Monday, June 30, 2008

Exchange Values

It seems utterly pointless, hopeless for a society with distinct humanitarian values to exchange anything worthwhile with one for which there are no recognizable human values, only those of diminished returns due to its complete rejection of any values remotely similar to those dear to a compassionate society.

In situations where a society is faced with the problem of how to deal internally with a segment of its population given to defiance of authority, rejection of societal norms in the practise of egotistical psychopathy, the best that can be hoped for is to put them away behind bars, when they prey relentlessly on the rest of society.

Israel has for generations attempted to pacify the murderous psychopaths unleashed upon it by the greater Palestinian population in their ongoing attempts to wreak mayhem and havoc, instill terror in the country and its people. Payback for mass murder committed by dedicated jihadists or secular terrorists is arrest followed by a court proceeding, the presentation of evidence, and the declaration of guilt followed by incarceration.

Seething hatred of all that Israel represents which results in bloodshed can only be solved by locking away the perpetrators.

There is no death penalty in Israel, but for the sole instance when a single Nazi mass murderer, the primary facilitator, was placed on trial and his life forfeit, as a powerful symbol that his eager complicity in the murders of millions of Jews through the application of the Final Solution could be put to rest in no other way. Adolph Eichmann represented the bland face of duty, those who would commit mass murder in allegiance to orders from the state.

Israel is too civilized a country, too committed to life, to commodify vengeance by imposing death upon those who visit it upon Jews, but for that singular aberration. In a way, that's a pity, since mass murderers who exhibit not a shred of pity for their victims really don't deserve life.

And in the case of Arab terrorists who claim not to value life, but to court death in the name of their dedicated cause, Jews shrink with horror at the perversion of life-values and the symbolism of the celebration of martyrdom to a cause as reprehensible as the annihilation of a perceived enemy. Even so, to exact that ultimate penalty - upon those whose deliberately sordid crimes against civilians, against children - would deny the national humanity of the state executioners.

And because Israel values its liberal democratic ideals, it seems the country and its leaders cannot get their heads around the reality that surrounds them, despite having had to live with its grim results for generations. Those not of the tradition of primitive tribalism cannot recognize, much less relate to honour as fulfilling a tribal commitment to mass murder; courage as the manifestation of a hatred so all-consuming as to override the universal will to survive.

Surrendering basic humanity to the most base of impulses; to destroy life. Destruction of life, property, hope. Even their own futures, and those of their people. How to respond to such blank, bleak and blunt nihilism born of unappeasable hatred? Denying all overtures toward reason?

As others feel entitled to hope for the future under a bright and promising sun, these vengeance-compelled terrorists prefer their dark night of passionate blood-letting, the blight of war, the triumph and finality of death. They boast proudly of their courting of the Grim Reaper. And heap contempt on Israel for clinging to life.

Compromise is weakness. The clasp of jihad held close and dear is the delirious figment of their faith, both religious and ideologically secular. And they would have it no other way. It is the faith shaped by the tribal psychosis of insular superiority and entitlement, of no compassion extended to the other, and none anticipated from that other.

In this environment to extend a tentative gesture toward accommodation, of reasonable discourse, of appeasement in the hopes of breaching the iron gate of hatred, is to declare oneself impotent.

Historically, Israel has agreed to exchange Palestinian or Arab prisoners with their adversaries. Sometimes as a sign of "good faith" when talks are underway to attempt to reach some agreement leading to a ceasefire or a cessation of outright hostilities altogether. More often, when Israel desperately wants information about the fate of one of its citizens.

Israel will then agree to exchange live prisoners with its enemies for the exchange of dead Israelis. Confounding and delighting her enemies, the supporters, and those also who are of the same persuasion, but wish Israel no real harm.

In the best-case scenario, hoping against all hope that somehow one of their captured soldiers could be returned to them. One soldier, one Israeli, whose life is often worth the exchange of hundreds of Palestinians who languish in Israeli jails for crimes against the state, against its citizens, and in the worst instances, for mass murder.

The terror militias know full well the value that Israel places in its people, the country's desire to have their people returned. Live, if possible, dead if all other hopes have been dashed. Respect for life isn't directed solely toward their own. Israel truly, deeply and honestly grieves for the loss of innocent Palestinian lives, but that reality somehow eludes those who should care.

This reverence for life, and allegiance to their own is held in contempt by those who prey on the country. It's held as a sign of weakness, of loss of strength and resolve, of cowardice. A signal that the time may be ripe - once again - to mount another debilitating attack on the state. Now Ehud Olmert has admitted publicly that his cabinet has agreed to a prisoner exchange with Hezbollah.

The Shi'ite Palestinian-Lebanese Party of God stands to gather in its notorious murderers in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers. Never outright admitting that it holds corpses, not live and expectant human beings, hoping to be returned to their country. Even while knowing that Israeli intelligence has informed the country of that fact.

Effectively, in the process, informing jihadists and terrorists that dead Jewish bodies have as much value to Israel and its people as live ones, so why bother to keep abducted Jews alive? Israel's political body, the governing elite has determined that it must make this exchange, which will free a truly abhorrent mass murderer, among other criminals, returning them to a jubilant Hezbollah, ready to toss back at Israel two corpses in exchange. Little wonder Hezbollah claims yet another victory.

The chief of Hezbollah's executive council exulting on their television station that the exchange demonstrates Hezbollah's "word was supreme". Hezbollah speaks, and Israel quavers. Their rhetorical hold on reality goes beyond quixotic bravado. It verges on mass insanity. It is incomprehensible to the managed mind anticipating clarity of vision, recognition of reality.

It quite simply boggles the mind how two entities, the terror-imposing group and the embattled democracy practise two completely morally-severed and incomparable value systems. Any movement at all proposed or practised by Israel for the purpose of hinting at compromise - expected of it by the outside world - is received by Hamas, Fatah and their cohorts and Hezbollah, as a signal of weakness.

Any act by Israel that speaks of practicality and decency and accommodation offering its adversaries the opportunity for normalization, deteriorates into triumphant "victory" in the minds of diehard, committed jihadists and terrorists. Conditions for peace constitute "normalcy" for civilized societies. "Normal" for tribal avengers is a constant state of warfare.

They glory in it, live for it, die by it and are jubilantly exultant when they cause the death of their enemies, military or civilian. The culture greets its success in exacting death upon its enemy, in the successful enacting of innocent civilian deaths as worthy of joyful celebration. Sweets are distributed, gunfire shot into the sky, people dance in the streets.

All their actions - not their words, carefully geared to the international community's tender feelings and expectations, ensuring support for themselves as the occupied, driven by extenuatingly unfair circumstances to launch themselves against their occupiers - exemplify their pathology of entitled exclusivity.

Their unforgivingly blighted hatred of those whom they exclude from their entitled territory, their sacred Islamic geography.

They represent humankind's worse nightmare of a portion of its species for whom enlightenment, even enlightened self-interest, becomes hostage to a waylaying and overriding resentment steeped in hatred. Resulting in the warped creation of a collective sociopathy willing to destroy all in its path to an imagined conquest.

The pinnacle of success and power for jihadists and terrorists is the utter routing of the enemy. The more that die, the better, the more emphatic their message delivered, that their purpose will not be denied. Once they have satisfied themselves they have achieved that goal, they can then return to life as normal.

Which presents as turning upon one another in an ongoing, implacable war against discrete tribal adherences, against various interpretations of Islam. Just for the joy of being themselves, and reminding the 'others'; both infidels and those of their own faith practised "illegally" exactly who it is who commands and who obeys.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dispensing Intelligence

Seems strange, doesn't it, a steadfast ally permitting one of its more knowledgeable and influential head-starters to casually dispense intelligence about the potential, very probable, quite likely, most suitable action to be taken by its partner in military stealth one-upsmanship. On the face of it, it's not at all intelligent to play fast-and-loose with that kind of data. Unless there's a very good reason for it.

Is it intelligent to inform the enemy of the clear mandate for a strike, well before it's planned to occur? Thus preparing said enemy for pre-emptive action? Of course, it could also be a way of forcing that entity's hand. To make the first move, just further justifying the response geared to wipe out its putative arsenal of nuclear weaponry before it becomes viable. It's been done before, successfully. Could conceivably be done again.

Well, the nuclear weapons are, for the near presence, merely sought-after. In Iran's short-range plans for ascendancy in the region, in the country's longer-range plans for a renewal of Islamic rule, a return of the global Caliphate. Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton's blase interview with the
Daily Telegraph pricked a lot of ears.

Didn't necessarily surprise a whole lot of international onlookers, confirming as his statements did, that something is most certainly in the works. Israel herself launched an equally strategic and meaningful balloon in this guessing game, when she staged her recent test-run of an attack on Esfahan and Natanz.

Certain to knock that triumvirate, Ali Larijani, Ayatollah Ali Khameni and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad slightly off kilter. Or launch them into determined action. Iran enjoys provoking its perceived enemies, it doesn't appreciate being itself provoked, put on notice. Remarkable how a little bit of serving up of bitters rattles Iran.

