Wednesday, August 24, 2005

L’Exception Francaise (posted by Al.)

L’Exception Francaise.

As a teenager living in the outskirts of Paris in the 70s I can remember when the machines came digging. I would hang off the Terrasse de St Germain as huge great things pushed slowly in, as the engineers popping in and out of the tunnels with their cool sideburns, consulted their plans. I remember their sideburns. And then after the engineers, hundreds of workers.

Meanwhile I was at boarding school in England, but when I returned later that year to my home outside St Germain en Laye, what a change! For some reason, that line used to have rubber tires, which gave it a particular smell.The Reseau Express Regional line from the Gare de Lyon and the Etoile came to my local station. From the suburbs to the centre of the city in 20 minutes. It seemed very impressive.

And now, as I take advantage of a particularly felicitous French transport node. The St Exupery/TGV station at Lyon, for example, I think back to the vision of those French transport planners and engineers and wonder why we in Britain can’t do the same.

Thameslink and Crossrail were meant to be the RER equivalents. The first happened, on a very low-key basis. The latter might happen in ten years’ time.

It really is a vision thing. And it is so important. Without proper infrastructure modern economic and cultural life cannot spread wings. And when Gordon Brown’s moronic PPP solutions for the underground come home to roost, we’re going to be stuffed for a generation.

Why are we so stupid? Why do we tolerate this crap when we see different effective solutions in France?

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Muslim on Muslim Violence

My most loyal correspondent, "Al-the-low-rent-biker-journalist," urges me to post the following. Reluctantly I agree (warning his links never work):
Our Muslim friends like to point out what they say are the double standards of the West but have a fair few themselves. Why, for example, is the usual list of grievances limited to those countries where the West is seen as attacking the Ummah? For example, far more Muslims have been killed in Darfur by other Muslims over the last three years than all the Palestinians and Kashmiris over the last 50.

When I point this out to the brothers or the sisters they say either that my figures are wrong, despite my willingnesss to provide evidence from a wide range of sources including the UN, Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and others, or that its all a Western plot.

The conclusion has to be that for them, only a Muslim persecuted by a non-Muslim counts. Why? Because grievance against the West and victimhood is such an important part of their self-identity that any facts that contradict this beconme too threatening.

I see you picked up on the Aaronovitch article. David Goodhart also wrote an interesting piece on this in Prospect which was repeated in the Grauniad and Charles Moore wrote one of the best pieces I have seen recently on the real consequences of remaining in denial about the true nature of British Islam:

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Integration, Nationalism, and British Muslims: Part One

In a recent article in the Spectator, Boris Johnson calls for the "re-britannification" of Britain. Amongst his many arguments is the following:

In the wake of [Enoch] Powell's racist foray, no one had the guts to talk about Britishness, or whether it was a good thing to insist - as the Americans do so successfully - on the basic loyalty of immigrants to the country of immigration.

There is, I think, something in this. Britain has certainly made a hash of its efforts to integrate its Muslim minorities. Anyone who thinks otherwise need only examine the alarming results of the latest Yougov poll. This poll also undercuts the claim of many of the Guardian-type "apologists," who believe the terrorist attacks were acts of retaliation for British foreign policy. Consider, for instance, Mundher al-Adham's confident assessment:
Attacks there, as those in London, are not about hating anybody's way of life, but straightforward revenge: revenge for Falluja and al-Qaim - and for Palestine and Afghanistan, which have been subsumed in them. The pictures of Iraq, Afghanistan or Palestine, with their dust and grime, might be different to the pictures of the London bombs, but they represent a continuity. The war of revenge and collective punishment has arrived in London. And it has its own rationality. Don't give me the nonsense about why do they hate us. They don't.

