Thursday, August 31, 2006

The grain of Intolerance: by Slobodan Antonic

This article was published by the Serbian daily newspaper “Politika” 29.08.2006, for the Serbian version of the article see here. Slobodan Antonic is one of the most prominent Serbian political analysts. This article was inspired by the statement of Martti Athisaari, the United Nations Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, leading the talks for the determination of the final status of Kosovo. The Serbian government protested against Athisaari’s statement because it reportedly implied that Serbs are guilty as a nation for what had happened in Kosovo and that they have to pay the consequences of the crimes committed in the past. Thus, that they have to reconcile to the possibility of losing Kosovo. Ahtisaari’s chief spokesperson Hua Jiang told B92 that Ahtisaari would not apologise for his statements because he never mentioned the collective guilt of the Serbian people. “The statement was taken out of context and poorly presented. He never mentioned the collective guilt of the Serbian people. Ahtisaari spoke of the historical legacy, that every nation should have the courage to face its own past. There is no reason for Ahtisaari to offer an apology and that is not going to happen.” Jiang said. [Srdjan Cvijic in green letters are my comments while in black letters the translation of the original text by Slobodan Antonic].

The author of this editorial was there 5th October [referring to 5th October 2000 – Revolution against Milosevic’s regime]. I was not storming the Parliament, but I did throw rocks at Takovska 10 [Serbian Radio Television – used to be a symbol of Milosevic’s regime]. Near by, one young man fell down hit by a rubber bullet in the stomach. It smelled like smoke and teargas. Yet, one could also smell the hope that Serbia finally became part of the West. I remembered this when I heard Ahtisaari’s statement that Serbs are guilty as nation and that they have to pay for it. The topic of the collective guilt of the Serbs was especially en vogue during the 1999 bombings. There were claims how the destruction of Serbian factories, bridges and hospitals, as well as murdering of Serbian civilians was not entirely unjustified. “The vast majority of Serbs”, used to explain Daniel Goldhagen are, “now caught in the grip of delusions, hatreds, an ever more belligerent society and culture, war and death.” In this way the majority of the Serbs, “have rendered themselves both legally and morally incompetent (The Guardian, 29th April 1999). Serbian civilians are those who made it possible for Milosevic to stay in power, hence they have to assume part of the responsibility “, explained Marsha Hepfel, from the University of Tennessee.

Granted, maybe there was some kind of collective responsibility in the fact that Serbs for a long time tolerated Milosevic. But, Milosevic lost the 2000 elections (as he lost the 1993 and 1997 elections). When he refused to recognize their outcome, people dethroned him by means of a remarkable revolution. Serbs, hence, demonstrated that they do not support Milosevic and his thuggish politics. Why are the Serbs still guilty?

Indeed, one cannot help but to ask why doesn’t still the West like us? No, I do not want to simplify things. I know that there is no love in politics and that interests prevail. I know that the main Serbian interests in Kosovo are in disaccord with some powerful interest of the West. I likewise know that there is a bureaucratic inertia to continue to habitually punish those who were once naughty pupils. I also know that it is the easiest for the Brussels and Washington officials to come to diplomatic mission to Serbia. They just need to repeat: “Mladic, Mladic” and “There will be no partition of Kosovo, no return to the pre-1999 state of affairs” and their task is completed.

All this is clear to me. Still, however, can the policy of the West towards Serbia be explained purely in terms of interests? Isn’t there maybe also a grain of intolerance, an irrational grain of aversion that at times comes to the fore, like in the statement of Ahtisaari? Indeed, it seems that there is something more to it. As if Ahtisaari’s statement were not an incident provoked by one diplomat only, but an outbreak of sincerity of an entire Western diplomatic service?

Recently I reread Hobbes, that teacher of the modern West. He says that we don’t hate anyone as much as we hate the one to whom we did a great evil. This is because, the philosopher further explains, the presence of that person reminds us of the dishonour and ignominy of our deeds. Furthermore, because we know that that person, provided that he/she is rational enough, can hardly still be fond of us. Besides, it is very probable that he/she will try to avenge in the future.

Maybe the key to our riddle lies in this remark? For, when we wander – why doesn’t the west treat us Serbs, as they treat Croatians, Albanians or Bulgarians – maybe we ought to have in mind that the West did not bomb the Croats, Albanians or Bulgarians? That it did not kill their two-year-old Marko Simic, eleven-month-old Bojana Tosovic, three-year-old Milica Rakic, six-year-old Branimir Stanijanovic, five-year-old Dejana Pavlovic. And other 83 children. That it did not throw on them at least ten tons of enriched uranium, that creates radiation as 437 atomic bombs thrown at Hiroshima (because of which in 2004 Serbia there are 40% more registered cases of cancer than in 1999).

When, hence, the West looks at Croatians, Albanians or Bulgarians, they probably see nations that they supported, to whom they did a significant good deed and from whom they can expect gratitude. When, however, they look at the Serbs what do they see? Probably only a nation whom they had bombarded and to whom they left radiation?

But, my lord, trust us: Serbs really forgot all that! Is there anyone who really remembers all that, who still thinks about that? We really forgot and forgave everything. We really honestly love the West. We really want to be like you!

But, maybe they did not forget it? Maybe they think that we ought not to, provided that we are rational, love them so much? What a stupid misunderstanding! Yet, there is a solution for that also. The West needs to do a greater good to Serbia. A good that would make it rational for them not to fear us any more, because of which they would no longer have to be ashamed of us. A solution to the Kosovo question not only to the detriment of Serbia, or a genuine opening of the European perspective are two possible deeds that first come to my mind.

Do it! It really isn’t difficult! Automatically will Serbia seem better to you. Because – you will be better too!

Political Analyst

Slobodan Antonic

[published in “Politika”: 29.08.2006. translated by Srdjan Cvijic]

Thursday, August 24, 2006

John McCain, George Bush, Iraq and Public Opinion

Republican Senator John McCain, frontrunner for the 2008 Republican Presidential nomination, criticized the Bush administration yesterday for misleading Americans about the difficulties it faces in stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq. McCain, commenting on recent opinion polls which show further erosion in public support for the administration’s Iraq policy, said that President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, with their constantly upbeat public statements about the progress being made in Iraq, had “contributed enormously to the frustration that Americans feel today because they were led to believe this could be some kind of day at the beach.” McCain’s comments are sure to resonate with a broad cross-section of the American public, from Democrats (and now a majority of independents) who oppose the war to Republicans who support an American presence in Iraq but are critical of the administration’s policies. Indeed, McCain continues to rank as one of the most popular politicians at the national level. However, a closer look at McCain’s policy proposals for Iraq and his background should give pause to Americans attracted by his charisma and candor. Rather than lightening America’s Iraq burden, the Arizona Senator advocates deeper American involvement in Iraq. This would have serious implications not only for Iraq but also for Americans.

