Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Putin's Propaganda Blunder

I am a known Putin admirer, and on the discussion boards I have been accused of being his bot and/or his bootlicker. Well, let them say what they will. I like Vladimir Vladimirovch when he is smart and down-to-brass-tacks which is most of the time. I don't like the stupid, manipulative banter in politics which is what is currently being served in the West twenty-four seven. Putin is a welcome relief from that.  He talks common sense and that is why he comes across loud and clear - across languages (though I still have some Russian). On the other hand, while I admire the Russian president,  I don't idolize him. He is human and makes mistakes like all of us.  I hope he will not make another mistake of the sort he made last month. 

         Masha Gessen is one of the Moscow journalists who was not killed or maimed for being critical of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, even though she was a lesbian activist in Moscow and spread the most ridiculous tale about his corruption, an alleged selfie called Putin Black Sea Palace.  But a miracle happened. When she was sacked by a popular  magazine for ignoring one of  Putin's public relations stunts, she received a personal call from him with an invitation to visit him in the Kremlin. What transpired during her interview with the Russian president is certainly worth the read. That Masha has a hostile animus toward Vladimir Vladimovich I think is obvious. Other than the late Zbig Brzezinski, I can't think of anyone who would describe Putin as shallow, self-involved, not terribly perceptive, and apparently very poorly informed.  Strangely, or perhaps not, from what I have seen, this would be how I would describe Masha Gessen, who has since moved to the U.S. and milks her Putin envy and Kremlin twenty-minute expertise for all it is worthDo not get me wrong; I am not saying that Masha is not bright - she is - but like some women on the public scene she suffers from the Hillary Complex, that is, a hopelessly exaggerated view of her own importance and abilities. If she really knew Putin's habits she would have known he comes always prepared for interviews and certainly knew everything that mattered about her and the effect the encounter would have on the perception of him when it gets out. So, Masha, you were played.

        I never thought I would agree with anything that Masha Gessen had to say about Vladimir Putin. But, we live in a strange world where strange things happen. So I do agree with her that the president wants to wage a rhetorical war with the U.S. without too many coffins. Naturally, I don't mean it as an exercise laced in Schadenfreude, and I certainly would not use the word coffin in the punchline.  It's a way too morbid way to make the point even if you are Alexei Balabanov and you have a scary tale to tell about a Russian soul warped by murderous Soviet authoritarianism. (His 2007 horror movie used a Soviet-era euphemism for a military coffin - "Cargo 200").  Nor do I see Putin as someone who wants to engage in war propaganda to collect brownie points on the nasty Russian right, to wit, among the village butchers and pub brawlers, where, Gessen apparently believes, lie Putin's natural political affinities. All that aside, her bottom point is valid. Putin has unadvisedly engaged in goading the West as a way to compensate perhaps for what Russia can deliver on the battlefield at the present time. I am speaking above all about the annual address to the Federal Assembly, he delivered on March 1st of this year.  This must be the strangest speech Vladimir Putin has ever delivered, or the strangest one I ever heard, at any rate. 

       I was aghast: I could not for the world of me understand why a leader of a nuclear superpower but a second-tier economy harassed for years by barrages of sanctions from the West would want to parade in public an array of new super-sophisticated offensive weapons. Who really needs to know this - if it is real ?  And, pardon me for being captain Obvious here, would not this be feeding into a known Putin stereotype ? Or say, give credence to the view that Russia is an "existential threat to the U.S."?  Hello?  And Putin would not just talk about the weapons systems but actually show clips of how these monstrous killers "against which there the West has no defense" work in animated simulation on a giant screen behind his rostrum.  The show had a distinct air of unreality. The introduction of each of the new weapons (and the ICBM known in the West as "Satan") was greeted by a loud applause in the audience. There was a cluster of nuclear vehicles descending on Florida (hmmm....) and cruise missiles deftly zigzagging around the U.S. defense system. Even Putin's closing punch line: "they did not want to listen to us before, but they will have to listen to us now" was a truly foolhardy optimism. All it did is recall the naïve Soviet propaganda faithfully tracking the progress of time to the inevitable final victory of communism in the world. These weapons are not a bluff, assured Putin his mesmerized audience, as though his saying he was not bluffing, assured also everyone  he was not misleading his audience about the state of readiness of these systems in the aggregate.   

