Keith Ellison doesn’t like tobacco smoke. One day last week, a member of his staff smelled “a very strong odor” coming from a nearby office in their building. In typical liberal fashion, he didn’t track down the vile offender and ask him if he might, out of deference to Mr. Ellison, extinguish his cigar. Instead, he called the cops.
It turns out that the smoker had a perfect right to enjoy his cigar”the building in question is not covered by the city’s draconian nonsmoking ordinance. But the story doesn’t end there, because Mr. Ellison himself, informed of this fact, dropped by to ask the smoker to refrain in the future.
All of this might sound like a normal day in our brave new health-conscious world, except for a few salient facts. Mr. Ellison is a freshman congressman, a Democrat from Minnesota”and the first Muslim ever to serve in Congress. The building in question was a House office building in the nation’s capital. And the offender is Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), a longtime critic of open immigration, and currently a candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2008.
Mr. Ellison’s office now claims that the congressman suffers from “seasonal asthma,” implying that his dislike of cigar smoke has nothing to do with his religious beliefs. Since Mr. Ellison saw fit to swear his oath of office with his hand upon the Koran, however, skeptics might be forgiven for wondering whether his concerns go just a little bit beyond his health.
Are we seeing the convergence of the therapeutic state and Islamic law?
Some Muslims in America are willing to make the connection clear. Dr. Khalid Siddiqui is the president of the Muslim Association of Greater Rockford (Illinois) and the chairman of the board of the Rockford Iqra School. He was also, at one time, the assistant director of neonatology at Swedish-American Hospital, the largest hospital in Rockford. In February 2002, Aaron Wolf, the associate editor of Chronicles, and I interviewed Dr. Siddiqui and others in the library of the school. When the subject turned to sharia, Dr. Siddiqui assured us that Americans do not have to fear the imposition of Islamic law in the United States”not because Muslims here have no interest in establishing sharia but because, when sharia comes to the United States, it will come democratically. The Constitution, he explained, is a “pure Islamic document,” and he detailed how Muslim doctors such as himself would be able to frame the debate over, say, a nationwide ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol purely in terms of health. Ditto with tobacco, and with pork.
Sharia would benefit us all, Dr. Siddiqui concluded, because when men make laws, they make them in their own interest. But “Who is superior to us? Only God. If He made the laws, then He can be unbiased.”
God may be unbiased, but those who consider themselves servants of Allah certainly are not, and they, of course, are the ones who will implement and enforce sharia. Magdy Kandil, one of the founders of MAGR and one of the other men we interviewed, was very frank about the issues that have concerned Muslims in America since September 11. Chief among them is the restriction of civil liberties, which Kandil argued was part of a broader backlash against Islam. This backlash is coming “from some minority in the U.S. who now feel threatened by a new minority.”
Whom could he possibly mean, I asked, since political and religious leaders have been quick to embrace Islam and declare it a religion of peace? He didn’t answer but just looked at me in annoyance: He knew that I knew that he meant Jews.
Those European countries that have seen significant Islamic immigration in recent decades”France, Spain, Germany, among others”have also experienced an upswing in anti-Semitic attacks. We’re not talking about mere rhetoric, or anti-Semitism as defined by Norman Podhoretz; in fact, as Leon Hadar has argued in Chronicles, that kind of “anti-Semitism (both its racial and religious versions) has been in steep decline in most of Western Europe.” Instead, Islamic anti-Semitism has taken the form of actual physical attacks on Jews (or people mistaken for Jews), destruction of Jewish cemeteries, and vandalism of synagogues. All of this was documented in an exhaustive study by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), but, as Srdja Trifkovic has pointed out, the EUMC “decided not to publish the 112-page study because of its finding that Muslims were major perpetrators of anti-Semitic acts in the EU.”
To the extent that there has been any debate in recent years over Muslim immigration to the United States, it has focused on the security threat that an Islamic fifth column might pose, and understandably so. Despite the best efforts of our government and the mainstream media to hide or downplay acts of violence committed by Muslims living in America, the stories just keep popping up. Most recently, it was Suleymen Talovic, a Bosnian Muslim immigrant who shot up a mall in Salt Lake City, killing six people. In December, it was Derrick Shareef, a black convert, first to the Nation of Islam and then to the mainstream of the “religion of peace,” who dreamed of wreaking similar carnage in the largest shopping mall in Rockford during Advent. And who can forget the sniper shootings around Washington, D.C., of John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo; or the attack on the El Al counter at the Los Angeles International Airport by Hesham Mohamed Hadayet; or the assault on the Seattle Jewish Federation by Naveed Afzal Haq?
Most of us, apparently.
Is it any wonder, then, that we’re resolutely ignoring the far-greater long-term threat posed by Muslim immigration to the United States? In 2005, according to the New York Times, “more people from Muslim countries became legal permanent United States residents”nearly 96,000″than in any year in the previous two decades.” Four years after September 11, the American government was welcoming record numbers of Muslims to a land where, by the very definition of oppression in Islam”not being able to live under sharia”Muslims are oppressed.
Our post-Christian elites in New York and Washington, D.C., cannot understand why anyone would take his professed faith seriously. They assume that the “Muslim problem,” to the extent that they even acknowledge its existence, will be solved by liberal applications of (liberal) education and by the conversion of Muslim immigrants to the very American religion of Mammon.
What, then, do we make of Dr. Siddiqui, a highly educated Muslim who makes more money in a month than many Americans make in a year? He used to be more secular, he told us, but his faith in Allah has grown, and he wants his children to become even more faithful than he. And he wants them to be able to live under sharia.
Dr. Siddiqui may get his wish. To the extent that the details of his vision coincide with that of the teetotaling, tobacco-hating, puritanical soccer mom (who may even call herself a Christian), Muslims can make inroads in American law without ever acknowledging the religious basis of the change. Congressman Ellison has asthma, after all”just like little Cody and Sydney.
Scott P. Richert is the executive editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture and the author of the monthly column “The Rockford Files.”
