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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Middle East and Islam

Sunday October 14 2018

Photoer facelessness can be contrived in many ways, not least by the camera itself getting in the way.  Then there’s photoing them from behind.  Or having something else between their face and the camera photoing them.  And of course there’s cropping.

Here’s another little clutch of not-then-posted but ready-to-go photoer photos, found when looking for something else.  They guy holding up the red camera with two fingers, V-sign style, had already had the top of his face cropped off.  But nothing further then happened.

My favourites, from the facelessness point of view, are the first photo and the last photo:

imageimageimageimageimage
imageimageimageimageimage
imageimageimageimageimage

Burka Lady on the left looks like she had clocked me photoing her.  But my guess is she and her friend were getting a lot of that.

Number 7, or 3.1, or bottom left or whatever we call her, is rather recognisable.  But that interested me a lot.  What is she doing with her two cameras?  Trying to take identical photos, to compare her cameras?  If so, I wonder how the phone did compared to the regular camera?  Rather well, I’m guessing.

Saturday September 22 2018

At my home on the last Friday of this month (Friday September 28th – which is in six days time), Michael Jennings will be speaking about Iran, and in particular about how he recently spent some time exploring its capital city, Tehran.  The easiest link to learn more about Michael’s amazing globetrottings is to this list of his Samizdata contributions.

Each month, I solicit a few words from the speaker, to email to my list of potential attenders.  A few days ago, Michael sent me rather more than a few words about what he’ll be speaking about, more words than I need for that email. But I don’t want all these words going to waste, so, with Michael’s kind permission, here they all are.  In the email I send out tomorrow evening, I will be quoting from this, but will include the link to this posting, so that all who want to can, as they say, read the whole thing.

So, Michael Jennings on “Exploring Tehran”:

In recent years, I have done quite a lot of travelling in the Middle East.

From the western perspective - and particularly from the perspective of the western media - it is very easy to look at the Muslim Middle East and see something homogeneous. If you are inclined to see militant Islam and related terrorism as a threat, it is easy to see it as a single threat. However, there are two main strains of Islam, Shia and Sunni, and these are centred in two quite different cultures and civilisations: the first in Iran and the second in the Arab world.

These are two of the three largest cultures in the Muslim Middle East - the third being Turkey. These three cultures speak three unrelated languages - Farsi, Arabic, and Turkish - and the history and differences between these three cultures go back thousands of years - long before the time of Mohammed. These cultures are tremendously divided today. Iran fought a truly ferocious war with Arab Iraq between 1980 and 1988, the memory of which hangs over the country the way World War 1 probably hung over Europe in 1935. Much of the wars of the past 15 years in Iraq and Syria have been about Shia Iran (Persia) and Sunni Arab Saudi Arabia jostling for position in the Middle East. As to where Turkey stands in all this - I think Turkey is trying to figure this out.

I am not remotely an expert in any of this stuff. I have, however, spent a considerable amount of time travelling around the Middle East and North Africa in recent years. I love to explore cities on foot. I have done this, or attempted to do this in many places. Slightly less than two years ago I spent 10 days exploring Tehran on foot. Despite the fearsome (justified) reputation of the regime that rules Iran, I found - from my perspective as a Christian westerner - the most culturally familiar and welcoming culture that I had found travelling in the Middle East. Despite the fact that Iran is the only country in the entire world where all women are required to wear a headscarf at all times, I was struck by the fact that the role of women in public life was clearly much higher and that women are clearly much better educated and have a far more prominent role in the economy than in any Arab country I have been to. The Iranian middle class is substantial, and it is a very westernised middle class. At times in North Tehran I found myself in cafes and restaurants that easily could have been in hipster areas of Los Angeles, apart from the lack of alcohol.

I also found something that I should have known already - Iran is a trading, commercial nation. In South Tehran I found myself in shopping streets and bazaars that resembled East Asia - possibly commercial districts of Bangkok or Hanoi - more than anything elsewhere in the Middle East. I found myself sitting in stores being made tea (and being offered illicit alcohol) by merchants who wanted to tell me all about their trading trips to Shenzhen. It was fascinating.

And yet, this is a country that faces sanctions, and is cut off from the official system of international trade. What happens when you cut such a country off from the official system of international trade, and international academia, and international everything and so impoverishing the country, even though this is a culture that wants to participate? Come along to my talk, and I will speculate. Or possibly just show you my holiday pictures.

