The Australian/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, otherwise AIJAC, had invited me to Australia, but perhaps I ought to be kept away as outbreaks of Middle East violence seem to coincide with my visits. The first time I went there Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait and the First Gulf war erupted. Next time Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. Now Hamas has waged its latest campaign, in the knowledge that its attack on Israel was certain to bring retaliation down on its own subjects, the Palestinians in Gaza. For Hamas, in short, massive self-destruction is worthwhile if it wreaks even a little destruction on the enemy. Irrational calculation of the kind is a measure of the ideology motivating the leaders. Unfortunately, it is rational to conclude that the cease-fire will last only until Hamas leaders again think the ideology has the chance to advance the cause and they start attacking once more.
Hamas is in a peculiar position, midway between its natural backers, the Muslim Brothers under President Morsi in Egypt, and its sponsors and armament suppliers in Iran. These two regimes, the one Sunni and the other Shiite, are testing out their mutual relationship. Egypt gives medical supplies to Hamas; Iran ships missiles. In another peculiar triangle, Hamas is in the midst of a silent coup to swallow Fatah, the Palestinian rival on the West Bank. Israel is ensuring the survival of Fatah at the very moment when its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has won a vote in the United Nations General Assembly for Palestine to be accepted there with the status of observer rather than member. A Hamas takeover of the West Bank would bring Tel Aviv within close range of those Iranian-supplied missiles. At AIJAC functions where I spoke, I didn’t like to rub in that the two-state solution is dead for the time being and maybe the next two or three centuries.
On the final evening of my visit, AIJAC held a dinner to honor John Howard, statesman and nonpareil parliamentarian who won three consecutive elections before retiring. His lengthy speech of thanks was a brilliant blend of reminiscence, anecdote, and political generalization, all spoken without notes. “I can see that’s not the first speech you’ve ever made,” I said on being introduced afterwards. Next morning I spent an hour with him, and then flew home wishing someone of that caliber were my prime minister.
Alexander Perepilichny had been a Russian exile in Britain for the past three years. Aged 44, and in good health, he was rich enough to be paying a huge five-figure monthly rent for a house in Weybridge, a spot in Surrey where nouveau-riche people cluster. A couple of weeks ago, he went out jogging, and was found dead by the side of the road. Tests have failed to reveal the cause of death. Toxology tests are due in case he was poisoned by radiation like Alexander Litvinenko in an earlier and somewhat similar case. There may be an innocent explanation, but more probably here is another of the crimes that give frightening insight into today’s Russia.
According to press reports, Perepilichny was an associate of the Klyuev Group, who were tax officials in Russia skimming off public funds. They framed Hermitage Capital, an investment company whose chief executive officer was, and is, William Browder. (He is the grandson of Earl Browder, once general secretary of the American Communist party. “The smiling moustaches of Earl Browder,” runs a line in a poem by Roy Fuller that exemplifies the fellow-travelling absurdity of the Thirties.)
When I met Bill Browder, he told me how these tax officials had set him up and run him out of Russia. He engaged Sergei Magnitsky, a well-known young human-rights lawyer, to defend him. The day after Magnitsky named names, he was arrested. Then he was found dead in the Lubyianka, the old Soviet hell-hole in Moscow. But there was a paper trail of hundreds of millions of stolen dollars leading through banks to Switzerland and the purchase of property abroad. Perepilichny apparently could document the whole vast scam, and he handed the information to the Swiss authorities. One can only guess at his motives, but the reports describe him as a “supergrass,” an activity that may have cost him his life. In Soviet times, the top officials took steps to kill whoever gave secrets away, and this case might prove they haven’t changed.
For the past eight days I have been in Australia on a speaking tour, hence out of the blogosphere. Right now I am overlooking the boats and yachts criss-crossing Sydney bay. What a relief it is to be in a country with the free and easy spirit that once characterized England. A visitor like me has no stake in an ongoing public row here with accusations and rebuttals about misappropriation of trade-union money, a slush fund, a mortgage, all of which dates from long ago and may or may not involve the young Julia Gillard, now prime minister. Those on the right say she cannot survive, those on the left say there’s nothing to it. Happy the nation with that sort of worry.