      The most disconcerting aspect of Putin's speech was that, he, the former high-ranking intelligence officer and experienced statesman evidently did not take into account the most likely response in the West to his message. He should have known that the speech would be dismissed as, one, a way to bolster his domestic support among the pessimistic sort of patriots and the wilder, too-soft-on-the-West yahoos on the eve of election to get them to show up to vote, two, an unrealistic appraisal of the new weapons' system readiness, and three, and most importantly, as "threats" to the security of the West. I simply refuse to believe that the Russian president believed his low-budget large-screen demo would bring the West to the negotiating table.  And indeed, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu immediately denounced the speech as "bellicose" and "unprovoked", and repeated the ridiculous lie that the Polish and Rumanian ABM batteries are designed to protect against "ballistic missiles from outside of the Euro-Atlantic area", meaning Iran. The Russians have long known that these so-called defensive systems are in fact easily convertible to an offensive platform and their target is Russia and no-one else. 

     Worse still, within few days of the speech Britain cooked up the Skripal sorry saga in Salisbury and another chemical attack false flag in Douma. Russia's intelligence got wind of the latter, and threatened a vigorous response through the Chief of General Staff general Gerasimov in case a fake chemical assault should prompt a military response from the West. It is hard to run away from the impression that the missile attack on Syria, and pretty much everything else that has followed in Russia's relations with the West in the weeks since the address of the Russian president to the Duma, directly relates to the speech, and its implied threat that frankly resembled more a drunken sailor's bragging than the smart and indomitable Putin we have come to know and rely on.

     In several of my discussions on the Web I have been challenged for my perception that Putin meant to "threaten" the West. Naturally, it is in the eye of the beholder, and there though I consider myself Russia's friend, I am a Westerner. I grew up in Prague and have my own perception of the Russians lack of insight in grasping their own aggressive impulses. It was registered by professor T.G.Masaryk (later the first president of Czechoslovakia) who went to Yasnaya Polyana and reported later that Leo Tolstoy, the great apostle of peace and non-violence, regularly slapped his servants around silly. On the same subject, we even had a joke about a Soviet advisor in Africa who "solved" a problem in deciding whether a prisoner of his client army was a dangerous spy. He asked the prisoner to slap his face. The prisoner did and the advisor shot him dead. When the clients asked him why he shot the prisoner he said: 'bezopasnostj prezhde vsevo' (security above all!). They were perplexed: 'no, what we meant to ask is why you asked him to slap your face before shooting him?'  He replied: 'tovarishchi, my nikogda agressory'. (Comrades, we are never agressors!)  I recalled the old chestnut when I read about Nikki Haley's recent posturing: Russia will never be our friend. We'll slap them when we need to. Of course that speaks of a different problem, but by all means, let us stay away these slap fests. They do not add any value.

Staging propaganda events is perhaps necessary but they should be done intelligently. The March 1 speech was far from smart propaganda, unlike, say, inviting Masha Gessen to Kremlin for a tea and a friendly tête-à-tête. Putin was threatening and the sooner he realizes he made a mistake and paid for it by being taken down a peg or two in his international stature, and having Russia's economy further damaged, the better for all of us.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Instead of Brexit Repeats Why Not a Smarter Europe?

  In my on-line discussions with American fans of Marine Le Pen discussing her last Sunday's loss several issues kept returning undigested. One was the idea that to save France, (and the cultural traditions of other European nations) the nation states must return in toto, that is they need to exit the EU and destroy it.  This is extremely naïve.  Mind you, this would not really be surprising coming from Americans, but surely it was from Le Pen and the Front National.  In the past, I praised Marine for political acumen, especially her ability to avoid extremist positions (despite the label being pinned on her) and her push to get her movement into the mainstream. However, it appears now that since the Regionals in 2015 she has gone the way of other European "protest movements", which assure themselves of remaining on the fringes of political life by saying and doing stupid things. Take for example the proposal of Geert Wilders to ban the Qur'an in the Netherlands as "hate literature".  The idea was criticized even from within the ranks as outlandish, to which Geert replied, in a standard defense, by saying that "you have to demand more than you know you can get". 

    To me however, this is precisely why Wilders' PVV will remain the pariah in Netherlands despite growing apprehension of Europe committing suicide by immigration which threatens not just the culture and traditions but social welfare of the "native Europeans" (a notion which has already been equated with Nazism and racism by the EU matriarchs).  The home-grown Dutch will simply conclude that Wilders is too much of a twit to lead the country, and the "extra" bubble of support - that he gets after each Islamist atrocity - goes "poof". 

