2010-12-14

Where's the kaboom?

The Times Square bomb was a dud. The Portland bomb wasn't even a bomb. Now a bomber in Stockholm managed to kill himself and injure two people, but claimed no innocent lives.

So, the Western world seems to be staying ahead of the game so far. (Iraqis haven't been so lucky.)

Debka asserts that the "same hand" is behind the Times Square dud and the Stockholm fizzle:
The Swedish investigation into the country's first suicide bombing Saturday, Dec. 11, quickly found that the bomb car which exploded during a shopping rush in the heart of Stockholm was part of a well-planned, sophisticated terror operation, prepared several months in advance to inflict a large number of casualties. The Swedish media reported that Iraqi-born Taimour al-Abdaly was loaded down with three sets of bombs, one of which was a dozen miniature pipe bombs strung together as a belt.

Still, the suicide bomber was the only fatality. Two others were slightly injured.

Al-Abdaly's operation was therefore a near-failure, recalling Faisal Shahzad's failed bombing attack in Times Square, New York of May 1, although its planners, al Qaeda, are reported by debkafile's terror experts to have learned from that miss.

The Islamist terror group has turned to multilateralism in the planning, setting up and execution of operations methods to baffle national counter-terror intelligence agencies in the West, our Islamist terror experts report.

The Stockholm strike was accordingly broken down into segments, each taking place in a different country - Pakistan, Iraq, Sweden, Jordan and the UK. American and European cities may find themselves confronted in future with more attacks on those lines. ...

Full article at the link.

The Times Square bombing was claimed by the Pakistani Taliban:
Qari Hussain Mehsud, the top bomb maker for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, said he takes "fully responsibility for the recent attack in the USA." Qari Hussain made the claim on an audiotape accompanied by images that was released on a YouTube website that calls itself the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan News Channel.

The tape has yet to be verified, but US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal believe it is legitimate. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan News Channel on YouTube was created on April 30. Officials believe it was created to announce the Times Square attack, and Qari Hussain's statement was pre-recorded. ...

(Long War Journal, 2010 May 2.)

Now from LWJ, here's more on the Stockholm bombing:
A car loaded with gas canisters detonated in a busy section of downtown Stockholm today, followed by another explosion 10 minutes later caused by a suicide bomber.

After the explosions, the bomber was found dead lying about 300 yards away from the car bomb, reportedly wearing a suicide vest and a backpack full of nails and surrounded by the remains of pipe bombs. The bombs apparently were inexpertly crafted and failed to detonate to full capacity. Two people were wounded in the bombings, which took place in a street filled with Christmas shoppers.


LWJ's Lisa Lundquist continues with more details:
The Shumukh al-Islam jihadist forum confirmed the identity of the suicide bomber as Taimour Abdulwahab in a statement released today on their website.

"It is our brother, mujahid Taimour Abdulwahab, who carried out the martyrdom operation in Stockholm," said the website Shumukh al-Islam.

Swedish police confirmed that the owner of the car used in the bombing has been identified as Taimour Abdulwahab, born Dec. 12, 1981; today would be his 29th birthday, according to Swedish journalist Per Gudmundson. The car was purchased as late as November of this year. ...

Read the rest at the link.

According to The Telegraph,
Taimur Abdulwahab al-Abdaly showed little interest in religion as he was growing up in Sweden, channelling his energies into sport and partying.

But after he began attending Bedfordshire University in Luton “everything changed” as he became a strict Muslim with increasingly extremist views, even naming his baby son Osama in honour of the al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.


But the BBC report (with video) states that he was challenged by leaders of the mosque he attended in
Luton when he started spouting off about wanting to recruit terrorists.
He lived in Britain for almost a decade and was known at his mosque in Luton for preaching about terrorism and trying to recruit extremists.

When he was challenged by the mosque's leaders he stormed out.

Questions are now being asked why the police were not alerted to Al Abdally's views ...

Go to the link for the article and video.

Morning Report: 2010-12-14

Iran: Mottaki dismissal won't change policy. The Iranian regime's foreign policy will remain unchanged following the abrupt dismissal of Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, says the foreign ministry. (Mottaki was fired while on business in Senegal.) BBC: 'Analysts say it may reflect a power struggle within Iran's ruling conservatives, as Mr Mottaki was seen as a close ally of conservative opponents of President Ahmadinejad in parliament.'

BBC video on Iranian dissident Mohsen Sazegara. Also from the Beeb, a feature on a former regime member, now living in exile. 'Throughout the 1970s Sazegara had been a student activist agitating for the overthrow of the Shah. In 1979 he became Khomeini's press attache. He also helped found the now feared Revolutionary Guard, originally established as a defence force against possible attack from Israel or the United States.' Video at the link.

Hillel Neuer on CTV. Also on video: UN Watch's Hillel Neuer speaks out against the Iranian regime and the "wishy-washy" EU. Clip begins with Canadian PM Stephen Harper's bold speech on Canada's foreign policy.

Syrian President visits Qatar. Via Stratfor, Bashar Assad paid a visit to the Qatari Emir on December 14.

UNSC to end Iraq sanctions. Also from Stratfor, the United Nations Security Council has agreed to end Saddam-era sanctions on Iraq including bans on WMD development(!) and the oil-for-food program.

China getting fed up with North Korea. StrategyPage:
December 14, 2010: Leaked American government reports (Wikileaks) shows China is fed up with North Korea, calling its impoverished neighbor a "spoiled child." But there's been an unfortunate blowback from North Korea's recent aggression against South Korea. Reacting to an American suggestion, Japan and South Korea are planning the use of Japanese forces to help defeat another North Korean invasion of the south. This cooperation was long considered impossible, because of Korean hatred for brutal Japanese occupation from 1905-45. ...

Full article at the link.

Richard Holbrooke dies. Arutz Sheva: 'US diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who two years ago praised Truman for recognizing Israel despite State Department opposition, died at the age of 69.'

2010-11-29

Morning Report: 2010-11-29

Wikileaks causes diplomatic upheaval. Everybody knows that the ongoing document dump of leaked diplomatic correspondence is the big story of the moment. Undoubtedly ambassadors and foreign ministers all over the world are pounding their heads against their desks and going, "Oh sh*t!" Well, I'm just going to leave you with that image and hold off on trying to post anything substantive on the mess until all the documents have been posted and the dust settles a little bit. So let's move on.

Iranian nuclear scientists targeted in bombings, one dies. Washington Post reports that 'According to Fars, scientists Majid Shahriari and Fereydoun Abbasi were parking their cars in separate locations near the university campus about 7:45 a.m. local time when they were attacked. ...' Shahriari was killed, Abbasi was wounded; the men's wives were also injured. Debka asserts that
Prof. Majid Shahriari, who died when his car was attacked in North Tehran Monday, Nov. 29, headed the team Iran established for combating the Stuxnet virus rampaging through its nuclear and military networks.

Debka claims the attacks were shootings, not bombings.

Kenya steps up repression of gays. BBC:
David Kuria from the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya told the BBC that Raila Odinga's comments would encourage people to extort money from gay and lesbian people.

On Sunday, Mr Odinga warned that men or women found engaging in homosexual acts would be arrested.

He later said he was only saying the constitution bans same-sex weddings. ...


Briefly noted. The man who immortalized the words "Stop calling me Shirley" has died. He will be missed.

Commentary. Winston at The Spirit of Man has kind words for Canada:
Canada leads the world again by example. This time it is leading everyone else against the despotic regime of Iran. Who knew Canada would become a bullhorn for those who couldn't be heard before? It makes me proud to be part of this country. A country that stands up for moral clarity and honorable western values.

Prime Minister Harper's wife Mrs. Lauren Harper has stood again and again for the right of the oppressed Iranian women. And Minister Jason Kenney has indicated that Canada will not attend the "hatefest" at that toothless organization known as the United Nations. ...

Notice that Winston understands the important part "western values" play in Canada's culture. Meanwhile, fellow Canadian Irshad Manji takes a wary look at the erosion of those same values in Sweden:
Let me illustrate through a YouTube clip that a fellow writer in Sweden sent me. The video features a small-town representative of the Sweden Democrats (SD). He’s being invited to name those elements of Swedish culture that need protecting. For several seconds, the man falls mute. Finally, he replies, “Christmas and, uh, ancient ruins.”

My writer friend, Hakan Lindgren, explains that “everybody who saw the clip was supposed to laugh at this SD buffoon. I didn’t.”

Mr. Lindgren believes that Swedes now suffer the “hidden, anaesthetized pain” of living in a country with little or no connection to its traditions. Their pain remains hidden because “we have learned not to complain.” Immigration didn’t precipitate this identity crisis, he emphasizes. Modernization and its various trappings did. As he puts it, “We were told – and we accepted – that our traditions were worthless compared to the benefits of modernity.” The upshot: A profound lack of confidence, individually and socially.

But it’s aggravated by our era of mass migration, Mr. Lindgren goes on, because you’re bound to bump into someone “who is full of self-confidence about his culture or religion. That confrontation brings out all the postponed feelings – you feel hurt, angry, inferior, ashamed, envious.”

