Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hitler's melting pot

During his early years in public life, Hitler made no secret of his ultimate intentions should the Nazi party come to power: in Mein Kampf, originally published in 1925, he explained that the Germans must colonize the east in order to gain Lebensraum, or living-space for the country’s burgeoning population.

Somehow, though, most everyone refused to take Hitler seriously, even after he began carrying out the plans he had set in print years before: not only the conquest of eastern Europe, but also the “elimination” of the Jews from his Nazi empire. In the War of the World, Niall Ferguson remarks as to how the ultra-paranoid Stalin trusted no man but one — Hitler, who was in turn the only man who ever had the power to betray “the man of steel.” But the invasion of the USSR in June, 1941 was a surprise to very few but Stalin himself. Mere weeks before the invasion commenced, one of his spies in Germany wrote an urgent message to Soviet intelligence, warning Stalin of what was imminent. Stalin’s response was to condemn the spy as one “who should be sent to his fucking mother.”

The Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 (which touched off World War II) and of the Soviet Union two years later, did not come without ironies, though. One of these was that, after the Nazis had indeed conquered a great deal of living-space into which the German population could expand, very few Germans were actually interested in moving east. Those few who did were not the simple, sturdy peasant-farmers of Nazi ideals, but opportunists seeking to make easy money off the slave-labour of conquered Jews, Poles and Russians (men such as Oskar Schindler, the famed eventual saviour of several thousand Jews). The Nazi overlords of Poland eventually had to resettle ethnic Germans that had been living for centuries in Russian territory, in occupied Poland; instead of Germans moving east, it was Germans moving west, in closer proximity to the original Fatherland (thus giving the lie to the Nazis’ obsession with Lebensraum).

But, as Ferguson points out, the eastern Germans were often unsuitably Slavonic in culture, language, even in their appearance; but many of the “inferior” Poles were had blonde haired and blue eye. The conclusion drawn from this, was that “Aryans” outside the Reich, had been breeding with the inferior races, and it was up to the Nazis to “rescue” these bloodlines from total corruption. Accordingly, functionaries were organized and sent to the Polish “protectorate” in order to determine the racial fitness of the Slavic population according to a fourfold system of classification: those placed in the “A” category were deemed acceptably Aryan genetic endowment, and thus made eligible for “re-education” as Germans, or if children, deportation back to Germany, where they would be raised among Aryan families; the unfortunate people designated as “D”, were to be immediately shipped off for slave labour or extermination at one of the many camps established by the Nazis throughout their empire.

According to conventional understanding, “fascist” is a synonym for “ultra-nationalist”. This is true, to a great extent, for the original Italian Fascists. But, in spite of their name, the National Socialists were no more nationalists than they were socialists. They were collectivists, but their collective focus was on race, not nation. For this reason, the Nazis found it easy to collaborate with, and find collaborators among, the populations of the countries they conquered, or otherwise became “allied” with. Ferguson writes, “...the more the Germans relied on foreign allies and collaborators the more multiethnic their empire necessarily became. The first symptom of this unintended transformation was the changing complexion of Hitler's armed forces. The army that invaded the Soviet Union included 600,000 Croats, Finns, Romanians, Hungarians, Italians, Slovaks and Spaniards. In addition to fighting alongside troops from allied countries, German soldiers also increasingly saw foreigners wearing German uniforms. Franco had declined to join Hitler's war in the West, but he permitted the formation of a Spanish 'Blue Division' (named after the blue shirts of its Falangist volunteers) to fight against the Soviet Union; it served with distinction ... French volunteers also fought, in the Legion des Volontaires Francais contre le Bolchevisme, as part of a Wehrmacht infantry division. Other foreigners generally wore the uniform of the Waffen-SS, the combat arm of the SS, a reflection of Himmler's enthusiasm for broadening the available pool of 'Nordic' blood, as well as the Wehrmacht's reluctance to surrender large numbers of Germans of military age to the SS.” (Ferguson, The War of the World, London: Allen Unwin, page 457-458).

Heinrich Himmler, the SS leader and chief racial theorist of the Nazi regime, explained why, near to the end of the Second World War, his organization included more non-Germans than Germans in its ranks: “Every SS officer, regardless of nationality. . . must look to the whole living space of the family of German nations [Himmler specified the German, Dutch, Flemish, Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian and Baltic nations]. To combine all these nations into one big family is the most important task at present. It is natural in this process that the German nation, as the largest and strongest, must assume the leading role. [But] this unification has to take place on the principle of equality... [Later] this family... has to take on the mission to include all Roman nations, and then the Slavic nations, because they, too, are of the white race. It is only through unification of the white race that Western culture can be saved from the danger of the yellow race. At the present time, the Waffen-SS is leading in this respect because its organization is based on equality. The Waffen-SS comprises not only German, Roman and Slavic but even Islamic units ... fighting in close togetherness.” (Quoted in Ferguson, page 459).

