Friday, July 17, 2015

Peace With the Ayatollahs in Our Time?


          Times they are a'changin' et plus ça change... Little less than three years ago I blogged in support of Israel and Netanyahu, and affirmed that Iran under the ayatollahs (with Ahmanidejad as prez) were an existential threat for the state of Israel and therefore the West should exert max pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear superpower ambition. 
          In the time intervening, a number of things have happened in the region. The foolish jerk at the helm in Tehran was replaced by a generally more acceptable figure - who though maintaining hostile posture to the sliver of Mediterranean referred to as 'the Zionist entity' among the theocratic elders - nonetheless seems to be doing the ayatollahs' bidding in the matter ex obligo rather than out of deeply-held conviction. It could be, as Bibi says, that Rouhani is superbly crafty in disguising the depth of his homicidal intentions, or it could be that the PM of Israel is exaggerating when he is not talking rubbish.  
          No, the tentative agreement with Rouhani which effectively (on paper at least) stops and rolls back (!) the means to build nuclear bombs is not Munich 1938 simply because the deal signed in Vienna was structured (on paper again) a quid pro quo arrangement, and not a unilateral concession to an aggressor. Hitler did not have to give up anything for getting the Sudetenland. He simply gave a vague promise not to seek any further territorial expansion and consult with Chamberlain when something bothered him. 
         
        There is further issue with the lame comparison.  Iran is expanding its influence in the region, not its territory. That is different from Nazi Germany's aims. Most importantly Iran's gains in prestige came as a direct consequence of the US letting loose its reins in Iraq after it destroyed its political structure without assuring a working administrative model to keep whole the artificial modern entity. Obama acceded to a ham-handed Shia-dominated political elite, without insisting on safeguards for the sizeable Sunnite minority. A little later, the US (and Israel) supported armed and violent international jihad against a relatively stable, even if oppressive, regime of Bashar al-Assad. The strife was against Assad was fueled practically from the start by Islamic sectarianism and terrorism. If Tehran militias showed up to prop up an ally's regime, it is in a very different scenario than Hitler's minions blowing up neutral Austria, and foisting unrest in the German-speaking borderland of Czechoslovakia. For most part, Iran's influence in the region grew in the mirror of  the current US administration's hapless evacuations and dithering.  Iran has been only filling a power vacuum created in the region by Obama's ill-advised anti-imperialist posturing.

    Naturally, with certified fools at the helm of the juggernaut, I would have my doubts about secretary Kerry's ability to negotiate a very good deal with Iran. Maybe a different US administration might have gotten better terms. Except again: the US is not alone in the world with deeply vested interests in nuclear non-proliferation. This was EU3 + 3, or P5 + 1 negotiating team, and the agreement reflects the shift in the world balance of power.  The deal has accomplished what it set out to do: it has very significantly reduced Iran's capacity to weaponize nuclear energy in the foreseeable future. Mohammad Javad Zarif has solemnly signed a document which says in the preamble: "Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons."  That is a significant statement. Would there be any plainer way to denounce the country's  ambition to own a nuclear bomb?  It is only words, true, but certainly a pledge worth testing.  So, the smart money would be on monitoring Iran's compliance, not by trying to scuttle the agreement, as Israel's government  and the GOP have set out to do.   
 
   I don't buy the heated rhetoric from Jerusalem and the Republicans. The cries of a catastrophic, cataclysmic miscue of the part of Obama, the EU, Russia and China, are way too ...well, let's say it, 'flakey'.  And if you listen carefully, the complaint is all over the place. Mark Steyn says that the Vienna accord is far worse than Munich because Chamberlain's motives were honourable!  Iran can't be trusted - everybody is supposed to know that. But can US be ?  Susan Rice admitted to Wolf Blitzer that some of the unfrozen funds could be used to support terrorism. Krauthammer wrings hands over the giveaway  in lifting the conventional arms embargo that is years away.   Wake up idiots !  The ayatollahs are not behind the shooting in Chattanooga yesterday.  Yes, there is Iranian terrorism. But the Iranian brand of terrorism also - and for the moment prevalently -  terrorize ISIS (in Syria, Kurdistan and Anbar province of Iraq), and al-Qaeda (in Yemen) from which the US and the rest of the world benefits.  And it appears that the Iranian troopers (beside the Kurdish Peshmerga) are the only credible ground force in the region fighting the real scourge that butchers tens of thousands, enslaves millions and destroys priceless and irreplaceable cultural treasures in the cradle of human civilization. And they will be, at least until the next president of the USA wakes up and realizes that ISIS has to be destroyed immediately, and Iraq needs to be "maintained" pacified by a credible US threat capable of smashing within weeks any sectarian nonsense that bubbles up.  The Armageddon-thumping ayatollahs have become the symbol of American weakness. But they too are mortal. Let us give ourselves a chance to see the next thing that comes out of the great civilization of Persia.      