What an eye-opener for me. When Muslim immigrants self-segregate and hang onto conservative cultural traditions, I see them acting out their insecurities. But for others, these are markers of too much security.

The YouTube clip gives rise to yet another twist. Despite his concern for Swedish culture, the man is wearing a baseball cap – and one that bears the Confederate flag, a searing symbol of 19th-century American slave-holding states. Did he know what the flag stands for? Is this his message, too? Or does he seek only to be a rebel in some vague sense?

2010-11-25

Turkey

Arutz Sheva:
Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday that his country would get involved if Israel entered Lebanon. Speaking in Beirut, Erdogan asked, "They want to invade Lebanon and Gaza with advanced planes and tanks, to kill women and children, to destroy medical centers and schools, and expect us to remain silent?"

He continued, "Turkey won't be quiet but support justice with all the means at its disposal."


Ha'Aretz: 'Hundreds of Lebanese of Armenian descent clashed with army troops during a protest Thursday over a visit to Beirut by the Turkish prime minister. ...'

Stratfor: 'An unnamed senior Turkish diplomat confirmed that Washington contacted Turkey after [Wikileaks] reports surfaced claiming the government had supported al Qaeda in Iraq, and that the United States aided Iraq-based Kurdish rebels fight against Turkey.'

2010-10-19

Morning Report: 2010-10-19

Militants attack Chechen parliament. CNN reports that at least two people are dead after one or more militants attacked the parliament in Chechnya. Fox reports that 'the shooting erupted in the office of the speaker of the Chechen parliament.' BBC says 'At least three guards were reported to have been killed at the building in the capital, Grozny.' Another source is now reporting that the gunman has been "eliminated", or "neutralized", or whatever, anyway he's down for the count.

IDF arrests terror suspects. Arutz Sheva reports that three suspected terrorists have been arrested in the West Bank.

State's Crowley says US concerns about Iranian influence in Iraq "long-standing". Xinhua reports that State Department spokesman Philip Crowley cited "long-standing" concerns by the US over Iran's meddling in Iraq, and other issues.

2010-09-22

Al-Qaeda Threats: More, Smaller Attacks in US and Europe

Washington Post: 'Al-Qaeda and its allies are likely to attempt small-scale, less sophisticated terrorist attacks in the United States, senior Obama administration officials said Wednesday, noting that it's extremely difficult to detect such threats in advance. "Unlike large-scale, coordinated, catastrophic attacks, executing smaller-scale attacks requires less planning and fewer preoperational steps," said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "Accordingly, there are fewer opportunities to detect such an attack before it occurs." '

Telegraph, UK (September 20):
French intelligence services are hunting a female would-be suicide bomber who they believe could be planning to target the Paris metro.

The alert followed a tip-off from a friendly intelligence agency - thought to be Algeria’s - warning of an imminent al-Qaeda threat.

Five French nationals have been kidnapped close to a French uranium mine in Niger in the last week, while a bomb scare caused alarm at the Eiffel Tower.

In a separate development armed guards were deployed to protect prominent Islamic moderate Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Paris mosque.

“The terrorist threat is real and today our vigilance, therefore, is reinforced,” said Brice Hortefeux, the interior minister. ...


Debka: 'The high level of preparedness for terrorist attack - "reinforced red" - maintained in France since Sept. 16 was quietly expanded this week to most of the big international air hubs of Europe, including London's Heathrow, Amsterdam's Schiphol andairports in Moscow, Berlin and Rome. Security measures were also redoubled at the important railways and subway stations of Europe. The commander of French police and security services Frederic Pechenard went on the air Wednesday Sept 22 with a statement for the public: "I'm not here to frighten people," he said, "but we have serious evidence coming in from reliable intelligence sources telling us that there is a risk of a major attack." He declined to say whether the alert level had been raised from "reinforced red" to "reinforced scarlet." He said the danger could come in the form of "the assassination of an important figure or an attempted mass casualty attack on a crowded public area like a metro train or department store." ...'

2010-09-17

Afternoon Roundup: 2010-09-17

Patti Villacorta is looking for feminist icons to stand up against increasing social and institutional pressure on young women in Gaza (and elsewhere in the Arab world) to wear the hijab.

New York School of Visual Arts asks, "Raye-man kojast?" Via Banafsheh:

School of Visual Arts (SVA) presents “Where Is My Vote? Posters for the Green Movement in Iran,” an exhibition of 150 political posters by graphic artists world wide created in support of the protests in Iran that followed the 2009 presidential election. The exhibition is the first public viewing of these posters in printed form and was organized by designers Anita Kunz and Woody Pirtle along with Francis Di Tommaso, director of the Visual Arts Gallery, and Steven Heller, author, design historian and co-chair of the MFA Design Department at SVA.

“Where Is My Vote?” highlights the unique role that socially responsible designers can play in rallying support for free speech, and the power of design to inspire political activism. The exhibition features posters by some of the most celebrated graphic artists working today, including R. O. Blechman, Cathie Bleck, Seymour Chwast, Ivan Chermayeff, Milton Glaser, Robert Grossman, Anita Kunz, Yossi Lemel, Jennifer Morla, István Orosz, Woody Pirtle, Andrea Rauch, Ralph Steadman, Gary Taxali, James Victore and Massimo Vignelli, among others.


Hamas official reported detained in Cairo. According to Debka, 'Egyptian security detained Hamas' head of security Mohammad Dababesh at Cairo international airport Friday, Sept. 17, the first high-ranking Palestinian held for questioning by Egyptian security. It is not clear whether Dababesh was on his way back to or from the Gaza Strip. Our sources report that he is no doubt being grilled on the Grad missile attack launched against Eilat and Aqaba from Sinai on Aug. 3, in which two Egyptian border posts were destroyed.' The article also reports an imminent Hamas attack planned to take place within the next 24 hours (i.e. during the Yom Kippur holiday).

CSP on the Shariah threat. The Center for Security Policy has released its report on the threat of political islamist ideology:

Shariah is the crucial fault line of Islam’s internecine struggle. On one side of the divide are Muslim reformers and authentic moderates – figures like Abdurrahman Wahid, the late president of Indonesia and leader of the world’s largest libertarian Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama – whose members embrace the Enlightenment’s veneration of reason and, in particular, its separation of the spiritual and secular realms.

On this side of the divide, shariah is a reference point for a Muslim’s personal conduct, not a corpus to be imposed on the life of a pluralistic society.

By contrast, the other side of the divide is dominated by Muslim supremacists, often called Islamists. Like erstwhile proponents of Communism and Nazism, these supremacists – some terrorists, others employing stealthier means – seek to impose a totalitarian regime: a global totalitarian system cloaked as an Islamic state and called a caliphate. On that side of the divide, which is the focus of the present study, shariah is an immutable, compulsory system that Muslims are obliged to install and the world required to adopt, the failure to do so being deemed a damnable offence against Allah. For these ideologues, shariah is not a private matter. Adherents see the West as an obstacle to be overcome, not a culture and civilization to be embraced, or at least tolerated. It is impossible, they maintain, for alternative legal systems and forms of governments peacefully to coexist with the end-state they seek.

"Life is sacred, but books and beliefs are not."

Jerry West of the Salem News (Oregon) talks sense on the Koran burning affair:
Well, Terry Jones backed off on the Koran burning. So what? Why should any rational person care if someone burns a Koran, or a Bible, the Sears catalogue or a Donald Duck comic book? That would depend on the nature of the burning.

Book burnings by governments or others with the intent to deprive society of their content would be a direct attack on the right of free expression and the open exchange of ideas.

Two important elements of an enlightened democracy.

On the other hand, private individuals burning books to make a point, so what? Doing that is also part of one's right of free expression. ...

Jerry West touches an all the important points, and his piece is well worth reading in full.

2010-09-12

Koran Burning: Freedom Rears Its Ugly Head

Hell has officially been turned into a very large hockey rink. I am now "to the right" of Robert Spencer, Brigitte Gabriel, and even Pamela Geller in rushing to the defense of a book-burning fundamentalist preacher. Or rather, a would-be book-burner, as it seems the Reverend Terry Jones was talked out of the act by the President and General Petraeus. While I have no particular admiration for Jones and his little stunt, I am beginning to see this episode more in the light of the Mohammed cartoons. The West bravely stuck to its guns on that round, but what's going on here? It looks as if, in the five years since then, we have moved backward.

Also the Nazi book-burning metaphor needs to be checked. You have every right to burn a book if you own the book. It's burning other people's books that's the problem. On comparing the putative Koran-burning in Florida with other book-burnings, I find more differences than similarities. Take a look, for instance, at the history of Talmud burnings - among which, for example, we find:

On Sept. 9, 1553, the Jewish New Year, a huge pyre was set up in the Campo de' Fiori in Rome of Hebrew books that had been seized from Jewish homes.


