmental groups. Hitler remilitarized the Rineland over a squirmish between Germany and France. The appeasers were blinded by the great red of the Soviets. Moosealini rested his foundations on eight million bayonets and invaded Hi Lee Salasy. Germany invaded Poland, France invaded Belgium, and Russia invaded everybody. War screeched to an end when a nukuleer explosion was dropped on Heroshima. A whole generation had been wipe out in two world wars, and their forlorne families were left to pick up the peaces.

According to Fromm, individuation began historically in medieval times. This was a period of small childhood. There is increasing experience as adolesence experiences its life development. The last stage is us.

--------------------

The historian looks backward. In the end he also believes backward. —Nietzsche

--------------------

Anders Henriksson is a research analyst for the Department of Defense at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He received his BA (1971) from the University of Rochester, his MA (1972) and his PhD (1978) from the University of Toronto. He is the author of The Tsar's Loyal Germans: The Riga German Community, Social Change and the Nationality Question, 1855-1905 (1983).

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Khartoum Triumphant: Managing the Costs of Genocide in Darfur (Eric Reeves)

Once again, this urgent and informative piece by Eric Reeves needs to be read in full (and in conjunction with his other recent report, Darfur Betrayed). Some highlights follow. --Jeff Weintraub
--------------
Khartoum Triumphant: Managing the Costs of Genocide in Darfur
Eric Reeves
Posted by www.sudanreeves.org on Dec 17, 2005 - 10:46 AM
News

The National Islamic Front is poised to renew its special place in history as a regime that has successfully deployed genocide as a tool of domestic political and security policy. It joins the Turkish government, which was responsible for the genocidal destruction of perhaps a million Armenians during World War I, and the Nigerian government, which during the late 1960s was responsible for the genocidal destruction of more than a million Ibo people in the Biafra region of southern Nigeria. But unlike the earlier Turkish and Nigerian regimes, the National Islamic Front has been successful in its genocidal efforts on multiple occasions, including its previous genocides in the Nuba Mountains (beginning in 1992) and in the southern oil regions (beginning in 1997). These are the ghastly precedents for current genocide in Darfur.
Moreover, unless there is a fundamental shift in the political, economic, and military circumstances presently obtaining in eastern Sudan--among the Beja and Rashaida peoples of Red Sea and Kassala Provinces--we may see “national security” yet again take the form of genocide. [....]
The National Islamic Front, which has disingenuously (if understandably) sought to rename itself the “National Congress Party,” is a regime that took power under circumstances, and with ambitions, that make a genocidal domestic security policy entirely intelligible. The NIF seized power by military coup in June 1989, deposing the elected government of the Umma Party’s Sadiq el-Mahdi. To be sure, Sadiq was hardly representative of Sudan as a whole, and had in many ways increased the brutal deployment of Arab muraheleen militia in southern Sudan, particularly in using slavery as a weapon of war (see Jok Madut Jok’s authoritative “War and Slavery in Sudan” [University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001]). But Sadiq had been elected, and political pressures, including from the rival Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), had brought a peace agreement in the north/south war to the brink of fruition.
It was precisely to stop this peace agreement that the NIF timed its military coup for June 30, 1989. The men responsible for this coup, and for deliberately aborting the nascent peace agreement, came to power with a ruthlessly determined Islamizing and Arabizing agenda. Very little has changed in the intervening 16 years, despite the wishful thinking of many who have tired of, or wish to avoid, the difficulties of confronting the NIF. To be sure, Hassan al-Turabi---mastermind of the coup, and certainly the most aggressive Islamicist---has been in many ways expediently sidelined by the NIF. But all other important coup participants remain in positions of supreme power, in particular President Omar el-Bashir and Vice President Ali Osman Taha. [....]
With only a distracted and irresolute international community as guarantor of the Machakos cornerstone agreement, and with self-determination the sine qua non of true peace in southern Sudan, the renewal of war in southern Sudan seems only a matter of time.

CHRONICLING KHARTOUM’S SUCCESS IN DARFUR

The most recent report from Human Rights Watch (“Entrenching Impunity: Government Responsibility for International Crimes in Darfur,” December 2005 at ) offers an extraordinarily well-researched account of the mechanics of genocide---of just how the NIF has organized the destruction of non-Arab or African tribal populations in Darfur. It also presents substantial new evidence for what has long been clear, but in this report is established beyond reasonable doubt: that senior NIF leadership has directly overseen Darfur’s genocidal destruction. [....]
HRW conclusions about NIF responsibility deserve extended citation. HRW asserts that Khartoum’s policy of human destruction in Darfur “was strategic and well-planned”:
“Since early 2003, the leadership in Khartoum has relied on civilian administration, the Sudanese military and Janjaweed militias to implement a counterinsurgency policy that deliberately and systematically targeted civilians in violation of international law. Ultimate responsibility for the creation and coordination of the policy lies in Khartoum, with the highest levels of the Sudanese leadership, including President Omar El Bashir, Vice-President Ali Osman Taha, and key national ministers and security chiefs.” [....]

INDICTMENT, BUT NO CONVICTION OR PUNISHMENT

Despite the thorough and authoritative nature of the indictment rendered by Human Rights Watch, the report fails on a number of counts. In these failures, we catch glimpses of the larger failure of the international community, and may discern something of the nature of Khartoum’s ultimate genocidal victory.

[1] The HRW report offers no recommendations both adequate to the current acute security crisis and likely to be accepted by the parties exhorted. It is, of course, obligatory for such a human rights report to “recommend” that the Government of Sudan “suspend from official duty, investigate, and fully prosecute all civilian and military personnel [ ] implicated for individual or command responsibility for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Darfur” (page 3). But as the very power of the HRW indictment of senior “Government of Sudan” officials makes compellingly clear, short of self-prosecution, this recommendation is simply boilerplate exhortation.
But even when speaking of recommendations to the UN Security Council, the African Union, the International Criminal Court, and to the US, the EU and Canada, HRW offers little more than exhortation to strengthen an AU force in Darfur that is radically inadequate to the critical security requirements of civilians and humanitarians. The AU has neither the resources nor the capacity to absorb resources urgently required for civilian and humanitarian protection. And recommending that the UN Security Council pass hortatory resolutions and move more expeditiously on targeted sanctions against the NIF genocidaires (per UN Security Council Resolution 1591) has a distinct air of irrelevance given the crisis on the ground. [....]

