Wednesday, March 29, 2006

ASIL Opinio Juris blogging reception, Thursday, March 30, 7:30 pm

For those of you either attending the American Society of International Law meetings or in the DC area, there will be a reception and open discussion of blogging at the ASIL meeting - Thursday, March 30, 7:30 pm in the Longworth Room of the Fairmont Hotel, 24th and M Street, DC. It is hosted by the very, very cool Opinio Juris blog members, and looks to be a wonderful event. I, unfortunately, have a memorial service to attend that night, so can't make it, but I hope everyone else does.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

A tentative attempt by the Dutch to be clear with immigrants about their liberal, secular culture

The NYT had a longer piece on this, but here is the public AP version. Text:

By BRUCE MUTSVAIRO, Associated Press Writer
Wed Mar 15, 2:35 PM ET

The camera focuses on two gay men kissing in a park. Later, a topless woman emerges from the sea and walks onto a crowded beach. For would-be immigrants to the Netherlands, this film is a test of their readiness to participate in the liberal Dutch culture.

If they can't stomach it, no need to apply.

Despite whether they find the film offensive, applicants must buy a copy and watch it if they hope to pass the Netherlands' new entrance examination.

The test — the first of its kind in the world — became compulsory Wednesday, and was made available at 138 Dutch embassies.

Taking the exam costs $420. The price for a preparation package that includes the film, a CD ROM and a picture album of famous Dutch people is $75.

"As of today, immigrants wishing to settle in the Netherlands for, in particular, the purposes of marrying or forming a relationship will be required to take the civic integration examination abroad," the Immigration Ministry said in a statement.

The test is part of a broader crackdown on immigration that has been gathering momentum in the Netherlands since 2001.

Anti-immigration sentiment peaked with filmmaker Theo van Gogh's murder by a Dutch national of Moroccan descent in November 2004.

Both praise and scorn have been poured on Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, the architect of the new test and other policies that have reduced immigration by at least a third.

"If you pass, you're more than welcome," Verdonk said. "It is in the interest of Dutch society and those concerned."

Not everyone is happy with the new test.

"Today is a black day for the people intending to bring their partners to Holland," said Buitenlandse Partner, a lobbying group for mixed Dutch/immigrant couples.

Dutch theologian Karel Steenbrink criticized the 105-minute movie, saying it would be offensive to some Muslims.

"It is not a prudent way of welcoming people to the Netherlands," said Steenbrink, a professor at the University of Utrecht. "Minister Verdonk has radical ideas."

But Mohammed Sini, the chairman of Islam and Citizenship, a national Muslim organization, defended the film, saying that homosexuality is "a reality."

Sini urged all immigrants "to embrace modernity."

A censored version with no homosexual and nude material had been prepared because it is illegal to show such images in Iran and some other countries, filmmaker Walter Goverde said.

"With all the respect I have for all religions, I think people need to understand that Holland has its own liberal side as well," he said.

After viewing the film, which is available in most languages, applicants are then quizzed on important Dutch factoids such as the number of provinces that make up the Netherlands; the role played by William of Orange in the country's history; and Queen Beatrix's monarchial functions.

There are some major exemptions. EU nationals, asylum-seekers and skilled workers who earn more than $54,000 per year will not be required to take the 30-minute computerized exam.
Also, citizens of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and Switzerland are exempt.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Timothy Waters on the long term effects of the Milosevic trial and death

Timothy Waters, a law professor who worked on the original indictment of Milosevic, comments in the Christian Science Monitor on the future of international criminal trials. I think he is fundamentally right. Here. Thanks RCP.

From the March 16, 2006 edition -
Christian Science Monitor

What now for war trials after Milosevic?

Milosevic's untimely death is a reminder that courts aren't the only tool for justice.

By Timothy Waters

OXFORD, MISS. - When the team I worked on at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal which indicted Slobodan Milosevic during the Kosovo war, we were making justice "in real time." Time slowed a great deal after that, coming to a stop this week when Mr. Milosevic died. The Serb strongman responsible for so much bloodshed in the Balkans, the master tactician who grasped instinctively for each chance at power even as his kingdom narrowed to a courtroom, has run out of tricks and out of days. He died not as a master of his country, but a prisoner of international justice.

But this is no cause for celebration. Milosevic's death is a blow to the tribunal, which invested years in its flagship case. When he was transferred to The Hague in 2001, hopes were high that the architect of ethnic cleansing would face justice, and a definitive record of the war would be established. Instead, Milosevic will become a grim footnote. It's hard to say he won, but clearly international law hasn't.

The truth is, we expect too much of international justice. Tribunals have proliferated since the cold war, becoming the international community's tool of choice for responding to mass violence. In the process, law has crowded out other options. We condemn amnesties as unacceptable impunity and insist on the absolute priority of criminal justice. But law is a fragile process with uncertain effects. Claims that international courts deter violence, create a record, or promote reconciliation remain speculative.

The tribunal has failed to deter: Both Srebrenica and Kosovo happened on its watch. To some that just shows Milosevic should have been indicted earlier rather than making him a player in the Peace Accords at Dayton, Ohio. Maybe, but then we might not have gotten a Bosnian peace deal. In any event, military force - not threats of prosecution - made our belated interventions in the Balkans credible.

Milosevic's death means no verdict, denying the tribunal the chance to establish a definitive record. Yet this only highlights the problem with expecting international justice to play a truth-telling role in the first place. Courts don't write histories; prosecutors go for conviction, not a record. Indeed, one problem with the prosecution's case was that it tried to tell the whole story of the war and drowned in its own sprawling narrative.

Nor has the tribunal contributed to regional reconciliation. Few Serbs accept the tribunal's legitimacy. Former Yugoslavia's other communities may praise the tribunal when it convicts their enemies but not when it convicts one of their own. In Bosnia, reconciliation was never going to be easy, but the tribunal has failed to create common ground among its peoples.

And what are the costs? International trials are slow. They are expensive, drawing resources from other initiatives. More fundamentally, fetishizing law narrows our options for supporting transitional societies. Trials are important, but it's wrong to prioritize convictions over peace and stability: Sometimes insisting on arrest can destabilize fragile states.

Yet without missing a beat, international law turns from disappointment to the next indictee who is key to everything. Now that Milosevic is dead, focus has shifted to Bosnian Serbs Radovan Karadjic and Ratko Mladic as the key players who must be brought to justice. I, too, hope they are tried, but only if it contributes to regional stability, not because outsiders need a villain in the dock.

Some interpret Milosevic's death in a cell as a metaphor for justice, but international criminal law does not work that way: Milosevic died an alleged war criminal, not a proven one. In our haste to reaffirm international justice after his death, let's remember what his life shows about the limits of that project. What can tribunals do, and what can't they? The answer is mixed. Courts can produce individual justice, but not necessarily international justice. Their ability to deter war, define truth, or promote reconciliation is unproven.

Yet the international criminal law paradigm continues to dominate our thinking. Milosevic was no strategist; he only wanted another day in power, and another. What do we want? So far: Commitment to one-size-fits-all justice and an end to politicking, but not a strategy for using law as one tool among many in responding to war.

A comprehensive strategy would incorporate amnesties (including a UN Security Council pardon power), truth commissions, exile for entrenched leaders and lustration for mid-level officials, and civil compensation. It would prioritize domestic processes - and have the courage not to insist on trials in countries that aren't ready.

And it would recognize that war is still the best way to combat war crimes: The energy expended on tribunals might be better invested in building consensus on robust, timely intervention when crimes are being committed rather than seeking punishment afterward.

Most of all, international law needs a dose of humility. We should reexamine the attractive but empirically dubious shibboleth "no peace without justice." Peace without justice happens all the time. Justice is a rare bird, and agreement on what justice means is rarer still. But peace and stability - without which justice seldom flourishes - are within the reach of a flexible response that upholds law yet does not abhor alternatives.

• Timothy Waters was a member of the team at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia that drafted the original indictment of Milosevic. He currently teaches international criminal law at the University of Mississippi.

UN Human Rights Council - what happened?

So, the General Assembly passed the compromise UN Human Rights Council "reform" - with four opposing votes - the United States, Israel, Palau, and the Marshall Islands voting against. The US then announced that it will support the new Council and continue funding per usual. Opinio Juris has a good roundup, here and here. Another good site for continuing information is I have put here stories from the WP, NYT, and an editorial from the WSJ.

My views continue to be those expressed in the opinion piece by George Mitchell and Newt Gingrich in the International Herald Tribune, in yesterday's post.

The Washington Post's Colum Lynch has a page one story on it in today's paper, March 16, 2006, here. Excerpts:

U.N. Votes To Replace Rights Panel
U.S. Has Objections But Will Aid Agency

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 16, 2006; A01

UNITED NATIONS, March 15 -- The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to create a human rights agency to monitor and expose abuses by governments, replacing a discredited body despite objections by the United States that nations with a history of human rights violations could still join the new panel.

The assembly's action will effectively abolish the United Nations' main human rights body, which has been derided in recent years for allowing some of the world's worst rights abusers to participate. It will be replaced in June by a new Human Rights Council, which advocates and most nations hope will exclude brutal dictatorships and do a better job of confronting governments that abuse their own people.