Friday, July 10, 2015

United by lower Grexpectations


Catching up the last two weeks with the history of the Greek debt, I am left with the strongest hunch that ‘crazy’ is the new mainstream. It appears that if some nonsense overwhelms the body politic, the antidote will almost certainly be product of another politicized form of craziness.

The most informing thing about the €380 billion that Greece owes is that the country does not have the means not just repaying, but servicing it in a meaningful way. All fiscal plans by the Greek government, including the one currently under consideration by the EU, project a magical turn in the country’s economy and the filling of state coffers as a result of minimum additional funds Athens can wrestle from the financiers, in return of promise to implement an effective austerity regime, the very thing that the majority of Greeks have vehemently opposed ever since it was set as a condition of further aid in 2009. The electorate first opposed it covertly, then openly, by voting in a radical Left government which considers the lenders blood-sucking terrorists.  By all appearances, the EU banksters and the Left lunatics have come to an amicable agreement this week, thanks mainly to France’s left liberal cave-in to the Syriza’s implied suggestion that Angela Merkel is a new incarnation of Inspecteur Javert 

In times of reason, premier Tsipras’ dealing hand would be in laughed off and he would be exposed as a hopeless s**t-disturber and demagogue.  But in times of ‘crazy’ he holds the high card. The ace in his hand is Greece-is-a-victim psychobabble.  To be sure, there are some things in his posturing in which I find more than a grain of truth. The financial crisis in Greece has started as toxic private, not public, debt. The fable that the financial collapse originates in Greek civil servants’ retiring en masse with full pension in their mid-fifties, is just another example of counter-crazy. I don’t subscribe to the theory that high unemployment is a contagious outbreak of mass laziness among the drinking classes. I really do feel sorry for the ordinary, below-euro-average Greek sweating hours in the ATM lineups. But all the same: Tsipras’ complaint doesn’t work for the same reason Senator Mike Duffy’s hope for sympathy is vain. As one cannot claim to be manipulated into accepting bribes, one cannot wash one’s hands of money one accepts as loans, by simply arguing that the lender has too much of it.  But for now, it looks Tsipras’ gamble has paid off and his referendum, if not wishing away the debt, means more bailouts and another postponement in paying it.

So, what gives?   Tsipras’ victory may be short-lived.  He made Germany dance to his tune but the anger and frustration with Greece remains. The country is by all accounts bankrupt. Anything, at this point – and under the prevailing rules of engagement – will be but a band-aid and short pause to government IOU’s and the return to drachma.  The retardant of the Greek collapse (or better, the end of masking it) is now the IMF following the crazy policy of the US (and EU) towards Russia.  The illusion of unity seems of paramount importance in trying to wall off Russia from Europe. But reality has a way of asserting itself. Europe is divided, not united.  Greek is bankrupt with minimal prospect of recovery in the continuing charades around its debt. The volatile Middle East and Africa pose the real security danger to Europe, not Russia. So, as always, it is pay me now or pay me later.

'''
ETA (Jul 13):  Tsipras' 'victory' was short-lived indeed.  It appears that Wolfgang Schauble's view of Greece won the day when it came to the nitty-gritty of actual negotiations and Syriza had to back out of the negotiating 'mandate' it claimed was given to it by the referendum. In the end, the Hansa concept of EU prevailed over the Mediterranean bazaar view. Greece - for the time it remains in the Eurozone - will operate as German banking protectorate.  Will Tsipras' politically survive this?  The cynic would say, 'no problem, the Greeks understand the nature of the comedy, in which it does not really matter who leads it.'  The outcome will be the same. 
   

