Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Our Cartoons and Theirs

The decision by Islamists to publish a variety of anti-semitic cartoons, notably the Anne Frank raped by Hitler item, and the Iranian anti-semitic cartoon competition illustrates their confusion and helps us dissipate our own.

1) It is entirely their business what they publish in Iran. We may find it ugly, vicious and indicative of future danger, but that’s it.

2) The Anne Frank cartoon is shocking, and deeply offensive to any Holocaust survivors and relatives of Holocaust victims, but it isn’t inciting hatred and doesn’t deny the Holocaust. Muslim and other exponents of tastelessness should be free to publish and be damned in our eyes.

3) No major western paper would print such a cartoon (except to discuss it) because it would be a very poor reflection on its readers to assume they would wish to see it in a normal context.

4) What this comes down to, in the context of the caricatures of Mohammed, is that there are European majority sensitivities and the sensitivities of our Muslim minority. Neither can dictate to the other – in Europe, at least. Perhaps we can accommodate each other, but that’s likely to be a long process and should be mutual.

5) Denial of Genocide is a very different and more complicated matter. There are laws about it in Europe because we Europeans see such a denial of our own history as leading people into danger, like deliberately distracting people from looking both ways before they cross a road. We know the truck is there, and we know the harm it has done.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Beauty out-argued by the Beast

On Friday night, I watched James Rubin interview Hamas leader Dr Mahmoud Zahar. One would have expected Rubin to be fairly savvy about foreign policy, diplomatic in his approach, and quick on his feet. He was after all once a top State Department policy adviser to Madeleine Albright, and became the State Department's chief spokesman.

Unfortunately, it was immediately apparent that Mr Rubin, in his new role as a SkYNews anchor, has a very narrow conception of the parameters of the Middle East debate, as well as a supercilious manner and unpleasant arrogance.

In fact Rubin was comprehensively owned during the interview. Despite his thick accent, Dr Zahar is one of the most articulate and clear-thinking Palestinian spokesmen I have seen in a very long time. I offer the following précis of the interview as an example :

Rubin :Do you acknowledge that the very possibility of your own election is a sign that negotiations work?

Zahar: No. We held elections even at the height of the occupation and intifada. All previous negotiations with Israel have failed.

Rubin : When will the bloodthirsty Palestinians stop murdering Israeli children?

Zahar: When the Israelis stop killing ours.

Rubin : When will you renounce terrorism?

Zahar: The US has refused to define terrorism in the United Nations. What are you asking me to renounce?

Rubin : When will you hit only military targets?

Zahar: When the Americans and Israelis do.

At this point, Rubin gave up with a flurry of facial gestures conveying exasperation. I used to rather like listening to Jamie Rubin, during the Kosovo war. I still cannot understand how he can have sunk to such a low intellectual level. Throughout the interview, he seemed incapable of understanding that Zahar had not only answered his questions but refuted the ideological assumptions underlying them.

Zahar, on the other hand, seemed very different from the irrational and ranting Islamic fundamentalist we are used to seeing. Furthermore, I have my doubts about equating Hamas with the Muslim Brotherhood. The Credo of the Muslim Brotherhood is above all authoritarian – don't ask questions about matters above your head, leave it to your leaders, that sort of thing. The Palestinians, on the other hand, ever since the days of the First Intifada, the Intifada of the Stones, have shown an ability to organise democratically and a commitment to some sort of popular control. We shall have to see how this works out in practice and whether Hamas will degenerate into the kind of venality and influence-peddling that so disfigured Fatah even in its heyday. Perhaps the fact that it is a Palestinian rather than an Egyptian organization is grounds for hope that it will be responsive to popular feeling should the mood in the West Bank swing towards some accommodation with Israel.

Personally, I feel that's mostly up to the Israeli authorities. Whatever one's feelings about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Palestinian support for Hamas is a demon of Israel's creation. And the fact remains – more Palestinian children are being killed than Israeli ones.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Decaying Venice or Irrelevant Switzerland?

There's an interesting article on the future of Europe in the FT today.

Mostly, I agree with it, although I have my doubts about Blair’s suitability for the role into which Dominique Moisi casts him. But the need to replace the unpopular, ineffective, opportunistic and above all weak current leaders of France, Italy and Germany seems indisputable, even if it means Sarkozy and Merkel. Europe's progress so far has to some extent been based on the prestige engendered by its economic successes, which were achieved , at times, as in the early eighties, by socialist Finance Ministers such as Delors and Wim Kok imposing unpopular deregulation.

However I did have a problem with a detail in one passage of the article.

