2011-09-28

Happy New Year 5772

I'll be away from posting until this Sunday, due to the Rosh Hashana holiday. I'm looking forward to taking this site to a new level in the coming year, and I'm grateful for your readership.

I've been posting at Dreams Into Lightning on Blogger since April 2004 and at DiL on TypePad since April 2006. Until now, I've mostly duplicated the same content on both sites, but that's changing.

DiL 1 (Blogger) will focus on analysis and viewpoints; DiL 2 (TypePad) will be the place for current news and events.

See you in 5772.

2011-09-27

British Ambassador to Syria Denounces "Big Brother"

Simon Collis minces no words:
I’ve been British Ambassador in Syria for the last four years. Last weekend I decided to start this blog after Syria passed a terrible milestone. The Syrians have now endured six months of unrest and violent suppression of mostly peaceful protests. As they now look towards the next six months with a mixture of uncertainty, fear and hope, I wanted to share some personal impressions about what’s happening. Some thoughts about why it’s happening. And maybe to spark some debate about what comes next and what can be done.

In doing so I am privileged. Because I can. The last six months have shown the Syrians can too. But in doing so, they face censorship, threats and arbitrary arrest.

The Syrian regime doesn’t want you to know that its security forces and the gangs that support them are killing, arresting and abusing mostly peaceful protesters: The UN says over 2,700 people have died in the last six months, some of them under torture in prison. It doesn’t want you to know that it is preventing many from meeting peacefully to discuss reform. It wants you to hear only one version of the truth – its own. ...

2011-09-26

Iranian Nuke: How bad?

Dina Esfandiary at IISS says: Very bad.

Most importantly, it would make the Islamic Republic a great deal bolder in its foreign policy. Iran’s regional aspirations of hegemony would no longer be a matter of trying to appear like a bully, it would be one. And rather than threatening the region with a nuclear weapon, the weapon would give them the confidence to activate their proxies to cause trouble. Americans stirring up trouble in the region? Well, let’s send Hezbollah to nab a few in Lebanon to teach them a lesson. Or better yet, perhaps we can push Hamas to ratchet up their attacks on Israel, send them a few extra rockets and mortars. Memories of the eighties anyone?

Admittedly, this might be more difficult given the changes in the region in the past few months. But it is far from implausible.

An Iranian bomb would be bad for the region. In June, speaking to senior NATO officials, Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal said that an Iranian bomb would “compel Saudi Arabia … to pursue policies which could lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences”, something he reiterated at the IISS GSR conference in September. The same is probably true of other states in the region – some have made it clear that an Iranian nuclear device would be an incentive for them to start their own programmes. Although turning to nuclear power does not necessarily mean getting the bomb, national fuel cycles pose a considerable proliferation threat, and increase the likelihood of a regional nuclear cascade.

Finally, an Iranian bomb would deliver a significant blow to the international non-proliferation and disarmament agenda. Iran signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968 and ratified it two years later. Its programme has since been subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verification. If the regime decides to get the bomb it will have abandoned the NPT. ...

Read the whole article at the link. And bookmark the IISS homepage for up-to-the minute, thoughtful commentary.

2011-09-22

Two Executions

Eric Olsen at GayPatriot has some thoughts on the Troy Davis execution. His piece is exceptionally lucid and worth reading in full. Don't miss the comments.
Whether he was the one that actually pulled the trigger and shot Police Officer (and former Army Ranger) Mark MacPhail in the face and heart, Troy Davis was definitely in the gaggle of hoodlums that was attacking a homeless man whose cries for help were what Officer MacPhail was responding to when he met his untimely fate. The fact that 22 years of appeals were denied –including one last night that the highest court in the land rejected –leads me to believe that the evidence in its entirety is pretty conclusive…

That being said, I am not a fan of the death penalty when there is no DNA evidence.

And Troy Davis declaring he did not kill Officer McPhail with his dying breath didn’t help me feel better about an execution at the end of a circumstantial evidence case. I just keep telling myself regardless of whether he pulled the trigger…he was kicking the daylights out of a defenseless homeless man. ...

Read the whole thing at the link, and don't miss the comments.

Meanwhile, 'White supremacist gang member Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed Wednesday evening for the infamous dragging death slaying of James Byrd Jr., a black man from East Texas.' Two accomplices, John William King and Shawn Barry, were also convicted.

2011-09-20

Bell Tolls for "Don't Ask"

CNN: 'A minute into the new day, 12:01 a.m., the old "don't ask, don't tell" rule that has been in force since the Clinton administration is gone. In its place is a policy designed to be blind to sexual orientation and that the Pentagon brass insists will maintain the military in fighting trim and have no negative impact on "military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion and recruiting and retention."'