Years ago, I proposed that the National Socialist party had to focus on race, as instrument of cohesion, just because “Germans” had a very weak sense of national belonging. In fact, as Ferguson points out, many key Nazis were not of German birth at all: the Austrian Hitler, of course, but also Alfred Rosenberg, the party “philosopher”, and several others.

And, in an entry earlier this year, I wrote as to how modern European empires, uniquely in world history, sought to make separation of races a key part of the ruling strategy. The Nazis were the most thorough about this, but were hardly unique: it was a policy pursued previously by the British, Dutch, Belgian and French empires, as well. What I didn’t mention was that the European empires pursued this policy, just because they understood that race mixing was an inevitable part of imperial conquest.

But, in fact, even the Nazis were unsuccessful in their policies of total racial separatism. Ferguson writes that, “even as Nazi racial experts engaged in the laborious racial classification of Poles and Czechs, the very tendency they wished to eradicate — miscegenation — was continuing. Indeed, the chaos caused by war and forced resettlement positively increased the sexual contact between Germans and non-Germans. On March 8, 1940, new police regulations had to be issued for Polish workers in Germany, the seventh of which specified bluntly that `anyone who has sexual intercourse with a German man or woman, or approaches them in any other improper manner’ would be liable to the death penalty (later specified as death by hanging).” (Ferguson, page 461)

Ferguson also sheds light as to why so many ordinary German soldiers chose duty in helping to slaughtering Jews during the Holocaust. Aside from ethnic hatred, and the inability to ignore direct orders, there was the motive of self-preservation. By the time the extermination of the Jews got going in earnest, by 1942, the Russo-German war had commenced. At the Eastern front, for the first time, Wehrmacht troops were encountering high rates of mortality in combat. It was considered a privilege to be assigned to the duties of executioner to men, women and children, all of them civilians who didn’t have the means to fight back; this became all the more true, as the war continued on, and the German army became bogged down in the hellish snow and wind of three Russian winters. Aside from the inconvenience of having to murder, direct participation in the Holocaust was very profitable, with much opportunity to steal the belongings of those who were being killed.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"...When Christianity conquered Rome..."

I was channel-surfing yesterday evening.

I came upon the Channel News Network. I’ve long viewed twenty-four news as a wasteland, but I went ahead and watched for a few minutes. In transmission was the programme hosted by Anderson Cooper, who is the great-great-grandson of nineteenth-century shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. At discussion was a “controversial” advertisement for a Republican candidate for U.S. congressional elections this November. The subject of the ad was a mosque to be built nearby the site of the former World Trade Centre in New York city, destroyed by Islamic fascists in the September 11, 2001 attacks. The ad portrayed the proposed temple as “victory mosque” that, over the centuries, Muslims have built in lands that have been conquered from other religions (such as the mosque that once resided on the former Hagia Sophia Orthodox church in the former Constantinople, now Istanbul — the site was converted into a museum by the Ataturk regime).

This so-called “ground-zero mosque” became an issue over the summer, with public-opinion polls showing that a majority of Americans are against an Islamic temple being built so near where the World Trade Centre stood. My own view is that, as a believer in liberty above all, law-abiding Muslims should be able to build a mosque anywhere they wish, be it two blocks from the old WTC, right across the street from there, or on the site itself, if they were able to purchase the deed (the real scandal in this whole affair, as some pointed out at the outset, is that nearly a decade following the 9/11 attacks, construction has yet to commence on the proposed “Freedom Tower” development, where the twin towers once stood). As to whether Muslims ought to build a shrine is a matter of indifference compared to their absolute right to do so.

The American over-class, as apparently represented by the likes of Anderson Cooper, have rather stronger views on the matter: received opinion holds that Muslims not only have the right to build a mosque near the site of the September 11 mass-murders, but that everyone ought to be in favour of it, lest they be “intolerant” of Islam. One wonders, though, if this same view would hold if, for example, avowedly anti-abortion Catholics or Pentecostals were to construct a “religious centre” across the street from the site of an abortion clinic where doctors and other practitioners of premature infanticide had been murdered by fanatic anti-abortionists.

To dispense with the hypothetical, there was a similar controversy in Poland a number of years ago, when an order of Catholic nuns had planned to build a retreat nearby the Auschwitz death-factory, responsible for the murder for the systematic murder of as many as one million Jews during the Holocaust. The Enlightened believed that it was distasteful for the nuns to do so, though as far as I know, no one believed that the religious order was directly or indirectly responsible for the murder of Jews in Auschwitz or anywhere else.

The Republican party, after being shut out of power following the elections in 2006 and ‘08, seem poised to retake the House of Representatives (but not the Senate) in the November mid-term vote. CNN and other mainstream news-services are trying their best to prevent this from happening, by portraying the Republican party as “racist” and “intolerant”, and beholden to the “tea-party” demonstrators. Accordingly, Cooper’s guest on the programme last evening was the candidate who aired the “victory mosque” ad in her North Carolina constituency.