The idea that gay people are an oppressed minority would be laughable if so many otherwise intelligent people didn”t take it so seriously. Just look at what happened to Tim Hardaway, when, during an interview, he said “I hate gay people.”
The former Miami Heat star was banned from the Las Vegas all-star game, and forced to recant: no doubt he”ll have to attend a reeducation class. Not only that, but he”ll have this “hate crime” to live down for a long time to come.
I wonder what would happen if the sneaker was on the other foot: imagine if, say, newly-“out” NBA player John Amaechi declared “I hate straights.” What would happen to him is … nothing! He sure wouldn”t be forced to apologize, and he wouldn”t be demonized, as Hardaway was: everyone would say, “Oh, the poor guy “ see what “homophobia” has done to him!”
“First of all I wouldn’t want him on my team. Second of all, if he was on my team I would really distance myself from him because I don’t think that’s right and I don’t think he should be in the locker room when we’re in the locker room.”
Like most straight guys, Hardaway thinks gay men —all gays, everywhere—are just waiting for the chance to see him in the altogether. They all want him. And that makes him uncomfortable. This is what it boils down to: a barbaric conceit and crudeness typical of his milieu—but he should at least be allowed to express it.
The lesson of this whole episode isn”t that gays are in an especially bad position. Quite the contrary: it underscores their social power, i.e. their ability to make their avowed enemies suffer. Just as they made the state of Colorado suffer when voters there rejected legislation outlawing discrimination against homosexuals in housing and employment. Colorado was boycotted, for years, and dubbed “the hate state.” And for what?
Anti-discrimination ordinances attempting to legislate “tolerance” for homosexuals are about as effective as the 1964 Civil Rights Act was in eliminating racism “ i.e. not at all. To begin with, there is no way to know when “discrimination” is occurring “ did that real estate company not rent to you because you”re gay, or is it because there was something in your financial record that made them think twice about it? Did you fail to get that job because you were wearing too much Armani “ or because you”re just not qualified to be a sheet metal worker? All this legislation, whether it applies to gays, blacks, or Estonians, assumes that everyone has perfect knowledge of everyone else’s motives and innermost thoughts: to these arbiters of socio-sexual equality, we are all mind-readers. The problem is, we aren”t mind-readers, and a lot of what passes for “discrimination” is nothing of the sort.
Another problem with this legislative “remedy” for the problem of “homophobia” is that it is a double-edged sword: it forbids gays from discriminating against heterosexuals. Thus, a homo homeowner who wants to keep his or her neighbor a pinkish shade of lavender is forbidden “ officially “ from selling only to one of his gay brothers or sisters (although everybody knows this happens all the time). Likewise, a lesbian nightclub is obliged to serve a bunch of heterosexual male sailors out to paint the town red “ until, of course, they try to pick up the girlfriend of the butchest dyke in the joint, and it comes down to fisticuffs, flying furniture, and a visit from the fuzz.
A classic justification for “civil rights” legislation in the area of housing and employment has been the claim that certain groups are automatically, and through no fault of their own, put at an economic disadvantage by “discrimination” (i.e. the free choices of employers and/or landlords). Government, goes the reasoning, must therefore have a hand in “leveling the playing field.”
I won”t go into the arguments against this here, but will instead content myself with pointing out the obvious: homosexuals hardly qualify as an economically disadvantaged class. Lesbians and gay men have demonstrably higher incomes than heterosexuals, who are burdened, at least some of them, with the costs of raising children. With more disposable income, a higher level of education, and ubiquity in the arts, academia, and the professions, gays constitute an elite class that has nothing to complain about when it comes to the bottom line. In terms of homo economics, gays have a lot to be gay about. Of course, it’s only in the West, where capitalism and the (relatively) free market prevail, that a gay subculture has been allowed to develop “ again, due entirely to the elite status of gays relative to the rest of the population.
Yet some people are just so hard to please, and gay political leaders have chosen to affect a stance of perpetual dismay; like a nagging wife, they”re never satisfied. Now they are demanding the “right” to get married. I emphasize that it’s the leaders, and the political activists, who are making 99 percent of the noise around this issue. The overwhelming majority of gay men “ like all men, of all types and “orientations” “ have no desire to get hitched. What they want is an endless series of sexual encounters, preferably with a different partner each time “ although a few repeats might be merited “ for as long as they can keep it up (so to speak).
This whole “gay marriage” business is a conspiracy to make homosexuality just as boring as the most conventional vision of heterosexuality: the husband/boyfriend, the jointly-owned San Francisco Victorian, the matched set of poodles, and “ inevitably “ the sordid little affairs and one-night stands, artfully concealed. Gay political leaders really believe they can do a makeover of their constituency, and convince Middle America that most gays live an idealized vision of domestic bliss. Gays, they aver, are just like everyone else.
The irony of all this is that domestication of the gay male could conceivably lead to his near-extinction. After all, it is the sexual freedom his homosexuality makes available to him that makes the lifestyle so attractive, at least to the young. As a recruiting device, the supposed appeal of gay married bliss is no match for the allure of rampant sexuality. Once they have managed to make homosexuality boring, bourgeois, and banal, gay leaders will likely find themselves with a considerably reduced constituency.
Why oh why do some gay men want to ruin it for the rest of us? Think of it: endless sex—without responsibility. What red-blooded male would want to give that up “ and for what?
I”ll tell you for what: the advent of gay marriage will see the rise of a truly ugly phenomenon “ gay divorce. Watch out world “ you don”t know what kind of genie you”re letting out of the bottle! How many aging gay guys will be trapped by money-hungry twinks? Why, the little gold-diggers will have a veritable field day!
Which means that if gays of a certain age weren”t economically disadvantaged before they got their “civil rights,” then they”ll certainly be in the poorhouse by the time the gay rights activists enshrine gay marriage as a legally-recognized institution.
