Thursday, June 30, 2005

Ransom and Terror in Iraq

(With Update)

The following is a chart representing the evolution of civilian casualties in Iraq. I have adapted it from the Brookings Institution publication here [pdf-file]. The Brookings data is taken in turn from the anti-Iraq War website "Iraq Body Count" (IBC). Via a remarkable sort of moral contortionism, the latter manages to hold the Iraq War Coalition, and, of course, first and foremost the United States, responsible for Iraqi civilians killed in terrorist attacks by the anti-government Iraqi insurgents. I doubt that IBC's statistical methodology would be any more capable of holding up to scrutiny than its moral reasoning is. It does, however, have the advantage for my purposes here of reflecting the media reports on Iraqi violence that are driving the current debates on American policy in Iraq. Please note that the June figure is just an extrapolation from the previous trend, though a glance at the IBC data base suggests that an extrapolation from IBC partial data for June would result in a roughly similar figure. Here then is the chart:

(click on image for larger version)

The red arrows I have placed along the x-axis mark the dates of presumed ransom payments to hostage-takers. The exact dates and episodes are given below. The figures in parentheses represent either the reported amount(s) of a ransom payment or an amount demanded by the hostage-takers prior to release. The governments of the states involved (Italy, France, Romania, and the Philippines) have, of course, typically denied paying ransom or refused to comment.

September 1, 2004: KGL (Kuwait Gulf and Link) Truckers ($500,000)

September 28, 2004: The "Two Simonas" ($1 million)

December 21, 2004: Malbrunot and Chesnot ($6 million [demanded])

March 4, 2005: Giuliana Sgrena ($1 million - $13.4 million)

May 22, 2005: Romanian Journalists (?)

June 12, 2005: Florence Aubenas ($15 million)

June 22, 2005: Roberto Tarongoy ($1.4 million)

Note that the spike in civilian deaths in April 2004 is presumably linked to the siege of Fallujah and that in June 2004 to heightened terrorist activity aimed at disrupting the transfer of sovereignty. If one corrects for these two anomalies, the correlation between civilian casualties in Iraq and ransom payment would be more striking. One wonders if the Malbrunot and Chesnot release in late December - celebrated in France as a "Christmas present" - did not in fact serve to finance the wave of terrorist attacks that accompanied the Iraqi elections the following January.

(Note: For background, see "More Euros for Terror?" and these follow-ups:

"Follow-Up: The Release of Florence Aubenas"
"Oops! She (Florence Aubenas) Did it Again..."
"That's What Friends Are For"
"Letter from Baghdad"

If readers know of other presumed or confirmed cases of ransom payments that I may have overlooked, please let me know, either in the comments below or at Thanks!)

(Note 2: Many thanks for the nod from Michelle Malkin ("Blood Money Begets More Blood"), one of the few American commentators to have emphasized the connection I've tried to illustrate above [see here, for instance]. Michelle also points me to reports of ransom payments in the cases of two Filipino hostages. Having just started to familiarize myself with the details, my initial reaction is that the more recent case of Roberto Tarongoy likely does belong to the series of, so to say, "economic hostage takings", whereas in the earlier case of Angelo de la Cruz the Filipino government's denials regarding a ransom payment are at least plausible - namely, inasmuch as it caved on the hostage-takers' political demand that the Filipino troop contingent in Iraq be withdrawn. I'll continue to collect feedback from readers today on possible ransom payments and then update the chart tomorrow.)


I have added a seventh red arrow to the x-axis to mark the June 22 release of the Filipino hostage Roberto Tarongoy. Again, my thanks to Michelle Malkin for bringing this case to my attention. It has been my general methodology here to presume the payment of ransom in the absence of any political demands being met - or, of course, if the payer has confirmed such payment (as in the KGL episode). This is just to apply Occam's Razor. Any other assumption - such as, "the jihadis had a change of heart" - is more complicated, more arbitrary and less plausible. In the Tarongoy case, the kidnappers demanded ransom, so one can presume they eventually received ransom. Shortly before the release of Tarongoy, they also apparently put forward a political demand: namely, that the Philipinnes should assure that no Filipino citizens travel to Iraq. But inasmuch as such a ban was formally already in place - Tarongoy had himself violated it in entering Iraq - the hostage-takers presumably agreed to make such a demand in order to provide some margin of deniability for the Arroyo government regarding a ransom payment.

Others who know more about this case than I are most welcome to add comments or drop me a line at

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

"Foreign Guest Workers" or "Guest Foreign Workers"?

(With Update)

On the American Future blog, Marc Schulman points to an English-language offering on Spiegel Online that accuses renegade former SPD Party Chair Oskar Lafontaine of right-wing "populism" (or, more exactly, "run-of-the-mill populism", whatever that is supposed to be), and thereby implicitly racism, for having used the word Fremdarbeiter. The expression is quite simply the literal German translation of "foreign worker", of which there are in fact more than a few in Germany and about whom it can hardly be especially controversial to talk. But the Spiegel's eagle-eyed observer Charles Hawley knows otherwise, since as he points out: "that, after all, is what Hitler called them". By "them", Mr. Hawley apparently means the foreign workers employed in the Nazi Reich, albeit - happily for present day circumstances - for the most part under rather different conditions than the foreign workers employed in Germany today.

In any case, this accusation is sure to become a commonplace in English-language treatments of German politics in the weeks ahead. If the Spiegel says it, the NYTimes cannot be far behind. (The same rule, incidentally, works in reverse as concerns American politics.) So, permit me to reproduce here my comment to Marc's post:

There are many reasons to dislike Oskar Lafontaine. Racism has never been one of them. It is normal for a politician to be concerned about the effects of immigration on the state budget, as well indeed as on social equilibrium of various sorts. This is not tantamount to being opposed to immigration and it is certainly not tantamount to being racist. (The same observations, btw, could be made vis-a-vis the case of Pim Fortuyn, who paid with his life for such distortions.) Because of the racist [or, if one prefers, "racialist"] definition of nationality in German law - about which you will not read anything in the Spiegel - and the immigration privileges accorded to "German nationals", i.e. "ethnic" Germans, from other countries, most immigration to Germany in the last 15 years has been precisely of such "ethnic Germans". Oskar Lafontaine loudly criticized the budgetary effects of this, in effect, "open door" policy for "ethnic" Germans - a stance that took some courage or perhaps recklessness, since the topic is taboo in Germany, where "solidarity" with "other" Germans, i.e in the ethnic sense, is taken for granted.

In general, I would recommend taking everything you read in Spiegel's English service with a large grain of salt. The German version looks very different. The English version is taqqiya...


The German version of Spiegel Online divulges that its crack team of researchers had discovered the same alleged "Nazi term" Fremdarbeiter on two sites connected to the SPD – hardly an astonishing discovery given that the term is used in both cases in the context of discussing European labor markets and precisely, uh,... foreign workers. But since Lafontaine committed his alleged faux pas on June 17, one of the two sites has deleted the term and substituted for it the in Germany more common – and apparently too politically more acceptable – term Gastarbeiter or “guest worker”. On a little reflection, however, it is evident that it is precisely the term “guest worker” that is the problematic one, since it not only implies that the workers in question are (horrors) foreign, since otherwise they would not have to be “invited”, but that they will stay that way: i.e. that their residence in Germany is in principle limited and always remains at the discretion of their German “hosts”. This is in fact the assumption upon which the major waves of labor immigration to Germany in the 1960s and 1970s took place. And, despite the partial liberalization of German citizenship law in 1999, it continues to be the assumption that obtains today, even though in the meanwhile generations of “guest workers” – note the bizarreness of this formula “generations of guest workers” that in Germany is, nonetheless, banal – have become de facto permanent residents. The legal treatment of these "guest workers" contrasts markedly with that of "ethnic German" immigrants who have a virtually automatic claim to German citizenship (since, in the sense of nationality peculiar to German law, they are recognized as being already "German nationals").

(Note: For more on the history of “guest workers” in Germany, see, for example, Rogers Brubaker’s Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany, an Amazon link to which is available in the sidebar. And for comments of mine on the Brubaker book that might help to clarify some of the above distinctions, see the annotated version of my "Völkisch" Ideology Reading List.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Nazi War Crimes: Protecting the Perpetrators?

So-called "human rights activists" have placed their calls for the creation of an international criminal jurisdiction like the International Criminal Court (ICC) under the banner of bringing an "end to impunity" - namely for the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The supposed urgency of their appeals is frequently underscored by alleged analogies between current or fairly recent events and the crimes, more specifically, of Nazi Germany. These same activists are, however, curiously silent when it comes to the actual perpetrators of Nazi war crimes, many of whom are living out their days in a comfortable retirement in, among other places, Germany.

