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Monthly Archives: March 2008

The Death of Zimbabwe

March 31st, 2008 - 5:15 pm

Among the many miseries of life, few match the horror of Zimbabwe. Ruled by a crackpot kleptocrat who covers his oppression with anti-colonial and often racist rhetoric, this once wonderful country is up to its nostrils in the muck of doom. Once upon a time I spent more than a week there, with tobacco farmers who were being driven off their land so that friends and relatives of the tyrant could move in. These good farmers had created a wonderful program to train young blacks, and then give them land, once they had mastered the business. Both the farmers and their young proteges have been wiped out; the farmers have scattered as far away as Tasmania, God only knows what has happened to the poor kids.

Here follows a first-hand report from inside the Hell that is Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Here and there, the “Western World” clicks its tongue, but does nothing more. If the West were worthy of its name, it would have–long since–supported the suffering people of Zimbabwe, whose entrepreneurial and artistic energies are legendary. But no. In part because of post-colonial guilt, in part because of the fear of being accused of racism, in part because the West has lost its vocation to support freedom, nothing happens. Just as nothing happens in Darfur, and nothing happens in Iran. Until the muck starts sucking us down, we will say to ourselves, “it’s their problem, after all, who are we to tell them what to do?” and we will intone, “let diplomacy handle it.”

Now they’ve held “elections.” It sure looked bad for Mugabe. But now the “official” numbers are coming in, and guess what? He looks to be the winner after all.

So here’s the report. I’ve removed the author’s name, and the name of a person who sent an email to my friend. Read it and weep:

Yesterday¹s optimism was, of course, uncalled for.

Early this morning, the election commission began announcing the results of
the contest for House of Assembly in the most excruciating bit of television
I¹ve ever seen. With puerile graphics behind them, three members of the
commission face the camera looking grave. One at a time, in English, Shona
and Ndebele, they read the results, district by district, often mangling the
pronunciation of candidates¹ names and stumbling over the figures. Going
through ten, in English alone, took 30 minutes. By 9 p.m. tonight,
interrupted by cartoons and West African soaps, they had completed about 60
out of 210 Assembly constituencies and 60 Senate seats.

For most of the day, the MDC and ZANU-PF seemed to be tied after every round
of announcements, as if they were reading the results to keep an even score
and create dramatic tension. Tonight¹s results put the MDC slightly ahead,
but is that yet another ploy, a twist in Act II that will be resolved by a
change in Act III?

Who knows? All that is clear is that the official results are markedly
different from the tabulations done by non-government observers who went to
all the polling places and added up what was posted outside.

Even more alarming is that when you listen carefully to these ³official²
results, you realize that almost everywhere ZANU takes a seat, they win by a
HUGE margin ­ of thousands of voters – while the MDC usually squeaks through
by the hundreds. Since it¹s obvious that a vote for a ZANU parliamentarian
is a vote for Mugabe, it is growing increasingly clear that Mugabe will be
the official winner.

People here in the heart of opposition territory are stunned and dismayed.
³Am slowly losing hope,² my friend…wrote in a text message about three
hours ago. ³We are doomed. That¹s the end of this once beautiful country.²

But the streets are utterly calm and there has been no call to arms by the
opposition leadership. In fact, rumor has it that the leader of the
opposition isn¹t even in the country.

After listening to the (excellent!) weather forecast (mid-seventies) and walking the dog in the woods near us, I made my morning tea and opened the Washington Times to find the secretary of state talking about race again:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that the United States still has trouble dealing with race because of a national “birth defect” that denied black Americans the opportunities given to whites at the country’s very founding.

“Black Americans were a founding population,” she said. “Africans and Europeans came here and founded this country together — Europeans by choice and Africans in chains. That’s not a very pretty reality of our founding.”

As a result, Miss Rice told editors and reporters at The Washington Times, “descendants of slaves did not get much of a head start, and I think you continue to see some of the effects of that.”

“That particular birth defect makes it hard for us to confront it, hard for us to talk about it, and hard for us to realize that it has continuing relevance for who we are today,” she said.