Justin Raimondo is Editorial Director of Antiwar.com
Here’s a quickie on the Oscars. No, I am not going to complain about The Departed because Martin Scorsese is an acquaintance of mine—my wife is the godmother of his little girl—and his wife, Helen Morris, a very good friend. What I will complain about is the past. Scorsese should have won with Raging Bull in 1980 and with GoodFellas in 1990. It was about time the Academy gave it to him, but it was in order to right past wrongs.
And speaking of past wrongs, did you know that Double Indemnity, the greatest of Billy Wilder’s classics, lost to Going My Way, a Bing Crosby soap? That John Ford’s best ever western, The Searchers, never won, although big John did get four Oscars for other, lesser movies. Alfred Hitchcock never won an Oscar, nor did—get this—Orson Welles. Nor Howard Hawks. Worse, Michael Powell, of Red Shoes fame, never even got close.
Is it possible that The Third Man was considered inferior to Oliver, a dumb and unmelodic musical of the Sixties? Yes because Carol Reed won an Oscar for Oliver and was ignored for The Third Man. Titanic edged out L.A. Confidential, which is like Barbara Streisand beating Ava Gardner in a beauty contest. What ever happened to taste?
Never mind. Prizes and awards depend on whims of insiders, nothing more, nothing less. Certain themes are sacrosanct, such as disabilities. Hence Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot and Geoffrey Rush in Shine. The Academy also has intellectual pretensions. Shakespearian and Mozartian themes have won the biggest prize, as has a Shakespearian actor like John Gielgud in the ridiculous Arthur.
And the greatest musical ever, Singing in the Rain never won a thing. That’s Hollywood for you, folks.
“How do you do, Mr Podhoretz?”
“Quite well, Mr. Frum and you?”
“And where might you be going, sir?”
“I’m looking for a war, how ‘bout you?”
“Well, let me help you find it,
for I’m looking for one too.”
I’ve never seen a war I didn’t like,
the bombs, the guns, the tanks and all the planes,
and soldiers shooting everywhere and landscapes now all bare,
they tell you that the losses are not losses but are gains.
No, we’ve never seen a war we didn’t like,
with cities going up in brilliant flames,
and all the carnage and the killing and the maiming,
the battle field all strewn with human brains.
No, we’ve never seen a war we didn’t like,
the torture and the raping and the dead.
But don’t ask us to be in it, ‘cause we’ll be gone in just a minute,
and no one will know exactly where we’ve fled.
But with all the blood and gore,
the corpses all alike,
we’ve never seen a war,
no we’ve never seen a war,
no, we’ve never seen a war
we didn’t like.
St Moritz—The lack of snow drove me to the Engadine valley and the queen of ski resorts, St Moritz. Mind you, the queen is no longer what she once was. In the beginning of the last century, St Moritz was the indisputable numero uno winter spot. European aristocracy flocked there for amusement and sport. Downhill skiing had not as yet been invented, but there was curling, toboganning, and following the latter, the bob and cresta runs which saw brave young blades risking their necks after a night spent dancing and pursuing the fairer sex.
In between the wars St Moritz reached its zenith. And even after the second world war, St Moritz managed to draw the best of what was left of the old aristocracy, combined with the smoothest of the newly rich. No longer. The Russkies have arrived with their bodyguards en masse, and no resort or watering hole can withstand such a battering. The physical side first. Every brand name you have ever heard of now has a boutique in the main streets, and ubiquitous tarts prowl the place the way once upon a time German U-boats prowled the Atlantic. Needless to say, the great hotels and nightspots are now Stalingranised, with goons, their shaven heads glaring under the spotlights, setting the tone. But there is also good news. The old guard, as tradition demands, never surrenders. Adversity, after all, requires ingenuity, and there are three places left which have turned into enclaves for those who believe in manners over money. These three private clubs keep out the rabble and make it possible to rub shoulders with one’s own types.
Mind you, the only thing I rubbed shoulders with was the snow. I fell head first in the third gate of a Corviglia club giant slalom, making a fool of myself to the great amusement of Tim Hoare, who amidst loud guffaws described me as a Messerschmitt shot down by a Spitfire plunging nose down in the English channel. Some Messerschmitt. I was going slower than a Soviet-era Skoda. Two days later, back in Gstaad, I was given the privilege of being the first runner for the Eagle club’s gold cup and fiftieth anniversary. I wore my lederhosen but was advised the last minute by Prince Nikolaos of Greece to refrain from wearing a vintage WW II helmet. (Actually I followed a friend’s sound advice not out of good taste, but fear. If one tumbles at speed the steel could cut one’s throat.)
I took off like a speeding bullet and thundered down through the gates, my mind already busy with the speech I was going to give as I received the gold cup. Somewhere towards the end I decided to cut down on the speed as victory was assured. Alas there was something wrong with my calculations. The only people I had beaten were couple of old timers who died natural deaths during the race, three or four girls who had taken up skiing that morning, and a fat Greek gentleman who stopped halfway to eat a souvlaki kebab. Such are the pleasures of old age. The mind is willing but the old body says nyet.
I did make it up that night, at the Eagle’s 50th anniversary ball. The president of the club, Urs Hodler, had kindly asked me to do the commentary of a slide show called The Way We Were. I was in my cups, was standing on a large stage in front of 550 people, had the mike in my hand, but for once I did not make a total fool of myself. My friend John Sutin had prepared me with good one-liners, and Jeffrey Moore had told me to keep my cheap jokes for the end. It worked. No one was offended but not for lack of trying. The English, of course, laughed the loudest at my joke: When an Italian finishes making love he looks at the mirror, flexes his muscles and tells himself, Magnifico! When a Frenchman is through, he tells the lady that she may have captured his body but not his soul. When an Englishman finally manages it he asks, “Was it good for you too, George?”
I must say it was a very good week. In St Moritz I went to a dinner for Tassilo Bismarck’s 18th birthday given by his parents at the Dracula club, one of the enclaves among the three left, and the night before, at princess Chantal Hanover’s flat, Tim Hoare, Nick Scott, Leopold Bismarck and I voted in three more members to the world’s most exclusive private club, Pug’s. We are now seven, the three new ones being prince Heinrich von Furstenberg, Arki Busson and Prince Pavlos of Greece. Pug’s clubhouse is located on my boat Bushido, and in a moment of drunken folly I pledged to leave the boat to Pug’s. After my demise, that is. The motion was carried unanimously, Arki Busson already trying to figure out how much the boat would sell for and where to place the assets for maximum return.
