Friday, August 13, 2004


An old friend committed suicide this week. He was brilliant and dark. Darkness overcame his brilliance.

None of us know the battles that people must fight within themselves. We talk about people as though we really understand them, but we do not. Agony is personal, and privately endured. It is masked by countenance and the humdrum of living. Every life is personal, yet we can trivialize it and overlook its deeper implications.

We must remember that every soul we encounter is in a struggle against the darkness; that the soul itself is the light. May he rest in peace.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

A Room With No View

Merchant and Ivory's 1985 movie classic A Room With A View offers an analogy of a world of established norms on the verge of dramatic transfiguration. The movie is based on a novel of the same title by E.M. Forster, set in Italy and England around 1908. The characters live during the height of the British Empire, soon to be transformed by the Great War. Victorian class mores were still alive. Gentlemen and ladies were absorbed in the meticulous dance of refinement, couture, the virtue of young ladies, and the disciplining of passion.

What is so engaging about the movie is how it transports the viewer to 1908 so effortlessly. Obsession with propriety is carefully constructed around laws governing class and manner---it is easy to become lost in the Belle Epoch, with its beauty and prim culture.

All the while, the story serves as an object lesson to the world we live in today, a century later. We see people who were utterly absorbed in custom, yet they could not see the falling gavel that was soon to strike their fragile world. Custom would not save their society from the trenches of Verdun, Ardennes and the Marne. A tragic last gasp of 19th century propriety would occur in No Man’s Land at Ypres Salient with the Christmas Truce of 1914 :
We shook hands, wished each other a Merry Xmas, and were soon conversing as if we had known each other for years. We were in front of their wire entanglements and surrounded by Germans - Fritz and I in the centre talking, and Fritz occasionally translating to his friends what I was saying. We stood inside the circle like street corner orators.

Soon most of our company ('A' Company), hearing that I and some others had gone out, followed us... What a sight---little groups of Germans and British extending almost the length of our front! Out of the darkness we could hear laughter and see lighted matches, a German lighting a Scotchman's cigarette and vice versa, exchanging cigarettes and souvenirs. Where they couldn't talk the language they were making themselves understood by signs, and everyone seemed to be getting on nicely. Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill!
The truce between men of goodwill would last but a few days, never to be repeated. And so the flame of chivalry was forever extinguished by the steel treads of the new century. Chivalry had no place in a world of poison gas and machine guns.

The setting of A Room With A View can be made contemporary, the actors becoming ourselves, in 2004. There is a variant of primness to be found in our media---incessant advertisements, reality TV, Janet Jackson’s nipple, the constant drone of commerce---a primness that mutes the approaching steel treads that we all face. Cable TV only seems to satirize the gravity of a world in a life struggle with a global death cult on the verge of committing nuclear blackmail. Even as we voice our concerns, there is still a sureness in our minds that our cozy world of suburban minutia is resting upon solid bedrock. Idle conversation still dwells on consumer ephemera; spam still enjoys its global trek; houses are still priced to the stratosphere; redundant product brands still stock our shelves in warehouse-sized megamarts. All is status quo in the bustle of our seemingly 20th century world, frozen in a loop since 9/11. Our Belle Epoch may yet be facing its maker, but it still looks the same as before.

Perhaps there’s one last toast left for us to share during this Christmas Truce we have lived in since 9/11; one last song of goodwill to sing---though we are bracketed by trenches far deeper than we can imagine.

The Art of Corruption

Sun Tzu’s essay written in 500 B.C. The Art of War states:
II.2. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.
II.3. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.
A lesson should be taken from Sun Tzu with respect to long sieges that sap our internal will and yet play into the hands of our enemies. Arguably, 1991-2003 post-Gulf War I Iraq was a twelve year siege of an entire country, sanctioned by the US and the UN. As a deterrent to Saddam’s ambitions, the Twelve Year Siege accomplished little than to foster a corrupt sanction regime that rewarded black markets and profiteers. The result was twelve years of dampened resolve to eliminate Saddam---which cost the US billions of dollars, and made many Europeans wealthy with UN-sponsored kickbacks and bribes:
...the ties of Annan's own son, Kojo Annan, to the Switzerland-based firm, Cotecna, which from 1999 onward worked on contract for the U.N. monitoring the shipments of Oil-for-food supplies into Iraq. These were the same supplies sent in under terms of those tens of billions of dollars worth of U.N.-approved contracts in which the U.N. says it failed to notice Saddam Hussein's widespread arrangements to overpay contractors who then shipped overpriced goods to the impoverished people of Iraq and kicked back part of their profits to Saddam's regime.
Victory, in the UN lexicon, is containment, not elimination of a threat. Containment comes with its own bounty. There’s gold to be found in the sieges that the UN and EU espouse. Sun Tzu would probably conclude that the UN is not at war with terror, since it does not abide by the rules of warfare, and has no credible standing army; rather, the UN is a war profiteer, practicing the art of corruption.

