Thursday, August 29, 2002

Social anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen looks at the failed opportunities of September 11:

Of certain intoxicants it is said that their only function is to increase whatever frame of mind the taker is currently in. This may sound innocent, but the result is often disastrous. Jan Kjærstad's essay on September 11, almost one year after, shows that the terrorist attack lead to an intensification of already existing tendencies. The result is not pleasant. The enemy image of Islam has been consolidated. The US has strengthened its military dominance, and the tendency of Western media to see the worlds problems exclusively from one side has been strengthened. Skepticism towards the US is inreasing, not only in Muslim lands.

Just for the record, the essay Hylland Eriksen praises here says very little with many words, is full of strange admissions which are generalized to apply to everyone, (of the "I found 9/11 disturbingly entertaining, so obviously everyone else did too, and I blame the media" type), and casually quotes Susan Sontag, Robert Fisk, Arundhati Roy, Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, and Scandinavians Gert Nygrdshaug, Jan Guillou - and Thomas Hylland Eriksen. (Update: See also this attack on Kjrstad by Terje Tvedt, in Morgenbladet.)

Hylland Eriksen often writes about this enemy image of Islam, a permanent demonic stereotype that has supposedly conquered the West. Out of all the articles I've been reading about Islam for the last year, in European and American media, I can't find anything to support this theory. There is an increased criticism of Islam in Western media, that is true, but I believe it has been motivated by curiosity, not rationalization of xenophobia. Why do they hate us? Many of us would actually like to know, even if the answer violates some multiculturalist taboos.

The answer that did come back, and did violate those taboos, was of course that they hate us because they're nuts. And also that they hate us because they love us, ('they' being, respectively, Islamic fascists and the common downtrodden Muslim).

The Pakistan-British author Tariq Ali released a book this winter, with the telling title "The Clash of Fundamentalisms", where he argues that groups like al-Qaeda and the political leadership in the US, is governed by narrow, certain views on what is best - not only for themselves, but also for others. Ali's analysis gathers supporters every day, with further limitations on American civil rights, curious explanations for the coming attack on Iraq, clumsy speeches about the "Axis of Evil", and continued warfare in a now practically al-Qaeda free Afghanistan.

The reasons for attacking Iraq are pretty straightforward: Saddam Hussein is a threat, possibly a small threat to the outside world, but in light of September 11 there are still good reasons to consider a preemptive strike. He's also evil, and the people of Iraq would almost certainly benefit from his defeat. This is no obvious case, but there's nothing "curious" about a powerful country responding to a perceived military threat, and nothing clumsy about using words, like 'evil', for what they were meant to describe. As for leaving Afghanistan, Hylland Eriksen never approved of the US entering it in the first place, (he wrote this after the Taliban had fallen, mind you). Either he's changed his mind, or he isn't really all that concerned about the number of Qaeda supporters in Afghanistan.

I don't know why Hylland Eriksen quotes Tariq Ali without pointing out the extreme relativism that lies behind his comparison of Bush and bin Laden. There are good reasons to worry about civil rights and liberties when national security is under threat, and some bloggers are doing just that. Me, I'm more concerned with the rights I don't have than the ones others might lose, and I would be very surprised if John Ashcroft leaves the US a less free country than Norway. And there would still be a very long way from there to Sharia. Incidentally, Norway itself is no stranger to imposing its ideals on others. We don't have military power, so we use the UN, and other international - or transnational - forums. The difference lies in the ideals. Norway would make the world a massively governed welfare state. The US seems more eager to impose freedom, (with their own security top priority of course.)

What we do know is that the most powerful military and intelligence machinery in the world does not seem to be anywhere close to an understand of, or control over, militant political Islam and religiously based terrorism. What we also know is that this country does not hesitate breaking a few eggs to make an omelet. Often, too, it looks like the eggs are broken without the omelet becoming edible. We also know that the US at no time has let the surrounding world know that it believes in dialogue and respect across borders, and that a recognition of Islamic groups might be the first step towards a solution humanity might enjoy.

There are plenty of random shots against the US in this article, but few actual proposals of better ways to solve the problem. I'm not saying that you can't criticize status quo without having an alternative, but it does not inspire confidence when an intellectual seems afraid to commit himself to any practical proposals that might be held against him later. The only thing that comes close is what Hylland Eriksen writes here about "dialogue and respect across borders", and a "recognition of Islamic groups". I have no idea what the first means, other than that we should all keep up the good work - I for one am having an excellent dialogue with people all over the webbified world - and if there's any lack of respect for alien cultures, at least here in Norway, I am not aware of it.

The other, "recognition of Islamic groups", I have a very good idea what means, but I refuse to believe that's what he intended: The only Islamic groups that have come in focus after September 11 are terrorist groups, and I think Hylland Eriksen will agree that these must be fought, (even if he's pessimistic about the prospect of winning - no wonder, by the way, when his ideals would more or less prevent our side from using military force.) So we're left with plenty of criticism, but zero alternative proposals. Careful, Thomas, this is starting to become a trend.

Close to a year after the terrorist attack, the most optimistic scenario is that some influential people in rich countries may discover the discrepancy between speeches about human rights and the actual relation between rich and poor countries. We define them; they don't define us. We export our culture and our consumer pattern to them; they export not much else than underpriced raw goods and labor. No wonder they're getting pissed off. (Allow me to, countering a common objection, point out that the blame for many problems of the third world fall on the population itself. Here I limit myself to what we can do something about.)

I have no idea what poor people getting pissed off and our consumer culture has to do with September 11. There is certainly no connection between poverty and terrorism, and I know that Hylland Eriksen knows this. (The connection is between radical Islam and terrorism). What he means is perhaps that he had hoped that September 11 would spark a global inequality debate anyway. He has every right in the world to try to use that event for unrelated political goals of his own, and he would certainly not be the first, but he has no right to whine about it afterwards, if nobody pays attention to him.

Of course, that angle has been played, more than once, played to death in fact. Maybe looking for cheap blog fodder has biased me, made the debate look bigger than it was, but I don't recall any shortage of blame for September 11 shot in all possible directions, from poverty through international Jewry to Bill Clinton, (and even Osama bin Laden!) I don't think there's a single pet peeve left that somebody, somewhere, somehow, haven't been able to see in connection with September 11, and the further away from the actual center of events, the wackier the theories have been. Norway has been in no short supply, I promise you that.

If this isn't enough for Hylland Eriksen, that's his problem, but if I am allowed to give some advise, I would suggest that he uses his substantial media presence to discuss the issues he feel have been neglected, rather than merely complaining about them being neglected.

Some good articles by fellow bloggers on the Iraq/Saudi situation:

First out, Matt Welch looks at the corruptive effect of Saudi wealth on the careers of former US ambassadors.