I don't think Pastor Jones' burning of the Koran falls even remotely in this category. I would put it more in the league of the burnings of "Harry Potter" that made a blip in the news a few years back.

(Admittedly comparing the Koran to Harry Potter is disrespectful, and I apologize to all Harry Potter fans.)

Really, did anyone think that the fallout from 9/11 would not include, inter alia, this? That in a nation of 300 million people, mostly non-Muslims, there would not be, somewhere, someone who would see fit to take a match to the writings of the Prophet Mohammed? If the architects of our post-9/11 strategy could not see this coming, I think we are entitled to use phrases like "failure of imagination".

Book burning gives all of us a queasy feeling but in these times we had damn well better develop a strong stomach.

***

Now the President has stepped in to condemn the contemplated burning, saying it endangers the lives of our troops in Afghanistan. General Petraeus gets involved too: "It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan," the General said in a statement.

Really? Burning a book does that? I thought the danger came from terrorists. And for that matter, I thought our troops were over there to BE a danger to the terrorists. If they are only there to be hostages to one fanatic with a match, then bring them home now.

When I was in the service we used to be fond of slogans like "I'm fighting for your right to spit on that flag." Now no more. Our Commander-In-Chief and our most renowned general have made it their business to beg American citizens to behave properly, lest they cause trouble for the soldiers who are supposed to be defending the rights of Americans. They have now given ominous warnings about the proposed Koran burning becoming a recruiting tool for al-Qaeda.

And so it will, if Obama has his way: With Reverend Terry Jones duly chastened, the islamists of al-Qaeda will see their first tangible success in the American homeland in - well, nine years, but who's counting? They will see that, with patience and persistence, they have been able to retake the ground they had seeimingly lost with the Mohammed cartoons. They'll be able to point with pride to the fact that their holy warriors in Afghanistan have intimidated President Obama and General Petraeus into taking up their cause for them, and telling an American citizen: "Yes, technically you have the right to do that - but we really wish you wouldn't." It's small, but it's a first step. And the argument that "if you do that, the enemy will make things harder for the American troops" has limitless possibilities.

It is very, very hard for me to see this as a victory for our side.

***

And what happened to the President who waxed so eloquent about the Imam's "constitutional right" to build a mosque near Ground Zero?

The Belmont Club comes closest to expressing my thoughts on this.
Comparing Jones to Imam Rauf reduces President Obama’s defense of the Ground Zero mosque to absurdity. How could an administration which ordered Bibles sent to Afghanistan burned and endorsed the right of the Ground Zero mosque builders to proceed with their construction turn 180 degrees on the matter of Koran burning without spinning like a top? They were hoist by their own petard.

I hadn't known the bit about the Army burning Bibles. But it is a fine mess indeed for the President.

***

Is the Koran-burning a provocation?

In 2006, gay-rights organizations planned a gay pride parade in Jerusalem. The event was highly controversial, and my sympathies were divided. At first I opposed the event, arguing that it would be a "provocative gesture". But after further reflection I realized that people are responsible for their own actions: one must agree to be provoked.

And that's what I'm saying now. Terrorists, fascists, and extremists are responsible for their own actions. If we are serious about our defense of freedom, we must not allow ourselves to be blackmailed.

***

But it turns out it wasn't that easy.

I almost feel sorry for General Petraeus today. He's just spent the past few days running around and "putting out fires" - literally in this case - and succeeded in getting the Gainesville Koran-burning canceled. But just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, freedom rears its ugly head and some guy - we still don't know who - comes out of nowhere and starts burning pages from a Koran. Not in Gainesville, Florida, but at Ground Zero, New York City.

As one observer noted, there's almost an anti-climactic quality about the video. Some random, nameless guy - we'll call him Joe the Lighter - holds up a Koran, tears a few pages out and burns them, gets shouted at by angry New Yorkers, and is uneventfully escorted away by police. And that's it.

The contrast between the Reverend Terry Jones affair and Joe the Lighter could not be more striking. No signs, no press releases, no fanfare. He just does what he does. And after the event, he walks away without a single word.

Whatever will happen in Afghanistan or elsewhere in the Islamic world, will happen. I'm sorry if people get hurt. But as Americans and as free human beings, we are under no obligation to conform to any President's or General's idea of how we ought to act.


UPDATE:
Joe the Lighter is Derek Fenton an employee - now, former employee - of New Jersey Transit.

2010-09-07

What's gotten into Russia?

Jerusalem Post:
Israel and Russia made history on Monday, signing for the first time a military agreement that will increase cooperation on combating terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, but also could lead to the sale of Israeli weaponry to the Russian military.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his Russian counterpart, Anatoly Serdyukov, signed the agreement during a ceremony in Moscow. Later in the day, Barak met with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at his private residence in Sochi. ...

Arutz Sheva adds that 'The wide ranging agreement is the fruit of a long period of discussions.'

JPost again:
Russian Foreign Minsiter Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday called for clarity on all issues pertaining to the Iranian nuclear program.

"Clarity in all remaining issues of the Iranian nuclear program is not only necessary, but would also primarily serve the interests of Iran itself," Lavrov said.

A7: 'In a statement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that "he IAEA must continue its work,” and that “Iran must answer the demands of the IAEA." Lavrov was in Paris meeting with his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner on Iran, among other issues.'

IMRA quoting AFP:
The defense ministers of Russia and Israel on Monday (6 Sept.) signed an agreement on military cooperation, hailing the unity between Moscow and the Jewish state. Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and visiting Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak did not give details on the nature of the deal, which came after disputes over Russian arms contracts in the Middle East.

"I am sure the agreement we are signing today will give a new boost to our
bilateral relations," said Serdyukov, quoted by Russian news agencies.
"Our views on many challenges of today are close or identical," he said.
"Primarily this concerns issues of terrorism and non-proliferation of
weapons of mass destruction."

Go to the link for more details. Interesting stuff.

2010-09-01

Department of Bugs and Features

FCC complains court ruling would make it "impossible" to enforce indecency regulations.

Morning Report: 2010-09-01

Obama marks end of Iraq combat mission. MSNBC: 'President Barack Obama set the tone for changing the role without fanfare, making clear in a major speech on Iraq on Tuesday that this was no victory celebration.' Full article at the link. At Commentary, Peter Wehner thinks the "most damage" was done on the subject of Afghanistan, while Max Boot is more charitable.

UN Chief Ban condemns the terrorist murder of four Israelis. Arutz Sheva: 'UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday called Tuesday's terror attack near Kiryat Arba in which four Israelis were shot and killed a "blatant attempt" to derail upcoming peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, AFP reported. "The secretary-general condemns the killing of four Israeli citizens in the West Bank on 31 August," Ban's spokesman said in a statement.'

Commentary. Iranian expat Winston at The Spirit of Man has some thoughts on Iraq:
President George W. Bush must be smiling today. He must be proud too.

It is the eve of "Operation New Dawn" in Iraq. The day that the Iraqi people will finally become somewhat independent of US combat forces and will fully gain the control of their country. Just like S. Korea, Germany, Italy and Japan where US presence has secured safety and freedom, a US presence in Iraq will also be necessary for some time to come. Though the former US ambassador 'Ryan Crocker' also believes Iraq still needs the America's enduring support and engagement. Of course, the Iranian regime will always be trying to duplicate its Lebanon style plots in Iraq dividing the country. Therefore that's just one solid reason to keep the US military there for now. But the point of this entry today is not about the strategic weight of today's developments. It is just about emotions.

Today I am cheerful and again envious. I had this same feeling once before: When the former US led 'Coalition Provisional Authority' transferred sovereign authority to the Iraqi interim government on June 28th, 2004. That day I was in Iran and was filled with joy and envy. It's difficult to describe how we, in Iran, felt as we saw the liberation of Iraq. ...

Read the rest at the link.

2010-08-21

Israel Attacks Iran's Bushehr Nuclear Reactor

... with words.
In a statement issued after the Islamic Republic celebrated the launch of its reactor in Bushehr, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levy said: "It is totally unacceptable that a country that so blatantly violates resolutions of the (United Nations) Security Council, decisions of the International Atomic Energy Agency and its commitments under the NPT (non-proliferation treaty) should enjoy the fruits of using nuclear energy."

Whoa. "Totally unacceptable." Why, that's just one step short of a strongly-worded letter from the United Nations.

It wouldn't surprise me if Debka has gotten this one right: 'debkafile reveals that both the Kremlin and the State Department have joined in concealing the secret deal whereby Russia votes for UN Security Council sanctions against Iran in return for US silent acquiescent to Moscow's activation of the Bushehr reactor.'

2010-07-20

Why Tisha b'Av Matters

Well we can go back - there are some very good examples of the Romans putting down Jewish insurrections from the first century BC all the way into the second century AD that were very successful. ...In every one of the cases the Romans were able to divide and conquer. In other words, they found a larger percentage of the population would be willing to want to educate their children, speak Latin, have aqueducts, be subject to habeas corpus law, and enjoy Roman prosperity -- a larger percentage than that of so called nationalist leaders who wanted to kill the Romans and revert back to their pre-provincial status. So it worked. - Victor Davis Hanson, quoted at Right Wing News


The Jewish fast of Tisha b'Av commemorates the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and again by the Romans in the year 70 CE. It is the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar, marked by the reading of the Book of Lamentations and special hymns.