The measure creating the 43-member rights body was passed by a vote of 170 to 4, with the United States, Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands voting against it. Belarus, Iran and Venezuela abstained, citing a concern that the council would become a tool for powerful Western countries to punish poor nations.

In a shift in U.S. policy, the Bush administration agreed Wednesday to help fund the rights council and has begun an internal discussion over possible U.S. membership. John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a staunch critic of the new council, said that though Washington opposed it, the United States will pledge support for making it "as strong and effective as it can be."

"We remain committed to support the U.N.'s historic mission to promote and protect the basic human rights of all the world's citizens," Bolton said. "The real test will be the quality of membership that emerges on this council and whether it takes effective action to address serious human rights abuse cases like Sudan, Cuba, Iran, Zimbabwe, Belarus and Burma."
The debate over the new human rights agency had put the United States in a difficult position. Under President Bush, Washington has been urging a reform of U.N. management of a variety of programs. But in this case, it opposed the rules drawn up to determine which nations could serve on the panel and cast a vote.

Wednesday's action follows a nearly year-long campaign by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to create a human rights organization to replace the Geneva-based Commission on Human Rights. Annan said the 60-year-old agency, which drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, currently suffers from "declining credibility and professionalism" and has cast "a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole."

Members of the current human rights panel include Zimbabwe, Sudan, Cuba, China and Saudi Arabia, all of which have long records of human rights violations. Rights abusers such as China have used their positions on the commission to block criticism of their human rights records.
Annan had proposed setting high membership standards, including a requirement that council members obtain votes from at least two-thirds of the U.N. membership to join. But he concluded that a compromise proposal, which required only an absolute majority of 96 votes for membership, was still worth supporting.

General Assembly President Jan Eliasson, who led negotiations on the council, said the resolution adopted Wednesday would strengthen the U.N. capacity to confront rights abusers and make it more difficult for them to join. "The true test of the council's credibility will be the use that member states make of it," Annan said.

Bolton said Wednesday that Washington opposed the council for several reasons, but he highlighted the proponents' failure to secure the two-thirds vote requirement for membership. "It would have helped to prevent the election of countries that only seek to undermine the new body from within," he said.

But other delegates and human rights advocates questioned the U.S. commitment to creating a strong human rights panel, saying that Bolton rarely participated in the months of negotiations aimed at forging a new council. When he did weigh in -- for instance, by asserting in December that the five veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council should have permanent seats on the rights panel -- he complicated the deliberations, according to diplomats and rights advocates.

In a thinly veiled attack on the United States, Peter Maurer, the Swiss ambassador, lashed out at those "who want to make us believe that they are the only ones fighting for an ambitious human rights machinery," saying: "All too often, too high-minded ambitions are coverups for less noble ambitions and are aimed not at improving the United Nations but at weakening it."
Senior U.N. officials and delegates said Bolton barely highlighted the importance of the two-thirds membership vote at a critical meeting this month with Eliasson, leading the General Assembly president to believe that the United States could accept the compromise. Eliasson declined to discuss the conversation.

"I really feel that this is a matter I can't go into, but you're right that the emphasis was not so strongly on two-thirds," he said.

Bolton insisted that he forcefully raised the issue with Eliasson and said suggestions that the United States was not fully engaged in the negotiations are "ridiculous."

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other human rights groups praised the General Assembly's decision. But they cautioned that U.N. members will have to ensure that governments with poor rights records do not win election to the new council.

And here is Warren Hoge in the New York Times, March 16, 2006:

March 16, 2006
New York Times

As U.S. Dissents, U.N. Approves a New Council on Rights Abuse


UNITED NATIONS, March 15 — With the United States in virtually lone opposition, the United Nations overwhelmingly approved a new Human Rights Council on Wednesday to replace the widely discredited Human Rights Commission.

The vote in the General Assembly was 170 to 4 with 3 abstentions. Joining the United States were Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau. Belarus, Iran and Venezuela abstained.

Secretary General Kofi Annan, who first proposed the council a year ago, hailed the decision, saying, "This gives the United Nations the chance — a much needed chance — to make a new beginning in its work for human rights around the world."

But John R. Bolton, the United States ambassador, said the proposed council was "not sufficiently improved" over the commission, which has been faulted for permitting notorious rights abusers to join.

"We must not let the victims of human rights abuses throughout the world think that U.N. member states were willing to settle for 'good enough,' " Mr. Bolton said in a statement after the vote. "We must not let history remember us as the architects of a council that was a 'compromise' and merely 'the best we could do' rather than one that ensured doing 'all we could do' to promote human rights."

He said the United States would "work cooperatively" to strengthen the council, but he did not say whether the United States would be a candidate to serve on it.

That decision, a critical consideration for the panel's future, is still "under discussion," said a senior administration official in Washington who requested anonymity because he was discussing unsettled policy.

The resolution calls for the election of new council members on May 9 and a first meeting of the council on June 19. The commission, which is beginning its annual session in Geneva next week, will be abolished on June 16.

The council will have 47 members, as opposed to the commission's 53; the means to make timely interventions in crises; and a year-round presence, with three meetings a year at its Geneva base lasting a total of at least 10 weeks. The commission has traditionally met for six weeks, once a year.

Under terms meant to restrict rights abusers from membership, candidates for the council will be voted on individually rather than as a regional group, their rights records will be subject to mandatory periodic review and countries found guilty of abuses can be suspended.

But the final text had a weakened version of the crucial membership restriction in Mr. Annan's original plan, which required new members to be elected by two-thirds of those voting. Instead, council members will be elected by an absolute majority of member states, meaning 96 votes.

Major rights organizations and a number of American allies in the United Nations — which had all lobbied Washington to reconsider its opposition — argued that the terms were far better than existing ones and would keep major abusers off the council.

And then the Wall Street Journal editorial page:

Second Time as Farce

Wall Street Journal editorial
March 16, 2006; Page A12

So the United Nations votes 170-4 to create a new Human Rights Council, and the U.S. -- one of four dissenters with Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands -- now promises to support the Council and pony up 22% of its operating expenses.

Back when the Bush Administration knew what it was doing, it chose to invest political capital in a quest for U.N. reform, pushing for Paul Volcker's Oil for Food probe and appointing bulldog diplomat John Bolton as U.S. Ambassador. Yet when Mr. Volcker's final report demonstrated pervasive corruption and incompetence at the highest levels, the Administration failed to demand Kofi Annan's resignation, apparently believing it wasn't worth the effort and that a politically beholden Secretary General could help advance U.S. aims.

Well, for months Mr. Bolton has been making the case that the proposed Human Rights Council failed to remedy the basic problems that had made its predecessor, the Human Rights Commission, the most visible emblem of U.N. fecklessness and hypocrisy. Among its problems: no formal bar to miscreant countries and an unhappy ratio of dictatorships to democracies. This should have been the easiest reform for the U.N. to get right.

Instead, the Administration has borrowed from John Kerry's playbook, voting against the Council before voting for it. "We have very high standards for human rights at the United Nations," Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns told the Washington Post by way of explaining the U.S. "no" vote. He then added that "We also want to see the U.N. succeed, and so we hope the Human Rights Council can be strengthened over time so that they can deal effectively with real world problems such as Darfur and Burma."

Good luck with that, Mr. Burns. The Oil for Food scandal gave the U.N. a once-in-a-decade opportunity to adopt meaningful reforms, which is now being squandered. But instead of exacting a meaningful price for those failures, the U.S. is still agreeing to foot the bill for an outfit that actually gives the likes of Venezuela and Saudi Arabia a voice on human rights. So we are left with the political baggage of a costly diplomatic fight and a purely symbolic losing vote -- and a million-dollar U.S. taxpayer price tag for a morally bankrupt Council.

URL for this article:

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

UN Human Rights Commission "reform" - or rather, non-reform

Tomorrow the General Assembly is set to vote on reform of the infamous UN Human Rights Commission - to replace it with a "new" Human Rights Council. Jan Eliasson, president of the General Assembly, has worked out a compromise reform that would supposedly reform the Commission. Unfortunately, for reasons laid out below in the International Herald Tribune opinion piece by George Mitchell, Democratic former Senate Majority Leader, and Newt Gingrich, Republican former House Speaker, the compromise is fatally compromised from the very start.

This has not stopped much of the world from lambasting the Bush administration for being the sole holdout in the world against the compromise so-called reform. Kevin Jon Heller, at Opinio Juris blog, lays out the case against the United States, here, which I quote in full below:

US Alone in Opposing New Human Rights Council
by Kevin Jon Heller, Opinio Juris

According to IPS, the United States is now completely alone in opposing the U.N. proposal to create a new Human Rights Council. A significant majority of the U.N.'s 191 member states have come out in favor of the proposal, including the 25-member European Union and the 114-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of developing nations. The proposal is also supported by nearly all of the major human-rights groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Foundation, Citizens for Global Solutions, Human Rights First, International Commission of Jurists, ActionAid International, and the World Organisation Against Torture. Together, the groups have released the following statement:

We believe that the draft resolution to establish a Human Rights Council presented by the President of the General Assembly is a sound basis to strengthen the UN's human rights machinery. World leaders pledged to do this when they met at the September 2005 World Summit. We call on all states to join the consensus that has emerged in countries from all regions of the world and to adopt the draft resolution. The proposed Human Rights Council will be better equipped than the existing Commission on Human Rights to address urgent, serious and long-running human rights situations wherever they occur. It will hold more frequent meetings throughout the year instead of only one. More competitive election procedures will encourage a membership that is more dedicated to the protection of human rights. Instead of slates being adopted by acclamation, members must be elected individually and a higher threshold of votes applies - at least 96 individual votes out of 191 members. A country’s human rights record will be taken into account by those voting and those committing gross violations of human rights can be suspended from the body. All members must fully cooperate with the Council and they will undergo a review of their human rights record through a new universal review system that will apply to all countries. This is an historic opportunity to create a better human rights protection system within the United Nations.

