Friday, February 11, 2005

Why terrorism works...

If you want to see a textbook example of how not to run a peace process, forget about the middle east. Look no further than Northern Ireland.

In 1998, the IRA / Sinn Fein declared their ceasefire, and so began their participation in the political process. During that period, the terrorist attacks stopped, but what happened to the terrorists? They simply traded in their semtex and AK47s for baseball bats. As yesterday's report by the Independent Monitoring Commission shows, the political wing of the IRA, Sinn Fein, have become little more than a front for organised crime, sharing the coridoors of power by day, whilst approving bank robberies by night. Their most recent Robbery netted them £26m. And it's now clear that the IRA were in the final stages of planning the robbery just as their political wing were negotiating a power sharing agreement with the Unionists (their former enemies).

It's no secret that the IRA have moved from bombings into extortion, racketeering, money laundering and drugs. They have carried out numerous "punishment beatings" on those falling out of line in their own "community", and have shot many of their opponents. All along, the British and Irish Governments have turned a blind eye to this as they have been desperate to get the "peace process" moving forward. On this occasion however, the British Government has been at a loss as to what do. They have even threatened financial sanctions, which is laughable, as the fine is insignificant compared to the £26m that has gone missing.

What's staggering about the whole affair is the double standards shown by the Labour Government. Whilst taking a "zero tolerance" attitude towards Al-Quaeda, Labour have applied different standards to Sinn Fein / IRA, believing that crime and some political violence must be tolerated, even if it means that the people of Ulster are being ruled by the mafia.

Before the IRA ceasefire, Sinn Fein were reviled even within Northern Ireland, attracting around 10% of the vote. In the six years since, Sinn Fein have gained legitimacy, marginalised the moderates and become the largest party in the catholic community. On both sides of the political divide, protestant and catholic, the extremists now hold political power whilst sectarian hatred is stronger than ever.

During the early days of the Intifada, I went to several New Irael Fund meetings where they discussed what went wrong at Oslo. At one meeting, the panel told us how a group of Israeli negotiators went to Northern Ireland to see an example of a "peace process" that was working. Whilst it's true that there has was no rush towards a final settlement as in the case of Oslo, giving the terrorists political power has certainly not turned them into Democrats. On the contrary, the threat of violence has won them concession after concession.

Which leads you to only one conclusion. That terrorism (or the threat of it) works. You can rob, steal and murder, but as long as you don't resume your bombing campaign, you can have your seat in parliament.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Kosher dates

For those who consider Anglo Jewry to be a major centre of world Jewry, a recent article in the Sunday Times made for sobering reading.

In just 50 years, the community has shrunk from 450,000 to barely 300,000 now. Emigration is part of the answer, over 30,000 have moved to Israel in recent decades, but to really see what's going wrong, you only have to go to Bushey Cemetary. I'm only 32, but these days I find myself going to more funerals than bar mitzvah's, weddings and brits combined. Just a few years ago, a vast part of the cemetary was empty, now it's completely full.

The situation facing Anglo Jewry is no different to the US, but being in a smaller community makes you all the more aware of it's decline. Every few months, you hear of another regional Synagogue closing it's doors, or of another community losing it's kosher butcher. At the present rate of decline, there will only be 140,000 Jews left by 2080.

As the article made clear, the only organisations having some success in reversing the trend are Chareidi ones, which means that by 2080 the only Jews left in the diaspora will be the ones wearing black hats.

The article focused on the two most sucessful organisations, Aish and the JLE. Whilst both are Chareidi, most of their converts are not, and many aren't even religious. In fact, the majority who turn up at their events are more interested in the gashmius than the ruchnius but at least they end up meeting fellow jews (and hopefully) marrying in!

Whether or not you're a fan of the Chareidim, you have to give them credit where it's deserved. As my wife put it, it's very hard to be fanatically middle-of-the-road. Those who display the most passion will always be the ones best equipped to get their message across. And at a time when secular fanaticism is as rampant as it's religious equivalent, few people can avoid being pulled in one extreme or the other.

Whilst I'm saddened by their lack of interest in the secular world, I'd rather have descendants without a television than without a future.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

The Islamaphobia myth

Ten years ago, no-one had ever heard of the word "Islamaphobia". But since 9/11, muslim and anti-racist groups have claimed that we are in the grip of an anti-muslim backlash. In particular, the Muslim Council of Britain claims that Muslims have been singled out by Britain's anti-terror laws.
Anyone curious about the rising tide of Islamaphobia should read Prospect Magazine.
Kenan Malik, who wrote the article, observes that there is a huge gap between perception and reality and claims that in actual fact, there is no basis to believe there has been a rise in Islamaphobia:

"A total of 21,577 people from all backgrounds were stopped and searched under the terror laws. The majority 14,429 were white. Yet when I interviewed Iqbal Sacranie, general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, he insisted that "95-98 per cent of those stopped and searched under the anti-terror laws are Muslim."

The real figure is 14 per cent (for Asians). However many times I showed him the true statistics, he refused to budge. His figures appear to have been simply plucked out of the sky."