The destruction of the Second Temple - with its enormous loss of life, and accompanied by the expulsion of the Jews from the land of Israel and an exile lasting more than 18 centuries - created a fundamental crisis for Jewish theodicy. (The newly published Koren Mesorat haRav Kinot provides a complete guide to the liturgy and commentary by the great twentieth-century teacher Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik.)

One theme that has been consistently stressed by rabbis through the ages is the role of 'sinat chinam', a Hebrew phrase roughly translated "baseless hatred", in pricipitating the tragedies of Tisha b'Av. They mean, specifically, hatred among the Jewish people; in other words, to a certain extent we brought in on ourselves.

I'm no historian, but I found myself reading up on the Jewish revolt against Rome. It is - to say the very least - sobering reading.
The siege of Jerusalem, the capital city, had begun early in the war, but had turned into a stalemate. Unable to breach the city's defenses, the Roman armies established a permanent camp just outside the city, digging a trench around the circumference of its walls and building a wall as high as the city walls themselves around Jerusalem. Anyone caught in the trench attempting to flee the city would be captured, crucified, and placed in lines on top of the dirt wall facing into Jerusalem. The two Zealot leaders, John of Gischala and Simon Bar Giora, only ceased hostilities and joined forces to defend the city when the Romans began to construct ramparts for the siege. Those attempting to escape the city were crucified, with as many as five hundred crucifixions occurring in a day.

Titus Flavius, Vespasian's son, led the final assault and siege of Jerusalem. During the infighting inside the city walls, a stockpiled supply of dry food was intentionally burned by Sicarii to induce the defenders to fight against the siege instead of negotiating peace; as a result many city dwellers and soldiers died of starvation during the siege. Zealots under Eleazar ben Simon held the Temple, Sicarii led by Simon Bar Giora held the upper city. Titus eventually wiped out the last remnants of Jewish resistance.

By the summer of 70, the Romans had breached the walls of Jerusalem, ransacking and burning nearly the entire city. The Romans began by attacking the weakest spot: the third wall. It was built shortly before the siege so it did not have as much time invested in its protection. They succeeded towards the end of May and shortly afterwards broke through the more important second wall. The Second Temple (the rennovated Herod's Temple) was destroyed on Tisha B'Av (29 or 30 July 70). Tacitus, a historian of the time, notes that those who were besieged in Jerusalem amounted to no fewer than six hundred thousand, that men and women alike and every age engaged in armed resistance, everyone who could pick up a weapon did, both sexes showed equal determination, preferring death to a life that involved expulsion from their country. ...


Here's the Jewish Virtual Library:
In the decades after Caligula's death, Jews found their religion subject to periodic gross indignities, Roman soldiers exposing themselves in the Temple on one occasion, and burning a Torah scroll on another.

Ultimately, the combination of financial exploitation, Rome’s unbridled contempt for Judaism, and the unabashed favoritism that the Romans extended to gentiles living in Israel brought about the revolt.

In the year 66, Florus, the last Roman procurator, stole vast quantities of silver from the Temple. The outraged Jewish masses rioted and wiped out the small Roman garrison stationed in Jerusalem. Cestius Gallus, the Roman ruler in neighboring Syria, sent in a larger force of soldiers. But the Jewish insurgents routed them as well.

This was a heartening victory that had a terrible consequence: Many Jews suddenly became convinced that they could defeat Rome, and the Zealots' ranks grew geometrically. Never again, however, did the Jews achieve so decisive a victory.

When the Romans returned, they had 60,000 heavily armed and highly professional troops. They launched their first attack against the Jewish state's most radicalized area, the Galilee in the north. The Romans vanquished the Galilee, and an estimated 100,000 Jews were killed or sold into slavery.

Throughout the Roman conquest of this territory, the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem did almost nothing to help their beleaguered brothers. They apparently had concluded—too late, unfortunately—that the revolt could not be won, and wanted to hold down Jewish deaths as much as possible.

The highly embittered refugees who succeeded in escaping the Galilean massacres fled to the last major Jewish stronghold—Jerusalem. There, they killed anyone in the Jewish leadership who was not as radical as they. Thus, all the more moderate Jewish leaders who headed the Jewish government at the revolt's beginning in 66 were dead by 68—and not one died at the hands of a Roman. All were killed by fellow Jews.

The scene was now set for the revolt's final catastrophe. Outside Jerusalem, Roman troops prepared to besiege the city; inside the city, the Jews were engaged in a suicidal civil war. In later generations, the rabbis hyperbolically declared that the revolt's failure, and the Temple's destruction, was due not to Roman military superiority but to causeless hatred (sinat khinam) among the Jews (Yoma 9b). While the Romans would have won the war in any case, the Jewish civil war both hastened their victory and immensely increased the casualties. One horrendous example: In expectation of a Roman siege, Jerusalem's Jews had stockpiled a supply of dry food that could have fed the city for many years. But one of the warring Zealot factions burned the entire supply, apparently hoping that destroying this "security blanket" would compel everyone to participate in the revolt. The starvation resulting from this mad act caused suffering as great as any the Romans inflicted. ...


For the Jews of modern-day Israel, the significance of Tisha b'Av is complex. Israel is a modern state founded on secular institutions and Jewish identity; in short, it is inherently paradoxical. FailedMessiah links to Noam Talmor at Yediot Acharonot with a defense of Israel's Tisha b'Av enforcement on secular grounds.

Talmor also turns a critical eye on Israeli education:
Upon its inception, Zionism sought to establish the image of a strong and proud Jew. To this end, the Bible was glorified as it encapsulated a period in which the nation of Israel enjoyed independence in its own land. Such glorification served to justify the settlement of the land in light of the historical connection between the Jewish people and the land described in the Bible. However, one of the side effects of such glorification was a disconnect by Jewish historical sources from the period following the canonization of the Biblical text.


Even today, no Jewish text written after the Bible and before Bialik is taught in the state school system (except for medieval poetry in the literature study track). Indeed, there is a sort of hole in the history of the Jewish people between exile and Herzl. Therefore, many secular Israelis do not have a sequential perception of Jewish history. For many, there is biblical history and Zionism, nothing in between. ...

The piece links to a related article summarizing the results of an opinion poll on the subject of Tisha b'Av. The poll finds that
A majority of the Jewish public declared that they intend to fast or, at the very least, to avoid going out with friends on Tisha B'Av, the day marking the destruction of the First and Second Temples, according to a Ynet-Gesher poll conducted ahead of the holy day.

Returning to the related topic of 'sinat chinam', the poll also examines the attitudes of Israelis toward Arabs, haredim (or "ultra-Orthodox" Jews), "Tel Avivians" (representing the supposedly decadent, secular side of Israeli society), and religious-Zionist settlers.

In response to the question "Which among the following groups in your opinion is the most hated in Israeli society?" 54% chose Arabs, 37% chose haredim, 8% chose religious, and 1% chose Tel Avivians. An analysis of the data reveals that the haredim themselves believe that they are the most hated, whereas religious, traditionalists, and seculars responded that Arabs are more hated.


The poll also asked the respondents to indicate honestly which of the four groups is the least liked by them personally. Arabs topped the list with 52% and haredim were in second place with 32%. Some 11% responded they least like settlers, and 5% said they least like Tel Avivians. A breakdown of the results shows that haredim, religious, and traditionalists mainly dislike Arabs, whereas seculars mainly dislike haredim.

Perhaps most strikingly, the poll showed the religious/secular rift in nearly a dead-heat with the Arab/Israeli conflict in terms of its perceived danger to Israeli society.

The Jewish nation-state has faced external threats in all of its historical incarnations. The threats to Israel from within are ultimately the threats that can destroy Israel: a divided society; an element who believe that "G-d is on Israel's side" and that therefore Israel cannot lose; and another element who just do not care.

But Jews are, above all else, masters of taking the long view. Here is the IDF Chief of the General Staff visiting the Chief of Defense Staff of Italy.


Funny, I didn't hear anybody speaking Latin.


*

2010-07-06

Better Women through Chemistry!

Bioethics Forum:
And it isn’t just that many women with CAH have a lower interest, compared to other women, in having sex with men. In another paper entitled “What Causes Low Rates of Child-Bearing in Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia?” Meyer-Bahlburg writes that “CAH women as a group have a lower interest than controls in getting married and performing the traditional child-care/housewife role. As children, they show an unusually low interest in engaging in maternal play with baby dolls, and their interest in caring for infants, the frequency of daydreams or fantasies of pregnancy and motherhood, or the expressed wish of experiencing pregnancy and having children of their own appear to be relatively low in all age groups.”

