Monday, September 30, 2002

Here's an interesting historical article in the Weekly Standard on the similarities between Europe in the 20's and Europe today. (Via Instapundit.)

Once upon a time we thought of appeasement as a particular approach to Hitler. We have long since come to see that it is a Weltanschauung, an entire philosophical worldview that teaches the blood-guilt of Western man, the moral bankruptcy of the West, and the outrageousness of Western civilization's attempting to impose its values on anyone else. World War II and its aftermath clouded the issue, but self-hatred has long since reestablished itself as a dominant force in Europe and (less often and not yet decisively) the United States. It was a British idea originally; it was enthusiastically taken up by the French. Today (like so many other British ideas) it is believed more fervently in continental Europe than anywhere else.

It's interesting at least for pointing out the similarities, but I think Gelernter underestimates the importance of World War 2. Nazism and the Holocaust may be hard to fathom, and seem more like a bad dream than reality to Europeans today, but not so much that we didn't learn some good (and bad) lessons from that and that other totalitarian shock treatment. Faith in democracy was renewed, for one thing, seemingly for good. The Americanization of Europe was also set off, which set a deep mark on European culture. And could the European Union have been created without the war? It's badly designed, but not catastrophically, and have at least helped to make another repeat of the war very unlikely. I'd say ww2 has had some pretty strong, permanent effects on Europe, despite the survival of pacifist nonsense and diplomatic naivety.

Oh, and his comparison between Israel and Poland is too strained to make sense. The situation in Israel is unique.
CRL 2002-10-01 I'm torn in many ways about this. I'm a minority, predominantly of African descent, and so I (perhaps luckily, for better or worse, in fairness or, likely, not) get to look at the world without much [more>>>]

Friday, September 27, 2002

There's a debate in the comment section on whether or not Norway is a democracy. Gunnar Hansen has doubts. I think it is:

I agree that democracy has a specific meaning, but it's also an abstract ideal, and there is plenty of room for different implementations. There are many things wrong with Norwegian democracy, but it is still a democracy. Government is elected by the people, and we have rule of law.

As for measuring degree of democracy by the number of electable positions, you should also take into account the amount of power that comes with these positions. If the power that in your system is distributed between a large number of elected organs, in our system is gathered in fewer elected organs, why is there more democracy in your system? For instance, Norwegian school boards have much less power than American ones, the real power lies higher up, so what is the point of electing them?

In one sense, the US is actually less democratic than Norway. Your constitution gives the government less leeway than ours, which means that the people have less power to vote over. That doesn't have to be a bad thing - I have more power to restrict speech than you have. And I'm a fan of a decentralized and restricted government myself. That's why I'm against joining the EU.

And then in another sense Norway is less democratic than the US. Free markets are a weak, but very direct form of democracy. In our social democracy, government have quite a lot of power over the market, but the people has less power than they would in a freer market. So in a way big government itself is undemocratic.

Anyway, I'm not sure how strong this myth is, that Europe is not democratic, but I have noticed it here and there in commentaries on the post-9/11 polarization. What is usually meant is that European democracy has major flaws, but when you move from that to saying we have _no democracy_, that's just hyperbole and sloppiness, and very similar to what many Europeans say about American democracy.

Join in!

(For readers with peculiar interests, here's an article by Chief Justice Carsten Smith on the role and independence of the judicial branch of the Norwegian government.)
Just Lurking 2002-09-28 The difference is how the European and American "democracies" came to be. The American one is a republic. It was born of revolution with a constitution framed by men who had a healthy distrust of [more>>>]
Gunnar Hansen 2002-09-28 I thank you for the more detailed information regarding democracy in Norway. That's what I was asking for. But then... >> As for measuring degree of democracy by the number of electable positions [more>>>]
Bjrn Strk 2002-09-29 Gunnar: Granted, you didn't say "no democracy", although that 100 to 5 figure gave the impression that you weren't far from it. Number of electable offices: That was not circular reasoning, but I d [more>>>]

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Dagbladet dedicates its front page today to an assault on TV2's Holmgang with Oddvar Stenstrøm, the most popular debate program on Norwegian TV. Erling Dokk Holmen, who is one of those oft-quoted opinionated academics who pose as politically neutral experts on media and politics, accuses Stenstrøm of fostering racism and paranoia, and of casting suspicion on weak groups. Asked why he wants Stenstrøm off the TV screen, he replies:

This can be justified rationally. If we are to have a public broadcaster with public enlightenment in focus, one can't have TV hosts who openly spread racist and paranoid thoughts. I think it violates the whole idea of the public broadcaster. I think it weakens their claim for a broadcasting concession.

TV2 is the other national TV channel in Norway, and entered competition with state-owned NRK 10 years ago. (The only alternatives are on cable and sattelite, which weren't widespread until the 90's, and are currently at about 65%.) TV2 is subject to regulations requiring, among other things, programs for Samis and other minorities, "narrow" (assumedly high-brow) programs, and a profile that aims at strengthening Norwegian language, identity and culture. Its concession is due for renewal later this year, but there is no risk of a refusal - they've usually been good boys.

Dokk Holmen is a gasbag, and should not be taken seriously, but this is interesting for what it implies, that there is a connection between TV2 and the rise of right-populism. I actually didn't get a real TV until a month ago, (for free from my TV repair-brother), so I shouldn't be trusted on this, (let's call the rest of this blog entry a hypothesis), but there might be something to that.