The basic point of my meetings is for people to attend them, but another point of them is for me to spread a gentle wave of information about people who have worthwhile things to say and interesting stories to tell, even if you do not actually attend.  This posting now means that, this month, that second mission is already somewhat accomplished.

Sunday September 16 2018

I am currently reading The Closing of the Muslim Mind, by Robert R. Reilly, with a view to reviewing it for Samizdata.  Brilliant.  For as long as I’ve been reading this book, finishing reading it has been my number one concern.  Shoving up brilliant stuff here has … not.  Some Facebook friends of mine have been choosing the books that have most influenced their thinking, and this book looks like it will be added to my list.

Here is a typically illuminating paragraph from this book (on page 144 of my paperback edition – which I am happy to note is towards the end of it):

The enormous influence of Saudi Arabia today in the Muslim world is often thought by Westerners to be almost completely due to its oil wealth - petro-Islam. However, this discounts the fact that many Muslims, including in countries like Egypt, which are traditionally opposed to Saudi Arabia, see this wealth as a direct gift from Allah. Can it be only an accident that these treasures are under the sands of this particular country? No, they must be there as a reward to the Saudis for following the true path. Why else would the oil be there? - a question that has to be answered not by geologists, but within the understanding that God has directly placed the oil there as He directly does all things. The presence of petroleum gives credence to the Saudi claim that its Wahhabi form of Islam is the legitimate one. It is because of the oil that other Muslims are willing to give this claim consideration. This is why Wahhabism has spread so significantly, even in parts of the world like Indonesia that would seem, from their cultural backgrounds, to have little sympathy with its radical literalism. Therefore, it is not only through Saudi oil largess but also because of where the oil is that Wahhabism enjoys such prominence.

For the sort of Muslim Reilly is writing about (and that’s a hell of a lot of them), what we in the West refer to as “reality” is continuously created by Allah, in a succession of miraculous whims.  Even to study the laws of nature is to presume to place limits on what Allah might choose to do, and is accordingly a blasphemy.  Whatever happens was done by Allah, and is accordingly right.  Might is right.

And if the Saudis have most of the financial clout in the Muslim world, that means Allah must be on their side.

Friday June 08 2018

Following on from that earlier very vertical dragon photo, here’s some horizontality:

image

Original photo, with explanation, here.

My thoughts and feelings towards these ladies can be summed up with the phrase unconditional positive regard.

Thursday May 17 2018

I have yet to break my Twitter silence.  I am just letting all the people I follow just Twitter away all over me, while I try to get a sense of who Twitters well, so that when I finally do, if I ever do, I too will Twitter well, or at least quite well.

imageOne such role model is Frank J. Fleming.

From whom, this is deservedly getting around:

I think you’re always going to have tension in the Middle East when there’s people who want to kill the Jews and Jews who don’t want to be killed and neither side is willing to compromise.

More recently, I also liked this, about an American psycho-gang that President Trump described as animals:

I assumed the threat of MS-13 was being overblown since I don’t trust Trump, but now other people I don’t trust are doing overtime belittling the problem of MS-13 and I don’t know who not to trust more.

When I was young, I wondered if I would be able to respect my youngers but betters.  How would that work?  It turns out it works fine.  That would make another nice Tweet.

Monday April 16 2018

Twitter is causing ever more interesting things to pile up on my computer screen, and slow everything down.  (I know, “bookmarks”.  Hate them.) So, here is a blog posting consisting of such links.  Which I can come back to and follow through on but probably never will, but possibly just might.

Eyebrows - we all have them, but what are they actually for?

The Kremlin has a Reckless Self-Image Problem.

Via 6k, how to take bizarre photos by stuffing wire wool into a egg whisk, setting the wire wool on fire, and swinging all that around on a rope.  Do not try this at home, unless you want to burn down your home.

Next, a Twitter posting about cactus patterns:

So frustrating! My cactus patterns are going viral on FB, but the person who posted the photo of them a) didn’t credit me and b) deletes any comments I write responding to people asking for the patterns.

But what if she made that up? As a ruse to get the world to pay attention to her cactus patterns?  Or, what if she hired, in good faith, some sleazy “internet marketer” who deliberately posted her photos on some faked-up Facebook site, minus any credit, told her about it, and then blocked her complaints?  The sleazy internet marketer then advised her to complain about this to all and sundry, knowing that all and sundry would sympathise.  She seems like an honest person, doing honest business, which is why I pass this on.  But a decade of internetting has made me cynical.

