January 29, 2010

In defence of Guido Bertolaso (updated)

A couple of days ago La Stampa newspaper ran an interesting piece by Lucia Annunziata, whose interview with Guido Bertolaso, Italy’s top disaster official, caused a furious reaction on the part of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Now I am pleased to re-publish it in English—translated by Mirino, who is a regular contributor to this blog (thank you!). I really appreciated the article, and I hope my readers will appreciate it as well.

It’s true. Of all nations the USA have made the most important engagement in supplying help to Haiti. But does the fact that the Americans are the protagonists of the operation also mean that they have done everything properly? The words of Bertolaso, head of Italian Civil Protection, representing a government “friend,” have caused a disproportionate reaction.

Unless one reads from this that no one is allowed to criticise the USA. After all, what has Bertolaso said? That help has arrived, but the population isn’t receiving it as rapidly as should be the case. He said that the Americans have an enormous military structure which is nevertheless unsuitable for dealing with an emergency disaster.
The question is: Are Bertolaso’s affirmations false? Is this perhaps not what all our correspondents are writing and seeing every day in Haiti? Are things then normalised in Port-au-Prince? Have we seen any large camp sites anywhere? Is it right that fifteen days after the earthquake the principal square of the city (not just a labyrinth of ally ways in a tiny quarter), thousands of people are massed without tents and without being regularly supplied with food and water? Are the criticisms of Bertolaso and Sarkozy inventions, the collapse of local government and that of the United Nations? And would it be sheer chance that Bertolaso’s words have also been amply repeated by other international media, especially English? If this affirmation be so echoed, it’s certainly not because of the importance of the personality (may Bertolaso forgive us), but perhaps because an exposed nerve has been touched.

It’s true that Europe hasn’t done a great deal, and even that, not well enough (Baroness Ashton has certainly done us proud!) and we could do with a lot of criticism ourselves, but the USA have engaged themselves in Haiti in such a big way, not because Americans are better than Europeans, but because for a century they have virtually been governing the place. From 1915, the year of the first US debarkation on the island, until today, Haiti has in fact been an American protectorate. And it’s really the awareness of this that incited Obama to move (his words). Among the Presidents that have been very concerned about Haiti is also Bill Clinton. Another engagement- this too- and also very generous, but not necessarily successful: if one refers to Foreign Policy one can read the auto-critic on those years by David Rothkopf, the man who directed the Clinton agency for Haiti’s economic revival. Today Obama has burdened Clinton with the responsibility of following the Haitian emergency. Unfortunately it’s undeniable that he only went there once.

To thus indicate today any shortcomings of this intervention doesn’t signify demeaning such generosity, but understanding the complexity of the situation. In this concern: Bill is also the husband of Hillary. We are persuaded that an American secretary of State is above all suspicion- but I don’t believe I’m wrong if I say that if one was dealing with an Italian case, we would have indicated a conflict of interests in such an affair.


UPDATE Jan. 29, 2010, 9:00pm
Speaking at a ceremony in Coppito, Abruzzo, marking the handover from the national to regional government, Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi announced (Italian) this afternoon his intention to reward Guido Bertolaso for his great job in Abruzzo. “After what he did in L’Aquila,” he said, “to make him minister is the least we can do.”

January 27, 2010

Obama and his once-in-a-generation opportunity

US President Barack Obama should realize that he ‘has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help make the world a dramatically safer place,’ and that ‘this is his “tear down this wall” moment.’ It’s a fleeting moment, though...

Robert Kagan in today’s Washington Post:

Imagine an Iran whose educated, inventive and highly cultured people were allowed to flourish, fully enmeshed in the global economy and society. Imagine the effect on the Muslim world and the greater Middle East of a modernizing, prosperous Iran that held regular, free and fair elections. Those who have long advocated a "grand bargain" were right to talk about the immense global benefits if Iran could be integrated into the international order. Their big mistake was thinking such a bargain could be had with benighted and virulently anti-Western leaders. But the bargain would be grand if the present government could go the way of the Brezhnevs and Ligachevs.

Regime change is more important than any deal the Obama administration might strike with Iran's present government on its nuclear program. Even if Tehran were to accept the offer made last year to export some of its low-enriched uranium, this would be a modest step down a long, uncertain road. Such a minor concession is not worth abandoning the push for real change.

On-the-job training

“Why does everybody hate me?” Well, he didn’t say exactly this… what “thin Skinned Obama” actually said, according to Mark Halperin (a card carrying member of the liberal media elite), is “The Press is against me.” After all “He hasn’t been in public life very long. . . . He’s experiencing it for the very first time. It’s on-the-job training…”

Never Again

“So I was hiding out in the heap of dead bodies because in the last week when the crematoria didn’t function at all, the bodies were just building up higher and higher. So there I was at nighttime, in the daytime I was roaming around in the camp, and this is where I actually survived, January 27, I was one of the very first, Birkenau was one of the very first camps being liberated. This was my, my survival chance.”
—Bart Stern

January 27 - International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Mrs. Clinton's rage

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is very angry. “I deeply resent,” she said at a town-hall meeting with State Department employees, “those who attack our country, the generosity of our people and the leadership of our president in trying to respond to historically disastrous conditions after the earthquake.” However, Mrs. Clinton was not surprised by criticism from countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba, which have accused the United States of occupying Haiti, but she was shocked by comments from Guido Bertolaso, head of Italy’s civil protection service, who described Washington’s earthquake response as “pathetic.”