McCain did not oppose the American invasion of Iraq. On the contrary, he is a leading defender of the invasion and removal from power of Saddam Hussein, and supports a continued occupation. Instead, he differs from the administration on the best way to pacify the country. Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney have attempted to stabilize Iraq using existing American military force levels. McCain has yet to give detailed policy proposals for Iraq. However, we know that he favors the resignation of Rumsfeld (though he refuses to say so publicly), who is widely acknowledged to have poorly managed the occupation, and that he has consistently advocated increasing, rather than decreasing (as the administration would prefer), the number of troops in Iraq and opposes setting any timetables for U.S. troop withdrawals. In order to raise troop levels he would need to expand a military which, experts agree, is stretched perilously thinly. This would entail lowering standards for recruits (a process already being embraced by military recruiters who are facing mounting difficulty in keeping troop numbers at their current level, let alone raising them) or reinstituting the draft. Like many Vietnam veterans, though certainly not all, McCain’s experience as a Navy pilot and prisoner of war convinced him that the Vietnam War had been winnable. He believes that the American defeat was the result of timid politicians unwilling to prosecute the war to the necessary extent. For him and many others, a winning strategy would have included mobilizing the entire nation for war and invading North Vietnam, though how they would have justified this to an American public that was increasingly anti-war is never articulated.

Critics of the current war have often drawn a parallel between America’s failure in Vietnam and the problems it faces in Iraq. While these comparisons are often overdrawn and of limited use, it is useful to consider how Vietnam shaped McCain’s conception of American foreign policy, especially in terms of how he would change the country’s Iraq policy as President. We know that McCain would push for deeper American involvement in Iraq. It is also quite possible that he would retaliate against Syrian and Iranian involvement in Iraq (an escalation Bush has so far prudently avoided) given that he chafed against similar restrictions as a pilot in Vietnam. This highlights a striking paradox. American voters are largely disenchanted with the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq. According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, 53 percent consider the invasion of Iraq a mistake and 62 percent think events in Iraq are going “somewhat or very badly.” This falling support comes despite the fact that the conflict, with relatively low casualties (roughly 2,600 American soldiers killed) and no tax increases, has had comparatively little impact upon American civilians. However, one of the most popular politicians on the national scene and the most likely Republican nominee for President in 2008 favors deepening American involvement in Iraq to an extant that would begin to affect Americans at home. Though we will not know for a number of years what the Bush administration’s exact reasons for their minimalist policy in Iraq (i.e. lowest possible troop levels in Iraq, refusal to raise taxes to pay for the war’s enormous cost), it seems that they are determined to fight the war with as little impact on Americans as possible. It seems that, with good reason, they have little faith in the American public’s willingness to support a truly national effort to quell Iraqi insurgents and stabilize the country. McCain, on the other hand, seems to take American willingness to support such an effort for granted, or at least believes it to be superfluous. This is surprising, considering that critical public opinion forced American withdrawal from Vietnam. Despite the extent to which his war-time experiences color his world view, it seems that Senator McCain may have failed to learn the most important lesson of Vietnam: Americans will not support an ill-conceived war once it begins to seriously impact them. Public support for the Iraq conflict is weak even with the Bush administration’s No Domestic Impact model; how would Americans react to the McCain Mobilize the Nation for War model?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

War on terror vs. Realpolitik in the Middle East

The Chatham House has published an excellent report on Iran, entitled “Iran, its neighbours and the regional crises” have a look at it here. Moreover, on the secret background to the Israel’s was on Lebanon and the US foreign policy have a look at the new article of famous US journalist Seymour Hersh, “Watching Lebanon” published at the Newyorker. Hersh writes that the White House, esspecially Cheney and his team supported the Israeli plan to attack Hizbollah. The problem for the future is as one of Hersh’s sources puts it, “There is no way that Rumsfeld and Cheney will draw the right conclusion about this…When the smoke clears, they’ll say it was a success, and they’ll draw reinforcement for their plan to attack Iran.” For an interesting position on the geopolitics of the US relationship with Shias and Sunis read the very interesting Vali Nasr’s article in the Foreign Affairs magazine “When the Shiites Rise” .

Reading these articles one can get a strong sense of the dangerous path ideological neo-conservative foreign policy is leading America into. Moreover, it seems that US foreign policy is currently not only a hostage of the abovementioned ideology but also of powerful private economic interests that often have absolutely nothing to do with the national interest of the US and the security of its citizens home and abroad. Israel’s military campaign in Lebanon demonstrated what could be the outcome of a US military campaign if it decides to attack a 70 million people strong giant like Iran. Interesting point from the Chatham House report is that post-9/11 US policy actually reinforced Iran’s position by eliminating its hostile neighbours the Taliban and Sadam Hussein. US is not powerful enough to lead the war against all in the broader middle east, which is often how some US policy makers interpret the war on terror, possibly a return to realist foreign policy is needed?

Italy Ready to Lead UN Force in Lebanon

This time Berlusconi is prudent; He has suggested the Prime Minister, Romano Prodi,
to be patient, not to rush the mission in Lebanon.

What the hell, I say, if there's something urgent, this is probably the most glaring case. Europe is proving once more static. They need to meet up, to discuss, to disagree and to avoid taking a decision.

Italy, however, has already taken a decision. It wants to take the lead, someone has to take the lead in this Europe. Of course, we shouldn't end up there all alone, exposed to every possible risk without the help of any other state. But while european politicians discuss at length without an end in view, a state, Lebanon, is suffering from all we haven't done in the past, all the things we haven't sais, all the actions we haven't taken.

Monday, August 21, 2006

That Holocaust cartoon competition...

Some time ago, around the time of the Mohammed Cartoon Controversy, I noted in a post that the Iranian newspaper Hamshari had launched a competition for cartoons satirising the Holocaust, to illustrate the double standards of the West in allowing the images of Mohammed in the Danish newspaper to be published then republished all over the world. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any of these online; if I do, I'll provide a link. Cartoons involve, however, images of the Statue of Liberty reading a book on the Holocaust while giving a Nazi salute with the other hand, Ariel Sharon in an SS uniform, a Jewish figure drinking from a cup marked "Palestinian blood", and an Arab figure impaled on the ground by a Jewish man's nose, on which is marked "Holocaust".