News media is sometimes classified as tabloid and - non-tabloid? respectable? I can't think of a word, in English or Norwegian, that isn't meaningless, but you know what I'm thinking of. Norway has had two major tabloid newspapers for some time, VG and Dagbladet, but until 1992, NRK maintained a monopoly of respectability and fake neutrality on the air. TV2 introduced a more tabloid and, well, less dull perspective to news coverage, and, more importantly, it introduced the tabloid debate program.

While NRK have taken their roles as guardians of the public debate quite seriously, a TV2 debate includes any entertaining crank who can show up on a few hours notice - Progress Party members, Imams, pundits, activists, all the wackos and the outcasts of our public sphere. The above-mentioned Holmgang has been the scene of perhaps most of our frankest immigration and integration debates, with actual representatives of actual opposing views explaining their views on TV.

TV2's investigative reporters in Rikets Tilstand have also dug up some important stories, about genital mutilation, forced marriage, the dirty communist pasts of political and media bigshots.

Could the Progress Party have become our largest party without the introduction of commercial TV in Norway in the 90's? I have doubts - the vilification in other media has been very insistent - but maybe some Swedes or Finns (who don't have a populist right) can tell me what the situation is there.

If there is a connection, it is unintentional - TV2 does not seem to have a right-wing editorial policy. (They did a memorable smear job some years ago of the Progress Party when they aired a segment where Le Pen praised Carl I Hagen.) I also think it's too simple to (as some media commentators do) refer to one implicitly right-wing populist form of tabloidism, compared to the supposedly neutral non-tabloidism.

There is a right-wing kind of tabloidism, but perhaps there also is a left-wing tabloidism. Both are outraged - right-tabloidism on behalf of individuals against power abuse in the government, stupid bureaucrats and silly regulations. Left-tabloidism on behalf of groups against big corporations, consumerism and government cutbacks. TV2 does both. NRK has some of the left kind, (especially in the political coverage on morning radio, or at least that's where I hear it most often.)

Perhaps TV2 is a cause, not only of the rise of the Progress Party, but the rise of the Socialist Left. The polarization of Norwegian politics and the fall of Labor was the most interesting developments in last years election, and seems to continue. Something like this haven't happened before, and might not have been possible under the thumb of a dull social democratic TV monopoly.

(I actually wrote this while watching this weeks Holmgang. How can you not like a channel that invites feminists, preachers and dildo saleswomen to discuss sex toys on prime time TV?)

Update 26/9. Carl I Hagen says something similar today:

Something happened when TV2 and TVNorge arrived. They brought up issues that concern the average man, not the elites. Through these channels we have delivered our message to the people. Vi were given a voice, while ARK usually passed us by. TV2 has been important for us, both in its selection of issues, and by allowing us to reach people.

ARK, or Labor Broadcasting Corporation, is Hagens old petname for NRK.

Well, duh. Seems my domain name had expired, and the e-mail address I had given the registrar had stopped working, (those damn communist BBS SysOp's will stop at nothing), so I didn't get a renewal notice and dropped off the web there for a while. With bad luck, I'll have to wait a couple of days for the renewal to take effect. Don't panic - I'm here, (I've always been here), even if you can't see me.
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Monday, September 23, 2002

Gather around for some old-fashioned fisking, - and hold on to your funny hats, it's a Dagbladet editorial: Sharon must be stopped.

More or less powerless the world looks on while Israeli forces tear down the headquarters of the elected Palestinian president, Yassir Arafat.

Make that elected Palestinian dictator. Rather important distinction. Anyone can print some ballots and get people to throw them into boxes. There are, though, to put it mildly, a few accomplishments left before a country can call itself democratic. They include a constitution, rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of gathering and organization, civil rights, the ability to transfer power peacefully, and - let's not forget this, it's quite essential - a second election. Arafat first ratified the temporary constitution of Palestine only four months ago, five years after it was written, and his intention to obey it remains to be proven. Arafat spits on the rule of law, laughs at freedom of speech, and plays speed metal polka with the civil rights of his people.

What is the purpose of this? Chronologically speaking, this is revenge for a bomb attack on a bus in Tel Aviv on Thursday. But the recipient is wrong, for the sender on Thursday was Hamas.

The purpose would seem to be to further tighten Arafats noose every time a terrorist succeds, until at some point he either begins to fight terrorism, is discredited in the eyes of world opinion by his failure to do so, or decides to leave. Direct guilt does not necessarily have anything to do with it, (although it does often enough). Arafat is not responsible for the individual actions of every Palestinian, but he is responsible for the Palestinian Authority's refusal to do anything about those individual actions. Israel may be trying to drive that point home to the remarkably daft holders of world opinion. I don't think it's working, but it's not a big deal if it doesn't. It's bad when Israeli civilians die. It's bad when Palestinian civilians die, starve, and lose their jobs. But I positively refuse to weep at the thought of some tanks knocking on the door at some terrorist dictator's office.

And I'm sure the Israelis will gladly tear down any Hamas headquarters Dagbladet may know the location of.

And why should all these buildings be destroyed, when they must necessarily be rebuilt again afterwards, probably with foreign money?

Oh, I don't think foreign aid will be a major problem when the Palestinians eventually decide to experiment with actual democracy. It is rather a danger that the foreign aid will come too soon, before, you know, the actual democracy part, and without any strings attached. As it did the first time around.

If the world made any sense, peace, democracy and human rights activists would currently be bashing Europe for propping up a Middle East dictatorship, one that is no better than some of the regimes the Americans are (rightly) criticized for having supported. I'm not an activist, but I do care about peace, democracy and human rights, and I think the European attitude towards the PA is morally repulsive.