The key U.S. demand is a 2/3 majority requirement for election to the new Council, which would make it difficult for "habitual human rights abusers" such as Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Burma to be elected. Jan Eliasson, the president of the General Assembly, lobbied for such a requirement -- without much help from John Bolton, who missed 29 out of 30 negotation sessions and made numerous other diplomatic missteps, as I discussed here -- but the majority requirement was the best he could do.

There is no question that the new HRC would be better off with a 2/3 requirement. But the majority requirement is a dramatic improvement over the slate system used by the Human Rights Commission, especially given that the voting will be by secret ballot -- making it easier for states to cast votes against human-rights offenders they cannot politically or economically afford to oppose publicly.

Bolton's unwavering opposition to the HRC is also -- and predictably -- turning into a public-relations disaster for the U.S., leading many states to conclude that the real reason the U.S. opposes the HRC is that it is fears becoming one of the HRC's primary targets:

"We feel that the United States is in reality trying to weaken the U.N. human rights machinery, not strengthening it, perhaps for selfish reasons," says one Third World diplomat. With rising criticism of U.S. human rights abuses, particularly in the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan and the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, Washington is fearful of the fact that the torture and mistreatment of prisoners by U.S. soldiers will be high on the agenda of the new Human Rights Council. "I can see no other reason why Washington wants to kill the proposal," he added.

For my own part, I find it puzzling to assert that the US demanding a 2/3 vote and a smaller council would somehow serve its "selfish" interests. As I noted in a comment on Opinio Juris:

One thing I don't understand - I'm not being coy, I really would like someone to explain to me - how it is that the US holding out for a 2/3 vote would accord with the idea, mentioned by a Third World diplomat above, that the US fears becoming a primary target. If the HRC required a 2/3 vote, wouldn't it be that much easier for a smaller number of states to keep the US off? If the US wanted to protect itself from attacks on its own human rights record, why would it not support exactly what the leading human rights abusers want - as large a HRC as possible with as low a required vote as possible - eg, 47 members (reduced from what, 50-something, and a 50% voting requirement? I have heard this argument made repeatedly in dark, conspiratorial tones from UN diplomats, the NGO community, human rights types, and still have not heard anyone articulate how exactly the US holding out for a smaller council and a 2/3 vote serves to protect the US from attacks on its record. Maybe I just don't get something everyone else finds obvious - I mean that seriously - but although the US may be holding out for something unachievable, how does its position protect it from attacks on its record?

I also have to say that I find it remarkable, to say the least, that the leading human rights organizations and NGOs would come out in favor of so obviously inadequate a proposal as that put forth by Eliasson. It may very well have been the best that Eliasson could do, but then, he's a diplomat who must operate in compromises - but in that case, the proper response from a principled organization would be to say, sorry, this is so inadequate that it merely duplicates what went on before, and we're not signing on.

What the letter from the NGOs quoted above mostly indicates is the degree to which these organizations have abandoned principle in favor of being "players," in which (a) it is not okay to reject something that has been arranged by parties as respectable as Eliasson and agreed to by the good guys and (b) it is not okay to join the United States government, at least under Bush, in rejecting something that one's natural allies, among the "players," have all agreed to. The episode reinforces my view that the human rights organizations have generally opted for "internationalism" and the pull of being players among international organizations over "universal" principles. They engage in the charade that "international" is the same as "universal," but they're not - and less so than before tomorrow's sorry vote.

Mitchell and Gingrich co-chaired a US congressionally funded task force on UN reform organized through the United States Institute of Peace. I was one of the experts for the task force. It reached entirely bipartisan, mainstream conclusions, including basic principles about reform of the Human Rights Commission that include all the points that the Bush administration is holding out for. Its conclusions were widely praised - as I recall, the Economist editorialized that if those basic points about the Commission were not enacted, well, better to close up shop at the Commission than continue to live a lie. Many others followed suit.

That seemed fairly obvious at the time. Not any more and, most remarkably, not among those for whom human rights principles are supposed to - well, not objects of negotiation and compromise but, you know ... principles. Let Eliasson do the compromises - human rights organizations should be holding to the basic markers. Which, naturally, they always do when going after the US and the Bush administration - but it's a different story, apparently, when maintaining good relations with those with whom they maintain a vital relationship of mutual backscratching.

More precisely, the relationship between so-called global civil society - the NGOs - and international organizations such as the UN is one of mutual legitimation. International organizations stand in desperate need of legitimacy - since they have no democratic legitimacy, they seek it from organizations such as NGOs that purport to offer it to them as stand-ins for the "peoples of the world." I don't recall voting for NGOs to represent me as a citizen of the world and neither do you, but that's their claim - they represent the peoples of the planet. In turn, the NGOs gain from international organizations their own form of legitimacy - the legitimacy of being the world's representatives. It's a cozy relationship of mutual legitimation - not just cozy, but a completely closed circle.

So Kofi Annan tells assemblies of NGO activist that they are the constituencies that, unlike mere governments, represent people in the UN system. What NGO can resist that siren song? And in return, they used to function as a kind of loyal opposition - opposing some parts of the UN program while affirming the basic legitimacy of the UN as the world's system of global governance over the "mere" and parochial claims of nation-states. What we see in this move to be a player in accommodating compromises of such an astonishing kind on something as basic as human rights is to drop the idea of even being an opposition within the basic structure of legitimacy, and just ... suck up.

But Mitchell and Gingrich have come back with the position that human rights NGOs not in thrall to their own "player" roles should have been saying, in the IHT, here. It is vitally important and I reproduce it in whole:

Rethinking UN reform

Newt Gingrich and George Mitchell
International Herald Tribune

We have worked together during the past year to promote reform of the United Nations in the common belief that an effective and capable organization could be a force for achieving Eleanor Roosevelt's hope that the United Nations would be "a guiding beacon along the way to the achievement of human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the world."

The congressionally mandated task force we jointly led recommended abolishing the discredited UN Human Rights Commission in favor of a new Human Rights Council, ideally composed of democracies, recognizing that democratic governments offer the best protection of human rights.

We are gratified that the UN General Assembly recently proposed abolishing the commission, and is now taking the first steps to define its replacement. But we cannot embrace the design of the new council that has been put forward.

In our report to Congress, we concluded that a major component of UN reform must be repair of the UN human rights system. We found that the Human Rights Commission had become so distorted that "countries with appalling, even monstrous, human rights records - Sudan, Syria, Zimbabwe, Libya, and Cuba, to name a few - could all be seated there." We believed that the situation had deteriorated to the point that the commission was failing at its primary task: monitoring, promoting, and enforcing human rights.

But the plan offered by the General Assembly does not do enough to redress these weaknesses, and is inadequate for several reasons.

First, it does not provide enforceable standards for membership. We recognize that in an international institution like the UN - which has no democratic preconditions for membership - there will always be limits to America's ability to render its infrastructure and decisions compatible with American values and interests. Nevertheless our task force recognized the fundamental importance of denying membership in the UN body charged with the protection of human rights to any states under UN sanctions and/or states unwilling to accept monitoring missions. We stand by our task force recommendation.

Second, the proposed council will be dominated by regional groupings. The plan emphasizes "equitable geographic distribution," apportioning the 47 seats among the various regional groups, which shifts the balance of membership away from Western democracies.

Our task force made it clear that the United States should oppose any efforts by regional groupings to nominate members of the council solely on the basis of rotation, which would be likely to sacrifice the fundamental values of human rights to regional consensus and political solidarity. We also advocated a smaller council than the 53-member commission. We stand by our recommendations: A new council should be smaller still.

Third, the plan provides that election to the council will be by a simple majority vote of the General Assembly through a secret ballot. This is a major step backward from Secretary General Kofi Annan's original proposal - supported by the United States - that called for a two-thirds majority vote for membership. This weakness of the plan, more than any other aspect, would ensure that the new council would not be sufficiently different from the commission.

Finally, the plan requires a two-thirds vote for removal of members, making it impractical to remove human rights violators from the council. Considering that 50 percent of the General Assembly could not even agree that Sudan was guilty of human rights violations in November, this provision holds little hope that human rights violators will be removed from the council should they get on. Instead of erecting a high bar for membership, the current plan would erect one for removal. This is exactly backwards.

Eleanor Roosevelt said "the field of human rights is not one in which compromises on fundamental principles are possible." Unfortunately, the proposed compromise put forward for the Human Rights Council does not adequately address the core institutional problem with the current commission - the requirement to keep human rights violators off the council, while keeping human rights defenders on.We call on the United States to mount a major diplomatic effort at the United Nations and in the capitals of the world's other democracies, to press for a strong and effective Human Rights Council that lives up to the UN's founding principles.