Audience and Actors

Reader GoatGuy comments:
Although I can, have, and will stand in support for the next president, regardless of who he may be, I also am quite certain that Kerry will rapidly and actively "do the Spanish action", even though it actually stands in askance of the liberal left "we don't have enough troops". Kerry intends to have 2 terms, and to do so, he will need to consolidate his stance, to make good to the political entities stateside. The French will cheer, the Germans will be amused, the Russians will be relieved, the Islamics will be overjoyed.
If any tragedy on the order of 9/11 or greater occurs, the reaction of the United States will be wholly different than that of our European friends, regardless of who is president. America’s strategic placement in the free world stands apart from Europe. A catastrophic attack---such as a nuclear bomb or some kind of WMD---would force the hand of any sitting American president to strike back to destroy the enemy. In their heart-of-hearts, the Europeans are counting on the United States to deliver a deathblow to global jihad, even as they spit insults from the sidelines.

Much hubris has been made about a marginalized United States under Bush. But it is Europe and the Left that is marginalized. They have made powerlessness their core ideology, and prefer catcalling as an audience to history rather than acting upon its stage. If there is to be a President Kerry, he, like Bush, will be forced to lay down many of his political prejudices in the face of swiftly moving events.


Lawrence Wright of the New Yorker has written an insightful essay entitled The Terror Web on the role of telecommunication and Internet technology in the formation of a virtual ‘ummah’---a Muslim community:
The Internet provides confused young Muslims in Europe with a virtual community. Those who cannot adapt to their new homes discover on the Internet a responsive and compassionate forum. “The Internet stands in for the idea of the ummah, the mythologized Muslim community,” Marc Sageman, the psychiatrist and former C.I.A. officer, said. “The Internet makes this ideal community concrete, because one can interact with it.” He compares this virtual ummah to romantic conceptions of nationhood, which inspire people not only to love their country but to die for it.

“The Internet is the key issue,” Gilles Kepel, a prominent Arabist and a professor at the Institut d’Études Politiques, in Paris, told me recently. “It erases the frontiers between the dar al-Islam and the dar al-Kufr. It allows the propagation of a universal norm, with an Internet Sharia and fatwa system.” Kepel was speaking of the Islamic legal code, which is administered by the clergy. Now one doesn’t have to be in Saudi Arabia or Egypt to live under the rule of Islamic law. “Anyone can seek a ruling from his favorite sheikh in Mecca,” Kepel said. “In the old days, one sought a fatwa from the sheikh who had the best knowledge. Now it is sought from the one with the best Web site.”

To a large extent, Kepel argues, the Internet has replaced the Arabic satellite channels as a conduit of information and communication. “One can say that this war against the West started on television,” he said, “but, for instance, with the decapitation of the poor hostages in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, those images were propagated via Webcams and the Internet. A jihadi subculture has been created that didn’t exist before 9/11.”

Because the Internet is anonymous, Islamist dissidents are less susceptible to government pressure. “There is no signature,” Kepel said. “To some of us who have been trained as classicists, the cyber-world appears very much like the time before Gutenberg. Copyists used to add their own notes into a text, so you never know who was the real author.”

Gabriel Weimann, a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, has been monitoring terrorist Web sites for seven years. “When we started, there were only twelve sites,” he told me. “Now there are more than four thousand.” Every known terrorist group maintains more than one Web site, and often the sites are in different languages. “You can download music, videos, donate money, receive training,” Weimann said. “It’s a virtual training camp.” There are two online magazines associated with Al Qaeda, Sawt al-Jihad (Voice of Jihad) and Muaskar al-Battar (Camp al-Battar), which feature how-to articles on kidnapping, poisoning, and murdering hostages. Specific targets, such as the Centers for Disease Control, in Atlanta, or FedWire, the money-clearing system operated by the Federal Reserve Board, are openly discussed. “We do see a rising focus on the U.S.,” Weimann told me. “But some of this talk may be fake -- a scare campaign.”
The rise of 21st century jihad is tied into the rise of the Internet. Global Islamofascism is powered by a global Net. The rise of Hitler was largely enabled by the advent of electronic broadcast mass media---radio. Nazism’s top-down dictatorial structure was symbiotic with the top-down communication structure of broadcast media in the 1930s and 40s.