Next, a Spectator piece about someone called Scaramucci, who is writing a book about Trump.  The piece says more about Scaramucci than it does about Trump, but his book sounds like it will be quite good.  Scaramucci sounds like he has his head screwed on right, unlike a lot of the people who write Trump books.

Also in the Spectator, Toby Young realises that his wife is smarter than he is.  And she chose to stay at home and raise their kids because that’s what she wanted to do.  You can feel the tectonic plates of Western Civilisation shifting back towards stay-at-home mumhood, even as mere policy continues to discourage it.  Jordan Peterson, take a bow.  That man is already raising the birth rate in rich countries, by encouraging both fatherhood and motherhood.  The only question is: By how much?  Trivially, or significantly?  My bet, with the passing of a bit of time: significantly.

George Bernard Shaw tells it like it was and is about Islam.  I lost track of how I chanced upon that, but there it is.  These days, GBS would probably get a talking-to from the Thought Police, a talking-to which might well include the words: “We’re not the Thought Police”.  If the Thought Police were to have a go at her, they just might get an earful themselves.

Mike Fagan liked this photo of Mont Saint Michel with sheep in the foreground.  I can’t any longer find when he liked it, but he did.  Reminds me of this Millau Viaduct photo, also with sheep in the foreground.

Boaty McBoatface got turned into David bloody Attenborough, but Trainy McTrainface proudly rides the railway lines of Sweden.  As usual, You Had One Job supplied no link (so no link to them), but here’s the story.

Thank you Paul Marks for telling me about someone telling me about Napoleon’s greatest foe.  His name?  Smith.

The sun is now spotless, or it was on April 11th.

David Baddiel has doubts about the bloke who said “gas the Jews” rather a lot, to a dog.  As do I.  It should be legal, but don’t expect me to laugh.

Tim Worstall:

All of which leads to the correct Brexit stance to be taking. No deal. We’ll go to unilateral free trade and the rest of you can go boil your heads. We’ll give it a couple of decades and we’ll see who is richer, OK?

Quillette: The China Model Is Failing

The three temporarily separate Elizabeth lines.

Wisdom.

Anton Howes on Sustained Economic Growth.

John Arnold made a fortune at Enron.  He is now spending some of it on criticising bad science.

Human genes reveal history.  This book is number (about) twenty on my to-read list.

Philip Vander Elst on How Communism Survived Thanks to Capitalist Technology.

And finally, Bryan Caplan still thinks this is pretty good.

I now feel much better.  And more to the point, my computer seems a lot sprightlier than it was.  This has been the computerised equivalent of cleaning my room.  The job is not done, but I have taken a chunk bite out of it.

Wednesday March 21 2018

Says Armin Navabi:

The only way to reform Islam is to get rid of Islam.

A short video, lasting just over two minutes.  Navabi is right, provided by “reform” we mean “make nice”.  That verbal quibble aside, agreed.

There are many nice people who want to remain nice but also to remain Muslim.  Can’t be done.  Islam demands nastiness from its followers, and there’s no way round that, only out of it.

The current Western governmental view of Islam is: resist the bad stuff, appease the good stuff.  But the only good stuff in Islam is good people trying to be good but being told not to be good by Islam.  Islam itself is the enemy.

The way to defeat Islam is to persuade a large number of its current adherents to stop being its adherents.  That will put Islam on the defensive, both ideologically and physically.  Muslims will be put in the position of trying to explain that Islam is nice.  They will fail, but will then look weak, because they will have abandoned their strongest weapon, which is the fact that Islam demands nastiness.  And the Muslims will thus lose.  There will still be many “Muslims”, so-called, in the world, but the ones who really believe in it will become a beleaguered minority, constantly betrayed to their enemies by other “Muslims” who are trying to prove, to the world and to other Muslims who are thinking of leaving Islam, how nice they are, despite going through all the motions of saying that they still believe nasty things.

In other anti-Islamic news, Dawkins notes a stirring of atheism in the Islamic world.  I hope, and more and more think, that this is right, and very good news.  The more I learn about this man, more I admire him, even though I mostly don’t agree with him on domestic political issues.

If you are now, still, a Muslim, stop it.

Sunday June 04 2017

This morning I went looking for any copies of the Koran that I might have downloaded, to do some more reading of it, in order to confirm that it is indeed as disgusting a piece of writing as I recall it being last time I tried to read all through it.  I did not find any Koran, but I did find the piece of writing below.