Dean Esmay throws a bucket of realpolitikal water on the Saudi-bashers.

Tom Veal looks closer at internal tensions in what he calls Saudi-controlled Arabia. No permalink, scroll to August 8. (Apologies for late link, Tom - I'm a victim to the size of my blogroll!)

Glenn Frazier notes the echoes of Bismarck and Reagan in Cheney's latest speech.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Our own little mini-bin, Mullah Krekar, was interviewed on Norwegian TV today, from his Sharia stronghold in Kurdish Iraq. I'm not sure if the following is meant as a compliment, but it is certainly not taken as one:

I had heard that Norway was the butterfly of Europe, that they were a peaceful nation. After I came to Norway on 30.11.1991 and had lived there for a while, I could confirm this.

Krekars grasp of historical parallells is uncanny. On the war on terrorism:

This is a crusaders war, declared by George Bush, just like his forefather Richard. When Richard occupied the city of Akkad afters its siege, he negotiated with Salahadin Alayobi for an exchange of war prisoners. Richard said that you must give us the cross of Salabot, the 1700 prisoners and so and so amount of gold and silver, then we'll return your prisoners. Salahadin Alayobi had to gather a force, and brought all they required. He said, you must first -- [oh, never mind. Summary: Betrayal, then massacre. King Richard was a very bad man. So is Bush. Coincidence? Doubtful.]

Careful, Krekar, you'll land a job in the Guardian soon:

The pack that runs America now is very much like Saddam Hussein, a group of criminal militants. Colin Powell, even George Bush son of George Bush, and Dick Cheney, these people in charge are like Schwarzkopf. Schwarzkopf was willing to spend 55 million grams of explosives on Iraq, and then kept the regime as it were. Iraq has lost as much as the 13 countries in World War 2, seven times more weaponry were used against Iraq than Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and if Bush is calling this a war on terrorism, he's lying to the bone.

And this is the point where I sat up, blinked, and got ever so slightly pissed off:

The Norwegian society is a civilized society, a polite society, far away from war and conflict. I do not want it to take part in the American war, so they don't have to suffer for it later. .. There is no doubt that Osama bin Laden is honest, dependable and fully dedicates his time to the Jihad. He has abandoned the secular life. He had a billion dollars, he could have lived in any country, and bought himself an island. .. As for what Osama is now, what his views are, I don't even know if he's dead or alive. I don't know what his Islamic views are now, what he has done or admitted. .. September 11 is like any other event, it has been defined by the Americans. Who among us really knows the truth?

Asked if he intends to return to Norway in the near future:

Yes, of course. I have no problems, just like any other Norwegian who travels to his home country. I have no problems with the Norwegian government.

I believe he's right. The butterfly and the Islamofascist - a match made among the white raisins of Paradise.

Sunday, August 25, 2002

Dean Esmay looks at the changing tides of ideological IQ, asks when exactly the conservatives became the smart ones, and brings out this timeless John Stuart Mill quote:

Lord, enlighten thou our enemies...; sharpen their wits, give acuteness to their perceptions and consecutiveness and clearness to their reasoning powers. We are in danger from their folly, not from their wisdom: their weakness is what fills us with apprehension, not their strength.

Amen to that. I don't think I've read these particular words before, but I picked up something similar in my BBS years, when I would spend large amounts of time picking apart stupid ideas on forums nobody ever read. (Today I know better!) There were people in that community I owe a lot to, including the rarely followed, but good and Millean advice that you should always seek out the most intelligent representatives of the opposing view. BBS debate forums were usually frequented by cocky students and ignorant teenagers like myself, but there was one intelligent and well read adult, I'll call him a contrarian for lack of better labels, who took the time to raise our debates above playground philosophy level. His love of knowledge and reasoning was infective, it was impossible to predict his views, and a debate with him was always educational. He was our enlightened enemy, and we all benefited.

The SysOp of one of these places was another interesting character. Younger than me, he too seemed to have accidentally picked up some Mill, and ran his BBS as a marketplace of ideas. This small community may have been one of the few in Norway where representatives of all kinds of ideologies and religious beliefs met on equal terms, and could battle out our differences with arguments, without fear of censorship. This SysOp and I once spent several months arguing the Holocaust with a neo-Nazi revisionist. In most other BBS's he would have been (and were) booed, hushed or kicked out. We met words with words, claims with claims, never actually winning, (nobody ever wins an argument), but still learning along the way. God knows I'll never do that again, but the debate served its purpose. It forced us to think about why we believed what we did. (Another time, well, most of the time, the topic was religion. I lost, and became an atheist.) That's why I believe in open debates and freedom of speech.

The question I'm still trying to answer is how the blogosphere lives up to these ideals. I don't suppose any of us seek out intelligent opposition as often as we should, but the blogosphere doesn't seem to be inherently dogmatic either. I suppose the jury is still out on that one. In the meantime, all together now: Lord, enlighten thou our enemies ..
Dean Esmay 2002-08-26 I've been considering writing an article on why the blogosphere is not particularly dogmatic--by which I assume you mean there are an amazing variety of well-formed and thoughtful opinionmakers out th [more>>>]

Friday, August 23, 2002

A certain Mullah Krekar, who in the 90's led a state funded Islamic congregation in Oslo with 350 members, is now reportedly in Kurdish Iraq, fighting for the good cause with his followers in Ansar al-Islam and his friends in al-Qaeda.

Ansar is not just the product of infighting among local Kurdish Islamist groups. The ideological and material influence of al-Qaida has been there since its inception. Its leader is the elusive figure of Mullah Krekar, a charismatic 46-year-old Kurd whose links with Afghanistan, like many of his followers, date back to the jihad against the Soviet invasion. In Pakistan in the 1980s, Krekar studied Islamic jurisprudence under the Palestinian ideologue Abdullah Azzam, the founder of al-Qaida and mentor of Osama bin Laden.

In a rare interview, which took place before the September 11 attacks, Krekar described Osama bin Laden as the "jewel in the crown of the Muslim nation". Mullah Krekar enjoys asylum status in Norway, where his wife and four children live. His trips to Europe are regularly followed by influxes of thousands of dollars into the Ansar coffers; his brother Khaled is in charge of the group's treasury. But Krekar disappeared in Iran about two months ago. Norwegian television said yesterday that he had not been seen in Oslo, where he lives, since the September 11 attacks.

Two can play the trademark protection game: The McAfrika hamburger, apparently based on African recipes and currently advertised by McDonalds Norway, is tasteless and crass commercialism, according to Norwegian NGO's. "It's inappropriate and distasteful to launch a hamburger called 'McAfrika' when large portions of southern Africa are on the verge of starvation," says Linn Aas-Hansen of Norwegian Church Aid, who adds, "give us some money and we'll go away".