As I said, it was a wonderful week, although I was a bit sad to realise fifty years have gone by since I set foot inside the Eagle as a twenty-year old, bowed deeply to Lord Warwick, the then president, and was made a life member immediately because of my obsequiousness. A Russian oligarch would have head-butted him and then try and buy the place.
Spectator, Feb. 24.
Quest is a quaint little glossy magazine of regulated circulation (50,000) and the greatest demographics in the world—the upper east side of Manhattan. It is a lifestyle monthly, a Vanity Fair for superannuated WASPs on the social register. It was started 25 years ago by a nutty English woman, Heather Cohane, and is now owned by Chris Meigher III, an ex Time-Life honcho who has really made it click. It’s the way we were before Ralph Lauren stole our style. I’ve been a columnist for Quest since seven long years and have never missed a deadline. In Spring, Quest always runs its list of 400 people in New York society, with some outrageous nouveaux included, so to honor its annual picks, here are Taki’s choices of art and artists, instead of socialites.
Nobody loves lists more than the people on them. Quest’s 400, Forbes’s richest, Vanity Fair’s best dressed, you get my drift. There are no negative lists that I know of—lists for, say, the ugliest actresses in Hollywood, or the poorest members of the social register—hence most lists are popular with the people they mention. Lists are extremely arbitrary. I once made up a list of Greek journalists who were on the take from the KGB—this was during the early 70’s—and when I say made up I mean exactly that. I had no proof whatsoever. I published their names in my Greek column and believe it or not three fessed up that they’d been taking Soviet gold. They then accused me of being on the take from the CIA and a judge sentenced me to 16 months in jail for being an agent of a foreign power. I was nothing of the sort. I was asked by an American diplomat—obviously the Athens CIA station chief—to recruit people who were on our side during the Cold war. I did that with relish, but was never a member of the agency, nor did they ever pay me a penny. (I left on my yacht before the fuzz could get me, and my father eventually got the decision reversed).
And speaking of arbitrariness, let’s start with my eight favourite art forms. In descending order they are Literature, Music, Painting, Opera, Cinema, Theatre, Architecture, Poetry. I do not include television as an art form, and although ballet certainly is, I am not a balletomane and know little about it. (Except that I’ve seen The Red Shoes more than ten times, and Die Fledermaus, the Roland Pettit version, almost as many). Obviously when I say music, I mean classical, and that includes Cole Porter and George Gershwin.
So, which are the ten best novels? In order to make it hard for myself I kept the list down to ten, but I could name one hundred, or two hundred, and not a single eyebrow would be raised: War And Peace, The Great Gatsby, A Farewell to Arms, Tender is the Night, Anna Karenina, Gone with the Wind, Great Expectations, The Red and the Black, The Sun Also Rises, The Catcher in the Rye.
Let’s go on to music. We’ve got to start with Beethoven’s 9th, Beethoven’s 5th, Mozart’s Requiem, Mozart’s Symphony #41, Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Bach’s St Matthew Passion, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. See what lists do? How can anyone but a slob Philistine leave out works by Haydn, Schumann, Handel, Grieg, Scarlatti ? I could go on and on. All it proves is that beauty is truly in the eye, or ear, of the beholder.
Painters are like writers and musicians. Hundreds upon hundreds could be listed but we shall stick to ten: Velazquez, Rembrandt, Edward Hopper, Goya, Michelangelo, de Stael, Van Gogh, Turner, Degas, Monet. Not one lousy Picasso among this list of greats, not even in the first one thousand. No Warhols, certainly no Basquiats and other phonies. If I had to name an eleventh choice, it would be John Taki Theodoracopulos, the greatest living painter, who also happens to be my 26 year old son—a German abstract expressionist, whose residence is Rome.
Let’s go quickly to the movies. Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, The Leopard, The Godfather, All Quiet on the Western Front, Citizen Kane, The Killers (with Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner) Sabrina (with Bill Holden, Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn) Shane, Das Boot. Just think of all the great films we’ve left behind and head for the video store.
Theatre. Do I list plays or playwrights? Shakespeare’s effete efforts to bring us history with a dramatic flair cannot be ignored, even by a Greek whose direct ancestors are Aeschylus, Aristophanes and Sophocles—the latter fought both in the battle of Marathon as well as in Salamis, screwing the invading Persians both times, and in turn writing his greatest play about those bums, The Persians. Plays like Agamemnon, Hamlet, Macbeth, Henry V, King Lear, Prometheus Bound, Faust, Romeo and Juliet and other such classics offer a glimpse of heaven impossible to envision today. The closest modernist who comes to being eternal is Oscar Wilde—the great Oscar—and in my extremely jaundiced view of modern times, Noel Coward, Tennessee Williams, Terence Rattigan and Jean Anouilh.
Opera is easy. Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi Fan Tutti lead. Then comes Verdi’s La Traviata, Aida and Nabucco. Bellini’s Norma has to be included, as does Donizetti’s Lucia di Lamermoor. Puccini’s La Boheme is a great favourite of mine as is Madame Butterfly, now considered racist. What utter crap. Opera is wonderful and elitist over in these shores, but I have yet to encounter an Italian peasant who doesn’t know how to whistle Tosca. Richard Strauss’s Salome is the only modern opera which compares favourably with the classics. And she ain’t that modern in the first place.
We are now coming toward the end, so I will mention only cities where architecture is concerned: Venice, Florence, Paris, Rome, Vienna, The Rockefeller Center, The Chrysler Building, 740 Park Avenue, The Empire State Building, that’s what architecture is all about. The rest is rubbish and ugly rubbish to boot. Oh yes, I almost forgot, there’s also a monument called the Parthenon, which is a miracle of symmetrical beauty and it’s 2000 years old. Developers the world over have been trying to knock it down for centuries and turn the space into parking lots, but we Greeks are resisting.