Last Wednesday, an Italian court in La Spezia, Tuscany found ten former members of the Waffen SS division “Reichsführer” guilty of mass murder for their roles in the massacre of some 560 residents of the village of Sant'Anna di Stazzema on 12 August 1944. 300 Waffen SS are supposed to have entered the village that day searching for Italian partisans. Some 80% of their victims, according to a report in the Neue Züricher Zeitung, consisted of women, children, and elderly, many of them killed by handgrenades tossed by the SS men into the buldings where the villagers were attempting to hide. The Austrian paper die Presse describes the following scene:
More than 130 people kneeling and praying with the pastor in the square in front of the church are shot. The Germans drag the wooden benches from the church, pile them on top of the corpses, pour gas on them and set them on fire.

The English-language press – many of whose most prominent representatives have been so quick to accuse others (notably, Serbs in the 1990s) of “Nazi-like” crimes – have virtually ignored the Italian court decision. (For an exception, see the Times of London here.)

The court sentenced the ten men to life-long imprisonment. But none of them will serve their sentences, since Germany refuses to extradite Nazi war criminals. This attitude is particularly notable when one considers that Germany recently passed a so-called International Criminal Code into German law that gives German courts the right to try suspects for war crimes and crimes against humanity no matter their nationality and no matter where their alleged crimes are supposed to have been committed. Even before the “International Criminal Code” was passed into law, German courts in fact already pursued several such cases – notably, against Bosnian Serbs – in the name of the so-called Principle of Universal Jurisdiction. And, as I have discussed at length here, German officials - in presenting Germany as the vanguard in the struggle against impunity for war criminals - militated for similar provisions to be included in the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court. The Italian court, by contrast and in conformity with the old-fashioned principle of territorial jurisdiction - the indispensable basis for any coherent system of international law in the customary sense of the term - was merely claiming to try the ten German men for crimes they committed precisely on Italian territory.

German Nazi war criminals seemingly have less to fear from the German courts than do alleged Serb war criminals. Since the announcement of the La Spezia judgment and presumably in response to the public pressure created by the latter, the Stuttgart district attorney’s office has announced that it too is now investigating nine of the ten SS men convicted by the Italian court - and has even thrown in five additional suspects for good measure. But as Gabriele Heineke, a German lawyer representing the Association of the Victims of Sant’Anna, has noted in an interview with the website German-Foreign-Policy.Com:

There is a real need to find out how it was possible that the perpetrators could live in Germany for 60 years without being bothered in the least. They did not even have to hide. Their names, I have to assume, can be found in any phonebook.

I noted above that advocates of the International Criminal Court and other supposed institutions of "International Criminal Justice" have sought to underscore the urgency of their cause by way of alleged analogies between current or recent events and Nazi war crimes and/or crimes against humanity. On closer inspection - as I have shown in detail here for the specific case of the Kosovo crisis - these supposed analogies frequently turn out to be wildly overdrawn and implausible. One crucial difference that needs to be kept in mind is that most recent cases of alleged widespread war crimes or crimes against humanity occurred, as in the former Yugoslavia, in the context of civil conflicts. Nazi war crimes and crimes against humanity occurred in the context of Nazi Germany's acts of aggression against and subsequent occupation of other states. This is very clearly laid out in the Nuremberg indictments, where the unleashing of wars of aggression is the principal charge against Nazi officials, under which all the other charges are subsumed. It is interesting to note that the states that are party to the ICC statute have not even been able to agree upon a legal definition of the international crime of aggression - and they do not appear to be in any particular hurry to do so.

The notable complacency with respect to actual Nazi war criminals displayed by "human rights activists" and international "opinion-makers" leads one to wonder whether the point of the increasingly shrill campaign in favor of "international criminal justice" is in fact to prevent the repetition of Nazi war crimes - as according to the publicity - and not rather to relativize them and/or exploit their memory for contemporary political ends.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Letter from the East River: UN Staffers Protest Political Partisanship at the UN

When UN staff protest the increasingly blatant political partisanship of UN officials and point out the incompatibility of such partisanship with UN regulations and indeed the very mission of the UN as set out in the UN Charter, this deserves to be taken notice of and publicized as much as possible. In early May, the NY Sun’s Benny Avni revealed [requires registration] that a group of 12 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) staffers had filed a complaint with the division’s Office of Audit and Performance Review against UNDP Internal Communications director Justin Leites for having taken up a position last fall in the Kerry-Edwards campaign.

With no action having been taken on their complaint in the meanwhile, the 12 whistleblowers have now followed up with a letter addressed directly to Mark Malloch Brown, the outgoing UNDP Administrator who recruited Mr. Leites to the UN – according to the staffers, “without …going through proper… procedures" – and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s Chief of Staff. Benny Avni again has the story in The Sun here. And Mediacrity blog has nothing less than the full text of the staffers’ letter to Mark Malloch Brown. It concludes, in no uncertain terms, as follows:
We call on you to dismiss Justin Leites from UNDP forthwith for his violation of UN regulations, and issue an immediate public statement making it abundantly clear that you do not condone, much less encourage such behavior. The integrity of the UN and UNDP, the effectiveness of UNDP work, and the lives of our colleagues demand no less. We fear continuing complicity and inaction on your part will maintain a precedent encouraging more staff members to interfere in a partisan manner at all levels of politics in member states – an illegal and dangerous practice that will soon destroy our organization. You as Administrator and the Secretary-General's Chief of Staff, of all people - you who are quick to hold your peers in the UN System to account - should know better and should stop setting and perpetuating such an appalling example. We expect you to do the right thing without further delay.
The story here is not only that a UN staff member should have taken up a post with the Kerry-Edwards campaign, but that the staffer in question should be, as the 12 rebel staffers put it, a “protégé” of Mr. Malloch Brown. This provides further evidence of one of the linkages in what I have previously described as “a kind of ‘triple alliance’ among the EU, the UN bureaucracy, and the Democratic Party elite.”

Friday, June 24, 2005

Letter from Baghdad

With the expulsion from Iraq of French freelancer Anne-Sophie Le Mauff [link in French], Iraq's black market in French journalists - rumored to be worth some many millions of euros a piece from the French government when seized as hostages - has taken a serious hit. Regular readers of Trans-Int may remember Ms. Le Mauff from "Le Soir Might be Identifying with the Iraqi 'Resistance' Too Much", an April post in which I quoted her describing a fallen member of Moqtada al-Sadr's "Mahdi Army" as a "martyr". Ms. Le Mauff has seen that post too. (Oh, how I remember the days when it was the first hit on a Google search of Ms. Le Mauff's name! Now those shameless American lackeys in the so-called Iraqi government have gone and ruined all that by expelling her.) From the tenor of the message I received from her last week, I gather she was not entirely pleased with it.

Asking whether I have ever been to Iraq, Ms. Le Mauff offered that my knowledge of the country [about which, incidentally, I have never claimed to have any particular knowledge - but never mind] was based more on "mental masturbation than lucidity [sic.]". In order to correct this pitiful state of affairs, Ms. Le Mauff suggested I come to Irak, where she promised to introduce me to the locals in Sadr City, as well as to "some of the most extreme Sunni, so that in the future your claims will be more well-founded and developed." It is a shame that it appears now that I will not be able to take up Ms. Le Mauff's invitation, though I think I might have passed anyway.

Ms. Le Mauff's mail ends with the following affirmation:
I have been in Iraq for more than a year now and I am neither anti-American, nor pro-resistance. However, I am terrified by negationism.
The impressively self-righteous non-sequitur with which her message finishes will seem rather puzzling - unless one compares some of Ms. Le Mauff's recent published statements. Thus in a June 15 AP story [link in French], Ms. Le Mauff is quoted as follows in response to reports that French authorities had encouraged her to leave Iraq:
The French authorities have to understand that freedom of the press is essential to keep the country informed and that journalists absolutely cannot abandon Iraq, given that Iraq will become a second Darfur.
I'm sure we would all be very interested to know just how Iraq threatens to become "a second Darfur" in the absence of vigilant journalists such as herself. Since Ms. Le Mauff in the same interview from which this quote is taken says that the treatment of Iraq cannot be left to the "journalists of the coalition", the latter not being "sufficiently neutral" (Dear Ms. Le Mauff, have a look at the NYTimes: you needn't worry about a dearth of negative reporting on Iraq in your absence), it is presumably, on her view, from Coalition forces that the danger is supposed to originate.