In the same article, Meyer-Bahlburg suggests that treatments with prenatal dexamethasone might cause these girls’ behavior to be closer to the expectation of heterosexual norms: “Long term follow-up studies of the behavioral outcome will show whether dexamethasone treatment also prevents the effects of prenatal androgens on brain and behavior.” ...

Via Blag Hag, via Boobquake.

I'm going to contain myself and spare you the rant. I'll just quote Jen at Blag Hag: 'It's bad enough that these studies are harming children with no real idea of what effects it'll have on them when they're adults. But it's also a shame that these studies give science a bad name - the image of a manipulative, powerful overlord found too often in SciFi novels. We must remember that science itself is neither good nor evil; the blame lies with people who abuse it.'

Morning Report: 2010-07-06

Irshad on culture and strategy in Afghanistan. Irshad Manji writes:
The tribal culture of “honor” has already trumped democracy in Afghanistan. Despite being suave and sophisticated, President Hamid Karzai rarely defends individual rights, a cornerstone of democracy. Instead, he quietly condones punishments inflicted in the name of tribal honor, from widespread gang-rapes of women to acid attacks on schoolgirls.

Why would a Muslim, routinely described as a “moderate,” hand so much power to feudal warlords? For years, military strategists have told me it’s because Karzai has to avoid carnage at all costs.

But does violating innocents to pre-empt further violence make sense?

Sadly, yes, and that’s where the power of culture enters Afghanistan’s grim picture. In societies influenced by Arab culture, a massive motivator of action is asabiyya or tribal solidarity.

She goes on to cite Ibn Khaldun. Read the rest of her post at the link.

BP does something slightly not evil. Debka: 'Monday, July 5, Mehdi Aliyari, secretary of Iranian Airlines Union, said airports in Britain, Germany, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates had refused to refuel Iranian passenger planes. He said the cutoff affected the national carrier Iran Air and the biggest Iranian private airline Mahan Air, both of which operate several flights to Europe. Following this announcement, a spokeswoman of the oil giant BP said "we will comply with any international sanctions that are imposed. And that goes also for the new round of US sanctions following a decision by Congress." Around Friday, BP sent faxes to its refueling operations in some European countries, including those owned with partners, ordering a ban on refueling for several Iranian airlines, including Iran Air. BP is under US pressure over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.' The Wall Street Journal reports that BP 'has instructed its European operations not to refuel Iranian airlines after U.S. President Barack Obama signed sanctions targeting Iran's gasoline supplies, people familiar with the matter said Monday.'

Netanyahu, Obama in fifth meeting, set to approve new Gaza contraband list. JPost:
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu left for the US late Monday night for a meeting the next day with President Barack Obama, perhaps not carrying any dramatic new diplomatic initiative, but at least bringing a message of significant changes in what goods Israel will allow into the Gaza Strip.

Hours before Netanyahu was to board his plane for Washington, Foreign Ministry director-general Yossi Gal and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Eitan Dangot unveiled the principles behind a detailed list of items Israel will not allow into the Gaza Strip. Everything not on that list will be let in.

Full article at the link.

Iran: Anniversary of student uprisings approaches. SKF: 'We are fast approaching July 9th which marks the 11th year anniversary of the July 9th (18 Tir) 1999 pro-democracy student demonstration in Iran. The 18 Tir demonstrations were originally triggered when a reformist newspaper “Salam” was banned from publication. As a reaction to the peaceful protests Regime Agents attacked the student dormitories in Tehran University where they beat and arrested hundreds of students and turned the dormitories into a blood bath. At least one student was murdered by Regime Agents when he was thrown off the dormitory balcony. ...'

2010-06-10

Hillel Neuer Blasts UN "Human Rights" Council

Via United Nations Watch.

HILLEL NEUER'S ADDRESS:

Mr. President,

Six decades ago, in the aftermath of the Nazi horrors, Eleanor Roosevelt, Réné Cassin and other eminent figures gathered here, on the banks of Lake Geneva, to reaffirm the principle of human dignity. They created the Commission on Human Rights. Today, we ask: What has become of their noble dream?

In this session we see the answer. Faced with compelling reports from around the world of torture, persecution, and violence against women, what has the Council pronounced, and what has it decided?

Nothing. Its response has been silence. Its response has been indifference. Its response has been criminal.

One might say, in Harry Truman’s words, that this has become a Do-Nothing, Good-for-Nothing Council.

But that would be inaccurate. This Council has, after all, done something.

It has enacted one resolution after another condemning one single state: Israel. In eight pronouncements—and there will be three more this session—Hamas and Hezbollah have been granted impunity. The entire rest of the world—millions upon millions of victims, in 191 countries—continue to go ignored.

So yes, this Council is doing something. And the Middle East dictators who orchestrate this campaign will tell you it is a very good thing. That they seek to protect human rights, Palestinian rights.

So too, the racist murderers and rapists of Darfur women tell us they care about the rights of Palestinian women; the occupiers of Tibet care about the occupied; and the butchers of Muslims in Chechnya care about Muslims.

But do these self-proclaimed defenders truly care about Palestinian rights?

Let us consider the past few months. More than 130 Palestinians were killed by Palestinian forces. This is three times the combined total that were the pretext for calling special sessions in July and November. Yet the champions of Palestinian rights—Ahmadinejad, Assad, Khaddafi, John Dugard—they say nothing. Little 3-year-old boy Salam Balousha and his two brothers were murdered in their car by Prime Minister Haniyeh’s troops. Why has this Council chosen silence?

Because Israel could not be blamed. Because, in truth, the dictators who run this Council couldn’t care less about Palestinians, or about any human rights.

They seek to demonize Israeli democracy, to delegitimize the Jewish state, to scapegoat the Jewish people. They also seek something else: to distort and pervert the very language and idea of human rights.

You ask: What has become of the founders’ dream? With terrible lies and moral inversion, it is being turned into a nightmare.

Thank you, Mr. President.


Go to the video to hear Luis Alfonso de Alba's response.

2010-05-11

Afternoon Roundup: 2010-05-11

Al-Qaeda rampage in Iraq leaves over 100 dead. Debka:
In an unprecedentedly wild rampage, even for al Qaeda, raider-units, speeding drive-by gun squads, car bombs, and homicidal suicides mowed down checkpoints, liquidated Iraqi soldiers, police and security personnel and murdered civilians, in eight Iraqi cities including the capital, Baghdad, Monday, May 10. By the end of the day, more than 100 people were dead and 300 injured.

The gunmen broke new ground in terrorist tactics when they used automatic weapons fitted with silencers to creep up on their victims. debkafile's military sources report that at dawn, the raiders appeared simultaneously at checkpoints in most quarters of Baghdad. They lowered the windows of their cars when asked for documents, then opened fire with the silenced automatic weapons on the officers manning them. ...

IraqPundit:
Meanwhile, everyone is talking about the meeting between Nouri Al Maliki and Ayad Allawi. A deal is getting worked out among the parties. Everyone wants the killings and bombings to stop. Everyone is so tired and fed up that you can smell the frustration in the air.

A writer appears to understand what Iraqis are experiencing. He says in the LAT: "It would be a tragedy if, after having spent hundreds of billions of dollars and sacrificed thousands of lives, the U.S. were to lose the endgame in Iraq. Yet that could very well happen unless senior administration officials — including the president himself — get more engaged in the process and show more flexibility in implementing the troop drawdown."


Iran regime executes five. Azarmehr:
Five Iranians including a woman were executed this morning. Farzad Kamangar, the dissident Iranian Kurdish teacher, Shirin Alamhouli, Ali Heidarian, Farhad Vakili and Mehdi Eslamian were hanged in the early hours of this morning.

View From Outside Iran (formerly View From Iran) writes:
Together with a number of volunteers, we have been preparing a campaign to mark one year of crackdowns on dissent in Iran. That campaign focuses on prisoners of conscience in Iran and those political prisoners in danger of execution. This morning, when we got up and turned on my email, the first message was from a dear colleague who linked to the AP article on the early morning execution of 5 of the people we had come to know through our work. "I can't stop crying," she wrote. "I do not know what to do." ...

Go to the link to learn about their lives.

Irshad Manji on Faisal Shahzad. Irshad Manji:
I’m convinced that Islam is not the intrinsic problem. Rather, the tribal culture of honor in which many of these would-be terrorists are steeped is the real source of their “religious” motivations. Among mainstream Muslims, tribal culture has become synonymous with faith. A lethal mistake.

Young Muslims often come of age being taught that they have a religious duty to avenge the Muslim community’s honor. In fact, it’s not God-given faith but man-made culture that dictates this “duty.”

And the tribal culture of honor travels well beyond traditional Islamic nations, colonizing the hearts and minds of even second- and third-generation Muslims in North America, Europe and Australia. ...

2010-05-04

Times Square Bomb Suspect Faisal Shahzad Arrested at JFK

Debka:
Faisal Shahzad, 30, a US citizen from Pakistan, was arrested at New York's JFK airport Monday night trying to board a flight to Dubai and will appear before a federal court Tuesday, May 4. He was identified as the buyer of the Nissan Pathfinder used to rig the failed car bomb. US Attorney General Eric Holder said that more than one person is sought in connection with the attempted terrorist plot.