'This petty nationalism reveals a weakness in the European project, one that is largely due to great European leaders of the past such as Jacques Delors, the former European Commission president. In his opposition to a European kind of nationalism based on emotion, Mr Delors left Europe vulnerable to the assaults of emotional irrationality. In the French and Dutch referendums, the Yes camp left the weapons of emotion for the sole use of the No camp. Today, no sense of European patriotism can be mobilised to restrain national jingoism. '

Wasn’t it in fact European Commission President Delors who said, in a 1993 speech to European church leaders:
“We won't succeed with Europe solely on the basis of legal expertise or economic know-how. If in the next ten years we haven't managed to give a soul to Europe, to give it spirituality and meaning, the game will be up”.

Eden and Makarios

All Nasser's Fault?

You don’t have to be a Marxist to accept that history is broadly determined by the continuing churn of economic interests, a dynamic that brooks no lasting interruption. However, it is often the case that personal idiosyncrasies, affinities and the state of health of decision-makers shape world events. These accidents throw the outlines of the machinery of nations into sharp relief, like a great spark in a darkened power station.

Recently, I have been re-reading Anthony Nutting’s excellent account of the Suez Crisis, No End of a Lesson, published by Constable in 1967. In 1956, the author was Minister of State at the Foreign Office, a post to which had been appointed by his friend and mentor, Anthony Eden. Nutting so disagreed with the policy of a Prime Minister he had once much admired that he resigned his post, and thereby ended his own political career. Perhaps this is what drives the candour he displays. A remarkable clarity about how and why foreign policy decisions are made pervades Nutting’s illuminating book.

He depicts Eden in failing health and rapidly losing the surety of touch and diplomatic skill that had made him the golden boy of the Conservative Party as Foreign Secretary under Churchill. Although Nutting does not say so, there are striking parallels between Eden’s condition and that of old Britannia herself at the time.

A charismatic Egyptian officer, born the son of a postman, had deposed the spendthrift and capricious King Farouk of Egypt. Now Nasser was constantly agitating against British influence and control in the lands of the Arabs. In retrospect, this jolly torturer admired to this day by those he tortured was the final rather splendid bloom of real Arab nationalism, a rose that had been sprouting in Britain’s sandy Middle Eastern garden since the days of Colonel Arabi. Unfortunately, but understandably, Eden could see only the thorns and felt he was dealing with a bramble that had to be pruned.

It was Farouk who had denounced the 1936 treaty with Britain, but it was under Nasser that Her Majesty’s forces were finally withdrawn from the canal zone, an event which was portrayed as scuttling away without dignity by various diehard idiots in Eden’s cabinet. Eden, cut by the feeling of lost British prestige, also blamed Nasser for the dismissal of the British commander of Jordan’s military forces, General Glubb, an officer who epitomized Britain’s alliances with the Arabs since the days of Lawrence.

Glubb’s benevolent competence included a disposition to veto young King Hussein’s wishes concerning particular promotions within the army, for instance. It apparently never occurred to him that Hussein no longer saw himself as a Sandhurst cadet, but as the Hashemite Monarch of the Kingdom of Jordan, whose will was not to be so lightly set aside. Although Eden later came to understand that it was Hussein’s personal griefs against Glubb rather than Nasserist manipulation that led to the dismissal, he could not relinquish the idea that Nasser was behind it – or would have been had it not occurred for other reasons. In Eden’s mind, Nasser was becoming somehow to blame for every slip in Britain’s control over the network of alliances that made up Middle East politics at the time, such as the relative failure of the Turkish dominated Baghdad Pact. Nutting doesn’t say so, but this particular alliance with the former masters of the region was in fact as appealing to the Arabs as a German protectorate would have been to the Israelis.

British national prestige became Eden’s major concern, and destroying Nasser an obsession, whatever the consequences for Egypt, the other Arabs and their relationship with Britain. His government was in trouble over the British economy, reserves of gold and dollars had fallen rapidly, and the Cabinet was often under attack from all sides. A dispute with Saudi Arabia over a tiny territory in Oman had further enervated Eden. To make matters worse, his bile-duct had been damaged in an operation, affecting his health, his parliamentary performance and presumably his disposition.

Now that the dismal background has been filled in , I can finally start talking about the real subject of this post, which is not Suez at all, but Cyprus. Here’s what Nutting has to say on the subject:

Eden … wanted a demonstration of strength, an assertion of British power and influence, to raise her battered prestige. Frustrated in the Persian Gulf, he decided to show the mailed fist in Cyprus.