And unhappy the nation like Egypt, where President Mohamed Morsi has thrown off the mask of democracy and declared that his word is final in matters of law and the constitution. He is resorting to a Vatican-like claim of infallibility in order to install the Islamist state the Muslim Brothers dream of. The judiciary would be an obstacle, but he has sacked the chief prosecutor and judges appointed by the previous regime. Resisting for the sake of judicial independence, the judges can call upon enough popular support to divide the country. Morsi is following precedents in Pakistan where the judges and the government fought for power, and in Turkey where President Tayyip Recep Erdogan sacked two or three thousand judges in the process of converting a secular state to Islamism.
Not the least surprising feature of this coup is the White House’s approval. No doubt Washington is grateful to Morsi for his help in dealing with Hamas in the latest crisis with Israel. All Muslim Brothers together, he could have thrown his weight behind Hamas but instead brokered the cease-fire. Washington used to describe the Muslim Brotherhood and its activities as “state-sponsored terrorism,” but now Mrs. Clinton speaks of Morsi’s “leadership and responsibility.” It stretches credulity to find Egypt suddenly praised for the peace and stability it brings to the region.
In 1984, George Orwell’s masterpiece of insight into the immorality of power politics, perpetual violence is punctuated by Two-Minute Hates, whereby former enemies unexpectedly become allies, and vice versa. The Hamas-Israeli clash has been a Two-Minute Hate, and at its culmination we have experienced an Orwellian inversion of alliances.
The late Ahmed Jabari was the leader of the military wing of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood movement that took power after a coup in Gaza. The several thousand men under his command served as a kind of secret police force, far more powerful than the other Islamist or tribal armed groups in Gaza. More powerful too than political leaders like Ismail Haniya or Khalid Mashaal, who in effect are civilians.
Over the last few days the Hamas military wing has fired 115 missiles and rockets out of Gaza into Israel. A number like that reflects the state of politics. In the usual run of things only a few rockets are fired, not enough to do more than prove that Hamas is active, and certainly not enough to warrant an armed Israeli response. One hundred and fifteen in a few days is a very different matter. Hamas leaders can only have wanted to test out the balance of power after the American election. They may well have concluded that Israel would not dare respond for fear of President Obama’s condemnation. In which case, they could fire off another 115. They have a fail-safe option as well. They are confident of the support of the parent Muslim Brotherhood group now in power in Egypt. The Egyptian leadership is bound to condemn Israel in public, for otherwise it will be exposed as hypocritical — talking enmity with Israel but in practice inactive.
Taking out Jabari, Israel has drawn a line. Token rockets, yes perhaps; a barrage, no. Jabari lived underground out of precaution. To have identified his whereabouts accurately and to have struck the car he was in is a feat requiring the highest levels of intelligence and technical skills. The pity of it is that previous Hamas leaders have deceived themselves that this strategy of violence will eliminate Israel, only to pay for such folly with their lives. Each time a master terrorist like Jabari is killed, they swear they will open the gates of hell on Israel, only to find that they are herding themselves through those very gates.
The late Ahmed Jaabari was the leader of the military wing of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood movement that took power after a coup in Gaza. The several thousand men under his command served as a kind of secret police force, far more powerful than the other Islamist or tribal armed groups in Gaza. More powerful too than political leaders like Ismail Haniya or Khalid Mashaal, who in effect are civilians.