Iraqi authorities have evidently understood that what Ms. Le Mauff continues to call in her mail to me the Iraqi "resistance" - while claiming she is not "pro" - is drawing important financing
from its hostage-taking operations. The expulsion of journalists like Ms. Le Mauff, who flaunt their good connections to the "resistance" and whose governments are prepared to negotiate their release when they are conveniently taken hostage by the same, is not a matter of freedom of the press or its limitation. It is a matter of Iraqi security.

(Note: For background, see "More Euros for Terror?".)

Victor Klemperer on “Fanaticism”: A Historical Parenthesis

In my comment on the so-called German “werewolves” who continued to fight the Allied occupation forces even after the May 1945 capitulation of Nazi Germany, I wrote:
for anyone who knows anything about Nazi ideology and the fanaticism it bred, regrettably, within large swathes of German society, it is quite simply ludicrous to suggest that all Germans quietly laid down their arms just because Admiral Doenitz (in an act that many undoubtedly regarded as an act of treason) signed a piece of paper.
Indeed, as the philologist Victor Klemperer, in his classic study of the language of the Third Reich, LTI (Lingua Tertii Imperii), has noted, Nazi Germany may have been the first society in the everyday discourse of which the term “fanatical” [fanatisch] was typically invested with positive connotations. Here is Klemperer:
On holidays, on Hitler’s birthday, on the anniversary of the [Nazi] seizure of power, there was no newspaper article, no message of congratulations, no appeal to the troops or in any organization that did not contain a “fanatical pledge” or a "fanatical avowal”, that did not bear witness to the “fanatical belief” in the eternal existence of Hitler’s Reich. And that during the war, and indeed precisely as the military setbacks could no longer be kept quiet! The more dismal the situation became, the more often was affirmed the “fanatical belief in the final victory”, in the Führer, in das Volk or in the fanaticism of the Volk as a fundamental German virtue.
I will leave it to Arabists to say whether an analogous usage is to be observed in the discourse of the Islamists. (The linguist Latifa Ben Mansour in fact draws liberally upon Klemperer’s LTI in her study of Islamist discourse Frère Musulmans, Frère Féroces [literally, "Muslim Brothers, Ferocious Brothers"].)

Victor Klemperer’s LTI is, incidentally, available in English.

I cannot vouch for the translation. But for detailed insight into the workings of Nazi ideology, Klemperer’s study - based on the daily record of life in the Third Reich represented by the author's journals - is difficult to surpass.

Thursday, June 23, 2005


A reader has taken issue with my passing reference in yesterday's post on "German Normality and Hamas" to the German "werewolves", i.e. the diehard Nazi loyalists that continued to "resist" the Allied occupation forces even after the formal capitulation of Nazi Germany in May 1945. The German term "Wehrwolf" - not the traditional "Werwolf" of legend - is in fact a play on the German verb "[sich zu] wehren", meaning "to resist". Given the role played by allusions to the "werewolves" - and outright denials of their existence - in recent debates concerning post-war reconstruction and "resistance to occupation" in Iraq, my response might be of interest. It is here.

I am afraid - despite some interesting developments concerning the market for French hostages in Iraq - that is all I have time for today. Check back tomorrow for more...

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

German Normality and Hamas

On the theme of the allegedly merely "technical" EU-Hamas contacts, Matt at Eurabian Times points me to this article from The Jerusalem Post on meetings between Hamas and what Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar, without naming names, identifies as a senior German government official. Hamas spokesperson Mushir al-Masri – whose “Hamas is open to dialogue with all countries, except with the Zionist enemy” I cited in my previous post on the subject – is also quoted in the article, confirming the contact with the German official and placing it in the broader context of Hamas contacts with EU officials (here identified, n.B., as “top EU officials”). “We are telling them that the resistance (against Israel) is legitimate and should not be seen as terrorism,” Mr. al-Masri says: “We are also reminding the Europeans that their resistance against occupation was never considered terrorism.”

It is interesting that Mr. al-Masri should speak of “reminding the Europeans that their resistance against occupation was never considered terrorism” in confirming reported contacts with a German official. Evidently, it must be the “resistance” of Nazi remnants – the so-called “werewolves” – to the Allied occupation following the defeat of Nazi Germany that he had in mind.

I asked Matthias Küntzel whether he had come across anything more on this story in the German media. He said that he had not noticed any reports in the local press on the German contacts with Hamas. The remainder of his response is worth quoting at length:
And why should there be any? Here the elections in Iran are regarded as fully democratic and contact with Hamas as normal.

The crazy ones are just those in the USA, who, in the words of the former German government spokesperson Klaus Bölling (SPD) “want to force a form of democracy upon the peoples of the Middle East that fits the pious and peaceable adherents of Islam about as well as the proverbial saddle on the cow” [letter to the editor in Tuesday's [21 June] Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung].

The largest public radio (Deutschlandfunk) broadcast a report this morning [21 June] that ended with the voice of Barghouti and his words to the effect that the Gaza Strip evacuated of the colonies would be just a “concentration camp surrounded by a big wall”. The station had nothing to say about
the attempted suicide bombing yesterday morning by the Palestinian woman who wanted to blow herself up in a hospital.

For anyone here who does not consult English-language sources (and who does?), it is as if one lived in quarantine.

To my mind the new insouciance of Europe in its relations with Hamas is an expression of a shift in the relations between the EU and the US. When the US was strong, the Europeans found themselves obliged to curtail their contacts to Islamist terror or at least to appear to do so. Today, the Bush administration seems prepared to come to terms with the European approach.

When Condi was asked on 16 June 2005 "What's your reaction about the contacts between the EU's officials and Hamas movement?", her response was:

"Our EU colleagues fundamentally understand that Hamas cannot be in a position of threatening the peace process with arms and then say it is a part of the political process. I think that is something that we share." (

Such nice words will not moderate the anti-American course of the EU, but rather encourage it. Leaving this aside, any implicit suggestion about what Hamas can or cannot be expected to do is grotesque. Gerald M. Steinberg makes this point particularly clear in his June 19th article in the Jerusalem Post titled
“The ‘Pragmatic’ Hamas Myth”.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

That's What Friends Are For

(Note: For background, see "More Euros for Terror?" and the follow-ups here and here.)

Today is the annual “Fête de la Musique” in France – a hugely popular publicly-funded outdoor music festival. As reported here [link in French], participants all across the country will be invited at 9 PM sharp to intone together George Brassens’ sentimental favorite “Les copains d’abord” – roughly, “Your Pals Come First” - in honor of none other than Florence Aubenas and Hussein Hanoun.

Florence et Hussein

In place of informed debate on the highly questionable foreign policy orientations of its government, a once great nation is being offered infantilizing kitsch – and it is not the first time. Perhaps they can also have a go at Bert and Ernie's

Bert et Ernie

timeless classic "But I Like You" [real audio sample!].

Oops! She (Florence Aubenas) Did it Again...

(Note: For background to this post, see "More Euros for Terror?" and "Follow-Up: The Release of Florence Aubenas".)

The “Florence and Hussein” show has been all over the French media since the arrival in Paris last Thursday of Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi, former translator and guide of Libération reporter Florence Aubenas in Iraq and her alleged co-hostage during her period of detention by still unidentified hostage-takers. On Sunday, the remarkably fit looking duo even put in a surprise appearance at the annual aviation industry fair at Le Bourget.

As Gudrun Eussner reminds us on her German language blog, the two are supposed to have been freshly liberated from five months of captivity, blindfolded and with hands bound, in a 2 x 4 x 1.5 (high) meter cellar, i.e. in which they could not stand up and which, according to Hussein Hanoun, they were permitted to leave only “once or twice” a day to go to the bathroom. The ever alert Gudrun also brings to my attention the following intriguing remark made by Florence Aubenas at the air show (and reported in this AP article [link in French]):
I'm really just here because Hussein was a pilot. When we worked together in Baghdad, and then when we were taken hostage, it’s true that it’s something about which we always talked, how he loved planes and that when he would come to France, he would go see where he did his training as a pilot. It was like a dream for him.
Hitherto, Florence Aubenas has insisted that she was not permitted to talk to the, on her account, one other hostage with whom she shared her captivity and that when she once tried she received a beating. Indeed, she has claimed that the ban on talking was so complete that she did not even come to realize that her fellow inmate was Hussein Hanoun until shortly before her release.

Hussein Hanoun was a fighter pilot in the Iraqi air force, in which capacity he flew French-made Mirage fighter jets that he learned to pilot in France. The above-cited AP article notes tersely that "after his demobilization from the Iraqi air force in 1991, he went into business."

