Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100810

Financial Crisis
»Credit: Spain Only EU Country Still at a Standstill
»Jobs: EU Fund Supplies 8.5 Mln to 2,157 Spanish Lay-Offs
»More Worried About Recovery, Fed Takes Small Steps
»Arrest Warrant Sought for Egyptian Muslim Cleric for ‘Hate Speech’
»Hanna: I’m Not Opposed to Mosque by 9/11 Site
»How I Remember Tony Judt
»Ned Lamont Loses Connecticut Democratic Primary for Governor
»Obama-Backed Senator Michael Bennet Prevails in Colorado Primary
»On Tony Judt
»Professor Tony Judt
»Tony Judt Obituary
»Tony Judt: An Appreciation
»Tony Judt
»Vatican Satisfied With Kentucky Case Decision
Europe and the EU
»France: Fined for Wearing Niqab, ‘My Husband a Scapegoat’
»Italy: Polemics Over Monte Carlo Flat Rumble on
»Spain: Alcala’ Reveals Its Islamic Origins
»UK: Fury Over Richard Dawkins’s Burka Jibe as Atheist Tells of His ‘Visceral Revulsion’ At Muslim Dress
North Africa
»Algeria: Cabilia Holds Record for Women’s Suicide Attempt
»Protest in Rabat for Ceuta and Melilla Incidents
»Reading Tony Judt in Cairo
»Tunisia: Ben Ali, Europe is Vital and Strategic Area
»Tunisia: Appeal to Ben Ali to Stand for a Sixth Mandate
Israel and the Palestinians
»Flashback: Israel: The Alternative
Middle East
»Can You Handle the Truth?: Poll Shows the Shocking Reality of Arab Public Opinion
»Lebanon: Iran Offers Military Aid to Beirut Army
»Turkey: Government, Military Reach Deal Over Top Posts
Far East
»Le Pen to Visit Japan, Yasukuni Shrine
»Spain: 100:000 Fewer Foreign Residents in Q2
»Rethinking Einstein: The End of Space-Time

Financial Crisis

Credit: Spain Only EU Country Still at a Standstill

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, AUGUST 9 — Credit has begun to flow again in most of the EU countries, but not from Spanish banks, which have increased loans to the public sector and continue to be closed for businesses and privates. According to the quarterly report of the European central Bank (ECB) quoted today by the conservative newspaper ABC, while in the euro zone loans have increased by 0.4% from June 2009 to June 2010, in Spain they have decreased by 1.9%.

Mainly families and businesses suffer from the banks’ lack of credit, which in turn have increased the access to public administration financing by 24.5%, with respect to the average increase of 7.2% in the euro zone. Only France, with an increase of 18.4% comes close to Spain’s level, while Germany (+5%) and Italy (1.1%) remain at a distance.

Italy is also the country which has increased loans to the private sector the most, by 2.9%, followed by the Netherlands(+2.3%) and France (+2%); while Spain decreased loans by 0.5%, surpassed only by Germany, which cut credits to privates by 1.2%. Loans to Spanish families increased in one year by 1.6%, compared to the increase of 8.2% in Italy and by 4.8% in France; while loans to businesses in Spain decreased by 3.7% during the past year.

One of the reasons for this trend indicated by the analysts is the increase in defaults, which in May in Spain reached a record high of 5.394%, according to the latest figures from the Bank of Spain. The Spanish financial institutions registered 110.372 billion euros in dubious collection loans and the experts calculate that loan default will continue to increase until at least the first half 2011, when it could touch 6.5%.

Even more worrying is the exposition of Spanish families and businesses which, according to the ECB quarterly report, register a debt level of 1.8 billion euros, equal to 173% of the Spanish GDP . A figure which greatly surpasses the euro zone average of 61%. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Jobs: EU Fund Supplies 8.5 Mln to 2,157 Spanish Lay-Offs

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, AUG 10 — The European Commission has paid 8.5 million euro to 2,157 laid-off workers in Spain.

The amount, a note from Brussels reports, will help 1,600 ex-employees in the production of ceramics and 557 ex-employees in the production of wooden doors, to find a new job. Lay-offs are the result of a drop in demand of building materials, such as ceramics and carpentry, due to the economic and financial crisis. Spain is the second most important producer of ceramics in the EU, its companies mostly concentrated between Castellon de la Plana and the Valencia area.

More than 50% of the production of wooden doors lies instead in Castilla-La Mancha, area in which unemployment benefits are concentrated mostly on two cities: Villacanas and Villa Don Fadrique, where 7 out of ten people work in the sector. The funds are to be supplied by the European globalisation Adjustment fund (EGF) created at the end of 2006 and later reinforced as an anti-crisis tool.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

More Worried About Recovery, Fed Takes Small Steps

WASHINGTON (AP) — More worried about the strength of the economic recovery, the Federal Reserve took a small step Tuesday to give it a boost.

Wrapping up a one-day meeting, the Fed said it will use the proceeds from its investments in mortgage bonds to buy government debt. That should help lower interest rates on mortgages and corporate debt, but it won’t likely have a dramatic impact on stimulating growth, economists say.

Delivering a more downbeat assessment of the recovery, the Fed now believes economic growth will be “more modest” than it had anticipated at its late June meeting. Citing “subdued” inflation, the Fed said it would keep its target for a key interest rate at zero to 0.25 percent for a “extended period.”

The focus again on energizing the recovery is a shift from earlier this year, when the Fed was starting to lay out its exit strategy for eventually boosting interest rates.

Economists said the move to buy government debt on a small scale — about $10 billion a month — along with the other options at the Fed’s disposal, will have only a marginal impact on boosting economic growth.

With interest rates at record lows, Congress has more power than the Fed to stimulate the recovery, economists say. But they differ on whether the best action is through short-term government spending or tax cuts, or some combination of the two.

“The Fed’s remaining tools won’t be very effective unless we see a severe deterioration in financial market conditions,” said David Jones, head of DMJ Advisors, a Denver-based consulting firm and the author of several books on the Fed.

Still, investors reacted positively to the statement. Stocks that were down sharply before the announcement made up some lost ground. The Dow Jones industrial average, down about 102 points just before the Fed decision, was down about 27 points a short time later. However, the market was likely to fluctuate, as it usually does while investors pore over the Fed’s statement.

“They seem to have quite a handle on what’s going on, which is what you want them to do,” said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Banyan Partners LLC in New York.

Treasury prices rose slightly as investors were pleased by the Fed’s plan to buy government debt, which would reduce the amount of Treasury securities in the market. The yield on the Treasury’s 10-year note, which moves in the opposite direction from its price, fell to 2.77 percent from 2.82 percent just before the announcement.

Rates fell, in part, because the Fed said it would use the proceeds it’s earning on mortgage bonds to buy two-year and 10-year Treasurys, and that it would buy an equal amount of government debt as existing bonds mature. The net effect is to keep its $2.3 trillion balance sheet steady, while shifting its holdings into more government debt.

Economists estimate roughly $10 billion a month would be available to buy the government debt. The Fed said it expects to start buying the government debt on August 17. Details on the amounts of each operation will be published on Wednesday.

In 2009 and early 2010, the Fed bought $1.25 trillion in mortgage securities, $175 billion in mortgage debt from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and $300 billion in government debt. In March, the Fed ceased buying new mortgage securities and Fannie and Freddie debt.

Economists are skeptical that cheaper credit or even more government aid will get Americans shopping more and businesses to hire. They also say some jobs in construction and other housing-related fields, and in manufacturing, will never return to pre-recession levels, as the economy makes a structural shift.

Thomas Hoenig, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, dissented for the fifth straight meeting. Hoenig believes the “economy is recovering modestly” and didn’t need the extra help. He raised concerns about the Fed’s decision to buy government debt again and he continues to object to the Fed’s pledge to keep rates at record lows for an “extended period.”

The Fed said the recovery’s pace had slowed in recent months, a downgrade from June when it observed that the recovery was “proceeding.” The Fed also said employment has slowed, too. That also was a more pessimistic assessment from June, when the Fed said that the labor market was improving.

High unemployment, lackluster income growth, sagging home values and tight credit are all restraining the pace of consumer spending, usually a major source of powering the economy, the Fed also said. Businesses, meanwhile, are reluctant to hire and commercial real estate is weak, other drags on the recovery.

           — Hat tip: Lurker from Tulsa[Return to headlines]


Arrest Warrant Sought for Egyptian Muslim Cleric for ‘Hate Speech’

By Mary Abdelmassih

(AINA) — A Christian Coptic human rights group is seeking to initiate an international arrest warrant in the United Kingdom against the leading Muslim fundamentalist cleric Sheikh Yousef al-Badri for inciting Muslims to kill apostates from Islam in Egypt. Al-Badri, who is a member of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and is associated with the primary Islamic institute of al Azhar University, is reported to have stated “God has commanded us to kill those who leave Islam.”