At that particular moment, the Governor of Cyprus, Sir John Harding, was in the throes of discussing the terms of a possible settlement of the island’s future with Archbishop Makarios, the leader of the island’s Greek community … Britain, whose interests in the colony were almost entirely determined by her need for military and air bases which might be threatened by a union with Greece, supported the Turkish case. Having failed to get agreement internationally, the Government had in the early autumn sent Sir John Harding, an acknowledged military authority who had just relinquished the post of C.I.G.S. to try to reach a settlement with Makarios which would give Britain the security of tenure required for her bases.

… terrorist attacks on British troops and installations by the Greek resistance movement, E.O.K.A., which had started the trouble in this island, continued unabated and a State of Emergency had been declared. Whether or not Makarios was directly responsible for these acts of violence, his refusal to condemn them certainly acted as a spur to the perpetrators. … by March it appeared clear that .. the Archbishop was determined to be the sole arbiter of any eventual settlement.

Nobody could feel very happy or sanguine about the situation as it then revealed itself. Yet neither Harding nor the Colonial Secretary … felt that we should abandon hope of an agreement. Not so Eden, who decided that the time had come for the British lion not only to roar at his adversary, but to gobble him up altogether. And so, on March 9, by order of the British Government, Archbishop Makarios was deported from Cyprus to the Seychelles Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Thus for the next year, until saner council prevailed and Makarios was released in March, 1957, the British Government deliberately removed from the scene the one and only man capable of negotiating an agreement on behalf of the four-fifths of the Cypriot population. And it was not until February, 1959, after altogether more than three years of bloodshed amounting in the end to virtual civil war between the Greek and Turkish communities, that Britain was able to extricate herself from an untenable situation, by granting independence to Cyprus which was to be guaranteed by both Greece and Turkey.

The sovereign bases which so concerned Britain at the time are still factors in British policy. Indeed a recent parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee stated that "the importance of the bases and some of the sites to the United Kingdom's national interest and to wider interests was impressed upon us when we visited Cyprus". The fact that they were originally obtained from the Turks to contain Russian expansionisn, but were, according to Keith Kyle, never used for military purposes until Suez in 1956 adds a further twist to the tale. In fact, Kyle tells us that "Anti-British sentiments were exacerbated when Britain concluded an agreement with Egypt for the evacuation of forces from the Suez Canal zone and began moving the headquarters of the British Middle East Land and Air Forces to Cyprus"

Unlike John Tirnis, author of The Cyprus Conflict, a rather good website on the subject that contains all sorts of useful documents, I believe that the Greeks were right to reject the Annan plan, and that Europe can and will resolve the situation in terms of its own priorities. British motivations in the matter should be borne in mind when considering any official pronouncements. Perhaps the Government of Cyprus would be wise to reassure Britain that the legal status of the bases is not up for grabs, especially as Britain needs only part of the original acreage for its purposes. Judging from the Select Committee's suddenly discovered willingness to give due importance to the concerns of the Greek Cypriots, there is a chance that, in the next round of negotiations, it will be borne in mind that what was on offer in the Annan plan was exactly what the majority population of the island had always tried to avoid.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Myths about the CAP

An excellent article by John Lichfield on CAP reform in the Independent today debunks various myths. Obviously the CAP needs further reform, but populist discourse usually obscures the following points:

EU farm prices are on average only 30 per cent above those in the world market.

Reform of a key flaw in the CAP – the fact that about 50% of the CAP payments go to 7% of recipients – was blocked by Britain, which has the biggest farms in the EU and thus opposed a move to set a ceiling on single farm payments.

Abolition of the CAP intervention prices would hurt many African and Caribbean farmers who depend on selling to Europe at CAP prices. It would probably also result in increased rainforest destruction for beef farming in Brazil.

Agriculture is the only area of public finance which has been transferred to the EU. The agriculture budget thus represents one half of 1% of European countries' GDP, compared to an average 40%+ of GDP taken by Governments.

France’s percentage receipt of CAP money is proportional to France’s share of European agricultural output.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Whaling in the Gobi Desert

Breaching Whale 

An article in the Independent today focusses on Japan's efforts to overturn the moratorium on commercial whaling imposed by the International Whaling Commission. The unsentimental Japanese love whalemeat, and have, over the years, bribed many poor countries to join the commission and vote for a reversal of the ban - including such famous sea-going nations as Mongolia and Mali.

Perhaps it's time that Western anger at Japan's policies found concrete expression? Which Japanese products are most susceptible to boycott? People aren't going to desist from buying a Sony DVD player, but they might choose not to buy a Vaio. Maybe somebody could draw up a list of Japanese products that come in the endangered species category? A few adds featuring a Vaio with a bucket of blood dumped all over it might prove effective. Cultural imperialism of the worse sort, of course, with added xenophobia. But then, the Japanese are threatening something many people believe is precious and irreplaceable.