Yet, to my mind there is something deeply wrong here. Mrs. Clinton assailed those who “attack our country, the generosity of our people and the leadership of our president,” but, as far as I know, Bertolaso didn’t criticize the US, nor did he question, by any means, the generosity of the American people. Yet, it would be reasonable to argue that he criticized (though implicitly) the leadership of President Obama. So what? Would there have been anything wrong with doing so? Is there anything wrong with questioning Washington’s earthquake response? Honestly, I don’t think so. Furthermore it would be useful to remember that, even if Bertolaso may have been a bit too harsh, he is neither the Italian Prime minister nor Italy’s Foreign minister, neither a diplomat nor a politician, he is only the head of Italy’s civil protection department, a man of action and a talented organizer.

That’s why I can’t understand Mrs. Clinton’s reaction. I find it excessive. At this point one might well ask (no offence meant): Is there still freedom of speech for us common mortals when we dare to question nothing less than the leadership of President Obama?

January 26, 2010

The choice target

   Translated and commented on by Mirino

I came across the following article in Le Figaro by Isabelle Lassere. Accordingly it would seem that the 11 September complot myth is still surviving despite the seriousness of the disease. Indeed it seems to have cancerously grown into an institutional enterprise in itself. Considering the accumulation of events that since should have negated the conspiracy theories, it reveals how difficult it is nowadays, thanks mainly to Internet, to remove obsessive ideas- once they have taken root (like abscesses) from the bitter die-hards who have no wish to part with them.

America, the target of choice of revisionism

Nine years after the WTC attack, the hunt for Osama bin Laden is again regarded as a priority by American officials, who seek an exit door from the war in Afghanistan. The attempted attack of the 25th December, on the Amsterdam-Detroit flight by a young Nigerian, brought al-Qaida back in the topical lime-light. But since September 11th, 2001, there is one one thing that has hardly changed: the persistence of the revisionists' theories which contradict the official version of events. More solid than al-Qaida and more immutable than Osama bin Laden, they are transformed into a collective belief reaching every continent and resisting, like weeds, all kinds of counter measures.


For holders of the conspiracy idea the CIA, the Jews and the oil companies would be behind the attacks. At best, the American Administration would have been aware of the attacks but would have ignored them to justify its project to seize the Middle East. The ideas which required that the Twin Towers would have crumbled under the effect of explosives, that an American missile and not a plane would have struck the Pentagon, and that no airliner would ever have crashed in Pennsylvania, are still very much alive.
After having sold 200,000 copies of his book, 'L'Effroyable Imposture' (The Big Lie), translated into twenty-eight languages, the leader of the French revisionists on September 11th, Thierry Meyssan, director of the Voltaire network, has written a continuation, 'Le Pentagate'. On the Net, associations multiply like bread rolls. The Movement (American) for the truth of 11th September, 2001 federates a hundred different sites today, sells tee-shirts, publishes DVDs and organises world wide conferences.

For nine years, the zones of influence of the negationist theories have been more or less the same ones: the Muslim world in general, Russia, ex-communist countries, Latin America and a few isolated countries like France and Germany.
"The revisionist theory card corresponds perfectly with the anti-Americanism in the world", explains Claude Moniquet, the president of the European Centre for Strategic Intelligence and Security (ESISC) based in Brussels. If it didn't sell in the Ukraine and Georgia, whose hearts are turned towards Washington rather than towards Moscow, the Presidents Iranian, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Venezuelan, Hugo Chávez, have fully supported such theories in official discourses.

Helped by the amplifying effect of Internet, the revisionists theories are constantly fed by sympathisers. "Their popularity is daily nourished by new arguments", explains the sociologist Gerald Bronner, who devoted two works on the subject (*). But if these theories work so well, it's also because they are so difficult to prove. "The arguments always seem convincing. It's necessary to have the knowledge of an engineer, a physicist and a pilot.. to be able to destroy them. Moreover, based on an effect of revelation that enlightens the spirit, the complot myths satisfy one's need to understand the world."

Complot theories have always existed. Among the best known one can refer to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, in 1963, which would have been fomented by Cuba, the USSR or the CIA. And the Protocols of Sages of Sion, an allegedly false document representing a plan for the Jews to conquer the world, manufactured by the secret police of the Russian tsar Nicolas II. More recently, the conspiracy theorists seized upon AIDS, which would have been created by the CIA, and the death of Lady Di, who would have been assassinated by the British secret service. "The conspiracy thesis correspond with conjunctual cycles... During the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, we witness a real culture of opposition and plots", writes researcher Nathalie Bastin, in a study carried out for the ESISC.

A generalised suspicion

But they also evolve with the times. For a long time previously, they were limited to an area or a country. Now the myths become borderless and world wide. "Before, they concentrated on the minorities (Jews, Gypsies, Freemasons), now they focus and polarise themselves on a new actor, the United States, a central force, the expression of Western power", explains Gérald Bronner. For the sociologist, the present time is particularly favourable to their development. "There is, in our Western societies, a denial of the official word and a generalised suspicion of expert testimony and scientific innovation". Two characteristics for which it's necessary, according to him, to add the development of the 'anti-capitalist' ideas and the 'release of the cognitive market' with the explosion of radios, televisions and the generalisation of Internet. "It's increasingly difficult to hide anything. But paradoxically, as everyone ends up by knowing, including the lies, the sentiment that one is being deceived develops itself even more".

