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Is absolute freedom of speech a realistic aim? 31 July 2006

Posted by TwentyTwoYards in Hypocrisy, World gone mad... or is it just me?.

Continuing the theme of ‘freedom of expression’ I started a few weeks/months/decades ago here , and the theme of copying my comments on other blogs and pretending these are real posts I started here, I post today with some disparate thoughts on the myth around ‘free speech’. This is a myth in two ways:

(a) everyone assumes free speech and freedom of action are inherently good, and represent worthy ideals to pursue in their own right – that’s clearly not the case, and in fact to believe that absolute freedom is a ‘good’ in its own right is an absurdity – it’s merely a means to an end, the end being a stable, just and fair society; and

(b) it is widely believed that the Western nations practice free speech in its absolute sense and the rest should aspire to, and in fact we are lectured and hectored on how we don’t have enough of this freedom.

As I hinted at a few weeks ago in here, the trend in most Western societies is towards fewer freedoms for the individual, and more restrictions on what he may eat and drink and inhale, where he may go, what work he may do, what he may say and even in some cases, what he may think (the most notorious example of the latter being the odious hate crimes legislation in the UK, where any crime becomes much worse not due to its consequences, but merely due to what the perpetrator may have been thinking; so if the Judge decrees the perpetrator had a certain motive / thinking behind the crime, eg a racial motive, the sentence may end up twice as long!).

So these restrictions on the individual, whether in the name of health and safety, or personal welfare, or societal wellbeing, are getting to be ever-present and even all-pervasive in these allegedly free societies – people are no longer free even in the comfort of their own homes, with the blinds drawn and the doors locked…

Despite this, some Muslims, especially those living in the lands of the East, seem enamoured with the chimera of the Western freedoms. Some argue that, for instance, banning books such as the truly vile Rushdie diarrhoea, or the disgusting insults published as “cartoons”, we should merely ignore them. Those who advocate for absolute freedom also sometimes argue that banning anything merely forces it underground, and adds to its allure. Makes sense, no?

No. This is a misleading hypothesis. The argument that “banning something only adds to its allure” can be used by everyone from those arguing for the legalisation of child-porn to those who say that Class A drugs (heroine, cocaine, etc) should be licenced, taxed and dispensed over the counter… at your local supermarket.

On the face of it, this “argument” appears to have some merit: Does banning drugs create a worldwide drugs cartel, making it perhaps the second most lucrative criminal business (after Halliburton, of course ;-)) Yes. Does banning child porn in the end victimise poor, defenseless children in truly horrible and vile ways? Perhaps. Should we legalise both? Never. Why? Because some things are so vile or disturbing that one has to stop them, using the full force of the law if needed.

Merely ignoring such evil is not the sensible nor the decent response. In fact, we are down a slippery slope indeed if we abdicate all our responsibilities to speak up against evil, in the misuigded belief that arguing against it merely gives it the valuable oxygen of publicity. Perhaps it does, but staying silent is worse… as Edmund Burke may, or may not, have said: ” All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing…

Hence, ignoring Rushdie, or Jyllands-Posten was, in my humble submission, not an option, just as ignoring PNAC or the neo-cons would be a dereliction of duty for all serious journalists and bloggers. Of course, I am not condoning violent behaviour of any kind or even unnecessary threats of violence – private individuals have no right to take the law in their own hands. But I am all in favour of condemnation, and other peaceful and polite protest or lobbying – especially when, for instance in the case of Jyllands-Posten, the horrific and oppressive cartoons were part of a much broader narrative of diminishing Muslim rights in Denmark.

In our lighter moments, we may be enticed by the seemingly attractive argument that everyone should have a right to their speech and their views – indeed they should, but then this right is never absolute, is it? Those whose views involve fetishing young children, or propagating murderous fantasies involving defenceless women, find that most countries actually criminalise these very views and statements. Similarly, try praising, or questioning, the official version of the Shoah in most European/Western countries, and one may get a nasty shock. For that matter, the recent avalanche of “anti-terror” legislation in many countries creates and criminalises a whole range of ‘thought-crimes’.

As such, free speech, or even freedom of thought, seems to be far from universal even in the West – those societies have their own sensibilities, their own taboos and their own values, some of which may not make any sense to us Easterners. Given that, I fail to see what’s so wrong about our societies having our own sensibilities and values?


The five myths… 31 July 2006

Posted by TwentyTwoYards in The 'Zionist Entity'.