Leaving aside the issue of whether the cartoons are any good until we have actually seen them - and, from the descriptions available online, it seems that they have a much more overtly political message than the Danish ones did - it seems worthwhile to ask whether the contest will have the desired effect of illustrating perceived Western "double standards" over the publication of religious satire. As one organiser of the contest has argued, "we staged this fair to expose the limits of the freedom Westerners believe in... They can write freely anything they like about our prophet, but if one raises doubts about the Holocaust he is either fined or sent to prison".

A worthy aim, no doubt, but one that has, as I thought it might, backfired. Leaving aside the differences in the subject matter - which are not insignificant - we are simply not seeing anything like the type of reaction from the West that we saw from the Arab world over the depictions of Mohammed. Certainly, there has been condemnation from many quarters - as there was also over the earlier cartoons, but there have been few if any calls for the criminalization of those who participated. And the story will very soon be out of the news altogether, perhaps to make a brief reappearance in early September when the winner is chosen.

My own reaction - and, I'm sure, that of many others like me - is a combination of interest and distaste; the latter at the crude and cheap racial stereotyping that appears to be present in some of the entries, the former at what seem to be some points that are genuinely worthy of discussion being raised. The Guardian piece notes that one split-image contribution portrays a stand-up comedian performing in the "West Club"; the first window shows him "telling jokes about Islam" to raucous laughter; the second, "telling jokes about the Holocaust", shows him being kicked out of the club.

As I noted before, there are significant and material differences between the two subject matters; however, this is not to say that there are not genuinely worthwhile arguments to be had over the role that the Holocaust plays in debate, particularly over the current actions of both Israel and the US, in terms of acting as both a conversation-stopper and critic-demoniser.

This being said, given the pretty low-key reaction, this exhibition has already, I think, proved that the West in general is much more open to satire about the Holocaust than the Islamic world showed itself to be over depictions of the Prophet; and it wil further illustrate, I think, that many if not most Westerners are prepared to judge satire for themselves, and not to have the State to do it for them. What the organisers of the competition seem to have missed is that the handing down of jail sentences for Holocaust denial remains an exception in the West - and one that many, if not most, are decidely uncomfortable about at that.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Bush don't spy!

That is what a federal judge decided in what seems to be a very important case against the wiretapping plan of the Bush Administration. Here' s a report.
Here's a commentary.

Some time ago, some of the most prominent intellectuals in the States came out against the NSA program on the New York Review of Books. Here you find the letter sent to the Congress.

The decision will most certainly be appealed. Will privacy be stripped off or protected?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Bush Is Crap

Following in Bush's footsteps of decidedly less-than-erudite private diagnoses of current international affairs becoming public, the UK Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, is reported in today's Independent as saying to a group of Labour MPs that Bush's Middle-East policy has been "crap". Not a treacherous microphone this time, but rather a talkative MP, that has brought this gem of insightful analysis to our attention.

The story is that Prescott insists that he only went along with the war in Iraq because of US assurances that the road map to peace between Israel and Palestine would be resurrected and enforced; and it is the failure of the Bush administration in this regard that apparently aroused his succinct condemnation. Prescott has not gone out of his way to distance himself from the comments, insisting only that "this is an inaccurate report of a private conversation and it is not my view".

This is hardly surprising. Much like his celebrated punching of a voter during the 2001 election campaign, this latest "indiscretion" is unlikely to do him any real harm; quite the oppositie, in fact, at a time when more and more Labour MPs - including Blair loyalists - are becoming more and more uneasy about the Government's handling of the Middle East: not only in terms of the increasingly-disastrous Iraq adventure, but also with Blair's recent refusal to condemn Israeli actions against Hezbollah in Lebannon as disproportionate or illegal.

The Guardian has an interesting comment piece on Prescott's apparent outburst - or, perhaps more accurately, on the Independent's overwhelmingly positive reporting of it - pointing out that the editor of the latter paper is both a close friend and official biographer of the Deputy Prime Minister; making it unlikely that, despite his half-hearted denial, it would have been front page news, in that paper at least, without Prescott's blessing. It may even, one suspects, have been completely orchestrated from the start.

And thus the media/politician game of bluff and double bluff continues, even if it is being played out to an increasingly sceptical, not to mention downright bored, public....

Sunday, August 13, 2006

An Englishmen in Nazareth

I think the piece below is really worth reading. A rather balanced, yet firm, account of what it means to be an isolated minority in Britain. This reminds me that Europe is failing everywhere the test of integration of its rather large islamic community.

From High Wycombe to Nazareth: How I Found Myself with the Islamic Fascists; here's the source.


August 11, 2006


It occurred to me as I watched the story unfolding on my TV of a suspected plot by a group of at least 20 British Muslims to blow up planes between the UK and America that the course of my life and that of the alleged "terrorists" may have run in parallel in more ways than one.

Like a number of them, I am originally from High Wycombe, one of the non-descript commuter towns that ring London. As aerial shots wheeled above the tiled roof of a semi-detached house there, I briefly thought I was looking at my mother's home.

But doubtless my and their lives have diverged in numerous ways. According to news reports, the suspects are probably Pakistani, a large "immigrant" community that has settled in many corners of Britain, including High Wycombe and Birmingham, a grey metropolis in the country's centre where at least some of the arrested men are believed to have been born.

Britain's complacent satisfaction with its multi-culturalism and tolerance ignores the facts that Pakistanis and other ethnic minorities mostly live in their own segregated spaces on the margins of British life. "Native" Britons like me -- the white ones -- generally assume that is out of choice: "They stick to their own kind". Many of us rarely come into contact with a Pakistani unless he is serving us what we call "Indian food" or selling us a packet of cigarettes in a corner shop.

So, even though we may have been neighbours of a sort in High Wycombe, my life and theirs probably had few points of contact.

But paradoxically, that changed, I think, five years ago when I left Britain. I moved to Nazareth in Israel, an Arab -- Muslim and Christian -- community on the very margins of the self-declared Jewish state. In the ghetto of Nazareth, I rarely meet Israeli Jews unless I venture out for work or I find myself sitting next to them in a local restaurant as they order hummus from an Arab waiter, just as I once asked for a madras curry in High Wycombe. When Israeli Jews briefly visit the ghetto, I suddenly realise how much, by living here, I have become an Arab by default.