(African immigrants don't seem to mind, though. No wonder, it's supposed to be a good hamburger. And besides, can you imagine anything worse than having your entire continent trademarked by Norwegian Church Aid?)
David 2002-08-24 Afrika's role in the European consciousness seems, from this side of the Atlantic, to be the comfortably distant home of the essential victims. There is an embarrassing parallel here with South A [more>>>]
john bono 2002-08-24 The reality is that this entire protest is an appalling example of the racism of low expectations. Africans can't take care of themselves, therefore they are doomed to always starve, therefore McDona [more>>>]

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

You'd think Dagbladet would be able to condemn Shariah laws in Nigeria without dragging the Americans into it. You'd be wrong.

Islamic holy law, Shariah, has been introduced in northern Nigeria, and according to this law Amina Lawal has committed a mortal sin by giving birth to Wasila out of wedlock. Her appeal was rejected on Monday, and men in the court thanked Allah for the decision to put her to death by stoning. .. Amina did not kill anyone. On the contrary, she has given the world new life. Nevertheless this sentence should be seen in connection with all death sentences throughougt the world. The worlds lone superpower, the United States, is among the more active. Only Iran and Saudi-Arabia kill more people annually, according to numbers from Amnesty International [*]. In addition, the US executes mentally deficient people, and people who committed murder as minors. Anyone who has paid attention to the death penalty debate in the US knows that there are a shocking number of innocents on death row. The reason is often that they are black and poor.

Lack of justice and religious fanatism is equally bad. Most statistics show that the death penalty does not prevent horrible crimes. State sanctioned murder is no better than other forms of murder. The victim is never brought back to life. In a time where the US war on terrorism overshadows other debates, perhaps the death sentence against Amina may sound a wake-up call far beyond the borders of Nigeria.

So a democratic country with a long tradition of rule of law, which some people accuse of having slightly flawed and racially biased courts, is just as bad as a religious tyranny, where having children out of marriage is a crime punishable by death? I would point out the logical flaw, if not by doing so I would insult the intelligence of every one of my readers, (including the spider bots, the nazis and the communists).

My own view of the death penalty is pragmatic. I see no particular reason to introduce it in Norway, but I have nothing principally against it. The power to kill can be terrible in the hands of a failed legal system, but then the problem is the failed legal system, not the death penalty itself. I don't mind having dangerous criminals put to death, it's peoples definition of dangerous criminals that bothers me. In that regard I think most of us can see the clear line dividing the United States from Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and China - unless of course you're an editor in Dagbladet.

([*] What this fails to take into account is that Saudi-Arabia, which officially executed 79 people in 2001, has 23 million inhabitants, Iran with 139 executions has 66 million, and the United States with 66 has 278 million, which means that the Saudis execute 14 times as many citizens as the Americans, when population is taken into account. Dagbladet also mysteriously leaves out China, which executes thousands of people every year. But hey, all is fair in love and statistics.)
Dean Esmay 2002-08-23 There are clear deficiencies in the American justice system, which are leading to some who do believe in the death penalty to nevertheless support a moratorium until some of these issues can be settle [more>>>]
J. Michael Neal 2002-08-24 So several people here think that life imprisonment is a worse punishment than the death sentence, and that if they were in the position, they'd prefer death. That's nice. However, the empirical evi [more>>>]

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Oh no - don't give them ideas! The Oslo Agreement is alive and well, according to Shimon Peres, who came to Oslo today. He can be seen on the picture next to Foreign Minister Jan Petersen, whose eyes are set and fixed on a revival of Norways peace broker reputation.
Tal G. 2002-08-21 Peres' current role is about the same as the role that Pres. Bush wants for Arafat - he's a figurehead whose actual influence is minimal. [more>>>]

Sucessful female politicians who support the war in Afghanistan betray their sex, (I mean gender [*]), and are enemies of feminism, charges Berit von der Lippe, an angry columnist in Dagbladet whose line of profession I'll leave out as an excersise for the reader.

[Marit] Nybakk sees [the war] as liberating for women because of the extreme oppression under Taliban and al-Qaeda. She lists all the virtues "we" are defending: Womens rights, equality and development. What she conveniently leaves out is that the defender of these "virtues" is Bush jr., and his crew of warmongers and extreme reactionaries. Neither does she mention with a word .. that Afghans today - women and men - have only one wish: Stop the war! Stop the bombs! ..

The existence of women in formerly typical male professions can, despite what Nybakks feminism more than implies, have reactionary and stabilizing effects on the preservation of gender differences. War is the most masculine and patriarchal of all arenas - yesterday as today. The idea of the "just war" is predominantly masculine, even if masculine in a specific sense few men today recognize themselves in. Female entrance on these arenas often serve as alibies for equality, a form of equality many women reject because an archaic male culture have been semented as the pillars of the system. ..

The structural power remains masculine, especially in the military. Women with long experience in male dominated arenas often dress up in dominatingly masculine clothing - partly literally, and metaphorically often in full. The glasses of the hegemonic masculinity - in this case represented by Bush and co. - have become the glasses through which women, especially western women, see the world. .. The modern financial leader should preferably share several attributes with the non-femini(ne/st) Bush: He ought to be cynical, aggressiv, and calculating.

Bush's war on terrorism serves womens liberation no more than does globalization - if by that we mean a better and safer world for everyone, women included. Nybakks visions of female liberation are not only naive, they're also hostile to women and lethal.

No comment I can think of could possibly make this any funnier, except perhaps that blogging is much easier when the person you disagree with not only line up her frail arguments next to each other like domino bricks, but also volunteers to make the push.

([*] or perhaps genetic persuasion.)
Lars Walker 2002-08-22 According to what I've read (and someone correct me if I'm wrong) the Israelis put women into combat units for a very short time during the 1948 war, then pulled them out again rapidly due to the deva [more>>>]

"Democratic" Iraqi opposition group have taken hostages at the Iraqi embassy in Berlin. This is so mind-boggingly stupid it wouldn't surprise me if it's an Iraqi ploy for media sympathy.
John Anderson 2002-08-21 Saddam may be cunning, but he does not usually bother with chess moves. It is a crazy move - but then again, who ever heard of this group before? Now the world is watching, even if it is laughing. [more>>>]

UN "undersecretary-general for communications and public information" Shashi Taroor explains the virtues of empty diplomacy [opera friendly link], but chooses his examples so badly that they actually serve as counterarguments:

Why has talking become so unpopular? Talk, we are told, is a poor substitute for action; all too often talk becomes an end in itself, masking the absence of real progress. The remedy is simple: abolish the talking shops. Yet talk is the necessary precursor for action. Nothing can change unless the world agrees, through talk, upon change. The series of United Nations conferences in the 1990s - on subjects ranging from population and women's issues to human rights and development - established new global norms in all these fields and defined standards now accepted by most countries. Talking got them there.