BBC: '"Repeal Day" parties have been organised across the country to mark the victory for gay rights.'

TOI: 'During the long, arduous campaign to repeal "don't ask, don't tell", activists and advocacy groups tended to downplay issues related to post-repeal benefits for civilian partners. "It's not something we've been pushing very hard for yet, but it's obviously going to be the next front in the ongoing battle for equality," said Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United.'

Servicemembers United:
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Servicemembers United, the nation’s largest organization of gay and lesbian troops and veterans, celebrated the historic end of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law today with the release of the following statement from its founder and Executive Director, Alexander Nicholson, who was himself honorably discharged early from the U.S. Army because of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:

“On March 15, 1778 the first American servicemember was drummed out of the military for being gay. Since then, tens of thousands more have had their careers ruined and their lives turned upside down by a succession of anti-gay polices and regulations, culminating in the codification of an anti-gay statute in 1993 with the passage of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law. In all, 14,346 men and women were discharged pursuant Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. But thanks to the persistent hard work of unwavering advocates, especially those who have been directly impacted by this issue, and some courageous politicians over the past six years, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is now history. As a result, those who continue to serve can sleep easier tonight knowing that they can no longer be arbitrarily fired because of their sexual orientation. Justice has prevailed and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is dead. God bless America.” ...


Nick, aka Colorado Patriot, at GayPatriot:
While I appreciate your gladness on my behalf, please do take a moment today and keep in mind that there were some of us who were serving under DADT without regard for it.

While I am grateful that the era of homosexuality being the military’s business has ended, I am grateful more so for those who, like me, joined the military knowing the score and choosing this rewarding life anyway.

While I welcome those young men and women into the ranks of our military who heretofore had waited the policy out, I am much more proud of those who didn’t require their own terms be met in order to answer the call to serve in the first place. ...

2011-09-15

Enlightenment and Its Discontents


In thus projecting a doctrine of human dignity, Rassvyet [published 1907-1934] did not only confront the Czarist regime and Russian society. It threw down the gauntlet to the Jewish liberals, socialists and assimilationists whose conventional policy was one of apology and self justification, accepting by implication the notion that if the Jews were not ultra-virtuous, not ultra-talented, and not ultra-blessed with ultra-civilized ancestors, they would not be entitled to the ordinary rights enjoyed or striven for by their non-Jewish fellow citizens. They thus openly accepted the double standard which was (and has remained) one of the hallmarks of anti-semitism throughout the world.

Standing alone among the organs of Jewish opinion, the Rassvyet editors applied their extraordinary intellectual resources to warn the Jewish community against the illusion that the "emancipation", which all demanded, would solve the essential Jewish problem. Emancipation had come to progressive Western Europe and what had been achieved? Virulent German anti-semitism, "scientific" Austrian anti-semitism were as alive as ever. Most dramatically of all, its monstrous face had appeared in France precisely in the age of vaunted liberalism: Dreyfus languishing on Devil's Island was a very recent memory. The idea that precisely in Russia, Russia of the pogroms, an emancipatory sun would melt the hearts of the endemic Jew-haters was a snare and an illusion: those who preached it were leading their people to the edge of despair.

- Shmuel Katz. Lone Wolf: A biography of Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky.

When the winds of Emancipation began to blow through Europe, Jews were presented with a choice. They could become equal citizens but only by keeping their Jewish identity restricted to private life. Many Jews, understandably eager to break free of generations of persecution, embraced the offer. Judaism was reformed to meet the demands of this civic invisibility, with the German Reform movement leading the way. By instituting a number of significant changes, from translating the Hebrew liturgy into German to celebrating the Jewish Sabbath on Sunday rather than Saturday to abolishing traditional dietary restrictions, Reform leaders hoped to help the Jews become full partners in German life, to be what one Enlightenment thinker would later call "a Jew at home and a man on the street." Significantly, the German Reform movement did not see Jews as a separate nation but rather considered themselves to be "Germans of Mosaic persuasion."

But the Enlightenment strategy of fading out of view was deeply and tragically unsuccessful. Enlightenment and emancipation promised to treat Jews as equal citizens provided they remained invisible as Jews. But what started with eliminating Jewishness from the public square culminated in an attempt to eliminate Jews altogether. The country where Reform was born would also be the country that would condemn the Jews to extermination.

Europe's democratic ideals would leave no room for Jewish identity. On this point, there was little that separated the philosophical ends and ideologies associated with the Right or the Left. Each had a dream of sameness and unity, whether it entailed a fascistic single identity or imagined the dissolution of all identity.

- Natan Sharansky. Defending identity.