[Reeves's next point is worth emphasizing, since it runs counter to some widespread beliefs that are often well-meaning but entirely fallacious. Earlier this year there was a dispute in the UN Security Council about referring the Darfur atrocity to the International Criminal Court. This dispute received wide coverage, not least because it provided an opportunity to bash the Bush administration about its (characteristically extremist) hostility to the ICC; it also offered a welcome distraction from having to actually confront the Darfur problem itself. The ICC is in principle a worthy institution, but it is entirely irrelevant to the question of how to interfere with the ongoing process of ethnic cleansing, mass rape, and genocidal mass murder unfolding in Darfur. It has been evident from the start that referring Darfur to the ICC is a misplaced legalistic priority, and that the governments which supported this step have done so mostly as an alternative to taking serious action to stop the atrocity itself. --JW]

[3] HRW recommends that the International Criminal Court “investigate and prosecute senior civilian officials at all levels of government, including President Omar El Bashir” (page 5). Without acknowledging the extraordinarily difficult context in which the ICC has been forced to operate by obdurate “senior [NIF] officials,” this recommendation risks distorting fundamental truths about the chances for justice via the ICC. So long as the NIF remains in power, there can and will be no prosecution---or even extradition---of those responsible for genocide. Indeed, the very existence of an ICC investigation creates incentives for the NIF to sustain prevailing levels of insecurity in Darfur as a means of hampering possible investigation, even as such insecurity is now the most powerful tool of human destruction.
This is of course an uncomfortable reality for HRW, which lobbied hard this past March for a UN Security Council referral of Darfur to the ICC. Indeed, HRW went so far as to argue that such referral would have a deterrent effect on the ground in Darfur, an argument thoroughly undermined by realities of the past several months. For of course those who have committed genocide are well aware of the fact, and are hardly to be deterred from future acts of ethnic violence, violations of international law, or obstructionism simply because of an ICC referral: having committed the ultimate crime---or at the very least what HRW euphemistically calls “ethnic cleansing”---what possible incentive is there for NIF officials to alter behavior in ways consistent with the “deterrent” effect HRW predicted?
The truth of the situation was recognized early on by ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo: investigation of the NIF would actually increase threats against both potential witnesses and humanitarian workers in Darfur. [....]
Given the NIF’s sense of impunity, despite overwhelming evidence of its culpability, it is disingenuous for HRW to call baldly for the ICC to “investigate and prosecute senior civilian officials at all levels of government”; indeed, this recommendation comports with the peculiarly disingenuous claim made twice by Juan Mendez, UN special advisor on the prevention of genocide, in his otherwise excellent October 2005 report to the Security Council: “it is in the self-interest of the Government of Sudan to cooperate with the ICC prosecution as a way of creating an atmosphere conducive to reconciliation” (Report of October 4, 2005, Paragraph 36).
It is not in the self-interest of genocidaires to cooperate in their own prosecution, and to suggest otherwise creates the impression of either dangerous naiveté or fear of speaking the truth. [....] The simple truth is that with control of the army and the security forces, members of the NIF will be extradited only when they have been removed from power (see my “Regime Change in Sudan,” The Washington Post, August 23, 2004).

THE ONGOING DESTRUCTION OF DARFUR

All reports make clear that insecurity and violence continue to escalate throughout Darfur. A grim, wide-ranging overview was recently provided by the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (December 12, 2005). [....] Nor is there any end in sight: Khartoum’s genocidaires, the architects of this human destruction, have no incentive to halt the catastrophe, nor any significant fear of consequences. Those most powerful are those most culpable: what chance does justice have so long as power and guilt are simply obverses of one another in Sudan? [....]
Genocide in Darfur is fully the responsibility of the National Islamic Front. There are no domestic political forces that can presently wrest Darfur policy from the NIF. To equivocate on this point, to suggest that the NIF and the SPLM somehow share political responsibility going forward, represents a deep failure, or refusal, to understand why the genocide began and what has sustained it for more than two and a half years. Genocide began in Darfur as the instinctive response to threat by Khartoum’s entrenched security cabal; it can be ended only by an international willingness to oppose, with all necessary resources, this most vicious of instincts.
Eric Reeves
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063
413-585-3326
ereeves@smith.edu
www.sudanreeves.org

Friday, December 16, 2005

An Iraq roundup from Norman Geras

These items add up to a useful counterpoint to the current conventional wisdom ... for people willing to consider an alternative point of view. --Jeff Weintraub
==========
From the weblog of Norman Geras (Normblog)
December 10, 2005

Iraq heptagon

> Michael Ignatieff: [who is being transformed from an independent intellectual into a Canadian Parliamentary candidate, in a country that overwhelmingly opposed the 2003 Iraq war]

"On Iraq, I have no regrets... I'd seen people tortured, gassed and murdered in Iraq," he said, of a month-long journalistic trip for the BBC/CBC. "Most Canadians don't have that experience. I did and I felt I had to stand with Saddam's victims..."
[He's right, of course. --JW]

> Another view (than Jonathan Steele's) of Saddam Hussein on trial

The man I see looks completely different from that man who used to appear on TV in his army uniform, holding a pistol and shooting in the air as if he were aiming at creatures on another planet because he had got bored of killing Iraqis.

This man in the courtroom has to wait for his turn to talk, otherwise his mike will be turned off. Saddam never had to wait for his turn because it was his turn for decades, and there was no time for anyone else to say anything.