One of Cooper’s questions to the candidate, who is apparently Catholic, was to state that Islam differs in no way in from other religions in building shrines over the temples of vanquished faiths. This was an admission, I take it, that it cannot be denied Islam engages in this practice. It is the same tact that mainstream news organizations take in response to Islamic-fascist terrorism: “Sure, there’s terrorists among Muslims, but you can’t deny that Christians murder abortion doctors...”

Cooper’s “example” in reference to this assertion, was to say that, when “Christianity conquered Rome, weren’t pagan shrines replaced with Christians ones...” The candidate tried her best to parry such an inane question, but evidently wasn’t informed enough in history to demonstrate what an empty suit Cooper must be in making this statement. (The video can be viewed here.)

To wit: Christianity did not conquer Rome, as Cooper seems to believe, in war. After many centuries of persecution, in the early fourth-century of the calendar the Roman emperor Constantine declared official tolerance in regard to those practising Christianity, some years before he declared it the official religion of the empire itself. Thus it was that many pagan shrines in Rome (such as the Pantheon) and throughout the empire were converted into Christian churches (although the Pantheon didn’t become a Roman Catholic cathedral until centuries after the collapse of the empire itself). The remaining pagans of the Roman realm were thus displaced, though in fact the official gods of the Romans had long ceased to be worshipped by most of the imperial population, who in turn had become faithful to many renegade “mystery cults”, of which Christianity was only one of many, though probably the most popular. It was the abandonment of the traditional pantheon by most Roman citizens, that prompted their rulers to adopt Christianity as a “binding” mechanism in the first place.

But this is very far from an invasion by alien religionists and their utter destruction of holy sites (in many cases, when Muslims conquered lands throughout eastern and southeastern Asia, north Africa and southern Europe), or in the case of Hagia Sophia, their conversion into mosques. More to the point, though, it is irrelevant. Even accepting Cooper’s wrongful premise, it is irrelevant. Pagan shrines were converted to Christianity during classical times. Can Cooper come up with an example, say in the last four hundred years, when Christian “invaders” turned any the temple of any other religion into a church?

This is one of the reasons why I stopped watching the news, or reading the newspaper in the first place, the bland conformity of viewpoints expressed therein, almost always skewed to the left. This is demonstrated in the web-log on the website of Cooper’s CNN programme, almost all the entries of which are devoted to skewering some or another Republican or conservative. Can it really be the case that only Republicans are engaging in controversy?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Some conspiracy narratives

Last evening, I watched a programme on the Discovery network, called Science and Conspiracy, which subjected the various claims that the September 11 attacks were the result of a “false flag” or “inside job” conspiracy, to experimental scrutiny. One of the allegations is that the U.S. Defence department headquarters in Washington — known universally as the Pentagon — was not struck by an airplane, but instead, was attacked by a missile. Heretofore, my understanding of this “theory”, was that the damage to the building was not significant enough to have been hit by a jet airplane travelling at several hundred miles an hour. However, at least according to three “9/11 truth movement” members interviewed for the show, the accusation is instead that the destruction to the Pentagon was too much to have been caused by an airplane. The programme showed a re-enactment both a strike by a winged aircraft, and a missile, which demonstrated that the damage to the building was consistent with... well, with what actually happened, an airplane striking the building.

Of course, the truth-movement “experts” on hand (which included two architects, as well as the director of Loose Change, a 9/11 conspiracy film) always found a reason to reject the findings. What I found significant was that, when presented with the experimental evidence, their statements were a great deal more equivocal than they usually are, in regard to the “evidence” for conspiracy. Thus, one of the architects, in speaking about the damage to the Pentagon facade, as seen in photographs just minutes after the airplane hit, said “you can’t tell one way or the other whether it was hit by an airplane...”. The Loose Change filmmaker, even admitted that many who were nearby the Pentagon on September 11, witnessed an airplane approaching the building, “but we can’t be sure from these statements, that the airplane actually hit the building...”

Naturally, when these experts, and others interviewed for the movie, were asked to provide their own scenario for what really happened on 9/11, they all deferred to the line that, “Well, we can’t know the truth until a government body is given full subpoena power, including the power to jail officials, to investigate the events of September 11.” This didn’t stop one of the architects from claiming that he and his colleagues have “proven that this was a false flag operation...”, meaning that it was actually carried out by U.S. government, who in turn blamed Arab terrorists for the attacks.

In any case, the “inside job” scenario that I am most familiar with, and which was presented on the Science and Conspiracy show, proceeds like this: each of the four airplanes supposedly commandeered as missiles on September 11, ‘01, were instead intercepted by U.S. military aircraft; remote-controlled jets rendered to appear like civilian aircraft, were substituted for them, while the actual aircraft were escorted to a secret military base; the remote-controlled jets were then crashed into the World Trade Centre towers, and the Pentagon (although wait, what happened to the missile that was supposed to crash into the latter structure?); but because the collision of the airplanes was not sufficient in itself to cause the collapse of the twin towers, explosive charges installed in the beams of the World Trade Centre previously, were detonated, thus causing both the towers to fall; meanwhile, back at that secret military base, the passengers from the three planes that were later said to have crashed into the towers and the Pentagon, were herded onto the remaining aircraft, which took off again, and was then shot down over the Pennsylvania countryside (presumably, this aircraft was remote-controlled too; or piloted by U.S. military pilots who didn’t know they were to be shot down, or...); the phone calls placed by the flight-attendants to their employers, and the passengers to their loved ones, aboard the doomed flights (as well as transmissions made by the terrorist pilots), were faked.