Poetry is in trouble. It is garbage being written by modernists—stuff that doesn’t rhyme and makes no sense but is considered art. Let’s stick to the past. Dante, the all time numero uno, Homer, Pushkin, Keats, Byron, Coleridge, Shelley, that’s what I call poetry. Instead of attacking Iraq, Bush should have started a war against modernism. Shoot all poets who don’t write in iambic pentameter.
If you’ve read A. Millar’s excellent piece on the assault on British nationhood being conducted by its ruling elites, who use ethnic minorities as a wedge to “divide and rule” the populace through bureaucratic diktats, you’ll know why I was so moved by “Roots,” a song by the British folk/rock band Show of Hands. It’s about time that Englishmen were permitted to feel patriotic again—and it’s particularly healthy to see a patriotism arising from a love of what Chesterton called “Little England,” instead of a vanished (and ultimately self-destructive) Empire.
It’s a brave, moving, entirely positive song about the need to love one’s native land and culture—even if you happen, horror of horrors, to be descended from the people who brought the world parliamentary democracy, the Magna Charta, Shakespeare’s plays, Donne’s poems, and the end of the slave trade. Watch the video yourself…
Here are the lyrics:
Now it’s been twenty-five years or more ‘
I”ve roamed this land from shore to shore
From Tyne to Tamar, Severn to Thames
From moor to vale, from peak to fen
Played in cafes and pubs and bars
I”ve stood in the street with my old guitar
But I”d be richer than all the rest
If I had a pound for each request
For “Duelling Banjos” “American Pie”
Its enough to make you cry
“Rule Britannia” or “Swing Low”
Are they the only songs the English know?
Seed, bud, flower, fruit
They”re never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoots – they need roots
After the speeches when the cake’s been cut
The disco is over and the bar is shut
At christening, birthday, wedding or wake
What can we sing until the morning breaks?
When the Indian, Asians, Afro, Celts
It’s in their blood, below the belt
They”re playing and dancing all night long
So what have they got right that we”ve got wrong?
Seed, bud, flower, fruit
Never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoots – we need roots
Haul away boys let them go
Out in the wind and the rain and snow
We”ve lost more than we”ll ever know
Round the rocky shores of England
And a minister said his vision of hell
Is three folk singers in a pub near Wells
Well I”ve got a vision of urban sprawl
It’s pubs where no one ever sings at all
And everyone stares at a great big screen
Over-paid soccer stars, prancing teens
Australian soap, American rap
Estuary English, baseball caps
And we learn to be ashamed before we walk
Of the way we look and the way we talk ‘
Without our stories or our songs
How will we know where we’ve come from?
I”ve lost St George in the Union Jack
It’s my flag too and I want it back.
Seed, bud, flower, fruit
Never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoots – we need roots
Haul away boys let them go
Out in the wind and the rain and snow
We”ve lost more than we”ll ever know
Round the rocky shores of England.
For men to choose to kill the innocent as a means to their ends is always murder, and murder is one of the worst of human actions. So the prohibition on deliberately killing prisoners of war or the civilian population is not like the Queensbury Rules: its force does not depend on its promulgation as part of positive law, written down, agreed upon, and adhered to by the parties concerned. “Elizabeth Anscombe, “Mr. Truman’s Degree”
In 1956, Oxford philosopher and Catholic convert Elizabeth Anscombe published a little pamphlet entitled “Mr. Truman’s Degree,” in which she explained her reasons for opposing the decision of Oxford University to grant an honorary degree to former U.S. president Harry Truman. In critiquing Truman’s justification for using nuclear bombs to destroy the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Anscombe created a modern classic of Christian just-war theory that, sadly, is little known (and less read) today.
Anscombe was, of necessity, writing after the fact; but the silence of American Catholic intellectuals who know only too well that the architects of current U.S. nuclear-weapons policy find their model in Truman’s barbarism is deafening. Worse still are those public voices of Catholicism who attempt to justify the current policy through the revision”or outright dismissal”of nearly two millennia of the Church’s just-war teaching.
It is an almost unbearable irony that former secretary of defense Robert S. McNamara, the chief architect (under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson) of the policy that became known as “Mutual Assured Destruction,” is one of the few prominent figures calling for the end of the immoral targeting of civilian populations as a matter of policy. Whether his change of heart represents a true conversion or simply an aging Democrat’s opposition to the destructive warmongering of the current Republican president, only he knows. But in “Apocalypse Soon,” an article published in the May/June 2005 issue of Foreign Policy, McNamara wrote that
“There is no way to effectively [sic] contain a nuclear strike”to keep it from inflicting enormous destruction on civilian life and property, and there is no guarantee against unlimited escalation once the first nuclear strike occurs. We cannot avoid the serious and unacceptable risk of nuclear war until we recognize these facts and base our military plans and policies upon this recognition.”
Common sense, one might argue; and yet that is precisely what the current debate is lacking.
Throughout the war in Iraq, we have heard rumors of the possible use of “tactical nuclear strikes.” As the Bush administration (without even the pretense of congressional approval) prepares to expand the war into Iran, ostensibly to prevent Iran from developing her own nuclear weapons, officials refuse to take the “nuclear option” off of the table and slyly intimate that Israel, our proxy in the Middle East, might be the one dropping the bombs (bombs that Israel continues to refuse to acknowledge that she has). The same rhetoric characterizes this administration’s “diplomacy” with North Korea, as she (acting rationally, in light of stated U.S. policy) attempts to join the “nuclear club.”
These are not simply dangerous bluffs or attempts at strong-arm diplomacy. In his book Target Iran, former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter, whose pre-war analysis of Iraq’s nuclear and other WMD capability has been proved correct in virtually every detail, points to a policy paper, “Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations,” issued on March 15, 2005, by the Department of Defense. The paper, Ritter explains, makes “permissible the employment of nuclear weapons by the United States preemptively, in non-nuclear environments, either to defeat overwhelming conventional opposition, or simply to assure U.S. victory.”