The sociologist sees another great myth today overtaking those which surround September 11th: "precautionalism", i.e. the precaution principle pushed to extreme.'

(*) 'Vie et mort des croyances collectives', chez Hermann, et 'La Pensée extrême', chez Denoël.

Isabelle Lasserre, Le Figaro

This over-aired complot idea seems more to be a sick expression of hatred and distrust than a feasible theory. It has been technically disproved, for what it's worth, but more important, it has been proved wrong regarding the original, essential 'motives'.

Needless to add, the USA would never need to, or be inclined to, shoot itself in the heart for whatever pretext. If it was out to control the Middle Eastern oil resources, why would it start by freeing Afghanistan from the Taliban regime? Why is Iraq now free to negotiate with any nation, including France who, previously under Chirac at the time of the Iraqi incursion, was totally against ousting Saddam? Why, if for such control the USA allegedly sacrificed the WTC and thousands of its citizens, was it not in any position to influence the unjustified fuel price rises in 2008 and 2009? Why, if its priority was oil resources, did it not first take on Saudi Arabia which surely would have been easier? Why, if it's thought that the priority of the USA is determined uniquely by its own commercial interests, especially regarding oil, is it still defending the threatened democracy of Afghanistan?

Populist Hugo Chávez allegedly came up with another mad myth recently by suggesting that the USA used its unlimited, technological powers to create the Haiti earthquake in order to gain the pretext of a 'military invasion to take over the country'. To my knowledge neither Venezuela nor Cuba- both of whom regard the USA as having forcibly invaded Haiti- has helped the Haitians in any way.

It is a sad sign of the times that one can make a fortune by spreading perverse, incoherent fallacies. Maybe someone else will come up with another 'best seller' revealing the 'real reason' why the US 'invaded' Afghanistan was to take over the Middle East drug trade.

Montage image by Mirino (with thanks to ARKive and AFP) January, 2010

Obama's failure in Haiti?

Perhaps it’s just because I am slightly biased in favor of him—and this because I have learned to trust him—that I can’t help but think that Guido Bertolaso is right and his critics are wrong. Or perhaps not, who knows? However, this is how I feel about the whole matter.

Bertolaso, head of Italy’s civil protection service, was personally sent to Haiti by Silvio Berlusconi because of his expertise—he received international acclaim for his handling of the rescue efforts after the earthquake last April at L’Aquila in Abruzzo, which killed nearly 300 people and left 40,000 homeless—and arrived in Port au Prince on Friday. After two days of observations he described the international aid effort in Haiti as “a pathetic situation which could have been much better organised” and told Italian television that the aid organisations, including United Nations bodies, wrongly thought Haiti was “another humanitarian catastrophe like Cambodia or Rwanda. They thought they could bring something to eat and drink and the problem would be resolved.”

Among many other “compliments” he added that the US military effort was “inefficient” and that troops were not trained to run an aid or disaster relief operation. “The Americans are extraordinary,” he said, “but when you are facing a situation in chaos, they tend to confuse military intervention with emergency aid, which cannot be entrusted to the armed forces.”

Last but not least, he accused many of the organisations involved in the Haiti operation of “putting on a vanity show for the television cameras instead of rolling up their sleeves,” singling out Bill Clinton, the US Special envoy to Haiti, who made a show of helping with water supplies during his time in Haiti, “but went back after a day.” Which earned Bertolaso the gratitude of the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who called Bertolaso’s swipes “Monday morning quarterbacking.” Though, she must have already realized that it is not a matter of family, nor of the US Military or of America (may God always bless America and the US Army!): it’s a matter of failure of leadershipde te, Obama, fabula narratur…

January 23, 2010

'White surge to the GOP'

There seems to have been a white surge to the GOP in Massachusetts. In the 2008 election, no less than 79 percent of Massachusetts voters were white, and Obama carried them by 20 points, winning the state 62 to 36. How did Scott Brown turn that 26-point deficit into a six-point victory? Most likely by winning the white vote as massively as did Obama, says Pat Buchanan.
But, if that’s what really happened, what explains the white surge to the GOP? Here are some likely answers:

First, sinking white support for Obama, seen as ineffectual in ending the recession and stopping the loss of jobs.

Second, a growing perception that Obama is biased. When the president blurted that the Cambridge cops and Sgt. James Crowley “acted stupidly” in arresting black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates—a rush to judgment that proved wrong—his support sank in white America and especially in Massachusetts, where black Gov. Deval Patrick joined in piling on Crowley. Deval is now in trouble, too.

Then there was Obama’s appointment of Puerto Rican American Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Her militant support for race and ethnic preferences and her decision to deny Frank Ricci and the white firefighters of New Haven a hearing on their case that they were denied promotions they won in competitive exams because they were white caused 31 GOP senators to vote against her.

January 22, 2010

Obama, One Year In

~ “LETTERS FROM AMERICA” - by The Metaphysical Peregrine ~

This is the one year mark of the Obama Presidency, with his political party controlling the House of Representatives, Senate, Executive Branch, and the Jurassic Press, AKA the State controlled media. Used to be known as the free press. So what could go wrong? Well, everything did. We have the least experienced, ideologically driven president ever in our history.