There is so much happening and so little time to think and contemplate, let alone write about it. So, with apologies to all 2.4 of you readers, I am going to treat this blog as an online scrapbook for the time being; a little morsel here, an interesting snippet there… The lack of personal insight, analysis and original thought is bound to annoy the purists out there (yes, I mean you!) but will have to do for the time being, I’m afraid…

I begin by copying an article from Jonathan Cook, which despite being almost a week old, is still very relevant. In fact, this article’s relevance increases with time; with every passing day, these Zionist myths become more entrenched in the popular imagination.

Five Myths that Sanction Israel’s War Crimes

by Jonathan Cook

July 25, 2006

This week I had the pleasure to appear on American radio, on the Laura Ingraham show, pitted against David Horowitz, a “Semite supremacist” who most recently made his name under the banner of Campus Watch, leading McCarthyite witch hunts against American professors who have the impertinence to suggest that maybe, just maybe, Arabs have minds and feelings like the rest of us.

It was a revealing experience, at least for a British journalist rarely exposed to the depths of ignorance and prejudice in the United States on Middle East matters — well, apart from the regular whackos who fill my e-mail in-tray. But five minutes of listening to Horowitz speak, and the sympathy with which his arguments were greeted by Laura (“The Professors — your book’s a great read, David”), left me a lot more frightened about the world’s future.

Horowitz’s response to every question, every development in the Middle East, whether it concerns Lebanon, the Palestinians, Syria or Iran, is the same: “They want to drive the Jews into the sea”. It’s as simple as that. Not even a superficial attempt at analysis; just the message that the Arab world is trying to finish off the genocide started by Europe. And if Laura is any yardstick, a lot of Americans buy that stuff.

Horowitz is keen to bang the square peg of the Lebanon story into the round hole of his claims that the “Jews” are facing an imminent genocide in the Middle East. And to help him, he and the massed ranks of US apologists for Israel — regulars, I suspect, of shows like Laura’s — are promoting at least four myths regarding Hizbullah’s current rockets strikes on Israel. Unless they are challenged at every turn, the danger is that they will win the ground war against common sense in the US

The first myth is that Israel was forced to pound Lebanon with its military hardware because Hizbullah began “raining down” rockets on the Galilee. Anyone with a short memory can probably recall that was not the first justification we were offered: that had to do with the two soldiers captured by Hizbullah on a border post on July 12.

But presumably Horowitz and his friends realized that 400 Lebanese dead and counting in little more than a week was hard to sell as a “proportionate” response. In any case Hizbullah kept telling the world how keen it was to return the soldiers in a prisoner swap.

Hundreds of dead in Lebanon, at least 1,000 severely injured and more than half a million refugees — all because Israel is not ready to sit down at the negotiating table. Even Horowitz could not “advocate for Israel” on that one.

So the chronology of war has been reorganized: now we are being told that Israel was forced to attack Lebanon to defend itself from the barrage of Hizbullah rockets falling on Israeli civilians. The international community is buying the argument hook, line and sinker. “Israel has the right to defend itself,” says every politician who can find a microphone to talk into.

But, if we cast our minds back, that is not how the “Middle East crisis,” as TV channels now describe it, started. It is worth recapping on those early events (and I won’t document the long history of Lebanese suffering at Israel’s hands that preceded it) before they become entirely shrouded in the mythology being peddled by Horowitz and others.

Early on July 12 Hizbullah launched a raid against an army border post, in what was in the best interpretation a foolhardy violation of Israeli sovereignty. In the fighting the Shiite militia killed three soldiers and captured two others, while Hizbullah fired a few mortars at border areas in what the Israeli army described at the time as “diversionary tactics.” As a result of the shelling, five Israelis were “lightly injured,” with most needing treatment for shock, according to the Haaretz newspaper.

Israel’s immediate response was to send a tank into Lebanon in pursuit of the Hizbullah fighters (its own foolhardy violation of Lebanese sovereignty). The tank ran over a landmine, which exploded killing four soldiers inside. Another soldier died in further clashes inside Lebanon as his unit tried to retrieve the bodies.

Rather than open diplomatic channels to calm the violence down and start the process of getting its soldiers back, Israel launched bombing raids deep into Lebanese territory the same day. Given Israel’s worldview that it alone has a right to project power and fear, that might have been expected.

But the next day Israel continued its rampage across the south and into Beirut, where the airport, roads, bridges, and power stations were pummeled. We now know from reports in the US media that the Israeli army had been planning such a strike against Lebanon for at least a year.

In contrast to the image of Hizbullah frothing at the mouth to destroy Israel, its leader Hassan Nasrallah held off from serious retaliation. For the first day and a half, he limited his strikes to the northern borders areas, which have faced Hizbullah attacks in the past and are well protected.