    But there is a bigger issue, in fact the elephant in the room in both the Dutch and French spring elections: Ne/Fre/xit.  The problem of the populist Europe is that it took first the (phoney) threat of Grexit and then the real Brexit as a start of an inevitable massacre whereby the monster-chicken of EU would be cut up back to completely sovereign states, each proud and free with defended borders and national economy and presumably twenty-seven spanking-new European embassies. Big mistake!

     Brexit will not be repeated because there is no other island nation in Europe with a history like Britain's and its unique ties to Europe. Europe is a continent which was once dominated by a few dynastic houses competing for supremacy first on its territory and then the globe. When in a world war one of those houses was denied and scrapped, a new political movement soon sprang up in the
T.G.Masaryk
abolished Empire with a dominance ideology which repeated a world war in a generation.  After the war, the EU logically evolved from a struggle for global dominance by the US and USSR, i.e. states outside of the traditional inner political orbit of Europe. First, the economic and then the political integration of Europe made sense. It was foreseen by political visionaries like Georges Clemenceau and the first Czechoslovak president T.G. Masaryk between the wars.  Masaryk, whose wife was an American suffragette, spoke of the desirability of United States of Europe to prevent wars and to build on the common purpose of the continent's Judeo-Christian culture. Sure, made sense then and makes sense now.  It is somewhat ironic that the anti-EU populist movements find so much common ground in their conferences. They really do look like a new Nationalist Internationale.

    So, hopefully when Marine Le Pen sobers up from her stinging defeat by an empty-headed political mannequin, she will reflect on the depth of folly of  "demanding more than you know you can get".  The EU and Eurozone are here to stay and France will stay in them. Too much has been invested in European integration and most people feel comfortable in it (even if they complain). That should be a starting point. 

    Then perhaps one can start to push for a reform in the way EU sees itself as a hyper-concentrated political monolith and take it down a few pegs, especially the monstrous ideological pseudo-shrine where noone prays but the self-serving elites.  Devolve some of the regulatory powers back to the  member nations. As for national borders, they should remain but the emphasis should be on common European interests. Instead of AfD wanting to protect Germany's borders and Front National the French, then perhaps what seems a more rational, and efficient solution in protecting both from barbarian invasions is protecting the Schengen border.  No ?

    Clearly, what is needed in Europe is much smarter political thinking than we see right now. The popular anti-elitist movements need to forget about abandoning the EU. It's there for a reason, and it may yet show itself a powerful tool in protecting the common interests of the Europeans.  Call for reform, cut out the crap, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Trump Cans Comey CNN Goes Gorilla


Neither item of the news is surprising, really. The head of FBI should have been gone day one of Trump administration for incompetence and overstepping his mandate.  His handling of the Clinton email saga was atrocious, whichever way you want to look at it. In the Democratic version of the beef, his "re-opening" of the investigation into Clinton two weeks before the election day, was a capital offense (,and in the extreme form of denial, one of two major causes of her losing the vote on November 8th). In the Republican one, Comey in the summer gave a pass to a blatant breach of security and unconscionable handling of government secret documents by the former Secretary of State Clinton. Only last week, the FBI director raised some eyebrows again when it was revealed during the Senate hearings that the some of the classified emails on Huma Abedin husband's laptop did not get there via backup (accepted as a bona fide explanation, and by the disseminated by the Bureau in news releases) but via transmission over public network (obviously unencrypted) to secure a hard copy. So two GOP beefs against Comey, against one Democratic one.

      No sooner the news of firing Comey hit the airwaves, CNN had its take on it, which went on like this: "Trump fired Comey because the FBI was getting closer and closer to him. This was a cynical, Nixonian ploy to get the DOJ off Trump's back on his wheeling dealing American democracy away to Putin. "

Nothing surprising in this for the ongoing congressional investigations into Russian interference in last year's US election, which has come straight out of Kafka. Perhaps only Jeff Toobin, one of the CNN regulars who usually keeps his head above silly babblefests, who this time went completely bonkers, fuming about the absurdity of Trump's "firing Comey in May 2017 because he was nasty to Hillary in October 2016", an obviously stupid way to try to get rid of the Inquisitor just as he was to confirm the Bureau has incriminating evidence of the Donald fellating Putin. Toobin, turning colors kept bleating the instant litany of the Dems, that this act was to sabotage The Investigation (which has so far produced absolutely nothing that would warrant interest), and that a special prosecutor was needed who would be impartial, which in translation means:  ready to conclude the prosecution of the president without facts to the satisfaction of the combined force of  Democrats and NeverTrumpers and get the sorry SOB out of the White House where he had no business to be in the first place.