In Europe, and not just there, a new kind of politics did seem to be stirring, which sometimes called itself left-wing and sometimes right-wing -- a demagogic politics, irrational, authoritarian, and insanely murderous, a politics of mass mobilization for unachievable ends. Mussolini had embraced the word "totalitarian" to describe his own movement; and "totalitarian" in its stuttery sharp syllables seemed to fit the new kind of politics in each of its versions, right-wing and left-wing alike. The implications did seem fairly obvious. During the whole of the nineteenth century and the first years of the twentieth, a great many enlightened and progressive thinkers had supposed that a main danger, perhaps the principal danger, to modern civilization came from a single political tendency, which was the extreme right, and mostly from a single country, which was Germany, the sworn foe of the French Revolution. But that sort of outlook seemed hopelessly antique by 1950. In the new era, no one doubted that political movements on the extreme right could still make you worry. No one felt much confidence in Germany and its political traditions.

But the midcentury writers saw all too plainly that a danger to civilization had meanwhile cropped up in Russia and among the hard-bitten Stalinists, and among other people, too. The writers worried about the many mush-headed liberals and fellow travelers all over the world who, without being Stalinists themselves, managed to admire the Stalinist enterprise. ...

- Paul Berman. Terror and liberalism.


Cross-posted at DiL - TypePad.

2011-09-13

Middle East at Critical Mass

Turkey's Erdogan says his country is "ready for anything" as Turkey sends three military ships to the eastern Mediterranean to "defend against Israeli vessels". Debka reports that "If Turkish warships encounter an Israeli military ship outside Israel's 12-mile territorial waters, they will advance up to 100 meters from the ship and disable its weapon system."

Meanwhile, Russia says welcome as Iran goes nuclear.

And according to this enigmatic report, an unnamed IDF naval officer violated the territorial waters of an unnamed foreign country, and got a week in an Israeli brig.

Remarks. Via Meadia says that the Middle East is "on the boil", and Belmont Club concurs. Mead:

With the end of the Cold War, history began to return to a “normal” velocity. Countries got frisky; France has fallen in and out with both the United States and Germany several times since 1989. The rise of China and India transforms the international scene in a way that was common before 1945 but rare during the Cold War.

Fernandez oberves: "It bears recalling that the Cold war saw both the 1967 and 1973 Wars. So normal velocity does not necessarily augur good news."

Indeed. Michael Totten's latest report from Cairo explains that

The army and the Islamists have a strange relationship with each other that neither explains or is honest about. The state has viciously repressed the Brotherhood at times while at other times using it as either a sword or a shield against liberals.

Traditionally, Egypt's army and its Islamists have been antagonistic to one another. But what happens if they join forces?

No doubt Washington and Jerusalem prefer to do business with the military instead of the Brotherhood even if the regime was founded in a spirit of Arab Nationalism and Egyptian supremacy. But what if the U.S. and Israel will soon have to contend with both?

2011-09-02

Turkey / Israel Rift

Turkey / Israel rift. MK Dr. Michael Ben-Ari has had it with Turkey, and has called on FM Avidgor Lieberman to declare Turkey an enemy state and send its ambassador packing. Turkey says it will take legal action against Israel and prosecute Israelis for actions taken during the Mavi Marmara raid in May of 2010. Israel says, We're not sorry. Turkey says fine, we don't like you either.

Commentary. Claire Berlinski:

Turkey has announced that it's suspending military agreements with Israel and reducing diplomatic relations to "Second Secretary" level. I read the Palmer Report last night. As far as I know, it hasn't been translated into Turkish. Judith, do you know if it's been translated into Hebrew?

If it hasn't been translated into either language, we can conclude that popular debate about it is taking place among journalists, academics, diplomats, Americans, and on Twitter. It takes even a very fluent reader of English who has followed this story closely since it began about two hours to read it carefully.

All of this could make one quite despairing ...

Follow the Istanbul-dwelling American expat Berlinski for the latest. Here's some info on the Palmer Report:

The much-delayed UN report, by a committee lead by former NZ Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer, into the deadly Israeli action against a Gaza-bound flotilla on May 31 2010 has been leaked to the New York Times prior to its official release, expected today.

The report find that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is legal and appropriate but the force used in the raid was excessive and unreasonable.

Summary

On 31 May 2010 at 4.26 a.m. a flotilla of six vessels was boarded and taken over by Israeli Defense Forces 72 nautical miles from land. The vessels were carrying people and humanitarian supplies. The flotilla had been directed to change course by the Israeli forces who stated that the coast of Gaza was under a naval blockade. Nine passengers lost their lives and many others were wounded as a result of the use of force during the take-over operation by Israeli forces.

The Secretary-General established the Panel of Inquiry on the 31 May 2010 Flotilla Incident on 2 August 2010. ...

Full text of the Palmer Report (pdf).