Secretary Rice is a highly educated and sophisticated woman who, like many who have risen from modest circumstances to great heights, sometimes seems to suffer pangs of guilt for her great success. And so, it seems to me, she is vulnerable to one of the more common intellectual/emotional traps of our time, which is the yearning to believe in our own victimhood. I have good standing to pronounce on this subject, being a Jew, for a great deal of Jewish self-identity involves precisely that cult of victimhood. A famous Jewish joke tells of a man complaining about the miseries of his life, to which another remarks, “so look who thinks he’s suffering.” There is now an open competition throughout the Western world for the title of “most victimized.” It’s ridiculous, of course, not least because those truly oppressed and suffering rarely get the same chance for freedom and success that the Western whiners have.

She is quite right to say that slavery has relevance to American Blacks’ sense of themselves. How could it be otherwise? Just as the Jews’ slavery, oppression, and genocide are relevant to our sense of ourselves (our constant anxiety about the fragility of our success, whether in Israel, America or elsewhere), so Black slavery, the institutionalized racist oppression of Blacks for a century after the formal abolition of slavery, and the continued negative attitudes toward Blacks among other Americans, is a source of anger and anxiety.

But the subject is much more complicated than she seems to think, and she seems unaware that most Americans no longer find it difficult to talk about past and present racism, nor to embrace one another across “racial” lines. For many years now, she has lived in a cultural cocoon, whether on the politically correct campus of Stanford University, or the cubes in the NSC offices in the White House and the Old Executive Office Building, or the State Department. It seems to me that she has little direct experience with the melting pot of America, where “intermarriage” is rampant. This is nowhere more dramatic than the military, and I think she’d be astonished to see the extent to which racial and ethnic distinctions have vanished in our armed forces. We recently had the exhilarating experience of spending five days on a Marine base, where ethnicity is melting away, and it is really quite impossible to define soldiers, and even more so their children, in ethnic terms. And yes, history is a factor in their identities, but it is still history, it is not today and will be less of a weight tomorrow.

It would be good to hear an American secretary of state talk along those lines, I wish she had more a sense of the dynamics of American society. Those young men and women in the armed forces are a cross section of America, far more than her peers at the academy or in the government. Instead, she finds it emotionally satisfying to talk about the victimization of her ancestors, and of herself when she was younger. Some of her words are even plaintive, which she does not seem to realize are inappropriate for a person who has risen to great heights.

Secretary Rice attracted a lot of attention a while back when she told a group of Palestinians that she understood their suffering, because she came from a people who had similarly suffered under unjust oppression. But that sort of statement is unworthy of a serious person, because “victims of oppression” is not a universal category. We are all victims in one sense or another, and we do not automatically understand one another by slapping that label on everyone who whines, or even on everyone who is really oppressed. It takes serious study and hard thinking to recognize the enormous differences between Palestinians–most of whom are oppressed by other Palestinians, or by “brother Arabs,”–and American Blacks, almost all of whom were enslaved by others. The whole basis for the oppression, and thus its content, is different. Unfortunately, she only looked at one slice of the Palestinians’ woes–their domination by Israelis in Gaza and the West Bank–instead of coming to grips with the more difficult context.

Later in the interview, she says that, even in the worst times, black Americans loved America and believed in America. I’ll take her word for it, and if it is true it is because they knew that America, despite slavery, was fundamentally committed to the equality of all. No Palestinian believes that his society is committed to human equality. Unless we get these distinctions right we shall get the policy wrong, as night follows day. She is muddying the waters.

“We were slaves in the land of Egypt,” we Jews say every Passover, at the beginning of the celebration of the Exodus. That’s a good model for all those who were oppressed, and eventually found freedom. If she had said “we were slaves in the land of America,” and then gone on to celebrate the abolition of slavery and then the civil rights fight, and now the remarkable rise of a black upper class that is an integral part of the country’s elite, I would have cheered. America is supposed to be about freedom, and the opportunity to excel. No one more fully embodies the American Dream than the secretary of state, and she should lead the celebration instead of whining that discussions of race are sometimes difficult. I doubt it, frankly. But even if it were true, so what? Lots of worthwhile endeavors are difficult. Get on with it.

And by the way–just to add one more layer of complexity–I wonder if she would be surprised to learn that there are plenty of Africans who are convinced of the inferiority of black Americans, on the grounds that they were enslaved, and therefore weak. The Africans know that winning tribes enslaved the losers, and some of the enslaved losers were sold to Arabs, Europeans and Americans. Does Secretary Rice think that Africans find it difficult to discuss this matter? Did she raise the subject in her conversations with African leaders? I first heard about this from Africans, and they did not seem to me to have any trouble talking about it.