Monday, March 9, 2015

Why Does Putin Kill Kittens ?

    Because of the way MMOs (major media outlets) report on certain realities in the world these days, the question in the headline needs to be grasped first on the merits of its utility. It does not really matter if Vladimir Vladimirovich destroys cuddly domestic pets, or whether such accusation is stupid beyond belief. We have the means to validate whatever beliefs by the wonders of communications technology.  The thing to grasp here is whether it is useful to believe that Putin kills kittens. And the finding would be - I guess - yes it is useful.  It is useful to believe that because it makes available certain options which the US foreign policy would not normally enjoy.

 Now here again I need to pause and digress.  I realize that to say anything about anything in terms of norms in our time is felt by the intellectually destitute squatters occupying main street to be deeply abnormal, as they would no doubt describe efforts to be normal as being patriarchal or heterosexist or dinosaural. So, it is really hard to imagine what normal options in US foreign policy would be to begin with in this particular bubble of here-and-now. Especially, since the women who run (which at this juncture means animate) US foreign policy from Michelle Obama down to Mary Harf are not exactly the blushing types.  But let us just say that in the olden days, say before Reagan's amiable senility set the policy tone, one would not badmouth foreign dignitaries unless one meant business, that is to say, one really meant to kill the sons-of-bitches. But not even then. Churchill omitted Hitler's titles (even the sarcastic Herr) when referring to him only after the war started.  

     Not so in our times. For Hillary Clinton whose demeanor epitomizes the contemporary lack of personal culture, not to say norms of diplomatic protocol, Putin is KGB psycho or Hitler or whatever the brainwave washes up on the spikes of her tongue. She does not mean to kill the son-of-a-bitch when she accuses him (a soulful Russian) of lacking a soul. She just does her politico version of twerking for the evening news. He is smart; he'll figure out it isn't for real - it's only for the masses hungering for some exciting news from a woman who cannot be wrong.  If she says that Putin (Warning : a graphic description ahead may be disturbing to some readers !) skins the poor critters alive it must be so. And if it rings true in the feeble American grasp of the world that,  as Jen Psaki said that the population of Crimea was 'forced to go to the polls facing a false choice' in a 2014, then the claim that the Russian president has vivisectionist tendencies offers tantalizing possibilities in extending NATO to the gates that obsessed the Russian chauvinists since the time immemorial.

So, yes, Putin kills kittens. And we have a proof that ! Well actually, like with the proof of columns of Russian military hardware entering Ukraine, it is more or less in the eye of the beholder. But that does not matter. Let the RT and one of the Rands blow into the wind all they want. The US Senate had a proof of Russian tanks invading Ukraine. We have a proof of Putin killing kittens. It may not be available quite in a consumable packaging but we are all adults and we are sophisticated about the world we live in. And since women rule and the Duchess of Cambridge is into killing kittens as well, the real question is, WTF am I talking about?  Ah, yes, the world where women rule !

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Islamic Quiz for Andrew Coyne

     In my mother tongue, there is a word with a revealing etymology. The adjective "pitomý (-á, -é)" translates as "stupid", "obtuse", "insipid".  In the old Slavonic, the word "pitati" meant "to feed", and gave rise to the Czech adjective whose original meaning was "well-fed" or "sated".  From there it migrated to the modern meaning most likely on the observation that people who have no want tend to become dull-witted by the same token. Interesting.  I tend to agree and believe that statistically this would bear out. I observe that if you live in peace and prosperity your hunger for both diminishes as a function of actually living in a peaceful and prosperous society. After a while, it becomes hard to imagine anything but the reality of your comfort.  This intensifies the dullness in the perception of the world that convinces many of the well-fed that there is no immediate danger to us from some people cutting heads of other people in the Middle East and parts of Africa. There is no danger coming from jihadis at all and they will be nice like us, if only we feed them and then leave them alone. There is no danger of their atrocities materializing here (we are all well fed !) so we will not be intimidated into reducing immigration from the head-cutting regions of globe. Many in the Western intellectual elite live with the I-am-ok-Jack syndrome and not all them are necessarily overweight like Michael Moore.