This is rather an excuse to do what Ariel Sharon really wants, which is to "get" Arafat. He wasn't allowed in Beirut in 1982. He wasn't allowed this winter in Ramallah. And he has had to promise the US not to harm Arafat. But the burning desire to get rid of Arafat is so strong that it keeps falling out between the lips of Israeli leaders anyway. Arafat may leave the West Bank unharmed and safe, but for never to return again. In the meantime he is to be harassed until he gives up.

It's not a big secret that few in Israel any longer believe that Arafat can ever become a "partner for peace", or that he ever were. Getting rid of Arafat, one way or another, would currently seem to be a major goal of the Israeli government, as well as the American administration. Sharon doesn't need an excuse, the only question is how. I don't have any scruples about having Arafat assasinated, and neither does Sharon. That might not be a good idea, though, (he should have done it in '82). That leaves mostly bad options, including the one they may be pursuing right now, which is to force the gun into Arafats face and tell him they really, really mean it this time. They might get lucky and accomplish something, but I have more faith in that other (admittedly short-sighted) tactic they have pursued for some time now, which is to arrest and kill Palestinian terrorists themselves.

And wait for Arafat to die of natural causes, or wander into obscurity.

If so, Sharon and the other Israeli leaders do not understand Arafat.

Who does? He had a decent chance for a decent peace at Camp David, and although that proposal wasn't perfect in Palestinian eyes, (there will never be a perfect peace in the Middle East), a statesman with any sense would have grabbed it and got started rebuilding his country. I don't claim to understand Arafat, but I don't think that matters any more. It mattered until a few years ago. Now he is just a bad actor who refuses to leave the scene. Israel will never negotiate a peace with Yassir Arafat. I know it, you know it, Dagbladet .. er .. doesn't.

But worse is that they don't understand that they are doomed to live with Palestinians as neighbours. And it's not Israelis who should pick Palestinian leaders. It's up to the rest of the world to tell Israel this. Nobody, including Israel, benefits from putting the Middle East on fire. Let's hope the gravity of the situation sooner or later becomes clear for US president George W. Bush.

The Middle East has been on fire for the full length of recorded history. All it lacks now is a nuclear war, so let's hope the gravity of the Palestinian situation does not distract George W. Bush from preventing one in the short run. (In the long run, can you think of any part of the world less likely never to experience nuclear war than the Middle East?)

Sunday, September 22, 2002

Today is my first blogiversary - or, if you're tired of new words with blog in them, and I am, it's my first anniversary, and I hope it won't be my last.

Things were a lot simpler back when I got started. A lot of you young folks may not remember, but in those days there were no such things as "links". You had to copy and paste the URL's into the browser. We warbloggers had to write our blog entries by hand and ship them to PyraLabs headquarters in San Francisco, where a whole department of typists were kept busy updating Blogger around the clock. A weblog stood for something in those days. It was hard and honest work, and it did us good.

Ah, the stories I could tell. Wild orgies, substance abuse and near brushes with death. They wouldn't be true, but just you wait a couple of years, and my failing memory will begin to fill in the juicy details.

Here's to another year of blogging, continued exponential growth for the blogosphere, and peace for mankind. Here, have a free link on the house!

Thursday, September 19, 2002

I happened to watch a favourite movie, Lawrence of Arabia, just the other day, and naturally wondered how that story fits in with what I've learned about the Arab world since the last time I saw it. And - what do you know! - before I even have time to look into it, here arrives Paul Fallon in Dean Esmay's weblog and writes a long, great article about T.E. Lawrence, World War I and the Saudis.

Mullah Krekar will be held in the Netherlands for another 20 days, before they decide what to do with him. Norwegian authorities have apparently made it clear (in a most hidden, roundabout way) that they don't want him back, and neither does the Dutch. They should send him to the US, where his potential knowledge about al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein may be of some use.
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Vegard Valberg has the story of a Progress Party proposal to require an oath of allegiance from immigrants, and makes a safe prediction:

All of this naturally comes under the heading "Progress Party Increases Racism". I haven't read the thirty one thesis as it were so I can't really comment on them, but before even reading them I can say that "Progress Party" and "Immigration" equals loud cries of racism, discrimination, and anti-Islamic ideas. I don't know if it will go on the TV and the debate programs, but if it does then I know this much you will have a couple of guys from the Progress Party that will be reasonably well spoken. Then you will have one immigrant that kinda thinks they have a point. Then you will have two Imams calling it racist and hateful, and a medley of left wing party representatives and academics to agree with them for the most part.

He also writes about the Swedish election:

I don't know how to describe Sweden right now, I get this strange flashback to Norway in the 1970's, or the eighties before the Conservative Wave that flooded across Norway. Then again economic decline, domestic pressure, and the rise of fringe groups, all of this combined generally triggers some kind of reaction, it has to. So I guess the question is how long it takes before something will blow.

The English web edition of Aftenposten has a letter section, where Gill Doyle takes exception to the media theory that anti-Americanism in Norway is new, and was provoked by American unilateralism after September 11:

I know about anti-Americanism in Norway because I lived in Norway from 1971 to 1973 after completing my B.A. here in America. Animosity toward America was virulent then, as it is today.

I have to take issue, then, with the title of Stanghelle's piece -- "Vi som elsket Amerika" ["We who loved America"]. I don't believe that Norwegians have loved America for a very long time. Stanghelle has got to be a very old man now if he can actually recall a time when Norwegians loved America. I did encounter some older Norwegians back in '71-'72 who had preserved cloth sacks in which American grain had been delivered when it was needed. Folks who could remember the Marshall Plan did seem to have good feelings about America. I think that there are few of those folks around now. I think it is the war in Vietnam that forms modern Norwegian attitudes toward America.