Newt Gingrich is a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and George Mitchell is a former U.S. Senate majority leader.

Finally, here is the Wall Street Journal's editorial on the subject:

Wall Street Journal

Council of Despair

March 14, 2006;
Page A18

The United Nations General Assembly is scheduled to vote tomorrow to establish the Human Rights Council, which is intended to replace its discredited Human Rights Commission. Amnesty International is for it, as is Secretary General Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, the European Union and most of the U.N.'s member states. So it all but goes without saying that the Council -- at least as it is currently conceived -- is a moral disaster waiting to happen.

We've previously argued that among the proposed Council's defects is its size. The existing Commission has 53 member states, which even Mr. Annan conceded was too many for any human-rights body to be effective. U.N. sages proposed bringing that number down by a whopping eight seats. But even that proved to be too bold, and now the U.N. proposes a Council of 47 seats. Think of it as the concession the U.N. made for Belarus and Egypt when those paragons of liberal democracy next take their seats on the Council.

Then there is how member states would be selected. Again, the initial proposal for the Council set the bar fairly high, requiring that countries be elected by two-thirds of the General Assembly. This would have dissuaded shady regimes from standing for membership, while allowing the U.S. and its allies to block those that did. But the two-thirds requirement has been dropped to a simple majority. Worse, seats are distributed by a formula that guarantees Africa, Asia and the Middle East -- the world's least democratic areas -- 26 Council seats, an absolute majority.

By contrast, the U.S. and the 27 other members of the so-called West European and Others Group would have the right to no more than seven seats. So get ready for the U.S. to duke it out with France, Malta and Luxembourg for a place at the table. Council members would also be forbidden from serving more than two consecutive three-year terms, so the U.S. would not have permanent representation. In this respect, the Council is even worse for American interests than the Commission it would replace.

Proponents point out that, unlike the Commission, the new body could suspend members who committed human-rights abuses. The good news here is that at least Israel would be safe from this kind of sanction -- but only because Israel will almost certainly never be elected to the Council. But the idea that any state short of Cambodia under Pol Pot would actually be booted from the Council is a faith-based proposition given U.N. history.

So far, the Bush Administration has stood firm in opposing the current version of the Council, at least until further changes are negotiated. One American proposal would be to permanently bar from the Council those countries that are under legally actionable, "Chapter VII" sanctions. Too tough, say critics, who want the U.S. to sign first and seek "future improvement" later. Among those future improvements: "Council members must uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights," according to former U.S. Senator Tim Wirth of the United Nations Foundation. But the whole point of replacing the Commission with the Council was to create that kind of baseline first.

As it is, there seems to be little chance that the U.S. will be able to prevent this Council from coming into existence: Unlike the Security Council, America has no veto in the General Assembly. But the U.S. does provide 22% of the U.N.'s assessed contributions (from which the Commission is funded) as well as more than $10 million in voluntary contributions for the U.N.'s human-rights bodies, which is twice as much as the next largest donor. Senator Norm Coleman (R., Minnesota) has proposed legislation that would "authorize the President to withhold up to 50% of the U.S. contributions to the U.N. if the President determines that . . . the U.N. is not making sufficient progress to implement [reform]."

That is a sound suggestion. In the meantime, the U.S. can do the world a favor by voting against this ill-conceived Council, and by refusing to participate until the very modest demands the Administration has made are met.

The post-neo con strategy?

Political discussion is filling these days with conservatives who have seen the light that neo-con idealism was a very bad idea - repenting of it, and returning to the timeless truths of stability-oriented realism. Who? William F. Buckley, Francis Fukuyama, among others. John Podhoretz, in the New York Post, discusses this in the context of Rich Lowry's new National Review essay on the new "to-hell-with-them" hawks. Here.

As Podhoretz frames Lowry's argument:

CAN the War on Terror be won? America's inability to secure a victory in Iraq against the insurgency suggests to many people of good will and good sense that it really can't be. They believe the enemies of the United States are motivated by a force more powerful than we reckoned - by a religious ideology that has seduced hundreds of millions of people who prefer its stark certainties to the ambiguities and confusions of Western bourgeois life.

We can't beat it, they say, and we can't join it. So what is left for us? Just to say "the hell with them."

Richard Lowry's very important piece in the new issue of National Review is about the "to-hell-with-them hawks." They are, in Lowry's words, "conservatives who are comfortable using force abroad, but have little patience for a deep entanglement with the Muslim world, which they consider unredeemable, or at least not worth the strenuous effort of trying to redeem."

They look at Iraq's decimated civic culture and they wonder at the naiveté of a president who believed he could bring Western-style liberty to the place. They look at the Muslim world and they see Hamas elected by Palestinians and months of rioting over supposedly offensive cartoons by people who are happy to celebrate suicide bombers.

President Bush's prescription for ultimate victory in the War on Terror was bringing freedom to those who are not free, because the longing for freedom resides in every human heart. Ludicrous sentimentality, say the to-hell-with-them hawks. Muslims don't want it and they don't deserve it and we shouldn't be trying to give it to them.

Lowry's answer is this: "Confident predictions about which cultures are or are not capable of democracy have the aspect of unassailable truth - right up to the point that they don't. Representative Arab government will be impossible until it happens."

The project in Iraq is an effort to change the terms of the discussion in the Arab Muslim world. Lowry has come up with an elegant and original way of putting the visionary aspect of the Bush freedom doctrine in real-world terms: "The contemporary Middle East has featured a competition of radicalisms - who can be religiously purer, and more hostile to the West? The project in Iraq is an attempt to shift the terms of the competition to who can better deliver peace, prosperity and representation."

The to-hell-with-them hawks - among them Lowry's own mentor, William F. Buckley - have found a middle ground between the merely partisan opposition arguments of the Democrats and the poisonous attitudes of the far-right isolationists.

Their argument seems hard-headed and unsentimental. People are trying to murder Americans, and such people ought to die. Kill as many of the bad guys as you can abroad. Strike Iran from the air if you have to. Do whatever you must to secure the homeland. Don't let Arabs run the ports. Racially profile Muslims and Arabs out the wazoo. No crocodile tears for the excesses at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib.

What's missing here is what has been missing from the most hard-headed discussions of Iraq since the end of the 2004 election, and that is an understanding of just why President Bush formulated the freedom doctrine.

The problem is that the policies advocated by the "hell hawks" and by defeatist Democrats offer no real possibility of an end to the war against Islamic radicalism. It will go on forever.

And if it does, it seems certain that at some point in the next few decades, millions
of people are going to die in a successful terrorist assault using weapons of mass destruction.

I admit to a certain sympathy to the to-hell-with-them hawks. The bet made by the Bush administration was never merely one of Wilsonian idealism. It was always one that said - thus winning the endorsement of hard-headed realists about war such as Victor Davis Hanson - that the old realist strategy of stability was a key element in what had produced a successful strike against the United States, and the likelihood, over enough time, of successful and catastrophic strikes to come. But the problem could not be resolved by more application of the same old realist doctrine. Realism had to accept that idealism about political systems and the terms of rule in the Middle East, in particular, had to be changed radically. It was always something which was a roll of the dice. It was a strategy designed to introduce sharp and quite possibly revolutionary and reactionary (ie, Islamist) changes on the region. But the status quo was killing us, and had to change. Idealism was, in fact, the new realism.

The problem with this, of course, is that democracy - as all Burkeans understand - is a culturally very specific phenomenon, one that builds on slowly accreted institutions and cultural dispositions. Freedom may be a yearning for people everywhere, but democracy is not, and even if it is, the conditions under which it thrives are delicate, even in existing democracies such as our own, not robust. In any case, as my very intelligent Egyptian graduate student points out in his writing, the blunt fact - and he should know, having been a prosecuting judge in Egypt prosecuting Muslim Brotherhood terrorists - is that, with the varieties of Western promises, whether socialism or capitalism or anything seemingly having failed the Middle Eastern masses, they are determined to give Islam a shot. Democracy will ratify that. It might deratify it, if the system remains democratic long enough to evolve, or it might be one vote, one time.

One of the peculiar shifts in the political discourse of the United States is to watch how idealists in foreign policy, on the left - those who endlessly preached the virtues of idealist, human rights promoting, values laden, even if destabilizing policy by the United States - have so thorougly shifted ground to become the new realists. It was a mistake to take out Saddam. He could have been contained (and, presumably, his even crazier sons, too, but we'll charitably leave that). It is quite remarkable to hear that line from the left that used to pony up to demands for policies that would have been quite as destabilizing. And then conservatives, who had long preached stability as its own value - preaching, however, not precisely Burkean stability within a society, stability of the social order, as a value whether or not the society is democratic or deeply respectful of human rights, but instead preaching the stability of the international political order at any price in values, which is not quite the same thing - suddenly got behind regime change for idealist reasons.

Most of us, when thinking sensibly and not partisanly, want both those things. We recognize that political and social stability is an important thing, foundational to other virtues in society. We recognize the value of stability even in situations that are, in profound ways, otherwise unjust. The reason is that the instability that is the alternative is that which we associate with failed states, the Thirty Years War, the war of all against all - more exactly, every man for himself and God against all. There is a wonderful passage in the middle of that great, now somewhat neglected novel by George Konrad, The Loser, in which, in the midst of the first days of the 1956 revolution in Hungary, the narrator is simply trying to get together enough troops and police to restore order so that some negotiations can take place without many, many people getting killed.