He waited till late on June 13 before turning his guns on Haifa, even though we now know he could have targeted Israel’s third largest city from the outset. A small volley of rockets directed at Haifa caused no injuries and looked more like a warning than an escalation.

It was another three days — days of constant Israeli bombardment of Lebanon, destroying the country and injuring countless civilians — before Nasrallah hit Haifa again, including a shell that killed eight workers in a railway depot.

No one should have been surprised. Nasrallah was doing exactly what he had threatened to do if Israel refused to negotiate and chose the path of war instead. Although the international media quoted his ominous televised message that “Haifa is just the beginning,” Nasrallah in fact made his threat conditional on Israel’s continuing strikes against Lebanon. In the same speech he warned: “As long as the enemy pursues its aggression without limits and red lines, we will pursue the confrontation without limits and red lines.” Well, Israel did, and so now has Nasrallah.

The second myth is that Hizbullah’s stockpile of 12,000 rockets — the Israeli army’s estimate — poses an existential threat to Israel. According to Horowitz and others, Hizbullah collected its armory with the sole intent of destroying the Jewish state.

If this really was Hizbullah’s intention in amassing the weapons, it has a very deluded view of what is required to wipe Israel off the map. More likely, it collected the armory in the hope that it might prove a deterrence — even if a very inadequate one, as Lebanon is now discovering — against a repeat of Israel’s invasions of 1978 and 1982, and the occupation that lasted nearly two decades afterwards.

In fact, according to other figures supplied by the Israeli army, at least 2,000 Hizbullah rockets have already been fired into Israel while the army’s bombardments have so far destroyed a further 2,000 rockets. In other words, northern Israel has already received a fifth of Hizbullah’s arsenal. As someone living in the north, and within range of the rockets, I have to say Israel does not look close to being expunged. The Galilee may be emptier, as up to a third of Israeli Jews seek temporary refuge in the south, but Israel’s existence is in no doubt at all.

The third myth is that, while Israel is trying to fight a clean war by targeting only terrorists, Hizbullah prefers to bring death and destruction on innocents by firing rockets at Israeli civilians.

It is amazing that this myth even needs exploding, but after the efforts of Horowitz and Co. it most certainly does. As the civilian death toll in Lebanon has rocketed, international criticism of Israel has remained at the mealy-mouthed level of diplomatic requests for “restraint” and “proportionate responses.”

One need only cast a quick eye over the casualty figures from this conflict to see that if Israel is targeting only Hizbullah fighters it has been making disastrous miscalculations. So far some 400 Lebanese civilians are reported dead — unfortunately for Horowitz’s story at least a third of them children. From the images coming out of Lebanon’s hospitals, many more children have survived but with terrible burns or disabling injuries.

The best estimates, though no one knows for sure, are that Hizbullah deaths are not yet close to the three-figure range.

In the latest emerging news from Lebanon, human rights groups are accusing Israel of violating international law and using cluster grenades, which kill indiscriminately. There are reports too, so far unconfirmed, that Israel has been firing illegal incendiary bombs.

Conversely, the breakdown of the smaller number of deaths of Israelis at the hands of Hizbullah — 42 at the time of writing — show that more soldiers have been killed than civilians.

In fact, although no one is making the point, Hizbullah’s rockets have been targeted overwhelmingly at strategic locations: the northern economic hub of Haifa, its satellite towns and the array of military sites across the Galilee.

Nasrallah seems fully aware that Israel has an impressive civil defense program of shelters that keep most civilians out of harm’s way. Unlike Horowitz I won’t presume to read Nasrallah’s mind: whether he wants to kill large numbers of Israeli civilians or not cannot be known, given his inability to do so.

But we can see from the choice of the sites he is striking that his primary goal is to give Israelis a small taste of the disruption of normal life that is being endured by the Lebanese. He has effectively closed Haifa for more than a week, shutting its port and financial centers. Israeli TV is speaking increasingly of the damage being inflicted on the country’s economy.

Because of Israel’s press censorship laws, it is impossible to discuss the locations of Israel’s military installations. But Hizbullah’s rockets are accurate enough to show that many are intended for the army’s sites in the Galilee, even if they are rarely precise enough to hit them.

It is obvious to everyone in Nazareth, for example, that the rockets landing close by, and once on, the city over the past week are searching out, and some have fallen extremely close to, the weapons factory sited near us.

Hizbullah seems to have as little concern for the collateral damage of civilian deaths as Israel — each wants the balance of terror in its favor — but it is nonsense to suggest that Hizbullah’s goals are any more ignoble than Israel’s. It is trying to dent the economy of northern Israel in retaliation for Israel’s total destruction of the Lebanese economy. Equally, it is trying to show Israel that it knows where its military installations are to be found. Both strategies appear to be having an impact, even if a minor one, on weakening Israeli resolve.

