Daily Archives: 14 August 2006

How far is too far?

I haven’t blogged about the situation in Lebanon, but that isn’t to say it hasn’t been constantly on my mind. The problem is, how do you articulate a position without instantly being jumped on by either side? As with Iraq, for so many people there is no space for nuance.

But I will say this: I have constantly hit out at people who tend to make excuses for terrorism. When Jenny Tonge made fatuous remarks about how she would have been a suicide bomber if she was Palestinian, I was one of the first to criticise, just as I was earlier this year when Chris Davies made similar comments. But it does amaze me how certain people who have been quick to attack such comments seem blind to the fact that it does work both ways.

Israel’s attack on Lebanon was by no means unprovoked but it has resulted in something like 10 Lebanese deaths for every 1 Israeli. The Israeli reaction to claims that this is disproportionate is “what would you have done?” But this sounds just a little too much like the rote of “something must be done” > “this is something” > “therefore it must be done.” Are we really to believe that there is no such thing as going too far?

Israel can’t expect us to sympathise with its right to defend itself, however disproportionately, and then expect us to condemn Palestinians or Hizbullah for reacting in the same disproportionate manner.

Conspiratorial Pots and Kettles

Another incoherent article in the Observer by Nick Cohen again this week. The man truly is hopelessly confused.

This week he manages to conflate people who see Zionist conspiracies in everything with people who believe in the conspiracy theory (for that is what it is) that al-Qaeda is a SMERSH-style international organisation with Osama Bin Laden sitting there in his cave in Northern Pakistan plotting their every move (presumably complete with white Persian sitting on his lap).

Although I must admit to not having seen Adam Curtis’ Power of Nightmares, my understanding of his thesis is not that terrorists identifying themselves as al-Qaeda don’t exist, but that there is no “organisation” called al-Qaeda as such. Indeed, that is both their strength (hard to eradicate fully) and weakness (can only ever pick away at targets without ever really damaging infrastructure in a meaningful way).

As Max Hastings puts it in today’s Guardian, this grand conspiracy theory – shared by busom buddies Nick Cohen and George Bush – has the perverse effect of equating the Palestinian struggle – people with a legitimate grievance even if groups such as Hamas go the wrong way about it – with people who are completely beyond the pale, cannot be reasoned with and who are committed to the total destruction of our way of life. In the past, international diplomacy would have been dedicated to driving a wedge between these groupings; Bush’s strategy over the last few years has been to drive them together.


British Muslim leaders are meeting with Ruth Kelly to talk about combating ‘extremism’ in sections of their community.

This is the Ruth Kelly who attends Opu Dei meetings, although refuses to confirm or deny that she is a member of this highly conservative Catholic group.

The same Opus Dei that provided spiritual comfort to Spanish fascism and South American military regimes, that continues to harbour homophobia and misogyny, some of whose members engage in ritualised self-harm, and whose attitude towards contraception condemns countless people to AIDS and other sexually transmitted conditions. This isn’t sub-Da Vinci Code hysteria. As far as I’m concerned, contemporary Catholicism has many enormously positive strands, that value human dignity and take meaningful action to improve the world in a specifically Catholic manner. Its not possible to envisage European intellectual and cultural life without a massive Catholic contribution. And most of the faults of Opus Dei are not exclusive to Catholic groups, but are also found in some other Christian denominations.

Yet it sticks in my throat that Muslims should feel that they have to demonstrate their ‘anti-extremist’ credentials to New Labour in general, and to Ruth Kelly in particular.

Planet X

Spare a thought for the poor astrology community who, either way, will have their work cut out coping with the decision by the International Astronomical Union today. Either Pluto gets to remain a planet, and thus so will Xena and up to 50 other bodies circling the Sun, or it gets struck off the roster.

Despite the fact that Neptune, Uranus and Pluto were unheard of in antiquity, astrologers have gamely incorporated them into their calculations. This is effectively an admission that astrology was bunk until Pluto was discovered early in the last century. Now it looks as if those calculations were all flawed. What’s worse, they may have to contend with a planet named not after a Greek God, but a character from a TV show. The indignity of it.