Here’s some somewhat dry but interesting numbers. When Obama took office we were $459 Billion in debt. Now we’re $1.84 Trillion in debt. This first year deficit is more that Bush’s first seven Deficits combined.

He complains that the failed takeover of the health care and insurance industries were because he didn’t get the message out clearly enough; that he should have more robustly addressed the issue. He gave 52 addresses on health care.

He held 42 news conferences, four of them in prime time. By comparison, Bush held 21 news conferences, 1 in prime time. Have you ever known someone that talked so incessantly that you just tuned them out?

He’s done 158 interviews, always with sympathetic alleged journalists. Never a tough question. We know about his dog, his wife with her great arms, his kids, and the magical garden that produces more veggies in and out of season than anywhere on earth or in history.

He held 23 town hall meetings where he routinely insulted citizens that disagreed with him. The audacity of questioning him!

He held seven campaign rallies for Gov. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds, D-Va, and U.S. Senate Candidate Martha Coakley, D-Mass. All of them lost. He’s said he’s coming to my home state of Nevada next month to campaign for Senate Majority leader Harry “Dusty” Reid, currently with an approval rating in the low thirty percentile. We Conservatives are heartened by the prospect of Obama doing for ‘Dusty’ what he’s done for Corzine, Deeds, and Coakley.

He’s played 29 rounds of golf compared to Bush’s seven.

He’s reached out to Leftist dictators and Islamofascists. For his efforts he’s seen as weak by world leaders; and we get the panty bomber, AKA ‘the fruit of the boom bomber’, in Denver on Christmas day. He waits 72 hours to say anything. His chief of security on terrorist activity stays on his ski vacation, and the CIA, FBI and Homeland security chiefs aren’t notified. The terrorist that nearly killed 300 people lawyers up and shuts up.

He hired freaks as ‘czars’ to run things. These are not people that are vetted by congress or any of the intelligence agencies. There was Van Jones for the environment that was a self professed communist and Black Nationalist (anti white racists advocating for the overthrow of the oppressive white government). There’s the ‘safe schools’ czar that is a supporter of NAMBLA (National Man Boy Love Association) and defender of pedophilia (other things he does and advocates can’t be repeated on a family blog). His official nomination for an official agency, TSA, Transportation Security Administration, used government agencies to spy on his estranged wife’s boyfriend. He also thinks that Christians and white people are more of a threat to national security than Islamofacists.
I could go on, but the point has been made. There are 35-40 of these kooks hired by Obama.

The result is that this past Tuesday, Scott Brown was elected to the Senate by the socialist state of Massachusetts as a repudiation of the policies of Obama and the Democrats. The main rejection according to polls was Obamacare. Even the most socialist state in America (all government seats and positions are held by Democrats) is saying, “Wait a minute”. This is a huge political sea change, and we Conservatives are laughing watching the Statists spin, lie, and back peddle.

Obama so far has been a failure as president. He’s helped the Conservative movement for which we’re grateful. He and his political party won’t change though. They are pure ideologues, and have sworn to pass all their legislation anyway. That’s causing some big arguments in the Democrat party. Some of them want to keep their jobs. It’s been likened to a circular firing squad.

If you’re a Conservative, right now Obama is the gift that keeps on giving.

January 21, 2010

And the Climate Change Authority admitted mistake

In a statement released on Wednesday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) admitted that one of its most alarming conclusions—that glaciers in the Himalayas could be gone 25 years from now—was wrong and largely unsubstantiated, as based on news reports rather than published, peer-reviewed scientific studies (and to think that they have always been saying that it was all about the peer-reviewed science …). The statement said that the claim by Working Group II report (“Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”) “refers to poorly substantiated estimates,” and that “the clear and well-established standards of evidence, required by the IPCC procedure, were not applied properly.” (Via Instapundit)

January 20, 2010

St. Francis, or How To Be Meek Without Being a Pacifist

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” What does this verse from the Beatitudes mean? As Steven rightly recalls in a recent post at his blog The Metaphysical Peregrine, most people think this beatitude means that Christians are, or should be, “weak and submissive.” On the contrary, he notes, “it takes a lot of strength and discipline to be meek.” Then he goes on to explain why such an interpretation is wrong and over-simplified. Now, not only do I agree with him, but I would take the point even further, because I think this is a major religious and cultural issue. Therefore… let’s talk about St. Francis of Assisi, the meek par excellence.

St Francis of Assisi is known for his humbleness and for his amazing love for nature and all creatures. But he is also known, above all in these days, for his love of peace, to the point that he has become an icon of peace, an obvious point of reference—if not a kind of legitimizing myth—for pacifists and non-violent (left-wing and radical) anti-war activists. Yet, though St Francis certainly was “a man of peace,” these images are incomplete and somewhat misleading, because they ignore other equally important aspects of his life: the severity of his character and his (mostly unknown) stubbornness… In other words he had a strong personality, bordering sometimes on harsh (he had occasion, for instance, to reproach himself in his last years for the harshness with which he had treated his own body), and was what might be called a man of character.