Well, sorry Mundher old mate, you're flat wrong here, because many British Muslims do hate "us." Or at least many hate British society and western liberal democratic values.
Thus one per cent of British Muslims (that's about 10,000 adults) believe that "Western society is decadent and immoral, and Muslim people should seek to bring it to an end, if necessary by violence." I suppose there's something consoling in thinking that 99 per cent of British Muslims are not intent on armed overthrow of our way of life. But then thirty one per cent of British Muslims (that's approximately 310,000 adults) believe that "Western society is decadent and immoral, and Muslim people should seek to bring it to an end, but only by nonviolent means." These responses are truly alarming. No less alarming are the responses that suggest that 24 per cent of British Muslims sympathize with the "feelings and motives" of those who bombed London on 7/7. To say that Britain has a Muslim problem is an understatement. The task is to explain why integration has failed; and why British society is seeing more and more people like "Fazel," who--as an article in the Washington Post reports--finds British society to be sick. As "Fazel" puts it:

The evil programs on TV, the music, the literature, the magazines ... are all responsible for the terrorist attacks. People are becoming rebellious because they are against fornication, gambling, alcohol," Fazel said.

"Until they get rid of Eminem and Marilyn Manson, they can't get rid of our preachers," he added.

Fazel called himself a former "kafar," Arabic for an infidel who did not fear God, and said he once enjoyed drinking with his friends and the company of young women.

Then, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, he read about al-Qaida and its leader, Osama bin Laden.

Images of the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsing, he said, fueled his curiosity about the faith of his ancestors.

"Allah pointed me to him (bin Laden)," said Fazel, dressed in a white shalwar kameez, the traditional loose tunic-and-trouser common to men in South Asia.

Three years later, he said, an angel spoke to him.

"I needed change. Drugs and alcohol did me no good," he said.

Terrorists and their Grievances: The Case of British Muslims: Part Three

The "grievances" that motivate much of the anger of British Muslims center on aspects of British foreign policy. In Kashmir, Palestine, Afghanistan, and now Iraq, the British government condones, so this argument goes, the killing of Muslims. The recent London terrorist bombings can thus be seen as acts of revenge. Britain, if it wants to avoid further attacks, needs to apologize and change its foreign policy.

This whole line of argument has no merit whatsoever. Britain has almost no responsibility at all for what goes on in Kashmir and Palestine. These places are controlled by, respectively, the Indian and Israeli governments. Even if Britain wanted to intervene in these regions on the side of Muslims it couldn't. Furthermore, the two regions where Britain has intervened (Afghanistan and Iraq), the interventions were designed to serve the interests of Muslims. There's nothing pro-Muslim in leaving the poor bastards to be ruled by the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. And whatever misgivings one might have about the prudence of intervention in Iraq--and I think it was recklessly imprudent--no war launched against a tyrant can be described as unjust.

British Muslims may think they have legitimate grievances about British foreign policy. But they don't. True, the Umma is not faring well. But this is largely to do with pathologies in Arab and Muslim culture, it has next to nothing to do with Britain or its foreign policy.

There's another reason why the British government must reject appeals to apologize for or modify its foreign policy: it wouldn't do anything to deter the hardline extremists who object to Britain on the grounds of its infidel status. It's that hardline group that I wish to discuss in the next post (Part Four).

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Terrorists and their Grievances: The Case of British Muslims: Part Two

The previous post argued that Muslim terrorism will be difficult to combat, at least in part because the terrorists are not an isolated group of fanatics, but people animated by "grievances" that are shared by many people in the British Muslim community. These grievances center on the treatment by Western states in general and Britain in particular of Muslims around the world. Consider, for instance, Osama Saeeds's appeal--Saeed is an official spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain--for Britain to apologize for:
Britain's explicit roles in creating the injustices in the Muslim world - from the mess that colonial masters left in Kashmir to the promising of one people's land to another in Palestine. We need to recognise our past mistakes and make a commitment not to repeat them. Western leaders are outraged about London but show no similar anger for other atrocities across the world. What happens abroad matters to British Muslims as much as what happens here.

I stated, without providing any supporting argument, that this "grievance" does not warrant any remedial action by the British government or the British public. Let me say more in support of that claim.

First of all, I want to say something more about Muslim grievances. Again it is important to distinguish "extremist" (and more specifically Jihadi-Salafist) views from "moderate" views such as those expressed by Saeed.