Victory, we might ask, at what cost? As McNamara rightly points out, exposing his own lies as secretary of defense:
“The statement that our nuclear weapons do not target populations per se was and remains totally misleading in the sense that the so-called collateral damage of large nuclear strikes would include tens of millions of innocent civilian dead.”
All of this should give pause to those who claim fidelity to the teachings of a Church whose two most recent popes have spoken eloquently against the current war in Iraq and have suggested that the mere possibility of the use of weapons of mass destruction”chemical, biological, and nuclear”makes it extraordinarily difficult for a military action to meet the traditional criteria for a just war. Can there be “a serious prospect of success” when nuclear weapons may be used? Only if we define success as a military victory at any cost, including the intended death of the innocent, rather than as the redressing of the wrong that justified the war.
Again, if a conflict may “go nuclear,” can we be certain that “The use of arms [will] not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated”? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explicitly notes that “The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.”
American Catholic proponents of the current war, some of whom are already starting to beat the drums for the next one, dismiss such concerns, and even the direct and unequivocal opposition of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as mere “prudential judgments.” The final responsibility, they rightly point out (though it may be the only thing they get right), lies with the proper authority in the country that chooses to go to war. Having the authority to make the decision, however, does not override the moral obligation to make the correct one. Should we not hope and pray that, even in a prudential judgment, our President would defer to a Pope who declares that the conditions for a just war have not been met and that the use of nuclear weapons is never a moral option?
Already in 1956, Elizabeth Anscombe warned of those who quibble over definitions when the life of the innocent is at stake:
“‘But where will you draw the line? It is impossible to draw an exact line.’ This is a common and absurd argument against drawing any line; it may be very difficult, and there are obviously borderline cases. But we have fallen into the way of drawing no line and offering as justifications what an uncaptive mind will find only a bad joke. Wherever the line is, certain things are certainly well to one side or the other of it.”
We hear the same arguments today from American Catholic supporters of the war in Iraq regarding “torture” and “collateral damage” and “noncombatants” (the latter two terms having the sole purpose of saving their speakers from referring to “the innocent”). We need an air-tight definition! they exclaim. If you can”t provide one that I accept, then who are you, or Pope Benedict, to dissent from the judgment of the President?
And once their sophistry has allowed them to make their peace with torture, they move on to applaud, in their little corner of St. Blog’s Parish, Michael Ledeen’s bloodthirsty call for executing enemy soldiers after they have surrendered, and they embrace the insane claim of Victor Davis Hanson that there are, by definition, no true innocents in any country with which we are at war.
They have forgotten (if, indeed, they ever knew) the purpose of just-war theory. They regard the requirements of both jus ad bellum (the determination of the justice of a war before commencing it) and jus in bello (proper conduct in fighting a just war) as restrictions on our ability to defend ourselves and to ensure victory”restrictions that they fervently believe are unnecessary, since they are convinced of the necessity of any war conducted by a Republican president (the Republicans are the Party of Life, after all!) and the inherent justice of any American actions taken during that war (waterboarding isn”t torture, because the United States doesn”t torture prisoners!).
The purpose of just-war theory, however, is a different type of defense of ourselves, and not simply a high-minded application of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In prosecuting an unjust war, or in prosecuting a just war through unjust means, we may do great physical harm to our declared enemy, but we do even greater spiritual harm to ourselves and our country. Truman’s decision to drop the bomb shaped the political geography of the 20th century. But the stubborn refusal of so many Americans who should know better to acknowledge the essential immorality of the act continues to shape the spiritual geography of American Catholicism and conservatism. And it is making us something other than the Christians we claim to be. As John Lukacs wrote in Confessions of an Original Sinner, responding to Phyllis Schlafly’s remark that “God gave America the atom bomb,”
“No: the atom bomb was made in America with the help of Central European refugee scientists whose ideas of morality could not have been more different from those espoused by Mrs. Schlafly. Humility and a knowledge of sinfulness, these essential essences of a Christian belief have now become entirely absent in the pronouncements”and, presumably, in the minds”of American ‘conservative’ Christians.”
Those who gave us Christian just-war theory”from Augustine to Aquinas, from Vitoria to SuÃ¡rez”understood that it was possible to be victorious even in physical defeat, provided that we have acted with justice in the pursuit of the truth. Today, for too many Americans who call themselves conservatives and Christians, that seems a ridiculous notion. “What good does it do to follow just-war theory if we might cease to exist?” they ask. The question is rhetorical, of course, since they have no desire to hear the obvious answer: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26).
And that, in the end, is the most fearsome aspect of the transformation of American Catholicism and conservatism, because it exposes the ugly truth: We have become, in practice if not in profession, more concerned with fleeting victory in this life than with salvation in the next. And that is why, even though the ultimate source of the atom bomb is more likely Satan than God, we, like Eve in the Garden, were only too eager to accept the gift. As Elizabeth Anscombe concluded over 50 years ago:
Weapons are now manufactured whose sole point is to be used in massacre of cities. But the people responsible are not murderous because they have these weapons; they have them because they are murderous. Deprived of atomic bombs, they would commit massacres by means of other bombs.
The pews of American Catholic churches suffer no shortage of Trumans, but where are our Anscombes today?
Scott P. Richert is the executive editor of Chronicles and the author of the monthly column “The Rockford Files.”
It’s pretty darned frosty here in New York City, at last. It took so long for cold weather to kick in that I became even more paranoid about global warming than I already have been. (And no, I”m not reassured by the four or five scientists whom the coal industry has rounded up to reassure us “Keep moving, folks, nothing to see here.” These climatologists are the 21st century equivalent of the doctors once hired by the Tobacco Institute to argue that smoking helped keep your lungs germ-free, and the doctors working for Big Pharma who argue that birth control pills are safe for schoolgirls. Real conservatives think about posterity”which is not defined as “our House candidates in the next election.”) So I”ve finally broken down and bought myself a TV monitor and a DVD player”though no cable service, as I can”t resist the allure of 24/7 reruns of Law & Order, or Animal Planet.