So look who thinks she’s suffering, I would say to her. Try being an Iranian, or any woman in the Middle East (aside from Israel), or a pretty girl most anywhere in the Third World who is an automatic target for the sex traffickers, or a Syrian, or an African threatened with death in various forms (disease, starvation, massacre) every day. That’s real suffering. Today. Not a generation ago. Our mission is not to encourage discussion, but to fight these evils, as we’ve so often done. It’s discouraging to hear the secretary of state sound like Michelle Obama in her more unfortunate moments.

How Do You Tell if It’s a Persian Cat???

March 27th, 2008 - 11:14 pm

CAT.jpg

It’s kinda late, we had some terrific Sicilian wine with dinner, and I couldn’t resist…

Here’s the Link to the Wilders Movie

March 27th, 2008 - 6:44 pm

http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=7d9_1206624103

I doubt anyone will be particularly shocked or horrified, but there has been so much attention to this…

Khamenei is Shooting Craps…

March 27th, 2008 - 5:32 pm

The Shi’ites are killing one another all over Iraq, most notably in Basra. Jules Crittendon, as always, has a fine roundup of the (mis)coverage from the MSM, delivers all the right insults (I particularly enjoyed watching the back of his hand slap the unctious Tony Cordesman) and asks all the right questions. What kicked this off? Who’s fighting whom? Who’s gonna win? Is it good for us or bad for us?

The best way to understand these events is to take one little step back, and note that our people are being rocketed in Baghdad, and that the rockets are made and delivered by the mullahs. Likewise, the Mahdi Army groups in the south get lots of Iranian arms, money and other assistance, as do the terrorists now cornered in and around Mosul. Coalition forces have found large caches of weapons (RPGs, mortars, land mines, advanced IEDs) of recent Iranian manufacture all over Iraq in recent days, suggesting, to me at least, that Iran is throwing its dice in a desperate effort to reverse the strategic catastrophe in Iraq. In other words, the mullahs know they are losing. Their great dream of driving America out of Iraq, which seemed to be about be fulfilled just a year and a half ago, has now turned into the nightmare of humiliation and defeat for the Islamic Republic. And now–again as Jules stresses–the Maliki Government is attacking the remnants of the Mahdi Army in Basra, that same government the mullahs thought they had under control.

A lot of the coverage revolves around the colorful figure of Moqtada al Sadr, as if he were calling some of the shots in Baghdad and Basra, but those stories are anachronistic. Mookie is no longer a major player in these events. The mullahs gave up on him several months ago, split his “army” of thugs into many pieces, and command the warlords who lead them. So, while some of the killers in Basra are what we would call common criminals, the more or less organized Mahdi crowd are carrying out Tehran’s design.

Let’s take another step backward. At the outset of the war, Khamenei and his ilk fully expected to gain the support of most Iraqi Shi’ites, and to create little regional islamic republics, starting in Basra. They spent an enormous amount of money, buying local properties, opening stores and offices (I heard of one with a sign on the door: “Iranian Military Intelligence”), bribing local officials and businessmen. Today, on the most reliable accounts, most Iraqi Shi’ites (and Sunnis, for that matter) despise the Iranian regime, blame it for most of the violence, and are fighting Iranians and their proxies throughout the land. When Ahmadi-Nezhad came to Baghdad, the country’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Sistani, declined to meet him, even as thousands of Iraqis demonstrated in the streets against Iran. Sistani could probably have shut down the demonstrations…

Then there is the question of Maliki and his government, in which Iran has invested so many resources. As some clever person once said, you can’t really buy anyone in the Middle East, at best you can rent him for a while. Any Iraqi leader must take out insurance with Tehran, because the mullahs can kill a lot of people in Iraq. But al Qaeda is now on the verge of extinction there, and there is a bottom-up war against the militias from Sunni and Shi’ite alike. Democracy works its magic, even in the Middle East, and Maliki wants to keep his job. Right now, that requires him to fight the Iranian-sponsored militias. There must be a lot of teeth gnashing in Tehran these days, and lots of colorful curses aimed at Baghdad.