All of this is, of course, ludicrous on its face. Given the fact that such an operation would require (as the Discovery-network programme pointed out) the participation of thousands of people, there no point even in stating that no evidence exists to support any of this — no evidence of other aircraft in the sky; no evidence of the real aircraft being intercepted by military aircraft; no evidence that phone calls were faked; no evidence that anyone wired the World Trade Centre towers with explosives prior to the 9/11 attacks; no evidence of a missile attacking the Pentagon, and so on (in contrast, of course, to the literal mountain of evidence which supports, well, what actually happened that day). It is just a story told by conspiracy-narrators to justify their own belief that somehow, the “official story” isn’t the correct one.

This is key. Another word for “conspiracy” is “plot”, and “plot” is also another word for “story.” Conspiracy narratives (I must stress again that the 9/11 “inside job” allegations never rise to the level of theory) seek to give shape to messy reality, providing an “arc” for events, instead of the randomness of reality. It is simply that reality, when conveyed in story form, is too incredible to be believed, which is why movies, programmes and novels that are “based on a true story”, always change the details to make them more believable. Paradoxically, conspiracy narratives almost always render events far more complicated than they actually are. Such narratives render actual events into mythology (the word “myth” coming from the Greek for “story”).

The Science and Conspiracy show interviewed David Aaronovitch, a British journalist and author of Voodoo Histories, a copy of which I now have on hold at the public library, which examines conspiracy “theories”. Aaronovitch refers to the narrative function of allegations of conspiracy in regard to the September 11 attacks, and also makes an analogy with a previous event that I had not heard before. Immediately after 9/11, the attacks on New York city and Washington were compared to Pearl Harbour, just short of sixty years before.

The September 11 terrorist assaults were more nefarious, than Pearl Harbour, in fact, for being more deadly (almost three thousand killed, versus two-thousand), and for involving primarily civilian instead of military targets. However, the parallel goes further in respect to the fact that, following Pearl Harbour, anti-war forces went so far as to alleged that the Roosevelt government conspired to allow the Japanese attack to proceed, just to get the U.S. into World War II (not to my knowledge, though, was the U.S. military accused of running a “false-flag” operation involving American forces attacking an American military base, though a “soft” 9/11 conspiracy narrative has it that the Bush government had foreknowledge of the attacks, but let them go ahead in order to get the country involved in a war in the Middle Eastern, ostensibly in turn to seize the area’s oil wealth). The main difference was that, in the case of Pearl Harbour, the anti-war movement was on the political right, while the 9/11 “inside job/let-it-happen” folks are on the left (though some rightists have joined up with them).

The idea that Roosevelt knew about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, and allowed it to go ahead to get the U.S. into World War II, endured long after the end of the war, and indeed, in spite of any evidence supporting the allegation. In my childhood, when I went with my parents visit my grandmother each week for Sunday dinner, I would flip through a book they owned entitled I Remember, Do You? This work of nostalgia included old photographs of the U.S. from the 1920s to the nineteen-fifteens, with a short text describing major trends and events of the era (such as the stock-market crash and Depression, World War II, the Eisenhower administration, and so on). One of the longer passages was titled (if I recall correctly) “Pearl Harbor: The Surprise Attack That Wasn’t a Surprise”, and went on to detail all the allegations that were made after Pearl Harbour that the Roosevelt government knew exactly what was about to occur on December 7, 1941, and let it go ahead anyway. I Remember, Do You? was published during the 1970s.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A sombre anniversary, and reason for hope

Where I live, the day is shaping up to be just like that fateful morning nine years ago: warm and clear, without a cloud in the sky.

Mohamed Atta, the reputed mastermind of the simultaneous attacks that destroyed the Twin Towers in New York city, damaged the Pentagon in Washington, and nearly obliterated the White House or Congress (but for the intercession of the last passengers on the last flight, which crashed in rural Pennsylvania), had just passed his thirty-second birthday, when he commenced the day’s events by apparently steering the American Airlines jet into the north tower of the World Trade Centre.

Last evening, the History cable channel broadcast a re-enactment of the “last journey of flight 111", which Atta and his conspirators seized control on 9/11. Prior to that programme, was another one on 9/11 conspiracy narratives, which I only caught the end of. In the period after September 11, 2001, I was naive enough to consider it impossible for anyone to believe that the attacks were result of an “inside job” (for, of course, 9/11 was the result of a conspiracy).