The cause of such misunderstanding is due, at least in part, to the fact that the Legenda Maior Sancti Francisci, the official biography of the Saint from Assisi written by St Bonaventure of Bagnoregio on commission of the Order of Friars Minor and approved by the General Chapter of Pisa in 1263, was intended to reshape Francis in the apostolic and Christic mould, multiplying the parallels between Francis and the characters of sacred history, citing copiously from the Bible. Thus, St Bonaventure smoothed over the rough edges in Francis’s life, deleting whatever did not correspond to the image he wished to give. He based his Legenda maior primarily on three texts of Thomas of Celano (a Franciscan Friar and disciple of St Francis, and his first biographer): the Vita prima, the Vita secunda, and the Tractatus de miraculis. Thomas himself, in turn, wrote his books at the request of Pope Gregory IX and presented a saint in accordance with hagiographical topoi. But the reader, as John Tolan notes in his Saint Francis and the Sultan. The Curious History of a Christian-Muslim Encounter,

has the impression that Francis’s strong personality, with his uncertainties, his fits of righteous anger, his enthusiasm, his charm, continually overflows the hagiographical frame.

Bonaventure instead

allows the saint no doubts, no spontaneity: he confronts all with serenity, sure that he is following the holy life clearly laid out in the Bible. Hence the disappointment of many of Bonaventure’s modern readers, from Paul Sabatier in the nineteenth century to Jacques Dalarun, for whom the excision of the primitive hagiography and the consecration of only Bonaventure’s text constitutes a ‘Misadventure (malaventure) of Francis of Assisi’.

As for St Francis “the pacifist” (in the age of Crusades), it is to be said that this is a “legend” built up over recent years with the complicity of some scholars such as James Powell, Chiara Frugoni, and Giulio Basetti-Sani. Here is an example of their “strange” method: in his Vita Secunda Thomas of Celano relates that Francis predicted the crusaders’ defeat in a particularly bloody battle (traditionally identified with that of 29 August 1219). Well, for Powell this means that Francis certainly did preach against crusading in general, but Thomas modified his warnings, so as not to offend the church authorities. Yet, the episode from Thomas’ book does not lend itself to this interpretation. In fact,

for Thomas, Francis spoke out not against crusading, nor against war in general, but against fighting on one specific day, a day (as God revealed to him) that was particularly unlucky.

Thomas also claims that during the defeat Francis cried hot tears for the crusaders who fell in battle, particularly for the Spaniards, who had fought ferociously, “but he does not seem to have shed a single tear for the Muslim dead.”

Yet, according to Chiara Frugoni, “Francis, in silent disagreement with the Church, which had taken the side of the armed crusaders, championed the peaceful conversion of the infidels…”

Here is how John Tolan demolishes their reasoning:

How can we suppose, along with Powell, Basetti-Sani, and others, that Francis actively preached against the crusades in the midst of the crusader camp, and did so until the capture of Damietta, yet that no chronicler mentions this? Powell and the others have a strange method: they form an idea of Francis, a pacifist like those of the twentieth century, then affirm that Thomas of Celano hid this reality so as not to offend papal sensibilities.

Franco Cardini, in turn, argued in several articles and books against the idea that Francis represents a passage from the age of crusading to the age of mission. This idea, according to the Italian medieval historian (and renowned Arabist), rests on a false dichotomy. The two coexisted in the thirteenth century and were in no way incompatible. According to Cardini, Francis perhaps criticized the actions of some crusaders, but he was in rupture neither with the fifth crusade nor with the idea of crusading. And Benjamin Kedar, in his Crusade and Mission: European Approaches to the Muslims (1984), showed how in the thirteenth century there was no incompatibility between crusading and missionary preaching, the two being seen as complementary rather than contradictory. He rejected the idea that Francis was opposed to the crusades, and this for the simple reason that there is no source to prove it.

The truth is that, though “Francis the pacifist” is increasingly evoked in a troubled world in the aftermath of 11 September 2001, Francis participated in the fifth crusade “as a chaplain to the troops” and “not as a man of peace.”

He sought by all means to obtain martyrdom in order to reconquer the Holy Land and fell into a depression when the crusaders lost. He did not go see the sultan to dialogue but to convert him and he defied him to walk on burning coals to see who was the more powerful, Christ or Muhammad.

But, if Francis was not, by any means, a pacifist like those of the twentieth century, he was certainly a man of “great firmness” and “strength of soul.” This is how Thomas tells the story of the encounter between St Francis and Sultan Malik al-Kamil:

Now in the thirteenth year of his conversion, he journeyed to the region of Syria, while bitter and long battles were being waged daily between Christians and pagans. Taking a companion with him, he was not afraid to present himself to the sight of the sultan of the Saracens. Who is equal to the task of telling this story? What great firmness he showed standing in front of him! With great strength of soul he spoke to him, with eloquence and confidence he answered those who insulted the Christian law. Before he reached the sultan, he was captured by soldiers, insulted and beaten, but was not afraid. He did not flinch at threats of torture nor was he shaken by death threats.

Please note that at that time a cruel edict had been issued by the Sultan that whoever would bring him the head of a Christian should receive as a reward a gold piece. But the intrepid knight of Christ, confidently chanted that prophetic verse: “Even if I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I shall not fear evil because you are with me” [Ps. 23: 4].


First written for The Metaphysical Peregrine


January 19, 2010

Benedict at the Synagogue

And to think that even the day chosen for the visit, was not that smooth. In fact, first of all, for Roman Jews January 17 is the day in which they commemorate the fire that, back in 1793, was ignited in their ghetto out of hatred—the so-called “Moed di piombo,” with the fire timely extinguished by a violent rainstorm that fell out of a “lead” (“piombo”) colored sky.