Over the last few days the Hamas military wing has fired 115 missiles and rockets out of Gaza into Israel. A number like that reflects the state of politics. In the usual run of things only a few rockets are fired, not enough to do more than prove that Hamas is active, and certainly not enough to warrant an armed Israeli response. 115 in a few days is a very different matter. Hamas leaders can only have wanted to test out the balance of power after the American election. They may well have concluded that Israel would not dare respond for fear of President Obama’s condemnation. In which case, they could fire off another 115. They have a fail-safe option as well. They are confident of the support of the parent Muslim Brotherhood group now in power in Egypt. The Egyptian leadership is bound to condemn Israel in public, for otherwise it will be exposed as hypocritical — talking enmity with Israel but in practice inactive.
Taking out Jaabari, Israel has drawn a line. Token rockets, yes perhaps, a barrage, no. Jaabari lived underground out of precaution. To have identified his whereabouts accurately and to have struck the car he was in is a feat requiring the highest levels of intelligence and technical skills. The pity of it is that previous Hamas leaders have deceived themselves that this strategy of violence will eliminate Israel, only to pay for such folly with their lives. Each time a master terrorist like Jaabari is killed, they swear they will open the gates of hell on Israel, only to find that they are herding themselves through those very gates.
Abu Qatada and Ali Musa Daqduq are two prominent figures in the worldwide Islamist jihad against the West. They are united in their determination to do everything in their power to advance that jihad, which of course means violence and terror. Abu Qatada, a Jordanian, came to Britain to raise funds for bin Laden’s al-Qaeda. He was in contact with terrorists; he recruited through preaching. In Jordan he is wanted on a murder charge. Ten years ago, he was arrested in London and ever since he has used every twist of the law to avoid deportation to his own country. Judge Mitting, presiding over a Special Immigration Appeals Commission, has just decided that Abu Qatada cannot be deported but instead could be released on bail. Prime Minister Cameron told parliament that he is “completely fed up” with this failure to deport Abu Qatada.
Ali Musa Daqduq is Lebanese, and a member of Hezbollah, the Shia terrorist group, who traveled to Iraq. In 2007 he and others kidnapped five American soldiers in Karbala, and tortured and killed them. Captured, he admitted to his crimes. When President Obama pulled American forces out of Iraq, they did not take Daqduq with them but handed him over to the Iraqi authorities. An Iraqi court now orders his release.
What it comes to is that Britain and America are less concerned with the safety of their citizens than with the well-being of enemies willing to murder them. The rights of nationals are secondary to the rights of those who would destroy those nationals. Games-playing with the law has protected wrongdoing and crime, and denied the course of natural justice. We shall lose to the jihadis until such time as we recognize them as the terrorists that they are, and deal with them accordingly.
The same unrealistic and pettifogging view of human behaviour is evident in the hoo-ha about General David Petraeus and General John Allen. Their private relations have no bearing on their military capacities. Remember Harriet Wilson. She threatened to expose her affair with the Duke of Wellington, only to be told, “Publish and be damned.” They did things differently once.
Europeans by and large wanted Barack Obama to win the election. There is little or no genuine elation, however, as for some time now the man has lost the power to inspire that once made him seem so singular. In 2008, he was seen as the incarnation of American energy and renewal. People admired that, but anyone listening to public discourse could also catch some of the usual resentment that America would soon be throwing its weight about once again. By 2012, Obama has proved himself the kind of politician Europeans are familiar with, someone incapable of dealing with the problems he faces, and without the character to come to terms with his own limitations. Europeans are in crisis; they have no understanding of how or why this has happened to them nor what should be done about it.
I cannot prove it, but I am confident that many if not most Europeans welcome Obama out of a sense that he is bringing the United States down to their level of helplessness and confusion. What they are expressing is really schadenfreude, that untranslatable word for taking pleasure in the misfortune of others.
The BBC is known familiarly as Aunty. The British police have the nickname of Old Bill, and an individual copper might be referred to as Mr. Plod. Nice, isn’t it, domestic, all part of one big family that can be trusted.