I wouldn't be surprised if people in a 100 years time look back with horror at the way we treated whales, chimps and other mammals with very sophisticated communication systems. The loss to science of our ability to investigate variations of consciousness would in itself be a tragedy, if whales do employ a form of grammar, as has been hypothesised. Kantian deontology and utilitarianism both call for a more considered approach to whaling, but I'll take pure sentiment if it'll do the job.

French attitudes to CAP reform

As highlighted by Edward at A Fistful of Euros, French reaction to the recent EU budget débâcle has been much more nuanced than the hysteria in the British press. Reform of the CAP is seen as necessary in France, especially given that such a high percentage of subsidies goes to 5% of recipients - which rather undermines the argument that the purpose of the arrangement is to maintain a living countryside which is something more than a theme park.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Turkey, the US and the Middle East: spat or rift?

The New View of the US in Turkey?

In early March 2005 an announcement poster was displayed extensively throughout the streets of Istanbul as well as the lobbies and hallways of public buildings, inviting the public to a large scale anti-US demonstration, scheduled for March 19, 2005. The poster depicted the US as a giant octopus whose long tentacles strangled the globe. The signatories were the most prominent national organizations, trade and labor unions and professional associations of Turkey, each of them representing millions of members.
Signatories (at the bottom of the poster) were:
TURK-IS: Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions
HAK-IS: Confederation of True Trade Unions of Turkey (Islamic)
DISK: Confederation ofProgressive Trade Unions of Turkey (Leftist)
KESK: Confederation of Public Service Employees' Trade Unions
TMMOB: The Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects
The Union of Turkish Dentists
Turkish Pharmacists Association
Turkish Medical Society
The Union of Turkish Veterinarians
TURMOB: Union of Chambers of Certified Public Accountants of Turkey
Istanbul Bar Association

The poster read:

This is drawn from an interesting article on the subject, from a Turkish-American viewpoint, here. I've noticed this drift in Turkish foreign policy towards laying greater stress on Islamic ties with the Arab or Iranian Middle East before. Is it significant?

Unlike Rice's recent pronouncement of how the US sees US-Greek relations, it's more than one government sounding a diplomatic klaxon at another by cosying up to an unfriendly third party. It seems to express a growing feeling in Turkish society of solidarity with the Ummah , and the AKP may view this trend in popular sentiment on foreign policy issues with a benign eye for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, there's the whole issue of the AKP's relationship with those of its own senior army officers who see guaranteeing Turkish secularism as their duty - and their right. The Turkish National Security Council must have been horrified when, against their party's instructions, one third of AKP deputies voted with the opposition Republican People’s Party to prevent US forces transiting through Turkey to attack Iraq.

From the NSC's point of view, Turkey should have participated in such an attack, to secure an armed presence in Kurdish areas. The AKP has strenuously tried to reassure a furious Washington that it has no intention of loosening ties with the US, but posters like the one above do not only appeal to secularist DSP supporters. The AKP's own constituency is becoming increasingly hard to satisfy; yet this mood in the country makes it easier for them to pursue a domestic agenda that may not suit the military guardians of Attaturk's legacy.

One could even speculate that the AKP may be using EU pressure for democratisation as a way of de-instututionalizing the Army's role in politics. While the EU can still use accession as a bait with which to lure Turkey towards the sort of society in which markets can operate properly, there's no reason to believe that the AKP hasn't worked out long ago that the bait is in fact unattainable. EU membership is a popular prospect in Turkey, but if and when Merkel kills the talks and it becomes clear that full accession is not going to happen, the mood in Turkey may well allow the AKP greater latitude. It's never been clear how genuinely the party is committed to secularism.

Secondly, the desire to prevent an economically viable Kurdistan emerging within a loose Iraqi confederation is a major factor in Turkish-US relations. Although the Kurds are eager to shelter under the American wing, it is unlikely that the US will allow them to destabilise borders - and may even push their leaders into taking a hard stance against the PKK in Turkey, which is defined as a terrorist organisation by the State Department. However, if things go to the bad in Iraq, if a constitution cannot be agreed or if Sunni-Shia rivalry becomes fiercer, the Kurds could prove useful proxies, protecting oil-supplies for instance. They are certainly making efforts to present themselves as acceptable secular and pro-American allies. There has even been a spate of statements 'condemning anti-semitism' in Kurdish material recently.

As always, one key question is whether the Kurds can achieve the sort of unity required to serve their own ends effectively, let alone anyone else's. William Eagleton's appointment as Bremer's assistant indicates that the US is at least trying to work from adequate background information. It's not just Kurdish carpets that Eagleton's an expert on.