The author goes on to say that:
"Even Muslim organisations that campaign against Islamophobia find it hard to make the case that attacks on Muslims are routine. The Islamic Human Rights Commission monitored 344 attacks on Muslims in the year after 11th September. Most were relatively minor incidents such as shoving or spitting."
I don't consider shoving or spitting 'minor,' but when you consider there are over 1.6 million Muslims in the UK, 344 attacks puts things in perspective.
There are many reasons why the Islamic community may want to claim there has been a rise in Islamaphobia -- for example, fear of Islamaphobia may help to consolidate a community and make it more immune from attack. However, the price is high: it is also making the Islamic community even more inward looking, hostile to outsiders, and increasingly thin skinned.
In the current climate, no one dares to criticise muslims; to be called an Islamaphobe is an enormous sin in a multi-cultural society. Now, Labour has jumped on the bandwagon. Tomorrow in Parliament, they will be proposing new legislation to outlaw incitement to religious hatred.
But why do we need a new law? It's already an offence to incite religious hatred. The 1986 Public Order Act was amended in 1998 to include the offence of "religious aggravation." A person commits an offence if he "displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress."
Labour has become unpopular amongst Muslims following the invasion of Iraq and the anti-terror laws. They are hoping the new law might just be enough to win them back. Many in the Islamic community have high hopes for the new law. Every time an article appears criticising Islamic tradition or the Islamic community, there will calls for the prosecutions.
Will it really help their cause, though? There will, in practice, be insufficient evidence to prove many of the allegations the police are called to investigate -- and probably very few prosecutions against this very vague law. I have no doubt that the Muslim community will end up feeling all the more victimised, and everyone else will feel initimidated.
As Jews, we should be all the more suspicious of this new law. We have suffered more from religious hatred than anyone, but it has been the freedom to criticise and even mock religion (namely Christianity) that has protected us rather than any blasphemy law. If Christianity has in recent decades become more tolerant it's because we've been free to criticise it and they have had to act on the criticism. To take one example, Christianity used to go out of its way to proteslytise Jews, and today is much less aggressive on this count -- because we have been free to object to this practice.
You're not helping Islam by freeing it from outside criticism. I hope that the law will be defeated tomorrow -- and it will be all the better for multi-culturalism (that is, encouraging all cultures in Britain to respect each other), if it is.

Predictably, they're lining up to mock the Iraqi elections

As predicted, Western Liberals lined up to put down the Iraqi poll. Firstly there was Andrew Gilligan in London's Evening Standard. Whilst commenting on provinces in Iraq that were unable to take part for security reasons, or unwilling to participate, Gilligan likened the situation to a British election taking place without East Anglia. Well the last time I checked, people in East Anglia weren't threatened with a death sentence for voting. And even if they were, it wouldn't have made much difference, apathy would have kept many of them at home anyway. Gilligan then goes on to mock Shiites voting for particular candidates on the instruction of their Mullahs, and the fact that one polling station is named after a Shiite martyr closely connected with Sistani (Gilligan likens this to a polling station named after Tony Blair. Even if a polling station was named after Tony Blair, would that make you vote for him?).

Then there was Simon Jenkins in last week's London Times. The title should have given it away: "Sunday's election is meagre payback for reducing Iraq to utter chaos". He argued that the election should have taken place six months after the invasion of Iraq, before the Sunnis were alienated. My question is: How in six months, in a country without democracy, could political parties be set up, candidates be fielded, constituency boundaries set, security planned and election officials be trained? He goes on to say:

"I will never decry the sanctity of elections, but they are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. History is awash in dictators and one-party rulers born of the franchise. Wars are justified not by an election but by the totality of their aftermaths. Many countries have toppled undemocratic regimes without an American invasion, from Iran to Russia to South Africa and, most recently, Ukraine. Where America has intervened — in Lebanon, Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo and Afghanistan — the outcome has only rarely been democracy".

It's a pity that Simon Jenkins fails to mention the two best examples of American occupation: Japan and Germany. Whilst many of the allies wanted Germany be reduced to an agricultural backwater following her defeat in World War II, the Americans transformed Germany into a liberal democracy and economic powerhouse that outgrew many of the allies who defeated her.

The point is that if the Americans are going to establish a democracy, they might as well do it properly, rather than cutting and running as they have so often done in the past. America's early departure will make no difference to the insurgents (or Western critics for that matter) who will view whatever Government that emerges as a puppet of the US and will attempt to strangle it at birth.

To many in the West, the attitude to democracy seems to be: "If it's imperfect than why bother?". But by their standards, is there even a single democracy in the world? With the UK's democracy, the largest party has power, even with a minority of the votes. In the US, the largest party holds power, but with a low turnout (as with Clinton in 96'), only a quarter of the population votes for the winner. And then you have proportional representation, where tiny political parties hold the balance of power and then go on to dictate Government policy. Do any of those systems truly answer to the will of the majority? No, but as Chuchill famously said: "democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried."

The sad truth is that too many liberals believe democracy to be an exclusively western value, and that respecting other cultures means respecting the sovereignity of other nation states, even if they are dictatorships. Iraq has proved the contrary: That regardless of culture, geography, or what they think of the Americans, people desire to be masters of their own destiny, and if we regard ourselves as true democrats, we should be supporting them.