The fourth myth is a continuation of the third: Hizbullah has been endangering the lives of ordinary Lebanese by hiding among non-combatants.

We have seen this kind of dissembling by Israel and Horowitz before, though not repeated so enthusiastically by Western officials. The UN head of humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland, who is in the region, accused Hizbullah of “cowardly blending” among the civilian population, and a similar accusation was leveled by the British foreign minister Kim Howells when he arrived in Israel.

In 2002 Israel made the same charge: that Palestinians resisting its army’s rampage through the refugee camps of the West Bank were hiding among civilians. The claim grew louder as more Palestinian civilians showed the irritating habit of getting in the way of Israeli strikes against population centers. The complaints reached a crescendo when at least two-dozen civilians were killed in Jenin as Israel razed the camp with Apache helicopters and Caterpillar bulldozers.

The implication of Egeland’s cowardly statement seems to be that any Lebanese fighter, or Palestinian one, resisting Israel and its powerful military should stand in an open field, his rifle raised to the sky, waiting to see who fares worse in a shoot-out with an Apache helicopter or F-16 fighter jet. Hizbullah’s reluctance to conduct the war in this manner, we are supposed to infer, is proof that they are terrorists.

Egeland and Howells need reminding that Hizbullah’s fighters are not aliens recently arrived from training camps in Iran, whatever Horowitz claims. They belong to and are strongly supported by the Shiite community, nearly half the country’s population, and many other Lebanese. They have families, friends and neighbors living alongside them in the country’s south and the neighborhoods of Beirut who believe Hizbullah is the best hope of defending their country from Israel’s regular onslaughts.

Given the indigenous nature of Hizbullah’s resistance, we should not be surprised at the lengths the Shiite militia is going to ensure their loved ones, and the Lebanese people more generally, are not put directly in danger by their combat.

If only the same could be said of the Israeli army and air force. One need only look at the images of the victims of its strikes against residential neighborhoods, car, ambulances and factories to see why most of the dead being extracted from the rubble are civilians.

And finally, there is a fifth myth I almost forgot to mention. That people like David Horowitz only want to tell us the truth.

Jonathan Cook, a British journalist living in Nazareth, is the author of Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State, to be published next month by Pluto Press. His website is: www.jkcook.net.


A glimpse into Musharraf’s Pakistan… 16 July 2006

Posted by TwentyTwoYards in Land of the pure...and the not so pure.

Some things don’t need any further comment….

On September 6, 1965, Major Muhammad Taj and his unit were directed to get to the Khokhara Par border in Tharparkar district. Their assignment was to recapture Shakarbu ranger post some six miles away which had been occupied by the Indian army. They arrived at dawn to find activity on the Indian side. Major Taj attacked with a mobile force consisting of 16 men with MGs and RRs. The post was captured. Soon after, a rapid advance was made on the post by two Indian tanks accompanied by two rifle companies. Taj and his men opened fire, and L/Naik Khushi Muhammad took out on both tanks. Taj engaged the advancing Indians with mortar and machnegun fire, forcing them to withdraw, leaving behind a number of dead and two wrecked tanks. For this action, Taj was awarded Sitara-e-Jurat and Khushi Muhammad the Tamgha-e-Jurat.

Lt Colonel Muhammad Taj won his second SJ in 1971, in recognition of his performance in Dhaka during military action and the subsequent march to Rajshahi, fighting a number of battles en route. He crossed the Brahmaputra river, with its rapid flow, under the most adverse circumstances to capture Nagarban where battles were fought against the Mukti Bahini and defecting East Pakistan Regiment rangers.

This twice decorated officer retired from the army as a brigadier, and for many years has been living peacefully in his home (his castle?) in Islamabad. Peacefully, that is, until nine days ago. Why — is explained in a letter sent by Brigadier Taj to President General Pervez Musharraf on July 2 :

“Last night, an ISI major in plainclothes who called himself Tipu, with some 10 men also in plainclothes, armed with automatic weapons, entered my house and beat me, my daughter-in-law and my two grandsons.

“They kidnapped us and took us away to a deserted location where they threatened us with death if my grandson did not cooperate with them in identifying the children who had been involved in a playground incident with the relatives of a senior ISI officer.