Of course, I am a cynic and therefore do not believe that the canning of Comey had to do with the botched Hillary-Abedin investigation. But unlike Toobin, I think the official case for getting rid of him is good and solid. The real reason though that Trump finally got his fill of the FBI chief is, I have convinced myself,  because both of them know that Trump has not been investigated by the FBI, and Comey during the Senate hearing last week played stupid and chose to dance around it when he could have simply and truthfully said: "No, president Trump himself is not being investigated by the FBI".  That would have been the end of the despicable charade. There was no collusion between Trump's team and Russia because the pathetic little non-items on Michal Flynn, Carter Page, Roger Stone or Paul Manafort that have bubbled up are far, far from anything even resembling some unseemly conspiracy.  Now, to believe that with the sentiments that Washington and the mainstream media have toward the sitting president, the blatant  effects of some vast Manchurian candidate conspiracy would have been hidden this long strikes me as far stupider than believing Trump fired Comey because of his inept handling of the Hillary Clinton emails investigation.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christie Blatchford cockeyed on Aleppo (too) !

   No, I am not obsessed with Christie Blatchford: I swear!  It's just that it so happened as I was busy with my Czech blog since summer, that she is the focus of my writing here back-to-back.  Something caught my eye in her writing on Friday, and I think I need to make a few points. 

   We live in parallel universes. It seems more and more self-evident. The amount of  irreducible moral values that we share has shrunk to almost nothing; critical thought has been has been banished out of almost any discourse; to demand balanced view of anything in the social or political sphere, you may as well admit that you are "in the other camp".  This is because we operate increasingly in a binary world of white against black, and most people (starting with generation  X-ers, but even more so with the millenials) no longer process the world based on what they digest by scavenging information from various sources, but simply plugging into ONE virtual reality that obsesses with a selection of real and imaginary outrages against THEM and THOSE who declare themselves believers in that virtual reality out of sense of kinship.  No dissent is allowed. If you have doubts about the basic tenets of the belief system  you are an agent of EVIL, or at best you are still in denial.

   There is no way you can convince the batshit crazy feminist troopers on campus that there is no world-wide male conspiracy against women or a culture of rape that every dick knows and lies about. There is no way one can reason with them and increasingly no way one can reason with the academia administrators who - if not in sympathy - are plainly intimidated by them. No way the famous Rolling Stone campus false rape accusation (there was a number of less-publicized similar cases before) would convince any of the troopers of the need to tone down the inane rhetoric if not to spend their creativity and energy in more useful social projects.

   Similarly, you cannot convince anti-Putin fanatics to drop their idiotic narrative in which he is a murderer of domestic political opponents, invader and oppressor of foreign countries, and a commander in chief of a grand army of hackers.  There is always the insane pitch that will sooner or later arrive in any of these virtual reality information channels.  In the campus statistical follies, it has arrived with the conviction that one in four women on campus has been sexually violated.  On the other front, this past week we learned that Putin was "personally" involved in the hacks. It could not have been otherwise; no-one in Russia could have ordered the hacks but Putin. But what is this saying?  People who don't know anything about Russia - let alone about Putin's Russia - automatically assume that this axiom must hold even though it should obvious to any modestly smart intelligence officer that someone high up might have (just might have) want to protect the boss and order the hacks to curry favours because he knew (or thought he knew) that Putin would be pleased with that sort of activity. It also would give him a way out - it's called "plausible deniability". That is a possibility, right?  But by the pedestrian logic deployed here, it must have Nicholas who ordered the assassination of Rasputin. No-one in Russia, the theory goes,  would have had the nerve to take bake cakes with potassium cyanide at the court without the express permission of the Tsar. Would he ? Vozmozhno?   But interestingly this childish assertion about Putin masterminding anything nefarious in Russia, has become a blood sport.  Kovtun and Lugovoy, the murderers of the former KGB agent Litvinenko in London in 2006 likely had had a clearance from Putin, Lord Owen concluded in a pathetic inquiry into the death of the émigré.  This of course opens the door for someone like Terence McKenna to claim there is no doubt Putin did it, and that he did it cover his tracks in the murder of Politkovskaya which Litvinenko alleged.  Our journalistic standards at work.