Although Christianity in Egypt is not illegal, it is under a common interpretation of Islamic law that conversion to another religion from Islam is punishable by death. Muslims, mainly fundamentalists, see no difference between apostasy and subversion; they fear that allowing conversion will ultimately undermine Islam.

“We expected the Egyptian Prosecutor General to take legal action against al-Badri, but unfortunately in Egypt impunity for Muslims prevails at all levels when it comes to the rights of Christians,” said Dr. Ibrahim Habib, President of United Copts of Great Britain who will initiate the arrest warrant. “Incitement to kill is a crime under legal and ethical norms.”

Sheikh Yousef al-Badri has called on several occasions for the “spilling of the blood” of Muslims who convert to Christianity, causing them to live in hiding under the constant threat of vigilantism and death from fundamentalists. “Even if we are killed, the government will not convict our killers,” said Mohamad Hegazy, a renown apostate from Islam, whose face is familiar all over Egypt.

In 2007, Mohamad Hegazy, a Muslim who converted to Christianity in 1998, was the first convert to sue the Egyptian government for rejecting his application to change his official documents to reflect his new Christian faith (AINA 2-27-2010

This case sparked national uproar in Egypt, with al-Badri making a number of controversial statements, besides filing charges of inciting sectarian strife against Hegazy’s first lawyer, Mamdouh Nakhla, who had to withdraw from the case after receiving several death threats.

On August 25, 2007, Hegazy, who took the Christian name of Beshoy Boulos, was interviewed on Egyptian television together with Sheikh al-Badri, who openly called for Hegazy to receive the death penalty for leaving Islam because his new commitment to Christianity meant he had declared war on Islam, according the arrest warrant for —al-Badri. The legal basis of the arrest warrant is that Sheikh al-Badri has engaged in “hate speech” which threatens coverts to Christianity in Egypt with death, in a society where individuals will act on these incitements, as well as denying the fundamental right to change religion from Islam to Christianity which is protected by international law. Also “hate speech” causes individuals subject to this vitriol to sustain severe mental suffering which comes under the crime of ‘torture’ as defined by the Criminal Justice Act 1988, rising to a breach of international law. The United Kingdom is, therefore, under obligation to bring violators of the International Covenant to justice.

The arrest warrant states that al-Badri has also been engaged in a number of other provocative acts, such as calling for ‘Muslims to declare Jihad’ against America, preaching against Abu Ziad who had to claim asylum in Europe, supporting suicide bombings and endorsing wife beatings.

Hegazy is married to Katarina, a convert from Islam before meeting him, and has a 2-year old daughter named Mariam. He said he filed the lawsuit to set a precedent for other converts, and because he wants his child to be openly raised as a Christian.

In February 2008 Hegazy lost his case, with the court ruling that according to Sharia Law, a Muslim who converted to Christianity cannot legally change his religious status. The reasoning given behind this ruling was that ‘Islam is the final and most complete religion’ and since “monotheistic religions were sent by God in chronological order,” one cannot therefore convert to “an older religion.”

Hegazy believes that even after the media stopped reporting on his case, he still remains a target — as all converts do — of Islamic militants. According to Compass Direct News, He was forced into hiding after extremists, unaware of his escape, surrounded his former house for several days and set fire to his neighbor’s residence, killing the female occupant.

The European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), an affiliate of the American Center for Law and Justice, submitted an application in January 2010, to the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights “seeking judgment against the Egyptian government for refusing to recognize the fact that Mr. Mohammed Bishoy Hegazy and his family members are Christians converted from Islam” (video

Another victim of “hate speech” is Muslim-born Maher el-Gowhary who publicly converted to Christianity in 2008, after secretly being a Christian for over 35 years (AINA 9-26-2009 In August 2008, he filed the second lawsuit of a Muslim-born against the Egyptian Government to seek official recognition of his conversion. He lost the case on June 13, 2009. According to the Court ruling, the religious conversion of a Muslim is against Islamic law and poses a threat to the “Public Order” in Egypt.

The Fatwa (religious edict) issued by Sheikh Yousef al-Badri calling for the “shedding of his blood” caused Maher and his teenage daughter Dina, who also converted to Christianity, to live in hiding and be constantly on the run, fearing danger from reactionaries and advocates of the enforcement of Islamic apostasy death laws.

“We live in constant fear ever since radical sheikhs have called for my blood to be shed because I left Islam. We are mostly afraid of the uneducated people on the street,” Maher said in an interview aired end July 2010 on ZDF German TV (video

Maher escaped many attacks on his life, the last taking place on Sunday, July 5, 2010, when a Muslim fundamentalist tried to behead him in broad daylight. His daughter Dina also escaped an acid attack (AINA 4-17-2010 //

Commenting on the reason for the arrest warrant initiated by his group, Dr. Ibrahim Habib said that the Egyptian government must respect freedom of religion as a fundamental right. “Besides, criminals have to know that they are not immune from the legal systems in the West.”

           — Hat tip: Mary Abdelmassih[Return to headlines]

Hanna: I’m Not Opposed to Mosque by 9/11 Site

GOP congressional candidate cites nation’s tradition of religious tolerance

Republican congressional candidate Richard Hanna said Monday he doesn’t object to plans to build a mosque near the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.

The nonprofit Cordoba Initiative has won key approvals to build a $100 million, 13-story Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero; the mosque would be part of the center. The issue has generated intense debate nationwide recently, and on Monday, Hanna weighed in.

“It’s extremely easy to understand why people are upset by this, but this country was founded by people who were running away from religious persecution,” Hanna said in an e-mailed statement Monday. “So how can we become what we have beheld and found contemptible other places?”

He first addressed the Lower Manhattan mosque issue in an interview made available to media outlets Monday afternoon by WAMC Northeast Public Radio that won’t begin airing until Monday, Aug. 16. The radio station pointed out in an e-mail that Hanna’s position contrasts with that of other Republican officials such as gubernatorial candidates Rick Lazio and Carl Paladino.

           — Hat tip: PO[Return to headlines]

How I Remember Tony Judt

The historian’s career shouldn’t be defined by his views on Israel.

It’s a pity that the comments thread below my blog about the late Tony Judt was taken over by readers less interested in assessing his work than in grinding their own axes about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As Nikil Saval points out in an excellent appreciation of Judt on the n+1 website, the historian and essayist “will be remembered by many as a bracing critic of Zionism” — principally on account of his conversion to the arguments in favour of a single bi-national state in the Middle East (set out in this much-discussed piece in the New York Review). Saval reminds us that there was much more to Judt than his views on the future of the state of Israel. His most interesting point, I think, concerns the relationship between Judt’s repudiation of (academic) Marxism and his enduring commitment to social democratic politics. I ended my post about Judt with the observation that he understood that a “sober recognition of the limits of politics is not the same as a quietistic and defeated abandonment of them.” This fits, I think, with Saval’s conclusion:

To his eternal credit, Judt did not leap from a repudiation of Marxism to an embrace of markets. There have been few spokesmen for the welfare state — that most prosaic of institutions — as eloquent as Judt. [His book] Postwar itself can be seen as one long paean to the construction of welfare states across Western Europe in the aftermath of World War II. European social democrats, Judt once wrote, occupy an essentially schizophrenic position: they constantly have to resist calls for freer markets while emphasizing their support for regulated ones; at the same time, they have to reiterate a belief in democratic institutions, committed to reducing inequality, against the more radical claims for transformation embodied by the revolutionary Marxists. Their successes have been fragile, Judt showed, and they need expanding.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Ned Lamont Loses Connecticut Democratic Primary for Governor

In a surprising upset, Dan Malloy, a former mayor of Stamford, Connecticut’s fourth-largest city, defeated Ned Lamont, a multimillionaire businessman who tried unsuccessfully to oust Senator Joseph I. Lieberman four years ago.

His victory sets up a contest with Thomas Foley, a prominent Republican fundraiser and former ambassador under President George W. Bush who won the Republican primary on Tuesday. Republicans have held the governor’s office in Connecticut since 1991.

[Return to headlines]

Obama-Backed Senator Michael Bennet Prevails in Colorado Primary

Senator Michael Bennet, who had the energetic backing of President Obama, won a primary battle Tuesday that was seen as a test of voter feelings toward the Washington establishment and Mr. Obama’s political clout.

Mr. Bennet beat a former statehouse speaker, Andrew Romanoff, who was endorsed by former President Bill Clinton.