It is disingenuous of Stanghelle to suggest that the American response to 9/11 or my government's refusal to ratify various international agreements has engendered a previously unknown anti-Americanism in Norway. Anti-Americanism in Norway is at least thirty years old.

Simen Stre in Aftenposten has an interesting article on the same theme, which also concludes that Norwegian anti-Americanism was born a long time ago. In fact, it existed as far back as 1889, when Knut Hamsun wrote:

American patriotism loses no opportunity to shout out, and it fears no consequences from its ferocity. It is so stubborn, that with those who have no intelligence, it takes the form of dumb pride. There is one country, America. Anything beyond that is not of the good. A foreigner often feels hurt by such a display of self-love.

Knut Hamsun was not only an early anti-American, he was also a Nazi sympathizer - early evidence of a connection between anti-Americanism and love of totalitarian ideologies. Sætre doesn't expand on that obvious angle, which is too bad, it would make an interesting article. Sætre's instead ends up giving the impression that love of America was a childish crush - and then we grew up. This may hold some truth for the period from the late 40's to the early 70's, but there's more to it than that.

What I think has happened is that we have gone from loving and hating America from the outside - back when half of us emigrated, and everyone had an American relative, through our first meeting with American culture at home after the war - to loving and hating it from the inside. I for one love it not as an outsider, a Norwegian who has gone American, but as an insider, a Norwegian who doesn't know where his "real", native culture ends, and his imported American culture begins. European anti-Americanism is not much different from American anti-Americanism, except that we can still pretend to be fighting foreign influences when we trash McDonalds restaurants. Europe is still some distance away from the center of this culture, and there are many cultural differences left, but the Disney curtain covered us a long ago, and there's no going back. Even by hating American culture, we become more American. Anti-Americanism is after all an American invention.

That makes Norwegian anti-Americanism an even more interesting subject than Aftenposten thinks it is, because how we feel about America must be somehow connected to how we feel about ourselves. Take for instance these popular media phrases, which Sætre defines:

Americanization (Amerikanisering) is used in a negative sense. Commercialization, debasement, cultural influence. Politics controlled by money, too large income inequality, dumb TV. A presumed step backwards in our development.
American conditions (Amerikanske tilstander) is something one fears. Is used about major economic inequality, media circus, use of weapons, street gangs, children who watch too much TV and drink too much soft drinks.
Completely Texas (Helt Texas) is something wild, violent, amazing. Is used about noisy pubs, extremely high apartment prices, inconsiderate cyclists.
Cowboy culture (Cowboykultur) is chaotic, irregular. The law of the jungle. Unethical, lawless.
Harry is a US-inspired person with leather jacket and greased hair, the male counterpart of Doris. Later used about something culturally un-trendy.

Ah, the Harry! I've written about the Harry before, but didn't think of the American connection. Of course - Harry is an American. But the slur is exclusively Norwegian, and only applied to Norwegians, and all of the above phrases are examples of the American used as a metaphor for something Norwegian that we don't like. There is nothing un-Norwegian about stupidity and violence. We, ahem, did some interesting work in those particular fields over a thousand years ago. European anti-Americanism is not just a form of self-hatred, it is a distraction from the real, usually local, origins of the problems we are facing.

A better inquiry into European anti-Americanism than what the Norwegian media has performed so far, would ask the question of just how much of it is directed at qualities exclusive of the United States, and how much at qualities that are common in Europe, but Americans are the most visible representatives of. Why, for instance, is waging war now seen as an American quality?
mw 2002-09-20 I think Norwegian anti-americanism stems from two sources: the differences between the political systems between the two countries and Norway's fear of losing its Norwegianness. For the first, I was [more>>>]
Gunnar Hansen 2002-09-26 The root of anti-americanism is envy. People who haven't achieved much are naturally envious of people who do. Virtues are achievements as well. The european system and attitude prevents people fro [more>>>]
Bjrn Strk 2002-09-27 100 to 5? I can't agree. I don't know the details of how American democracy works, but I refuse to accept that it is perfect, or that the level of democracy in a country can be measured by the numbe [more>>>]

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Sweden has been one of the few countries in Western Europe without a populist right. After this weekends election, they still don't have one, (although they seem to think otherwise). Socialist status quo still reigns, with Gran Persson and the Social Democrats at 39.9%, thereby maintaining a left-wing majority in Riksdagen, along with the wacky environmentalists in the Green Party and the socialists in the Left Party. The only remotely interesting development has been the rise from 4.7% to 13.3% of the Liberal Party, a shady constellation of revolutionary fascists headed by master rhetorician and decorated war hero Lars Leijonborg.

Well, maybe not. Actually, not at all. Even by the feeble standards of European right-wing populism, the Swedish Liberals have little extremity to boast of. But they are apparently the first political party to ever discuss integration in a Swedish election in any serious way, and this strongly pro-immigration party have had to suffer the obligatory accusations about fishing in muddy waters, flirting with racism, and all that. The Guardian joins in the fun:

Although it is in favour of immigration to fill gaps in the labour market, and insists it is not racist, the party has espoused the kind of policies pioneered by successful anti-immigration parties in Denmark and Norway. During the campaign it argued that immigrants unable to find work within three months of their arrival in Sweden should be sent back to their home countries. Its leader, Lars Leijonborg, insists that immigrants should take Swedish language tests before being given citizenship. ..

But Akhenaton de Leon of the Norwegian anti-racism group Omod said: "This is just the beginning. "Once the taboo [of talking about immigration] has been broken the floodgates will open and the issue will be talked about in the same crude fashion in Sweden as it is in Denmark and Norway."