And what's up with the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen visiting Israel, twice in a few months' time? All those hints being dropped here and there, from France's foreign minister's warnings of action, to the news media speculating now and again whether President Bush was preparing a strike, whether it would be a joint strike with Israel.
Now look what they've done. Up to now Iran was only threatening to erase Israel from the map, now the country has gone all defensive-offensive and is actually stationing itself to attack. Sooner than it would ideally prefer to, since it will use ballistic missiles that aren't yet nuclear-tipped, but they're prepared to respond should they be further provoked. Simmering with resentment at that 'provocation'. The unfairness of it all.

And taking out either of the nuclear installations - Iran's nuclear conversion facility or its uranium enrichment facility - would make it mighty upset. Now
The Times of London has added additional intelligence, that Iran has taken firm steps, moving its Shahab-3B ballistic missiles onto launch pads, and aiming them directly at Israel, one toward the Negev's Dimona nuclear reactor. So there.

Iran may not yet be prepared to tip those missiles with a nuclear head, but she can exercise her options to use chemical, biological, radiological dispersion in its high explosives. The arrogant swagger there pays homage to the missiles' enhanced range, giving it the threat value of reaching a number of Israeli cities.

Of course that large-scale Israeli Air Force exercise might itself have urged Iran to react, in its own rehearsal. The tit-for-tat belligerence, the lining up of supporters, the accounting of reasons for the likelihood and necessity to act, is a living theatre of international drama, fixing the attention of an already-unsettled world on that region.

Mossad's former head, Shabtai Shavit also gave The London-based
Telegraph an interview, warning that his country's window of opportunity was closing in. He estimated a one-year window before Iran achieved its purpose in developing its first nuclear weapon. Emphasizing that for Israel the sooner she acts the better. For after all the diplomacy and the sanctions have been exhausted - and we're almost there, now - the only option left is attack.

Purely defensive, of course. Defensively offensive. Iran has had more than ample opportunities to surrender to the demands of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, and much of the international community. She has, furthermore, the example of North Korea, that very venue from which her own nuclear ambitions were initiated, via Pakistan. On the surface, at least, North Korea has relented. For the time being, in any event.

Iran makes her Muslim neighbours nervous. Syria may yet abandon its partnership with Iran, and return to the Arab fold, finding more comfort there in the final analysis than among the Persians. And with Syria may eventually go Hezbollah. Israel is proceeding with overtures toward Hamas, and Hezbollah. Which may or may not provide reason to hope for the future. The possibility of being left alone, adrift and without support won't please Iran.

And then there is that great imponderable. Should Israel, with the United States cheering on from the sidelines - the Arab states somewhat more discreetly - undertake that mission to eliminate Iran's nuclear installations and fail, her still-questioned military superiority after the Israel-Hezbollah debacle will leave her in an even worse position. The tribal mindset of the Middle East celebrates success, power and victory.

Collectively, the tribal Arab states hold military might in great awe. All the more so when the country illustrating that might is a tiny one, encircled by opposition. But that same mindset turns swiftly in derision at the first sign of weakness, the abdication of superiority through defeat, even a partial one. Labelling it an abject failure. Leaving Israel, should that occur, in an even more vulnerable existential state, if such a disaster can be imagined.

Israel, in other words, cannot permit itself to shrink from that possibility, and even less than it can afford to lose that gamble. Much depends on her well trained personnel, the stringent need to protect herself, the superiority of her technical armaments. It's a formula that has won her victory and grudging respect in the past, and it's one that will have to be demonstrated successfully again.

Fact is, there are no other options. Israel can "talk" to Syria, to Lebanon, to Hamas and Hezbollah. She's been singularly unsuccessful in reaching Iran. Israel cannot afford to be under any illusions with respect to Iran's intent; clearly and succinctly stated, time and again.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Not Over 'Till It's Over

The fat old man is singing, but it isn't yet over. Morgan Tsvangiai desperately begged his supporters not to imperil their lives by boycotting the runoff election just concluded. "God knows what is in your hearts. Don't risk your lives". The atmosphere of fear and foreboding attending the day's events was seen to be palpable by onlookers. In Harare, ZANU-PF supporters conducted their threatening patrols.

South of the capital long trickling lines of voters appeared before the polling stations, watched eagle-eyed by ZANU-PF officials. In fact, these voting groups were often accompanied by a party marshal, who would carefully take note and tick names off lists, after bringing each of the voters forward to do their duty, one by one. Absolutely no anonymity; vote for the opposition and it would be known.

This absurd charade mimicking democracy in action. How very strange that tyrants have adopted the language of democracy and go out of their way to demonstrate to a gaping outside world that they practise democratic principles, in their own inimitable manner. At roadblocks motorists were stopped and questioned whether they'd yet been to the polls. They had the option of showing that red-inked finger or retreating to vote.

"If we don't vote, they don't see the finger. We will be in trouble. They call it Operation Red Finger - if you didn't vote, why? It means you are an opposition supporter." Reprisals are in order. On the order of the justice meted out in the previous month, stepped up in intensity and brutality the last several weeks by ardent supporters of the ruling party, against recalcitrant Zimbabweans, seeking needed change.

Anyone discovered to have voted for the MDC would pay the price. Coercion, intimidation, violence do their part in persuading the population to submit and surrender their vote. To do, in effect, what is most compelling to them personally for their short-term survival. Yet there were still those courageous MDC supporters who failed to turn out. Fears are rising of a backlash, certain to follow.

Finally, Bishop Desmond Tutu has released a message to President Thabo Mbeki. Characterizing Zimbabwe as "a dream that has turned into a nightmare", he urged African leaders to act: "Our president should have admitted that this softly-softly approach, quiet diplomacy has not delivered the goods and everyone would support him if he now turned the screws on his colleague Mr. Mugabe." Dear Bishop Tutu: what took you so long?

Yet, to paraphrase that biblical message: that country which is without guilt is scarce in Africa. Robert Mugabe plans to triumphantly attend the annual summit of the African Union. Where he will confront the 53 members of the AU and invite criticism. While those in position of authority within the African Union lament "the credibility of the AU will be at risk", the plain truth appears that few among those leaders can claim a clean bill of administration.

Robert Mugabe is counting on that. Speaking at a rally of his supporters he told them "I am going to go to that AU summit ... I want to see whose finger there is clean."

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Negotiating Partners

The neighbours, verily concerned, are doing their part. Jordan is anxious for a resolution to the conflict. Egypt is doing its damnedest to broker a ceasefire between Hamas and the IDF, and it did actually hold fast for at least a day or so. Before the assurances of mutual determination to hold back from hostilities proved just too much to sustain.

First one breach of the ceasefire, then another, and then yet another. Palestinian militants claiming "not our fault!" because the IDF responds to provocations such as the laying down of explosive devices just where troop transports are certain to encounter them. Or the IDF, witnessing preparations for the lobbing of Kassam rockets undertakes to halt the process.

Israel's military, rather devoted to ensuring the safety and security of the country and its inhabitants are not simply disinterested onlookers, prepared to look the other way while Palestinian militants continue their assaults on border communities. And when the IDF responds, that's when Fatah and Hamas scream "ceasefire violation!".

Members of the Knesset, among them Tsipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister, has urged the government to instruct its troops to respond instantly to any and all cease-fire violations. "The firing of rockets by Fatah and the demands of those firing for a truce in Judea and
Samaria (West Bank) - these are a result of the ceasefire agreement with Hamas which is interpreted as surrender on Israel's part", claimed MK Isaac Ben-Israel.

And it's simply a fact of life in that geography. Jihadists give no quarter, they will submit to the brokering of a temporary ceasefire only if and when it suits their larger purpose. And if that purpose is to buy time, to enable them to muster their resources, stockpile additional munitions, permit their hard-working militias to take a break, then it works for them. After which, it is no-holds-barred attacks resumed.

"Israel must respond militarily if it seeks life." stated Mr. Ben-Israel, in recognition of the reality of Israel's situation in attempting to deal with those whose goal and purpose is the extermination of Israel from the region; complete eradication of its presence. A larger Palestinian state to lay claim to the entire region. Sderot and Ashkelon are still being fired upon. It's been made abundantly clear time and again that there is no placating Hamas.

What so many in the international community don't seem to realize is that Fatah's militant factions are as adamant about achieving the same goal as Hamas, as it's possible to be. Despite its "political" wing assuring the world at large, and Israel in particular, that a Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority is capable of, and willing to sue for peace with Israel. The conditions for peace laid out, with no divergence, no sacrifices, no mutuality, just complete surrender.

A surrender to the conditions laid out, needless to say, manifestly seeking a solution similar to that which Hamas espouses, but with somewhat less bloodshed, but perhaps only, in the final analysis, marginally. The al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, the armed wing of the PA's president Mahmoud Abbas's "secular" Fatah faction is unhappy with the tenuous agreement Hamas has reached with Israel.

Israel's partner in peace negotiations is incapable, unwilling and disinterested in encouraging his own factions to honour peace negotiations in a civil manner. All of the militant fundamentalists whose single-purpose agenda is the ouster of Israel from the territory - not the territories - can be relied upon to heap scorn on a nation willing to negotiate, to appease, when faced with unappeasable hatred.

It's interpreted as a symptom of weakness, a loss of determination; construed as a victory. "I don't care who fired. Every breach must be met with an immediate military response", according to Ms. Livni. "I made my opinion clear to both the prime minister and the defence minister following the first infraction." And now the fifth violation has occurred. And Tsipi Livni is grooming herself for the position where she may make the ultimate decisions.