I started writing what follows in November 2006, but then stopped writing it, for some reason.  It still reads quite well, but I probably stopped because I found myself trying to say too many things, most of them somewhat more complicated than how I described them.  But I think this piece, which I reproduce here with no alterations from what I wrote over a decade ago, is a lot more right than wrong.  For all its first-draft-itis, it serves today as my response to yesterday’s terrorism in London, which I wasn’t far away from as I wandered about in London, as recounted in the previous post.  Only a bit more transport confusion and I might have got more directly involved in that.

The thing starts with seven subheadings, but as you will discover, I only got as far as elaborating on the first four.  But the others, still pack quite a punch, as single words.

Anyway, here it is:

Engage – notice – think – define – isolate - surround – destroy

What I mean by the West

I do not have in mind a mere geographical area, even though what I do have in mind definitely has its origins in a geographical area.  What I mean is a style of government, a style of political culture, composed of constitutionally divided political power, rather than despotism, and all the habits of political debate and political turbulence that go with that.  And, divided economic power, and all the habits of competitive trade and inventiveness that go with that.  And, the way that these two things feed off each other.

1. Engage

The West engages its enemies without even trying to.  This is because it is supremely powerful and supremely productive.  Without even knowing it, it outrages ancient pieties, entices primitive youths into involvement with it, starting with jeans etc., but only starting with that.  It smashes temples and turns them into supermarkets and car parks.  It commits sacrileges of every sort.  It paves paradise.  It turns objects of religious worship into priceless (i.e. very pricey indeed) antiques for the antiques market.  It will be many decades yet before it has no external enemies, probably centuries, and it will always have internal enemies, disgusted by its failures and successes.

That last point is particularly important.  The West doesn’t just make enemies in the regular sense, it helps to make them in the literal sense.  Communism, Fascism, and now Islamo-fascism all had tremendous input from the West itself.  In a way, you could say, the world is already entirely Westernised, but is, Western style, quarrelling.  One team wants the West to stop being the West, in the sense I have defined it, to stop quarrelling and to take its orders from some particular permanent despot or permanent elite.  The rest of the West wants the West to remain the West, and to continue quarrelling for ever.

2. Notice

So, contentedly, selfishly, complacently, the West is beset with enemies, and every few years or decades, one of these enemies persuades the West that it might be a serious threat, or at the very least a serious nuisance.  The recent enemies of the West have been Despotic Germany, in due course Hitler’s Germany.  Then the USSR.  Now there is Islam, Islamism, or whatever we call it.  (See below.  The confusion is a lot of what this posting is all about.) And maybe, also China.  Or maybe neither of the above, and we ought still to be at peace, contentedly, selfishly, complacently, and Clintonian contentment should still reign.  We are now quarrelling about that.

9/11 may or may not have been the latest moment when the West became aware of its next great enemy, but it certainly feels like one of those moments to me.

3. Think

9/11 certainly got a lot of people in the West thinking, and this, I suggest, is the stage we are now at when it comes to confronting Islam, Islamism, etc..  But, there is fierce disagreement about what, if anything much at all, should be done about this apparent new enemy.

The reason I didn’t put “disagree” in that list above is because the West always disagrees with itself, at all times.  It always argues.  None of the processes described here are unanimous, and wanting them to be is an un-Western way of thinking, I suggest.  I repeat, at no point in the process I describe is the West ever united.  Even the victory stage is hotly contested, with victory often being achieved by a minority which merely worked out how to do it.

President Bush, the by-default (and much contested and resented) leader of the West just now, has made a brave (or stupid according to taste) stab at defining, isolating, surrounding and destroying the Islam(ist) enemy, and although it is hard to see this now, I believe that his effort might yet prove sufficiently successful to sort that problem.  I can easily imagine a world, in about ten or twenty years time, say, in which we occasionally say, in among fussing about the Chinese or the South American Union of Bastards or whoever is next on the eternal list of enemies: Remember that 9/11 thing?  Yeah, whatever happened to those guys?  Well, well, history eh?  Talk about a dog that stopped barking.  I know, that doesn’t now seem likely, but

Many of the enemies of the West never get past the being noticed stage.  Think of rock and roll.  Some said that was an enemy of the West.  Now, it is the West, along with everything else we like, such as Hellman’s Mayonnaise, cricket on Sky TV, motorised Zimmer frames, the internet, etc. etc.  Rock and roll got noticed as a potential enemy, and then . . . well, that was pretty much it.  By and by, the people who had become agitated about it just relaxed and went on to fussing about something else.  Or just died.