[Return to headlines]

On Tony Judt

Tony Judt began as an intellectual historian; he will be remembered by many as a bracing critic of Zionism, a vigorous proponent of European-style social democracy, and—tragically—a victim of ALS. I have heard many describe as “moving” his snatches of memoir, published at intervals in the New York Review of Books over the last year of his life. This is true—but what may have been even more moving was the extent to which he devoted his last days to making the case, which he had made many times before, for the welfare state. He broached the issue as early as “The Social Question Redivivus” in 1997 (reprinted in the collection Reappraisals), and he delivered what turned out to be one of his last salvos in the magnificent “What is Living and What is Dead in Social Democracy”—delivered in 2008 from the wheelchair where he felt like he was “imprisoned in a cell that shrank by six inches every day.”

In the way his scholarship informed his larger political concerns, Judt was an old-style intellectual, after the manner of his teacher (and New York Review of Books writer) George Lichtheim. It was a fact Judt emphasized. His titles often alluded to the debates among previous generations of writers, such as Benedetto Croce’s “What is Living and What is Dead in the Philosophy of Hegel.” He singled out intellectuals of an earlier generation for praise (Raymond Aron, Albert Camus) and others for censure (Jean-Paul Sartre, E. P. Thompson), suggesting the models that he either followed or abjured. Though he weighed in on contemporary issues rather widely, his writings betray barely any dilettantism: except for his polemics on Israel, borne out of an initial support for Labor Zionism, his work rarely moved beyond the horizons of 20th century Europe (and even Israel could be said to fit within those horizons).

Like his forebears and a few contemporaries, he was also extremely angry. Any kind of cant or whiff of intellectual dishonesty could set him off, a spectacle which was either highly gratifying or angering in turn, depending on your tastes. Like most of his readers, I usually exhibited both reactions. His essay “Bush’s Useful Idiots” from the London Review of Books lavished his every last reserve of scorn for liberals who supported the American adventure in Iraq. I remember reading it with an admixture of relief, and shame that I had to travel, intellectually speaking, all the way across the Atlantic to get an opinion that frank and true.

On the other hand, he had a habit of sideswiping great writers in a fashion that usually seemed unnecessary. For someone so gifted at intellectual history, he had little understanding of his own generation’s interest in the fringes of left theory and politics; in Postwar, he managed to sweep away all of the ‘60s student movements with one laconic hand-gesture of a sentence: “The boys and girls of the Sixties just weren’t serious.” Particularly egregious was his recounting of a debate between Leszek Kolakowski and the great E. P. Thompson, where Judt described Thompson as behaving “his priggish, Little-Englander worst: garrulous . . . patronizing, and sanctimonious.” His self-awareness deserting him, Judt goes on to lament Thompson’s “pompous, demagogic tone,” while claiming that anyone who reads Kolakowski’s response to Thompson “will never take E. P. Thompson seriously again.”

“I fail to understand the tone, the content, or the purpose of Tony Judt’s assault on E. P. Thompson,” wrote one reader, expressing my sentiments and surely those of others. Judt’s response—that Thompson really was self-indulgent—doesn’t fully explain what really must have brought out all his anger. As one sees from his other writings, Judt was particularly incensed by an intellectual sympathy for Marxism. He liked to remind us that he had been a Marxist at one point, only to recant rather quickly, more quickly than most of his heroes. While I am sure that Judt was quite serious in his interest in Marxism, as he was about everything else, his hatred for Marxists seems to have come less out of a personal discovery of its inadequacies than out of the history of those who embraced it—particularly the French “fellow-travelers” he wrote about in his fine book, Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-1956, who pardoned every one of Stalin’s crimes in the name of a doctrine they supported ardently and understood poorly. In Judt’s view, if you did not discard Marxism, you did not discard a manner of thinking that could only lead to human catastrophe. This is why he admired the courage of those who broke from communist orthodoxy to condemn the system they knew intimately. From Kolakowski, himself a Polish ex-communist, Judt took the idea that “all-embracing ‘systems’ of thought [lead] inexorably to all-embracing ‘systems’ of rule.” (In these pages, Saul Austerlitz noted an analogy between Judt’s criticism of Marxism as a blind system and his rhetorically similar criticism of Israel.)

To his eternal credit, Judt did not leap from a repudiation of Marxism to an embrace of markets. There have been few spokesmen for the welfare state—that most prosaic of institutions—as eloquent as Judt. Postwar itself can be seen as one long paean to the construction of welfare states across Western Europe in the aftermath of World War II. European social democrats, Judt once wrote, occupy an essentially schizophrenic position: they constantly have to resist calls for freer markets while emphasizing their support for regulated ones; at the same time, they have to reiterate a belief in democratic institutions, committed to reducing inequality, against the more radical claims for transformation embodied by the revolutionary Marxists. Their successes have been fragile, Judt showed, and they need expanding. In any case, he said it all best himself, as the quote below displays amply; would that he were here to keep saying it, in a way that few others could.

The left, to be quite blunt about it, has something to conserve. It is the right that has inherited the ambitious modernist urge to destroy and innovate in the name of a universal project. Social democrats, characteristically modest in style and ambition, need to speak more assertively of past gains. The rise of the social service state, the century-long construction of a public sector whose goods and services illustrate and promote our collective identity and common purposes, the institution of welfare as a matter of right and its provision as a social duty: these were no mean accomplishments.

That these accomplishments were no more than partial should not trouble us. If we have learned nothing else from the twentieth century, we should at least have grasped that the more perfect the answer, the more terrifying its consequences. Imperfect improvements upon unsatisfactory circumstances are the best that we can hope for, and probably all we should seek. Others have spent the last three decades methodically unraveling and destabilizing those same improvements: this should make us much angrier than we are. It ought also to worry us, if only on prudential grounds: Why have we been in such a hurry to tear down the dikes laboriously set in place by our predecessors? Are we so sure that there are no floods to come?

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Professor Tony Judt

Professor Tony Judt , who died on August 6 aged 62, was widely regarded as a brilliant historian of modern Europe; he described himself as “post-ideological” and deployed his sharp and combative mind against intellectual foes on both Right and Left and, most controversially, over Israel

Judt, a secular Jew who grew up in south-west London, argued that Israel should not be a Jewish state, but a state for both Jews and Palestinians living together under one government. As it stood, he suggested as early as 1983, Israel was a “belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno state”.

His views, and sharp criticism of Israel’s continued building of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian Territories, drew a fierce response. Countering his claim that “Israel is drunk on settlements” and corrupted by an “illegal occupation”, the American Jewish Committee responded that: “Tony Judt is just drunk on anti-Zionism”. His views so scandalised The New Republic magazine, where he was a contributing editor, that Judt’s name was stripped from the masthead. A colleague there, Leon Wieseltier, said that Judt had “become precisely the kind of intellectual whom his intellectual heroes would have despised”.

But Judt remained unbowed, seeming in fact to relish the combat of ideas. His only irritation with the debate was that it overshadowed his other, considerable, achievements. “Apparently, the line you take on Israel trumps everything else in life,” he said in 2007. By then he had published his greatest work: Postwar (2006), a book of staggering breadth which chronicled the rise of Europe from the ruins of 1945 to the continent that by-and-large enjoys stability and prosperity today. Over its 900 pages, Judt argued that the rescue of Europe from “a brief interlude and then a Third World war, or a return to depression” was an achievement whose magnitude was hard to exaggerate. For this he emphasised the contribution of America — a country he would later lambast for its campaign in Iraq — through its Marshall Plan funding and “the psychological boost… [of] crucial support at a crucial moment”.

But Judt did not consider Europe definitively beyond the possibility of sliding again into the abyss. Though he was sceptical about the European Union (a standpoint he expressed in the 1996 book A Grand Illusion?: An Essay on Europe), he argued that “for Europe to play a part in the world on the scale of its wealth and its population and its capacities, Europe has to be united in some way, and Europe is not united”. He was in favour of bringing Turkey swiftly into the European Union (“it would mean Europe would have a real voice in the Muslim world”) but worried that some immigrant and Muslim communities in those nations already in the EU were living in “isolation”.

“What you need is the state and politicians having the courage to say: ‘You must be integrated. You have to learn the local language. You cannot live in cultural isolation’,” he said in 2006. “But we in turn have to ensure that you have the possibility of jobs, equal opportunity in education, in the media, in everything which integrates you into a society. We have to give you that society that we have created in a way that makes you want to be part of it rather than feel outside it.” If European nations failed to address such social and ethnic divisions, Judt theorised, then “nationalist, anti-European, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim public political figures, seem a worrying picture of a possible European future. We could still fall back into pre-Europe… and it worries me.” …

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Tony Judt Obituary

by Geoffrey Wheatcroft

Outstanding historian of the modern world with a trenchantly clear-sighted take on international politics

In the 1960s, Cambridge produced a remarkable generation of historians — David Cannadine, Linda Colley and Simon Schama among others — but one name acquired a particular resonance. Well before his death at 62 from motor neurone disorder, Tony Judt flowered not only as a great historian of modern Europe, expanding from his original specialism of French 19th-century socialism to encompass the whole continent, but as a brilliant political commentator.