Islamic Jihad has joined Hamas in its ceasefire agreement with Israel, after having been responsible for the initial infraction. Hamas having stated it had no intention of policing other terror militias to toe the line. The truce, a hudna, a temporary measure to permit the militias to gather strength and arms may yet be nothing more, nothing less than another delusionary tactic for a country attempting to deal with an impossible situation of military encirclement.

And then there is always Hezbollah, looking on, urging steadfastness in "resistance to the occupier", the deadly enemy of Palestinians. Would that those Palestinians who live in despair at the vacant futures they anticipate, the incessant unsettlement they experience, could assert themselves to demand full and total abandonment of such "resistance". They, then, along with equal measures of Israelis, sick and tired of living under constant siege, could force an amicable recognition of one another as simply human beings struggling to live their lives.

No more kidnapped Israelis, or broken bodies shattered by suicide blasts. An end to the fears of children never knowing when another rocket will slam down on their communities. No more fears of Palestinian mothers to allow their children to play in public, lest they be hit by wayward IDF fire. It is not the elected law makers, the administrators who can succeed in these vital attempts at negotiating peace.

It is the ordinary people on both sides who must stand together and state unequivocally that they have had enough and more than enough. It is the necessity of both peoples to stand together in recognition of one another, to offer themselves to one another, just as grieving parents of children killed in conflict offered their dead child's organs to benefit the ill, whether Jewish or Arab.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Antique House of Worship - Or a Palace?

Eastern Jews have for so long inhabited so many countries of the world, in their diaspora, their displacement and dispersing from their original homeland to become migrants, refugees, settlers, citizens of countries near and far from their first geography.

Jews in India, in China, in Persia, in Spain and Portugal, France and England, Egypt and Russia. Just about everywhere, including Cuba, Mexico, the United States, Canada. And Tajikistan.

Likely all the other 'stans, as well. The country's capital, Dushanbe (who ever even heard of that city's name?) contained the 19th century wooden one-story building replete with stars of David that was the traditional synagogue for its 350 Jewish residents.

Nothing is forever, however. And no one is entitled to placidly anticipate that what has been in the past, and has been honoured and become an integral part of the life of the community, will resist change.

For it seems that Tajikistan's president, Imomali Rakhmon, has decided that the real estate upon which that wooden synagogue of another religion's heritage is too prime for that purpose, and a replacement can be handily located elsewhere. With the destruction of the synagogue the way has been laid clear for a park to adjoin the president's new palace.

A simple matter of priorities, after all. Beauty and function before age and wisdom. Or what have you. "It's painful to lose something very dear, something that cannot be valued in money terms", according to mournful Rabbi Mikhail Abdurakhmanov. "At the moment the existence of Tajikistan's only Jewish community is under threat. It's also a threat to elderly people who came here for help."

It would seem that the Jewish community in Tajikistan has migrated several times. In its very particular instance, they represent descendants of Persian-speaking Bukhara Jews who have lived in Central Asia for centuries. Their numbers have diminished since the country's independence from Soviet administration.

This group of Jews, however long they have lived in Tajikistan, has discovered what their counterparts have realized from time immemorial, that life is ephemeral, and residence anything but guaranteed, particularly for Jews. The re-creation of the State of Israel was to have represented a source of succour for Jews escaping persecution elsewhere in the world.

But wait: the government in Tajikistan has promised to produce an alternative plot of land for a new synagogue. Patience. The rabbi is awaiting word, word that has thus far been elusive, simply not forthcoming.

The city authorities have so much else on their busy minds.

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Hey, America, What Gives?

The gun culture in the United States can now breathe a sigh of relief. They've been vindicated, their insistence that it is their state- and-charter-given right to own guns has been validated. The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a municipal Washington bylaw that outlawed the possession of firearms. The casual owning of guns. Which weapons are so very responsible for the untimely deaths of so many.

Despite the attestations to the contrary of the gun lobby that would have it that people kill, not guns. Oh, how very amusing. And how dreadfully sad.

That this is what a society aspires to present itself as; a nation of proud gun-owners. Because it is their right. Because, under the American Constitution the Second Amendment so privileges and honours Americans. This is American frontiersman ship, individuality. Those sturdy, self-reliant, adventurous and entitled gun owners who will not sit back and let reason prevail. That the casual possession of guns provides opportunities for murder and mayhem.

Well, it's their country, their laws and entitlements as they see fit.

And then there's another issue, where the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty for child rape. Evidently the court's first decision in over 30 years as to whether a crime other than murder can be punished by execution. Perhaps capital punishment is a mite harsh, for that dread offence against the most cherished and vulnerable portion of any population.

Did they consider, one wonders, a life sentence served in a gigantic anthill as an alternative?

Thousands of American children are raped each and every year, and it's a crime against humanity that appears to be on the increase. Aided and abetted no doubt, by the proliferation of child pornography so readily available through Internet Websites. By the increasing availability of criminally illicit photographs of frightened children exposed to the most horrible harm that their tender sensibilities and frail physical strength could encounter.

Most certainly a monster by the name of Patrick Kennedy, age 43, of Louisiana, will have reason for celebration. He raped his 8-year-old stepdaughter, causing such physical damage to her that she required emergency surgery. No amount of tender and loving care will ever expunge from her memory the experience of violation of trust, of violent physical harm and psychological pain inflicted on her by this man.

She has been sentenced, like so many other children, to a lifetime of pain and resulting incapacity to bond normally with others throughout the course of her life. She has been meted out a life sentence of pain, guilt, self-loathing, a dreadful insecurity of her position in life. Her tormentor has been spared the ultimate punishment.

The Court, in its great and good wisdom reached an unbalanced - 5 - 4 decision - that the death penalty for raping a child violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority claimed the Constitution barred a state from imposing the death penalty for the rape of a child when the crime did not result, and was not intended to result, in the victim's death.

Pity, that. Interesting to note the high level of disagreement already emanating from interesting sources. Both presidential candidates, Republican and Democratic, beg to disagree. Both term the crime "heinous". Senator McCain finds the Court's conclusion "profoundly disturbing". Senator Obama stated: "I disagree with the decision". Proving there is some vestige of sanity left in some places.

So, is life imprisonment for such an unspeakable crime permissible, then? Imprisonment in an underwater tank with some aquatic companion life, such as a pair of hungry sharks?

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As Goes Pakistan, So Too Does Afghanistan

It's like that proverbial house of cards, or stacked dominoes. Knock one over, the rest fall. The plague of religious extremism appears to have infected the region, and it seems that no antidote exists, no amount of diligent administration of remediating infusions of civility and charity can wrench the population out of its collapse into fundamentalism. Not that there doesn't exist countless poor wretches in the countryside that might prefer the mujidaheen, the Taliban, to leave them in peace to get on with their lives.

But corrupt officials and basely corrupt and self-seeking and inept administrations in both of these countries see to it that there is no firm advance in the struggle against Islamism in its most twisted and grotesque manifestation as a religion of holy war, in their grim determination to install a rigidly theistic state. Pakistan has so long encouraged the existence of rigidly fundamentalist Islamist armed militias as a foil against India and by extension Afghanistan, that the government is no longer in control.

This has amply manifested as reality, but never recognized by official Pakistan, despite its neighbouring country's imploring it time and again to cease and desist in supporting Islamic militants in the lawless North West Frontier region. Giving them easy access to Afghanistan. Pakistan believed that as long as it tolerated and appeased the wild tribal chieftains and their growing support for the Taliban, it would itself be exempt from attack.

But the more overtures made to establish agreements between the government and the Taliban, the more, predictably enough, did the Taliban become emboldened because they construed those agreements as validation and encouragement of their purpose. As signs of a weak government. That Pakistan was incapable of foreseeing the eventuality of this reality can be ascribed in large part to its unrelenting war with India over ownership of disputed Kashmir. Pakistan has always been complacent about supporting militant Islamists attacking Hindu India.

Now its chickens have truly come home to roost. The three governing parties that currently and insecurely form the uneasy coalition are faced with the reality of a weakened and demoralized national security force; army troops and paramilitary soldiers, however well armed, who feel that the Taliban has the upper hand. Not surprisingly, since they now control the Frontier's arterial roads and towns. Even Peshawar, the provincial capital, is under virtual siege.

Police hesitate to patrol at night for fear of militant attacks, which have been numerous and deadly. "It is a highly alarming situation" said one senior provincial government official, in a masterstroke of understatement. Even the supply route for NATO forces in Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass is being struck by the Taliban through frequent convoy attacks. The tribal areas are securely in the command of the Taliban, along with key cities of the Frontier area.

The very leader of the Taliban who is considered to have been responsible for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto remains very comfortable, alert and in command of the South Waziristan tribal region. Where, not incidentally, al-Qaeda itself has found comfort and support, establishing its main base there. The provincial government has signed a peace deal with the militants in the Swat valley, the government releasing a commander responsible for thousands of fighters operating in Afghanistan.