Back to that thinking stage.  In a way, this is rather like “disagree” in that of course we think.  We in the West think, all the time.  It’s what we do.  So, why do I still award it a separate category of its own in this progression.  Well, because I think it is important to understand the bull session, thinking outside the box, anything-is-allowed nature of the process.

Take the Islam(ist) confrontation we are now thinking about so furiously.  Is there a problem?  Many say no.  Others say yes, there’s a huge problem, and we’re getting stuck into it, and why the hell don’t you stop bitching?  (I haven’t heard anyone say that yes there is a huge problem but it is now being taken care of and soon it will all be over, but, what the hell, you just heard me say that things could be like that, in this, only a few paragraphs ago.) If there is a problem, what kind of problem is it?  Is it religious of secular?  Ancient or modern?  Religious, political, economic or social?  Is the USA the real problem here?  Is the only problem that the damn USA is built for launching itself at problems, and if it doesn’t face a real problem it will launch itself at a fantasy problem, just for the fun and the profit of it?  Is the answer for all the religions to get along, by forming a kind of anti-modern religious cartel, and then for the relatively modern bits of the cartel to civilise the more primitive bits?  Is it All About Oil?  (And is the answer therefore to invent an oil substitute?)

Define

Define the enemy.  This is the argument which, historians may well decide, is the one the West is now having.  This is the particular object of the thinking.

For whatever it may be worth, and just to give you an example of the kind of argument this process involves, there is now a huge argument going on in the West right now about the nature of the Islamist threat.  Is it a threat from “extreme Islamists”, terrorists, people who are betraying Islam?  And is the answer to isolate these extreme Islamists terrorist, etc., from the rest of the Muslim world, by persuading “moderate” Muslims to suppress the extremity in their midst?  Or is Islam as a whole the problem?

My answer is a hybrid.  I think it highly unlikely that Islam as such will be totally defeated in the nearish future.  But I do think that it makes more sense to say that Islam is the problem, rather than mere Islamic extremism.  My understanding of the contents of the Koran, based on some reading of English translations and on a lot of hearsay and opinion from those (of all state of pro- to anti-Islamic opinion) who have read it a lot more than me, is that the Koran is a manual for conquest of the world by Islam.  Violence and savagery are definitely recommended, but so is making nice, when that will work better.  But, conquest – submission – is the objective.  The idea, to put it in terms of the West as I am defining the West, is for the West to be shut down.  Stop quarrelling.  Submit.  So, Islam itself is a mortal enemy of the West.  They can’t both win.  Either the West is shut down, or Islam is castrated into a bizarre group of people who believe their bizarre things but never actually do any of it, and spend their time unanimously explaining that it is all only metaphorical, and that Holy War really only means studying harder for your exams and doing your work better, and generally being nice and civilised.  Islam is absolutely not like this now, and is accordingly the West’s enemy.  The West faces the task, I would say, of destroying Islam.

In practice, what this means for the time being is for Islam to be sufficiently subjugated by the West for it not to be any kind of immediate problem.  Western victory would mean not Islam ceasing to exist, but Islam ceasing to exist as even a minor nuisance to the West.  Any excitable adolescent who read the Koran and wanted to act as if it means what it says would be suppressed at once, by other Muslims.  The rest of us wouldn’t need to be much involved.

So, how to do this?  Well, I am doing what I now recommend, which is to think about the problem, and to define the enemy.  And I now define the enemy as Islam.  Not Islamic extremism, or people betraying Islam, but: Islam.  What it is.  What is says.  Islam must now either be either destroyed, or, and in practice this amounts to something very similar, transformed into something completely different.

To the so-called Muslim majority moderates, I have this to say.  Get real.  You insist on your right to your religious beliefs.  Fine.  And we Westerners are going to insist on acquainting ourselves with your beliefs, now that you have our attention, and we are now doing this.  And the conclusion we are reaching is that your beliefs are a huge problem for us.  Even if you do not take them seriously, what if your crazy children do?  Ideas have consequences.  So if you repeat ad nauseam that the Koran is the unchallengeable word of God and must be followed, even if you do not follow it yourself, then in our eyes you, and not just the crazy kid suicide bombers etc., are doing something wicked.  You are spreading ideas that are hostile to the West, and we now blame you for this process.  Not just the crazy kids who take the ideas that you are spreading seriously.  We blame you for spreading these ideas.  You, as you now behave and now think, are the problem.