It is dangerous to, as the Guardian does here, interpret European right-wing populism as one, coherent movement, with all the populists plotted on a straight line from hard to extreme right, and a slippery slope between them. Even we Scandinavians can't decide on a common form of right-wing populism. Norway's Progress Party has libertarian roots, wants to join the EU, and balances dislike of taxes and bureaucracy with support of massively increased public spending. It has undergone a process of purification at the hands of Carl I Hagen, who appear to have successfully gotten rid of its wackier elements, but at the expense of toning down its efforts in the immigration and integration debate. The Danish People's Party is US and Israel friendly, strongly anti-EU, and has a religious conservative core. Its criticism of Muslim culture often strikes me as excessive, and borders on cultural protectionism, but I don't think Pia Kjærsgaard would feel out of place as a conservative blogosphere pundit, judging from her newsletter.

By comparison, the Swedish Liberal Party comes from the classically liberal camp, and are basically centre-right social democrats. Their only claim to the torch of right-wing populism is their demand that knowledge of Swedish language should be a requirement for citizenship. They deeply resent all comparisons to the Progress Party and the Danish People's Party, who they describe with the same words as they themselves have been described in Swedish media. There are few similarities, other than that they are all vaguely rightist parties which have challenged taboos, and been rewarded with votes, although in Swedens case not enough to make any difference.

Swedish social democrats seem proud of what they see as a victory over "right-wing populism". They ought rather to be deeply concerned that they have succeeded so well that not a single vigorous right-populist party is to be found in their Parliament, and that the only party that is vaguely critical of immigrants is dressed up as a ghoul of the far right. Either Swedish democracy isn't working, or the most important political development in Europe in recent years has simply passed Sweden by. Either way it's bad for the Swedes.
Teemu Lehtonen 2002-09-19 Well, it'll be election season here as well soon enough. And frankly, no populist right anywhere to be seen (or at least I haven't noticed). I suppose it'll be a fairly even race between the social de [more>>>]

Alex Bensky, still from Detroit, writes:

Of all the anti-American swill coming out of other countries, the idea that dissent is being crushed is the part that is downright funny.

As I mentioned to that scion of Australian imperialism, Tim Blair, I was in my local Border's book store last week. There was an open display near the entrance on 9/11 and the war on terrorism. A number of them were critical, including Chomsky's, which was right out there. The magazine rack contained the Nation, Mother Jones, In These Times, and for that matter anybody who needed something to line his bird cage could buy the Communist Voice.

The NY Times is filled with editorials against a war on Iraq. Many of these editorials are disguised as news stories. Yet the Times continues to show up on my doorstep every morning. Our local rags also have carried a number of stories and op-ed articles opposing a war, the administration's foreign policy, and the president.

I happened to be at the University of Michigan campus last week and as I walked across the main quadrangle I noticed several anti-war tables, someone passing out anti-war leaflets, and any number of posters opposing the war.

This area has a large concentration of Arabs. Community newspapers print all sorts of dissenting articles. I was in the main Arab area last week and being very fond of Arab food, I stopped in to have dinner and then walked around the shopping district. The shops were filled and if the Arabs felt the iron heel of oppression they seemed remarkably cheerful and upbeat about it.

To my knowledge there is one--I repeat, one--possible case of a university instructor being removed for supporting terrorist activities, and apparently his views are not the reason the school is trying to get rid of him. The idea that ideas opposing American policy are being squelched on the university campuses bears no relation to reality.

The idea that anyone is being deterred from dissent is, well, not to put too fine a point on it, an outright lie. It is sheer reflexive anti-Americanism.
Rene Buchard 2002-09-21 The crushing of dissent in the US is extremely clever. It is particularly insidious because it is an invisible force, that everyone can feel, that chokes the ability to protest from our lungs. I had [more>>>]

Saturday, September 14, 2002

Mullah Krekar, the leader of Ansar al-Islam, which has occupied and imposed Sharia on several villages in Kurdish Iraq, and may have contacts with al-Qaeda, have been arrested in Amsterdam, on his way to Norway. It's anyones guess where he'll actually end up. Let me see if I can get this straight:

The Americans want Krekar for his al-Qaeda contacts. The Jordanians want him for drug smuggling. Norway doesn't know whether we want him or not, but we may not have any choice in the matter. If the Dutch authorities can't prosecute or extradite him, and I'm not sure they can, Norway is the only option left. While Krekar has already lost his Norwegian refugee status, and have even been expelled for reasons of national security, he has two weeks to appeal that decision. In that period, he can freely travel to Norway, and once he's here we're stuck with the bastard.

Still with me? Krekar is an Iraqi citizen, and there are over 2000 Iraqi Kurds in Norway awaiting expulsion, because Norwegian law prohibits sending immigrants back to certain unstable and barbaric countries. Iraq is on that list, (so far!) Incidentally, so is the United States, unless they promise not to kill him. We might prosecute Krekar ourselves, in lack of better ideas, (prime minister Bondevik even suggests bringing him for the ICC), but I'm not at all certain what crime he will be prosecuted for.

There's little doubt that Krekar is a bad guy, and that he has violated the terms of his refugee status, but is he a jailable kind of bad guy? I don't know, and neither does anyone else, least of all the Norwegian police. It's a lot easier to expell a non-citizen than to prosecute. More on this when things start to make sense.