    An example of classical pitomost (a noun derived from pitomý) comes in Andrew Coyne's last week's column in National Post (The case for watching our words on Islamism, 21/2/2015), in which he muses over the different take on the Islamic terror by Stephen Harper and Barack Obama. Well, muses probably is not the right verb.  Fiddles, would describe it better.  The foolishness of Coyne's rhetorical exercise makes itself felt almost immediately.  Says he: There are, it would seem, three questions to be answered: what is in fact the relationship, if any, between Islam and terrorism; what do authorities believe is the relationship; and what do they say they believe. The peculiar insistence on the right that politicians insert the word “Islamic” before “terrorism” would appear to stem from a belief that anything else is an abdication from the “truth,” that there is “something about Islam” that explains the proliferation of terrorist groups claiming to act in its name. No, actually there is only one question. If the Obama administration does not think there is any link between terrorism and Islam why did it accord the corpse of Osama bin Laden, the mass murderer of Americans, the right to be buried according to the Islamic tradition ?   It would appear to someone not in the habit to twist truth into ideological pretzels there most definitely is a connection between Islam and terrorism, or Islam and a universalist, supremacist ideology.  I wager that nine out of ten Canadians and Americans would agree with that proposition, even though many in the same breath would repeat the established bromide that most Muslims are not terrorists or approve of terrorist methods. But the problem of course is that many Muslims while not approving of terrorism in fact desire a global Islamic society and support political organizations and social networks whose goals are overtly or covertly to establish a world Islamist rule over Non-muslims. The terrorism of such ambition - as I wrote before - is implied.  Not to see this, or pretending that this ideology does not exist is of course willful blindness borne of what I called here pitomost.

 It is in the lack of discernment that would deny the hulking political ideology of Islamism that makes naifs like Andrew Coyne a truly sad sight of our time.  He expounds the silly deconstructionist argument recently used by Ben Affleck (arguing with Bill Maher) that wishes to assert that Islam, as a religion, is so differentiated that one cannot really say anything that would stick as a label for the whole caboodle.  This argument is as pitomý as pitomý could get.  Imagine, if you will, Coyne or Affleck saying that forty years ago about another ideology manifestly hostile to the West - communism. How could one even begin to conflate the Soviets and Maoist China, the Stalinists and the Trockyists, with the anti-Bolshevik followers of Rosa Luxemburg ?  How could one compare the saintly martyrs like Antonio Gramsci and Karl Liebknecht to vicious genocidal animals of Lavrenti Beria's or Pol Pot's ilk ?  Did not Lenin explicitly condemn the violent red anarchism that became the hallmark later of the Red Brigades and the Baader-Meinhof gang ? How could one say anything valid about communism that would apply to all communists ?  And yet somehow the brains in the West were able to distill the essence of that ideology and its practical effects and decide that this is not how we want live (and have our women dress).   How could that be ? With all that variety of the communist belief ? But the West did protect its culture and traditions from the red menace and it slowly died (or morphed into something much more benign, as in China).

                So in truth, there is something like modern political Islamism and it sprang from the head of a single 19th century thinker, and contemporary of Karl Marx.  Andrew Coyne does not know his name and by all appearances he knows nothing about his philosophy and the man's career. Andrew Coyne does not know him because he does not find his name anywhere in the tons of dimwitted columns written by, or recited on TV, by people like himself who are completely ignorant of the matters that come to bear on one of the most serious and also sadly, ridiculous, challenges our civilization faces.  Andrew Coyne does not the name of this luminary (and wily mountebank) even though he was a well-known figure at the courts of Europe, and in Persia, a man that saw the potential of the Islamic world well ahead of his time and who passionately defended it in polemics against one of Europe's leading intellectuals of the day, Ernest Renan. He fought the British on the side of the Sepoy in 1857 Indian uprising, and later advised the shah on dealings with the British. His anti-British attitude recommended him to the Tsar, and he was allowed to proselytize Islam in the Russian Central Asia as a bulwark against the encroaching rival imperialism.  So who was he, Andrew?  More clues:  He acquired a pupil who adored him, but in some ways was smarter and better positioned than his teacher, in a replica of what Friedrich Engels was to Karl Marx. The Islamist "modernizing" philosophy of his pupil, who became the Grand Mufti of Egypt created the corner stone of the political movements of the Muslim brothers in Egypt, and its first leaders Hassan Al Bannah, Sayyid Qutb, and reformers like Muhammad Rashid Rida and Abul A'la Maududi who founded the Jamaat e-Islami party in British India.  The belief of the Mufti was that the old, passive religion of Islam must be converted into a modern political movement, one that can challenge and replace the Western model of government. He called it the "cutting head of religion with the sword of religion".  The teacher and his pupil gave the world the term "salafiyya" which became the central piece of the modernizing Islamist philosophy, much like "the dictatorship of the proletariat" was to Marxism-Leninism.