In the second place, January 17 is also, in Italy, the “Day for the exploration and development of dialogue between Catholics and Jews,” but last year the Jews retracted their participation in the day, above all at the urging of Rabbi Giuseppe Laras, of the Jewish community of Milan, blaming Benedict XVI and his decision to introduce into the ancient Roman rite for Good Friday the prayer that God “may enlighten” the hearts of the Jews, “that they may recognize Jesus Christ as Savior of all men.”

And yet, in spite of all this, Benedict XVI’s visit to the Synagogue of Rome has been a success, or as Mordechay Lewy—Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See—put it, “a help in the fight against anti-Semitism” and “a pleasant surprise.” In turn, the chief rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, had words of hope about Jews and Christians being “brothers:”

The narrative of Sefer Bereshit, Genesis, gives us some precious suggestions for understanding. As Rabbi Sachs explains, from the beginning to the end of the book, there is leitmotif tying together the different stories. The relationship between brothers starts out badly, with Cain killing Abel. Another pair of brothers, Isaac and Ishmael, live separated, the victims of an inherited rivalry, but are united in their gesture of compassion when they bury their father Abraham. A third pair of brothers, Esau and Jacob, have an equally conflicting relationship, they meet for a brief reconciliation and an embrace and then their roads separate. Finally, there is the story of Joseph and his brothers, which begins dramatically with an attempted murder and sale into slavery but is resolved with a final reconciliation when Joseph’s brothers admit their error and give proof of their willingness to sacrifice themselves one for the other. If ours is a relationship of brothers, we should ask ourselves quite sincerely what point of this journey we have reached, and how far we still have to travel before we recover an authentic relationship of brotherhood and understanding, and what we have to do to achieve this.

And here is what pope Benedict XVI had to say (full text of the speech in the Synagogue of Rome at www.chiesa website. In addition, an introductory article by Sandro Magister). Read also the speech addressed to the pope in the synagogue by the president of the Jewish community of Rome, Riccardo Pacifici, and that of the chief rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni.

January 18, 2010

Is a US default inevitable?

Imagine four hurricanes hitting the East Coast in a single season. Well, according to Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, that’s what the financial crisis of 2008 was all about. And that’s how “they” happened to be blindsided. Yeah, they never saw it coming, and somehow they “just missed … that home prices don’t go up forever,” in Jamie Dimon’s (JP Morgan) words. Ok, there were also those birds of ill-omen who warned a housing bubble was being created like the dot-com bubble, and a few others Cassandras who predicted the Empire of Debt was coming down—um…, just as, today, there are those warning that the US, with consecutive deficits running 10 percent of GDP, is risking an eventual default on its national debt...

Consider the five largest elements in the budget—Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, defense and interest on the debt—and ask yourself how one shouldn’t believe it imperative to stop the exploding national debt from surging above 100 percent of GDP… even though, unfortunately, it is not possible to see how, politically, this can be done. Well, it’s somewhat paradoxical, but that’s more or less how Pat Buchanan puts it. Which is the same as to say that a US default is (perhaps) almost inevitable. [Thanks: Tom Carter]

January 15, 2010

The growing threat

              by Mirino

Following Rob's article about the sailor and survivor, Harold B. Estes.  This would also be pertinent. It's been around for some time but deserves to be widely read simply because it's true.
Almost every day we are reminded of this without even having to look for such reminders. For example yesterday I read that the Algerian actrice 'Rayhana' was attacked in Paris, drenched with white spirit before a lit cigarette was thrown at her.
Fortunately the white spirit didn't ignite. But she is among many in danger, even in Paris- as well as constantly threatened in Algeria.
Recently I read another article in Le Figaro of an Islamic group in the UK who was planning to demonstrate against the 'assassination of Muslims by British troops in Afghanistan'. The demonstration was set to take place in a village that has become the symbol of British soldiers killed in action. It's where the coffins arrive from Afghanistan. Over half a million Brits protested against the planned demonstration via Facebook.
The fanatics also predict that the Sharia will be imposed in the UK. The group has since been banned by government authorities, but they will simply change their name and continue..

Dr. Emanuel Tanay, A German's view on Islamic extremism.

Dr. Tanay's family was of German aristocracy prior to World War II. They owned a number of large industries and estates. When asked how many German people were true Nazis, the answer he gave can guide our attitude toward fanaticism.

'Very few people were true Nazis,' he said, 'but many enjoyed the return of German pride, and many more were too busy to care. I was one of those who just thought the Nazis were a bunch of fools. So, the majority just sat back and let it all happen. Then, before we knew it, they owned us, and we had lost control, and the end of the world had come. My family lost everything. I ended up in a concentration camp and the Allies destroyed my factories.'

We are told again and again by 'experts' and 'talking heads' that Islam is the religion of peace and that the vast majority of Muslims just want to live in peace. Although this unqualified assertion may be true, it is entirely irrelevant. It is meaningless fluff, meant to make us feel better, and meant to somehow diminish the spectre of fanatics rampaging across the globe in the name of Islam.
The fact is that the fanatics rule Islam at this moment in history. It is the fanatics who march. It is the fanatics who wage any one of 50 shooting wars worldwide. It is the fanatics who systematically slaughter Christian or tribal groups throughout Africa and are gradually taking over the entire continent in an Islamic wave. It is the fanatics who bomb, behead, murder, or honour-kill. It is the fanatics who take over mosque after mosque. It is the fanatics who zealously spread the stoning and hanging of rape victims and homosexuals. It is the fanatics who teach their young to kill and to become suicide bombers.
The hard, quantifiable fact is that the peaceful majority, the 'silent majority,' is cowed and extraneous.