It may look to outsiders as if he has taken control, shouting at the judge. But up close you can see desperation in his eyes.

> The 'militants' who get a more or less free pass from so many progressive tongue-cluckers and head-shakers continued their mighty work this week of fighting the imperialist invader:

A suicide bomber boarded a packed bus as it was pulling out of a Baghdad station and detonated an explosive belt, killing at least 30 Iraqis, mostly women and children.

The bus was departing from the central Nahda bus station to Nasiriyah, a Shia city 200 miles southeast of the Iraqi capital. Police said the death toll was especially high because the blast triggered secondary explosions in gas cylinders stored at a nearby food stall. At least 25 people were wounded in the attack.

The attacker parked his car nearby and avoided security checks by climbing onto the bus just as it pulled out of the station.

Eyewitnesses described how the charred corpses of passengers, thought to have been mainly Shia Muslims travelling south for the weekend, remained in their seats. Rescue workers dragged bodies out of the wreckage into waiting ambulances. Blood and shrapnel littered the ground.

> Anne Applebaum on the possibility of an ambiguous conclusion.

> Mick Hartley has the link to a piece by Amir Taheri challenging the prevailing consensus about Iraq.

> Good football news from Afghanistan and Iraq.

> From a report in the Washington Post:

As Iraqis nationwide prepare to go to the polls for the third time this year on Dec. 15 - this time for a new parliament - candidates and political parties of all stripes are embracing politics, Iraqi style, as never before and showing increasing sophistication about the electoral process, according to campaign specialists, party officials and candidates here.

"It is like night and day from 10 months ago in terms of level of participation and political awareness," said a Canadian election specialist with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, a group affiliated with the U.S. Democratic Party that is working to ease Iraq's transition to democracy. The institute, which has provided free campaign training to more than 100 Iraqi parties and describes its programs as nonpartisan, granted a reporter access to its employees and training sessions on the condition that no one on its staff be named.

Evidence of political evolution is plastered all over Baghdad's normally drab concrete blast walls and hung on lampposts at nearly every major intersection: large, colorful, graphically appealing posters conveying a wide variety of punchy messages.

Nothing good to be seen in this - move along.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Breaking the power of the assassins (Lebanon Daily Star)

Two angry and eloquent pieces from the Beirut Daily Star help to bring home the stakes in some of the ongoing political struggles in the Middle East. The first is by David Ignatius, a columnist who often publishes in the Daily Star and the Washington Post, and the second is by the Lebanese journalist and political analyst Michael Young, Opinion Editor of the Daily Star.

Michael Young wrote, in response to the murder of the prominent Lebanese journalist Gibran Tueni (almost certainly by agents of the Syrian regime):
It seems only yesterday that I watched as a stunned Gibran Tueni looked down at the crumbled body of journalist Samir Kassir, shortly after the latter's assassination in his car on an Achrafieh street. Perhaps it was his own death that Tueni saw foretold; or more likely he was trying to come to grips with what was then the still-novel happening of seeing journalists and politicians butchered at the start of their working day.
An-Nahar has paid too high a price for its criticism of the Syrian regime. Tueni himself only recently returned from a spell in Paris, well aware of the dangers to his life. It is to his considerable credit that he accepted the risk of an uncertain homecoming, though how desirable, in hindsight, it would have been for him to spend his days working out of his home - isolated, but safe from the death squads dispatched to liquidate him. [....]
In killing Tueni, the murderers hoped to strike a mortal blow at Lebanon's most prestigious newspaper. For them, the real danger has always been independent thought - against which they can only muster media that threaten, crowds that threaten, and security services that best them both by implementing the threats. Ideas are absent from their endeavors; human development is absent; amelioration is absent; self-determination, freedom, imagination are all absent, crushed by a regime that can only warn that if it goes down, the region will go down with it.
There are those who cretinously swallow that contention hook, line and sinker; who argue that the gentlemen in Damascus must be left alone, maintained, because their departure might indeed bring disorder. That incredible interpretation somehow assures us that Gibran Tueni was, in the end, a martyr to order. A remarkable order it is, then, the very same that protected Saddam Hussein until 2003, and that today props up the authority of a cornucopia of greater and lesser criminals, from Nouakchott to Sanaa, wardens all of what Ghassan Tueni has called "the great Arab prison." [The rest is below]

I don't always agree with David Ignatius, so I was half-surprised to find his piece so powerfully on-target.
This is the time of the assassins in the Arab world. On Monday, they killed a brave Lebanese journalist who dared to tell the truth about Syria. This week in Iraq, they will try to kill people who want to vote. They kill wives to intimidate their husbands. They kill children to frighten their parents into silence. Their power is the ability to create raw fear.
The shame for America isn't that we have tried to topple the rule of the assassins, but that we have so far been unsuccessful. We thought we were cracking the old web of terror when America invaded Iraq in 2003, but it's still there, in the shadows of the shadows. [....]
What is this struggle about? Listen to some Arab voices. On Tuesday, the front page of the Beirut daily An-Nahar carried an open letter from the Syrian poet known as "Adonis," perhaps the most famous writer in the Arab world. It was written to the paper's celebrated editor, Ghassan Tueni, whose outspoken son
Gebran had been murdered the previous day by a car bomb. "We are witnessing the destruction of the soul and the spirit," wrote the poet, whose real name is Ali Ahmed Said. The people who killed Gebran want to create "a temple of fear." [....]
Amid the mistakes, misjudgments and outright lies made by the Bush administration about Iraq over the past three years, it's easy to lose sight of what is at stake in this battle. But this week brings it back to square one: It's about breaking the power of the assassins.
The Baath Party in Iraq ruled by its sheer brutality. I gathered reports from Iraqi dissidents and human-rights workers in the early 1990s, when I was researching my novel about Iraq, "The Bank of Fear." These stories are sickening to recount, even now: The children of Shiite rebels in southern Iraq, dropped from helicopters to terrify the parents; dissidents who had nails driven into their heads; prisoners beaten with metal cables until they collapsed or died. At Saddam Hussein's trial last week, a woman was speaking about how she had been beaten with those cables. Watching Saddam's arrogant scorn for the testimony of his victims, I remembered what the Iraq war is about.
The Baath Party in Syria has governed much the same way, though it saved its worst brutality for neighboring Lebanon. The Syrians maintained their mandate by demonstrating that they were prepared to kill anyone who got in their way: a president, a prime minister, a religious leader, a journalist. The price of speaking out was death. That was the message: This is the land of death. Enter into this theater of violence and we will swallow you up.
People like the Tuenis who refuse to be intimidated should inspire the rest of us. So should the millions of Iraqis who vote today. They are trying to break the culture of intimidation and death. Americans should feel proud to be on their side.
I even agree with this:
George W. Bush gets a lot of things wrong, but knows that he's fighting the assassins. On days like these, I'm glad he is such a stubborn man.
Read these pieces in full (below).