The first such narrative I encountered was sometime during 2002. These threatened to go mainstream by about 2005 and ‘06. I am pleased though, that such conspiracy fables are being relegated to the fringes, where they belong. On the programme last evening, for example, one of these fabulists was interviewed. This individual defended himself against charges that he was a lunatic, by reference to Galileo Galilei, who, the fabulist claimed, “was persecuted for believing the world was round when everyone else believed it was flat. However, a few years after his death, everyone came to believe as he did, that the world was round.”

I think something similar has happened with the Kennedy assassination conspiracy narratives, which were widely believed at one time (indeed, such “theories” were accepted by a U.S. congressional committee), but have also been relegated to fringe. I view this as a triumph for the value of free inquiry and debate. The over-class has for many years — just like all elites do — derided liberty of speech, hiding behind the excuse that “hate” speech is harmful to “vulnerable” parts of society. In reality, of course, they want no one to debate the policies and programmes they wish to impose on the rest of us.

I came to despise the conspiracy fabulists both of the 9/11 and Kennedy-assassination school, and how they came to affect public debate. But as one of those people that the over-class labels a “free-speech absolutist” (that is, someone who actually believes in freedom of speech), I never felt moved to call for these sorts of ideas to be proscribed. And, in spite of the delusions shared by many of the fabulists, that both November 22, 1963 and September 11, 2001, initiated a “fascist takeover”, the conspiracy-narrators were allowed to say what they wanted. Guess what happened? They and their “theories”, by being openly debated, were proven to be lacking.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

My summer in purgatory... and a rant and a half

This Labour day weekend, I make my first post in more than three months.

Given that, soon after my last post, I:

1. Lost my job
2. Lost my marriage
3. Had to move to a dumpy apartment house, after living for thirteen years in a single family home...

I just didn't feel like blogging too damn much. Besides, I had to:

1. Find a job
2. Find a girlfriend
3. Be a part-time father to my young one, herself hurt and confused by the collapse of her parents' marriage..

Well, I've now found a job. Not a very good one, but this being without work was driving me nuts. Besides, I absolutely despised my last job. Hopefully, this one will be better...

I haven't found a girlfriend as yet.

I'm doing pretty all right being a father, I guess, nursing my daughter through the heartache of losing a full-time parent...

Now for the blogging matter at hand:

This morning, I came across an article by Dan Gardiner, editorial writer of the Ottawa Citizen.

What to say about Gardiner?

Once, when the Lord Beaverblack regime owned the Citizen and other (formerly) Southam newspapers, he toed the `right-wing' editorial line...

Then, when Conrad Black sold off his interests to the decidedly more Liberal-friendly Canwest concern (and no, folks, the Aspers weren't secret Ziocons, get that out of your head right now...)

And he went off to Osgoode Hall law school in Toronto...

and who knows what else, Gardiner has never wasted an opportunity to take a swipe at conservatives, or `conservatives', because any resemblance between conservatives who actually exist, and conservatives as they are depicted in Gardiner's thrice-weekly columns, is pure coincidental...

Like in the column of yesterday, or the day before, or sometime recently.

The premise of the piece is that `conservatives' believe that the Russians deserve what they get at the hands of Islamist Chechens, for some reason... but any notion put forward by himself or other newspaper columnists at his august publication, or many other periodicals and newspapers that the West deserves what it gets from Islam, because of `what we do' in the Middle East, is unpatriotic, pro-Islamist and just plain evil.

To `prove' his point, he quotes a passing comment between two American conservatives... and nothing else.

Such is the level of argumentation that Gardiner usually engages in, in his grand indictment of `conservatism.'

It isn't quite at the level of Keith Olberman. But it's still crap.

I must say that I've never encountered any conservative who held on to the belief that the Russian regime has it coming at the hands of Islamist, in Chechnya, or elsewhere.

I must say, that, I don't think there's any reason to panic, in regard to the arrest of three or four people in Canada, who were apparently planning attacks on Canadian targets and Canadians, and who might have links to international terrorism (innocent until proven otherwise, let's see the government's case etc etc etc).

I don't think all Muslims are bent on waging war with the rest: if Islam is not assuredly a `religion of peace', it is not just a religion of war, either...

But I am royally sick of those, whether they include Gardiner or not, who never lose an opportunity to excuse the violence perpetrated by Muslims against not only apostates and atheist, but other Muslims too:

In response, in the comments section, I posted the following rant:

Like most of Gardiner's columns since his return from Osgoode Hall, it is eloquent but entirely lacking in logic.

First, the premise: Do all `conservatives' think the Russians had it coming due to their, I dunno, complete and utter destruction of Chechnya's capital city in the 1990s - bec. of what Kristol and Bennet *apparently* think? Is Gardiner really that lacking in logic, or is he just trying to make a weak point, which he knows he'll get away with, given the political pov of the Ottawa Citizen?

Next, all you have to do is peruse the comments here and in most other DG columns on this very subject, in order to see that many in the West seek to defend Islam, no matter what its adherents do in their name, and blame the West for events like 9/11 (and much else), again, regardless of the facts.