       So who were the two men ?  Andrew Coyne apparently does not know but he knows it is a mistake for Mr Harper to oppose allowing quasi-religious face covering during Canadian citizenship ceremonies. He writes with a truly foolish abandon: "Merely referring to “Islamic extremism” or “jihadism” would be unobjectionable in itself. But when coupled with recent, needless interventions in such volatile debates as whether the niqab may be worn at citizenship ceremonies, it suggests at best a troubling indifference to the importance of symbols and the need for those in power to go out of their way to reassure those in minority groups that they have not been targeted."  No, Andrew, you have it ass backwards ! The niqab was all but extinct two generations ago in the Islamic world, or at any rate, it would be associated with the most retrograde cultural forms of that religion. No educated, urbane Muslim two generations ago would compel his wife to wear this abominable declaration of social inferiority and denial of public identity. No self-respected Muslima, at any rate one exposed to the 20th century idea of civil society would wear one.  If it made an astonishing comeback, it is because it has been tolerated not just as a statement of protest against Western values and traditions, but as a calculated provocative denying of the jurisdiction a modern secular state over Muslims. So, it goes without saying that Muslims who would deplore or berate the Prime Minister for his stance on the niqab during citizenship ceremonies, are not the kinds of Muslims willing to accept the fundamental principles of a modern multicultural society whose existence presupposes a set of common secular values respected by everyone regardless of religious faith. More to the point that I am trying to make here:`to someone who is not pitomý it would be clear as day that people who are hostile to the secular order will not be satisfied by the next concession they claw from spineles politicos via the multitude of media mudheads. To someone who is not pitomý, insisting that our cultural values be observed, including the equal status of women, will not make the Muslim community as a whole more hostile to Canada and deliver more of the peaceful Muslim flock to the terrorist wolf-packs.  Bien au contraire !  Muslims not overtly or secretly favouring the caliphate would support the requirement of ladies showing their faces in public.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Careful With That Axe, Eugene

        No, this is not a blog entry featuring a Roger Waters (Pink Floyd ) nostalgia but a digest (sort of) of recent round tables on the future of Ottawa hockey at one of the local Tim Horton's by the city's greatest hockey experts.  Yeah, the consensus is : future is bleak for Ottawa NHL franchise.  Not only the Sens do not have a lot of talent on the team right now and nothing much at its farm club in Binghampton, but the club's marketing insists the team is a playoff contender which it clearly is not, and was not past the first dozen or so games in the season where it looked like maybe a contender for another early playoff knockout.  And we have a consensus around the table also on the nature of the problem : it is the success of the club's owner Eugene Melnyk of making more money of a below-average hockey team in the city than off a real contender.  Sad but true, this is the reality of the Ottawa hockey franchise to many frustrated fans of the club, some of whom "returned" their earlier loyalties to the Habs (and until recently the Leafs), and prefer a handful of trips out of town to get the kick out of watching a team competing with a passion for the hockey's greatest trophy. It's not as much the hockey that stinks, but the way the Sens owner uses the holy Canadian national obsession for making more money that he should off a team no-one with a brain in their head believes is as good as it could be.  On this we are agreed.