Living on the margins of any society is an alienating experience that few who are rooted in the heartland of the consensus can ever hope to understand. Such alienation can easily deepen into something less passive, far more destructive, when you find yourself not only marginalised but your loyalty, rationality, even your sanity, called into question.

As we approach the fifth official anniversary of the "war on terror", the foiled UK "terror plot" has neatly provided George W Bush, the "leader of the free world", with a chance to remind us of our fight against the "Islamic fascists". But what if the war on terror is not really about separating the good guys from the bad guys, but about deciding what a good guy can be allowed to say and think?

What if the "Islamic fascism" President Bush warns us of is not just the terrorism associated with Osama bin Laden and his elusive al-Qaeda network but a set of views that many Arabs, Muslims and Pakistanis -- even the odd humanist -- consider normal, even enlightened? What if the war on "Islamic fascism" is less about fighting terrorism and more about silencing those who dissent from the West's endless wars against the Middle East?

At some point, I suspect, I joined the Islamic fascists without my even noticing. Were my name different, my skin colour different, my religion different, I might feel a lot more threatened by that realisation.

How would Homeland Security judge me if I stepped off a plane in the US tomorrow and told officials not only that I am appalled by the humanitarian crises in Lebanon and Gaza but also that I do not believe the war on terror should be directed against either the Lebanese or the Palestinians? How would they respond if, further, I described as nonsense the idea that Hizbullah or the political leaders of Hamas are "terrorists"?

I have my reasons, good ones I think, but would anyone take them seriously? What would the officials make of my argument that, before Israel's war on Lebanon, no one could point to a single terrorist incident Hizbullah had been responsible for in at least a decade? Would the authorities appreciate my comment that a terrorist organisation that doesn't do terrorism is a chimera, a figment of the President's imagination?

Equally, what would they make of my belief that Hizbullah does not want to wipe Israel off the map? Would they find me convincing if I told them that Israel, not Hizbulalh, is the aggressor in the conflict: that following Israel's supposed withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000, Lebanon experienced barely a day of peace from the terrifying sonic booms of Israeli war planes violating the country's airspace?

Would they understand as I explained that Hizbullah had acted with restraint for those six years, stockpiling its weapons for the day it knew was coming, when Israel would no longer be satisfied with overflights and its appetite for conquest and subjugation would return? Would the officials doubt their own assumptions as I told them that during this war Hizbullah's rockets have been a response to Israeli provocations, that they are fired in return for Israel's devastating and indiscriminate bombardment of Lebanon?

And what would they say if I claimed that this war is not really about Lebanon, or even Hizbullah, but part of a wider US and Israeli campaign to isolate and pre-emptively attack Iran?

Thank God, my skin is fair, my name is unmistakenly English, and I know how to spell the word "atheist". Chances are when Homeland Security comes looking for suspects, no one will search for me or be interested -- not yet, at least -- in my views on Hassan Nasrallah or the democratic election of a Hamas government for the Palestinians.

My friends in Nazareth, and those Pakistani neighbours I never knew in High Wycombe, are less fortunate. They must keep their views hidden and swallow their anger as they see (because their media, unlike ours, show the reality) what US-made weapons fired by American and Israeli soldiers can do to the fragile human body, how quickly skin burns in an explosion, how easily a child's skull is crushed under rubble, how fast the body drains of blood from a severed limb.

Sitting in London or New York, the news that Gaza lost 151 souls, most of them civilians, last month to Israeli bombs and bullets passes us by. It is after all just a number, even if a high one. At best, a number like that from a place we don't know, suffered by a people whose names we can't pronounce, makes us pause, even sigh with regret. But it cannot move us to anger.

And anyway, our news bulletins are too busy to concentrate on more than one atrocity at a time. This month it is Lebanon. Next month it will probably be Iran. Then maybe it will be back to Baghdad or the Palestinians. The horror stories sound so much less significant, the need for action so less pressing, when each is unrelated to the next. Were we to watch the Arab channels, where all the blood and suffering blends into a single terrible Middle Eastern epic, we might start to make connections, and maybe suspect that none of this happens by accident.

But my Arab friends and High Wycombe's Pakistanis have longer memories. Their attention span lasts longer than a single atrocity. They understand that those numbers -- 151 killed in Gaza, and in a single incident 33 blown up in a market in Najaf, Iraq, and at least 28 crushed by rubble from an Israeli attack on Qana in Lebanon -- are people, flesh and blood just like them. They can make out, in all the pain and death currently being inflicted on Arabs and Muslims, the echoes of events stretching back years and decades. They see patterns, they make connections, and maybe discern a plan.

Unlike us, they do not sigh, they burn with fury.

This is something President Bush and his obedient serf in Britain, Tony Blair, need to learn. But of course, they do not want to understand because they, and their predecessors, are responsible for creating those patterns and for writing that epic tale in blood. Bush and Blair and their advisers know that the plan is far more important than the rage, the "red" alert levels at airports, or even planes crashing into buildings and plunging out of the sky.

And to protect that plan -- to preserve the Middle East as a giant oil pump, cheaply feeding our industries and our privileged lifestyles -- those who care about the suffering, the deaths and the wars must be silenced. Their voices must not be heard, their loyalty must be questioned, their reason must be put in doubt. They must be dismissed as "Islamic fascists".

One does not need to be a psychologist to understand that those with no legitimate way to vent their rage, even to have it recognised as valid, become consumed by it instead. They seek explanations and purifying ideologies. They need heroes and strategies. And in the end they crave revenge. If their voice is not heard, they will speak without words.

So I find myself standing with Bush's "Islamic fascists" in the hope that -- just possibly -- my solidarity and that of others may dissipate the rage, may give it meaning and offer it another, better route to victory.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Galloway Against Murdoch: The Ultimate Conflict

Galloway on the conflict between Lebanon and Israel, judge for yourself.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Does Winning a World Cup Help a Country?

One month ago, Italy won the World Cup 2006.
Two months ago, almost exactly, I predicted that victory on this blog.
Optimistically, I suggested that the World Cup could kick start a new
trend in domestic political affair.

To a certain extent, that was correct. For example, it appears that the tax collection system saw a steep improvement in the last months. Needless to say, the previous government facilitated to a great extent those who were unhappy with the tax-system.

Unfortunately, Prodi's government is not very firmly grounded and it is likely that it will have to compromise on many policies, unless it gathers external support. A difference with the previous government, however, is already perceptible: when Berlusconi is not there, many Italians are much more optimistic about the future. Starting with its football system, which mirrored very well the level of corruption in Italian affairs.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

What's wrong with CCTV Cameras?