Thursday, September 12, 2002

I'm not sure what I expected from the commemoration ceremony outside city hall in Oslo yesterday. Understanding? "Closure"? There really isn't all that much to say, and whatever it is the speakers didn't say it. And when Jahn Teigen, a moderately talented adult contemporary hasbeen began to sing karaoke, the ceremony ceased being merely empty, and became an embarassment. What a strange contrast there is between these well-meaning platitudes about peace and tolerance, and the cold memory of watching the towers fall in a crowded cafe a few houndred meters away.

But I can't get myself worked up about it. People came for the ceremony, no more than a thousand, perhaps, but they said what needed to be said, simply by being there. And then the bagpipe player. I understand this is an American fire department tradition, going back to Irish immigrants. I should look into one day the use of wailing and music in connection with death in various cultures. It seems to me that the quiet funeral is a bad idea. People should be able to cry when they lose loved ones, or at least let the music cry for them. Bagpipes do that better than anything I've heard.

I also took some pictures, from the ceremony and the American embassy, where some people, but far fewer than a year ago, had left flowers and candles.

Okay, so I did get worked up about one thing: There were supposedly an anti-war and anti-terror gathering outside Stortinget, but it didn't draw more than a handful of activists. I thought this was odd, until I saw the reader comments from the announcement at They objected, as I do, to the moral relativism of mourning victims of terrorism in the same ceremony as casualties in a just war. Well, actually, what they objected to was the moral relativism of mourning victims of state terrorism in the same ceremony as some dead white capitalist oppressors. It's a funny world.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Anniversary coverage in Norwegian media takes many forms: American documentaries, critical articles and opinion pieces about the effect of September 11 on US civil rights, nationalism, bigotry, etc., discussions on how Bush wasted global sympathy by going on the war path, and interviews with "regular Americans", who are often picked for some symbolic reason. Aftenposten interviews a fireman, two people who were on famous photographs, and some people at an intellectual caf on the Upper West Side in New York, who fear the new McCarthyism and death of dissent:

Many, many Americans think like us, but people don't know about it. The official opinions presented by the Bush administration and the media are not shared by everyone. But there are no channels for other opinions. It's like going back in history, to the McCarthy era.

Political Editor in Aftenposten, Harald Stanghelle, writes (and partly laments) that even traditionally friendly sections of Norway have abandoned the US:

When 45% of Conservative voters, and almost as many from Labor, say that they have changed their view of the US in a negative direction in the last year - and this in answer to a question that mentions the symbolic date September 11 - these are strong numbers. It reveals a skepticism to the US that is striking root even in communities where this was previously unheard of. It is further enhanced by the fact that 59% of Conservative and Labor voters say they have a negative impresison of American politics in the UN, and that 77% of Conservative voters, and 85% of Labor voters, are against a military attack on Iraq.

Norway have always had more faith in Democratic presidents than in Republicans, and this Opinion poll reveals a massive doubt in the leadership George W. Bush is trying to establish. In Norway, as in the rest of the world, Bush has failied to establish the authority necessary to gain trust in international crisis situations. That 68% of the surveyed have a negative impression of American behavior at international environmental conferences, and that 57% believes it is too friendly towards Israel, only serves to underline the distrust Bush's politics is met with. Americans are now paying the price for the unilateralism of the last couple of months.

Yeah, the threat of terrorism certainly fades in the shadow of Jan Petersens mighty pointed finger. And I actually think that Israel figure is quite positive. I didn't know that only 57% of Norway believes the US is too friendly towards Israel - I certainly haven't gotten that impression from watching the news.

Other perspectives: In a refreshingly clearheaded article in Dagbladet, Helge Øgrim concludes that the war in Afghanistan was right, and that the US remains a democratic country, a year after the massacre, despite all fears.

Afghanistan is by any measure a better country to live in than before the American attack. At the same time, the terror threat from it has diminished. Nobody has been able to show the dead bodies of Osama bin Laden and mullah Omar, and they may not even be dead, but the Saudi fanatic no longer has a country and a government for his base of operations.

Pakistan has stopped aiding terrorists with global ambitions, and is probably reducing its support for the bands of murderers in Kashmir. .. Many believed that the Muslim world would rise against the West, and against US friendly regimes. The Arab Street was painted as a formidable threat. But public opinion remained surprisingly calm from Marocco to Indonesia. ..

Iraq is under threat by the US, which is firmly determined to remove Saddam Hussein. Europe protests again, as they did when Israel bombed Iraq's nuclear facilities in 1981, and when the US gave Muammar Gadaffi a lesson with cruise missiles. If Saddam has, or is about to get, weapons of mass destruction, it can be argued that a military campaign will make many countries safer. ..

Democracy has survived, and survived well. It will survive even more bombs. But the signs of limitations on civil rights are obvious. The US government wanted to recruit mailmen and electric meter readers to an army of informants. Houndreds are still imprisoned without trial, charge or defense. Americans discuss these issues vigorously. We are mostly content with ritual condemnations, apparently without much thought to how we would deal with such a crisis ourselves. [My emphasis.]

Dagsavisen reveals something that may be news to some of my readers: that New Yorkers are more afraid of George W. Bush than of terrorism. Says random people on the street Ellen Miller and Neil Donelly:

Our president talks about executionists and coupmakers in other countries. He's sitting in a glass house. Mr. Bush is a dangerous man, and his vice president is raving mad. If the US goes to attack on Iraq, it says everything about the egos of these men, and a lot about us who put them in power. ..

When the state of Israel was created, I lived in Egypt, and spent much time in Palestine. I saw how Arabs were treated, I helped and even gave them food at nights. I've followed the development ever since, and was very sad when Ariel Sharon became prime minister, and then Bush here. These are dangerous men. I'm also very disappointed about Tony Blair in England. He's completely in Bush's pocket, even though 71% of the British people is against an attack on Iraq. .. Now Bush may start the third world war.