Except that this is evidently no longer the case, if ever it was. The BBC is at the center of a scandal that reveals something rotten at the core of the institution. It concerns someone called Jimmy Savile. Just the sight of him was as good as a warning. He had a permanent knowing grin, he wore preposterous clothes and had straggly hair down to his shoulders; he drove a Bentley, waved cigars in other people’s face and boasted continuously. But he raised money for charity and became a television personality, cultivated celebrities and received a knighthood. Charles Moore in his column in the Spectator rightly remarks that a culture that made an idol of such a narcissistic show-off is sick. Savile died last year. For Christmas day, the BBC was scheduling a program celebrating the man. Those at the top knew that they were covering up the essential fact that under cover of his public life Savile had been all along a notorious pedophile. Three hundred men and women have come forward to testify that as children they were abused, on some occasions in hospital wards. Put straightforwardly, the national broadcaster found it convenient to lie.
On the police front, a blind man of 61 was walking in the street when a policeman knocked him down from behind by firing his Taser gun under the impression that the man’s white stick was a Samurai sword. No apologies are offered. Andrew Mitchell, chief whip for the Tories in parliament, swore at a policeman outside 10 Downing Street, and the police had him sacked — as in the old Soviet Union, then, the police decide who is to be a politician.
The Hungarian revolution of 1956 started on October 23. Here was a nation refusing to be Sovietized. A crowd gathered at the monstrous bronze statue of Stalin and pulled it down, to leave only vast empty boots sticking out of the pedestal. Stalin’s hollow head, the size of a car, was rolled away to block off a road. The symbolic drama was re-enacted when Iraqis and American marines toppled the bronze statue of Saddam Hussein.
In the period when Communism was then suspended, political prisoners were released from the Hungarian version of Gulag. One of them was Cardinal Mindszenty who sought asylum in the American embassy. Prince Esterhazy had the honor of being imprisoned for the crime of being a large landowner by the Nazis and then the Communists, and he now escaped to Switzerland. Pal Ignotus, a prisoner in the labor camp of Vac and author of a beautiful memoir, crossed by night into Austria on foot. His wife then lost the baby she had been carrying.
By the time I reached Budapest, the Russians had tricked Imre Nagy and his government including General Pal Maleter, leader of the armed resistance, into surrendering. Offered safe passage, these men were arrested and later put to death in secret. An atmosphere of murder and treachery hung over everything. Russian tanks were in the street. People hardly dared speak. I interviewed Gyorgy Lukacs, the author of the kind of Marxist literary studies we were supposed to read and admire in universities like Oxford. He was gloom itself. I seem to recall that he was made to suffer for being a wrong kind of Communist.
Today the Hungarian embassy threw a party to celebrate the anniversary. The speaker was a chap called Lord Boswell whom I had to look up in the reference books where I found that his recreations are snooker, shooting, and poetry. Gerbeaud’s is a famous café in the main square of Budapest, and lots of its special chocolate-covered cake had been flown in for the occasion. But for some reason, the memory of those empty bronze boots doesn’t let go.
I have just returned from a pretty grand party in France. And there I was, fork in hand, when I am introduced to a French ambassador. Pronounced with a French accent, my name is a mouthful and I do not think the ambassador identified me. But I identified him. I had attacked him in Betrayal, a book I published recently to spell out the damage France has done in the Middle East. The French foreign ministry, known as the Quai d’Orsay, has a long record of trying to obtain Arab favors. In this view, first the Zionists and then the Israelis have made the great mistake of wanting to stay alive, and that will never do. Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat were only the latest in the list of murderers whom the Quai d’Orsay befriended and protected.
The ambassador couldn’t have been more charming. We got on the Middle East as though by accident. It so happens that he thought President Chirac had been right to oppose George W. Bush over the invasion of Iraq. The then–foreign minister Villepin had made a brilliant speech for the same purpose. We moved on to the subject of the French Orientalist Louis Massignon (1883–1963) who in his day convinced the Quai d’Orsay that France and the world of Islam share a common destiny. “Ignominy” is the word Massignon reserved for Zionists. The passage of time has made no difference: The ambassador has the highest esteem for Massignon.