Monday, June 20, 2005

Bertelsmann or Who Does Not Understand the Meaning of "Nein"

Over on the English version of Kosmoblog, Ulrich Speck has posted a response to my remarks in "The Meaning of 'Nein'" on his assessment of the current condition of the EU "Constitution": i.e. dead or (if just barely) alive? Read it here.

I agree with Ulrich that the likeliest strategy of the Europeist elites now will be to repackage all the essential elements of the "Constitution" in a new treaty - and, above all, to make sure that no member state submits this "new" treaty for ratification by referendum. Indeed, as Ulrich points out, the Munich-based Center for Applied Policy Research (CAP) has - helpfully - already provided a draft of such a treaty, calling it a "Treaty for the Reform of the Treaty of Nice" [link in German].

The CAP is funded by the Bertelsmann Foundation, the in-house foundation (and majority shareholder) of the privately held Bertelsmann media empire (comprising, among other divisions, RTL television and radio, Gruner + Jahr magazine group, BMG music, and Random House books). By its own reckoning [link in German], the Bertelsmann Foundation disposed of a budget of some €64 million in 2004. There is much more to be said about Bertelsmann and the enormous influence it exercises over EU politics - as well indeed as its excellent contacts in the Clintonista circles of the Democratic Party. It was Bertelsmann, via its Random House subsidiary, that in 2001 paid Bill Clinton an astronomical advance of over $10 million - the largest advance for a non-fiction volume in the history of book publishing - for the literary dud that would be his "My Life" memoirs. (At the time, Roger Strauss of Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux remarked that the size of the deal was "particularly strange", since there had been no competitive auction, and noted that he "did not see how" a profit could be made on it.) It was also Bertelsmann that gave Joel Klein, former chief of the anti-trust division of the Clinton Justice Department - i.e. he who on strict anti-trust grounds could have, but did not oppose Bertelsmann's takeover of Random House - extremely gainful employment as CEO of Bertelsmann, America starting in January 2001, i.e. almost immediately upon Klein's leaving public office. When Klein left Bertelsmann a year and a half later to become Chancellor of the New York City public school system, his position with the company was not filled.

But all that for another day....

(Note: While at Kosmoblog, see too Ulrich's post on the farce regarding the EU budget and the British "rebate" - a farce appropriately labelled "Fatal Distraction" by the ever entertaining and insightful EURSOC - that the German-French duo staged in Brussels last week.)

Mob "Democracy"

In "The Bolivian Troubles, 'Race War', and the ICC" and "What's Ahead in Bolivia: Getting to Know Evo Morales", I noted the pernicious consequences for democracy when the state's monopoly on the legitimate use of violence is undermined. So-called "human rights" organizations, by putting on the same plane the use of force by state organs and violence committed by non-state actors - or even, which is more typical, denouncing the former far more strenuously than the latter - encourage this development and the International Criminal Court (ICC) represents its apotheosis.

Friday's storming of Kyrgyz government headquarters provides further evidence. In its weekend edition (18-19 June), the Neue Züricher Zeitung comments:
To put it somewhat provocatively, the astonishingly quick victory of the protest campaign against the Akayev regime in March has led to a situation in Kyrgyzstan in which whoever has enough money rounds up a mob as they like and sends it into the street. Since a real transformation of Kyrgyz political institutions has not yet even begun..., the clashes on Friday are not likely to be the last.


An unidentified European diplomat, as quoted in Friday’s (17 June) Le Figaro, on recent EU contacts with Hamas:
We have had technical diplomatic contacts with Hamas, but this does not mean a change of European policy with respect to this movement that continues to be on the European Union’s list of terrorist organizations.

Does this mean that the EU would also be prepared to have “technical diplomatic contacts” with Al-Qaeda?

Incidentally, EU contacts with Hamas are nothing new. I discussed earlier contacts, and, notably, the role of the EU in “facilitating” meetings between Hamas and Fatah, in this April 2003 article. A November 2002 Hamas-Fatah “summit” in Cairo was attended by Alistair Crook, the Security Advisor of then EU Middle East Envoy (and current Spanish Foreign Minister) Miguel Moratinos. (See, for instance, “Terrorists, Liberals, and the EU”, Jerusalem Post, 15 November 2002). What seems to be new is the EU’s willingness or perhaps even desire to have the contacts publicized. If one is to judge by Javier Solana’s quick backdown last November after having mentioned meetings with Hamas to the BBC, it was until recently still EU policy to deny them.

As I wrote in my 2003 article, “it is revealing that the EU should regard as a legitimate interlocutor an organization whose very Charter, among other things, denies Israel the right of existence, excludes in principle any peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict, and makes allusion to the infamous 19th century forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – the standard text of “Jewish conspiracy” theories – as if it were an authentic historical document.” EU officials are said to believe that they can have a “moderating” influence on Hamas. To judge by the reaction of Hamas spokesperson Mouchir al-Masri, this might take some doing. “Hamas is open to dialogue with all countries,” Mr. al-Masri is quoted as saying in the above-cited article from Le Figaro, “except with the Zionist enemy....”

(Note: In light of the similarities between Hamas and Fatah, Matt at Eurabian Times finds the EU-Hamas contacts hardly surprising.)

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Meaning of "Nein"

(With Update)

In “The Europe of 2½”, I noted that in the last desperate days prior to the French referendum on the EU “Constitutional Treaty”, French partisans of a “yes” vote knew of no better argument to counter the rising tide of the “no” than to suggest that in the event of a rejection of the text “our German friends” would be disappointed…, even angry perhaps. I’m not sure just which “German friends” they had in mind. Maybe Gerhard Schröder or the would-be “father” of the EU “Constitution” Joschka Fischer. Or perhaps the euro-maniacal Social Democratic court philosopher Jürgen Habermas and his literati/culturati friends like Günter Grass (whose hysterical and vaguely menacing appeal for a French “yes” vote is reproduced in English here - and for pertinent comments from Ulrich Speck see here [scroll down to footnote 2]).

But evidently they did not have in mind the German people. A new poll conducted by the Infratest-Dimap Institute for the television news magazine "Kontraste"(ARD) [link in German] shows only 42% of the German public giving support to the EU “Constitution”. 44% of respondents said they were against it.

Ulrich Speck has an interesting post (in English!) here on the significance of the poll and the current state of play of the ratification process in Germany (no, contrary to what one may have been led to believe, Germany has not yet ratified the text). Highly recommended!


A detail from Infratest-Dimap's monthly "Deutschland Trend" survey [link in German] reinforces the findings of the poll conducted for "Kontraste". Asked whether they wanted to see the "development towards a united Europe" pursued further, stopped at its present state or "in certain respects reversed", only 43% of respondents opted for the further pursuit of the unification process. An absolute majority, 53%, wanted the process either stopped (27%) or reversed (26%).

Nonetheless, there is one element in Ulrich's excellent analysis about which I am not so sure. Ulrich writes:
The constitution is dead, burned, everybody knows it. But instead of talking openly about it, the European leaders prefer to give the impression that the process will continue. That's exactly the kind of theater that European citizens are fed up with - political elites who regard citizens as too stupid to understand the wise and enlightened decisions the elites have made, in the name of the people.
I wish it were theater. It is undoubtedly true that for the moment they are improvising. But I am afraid that these people will not take "no" for an answer - unless they are forced to do so. Was it not Luxembourg's Prime Minister and current President of the European Council Jean-Claude Juncker [link in French] who before the French referendum famously remarked: "If it is 'yes', we'll say: we're going ahead; if it's 'no', we'll say: we continue"? I share Richard North's suspicion that reports of the death of the "Constitution" may be "greatly exaggerated".

I said that these people will not take "no" for an answer - unless forced to do so. In a democratic society, the way to do this ordinarily is to sanction at the ballot box any national leader or party that ignores the will of the people. But in today's Europe this is not so obvious, since in many European countries the establishment parties are all equally and unconditionally committed to the "European project". This is most blatantly the case in France, where despite their mutual sniping and contempt, the alternation between the successive Gaullist formations and the Socialist Party (PS) has absolutely no consequences on the European level. It is this disheartening spectacle - and not the vile racism and xenophobia of the French masses, as delicate spirits in editorial offices in Paris and New York would have it - that explains the recent electoral successes of the National Front (FN). As a French specialist in European "far right" movements put it to me, the FN vote is a "ventilator vote": via it a substantial part of the French electorate vent their frustrations at the political establishment - and another substantial part keeps their frustrations to themselves and does not vote at all.