One of the movies I rented, and watched curled up with my beagles is the New-Age documentary What the Bleep Do We Know? (2004), which does a nice job of debunking scientific materialism, using funky animation and the talented Marlee Matlin to explore how quantum physics at the level of brain chemistry makes room for free will. The film falls off at the end, when we learn that most of the “experts” cited (but not identified) throughout the movie are followers of the bleached-blonde sorceress J.Z Knight, who claims to be channeling the ghost of a 35,000 year-old “warrior spirit” named Ramtha. Indeed, the old witch appears, uncredited, throughout the film, her commentary intercut with statements by physicists, psychologists, and at least one chiropractor. A little digging reveals that Ramtha’s foundation funded the whole project, with some help from John Hagelin of the Maharishi University of Management, based (where else?) in Fairfield, Iowa. All of which undermines the movie’s scientific credentials, just a tad. Still, the movie is generally successful, and has proved surprisingly popular, which should inspire film-making efforts on the part of other obscure, almost-unknown religious groups”for instance, Christians.
Do your pets have telepathy? Mine don”t, and I”m a little disappointed. Because many pets do”close to half of dogs and 1/3 of cats, according to iconoclast British scientist Rupert Sheldrake, author of Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, and several other daring works in scientific theory. In Dogs That Know, Sheldrake presents a fascinating array of puzzling biological phenomena, which he claims cannot be explained using current scientific theories”the most appealing of which is the amazing power of pets to sense their masters” intentions. Sheldrake observed the phenomenon in his own dogs”getting reports from people dog-sitting for him that his animals became inexplicably excited some 40 minutes or so before he unexpectedly returned, long before they could possibly have smelled or heard him coming. Why 40 minutes? As it turned out, that was the time that Sheldrake had made the decision to head on home.
Intrigued, Sheldrake decided to survey other pet owners, and set up verifiable, repeatable tests of the phenomenon. Over and over again, in hundreds of cases Sheldrake examined, based on reports from all around England, Europe, and the U.S., animals that were closely bonded to their masters”mostly dogs and horses, but also cats and the occasional bird”showed themselves intensely perceptive about their masters” return, in ways that science so far cannot explain. These were not scheduled returns, or part of a daily routine; Sheldrake left out any such cases. Nor did the master call ahead, or in any other way signal his intentions. Nevertheless, the animal would become excited, jumping around, waiting by the door, barking, whinnying or meowing, long before any molecules could have reached their noses by wind, or any sound waves have touched the most sensitive ear. (Sheldrake runs the numbers, examining the sensitivity of feline and canine smell and hearing; they are by no means so powerful as we assume.)
Sheldrake’s book is all about smashing unjustified assumptions. People assume that “somehow” smell or sound must explain an animal sensing its owners” return, just as they assume that fish swimming in a school can “feel” the infinitesimal movements of their neighbors, and stay perfectly aligned with hundreds of other fish, moving through turbulent waters for miles; likewise they try to explain how flocks of geese turn as one on a dime; how blind, almost insensate termites can work as one to build exquisite nests, and a hundred other natural mysteries that have proved impervious to analysis. Here’s another: How did such complex structures as the mammalian eye or a bird’s wing develop through sheer chance and natural selection? There are dozens of areas of complex biological behavior, ranging from the evolution of species to the acquisition of language, which Sheldrake shows cannot be adequately accounted for by the materialistic analyses preferred by many scientists.
The current, mechanistic techniques of scientific analysis have worked so well in most areas, so it is natural to presume that they will explain the whole world”natural, but not rational. When a theory hits the end of its explanatory power, it is time to question or revise it. To refuse to do so means you”ve left the ground of science and moved into a kind of quasi-religion, an ersatz, irreligious faith.
Yet that is precisely the sort of reverence which too many intellectuals have for the 19th century “scientific method,” and the mechanistic theories that underlay it. Having read their high school science textbooks, and the occasional feature story in the New York Times, the average educated non-scientist has been imbued with an image of the universe which I call the “domino fantasy.” Each event in the world, he imagines”from the movement of molecules on the surface of the sun, right up to the very thoughts that are running through your mind at this moment as you read these words”has a discrete material cause, which in turn had its own material cause, and so on, all the way back to the Big Bang. The universe is an impossibly long, senseless array of dominos, tumbling inexorably, in a predetermined (if meaningless) order, until the last energy is exhausted, the dominos are all flattened, and the universe is a lukewarm soup of chaos and evenly distributed particles. So what you think is your free will, what you hope is your individuality, is in fact just an illusion”a trick of the eye created by falling dominos. In fact, your thoughts and mine are determined by the chemical interactions of our brains, which produce the impression we call consciousness”a secondary phenomenon, like the screensaver on your PC, which vanishes when you switch off the hardware (that is, when you die).
This grim, relentless vision of the world possessed the men of the late 19th and early 20th century; Darwin, Marx, Freud, Welles, Spengler and innumerable other thinkers of this period accepted such a determinism as fundamental to the nature of things, and strove to show how its principles applied in their own areas of expertise. In the process, they ground down traditional ideas of individual responsibility, morality, freedom, the self, and immortality”that is, most of the notions fundamental to Western humanism, and most of the reasons for believing that people have “inalienable rights.” Not surprisingly, the century that was guided by such post-human thinking was the most inhumane in history; perhaps 100 million people were killed in the 20th century, in the course of warfare, extermination campaigns, political terror, induced famines and other atrocities”too many of which were planned or executed by coolly calculating bureaucrats in the name of progress and science.
Sheldrake’s scientific research”and that’s what it is, not religious speculation or New Age noodling”opens the door to something more hopeful, to a study of the universe that is not hemmed in by old clockwork metaphors. As he points out, on the subatomic level, causality as we know it breaks down completely; quantum mechanics implies an irreducible randomness at the very heart of existence. There is simply no way to say where a given particle is at a given moment: The dominoes do not touch! There’s a gap between them, and some will fall, others will not, according to statistical probabilities which we alter even by looking at them.