        It seems clear as day to all Ottawans, not feeding off  the tripes of the Sun columnists Bruce Garrioch and Don Brennan, that the club has dug itself a deep hole and that there is no easy way out. Not as long as the club's owner believes what he does is not just smart business but smart hockey business.  Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a sports writer in the city right now ready to take on the Sens owner to task. Last time I remember reading something vaguely critical of Melnyk was Wayne Scanlan's (Ottawa Citizen) jeering in 2010 accusing the managagement of trying to sell Ottawa fans the 2007 edition of the team - then long gone. And of course, it has been all downhill from the club's only appearance in the Stanley Cup final. The bright spots are few, in fact only one marquee player , Eric Karlsson, appeared in the last half a dozen year but even he has never quite regained the shine after his 2012 injury.  Only two exceptional coaches, Cory Clouston (2009-2011) and Paul MacLean (2012-2014) made the club perform well, certainly well over its talent content.  Clouston, of whom it was said, that he was the only guy in the organization who truly hated losing , got the team into playoffs through dogged determination.  Bryan Murray, the Sens GM, made another great catch in luring Maclean, an assistant to Mike Babcock in Detroit. The man with the walrus moustache made an instant impression in taking the team to the second round of the Cup in 2013 and winning the NHL coach of the year award.  But after the club's loss of its two star forwards, one of them a shameful cold shoulder to the soul of the franchise, the beloved 'Alfie', he seems to have caught onto Eugene's way with the axe (neither Alfie nor Spezza were in any way replaced - Ryan certainly has not replaced the former captain as a leader) and the widening gulf  between the Sens marketing propaganda and reality, saying he was going into games 'scared' in turn of the other teams' talent and the lack thereof on the team he coached. He was promptly axed.  Like in the Spezza exchange, the replacement is without distinction. The club is predicatbly going nowhere, even though Bruce Garrioch will be quick to cheer you up by telling that Karlsson plus/minus has much improved under the new coach (who has no prior NHL experience).  

       So, we are a couple of weeks from a trade deadline and the word on the NHL street is that Ottawa Senators are "sellers". Again, not a word of protest against Melnyk hacking away this year.  Only a year ago, when the Sens owner landed a lucrative deal with Rogers, hopes were kindled that this will lead to the replenishment of the thinning ranks of impact players. No way, Jose ! The owner is not going to raise quality of his hockey product, until (he says) the team proves it can compete (with a bunch of young guys, journeymen and minor leaguers). Hmmm.....Instead, the money would be used for a more urgent purpose: the relocation of the club closer to downtown in a grand scheme to get it closer to a casino a project which preoccupies him.  It is unclear how Melnyk imagines this will enhance the revenues to offset the capital outlays, or if he is back in the fantasy land where he chases Matt Cooke through courts for hison-ice injury to Eric Karlsson.  In reality terms, it only makes a good bet that the Ottawa team would get lousier and move closer in ranking to the league's payroll where Ottawa Senators already sit dead last. So obviously it is not love of hockey as a competitive game that is attracting Eugene Melnyk to his business schemes around the Canadian winter rapture. So the way it is going Eugene may well get his wish of a second NHL hockey arena in the city, but it may come with either a pathetic excuse for an NHL team or no NHL team at all.  So, careful with that axe, Eugene !  Remember the Yogi Berra's great teaching (in paraphrase) :  "If people want to stay away from a lousy hockey club, who can stop them ?"

Monday, January 12, 2015

Je suis Charlie, struggling with my identity

 In the world of competing identities some are evidently more equal than others. The really substandard ones are being white (Caucasian without being Hispanic) , male, Christian, heterosexual. In our day and age if one is found to belong to one or more of these, he or she better live in a state of permanent repentance for the ills these groupings of bad people wrought upon the world.  One needs to be aware that one belongs among people who are generically racists, imperialists, patriarchal oppressors, bigots and homophobes.  One needs to be aware of the righteous struggle against people like oneself by the anti-racists, anti-imperialists, Muslims, feminists, and the people who are gay-lesbians-transgender-and-whatever-new-gender-identity-this-day-brings. 

      One solution to the problem of owning one or more bad identities is to pose as a Liberal.  In our time the good old Liberal gentleman, i.e. someone who would give you shirt off his back, has been all but replaced by the ubiquitous poseur, enthusiastically advocating the shirt should be ripped off the back of the people with bad identity profiles, in the hope that in the rush his own unseemly identities will be forgiven or redeemed by his Liberalism, or perhaps - more realistically - that the crocodile will devour him last.