“I told them that I was not aware of the incident but could ask the people in the neighbourhood to identity the children involved. We were brought to Faizabad in a convoy of at least five vehicles where the major proceeded to threaten the residents, and beat up and kidnapped another two boys. My daughter-in-law and grandsons were sent away to an undisclosed location by the major. In the meantime, a crowd of local residents gathered, freed me and took the major into custody. The Islamabad police, who had been called by the residents, arrived and took the major away.” Brigadier Taj went to the I-9 police station, filed an FIR, and then another ISI officer (also in plainclothes) appeared. Taj explained the situation to him, and the officer, a Colonel Nisar, ordered the release of Taj’s daughter-in-law and grandsons. They were dropped at a deserted location near his house in Sector I-8/4 an hour or so later. All three had torn clothes and were bruised and battered.

His letter ends : “I am 80 years old now and can only look to you, Sir, as the President of Pakistan and the Chief of the Pakistan Army that I also proudly served, to restore my dignity as an ex-army officer and protect my basic rights as a citizen of Pakistan, and to order immediate action against all officials involved in this criminal act.”

There were many witnesses to the incident that took place on the night of July 1. Three houses on Street 86, I-8/4 were targeted by armed men in two separate cavalcades of double-cabined vehicles. From one house, an ailing teenager awaiting heart surgery was dragged out of his house, thrown on to the street, beaten and then thrown into one of the vehicles. His mother tried to come to his aid but she was pushed aside, her clothes torn, and she also was loaded into a vehicle. Brigadier Taj was slapped, pushed, roughed up, and pushed into one of the double cabins, and the cavalcades sped away.

The mother and her sons were taken to the G-9 office of the ISI while Brigadier Taj was taken to Faizabad to identify the other teenagers involved. Two other boys were picked up and sent to an agency ‘safe house.’

What has happened since then? Well, on July 6, the Director-General of the Inter Services Public Relations, Major-General Shaukat Sultan expressed his ‘regrets’ over the incident. In his own words : “The incident is most unfortunate and extremely regrettable. This has been taken note of at the highest level. I assure you we are very concerned about the incident and action will be taken.” Strong words from a strong man!

Major ‘Tipu’ is supposedly a Pakistan Military Academy-trained man. What sort of men does this proud institution spawn, and who teaches them what?


And yes, I know the above is not a ‘proper‘ update and probably would not meet knicq and orchid’s exacting standards; I also acknowledge that the above is mere anecdotal evidence, no more, and in a land of 160 million, one elderly man’s plight counts for little, however heroic and venerated that man might have been. However, sometimes, one has to cut through the shocking statistics and the mind-numbing numbers; the staggering illiteracy rates, the large number of suicides, the crimes, the poverty, the helplessness… all that is rendered almost sterile in bland economic facts. Sometimes, one has to cut through all that, and glimpse life at the purely personal level; maybe because we can only empathise with people we can relate to, and not with empty statistics (or with statisticians for that matter!). And it is at that personal level that we get to see the true and shocking reality of the military junta, where Musharraf’s crimes against Islam, against Pakistan and against humanity really hit home…

Blogging..oh well..! 15 July 2006

Posted by TwentyTwoYards in Everything doesn't need a category....
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There used to be a blog here… feels like a long time ago, but I do remember walking on these shores along the information superhighway (more like a narrow pot-holed street, to be honest) and coming across an almost functioning weblog.

Sadly, that no longer seems to be the case, so let’s try and revive it, shall we – especially now that 2 of the 2.4 readers of this site have taken notice and umbrage at the lack of updates. Before the missing 0.4 begin a widespread revolt or even a revolution, I think I should get my act together. 

But first, the following gem from knicq bhai deserves to be …umm…dealt with:

There ought to be a law against people not updating this long….

I am not about to believe you are out of topics to blog about…

There’s the whole frenzy surounding the FIFA world cup, and if not that I am sure you have something to say about ICC’s decision not to allow appeals against the umpires because such appeals would ‘undermine the authority of an umpire’. Now there’s a juicy topic…

Et tu Knicq bhai? This criticism feels somewhat rich, coming as it does from the slowest updater since updates were invented.

Anyway, I have three words for you: pot, kettle, black

No wait a minute, I also have two more: glasshouses, stones

Itne saray topic hain toh aap in par zara roshni daliye, laal-tain main faraham kar doun ga – on many of these, you probably have a lot more worthy and interesting things to say than I would! Magar nahin, aap toh apnay aamoun sai hi aagay nahi barh rahay! Lagta hai the only posts we will get out of you for the next two months will be about some sweet n’yellow fruit.

Toh majbooran, as the mentor is on ‘mango-duty’, I will have to step into the breach…

And knicq bhai, the issue is not a lack of topics – its the opposite. One has so much to say, one doesn’t quite know where to begin! ;-)