Communist Russia was comprised of Russians who just wanted to live in peace, yet the Russian Communists were responsible for the murder of about 20 million people. The peaceful majority were irrelevant. China's huge population was peaceful as well, but Chinese Communists managed to kill a staggering 70 million people.
The average Japanese individual prior to World War II was not a warmongering sadist. Yet, Japan murdered and slaughtered its way across South East Asia in an orgy of killing that included the systematic murder of 12 million Chinese civilians; most killed by sword, shovel, and bayonet.
And who can forget Rwanda, which collapsed into butchery. Could it not be said that the majority of Rwandans were 'peace loving'?

History lessons are often incredibly simple and blunt, yet for all our powers of reason, we often miss the most basic and uncomplicated of points:
Peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by their silence.
Peace-loving Muslims will become our enemy if they don't speak up, because like my friend from Germany, they will awaken one day and find that the fanatics own them, and the end of their world will have begun.
Peace-loving Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Rwandans, Serbs, Afghans, Iraqis, Palestinians, Somalis, Nigerians, Algerians, and many others have died because the peaceful majority did not speak up until it was too late. As for us who watch it all unfold, we must pay attention to the only group that counts--the fanatics who threaten our way of life.

Lastly, anyone who doubts that the issue is serious is contributing to the passiveness that allows the problems to expand. So, extend yourselves, think about it, and pass on the word - before it's too late.'

Emanuel Tanay, M.D.


January 14, 2010

Beyond comprehension

Most of us really can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to lose everything in a natural disaster. The sheer weight of loss and the accompanying despair is overwhelming. Looking through the pics of the devastation wrought in Haiti by yesterday’s earthquake, every good soul must feel kinship with those suffering in grief.

It is truly beyond comprehension.

Father Philip is right, and there is very little to add to what he has said. Let’s pray for the victims. Let’s help them as much as we can and in whatever way we can. Here are some links for organizations providing relief in Haiti:

United States
Episcopal Relief and Development
Anglican Relief and Development
Food for the Poor
Catholic Relief Services
American Jewish World Service
Salvation Army
(thanks: Chris Johnson)

Caritas Italiana
Medici senza frontiere
Croce Rossa Italiana
See also here.

International Committee of the Red Cross
Médecins Sans Frontières
Save the Children

January 13, 2010

The WWII vet and the Holocaust survivor: a telephone conversation about President Obama

Harold and Esther are both in their 90s, and they are amazed, angry, and determined not to see the US die before they do. And they both are not fans of Obama’s apologetic attitude towards nations classically hostile to both America and Israel. Sara K. Eisen—Esther’s granddaughter—got the crazy idea that they should meet...

January 11, 2010

'The Pillage Idiot Guide to Offensive Statements by Public Officials'

It’s one thing for Barack Obama to grant absolution for an ally's dubious racial remark, but when Al Sharpton absolves the offender, you just know there are different standards at work.

Here is a flow chart mapping out the politics of offensive statements. Via Instapundit.

Burma: a culture lost in translation

“We Are Because They Are: A Culture Lost In Translation” (part 1/part 2) is an interesting documentary film about Burmese living abroad (in this case in Norway). Once home away from home, Burma is destined to become a foreign land to them. It’s worth looking at and thinking about.

How Tibet was sold out for a fistful of pounds and a few dollars more

Last week, Christopher Booker, columnist at the Sunday Times, reported on “the strange eagerness” of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office “to appease the murderous regime in Tehran.” But now we have learned that David Milliband’s appeasement of Tehran has a strong precedent,

Another example of the FCO's willingness to kowtow to nasty regimes has been flagged up in another newspaper, where a columnist researching ahead of a recent visit to China came across a remarkable statement from the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, slipped out on the FCO website on October 29 2008, just before representatives of the Dalai Lama were due to hold talks in Beijing on the future of Tibet.
Buried in the statement was Britain's recognition for the first time that, like "all other members of the EU… we regard Tibet as part of the People's Republic of China".

It’s just what Barack Obama said last November, soon after his meeting with China’s president Hu Jintao. Unfortunately, the “recognition” has become a very popular motto in the language of international relations, since in a diplomatic note to Beijing issued one month ago by the Danish government it was made clear that Denmark—ruled by a center-right coalition—would oppose Tibetan independence and carefully considered China’s reaction before inviting the Dalai Lama again.

So, apparently it all started from David Miliband, the would be leader of the Labour party (and possibly Prime Minister of the UK), and above all the Foreign Secretary of a country which for over a hundred years has studiously not conceded that Tibet is part of China. He even apologized that Britain had not done so earlier… As Robert Barnett, the director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia University, wrote in November 25, 2008 New York Times,

The British concession to China last month was buried within a public statement calling on Beijing to grant autonomy in Tibet, leading some to accuse the British government of hypocrisy. It is more worrying if it was a miscalculation. The statement was released two days before the Dalai Lama's envoys began the eighth round of talks with Beijing on their longstanding request for greater autonomy, apparently because the British believed - or had been told - that their giveaway to Beijing would relax the atmosphere and so encourage China to make concessions to the Dalai Lama.
The result was the opposite. On Nov. 10, China issued a damning attack on the exile leader, saying his autonomy plan amounted to ethnic cleansing, disguised independence and the reintroduction of serfdom and theocracy. The only thing that China will henceforth discuss with the exiles is the Dalai Lama's personal status, meaning roughly which luxury residence he can retire to in Beijing.