Perhaps it was mischievous of me, but I suggested that we should sing the old French colonial song “Partons pour la Syrie,” and France should save Syria from its terrible fate by reoccupying the country, and dividing it as before with an enclave reserved for the Alawites. The ambassador was strongly of the opinion that intervention by any outside power would be disastrous. Look at Afghanistan, he said, where the people we had come to save now kill us. It’s too demoralizing. We have to get out as soon as possible. But, I said, there will then be massacres on a large scale. “It will be atrocious,” the ambassador agreed.
Nobody could have put the case for defeatism and surrender more convincingly than this eloquent and civilized man. The world that he foresees will have no room in it for someone with his qualities. That’s what we are up against.
Here are stories that have a lot to say about two very different characters in the news at the same time — Professor Eric Hobsbawm, the historian who has just died, and Sir John Gurdon, a geneticist who has just won the Nobel Prize for Medicine.
At the end of his life, Hobsbawm, an unrepentant Stalinist, was still maintaining that it was justified to kill 15 or 20 million people to create a radiant Communist society. Tony Blair awarded Hobsbawm the Companion of Honour, a much-esteemed decoration. A good few people were at Buckingham Palace to collect their awards that day, and among them was Lord Rothschild (who tells me this story and was glad to have it out in the open). A philanthropist, he was being rewarded for public services. Rothschild was at the front of the line, Hobsbawm at the back. All of a sudden Hobsbawm started shouting in front of everyone there that his decoration was more important than Rothschild’s and they should change places. A palace official had to explain that Lord Rothschild’s decoration was in the gift of the queen and so had priority over Hobsbawm’s decoration from the prime minister.
Gurdon was educated at Eton, most famous of British schools. Years ago, he was bottom in his science class there and keeps the master’s report framed in his office at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge: “He will not listen, but will insist on doing his work in his own way. I believe he has ideas about becoming a Scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous, if he can’t learn simple biological facts he would have no chance of doing the work of a Specialist.” When an experiment doesn’t work, Gurdon says that he tells himself, “The schoolmaster may have been right.”
Compare and contrast, as the exam questions used to put it, with special emphasis on what is to be learnt here about the use or abuse of privilege.
The deportation of Abu Hamza from Britain to the United States brings to a close a long-running scandal. The man has made a mockery of Britain and its law in general, exposing how feeble and incompetent procedures are when it comes to protection against individuals like him. Britain, he famously jeered, is “a paradise where you can do what you like.”
Born in Egypt, Abu Hamza came to Britain nominally as a student. He lost both hands and one of his eyes fighting in Afghanistan, though this may be his romancing of an accident with explosives in his home. Strong-arm methods gave him control of the well-known Finsbury Park mosque in London. Young Muslims attended and every Friday he whipped them up to hate non-Muslims. He regularly praised the September 11 terrorists and jihad. When forbidden to preach in the mosque, he simply continued to do so in the street. The police stood around doing nothing, evidently out of fear of what might happen if these potential jihadis couldn’t do what they liked. Had an Englishman been inciting compatriots to acts of terror in Muslim countries, the lot would have been arrested on the spot. When the police at last raided the mosque, they found weapons, equipment against chemical warfare and more than a hundred stolen or forged passports.
British courts sentenced him to prison in 2004 while United States authorities requested his extradition. A federal grand jury in New York had then indicted him on eleven counts of terror-related crimes, including trying to set up an al-Qaeda training camp in Oregon. Lawyers on his behalf used every conceivable device to spare him from being brought to justice. Proceedings in the British courts and then the European Court of Human Rights dragged on for eight years and cost a million pounds. Deported with him were four other Muslims involved in terror or its funding, and one of them spun out facing justice for no less than fourteen years. Senior British judges and the Home Secretary as well have spoken out strongly against the way the process of law is itself an injustice, but it is quite clear that nothing much will happen for years, or at least until the wish to appease the unappeasable stops.