In his guise as a political and historical essayist, he was a fearless critic of narrow orthodoxies and bullying cliques, from communist apologists to the Israel lobby, from “liberal hawks” to progressive educationists. And his political writings have proved not only perceptive but often prophetic. He was born in the Jewish East End of London. Judt’s grandparents had all been Yiddish speakers from eastern Europe; his father had reached Britain by way of Belgium, and worked as a hairdresser among other occupations. Young Tony went to Hebrew school, learned some Yiddish, and was conscious of English “antisemitism at a low, polite cultural level”. For all that he would one day be denounced as an enemy of Israel, he retained a deep absorption with his heritage. “You don’t have to be Jewish to understand the history of Europe in the 20th century,” Judt wrote, “but it helps.” It helped him.

After the family had moved west across London to settle in Putney, Judt was educated at Emanuel school, an old-established independent school in Battersea. He disliked his schooldays, although he was a useful rugby player and remembered with deep gratitude “Joe” Craddock, a master who proved kindly under his gruff exterior, and who chivvied the boys in his German class to such effect that Judt still commanded the language more than 40 years on. This was one reason why he was later disdainful of educational fads, and of “Britain’s egregiously underperforming comprehensive schools”.

Escape came through King’s College, Cambridge, which offered him a place before he had taken A-levels. But he had already formed one commitment which made his 1960s “a little different” from the decade as his radical contemporaries knew it. His parents were not especially devout, and their political connection was with the residue of the anti-Stalinist, Jewish socialist Bund party. But they were worried that their son, whose sister was eight years younger, was too solitary and withdrawn.

They therefore encouraged Tony to join the small socialist-Zionist youth group Dror. This became the “all-embracing engagement” of his teeenage years, making his later change of course all the more striking. An ardent activist and organiser, he spent summers working on kibbutzim, alongside comrades who rebuked him for singing Beatles songs, and he flew to Israel on the last flight as the 1967 war began. After hostilities had ended, Judt acted as an interpreter for volunteers on the Golan Heights, though he began to lose his faith. “I went with this idealistic fantasy of creating a socialist, communitarian country,” he later said, but he gradually saw that leftwing Zionists, at least as much as the right, were “remarkably unconscious of the people who had been kicked out of the country” and who had since suffered “to make this fantasy possible”. His experience of Labour Zionism had a further effect of imbuing a lifelong suspicion of all forms of ideology and identity politics. He despised political expediency, but abhorred misplaced idealism and zealotry.

Although he missed the expected first in history in 1969, he was encouraged to continue in academic life, and eventually returned to King’s, where he gained his PhD in 1972. Before that he had studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and then embarked on archival research in southern France. Mixing with the elite at the École Normale began another process of disenchantment, when he observed at firsthand that “cardinal axiom of French intellectual life”, as he drily called it, “a radical disjunction between the uninteresting evidence of your own eyes and ears and the incontrovertible conclusions to be derived from first principles”.

By the time the fruits of his stay in the south were published in 1979 as Socialism in Provence 1871-1914: A Study in the Origins of the Modern French Left, Judt had left King’s for the University of California at Berkeley. But he did not relish his first taste of American academic life, and soon returned, to spend 1980-87 as a fellow, and politics tutor for the philosophy, politics and economics course, at St Anne’s College, Oxford.

Nor was he enraptured by “the small change of Oxford evenings”, and he was startled by the erratic inebriety of such celebrated Oxonians as Richard Cobb, although he shared Cobb’s disdain for the uncritical Francophilia of so many of their colleagues. Even so, Judt preferred what he called the more mondain tone of Oxford to Cambridge “cleverness”, and said later that he had been tempted to return to Oxford, but never to his own alma mater.

Then, in 1988, he was appointed to a professorship at New York University, which was his home for the rest of his life. Judt often missed Europe, which was after all his subject, but he flourished mightily in America. In 1995 he added another string to his bow when he became the director of the new Remarque Institute for the study of Europe at NYU, founded with a bequest from the widow of Erich Maria Remarque, author of All Quiet On the Western Front.

These were very fertile years for Judt. In 1990 he published Marxism and the French Left: Studies On Labour and Politics in France 1830-1982, a collection of scholarly essays. Two years later his scintillating and excoriating Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-1956 dissected that “self-imposed moral amnesia” of a generation that had been infatuated with communism and had worshipped Stalin to a degree which now seems not only repellent but incomprehensible…

* Tony Robert Judt, historian, born 2 January 1948; died 6 August 2010

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Tony Judt: An Appreciation

Tony Judt — historian, author, academic — was educated in Europe but built his career here in the United States, where he founded and headed New York University’s Remarque Institute. Perhaps it was his insider’s knowledge of various Western cultures that allowed him to speak to all of us so clearly.

“I think intellectuals have a primary duty to dissent not from the conventional wisdom of the age (though that too) but, and above all, from the consensus of their own community,” he told an interviewer recently, and certainly Judt never shied away from doing so.

As Lynn Parramore notes in her tribute on The Huffington Post, Judt “pondered American culture and politics with the critical eye of an uncle whose affection was tempered by exasperation but buoyed by an undaunted belief in us. He understood what ails us — our materialism, our selfishness, our delusions of perpetual growth and free-wheeling markets — but he also gleaned our potential to regain our footing if we could but imagine alternatives.”

Judt will long be remembered for his books (including his master work “Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945”), his many writings for The New York Review of Books, and the robust nature of his contribution to public discussion of both history and contemporary society. In the pages of the Monitor in recent years, Judt was quoted on a variety of topics including the role of the state in continental Europe vs. the United States (“much deeper and culturally much more built in” in Europe than in Anglo-Saxon culture), the notion of the rebirth of Europe (which Judt saw as a “grand illusion”), French capitulation under the Vichy regime, and the “imperial collapse” of Russia after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall. But for some of us, at least, what will be most missed about Judt will be his willingness to speak directly to all of postwar Western culture about the ill effects of its materialism. “In one of the last pieces he wrote (‘Ill Fares the Land,’ NYRoB, April 29, 2010),” Parramore notes, “Judt gives us a hint on where we should start, after acknowledging that where we’ve ended up — fixated on material wealth and indifferent to almost everything else — does not make for good living.”

Let’s hope there are other voices out there today — young ones, perhaps — ready to rise up and speak in their turn with equal clarity and vigor.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Tony Judt

You have probably heard that Tony Judt (pronounced Jutt) passed away over the weekend. He was one of America’s leading intellectuals and had suffered for two years from the horrible Lou Gehrig’s disease, which left him a quadriplegic. He was just 62.

The New York Review of Books, where he wrote frequently, has assembled some of his writings for it in one handy place, which you can visit here. I commend to you also our own Ed Pilkington’s profile of him in the dear old G. from earlier this year. A lovely piece of work.

Judt’s writing about his physical deterioration was deeply moving. Go read “Night” on the Review site. His writing on history was brilliant. Postwar is an amazing book, written with texture and depth and insight. The Burden of Responsibility, his meditation on the public careers of Leon Blum, Raymond Aron and Albert Camus is just shimmering. It’s also short, unlike Postwar, so if you have time for only one, try it by all means. It’s been a while since I read it, but I think the Blum chapters in particular, describing his valiant struggles against both left and right, his wrongful imprisonment and his profound integrity throughout, had quite an impact on me.

A remarkable man.

[JP note: A sad death, but I would not agree that he was a remarkable man — stupid perhaps, but not remarkable.]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Vatican Satisfied With Kentucky Case Decision

Spokesman welcomes news that abuse charges dropped

(ANSA) — Vatican City, August 10 — The Vatican on Tuesday expressed its approval of a decision by three men to drop their case against the Holy See over sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the US diocese of Louisville, Kentucky. The men’s lawyer announced on Monday they were withdrawing their claim after a ruling on the extent of sovereign immunity enjoyed by the Vatican and after failing to find other plaintiffs to join the suit. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi welcomed the news although stressed that the Holy See’s opposition to the lawsuit was in not intended to downplay the suffering of abuse victims. “Naturally we are in no way trying to downplay the horror involved, or temper our condemnation of sexual abuse or minimize our compassion for its victims,” said Lombardi.

“Justice for victims and protection of minors must remain our primary objective.

“Nevertheless, it is positive that a six-year case alleging the Holy See was responsible for covering up abuse and which had a very negative impact on public opinion, at the end turned out to be based on an unfounded accusation”.

The lawsuit, filed in 2004, was based on alleged incidences of sexual abuse that occurred several decades ago.