The rise of a global Islamofascist jihad is also symbiotic with contemporary communication media. Today’s media is narrowcast, inexpensive, largely anonymous and global. Islam’s decentralized organizational structure is symbiotic with decentralized media; it thrives on it, and grows.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004


The Europeans have within their grasp the means to keep the nuclear genie in the bottle; but 60 years of socialism with American military protection gave them a false sense of security:

Iran demands that Europeans back its nuclear quest: report

Iran is boldly demanding that Britain, France and Germany actively support its quest for advanced nuclear technology for both civilian and military purposes, rather than opposing it...

...the Iranians set out their own demands, stating that Europe's three biggest nations -- two of them nuclear powers -- should back Iran's quest for "advanced (nuclear) technology, including those of dual use".

Britain, France and Germany, they said, should "remove impediments" preventing Iran from having such technology, and do so regardless of any "legal (or) political... limitations," an apparent reference to US pressure or international sanctions, the newspaper said.

Furthermore, the Iranian side stated that London, Paris and Berlin should agree to meet Iran's requirements for conventional weapons, and to "provide security assurances" against a nuclear attack on Iran, it said.

While Britain, France and Germany are still debating how to respond to the demands, the newspaper quoted British officials as calling them "extremely surprising, given the delicate state of process".

It added that, according to the British officials, Iran's demands had "gone down very badly".

Kerry wants us to believe that the game of nuclear proliferation is chess---with strategic moves and a board with rules. But it isn’t chess---it’s poker. There’s the hand, and the bluff. In poker, eventually the hand gets called. In this game, the stakes couldn’t be higher. We should remember that Saddam played poker, not chess. And in the end, his hand was called. Perhaps he had nothing all along, and was bluffing; but it was the game he played well to the end.

Iran is also playing poker, and it has laid down its most recent, audacious bet: that the Euros will simply roll over and give them what they want. The mullahs have every reason to expect compliance from Europe. The Europeans have turned their backs on the one credible power that stands between them and a global suicide cult wiring itself with nukes. The West’s hand is weak, and the mullahs know it. The divide within the West is its Achilles heel. The mullahs’ daredevil approach to Europe is the peace dividend in action---give a little, and they ask for more. Their dauntlessness will grow, as did Hitler’s all throughout his 1930s conquests. With the United States in a box, what do the Europeans have that is a credible deterrent to stop the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions?

History’s judgment is cold, and harsh. And it will be so for those who sold the West down the river, satisfying themselves with deliberation and vacillation in the face of naked evil. The Iranian poker game is nearing its climax---whether it’s Bush or Kerry in 2005 will not prevent its culmination. Saddam’s hand, in the end, was weak. We should not expect the same from Iran.

The Great 21st Century Sandstorm

The West is facing fundamental questions about its future. The genius of the Islamofascist attack was that it knocked loose the flimsy rope bridges that appeared to unite two political camps dividing the free world: Whether we are sworn to individual liberty and an equality of opportunity; or to an egalitarian system of government-mandated equality of results. The attack on 9/11 exposed a divide in the heart of the free, secular world of the West.

This conflict can be analyzed from a broader perspective, however---beyond Islamicists as the single perpetrators of Western disruption and violence.

The Enlightenment---the bright spark that inspired Jefferson and Madison, and in turn Democracy, technological ingenuity, human rights, right up to our comfortable couches in little houses on cul-de-sacs---is at a crossroads. Decade after decade of compounding social and scientific ingenuity has, on the one hand, made Western living very comfortable, with largely transparent mechanisms that make individual rights along with electric coffee grinders that never break seem like entitlements. The blessings bestowed on Westerners are so assumed that most people feel that they cannot be lost, being that they are so intrinsic to their identity as people. One could even argue that secularism---the separation of church and state, enshrined in law---is a strain of Christianity turned on itself, in a sense, since so much of the Enlightenment and the American ethos is rooted in Christian ethics. That sounds like an anathema, since secularism has also evolved in the last 30 years to being somewhat antireligious; but its intention was pro-religious---and the lineage from Christianity to secularism is traceable, nonetheless.

Islamicists stand in opposition to secularism. They see a separation of Allah and state as antireligious---in opposition to His written laws in Shari'a. This was a path clearly outlined by their progenitors, Qutb, Mawdudi and the Muslim Brotherhood. And while they so enjoy some of the things the secular world poops out---money, cell phones, computers, cars, toilets and cable network news---I believe that deep in the soul of even the most moderate Muslim lies an uneasy relationship between all that liberalizing Western stuff and being a true follower of Allah.