    In this light, I read the "Je suis Charlie" mania gripping France as by and large a toothless form of jacquerie designed by people who for most part are latter day Liberals. They are folks who are like Anglicans, as a tough nun in Somerset C. Maugham novel "Painted Veil" sized them up, people who don't "believe in anything much".  Over three million copies of the post-massacre issue of Charlie Hendo were printed, as a memento of a mass protest where all France showed up to condemn the two massacres in Paris in the first week of the New Year. Alas, the placards it seemed celebrated multiple identities. It was more or less a given among the attendees that "Je suis musulman" meant "je ne suis pas ce genre de musulman", that is to admit  the confession of the Algerian brothers who were buried in unmarked graves somewhere around Reims to prevent pilgrimages to honour the martyrs for the cause of a 7th century Islam dominating the modern world.  This is a naive mindset clinging to a fairy tale of a multicultural panacea, built on the desperate hope that rats will be comrades and worshipping the "four legs good - two legs bad" motto of identity politics. 

    This is not to say that a truly multicultural society is impossible or undesirable; it is simply to say that it cannot be built without a deep respect for the founding principles of a civil society, which distasteful as it may seem to the revolutionary, radical types, was initially built precisely by the collection of "bad" identities named above in the first paragraph. What these identities have in common is that they are on the whole way more tolerant than the antithetical ones which deplore and badmouth them vociferously. They were not always that way in history, but they appear to be the ones most capable of reform because they - on the whole again - understand societies are evolving and accepting that even their advanced degree of civil edifice is not without fault.  That kind of insight does not exist among those who naturally assume that admitting one's fallibility means vacating the high moral ground. Also, people worshipping identity politics - and this is again my private observation without statistics to confirm - are generally much less likely seeing the bigger picture and cultivate a healthy sense of humour.  I have convinced myself that G.K. Chesterton was right in saying that the maturity of a religion is measured by its sense of humour.  I am sure this is true also of secular ideologies.  Chesterton was a Catholic who said that his confession was superior to all the other forms of Christianity because it admitted all types of faith, even the respectable one. 

       Humour assumes the ability to defeat anger by insight.  In that regard, I have to say I was never much of a fan of Charlie Hebdo. I have always found much of the political satire too close to drooling glee. But I loved the cover of the memorial issue. It was masterful irony: Muhammad 'forgiving' the insult of being lampooned. A strike of genius in the cry for humanity lost on the fanatics.  Jelaluddin Rumi would see the hand of God in it, just as he saw it in the confession of an atheist. 


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Walking While White

Yes, it happened. Strange as it may seem and completely inexplicable unless one takes the unforgettable SNL sketch of Eddie Murphy's "white experience" as guide.  White people are nice to each other. They give things to each other when they are alone.  Why would a white cop tackle a white male citizen peacefully walking on a sidewalk ?  Freaky or not, it sometimes happens. It happened to me. It did not make any news headlines because cellphone cameras were not yet around then. Everyone knew that some among the Montreal finest were cuckoos, apt to go berserk at whatever could be construed as an excuse for assault causing bodily harm on law-abiding burghers. It was not big news even when some store camera caught a uniformed porky kicking the shit out of a citizen asking him politely (he was white which explains his stereotypical proneness to civility) to remove his cruiser which was double parked and blocking his vehicle. 