It sought to hold the Holy See directly liable for the behaviour of the priests involved and listed Pope Benedict XVI and Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone among the witnesses it intended to call. The suit also argued that a 1962 Vatican document, ‘Crimen Sollicitationis’, which set out how church authorities should deal with cases of priestly pedophilia, was evidence of a cover-up.

The document allegedly prohibited church figures investigating abuse accusations from reporting such incidents to civil authorities.

The Vatican countered that the priests were too remote for it to be held directly responsible for their actions. It also argued there was no evidence the Crimen document had ever reached Louisville Diocese and so could not be evidence of a cover-up at the highest Vatican levels. The lawyer representing the three men, William McMurry, said it was pointless taking the suit further after a court ruling that the only exception to the Vatican’s sovereign immunity was as the priests’ employers. This very narrow exception would have required the plaintiffs to prove that the Holy See exercised day-to-day control over the priests’ actions.

McMurry also explained that no new plaintiffs had joined the suit, as everyone willing to come forward over abuse incidents had already settled with the Vatican. Speaking on Tuesday, the Vatican’s lawyer in the US, Jeffrey Lena, said the decision to drop the suit was clear evidence it had been without merit. “The Holy See never had a policy in place seeking to cover up child abuse,” he said, accusing the plaintiffs’ legal team of “misleading the public”.

“However, the fact that the legal arguments were without merit does not mean that the plaintiffs have not suffered as a result of the abuse,” he added. Lena said the Kentucky case had “simply distracted from the important objective of protecting children”. The judge in the case must still rule on the plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss but this is seen as a formality.

The Catholic Church and its leaders have often come under “unfair and unfounded attacks”, Pope Benedict XVI said last week in a message to the Knights of Columbus, referring to the issue of sexual abuse which has rocked the Church this year.

Sex abuse scandals have hit the Church in the United States, Australia, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Austria,Germany and Italy.

Benedict has repeatedly pledged to root out abuse but some victims groups have said they want to see “more concrete” steps.

The Vatican has been responding with increasing openness to the abuse scandals that first emerged in the US in 2002.

Critics have accused the pope of failing to take proper action when he was head of the doctrinal office that deals with paedophilia cases.

The Vatican has said Benedict, on the contrary, made it easier to punish offenders as well as preventing paedophiles from becoming priests.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

France: Fined for Wearing Niqab, ‘My Husband a Scapegoat’

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, AUGUST 9 — “My husband has become a political football, a scapegoat for the Republic”. The words are those of the wife of Lies Hebbadj, the citizen of Nantes whose partner was fined for driving while wearing a niqab — a Moslem veil that covers all of the face except for the eyes.

France’s Interior Minister, Brice Hortefeux, had been hoping to see the withdrawal of the husband’s French citizenship, acquired through matrimony.

“They are depicting him as a monster, sticking every imaginable label on him,” the woman told local daily paper, Presse-Ocean, after the man was placed under arrest following accusations of rape and molestation on the part of a previous companion. Busy with promoting its latest anti-immigrant law-and-order campaign, the French government, “has decided to demonise him, in order to punish him more thoroughly”. Algerian-born Lies Hebbadj, 35, attained French citizenship through matrimony in 1999. Last spring, Minister Hortefeux accused him of living in a state of polygamy with four wives and twelve children, whom he was exploiting to obtain money from the social services. It was a situation, according to the Minister, under which the man “could be deprived of his French nationality”.

In the past few days, in a law-and-order speech, President Nicolas Sarkozy announced his government’s intention to bring in the systematic withdrawal of acquired French citizenship from foreign-born citizens who a found guilty of attacking law enforcers — a move which has led to a storm of controversy.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Polemics Over Monte Carlo Flat Rumble on

Newspaper organising petition for Fini’s resignation

(ANSA) — Rome, August 10 — Polemics over a judicial probe on the sale of an apartment in Monte Carlo willed to the right-wing party which House Speaker Gianfranco Fini merged into premier Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) party flared on Tuesday after a newspaper began collecting a petition for his resignation.

Il Giornale, a daily owned by Berlusconi’s brother Paolo, urged readers to send in “waves of signatures and send Fini home”.

Rome prosecutors began their probe last week after two ex members of Fini’s old National Alliance (AN), now with a rival rightist formation, filed a formal complaint on suspected fraud charges.

According to Il Giornale, the flat, in a swank area of Monte Carlo, was allegedly sold at a knockdown price to an offshore company which then sold it to another offshore company and then to a third which now rents it to the brother of Fini’s partner Elisabetta Tulliani.

Fini has sued the paper for libel, saying the allegations are false and defamatory.

On Sunday he offered a detailed eight-point explanation of the deal, rejecting accusations of wrongdoing launched by political rivals, including former AN aides and PdL MPs.

Fini, once widely expected to become Berlusconi’s political heir, distanced himself from the premier on a number of issues shortly after their PdL party swept into power in the 2008 general elections.

After months of acrimonious exchanges, Berlusconi threw Fini out of the party two weeks ago.

The Speaker immediately formed a breakaway parliamentary group — Future and Freedom for Italy (FLI) — depriving the government of a majority in the House and raising the spectre of early elections.

In his written statement, Fini stressed that in nearly 30 years of parliamentary activity he had never had problems with the judiciary, a direct jab to Berlusconi who has been beset with court cases since his entry into politics in 1994.

“I have absolutely nothing to hide or to fear over this Monte Carlo story,” Fini said.

The Speaker said the flat was in dire need of renovation and had been sold by AN for 300,000 euros in 2008 after Giancarlo Tulliani — the brother of Fini’s partner Elisabetta Tulliani — told him that he knew a company willing to buy it.

Fini said he was surprised and disappointed when he later learned from his partner that her brother Giancarlo was renting the flat.

The speaker said he felt obliged to present his side of the story because the pro-Berlusconi papers have been waging an “obsessive campaign” against him.

On Tuesday, Il Giornale said its newsrooms were being swamped with e-mails, faxes, letters and cell phone text messages urging Fini to go.

In a front-page editorial, the paper’s editor-in-chief Vittorio Feltri, also said early elections were inevitable because Fini’s FLI group will break with the Berlusconi government once parliament reconvenes in September.

Other dailies, including Italy’s leading Corriere della Sera, have been devoting front-page attention to the story since the judicial probe began last week.

Critics, including the leader of the opposition Italy of Values party, former graft-busting magistrate Antonio Di Pietro, say Fini’s explanations have come too late and are not sufficient.

But FLI MPs are sticking to Speaker’s side and urging critics to wait for the end of the judicial probe.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Alcala’ Reveals Its Islamic Origins

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, AUGUST 9 — The Regional Government of the Community of Madrid is to allocate 184,000 euros to open the Alcala’ la Vieja, the legendary walled fortress of Qala’t adbel Salam, to the public. The fortress was founded by Islamic warriors in around 725 AD and covers a surface of 28 hectares to the south east of the modern Alcala’ de Henares (Madrid).

Situated between the hills of Malvecino and Ecce Homo, the fortress — which is protected by bastions — sits atop an 80-metre-high escarpment on the River Henares, in an area that was already inhabited by in the bronze age and by the Romans, which has been kept more on less intact over four centuries, after it was abandoned in the 16th century.

The Alcala’ field is at the origin of the systematisation of Islamic archaeological studies and marked the start of those done on Muslim settlements in Spain. The project to return to the origins of the Islamic fortress and to build a museum route, according to what has been reported today by El Pais, began a year ago and will now proceed to the second stage of excavations, which involves a surface area of two hectares in the zone know as the park of the hills.

There are 15 people taking part, including archaeologists and assistants coordinated by the regional government’s Head Office of Heritage. The site is considered to be of great archaeological interest and preserves a large section of the ancient wall, surmounted by 8 towers, of which 2 still preserve their foundations. Meanwhile a Mudejar tower built following Muslim occupation in the 14th century is almost whole. The project to construct a museum route in the ancient Muslim enclave, as explained by the Mayor of Alcala’ de Henares, Bartolome’ Gonzalez, is part of the wider project started by the city as part of its bid to be the cultural capital in 2016. For this era, Regional Heritage hopes to be able to conclude excavations and to be able to complete an itinerary amongst the backdrops of the ancient Muslim citadel.

One of the main remains is a 25-metre well that is 5 metres deep, completely covered in water-repellent cement to limit damage caused by damp, destined for the storage of rainwater. The discovery of the field dates back to 1969 and is thanks to the archaeologist, Juan Zozaya, the main authority in the field of Islamic archaeology in Spain. Zozaya discovered that the enclaves called Alcalas or Alcoleas, which are very frequent in the Iberian peninsula, indicated the territories assigned by the Muslim authorities to powerful locals, if they were capable of keeping armies for their control. Alcala’ la Vieja also had a significant military importance, given that it allowed guarding against incursions by people from Leon and Castilians on the route between Toledo and Saragossa, which were both in the hands of Muslims in the 9th century.