This is a good excuse to link John Fonte's piece on Transnational Progressivism vs Liberal Democracy, which Steven Den Beste has taken to heart. Before you can properly fight a beast, you have to name it, and that's what Forte does to the UN and its ideology.

The alternative to talk is not just action; it is often the wrong kind of action. When you don't talk to each other you can end up firing at each other. The absence of Germany from the talking- shops of the League of Nations made war easier; this is why Churchill was able to growl, when asked about the interminable speeches of the postwar world, "to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."

Is Taroor so blinded by his profession that he honestly believes this? (And which is worse, a liar or an idiot?) World War 2 wasn't caused by an absence of talk. Hitler worked towards the conquest of eastern Europe from the moment he came to power. Nothing could have prevented a conflict short of his fall, and the particular nasty war we did get was caused by too much talk, or at least the wrong kind of talk. The secret of propaganda is the secret of exploiting modern diplomacy: tell big lies. Hitlers groundbreaking work in this field has been an inspiration for dictators, terrorists and wannabe evil overlords everywhere.

Of course, talk can be distorting, hate-filled, unconstructive. It doesn't matter. Even the harshest words represent an attempt to communicate; it is silence that isolates people. Without talk you are doomed to incomprehension and, worse, to indifference. Apathy is the real enemy. Silence is its accomplice. We can only know each other by talking to each other.

This guy can't be for real. Apathy is the real enemy? The enemy is the real enemy, and talk can be its accomplice. Arafats willingness to talk, even promise, but never deliver, and the eagerness of the international community to listen to, even believe him, but never demand, has delayed his long overdue asskicking. The right kind of talk increases understanding and enhances cooperation, the wrong kind obscures truth for the benefit of people with shady agendas. I don't trust Taroors ability to tell the difference.

Sunday, August 18, 2002

Norway to become a Western Kuwait, warns Christian Thommesen, currently chairman of the board at my favourite Norwegian company, creators of the best web browser in the world, Opera Software.

We're becoming a dull client state where everybody lives on the state and by cutting each others hair. .. Norway has a labor shortage and an attractive currency, and is therefore condemned to a strong krone, high interest rates and high salary growth. This means that the export industry is being demolished. The development has already started, is apparently politically willed, and will continue. .. With our 800 000 [of 4 million] public employees - in addition to all the pensioners - we have a larger proportion than any country it is natural to compare ourselves with. What do these voters want? Lower kindergarden prices, or business, research and development? The answer gives itself. .. When the oil runs out, what then? What are we going to export?

Good question. Norway has a lot of exceptional talent, in information technology among other areas, and it is going to waste. If we have the foresight and courage to cut down on the welfare state, the public sector, taxes and the business regulations now, we could exploit that potential. We have the prerequisites: Wealth, education and talent. I'm not willing to bet, though, on a change of direction before the crisis hits us, some years or decades down the road - and perhaps not even then. We seem content with mediocricity. If there is any hope at all, it comes from the cultural change launched by the internet - which I'm a product of - but this may take more time than we have.
Dean Esmay 2002-08-19 It is my experience that when people are well-fed and comfortable, there is little but inertia in political affairs. Where is the motivation for change? Yes, sure, we might all say, "yes I would like [more>>>]
Ex-Vestlending 2002-08-19 Slightly off topic: What's always puzzled me, is the way the oil industry _does_not_exist in the eye of the Norwegian public. The energy sector (water, oil and gas) has employed as many of us as [more>>>]

Line Fransson in Dagbladet, (previously mentioned in this blog in connection with a similarly uncritical Hamas leader interview), still believes in the Marc Herold study on civilian victims in Afghanistan.

Since the Americans began to bomb Afghanistan, one estimates that more Afghan civilians have been killed than at the World Trade Center on September 11.

The rest of the article is no better. Some radical fellow doesn't like Norways minor involvement in the war, and is painted by Fransson as Moses himself coming down from the mountain to find the people dancing around the golden calf.

Terje Skaufjord have recently returned from Afghanistan, where he has discussed the current situation with women. They don't like bombs in their heads either, and all the Afghan womens organizations have been opposed to the bombing, he says. He objects to statements from defense spokeswoman Marit Nybakk (Labor), who in Dagbladet on Sunday said that "the female aspect is one reason for my involvement and support". Nybakk, Minister of Defense Kristin Krohn Devold and Åsa Wisløff Nilssen (Christian Peoples Party) of the defense committee is the trio responsible for the involvement of Norwegian special forces, mine clearers and transport planes in Afghanistan. ..

- The thought of three women, safely placed on Løvebakken [Stortinget] claiming that the bombing of Afghanistan is a good thing because it liberates women, almost makes me sick. .. - We're now seeing a war by remote control where no casualties are counted. I don't understand why Norway should be a part of this. We should rather help to build up the Afghan army, and give humanitarian aid, says Skaufjord.

I wonder if his proposed military support would have included the Taliban army as well, if it hadn't been obliterated in this short, efficient and relatively clean campaign.

This is propably a good time to revive an old link: Why everything America does is wrong.
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Saturday, August 17, 2002

Read Glenn Frazier for news on the inevitable and hopefully imminent Iranian revolution.
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Thursday, August 15, 2002

Reader Caroline T. wants to know how Norwegians feel about Knut Hamsun. Do we get fish thrown after us if we admit to reading him? Well, in short, no, (and fish? - give us some credit, this ain't France), but let's take the whole story from the beginning.

Norways most famous nazi collaborator was of course Vidkun Quisling, who pretended to be in charge for a while, was shot for treason after the war, but lives on as a noun. A more interesting and puzzling case, however, was Knut Hamsun, our greatest novelist. That isn't just a textbook quote. I'm no expert on Norwegian literature, (I'm no expert on any literature), but out of the myriads of mostly worthless local writers kids here are subjected to in school, at the expense of anything foreign, Henrik Ibsen and Knut Hamsun stand out alone as authors I strongly admire. Hamsun made the Norwegian language sound poetic. That feat alone is almost enough to qualify him as a world class artist, and he wasn't so bad at telling stories either.

By the time of the German invasion, Hamsun was at the end of a long and celebrated career, which included a Nobel Prize in literature. He had been sympathetic towards Germany for decades, and found his first international audience there, but nevertheless shocked people by coming out publicly in support of the Nazi invaders, calling for an end to our "pointless resistance". The Germans were our friends and protectors, he wrote, and the British Empire our real enemy. The regimes of Quisling and Terboven used Hamsun for all he was worth, (luckily, to little effect.) He even had a private audience with Hitler, and donated his Nobel Prize medal to Goebbels. To his credit, he had enough guts to speak to the Fuehrer against Terbovens terror reign, (again to little effect.) Whether he ever joined Quislings party of Nazi impersonators is uncertain, and the illegality of expressing his views, which is all he did, perhaps more, but he betrayed his country the worst way possible for a writer, by joining the enemy propaganda machine.