Christ defined secularism at the outset of the Christian religion by saying, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's; and to God what is God's." (Mark 12:17) That's the very seed of the split between church and state, uttered by the Son of God Himself. No such luck in the Koran.

All this and a few centuries of war and stalemate between the Western world and Islamic world has lead to the present day crisis. And yet, the divide is nothing new. This conflict is very, very old. What is new is that good old-fashioned medieval beheadings have now met the Internet and Al Jazeera. Or that the Islamicist rabble-rousing of impassioned Nazi mullahs now have microphones connected to media networks, and can make waves that go far beyond the walls of their own modest mosques.

All these clever amplifying tools came care of the West. Not by design, but by a twist of fate. Some cultures became modernized by Western technologies; the Islamic culture became entrenched, divided and perplexed. Vexed.

So, yes---Islamicism + Western materiel = a global war. But it's bigger than that.

Before 9/11, who was the most murderous terrorist on American soil? It was Timothy McVeigh---a white guy with a short haircut, who served in the American military. A conservative, of sorts. Definitely a nut---he was not representative of the conservative tradition. But he was like a lot of disgruntled conservative middle Americans---angry at the Federal government. And unfortunately, in McVeigh's case, he was willing to go the extra mile to prove his intense rage.

Or there's Ted Kazcynski, the Unabomber, who was a Luddite of the first order. His fear of technology did not prevent his brilliant but dark mind from creating technology to kill and blow apart scientists opening their mail. He too went the extra mile to prove his intense anger.

There's also the Earth Liberation Front, who continually 'up the ante' with the audaciousness of their terrorizing acts. They want to bring Earth back to a mythological verdant, pre-human incarnation. There's more than a grain of truth in their position that ever-expanding condos into the forests and shrinking hinterlands is probably a bad thing. And so they burn them down. So far, no one has been killed. For now.

There's anti-abortionists who bomb fertility clinics and shoot doctors.

There's the anarchy and roving gangs of inner-city America, warring over bandanas and the crack trade.

There's the larger anarchy of drug lords in Columbia who wield as much power as the Columbian government.

There's even the minor annoyance---for now---of idiot teenagers all over the world building computer viruses for fun, creating billions of dollars in damages. Talk to any IT person at a large corporation, and you'll hear them talk about security in terms of a war. Corporations spend billions combating all those clever, bored kids.

As communication and computing technology matures---becoming cheap, powerful and ubiquitous---the disruption and destruction potential of every human being is growing exponentially. Our cell phones and Internet connections are like doors into a weapon of mass destruction. And they're for sale, cheap.

So today, the main fly in the ointment---terrorist threatening our system---are the Islamicists. They've got religion, and that is a force to reckon with.

But one look at our technological present and future reveals that *anyone* with a beef can make quite a noise, if armed with a few cheap digital gadgets. And groups of people with gripes can become a force to reckon with. The fact that a group called Al Qaeda---not really affiliated with any particular sovereign host---can become the number one threat to the United States since Hitler and the USSR speaks volumes about the nature of technology and its negative applications to disgruntled, angry, vindictive people.

What we're really up against is chaos, and anarchy bred by our cheap toys. That's what technology offers, alongside email from Mom, Google and cheap books from Amazon.

20th century technology inspired extreme order---its media was radio, television and newspapers, which are mass-media that magnifies the voices of a few to the ears of the many. It's not surprising that 20th century mass media gave rise to 20th century totalitarians like Stalin and Hitler, who controlled the masses so well with that same media. The soap box was never bigger, or more singular, in those days.

Now, in the 21st century, media is focused on narrowcasting, and defocusing on the mass model to an individualistic one. Media now has a subversive popularity that is quite novel, threatening once sure-fire enterprises like the record industry and software companies. Everyone's a publisher, potentially. It's cheap and ubiquitous. Everyone can have personal, direct and nearly free media connections to everyone else. Anyone can build a virus, or mail a million spams for free. But it comes with a real dark side-effect---21st century narrowcasting lowers the threshold for anarchy to sweep into our lives. That might be bad news for dictators, and the Communist Politburo in Beijing; and it might be bad news for democracy and Eurosocialists as well.

It's real a sandstorm out there. The noise of spam and internet viruses are a metaphor for the storm of disruption the entire world faces. Islamofascists are the first to grasp 21st century consumer technology and use it effectively against us.