So Iran is hoping to make its pass, but the roll of the dice in Basra looks more like snake eyes coming up. Read the accounts by Nibras Kazimi, who, unlike the journalists in bureaux in Washington, New York and Baghdad, talks directly to many people on the ground, and, again unlike the MSM reporters, actually knows what Basra looks like. And please pay no account to Gareth Porter, accurately described by Jules as a water carrier for the mullahs.

If the Iraqi Government wins this, there will be consequences all around. First, it will curl the toes of the mullahs, because of all the possible outcomes in Iraq, the worst for them is a duly elected government that can fight effectively. Second, as Nibras says, it will greatly solidify Maliki’s position in Baghdad. Third, it will send a double message throughout the region: it isn’t easy to defeat America, and countries that work with America can defeat even the fiercest enemy.

Of course, the militias may win, or Maliki may be pressured to call off the assault before victory is achieved, or accidents may happen that produce an unhappy outcome. But for the moment, at least, things look promising. And it just shows you, once again, that we live in a fundamentally unpredictable world. Who would have expected this, even a few weeks ago?

UPDATE: Thanks to Free Republic for posting this.

Is the Great Iraqi Civil War On at Last?

March 25th, 2008 - 4:52 pm

If so, it’s between Shi’ites and other Shi’ites. The Iraqi Army (mostly Shi’ite) is now fighting Iranian-supported Shi’ite militias in four cities across the country, at the same time Iranian proxies, supported by the Iranian (Shi’ite) army (in the form of the Quds Force, the foreign arm of the Revolutionary Guards), send rockets into the Green Zone in Baghdad. And I have a little tidbit, not yet reported in our ever vigilant MSM: the terrorists tied pictures of the late, great terrorist (a Shi’ite, and the main Iranian agent in the region) Imad Mughniyah to the rockets.

I suppose that was for our benefit, ust in case anyone was wondering how carefully the mullahs are trying to hide their role in all this.

And what about that great fighter, Moqtadah al Sadr? He is often mentioned in accounts of the recent fighting, but he is not present on the battlefield. That is because the mullahs gave up on him some time ago–unlike some of our journalists, and some of our analysts in the fancifully named Intelligence Community–they saw that Moqtadah had very low standing among the Iraqi masses. So they recalled him for an intense Bible Study course, split his movement into various shards, and appointed some of their reliable killers to manage the pieces. Those are the “militias” against which the Iraqi Army is fighting these days. Good old Steve Schippert has a good rundown on it over at National Review’s military blog, The Tank. Have a look.

And for heaven’s sake, stop watching television. It’s bad for your grey cells.

Iran’s At War With Us (Imagine That!)

March 25th, 2008 - 11:08 am

General David Petraeus has bluntly accused Iran of attacking the “Green Zone” in Baghdad (where our brave diplomats sit, and send emails to one another to determine what’s happening in Iraq). He says that the Quds Force arms, and trains, those who launched the rockets.

The estimable Max Boot takes note of this development over at “Contentions,” and I thought I’d point out that this is old news to us. So I sent a comment to him:

This attack is nothing new, although the forceful words of General Petraeus–which go hand in hand with General Odierno’s similar remarks a couple of weeks ago–suggest that our military leaders are now demanding a serious policy. Good luck to them! As I have written in “The Iranian Time Bomb,” Iran has been at war with us for nearly thirty years, and yet no president, of either party, has seen fit to respond effectively. Every president has negotiated with the mullahs in the hope of striking some “grand bargain.” Indeed, it’s the Bush/Rice policy today.

It is not a question of one president or another, or one party or the other. There seems to be some sort of delusional alternative universe, into which our leaders invariably enter. And it is all the more baffling because our values, our interests, and the conditions within Iran, suggest that support for democratic revolution is quite likely to succeed

.

My friend Norman Podhoretz, the savant at Commentary, wants to unleash a military attack against Iran, and he believes that Bush will do this before leaving office. I think he’s wrong, with the caveat that if Iran is caught doing something really really dreadful to Americans, even Secretary Rice may have to go along with a violent response. I doubt this attack on the “Green Zone” is sufficiently egregious, but I fear that the mullahs are so insecure that they may well believe that a war with the United States will strengthen their domestic and regional position. Yes, they’re that crazy; and war with us plays into the lunatic scenario about the return of the 12th Imam, a belief shared by several of the leading tyrants in Tehran.