The post-war government found an interesting solution to the dilemma of having its greatest artist, a living legend, charged with treason. Hamsun, it was claimed at the trial, and denied by himself, had not been in full posession of his senses, had gone senile. Now 88, he was no longer the man who had written Hunger or Growth of the Soil 57 and 30 years ago, and had been an easy victim for Nazi propaganda. Thus they attempted to discredit the traitor without blemishing the artist, and he consequently spent some years in an asylum. (He was, however, fined for "economic cooperation".) Hamsun was a useful idiot, not a Nazi ideologue, but senile he certainly were not. He wrote one last and coherent book before he died, in defense of himself, and in attack on the officials who had refused to hold him accountable for his actions.

Nowadays he's considered more a puzzle than an embarassment. His books suffered a long boycott, were reportedly even burned, and there are still people alive who won't touch them, but they're a dying breed, like everyone else who remembers the war. He is controversial enough for occasional proposals to name a street in Oslo after him to fail, (although plenty already exist elsewhere - I grew up in one - so there's no consensus or policy on it.) It is generally held, or so they tell me, that his reactionary political leanings, sympathy for Germany, and distaste for democracy and Anglo-American culture made him receptible to the lies of Hitler - not unlike the German people itself, perhaps. What exactly it was he found so youthful and vigorous about militaristic Germany, and so decadent about democracy, I don't know. There are books and treaties written on this subject and I haven't read them, so I won't try to answer.

The obvious punchline to this tale is of course that it is not considered a puzzle, nor an embarassement, that not one or two, but whole generations of Norwegian writers, intellectuals and other gullible people were similarly deceived by communism. The tale of genius seduced by evil ideology is familiar and old - Hamsun just had the bad luck of sympathizing with the wrong totalitarians.
caroline t. 2002-08-16 To anybody interested I would highly recommend Hamsun's On Overgrown Paths. The book mentioned by BearStrong as the last one he wrote to prove he wasn't crazy or senile. It is a poetic and very (alm [more>>>]
Dean Esmay 2002-08-16 It certainly is worth remembering that many people were seduced by the Nazi propaganda machine. It was also very common in the 1920s and 1930s, even in relatively isolated countries like the USA, to t [more>>>]

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

I promise not to overdo the navelgazing - I suppose Norway isn't all that interesting to the majority of you out there, who for all I know thought Oslo was only the name of some peace process before I came along. But while we're waiting for something new to occur in the other two fields of interest of this blog, war and terrorism, Norwegian politics, (so September 10 in a very literal meaning - we had an election that day), is what you'll get. Look on the bright side: To mock social democrats is good, wholesome fun, for the entire family. (Tomorrow: Ten nasty nicknames for Gro Harlem Brundtland, our chief exporter of socdem wackiness.)

One bright piece of news that awaited me when I got back from the lands of cheap alcohol, (naturally with my full quota of whisky in my backpack, which tells you something about the size of the quota), was the promise of severely reduced alcohol taxes. In fact, reduced all the way down to Swedish levels, among the highest in Europe. The Conservative/Christian/Liberal coalition does pretend to be conservatively liberal and show some Christian compassion once in a while, and this looked like it. Imagine - $7 for a beer no more! The Norwegian prohibition, (milder but more persistant than the American), faltering at last.

So much for that. Liberal Minister of Agriculture and known snob Lars Sponheim, claiming to speak on behalf of the cabinet, have flat out refused the idea of lowering the alcohol taxes, even if only to combat the huge trade leak to relative consumer paradise Sweden. The Liberal Party is the smallest in the coalition, (it's last known voter is Inga Bakomilia, a senile pensioner living on Raufoss), but I'm not willing to bet on the conservatives risking the coalition by pushing the issue. Oh well - at least taxes are good for business. Mob business, that is, and in preparation for our future takeover by these liquor relocation entrepeneurs, as they prefer to be known, I hereby publicly declare that what is good for the mob, is good for Norway. Hooray!

Monday, August 12, 2002

A government agency wants to privatize the Norwegian postal service as soon as possible, inspired, apparently, by similar plans in the EU. Perhaps with a big, evil corporation in charge one could hire some teenagers at minimum wage to keep the post office open after 17, so I don't have to leave work early every time there's a package for me. (Saturdays are worse: Then they close at 14, which leaves me barely enough time to wake up and brush my teeth.)

Several foreign services are anxious to break into the Norwegian market, and that's expected to bring new competition and lower prices to urban areas. Rural areas, however, face higher prices. That's because mailing costs can start to reflect not only the weight of a letter or package but the accessibility of the area from which it's sent. That in turn is bound to spur political noise in Norway, which for years has tried to protect and boost outlying areas in an effort to keep them populated. Consumer protection groups are already calling for "certain playing rules" that would continue to subsidize and protect rural areas.

I could try explaining Norwegian rural politics to you, but I think most of you are too smart to understand it. See, it's like this: Most Norwegians live in cities, and those who don't, want to. But we like to think of ourselves as a Nation of Farmers and Fishermen, who in the sweat of their face labor on a small patch of earth up in some rocky hillside, or perhaps make their living off the sea, the old-fashioned, ecological, environmental and suicidal way. We just don't want to do it ourselves, so we pay other people to do it. We don't even like farmers and fishermen all that much, and we sure as hell wouldn't want to visit one of those tiny, artificially preserved enclaves of Norwegianness, (or harryness, if you're confident enough to judge on such matters). We're content simply knowing that they are there, preserved and protected from our cynical world of turbo capitalism and pressure group politics.

With everyone with common sense emigrating to the city, fewer and fewer rurals share more and more subsidies. Consequently they can afford to buy lots and lots of lobbyists. They even have their own party, and the way elections are skewed towards rural counties, some of their votes weigh 50% more than the votes of urbans. And so the cycle of subsidies goes on. I have nothing against farmers as such, of course. I like almost anyone who won't knock me down in a dark alley and steal my wallet. And now we're back to my problem with farmers.

Seriously, there seems to be some support in the Conservative party, which is part of the governing coalition, for privatization and minor market reforms. I'm not glued to the radio for news about it, though. There may be some principled free marketeers among them, but I don't expect much from a center-right party in a center coalition. Initial reactions from the Liberal Minister of Transport and Communications to the Postal service proposal are negative, for instance. "Let's .. uh .. wait until after the next election."

Saturday, August 10, 2002

No wonder Mugabe wants all those farms: His generous plan of returning the land to its rightful owners includes a veteran with special needs, a certain Gaddafi.