What does this mean for you and me? It means we are free. Sir John Eccles, the Nobel-Prize winning brain neurologist”and Christian”points out in his book How the Self Controls Its Brain, that at the level of synapses and neurons in the brain, quantum mechanics reigns supreme. There is no way that previous chemical reactions in the brain could ever be used to predict or perfectly explain the thoughts that run through one’s mind. The dominos do not touch. In fact, Eccles suggests, it may very well be that our minds influence the quantum probabilities of whether or not a synapse will fire”in other words, that our consciousness controls our brains, and not the other way around. (Of course, the interaction between the two is complex, perhaps inextricable; but it’s important to demonstrate that the “higher” function is something real and irreducible.) Eccles did some preliminary experiments which suggested that this explanation is correct. Since I”m not scientist, I can”t judge whether those experiments prove what he thought they did. Likewise, I can”t tell you whether Sheldrake is correct when he suggests that information accumulates in the universe, residing not just in the human mind and in computer databases, but in the repetitious events of biological life, which become ever more probable, the more often they happen. He calls these accumulated probabilities information “fields,” and grants them great explanatory power, developing a subtle and provocative theory of how biology and physics interact. The bond between master and pet is one of those fields, he argues, which explains why information can travel between the two without a material medium for transmitting it. If Sheldrake is right, then we can free ourselves at last from the soul-deadening influence of outdated science, and reintegrate the discoveries of contemporary experimental science with the felt realities that motivate our everyday lives”including the freedom of the will, the sacredness of the individual, even the hope for immortality with God.
John Zmirak is the author of The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Good Living
The neocons who helped bamboozle the U.S. into its current futile war—and are ginning Americans up for the next one—claim that their actions and disinformation tactics were undertaken for the moral good of the world. The mind reels at their continued arrogance after the disaster of Iraq. Secure in their think tanks and comfortable government pensions, these Fifth Column fanatics have not had the grace to even do a mea culpa after the destruction they have caused. To the contrary, the leading warmonger, William Kristol, has been provided with a column in Time Magazine in order to spread his poison to a larger audience. There is only one thing to do. Boycott Time, the Fox news programs in which he appears, and, of course, the Weekly Standard which he edits. Please inform your friends. Boycotts, alas, bring results. The neocons have been doing it for years. Let’s give them some of their own medicine back.
Cheney, Kristol, Abrams, Abraham, Gaffney, Adelman, Krauthammer, Reynolds, Frum, Wolfowitz, Giuliani, Feith, Podhoretz, Perle, Pipes, the Kagans and their ilk are as shameless and contemptible as most traitors are, but with a difference. Most traitors at least take some risks—to the point of life and limb. These pundits didn’t risk their lives in pursuit of their dishonourable goals. Oh yes, I forgot a little man by the name of Abraham Shulsky, the Pentagon’s chief of Special Plans, who helped sell the Iraq war with false claims about the Al Qaeda connection. This slimy individual is now heading the war against Iran campaign in the Pentagon’s aptly named “Iranian Directorate.” In the meantime, Congress is sitting on its hands, too scared of AIPAC to rein in these con men, or even to denounce them by name during a special Congressional hearing.
AIPAC and the neocons use that tired old canard of anti-Semitism against any and every one who disagrees with them—including Jews. For instance, the eminent academic Tony Judt, who has found his ability to speak in public trammeled by back-channel phone calls placed by power brokers who disapprove of him. Another group of honorable folks are the eminent physicists who recently urged the Congress to pass binding legislation to restrict the authority of the U.S. president to order nuclear strikes against non-nuclear-weapon states. Reading over the names, it seems to me that at least half of these peace-loving researchers are Jewish. Not that such trivial concerns as the truth will stop the likes of Kristol. Foxman, Dershowitz and the rest of the gang from slinging the slurs far and wide. One might well recall the way some Catholic leaders hurled charges of anti-Catholicism at the reporters who uncovered the priestly sex abuse scandal—until the cases and evidence piled up, and it became clear that this was nothing but a smoke screen, designed to help corrupt and powerful men get away with murder. It’s the same thing when powerful policymakers in Washington try to silence their critics by hiding behind the photos of poor murdered Anne Frank. And the public is catching on.
In fact, Congress needs to pass such legislation as soon as possible. The United States has no right to use nuclear weapons except in response to a nuclear attack. Nuking a nation that does not possess them, and has not attacked us, is in fact a war crime—the kind of crime for which we rightly hanged the Nazis at Nuremberg. (What a pity that we couldn’t have swung the Russians, too—and perhaps the Brits and Americans who ordered bombings like Dresden.) Israel might contemplate it, but if I might make a subtle point… the United States is not Israel. Nor is the converse true. They are… hold your breath, and listen carefully my friends: two… separate… countries. Got that? Try to keep in mind; it may turn out to be important.
Craig Unger, writing in this month’s Vanity Fair said it all: “The neocons orchestrated a spectacular disinformation operation—and once again neo-con ideologues have been flogging questionable intelligence about WMDs. Once again, dubious Middle East exile groups are making the rounds in Washington urging regime change in Syria and Iran. Once again, heroic exile leaders are promising freedom.”
And it gets worse. Washington is actually discouraging those Israelis who want to make peace—for instance, our bold diplomats helped scotch a rapprochement between Jerusalem and Damascus last summer. Elliott Abrams, the admitted liar-to-Congress who handles the peace process portfolio for the White House (and Norman Podhoretz’s son-in-law) has assured the hard-line Israelis, including Ehud Olmert, that there will be no real peace initiative from Washington with the Palestinians.
In other words, the Bush administration is recognizing “realities on the ground.” Which means we have recognized the legality of Jewish settlements on territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war, and many more since. Although this should make the neocons happy, it is like asking a very greedy person to stop eating. They will always want more. Now the neo-cons want Iran. It is up to us to stop them.