Monday, July 31, 2006

IDF Hacks Hizbollah TV

Gotta love this:

After repeated Israeli efforts to destroy Hizbullah's al-Manar television station have failed, an IDF intelligence unit succeeded this week in hacking the station's live broadcasts, planting Israeli PR messages in the transmissions..

The al-Manar channel regularly airs juicy propaganda against Israel, including reports of "heroic" and "successful" operations by Hizbullah fighters against IDF special forces.

However, this weekend the IDF prepared a surprise for the Lebanese and Arab viewers of the channel: The broadcast was interrupted and caricatures of Nasrallah appeared on the screen, accompanied by captions reading: "Your days are numbered" and "Nasrallah, your time is up. Soon you won't be with us anymore."

Additionally, Hizbullah and al-Manar internet sites also received "special treatment" by Israeli technical specialists, and several were erased from the internet.

(Via LGF)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Persecution and Derrida's Cat

In response to my earlier post about persecution of Christians in Pakistan and Turkey, Rene of Life, the Universe and Everything feels that I am contributing to "the cause of much of the problems we have today, certainly not the solution". While I don't kid myself that everyone will agree with my opinions (and Rene and I have been debating politics, religion and philosophy for years) I am somewhat surprised that he picked this particular article for special refutation. I would have thought my piece defending the Israeli incursion into Lebanon would have been more to his point. Pointing out examples of persecution would seem pretty tame by comparison, but I'll take whatever response I can get.

First, let me answer a couple of his criticisms specifically, then I will add some further commentary at the end. I don't particularly like this format, since it makes further responses somewhat complicated, but I don't want to give the impression that I am ignoring any of his points..

First of all I think this type of post is completely single sided. Guilty, as charged. I make no attempt on this blog to pretend that I am completely objective and I generally do not trust people who claim to be.

Extreme intolerance or aggression is a serious problem in the world today. It exists and it should be countered and eradicated. But Here he is acknowledging that I have a point. He isn't, therefore in the category of knee-jerk leftists who disagree with any conservative just because he is a conservative. I note this only to point out that I do indeed appreciate the carefulness with which he argues, even though I ultimately disagree with his argument. Yet, note that "but". The real point follows:

the suggestion by examples like this that the problem is an exponent of a single cultural or religious group is absolutely ridiculous. I don't think I made that suggestion. Relating this to the previous sentence, he seems to think that I am blaming all of the intolerance in the world on Islam. My point was much humbler: to point out that some minorities are persecuted with impunity and don't get the attention that they deserve. Even among our "allies", Christianity is treated far worse than, on balance, Christians have treated others.

Too easily do we forget similar tendensies that exist in our own culture, or that of our other neighbours. Have we forgotten the crimes of Nazi and KKK sympathisers? Of extreme black power groups? of violence between Sikhs and Hindus or the aggression that is displayed by Zionist militants? Some people might forget this, but I certainly do not. But the Nazis and KKK have not been in power for a long time, and the other groups he mentions, though perfectly legitimate targets, are not my particular concern. This is the heart of our disagreement, but I will wait until the end to say more about it.

Furthermore, are we forgetting that even in the case of looking at Muslim fundamentalism, that there is no such thing as Islam versus Christianity? There are similar problems between Islam and Hindus, or even within Islam (Shia and Sunni for instance). This whole construct of "them versus us" with "them" as the evil aggressor just does not exist. This is patently false as my two examples prove. Muslim hostility to Christianity may not be the only problem in the world, but it is a problem and it is as worthy of discussion as any other. The fact that I am a Christian (and therefore part of the "us") does not exclude me from having a valid interest in pointing this out.

As to the suggestion that there are conflicts within Islam itself, I am well aware of the fact and my posts on the crisis in Darfur (here, here, here and here for instance) should absolve me of the charge that I have ignored this fact.

Even worse it is the exact same type of propaganda tat is used by extremists in the Islam camps or elsewhere to incite hatred to other groups. If you want an example of Christians abusing a Muslim, or any other combination of ethnic groups, you will have no problem in finding it. Well, I for one have not found too many examples recently. It is true that sectarian violence often involves bad behavior on both sides, but when the violence is one-sided as in the examples I cited, it is usually not the Christians who are the aggressors. If Rene thinks these examples are easy to find, perhaps he can furnish some.

And that is the second major problem. Incidents like this do not even have a proper reference or clear link to facts or truth. Did this happen? Was this the whole story? We don't know. I admit that I cannot verify the truth of the claims, nor even link to a post by Voice of the Martyrs. But these stories are first-hand accounts by people who were treated by VoM representatives. I get three or four such stories via email every week. Some of them may be inaccurate, but that is the nature of after-the-fact reporting.