President Mugabe may be forced to give Libya much of the prime land he is seizing from white farmers in order to pay for an oil deal with Colonel Gaddafi, diplomatic sources said yesterday. .. The sources said that Mr Mugabe owed Libya so much for imported oil that he was preparing to give thousands of acres to his friend, Colonel Gaddafi, to repay his debts and to stay in power. .. One diplomatic source said: Colonel Gaddafi has always had this dream of being the leader of Africa and he has engineered it so that Mugabe is totally dependent on him."

(Via The Poor Man, who also reveals that Saddam is working hard to discover the formula of Pepsi Blue.)

Friday, August 09, 2002

So much for the idea of linking to Norwegian newspaper articles through online translators.

Thursday, August 08, 2002

Stability is a virtue only if you have something worth preserving. Steven Den Beste and Mark Steyn argues that the governments of the Middle East aren't, and that the more regimes that fall after Saddam, the better for us and the people who live there.

I agree, at least in principle: History is fluid, not static, and without a certain disrespect for status quo, international politics becomes empty diplomacy, a media word game with fixed players and unwritten rules. For the United States to destabilize an entire region, reshuffling the cards for a houndred million people, violates all of these rules, and the other players won't hear of it. Now, I am not an expert on the Middle East, and do not know enough about the governments and histories of these countries to say what effects a defeat of Iraq will have on them. But I suspect it can't make things much worse. I won't urge the Americans on to a war they will pay for with money and blood, and I will watch safely from a neutral country, (allied mostly on paper), but if they do decide it's worth it, I will respect that decision.
Joe Socher 2002-08-13 Small quibble: All Middle East regimes are less than a century old. Most in fact less than 50 years old, created by military coups in the years after WWII (e.g. Iraq, Egypt, Syria). The countries [more>>>]

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

EU accounting worse than Enron, according to former chief accountant Marta Andreasen. There are no control mechanisms to prevent fraud, and the beurocrats [*] don't care. Now, "Government Careless With Money, Study Reveals" ranks up there with "New Technology To Destroy Civilization, Experts of Old Technology Warns" on the "well, duh" scale, so don't act surprised. I'm only mentioning this because sometimes it really is a bloggers first duty to state the obvious.

([*] Yeah, I know - bad pun. In fact, seductively bad. I might use it again.)
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Leah McLaren looks in vain for visible signs of Norway's oil wealth. Decent article, but I'm not sure about this paragraph:

As the world's sixth-largest producer and third-largest exporter of oil, Norway is one of the richest countries in the world. Yet on the streets of Oslo, the capital, there is hardly a flashy car or designer label to be seen. Norwegians will say it's because they're a frugal people, and they are, but the truth is most people just can't afford a lot of fancy stuff. In a place where a domestic beer and a sandwich cost about 150 Norwegian kroner (about $19), and new cars are taxed at about 110 percent, luxury goods are an unthinkable expense.

True, the taxes on some goods will break your back, wait for you to get up, then break your back all over again, (for your own good of course), but there's something missing from her theory. Aren't luxuries by definition too expensive for the average person? The whole point of buying a ridiculously expensive watch is so you can flash it in the face of people who can't. And I wouldn't so quickly dismiss the cultural factor. Norway doesn't have much of an upper class, because of high taxation and overall economic policy, but neither does our upper middle class aspire towards an upper class. Luxuries may be expensive, as everywhere, but the Norwegian middle class, which includes most of us, is wealthy by any standard, and could certainly afford a more visibly luxurious lifestyle, if it wanted to.

Egalitarianism and a certain frugality still is at the core of Norwegian culture. The dark side of this trait is represented by the Law of Jante: You shan't think you're better than us. Ie. don't flaunt your wealth. (This may also be why we don't tip - more about that some other time, perhaps.) Even our lottery millionaires don't buy fancy stuff - they clear their debts, and save the rest for retirement. At most, they redecorate the house. This has little to do with taxes, and much to do with culture.

Culture trumps economy in another area too: Alcohol. If we were to follow McLarens logic, Norwegians, who pay more for their alcohol than anywhere I am aware of, would be the most sober people on earth. Anything above bad wine is a luxury, and God help you and your family if you're an alcoholic. But in this respect our culture inclines towards flaunting and towards excess. Norwegians are visibly and loudly drunk. This may be to compensate for our egalitarianism, but it certainly has little to do with taxes.

Monday, August 05, 2002

Norway now has the second highest ratio of disability pensioners in Europe, at 10%, following the Netherlands. Arild Sundberg of the National Insurance Service blames the stressful modern workplace:

The reason for this growth is that employees and employers, in the private and public sector, now face harder and clearer demands. A lot of people can't handle this, and end up disabled.

I won't dismiss Sundbergs explanation, but I find it odd. Stress is bad, no doubt, but does it cause permanent disability?

In any case: Add to this the decreasing average age of retirement, and of course the large public sector, and we have a situation where more and more people are supported by less and less actual work. I don't know why the number of disability pensioners is growing, but it obviously can't go on. Information technology opens a lot of doors for the physically disabled - I'm a programmer, and the only organs I strictly can't do without is my brain and eyes - and perhaps at some point we will just have to ask lame people to begin working from their bed, at what will propably be an increasing number of jobs that can be performed without ever leaving your house. Similarly, telecommuting could push up the retirement age.

These may not be popular ideas - forcing the sick and elderly to work! - but first of all they may be necessary, if we are to support people who need care even more, and without breaking the backs of everyone else. Second, is it really a bad thing if technology and medicine can extend the period of our lives we are able to spend working? Is work the enemy? Apparently, if you ask the wrong people. Now, I just took a five week vacation myself, and you won't hear me complaining, but I believe work is a good, and if you hate your job, you need more of a good one, not less of the bad one. And even a bad one is better than nothing at all.

But then, maybe I'm just spoiled. I love mine.
gestrom 2002-08-06 With all respect for mr. Sundberg: According to available statistics (Statistisk Sentralbyr 2001)only a minority of those receiving disability pensions suffer from minor disabilities. 70% of Norwegia [more>>>]
Steve Skubinna 2002-08-07 I have absolutely no patience with those who claim we are somehow worse off than, say a century ago. Stress? What the hell does anyone in a modern industrialized society know about stress that our [more>>>]

Tim Blair says he wants peace between Norway and Australia. After a year of brutal warfare, which has killed an unknown number of people, including an even more unknown number of civilians - and I really have no idea how many, but consider just how large an unknown number can be - pretty big, eh? After all this spilled blood, Tim Blair wants 'peace'. Shake hands, drink a cup of tea, and forget about it all, just like that.

What an obnoxiously simple and logical idea. Now, I love peace, there's no question about it. Peace is good. But I don't give much for the prospect of a peaceful world that has Australia in it. I'm not a racist, but it's common knowledge that these people are incapable of peaceful coexistence with civilized nations. It's not their fault, it's in their genes. Australians are subhumans who ought to be wiped off this planet. No, make that invaded, taught how to speak proper english, then wiped off the planet.