Shahzad's information is vital for uncovering the extent of the conspiracy and its potential for more terrorist attacks in New York or other American cities. ...

The Pakistani Taliban claimed credit for the attempt.

CNN:
Shahzad was on board Emirates Airlines Flight 202 to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and the jetway had been pulled back when the plane was called to return to the gate, a law enforcement source said. Shahzad was booked through to Islamabad, Pakistan, via Dubai, a senior airline official confirmed.

"They just caught him at the last second," a law enforcement source said.

More details at the link.

Arutz Sheva: 'Fox News says the record of an overseas phone call helped lead to Shahzad's arrest.'

2010-05-02

Journalism and the Devil's Advocate

How far should one go to understand the other side?

Let's begin where I left off in this morning's post, with a critique of an editorial by David Ignatius in the Wall Street Journal titled "The Dangers of Embedded Journalism." Ignatius stops just short of invoking the phrses "Stockholm syndrome", but I think that's a pretty accurate description of his concern.

I refrained from attacking Ignatius too harshly because I wanted to address a legitimate concern he raised, which I think should be in the mind of any reasonable person. The question is: When a reporter is embedded with the United States Armed Forces - or any organization - is there not a danger that the reporting will become skewed in favor of the host organization? My friend Michael Totten did not think it unreasonable for his readers to ask whether he's only allowed to see "what the Army wants you to see." Michael's eloquent response is at the link.

If embedded journalists were Americans' only source of information about wars - or for that matter, if any other single source has such a monopoly - I would worry. But that's demonstrably not the case. Nor is it the case that today's media establishment is exactly a cheerleading squad of pro-American patriotism.

I argued that
[it is better] to take one's chances with an environment where sympathies are openly declared, and may be factored into the equation by the reader or viewer. The availability of multiple viewpoints allows for critical thinking on the part of the audience. ...

Do people tend to gravitate to similarly-minded communities - like "the Huffington Post and Daily Kos and MichelleMalkin.com and the Drudge Report", to use Ignatius' examples? Yes, absolutely, and that's an inherent limitation of the new journalism. But the environment that fosters crowd-pleasing, ideologically intense outlets like these also gives rise to a whole spectrum of intelligent opinion and analysis between and outside of these extremes.

And that is the essence of the argument in favor of citizen-generated, crowdsourced journalism such as blogging.

Up to now I have been addressing Ignatius' legitimate concern (as I see it) and figuratively "playing devil's advocate". Now I want to turn my attention to some of the more troubling aspects of this editorial.

As it turns out, crowdsourcing has come to my aid, because many of the commenters have complaints similar to mine. So I see that I am not alone, that some other people have expressed similar ideas (perhaps more concisely and articulately than I could), and that some have added points that I would not have thought of.
csanders1 wrote:
I guess it was a real tradegy that these unbiased reporters were not able to interview Hitler and Tojo in order to make sure that the American people understood their side of the conflict. I watch Fox. If you watch it you will see that even though the bias is to the conservative side, they have liberal persons on in equal numbers. If you really want bias, watch NBC, CBS and ABC. I do not see snyone reporting on the massive intrusions that the government is making on citizen rights and privacy but rail that someone might have to prove that they are a citizen before they vote or receive government benefits.

Cliff Sanders, Greensboro, GA
5/2/2010 2:02:52 PM

Cliff is presumably responding to this odious paragraph in Ignatius' piece:
The path back to unembedded journalism won't be easy, especially for war correspondents. It's one thing to want to interview both Taliban leader Mohammad Omar and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and quite another to actually get to talk to them. But we should operate under the assumption that we won't always be at war, and try to restore the normal order.

So, whose side is David Ignatius on? His idea of balance and neutrality is to put Mohammed Omar and General McChrystal on the same level.

Roytex wrote:
It's possible for excellent journalism to be unbiased. I'm conservative. I used to read the NYT editoril page because it produced in me a pleasant sense of indignation. But I read the rest of the paper because the reporting and writing were outstanding, and unbiased even to my keen ideological eye. The paper later allowed it's editorial point of view to contaminate its news reporting and lost me. It was as if Walter Conkrite, or maybe even Mrs. Clinton, were editing the whole thing. Maybe that's changing now that the Times is under economic pressure. That tends to change minds a bit.

24681 wrote:
Journalism is always going to be biased, especially if the journalists are being shot at. I recall quite a bit of bias among NY reporters during the 9/11 attacks. (We didn’t hear anymore about “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”).

But I’d rather the journalists be embedded and be biased on the side of America, than running around non-embedded and being biased on side of the enemy – which is exactly what they did during the Vietnam War.
5/2/2010 7:58:51 AM

breth wrote:
Well, you had me at Fox coming from the right and MSNBC coming from the left.

But then you lost me at CNN and The Washington Post coming from the middle.

Let's be real. Is David Ignatius in the center? Yes.

Is the Post in the center? Uh, no.
5/2/2010 12:29:19 AM

Some points brought up in the readers' comments: (1) Ignatius' column is carefully worded to avoid drawing attention to the fact that the mainstream media are not evenly split between liberal and conservative, but rather are a liberal sea with a conservative island (Fox News); (2) bias in news reporting is not necessarily objectionable in itself, but when the bias is extreme and/or is not acknowledged, it is a problem; (3) there is a difference between presenting opposing views on a topic which is subject to reasonable debate, and giving a platform to dictators, terrorists, and fascists.

Not everyone thinks journalists should talk to to just anyone, anyplace, anytime. Via Norm Geras, here's the tale of Eleanor Mills, who won't be the ayatollahs' stooge:
“Thanks so much for coming on,” [journalist Lauren Booth] said cheerfully. My face must have registered some shock. “Don’t worry: only presenters have to wear a headscarf,” she grinned, and she walked off down the corridor. I noticed that everyone around me looked Middle Eastern and the walls were bedecked with pictures of Iran. D’oh! The penny dropped. Press TV: the controversial television channel backed by the Iranian regime.

My heart started to race and I grabbed my phone. Thank God for mobile internet. Seconds later I’d found Press TV on Wikipedia; it was not reassuring. The station was set up three years ago to give the Islamic republic a way of getting its message across to the outside world. It is designed to look neutral to attract western journalists and politicians. But its message is always the same: it chooses those who are critical of the West for propaganda reasons. As well as Booth — who has been outspoken in her attacks on Tony Blair and Israel — its presenters include that old apologist for tyranny George “Saddam Hussein’s mate” Galloway and Yvonne Ridley, the Express journalist who was kidnapped by the Taliban and converted to Islam.

The more I read, the more uncomfortable I felt. Visions of the violent death of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman shot dead by Iranian government security forces as she took part in the protests last year over the rigged election, swam into my mind. I remembered the seas of green flags, the awe-inspiring bravery of all those thousands of ordinary Iranians who ventured onto the streets declaring the election void, protesting that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president, had swindled his way to victory, despite the risk of murderous reprisals. Most of all I recalled the terrible accounts of the brutality with which the regime punished protesters; how so many of them had disappeared, their frantic families knowing nothing of their fate, and had been taken to secret prisons where they had been raped and tortured. ...

Eleanor Mills knew what she had to do, and she did it. Please read the whole article at the link.

Morning Report: 2010-05-02

New York car bomb. Smoke coming from a green Nissan Pathfinder SUV parked on 45th Street led to the evacuation of Times Square, New York City, and the discovery of an unsuccessful car bomb, on Saturday evening. CNN:
Officials said authorities are going through video from dozens of surveillance cameras in Times Square to determine who left the Nissan Pathfinder with its engine running and hazard lights flashing on a street shortly after 6 p.m. Saturday.

Inside the vehicle, police found three propane tanks, two filled five-gallon gas containers, two clocks with batteries, consumer-grade fireworks and a locked metal box that resembled a gun locker.

Full article, with extensive details and lots of videos, at the CNN link. Fox News recalls that
The theater district in London was the target of a propane bomb attack in 2007. No one was injured when police discovered two Mercedes loaded with nails packed around canisters of propane and gasoline.

Officials said the device found Saturday was crudely constructed, but Islamic militants have used propane and compressed gas for years to enhance the force of explosives. Those instances include the 1983 suicide attack on the U.S. Marines barracks at the Beirut airport that killed 241 U.S. service members, and the 2007 attack on the international airport in Glasgow, Scotland.

In 2007 the U.S. military announced that an Al Qaeda front group was using propane to rig car bombs in Iraq.

Again, go to the link for the full article.
Debka observes:
Mayor Mike Bloomberg said: "This could have been a deadly event." He also said the electric wiring of the device "looked amateurish."

This description exactly matches the bungled efforts of the would-be martyrs Reid and Abdulmutallab. It suggests that their al Qaeda masters have not been able to bring the new crop of jihadis up to professional terrorist standards. It is also possible that the Nissan SUV was supposed to blow up in another part of Manhattan and the perpetrator abandoned it on Times Square prematurely when he saw smoke coming out of his improvised device.