Even if it happened exactly like this, then the question of how representative of a whole culture / religion or ethnic group this is still remains. Again, I said nothing about these stories being representative. But the fact that they occurred should color our evaluation of the societies in which they took place, even if total condemnation would be inappropriate. If Rene needs me to make a black vs white argument in order to make his point, he should know by now that I am not going to oblige. But neither should unpleasant data be dismissed just because it is not "representative".

In my opinion posting this post contributes to the same problem that it tries to identify and condemn: The aggression of one ethnic group to another. It puts the poster on a same level as the extremist imams that try to convince their followers that Christians are evil, or the Zionist calling for the eradication of Palestinians. As long as we keep hating people, and condemning their beliefs and values, we cannot expect anything else in return. Note in the first sentence that he is careful to say "contributes to" not "causes". This is an example of the carefulness I noted earlier. But in the second sentence he abandons this nuance by the sort of moral equivalence that is emblematic of liberalism. How, exactly, is pointing to specific acts of violence by a specific group of Muslims (in the Pakistan story) or pointing out that certain other Muslims are trying to get a particular church outlawed (in the Turkey story) the same as calling them "evil" or calling for their "eradication"? Is criticism always an act of violence? By that logic, Rene's post is essentially a death threat against me (since he calls my ideas "extremely dangerous") which no reasonable person would conclude. But if there is a hierarchy of disagreement, why is my pointing out specific cases of persecution out of bounds?

So what is my overall response? I happen to believe that Islam is a false religion and Christianity is a true one and that these facts have consequences in the real world. Therefore, I am more inclined to point out abuses of the one against the other. But I have never shied away from pointing out the failings of people I would like to support, as noted by my early comments on the Abu Ghraib scandal. But selecting what stories to talk about is not the same as denying that there are other stories. I pick stories that strike me as interesting and, when I can, that seem to be under-reported.

In The Gift of Death, Jacques Derrida famously discussed the problem of feeding your own cat while not feeding all of the other starving cats. According to Derrida, the act of doing good in one instance is inseparably connected to the guilt of not doing other possible goods. I think that is the fallacy that Rene is committing here. In pointing out these particular abuses, I am guilty of not discussing other, equally abusive situations. But my answer to both Derrida and Rene is that I will do what good I can and allow others the opportunity to fill in the gaps. This is sort of an extension of the principle of the free market to the realm of ethics.

Ultimately, of course, I believe that God will sort all of this out and dispense perfect justice, but until then we frail humans have the responsibility to point out injustice when we see it and fix it when we can.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight

I saw this story yesterday in another paper, but didn't have time to post about it:

A knife-wielding grocery store employee attacked eight co-workers Friday, seriously injuring four before a witness pulled a gun and stopped him, police said.
I think it was in Washington Times, but I can't find the link. In any event, Clayton Cramer has noticed that the USA Today version is substantially different:
The suspect was tackled by a witness as he tried to run from the building and was held until officers arrived, Higgins said.
That has an original byline of 7/21 at 1:55 PM. Evidently enough people complained about the omission since the following morning 7/22 at 9:52 a follow-up story mentions the gun:
Two victims of a knife-wielding grocery store employee remained hospitalized Saturday after the man attacked eight co-workers and was finally stopped by a witness who pulled a gun, authorities said.
Note that this guy was stopped without the gun being fired. Remember that the next time someone says the only things handguns are good for is killing people.

With Friends Like These...

Two stories of persecution of Christians by our Muslim "allies" from Voice of the Martyrs (via email, sorry no link available).


On June 6, 2006, Nasir Ashraf, a Christian stone mason, was brutally attacked just outside Lahore. While working while working on the construction of a room at a school near Manga Mandi in Pakistan, Nasir became thirsty and took a break. He drew water and drank from a glass chained to a cemented public water tank next to a mosque which was reserved for "all" poor people. Returning to the construction site, a Muslim man asked him, "Why did you drink water from this glass since you are a Christian?" The man accused Nasir of polluting the glass. The Muslim man yanked the glass off the iron chain, broke it and threw it in a garbage can. The man summoned other militant Muslims to the scene, furiously saying, "This Christian polluted our glass." Hearing this, the incensed mob began beating Nasir, yelling that a Christian dog drank water from their glass. The militant Muslims encouraged bystanders to beat Nasir because it would be a "good" deed that would benefit them in heaven. The attackers pushed Nasir off a ledge onto the ground. The impact of the fall dislocated his shoulder and broke his collar bone in two places. Nasir was knocked unconscious and he did not regain his senses until he reached a clinic. A doctor told Nasir that some people had brought him there. The doctor advised Nasir to never make this kind of mistake again.
Note, for the record, that these were just average Muslim citizens, not necessarily terrorists.