Despite appearances to the contrary, the "pause" in the process of ratification put on offer at the European Council meeting in Brussels represents a victory for those who want to save the "constitution-treaty". If the process of ratification goes ahead now according to the original schedule, this would likely entail an avalanche of "no" votes in countries such as Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, and, of course, the UK where the electorate would be given the opportunity to express itself by referendum. The Europeists cannot afford this, and to postpone referendums just because they know under current circumstances they will lose them is yet further expression of their contempt for public opinion and, more fundamentally, democracy itself.

The one referendum that presumably cannot at this point be postponed is that scheduled for July 10 in Luxembourg. Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker has promised that he will resign in the event of a "no" vote. Some weeks ago such an outcome seemed virtually impossible. But since the French and Dutch referendums, even in the exorbitantly wealthy Grand Duchy the "no" vote has been gaining ground.

Will the sanctioning process begin?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

What's Ahead in Bolivia: Getting to Know Evo Morales

(Note: for background, see "The Bolivian Troubles, “Race War”, and the ICC".)

Out of area - but maybe not so much. Evo Morales - loser at the ballot box in 2002, but now thanks to last week's bloodless coup with good prospects of becoming President of Bolivia in the near future - adapts many of the same phantasms that nourish (and indeed are nourished by) contemporary European anti-Liberalism to Latin American circumstances. An interview that Morales gave in June 2002, during the electoral campaign, to the Spanish-language version of the Réseau Voltaire website (Red Voltaire) should give cause to pause about what to expect from an eventual Morales presidency. Indeed, the mere fact that Morales gave an interview to the Réseau Voltaire should give cause to pause. The Réseau Voltaire is the brainchild of Thierry Meyssan, the French anti-American conspiracy theorist who rocketed to fame in 2002 with the publication, two months before the Morales interview, of his L’Effroyable imposture (translated into English as “9/11 The Big Lie”). In his book, Meyssan famously claimed that no plane struck the Pentagon on 9/11 and that the planes that struck the WTC were not piloted by Islamist terrorists, but remote controlled from the ground – all, needless to say, as part of some fiendishly clever US government plot to steal Middle Eastern energy resources and dominate the world…and so forth and so on.

As I noted in “The Bolivian Troubles, ‘Race War’, and the ICC”, Evo Morales’s comrade in struggle, the “indigenous leader” Felipe Quispe – in the Réseau Voltaire interview, Morales calls him “my brother” – speaks of a “race war” and wants to drive out the "white invaders" from Bolivia. Evo Morales, however, has a more inclusive political vision. While railing against “multinationals”, “international financial organisms” and “the American Embassy” (from which, he has claimed, Bolivia is governed), he suggests that his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) is representative of all Bolivians – or almost all, at any rate. Maybe just not any Jews. Thus, in conversation with the Réseau Voltaire, Morales noted that students from the Catholic University of La Paz had helped produce his apparently highly popular campaign ads. This remark seemed to take his interlocutor by surprise. “Students from the Catholic University?” he asked. “Of course,” Morales responded:
The MAS is not just a peasant movement. It has succeeded in inspiring youth from the middle and even the upper classes. Why? The answer is simple: because we represent dignity,…because we have a place for everyone. Think about it. Goni [then presidential candidate Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada who would go on to win the 2002 elections] paid a bunch of gringos and Jews three million dollars to come and make “The Dirty War” and other traditional spots that have almost no credibility. In contrast, our kids with the cameras of amateurs – the same cameras with which they filmed their birthdays – but with a profound knowledge of our mentality, have made really nice things.

A remark made by Morales last December and cited from the Bolivian daily El Deber on the Barrio Flores blog gives some idea of his understanding of democracy. Significantly, the context for it was deliberations conducted by the Bolivian congress on whether to ratify a so-called “Article 98” agreement with the United States that would protect American military personnel from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court [ICC] while on Bolivian territory (viz. even though Bolivia is a party to the ICC statute.) “To approve [this treaty] would be like saying that we are like little animals…,” Morales raged, “If it is necessary we should set fire to the Congress, even if they say we are attacking democracy.”

The ICC is apparently one international institution that Morales likes. This even though, as I have shown here, its statute is so designed as practically to guarantee that it will be beholden to the political calculations of coalitions of its richest members (which, for the moment, means in practice the EU) - thus serving to strip poorer member states like Bolivia of important elements of their sovereignty more surely and more durably than any international financial institution could. Nonetheless, Morales's enthusiasm is hardly surprising. He has also repeatedly called for Sánchez de Lozada, who was driven from power in October 2003 following violent clashes between protestors and security forces, to be charged before the ICC. By challenging the state's monopoly on the legitimate use of violence and threatening to prosecute state officials who would make use of the latter to preserve public order, the ICC strengthens the so-called "power of the street" in the same proportion as it diminishes the power of democratic institutions. And Evo Morales clearly counts on the power of "the street".

Follow-up: The Release of Florence Aubenas

(Note: for background, see “More Euros for Terror?”.)

Robert Ménard of Reporters Without Borders on the French Foreign Ministry’s claim that no ransom was paid for the release of Florence Aubenas:
Everyone knows that it is not true. But it does not shock me that a ransom was paid. I do not know of any case of hostage-taking where one does not pay a ransom.
Ménard added:
The Minister is right not to say that a ransom was paid. It’s his role to say that there was no ransom and nothing given in exchange. Of course, something was given in exchange. Otherwise, they [the hostages] would not be here.
(Source: Interview on television channel Canal+, 13 June, via Le Monde.)

Also of interest, this passage from a chronology of the liberation of Florence Aubenas and Hussein Hanoun published in the newspaper Liberation [link in French] for which Aubenas works:

Before taking them to the place where they were to be liberated, the hostage-takers explain to Florence and Hussein how they will get through the numerous American and Iraqi checkpoints along the route: “You, you’re a journalist, you present yourself as such, you show your real papers. Hussein is your translator. That’s his role.”

Apart from all the other questions this account raises – notably concerning the coordination, or lack thereof, between the French authorities, on the one hand, and the American and Iraqi authorities, on the other: Was not Hussein Hanoun in fact Florence Aubenas’s translator?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Forthcoming: What's Ahead in Bolivia

Out of area - but maybe not so much. Evo Morales - loser at the ballot box in 2002, but now thanks to last week's bloodless coup with good prospects of becoming President of Bolivia in the near future - adopts many of the anti-liberal phantasms of the European "left" to Latin American circumstances. Whereas his comrade in struggle Felipe Quispe wants to drive out the "white invaders", Evo Morales has a more inclusive vision: he merely wants to protect Bolivia from the malignant influence of "gringos and Jews".


(For background, see "The Bolivian Troubles, “Race War”, and the ICC".)

Monday, June 13, 2005

More Euros for Terror?

Having gone missing in Iraq in early January and later confirmed to be detained by an unidentified group of hostage-takers, the reporter for the French leftist daily Libération, Florence Aubenas, and her Iraqi guide and translator, Hussein Hanoun, were yesterday released. The former French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, who is being credited with having obtained their release, says [link in French] that the hostage-takers made no particular demands: "The liberation of Florence and Hussein has been the result of a work of dialogue". Well, as the example of Barnier's predecessor in office and the current French Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, makes clear, French officials are known to be good talkers. But Barnier's claim would seem more plausible if he let the rest of the world in on just what he has been talking about with the Baathist forces who are presumed to have been responsible for Ms. Aubenas's abduction. A pattern of recent abductions – markedly different from the earlier round of abductions in Iraq in that the hostages generally emerge from their presumed ordeals with heads still attached to their bodies – makes clear that the hostage-taking industry has become a major source of financing for the so-called Iraqi "insurgency". I discussed this pattern in my post last month on "Schadenfreude and Realpolitik: France and Iraqi Violence":

The last several months has seen a disturbing pattern emerge, according to which overtly anti-American, “pro-resistance” journalists and aide workers are taken hostage and then, following secret negotiations with their home governments, set free: the “two Simonas”, Giuliana Sgrena, and the two French journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot. A journalist from the French lefty paper, Libération, Florence Aubenas – who, oddly, disappeared just days after Chesnot and Malbrunot were set free – is still being held hostage. When Chesnot and Malbrunot were set free and repatriated to France in December, French authorities denied having paid any ransom, but admitted to having conducted negotiations – euphemistically described as a “political dialogue” by [then] current French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier – with the hostage takers. On what points exactly did the French negotiators satisfy the demands of the latter? We do not know. Given the large affinity between France's Iraq policy and the objectives of the Jihadi/Baathist alliance in Iraq, there was indeed virtually nothing in the way of political concessions that France could have offered, and on the one point on which France could have made a concession to the Islamists - namely, on the issue of the headscarf ban - it did not do so.