And there is NATO, in Afghanistan, unveiling a host of incentives and initiatives, doing its utmost in a two-pronged attack, to both hold back the advances of the resurgent Taliban, and persuading the people of Afghanistan that in the final analysis, despite their own government's proven incapacity to govern adequately, much less build vital civic infrastructure, they can and should depend on the work of foreign soldiers and diplomats.

Canada, through its CIDA-funded Governance and Development Support Project to Kandahar has introduced a three-year plan to transform Kandahar from civic chaos to a well-run and responsibly-managed city. One of the few uncorrupted Afghan administrators, Mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi has returned to his sad and sorry country, at the urging of Hamid Karzai, to enact a new regime, where residents pay taxes which enable the municipality to provide the vital services of a functioning city.

Community development councils have been activated with the assistance of outside sources like the UN Habitat program. The residents will begin to see tangible benefits resulting from formalization of city services, ranging from legitimizing land ownership through the issuance of land titles to owners, ensuring security of tenure and property value increases, and employment opportunities, along with city water improvements, resulting from payment of taxes.

All of this will be an exercise in futility if Pakistan remains in its current state of instability, incapable of dealing with the tribal militants that their own government tolerated and encouraged to the extent that their affiliates prospered and grew, now threatening the country's legitimate administration. The spillover, should it occur, will knock down NATO's and the UN's still-tenuous house of cards.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"Grave Concern"

Ongoing events in Zimbabwe have earned the grave concern of close onlookers, the African Union chief executive having expressed such concern. Studied understatement to be certain. It is outside of Africa where Robert Mugabe and his militias, his police and his ardent supporters are harshly condemned. Zambia's president feelingly states "Elections held in such an environment will not only be undemocratic but will also bring embarrassment to the SADC region and the entire continent of Africa."

Well, yes. Most certainly. After all, there was ample opportunity in the last three months for the Southern African Development Community and the African Union - let alone such regional luminaries as South Africa's Thabo Mbeki (we won't even mention Nelson Mandela and Biship Desmond Tutu) to have acted decisively and without equivocation, in demanding that Robert Mugabe step down from his unsupportable position. But then, why should he, when they would not, when they hesitated to criticize, much less blame the U.K.-knighted champion of independence against colonial rule?

Much, however, has happened since that era of achieving independence. The champion of his people turned into president-for-life, anointed by God Almighty and answerable to no one. President Mugabe has had much success in putting down one 'illegal and undemocratic' insurrection after another, in the process demonstrating his proclivity for mass murder. Clearly enjoying the reputation he attained after sending his militant thugs through Matabeleland to burn villages and murder tens of thousands.

That successfully quelled that particular and inconvenient situation. He moved on to magnanimously share out prime agricultural land to his thuggish supporters by encouraging them to march on White-owned farms, sometimes brutalizing the black farm workers along with threatening and occasionally murdering the White farmers and ousting their families. Taking Zimbabwe from its primary position as regional breadbasket and exporter of food, to poverty, massive inflation and starvation.

Then he set about cleaning up the resulting poor migrants from the countryside, the squatters and street sellers, the slum dwellers who produced such a bad odour in the more refined quarters of the capital. Those unspeakably close and nasty slums must be cleared away. Their presence being so unseemly. So hundreds of thousands of street sellers and squatters were unceremoniously ousted and dumped into the countryside to fend helplessly for themselves. Adding to the already impoverished and famished millions dwelling there.

And wasn't he shocked out of his cool when Morgan Tsvangerai bettered him in the popular vote, and the Movement for Democratic Change won handily against the ZANU-PF. Ever regal and defiant, he would never surrender, for what God has achieved, no man, no political movement could ever rent asunder. He dispatched his loyal troops and his rag-tag political supporters into the countryside where his opposition had their strength, and battered and beat them, setting fire to their homes.

The police force and the military would never permit their elderly and much-respected figurehead to stand down, so the theatre of fraudulent democratic protocols was presented up front and centre, while the leaders of the opposition were repeatedly arrested, threatened, beaten. Discreetly tortured, murdered. And then attention turned to the most vulnerable assets of those leaders; their wives, their children. Vicious brutality of a more inventively atrocious nature was demonstrated, and the horror of the situation had its desired effect.

To avoid further bloodshed and additional homelessness among an already beleaguered population, Morgan Tsvangerai determined there was nothing further to be gained at this time by a continuation of the advance of his position and that of his party. He succumbed, as any humane individual would do, to the threats and the blackmail against Zimbabweans. Now it is God's turn.

Where humankind has been unable or incapable of delivering the people of Zimbabwe out of their misery, the God that Robert Mugabe claimed gave him oversight of the country in perpetuity must take issue. There are, of course, other emissaries who might have intervened, somewhat akin to prophets in their own land who garnered the respect and admiration of the entire world for their resistance to Apartheid in South Africa, for example, but they too have been loathe to step forward.

In the absence of their powerful words of condemnation against the tyrant of Zimbabwe, God will just simply have to pull his divine authority into play. We're waiting.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cool Jihadi Dudes

Bitterly confused, resentful, societal loners. They find salvation in extreme interpretations of Islam, and the journey to jihad becomes their vision for their future. They grasp their two desired options: to become a successful jihadist with all that this implies ... the mass murder of innocents is of no particular concern; to become a blessed martyr upon whom Allah casts his kindly appreciation, setting aside the obligatory virgins in a garden of unearthly delights.

Amazingly, these are not particularly uneducated youth, they are not devoid of certain cultural values, they have no reason to feel cast out of their traditional societies, they find comfort in the mosques of their choosing and to which their families also belong. These are young men captured by the vision of holy warfare to avenge the perceived slights to their Prophet, and the carnage they see visited upon their co-religionists by the West.

Incredibly, they appear able to casually overlook the atrocities that their own committed groups of terrorists visit upon other Muslims. The mass murders, suicide bombings, abductions and torture, rape, forced migrations and general atmosphere of fear that al-Qaeda has succeeded in imposing upon vast Muslim communities - far greater in number than the critical casualties they have succeeded in bringing to the West.

The star witness that the Government of Canada - in prosecuting its terror trial against the accused Mohammad Momin Khawaja - Mohammed Babar, a co-conspirator and former al-Qaeda member, is a sterling case in point ... his own mother having been situated in the World Trade Centre Towers in New York when it was attacked and thousands killed. She survived and he immediately dispatched himself to Pakistan to train as an Islamist jihadi.

Momin Khawaja's parents, Mahboob and Azra, sit in court, watching the proceedings as their son, having pleaded innocent of all charges, sits eyes glued to the floor. In the first row sits a young Muslim woman who will testify that Mr. Khawaja charged her with setting up a Canadian bank account whose purpose was to transfer funds to the London terror cell, five of whose members have been convicted to life imprisonment in England.

Evidence is inclusive of emails from Momin Khawaja who outlines his hatred against non-Muslims, his devotion to al-Qaeda's agenda of violence in its pursuit of creating a new world order where Islam dominates; a renaissance. The Crown's David McKercher plans to demonstrate the manner in which Momin Khawaja utilized his email account at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade - how ironically fitting.

"They send things everywhere all the time and nobody asks anything", wrote Momin Khawaja to his cool dude bro's in London. He would courier the remote-controlled detonating device he was working on through the auspices of Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs. And while at it, he would also courier similar devices to their terror counterparts in Pakistan. There are other pressing operations to be accounted for, after all.

And that passionate defender of human rights advocates, Lawrence Greenspon, estimable lawyer for Momin Khawaja, will do his utmost to invalidate all the evidence presented before the presiding judge, the Honourable Justice Douglas Rutherford. Earlier manoeuvres since the March 2004 arrest, tried out by Mr. Greenspon bought time and little else.

His ploy of arguing that Momin Khawaja's prosecution be dropped because of the unconstitutionality of Canada's Anti-terrorism Act was denied by Judge Rutherford. He succeeded in creating an adjournment. The Supreme Court of Canada refused the bid to disallow the terrorism charges. The Federal Court rejected the bid to have the national security secrecy law declared unconstitutional.

And then a Federal Court of Appeal panel dismissed the appeal of an earlier ruling finding his right to a fair trial not jeopardized by a secretive court process required as a result of the sensitivity of government information relating to the case. Finally, the Supreme Court of Canada refused a second attempt to quash terrorism charges. Equivocating, stalling techniques - all permitted under the Canadian judicial system.

After Momin Khawaja's arrest at his office at Foreign Affairs where he worked on contract, a search of his family's home revealed electronic tools as well as a detonating device. Along with three assault rifles, and 640 rounds of ammunition. Revealed also was that Momin Khawaja and his brother Qasim, planned to convert their savings into $100 bills to assist jihadists overseas. This does not represent mere circumstantial evidence. This is evidence of substance.

Testimony that Momin Khawaja, along with the London terror ringleader met an al-Qaeda operative was heard. Along with that asserting that Momin Khawaja travelled to Pakistan to attend an al-Qaeda-style training camp in the northwest frontier, where he studiously learned to fire an AK-47, a rocket launcher, and the manner in which he could most cleverly work with explosives, furthering his jihadi education exponentially.

Compelling, both the testimony and the evidence. Fascinating to be reminded that these Western-born and -educated young men maintained some semblances of the street culture to which most young people are exposed, while at the same time supporting and encouraging one another's embrace of jihad.