Many people in Britain think that there is no problem with CCTVs.
In short, the arguent is that CCTVs mean crime prevention. And this, for many, is good enough to cut short the discussion and limit other interests at stake.

Any interest in privacy is clearly overridden by the increase of crime prevention, or so they say. Privacy intrusions are difficult to measure, while crime prevention is a matter of statistics. But is that the end of the story?

In Britain, the culture of privacy is very limited. In few words, we can distinguish three types of privacy: a geographical, a relational, and a personal privacy. Geographical privacy is determined by a physical space like the four walls of a house. Relational privacy is often called confidentiality, and presupposes that when an individual transmits an information to another, the latter is bound by an obligation not to disclose the information. Personal privacy has to do with information that the individual has never disclosed, but which are part of his genetic and experiential world.

Now, the problem is that privacy only depends on social contingencies and it is not supported by adequate reasoning. Personal privacy as applied to the ID debate in the UK, is considered as something inviolable and sacred, no matter what. Not even if it could help preventing terrorist attacks. ON the other hand, geographical privacy is too thin (as it only protects the life behind the four walls), and as a consequence an individual's actions in public can be scrutinized at length without raising any eyebrow.

Hence, the real problem is that many people assume without further reasoning that crime prevention is the overarching value that trumps any privacy interest in public. Perhaps, the most dangerous aspect of this story is that the likelyhood of a misuse of data gathered by CCTVs is always possible. The fear of being recorded in an inconvenient situation can raise, hence commanding a very standardised behaviour in public. Whoever deviates from the standard is likely to be recognized as a possible threat and controlled more closely. We go down a perilous slippery slope while the social standards of privacy continue to lower. And we end up naked in front of the camera, probably even without the protection guaranteed by the figue leaf of geographical privacy.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Lebanese unhappy with draft UN resolution

The US, France and the UK have agreed on the text of a draft resolution on the crisis between Lebanon and Israel to be put before the Security Council. The text is, it seems, a compromise between the positions of the French and the Americans: the former won a concession in the two-phase strategy adopted (that is, a cessation of hostitilities as the first stage, followed then by a deal on an international peacekeeping force and a buffer zone), whereas the latter got its wish in removing all references to Israeli "disproportionality", and, indeed, in placing the more onerous ceasefire obligations on Hezbollah.

This US-won concession is undoubtedly the most controversial aspect of the draft text. It is contained in Operational Paragraph 1, which notes that "Calls for a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hizbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations". Of crucial importance here is to note that, while Hezbollah must immediately cease all military operations, the Israeli's are required only to halt "offensive" ones. Given the extent to which the definition of "defensive" has been stretched by the US and UK rhetoric in Iraq, it is small wonder that few on the Lebanese side view this as acceptable.

Nor, I think, should it be assumed that this is simply restating Israel's right to respond to any continuing Hezbollah agression in violation of the resolution, should it be adopted; few if any would hold them bound to a pact that the other side was willfully and materially breaching. Rather, it seems more likely that the wording of this provision has been made quite deliberately in order to allow Israel to continue activities that it sees as being of a "pre-emptive" defensive sort, which would, of course, include any and all attacks on Hezbollah positions and fighters, particularly in, but presumably not limited to, Southern Lebanon. Again, given the extent to which the Israeli's have sought to use that rhetoric to justify almost all of there actions, including the massacre of civilians in Qana, it is not surprising that a "ceasefire" on these terms strikes many as terminally one-sided.

Robert Fisk has an interesting piece in today's Independent outlining precisely why the Lebanese are less than enamoured with these mose recent fruits of Franco-American labour. High on his list of problems is simply the repetition of the same tired old rhetoric that followed the Israeli invasion of 1982, where the ideas of a "buffer zone" and disarmament were also central. Of course, this does not mean that the Lebanese will be able, ultimately, to reject it: on the contrary, the combined powers of the Security Council Members, should they all agree, are likely to be more than sufficient to make it stick. The difficulty is that, the more they have to make it stick, the less likely they are to be able to make it work.

No Jobs for Smokers!

Europe does not like smokers anymore; this is fair enough. Europe is prepared to discriminate smokers on the job market. This is the latest frontier of dissuasion and it is a very controversial one.

Is it possible to discriminate on such grounds? It all depends on the reasons one puts forward to keep smokers at bay. Perhaps the World Health Organisation has a high moral ground to do so. It is fighting a global fight against smoke, and it would be slightly inconsistent if those who fight the battle are smokers. They are likely to be half-hearted.

Perhaps a sport club has a reason to insert a clause against smoke in the contracts with its sportsmen as smoke would lower performances.

It is less clear why a smoker would be discriminated against for a post of, say, telephonist in a call centre (the actual case which raised the problem). After all, the working environment is already smoke free. The smoker in question can only harm himself, but does not do anything that can be harmful to others in any possible way. Do we really want to punish him on top of his self-inflicted sanction deriving from the very fact that he is a smoker?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Internationalization of Israel’s problems

In a comment in today’s Financial Times Lawrence Freedman, professor of war studies and vice-principal (research) of King’s College London, argues that when the war in Lebanon ends, Hezbollah will certainly end up militarily weaker, but politically stronger. He is also convinced that despite the recent Israeli abandonment of territories to which it aspired in the past, “their old enemies will not leave them alone”. Moreover, Israelis will no longer be able to defend themselves, as they are doing now, using traditional military means, for this reason Israel “has accepted in principle that any durable solution to its border problems must have an international dimension”. Thus, Freedman suggests that setting up an international force in Lebanon must be followed by possibly an establishment of a UN trust territory in Palestine, “with the UN responsible not only for internal security and economic reconstruction but (with a strong local input) for final negotiations with Israel.” Possibly, a more efficient alternative, to the establishment of a UN trust territory in Palestine, could be, a solution along the lines of Kosovo, NATO led international military force (to assure US involvement) to provide internal security for the Palestinian territories and a EU mandated civilian administration, built on a mixture of a Bosnian (Office of the High Representative) and Kosovo (UNMIK) model. As part of its European Neighbourhood Policy, EU must also be ready to take on itself a large part of the financial burden to finance such international deployment in Palestine.