Just before the release of Aubenas, the Director General of the NGO Reporters Without Borders, Robert Ménard claimed [link in French] that her abductors had demanded a ransom of some $15 million. “There is no release of hostages unless something is given in return,” he noted, “and ... there is necessarily a demand for money. One prefers to refer to these sums of money as ‘lodging costs’, but when the sums are large obviously we are talking about ransom.” The French Foreign Ministry immediately denied Ménard’s claim about the ransom demand and Ménard politely offered that he had “misspoken”.

The three Romanian hostages who were released in late May after two months captivity in Iraq have claimed that they shared quarters with Aubenas and have even gone into great detail about their admiration for her strength under duress. Oddly, upon her arrival in France at the military base of Villacoublay, Florence Aubenas denied the Romanians’ claim. In the meanwhile, however, Michel Barnier has conceded [link in French] that Florence Aubenas and the three Romanian were indeed held in captivity together. Remarks made by the Romanian President Traian Basescu in a long interview he gave on Romanian television last Monday [6 June] regarding the conditions of the Romanian hostages’ release might help to explain this odd hesitation. Reports in the European press at the time of the Romanians’ release suggested that appeals from Romania’s virtually non-existent “Muslim community” had managed to soften the hardened hearts of the hostage takers. Without going into details, Basescu, as cited by the daily Evenimentul Zilei [link in Romanian], offered a less sentimental account of how their release was obtained: “We gave something in exchange to obtain their liberation. But we are not going to make public what it was, since another state is implicated in the affair.”

Another odd detail in the Aubenas affair gives further cause to ponder the possibility of a certain complicity between the hostage takers and at least some of their supposed victims. Several reports in the European press have speculated that the abduction of Malbrunot and Chesnot and that of Aubenas are somehow connected. In a short article in today’s Le Figaro, Malbrunot himself notes that Aubenas’s fellow hostage Hussein Hanoun “played a role at the beginning of our abduction: it was he who accompanied to the French Embassy in Baghdad an intermediary bearing a piece of paper on which was to be found our names, our signatures, and the remark ‘okay’. This was 23 August, three days after our capture.” “But Hussein’s role was minor,” Malbrunot adds reassuringly. He also notes a further continuity between the two affairs: “According to several sources, the abductors of Florence Aubenas are tied to the deposed Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein, as were some of ours.” This is a particularly interesting observation on the part of Malbrunot, since officially he and Chesnot were abducted by a radical Islamist group calling itself the Islamic Army of Iraq. So much for the assumption that Islamists and Baathists cannot work together....

In an interview in today’s Le Monde, Hussein Hanoun speaks warmly of his captors, describing them as “Sunni and Salafist – rather moderate, I think”: “They were very, very nice to me during the whole time we were held captive. You understand: they are Islamist Iraqi patriots....”

(Note: As Eric Svane at "No Pasaran" has discussed, Malbrunot's and Chesnot's own "guide" in Iraq - the Syrian Baath Party member Mohammed Al-Joundi - has likewise expressed sympathy for the hostage-takers who are supposed to have held him captive along with his French employers.)

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Thank You

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Friday, June 10, 2005

(Out of Area) The Bolivian Troubles, “Race War”, and the ICC

Wednesday’s Neue Züricher Zeitung (NZZ) had these interesting observations [link in German]concerning the Bolivian protest movement that brought down the government of President Carlos Mesa and the movement's principal leaders and presumptive political beneficiaries Evo Morales and Felipe Quispe:
The most important demand [of the protest movement] is the nationalization of the raw materials sector, since poor Bolivians – so the tenor of this discourse of “class struggle” – have looked on long enough as foreigners carted away their natural resources. The opposition is not prepared to accept the law on the exploitation of natural gas and oil reserves that was recently passed following all the rules of Bolivian democracy and that burdens enterprises with higher taxes.

All of this has little to do with democracy. Those who believe that veritable popular masses are behind the protest movement are fooling themselves: it does not require much or many to bring this Andean country to a standstill with blockades and evidently not all the demonstrators are participating of their own free will. Morales, who is said to have good relations with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and much sympathy for the latter’s “Bolivarian” revolution, received just over 20% of the vote in the last elections. Since then, his obstructionist politics seem to have made him more enemies than friends in the country....

Without any democratic legitimacy, Morales, Quispe and the other protest leaders are letting Bolivia drift rudderless toward an uncertain future.

The political mix animating the Bolivian protests may be even more explosive than the NZZ suggests. For while the “Socialist” Evo Morales mobilizes the traditional discourse of the Marxist-Leninist “left” and hob-nobs with the likes of Chavez and Castro, the leader of the “Pachacuti indigenous movement”, Felipe Quispe, invests the discourse of “class struggle” with “racial” ressentiments. This from an interview Quispe gave to the Peruvian Radio Programas [via today's edition of the Spanish daily El Mundo]: “There’s a race war [lucha racial – literally “racial struggle”] between whites and indigenous.... Now is the time, now is the time for us to take political power and for these invaders to return our land to us.”

According to the El Mundo article, Quispe defends the “use of force” to bring about the nationalization of the oil and natural gas industries and welcomes the perspective of a civil war “to define who rules the country”.

It is interesting that Mesa, the elected President, declined to use force to end the blockades and restore public order, as a sovereign government would ordinarily be expected to do. I wonder if this does not have something to do with the fact that Bolivia is a member of the International Criminal Court (about which, I have written extensively here, as well as in numerous earlier posts on Trans-Int). One of the effects of ICC membership is to undermine a member state’s internal monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. It is now up to a “supra-national” instance – the court – to decide whether the state’s use of violence is legitimate or not. So-called “human rights activists” (in fact, this has nothing to do with “human rights” in the strict sense this term has in international law) will no doubt welcome such a development. Those concerned about democratic self-government might not. For if a democratic state’s monopoly on the legitimate use of violence is broken, does this not open the way for violent minorities (i.e. in the statistical, not the "ethnic" sense) to impose their will by force?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Bonne Entente: France-USA or France-Hezbollah?

(With Update)

Franco-American cooperation on UN Security Council Resolution 1559, that paved the way for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, is often cited – notably by “neo-conservative” commentators – as an example of Franco-American entente and a model for the great successes that are supposed to be in store if the French and America governments set aside their recent differences and work together. But are the French and American visions for a free Lebanon really so harmonious? The important French-language blog Politique arabe de la France – literally “The Arab Policy of France” and the authors advocate a radical reorientation of the latter – points to some chilling remarks [link in French] by a spokesperson of the French Foreign Ministry that give cause to pause. The remarks were prompted by questions from an unnamed journalist concerning last Sunday’s parliamentary elections in southern Lebanon that saw an electoral alliance including Hezbollah win all 23 seats. I translate directly from the Foreign Ministry website. The Foreign Ministry official is also unnamed.

Q. Do you have any reaction concerning the second stage of the parliamentary elections that took place in the South of Lebanon?

A. Yes. The parliamentary elections in the two districts in the South of Lebanon showed a high rate of participation and there were no significant incidents to speak of....

Q. You emphasized that the rate of participation was high?

A. Yes. In effect, that is what the parliamentary elections in these two districts showed.

Q. It was 43%. One cannot say that's high.

A. That’s one point of view. We have noted two points: the participation rate and the absence of significant incidents.


Ben from Politique arabe de la France comments:
It is not hard to understand the astonishment of the journalist, who comes back to the question several times: how can one speak of a high rate of participation when 57% of the electorate stayed home? In principle, one cannot, but this does not seem to trouble the French Foreign Minister. Maybe this is a matter of not being attentive. Or maybe it is a matter of giving a little more legitimacy, even at the price of such a flagrant untruth, to those who came out victorious in the vote: namely, Hezbollah. And when the European election observers do not notice any irregularities in the conduct of the vote, while the Lebanese observers saw irregularities [on which, for instance, here], one wonders who to believe.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Europe of 2½

An article in today’s Le Figaro [link in French] suggests that Jacques Chirac’s advisors are unconcerned by the spectacular post-referendum fall in his already low approval ratings and are ready to take vigorous action to change things. At 26% according to a Harris poll and 27% according to a poll conducted by the Ipsos Institute for the weekly Le Point, Chirac’s ratings are the lowest recorded for any President in the history of the Fifth Republic. “We did not expect any better,” the article quotes an unnamed source at the Elysée Palace, “Unfortunately, it’s [a] rather mechanical [reaction]. But we are going to arm ourselves.”