I often hear “moderate Muslims” say that “we are being blamed for things we didn’t do”.  But I am blaming you for things that you are doing.  You are spreading beliefs that you say under cross-examination that you do not really believe.  Then stop spreading them.  Stop worshipping the Koran.  Stop declaring it to be the word of God.  You say “we are under attack”.  So far as I am concerned, you are under attack.  You say that you are frightened.  You should be.

We Westerners are now quarrelling about whether we should allow ourselves the right to say that we hate Islam.  Well, while it remains legal to say it, I say it now: I hate Islam.  It is a vile and disgusting religion.  Its purpose is to ruin my life and to terrorise me into believing things that are the opposite of what I now believe, into living in an opposite way to how I now live.  Of course I hate it.

How, to digress a little, does this square with me being, as I am, a libertarian?  Well, I do not think that Islam should be illegal.  But nor do I think that me saying I hate Islam should be illegal.  And since this is an argument about ideas and the spread of ideas, the way that my side will win this argument is by arguing, not by passing laws which will suppress the public expression of ideas, but which will not argue them into no longer being believed in.

My team won a crushing ideological victory in the West over Soviet Communism.  We did this without, on the whole, ever making it illegal for Westerners to be Communists.  We just denounced all Communists for the idiot, evil freaks that they were, until eventually they were so demoralised by our contempt for them that they just shut up, and switched to things like Greenism.  They continue to spread many of their separate little Communist ideas, but they have mostly now stopped spreading the idea of Communism itself, and in fact this defeat predated the collapse of the USSR.  It left my team free to proceed with the destruction of Soviet Communism itself, pretty much ideologically unimpeded by Western Communists.

As I say, no laws against believing evil nonsense were necessary to win this ideological victory, and in fact such laws would have got in the way.  Illegal ideas are much harder to engage with and destroy, if only because they are so much harder to find, and because the temptation is to declare them already defeated when in fact they have only been forbidden and are still in rude health.

Saturday March 04 2017

Here are some more quotes from Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography.  (See this earlier posting, with another quote (about the Arctic), at the top of which I list all the earlier quotes from this book that I have displayed here.)

These ones are about what happens when European Imperialists ignored geography (p. 146):

When the Ottoman Empire began to collapse, the British and French had a different idea. In 1916 the British diplomat Colonel Sir Mark Sykes took a chinagraph pencil and drew a crude line across a map of the Middle East. It ran from Haifa on the Mediterranean in what is now Israel to Kirkuk (now in Iraq) in the north-east. It became the basis of his secret agreement with his French counterpart Francois Georges-Picot to divide the region into two spheres of influence should the Triple Entente defeat the Ottoman Empire in the First World War. North of the line was to be under French control, south of it under British hegemony.

The term ‘Sykes-Picot’ has become shorthand for the various decisions made in the first third of the twentieth century which betrayed promises given to tribal leaders and which partially explain the unrest and extremism of today. This explanation can be overstated, though: there was violence and extremism before the Europeans arrived. Nevertheless, as we saw in Africa, arbitrarily creating ‘nation states’ out of people unused to living together in one region is not a recipe for justice, equality and stability.

Prior to Sykes-Picot (in its wider sense), there was no state of Syria, no Lebanon, nor were there Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Israel or Palestine.  Modern maps show the borders and the names of nation states, but they are young and they are fragile.

So, what happens if you ignore geography like this?  Answer: geography comes back to bite you.  More to the point, it bites all the people upon whom you have inflicted your indifference to geography (p. 148):

The legacy of European colonialism left the Arabs grouped into nation states and ruled by leaders who tended to favour whichever branch ofIslam (and tribe) they themselves came from. These dictators then used the machinery of state to ensure their writ ruled over the entire area within the artificial lines drawn by the Europeans, regardless of whether this was historically appropriate and fair to the different tribes and religions that had been thrown together.

Iraq ...

To name but one.

… is a prime example of the ensuing conflicts and chaos. The more religious among the Shia never accepted that a Sunni-led government should have control over their holy cities such as Najaf and Karbala, where their martyrs Ali and Hussein are said to be buried. These communal feelings go back centuries; a few decades of being called ‘Iraqis’ was never going to dilute such emotions.

Time I finished my review of this book.

Monday February 13 2017

I am nearing the end of Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography.  Apparently the paperback of this book is now on the paperback best-seller list.  This is good news, because it is very good, and quite lacking in any major traces of leftist delusion or silliness.