"How's it goin' niggas, everything OK? Yeah, bro, got home safe. How bout you niggas? Everything cool?" And then the dire warning: "Bro, things are bad. Be prepared, nigga."

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Jekyll and Hyde Personalities

Here's the ultimate mystery, a puzzle within a conundrum. How to account for the instance of solitudes in tandem through choice, although they share no common ideology, culture, background, tradition and possibly moral determinations. How to figure that a Jew will go out of his way to defend, in a theatre of justice, another individual for whom Jews are anathema, and who has chosen an avenue of revenge against a society he recognizes as being at counter purposes to his own society/culture/religion.

Complicated by the very fact that the person standing accused of planning violence against society has been brought up within that very society which guarantees personal freedoms and protection under the law for all ideologies, religions, ethnic groups, recognizing them as equal. That the individual in question is of immigrant stock having been brought up in countries that offer no freedoms, that practise human rights abuses, that adhere to fundamentalist religious practises is part of the puzzle.

While people are individuals, are informed by their experiences, and form their opinions and their allegiances therefrom, they are also, despite the overlay of such experiences, susceptible to the ineffable draw of group identity. And for some individuals the compelling draw of tribal affiliation reflecting an ancient culture and tradition, alongside the religious underpinning that dictates every aspect of that culture and tradition, leads them to shun the more immediately familiar as foreign.

Group identity is vital to the self-recognition, the pride and the place of esteem one finds among co-religionists in asserting the balanced well-being of people. It equates with the fundamental need of people to recognize their roots, their history as a people. Without those roots and the affiliation with others stemming from those same roots, many people feel vulnerable and alone.

And when they have migrated to live within a vastly different society, one for whom elements of that fundamental religion and the culture and traditions it spawned may be viewed with suspicion and even demeaned, the migrants feel offended, defensive, and withdraw into their own self-protective ghetto. Some of them become more devoted to their past and to their religion, as a result. All the more so, when there is actual conflict between the adopted society and the abandoned one.

So here we have a prime example, a young Muslim man, born in Canada, whose parents are well educated and who live a nice middle-class life, enabling the young man to take advantage of all the privileges and rights available to any other young Canadian. His life becomes little different than that of any other young, aspiring Canadian, happy to experience all the good things of life in a liberal democracy.

Yet this particular young man becomes so socially alienated from the social mores, the relaxed attitudes, of the surrounding community that he makes a deliberate decision to shun the values he has been exposed to and assume those of an emerging class of violently disgruntled religious fundamentalists for whom the concept of jihad becomes the over-riding concern of their lives. He becomes an anomaly in his own community, representing an infinitesimally tiny percentage of Muslims representing a dire threat to liberal democracies.

Within the community of Islamists, orthodoxy taken to extremes, a religion subverted from its original purpose toward one of violently settling grievances real or imagined, long tentacles of enticement conspire to conscript angry, confused and militant young men, to bring them into the fold of conspiratorial jihad for the purpose of visiting atrocities on those very societies that have nurtured them. Succumbing to radicalization. Religious lobotomization.

A normal-seeming young man like Mohammad Momin Khawaja is transformed from an ambitious young computer expert to a secretive and determined terrorist determined to teach the "kaafirs" a lesson, that they cannot, with impunity, make warfare on his co-religionists and fellow jihadists. His father, Mahboob Khawaja, had taken his young family to live for a while in Saudi Arabia. His father's website was replete with anti-Semitic commentary.

Momin Khawaja's trial is now underway in Ottawa. His defence attorney is a well-known lawyer, one who enjoys taking unpopular cases, a competitive and energetic man within the community, a Jew. A champion of the disadvantaged, the underdog, the unusual, the eccentric, of social outcasts. He balances his propensity for supporting "unpopular" legal cases by lending his name to community and charity work.

Like the individual whose case and defence he has taken on, he is a bit of an enigma. They are both, on a certain level, individuals with complex and troubling personalities. Exemplifying in certain tendencies, Jekyll and Hyde personalities. They work together at arms-length, respectfully, neutrally. The Islamist jihadist accepting the commitment to his cause of defeating the Crown's case against him, of the aggressive, assured and talented Jewish lawyer.

The Jewish lawyer complacent in laying aside personal loyalties to his own tribe for the purpose of practising his trade, of stroking his professional conceit in pursuing a criminal justice case of unprecedented proportions, staking his own carefully nurtured talents as a lawyer against that of his country's prosecutorial choice.

Defiantly, arrogantly challenging the Crown in its determination to impress upon the presiding judge the unequivocal guilt of a Canadian-born terror suspect.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Aspiring Terrorist and His Defender

Finally, Canada's very own terror-aspirant will be facing justice. A Canadian citizen of Pakistani origin who lived a privileged middle-class lifestyle, exposed to all the freedoms and entitlements of the Canadian Charter of Rights, within an inclusive and diverse society that believes in and practices tolerance and respect for others. Momin Khawaja stands accused of a string of terror related offences:
  • Participation in the activity of a terrorist group (two counts);
  • Using explosives ... for the commission of offence for a terrorist group;
  • Instructing to carry out an activity for a terrorist group;
  • Facilitating a terrorist activity;
  • Financing of terrorism.
Under the expert care and instruction of his lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, Mr. Khawaja will plead not guilty to all charges. And then the courtroom will become a legal battleground as Mr. Greenspon will bulldog the government into providing evidence sufficient to convict his client. The federal prosecutor, David McKercher, is ready and prepared to present that evidence.

Much of that has been shared out to Canadian authorities by their counterparts in Great Britain. Which country underwent one of the longest trials in its history in 2005, and sentenced five co-conspirators to life imprisonment for their part in a terror scheme which, had it succeeded, would have killed hundreds of innocent Britons, shopping, seeking entertainment, and just going about the normal business of everyday life.

MI5 recorded 3,500 hours of audio of the terrorists discussing their plans to attack gas and electrical systems, hijack airplanes and bomb nightclubs and popular shopping venues. Mr. Khawaja flew to Britain repeatedly to conspire with his fellow travellers. On the basis of all assembled information and data, the RCMP arrested Mr. Khawaja in Ottawa on 29 March, 2004; law enforcement agents arrested the British-based terrorists the following day.

Mr. Khawaja has never been asked by his lawyer if he was involved in the London plot. "Not because you're concerned about the answer, but because it doesn't get you anywhere", according to lawyer Lawrence Greenspon. "What you really want to know is, "Here's the evidence, what's your response to it?"

Really, is that it? Perhaps the question wouldn't be put to Mr. Khawaja because the response might simply be too inconvenient. He would a) lie, and say he was innocent; b) admit his guilt. And then where would Mr. Greenspon's moral authority reside, to commit to the case? As it is, Mr. Greenspon plans to challenge the Crown, to make them prove they have evidence sufficient to persuade the presiding judge of Mr. Khawaja's guilt.

It's an exciting opportunity, a challenge, a game. An intellectual and lawyerly gambit to prove to himself and his audience that he is possessed of superbly superior talents in the courtroom

The challenge is most certainly there - from Mr. Khawaja's own emails now in the possession of the Crown Attorney for the prosecution of the case, setting out his love affair with Osama bin Laden and the romance and urgency of jihad, to the damning materials found in the Khawaja family home in Orleans - the evidence exists.

Momin Khawaja found life as an enterprising and enlightened Westerner simply too tediously boring. He was enraptured by the excitement and the promise of violent extremism, and readily committed himself to jihad. "It would tear my heart out knowing these filthy kaafir dog Americans were bombing our Muslim brothers and sisters.

"Besides that, Osama bin Laden is like the most beloved person to me in the whole world. I wish I could even kiss his blessed hand. "So I hooked up with some bro's from the UK and else(where) and we all went over to Pakistan to support Jihad in Afghanistan in 2002. We got there and stayed about three months. It was amazing. Best experience in my whole life."

Other experiences coming down the pipe. Wait for them.

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Hail(stones) And Farewell

Louise Arbour is stepping down from her position - her highly controversial mandate and her much-questioned administration - as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. She has her admirers and she has more than her share of detractors. She's earned both plaudits and disparagements during her tenure.

She has been seen to be too accommodating toward those who least deserve it, and too condemnatory toward those who least deserve it.

The reality is that she has not been a neutral observer of the passing scene. Her very own and very obvious biases have come to the fore, and helped to besmirch both her standing in her position and her personal integrity. Some of her fiercest critics have voiced their unequivocal opinion of her discriminatory biases, and some of her most enthusiastic supporters continue to claim she has shone as a voice of reasonableness.

Within Canada, Treasury Board President Vic Toews, stood in the House of Commons and termed Ms. Arbour to have been "a disgrace", claiming that "the comments that Louise Arbour has made in respect of the state of Israel and the people of Israel are, in fact, a disgrace, and I stand by those words". As well he might, for the fact is they're observably true.

Her detractors can be found in liberal democracies such as Canada's as well as in totalitarian governments. She seems, throughout her tenure, to have focused keenly on perceived wrong doings in the United States and in Israel. Somehow managing to overlook egregious human rights abuses taking place in repressive dictatorships, to which situation she seems to have given short shrift.

She has been seen, in fact, to equate Israel and the United States as human-rights abusers, right along with terror- and tyrannical-states for whom atrocities visited against their populations are everyday activities. According to Hillel Neuer of UN Watch, "There is no question that in her statements she has applied a double standard.