The Belmont Club has some thoughts.

Ignatius on embedded journalism. David Ignatius at the Wall Street Journal finds he has misgivings about the value of embedded journalists in the military, and longs for the good old days of objective journalism.

Commentary. It's really worth a longer post of its own, but I want to dash off a few thoughts on Ignatius' column now. First of all, he does have a couple of good points: journalists who embed with soldiers, or any other group, are likely to develop sympathies with the group they're with. Also, a non-embedded reporter can see things the embed cannot:
I covered the war as an unembedded or "unilateral" reporter, entering Iraq two days after the invasion with colleagues in rented SUVs. That experience taught me two things: First, it is too dangerous, in most cases, to cover modern warfare without protection from an army. Second, although my visits were brief, I was able to see things that the embedded journalists could not. I remember visiting villages in southern Iraq after the U.S. Army rolled through and finding local people who were intimidated by the beginnings of the insurgency. (And yes, you could see in that first week that there would be an insurgency, as I tried to indicate in my reports.)

Ignatius goes on to complain about the situation that many of us have noticed (and some of us have contributed to): the role of "objective" news reporters is being usurped by more openly ideological outlets, like cable TV and blogs.

The problem is, many of us have come to see that the traditional, "objective" news establishment wasn't as neutral or objective as it claimed to be. (I had my own experience with Jay Dixit of the supposedly non-political Psychology Today magazine.) Better to take one's chances with an environment where sympathies are openly declared, and may be factored into the equation by the reader or viewer. The availability of multiple viewpoints allows for critical thinking on the part of the audience.

As I argued in my earlier post on source bias,
A soldier on the front lines is going to have a very vivid, detailed, and specific recollection of a battle. The general in a command bunker may not see the battle up close, but he will have information on the "big picture" of troop strengths, enemy positions, strategic decisions, and other things that the soldier will not know, and may not be allowed to know. The soldier's memory may be distorted by trauma, confusion, fear, or shame (of a real or imagined failiing on the battlefield); the general may ignore or suppress key information, perhaps with his career in mind. Both perspectives are valuable, both have their limitations.

Do people tend to gravitate to similarly-minded communities - like "the Huffington Post and Daily Kos and MichelleMalkin.com and the Drudge Report", to use Ignatius' examples? Yes, absolutely, and that's an inherent limitation of the new journalism. But the environment that fosters crowd-pleasing, ideologically intense outlets like these also gives rise to a whole spectrum of intelligent opinion and analysis between and outside of these extremes. In the end it is up to the citizen journalist to provide the facts and analysis that will satisfy the audience, and it is up to the audience - that's you, dear reader - to sort it all out.

(UPDATE: Wow. Ignatius is getting clobbered in the comments. My treatment is charitable by comparison.)

2010-04-21

Morning Report: 2010-04-21

Six years on, DiL continues its mission of reporting events in the Middle East and around the world.

US rules out military strike on Iran. Debka: 'US deputy defense secretary Michele Flournoy said Wednesday, April 21: "The US has ruled out a military strike against Iran's nuclear program any time soon." This is the first time a senior administration official has publicly admitted that America has dropped its military option against Iran. Instead, said Flournoy, the US is hoping that "negotiations and United Nations sanctions will prevent the Middle East nation from developing nuclear weapons." ...' The Debka article concludes that Israel's leaders are "divided" over whether to attack Iran over US objections.

“Would an airmen like me ever be ordered to fire on an Israeli – aircraft or personnel?” Jennifer Rubin at Commentary, citing Wired, reports that Admiral Mike Mullen couldn't give a straight answer to an airman's question about a possible US/Israeli conflict. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sidestepped a question of what would happen if Israel sought to fly over Iraqi airspace to attack Iran.
If Israel decided to attack Iran, the speculation went, those jet would need to fly through Iraqi airspace to reach their targets. That airspace is considered a “no-fly” zone by the American military. So might U.S. troops shoot down the Israeli jets, the airmen asked the chairman, if they breached that airspace?

Mullen tried to sidestep the question. “We have an exceptionally strong relationship with Israel. I’ve spent a lot of time with my counterpart in Israel. So we also have a very clear understanding of where we are. And beyond that, I just wouldn’t get into the speculation of what might happen and who might do what. I don’t think it serves a purpose, frankly,” he said. “I am hopeful that this will be resolved in a way where we never have to answer a question like that.” ...


The case for regime change in Iran. The Spirit of Man says that President Obama should not just read, but write and memorize, this article by Michael Rubin at Commentary:
The U.S. intelligence community has advised Obama that regime change in Iran is risky, and it is. It is not certain that a democratic or even constitutional order would emerge. Three decades of Islamist governance have shaped Iranian political culture, and the all-persuasive influence of the Revolutionary Guards will be hard to shake. Still, the CIA’s preference—which is to do nothing and let the chips fall where they may—is poor advice and poorer policy. The Obama administration instead should gear its interventions to maximize the probability of a democratic, constitutional, and nonthreatening Iran. This requires concentrating on measures that would strengthen so-called civil-society efforts and cripple the Revolutionary Guards.

A multifaceted approach can work. First, Obama should impose broad sanctions ...

Read the rest at the link. Rubin specifically advocates banning business with the Iranian Central Bank, strengthening support for pro-democracy groups, weakening the Revolutionary Guards, and a strong Persian-language media campaign.

Commentary. A belated happy Independence Day (Yom ha'Atzma'ut) to Israel. And good luck - you'll need it.

Wish I could say something more positive than that.

2010-04-20

Shuttle to fly Robonaut-2, Air Force to launch X-37B.

Robots in space! My commentary here.

Six Years

Geeez, has it been almost six years since I first started Dreams Into Lightning?

I feel like I should do something to celebrate.

Like, post or something.

2010-04-19

Barry Rubin (not Levin) Won't Be Al-Jazeera's Clown

Good on Barry Rubin.
Subject: AL JAZEERA ENGLISH RIZ KHAN INTERVIEW REQUEST

Good morning, Professor Levin [sic].

Would you be interested in appearing on The Riz Khan Show this coming Tuesday to debate the topic "Is the Is there [sic] a partner for peace in Israel?" and more generally, the topics of the upcoming Israeli elections [there are no upcoming elections. BR], the Obama Nuclear Summit and US-Israeli relations. Uri Davis, Israeli professor who is a on the Fatah Revolutionary Council, will be the other guest.

The Riz Khan show is an interactive half-hour interview program that airs live at 12:30pm NY time / 17:30 London time from studios in Washington, DC. It is the flagship show for evening prime time in South Asia and the Middle East….

Go to the link for Rubin's response.

2010-04-10

Anat Kam, Uri Blau: Israel's Fourth Estate and Fifth Column

Arutz Sheva reports on the indictment of Anat Kam, the Israeli journalist who stands accused of stealing classified documents during her tour as a soldier in the IDF and passing the secret material on to a reporter for the left-leaning Ha'Aretz.

Journalist Anat Kam, 23, is accused of stealing over 2,000 IDF classified documents, many hundreds of which are termed “secret” and “top secret.” The alleged crimes occurred when she served as a soldier clerking in the IDF military - specifically, in the office of the Commander of the Central District - between 2005-2007.

She allegedly handed over many of the “top secret” and “secret” documents to Haaretz reporter Uri Blau. Blau, who was abroad when the investigation started, has refused thus far to return to Israel for investigation. It is suspected that many of the classified papers are still in his possession – despite an offer made to him that the returned documents would not be used to prosecute him or his source, Anat Kam.

Kam, who was secretly arrested during the investigation, has been indicted in the Tel Aviv District Court. She stands accused of collecting secret information, giving it to unauthorized individuals, and attempting to harm state security. ...

Debka has more.

In September 2009, the Shin Bet and Haaretz signed an agreement whereby Uri Blau promised to hand over all the documents in his possession, in return for which the Shin Bet agreed not to use them to initiate a criminal investigation against him or track his sources.

Two months later, in December 2009, Anat Kam was identified as the source of the leak and placed under house arrest. On January 14, she was indicted on charges of grave espionage.
It turned out later that the reporter Blau handed over only 50 secret documents. The rest he is suspected of keeping back.

In 2009, he left Israel and moved to London, apparently to avoid arrest and questioning about the missing documents.
In interviews with foreign journalists, Haaretz chief editor Dov Alfon said this week the newspaper will take care of all Blau's needs for as long as necessary. This Israeli daily is therefore protecting its reporter despite the breach of his agreement with the Shin Bet and is treating his case as the fundamental issue of a journalist's right to immunity and the immunity of his sources.

The Shin Bet chief warned that Blau has chosen a hazardous course by exposing himself to hostile agents as an intelligence target.

I'm thinking, if the Mossad don't get him first .....

UPDATE (2010-04-10): Arutz Sheva - Anat Kam studied under far-leftist professor Shlomo Sand.