Our demands are simple and just: the complete obliteration of the nation of Australia, with the exception of that crocodile fellow on TV. And still they resist, and claim even to want peace! Hypocrisy and spite, that's what it is, and they'll pay for it.

Tim Blair, if that is his real name, wants peace. I say: Give us a just peace, a peace wherein strong nations are free to enslave other people, and teach them a thing or two about honest work. Just like the old days.

One last reminder, in case some casual reader is tempted to pay attention to the treacherous words of this war criminal: It is a closely guarded secret, but Australia was actually founded by prisoners. Bet you didn't know that! Tells you what kind of people they are.

Saturday, August 03, 2002

I'm not a fan of the EU, and it's going to be very hard to convince me that Norway can't do better on it's own. (Stortinget is full of idiots, but they're our idiots). Still, I like the effect the prospect of joining it has on the countries of Eastern Europe. Turkey, for instance, is beginning to implement reforms that surely are steps in the right direction - allowing Kurdish education and broadcasts for one thing.

Oh, and being a tourist in Euro-country was also pretty neat. (Even more so with the strong Norwegian Crown.) The Germans don't like it, though. They're calling it the Teuro, a pun on the word for expensive, because all the shops used the switch to raise prices.
Lisa English 2002-08-04 Agreed. The social reforms are welcome. It's the economic reform that concern me. The tearing down of borders and sovereign law to create a global Walmart economy seems only to benefit the boardroo [more>>>]
Bjrn Strk 2002-08-04 Well, that's funny! I don't mind the free market and open borders at all - it's everything else that bothers me. This pointless process of centralization must (obvious to anyone) lead to the creatio [more>>>]
Gunnar Hansen 2002-08-07Having a common currency is vital to growth. Given two societies with two different currencies, A & B. An isolated entity in society A exports goods to society B, receiving currenc [more>>>]

Uh-oh, they're at it again: Peace Process 2 - The Son of Oslo [*]. One small reminder for the parties involved on all sides: Make sure you're talking to people who are authorized to make decisions. I may not know much about diplomacy, despite being Norwegian and all that, but somehow I think more is needed for peace in the Middle East than a meeting between the Palestinian minister of tourism, and a former Israeli minister of justice.

In fact, this time let's start with the hard issues first, even if that reduces the chance of an agreement during foreign minister Jan Petersens tenure. First on the agenda: Kicking the old terrorist upstairs, (and throwing the new ones in prison.)

([*] I can't write about movie sequel titles without thinking of Gandhi II - He's back, and this time he's mad, from UHF. Severe apologies to the serious-minded for bringing up that silly movie.)
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Shoshannah 2002-08-04 At the time of Oslo1 I was excited: I really was thinking that peace was near. Now I see these kinds of headlines, and wonder who they are trying to fool. I don't know about the Palestinian "man in th [more>>>]

Professed bin Laden and Sharia-supporters al-Muhajiroun are about to open office in Copenhagen. According to the FBI, the group is associated with al-Qaeda, and may even be an ideological front for it, recruiting for and defending in public what their friends do in secret.

In a way I think this is a good thing, to have a public - local language - manifestation of al Qaeda. If our enemies are invisible, we may forget they are there, or exaggerate their size. What effect it will have on the already heated Danish immigration and integration debate I don't know - let's see if some of it trickles up north.
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Friday, August 02, 2002

A few days ago, comedian-pundit Shabana Rehman wrote an attack on left-intellectuals, academics and journalists in Dagbladet, (which despite wacky-left leanings has the best op-ed pages in Norway), accusing them of glossing over the conflicts of the multicultural society. Their distress over the finally emerging integration debate revealed the arrogance of an elite that has lost control over the public debate. Blog-nemesis and anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen was mentioned in particular.

Yesterday in Aftenposten, anthropologist Marianne Gullestad replied with a patronizing analysis of Rehman's character, in which she concluded that Rehman had gone native, were toying with pop culture "orientalism", had confirmed Norwegian stereotypes of Islam by criticizing it, and had failed to contribute to the desperate need for Norwegian introspection. In her shadow she had placed the multitudes of Real Suffering Immigrants, doubly oppressed by Norwegian racism and, incredibly, Rehmans media presence.

And now let me just quote at length Rehmans heated reply in todays Dagbladet:

For a long time I thought fundamentalist imams and immigrant politicians were the ones who prevented an open debate on equality in the multiethnic society. Now I see that it is ethnically Norwegian women, such as leader of Islamic Council, Lena Larsen, or anthropologist Marianne Gullestad, who really hinders the debate. At least imams, Muslim politicians and others talk straight: They're against womens liberation. But people like Larsen and Gullestad have with clever academic jargon become an obstacle for the emergence of important religion and culture-critical questions into the public debate. [..]

The young girls have become smart, Gullestad. So smart that it's difficult for anthropologists to accept that they ask the questions you ought to have asked a long time ago. Instead you focus on the "white Norwegians guilt". [..]

The reason why girls are oppressed or killed is not Norwegian prejudice. The reason is the demand for obedience. I've never said that all Muslims are brainwashed, but the ones who follow the demand for obedience are. Those who kill family members for honors sake certainly are. Of course not all Muslims are brainwashed, but a large part of the group that Gullestad prefers to see as weak and shut out, is in reality strong and spiteful. And they hold much, much stronger prejudices against Norwegians than most Norwegians hold against them. [..]

I'm not anti-intellectual, I just want the intellectuals to be where the problems are. I've taken part in the debates on honor and shame because that is my project. I have deep, personal insight into these issues. When Fadime was murdered, I decided to comment. The attitudes that lead to her death I've seen myself among Muslim and other spokespeople in Norway. Most people reject murder. But most people in immigrant communities deny women the right to control their own bodies. That was the reason why Fadime was killed. This started a debate in Norway. Where were pundits like Gullestad then? They were informing Norway that it had now become politically correct to harass Muslims. Give me a break. [..]

Apparently it bothers Gullestad that my clothes have "elements of orientalism" on the cover of my book. She should know that this is nothing compared to what female Norwegian academics will wear to any African drum course.

Touch! Something new in the air allright.

(Update 3/8: The fun continues - more - more - more. This debate has now been killed by the equivalent of Godwin's Law: As a debate moves towards an uncomfortable truth, the propability that it will turn into a meta debate approaches one.)
Steve Skubinna 2002-08-05 The real problem here is that complex social issues are being debated by laypersons. Ooh, ick - actual non-academics are having opinions and discussing them openly. And since it is an article of fai [more>>>]

Populist-libertarian Progress Party remains the largest in Norway, in the latest poll reaching incredible 30.6%. That level of support have traditionally been reserved for Labor, nowadays struggling at 20% [*].