Like the commenter `Art Campbell' in this thread and at least one other...

Last, this whole argument could be elucidated by reference to the actual facts of US and Western involvement in the Middle East, in contrast to the behaviour of the Soviet Union, and its successor regimes, toward Muslims.

The first Gulf War (or the second one, as the Iran-Iraq war was the original `Gulf War') in 1991 saw the U.S. - and many other countries, in the West and elsewhere - move against Iraq in favour of a very conservative Islamic regime, in Kuwait, against a secular regime in Iraq (remember, Iraqi war opponents, the Hussein govt `couldn't have anything to do with Al-Qaeda, bec the latter was "fundamentalist" the former "secular"'?).

Further, the Gulf-War alliance (approved by the UN Sec Council, let's not forget too), acted so that an even more reactionary, Islamic regime, in Saudi Arabia, would not become either a colony or a suzerainty of Iraq - that secular anti-Islamist regime, again let us recall.

Whether in 1991, the U.S. and the rest of the civilized world was motivated merely `for oil', as the slogan went, is irrelevant to how the GW alliance actually restored and maintained conservative/reactionary Islamic regimes in defence of secular, anti-Islamist Iraq.

Just exactly why the Gulf War of 1991 should become a recruiting method for Islamic fascism, is quite beyond me.

But what about DG’s point, about `U.S. troops being stationed on “holy” Saudi soil…’?

Yes. U.S. troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia – on bases on which U.S. troops were severely restricted from leaving, and where Bibles or other non-Islamic religious material, alcohol, skin magazines were banned (remember, this is on the American bases).

That’s surely some defilement of the “holy shrines” of Islam…

I’m sure that DG and Art Campbell, and many others, could offer other excuses as to why Islamists would seek to attack Western countries that they couldn’t spell before, like Canada… er, sorry, to delve into the sociological reasons why young Muslims – like a medical doctor who largely grew up in Canada, was at least partly educated here, and even appeared on `Canadian Idol’ – would seek to attack Canada and Canadians – without God forbid! seeking to justify such actions! What do you think of me my goodness!?!?

Like the overthrowing of a `democratic’ leader of Iran in 1953 (who was seeking to consolidate his own power regardless of democratic niceties, and who himself was as big an enemy of traditional Islam as Saddam Hussein of Iraq)

Or the attacks against the Hussein regime itself, in the period between 1991 and 2003 – that is against a secular Arab regime that was an enemy of Al-Qaeda (remember Dan and Art?); or the same overthrow of this anti-Islamist regime in ’03, which finally liberated the Shia of Iraq to exist without the domination of the Sunni population, to form `fundamentalist’ religious parties and the like…

You can see how that would inspire the Islamists to hate the U.S., to attack the
U.S. almost ten years ago… before the invasion of either Iraq and Afghanistan…
There are other casus belli that the Islamists can latch onto, in order to blame the West.

Like for example, how Western countries interceded in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s, in Bosnia in 95 and in Kosovo in 1999, to rescue largely Muslim populations from largely Christian ones (but we didn’t terror-bomb Serbia quickly enough, you see…)

The same conflict in which the successor Soviet regime was adamantly in support of the Christians crushing, raping, murdering the Muslims…

The Soviets and their successors were so amiable to global Islam in so many other ways, too.

Like, from 1917 to 1991, how Russians maintained their colonies in Islamic countries of Central Asian, aggressively crushing the Islamic religious, imprisoning, persecuting, murdering the Islamic leadership.

Like in 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, attempting to crush a conservative / reactionary Islamic insurgency against a secular, Communist regime…
Or from 1968 to 1991, when the Soviet Union was one of the main suppliers of arms and other materiel to the secular regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq (during which period Hussein’s `allies’ had no diplomatic relations with Iraq, until 1984, and sold him one percent of his weaponry, according to a Swedish think tank), who was (let us recall again) anti-Islam…

Or let us not forget Chechnya, where the Russians were responsible for liberating the capital city from its buildings, roads, much of its people…
And this is why, of course, the Russians are held up as a symbol of anti-Islamic recruiting throughout the world… just like the Americans and the rest of the democratic west are not…


From all this, you might be tempted to think that the Islamists are determined to attack the West, while avoiding the Russians, because we’re democratic, liberal, secular, tolerant… decadent to them of course… you know, attack just because of what we are, and not what we do…

But then, only those yucky, déclassé `conservatives’ would think such a thing, right Dan and Art?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How Star Wars got Lost

Last evening was the second-last episode of the Lost series, which began in the autumn of 2004.

A few thoughts: the programme is one of the most violent ever presented, or at least, that I have seen recently. Last night’s show, for example, featured a woman dying after having her throat cut, right before a second character is shot to death. Last week’s segment revealed more about the mysterious Jacob, and his unnamed twin brother, who were born from a shipwreck survivor who washed up on the island, was rescued by a woman already living there, who in turn murders the new mother by bashing her head in with a rock. This woman then raises the twins as her own.