Barnett also reported that

The official press in China has gleefully attributed European concessions on Tibet to the financial crisis. "Of course these European countries are at this time not collectively changing their tune because their conscience has gotten the better of them," announced The International Herald Leader, a government-owned paper in Beijing, on Nov. 7. It added that the financial crisis "has made it impossible for them not to consider the 'cost problem' in continuing to 'aid Tibetan independence' and anger China. After all, compared to the Dalai, to as quickly as possible pull China onto Europe's rescue boat is even more important and urgent."

Would the International Herald Leader have ever imagined that about one year later even the President of the United States would sell out Tibet by rewriting history to get support in the financial crisis?

But, as the old saying goes, “Never say die!” In fact His Holiness the Dalai Lama today said he was optimistic about China giving autonomy to Tibet, and this, paradoxically, just because of a matter of money... Asked about the chances of China giving autonomy to Tibet, he said, “Since Jiang Zemin came to power, there has been a big change in China; now money is very important. Therefore, I am optimistic.” But then again, as another old saying goes, “Money comes and goes...”

January 7, 2010

St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul’s is, as I remembered it, a very handsome noble architectural exploit, but singularly unaffecting. When I formerly came to it from the Italian cathedrals, I said, “Well, here is New York.” It seems the best of show-buildings, a fine British vaunt, but there is no moral interest attached to it.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson [from his journals, April? 1848], in EMERSON IN HIS JOURNALS, selected and edited by Joel Porte, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Massachusetts) - London (England), 1982.

That’s just (si parva licet componere magnis) what I always thought about London’s cathedral…

January 4, 2010

The thousand faces of the real Islam

Her name is Anna Mahjar-Barducci, she is a young journalist and writer living in Italy, born to a Moroccan mother and Italian father, and married to an Israeli Jew. In the eyes of orthodox Islam, as well as of her fellow Muslim immigrants, her marriage and that of her mother are an apostasy. “When I see a Maghrebi on the street,” she says, “I have to change direction. He starts to greet me in Arabic, and stares at me as if I were his property. One time I was in a pizzeria with a classmate, and a Moroccan called me “sharmuta,” prostitute, and told me that I couldn’t go out with an Italian. The owner of the pizzeria had to intervene, to kick him out. Nothing like that would ever happen in Morocco.”

“Nothing like that would ever happen in Morocco,” in fact, in 2006 the most widely viewed film in Morocco was a love story (Marock) between a young Muslim woman and a Jewish young man. This means that in Morocco predominant opinion is not at all so rigid. How could this difference be explained?

In an autobiographical account—entitled Italo-marocchina. Storie di immigrati marocchini in Europa—which was released a few weeks ago in bookstores in Italy, Anna Mahjar-Barducci—who is also the founder and the president of the Associazione Arabi Democratici Liberali, the website of which is also in English—tries to solve the enigma, and to answer many other questions about the reality of today’s Muslim communities both in the West and in the non-Western world. What emerges from the book is a multiform, unknown and “individual Islam,” made up of love, ruin, passion, fanaticism, and Europe as an unfulfilled dream.

Go to Sandro Magister’s website to read a chapter of the book (in English translation).

Here are some articles in English by Anna Mahjar-Barducci:

  1. The Burqa: “I Am Not A Candy” (July 9, 2009, The Daily Star)
  2. What happened in Omdurman, and who is Khalil Ibrahim? (May 27, 2008, The Daily Star)
  3. A step backward in Moroccan freedoms (February 18, 2007, The Daily Star)
  4. Turning Abbas into a missed opportunity (July 11, 2006, The Daily Star)
  5. Fatal attraction: the Hamas-Iran alliance (May 8, 2006, The Daily Star)

    January 3, 2010

    International complicity

    And now there is also a defence of the Islamic Republic of Iran posted at Socialist Unity today. As an eloquent example of how far certain sections of the British (and European) Left have sunk. Hat tip: Harry's Place (the “other” Left).

    The 'Religion of Peace' strikes again

    He is a 28-year-old Somali with a regular residence permit in Denmark, but with close links with Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab and possibly al-Qaida militants in East Africa. He broke into Kurt Westergaard’s home armed with an ax and knife, shouting threats of “blood” and “revenge.” Yet, fortunately Westergaard and his granddaughter, who was in the home on a sleepover, succeeded in fleeing into a specifically created safe room. Westergaard is the Danish cartoonist whose 12 caricatures named “Faces of Muhammad,” published by Danish Jyllands-Posten, ignited riots and outrage across the Muslim world.

    The Danish Muslim Union condemned the attack. They said in a statement: “We strongly distance ourselves from the attack, and any kind of extremism that leads to such acts.”

    Here is what I had to say at the time about both the cartoons and the riots.

    January 1, 2010

    Happy New Year!!!

    The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards. Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

    ~ Gilbert Keith Chesterton