It wasn't that he thought the existing order was just. It was, instead, that he had had enough of revolution and war to know what the alternative would be, massacres and piles of corpses. Of course, we also want democracy, justice, and human rights, too. It would be nice if there were never any tradeoffs. It would be nice if there were, as the Catholic theologians put it, a unity of the virtues. But it seems far more likely that we live in the world Isaiah Berlin described - plural and sometimes incommensurate and sometimes incompatible social goods.

Well, George Bush, with my blessing then and my continued blessing now, rolled the dice that you can't really have one without at least a measure of the other. As the human rights activists liked to say, before they decided to become hard-hearted realists, no justice, no peace. If you don't change the fundamental social terms of the Middle East, there is no possibility of winning the war on terror. There are immense contradictions in this, of course - the House of Saud would have to fall, which for oil reasons cannot be high on the Bush administration list. I expected that liberal human rights types would criticize the administration primarily for its failures to execute its own idealism - the idealism of the Bush second inaugural. But that wasn't what they said - instead they took on his idealism, and abandoned their own (not for good - just so long as it is associated with - horrors - a Republican).

But now you have conservatives who are questioning the idealism-is-the-new-realism strategy. Their grounds are simply that the idealism cannot be achieved, and if it is, it will be only to deliver a bunch of Islamist regimes. Some of us think that would be, on balance, historically better than the current situation, of faux-modernity carrying the full weight of authoritarianism by vicious Middle Eastern satrapies. At least it has moral and realist clarity about who our enemies are. The question, however, is what the newly repentant conservative realists think the new strategy should be. The answer, as Podhoretz and Lowry observe, is essentially to abandon the forward strategy, the offensive strategy.

It will not, I sincerely hope, have escaped notice in the Pentagon and the Office of Policy Planning in the State Department that if, as the re-realist conservatives claim, Americans do not have the patience to build reasonably stable, reasonably democratic societies, we will need a new strategic doctrine. The only one that I can see is a defensive one - one that attempts to draw the lines at the borders, at the airports, at the ports, in the screening of people, while leaving it to others to determine what goes on beyond our borders. We may make raids and forays out into the world to deal with threats, but our offensive strategy will be a raiding strategy, not one of persistence. It may seek to attack particular targets within places that provide safe havens for transnational terrorists - it may seek to attack the terrorists.

What it will not do is what Bush essentially undertook after 9/11 - to take down regimes that harbored terrorists or else presented unacceptable risks of arming terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. What made the Bush approach "war" instead of merely the Clinton's administration's desultory policy was not the willingness to attack terrorists - even the Clinton administration was occasionally willing to do that. It was the willingness to bring down regimes that provided the havens for terrorists, and finally, in rolling the dice on change in the Middle East, to seek to change the social equation, and not merely the political one, on which all terrorism, finally, rests. That is what the returning realists seek to give up. No doubt war is a poor method of social engineering. But certainly, in my view, the old strategy of unjust stability merely served as the harbinger of more devastating attacks that ran an unacceptable risk of successful catastrophic terrorism using WMD. It could not go on. A defensive strategy, especially one drawn at the borders of the United States, or still worse, one that relies on the "international community" and multilateralism or liberal internationalism - this is the most vacuous and unconvincing part of Fukuyama's argument in his new book - will not keep America safe, not in a struggle with an enemy on the historical offensive. The roll of the dice was - and is - the right move.

Donald Horowitz on ethnic conflict in Iraq

(Update, December 7, 2006. I've also posted excerpts from Professor Horowitz's December 4, 2006 WSJ piece here.)

Donald Horowitz, a professor of law and political science at Duke University, has a very astute discussion of ethnic conflict in Iraq in the Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, March 14, 2006. Here. Don is one of the smartest people I think I have ever met, and his Ethnic Groups in Conflict remains a standard of the field after something like twenty years. He is one of the rare commentators on the Iraq war who is able to maintain a cool, analytic, measured tone - neither downplaying risks and bad news nor celebrating them, either. Excerpts:

Dangerous Stalemate in Iraq

Wall Street Journal
March 14, 2006; Page A18

There are two crises in Iraq. One is the obvious crisis of sectarian violence, the other the less obvious one of government formation. The two are related. The elections in December produced a more or less predictable result -- four major blocs of seats. Shiite parties in the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) received 128 seats out of 275, short of a majority to form a government. The principal Kurdish list came in second with 53; the main Sunni parties gained 44 and the intersectarian list of Ayad Allawi won only 25. Together the Shiite UIA and the Kurds would easily have a secure majority; and if they accommodated Sunni demands for constitutional changes, Sunni parties could join a government that spanned the major cleavages and undercut the insurgency.

Something peculiar happened on the way to such a happy outcome. The Shiites and Kurds, who had so completely dominated politics and constitution-making in post-invasion Iraq, fell out. By an intraparty majority of one vote, the Shiites chose as their candidate for prime minister the sitting occupant of that office, Ibrahim al-Jaafari -- the one man Kurdish president Jalal Talabani could not abide. For their part, the Kurds, who had profited handsomely from their close relationship with the Shiites, turned their back on that relationship and demanded a national unity government, including not only the Sunnis but Mr. Allawi's secular party, too. Moreover, they demanded that the interior and defense ministries, implicated in sectarian violence, be assigned to neutral figures and that a new "national security council" be created to check in some unspecified way the formal institutions created by the constitution. The Kurds and all their allies have 136 seats, short of a majority, just as the Shiites are. And so there is stalemate.

That stalemate feeds the insurgency, not only by freeing up politically affiliated militias to attack their sectarian enemies, but by creating an interregnum whose uncertainty is an ideal environment for intergroup violence. Reciprocally, the violence creates bitterness that makes it harder for political leaders to span the chasm that divides them. For the moment, even the deep disenchantment of Sunni leaders with the constitution has been shelved as the raw struggle over who will control Iraq takes center stage.

Why the Kurds defected from an alliance that had served them so well is a mystery. After all, the constitution they crafted with the Shiites suits their interest in going their own way with a Kurdish region in the north. What is very clear is that the alignment of nearly all Shiites on one side and nearly everyone else on the other is exceedingly unhealthy. The Shiites are a majority in a country long deprived of majoritarian institutions. Majorities want majority rule; a majority that sees itself as cheated of its rightful place in government is a dangerous organism.
Consider a single, obscure but important instance: the Punjab election of 1946 in British India. The Punjab was then divided among a Muslim majority, a Hindu minority and a Sikh minority. The Muslim League was overwhelmingly favored by Muslims but fell just short of a majority. A small Muslim splinter party joined Hindu and Sikh politicians, enabling them to form a government and cheating the vast majority of Muslims out of a government they saw as rightfully theirs. The result: horrendous violence that opened the door to the partition of India, with a death toll in the hundreds of thousands. There are examples of the phenomenon in other countries where majorities are shut out.

The same could easily happen in Iraq if an anti-UIA alignment secures enough seats to form a government. Some think a civil war is already under way, but an inclusive government stands at least some chance of averting the worst. It will not be easy to negotiate such a government. A coalition would be easier to form if the UIA abandoned its insistence on Mr. Jaafari as its prime ministerial choice and thought seriously about the negative effects of biased interior and defense ministries. Many informed Iraqis think Mr. Jaafari has been ineffective.

The UIA could also rethink its insistence on a less-than-fully inclusive government. It is true that ministerial positions and other perquisites of governing normally go to the best electoral performers. But these are not normal times in which a winner-take-all mentality should prevail: It is imperative that everyone who can dampen the violence find a place in government. That will also mean Shiite compromises on the constitution so disliked by Sunni, even if those negotiations take place over a more extended period than the four months contemplated for amendments to the current constitutional deal.

On the Kurdish-Sunni-secular side, it needs to be recognized that denying the Shiites plurality of a first-among-equals position in government is a very bad idea. It is not only of dubious democratic legitimacy: More importantly, an anti-UIA coalition risks explosive violence that will put Iraq on the road to disaster -- to years of strife, or secession and territorial partition, or even to internationalized Sunni-Shiite warfare that can embroil the whole region. Responsible people on both sides of this new divide have to step back from their maximum demands, lest pursuing them place every party and group in dire jeopardy. Likewise, if the U.S. entertains any notion that supporting an anti-UIA coalition provides a convenient way to exclude Iranian influence from Iraq, attractive though that notion may be, the costs of indulging such an idea will be far too high to contemplate.

* * *
Finally, thought should be given to the proportional representation (PR) electoral system that, in combination with the Kurdish defection, produced the impasse. List-system PR is the preferred electoral system of many international advisers helping in the creation of transitional institutions. In Iraq's first elections, it might have been hard, though not impossible, to choose another system; and other systems might also have produced inconclusive results in the recent elections. But some systems would have offered a chance of a more definitive electoral outcome, and might have been preferred. A protracted interregnum in which armed gangs go about their gory business while statesmanship is in hiding should not be anyone's idea of a reasonable transition to democracy.

Mr. Horowitz, professor of law and political science at Duke, is author of "The Deadly Ethnic Riot" (University of California, 2001).