      With Christie Blatchford, it astonishes me to learn that she is willing to lap up much of the mainstream media garbage that one reads about Syria in general and Aleppo in particular.  It is very clear that she has no alternative source of information about the place and what is going on in there.

She excuses herself at the start of her National Post piece (Aleppo Needs Us, 16/12/2016) saying she is "certainly no foreign policy wonk".

That's Christian of you, Christie!  But what do you think you have to contribute here other than repeating the revolting and insane lies, which equate the bad things wrought by Assad  (and his friend Putin) to the monstrosities of people who massacre and terrorize civilians on grand scale.  Isn't the narrative that you and the Western media propagate the very guarantee of more death, destruction and misery, that Syria's people presently suffer?  Did you do some sanity check on some of the things you allege the government side does?  Like "chemical weapons" ?  You know that the evil Assad gave those up three years ago?  Don't you ?   (You evidently missed the Seymour Hersh's piece that no major outlet would initially publish in the U.S.) At any rate, you should know, that the only undisputed use of chemical weapons in the five-year war came from the rebel side. Very few people would argue with this on the basis of facts.  As for barrel bombs, well it's a brutal weapon and it was used by Assad, although I am still missing evidence that it was used "on civilian population" indiscriminately.  I am pretty sure that the Syrian dictator would be less generous in providing warning that hell is going to rain down on houses with people in them than the Israeli's were in Gaza.  But that the use of barrel bombs seems to have been limited to places (like the vicinity of Damascus or Homs) from which rockets were fired on civilian areas under government control.  Now, if you went as far as listening to Assad himself talking about his tactics in trying to dislodge the fanatics from heavily populated areas toward open spaces, you might have learned something. The Evil Man  has actually won a great deal of popularity in Syria as a "protector"  and in the internal dislocations over 80% of the displaced population migrates to the government-controlled areas. Now if you asked , "how much relief do these people  (over four million of them) get from the UN" you would be asking the right question.  But you are not asking that. Actually you are not asking anything (like Robert Fisk is, e.g.) You come to lecture, and lecture about something you personally have no background in, either as a first-hand experience or in absorbing some credible in-depth information on the conflict.  I am talking about judicious weighing of the alternatives, not the phoney ceasefires, peace proposals which by now everyone knows are just a smoke screen for the continued license to wage war on Syria. Boris Johnson has no solution for Syria. After he said that Russia could be guilty of war crimes in Syria, someone retorted that only "an idiot" would see the two sides of the conflict in terms of moral equivalence. And there are only two sides! The non-jihadi militants have never been a factor in the fighting!  Now what about the sudden surge of ISIS in eastern Syria after the Iraqis and the allies opened up a corridor for thousands of fighters to escape through, and the sudden reversal of Obama in signing an arms waiver for the rebels?  Any connection there, you think?


 So I would forget about getting rid of Assad!  It's not anyone's call to make but the Syrians'.  If one wants to help one should diversify a bit one's reading and seeing: try Eva Bartlett or Vanessa Beeley.  Too bad that in the English-speaking world I have not found a writer like  Tereza Spencerova who sends dispatches to the Czech weekly Literary News.  She has a great sense of what is going on on the ground and a way to make the landscape speak out in a way that is both believable and touching without melodrama. Here is an interesting excerpt from one of her blogs (translated from Czech): 