In such a situation, one can imagine the AKP and the NSC both wishing to intervene in Iraq, but this time against US wishes. Better relations with fellow Muslims in Arab states and Iran would make taking that kind of action easier.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Dual-Nationality in Greece

I've just read an article illustrating the convoluted processes by which succesive Greek Governments have sought to achieve a definition of who is, is not and could be a Greek citizen. Although it's not mentioned in the article, the modern Greek conceptualisation is reminscent of Herodotus' old definition of the Greeks, perhaps the first explicit definition of a nation that we have. Herodotus' definition is in fact put in the mouth of an Athenian, responding angrily to a Spartan, during the war against Xerxes:
"the kinship of all Greeks in blood and speech, and the shrines of gods and the sacrifices that we have in common, and the likeness of our way of life, to all of which it would not befit the Athenians to be false. "

However, it is noteworthy that Herodotus himself was profoundly sceptical of notions of Greek racial purity. "For this reason, and for no other, the Ionians too made twelve cities; for it would be foolishness to say that these are more truly Ionian or better born than the other Ionians; since not the least part of them are Abantes from Euboea, who are not Ionians even in name, and there are mingled with them Minyans of Orchomenus, Cadmeans, Dryopians, Phocian renegades from their nation, Molossians, Pelasgian Arcadians, Dorians of Epidaurus, and many other tribes; and as for those who came from the very town-hall of Athens and think they are the best born of the Ionians, these did not bring wives with them to their settlements, but married Carian women whose parents they had put to death. For this slaughter, these women made a custom and bound themselves by oath (and enjoined it on their daughters) that no one would sit at table with her husband or call him by his name, because the men had married them after slaying their fathers and husbands and sons. This happened at Miletus." Perseus

All these peoples could be called Greeks in one sense, but it is doubtful they would have met the criteria of the angry Athenian. The Carians even fought on the Trojan side, according to Homer.

From the introduction to the article:

Possessing citizenship in the state of one’s residence unquestionably constitutes a fundamental factor for social integration, while not being a citizen is likely to cause social exclusion. Thus, the legal norms regarding the acquisition or the loss of citizenship, and therefore dual citizenship or statelessness, take on major importance for social stability. However, national ideology should accommodate such a perspective, and this is not an obvious undertaking. The choice by states to permit or to prevent dual (or multiple) citizenship is essentially political in nature, regulated by legal regulations and conditioned by historical factors. In this context, ius sanguinis and ius soli offer legislators a series of options. However, citizenship law is also closely linked to the ideological perception that a state has of its most valuable asset- its own citizens.

Greece does not constitute an exception to these thoughts. To comprehend citizenship issues in Greece, one has to consider the political and legal context regarding the acquisition and loss of Greek citizenship / nationality in its past and present status and the inter-relation between the Greek nation, the Greek state and the phenomenon of alterity. The homogeneity of Greece is built upon the elements of religion (Greek-Orthodox), language (Greek), national consciousness and an ambiguous cnceptualization of “Greek descent”. Thus, alterity in Greece, regarding Greek citizens, may be described in terms that are religious (Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Jehova’s Witnesses), linguistic (Turkish, Arvanite, Romanes, Vlach, Slavo-Macedonian/Pomak), or ethnic/national (Turks, Macedonians, Jews, Armenians, Pomaks, Romas). This“traditional” otherness was enriched during the 1990s by the massive settlement of immigrants who represented 10% of the population in Greece in 2004.

This paper presents and analyzes the historical background which has affected citizenship law in Greece, and the law in force on citizenship, with special emphasis given to citizenship deprivation. Furthermore, it examines court and administration practice and especially immigration as a challenge for socio-economic and political citizenship policies. Education on otherness, and Greece’s citizenship perspectives within the European context, are the topics on the basis of which the present paper achieves the analysis of the politico-legal and social state membership in Greece

Citizenship in

Present challenges for future changes
Konstantinos Tsitselikis
University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki.

Repatriation of funds - no, Minister.

Repatriation of funds is a novel idea whereby an EU member state would reduce its contribution to the EU budget in return for allocating a similar sum to regional development projects, in keeping with EU objectives.

An interesting debate at Westminster Hall illustrates why the parliamentary representatives of European regions sometimes have doubts about their Governments' determination to prioritise the objectives for which those European funds were originally allocated. If people in Wales feel this way, one might expect others, say in Italy or the Balkans, to have similar anxieties.

My opinion of Plaid Cymry has gone up, especially of ex-MP for Ceredigion, Mr Simon Thomas, a lefty who opposed the hypocritical and populist fox-hunting ban.