"Israel, of course, has to be held accountable... The problem was that she made no distinction between a terrorist group that every time they hit civilians it's a victory, as opposed to Israel, which is trying to defend itself from terrorist groups, and every time a civilian is killed as collateral damage, that's a tragedy."

Last year, when Madam Arbour visited Israel in her fact-finding mission - when she claimed the IDF's disproportionate responses to rocket attacks from Gaza and Hamas were to be condemned - and found herself in the midst of a rocket attack in Sderot, she appeared dreadfully anxious to extricate herself from her situation as a potential sitting duck.

Within Canada, Madam Arbour certainly has her supporters, however. Among them a fellow judicial traveller, Claire l'Heureux-Dube, a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. Somewhat unsurprising, since Louise Arbour was also once a judge sitting on the Supreme Court of Canada.

Madam l'Heureux-Dube characterizes Mr. Toews' statement as a disgraceful attack, an "unwarranted verbal assault by a federal cabinet minister on one of Canada's most accomplished citizens. "She has tirelessly advocated for the respect of human rights on a broad range of issues including human trafficking, torture, oppression of women and people with disabilities, attacks on press freedom, extra-judicial executions, and the current food crisis."

Madam l'Heureux-Dibe makes reference to Ms. Arbour's "April 27, 2008 statement with respect to violence in Zimbabwe". And then deflates the value of the statement by noting that "In her characteristic neutral fashion, Ms. Arbour called upon the political leadership on both sides to restrain their supporters and renounce the use of threats, intimidation and violence against opponents."

Of what possible value could that statement be in the face of the reality of the ruling ZANU-PF party's use of threats, intimidation and violence?

The MDC opposition and its supporters were the recipients, not the equal fomenters of the "threats, intimidation and violence". In the case of Robert Mugabe's thuggery and vile attacks against his opponents applying a neutral stance; in the instance of Israel defending itself from terrorist Hamas, dumping neutrality. Ignorance is her best defence.

She characterized the Arab human rights charter as "an important step forward", even while it equated Zionism with racism. She completely ignored in her speeches prevailing and growing incidents of anti-Semitism. She somehow missed opportunities to condemn Iran's abysmal record of human rights infringements - failed to comment on Ahmadinejad's promise to "wipe Israel off the map".

When the Danish cartoons brought death threats from Muslims, Madam Arbour was sympathetic to Muslim anguish, and expressed no position on the revenge exacted through deadly and hysterical responses, nor did she express support for free speech entitlements. Britain's University and College Union's attempts to organize an academic boycott of Israel which was condemned by the international academic community saw no critical response from her.

On the other hand, the director of the Irish Centre for Human rights celebrates what he considers to be Madam Arbour's fearlessness in attacking the flaws she saw in international human rights as practised by high-profile and powerful countries like Russia, the United States and China. He feels it's a loss to the international community that she will not stay on for another term.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Religions: Decadent versus Corrupted

Fundamentalist Islam views the Christian world with contempt for its descent into religious irrelevance, its acceptance of relativity and moderation, its subordination to politics in acceptance of separation of Church and State.

Above all, it manifests utter contempt for the loosening of religious and social strictures, the acceptance of a popular mass culture, the edging away of the Christian Church from strict adherence to holy scriptures, in preference of interpreting religious law through the lens of modernity.

The emancipation of religious dictates to render Christianity more palatable to modern society is an abomination in the eyes of fundamentalist Islamists who view the West and liberal democracies as decadent, deceitful, flawed beyond redemption.

This is a West, and liberal democracies, and Christian denominations who accept the concept of relativity, and who stand prepared to accept the equal value of other religions, cultures, traditions and ideologies. A religion that has accepted social enlightenment.

Their effete submission to modern demands for moderation have earned them contempt as completely devalued religious institutions as far as Islamists are concerned. So Muslim militants see nothing amiss in terrorizing the Christians among them in the Middle East. In visiting dreadful atrocities among men, women and children, to persuade them that their place is no longer to reside within Muslim communities.

Throughout the Middle East, Christian churches are bombed, Christian social centres, libraries destroyed, children abducted, girls and women raped and murdered. Ancient Christian sects whose legitimacy goes back to the First Century are being targeted by militant Muslims as abhorrent anomalies in the larger Islamic community.

But then, sectarian violence among Muslims themselves goes on apace; Sunni against Shi'ite, and vice versa. For every Christian girl and woman raped and murdered, for every Christian man and child abducted, tortured and murdered, there are dozens of Muslims who meet a like fate.

One could fairly say then, that Islam, whose followers proclaim it to be a religion of peace and fellowship, has been irredeemably besmirched, and corrupted by fanatical Islamists.

The question then is, if religions are to be compared, in the final analysis it is the effete, decadent Christianity that offers no assault, massive or minuscule, upon the alternative religions, rendering it superior as an instrument of god's charity, to Islam.

Whose fundamentalist corruption into a religion that will brook no alternatives on pain of death, visits mayhem and murder on the world stage.

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Complicating Our Lives

Weather events, they're always with us. Complicating our lives in small, irritating ways that we have to put up with since we have no other alternative; we're no match in strength and power to Mother Nature.

Here in this neck of the global woods we've experienced almost daily rain events throughout the month of May and now as well right through to June and beyond. Daily rain events, running the gamut from sprinkles to cloudbursts; night-time rains, and all-day rain.

We may not appreciate the constant wet status but it seems that other growing things, the green type, our local flora, do. Green everywhere is running amok. We can complain, and we do complain, but our kvetching merely serves to allow us to vent a little, to share with others the tedium associated with too-wet, too-damp, too-humid conditions.

Considering that places like Australia have seen too little rain for the past several years, visiting on that country agricultural tribulations that have seen their farming communities decimated. Severe drought conditions, somewhat like the South-Eastern United States and elsewhere in the world, severely impacting on crop yields and further exacerbating an already serious food shortage.

We've obviously nothing at all to complain about. Which doesn't stop us from ventilating our irritation and mewling complaints about Mother Nature.

Then there's China, already in dire straits as a result of the earthquake that struck there, and the resulting landslides and threatening floods as a result of both devastating events where thousands of people lost their lives and millions have been left homeless. On top of that seasonal rain has also resulted in flood conditions in the industrialized south of the country, killing several hundred people, and producing additional strains on the country, adding to its internal refugees, bereft of their homes because of flood conditions.

We've just returned from a climbing holiday in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and it rained there too, incessantly, but that's kind of expected in early and late spring in mountainous areas. America too has been severely impacted by those ubiquitous rain events, day after day, relentlessly pouring. In the process creating another situation of dire emergencies as there too hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless, their homes inundated by flood waters.

In Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, towns and cities built on floodplains, hoping that their levees will hold against the rushing tide of swollen rivers like the Cedar River and the great Mississippi, have had their hopes dashed. Flooding across the American corn belt will have its additional impact, felt world-wide, as crops wash out and food shortages continue their spiral. Twenty-four deaths have been attributed to those floods in these heartland states, with tens of thousands of people left without shelter.

That foot of rain that dumped on the region early in the month had its monumental results with the breaching of more than 28 levees on the Mississippi River on its north-south route alone. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with tending to the nation's waterways and constructing their countless dams and levees announced that over 113,000 acres of cropland were overflowing or at high flood risk as a result of the breach of some 48 levees.

In our neck of the woods, we tend to the gargantuan overgrowth of our tangled gardens, drunk with an excess of water, and grumble about the rampant mess. Little do we recognize our good fortune.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

A Closed Issue?

Racial segregation, once a formal requirement under the law in the United States, remains a living issue long after that country recognized the inhumane illegality of its institution. But habits are hard to change, and suspicion, so deeply ingrained in the collective mindsets of both black and white are not easily changed. People of good will on both sides of the colour divide might wish the evil of colour separation and discrimination to die a deserved death, but it's not likely to, any time soon.

Human beings feel comfortable in the presence of others like themselves. They find it difficult to get beyond initial impressions; their discernment of physical differences leads to their impression of integral differences of all kinds. Even those who espouse the equality of humankind regardless of superficial differences seem to feel awkward in the company of those whose distinguishing physical features don't reflect their own.

Different cultures have evolved, through long social and civic separation imposed by the prevailing social system of the time. People tend to forget that basic human needs and values are universally shared. They cannot see beyond the cover and so judge the book by what it is they see that sets it apart from what is most familiar to them. People don't tend to want to share space with differences, nor to spend time investing in their understanding.

On a strictly impressionistic level a presumed fair and just level, people can and do agree that there are no real differences between people; we are all human beings with more in common than what it is that keeps us apart. It's that little bit that we don't hold in common that has cemented us into our own separate lifestyles and cultures. We ascribe to others features that we deem unpleasant, but expected because of their perceived apartness and differences.

We are prepared to be diffident about those differences, to accept that we share enough in common to forge a common link, but idealism melts into confusion and withdrawal when reality takes the place of perception, because perception becomes reality. Whites live with whites, blacks with blacks; their personal choices, spaces and comfort levels. Theoretically that great country, the United States of America, for all its faults, would like to be a just place.