Here, for instance, is what Marshall says about the Middle East (pp. 176-180):

… Until a few years ago Turkey was held up as an example of how a Middle Eastern country, other than Israel, could embrace democracy. That example has taken a few knocks recently with the ongoing Kurdish problem, the difficulties facing some of the tiny Christian communities and the tacit support for Islamist groups in their fight against the Syrian government. President Erdogan’s remarks on Jews, race and gender equality, taken with the creeping Islamisation of Turkey, have set alarm bells ringing. However, compared with the majority of Arab states Turkey is far more developed and recognisable as a democracy. Erdogan may be undoing some of Ataturk’s work, but the grandchildren of the Father of the Turks live more freely than anyone in the Arab Middle East.

Because the Arab states have not experienced a similar opening-up and have suffered from colonialism, they were not ready to turn the Arab uprisings (the wave of protests that started in 2010) into a real Arab Spring. Instead they soured into perpetual rioting and civil war.

The Arab Spring is a misnomer, invented by the media; it clouds our understanding of what is happening. Too many reporters rushed to interview the young liberals who were standing in city squares with placards written in English, and mistook them for the voice of the people and the direction of history. Some journalists had done the same during the ‘Green Revolution’, describing the young students of north Tehran as the ‘Youth of Iran’, thus ignoring the other young Iranians who were joining the reactionary Basij militia and Revolutionary Guard.

In 1989 in Eastern Europe there was one form of totalitarianism: Communism. In the majority of people’s minds there was only one direction in which to go: towards democracy, which was thriving on the other side of the Iron Curtain. East and West shared a historical memory of periods of democracy and civil society. The Arab world of 2011 enjoyed none of those things and faced in many different directions. There were, and are, the directions of democracy, liberal democracy (which differs from the former), nationalism, the cult of the strong leader and the direction in which many people had been facing all along - Islam in its various guises, including Islamism.

In the Middle East power does indeed flow from the barrel of a gun. Some good citizens of Misrata in Libya may want to develop a liberal democratic party, some might even want to campaign for gay rights; but their choice will be limited if the local de facto power shoots liberal democrats and gays. Iraq is a case in point: a democracy in name only, far from liberal, and a place where people are routinely murdered for being homosexual.

The second phase of the Arab uprising is well into its stride. This is the complex internal struggle within societies where religious beliefs, social mores, tribal links and guns are currently far more powerful forces than ‘Western’ ideals of equality, freedom of expression and universal suffrage. The Arab countries are beset by prejudices, indeed hatreds of which the average Westerner knows so little that they tend not to believe them even if they are laid out in print before their eyes. We are aware of our own prejudices, which are legion, but often seem to turn a blind eye to those in the Middle East.

The routine expression of hatred for others is so common in the Arab world that it barely draws comment other than from the region’s often Western-educated liberal minority who have limited access to the platform of mass media. Anti-Semitic cartoons which echo the Nazi Der Sturmer propaganda newspaper are common. Week in, week out, shock-jock imams are given space on prime-time TV shows.

Western apologists for this sort of behaviour are sometimes hamstrung by a fear of being described as one of Edward Said’s ‘Orientalists’. They betray their own liberal values by denying their universality. Others, in their naivety, say that these incitements to murder are not widespread and must be seen in the context of the Arabic language, which can be given to flights of rhetoric. This signals their lack of understanding of the ‘Arab street’, the role of the mainstream Arab media and a refusal to understand that when people who are full of hatred say something, they mean it.

When Hosni Mubarak was ousted as President of Egypt it was indeed people power that toppled him, but what the outside world failed to see was that the military had been waiting for years for an opportunity to be rid of him and his son Gamal, and that the theatre of the street provided the cover they needed. It was only when the Muslim Brotherhood called its supporters out that there was enough cover. There were only three institutions in Egypt: Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, the military and the Brotherhood. The latter two destroyed the former, the Brotherhood then won an election, began turning Egypt into an Islamist state, and paid the price by itself being overthrown by the real power in the land - the military.

The Islamists remain the second power, albeit now underground. When the anti-Mubarak demonstrations were at their height the gatherings in Cairo attracted several hundred thousand people. After Mubarak’s fall, when the radical Muslim Brotherhood preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi returned from exile in Qatar, at least a million people came out to greet him, but few in the Western media called this the ‘voice of the people’. The liberals never had a chance. Nor do they now. This is not because the people of the region are radical; it is because if you are hungry and frightened, and you are offered either bread and security or the concept of democracy, the choice is not difficult.

In impoverished societies with few accountable institutions, power rests with gangs disguised as ‘militia’ and ‘political parties’. While they fight for power, sometimes cheered on by naive Western sympathisers, many innocent people die. It looks as if it will be that way in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and possibly other countries for years to come.