And yet no senior policy maker in any Western capital seems willing to unleash the most lethal weapon aimed at the mullahs: the Iranian people, who are awaiting our oft-promised support. So far that support has been merely rhetorical. But I still think that the Iranian Revolution is bubbling just below the surface, and I think it’s pretty obvious that the mullahs agree. Dare we say “Faster, Please!”?

The Great Mole Hunt, 2004-2008

March 24th, 2008 - 11:37 pm

In late August, 2004, Leslie Stahl of CBS News’s “60 Minutes” breathlessly announced that the FBI was about to break a “full-fledged espionage case.” Ms Stahl informed her viewers that “the suspected mole supplied Israel with classified materials that include secret White House policy deliberations on Iran.”

All but openly sourcing the story to FBI official David Szady (CBS called him “Dave”), the “60 Minutes” report alleged that the “suspected spy” was a Pentagon analyst who “turned over a presidential directive on U.S. policy toward Iran” to two high-level employees of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who in turn passed this “classified information” to Israeli officials.

The FBI was said to have a very strong case, and arrests were pending.

Nobody was ever arrested, however, and, on closer examination, the “presidential directive” wasn’t any such thing. American policy on Iran, as always, was under debate within the Administration, it seemed that the president would soon be presented with a formal definition of Iran policy, and everyone in Washington with a desire to shape that policy was busily weighing in. The Pentagon analyst (subsequently identified as Larry Franklin, a former Air Force colonel working as a civilian in the Office of the Secretary of Defense) had a proposed draft of the policy, and was looking for political support. He hoped that AIPAC, a well-respected and sometimes influential lobbying organization, could help convince the White House to endorse the views in the draft proposal. Franklin was trying to route the memo to the national security council via AIPAC, and he also hoped that AIPAC could enlist the Israeli Government in the effort.

The FBI took a dim view of this enterprise, and told CBS that they had wiretaps, photography and “undercover surveillance” that “document the passing of classified information from the mole, to the men at AIPAC, and on to the Israelis.” The Bureau was alarmed because this put the Israelis “inside the decision-making loop” so they could “try to influence the outcome.”

In the fullness of time, the two AIPAC guys–Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman–were indicted under the terms of a World War I Espionage Act, for passing classified information to journalists and Israeli officials. Franklin was similarly indicted, and negotiated a plea bargain that enabled his wife to collect half his government pension in return for a promise to testify at the AIPAC trial.

That trial has yet to take place, and it probably never will. For one thing, the claim that the policy memo contained “classified information” has yet to be demonstrated. Several people who are familiar with the document insist that it contained no secret information, and believe that the government will be hard pressed to show that it did. Franklin apparently did pass some classified information, but only at the direction of Szady and his team, in a “sting” operation designed to show that Rosen and Weissman gave information to the Israelis. But this is hardly news; it was their job, after all, to track American policy on issues vital to Israel, and share their knowledge with Israelis. Nor is it at all clear that it is illegal for lobbyists to disseminate classified information to anyone., above all if that information was spoon-fed to them by the very same government that is accusing them of undermining our national security.

That the Justice Department had to resort to a 1917 law that, as far as I can tell, has only been applied once in the intervening 91 years shows how fiercely the FBI was straining to crack down on AIPAC. The old law asserts that all citizens, whether private persons or government employees, are bound to protect government secrets. But we have long distinguished between government employees–many of whom are cleared to receive classified information but must swear not to disclose it to unauthorized persons–and the rest of us, who do not take such oaths. The normal practice is to prosecute those government employees who disclose secrets.

As some alarmed journalists have pointed out, they collect information and then tell the world about it. Are they, or lobbyists, bound by the constraints imposed on government employees who swear not to give classified information to “unauthorized persons?” If the AIPAC two are convicted on the basis of the 1917 law, how many journalists will be indicted the next morning?

This is clearly not–whatever CBS News loudly proclaimed nearly four years ago–a normal “full-fledged espionage case.” If it were, the alleged culprits would have been prosecuted the way KGB agents, or full-fledged spies like Jonathan Pollard, were. Instead, the government is jumping through hoops to find grounds for prosecution.