Monday, March 13, 2006

Slavoj Zizek on Defenders of Faith, and of Susan Moller Okin and the surrender of feminism to political Islam

The humanist philosopher Slavoj Zizek (pictured) had a very good opinion piece in the New York Times yesterday arguing - quite correctly in my estimation - that Europe's Muslims should be grateful for Europe's atheists. Here at the NYT.

(Zizek once sharply objected to something I wrote, in an essay called "How Much Democracy Is Too Much?" which was widely circulated, including here - he was objecting to my essay in the New York Times Magazine from 2003, "Who Owns the Rules of War?" which can be found on SSRN, here.)

This is a good essay. But I have two difficulties with it. The first is that he, in classically European fashion, produces an elegant characterization of the issue, but then adamantly refuses to address the dangling question. What happens when Muslims in Europe are not in the least grateful to Europe's atheists, despite Zizek's telling them they should be and moreover telling them so on the pages of the New York Times opinion pages (and this, in the Sunday edition, too!) and instead simply take strategic advantage of the rather magnanimous social space that liberalism affords even to those who are and those who might well become, if remaining unassimilated, enemies of Europe's traditional liberal values even as they deploy them to their own ends? What happens if the appetite grows with the eating? What then, Zizek?

My second difficulty with Zizek's position is that when he says Europe's atheists, he really means those who actively created the atheist position (and I would include agnostic as well as anti-clerical) in the glorious period of the anti-clerical past, saw it as essentially a form of religious belief. He does not mean what Europe mostly means today - a post Christian society that is neither religious nor actively anti-religious nor actively humanist nor much of anything else. Mostly just passive and exhausted. Just keep paying my welfare and retirement and health care and vacations to southern Spain until I die. But little active interest in the kind of society that one leaves behind, whether Christian or Muslim or liberal humanist or much of anything else.

It is unsurprising that Zizek has to reach to his home town newspaper in Ljublana, Mladina, to find an example of an uncompromising, genuinely liberal newspaper that would defend a la Voltaire the right to build a mosque but also insist on publishing the Mohammed cartoons. (Mladina is a terrific newspaper - I have followed it from the time I first began visiting Slovenia in the 1980s on behalf of Human Rights Watch before the Yugoslav crackup, and continue to follow it from a distance in my work for the Media Development Loan Fund, a nonprofit venture fund that supports independent media.)

The reason Zizek has to reach so far is that by and large the newspapers, like the cultures and governments, of Western Europe, have shifted away from liberalism to multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is the attempt not to allow the free flow of ideas, but instead to manage from the top down, the acceptable range of opinion, in the interests of not giving offense to any empowered identities. Of course, it runs into grave difficulties when the ever more exquisitely offendable sensibilities of its constituent identity groups conflict - Muslims and feminists, for example - but in Western Europe, at least, the resolution of that has been a classic power move. Muslims are seen, correctly, as an indentity constituency more threatening to the social peace than feminists, who seem laughably quaint by comparison.

So power - in this case, riots and threats of riots, violence and threats of violence - wins in the attempt of multiculturalism politically to manage intergroup identity conflict. Too late will Western Europe - and quite possibly the United States - discover that liberal values, in which free expression really is free expression, and violence over expression is flatly unacceptable, and sensibilities and sensitivities simply have to adapt to a rude and crude public sphere, do a better job of accommodating identity than top down managerial multiculturalism. Too late, too late to rediscover Voltaire.

(It is, for example, more than strange to reach back a bare six or seven years to Susan Moller Okin's liberal feminist essays - to see how uncompromising they are with respect to multiculturalism and religion - so uncompromising as to make me question how 'liberal' they really are - but also how utterly antiquated. Peter Berkowitz, in a 1999 review of a major essay by Okin with responses by various intellectuals, summarizes her basic point very well:

"Okin's core argument is simple: The subjugation of women, by men or by cultures, is wrong. Liberal democracies should protect the individual rights of all women within their borders, including women whose cultures and religions sanction practices that deny women's fundamental rights. Liberal democracies should not grant minorities special group rights or privileges to assist them in preserving their culture or religion in a foreign land, as many theorists of multiculturalism wish. For individual rights are sacrosanct in a liberal democracy, oppression in all its forms is bad, and, Okin suggests, a culture or religion that deprives women of human dignity is not worthy of preservation. Compelling as this argument may be when stated in the abstract, it prompts serious questions when applied to concrete matters of law and public policy. Where does subjugation leave off and a respectable way of life different from that cherished by liberals and feminists begin? Are all forms of subjugation and oppression properly the object of state action, or do some lie beyond the ken of government in a liberal democracy? What policies and laws provide the best means of enforcing individual rights? Which individual rights are fundamental and nonnegotiable? Yet these vexing questions do not vex Okin. She categorically condemns as sexist and illiberal clitoridectomy, polygamy, arranged marriages of teenage girls, and also veiling (the practice whereby Muslim women cover their faces in public). None of these practices should be tolerated by liberal democracies, she argues, even if prohibiting them requires state intervention in religious life."

That said, in 1999, where today are the feminists who will even take on the Taliban's principal spokesman, now enrolled unrepentantly at Yale? Multiculturalism, I would say, has won the argument with feminism hands down. Feminism licks its wounds by kicking against the pricks of Catholicism. But it has surrendered ignominiously in the face of political Islam and, indeed, given the uncompromising nature of Okin's arguments (which I think, in agreement with Peter Berkowitz in his review, are indeed overly strong, indeed illiberal - but then I'm not a feminist) in the face of any version of Islam whatsoever.)

(I say, read Max Frisch's 1950s play, Biedermann und die Brandstifter.).

Excerpts from Zizek:
March 12, 2006
New York Times
Op-Ed Contributor

Defenders of the Faith


FOR centuries, we have been told that without religion we are no more than egotistic animals fighting for our share, our only morality that of a pack of wolves; only religion, it is said, can elevate us to a higher spiritual level. Today, when religion is emerging as the wellspring of murderous violence around the world, assurances that Christian or Muslim or Hindu fundamentalists are only abusing and perverting the noble spiritual messages of their creeds ring increasingly hollow. What about restoring the dignity of atheism, one of Europe's greatest legacies and perhaps our only chance for peace?

More than a century ago, in "The Brothers Karamazov" and other works, Dostoyevsky warned against the dangers of godless moral nihilism, arguing in essence that if God doesn't exist, then everything is permitted. The French philosopher André Glucksmann even applied Dostoyevsky's critique of godless nihilism to 9/11, as the title of his book, "Dostoyevsky in Manhattan," suggests.

This argument couldn't have been more wrong: the lesson of today's terrorism is that if God exists, then everything, including blowing up thousands of innocent bystanders, is permitted — at least to those who claim to act directly on behalf of God, since, clearly, a direct link to God justifies the violation of any merely human constraints and considerations. In short, fundamentalists have become no different than the "godless" Stalinist Communists, to whom everything was permitted since they perceived themselves as direct instruments of their divinity, the Historical Necessity of Progress Toward Communism.

During the Seventh Crusade, led by St. Louis, Yves le Breton reported how he once encountered an old woman who wandered down the street with a dish full of fire in her right hand and a bowl full of water in her left hand. Asked why she carried the two bowls, she answered that with the fire she would burn up Paradise until nothing remained of it, and with the water she would put out the fires of Hell until nothing remained of them: "Because I want no one to do good in order to receive the reward of Paradise, or from fear of Hell; but solely out of love for God." Today, this properly Christian ethical stance survives mostly in atheism.

Fundamentalists do what they perceive as good deeds in order to fulfill God's will and to earn salvation; atheists do them simply because it is the right thing to do. Is this also not our most elementary experience of morality? When I do a good deed, I do so not with an eye toward gaining God's favor; I do it because if I did not, I could not look at myself in the mirror. A moral deed is by definition its own reward. David Hume, a believer, made this point in a very poignant way, when he wrote that the only way to show true respect for God is to act morally while ignoring God's existence.

Two years ago, Europeans were debating whether the preamble of the European Constitution should mention Christianity as a key component of the European legacy. As usual, a compromise was worked out, a reference in general terms to the "religious inheritance" of Europe. But where was modern Europe's most precious legacy, that of atheism? What makes modern Europe unique is that it is the first and only civilization in which atheism is a fully legitimate option, not an obstacle to any public post.

Atheism is a European legacy worth fighting for, not least because it creates a safe public space for believers. Consider the debate that raged in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, my home country, as the constitutional controversy simmered: should Muslims (mostly immigrant workers from the old Yugoslav republics) be allowed to build a mosque? While conservatives opposed the mosque for cultural, political and even architectural reasons, the liberal weekly journal Mladina was consistently outspoken in its support for the mosque, in keeping with its concern for the rights of those from other former Yugoslav republics.

Not surprisingly, given its liberal attitudes, Mladina was also one of the few Slovenian publications to reprint the infamous caricatures of Muhammad. And, conversely, those who displayed the greatest "understanding" for the violent Muslim protests those cartoons caused were also the ones who regularly expressed their concern for the fate of Christianity in Europe.
These weird alliances confront Europe's Muslims with a difficult choice: the only political force that does not reduce them to second-class citizens and allows them the space to express their religious identity are the "godless" atheist liberals, while those closest to their religious social practice, their Christian mirror-image, are their greatest political enemies. The paradox is that Muslims' only real allies are not those who first published the caricatures for shock value, but those who, in support of the ideal of freedom of expression, reprinted them.