“For the moment,” the article continues,
It’s on the terrain of Europe that Chirac plans to act. In anticipation of the Brussels summit of June 16-17, Chirac has been multiplying his contacts: Saturday, he dined with Gerhard Schröder in Berlin; tomorrow he will lunch with the Prime Minister of Luxembourg and acting President of the EU, Jean-Claude Juncker; and on Friday he will meet the Chancellor again in Paris.
On my count, this “multiplying” of European contacts on the part of Chirac results in exactly two contacts – unless Gerhard Schröder deserves to be counted twice – and one of them consists of the Prime Minister of an exorbitantly rich micro-state (population roughly equivalent to that of Staten Island) and fiscal paradise that is two-thirds surrounded by France and Germany – i.e. hardly representative of France’s (other) ostensible European partners. Mr. Juncker's term as President of the European Council ends, incidentally, in three weeks.

It is the remarkably restricted view of “Europe” expressed by this itinerary – a view that Donald Rumsfeld quite rightly described as merely comprising “old” Europe – that has earned Chirac the mistrust of so many Europeans outside of France and Germany and notably in precisely the new EU member states from the East. One of the most interesting lessons of the French referendum is that it has not earned him any considerable support among his own electorate either. In the last desperate days before the referendum, one French notable after another could be viewed on French television pleading pathetically for a "yes" vote since otherwise "our German friends" would be disappointed. To judge by the outcome, however, the Franco-German "axis" - the be-all and end-all of French diplomacy for some three years now - is a matter of profound indifference for the vast majority of the French public.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

From Chairman Mao to Chairman François

Providing further confirmation that the apparent expression of befuddlement he is so often seen wearing

is no mere accident of birth but a sign of genuine confusion, the General Secretary of the French Socialist Party, François Hollande, noted [link in French] on Saturday at a special post-referendum meeting of the Party’s National Council that "whoever is the candidate chosen by the PS [for the 2007 French Presidential elections], I will be behind him or her. I would never place my personal conscience clause before the Party’s decision." The remark represented a not so subtle swipe at Mr. Hollande’s former deputy, Laurent Fabius, who had personally supported the “no” vote in the French referendum on the proposed EU “constitution” despite an earlier Party Council decision to support the “yes”. For his trouble, Mr. Fabius was expelled from his position in the Party executive at the Saturday meeting.

Mr. Hollande is obviously a man of principle and the principle in question in this case is evidently that which in practice has always proven to be the cardinal principle of what is commonly known as “democratic centralism”. The Constitution of the Communist Party of China explains:

Article 10 The Party is an integral body organized under its program and Constitution on the principle of democratic centralism. The basic principles of democratic centralism as practiced by the Party are as follows:

1. Individual Party members are subordinate to the Party organization, the minority is subordinate to the majority, the lower Party organizations are subordinate to the higher Party organizations, and all the constituent organizations and members of the Party are subordinate to the National Congress and the Central committee of the Party....

The estimated 55-60% of French Socialist Party voters who, like Mr. Fabius, followed their conscience and voted "no" in the referendum will undoubtedly admire the resolute defense of party discipline by the Party Secretary, since, as Marxist-Leninist theory has taught us, only thus are the pitfalls of "bourgeois" democracy to be avoided.

From Zeesen to Beirut: Matthias Küntzel on the Nazi Roots of Arab Anti-Semitism

In Zeesen, a town with some four thousand inhabitants to the south of Berlin, once stood one of the world's most powerful shortwave transmitters. From 1939 onward, it broadcast its daily Arabic-language program. Of all the foreign-language services, the Oriental Service had "absolute priority. It reached out to Arabs, Turks, Persians, and Indians and had an eighty-strong staff, including freelance announcers and translators." Between 1939 and 1945, at a time when, in the Arab world, listening to the radio took place primarily in public squares or bazaars and coffee houses, no other station was more popular than the Zeesen service, which skillfully mingled anti-Semitic propaganda with quotations from the Koran and Arabic music. The Allies in the Second World War were presented as lackeys of the Jews and the notion of the "United Jewish Nations" drummed into the audience. At the same time, the Jews were attacked as the worst enemies of Islam. "The Jew since the time of Mohammed has never been a friend of the Muslim, the Jew is the enemy and it pleases Allah to kill him." Today, this same message is being put out on satellite by Hizbollah's Al- Manar TV channel. So what are the historical connections between the shortwave transmitter in Zeesen and the Beirut satellite channel?

Thus writes Matthias Küntzel in the introduction to his "National Socialism and Anti-Semitism in the Arab World", previously only available in German and now avaliable in English thanks to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Matthias Kuntzel's article details the role of Nazi Germany in transplanting European anti-Semitism to the Arab World - notably via the Nazi-supported Mufti of Jerusalem and Zeesen service collaborator Haj Amin el-Husseini - and in the promotion of the Muslim Brotherhood. It also reveals disturbing evidence of continued complicities between the Islamist anti-Semites of Lebanon's Hizbollah and one of the most powerful foreign policy levers of Germany's (still) ruling Social Democratic Party: the publicly-funded Friedrich Ebert Foundation (previously encountered on Trans-Int here, here, and here.)

Essential reading. The link is here.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Sick Leave

I'm afraid I'm a little under the weather, so there'll be nothing new today. See below for Ivan Rioufol on the meaning of [the French] "no" if you haven't already. And please check back tomorrow....

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Ivan Rioufol on the Meaning of "Non"

A few days ago, I noted the concerns of our friends at EURSOC regarding the cheerful crowing at the extremes - notably, on the part of France's motley crew of "anti-capitalist" outfits - over the victory of the "no". I indicated that I was not so worried by the ex-post lefty posturing and offered cryptically that "France's silent majority has spoken". Ivan Rioufol of Le Figaro apparently agrees. In yesterday's installment of his invaluable weekly "notebook" [link in French], he writes:
The diagnosis of the French sickness is starting out badly: it is not anti-liberalism that won a majority, as according to the incessant drumbeat of the leftist partisans of the "no". The rejection of a Europe that is "too liberal" appears to have motivated some 32% of "no" voters [according to a Harris poll published in the Tuesday edition of Libération]. With its 3000 participants rounded up specially for the occasion, the Carmagnole danced Sunday night at the Place de la Bastille shouldn't fool anybody. If there is something revolutionary about May 29, it is not to be found on the side of those who promise - one more time [in English in the original] - the Socialist paradise.... The movement is to be expected from the French themselves, who expressed themselves across party lines. They want to work, to enrich themselves, to be secure. And they are fed up.

But what is responsible for the massive unemployment that afflicts the country for 30 years now, for the colossal public debt, for the expatriation of wealth and talents, for the general depression? The "French social model": product of a post-War ideology of economic planning. Precisely the ideology of the old anti-capitalist left that is trying to appropriate the victory of the "no" ....

By having said "no" to their representatives, the French have shown that they no longer take orders and that they will judge by results. If decades of conditioning about the benefits of a planned economy have rendered some of them leery of capitalism, it is up to the politicians and the medias now, following the debate on Europe, to open this other debate....

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Two Slaps for Joschka or the Question of Sovereignty

(With Update: What Balkenende Really Said)

Since with the overwhelming Dutch rejection of the EU “constitution-treaty” Joschka Fischer’s project for a “federal” European state has taken its second major hit in less than a week, it is perhaps an apt moment to have a closer look at just what Joschka Fischer proposed in his would-be seminal Humboldt University speech in which he coined the enigmatic expression “constitution-treaty” and promised that the hitherto unknown beast allegedly corresponding to it would provide the best way forward for the EU. The “constitution-treaty”, Mr. Fischer said, should serve to establish the necessary “division of sovereignty” between the “federal”, i.e. European institutions, and the national institutions of the member states. And he continued:

The clear determination of the competencies of the Union and the nation-states respectively in a European constitution-treaty should transfer the core sovereignties and what absolutely has to be regulated at European level to the Federation, whereas the rest would remain the regulatory competence of the nation-states.
[A full English translation of the Humboldt speech is found here, though I have retranslated from the original German here.] Note that in this supposed “division of sovereignty” all the “core sovereignties” go to the federal institutions, the nation-states being left merely with a “regulatory competence” and even then not an exclusive one. But a sovereign power does more than merely “regulate”. Since, moreover, it is presumably just the “core sovereignties” that define the sovereign, Fischer’s “division of sovereignty” is, in fact, a chimera. According to this so-called “division”, it is, in effect, just the federal institutions that are sovereign; the national ones are not.