--Jeff Weintraub

==========
Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Thursday, December 15, 2005

A time for assassins in the Arab world
By David Ignatius
Daily Star staff

This is the time of the assassins in the Arab world. On Monday, they killed a brave Lebanese journalist who dared to tell the truth about Syria. This week in Iraq, they will try to kill people who want to vote. They kill wives to intimidate their husbands. They kill children to frighten their parents into silence. Their power is the ability to create raw fear.

The shame for America isn't that we have tried to topple the rule of the assassins, but that we have so far been unsuccessful. We thought we were cracking the old web of terror when America invaded Iraq in 2003, but it's still there, in the shadows of the shadows. George W. Bush gets a lot of things wrong, but knows that he's fighting the assassins. On days like these, I'm glad he is such a stubborn man.

What is this struggle about? Listen to some Arab voices. On Tuesday, the front page of the Beirut daily An-Nahar carried an open letter from the Syrian poet known as "Adonis," perhaps the most famous writer in the Arab world. It was written to the paper's celebrated editor, Ghassan Tueni, whose outspoken son

Gebran had been murdered the previous day by a car bomb. "We are witnessing the destruction of the soul and the spirit," wrote the poet, whose real name is Ali Ahmed Said. The people who killed Gebran want to create "a temple of fear."

The headline atop the newspaper's front page said this: "Gebran didn't die and An-Nahar will continue." For a paper that had already lost its fearless columnist Samir Kassir to a car bomb in June, it was a defiant statement to the assassins: Kill us all. We aren't going to stop publishing the truth.

I spoke Tuesday with Hisham Melhem, the paper's Washington bureau chief. His voice was cracking with emotion as he spoke of his colleagues: "I shudder when I think of the courage of Gebran and Samir. They knew they were dead men walking. But they were never intimidated."

Amid the mistakes, misjudgments and outright lies made by the Bush administration about Iraq over the past three years, it's easy to lose sight of what is at stake in this battle. But this week brings it back to square one: It's about breaking the power of the assassins.

The Baath Party in Iraq ruled by its sheer brutality. I gathered reports from Iraqi dissidents and human-rights workers in the early 1990s, when I was researching my novel about Iraq, "The Bank of Fear." These stories are sickening to recount, even now: The children of Shiite rebels in southern Iraq, dropped from helicopters to terrify the parents; dissidents who had nails driven into

their heads; prisoners beaten with metal cables until they collapsed or died. At Saddam Hussein's trial last week, a woman was speaking about how she had been beaten with those cables. Watching Saddam's arrogant scorn for the testimony of his victims, I remembered what the Iraq war is about.

The Baath Party in Syria has governed much the same way, though it saved its worst brutality for neighboring Lebanon. The Syrians maintained their mandate by demonstrating that they were prepared to kill anyone who got in their way: a president, a prime minister, a religious leader, a journalist. The price of speaking out was death. That was the message: This is the land of death. Enter into this theater of violence and we will swallow you up.

I think of my friend and teacher, Ghassan Tueni, who is grieving for his son. When he received an honorary doctorate from the American University of Beirut last June, Tueni recalled the time he spent in prison in the late 1940s for defying the censors and repressors of the day. He read a copy of Socrates that had been smuggled into his cell and decided he would pursue a kind of Socratic journalism that would dialogue with readers and incite them to discover the truth.

"I have to say, with much sorrow, that much of what the Arab world suffers from is largely due to the fact that neither our diplomacy nor our press has dared, or even been allowed, to tell the people the truth about our state of being and where we stand in the world," Tueni said at the end of that speech. But that wasn't true. He did dare.

People like the Tuenis who refuse to be intimidated should inspire the rest of us. So should the millions of Iraqis who vote today. They are trying to break the culture of intimidation and death. Americans should feel proud to be on their side.

Syndicated columnist David Ignatius is published regularly by THE DAILY STAR.

========
Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Defeat them with the truth
By Michael Young
Daily Star staff

It seems only yesterday that I watched as a stunned Gibran Tueni looked down at the crumbled body of journalist Samir Kassir, shortly after the latter's assassination in his car on an Achrafieh street. Perhaps it was his own death that Tueni saw foretold; or more likely he was trying to come to grips with what was then the still-novel happening of seeing journalists and politicians butchered at the start of their working day.

An-Nahar has paid too high a price for its criticism of the Syrian regime. Tueni himself only recently returned from a spell in Paris, well aware of the dangers to his life. It is to his considerable credit that he accepted the risk of an uncertain homecoming, though how desirable, in hindsight, it would have been for him to spend his days working out of his home - isolated, but safe from the death squads dispatched to liquidate him.