Turkey has just held show trials that bear comparison to the judicial monstrosities staged in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Three hundred senior military officers, some serving and some retired, have been handed long prison sentences. They have been accused of belonging to a terrorist organization called Ergenekon that back in 2003 was plotting the overthrow of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The trials began in 2007. They are a disgrace. The plotters are alleged to have been intending to bomb mosques, shoot down a Turkish military aircraft and other improbabilities of the sort. The “evidence” offered by the prosecution is full of anachronisms, forgeries and other evident fabrications. The defense was not permitted to call witnesses in a position to expose the nonsense.
It is true that the military have staged coups in the recent Turkish past, not in their own interest but to preserve the secular modernizing state that replaced the old Ottoman Empire. Erdogan can now be seen to have taken the major strategic decision to re-align the country as an Islamist state. To that end, he had to neutralize the army. He could never have obtained 20-year prison sentences for innocent officers unless he had already purged the judiciary and installed Islamist yes-men. Similarly the media. Turkey is the country with the highest number of journalists in prison.
The balance of power is shifting again against the West. Turkey has renounced its status as a democracy. Suspecting that membership of the European Union was more and more probable, Turkey is instead choosing to become the leader of Sunni Islamism. Opposition to Shiite Iran and its Syrian protectorate follows, although just a short while ago Erdogan was supporting them whole-heartedly and claiming to have zero problems with neighbors. The new Islamism demands rupture with Israel and identification with Hamas.
President Obama is happy to tell everyone that he is in the habit of telephoning Erdogan frequently. He does not denounce the show trials and seems unaware that his chat-line friend in Ankara has changed.
In Islam, believers are superior to infidels, masters to slaves, and men to women. All these relationships are so fixed by the faith and the customs of Muslims that reform to bring in equality is the tallest of orders. The very idea that women are the equal of men touches masculine vanity, sexuality, opportunity for conquest, financial exploitation, the shape of the family – all issues that have the utmost social resonance. Muslim men are never going voluntarily to let go of their advantaged position. When it comes to gaining equality in the Middle East women are on their own, and they are taking the law into their hands.
A video is circulating showing a scene in a supermarket in Saudi Arabia. A lady who seems both young and elegant is surrounded by several members of the Saudi morality police known as the Mutawwa who go around enforcing the observance of prayer time and more particularly insisting that women are behaving and dressing as they are ordered to do – the fantasy of sexual domination is unmistakable, and I wish Dr Freud was here to spell it out. The mutawwa have just told this woman that her head-scarf is tied to show too much of her hair. Furious, she starts screaming at them, making such a scene that they beat a retreat.
Last week in Iran, Hojatoleslam (meaning he’s a rank below an ayatollah) accosted two women in a street in Shahmirzad and ordered them to cover up. “Cover your eyes,” they said, and set about beating him up. They pushed him to the ground, and kicked him so hard that he had to go to hospital. Like the Saudi mutawwa, the Basij is a fascist militia that does much of the regime’s dirty work and the London Times further relates how in Tehran two of its members reprimanded a woman for listening to music in her car. Bystanders then beat up this miserable pair of sneaks. One of them revealed that the women had found blows to be good, but humiliation better: “while I was unconscious they even removed my underwear.”
The murderers of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three of his colleagues in Benghazi were Salafis, that is to say Muslims who believe in returning to the violence and conquest of the early years of Islam. A few weeks ago they narrowly missed killing the British ambassador, but they did succeed in vandalizing the British Second World War cemetery, particularly smashing graves with a Star of David on them. These same Salafis have destroyed Libya’s ancient monuments of Sufism, or popular Islam.
Salafis won about a quarter of the vote in the recent Egyptian elections. Not long ago they almost stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo, which could have ended in a fire-fight. Now they had picked up a rumor that some American had made a video disrespectful of the Prophet Mohammad, and so they mobilized to storm the American embassy. Lives were lost when their Taliban counterparts stormed the American embassy in Kabul with the same belief that Islam demanded that they go killing in its name. In Benghazi, then, the Salafis hadn’t seen the video; they were acting on the rumor of a rumor.