While a true atheist has no need to boost his own stance by provoking believers with blasphemy, he also refuses to reduce the problem of the Muhammad caricatures to one of respect for other's beliefs. Respect for other's beliefs as the highest value can mean only one of two things: either we treat the other in a patronizing way and avoid hurting him in order not to ruin his illusions, or we adopt the relativist stance of multiple "regimes of truth," disqualifying as violent imposition any clear insistence on truth.

What, however, about submitting Islam — together with all other religions — to a respectful, but for that reason no less ruthless, critical analysis? This, and only this, is the way to show a true respect for Muslims: to treat them as serious adults responsible for their beliefs.

Slavoj Zizek, the international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, is the author, most recently, of "The Parallax View."

What Saddam was thinking ... the French & Russians will protect me with their SC vetoes

Read Daniel Drezner's post summarizing reports newly made public on what Saddam was thinking in the run-up to the war and even during the fighting ... at the center of his thinking was a two-step calculation: First, that the US and Britain would not act without express Security Council permission and, two, that he had in effect rented the Security Council votes of France and Russia through, in particular, the oil for food scheme. In addition, he feared insurrection by his own forces more than he feared the US. The underlying articles he links are fascinating reading.

We are watching the rise of a new (? maybe not so new?) phenomenon in the Security Council, of members renting out the veto, not for political gain in the direct sense, but directly for economic gain, for commercial gain. France and Russia acted partly from political interest, but partly from economic and commercial interest as well. China, today, acts from essentially commercial interest in renting out its veto to Sudan in exchange for oil concessions.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Don Sparks, in memoriam

The previous post, as it veered off into discussing the relationship of classical and folk music, caused me to want to post something related, although sadly so.

I learned last week, entirely by accident, that my old friend from my folk dancing days in high school, Don Sparks, passed away in December 2005, not very long ago, at the age of 47. Don was a gifted musician and dancer who started dancing at about the age of 13 or 14 and made his career with Aman folk ensemble in Los Angeles. Don and I had wonderful times as teens dancing together - I never had his talent as a musician, but I do remember when he made his own Serbian bagpipe one summer, after slaughtering, gutting, and skinning a goat on his grandparents' Texas ranch. We also spent other times together - a day spent climbing Mt. Cucamonga above my home town of Claremont, California, near Mt. Baldy - we came down sunburned beyond belief. I was an usher at his first wedding, and even though we lost touch entirely many years ago, when I moved East, I always thought the world of Don. It was a lost world of teenagers hanging out at a Greek coffee/dance house in Los Angeles called the Intersection - in retrospect, I see how lucky I was to have found a social scene like that, sexy and sensual on the one hand - ethnic dance is often unapologetically about courtship, of course - and very group oriented with a group of brainy older graduate students from UCLA and Cal Tech but also families who treated the coffee house as an extension of the old country - it was sexy for a teen without being raunchy. There were good people there who were very good for a nerdy, awkward teen like me. I randomly googled Don a week ago, and discovered to my sorrow that he had passed away. My condolences to his many friends and family.

The Shanghai Quartet and ChinaSong

The Shanghai Quartet played at the Washington Conservatory of Music, where my daughter takes cello, last Saturday, and my wife and I went to hear it. Fabulous concert - Haydn, Dvorak, and a medley of folksongs from China. There is a reason why the NYT says that there is no more polished string quartet playing today.

The Haydn and Dvorak were terrific, but I was especially intrigued with the folksongs. I spoke with the group's violist, who was the composer/arranger, Yi-Wen Jiang, at a reception after the recital. He described how he came to know these songs, as a youth sent to the countryside for "reeducation" during the Cultural Revolution. It was prohibited to play or sing anything from the West - no Mozart, Bach, Beethoven. Everything had to be Chinese and peasant. So he learned these folks songs because he wasn't allowed anything else, and has now arranged them for string quartet. As quartet music, it is striking - it has a certain background element of Broadway showtunes, of 1930s and 40s movie music about it. I was struck with that thought listening to it in concert, and I asked him about that element, wondering if I was just reading it in - but he smiled broadly and said that he wanted something in the music that brought back a certain feeling of "old China," "old Shanghai," as he imagined it must have been for a European before the Second World War. It is deceptively simple folk music, but overlaid very subtly with elements of different times and cultures, and very subtly different cultural points of view. In that sense, it undoes the revolutionary purity of the Cultural Revolution altogether - and becomes a shining example of the "new cosmopolitanism," the cosmopolitanism of mixing and contamination that Kwame Anthony Appiah celebrates in his new book.

My sense of Western classical music is that it is people like Li, Bright Sheng, and others who are able to draw upon cultural traditions such as China, Korea, other places who will keep it vigorous. The academic movements of the past sixty or eighty years are a dead end. I know, I know, what a philistine I am, not to appreciate avant garde and cutting edge music, and sure, I know all about how melody is dead, and all that (although the revival of all the supposedly dead stuff is actually well underway). I also have ambivalent feelings about the classical music move to domesticate folk traditions and make them comprehensible to the Western classical tradition itself. I don't precisely prefer the flamenco music I heard in Sevilla to the Parisianized and Romanticized versions of the music of Spain that Albeniz and Falla took to France; I like both versions, but they are different things. I don't precisely prefer csardas and all that stuff in the raw music of the Gypsy originals, on those old Folkways albums, to the classicized version made acceptable for the concert hall. But I have felt the difference, ever since a high school girl friend who was heavily into the folk dance scene in the 1970s in LA, and pulled me into as well.

The reality, of course, is that they are two different genres, and both are good in their own ways. Best not to mix them, though, to judge by a concert a couple of years ago as part of the Silk Road Project, I believe but don't quote me, that counterposed folk Gyspy versions and classical versions; from the reviews, they didn't seem to mix, and for an obvious reason. The Gypsy music was for dancing - it didn't sound right in a concert hall as classical listening music. You needed to dance to it to appreciate it. A very astute cello teacher once told me more or less the same thing about learning the differences between Baroque dance forms in trying (with indifferent results, I'm afraid) to play that chamber music - she said, you know, if you don't understand the nature of the actual dances, how they are performed, you can't really understand the subtle differences in emphasis. She was right - without knowing something about the dances themselves, it all seemed like there were two kinds - ones in 4/4 and ones in 3/4. Whereas it is vastly more complicated than that.

(One of the most fun reviews I ever wrote was on amateur music, for the TLS, here.)

The CIA christmas ornament

On Friday, I finished the second of two sessions at StratGroup, a sort of CIA in-house think tank. It holds non-classified, open source seminars with academics and different experts on different kinds of possible future events and trends. I was involved with one on the future of transnational advocacy networks - networks of NGOs. A terrific small group of academics, from political science, network theory, and so on, trying to suggest where transnational network advocacy might go over the next twenty five years, and what factors might affect that. My thanks to all the people who participated - I certainly had my thinking stimulated.

But I must add that the CIA headquarters has the finest gift shop of any US government agency I've ever been in, including the Pentagon. Amazing for a building that is not open to the public for tours - you could buy not just sweatshirts and caps, but Waterford crystal with the CIA logo. And anything related to golf. So for my wife, who collects Christmas ornaments but who never reads this blog, I got a CIA Christmas ornament, which I'll give her when we put up the Christmas tree this year. And a hot pink CIA cap and bag for my kid.

Apropos of something Instapundit linked about undercover security, the sign at the checkout register said: "If you are undercover, do not use your credit card to pay for purchases!"

Jack Goldsmith & Tim Wu book on internet control now out

I have just started reading it. Check it out here. This is not my area, but I know Jack well from other areas of international law, and he is one of the brightest people around. Furthermore - although it will surprise no one that very bright academics sometimes tend to arrogance, Jack Goldsmith is one of the nicest people I know - Harvard is very lucky to have him.

Dr. Wafa Sultan in the NYT

This is one very brave woman. NYT profile of Dr. Wafa Sultan, here.

Slobo dead, and good riddance

Well, Slobodan Milosevic is dead - died in his bed, even if it was in a jail cell in the Hague. I can't say that I think the whole trial proceeding - the sheer length of it, the fact that Milosevic managed to make a monkey of the court, succeded in getting himself elected to parliament in Serbia from his cell, and generally garnered sympathy for his genocidal self in Serbia, while in the end running out the clock on justice - speaks well for the Yugoslavia tribunal or for international tribunals in general. What are we running on costs for the Arusha tribunal - $20 million or so per trial? See this post by Julian Ku at Opinio Juris summarizing an important piece on this costs question in Foreign Policy.

The Economist takes a different view this week, here, in a special sub only report. But then it's difficult to take the Economist too seriously on its reporting without knowing who actually wrote the report. On the three or four occasions where I've been consulted by someone writing an Economist special report, the journalist in question had sharply formulated editorial views on what the result of the "investigation" was supposed to be, and on one occasion was actually a player in the process temporarily playing journalist.

Mark Steyn on Taheri-azar

Mark Steyn in the Chicago Sun-Times, here:


Media shockingly ignorant of Muslims among us

March 12, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times


This week's Voldemort Award goes to the New York Times for their account of a curious case of road rage in North Carolina:

"The man charged with nine counts of attempted murder for driving a Jeep through a crowd at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last Friday told the police that he deliberately rented a four-wheel-drive vehicle so he could 'run over things and keep going.' "

The driver in question was Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar.