That Tueni's death was linked to the Mehlis inquiry, and reports that the German investigator would name Syrian suspects in his latest report, cannot be doubted. At the least this murder must be dealt with in a different way by the international community, because the United Nations investigation will take many more months - time enough to kill many more people. What happened on Monday was a finger in the eye of the Security Council, and few could miss that the road on which Tueni was killed is essentially the same one used on a regular basis by UN investigators descending to Beirut from their Monteverde redoubt.

In killing Tueni, the murderers hoped to strike a mortal blow at Lebanon's most prestigious newspaper. For them, the real danger has always been independent thought - against which they can only muster media that threaten, crowds that threaten, and security services that best them both by implementing the threats. Ideas are absent from their endeavors; human development is absent; amelioration is absent; self-determination, freedom, imagination are all absent, crushed by a regime that can only warn that if it goes down, the region will go down with it.

There are those who cretinously swallow that contention hook, line and sinker; who argue that the gentlemen in Damascus must be left alone, maintained, because their departure might indeed bring disorder. That incredible interpretation somehow assures us that Gibran Tueni was, in the end, a martyr to order. A remarkable order it is, then, the very same that protected Saddam Hussein until 2003, and that today props up the authority of a cornucopia of greater and lesser criminals, from Nouakchott to Sanaa, wardens all of what Ghassan Tueni has called "the great Arab prison."

What does one do now? At the Security Council, the outrage must be used to convince the Russians and Chinese that what they are abetting, by opposing sanctions in the UN investigation, is more death. While an expansion of the investigation to cover all assassinations since that of Rafik Hariri seems unlikely, it's time for the council to make a clear statement on who it believes is responsible. The Lebanese security services have already blamed individuals allegedly linked to the Syrian intelligence services, and there seems no reason why the Siniora government should not once again highlight that evidence.

But isn't that the real problem? There is still little courage in Beirut. It took a lesser-known magistrate to sign the judicial order looking into the mass grave found in Anjar, most of his more senior colleagues not daring to do so. One very much suspects that somewhere in Tueni's investigation, someone will get cold feet and just let the matter slide. That's what happened with Marwan Hamadeh, Samir Kassir and George Hawi, lest we forget. Already, some politicians are mouthing banal generalities. Yesterday, for example, Michel Aoun showed remarkable reluctance in expressing his real hunch of who had killed his onetime devotee.

A rapid sign of daring would be for Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to compel the government to endorse an international tribunal in the Hariri case as soon as possible. If Hizbullah opposes the measure and threatens to withdraw from the session, or from the government, then the ministers must go ahead and vote anyway. The majority will win. A Lebanese consensus should not mean giving a minority the right of veto when it means defending against state-sponsored terrorism. The message on a tribunal will have a strong impact in New York, where the Security Council must know Lebanon is willing to partly internationalize its security, since it has been left with no other choice.

None of this will bring Gibran Tueni back, nor is charm, elegance and perpetual dissent. Nothing will reassure us that the venerable An-Nahar can survive this latest crime. Ghassan Tueni will soon have to bury another child, the most heartbreaking duty of all. But deep down it's another wish we have: that the Tuenis, Ghassan but also Gibran's widow and children, will stick to their guns and demand that the truth come out. At the end of the day, his murderers remain most afraid of one thing: the truth.

Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.

Monday, December 12, 2005

What are Iraqis thinking now? (BBC/ABC survey)

Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein & his regime in 2003, Iraqis have been polled fairly often--especially for a country undergoing so much political violence. On the eve of Iraq's parliamentary elections, the latest survey of Iraqi public opinion reported on by the BBC (which was hostile to the 2003 Iraq war and has remained so) includes some interesting and surprising results.
The poll by Oxford Research International was commissioned by the BBC, ABC News and other international media organisations, and released ahead of this week's parliamentary elections in Iraq. [....] In all, 1,711 Iraqis were interviewed throughout the country in October and November 2005.
(The BBC piece on these poll results, with the attention-getting title "Survey finds optimism in Iraq", also includes a link to the full survey results, along with the wordings of the questions in English translation.)

It's always hard to know what to make of opinion polls, and of course the results from this poll should be approached with due caution and skepticism. But a number of them are intriguing and thought-provoking, and in some cases unexpected, so they may be worth some reflection. Here are some highlights from the BBC's summary:
An opinion poll suggests Iraqis are generally optimistic about their lives, in spite of the violence that has plagued Iraq since the US-led invasion.
But the survey, carried out for the BBC and other media, found security fears still dominate most Iraqis' thoughts. [....]
A majority of the 1,700 people questioned wanted a united Iraq with a strong central government. [....]
Although most Iraqis were optimistic about the future, the poll found significant regional variations in responses.
In central Iraq respondents were far less optimistic about the situation in one year's time than those in Baghdad, the south and north. [Not surprising. --JW]
The BBC News website's World Affairs correspondent, Paul Reynolds, says the survey shows a degree of optimism at variance with the usual depiction of the country as one in total chaos.
The BBC report even goes so far as to flirt with the unthinkable:
The findings are more in line with the kind of arguments currently being deployed by US President George W Bush, he says.
Be that as it may, some patterns in the responses are complex. The regional variations (which presumably are linked to ethnic variations) are not surprising, and I found it interesting that respondents were more positive in describing their own situations than in describing the overall condition of Iraq. But the most striking feature of the survey results is that solid majorities of the respondents expect things to get substantially better within the next year. After all the errors, insecurity, suffering, and dashed hopes of the past two-and-a-half years, this degree of optimism is remarkable.
Interviewers found that 71% of those questioned said things were currently very or quite good in their personal lives, while 29% found their lives very or quite bad.
When asked whether their lives would improve in the coming year, 64% said things would be better and 12% said they expected things to be worse.
However, Iraqis appear to have a more negative view of the overall situation in their country, with 53% answering that the situation is bad, and 44% saying it is good.
But they were more hopeful for the future - 69% expect Iraq to improve, while 11% say it will worsen.
As one might expect, the most important concerns expressed by respondents had to do with lack of security. (Though in this respect I did notice one set of results I would not have expected. When respondents were asked to compare "the security situation" now with the situation "before the war in Spring 2003," 44% said the security situation was either "much better" or "somewhat better" than before the war, while only 38% said it had gotten worse.) When respondents were asked to name their highest priorities for Iraq for the next 12 months, 57% identified "regaining public security in the country" as their first priority. No other option came close. It is interesting to note that less than 10% identified "getting U.S. and other occupation forces out of Iraq" as their first priority.