Shortly after 9/11, the British Home Office estimated that there were 10,000 Al Qaeda sympathisers in Britain--perhaps up to a 1000 of which had trained in Al Qaeda camps in Kashmir and Afghanistan. The AL Qaeda symapthizers were likely people who subscribed to a Jihadi-Salafist ideology. To get a sense of the grievances of those who view the world from this perspective, see the following passage from a justification for the 7/7 bombings. Its author mentions the following specific reasons for targeting London:

1. The United Kingdom is an ally of the United States , and hence is part and parcel of the worst front of aggression Muslims are facing in present time. They are even worse than Pharaoh in his war against Moses. Pharaoh attacked Moses and his people on Egyptian soil, while the United States and the UK , through their Crusader alliance, attack or support attacks against the Muslims everywhere in the world. This is another reason to show happiness toward every tragedy in the West, like Moses and Muhammad did by ordering the fast of the `Ashura for their people (Yom Kippur in Judaism and the fast of 10 Muharram in Islam).

2. Britain is an infidel country since it is a Christian one, and hence an enemy of Allah and his believers. “As long as it remains an enemy, it is a Muslim duty to terrorize it…they are allies of the worst devilish idol ( Taghut ) of our times—the U.S. and the Jews—and do their utmost to support them.”

The interesting feature of this "extremist" message is that the first of these two points expresses a point that is present in the "moderate" message of Saeed: Britain is responsible for attacks on Muslims around the world. The second point ("infidel Britain") appeals, I think, only to a very small segment of the British Muslim community--members of Jama'at Al-Muhajirun, Hizb ut-Tahrir, and followers of people like Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Terrorists and their Grievances: The Case of British Muslims: Part One

Some terrorist organizations--the various RAF groups of the 1960s and 70s come to mind--have been animated by, what might be termed, "group-specific grievances." Other terrorist organizations--the Irgun, the ANC, for instance--have been animated by "community-wide grievances." Generally speaking, it is much easier to defeat terrorist organizations with group-specific grievances, because once the group-leaders have been killed, imprisoned, or "turned," the group tends to fall apart.

The distinction between "group-specific" and "community-wide" grievances is not meant to be binary, but to define two poles of a continuum. Few actual terrorist groups can legitimately claim to act on grievances shared by the entire community to which they nominally belong. Thus neither the IRA or ETA spoke for the entire Northern Irish and Basque community. Nonetheless, the grievances that animated these terrorist organizations were grievances shared by a significant segment of the wider Northern Irish and Basque communities.

Terrorists with "community-wide grievances" tend to be more difficult to defeat, because the community supports the terrorists--most importantly by supplying them with new recruits. The only sure way of defeating a terrorist organization of this type is to divide the terrorists from the community, either by removing the cause of the underlying grievances or by persuading the community that their grievances can be addressed through legal and/or democratic institutions.

I draw these elementary distinctions, because they underscore the difficulties the British government faces in dealing with homegrown Muslim terrorists. It would be consoling to believe that these homegrown terrorists act out of group-specific grievances. But enough has been said since 7/7 to show that many people in Britain's Muslim community, while condemning the terrorists' means, share their sense of a grievance. (For more on the topic of Muslim grievances, see David Aaronovitch's excellent column in the Times.)

But what exactly is the grievance that the community shares? The one we keep hearing on the news goes something like this: "We British Muslims feel a strong bond of solidarity with Muslims around the world. We can no longer sit by and see our brothers and sisters killed as a result of British foreign policy in Iraq, Israel, and Afghanistan."

That's the moderate version of Muslim grievances. The more extremist version goes something like this: " We Muslims, in Britain and elsewhere, wish to live in a transnational community governed in accordance with Sharia. In the interim, we will settle for a Britain that is far more sympathetic to our religious traditions."

Faced with these "grievances"--and personally I don't think either even warrants the word--the British government has two possible strategies:

(i) An Accommodationist Strategy: Here the Government mounts a PR campaign designed to show that British foreign policy, despite initial appearances, is designed to improve the well-being of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Leaving Muslims in the hands of Saddam Hussein or the Taliban is hardly conducive to their well-being. British foreign policy is, in short, good for your Muslim "brothers and sisters."

(ii) A Confrontational Strategy: Here the Government challenges the idea of British Muslims belonging to a global Muslim community whose duties to each other allegedly trump duties to Britain. This stratagy calls for a much more radical form of integrationism than Britain has hitherto adopted.