In the interests of fairness, here is what Ha'Aretz has to say for itself:
1. Does Haaretz's insistence on protecting its reporter and his sources in the Anat Kam affair endanger state security?

Of course not. All the reports Uri Blau published in Haaretz based on his documents were submitted to the military censor and approved by her before publication, as required by law. In fact, in one case Haaretz's editors decided not to publish one of Blau's stories after it had gone to press, after senior defense officials changed their minds and requested that it not be released.

The state's security depends not only on upholding the censor's regulations, which Haaretz has done and continues to do, but also on upholding Israel's democratic values, including a free press. The agreement signed between Blau and the Shin Bet security service proves that the Shin Bet understands this as well.
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2. Does Blau possess classified documents and why doesn't he give them to the Shin Bet?

Blau left on vacation abroad with no classified documents in his possession. But like any investigative journalist, he has documents on which he bases his articles. These include, for example, the documents that led him to expose that Itay Ashkenazi, the chief of staff's son, was employed in companies that do business with the Israel Defense Forces - or documents he used for the report on Knesset Constitution Committee chairman David Rotem's involvement in the purchase of lands in Beit El with false papers. This is also the case with documents detailing money transfers to Ehud Barak Ltd., the company controlled by the defense minister's daughters.

Haaretz, therefore, believes that it cannot pass on all the documents Blau has to the defense establishment because its senior officials may use them to trace his sources. ....

Read the rest at the link.

US, Israel Deny Dimona Visa Story from Ma'ariv

JTA reports that the US and Israeli governments have denied a story published in Ma'ariv (Hebrew - see here) asserting that the US government has instituted a policy of denying visas to Israeli scientists with ties to Israel's nuclear reactor at Dimona.

2010-04-09

Tom Campbell's Past Islamist Ties

The Investigative Project on Terrorism (HT: Cinnamon Stillwell) has an eye-opening report on Tom Campbell.
Campbell, who represented California's 15th Congressional District (an affluent area including Silicon Valley), clearly had close ties to Sami Al-Arian and Abdurahman Alamoudi, both of whom were later convicted on charges related to terrorism support. He joined Reps. David Bonior (D-MI) and John Conyers (D-MI) in fighting to bar the use of classified evidence in deportation cases. Campbell sought to reduce U.S. aid to Egypt and Israel and was a critic of U.S. sanctions in Iraq.

And Campbell also forged strong political relationships with Muslim Brotherhood-linked organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Islamist ideologues including Salam al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and Omar Ahmad of CAIR attended and spoke at fundraisers for Campbell during his Senate campaign a decade ago.

Read more at: http://www.investigativeproject.org/1874/from-radical-islamist-ally-to-superhawk

Go to the link for details on Campbell's past ties with Sami al-Arian and Mazen Al-Najjar. Abdulrahman Alamoudi, later convicted on charges of terrorism support, called Campbell a "tested friend" in 2000.

To be clear, Campbell has since distanced himself from Alamoudi and has expressed regret for his decision to keep Alamoudi's campaign donation. Similarly, Campbell now states that he favors the death penalty for terrorists and supports Israel's right to defend itself. But it's a cause for concern that he has "gotten religion" so recently on Middle East affairs.

UPDATE: Dan at GayPatriot weighs in on Tom Campbell.
While I highly doubt Campbell himself is anti-Semitic, he has a very troublesome record on Israel and associates with many Jew-hating individuals. Campbell can show that he is not a member of this crowd by putting forward a platform on Israel more consistent with a conservative national security policy in the wake of 9/11 and popular support for the Jewish State.

I still need review all the items on the list I have received [citing Campbell's "Troublesome Record on Israel"], but those points I have confirmed trouble me to no end.

In a subsequent post, Dan emphasizes that he does not regard Campbell as anti-Semitic, but is concerned about the man's associations.

2010-04-04

At NYT, not all anti-Semitisms are created equal.

Noah Pollak at Commentary has an illustrative case of what it takes to get a story on anti-Semitism into the pages of the New York Times.
Here’s a pop quiz that I’m sure nobody will have a hard time passing: Which of the following two stories made it into the New York Times?

1. One of the top leaders of Hamas, Mahmoud Zahar, a man who has been written about on hundreds of occasions in the Times, responded to the dedication of a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem by delivering a viciously anti-Semitic rant in which he promised the annihilation of Israel and said that the Jews “killed and murdered your prophets” and “have always dealt in loan-sharking” and are “destined to be destroyed.”

2. A Vatican preacher compared condemnation of the Church over its sex-abuse scandal to the persecution of Jews, remarks from which Church officials immediately distanced themselves.

No prizes for guessing which one got front-page coverage, and which got none at all. Why?
The reason, I think, is because the Times is a left-wing paper and adheres to one of the central tenets of enlightened progressivism: people who can be identified as Third World, or who are not members of the Judeo-Christian/European world, must not be held to the same standards to which white, First World people are held. This double-standard — it is the racism of the enlightened — pervades the treatment of different cultures and religions in the strongholds of Western liberalism, that is, in the media, academia, and the “human rights” community.

Please go read the rest of the article at the link. I'm quoting it here because it makes a point that, sadly, can't be stressed often enough. Organized liberalism often ignores its legitimate ideals and instead pursues a blind veneration of anything 'exotic' and unsullied by the corrupting taint of Western culture.

I could tell you about the Passover Seder I attended where the host invited everyone to name a country or place that needed improvement in human rights; she started the ball rolling by declaring, "America!" I could tell you about that, but why? You've probably heard something similar yourself.

Of course America isn't perfect, and of course there is room for our nation to become more just, more humane, more wise. But isn't it patriotism of the worst kind - or more correctly, nationalism - to care only about improving one's own country?

I can't resist bringing in this 1945 essay on nationalism from George Orwell. Here are a few passages that jumped out at me:
In England, if one simply considers the number of people involved, it is probable that the dominant form of nationalism is old-fashioned British jingoism. It is certain that this is still widespread, and much more so than most observers would have believed a dozen years ago. However, in this essay I am concerned chiefly with the reactions of the intelligentsia, among whom jingoism and even patriotism of the old kind are almost dead, though they now seem to be reviving among a minority. Among the intelligentsia, it hardly needs saying that the dominant form of nationalism is Communism -- using this word in a very loose sense, to include not merely Communist Party members, but "fellow travellers" and russophiles generally. A Communist, for my purpose here, is one who looks upon the USSR as his Fatherland and feels it his duty t justify Russian policy and advance Russian interests at all costs. Obviously such people abound in England today, and their direct and indirect influence is very great. But many other forms of nationalism also flourish, and it is by noticing the points of resemblance between different and even seemingly opposed currents of thought that one can best get the matter into perspective. ...

The old-style contemptuous attitude towards "natives" has been much weakened in England, and various pseudo-scientific theories emphasizing the superiority of the white race have been abandoned. Among the intelligentsia, colour feeling only occurs in the transposed form, that is, as a belief in the innate superiority of the coloured races. This is now increasingly common among English intellectuals, probably resulting more often from masochism and sexual frustration than from contact with the Oriental and Negro nationalist movements. Even among those who do not feel strongly on the colour question, snobbery and imitation have a powerful influence. Almost any English intellectual would be scandalized by the claim that the white races are superior to the coloured, whereas the opposite claim would seem to him unexceptionable even if he disagreed with it. Nationalistic attachment to the coloured races is usually mixed up with the belief that their sex lives are superior, and there is a large underground mythology about the sexual prowess of Negroes. ...

Within the intelligentsia, a derisive and mildly hostile attitude towards Britain is more or less compulsory, but it is an unfaked emotion in many cases. During the war it was manifested in the defeatism of the intelligentsia, which persisted long after it had become clear that the Axis powers could not win. Many people were undisguisedly pleased when Singapore fell ore when the British were driven out of Greece, and there was a remarkable unwillingness to believe in good news, e.g. el Alamein, or the number of German planes shot down in the Battle of Britain. English left-wing intellectuals did not, of course, actually want the Germans or Japanese to win the war, but many of them could not help getting a certain kick out of seeing their own country humiliated, and wanted to feel that the final victory would be due to Russia, or perhaps America, and not to Britain. In foreign politics many intellectuals follow the principle that any faction backed by Britain must be in the wrong. As a result, "enlightened" opinion is quite largely a mirror-image of Conservative policy. Anglophobia is always liable to reversal, hence that fairly common spectacle, the pacifist of one war who is a bellicist in the next.

There is little evidence about this at present, because the Nazi persecutions have made it necessary for any thinking person to side with the Jews against their oppressors. Anyone educated enough to have heard the word "antisemitism" claims as a matter of course to be free of it, and anti-Jewish remarks are carefully eliminated from all classes of literature. Actually antisemitism appears to be widespread, even among intellectuals, and the general conspiracy of silence probably helps exacerbate it. People of Left opinions are not immune to it ...

In our day, of course, this carries over to opinions about the State of Israel and its foreign policies. (But then, I'm an American Zionist - the most "violent and malignant" kind, according to GO - so I would say that!)