Concerning the US Foreign Policy, Freedman is critical of the outcome of Bush’s strategy to spread democracy in the Middle East through military deployment. He is hinting at the possibility of a realignment (for the moment indiscrete) between the US and Sunni Islam moderate (and corrupt – my words not of Freedman) political leaders against aggressive Iran and radical Islamic parties. Vali Nasr, in Foreign Affairs argues differently, "By toppling Saddam Hussein the Bush administration has liberated and empowered Iraq's Shiite majority and has helped launch a broad Shiite revival that will upset the sectarian balance in Iraq and the Middle East for years to come. This development is rattling some Sunni Arab governments, but for Washington, it could be a chance to build bridges with the region's Shiites, especially Iran." As far as EU policy is concerned Freedman states that EU is full of wise words but that it does nothing and that it should because it stake in the future of the Middle East is even greater than that of the US. Related to this, implicitly, the author criticizes the US and French refusal to negotiate with Syria and Iran.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

EU in Lebanon: semantic bow to Washington and Tel Aviv or constructive pragmatism?

This blog entry presents an attempt to offer our readers a quick overview of the international press reporting on the diplomatic activities evolving over the war in Lebanon, especially concentrating on the analysis of the EU and EU member states foreign policy making related to the war and briefly outlining the US position.

Instead of an immediate cease-fire Israel has sent around 7,000 troops into Lebanon as part of the military campaign aimed at pushing the Hezbollah militia back from the border before a cease-fire is declared and a multinational force deployed, reports NY Times. Simultaneously Hezbollah has launched 200 rockets into Israel. According to reporting unlike the massive tank ground invasion of 1982, this time Israel is combining a frontal incursion into the Lebanese territory with a deployment of small commando units deep into Lebanese territory. With important military presence of Israeli ground troops in South Lebanon, any international deployment will have to seriously take into consideration Israeli interests before even thinking of deployment. This is the essence of the delay of the cease-fire. Ehud Olmert, Israeli PM said, “We are at the beginning of a political process that in the end will bring a cease-fire under entirely different conditions than before.” He also added that Israel would continue to fight until the international deployment. Newspapers report that France, the United States and Britain are close to agreement on a draft UN resolution that could lead to the deployment of an international force in southern Lebanon after a ceasefire between Israel and Hizbollah, a senior British official said. A lot has been said (from unnamed diplomatic sources from the EU) on a two-resolution approach. The first resolution, expected in the coming days, would establish a cessation of hostilities and lay out a political framework for the future. The second, to follow within two weeks of the first, would create a buffer zone in the south and authorize an international force to patrol it, and set out terms for a sustainable cease-fire, including disarming Hezbollah, establishing the borders of Lebanon, preventing arms shipments into the country and extending the authority of the Lebanese Army over all its territory. It is doubtful as to what would happen after the passage of the first resolution, what military force would remain in the buffer zone to enforce the truce after passage of the first resolution? Many mention the possibility of sending troops to have the enhanced UNIFIL, patrol the buffer zone until the deployment of a larger force. An alternative, preferred by the Israelis, would be to have Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) control the buffer zone until the deployment, which would in practice mean that the hostilities would last until the actual weighty international force arrives to Lebanon. The French are against this potion. Massimo D’Alema, Italian Foreign Minister, agrees with the French and expresses reservations versus a strategy of sending troops while the conflict is still in place.

Instead of calling for an immediate ceasefire, Council of the European Union Foreign Ministers, that convened 1 August, called for “an immediate cessation of hostilities, to be followed by a sustainable cease-fire.” Moreover, EU called for a rapid convening of the UN SC in order to define a political solution for the present conflict situation. At the same time Israel does not want to stop military operations until a political solution (acceptable to them) is at the table. The Guardian is harsh in its criticism of the EU Council’s statement, talking about the “collapsed efforts” to end hostilities, “divided EU”, “watered-down statement”, “semantic bow to Washington and Tel Aviv” etc. Le Monde and Speigel also write about the EU Council meeting. Apparently, on one side of the table was France (supported by the Finish Presidency, Sweden, Spain and Greece) who was calling for an immediate "ceasefire", while on the other side of the table Germany, UK, Poland, the Czech Republic managed to play down the statement and call for a "cessation" of hostilities. Everyone is now waiting for the convening of the UN SC, and in the mean time, despite the fact that the UK foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, refused to accept that the “semantic bow” of the EU Council amounted to a "green light" for Israel to continue its military offensive, Israel does continue do drive into Lebanon with ground troops.

An interesting article of the Italian Corriere Della Sera, entitled “Anglo German axis” describes the nature of the new political alignment between the UK and Germany, arguing, “Italy has nothing to fear from this alliance but only to learn”. Whether interpreting the German position on the conflict in Lebanon as a strategic realignment away from France and versus a stronger transatlantic Europe is an exaggeration it remains to be seen, it can be also argued that Germany is cautious in its approach to this war due to the weight of history, in other words, due to the political impossibility of breaking the taboo of good relationship with Israel. Germany is reluctant, it has been said in the French Figaro to send troops because of its ‘historical’ position versus Israel.

At the same time German press writes that the German foreign minister coming from SPD already broke the historical taboo and hinted at the possibility to send German soldiers to the Middle East, arguably as part of an attempt to court the left wing of SPD but not to render hostile their partners in the Grand Coalition. Yet, deploying Germans at the border with Israel while the hostilities still last would be unthinkable and it seems that the Germans would rather be deployed as part of the same multinational force, later and somewhere at the border with Syria. German PM also mentioned the over deployment problem that is currently burdening the German army.

It would be a fallacy to consider that the UK government is standing firmly behind the strong Transatlantic policy of its PM. As far as the UK internal politics is concerned, claims The Independent, there seems to be a heavy disagreement within the very Cabinet of the UK’ PM Tony Blair. While his foreign secretary preferred for the EU issuing an immediate call for cease fire, Blair was more lenient towards Israel, or better towards the political platform of the US administration, “As he returns to Britain today, Mr Blair will find himself an isolated figure in his own Cabinet over Lebanon. The dissent among senior Labour figures over Britain's approach to the conflict is now being seen as a growing challenge to the authority of the Prime Minister.” There were also signs that the foreign secretary might ask the US to stop using British airports to send military aid to Israel. Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary, publicly disagreed with the policy of Blair, and talking to a Muslim population in the UK, called the Israeli bombing, "disproportionate". There were even gossips, writes the Independent, that Mr Straw was ‘moved’ from the position of Foreign Secretary, on the demand of the US Administration and allegedly “because of the high number of Muslims in his constituency”.