I tend to think that the Government ought to pursue both strategies fast. Unfortunately, I doubt that even this will solve the problem of homegrown Muslim terrorism. That's why I think that Britain (and Europe in general) faces a very difficult time ahead. 7/7 is more worrying than 9/11 ever was.

Monday, July 18, 2005

"Apologists," the Iraq War, and the London Bombing: Rajnaara Akhtar Independent Op Ed.

Rajnaara C. Akhtar has an op ed in the Independent that makes the following point:

There is an argument which claims that Tony Blair's disregard of the unified dissent by a million people, who marched in solidarity on the streets of London, has culminated in an attack against us all from the very extreme elements of our society who saw no benefit from our peaceful protests against an unjust war. This needs to be seriously assessed.

OK, let's seriously assess this argument, which joins an empirical claim about the motivations of the bombers with a responsibility-shifting (i.e. an "apologistic") judgement about Tony Blair. It's worth noting that many people, including Tony Blair himself and Jack Straw, who are troubled by "apologists" --i.e. those who shift responsibility away from the bombers themselves-- feel the need to attack the empirical claim about the motivation of the bombers. But here it's important to recognize that it's possible to hold without contradiction the following two beliefs:
(i) UK involvement in the Iraq War increased the likelihood of it being a target for terrorists; and

(ii) UK involvement in the Iraq War was legitimate.

Claim (i) is clearly true. The Muslim bombers, like many in the UK Muslim community, were especially incensed by UK involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. This has been confirmed by the bombers' friends, family and acquaintances. The views of the UK Muslim community on the issue have been documented by opinion polls. These views were quite predictable back in 2002.

Yet to recognize the truth of claim (i) does not entail any sympathy whatsoever with those--Muslims or not--angered or incensed by UK involvement in Iraq. Nor does it entail that UK involvement was illegitimate or unjustified.

Britain went to war after a parliamentary vote and at a time when a majority (admittedly a slim majority) of the British public were in support of the war. The unified dissent of a million people--and they were not that unified, as I recall--is of no more relevance than the unified dissent of the pro-fox hunting lobby is to the law prohibiting blood sports. (A damn silly law, in my opinion, but no matter.) No government worthy of the name ought to trim its policies to the whims of street demonstrators, no matter how sincerely and solidaristically they rally to their cause. In a parliamentary democracy, a parliamentary vote alone settles the legitimacy of governmental action.

Perhaps what Rajnaara Akhtar really meant to say is that "the unified dissent of a million people" tips the scales in any overall assessment of the justification of the Iraq War. But that argument also has little validity. Whether you approach the Iraq War from a just-war perspective (like, say, Norman Geras) or from a consequentialist perspective (like, say, John Quiggin), the million marchers do not count for much. Seriously assessed, there's nothing in Akhtar's argument.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Three Wishes for the Future

Just came across Alex Mckie's brilliant new website. She is travelling around the country asking people to make three wishes. She asks you to make one wish about yourself; one about the world; and another free wish. I think she then intends to examine these wishes from a philosophical/social scientific perspective.

I've been thinking about my three wishes, but haven't yet come up with any. I think I need to settle some preliminary matters first.

One obvious distinction is that between object-directed wishes and character-focused wishes. Do I, in other words, wish for the attainment of some object--wine, women, song, health, wealth, fame etc. Or do I wish to develop a particular type of character--wise, temperate, cheerful, benevolent, etc.

Another obvious distinction is that between realistic wishes and utopian wishes. Do I, in other words, take my character, my situation and social scientific laws for granted when I make my wishes; or do I relax all constraints of character, situation, and social scientific laws. Realistic wishes are, I think, the more interesting; and I think that these are the wishes Alex Mckie is looking for.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Britain as a Nation

We often hear that the EU won't work, because Europeans lack a sense of common nationality. Recent squabbles over the budget might appear to confirm this view. But the more general claim that any effective state needs a robust sense of shared nationality is probably false. Doubtless, a state needs some minimum form of solidarity. Absent that, you get an Iraq: a place that can be held together only by a despot. But Britain shows that a state can survive and flourish while riven by all manner of petty national rivalries.