Obviously, Szady et. al. had a peculiar view of what constitutes espionage. They did not think it was right for the Israelis to “try to influence the outcome” of the internal American policy debate, but this is not espionage, and the FBI’s anger is truly barking at the moon. Every foreign country of any consequence ceaselessly works to influence our foreign policy, and that is a normal and accepted activity in Washington. Indeed, the Israelis would be crazy not to try to influence the United States on Iran policy; Iran is an existential threat to Israel, and America is the Israelis’ best hope to thwart Iran’s oft-stated intention to destroy the Jewish state.

Beyond the vexing questions about whether or not the charges ever should have been brought, the prosecutors have run up against two huge technical obstacles . The first is the announced defense intention to call several high-ranking current and former national security officials, including Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Richard Armitage, Steven Hadley, and Paul Wolfowitz. They would apparently be asked to testify about the normal internal policy debates, in order to have a jury decide if the AIPAC officials did anything unusual or improper. The judge in the case has ruled in favor of the defense. Do you think those top officials want to testify under oath about such matters?

The second roadblock is the defense request for a considerable amount of classified information. I don’t know what it is, but presumably it would deal with Iran policy, and perhaps with unauthorized leaks to the press, in order to put the AIPAC case in proper context. The government fought against the request for classified information, but once again Judge Ellis ruled in favor of the defendants. Last week, the government announced it might appeal the judge’s decision, and they have another week to do so. They know, however, that precedent favors the defense, and their chances of winning an appeal are not great.

As things stand now, the government’s big prosecution of “full-fledged espionage” is in big trouble. Key witnesses won’t want to testify, sensitive information would have to be released–and heard in open session–and there are grave doubts about the reasonableness and perhaps even the legitimacy of the fundamental case.

CBS similarly has a lot of mud on its face. Leslie Stahl and her cohorts at CBS had every reason to be suspicious of this case from the get-go. “60 Minutes” had previously done an exposé of the FBI’s Szady, who had falsely accused a terrific CIA officer of being a Soviet spy (the real mole was Robert Hanssen, a fellow FBI official), derailed his career, terrorized his children, and permitted Hanssen to continue his espionage on behalf of the KGB. Why, then, did Stahl totally embrace this story? Why did she go with a source she knew, better than most, to be dubious?

Finally, there are the broader questions, above all the government’s insistence that all citizens, whether or not they have sworn an oath to protect our national secrets, are bound to do so, or face prosecution. If that dubious claim is upheld, then life as we know it will change overnight. Cocktail party banter, offhand schmoozing, and perhaps even nightclub bragging, will all have to be carefully checked to see if anything secret was revealed. And conversations about foreign policy will suddenly become much less interesting, as everyone involved will have to take care to avoid anything that might be considered classified by some ambitious prosecutor.

Secrets are certainly important. But I am not convinced that any classified information–aside from that packaged by the FBI–was ever disclosed in this affair, I regret that three good people were subjected to the full force of the criminal justice system over a matter that should have been dealt with administratively, if at all, and I dread the consequences if, against all the odds, the government goes to court, exposes many more secrets than the alleged “spies” ever dreamt of, and somehow wins.

Magdi, Ayaan, Salman, and Us.

March 23rd, 2008 - 12:00 am

My friend Magdi Allam, the deputy editor of the Italian newspaper il Corriere della Sera, has converted from Islam to Catholicism and was baptized the night before Easter in a service conducted by the pope in St. Peter’s in Rome. It’s a courageous act, but then Magdi Allam is a brave man. His outspoken criticism of Italian Muslim radicals–especially their support for the Muslim Brotherhood and for Hamas–had already produced threats to his life several years ago, and, ever since, the Italian Government has protected him, his home, and his Italian wife Valentina. The increasingly sloppy Andrew Sullivan calls on his readers to pray for Magdi, who Sullivan says is NOW at risk, when in fact he is accompanied by carabinieri whenever he moves around Rome, and his house is under constant surveillance. So far as I know, no attempt on his life has been made. But, like Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, he is precisely the sort of elegant, sophisticated and thoughtful person that sets the Islamic fundamentalists’ teeth on edge.

He has long spoken on behalf of moderate Muslims, and greatly admires Pope Benedict XVI for his courage in simultaneously criticizing the lack of Muslim toleration and openness to human reason. And he incurred the wrath of both leftists and Muslims when he wrote a best-seller entitled “Viva Israele!” whose contents you can easily imagine. He had been a non-practicing Sunni Muslim, but anyone familiar with his writing can see that he had a religious vocation, and it is no surprise that he has found comfort in the Church.