Either journalist Per Erik Moen did not pick his interview subjects entirely at random, or there really is something to that dissent-squashing theory: There apparently exists in New York a large number of cowered Chomskyites who are afraid to reveal their mind to anyone but Norwegian journalists.

Newspaper side note: I've written before that Dagbladet has the best op-ed pages in Norway. I'm also starting to think that it is our overall best newspaper. I more often than not disagree with Dagbladets decidedly leftist slant, but it covers those views I disagree with very well, and is often the center and driving force of interesting debates. Unlike VG, it is tabloid without being soulless. Unlike Aftenposten, which is a newspaper of record with columnists and commentators, Dagbladet has pundits - Shabana Rehman and Kjetil Rolness are two favourites. And unlike Dagsavisen, a former spokespiece of Labor, Dagbladet is not knee-jerk, dogmatic and exclusive in its leftism. Some of its writers are, but the editors obviously aren't. What the Norwegian media landscape needs is not centrist-conservative Aftenposten in larger print, but another Dagbladet, aimed at the largely uncharted - possibly desolate - right side of our political spectrum.

(Another good and perhaps underestimated newspaper - it has fewer subscribers than Glenn Reynolds has daily readers - is Vårt Land, sort of a Christian and occasionally interesting version of Dagsavisen, with the funniest last page in Norway. But enough about newspapers in some strange language you can't read.)
ct 2002-09-11 I seem to hear alot of conflicting numbers and percentages regarding what non-journalist, non-politician Europeans really think about the U.S. and the war on terrorism. Some times you hear that a stu [more>>>]
CRL 2002-09-13 What is this nonsense about "no other channels for other opinions" in the United States? This is pure unadulterated laziness. People can't get on a browser and type, or, [more>>>]

Sunday, September 08, 2002

Svenska Dagbladet has gotten hold of an FBI document naming 5 members of a Swedish al-Qaeda cell. [*] They were named by Ahmed Ressam, who tried to blow up the Los Angeles airport on the millennium.

Ahmed Ressam met and learned to know the five Swedes in the al-Qaeda training camp Khalden, outside Kabul, during the spring, summer and fall of 1998. They were taught to attack airports, power plants, corporations and military bases. Also part of their education was weapons knowledge and political assasinations. The quintet is named in the FBI document as the center of a "Swedish cell", and they are supposed to have been responsible for recruitment and contact with other cells. One of the named Swedes have spent a long time in Afghanistan, the others between a few months and half a year. ..

Margaretha Linderoth, chief of Spos anti-terror unit, says that she is not familiar with the FBI document about the five Swedes. .. - We can't discuss individuals. Besides, one should keep in mind that people are free to have opinions. One is allowed to be a terrorist in ones mind, and one becomes a terrorist only by acting it out, says Linderoth. She says that Spo is aware of tens of Swedes who have been to training camps in Afghanistan. - But we can't conclude that they all belong to al-Qaeda. They could even belong to other networks, says Margareta Linderoth.

What a strange attitude. I hope it's not representative of the Swedish police. She's right, of course - it's not illegal to agree with bin Laden - but isn't al-Qaeda membership itself a very good reason to conduct a thorough investigation? And were there any other terror networks training in Afghanistan than al-Qaeda? Svenska Dagbladet also speculates that one of the Qaeda members knew the suspect of the recent attempted hijacking at Vsters airport. It is becoming apparent that Sweden has a problem with terrorism, and should make it a top priority to solve it.

([*] Yeah, I know, this is my third link today to a Scandinavian newspaper. I always try to find english versions of the stories I write about, but when I can't, well, I suppose you're reading it here first.)
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Danish newspaper Ekstrabladet has dug up this hour long al Qaeda propaganda video that has circulated in extremist chat groups, and contains a long statement, a "testament", from one of the suicide terrorists, Ahmed Alghamdi. Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. (No english transcript available, and Danish only of the first part.)

This is bin Aljirah Alghamedi, Ahmad Alhajmawi from the country of the two holy places, the country in the South, the country of the mujaheddins and the martyrs. From Gahmed, he was a speaker and a mujahid, raised in a religious and moral home. His father was a sheik, and his mothers calls to prayer. His heart was set for jihad, therefore he emigrated to Afghanistan to prepare himself. He was one of the nineteen heroes behind the attacks on Washington and New York on the blessed tuesday. No matter how much one speaks of this hero, one can never do him justice. This is his testament, which he wrote several months before the attack, in which one experiences the earnestness of his purpose, and the strength of justice and conviction towards that, which Allah has promised, and the realization of this. Allah receive him like he does all martyrs, and pray for his family and parents, and make him an example of the muslim who refuses to accept humiliation and depravity.
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49.9% of Norwegians, and 47% of Europeans believe US foreign policy has a negative impact on their own countries, and 24.3% and 26% believe the impact is positive. Ireland (38% positive, 29% negative) and Denmark (36% positive, 35% negative) are more US friendly.

The survey doesn't separate moderate impact from significant impact, or direct from indirect, and I don't think the results mean what they appear to mean. Why would Norwegians feel that US foreign policy is having a direct negative impact on their country, when American attention haven't even been focused on this part of the world since September 11? It only makes sense if the people who were surveyed interpreted the question as one of support and indirect impact. So what it means is perhaps that Europeans disagree with the US, and believe that the war on terror and the war on Iraq is bad for world stability, and therefore indirectly bad for Europe.