"I had the opportunity to visit one of the improvised refugee camps a few kilometers from Aleppo, on the grounds of a former textile factory. There was a  flood of women covered in black; some had their faces covered as well, except eyes. The eyes were empty. No mourning, no celebrating. One man from the Red Crescent tried to convince them over a bullhorn from a warehouse ramp that it is not against Allah's will to allow their children to be vaccinated against all manner of diseases.  Al-Qaeda forbade this as a conspiracy of the West to uproot Islam. In the meantime their men fought over unleavened bread Syrian soldiers were distributing from trucks. It was a view of human beings who have no idea what is going on around them, or what will be, humans with a single desire to survive the present, which in the shock from any radically new situation is, well, an automatic reflex.
    I tried to find out - in vain it turned out - if people from East Aleppo were more inclined to practice a very conservative form of Islam before the war or if they accepted the new ways as a part of their "Stockholm syndrome" from their captors, al-Qaeda. In any case, it was a horrific scene. In the middle of (relatively) cosmopolitan and civilized Syria, suddenly materializes a scene from Middle Ages - a Kandahar.   
    But the West does not care about these people any more - they were of interest only when they were under Russian or Syrian bombardments, and until anyone knew who they were. Now, when they are out - in the daylight, so to speak - no one can pretend they represent the masses struggling for democracy in Syria, and hence the Western humanitarian and other organizations lost their interest...but is anyone surprised?"


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Team Women Rocks Means Team Men Sucks?

Oh dear, it's Christie Blatchford!  Here is a journalist whom I have long considered the voice of reason among women, one who had her female libido dominandi firmly in check. Well wouldn't you know: somewhere, at some point the FCS (female chauvinist sow) will bubble up even in her.

  To hell with you, Christie! Why does the courageous and successful showing of Canada's women's soccer team have to invite the silly "comparison" with the lack of overall medal production from men?  (Team Women Rocks, Ottawa Sun, 21/8/2016) What is to be gained by that ? It is not even that monumental battle of sexes in tennis in which a top woman professional beat the pants off a male champ, alas, twenty years after his competitive career in which time he turned pudgy and developed a heart condition.  What possible satisfaction can someone derive from the fact that one's women's Olympic team wins close to three out of four medals for the country? It is the greatest female-male disparity among nations of the developed world.  What can women possible gain from the poor showing of their male team-mates?  Another rung on the ladder of pride?

      Before Rio, I never saw Christie write on soccer. From the way she writes about the game, what she focuses on and what exercises her, it seems clear she is out of her depth and does not have a clue of what is going on.  No, the popularity of Marta is not anywhere near that of Neymar in Brazil, even though the two are soccer prodigies. Seasoned soccer fans do not compare compulsively the leading men with women in the sport or, for that matter, whether women are fairly represented among football hooligans. It's like in all other sports: people compare the competitive qualities of players in their own milieu.

       I love watching women's tennis. The idea of comparing Serena Williams with Novak Djokovic does not enter into my mind because I am sane. One heard comparisons between the "quality" of soccer during  women's world championships on US TV networks in the 1990's and the view was that women play soccer better than men. But anyone who knew the style of women's soccer then (and I played it competitively in my youth) would laugh that off.  The women's game was still in its infancy and often resembled unstructured "swarms" such as you would see on a pitch among boys under thirteen. There was no real competition because other than US colleges (under Title IX.) no-one even had a national-level soccer program.  Women's game made enormous leaps since then, and the matches are now great fun to watch even for the connoisseurs. 

    I like the Canadian women's soccer team very much. It has spunk, strong desire to win, and ability to grind out difficult matches. But let's not get carried away: the squad still punches above its weight. In team strategy and tactics, and most players' individual technique, it still has a way to go to catch up with the six top teams in the world.

    As for the men/women disparity in podium production in Rio, Christie Blatchford would do us all a great service if she looked seriously into what I suspect are great disparities in funding between the two genders that promote women's sports over men's in Canada. Google searches for sources of funding consistently find number of programs  specifically for women but none for men. I have heard from several sources that many men coaches in Canada now distinctly prefer to train women because that's where the money is and success guarantees more of it. My hunch is (based on watching CBC commercials) that the corporate sponsors also go for the brownie points in shelling more money to women's athletes.  So it looks, a least based on anecdotal evidence that men athletes chez nous are distinctly second class citizens. And one only needs to recall what Simone de Beauvoir said on the lack of women's intellectual achievements: 'The point to be grasped here is that if you are brought up as an inferior, you will become an inferior'.

       

Saturday, May 21, 2016

On Cultural Belonging

Whatever it is that the picture to the left seeks to convey it would leave all people in the world clueless and puzzled, save in one country. Among people who grew up there, four out of five would react to the suggested scene with loud, even convulsive laughter.  Why ? 