Nationalists in Turkey's Northern city of Samsun have stepped up a two-year campaign against a Protestant church, denouncing in the media the legally registered congregation's right to exist. Izzet Altunbas, chairman of the Samsun Association of Balkan Turks, and a prominent member of the local Nationalist Movement Party, publicly attacked the Agape Protestant Church in vicious terms in mid-June. In speeches broadcast over three local TV channels on June 16th, Altunbas declared that establishment of the church, officially registered as the Agape Church Association, revealed "extensive damage" to the nation in that it reflected Turkey's compliance with European Union legal norms strengthening a dangerous "assimilation" drive against both Turkish ethnicity and Islam. "I find this association and its secret activities a huge danger for Samsun and for Islam," Altunbas said. "This is treason against our Muslim and Turkish identity."
I agree with the nationalists on one point: as long as this kind of crap continues, Turkey does not belong in the EU. (And, as a side note, they need to get out of Cyprus before they are allowed into Europe.)

Friday, July 21, 2006

Misreading Buchanan

Pat Buchanan has made a career of sticking his foot in his mouth that has been only slightly less successful than his other careers of misinterpreting politics and impersonating a conservative. The astute reader will discern that I have no particular love for the man. But I have to disagree with the folks who are calling him anti-Semitic for allegedly claiming that Israel is "un-American and un-Christian".

I first saw this charge at Sonia's blog where she awarded Buchanan the coveted "Assclown Award". He certainly deserves the award for the mangled analysis he provides of the conflict in Lebanon, and the odor of anti-semitism is not new to Buchanan's rhetoric, but I don't think his quote is quite so obviously bone-headed as it appears.

The article in question (on the marginally reliable World Net Daily) begins with the sentence: "When Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert unleashed his navy and air force on Lebanon, accusing that tiny nation of an "act of war," the last pillar of Bush's Middle East policy collapsed." The first point to note here is that Buchanan's target is not Israel but, as usual, President Bush (whom Buchanan tends unadvisedly to equate with Neo-conservatism in general). His concluding paragraphs further emphasize this attack on Bush:

Who is whispering in his ear? The same people who told him Iraq was maybe months away from an atom bomb, that an invasion would be a "cakewalk," that he would be Churchill, that U.S. troops would be greeted with candy and flowers, that democracy would break out across the region, that Palestinians and Israelis would then sit down and make peace?

How much must America pay for the education of this man?
Now, you might suggest that, in Buchanan's mind, those whisperings would obviously be the dreaded "worldwide Jewish conspiracy" otherwise known as the "Israel Lobby" or more recently simply "Neo-cons". That may well be true, but it seems pretty obvious from the context that he is referring to the intelligence community and we don't need to go much further to understand the context of this article. Buchanan is simply playing his standard game of moral outrage against America couched in conservative language and it doesn't really matter why. The entire article, though it talks a lot about the actions of Israel, is meant to be a condemnation of US foreign policy in the Mid-East.

With this context in mind, lets look at the quote in question:
"But what Israel is doing is imposing deliberate suffering on civilians, collective punishment on innocent people, to force them to do something they are powerless to do: disarm the gunmen among them. Such a policy violates international law and comports neither with our values nor our interests. It is un-American and un-Christian."
As I noted in the post below, I think Israel is handling the situation pretty well and the charge that they are specifically targeting civilians is both disingenuous and factually misleading. Now, I agree that his syntax may be a bit confusing, but he clearly makes two complaints in the previous sentence: Israel's actions are in conflict with international law (a dubious claim, but we won't go there) and that they are in conflict with "our values [and] interests". But it seems pretty obvious that, given Buchanan's paradigm, what he is saying in the last sentence is simply that we should not support Israel because to do so would be "un-American and un-Christian". I don't agree, but then I don't agree with much that Buchanan says.

More recently John Podhoretz at the Corner has picked up on this theme claiming (without either quoting or linking to the original article, mind you):
When Pat Buchanan calls Israel's military action "un-Christian," that's anti-Semitism.
Now Instapundit has picked up the meme (linking to JPod's article but, again, not the original) and commenting "WELL, DUH: Pat Buchanan calls Israel "un-Christian." Never mind what I'd call Pat Buchanan..."

All very clever, but perhaps a bit light on the facts, hmm?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Israel's Cease-fire Demands

Via the Washington Times:

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spelled out Israel's terms for ending its six-day siege of Lebanon yesterday, demanding the return of two kidnapped soldiers, an end to rocket attacks on Israel and the deployment of the Lebanese army to keep Hezbollah away from the common border.
Let's look at those one at a time, shall we?

1. Return of Soldiers: This is the obvious demand since it is the reason for Israel's attack. They can't very well not make this one. Israel has negotiated for the release of hostages taken by Hezbollah before, usually at an unfavorable exchange rate. But this time Israel is negotiating from a position of strength and the only offer they are making is to stop shooting. A much better form of negotiation, though one Hezbollah is not likely to accept. The only thing Hezbollah has in the way of assets (apart from their stockpile of missiles) is their appearance of strength and they cannot afford to appear to surrender to Israel, so this demand is not likely to be met.