=> In partial tension with the tone of many of these results, one result from the survey was sobering, saddening, and potentially worrisome.

Before the 2003 Iraq war, the overwhelming bulk of the available evidence indicated that most Iraqis favored it (with understandable trepidations and ambivalence), and few serious observers have denied that most Iraqis initially welcomed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein & his regime. For the last two-and-a-half years, all systematic soundings of Iraqi public opinion that I am aware of have consistently shown that, despite everything that has gone wrong since the overthrow of the Iraqi Ba'ath regime and despite the ongoing violence of the insurgency and counter-insurgency, clear majorities of Iraqis have continued to say that, on balance, the war was justified, "right," and ultimately worth it.

These results have been reassuring to those of us who agreed with Iraqis on these points. (On these matters, of course, Iraqis were in sharp disagreement with public opinion among non-Iraqi Arabs and most of the larger Muslim world, western Europeans, and so on. But their opinions on these questions carry a good deal less moral weight, at least for me.) It is clear from some interviews included with the BBC report (and quoted by Norman Geras in Normblog) that a number of Iraqis still feel this way.
[I]f you go to the panel 'What ordinary Iraqis say about how life has changed' and click through the link there ('In pictures'), you'll find Iraqis saying things like this:
The US invasion was a really good thing and the presence of the US troops is really important now
......
The US troops were really welcomed at first because they helped us to get rid of Saddam, but people have started complaining about their behaviour, they cause much trouble to Iraqis these days especially in the streets and I hope that we don't need them in one year.
.....
I don't want US troops in Iraq forever but we need them for the meantime and I think we need one or two years before we can depend on ourselves.
.....
We always wished that someone would save us from Saddam's regime and the US troops did that. I really don't want them to leave for the time being.
But in this survey, for the first time, a slight majority (50.3%) said it was "wrong that US-led coalition forces invaded Iraq in Spring 2003"--given the probable margin of error, responses were essentially evenly divided on this question. (This result may help to reassure those who favored leaving Iraq under the control of Saddam Hussein & his regime, and who favor abandoning Iraq now, though I don't believe it should.) It would be wrong to jump to conclusions based on one survey result, but the long-term trend here could suggest that Iraqis feel an increasing degree of disillusionment and exasperation based on their experience of the post-Saddam occupation & reconstruction of Iraq (or, more precisely, the lack of reconstruction). The danger is that the spectacular incompetence and disastrous irresponsibility with which the Bush administration has managed the occupation, combined with the savage assault of the so-called "insurgents" on Iraqi civilians and on the country's reconstruction, might finally be bringing many Iraqis to the breaking point. (In some ways, it's striking that this hasn't happened already.)

As I said, such an interpretation would appear to run counter to the main implications of the overall survey results ... but it's hard to be sure about what is going on beneath the surface of these statistics, and it's a safe guess that Iraqis' feelings about all these issues are deeply ambivalent.

=> Whether or not Iraqis can see positive developments in the next half-year or so may turn out to be crucial. And in this respect, the outcomes of Thursday's elections could prove to be tremendously important. So this snapshot of Iraqi public opinion on the eve of the elections, whatever one wants to make of it, is almost certainly less significant than whether or not those elections move Iraqis closer to achieving some kind of workable political solution.

--Jeff Weintraub

Free Speech - Marc Cooper vs. Nathan Newman

I wanted to offer some comments on an exchange between two left-of-center blogger-journalists whose writing I generally find valuable, intelligent, and illuminating. (That's true even when we don't agree--but it happens that, on most subjects they talk about regularly, I usually agree with both of them. Not all subjects, however.)

The admirable LA-based journalist Marc Cooper is, among other things, one of the few left-wing opponents of the Iraq war whose arguments on the subject I can consistently respect, even when I think he's wrong. On most subjects, he tends to be right on target. For example, Cooper wrote recently:
Either we believe in free speech. Or we don’t. I find Ann Coulter to be a buffoonish political idiot. I suppose if I took her seriously enough I would also find her views to be repulsive.

But the brain dead students at the University of Connecticut who shouted her down in front of a crowd of 2000 the other night make me shiver.

Who in the hell do these kids think they are in deciding what people can and cannot choose to say and hear? Who appointed them censors? [....] If you can’t come up with arguments to defeat the stupidities that roll out of the mouth of Coulter, it’s probably better you just check out of the university. [....]

As someone who has done a good deal of public speaking, I can tell you from first hand experience how 2 or 3 determined hecklers can ruin an event for hundreds of others. When that’s happened to me, my personal reaction is “What little fascists!” Same goes for the supposed anti-haters who broke up Coulter’s speech. (And you can be sure Ann Coulter just loved this. What better propaganda for her than to have her opponents act as if they’ve just been released from a zoo?).