Whoa, don't jump to conclusions. The Times certainly didn't. As the report continued:

"According to statements taken by the police, Mr. Taheri-azar, 22, an Iranian-born graduate of the university, felt that the United States government had been 'killing his people across the sea' and that his actions reflected 'an eye for an eye.'"

"His people"? And who exactly would that be? Taheri-azar is admirably upfront about his actions. As he told police, he wanted to "avenge the deaths or murders of Muslims around the world."

And yet the M-word appears nowhere in the Times report. Whether intentionally or not, they seem to be channeling the great Sufi theologian and jurist al-Ghazali, who died a millennium ago but whose first rule on the conduct of dhimmis -- non-Muslims in Muslim society -- seem to have been taken on board by the Western media:

The dhimmi is obliged not to mention Allah or His Apostle. . . .

Are they teaching that at Columbia Journalism School yet?

A fellow called Mohammed mows down a bunch of students? Just one of those things -- like a gran'ma in my neck of the woods a couple of years back who hit the wrong pedal in the parking lot and ploughed through a McDonald's, leaving the place a hideous tangle of crumbled drywall, splattered patties and incendiary hot apple-pie filling. Yet, according to his own statements, Taheri-azar committed an act of ideological domestic terrorism, which he'd planned for two months. He told police he was more disappointed more students in his path weren't struck and that he'd rented the biggest vehicle the agency had in order to do as much damage to as many people as possible. The Persian car pet may have been flooring it, but the media are idling in neutral, if not actively reversing away from the story as fast as they can. Taheri-azar informed the judge he was "thankful for the opportunity to spread the will of Allah," and it was apparently the will of Allah that he get behind the wheel of Allah.

Meanwhile, a new Washington Post/ABC poll finds that, in the words of the Post, "nearly half of Americans -- 46 percent -- have a negative view of Islam, seven percentage points higher than in the tense months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, when Muslims were often targeted for violence."

"Often" targeted? Want to put some hard numbers on that? Like to compare the "violence" Americans perpetrated on Muslims after the slaughter of thousands of their fellow citizens in the name of Allah with, say, the death toll perpetrated by Muslims annoyed over some itsy-bitsy cartoons in an obscure Danish newspaper? In September 2001, 99.99999 percent of Americans behaved with remarkable forbearance. If they're less inclined to give the benefit of the doubt these days, perhaps it's because of casual slurs like the Post's or the no-jihad-to-see-here-folks tone of the Times.

Ronald Stockton of the University of Michigan doesn't see it that way: "You're getting a constant drumbeat of negative information about Islam," he told the Post. By "negative information," Professor Stockton presumably means the London bombings, and the Bali bombings, and the Madrid bombings and the Istanbul bombings. But surely it's worth asking why in 2006 the Washington Post needs a man with a name like "Ronald Stockton" to explain Islam to us? The diversity bores in the media go out of their way to hire writers of color, writers of gender, writers of orientation. Yet, five years after 9/11, where's the New York Times' Muslim columnist? Where's the ''Today Show's'' Islamic weather girl? Why, indeed, are all the Muslim voices in the press broadly on the right -- Amir Taheri in the New York Post, Stephen Schwartz in the Weekly Standard, Fouad Ajami in the Wall Street Journal?

If Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar is not a free-lance terrorist, then what is he? Who is he? What's he thinking? In the absence of any explanatory voices from the Muslim community, all we have are the bare bones of his resume: He's a 22-year old UNC psychology major who graduated in December. And what's revealing is the link between Taheri-azar's grievance and his action.
Take him at his word: He's upset about "the treatment of Muslims around the world" -- presumably at the hands of Israelis on the West Bank, of the Russians in Chechnya, the Indians in Kashmir, the Americans in the Sunni Triangle and the Danes in the funny pages. So what does he do to avenge Islam? He goes to the rental agency, takes out the biggest car on the lot, drives it to UNC and rams it into the men and women he's spent the last few years studying with and socializing with -- the one group of infidels he knows really well.

How many Muslims feel similarly? Not many in America, perhaps -- if only when compared to Europe: For all the multiculti blather, the United States still does a better job assimilating immigrants than France or Germany. A recent poll found that 40 percent of British Muslims want sharia introduced in the United Kingdom and 20 percent sympathized with the "feelings and motives" of the July 7 London Tube bombers. Or, more accurately, 20 percent were prepared to admit to a pollster they felt sympathy, which suggests the real figure might be somewhat higher. Huge numbers of Muslims -- many of them British subjects born and bred -- see their fellow Britons blown apart on trains and buses and are willing to rationalize the actions of mass murderers.

"East is east and west is west/And ne'er the twain shall meet," wrote Kipling. Obviously, they meet every moment of the day -- the cabbie driving you to your appointment in Washington, the affable fellow at the corner store. But proximity isn't the same as understanding: Taheri-azar and that 20 percent of British Muslims think they know "the west" and they don't like it. By contrast, the New York Times and Co. insist they like "the east" but go to an awful lot of trouble to avoid finding out anything that would ruffle their illusions. The twain would never meet, said Kipling, "till Earth and Sky meet presently/At God's great judgment seat."

I'd rather find out before then. Five years after Sept. 11, it's astonishing how little we still know about the West's Muslim populations.

David Warren on Islam and the post-Christian West

Very interesting article by David Warren, here, in the Ottawa Citizen, on the nature of the confrontation between the West and Islam, and Bush's role in it. Thanks RCP.

March 12, 2006
Ottawa Citizen


By David Warren

The Americans went into Afghanistan and Iraq with my blessings, as my reader may recall. I thought both decisions to invade were right, before either had been taken. But I thought this for reasons I never fully explained, that were never quite George Bush’s reasons -- more those of Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938). I was, for instance, sceptical about the project of bringing Western-style, bourgeois democracy -- and everything needed to support that -- to countries where politics by violence had so long prevailed. But if anyone could do it, I thought the Americans could, with their own history of heroic optimism, prevailing against insuperable odds.

A new book just landed in my mailbox, Redefining Sovereignty, ed. Orrin C. Judd. It contains an essay by me from four years ago, in which I tried to explain President Bush’s Lincolnesque thinking on world order. I think the essay has borne up fairly well, to this short passage of years. I said that Mr Bush was trying to vindicate and uphold the existing national state-system in the world, in exactly the way Lincoln went about upholding the American union. And that, Mr Bush’s commitment to spreading democracy was like Lincoln’s commitment to extinguishing slavery -- not the key point, but necessary to the key point of recovering order. If Lincoln could have preserved the union, and it meant keeping slavery, he would have done that.

Ditto, if Mr Bush thought he could restore the status quo ante of a Middle East that was no threat to the West, without pushing democracy down anyone’s throat, he would do that. But as he examined the problem presented to him by the Arab raids on New York and Washington, the morning of Sept. 11th, 2001, he saw that something more would be required. He believes, still, that there can be no lasting peace in the world until the “root cause” of this terrorist violence is removed. Hence, the evangelizing for democracy. Hence, the willingness to kick-start, by taking out two of the most abhorrent regimes known to man, and trying to repeat in Afghanistan and Iraq what the Americans accomplished in Germany, Italy, and Japan after World War II.

In this view -- which I hold to be Mr Bush’s -- we are dealing with what amounts to a planetary civil war, between those who accept the state-system descended from the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), and an emergent Islamist ideology that certainly does not. To Mr Bush’s mind, only legitimately-elected governments, presiding over properly-administered secular bureaucracies, can be trusted to deal locally with the kind of mischief an Osama bin Laden can perform, with his hands on contemporary weapons of mass destruction.

But Mr Bush was staking his bet on the assumption that the Islamists were not speaking for Islam; that the world’s Muslims long for modernity; that they are themselves repelled by the violence of the terrorists; that, most significantly, Islam is in its nature a religion that can be “internalized”, like the world’s other great religions, and that the traditional Islamic aspiration to conjoin worldly political with otherworldly spiritual authority had somehow gone away. It didn’t help that Mr Bush took for his advisers on the nature of Islam, the paid operatives of Washington’s Council on American-Islamic Relations, the happyface pseudo-scholar Karen Armstrong, or the profoundly learned but terminally vain Bernard Lewis. Each, in a different way, assured him that Islam and modernity were potentially compatible.

The question, “But what if they are not?” was never seriously raised, because it could not be raised behind the mud curtain of political correctness that has descended over the Western academy and intelligentsia. The idea that others see the world in a way that is not only incompatible with, but utterly opposed to, the way we see it, is the thorn ever-present in the rose bushes of multiculturalism. “Ideas have consequences”, and the idea that Islam imagines itself in a fundamental, physical conflict with everything outside of itself, is an idea with which people in the contemporary West are morally and intellectually incapable of coming to terms. Hence our continuing surprise at everything from bar-bombings in Bali, to riots in France, to the Danish cartoon apoplexy.

My own views on the issue have been aloof. More precisely, they have been infected with cowardice. I am so “post-modern” myself that I, too, find it almost impossible to think through the corollaries from our world’s hardest fact. And that fact is: the post-Christian West is out of its depth with Islam.