Enough of its voting public has demonstrated that it is prepared to live under an administration that has at its head a black man. A black man who has experienced life on each side of the divide, and who sought to extend his capabilities and sensitivities to the betterment of his fellow blacks living in the seamier urban spaces of that country. While at the same time enjoying a familiarity with white culture and politics.

Straddling both worlds as it were, placing himself forward as a credible candidate for the near future of the position of president. What an enormous stride for someone to take, breaking brave new ground in a really astonishing way. What incredible self-assurance and commitment. What an impossible hunger to succeed. He plans to represent the entire community that makes up the population of the U.S.

His exposure, through his early years of personal development, his academic years, his professional years, aligned with his personal character, appears to have prepared him for a large place in his country's political infrastructure. He has been able, through his personality, his avowed dedication to the task at hand, his ability to emote and to quote, to encourage and to greet, to bring enough people from all walks of life and colour to his side.

His ascension, should he be successful in claiming the contested position, will not overnight, solve the problem of the black-white divide in America. It's possible that the divide will never be successfully and finally breached to produce a seamless society of acceptance of the other. But should he succeed, even if blacks and whites continue to choose to live apart in their personal lives, he will have proven that the United States has managed to mature in a manner to earn it plaudits from the international world.

People will always choose to live in their own enclaves. Where they feel more at home in a familiar social milieu, a tradition and culture most familiar to them. It's not restricted to black and white; it has its counterpart through the immigrant experience reflected in North America and increasingly everywhere in the world, through mass migration.

The recent upheavals in Africa where people from countries surrounding South Africa who have lived as recent migrants there - escaping oppression, internecine wars, frail economic prospects - and as decades-long immigrants and are now being hounded out of that country - prove that xenophobia, dislike, distrust of the 'other' happens irrespective of colour.

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Dishing It Out

Amazing, how it's such a given that the worst excesses of human rights abuses occur in regimes whose totalitarian agenda will not permit of any freedoms among their own populations, and whose yardstick of international relations is one of an intransigent bully. Right, it's not that in and of itself that is the amazing thing, it's the fact that these regimes think so highly of themselves that they feel they're above and beyond international reproach

Dissent from within can be handled very nicely by incarceration, torture, sometimes death.
That formula proves extremely successful in persuading those from within the purview of the regime that their puny attempts at change, their wish to achieve liberation from their tormentors will remain an unfulfilled dream.

But when the international community, looking in from beyond the oppressive borders of repression find fault with the regime, the sensitivity of the dictators comes to the fore, and they cry foul. No one's business but their own, they seethingly respond; internal decision-making and so it will remain.

We see this in North Korea, in Burma, in Sudan, in Zimbabwe, in Iran, and that's just for starters; the world has more than enough dysfunctional political/religious/ideological regimes that function through the abuse of their own populations, and who eagerly threaten the stability of other countries. Sometimes, as in the case of Iran - going so far as to delight in threatening the very existence of countries of whom they disapprove.

What quantifies these rogue regimes in the world community of nations is their sublime self-assurance that their religion or ideology has qualified them for unquestioned leadership, one they prosecute malevolently and cruelly, punishing their own people while in the process of establishing a fundamentalist theocracy or an ideological dictatorship. They do not seek validation from the outside world, knowing full well that their agenda is viewed with extreme distaste.

What also distinguishes them is their attempts to hide the most serious of their abuses. Alongside their defiance of criticism. But their thin skins when they're held up to ridicule or criticism also causes them to claim that they're being unfairly singled out when there are regimes - usually democratic ones - whose institutions they accuse of human-rights abuses. Iran is a hard-core human-rights abusing state. And it enjoys pointing to Canada as an exemplar of human-rights abuses.

Iran is a world-class bully - not in the same league as the United States, fair to say. More perhaps on the Russian model and doing its best. And while the U.S. throws its considerable political, social, cultural and military weight around, it just happens to uphold the ideal of personal freedoms, of liberal democratic action with a tinge of righteousness. In its aspiration to become the ascendant nation in the Middle East geography, Iran is spreading its hateful ideology and persuading some of its neighbours to join its state-sponsored terror club.

And while other Middle East nations, Iran's Arab neighbours, don't share its extreme ideology of Shia fundamentalism, and fear that country's rising prominence in the geography - including its proxy terror militias capable of undermining legitimate governments, they also seem incapable of responding. Other than to ponder the feasibility of themselves acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities to offset those that Iran is featuring for itself.

Throwing its weight around internationally includes singling out the State of Israel for its presence on sacred Islamic land as a vile usurper, an illegal and immoral occupier of Arab land. Justifying, should such justification even be required in the shadowy world of Islamist fascism, their proud claims to the intent of destroying Israel. All in due time. Meanwhile, they're busy ushering in their nuclear agenda.

Of course all of this is extremely nervous-making on the international scene. Strangely enough, while the world has been treated time and again to Iran, through its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclaiming, even from within the United Nations, that it intends to be the means through which Israel will be annihilated, the international community has barely responded. But when a testily incautious Israeli cabinet minister issues an unequivocal statement that it's more likely Israel will pre-empt any Iranian strike, the world sits up and takes notice.

As though a jittery energy industry hasn't been fluctuating enough, that warning statement caused an immediate reaction of higher world prices for a barrel of oil. No comment when Israel is threatened. An immediate shudder of apprehension when Iran is counter-threatened. It's perfectly all right for a rogue nation to directly threaten the existence of a well established liberal democracy, but a matter of panic when that same democracy states it can and will defend itself.

Simple enough: the international community's concerns with respect to Iran's development of nuclear capability, expressed through IAEC censure and pleas from the United Nations has been spectacularly unsuccessful. Sanctions and the threat of further sanctions have accomplished nothing positive. Iran has enjoyed itself toying with the fears of the international community. Israel, and in some measure the United States, have declared they will have none of this nonsense.

If development of nuclear weapons continues, as it has been doing, this leaves Israel with little choice but to destroy those aspirations. This is, after all, an existential problem for the Jewish state. Who will come to their defence? The Arab world, themselves in fear of being dominated by force by Iran? The destruction of the State of Israel might solve some of their problems with respect to settling the Palestinian issue, but this would be a mere stop-gap. Before the Arab world is back at each others' throats again.

So Iran is now on the receiving end of the quiet threat in response to their joyful threats. Which doesn't appear to sit well with that theocratic regime. Iran has protested formally to the United Nations. A letter sent from Iran's UN mission to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council urges them to produce a "firm response" to the remarks indulged in by Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz.

Truth is, Israel favours the quiet approach. They leave the bullish rhetoric to their Persian friends, ordinarily. Mr. Mofaz is in deep hot water from among his own parliamentary colleagues for uttering the statement: "If Iran continues its nuclear weapons program, we will attack it." Mr. Mofaz, despite the censure his statement has earned him from within the Knesset, was merely stating the obvious. Iran has had due warning.

So, what's amazing here in a sense, is that Iran feels itself justified in threatening the existence of a neighbour, and remains obdurate to international condemnation, however mild, while at the same time exciting herself over the logical response to her threats. Amazing that any one or any regime could feel so incredibly entitled to violence, but shrink in distaste and fear when their statement is turned around on themselves.

You want to dish out the nuclear threat, prepare to absorb the fall-out.

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Hello? Human Rights Calling...!

Maclean's is learning first-hand some of the problems inherent in Canada's multiculturalism policy. Where immigrants from countries who practise politics and religion and ideologies far different than those of liberal democracies enter the country to take advantage of all the freedoms offered its people as a birthright and as a gift to newcomers, select those they value, and reject and trash the rest.

Where, as a result, a prickly-minded group of religious affiliates take umbrage at the freedoms Canadians enjoy to speak their mind, and use our very institutions meant to support minorities against real discrimination, to silence the majority. The case of religious discrimination brought against Mark Steyn and Maclean's to the B.C. Human Rights Commission by two members of the Canadian Islamic Congress is in the process of winding down.

Mohamed Elmasry and Naiyer Habib claim that Maclean's magazine, in publishing an article by Mark Steyn which detailed Islamist activities from among the world's Muslim communities living in Europe and North America, and the intent of this violent minority of Muslims to advance Islamism world-wide, aided innocently enough by a high birth rate among Muslims, has defamed Islam.

The article, they claim, through their lawyer and three articling Osgoode Hall law students, exposed them, as Muslims, to hatred and contempt. As though Islamist violence does not exist, and never did, and does not present a real and present danger to the West. They've allowed themselves to be tarred with the same brush, in effect. For neither Mr. Steyn nor the magazine claimed that all Muslims were Islamo-fascist terrorists.

That some are, is in fact, beyond dispute. And those groups of active and viciously violent jihadists do pose a threat to world peace and stability. A reality that should be recognized and be of true concern to Muslims no less than non-Muslims. Since both groups have been and continue to be targets by jihadists. One might think ordinary Muslims would abhor these jihadists and distance themselves from any connection.

A fact that the lawyer for Maclean's himself extracted from his questioning of Mr. Habib. Lawyer Julian Porter questioned Dr. Habib; surely the witness had no high regard for Osama bin Laden? Of course not, was the response, bin Laden is "twisting Islam". "After 9/11 you and your community must have suffered many slings and arrows?"
"Because of bin Laden?"
"Yes", agreed Dr. Habib.