Shame on Ann Coulter for everything she says. A double-dose of shame on the little fascistoide students who won’t let her say it.
Cooper then referred to a partly-related recent post by Nathan Newman (having to do with whether military recruiters should be allowed on campuses) in the belief that Newman agreed with him on the issues of free speech and the open clash of ideas. It so happens that Newman doesn't agree. He responded with a clarification of his views, "Confusion on 'Free Speech'", which I quote in full:
I appreciate Marc Cooper praising me for my post on why law schools should lose their case on military recruitment.
But I think he misses the politics of why I'm glad the military will be on campus each year. Instead of the administration quietly keeping them away, the military will be there every year-- forcing students to organize protests and, yes, even jeer them to highlight the problems with the military's anti-gay policies.
Marc thinks students jeering Ann Coulter violates free speech. But "free speech" is not about those with power getting uncontested control of the podium. If the government forces the military to have the equivalent of a podium at law schools, it's free speech for those who oppose their presence to have a chance to make that opposition known, and not just in polite little signs or meek little questions.
Frankly, if someone like Coulter gets jeered or even driven from one podium, that's hardly censorship. In fact, as Marc's piece illustrates, it's usually a one-way ticket to even more publicity of the person's views. So street protest has a self-correcting feature-- pick a worthy target for denuniciation and you convey a message of disapproval that may resonate. Act like idiots and shout down a reasonable view and your protest has just helped the person shout their views even louder to the rest of the world.
That's the beauty of real free speech. Speech and counter-speech correct each other. And all kinds of speech count, including jeering and raucus behavior by those who don't control the podium and may need less academic means than Marc might prefer to make their point.
University podiums are -- as the lawsuit this week makes clear -- a government-subsidized position of privilege. For those excluded from that government-subsized privilege, jeering may be the only way to make opposition to the speech widely known.
So while individual instances of jeering can be denounced on its merits -- since politeness should be the norm unless there's a good reason otherwise -- just deeming anyone engaging in such jeering to be "little fascists" is wrong.
With all due respect, it seems to me that the one who's confused here is Newman, and that Cooper is entirely correct. Either we believe in free speech or we don't. I hope Newman won't regard what follows as unfriendly, but I feel quite strongly that the attitude he expressed in this particular post--an attitude that is by no means restricted to Newman--is quite mistaken, intellectually sloppy, and politically pernicious.

It's one thing to heckle, jeer, criticize, demonstrate, and denounce--as part of open expressions of disagreement. It's quite another thing to shout down people, prevent them from talking, and disrupt the possibility of any real discussion. To put it even more simply, exercising "counter-speech" of your own is not the same thing as shutting down someone else's speech.

This may sound like a statement of the obvious, but Newman doesn't seem to grasp the distinction. If someone with views that appall Newman "gets jeered or even driven from one podium," then for him that's "real free speech." The reason is that "speech and counter-speech correct each other. And all kinds of speech count." Can Newman possibly believe that? "All kinds of speech" count the same? Sorry, but this overlooks the fact that different kinds of speech have very different effects and significance. Without wanting to get too fussy, pedantic, or excessively rationalist about it, the reality is that some kinds of "counter-speech" potentially contribute to understanding and some don't. Arguing, for example, is a kind of counter-speech that may occasionally "correct" what someone else said. Or, if you don't like their speech, you can give a speech of your own. Disrupting their speech doesn't "correct" it, but simply shuts it down.

And what about intimidation and threats, including death threats? Those are certainly "kinds of speech" that people can use "to make [one's] opposition known," and sometimes they're a lot more effective in shutting down the other side than what Newman derides as "polite little signs or meek little questions." (I guess hostile or angry questions are somehow ruled out.) Do death threats, for example, also count as "real free speech"? OK, I don't believe that Newman is really justifying violence or the threat of violence to drive the 'wrong' kinds of speakers off the podium. But if you take his argument at face value, it's not entirely clear why the conception of "real free speech" he advocates wouldn't include threats and intimidation. Sometimes they work better than being polite or resorting to those wimpy "academic means" like making counter-arguments. Right, comrade? And since Newman slides directly from heckling and jeering to "street protests," it's worth noting that street protests are often about physical force, not discussion or even just sloganeering.

But let's leave aside violence or threats of violence, just to avoid giving people who agree with Newman's catch-phrases a way to side-track the argument. Let's just stick to the heart of Newman's position, (a) which says that there's nothing wrong with denying your opponents a chance to talk by screaming them down or disrupting their events; (b) which argues that screaming slogans or simply generating outraged noise should count the same as making arguments; and (c) which sneers at the idea of allowing free discussion as "academic," "meek," and generally weak and wimpy. Well, exactly how does that differ from the perspective of a fascist storm trooper (or, if you prefer, a Stalinist activist)? Help me out here, someone.

What I find most laughable--but also, frankly, a little eerie--is Newman's attempt to argue that screaming down one's opponents and driving them from the podium is OK because this activity has an automatic "self-correcting feature." If you scream down the 'right' kinds of people, you will discredit them and win friends. If you scream down the 'wrong' kinds of people, you will discredit yourself. So why bother with these tiresome formalities about respecting everyone's right to free speech? It will all sort itself out naturally.

If I hadn't begun by directly quoting Newman's post, some readers might suspect that in the previous paragraph I've caricatured his position. But in fact that's just what he says, as we can remind ourselves:
So street protest has a self-correcting feature-- pick a worthy target for denuniciation and you convey a message of disapproval that may resonate. Act like idiots and shout down a reasonable view and your protest has just helped the person shout their views even louder to the rest of the world.
That's the beauty of real free speech. Speech and counter-speech correct each other. And all kinds of speech count, including jeering and raucus behavior by those who don't control the podium and may need less academic means than Marc might prefer to make their point.
Perhaps Newman really believes that "reasonable" views are inherently less vulnerable to being suppressed and censored that unreasonable and simplistically idiotic views, but if so that strikes me as a bit naive. In fact, the logic of this argument I've just quoted really points in another direction, which can be brought out more sharply by clarifying a few of Newman's formulations a bit. Essentially, what the passage above says is this: "Be sure to pick a target with unpopular views. Shout them down, and you convey a message of disapproval that may resonate and win you friends. Shout down someone with popular views, and you look like idiots win them friends." From a pragmatic standpoint, there's probably something to this analysis. But it seems odd to describe it as a defense of "real free speech" ... and especially odd to hear it come from people whose own views are likely to be unpopular in many quarters.