2. End to Rocket Attacks: Again, fairly obvious and they can't really ask for anything less and still maintain a an image of success. An end to violence has been a demand of Israel all along, and it was only during Ehud Barak's disastrous policy of unilateral concessions that anything less was deemed acceptable. It is salutary that they seem to be returning to the only sensible policy. But, like the demand for the return of the hostages, this is not likely to be met and for the same reasons.

3. Lebanese Army to Police the Border: This is perfectly reasonable, of course, except that everyone knows that Lebanon does not have the capacity to defeat Hezbollah. They are simply outgunned. But this is interesting as a starting point for a possible cooperation between Israel and Lebanon (with possible US or NATO involvement). I don't know if such a thing is politically possible, but it has a lot more chance of actually succeeding than Kofi Annan's proposed International Force:
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan pressed the five permanent UN Security Council members to contribute to a force that would quell the escalation of violence in the Middle East. [...] The move puts pressure on the U.S., France, China and Russia to contribute to a force that would curtail clashes that started six days ago when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border attack.

I like the fact that Olmert is talking tough:
"There are moments in the life of any nation where it stares reality in the face and says 'enough,' " said Mr. Olmert in his first address to parliament since the fighting began. "So I say to everyone: 'Enough.' Israel will not be held hostage to a terrorist gang, nor a terrorist authority."
It's about damned time.

Friday, July 07, 2006

England and St. George

It is easy to be amused by this:

[...] the Church of England is considering rejecting England's patron saint St George on the grounds that his image is too warlike and may offend Muslims.

Clergy have started a campaign to replace George with St Alban, a Christian martyr in Roman Britain.


Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams indicated support for an upgrade for Alban, although he is said to be cautious about relegation for George.

He told the Sunday Times: 'I think St Alban is irreplaceable in the history of English Christianity. Perhaps we ought to raise his profile because it's the beginning of the church in this country with martyrdom, wisdom and courage.'


The saint became an English hero during the crusades against the Muslim armies that captured Jerusalem in the 11th century.

An apparition of George is said to have appeared to the crusader army at the Battle of Antioch in 1098.

His dragon-slaying legend is thought to have begun as an allegory of Diocletian's persecution of Christians.

Alban was martyred in 304 AD on the site of St Alban's abbey in the Hertfordshire city that now bears his name.

A Roman army officer, he was said to have converted after sheltering a Christian.
I am not sure to what degree St. Alban needs his profile raised, as he is easily as recognizable in the Anglican community as St. George. Not that I have anything against St. Alban, but I think this is yet another example of the Archbishop trying to strike a diplomatic note and missing the point completely.

There is a Byzantine icon of St. George (sans dragon) on my cubicle wall as I write this. On the back is a brief bio of the saint:
St. George was born of Christian parents (275 AD). During his childhood, his father died as a martyr. He grew up in Lydda of Palestine, the native town of his mother.

At the age of 18, he was recruited into the Roman army. Handsome, with an athletic and gentle appearance, clever and educated, courageous and brave, he was promoted to the highest military ranks in a short time.

Now Diocletian, the Roman Emperor, declared a severe persecution against the Christians and demanded that all his soldiers and officers offer pagan sacrifices as proof of their loyalty.

St. George was the first to refuse. He gave up his military commission, confessed his faith openly, and made himself available to the persecutors, obviously with the purpose of inspiring courage among the Christians.

Diocletian, unsuccessful in his efforts to change St. George's mind, ordered to put him under the cruelest tortures. He endured his martyrdom with great courage which caused the conversion of many officers and soldiers, and encouraged the Christians to stand firm in their faith. Finally, he was beheaded at Nicomedia on April 23 in the year 303 AD.
What exactly is "warlike" about this image? There are several striking similarities between this story and the one about St. Alban. As to the suggestion that St. George may not be an actual historical person, what of it? I happen to believe that he was, but the point of the story is to demonstrate an ideal of courage under duress and standing up for convictions. That is surely an ideal that we need to recover now more than ever. I would understand if the nation of England were to become so secularized that it decided to abandon its Christian heritage. But there is no excuse of the Church of England to be aiding such a movement.

The crux of the issue, of course, is not the secularization of the country but the appeasement of Muslims. The association of St. George's cross with the crusades is undeniable. But one ought to remember that the crusades were not an act of aggression by Europeans against Arab lands, but a defense of land they already owned against the invader. There are many reasons the crusades were not ultimately successful, but chief among them must be the lack of unity and conviction within the Christian camp. St. George went to his death, if the legend is to be believed, rather than bow to public pressure or pagan religion. If the Church of England is to continue its Christian witness, it will have to take note of his example and refuse to bow to either of the false gods of secularism or Islam.

(Via Mere Comments)