Anyone who still thinks that the British share a robust "we-feeling" should take a look at the discussions going on amongst Britain's exasperated rugby fans. Talk about sticking together in the face of adversity, I give you the unedited Molly Bloom-like thoughts of one Dylan Morris:

Why We Lost:

--1. we lost due to picking to many english players who have been playing poorly since the world cup. 2 wilkinson cant run or pass he is just a no go shame it was not him that got speared 3 typical english dirty play danny "hannibal" grewcock, what is the point 4 everyone knows if we play like england we are bound to loose the game has moved up a few levels since the 2003 world cup the style of game has changed someone tell stupid clive woodward. 5 all the players that are being called up for injuries should all have been there in the first place. 6 clive was not happy about not being approached to be the lions manager of 2001 in australia, im glad he never had it and i wish henry was our manager now, henry is a much better coach than woodward and henry and hansen know how they can be beaten and that is playing a WELSH game. Stuff all the english i have had a guts full of them we are in this state because of them, all the welsh , scottish and irish boys should pack their bags and leave if woody had his way he would have 45 english guys over there.

A Fellow Celt replies:

--spot on dylan, but I don't think the celts should pack up and go home. celts have never been quitters and they shouldn't be now. I'd like to see the celtic lads take it upon themselves to play expansive rugby when the opportunity arises. obviously that won't happen all that often considering how slow neil back gets the ball. but Peel can take quick tap penalties when he can and get the team going forward. this is when the quick running and passing of the celtic players can overcome the slow bovine plodding of the english.

An Englishman responds:

--didn't know they were installing internet in council houses these days.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Andrei Shleifer Defrauds the Government and Harvard Buries the News

I think Harvard needs to get a better PR dept--or someone inside its administration does not like Andrei Shleifer--author of, get this, The Grabbing Hand:

Harvard and its star economist Andrei Shleifer ’82 said on Monday they had reached a tentative settlement with the U.S. government in a five-year-old fraud suit that has spanned two continents and embarrassed both the University and the professor.

The terms of the settlement were not announced, and the parties said several details still need to be resolved. At a hearing in U.S. District Court on Monday, Judge Douglas P. Woodlock gave the parties 60 days to ink the deal.

The agreement came nearly a year after Woodlock found Shleifer, who is the Jones professor of economics, and Jonathan Hay, a former Harvard employee, liable for conspiring to defraud the government. The two men made personal investments in Russia while advising a U.S.-funded program to privatize the economy there in the 1990s.....

Yesterday’s hearing, originally scheduled for March, was postponed four times, most recently on the first of this month. That delay, according to a Harvard official who has been briefed on the case, was a public-relations move intended to push the settlement announcement until after Commencement, when the news would receive less attention.
This story has, rather mysteriously drawn very little coverage from the mainstream press. The best coverage is David Warsh's economicprincipals blog--especially here.

Friday, June 03, 2005

A Tale of Two Bus Drivers: A Note on Comparative Economic Well-Being

David Brooks' latest column in the NYT has sparked a blogospheric debate about the relative economic well-being of Americans and Europeans. People are flinging around lots of statistics. But the underlying issues are these (i) what metric best measures well-being? and (ii) whose well-being do we measure? I don't have the answers to these difficult questions. I offer instead Tom Friedman's best friend--an anecdote.

Travelling on the Heathrow to Oxford Express Bus last month, I overheard a conversation between the bus driver and a friend (also a bus driver), who had just returned from a visit to New Hampshire, USA. The British based Oxford bus drivers were commenting that they earned the same in pounds sterling (25,000 p.a.) as a bus driver in New Hampshire earned in dollars (also 25,000 p.a.). They were further led to comment that the New Hampshire bus driver appeared to have a much higher standard of living. Let's say they were right about the numbers, then 25,000 dollars--which is slightly less than half of median family income in New Hampshire--buys bus drivers a higher standard of living in New Hampshire than 25,000 pounds sterling--which is roughly the median family income in the UK--buys bus drivers in Oxford. Both the Oxford bus drivers said they'd move to New Hampshire in a heartbeat.

I draw no conclusions from this anecdote. I note only that neither in Oxford nor in New Hampshire could you raise a family on a bus driver's salary.

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