It is not easy to explain one's attachment to the place to which one was born, and why a child's picture of the world etched in one's soul  for life cannot be torn from that one place one calls home. It is in everyone of us, regardless where we come from. We instinctively deal with the kaleidoscope of the world at large through a prism that was given to us and to which we belong.  We don't know why. It is just the way we humans are and no amount of good-intentioned or hateful preaching will change this.

I saw the picture during my visit to my native Czech Republic in June of last year. I laughed my head off at the ingenious cleverness of its author. But there was distress in that laughter. You will note that the characters to the left are leaving the scene in a hurry.  The village woman runs away from the characters entering from the right in a panic. That much can be read from the picture by anyone, anywhere in the world.  But I will not be able to reproduce that which ignites the neurons in my brain in a way that causes me to go ape momentarily and send spasms to places around my diaphragm. 

I can explain how the collage has been constructed, and I already did that. I can show you the original plate and you will find it to the right of the text here. I can tell you all that you need to know about the original illustrator and I am going to do that. I can also tell you about the fleeing figures in the collage chosen to replace of the cast in the original. All of that I can do and you probably will get an inkling of what was going on in the mischievous mind of the person who modified the picture. But it will not be enough to create the "cultural shock" that your brain will produce if you are a Czech by birth and grew up in the land and if you as a child (and an adult after) learned how to imagine the world painted by the artist.

The artist's name is Josef Lada and he was famous enough in the world to have had an asteroid named after him. Lada was a naivist painter and prolific illustrator of books for children even though he became best known as the illustrator of Jaroslav Hašek's Good Soldier Švejk.





  

Dear Farzana

This is an open letter sent to Farzana Hassan at Easter, taking issue with her apologizing for Islamic terror to Christians:


Dear Farzana Hassan,

               I was touched by your Easter/Passover offer of apology for violent jihadism (Ottawa Sun 25/3) though I think it is a rhetorical exercise which does not does not match the value of the regular contributions of yourself, and the likes of Salim Mansur, Tarek Fatah, Raheel Raza, and others. Actually, I believe it is counter-productive to your (and their) posture, for which I am personally grateful, as your perspective gives hope, that maybe, just maybe, we can stay “civilized” without rivers of blood in the streets. Because, I have this terrible hunch, that this is where we are headed.    

So let me say this: You do not represent the larger Muslim religious community by dint of the fact that you are a believer. You cannot possibly have an intelligent reply to a Toronto imam with islamist connections all over the world, who says that. It is as though a German emigré in 1938 Paris wanted to apologize to Jews on behalf of Germans for Kristallnacht unleashed by the Nazis. The sad fact is that the majority of Muslims today are as much led by their Islamist elites (with the same goals, but different methods of a) trying to achieve them, and b) disguising them) as Germans were led wholesale by Hitler in the thirties.  The problem with you speaking “for the Muslim community at large” is that inevitably some clever islamist propagandist (say ‘Reza Aslan’), will come around and say that the fact Raheel Raza does not wear hijab and that you feel ashamed for what ISIS does in the Levant, is a proof positive that women under Islam are free to do as they please.  You know Ben Affleck’s moral indignation about “stereotyping” Islam and Muslims.  You are simply a proof to him that the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists, but in fact, peace-loving and friendly folk, so much so, that some misguided sisters are even willing to apologize for the homicidal psychos who misread their Koran, and think that when it says “go and cut the heads of the kuffar” that it means one should buy an airplane ticket to Istanbul and then cross by bus to Syria, to do God’s will there by cutting the heads of the kuffar.

You see, I may shock you by saying this, but islamism is only a secondary problem here. The real problem speaks through as the Ben Afflecks, les Belge who lower the threat level forty-eight hours after a jihadi massacre in their capital, and our idiot minister for immigration who sets the limit of refugees to be admitted into Canada in 2016 proportionally to that of Germany’s last year’s million of them, where they overran the social service capacities almost everywhere. John McCallum says we need 300,000 of them this year because our labour force ages.  But we still have over 7% unemployment, and it is 13% among youths. How does mass immigration (at this moment !) help that problem ? What is it that forces that sort of drooling idiocy ?  I am sure it is not pressure from political Islam. 