After the 1 August EU Foreing Ministers meeting, the German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier defended the position that a call for an immediate cease-fire did not go through, because it would be rushing things without considering the realistic situation on the ground. After the meeting however, both the French and Finish Foreign Ministers, tried to tone down the disagreement at the Council arguing that, “the most important thing” is that the hostilities end (the Finish) and that he is happy that the EU, “spoke with one voice” (the French). Assessing the exit of the above mentioned EU Council meeting on the crisis in the Middle East, it would be wrong to lament on the lack of unity – it is rather normal that there is disagreement when 25 foreing policies need to reach an agreement on a sensitive geopolitical issue such as the crisis in the middle east. What is on the other hand worrying is a significant lack of coordination in the EU foreign policy towards the larger context of the Lebanon conflict. Namely, while Germans and the UK dialogue with Syria considering it to be “the key to the resolution of the conflict”, France refuses to talk to them and goes to Iran instead. Some unnamed EU diplomats told the Figaro journalist that France acts inconsistently, while it pretends to play the key role in the international peace keeping force to be potentially sent to Lebanon, it refuses to negotiate with the key player in the region Damascus. Many consider that the French attempt, “to play Iran against Syria is very hazardous”. French Foreign Minister said that, “we judge that we do not need to enter into discussion with Syria” and replied to the question whether Javier Solana, The High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, should go to Damascus, “Ce n’est ni d’actualité ni souhaitable”. French daily Liberation is very critical towards the French refusal to negotiate with the Baathist regime of the Syrian President Bachar al-Assad. The French newspaper is questioning the French strategy of referring to Iran when in fact “this country is the true sponsor of Hezbollah”. The article also reports that the French President called the Italian PM Prodi to prevent the establishment of a telephone contact between the Italians and Syria. In an interesting interview to the Italian Corriere Della Sera, Israeli PM Olmert, apart from stating that he was happy to see Italy win the world cup (he did not mention that he was happy to see the French lose), said, “Prodi is a good friend, but what results did his telephone conversation with Assad produce?”

On the other hand it seems that the EU reached a consensus on the support of the French plan for the political resolution of the conflict to be presented at the UN SC. The essence of the French plan is to have an immediate cease fire, to reach a political agreement for Lebanon and to deploy an international peace keeping force in which France is ready to play a leading role said in an interview to the Figaro French Foreign Minister. France’s defence minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, said in an interview published Tuesday that any international force should have 15,000 to 20,000 troops, far larger than the current UN force posted there, and have rules of engagement that would permit its soldiers to open fire when necessary. On the contrary US President Bush continues talking of supporting the Lebanese “young democracy” and restoring Lebanese military control over its southern border with Israel. The French Plan provides for the future multinational force to be headed by UN, not NATO, because, as the French Foreign Minister argues, NATO led force “risks being considered by the public opinion in the region as a Western force”. There we plans to send a UN military contingent led by France and Turkey. Spanish El Pais writes that Spain is ready to send up to 800 troops to the international military mission in Lebanon. Moreover, Spanish experts consider that the contingent must have 10,000 to 20,000 soldiers, act under Chapter VII of the UN Charter which authorizes the use of force against all parties in order to assure that the previously designed political agreement is respected. The contingent must count on a generous financial and military European contribution, although the presence of some Arab country would be desirable, consider Spanish experts. Spanish seem to agree to a French led contingent but arguably prefer (for reasons of technical and military efficiency) that the operation is directed by NATO. Italy is also said to be ready to send troops to Lebanon but, in line of the Political Programme of the new PM Prodi, strictly as a part of the UN led peace-keeping force. Apart from these countries Belgium, Sweden, Ireland, and as already mentioned, possibly Germany, seem ready to send troops to Lebanon. Turkish army is ready to send up to 1500 soldiers to Lebanon but is asking for a clarification of the mandate of such a force before deployment.

As far as the US is concerned, although he branded the killing of dozens of Lebanese civilians by Israel’s military forces as “awful”, US President Bush continues to see the situation in Manichean terms (that essentially suit his political calculus), for Bush, what we see in the Middle East is the clash of forces of freedom and the forces of terror. US administration remains fully supportive of Israel’s military activities and to counterweight that calls for a “sustainable” cessation of hostilities. Bush also called directly on Iran and Syria to stop supporting terrorism in the Middle East. To counterbalance the mentioning the murder of civilians in Qana, Bush had to add that “…million Israelis are worried about rockets being fired from their, from their neighbour to the north.” US administration can continue to full heartedly support Israel because, as NY Times notes, White House officials are convinced that despite the recent criticisms from the Congress Republicans, “president was not yet facing serious erosion of domestic political support for his approach to the Middle East.” Israeli Jerusalem Post made an interesting analysis of the US policy towards the crisis in Lebanon. According to this report, US support to the Israeli actions comes from the very top of the administration, the White House. What seemed at first as lack of decisiveness of the US Foreign Policy, now appears rather as a “meticulously elaborated strategy”. Jerusalem Post argues that US has a unique opportunity to bring some order in this unstable region, to clean Lebanon of Hezbollah and reinforce the democratic government in Beirut.

[In order to read quoted newspaper articles in different languages using an automatic and free web translator please visit this web site]

[UPDATE: For an interesting report on the crux of French-US/Israel disagreement over the strategy of deployment of the international force see here, "While most of the international community is likely to back the French demand for an immediate end to the fighting, followed by a cease-fire agreement to allow for the deployment of an international force to police such a truce, the U.S. is insisting that there be no demand for a halt to Israel's offensive until a mechanism is in place to disarm Hizballah. These differences are not diplomatic hair-splitting — they reflect profound differences over the fate of Hizballah. The only acceptable outcome for the U.S. is a defeat for Hizballah, because if the movement survives the onslaught with its independent military capability intact, it will be seen throughout the Arab world as the victors.
But the French, who are currently the prime candidates to lead an international force, are making clear that the international community is not going to finish the job for Israel, and will only police a cease-fire when one has been agreed to by the Lebanese government, which includes Hizballah. In other words, it won't try to disarm Hizballah unless Hizballah has agreed to be disarmed. And the only formula likely to achieve that objective on the basis of the current battlefield situation would be an agreement among Lebanese parties to somehow incorporate Hizballah's fighting forces into the Lebanese Army — which may not be quite what the U.S., and certainly not Israel, had in mind."]