And no, that isn't exactly news, but it's useful to keep in mind for those who believe that European foreign policy is decided by media and government elites, while ordinary voiceless Europeans actually support the American view. That can be said about some issues like the death penalty, and, of course, those 24.3% who approve of US foreign policy don't seem to be proportionally represented in the media. But the cultural and political division between the US and Europe is very real, if sometimes a little exaggerated.

(Update: Tom Veal looks at the results of another survey on the attitudes of the European street, coming to a different conclusion. No permalink, scroll to September 6.)

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

Colin Powell booed at Johannesburg! That's not much of a shocking headline. If there is a list somewhere of places where US officials ought to expect being met by paper mache dolls and naked protester butts, the Earth Summit in Johannesburg is probably on it. The story becomes both shocking and unfathomable, though, when you learn that Powell was booed for criticizing Robert Mugabe, and for suggesting that Africans might benefit from genetically modified food. Writes Dagbladet:

But when [Powell] criticized president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, for increasing the suffering of his own people, the audience began to boo. And when he continued by criticizing African leaders for refusing to accept genetically modified corn from the US, jeers also came from the gallery, which was full of American activists.

Curiously, both AP and Reuters play down this aspect of the story.

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Norways contribution to one of the decisions at Johannesburg, about the priority of environment over free trade, is described by Norwegian media as little short of heroic.

Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik was delighted by his two cabinet ministers' victory at the UN development conference early Monday. They managed to push through a measure that keeps environmental pacts from being undermined by world trade agreements. .. Bondevik claimed the deal governing the relationship between trade and the environment may be the most spectacular to emerge from the Johannesburg summit. Many observers had expressed little hope that participants at the conference would be able to accomplish much.

Hooray. Another victory for the UN's and the NGO's favourite pupil.

I don't know much about the science behind environmentalism. There are only so many issues you can be updated on, and I haven't arrived at that one yet. I do know that many people I have respect for, and who appear to know what they're talking about, often disagree with environmentalists, which makes me suspicious of any claims of consensus. I also know some things about humans and ideologies, and I've arrived at what you might call a general theory of activism:

The level of dogmatism and urgency in an issue-oriented movement is proportional to its age and success.

Imagine there's a flaw or injustice in society. (This shouldn't be so difficult.) Imagine that most people are unaware of it, and that it makes you angry. You decide to become an activist. You meet up with some like-minded people and start a movement. Pamphlets are distributed, letters written to the editor, and protests organized. This goes on for a period of years.

Now imagine that it works. Society becomes aware of the problem, takes steps to reduce it, and after 10 years it has been reduced by half. Now what? Is the movement likely to reduce its efforts? Of course not. You and your friends have dedicated your life to the cause. You can't very well stop now. To you, the issue is as urgent as ever. The public, however, is beginning to lose interest. A few years ago, pointing out the obvious truth was enough to get their attention. Now, you barely make the headlines. So you crank up the volume, begin to think like an advertiser, and thanks to the credibility gained by your earlier efforts, the public continues to listen. This goes on for another period of years.

Now imagine that this works too. Society continues to be aware of the problem, takes further stepts to reduce it, and after 10 years it has been reduced by a further half. The problem is now only a fraction of what it used to be, and one might logically expect the movement to close shop, thank society for making it irrelevant, and go back to their regular lives. Except they don't have any. You have now spent 20 years fighting for the cause, building up a considerable media presence and a formidable ideological fighting machine in the process. Your movement is national or international, with thousands of active followers. The cause is your life. Besides, part of the problem still remains. Furthermore, public attention remains capricious, and competition from fellow activists for media time is fierce. To make yourself heard you must talk even louder and with even more urgency than before. There can be no hesitation or uncertainty, no admission that your cause is anything but vital to society.

By this point, of course, truth is no longer the guiding star of your movement. You may have been able, once, to keep an eye on subtleties and nuances while presenting a simplified version to the media, but it is your simplified version that has gathered followers, and you have built an organization of yes-men, unable or unwilling to challenge the dogmas of your movement. (And all movements have dogmas, including the ones that are right.) You begin to believe your own propaganda, and remain unaware that the momentum of your success is driving you towards dishonesty and fanaticism.

And so it goes on. At some point the public tires of you anyway, but not because of reduced effort on your behalf. Decades later you can still be seen writing angry, raving letters to the editor that never get published.

Well, it's a theory. It seems to fit some movements I don't like. If I can make it fit some movements I do like as well, then I'll know I'm onto something.

(Update: Vegard Valberg is onto something similar, and ties Transnational Progressivism into it as well.)
Dave Crawford 2002-09-04 Bjorn, You never mention the most important reason that the problem can never be considered solved: The Money. Imagine a 20 y.o. getting invloved in a movement. At first it will be on a volun [more>>>]
Joseph Britt 2002-09-07 There are a couple of additional pitfalls for the specialized cause advocate, both of which involve loss of focus and both of which are evident in many parts of the environmental movement. [more>>>]

Sunday, September 01, 2002

Ralph Peters writes that the contest for the soul of Islam has been lost in Arabia, and should be fought on Islams frontiers.

We have been looking in the wrong direction, because that is where we have been conditioned to look. This great battlethis war for the future of one of the worlds great religions (and, certainly, its most restive and unfinished)is not being fought in the Arab homelands, which insist upon our attention with the temper of spoiled children, distracting us from better prospects elsewhere. The contest between competing Muslim visions, between those who would turn back the clock and those who believe they must embrace the future, has already been lost in the sands of Arabia. Fortunately, the Arab homelands are far less critical than our policymakers and strategists unthinkingly believe.

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