I rather suspect that Magdi had been mulling this action for quite a while, but it also seems likely that he chose this moment in order to stick his thumb in al Qaeda’s eye. Just a few days ago, an al Qaeda video with a voice claiming to be Osama bin Laden’s denounced the pope for supporting a new “crusade” against Islam, and warned Europeans that there would be retribution (I think it’s a pony, of course; I think bin Laden’s dead and buried).

Theoretically, anyone who performs apostasy, as Magdi has, is subject to the death penalty, and no doubt there will be imams and ayatollahs who issue fatwas to this effect, even though some authoritative Muslim leaders have said that punishment for such sins is in the hands of the Almighty, not other men. So Magdi’s very public conversion, and his baptism by Benedict, is an act of defiance against those who have already forced him to live the life of a recluse.

Both Rushdie and Hirsi Ali come to America with some frequency, even though the government of the United States does not provide them with security. Ayaan has been forced to raise private money for her protection; I do not know Rushdie’s arrangements. Ayaan in Washington cannot carry a gun, because of the city’s virtually total ban on private weapons (let’s hope the Supreme Court puts a stop to that, in a current case). But is it not intolerable that several of the West’s most distinguished intellectuals are forced to distort their lives because of threats from fanatics who seek to silence them by any and all means?

To put it a bit differently: the Constitution guarantees us all freedom of speech. But there is no such freedom if you’re going to face death threats for speaking your mind. Some will be brave enough to face the threats and continue their criticism of the fanatics. But you can be sure that many others will just shut up.

If we are serious about our Constitutional freedoms, we’re going to have to find a way to defeat those who are now challenging them so brutally.

UPDATE:

Those freedoms are most decidedly under fire in the Netherlands, a country once famous for its toleration and resistance to intimidation. Geert Wilders apparently can’t get his film on the Koran posted on line because his service provider is finding excuses not to.

I’m sure the powers-that-be at PJ Media would be pleased to give him some bandwidth, though…

With all the excitement about the holidays, you may have missed this cool story. In brief, a Russian Jewish immigrant to Israel, who worked his way up from being a night watchman to a professor at Bar Ilan University, has solved a mathematical problem that had baffled mathematicians all over the world for a century.

The Iranian regime rests on the premise of the inherent superiority of Islam, in contrast to the religions and societies of the infidels. From time to time they claim to have discovered a cure for HIV, or to have built invulnerable planes or ships, or to have solved “the nuclear problem,” but those claims are not confirmed in practice. It’s just the usual big talk from the mullahs. Now some Jewish security guard scribbles down the solution to one of the toughest problems in mathematics. If you listen carefully, you will hear teeth gnashing in Tehran.

It could hardly come at a worse time for the Iranian tyrants, whose grand strategy in the Middle East is in terrible trouble. One by one, their terrorist agents in Iraq are falling or abandoning ship. Mughniyah was killed. The remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq are either fleeing, or jumping onto express trains to Paradise. Moqtada al Sadr has admitted defeat, and the mullahs are reduced to running splinter groups of the once feared Mahdi Army. Over in Lebanon, the Iranian puppet Hezbollah has surprisingly failed to bring down the country’s elected government, and while Hamas is certainly gaining strength in its occupied Palestinian territories, Israel is fighting back effectively, albeit sporadically.

You have probably noticed that we are at a confluence of religious festivities. Easter, Purim, Mohammed’s birthday, and Norooz, the ancient Persian celebration. Easter and Purim are not much celebrated in Iran (Purim is a particularly annoying holiday for the mullahs, since it revolves around the heroic actions of a Persian Jewish queen and her uncle, who defeated a plot to kill the country’s Jews. In the course of the saga, the Jews killed seventy-five thousand Persians. NOT the sort of story the mullahs want to hear about), and the Iranian people love Norooz. My inbox is full of greetings from Iranians, and the streets of the country are full of pagan celebrations revolving around fire, an ancient Zoroastrian rite.

So as we celebrate our holidays, it’s worth giving a moment’s thought to the sense of humor of the Almighty, who no doubt felt it appropriate to tweak the Ayatollah Khamenei’s nose by inspiring a Jew to demonstrate the superiority of Western civilization at this holy moment.