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Symposium organized by a Blog

Interesting initiative launched by Opinio Juris. A symposium organized by a Blog on an interesting topic: Challenges to Public International law.
I am sure many will respond enthusiastically.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Lebanon 2006-Respect for Humanitarian law vs. right to exist

On 12 July 2006 in the morning Hezbollah, Iran and Syrian sponsored terrorist organization used the territory of Lebanon to attack Israel’s territory and its army, sever soldiers were killed and two abducted. Israel attacked mounting bombardments an ground offensive on Lebanon that for the moment counts more than 500 civilian victims. Hezbollah on its own part continues to counter the humanitarian norms of international law by continuous launching of inaccurate missiles into the territory of Israel. We are currently facing numerous potential conflicts related to the situation in Lebanon, first and most obvious conflict between Israel and Hezbollah and Israel and the Lebanese army, second diplomatic (although uneven) tug of war between the US and certain EU states over the strategy for the resolution of the conflict, thirdly a conflict between the terrorist organizations over popularity in the Arab World, Al Kaeda seem to feel its popularity being under threat vis-à-vis Hezbollah, fourthly conflict between the Suni Arab World (Saudis, Egypt) and Iran and Syria etc.

Antonio Cassese, a prominent Professor of international law, and an ex-judge and President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (1993-2000), in an article, “Beyond every legal principle”, published in the print edition of the Italian daily newspaper “La Repubblica”, analyzes the situation in Lebanon from the point of view of international law and gives a generally interesting twist to the debate on the present conflict in this country.

Cassese writes, that in normal circumstances, attack on the border patrol of one country from a territory of a neighbouring country would require immediate negotiations and the state from which the attacks occurred would have to immediately act in order to repatriate the hostages and to conduct a thorough inquiry to punish the guilty party. Israel’s immediate bombardments of Lebanon, were nevertheless justified because, in the case of Lebanon, Cassese writes, the actions of Hezbollah do not represent actions of a State, “but came from Armed Forces that operate in Lebanon escaping the control of the Lebanese government. Therefore it would not have served anything to demand from the authorities of Beirut the repair the damages inflicted by the illicit acts.” Yet, Cassese adds, initial justified reaction of Israel, went beyond the rules of international humanitarian law.” Then Cassese carries on to name several incidents in which Israel tried to justify each of its actions while bombarding Lebanon (e.g. bombarding of the Beirut international airport was necessary in order to prevent Hezbollah receiving more arms etc.) These justifications are not convincing for this eminent Italian jurist, he says, “if a singular military operation may appear justified, the ensemble of actions exposes the radical disproportion between the evident aim (to place term to the attacks of Hezbollah and to obtain the restitution of the hostages) and means used (the immediate destruction and on immense scale of all the Lebanese infrastructure, with most serious effects on the civil population). For Casssese, and most of the ‘international community’ bombardments of Cana and the murder of children is undoubtedly an example of such excess.

On the other hand, Cassese obviously does not seem close to the political sensibility of Giuliano Amato, his colleague professor and Italian Minister of the Interior and ex-Prime Minister, who argued that it is absurd to talk about proportionality, “as if we were talking about accountancy and not about the survival of a state [hinting at Israel].” (according to Cassese’s commentary) In another article in the Italian daily Corriere Della Sera Amato argued similarly, “Israel is, for nth time in the history, facing the same troubles, to know itself surrounded by enemies who deny its right to the existence ".

Facing the probability of sending a massive international peace keeping force to South Lebanon, Amato’s arguments seem weak. However, facing the low probability of mounting an effective (politically and militarily) international force, it can be argued that Israel has the right to be worried (which still does not justify the excessive victims caused by the collateral damage of Israeli bombings).

Arguably, if effective, this international force would also, to a certain extent, contribute to the feeling of security of the state of Israel. It is for the moment politically unrealistic but worth considering of sending such a force on the divisive line between Israel and Palestine, such a solution would not be without benefits for the people of Israel. Israel’s politicians are sceptical, they are asking for more time and they seem to be ready to accept international involvement only if NATO (read the US, not the UN) plays the leading role in this.

Recent Italian attempt to reach an international agreement on resolving the present Middle Eastern Crisis for the moment failed. American administration still seem reluctant (although the situation is changing) to put the pressure on Israel to accept the terms offered by some other international actors. Today the Council of the European Union met to discuss the situation in Lebanon and there is a likelihood that some agreement, amongst other thins, on the international force will be reached. Simultaneously, in the US, a prominent Republican Senator Hagel in an eloquent speech, challenged President’s current stance on Lebanon, urging President Bush to turn all U.S. efforts toward "ending this madness," and calling for an immediate cease-fire in the Mideast.

Numerous US based think tanks seem to be critical of the US lenience towards Israel, among which International Crisis Group in its brand new report Israel/Palestine/Lebanon: Climbing Out of the Abyss and the Brookings Institution.

It remains unclear how can this international force be constituted (will US be playing a significant role in the military contingent – which seems extremely unlikely bearing in mind the current situation of extreme global military overstretch) and what are the prospects for Hezbollah agreeing to international demands to accept the Lebanese government's authority and begin the process of disarming? Can the conflict between the Palestinian Authority and Isreal be resolved in a simmilar manner?

The Judge (Emperor) is Naked!!

Jeremy Waldron reviewed Ronald Dworkin's latest book Justice in Robes on the New York Review of Books. (you can only access it in full if you're subscribed).

It is not a particularly good review, which probably mirrors the fact that it is not a particularly good book. The usual Dworkin, but this time much more aggressive towards its critiques. Posner, Rorty and others are vigorously (if not violently) treated and the argument does not benefit out of it.

The only interesting piece is an article on value pluralism in response to Isaiah Berlin. Dworkin attempts to play down value pluralism, but he is not quite convincing. Especially not so when he concludes in the end that it is better to hope that the sacrifices predicted by value pluralism could be avoided. We all hope that no sacrifices are necessary to live together in a harmonious society. But, the hope is very thin and should not disguise the necessity of some trade-offs. In particular that hope should not prevent us from understanding when and how to deal with sacrfices of value.

The end of Castro?

The news that Fidel Castro, 'lider maximo' of Cuba, has handed to his brother the power because of a health problem has been met with different reactions.
Le Monde simply says that this is an interim situation, while the italian Corriere della Sera emphasizes the possibility of a more permanent move. The New York Times, underrates the news by referring to a temporary problem.

Given that Castro is 80 years old and his health seems to be worsening, it would be interesting to imagine a post-Castro scenario. Would his brother command as much authority as Fidel? Would the expats go back to Cuba if Castro died? Would the regime change? I believe we'll know more about this fairly soon.