I was reminded of the Norse pagan creation story, of the chief goddess giving birth to the Nordic race by having twins, one of whom is fair-haired, the other swarthy. In Lost, Jacob is shown to be fair in appearance, while his twin, if not swarthy, is much darker complected. It seems that the unnamed twin was rendered into the “smoke monster” that has harassed and murdered the plane-wrecked survivors, and many others, throughout the course of the series, when Jacob pushed him into the cave from which emanated a bright light of unknown origin. After which, the light was extinguished and the smoke monster came flying out of the cave.

The significance of this, I’m not certain. However, the producers and cast of Lost recently held a party to mark the end of the series. They were sent a revealing note by George Lucas, creator and director of the Star Wars “saga”.

It read as follows: “Congratulations on pulling off an amazing show. Don't tell anyone ... but when Star Wars first came out, I didn't know where it was going either. The trick is to pretend you've planned the whole thing out in advance. Throw in some father issues and references to other stories — let's call them homages — and you've got a series.” This is what many people, including me, suspected all along about Star Wars.

The Star Wars “saga” ultimately failed, becasue there was, in fact, no story to tell. The Star Wars universe was not a place, but a device, which allowed George Lucas to meld together several genres — the western, the war movie, the medieval romance, the pirate flick, and the samurai film — to create an exciting adventure with the first installment in 1977. Though set in the distant past, the far-away galaxy possessed super-futuristic hardware, inspired in turn by Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon serials of the 1940s. This allowed the characters to seamlessly hop between genres. Thus, Luke Skywalker and company could engage in a gun (“laser”) battle in keeping with the old western; later, Skywalker could take on Darth Vader with a sword made out of light, as befits a medieval epic; afterward, our heroes could engage the forces of the evil galactic empire in World War II-style space dogfights. Courtesy faster-than-light travel, the characters could speed to any planet as befitting the genre: either a “desert” planet, or a “forest” planet, or an artificial planetoid to stand in for the villain’s castle. It was this melding of genres which made the original Star Wars so exciting, even if, as one critic put it at the time, it was really “bubble-gum for the mind.”

Be that as it may, it was certainly good-tasting bubble-gum — and relatively long-lasting, too. The premise had enough promise for two separate movies, but that’s it. The first sequel, the Empire Strikes Back, Lucas wisely handed over filmmaking duties to hired guns. Even here, however, the saga necessarily fell back onto melodrama — “I’m your father, Luke.” The third film in the original series had all the action, without the spirit. The three prequels, released around the turn of the century, and detailing the transformation of Luke Skywalker’s father into Darth Vader, the chief villain of the series, were at times just mediocre, and often, abysmal. Even a children’s programme joked about how the Phantom Menace was “half-baked.” One reviewer called it “the Phantom movie,” which is precisely what it was. Perhaps a more skilled screenwriter could have penned something more exciting and interesting. It is more so that Lucas attempted to stretch a device — sci-fi hardware subsuming multiple themes and genres — into a saga, and it didn’t, perhaps couldn’t, work.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hatfields vs McCoys / Private vs Public

In barbarian society, the public is not a space for largely anonymous contact and communication between myriad private actors. Barbarians usually exist in settled communities, but have not developed civilization, society based in towns and cities. Public space there is enfeebled not only by the basic lack of infrastructure. The endurance of clannish social patterns, serves to reinforce the basic of lack of public space, which in turn serves as an arena where social conflicts are played out. Author Malcolm Gladwell quotes an ethnographer who declares that, “Quarrels are necessarily public. They may occur in the coffee shop, village square, or most frequently on a grazing boundary...” (J.K. Campbell, “Honour and the Devil,” in Honour and Shame: The Values of Mediterranean Society, J.G. Peristiany, ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966, no page number cited in Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success , New York, Boston and London: Little, Brown and Company, 2008, p. 167.)

The lack of public or political authority in barbarian society, means that individuals must depend for their security upon their own kin and clan. Each moiety, in turn, must be wiling to take to violence if, even symbolically, another group transgresses upon itself. This is, of course, wrapped up in the concept of “honour”, through which social behaviour is regulated by adherence to group norms, and where disputes are settled by violence, when these norms are offended.

It is a mistake to consider barbarism as a “phase” between savagery (nomadic hunting and gathering) and civilization (urban-based society). Barbarian society reaches stasis, precisely because the level of public violence precludes the development of infrastructure and authority which makes civilization possible.

Barbarism is usually overcome by two paradoxical routes: the conquest and literal housebreaking of barbarians by a neighbouring civilized society, or the barbarian conquest of an urban culture. This is what brought classical civilization to a protracted end, at least in western Europe, as the hordes of Germans, Goths and other barbarians overran the decayed Roman empire. However, within a few centuries, the descendants of these barbarians gathered around the remnants of the empire (notably, the Catholic church, the organization of which was patterned directly upon the administrative reforms of the anti-Christian imperator Diocletian), forming the civilization known as the Middle Ages. It was a process interrupted by the appearance in the eighth century of the Norse, or Vikings, the barbarians who laid waste to much of northern Europe and the British isles during the next several hundred years — but who also traded and explored far wide, from the eastern Mediterranean to Greenland, Newfoundland and perhaps the mainland of North America itself.