Yet the best President Obama can find to say is that he strongly condemns the outrageous attack on the diplomatic facility — cliché and euphemism of that sort deaden the anger and sorrow that ought to be natural. As for Mrs. Clinton, she asked how this could have happened, and immediately answered her own question by exonerating the Libyan ruling council. Actually it happened because these ignorant barbarians think that killing Americans is a religious obligation, therefore right in itself, and wonderful to say, completely cost free. Obama’s “strong condemnation” and Clinton’s pitiful self-examination serve to confirm to them that they are proving the supremacy of Salafi Islam. This administration’s on-going policy of appeasement encourages a host of brutes to do their worst.
Political life in the European Union has become more or less irrelevant to large swathes of the population in most countries. The politicians are too insignificant to have made a mark. Few people even know their names, and fewer still have any expectation that the EU is going to get out of its mess any time soon.
Years ago Benito Mussolini quipped that anyone can govern Italy but it is pointless to do so. Today Italians are in a particularly bad economic bind, so bad that the only valid approach is to make more quips about it. Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi laid the blame on the European Union but his bunga-bunga antics accustomed everyone to think that he couldn’t be taken seriously. Now there is someone by the name of Beppe Grillo for whom there is no distinction between politics and buffoonery. All wild curly hair and grimaces, he looks and behaves like an ageing hippy. Comic invention has given him a large public. Mario Monti, the new prime minister, is obeying the demands of the EU to impose cuts and austerity on the country, for which Grillo has coined the unforgettable pun “Rigor Montis.” He has launched V-Day — the V standing for vaffanculo, an exhortation to the high-ups too rude to be translated. He has founded the 5-Star Movement as an anti-party, and it may do well in forthcoming elections. Writing him up, the London Times guesses that the 5-Star Movement could capture 100 seats in next April’s parliamentary elections. Grillo and the EU are a case of one good joke deserving another.
Civilization has just won a small but rather satisfying victory. Someone opened a safe which had belonged to the pre-war Nazi party but ever since had been neglected in a cellar in Munich. Lo and behold, inside was a 334-page manuscript that the Nazis had confiscated. Experts in the know had long lamented that this work had then been lost for ever, presumed destroyed. The author is Erwin Panofsky, probably the foremost art historian in Germany at a time when he and other scholars, German Jews for the most part, were making an academic discipline of the history of art. Hitler put a stop to that. In 1933 the Nazis forced Panofsky out of his professorship at the university of Hamburg. Emigrating to the States, he became a professor at NYU.
This manuscript evaluates and compares the two great masters, Michaelangelo and Raphael. No doubt written and researched above the level of the ordinary person, it will not be an easy read. I used to attend the lectures of Professor Edgar Wind, Panofsky’s first pupil, also driven out by the Nazis, and I did not understand much of what he was explaining. Iconography was the special study he had learnt from Panofsky, and it’s for scholars. Still, the world’s furniture is the richer for having Panofsky’s missing manuscript. Now and again, the pen really is mightier than the sword.
Rangzieb Ahmed was born in Britain. Aged 37 now, he seems to have done little except join al-Qaeda and have a hand in its acts of terror in Britain, including the subway bombing of July 7, 2005, that killed 52 people and maimed or wounded some 700 others. Salahuddin Amin was also born in Britain, but from the age of four lived in Pakistan. Sixteen when he returned to Britain, he was the moving spirit in at least two attempts at mass murder. Both these terrorists have been caught and sentenced to life imprisonment. The judge called them “ruthless misfits who should be removed from society for its own protection.”
Every terrorist handbook advises whoever is arrested to claim that he has been tortured. I have sat in on trials of Palestinian terrorists and one and all said they had been tortured, put up to the lying in my judgment by their lawyers. Sure enough, Rangzieb Ahmed and Salahuddin Amin both say that they were tortured. When they appealed, however, a Court in London upheld both convictions. So both men further applied to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on the grounds that their human rights have been breached. This court receives hundreds of thousands of appeals every year concerning abuse of human rights and dismisses most of them without a hearing; the backlog is anyhow 150,000 cases. But it accepted the appeal of these two terrorists.