No, the West’s problems are deeply internal and its response to political islamism, is but a symptom of an underlying disease which openly invites external catalysts for the destruction of its institutions and values.  It is very interesting to observe how this disease manifests itself. It never ceases to amaze me  how certain points of view – and in my mind those that should be ‘common-sense’ among us - do not make it through the mass media outlets, and if they do, they are immediately “owned” by the elitist pseudo-liberal shibboleths.  Or, how the supposed ‘cures’ of the disease are always dumb and not doable. For example, Trump’s vowing to stop immigration of “Muslims,… until we figure out what is going on ?”  But Donald, how can anybody aspire to be the president of the United States and not have figured out what is going on in the Middle East, ahead of his inauguration ? Pray, tell !  Why is it not obvious to the Donald that this is a stupid idea, and that he should have advocated instead “minimal immigration from the Middle East”, until the civilized world cleans the place up and restores a measure of civility there?  Why is it not obvious to Ted Cruz, that “surveillance of Muslims” is an overkill ? He could have simply said that mosques and political organizations  should be monitored for islamist propaganda, and jihadi advocates thrown out of the country. No ? Why would that not be ‘radical’ and ‘anti-establishment’ enough ?  Perhaps, someone should be asking why some American citizens need to organize themselves in an organization which wants to have “relations” with America based on their religion ?  Isn’t the name “Council on American-Islamic Relations” (CAIR)  a self-described misapprehension how a country like the United States operates ?  You are a bloody American citizen: who the hell gives a damn about what you worship, as long as you behave like an American ?  Duh!

But, as I said, the problem runs much deeper than islamism.   Actually, islamism can only thrive with a severely self-damaged democracy, which agrees to replace the idea of citizenry with equal access to the institutions of governance, by “identity politics” which claim that this is impossible and disadvantages by design their particular group, that is discrimniated against and seeks to create special relations with the state to reverse the perceived historical molestations. Under communism, this practice of differential treatment of individuals based on belonging to a certain social group was known as ‘nomenklatura’.  Needless to say, this system, creates a sense of injustice and oppression in groups that do not rank high or are openly despised and excoriated as the “problem”. In time, nomenklatura, destroys people’s loyalty to the social order, and  causes deep disdain for it. This, in the nutshell, is the secret of Donald Trump’s popularity. 

The problem however runs even deeper than that. The global economy has changed everything.  The one unpreceived effect is the decline of the value-add accelerators of the GDP, vis-à-vis services and above all resources. The US dominated the world economically between the world wars and three decades after because of its unmatched industrial base, highly skilled and well-paid labour, and cheap energy and raw materials. This situation has changed drastically in the last thirty years. Manufacturing has moved out of the US, because of labour costs, and raw materials – oil especially – became relatively expensive, or at any rate, allowed the “resource based” economies, and “low-cost labour” economies to surge ahead and dramatically change the relationships among the major players. The US has become net importer of both manufactured goods and energy. Again, much of the growth of the political clout of Islam is due to the financial clout that the Saudis and Gulf states. They simply have no tradition of a productive industrial economy, (and the social development that goes with it ) or view of manufacturing as the creator of wealth. They are socially backward, but extremely rich, and with the US economy in the boondocks (never mind the Dow Jones Potemkin village) , much of what we observe in the US and Europe as a culturally suicidal policy vis-à-vis the world of Islam, is actually the function of the financial clout of the Sunni Xanadu states, buying political influence in Washington (and through Washington in Brussels). There is no two ways about it.  That the two parties in the US so much resemble each other in foreign policy, may not need explanation other than the king and emirs pay both of them.  Finally, the inequalities in wealth in the US have become simply too great, and resemble more and more the inequality of feudal societies.  This again foists a sense of injustice, distrust and disgust especially among the young, who it seems mostly abandoned the classical dream of American Way of Life. (Note that CAIR is very active in the Social Justice movements, and advertizes Islam as a system with social egalitarian roots – which it hasn’t been since the death of the Prophet.)
So allow me to be skeptical. I am appreciative of your gesture, but it is not from you that one should seek a sense of contrition.  As a matter of fact, I don’t believe that sense helps at all in resolving our problems.  It is not the islamist terrorists that should preoccupy us most. It is my lawyer friend who believes that the problem is a direct consequence of imperialist aggression of the West in the Middle East. When I asked her if she read the 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, she had no idea what I was talking about. I told her I was talking about us as a culture which can babble about human rights from dawn to dusk but no longer has any idea what that is, a culture which no longer stands for anything, and a culture which has no idea what is going in the world around it.  Someone should apologize for that but I have no idea who that should be.