Support for the Progress Party have gone up and down like the stock market. Its last flirt with the 30 mark two years ago ended after a sex scandal and a merciless purge of unwanted members by leader Carl I. Hagen. Interestingly, what was a political scandal back in the summer of 2000, that a "racist", "brown-flirting" party might be the country's largest, ("elect a new people!", as Steinar Hanson in Dagsavisen paraphrased Bertolt Brecht, possibly without knowing it, or seeing the irony), is a minor news item in the summer of 2002. The next Storting election won't be until 2005, but I no longer find myself pinching my arm at the thought of a Progress Party/Conservative coalition, headed by Carl I. Hagen.

Will that be a good thing? Ask me again in 2005 - but I think at least the current polarization of Norwegian politics, towards the clearest right/left division since the war, is a very good thing. There may be a case for gray coalitions and center parties, and against the partisan trench wars of the US or Great Britain - but at least they have ideological debates. In Norway we have come to confuse politics with the endless shouting of special interest groups, only a question of who gets how much. It is time to remind ourselves that we haven't seen the end of ideology - social democracy is a choice, and we can choose to do things differently.

([*] Of course, the way the winds are blowing these days, Labor have finally realized that they too may have to descend to take part in a coalition. That coalition must almost certainly contain the Socialist Left, our largest wacky-left party. The path towards polarization is set.)

Thursday, August 01, 2002

Good, and for once actually new news from the war on terrorism: The long overdue unravelling of the Greek November 17 terrorist / assasination group. Here's a list of suspected attacks since 1988, and another of attacks with a lethal outcome, back to Richard Welch in 1975. Look at this:

Nov. 15, 1983: U.S. Navy Capt. George Tsantes; shot in car. Driver, Nikos Veloutsos, also killed.
Feb. 21, 1985: Newspaper publisher Nikos Momferratos; shot in car. Driver Panayiotis Roussetis dies from injuries nine days later.
March 1, 1988: Greek businessman Alexandros Athanassiadis; shot in car.
Sept. 26, 1989: Pavlos Bakoyiannis, spokesman for then governing New Democracy party; shot in office lobby.
Oct. 7, 1991: Turkish attache Cetin Borgu; shot leaving car.

Public officials, politicians, businessmen. The question is, did N17 kill these people only for what they represented, (the United States, the former military junta, Turkey, capitalism), or had they identified movers and shakers, people who were more important than their title indicated? Note also that out of 22 victims, only four were "collateral damage": three chauffeurs and one student. According to the Christian Science Monitor, their choice of victims and a possible connection with major politicians was the main reason N17 went untouched for so long, and it was only recently that public opinion began to turn against them - if not for an accident and the 2004 Olympics they might still be out there:

November 17 is among the last remaining extreme-left groups of Europe, ranked with Italy's Red Brigade and Germany's Baader- Meinhof. The November 17, 1973 student uprising gave birth to the Pan-Hellenic Socialist movement (PASOK), which has governed Greece for 18 of the past 21 years. Many of today's prominent Greek politicians were among the student revolutionaries. Because of their common roots with November 17, PASOK has long been dogged by allegations of shielding the terrorist group.

In the years after the US-backed junta fell and PASOK rose to power, anti-Americanism remained strong in Greece. November 17 made its first appearance in 1975, with the murder of the CIA's Athens station chief Richard Welch, and more attacks followed. While no one publicly supported terrorism, there was often little sympathy for the group's victims: American diplomats and military officials, right-wing politicians, and industrialists.

The latest news is that what may be remaining members of November 17 have sent a letter to the Eleftherotypia newspaper, threatening a kidnapping campaign to release its members. Greek police doesn't believe its authentic, which may not count for much, since the Greek police were never that interested in nailing N17 in the first place. But if estimates of a very small organization are correct, there won't be many left to carry out the threat. Seems to me more likely the product of sympathizers, which doesn't make it less dangerous. Greece have been avoiding this confrontation for 27 years - let's hope they have the stomach to carry it out.
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Don't miss Bruce Bawers piece on the emerging debate on multiculturalism in the Netherlands and Norway. Amsterdam and Oslo are very different cities, but, one way or another, both will have to face the same conflict between socially liberal natives and ghettoized traditionalist Muslims. As Bawer points out, when Europeans boast of not having a Religious Right, they forget their own Muslims. (I'm not implying that the two are equal, but if you worry about Christian conservatives, you should certainly worry about Islamic conservatives.)

I don't know how we can solve this. (Bawer proposes mandatory democracy courses, which would be interesting). I'm not even sure how large the problem of traditionalist Islam in Europe is. For all I know it's negligible or self-correcting. There's no way to know while the subject is taboo, and we shouldn't - can't - lock up a debate this important, leaving it to the racists and dogmatists. For instance, how many immigrants in Norway would like to replace the Constitution with Sharia? How many would ban homosexuality? I want to know, and I won't take hush for an answer.
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I made it back. And boy, are there some strange people out there.

But enough about me! What's been happening in the world? Well, off the top of my head: The Bush presidency has faced it's worst scandal yet, faith in corporate America is at an all time low, a major crisis over Perejil have been averted by diplomacy, the Middle East peace process threatens to go off track, and the environment is on the brink of collapse. Oops - I've been reading the International Herald Tribune without applying corrective blogosphere counter-measures. I need to revive that skeptical warblogger sensibility! Let me try that again: Endless, desperate quest to redo Watergate produces dullest result yet, several goats killed in bloody mediterranean stand-off, palestinian resistance still morally bankrupt, counter-productive, and litany of doom claims yet more journalists victims. At least that sounds better - don't blame me if not much new happens these days.

It's good to be back. I never doubted I would, but vacations are sneaky. I once left on one and returned a completely different person. This time I knew better. Whenever I ran into myself, I drank him under the table, and slipped out of town before he could do any real damage. (Or maybe it was the other way around. I'm not so good at this pop psychology thing.) Consequently, I'm still very much myself.

Some minor redesign in the blog, (no I didn't draw that lion - it's from the Norwegian royal standard), and a change of name. Nobody was using 'The World After WTC' anyhow, and it was a silly name. Might as well go with my own. Speaking of which: So far, after 10 months, not a single reader have asked me what's with my domain name. Does that mean you're all well versed in Scandinavian, or just not very curious? Even more baffling: Readership figures only dropped about 50% during my month of absence, to 150-250 daily readers. I just had a horrible thought. Are half of my readers search engine spider bots?

Propably. But this is no time for self-pity! There are wars to blog, social democrats to mock, and watergates to build, (and a germanic word order, which on travel abroad acquired have been, to drop.) Onwards!

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