An eminent British lawyer, Lord Carlile, has been overseeing issues of terrorism for the government. He is quoted saying that the Strasbourg court’s interference is novel and “completely unacceptable.” Should that court decide in favor of the terrorists then the British courts are obliged to quash their convictions. Such an over-riding of its legal system would mean that Britain has forfeited its independence and in the process given terrorists impunity to turn the country into another al-Qaeda emirate.
In these glum days we have to find comfort where we can, and the Daily Telegraph tells me that Charles Saatchi has offered his collection of 200 examples of conceptual art to the nation, and the nation has refused them. The purpose of art is to make a statement about the human condition. The purpose of conceptual art is for the artist to make a statement about himself, to do with cows sawn in half, sharks pickled in formaldehyde, life-size naked figures strung up by their feet, and such-like. So the words “art” and “artist” ought to be replaced by ”quirk” and “exhibitionist” or “Narcissist.” The Daily Telegraph spells out a few names, “Jake and Dinos Chapman, the Indian artist Jitish Kallat and Tracey Emin, whose unmade bed, My Bed, came to symbolise the young British Artists movement of the 1990s.”
You have to give it to Charles Saatchi. He’s the doyen of public relations, and he was using its techniques to create a market. He’s been searching for unknown exhibitionists whose quirks he could buy at opening prices and hang in his private gallery. On the basis of sponsorship by someone so successful in the public-relations field, reputations and prices rose. Saatchi’s collection has been valued at tens of millions of pounds.
Tate Modern under its director Nicolas Serota is a home for quirks and exhibitionism but it nonetheless did not want Saatchi’s bequest. Nor did the Arts Council, the government-funded agency for the arts. Like sub-prime mortgages or Greek government bonds, conceptual art is proving just another bubble whose time to burst has come.
Let’s remember the names of the three Russian girls now turning their country upside down — Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, or more simply Nadya, Masha and Katya. They form a group called Pussy Riot, and staged a “Punk Prayer” on the altar steps of the cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. This involved shouting, “Mother of God, drive out Putin.” No doubt this performance was vulgar, even blasphemous. No doubt too the group’s name and antics are copied from Western pop-folk — I cannot call them artists. But they were arrested, they have spent the last five months in prison, and now been brought to trial handcuffed to butch female warders who might have come straight from Gulag or even Buchenwald. In pure totalitarian style, the verdict had been pre-arranged. In 179 trials, Judge Maria Syrova, a Party hack if ever there was one, has given just one verdict of not-guilty. The girls received sentences of two years. Their lawyers said they would appeal, and one of them risked his own future by adding that the girls would not humiliate themselves by begging pardon from “such a bastard” as Putin.
Putin is emulating Stalin in coercing the people, but the difference today is that a good number of them are not afraid of the consequences of open opposition. Outside the court Nadia’s husband declared, “I feel like we have to make a revolution.” Demonstrations broke out in Moscow and then in New York, Paris, Brussels, Sofia, and other cities. The KGB-like police have arrested a number of opposition activists, for instance Gary Kasparov. One of the White House spokesmen who give the regular impression of being born without a spine, said that he was “deeply disappointed,” while his opposite number in the British Foreign Office was “deeply concerned.” They must just want the laughter to echo round the Kremlin and the dispatch of some champagne to Judge Syrova, for her participation in creating political prisoners once again in the country.
When the Emperor Napoleon ordered the judicial execution of a harmless Duke, Talleyrand — a diplomat from the days before the lily-livered official creeps of the present — made the unforgettable crack that this was “worse than a crime, a mistake.” The Pussy Riot girls are also harmless, and Putin has made a mistake. Violence is more and more likely to overtake his intention to remain dictator until well into the next decade.