After the intervention of Zozaya, between 1984 and 1987, the zone underwent new excavations directed by Araceli Turina, who located the entrance to the fortress which has now been strengthened and restored by the archaeologists. But the perimeter of the Islamic enclave and of the fortress is so vast that no-one dares make any estimations as to when the excavations could be concluded. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: Fury Over Richard Dawkins’s Burka Jibe as Atheist Tells of His ‘Visceral Revulsion’ At Muslim Dress

The outspoken atheist Professor Richard Dawkins has re-ignited the furore over the burka, describing it as a ‘full bin-liner thing’.

The 69-year-old author and scientist told of his ‘visceral revulsion’ when he sees women wearing the controversial Islamic clothing.

But he stopped short of calling for the UK to follow the French in banning them, insisting such legislation would not be in Britain’s liberal tradition.

His comments prompted fury among Muslim groups who accused him of being ‘ignorant’ and ‘Islamophobic’.

Professor Dawkins made the comments in an interview with Radio Times discussing his forthcoming documentary about the dangers of faith schools.

Last night he stood by his remarks and told the Daily Mail: ‘I do feel visceral revulsion at the burka because for me it is a symbol of the oppression of women.’

But he admitted he was reluctant to advocate banning any item of clothing.

He said: ‘As a liberal I would hesitate to propose a blanket ban on any style of dress because of the implications for individual liberty and freedom of choice.’

Last month the French government voted to ban from public places the burka, which is like a cloak covering the entire body, and the niqab, a piece of cloth covering the face, while Belgium and Spain are set for similar votes.

But Immigration Minister Damian Green effectively ruled out the UK following suit, arguing a ban would be ‘rather un-British’ and run contrary to the conventions of a ‘tolerant and mutually respectful society’.

However, some 67 per cent of UK voters want full-face veils to be outlawed.

Seyyed Ferjani, of the Muslim Association of Britain, said of Professor Dawkins’ comments: ‘I think it is ignorant and Islamaphobic.

‘This kind of thing has been on the rise for some time. Britain is a diverse and free society.

‘It is a woman’s choice if she wishes to wear a burka, a niqab or not. Why does it matter to this man what a woman is wearing?

‘We should be encouraging respect and understanding for each other.’

Professor Dawkins made his comments ahead of his documentary arguing for the abolition of faith schools.

In Faith Schools Menace?, on More4 next week, the Oxford University evolutionary biologist says religious schools encourage social segregation.

He asks why public money should be spent labelling children on the basis of ‘something as arbitrary as religion’.

His investigations for the documentary left him shocked. In one Muslim school in Leicester none of the pupils believed in evolution.

He said: ‘Their first recourse was not “what’s the evidence?” but “what does the Koran say?”.’

It is not the first time Professor Dawkins, who is the author of books including The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion, has attracted criticism for his views on Islam.

In 2008, he said: ‘It’s almost impossible to say anything against Islam in this country, because you are accused of being racist or Islamophobic.’

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria: Cabilia Holds Record for Women’s Suicide Attempt

(ANSAmed) — ROME, AUGUST 10 — One or two a day. Such is the average frequency of women suicides in Algeria during the first six months of this year. So says the Algerian newspaper Annahar Ajjadeed, pointing out that the region of Eastern Cabilia is at the first place in the ranking of suicides over the last three years.

Social and family problems are, according to a police report quoted by the newspaper, among the main causes of this phenomenon. In order to evade, approximately 240 women have tried to take their own lives in the first six months of the year: 44 died, while a further 196 failed in their attempt.

According to a study carried out by the Algerian police’s press office suicide is nevertheless more common among men: over the same period of time 120 men took their own lives. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Protest in Rabat for Ceuta and Melilla Incidents

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, AUG 10 — According to El Pais, tensions between Morocco an Spain concerning Meuta and Melilla: yesterday Rabat issued the fifth note of protest for presumed racist behaviour of the civil guard at the border with the Spanish enclave in Northern Africa. In its notes of protest, five in less than a month, the Moroccan Foreign Ministry accuses the police at the border of “occupied Melilla” dealing with Moroccan citizens and the civil guard dealing with sub-Saharan citizens near Ceuta, of racist behaviour.

The Spanish diplomatic body is surprised and disconcerted by Rabat’s accusations, unprecedented in the bilateral relations between the two neighbouring countries, much improved in 2004 by the socialist government. The Foreign ministry, led by Miguel Angel Moratinos, replied to Rabat’s first two notes in the beginning of July, but not to the other notes, “so as not to commence a spiral of replies and counter-replies which would lead nowhere”.

Over the last days, the official notes have been accompanied by some protests led by sub-Saharan immigrants before the Spanish embassy of Morocco, at the consulates of Nador and Tetuan and, yesterday, in front of the Istituto Cervantes of Rabat. Furthermore, Sunday saw an open condemnation of Spain’s “provocative actions” by the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, who appealed to the Spanish Ongs so as to “exhort their government to respect the physical integrity of the people crossing the borders”.

According to Moroccan independent press “Moroccan authorities wish to reconsider bilateral agreements”, as pointed out yesterday by the newspaper Akhbar al Youm, quoted by el Pais. In today’s editorial “Morocco again” the latter daily stressed that “moreover, nobody can miss that in such a hierarchical country, decisions of this nature can only emanate from the king, Mohamed VI, even if they are later followed through by the government”. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Reading Tony Judt in Cairo

A few days ago, the world mourned the passing of Tony Judt, a British historian of repute and engaged public intellectual. As his body wasted from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, Judt spent the last year dictating, often while in great discomfort, a series of seminal articles published in the New York Review of Books, as if moved by the urge to leave as much of a legacy as possible before he disappeared.

Although he lived most of his life in New York, Tony Judt’s main interest was Europe, notably postwar Europe and its intellectuals. But throughout his life, his attention often turned to the Middle East. Once was passionate Zionist, Judt became disillusioned soon after Israel’s triumph in the 1967 War. He left Israel thinking that his fellow leftist Zionists were “remarkably unconscious of the people who had been kicked out of the country.” Judt came back to the question of Israel much later in his career, with a 2003 essay in the New York Review of Books that, for the first time in a major American publication, declared the moral failure of Zionism and advocated a binational state. He also denounced the pernicious role of the Israel lobby in American Middle East policy.

For this alone, many Arabs who care about the Palestinian cause can be grateful to Judt. But I want to elaborate on another aspect of his thinking late in his life, which may not seem of great relevance to the Middle East, but is nonetheless important. I heard about Judt’s death while reading his last book, Ill Fares The Land, an impassioned plea for the revival of the social democratic ideal. In this book, Judt lays out his analysis of a crisis in Western democracy. It’s symptoms include the decline of the welfare state, the breakdown of collective trust, the disintegration of the public sector, the segregation of rich and poor into gated communities and banlieues, and the increased inequality that has reversed the post-World War II trend of improved wealth distribution which lasted until the 1970s.

The phenomena that Judt describes are, for many, only beginning to be recognized in the West, particularly after the 2008 financial crisis and the threat of permanently high unemployment. Political apathy among the young is one phenomenon that has been perceptible for some time — despite the short-lived enthusiasm generated by the candidacy of a quite conventional (aside from his race) American politician, Barack Obama. Another is the striking irrelevance (and just as often, connivance) of weak parliaments in the face of strong executives.

Is this starting to sound familiar?

The trends Judt describes appear to have an all-too-familiar trajectory for those living in the Middle East. After decolonization, Arab states — particularly the “revolutionary” ones — underwent a period of undemocratic rule with considerable social progress, with regimes benefiting from mass support by improving the lot of the majority of the population. Yet today, perhaps in Egypt more than other Arab states, any semblance of a social contract appears to have evaporated and these once partly progressive autocracies have foundered. With this, a deep individual mistrust of both state and society has settled in.

The crisis that the Egyptian regime is facing, and has faced for a number of years, is not merely one of presidential succession. It is also a moral one, the incapacity of political forces to articulate a compelling new social contract to replace the one that died a long time ago. In its stead the regime has allowed a climate of fear and disengagement from public life to prevail: stay away from politics, and you’ll stay out of trouble. This necessarily fosters a moral crisis in society, as manifested through epiphenomena such as the scandalous acceptance of routine sexual harassment, the rise of religious intolerance and widening social inequality.

In political life, no Egyptian has better warned against this crisis than Mohamed ElBaradei. In his first television appearance after returning to Egypt, the ex-chief of the UN’s nuclear energy watchdog compared the very social-democratic Austria where he lived for almost three decades to present-day Egypt, and advocated a similar concern for balance and justice in his native country. This should be self-evident in any developing country, but this government finds it easy to privatize state assets against popular desires and leave the official minimum wage at the absurd level of LE36 a month for over 25 years. Meanwhile, it cannot implement a real estate tax that only affects the upper middle class and rich.