It wasn’t long, either, before the Norse were civilized as well, establishing the Danelaw and Danegeld in Britain, as well as various suzerainties in continental Europe. By the time William the Conqueror successfully invaded Britain in 1066, the duke of Normandy, a descendent of Vikings, had been part of long line of French-speaking cavaliers. Prior to their invasions, the Norse were a relatively unknown, and apparently not especially aggressive, farming and pastoral society, without much in the way of established authority or civic life, still living in tribal bands. Historian Gwyn Jones writes, “In early times Denmark was at best a loose and straining confederation; considerable tracts of inland Norway by reason of their inaccessibility were ore or less permanently divorced from the polices of the Trongelag, Rogaland, and the Vik; and large regions of Sweden, notably Vastergotland, Ostertogland, and Uppland, were held apart by dense forests. The trend to separatism was marked to the end of the Viking Age. Farmer communities, remote and inward-looking, and resistant to change, persisted throughout Harald Hardradi’s time in Norway and Onund Jacob’s in Sweden; and the old viking aristocracy, blest with estates, privileges, and ships, was slow to break up. No king in the north could survive except by force. In sounds less flattering to described Godfred the Dane, Olaf Tryggvason, Svein Forkbeard, and Eirik the Victorious as mere top-dogs in their separate domains, but it falls short of libel. Their almost-peers were a hard-jawed packed. Such was the nature of the northern realms.” (Gwyn Jones, A History of the Vikings. 2nd. ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984; paperback ed., 2001, pp. 66-67).

It appears that overpopulation of the European northlands forced the “surplus” — consisting mainly of young adult males — to sally forth and steal what they could not earn. It is significant that the Viking Age came to an end, in the eleventh century, coincident with the formation of three recognizable Scandinavian kingdoms — Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

The other kind of civilizing process, where a relatively developed, urban society, with established government, comes to dominate a barbarian population, occurred with the extension of royal authority in London, to the entire of the British isles during the early-modern period. At that time, Scotland especially was home to a very backward and factious population of clans of Irish derivation, the people known today as the Scots-Irish. The civilizing of the highland Scots clans occurred with the Clearances, the dispossession of thousands of peasants so to enclose land for cash farming. A significant number of the estranged emigrated, during the eighteenth century, to North America. The remainder were forced to migrate to the cities of Caledonia, where Scots Gaelic disappeared for good, along with most of the customs of the highland Irish, as these Irish were assimilated into the Scots English mainstream, which had long been situated in the country’s burghs. In Scotland, the civilizing process was quite successful, with the Scots becoming leading pioneers of the Enlightenment.

But the clannish and honour-based society of the Scots-Irish persisted amongst those who had emigrated to America, finding a home in the backhills of the southeast, the Appalachian and the Blue Ridge mountains in particular. These places were the home, of course, to the many blood feuds that erupted throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, notably that among the Hatfields and McCoys. Famously, the disputes arose over no substantive injury. Instead, symbolic acts (such as the accusation of cheating at cards, in one lesser known feud) were nearly always behind the vigilante skirmishes that affected so many of the counties of Appalachia. The American southeast generally — the area known as Dixieland — was characterized until recently by the impoverishment of the public, and by the clannish “good ol’ boy” rule. It was a culture that came to encompass the African slaves and their descendants, identified in the twentieth century with the “ghetto” ethos of the American inner cities. In these places, the public has been turned into the “turfs” of various street gangs, the intramural warfare of which makes these areas as bloody as the highlands of early-modern Scotland.

How are factious barbarians, so committed to blood feud, able to achieve the unity necessary to invade and conquer civilized societies? It is frequently the advent of what Max Weber called charismatic leadership. Charisma, alike with tribal-kinship organization, is highly personal and informal. But as with “legitimate” government (based, that is, on formal laws and institutions), charisma inspires loyalty and action beyond immediate kin and patriarchal relations. Instead, the charismatic leader, who comes as often as not from the lower ranks, inspires others entirely on the basis of personal magnetism, sagacity and prowess. He may become the “father-figure” of his barbarian nation (with the rare female charismatic leaders, such as Jeanne D’Arc, becoming “mothers” of their people), but even so, his leadership serves to undermine the traditional loyalties of kin and village in favour of “something bigger.” It is this grandiosity, again based in a person, not institutions, which often paves the way for institutional or (in Weberian terms, “legitimate”) government.

But here is the truth in the saying, “men make history.” It is by no means inevitable that a charismatic leader should arise amongst the ranks of barbarians, to unite the latter in common purpose. And, even if this should occur, there is no certainty that the charismatic will take the necessary steps to institutionalize impersonal rule as a legacy. And yet, it does take the will of the charismatic to bring about civilized existence into being: civilization doesn’t just evolve “on its own.”