I would suggest that in both France and the Netherlands, it is this “transfer” of “core sovereignties” to the European level – both inasmuch as the “constitution-treaty” would have continued the process and indeed inasmuch as such transfers (for instance, in the area of monetary policy) have already taken place – that above all mobilized voters to reject the treaty. And who can blame them? Even the most "convinced European”, after all, admits that the European institutions as currently constituted suffer from a “democracy deficit” – and that is putting it mildly. Why should the citizens of any of Europe’s nation-states accept further transfers of sovereignty to the European level until such time as this deficit has been eliminated? By refusing to do so, they are not merely defending national sovereignty. Inasmuch as their national institutions are subject to greater democratic control than the European ones - and, again, no one denies this premise - they are defending popular sovereignty. They are defending, in short, their democratic rights.

The anglophone msm seems intent on obscuring this fundamental issue - or perhaps indeed, the editors and reporters are themselves so contemptuous of democracy that they are not able to perceive it. Thus I was surprised in glancing at this morning's AP report on the Dutch referendum to read the following sentence with which it begins:

European leaders may have to scrap the proposed EU constitution after Dutch voters rejected it by a massive margin, voicing their concern over dwindling national identity in a rapidly expanding union and their distrust of increasingly powerful bureaucrats.

I am not entirely sure how identity can "dwindle", nor why it should be a problem if it does. This same trope of "defending identity" is often used also to explain French hostility to the European "federalist" project. But in fact in France essentially no one but academics and some so-called "far right" groupuscules make an issue of identity - or of French "identity" at any rate.

Further on in the same article, the AP even manages to quote Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende suggesting that the Dutch voters had expressed their "doubts" about "the Dutch identity" - which is presumably supposed to mean about the erosion of the same. This too struck me as odd and I asked a Dutch correspondent whether Balkenende had in fact said it. He responded:

I didn’t notice he was talking about 'identity'. What he was indeed talking about were 'concerns about the loss of sovereignty' (dutch: “zorg om het verlies van souvereiniteit”). The word ‘identity’ (dutch: ‘identiteit’) sometimes is used rather loosely, without its heavy connotations, but I don’t remember having heard Balkenende using this word and I find it difficult to imagine he did that, because normally, though he is not a brilliant speaker, he chooses his words quite carefully....The most important part of Balkenende’s message was about financial concerns and sovereignty . The Netherlands, contrary to France, are netto payers of the EU, and this, together with the lack of information and the incomprehensibility of the 500 (or so) pages “Constitution”, was among the most important reasons for voters to vote No (and not, as the AP-report has it, concerns about the freedom to continue our alledgedly liberal/libertarian policy on soft drugs, abortion, euthanasia or prostitution).

(Thanks much for your observations KvM!)

Update: What Balkenende Really Said

I have received confirmation from my Dutch correspondent that Balkenende did not speak of "identity", but indeed, as I suspected, of sovereignty.

He writes:

I just checked what Balkenende really said, and it was as I remembered. The relevant quote, incorrectly translated in the AP report, runs as follows in Dutch:

“Ik zal mijn Europese collega’s er op wijzen dat het Nederlands “nee” recht gedaan moet worden. Want wij begrijpen de zorgen van de Nederlanders over het verlies aan soevereiniteit; over het tempo van verandering, zonder dat burgers zich daarbij betrokken voelen; over onze financiële bijdrage. Daar moet ook in Europa rekening mee worden gehouden”.


“I will make clear to my European colleagues that the Dutch “no” should be respected. For we understand the concerns of the Dutch, about the loss of sovereignty, about the fast pace of change, without citizens feeling they have any part in it, about our financial contribution. This should be taken into account in Europe too.”

Nowhere mention of “identity”, let alone Dutch identity.

Readers of the AP report can get a misleading impression for yet another reason:

The Algemeen Dagblad daily said that the government “could not remain without facing consequences”. It’s true that the Algemeen Dagblad Daily said this, but according to a public opinion survey on this topic, carried out shortly after the referendum result, this was definitely not the opinion of the vast majority of Dutch voters.

Furthermore, if Gerry Elfferink and Harry van Bommel are cited, it should be kept in mind that the Socialist Party (“Socialistische Partij”), to which they belong, is not the Dutch equivalent of the German SPD or the British Labour Party. It’s fortunately a small political party (about 6% of the electorate), at the extreme left of the political spectrum, characterized by the usual warm feelings towards Palestinian terrorists, virulent anti-Americanism and hostility towards Israel. The much bigger, more moderate Dutch Labour Party (about 33% of the electorate) is called “Partij van de Arbeid” (PvdA). It is confusing that in Belgium there is also a PvdA, but there the PvdA is the extreme left fringe party and the more moderate Socialist Party is simply “Socialistische Partij”. In ignoring these fine distinctions, journalists abroad can give a completely distorted picture of the political situation in small countries like Holland or Belgium. Who cares?

Thanks KvM!

Saving Shashi?

My observations last week on the UN's Shashi Tharoor hosting a conference at which one of the invited speakers was the anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist Israel Shamir provoked a bizarre and seemingly rather desperate effort at damage control from one "Emet" in the comments section, to which I and others responded. "Emet" came back a couple of times, even posting an entire puff piece from the IHT in which Tharoor sheds some visible tears on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. In the meanwhile, the Mediacrity blog, which picked up on the story, has also had a strange encounter with "Emet". For the highly instructive continuation of "Shashigate", see here.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

"European Man" to the Rescue

Did Jacques Chirac “hear the message” of the French “no” vote, as he suggested in his televised statement the night of the referendum? If one is to judge by his choice for new Prime Minister, the answer is (another) resounding “no”. Chirac could hardly have chosen a more unreservedly Europeist Prime Minister than Dominique de Villepin. In the run-up to the referendum, de Villepin shilled for a “yes” vote by publishing a collection of reflections on Europe with fellow Euro-maniac Jorge Semprun under the title L’Homme Européen: “The European Man” or, more clumsily but gender-neutral, “The European Human”. The title is itself a program and precisely the sort of program that Europe would probably be better off without. It is hard not to hear in it echoes of formulas employed by earlier frankly totalitarian, both fascist and communist, political ideologies that claimed to found superior societies upon the superior qualities of their members and not rather - taking human beings as they generally are and leaving them that way - upon the quality of their institutions: the “new Soviet man” or even indeed “Der Deutsche Mensch” – “The German Man” – so dear to Nazi ideologues, including Hitler. It is not only its racist overtones that De Villepin’s exaltation of the “European man” shares with the Nazi exaltation of the specifically “German man”. Unfortunately, it would seem that his “European man” might even be, like the latter was supposed to have been, a bit of a “Herrenmensch”: destined for world domination – or rather, as they say nowadays, “global governance”. Thus, last April 17, when asked on the radio station France 1 [link in French] “The European man – who is that?”, de Villepin responded:
This European man is a man who shares the same values and is unique on the planet. There is nowhere else in the world where we share the same common ideas and where we wish continually to draw the lessons from our history. It is a man who is at once very humble and very ambitious for humanity.
What exactly Mr. de Villepin meant by the “European man” being ambitious “for humanity” – rather than just “for himself” as in the more usual form of ambition – he did not explain.

Americans will remember Mr. de Villepin, above all, as the French Foreign Minister who rallied the opposition to American calls for a UN Security Council resolution mandating the use of force in Iraq. Indeed, it has been rumored that the US was led to seek such a resolution in the first place by Mr. de Villepin’s informal assurances that France would support it in the event of Iraqi non-compliance with the conditions laid down in the prior SC Resolution 1441. Instead, Mr. de Villepin used the occasion to grandstand, posing the rhetorical question: “Why should we proceed by force, when we can succeed by peace?” Capitalizing on the fame that this incoherent turn-of-phrase - Mr. de Villepin has pretensions to being a poet and it shows - would earn him among the "antis" worldwide, de Villepin would later publish a volume of (likewise) quasi-literary reflections on international affairs under the title The Shark and the Seagull. On Mr. de Villepin's account, the violent way of the shark is apparently supposed to be that of the US; and the pacific manner of the seagull - as in J. Livingston, I suppose - of course, that of France. I'm not sure why it should be flattering to be compared to a scavenger. But be that as it me, for a useful review by Martin Walker in The National Interest, see here [hat tip Eric at No Pasarán].

(Note for French readers: Paul Landau, whose excellent book on Tariq Ramadan and the Muslim Brotherhood I recently reviewed on Trans-Int, has started a new blog. For Paul's take on de Villepin's "European man", see here.)