Such concerns, to varying extents, apply across the Arab world where, even as overall material conditions improve, rising inequalities have considerably escalated social frictions and popular resentment, as well as increased the power of money in politics. In democracies, this process leads to risks of political alienation, rising populism and, as Judt wrote of the United States, “plutocratic republics.” But in autocratic states, the end result is much worse: rule by corruption, a police for hire and the collapse of the rule of law. In other words, a mafia state.

Issandr El Amrani is a writer on Middle Eastern affairs. He blogs at His column appears every Tuesday.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Ben Ali, Europe is Vital and Strategic Area

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, AUGUST 9 — “Europe is a vital and strategic area for our foreign relations due to its close proximity, interests, and the solid and diversified links that our country has with the European continent.” The President of the Republic of Tunisia, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was speaking in a speech to mark the conclusion of the annual conference of the heads of Tunisian diplomatic and consular missions.

Ben Ali said that this “urges us to operate in view of increasingly promoting our relations with European partners, at bilateral and multilateral level and of passing to a partnership stage with the European Union, so as to respond to our aspirations for the deepening of this partnership in the different sectors.” For this reason, Ben Ali said that in Tunisia, in reference to its role in the Mediterranean area, “we have taken care to promote Euro-Mediterranean relations of cooperation and partnership. We have made every effort to give our support to initiatives that aim to strengthen the bridges of dialogues, conciliation and cooperation with this space and to put into operation a balanced and solid partnership at the service of all parties’ interests.” With regard to the Palestinian issue, Ben Ali reaffirmed Tunisia’s “constant support of the principle of the Palestinian cause” and he urged “the international community and in particular the members of the International Quartet, to act with the speed that the situation requires, with a view to finding a fair, long-lasting and global solution to the conflict,” underlining that “Tunisia is willing to provide assistance to all the serious and sincere efforts aimed at reaching the much hoped-for peaceful solution” to the problem. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Appeal to Ben Ali to Stand for a Sixth Mandate

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, AUGUST 9 — Sixty-five leading Tunisian figures have signed their names to a petition in the country’s Arab-language daily “Echourouq”, which calls on President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to stand for a sixth consecutive time in the up-coming 2014 presidential elections.

Apart from former ministers, industrialists, professional figures, actors and journalists, the list of signatories also includes swimmer Oussama Mellouli, Olympic and world 1,500 freestyle champion. Bel Ali was re-elected for a fifth mandate as head of state in October. Should he decide to comply with the appeal and stand once again, he would face the obstacle of the changes made to the country’s constitution in 2002, which fixes the maximum age for candidates in the presidential race at 75: he will in fact be 78 in 2014. The President was born on September 3 1936.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Flashback: Israel: The Alternative

by Tony Judt

The Middle East peace process is finished. It did not die: it was killed. Mahmoud Abbas was undermined by the President of the Palestinian Authority and humiliated by the Prime Minister of Israel. His successor awaits a similar fate. Israel continues to mock its American patron, building illegal settlements in cynical disregard of the “road map.” The President of the United States of America has been reduced to a ventriloquist’s dummy, pitifully reciting the Israeli cabinet line: “It’s all Arafat’s fault.” Israelis themselves grimly await the next bomber. Palestinian Arabs, corralled into shrinking Bantustans, subsist on EU handouts. On the corpse-strewn landscape of the Fertile Crescent, Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat, and a handful of terrorists can all claim victory, and they do. Have we reached the end of the road? What is to be done?

At the dawn of the twentieth century, in the twilight of the continental empires, Europe’s subject peoples dreamed of forming “nation-states,” territorial homelands where Poles, Czechs, Serbs, Armenians, and others might live free, masters of their own fate. When the Habsburg and Romanov empires collapsed after World War I, their leaders seized the opportunity. A flurry of new states emerged; and the first thing they did was set about privileging their national, “ethnic” majority—defined by language, or religion, or antiquity, or all three—at the expense of inconvenient local minorities, who were consigned to second-class status: permanently resident strangers in their own home.

But one nationalist movement, Zionism, was frustrated in its ambitions. The dream of an appropriately sited Jewish national home in the middle of the defunct Turkish Empire had to wait upon the retreat of imperial Britain: a process that took three more decades and a second world war. And thus it was only in 1948 that a Jewish nation-state was established in formerly Ottoman Palestine. But the founders of the Jewish state had been influenced by the same concepts and categories as their fin-de-siècle contemporaries back in Warsaw, or Odessa, or Bucharest; not surprisingly, Israel’s ethno-religious self-definition, and its discrimination against internal “foreigners,” has always had more in common with, say, the practices of post-Habsburg Romania than either party might care to acknowledge.

The problem with Israel, in short, is not—as is sometimes suggested—that it is a European “enclave” in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a “Jewish state”—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.

In one vital attribute, however, Israel is quite different from previous insecure, defensive microstates born of imperial collapse: it is a democracy. Hence its present dilemma. Thanks to its occupation of the lands conquered in 1967, Israel today faces three unattractive choices. It can dismantle the Jewish settlements in the territories, return to the 1967 state borders within which Jews constitute a clear majority, and thus remain both a Jewish state and a democracy, albeit one with a constitutionally anomalous community of second-class Arab citizens.

Alternatively, Israel can continue to occupy “Samaria,” “Judea,” and Gaza, whose Arab population—added to that of present-day Israel—will become the demographic majority within five to eight years: in which case Israel will be either a Jewish state (with an ever-larger majority of unenfranchised non-Jews) or it will be a democracy. But logically it cannot be both…

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Can You Handle the Truth?: Poll Shows the Shocking Reality of Arab Public Opinion

by Barry Rubin

This is one of those stories about the Middle East that is totally amazing but not the least bit surprising. What, you ask, do I mean? From the standpoint of the way the region is portrayed in the West this information is incredible but if you understand the area it is exactly what you’d expect.

I’m referring here to the recent 2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll conducted by Zogby International and the University of Maryland for the Brookings Institution. Note that this poll was only done in relatively moderate countries: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates,

Here are some of the main findings:

—Arab views “hopeful” about the Obama Administration policy in the Middle East declined from 51 to 16 percent between 2009 and 2010, while those “discouraged” rose from 15 to 63 percent. Why? Because while the Obama Administration tried to flatter Arabs and Muslims, go all-out to support the Palestinians, distanced themselves from Israel, and took other steps it was not deemed sufficient.

Nothing the United States did would persuade the audience because of such factors as: different ideologies and ambitions, clashes of interest, the filter of government and Islamist propaganda, and excessively high demands. While the populations are “discouraged” with the administration largely due to their radicalism, the regimes are unhappy with it because they feel the U.S. government isn’t strong enough in opposing such enemies as revolutionary Islamism and Iran.

Still, unless U.S. policy comes to resemble that of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Jordan, many or most Arabs will continue to be bitter and angry. Obama’s levels of support among Arabs are not that different from those of his predecessor.

—What about perceptions of threat? Same story. Those thinking Israel is a huge threat is at 88 percent (down slightly from 95 percent in 2008) showing that overall hostility just doesn’t go away. Do you think that any conceivable Israeli policy would change this fact?

Note that while it is would not be surprising if Arabs see Israel as an enemy generally or as being mean to the Palestinians, for Jordanians, Saudis, and Egyptians to describe Israel as the greatest threat to their own countries shows something beyond rational calculation is involved. The prevalent idea is that Israel wants to take over the Middle East or wipe out Islam or destroy the Arabs. This makes a lasting compromise, comprehensive, and friendly peace rather unlikely.

—What about the United States? Here, too, Obama’s efforts have failed. The idea that the United States is the other main threat to Arab countries and societies declined from 88 percent under George W. Bush at the end of his term to “only” 77 percent under Obama in 2010. Given the dramatic change in personality and policy this amounts to nothing.

—As for Iran being a threat, this view among the Arabs polled grew from 7 percent in 2008 to a “whopping” 13 in 2009 and then down to 10 percent in 2010. In other words, the Arab masses believe the United States is about eight times more of a threat than Iran. Indeed, if you add in those nine percent of the Arabs polled who view the United Kingdom as the real danger, 86 percent see Washington or London as the greatest threat to themselves. Again, the ruling elites have a different view but no wonder they are so cautious about opposing Iran or lining up with the United States.

—Asked which foreign leader they most admire, almost 70 percent name an Islamist or a supporter of that movement’s forces: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan (20), Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (13), Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (12), Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah (9), Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (7), Usama bin Ladin (6), and the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (2).