So how is the article and the magazine guilty of smearing ordinary Muslims with the broad brush of jihadism by pointing out the destabilizing effect Islamist terrorists have had? Other than, perhaps, to point out that no great outcry of condemnation issued en masse from the Muslim community - issuing also a clear demarcation between themselves and those who misuse Islam?

Facts on the ground appear to indicate that the Arab Muslim community and the greater Islamic community approve some elements of jihad. Their schools and mosques thunder some level of appreciation of the "struggle" against their oppressors, the unbelievers, their perceived enemies. The human issue of defining Islam as impervious to the depredations of liberal values, setting Muslims apart from the majority of Canadians does them no credit.

It's an observable fact that many Muslims who have settled in Canada have taken great effort to separate themselves, their families, their values and priorities from those of native Canadians. It isn't only the Kadhr family that has rejected the "obscenity" of Western values and cultural mores, and who clamour for the introduction of Sharia Law.

Dr. Habib went to great lengths as a witness to speak of his efforts to foster peace and understanding between people of the Muslim faith and others. He spoke of his long and valuable association with Mr. Elmasry, as senior members of the Canadian Islamic Congress. This is the same organization that publishes newsletters and has an Internet presence deploring "Zionists", and describing Israel as an illegal entity, a cruel occupier of Arab land.

What encouragement is there for peace and understanding between people of different religious adherence in Canada, when such clear, hostile and divisive distinctions are made in public fora? This is Canada, not the Middle East. Mr. Elmasry's description of "Zionists the world over celebrating the 60th anniversary of the establishment of a state-for-Jews-only in Palestine" isn't exactly spreading goodwill.

Dr. Habib mentioned the deeply deleterious effect that anonymous Internet postings critical of Islam had on him personally. "You read them, and they bothered you?" asked the CIC's lawyer. "How did those comments and the additional comments on that blog make you feel?" prompted Mr. Joseph. "It's humiliating, dishonouring, questioning our morals in Western society where we live", responded Dr. Habib.

Well, the fact that the Islamic practise of taking multiple wives, of female genital mutilation is a criminal offence in Canada, and it's being practised in stealth in the country by a fair number of Muslims presents a deeply disturbing problem in ethical behaviour and morals to most Canadians. And Jews in particular in Canada, feel deeply disturbed to hear a Muslim-Canadian complacently claim justification in killing adult Israelis because they represent the enemy-occupier.

Finally, those resonant words by Dr. Habib: "there is a handful doing certain [bad] things. But we do not want to be discriminated [against] in the way we have been discriminated against." Understandably. But it doesn't represent discrimination when a logical argument is made through a magazine article that Islam tends to lend itself to violence through jihad by a minority who take it beyond what the religious text presumes.

Nor even that a particular group's religious and social and cultural orientation leads them to a greater fecundity than other populations. And if there is a cautionary message in that tale, it's understandable, also. But the thing of it is, we all of us often hear messages we find contrary to our taste. Still, we haven't the right to deny the issuers of those messages the right to air them.

It's a clear message of freedoms. Which don't really imperil others'.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Canada's Very Own Jihadists

The Canadian Islamic Congress shouldn't have to look too far to find outright instances of Islamist jihadists despoiling the good name of Islam, from among their very own community. So why look to a writer expressing his views on the alarming rise of Islamist fascism and wreaking terror on the world stage, along with the magazine that published his little polemic as the reason the good name of Islam has been besmirched?

On trial right now in the Toronto area, which is where the Canadian Islamic Congress and its president Mohamed Elmasry are stationed, are eleven members of an apprehended terror group, simpletons though they may be. Why not rail against their improvidently stupid plans to launch terror attacks against Canadian targets as giving Islam a bad name? After all, Mark Steyn and Maclean's were, reasonably, only publishing a little bit of reality and then extrapolating a bit.

Behead the prime minister of the country. Attack Parliament. "We go and kill everybody. We get victory." Simple plan, simple premise, simple outcome. Victory. Over what? The country that has succoured them? The plot was to storm Parliament Hill, do some incidental killing, take some hostages, that kind of interesting stuff. Make a name for themselves. Create terror among the population.

They were likely awkward poseurs as terrorist material, but even clumsy and stupid people have the potential to create bloody havoc. And they did, after all, take possession of three tonnes of ammonium nitrate with which to produce explosives. They did plan for and order assault weapons and ammunition, then grieved that they hadn't the wherewithal to pay for it all. And one of their members did build a radio frequency remote-controlled detonator, however inadequate it was.

They were committed to the "global fight" against Islam's oppressors. They played with the idea of martyrdom, and the honour implicit within Islam of retaliating against foreign invaders on Muslim soil. "You harm one Muslim, the whole Muslim nation has to defend that person", proclaimed the leader of the group.

Expanding further to describe other aspects of enemy identity: "If they're your enemy, they're your enemy everywhere you see them. So, if the Jews are your enemy in Israel, it doesn't mean Jews are not your enemy here. Every single Jew is your enemy." One of the group mused that the rule meant you could kill any Jewish man walking down the street.

"If the guy walking down the street says, 'Pro-Zion, pro-Zion' ... wears a big Jewish thing saying, yeah, 'Pro-Israeli state' ... OK, now you're a target" was the response. "If you are to do ... to that guy you wouldn't be held accountable like, by Allah or anything ... and you would be rewarded for it, because he is an enemy."

Amazing, isn't it? Because, in fact, that is exactly what Mohamed Elmasry, founding president of the Canadian Islamic Congress said in a television interview; that every adult Israeli is a legitimate target for revenge, as a representative of the Israeli occupying state. As a Jew, that causes me great pain. Should I not take the initiative and lodge a complaint against him with the Ontario Human Rights Commission?

What's to say that Mr. Elmasry's contention, and his very public utterances, his blog entries that speak disparagingly of "Zionists" and hatefully of Israel isn't fuelling anti-Jewish sentiment and placing the lives of Canadian Jews in direct danger? What's to say that he hasn't directly influenced the 18 - now 11 - arrested terror suspects?

Those suspects now on trial and whose leader claimed to be planning an event on a "greater scale" than the 2005 London bombings. "You do it once and you make sure they can never recover again", he said complacently. And further: "I know you might not be too down with beheadings, but it's terror, it strikes in their hearts", he told his cohorts comfortingly.

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Well, After All, Maybe - Maybe Not

Given due consideration. What a difference a day makes. Twenty-four troublesome hours. And while it's true that I mean what I say and I say what I mean, it can sometimes be downright inconvenient to do that scene. Know what I mean?

So, it's oops! retract that pledge. This can happen to anyone, after all. You get carried away, right? I mean, speaking before all these people who aren't quite sure they trust me, I've got to carry the day. So I got carried away by the passion of that empowering rhetoric.

It happens. Shit happens to anyone, everyone, sometimes. Yep, I've been stepping in these cowpies lately. You ever try to clean that stuff off your shoes? Just trying to bridge the divide of a misunderstanding.

So what happens? More misunderstandings. Those twitchy, touchy Jews. Don't get me wrong, I love those people, what's not to admire about them? They've got guts. And lots of investments in this country, and plenty of political clout, too.

So I kind of forgot about the other side of the ledger, those twitchy, touchy Arabs. I mean, really, they've got a point, right? They're under occupation, an unfortunate but sad reality. So sure, I said some things that were obviously misunderstood, about the indivisibility of Jerusalem, about the Jewish character of Israel, about the refugee right of return, that kind of thing.

Hey, give a guy a break. This is a side issue after all. No harm meant. Sure, I made a solemn pledge. No harm meant, folks, no harm done, right? We can work this one out together. That's what friends are for. To cut a little slack. A vow, impassioned or sober, a pledge, a commitment; we just got carried away with the momentum of moving forward.

Look: I didn't mean to shut the Palestinians out. I understand completely why the Palestinian Authority people, Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas are pissed off. Hey, I maybe went a little too far...?

That's what happens when your back's to the wall of public opinion; Jewish censure in this case. So I said it and I thought I was being fair, fellas. Sensitive, you know, to both sides, just trying to give assurances, you know?

"Let me be clear, Israel's security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable. The Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive and that allows them to prosper. But any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel's identity as a Jewish State, with secure, recognized and defensible borders. Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided."

Hey, did I say that? Pretty good speech, if I say so myself. Clearly, it impressed the folks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington. I'm not quite certain why it didn't entirely impress Mahmoud Abbas who said "this statement is totally rejected. The whole world knows that holy Jerusalem was occupied in 1967 and we will not accept a Palestinian state without having Jerusalem as the capital."

I mean, who knew? The Israelis said they were fighting Egypt and Jordan, Syria and Lebanon because they attacked them first. And when they took over east Jerusalem in that (holy cow!) 6-day war of defence, they were able, for the first time to have access to their holy sites. Israel says that under her control, all religions have enjoyed access to their holy sites; Christians, Muslims and Jews. But here's the Palestinians telling me that's not the case.

So sure, I've got to set the record straight: "Obviously it's going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations... As a practical matter, it would be very difficult to execute [a policy of the capital remaining undivided.]" So, I've just changed my attitude toward this complex and bedevilling problem, a teeny, weeny bit.

Okay, guys? Friends?

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