=> Newman tries to add a few more excuses, clarifications, and qualifications, but I'm afraid that none of them stands up to close examination.. One passage is especially confused.
University podiums are -- as the lawsuit this week makes clear -- a government-subsidized position of privilege. For those excluded from that government-subsized privilege, jeering may be the only way to make opposition to the speech widely known.
Yes, as a general proposition it's true that people who are "excluded" from opportunities for free speech have less responsibility to observe the norms of free speech where other people are concerned. (Though, in that case, the best solution is to improve their opportunities, capacities, and resources for free expression, not to shut down other peoples'.) But the fact that the speaker at one particular event doesn't agree with you doesn't necessarily mean, by itself, that you have been "excluded" from the possibilities for free expression and argument. Get real! It's not just that there are ways to express your opposition other than suppressing the speech. The more basic point is that if you don't like a speaker, then invite another speaker--or give your own speech.

Newman also resorts to a common dodge to try to deny that preventing or suppressing free expression is actually a form of censorship. "[I]f someone like Coulter gets jeered or even driven from one podium, that's hardly censorship," because she can always just go somewhere else. And anyway, the bad guys (like Coulter) are the ones with power, and they have plenty of other means to broadcast their ideas. Aside from the fact that this excuse could be used to defend any kind of censorship or suppression of free speech, I'm afraid that censoring something in one place (one city, one country, one university) is still censorship. This peculiar justification also raises the question of whether we want to promote the kind of society in which people can talk only to friendly audiences, or in friendly environments. (I think the answer is clearly no.) But even more fundamentally, it overlooks the question of whose interests are really being attacked when a talk is disrupted. It's not just the speaker (who, let us imagine, can go off to a more friendly environment), but also the audience. Presumably, if they turned up, they wanted to hear the speaker, and they should have a chance. As Marc Cooper correctly points out, the people disrupting the talk believe they have the right to prevent other people from hearing it, whatever they might want: "Who in the hell do these kids think they are in deciding what people can and cannot choose to say and hear? Who appointed them censors?" Those are the right questions.

(I will admit that, in my opinion, anyone who takes Ann Coulter at all seriously, or who fails to recognize that she is a poisonous and idiotic demagogue with nothing valuable to contribute, has a screw loose somewhere. But rights of free expression and freedom of association also apply to people who disagree with me on this point, or we're not taking these principles seriously.)

Furthermore, at the risk of sounding "academic," I would add that universities--as institutions and as intellectual communities--have a special responsibility to defend and promote the principles of free expression and the open exchange of ideas in public discourse. Newman might respond that, in practice, opportunities for free and open public discourse are too restricted in other parts of the society (from workplaces and semi-public places to everyday politics and the predominant mass media). I certainly think so. But that's precisely a reason for defending them in social spaces where these principles are officially recognized to some degree--and for extending such opportunities further. It's not an argument for condoning counter-censorship in university settings.

(As for Newman's suggestion that since universities receive government money, this somehow means that any views expressed there are an imposition of ideological "monopoly" and thus deserve no free-speech protection ... well, this is an argument more often made by right-wing legislators and talk-show hosts than by people who think of themselves as "progressive." I think it's kinder to Newman just to pretend he didn't say this.)

=> Let me make it clear that I wouldn't take the trouble to criticize this post of Newman's at such length if he weren't someone whose judgments I generally respect, and whose work on issues at the intersection of labor and democracy I find exceptionally valuable (and too rare). But the argument he tossed out in this post is not just wrong (and misleading and pernicious) on its merits; it also brings back disturbing historical echoes. During the 1960s, significant tendencies in the New Left who found it difficult to face up to what Weber called "the ethical irrationalities of the world" drifted toward the conclusions that democracy is bunk, that shutting down your opponents is more politically authentic than arguing with them, and that notions like freedom of speech and discussion are for wimps. (A number of them also wound up admiring mass-murdering dictators and totalitarian regimes in other countries, but that's another matter.) This is an understandable temptation--not at all restricted to leftists, by the way. But it's an understatement to say that it didn't lead to an effective politics--or one that deserved to be effective, for that matter.

Since arguments like Newman's are often presented in a pseudo-"realistic" guise, let's dispose of some more straw men and red herrings that generally go with them. Of course it's true that politics always involves more than talk, and that an exclusive fixation on talk can sometimes be a distraction from the realities of power and action. But it's also true that a principled commitment to freedom of expression and free discussion is a crucial and irreducible part of any genuinely democratic politics. Yes, in real life there may be extreme situations in which even core principles like this may have to be bent or suspended, and the good guys (assuming we know who they are) can't always be 'nice'. But it's always dangerous when extreme exceptions of this sort begin to be accepted as normal practice--not least because that's a game that the bad guys can play, too.

In my opinion, promoting contempt for democratic norms is always a bad idea, whoever does it. But for leftists or "progressives" operating in a political context like that of the contemporary US to do so reminds me of the old line about turkeys voting for Thanksgiving.

Newman concludes his post by chiding Cooper for not being "polite" to people who think they have a right to disrupt other people's speech.
So while individual instances of jeering can be denounced on its merits -- since politeness should be the norm unless there's a good reason otherwise -- just deeming anyone engaging in such jeering to be "little fascists" is wrong.
First, let's note that Newman is misrepresenting what Marc Cooper actually said. When Cooper described some people as "little fascists," he wasn't referring to anyone who does some jeering and heckling, but more specifically to people who set out to disrupt and suppress other people's speech. Newman clearly feels that Cooper's reaction to such people is insufficiently "meek," but I happen to think it was more useful for Cooper to be honest and straightforward. And as for the people he criticized--if the shoe fits, wear it.

Yours for democracy,
Jeff Weintraub

--------------
[UPDATE, December 15, 2005: Marc Cooper paid me the compliment of linking to these comments in a follow-up post, Free Speech Part II.]