No relatively moderate Arab leader has any significant international following. And note that two non-Arab Middle Easterners (Erdogan and Ahmadinejad) score so high, showing a decline in Arab nationalism that would have been unthinkable during the 1950-2000 era.

Unfortunately, these and other findings reflect the realities of the Arabic-speaking world: the hegemony of radicalism among the masses, passionate hatred for Israel and the West, and lack of sympathy for democracy or liberalism. And the overall trend is to make things even worse, since there is so much positive feeling toward revolutionary Islamism rather than even militant Arab nationalism…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

Lebanon: Iran Offers Military Aid to Beirut Army

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, AUGUST 10 — Around one month ahead of the official visit to Lebanon by the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a week after the clashes between Lebanese and Israeli soldiers along the temporary border, Iran has offered its support to the Lebanese army. The online edition of Beirut daily, An Nahar, reports today that the Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Abadi, offered his country’s support to Jean Qahwahi, head of the Lebanese army, during their meeting yesterday.

The offer by Iran, which in Lebanon supports the anti-Israeli Shia movement Hezbollah, comes after the Foreign Affairs Committee for the American Congress on August 2 froze scheduled military provisions to the Beirut army for a value of some 100 million dollars.

The decision was made on the eve of the bloody clashes on August 3 along the temporary border between Israel and Lebanon and in which 4 people were killed: a high-ranking Israeli officer, two soldiers and a Lebanese civilian. Since the suspension of hostilities between Israel and Lebanon in August 2006, the US has supplied Beirut with military aid for a value of over 700 million dollars. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Government, Military Reach Deal Over Top Posts

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, AUGUST 9 — The Turkish government and the military reached a deal Sunday night over the appointment of top army chiefs after days of uncertainty in last week’s Supreme Military Council, or YAS, Hurriyet daily newspaper reports. Turkey had been expected to announce a new army chief and Land Forces commander Wednesday at the end of the four-day YAS, but the two posts were left vacant in the final list of promotions. Gen. Isik Ko?aner was appointed Sunday as the new chief of the Turkish General Staff and Gen.Erdal Ceylanoglu was appointed as the new commander of the Land Forces.

The appointments were made public after a meeting at the Cankaya Presidential Palace between President Abdullah Gul, former chief of General Staff Gen. Ilker Ba?bug and Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul.

Debates over the promotion of Gen. Hasan Igsiz, previously the top choice for the Land Forces post, had delayed the filling of the two highest-level spots in the Turkish military. Tensions had mounted between the government and the army during YAS as Prime Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to sign off on Igsiz’s appointment. The general was in line to become the Land Forces commander before he was summoned to testify in a case probing online anti-government propaganda. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Far East

Le Pen to Visit Japan, Yasukuni Shrine

French National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen leads a delegation of far-right European politicians to Japan this week where they plan to visit Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni shrine to war dead.

When asked about the visit to the shrine, which honours 2.5 million Japanese war dead including 14 top war criminals from World War II, the party’s deputy leader Bruno Gollnisch said “bad war criminals are the ones who lost.”

Other Asian countries view the shrine as a symbol of Japan’s wartime aggression.

However Gollnisch said: “We are not going to justify the imperialist policies of Japan 70 years ago. We are going to pay honour to the courage of the unfortunate soldiers who were in the enemy camp.”

The delegation will include representatives of the British National Party (BNP), Austria’s Freedom Party (FPOe), Hungary’s Jobbik, and the Vlaams Belang party of Belgium.

The delegation begin their visit on Thursday, and plan to visit the Yasukuni shrine on Saturday. They are to wrap up their trip on August 18.

The European politicians also plan to meet with members of Japan’s far-right Issuikai, said Gollnisch.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]


Spain: 100:000 Fewer Foreign Residents in Q2

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, AUGUST 6 — The number of foreigners with residence permits registered as living in Spain dropped by around 100,000 in the second quarter of this year. This is equal to a 2.03% decrease in the population segment on an annual basis, breaking the continuous upward trend since 2008.

Figures released today by the Permanent Immigration Watchdog of the Labour Ministry show that between April and June there were 4,744,169 foreigners present: a decrease of 98,330 on the second quarter of 2009. The number of working-age and under-16-year-old foreigners went down, while the number of over-64s went up.

Of the resident foreigners, 2,436,399 (or 51.3%) are on general permits, down by 136,948 year-on-year; while 2,307,770 are EU nationals, up by 38,618. By nationality, the community showing the greatest drop in numbers is the Latin American one (-104,074); followed by the African (-20,727) and Asian (-1,763) groups. The only increase was in the number of persons coming from other EU countries or countries belonging to the European Free Trade Association area.

For the first time, the Moroccan community is no longer the largest immigrant community: they have been leap-frogged by people coming from Romania, with 793,205. In third place comes Ecuador (382,129) followed by Colombia (262,075) and the United Kingdom (225.391).

Catalonia, Madrid, Andalusia and the Valencia Community continue to be the autonomous areas with the highest percentages of foreign residents, taking a total of 65.4% of Spain’s immigrant population.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Rethinking Einstein: The End of Space-Time

Physicists struggling to reconcile gravity with quantum mechanics have hailed a theory — inspired by pencil lead — that could make it all very simple

IT WAS a speech that changed the way we think of space and time. The year was 1908, and the German mathematician Hermann Minkowski had been trying to make sense of Albert Einstein’s hot new idea — what we now know as special relativity — describing how things shrink as they move faster and time becomes distorted. “Henceforth space by itself and time by itself are doomed to fade into the mere shadows,” Minkowski proclaimed, “and only a union of the two will preserve an independent reality.”

And so space-time — the malleable fabric whose geometry can be changed by the gravity of stars, planets and matter — was born. It is a concept that has served us well, but if physicist Petr Horava is right, it may be no more than a mirage. Horava, who is at the University of California, Berkeley, wants to rip this fabric apart and set time and space free from one another in order to come up with a unified theory that reconciles the disparate worlds of quantum mechanics and gravity — one the most pressing challenges to modern physics.

Since Horava published his work in January 2009, it has received an astonishing amount of attention. Already, more than 250 papers have been written about it. Some researchers have started using it to explain away the twin cosmological mysteries of dark matter and dark energy. Others are finding that black holes might not behave as we thought. If Horava’s idea is right, it could forever change our conception of space and time and lead us to a “theory of everything”, applicable to all matter and the forces that act on it.

For decades now, physicists have been stymied in their efforts to reconcile Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which describes gravity, and quantum mechanics, which describes particles and forces (except gravity) on the smallest scales. The stumbling block lies with their conflicting views of space and time. As seen by quantum theory, space and time are a static backdrop against which particles move. In Einstein’s theories, by contrast, not only are space and time inextricably linked, but the resulting space-time is moulded by the bodies within it.

Part of the motivation behind the quest to marry relativity and quantum theory — to produce a theory of quantum gravity — is an aesthetic desire to unite all the forces of nature. But there is much more to it than that. We also need such a theory to understand what happened immediately after the big bang or what’s going on near black holes, where the gravitational fields are immense.

One area where the conflict between quantum theory and relativity comes to the fore is in the gravitational constant, G, the quantity that describes the strength of gravity. On large scales — at the scale of the solar system or of the universe itself — the equations of general relativity yield a value of G that tallies with observed behaviour. But when you zoom in to very small distances, general relativity cannot ignore quantum fluctuations of space-time. Take them into account and any calculation of G gives ridiculous answers, making predictions impossible.

Emergent symmetry

Something has to give in this tussle between general relativity and quantum mechanics, and the smart money says that it’s relativity that will be the loser. So Horava began looking for ways to tweak Einstein’s equations. He found inspiration in an unlikely place: the physics of condensed matter, including the material of the moment — pencil lead.

Pull apart the soft, grey graphite and you have a flimsy sheet of carbon atoms just one atom thick, called graphene, whose electrons ping around the surface like balls in a pinball machine. Because they are very small particles, their motion can be described using quantum mechanics; and because they are moving at only a small fraction of the speed of light there is no need to take relativistic effects into account.

But cool this graphene down to near absolute zero and something extraordinary happens: the electrons speed up dramatically. Now relativistic theories are needed to describe them correctly. It was this change that sparked Horava’s imagination. One of the central ideas of relativity is that space-time must have a property called Lorentz symmetry: to keep the speed of light constant for all observers, no matter how fast they move, time slows and distances contract to exactly the same degree.

What struck Horava about graphene is that Lorentz symmetry isn’t always apparent in it. Could the same thing be true of our universe, he wondered. What we see around us today is a cool cosmos, where space and time appear linked by Lorentz symmetry — a fact that experiments have established to astounding precision. But things were very different in the earliest moments. What if the symmetry that is apparent today is not fundamental to nature, but something that emerged as the universe cooled from the big bang fireball, just as it emerges in graphene when it is cooled?…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]