My takedown, alas, was not news. I walked home from a friends' house at about midnight.  Saw a police cruiser through a corner of my eye prowling alongside me for about a half of a city block. Then came a holler from the car in French. I had no idea it was meant for me.  Then a door slammed and from the blind side came a vicious tackle that sent me down to the sidewalk, my head banging the pavement.  Through the fog I heard something that ended like ....t'es sourd quoi (are you deaf ?). Realizing the situation I was in I decided I lost speech and comprehension completely (I never talked to Montreal cops in French out of principle). I was handcuffed and dragged to the back of the police cruiser.  My ruse of pretending the head-bang incapacitated me worked. Once loaded in, the cops in front argued whether they should take me to the hospital first, the attacker turning back to me asking from time to time: "you ok ", "what happened to you", and "where do you live", evidently concerned.  Again, this would be how white cops treat white males.  However, the driver decided against just dropping me off because there were two couples, he said, across the street intently watching the scene. If something happened shit would hit the fan. So the charade continued. I was taken to the police station - I appeared to gather my senses -  and charged with "drunken and disorderly" plus "resisting arrest".  I asked for a breathalyzer test. I was not shown the result but the first charge was changed to "loitering".  I was fingerprinted and mug shot was taken.  It showed an ugly-looking contusion on my front temple which was cleaned after we entered.  I seemed to be quiet, without affect and this evidently unnerved the police station. A shift supervisor came in and asked me what happened. I told him what happened. He asked me if I was sure that it happened that way. I told him that in my state I was not sure of anything. He asked me if I was going to complain. I told him I had a headache. With a job and an address and no prior the super decided the best way to handle this would be to take me to the hospital. In a week, I was informed by mail that the charges were dropped. No explanation, no apology.  I was invited to file a complaint against "the arresting officer".  I did not. You understand: I was white. How lucky to have been born white. Facial bruises look uglier.  Everything in life seems so much easier if your skin lacks melatonin. 

 Seriously, though: I note through the incidents in Ferguson and Staten Island the absolute obsession with color in two examples of lethal use of police force. Insofar I can see the two cases are miles apart. Given what is known to be the evidence in the Mike Brown's case, the grand jury was correct not to indict Officer Wilson. Whatever the community policing  in the city and in the US at large, the damning of Officer Wilson was based on evidence that was perjured as the forensics supported the account of the officer and other witnesses, mostly black.  So, despite the sometimes hysterical CNN's coverage of the incident's aftermath and the racial card being played day in day out everywhere, the incident began with a grievous assault on a uniformed police officer by an unruly teenage bully. The fact that Mike Brown was black and unarmed in this case does not change anything on the fact that he acted with determined physical aggression toward the cop. A reasonable person would see this aspect of the incident as way more important than the respective racial profile of the two actors. The race in this case is a red herring, politically exploited. It only matters to people who are stupid, or who are racists projecting their racism onto people of other races. The unsung heroes of the saga were the black witnesses who told the truth to the grand jury and saved Darren Wilson from the cries for lynching the politicos and media were happily feeding into. Do not expect them to be celebrated by the US president, and yet they were not the only ones not thinking white vs. black in Ferguson.  They were the only ones certifiably non-racist and sane, thinking of their community messed up by black crime out of control, not white cops response to it. They did what was right and in the face of an angry mob. They have my respect.

       The Staten Island incident likewise has an unarmed black man killed by a white cop. But this is where any similarity between the tragic deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner end.  There was no similarity in the context of the two incidents. Mike Brown was a bully. Eric Garner was not.  Eric Garner refused to go with the police voluntarily.  Bad mistake. He knew he was dealing with law enforcement officers. But there was not a hint of any physical aggression coming from him. Once on ground, in an illegal head-lock by Officer Daniel Pantaleo, and after his head pressed by him. Eric was clearly pleading, expressing discomfort, not resisting. It seems a classical case of excessive force even though the death was accidental, partially attributable to Eric's health condition.  The excess should have been acknowledged by NYPD, and the grand jury should have ordered a trial of the officer on a charge of involuntary manslaughter. It may have been a freak one-in-a-thousand accident but it was brought about by excessive force.  This is not throwing a cop under a bus. This is doing the right thing. Police officers should be respected but they are not above the law which they are sworn to uphold. I don't see the excess force against Eric Garner as an exhibit of a hostile racial animus. (This was not Rodney King's bashing. There was a black female NYPD sergeant present). I don't know of Officer Pantaleo's disciplinary history. I simply observe that tragic errors in judgment happen and they need to be acknowledged, if  the police use of force is to preserve its legitimacy. The simple truth is that some people are simply unsuited to wear a uniform, whether they be white, black, whatever race or background. They are too quick to draw, too unsure of themselves, too eager to compensate by bravado, and flashing overwhelming force.  Good cops know who they are and they instinctively shun them because they mean trouble as partners and backup support. And this is probably as much as one can say about the two incidents if one does not have a mealy-mouthed political agenda to push.