Monday January 16 2017

Fox News reports:

Sustained gunfire rang out over central Tehran on Monday afternoon as anti-aircraft guns targeted what officials said was a drone flying over the Iranian capital.

Many residents ran to rooftops and craned their necks to see what was happening. Others sought shelter as bursts of machine gun fire echoed through the streets.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted Tehran Governor Isa Farhadi as saying that the gunfire targeted a drone near restricted airspace in the capital.

It wasn’t clear who owned the drone, which he described as a quadcopter. That suggests it may have been operated by a local hobbyist or aerial photographer rather than a foreign government. The purpose of its flight also wasn’t clear.

The drone escaped - apparently intact - as Gen. Alireza Elhami, deputy chief of Iran air defense headquarters, was quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency as saying the drone flew out of the restricted airspace once it came under fire.

This was not the first such recent incident.

I told you these things were going to cause a world of trouble.

How soon before there are pitched battles between squadrons of these amazing things?

Thursday December 08 2016

Here are some photos from the archives, of front pages from a year ago tomorrow:

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It’s interesting how Donald Trump was even then so recognisable from behind, because of that weird hair.

Will anyone try to ban President Trump from visiting Britain, I wonder?  Nobody of any significance, surely.  What Trump was saying then was that radical Islam is a serious problem and that he was going to give it hell.  And what has happened since says that Trump is one clever operator.  Which means that we now live in very interesting times.

I seem to recall thinking, around then, that Trump might win.  But by the time the election came around, I was surprised as anyone that he did.  And I wasn’t the only one.

Wednesday July 13 2016

I continue to photo London’s black cabs and their adverts, particularly when they are entirely not black, because of being covered in a big taxi-shaped advert.

Here, for instance, is an unblack cab that particularly caught my eye, in Oxford street around a week ago:

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What strikes me about this image …:

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… (and oh look, I managed to save the picture without all the website verbiage on top of it), is that London looks … well, see the title of this. 

The way the website puts a logo of Principal Tower in the middle of that picture makes it look like Principal Tower is right in the middle of all this foggy drama.  Actually it’s way off to the left, near Broadgate Tower, beyond Liverpool Street Station.

As for this looking like Dubai, I have in mind pictures of Dubai that look like this:

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I guess there’s something rather appealing about the idea of living in a magic tower which just hovers in the sky, with all that mess below blotted out.  Unless you need to nip out to do some shopping.

Wednesday June 15 2016

New, big and impressive bridges have been somewhat rare here, recently.  All the great bridges of my time seem to have been done at least a decade ago, or of course longer ago.  Very recently, not so much.  Financial crisis, I guess.  Not so much “infrastructure”.

But, feast your eyes on this (that being a link to a recent posting about it at Dezeen):

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Click on that to get it bigger.

The Guardian has more:

Tabiat ("nature") bridge, the largest of its kind in Iran, was architect Leila Araghian’s first project. She designed it five years ago while a student, winning a local competition for a plan to connect two parks separated by a highway in north Tehran.

It was built over two years and was unveiled in late 2014 by Tehran’s mayor, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. It has since become a popular place for hangouts and morning sports. Last month, as Iranians celebrated an ancient festival of outdoor picnicking, thousands flocked to the bridge.

“I didn’t want it to be just a bridge which people would use to get from one park to another,” said Araghian, who is now 31. “I wanted it to be a place for people to stay and ponder, not simply pass.”

Built on three large pillars, the 270-metre curved structure has broad entrances, multiple pathways and three floors of restaurants and cafes and sitting areas. It was recently named among the winners of the Architizer A+ awards, a global architectural competition based in New York.

I love it when bridges are not just things to go across, but places to be in.  London used to have a great example of such a bridge.  It should again.

Friday May 27 2016

Nothing much here today, but I just did three Samizdata postings today and yesterday:

Brexit – the argument from confusion.

Dominic Frisby takes on the Edinburgh Fringe

Islam versus cat photos

I have always felt that the fascination with cat photos that has engulfed the internet was somehow more important than just being a matter of cat photos, engulfing the internet.  Now it seems that cat photos are a threat to Islam, and must be forbidden.  For me, cats means pure fun.  No purpose is served.  Other than the purpose (purr-puss) of having fun.  And it seems that there is this crazy Sheikh who also thinks that photoing cats is pure fun also, and that this is why photoing cats should be forbidden.  For him, I guess, fun is never pure.  Quite the opposite.