Wouldn’t it be wonderful to end all war and famine? Is that just a utopian ideal, straight out of the John Lennon songbook? Isn’t it just what the Stop The War crowd want? The answers might be yes, no and no respectively. Funnily enough, it’s more likely to be what George W. Bush and the neo-cons are trying for, or at least were trying for before realpolitik reared its ugly face again.

The Bush Doctrine, as outlined in 2002, was :

a commitment to “extending democracy, liberty, and security to all regions”. The policy was formalized in a document titled The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, published on September 20, 2002. The Bush Doctrine is a marked departure from the policies of deterrence and containment that generally characterized American foreign policy during the Cold War and the decade between the collapse of the Soviet Union and 9/11.

Objections to this idea tend to be based on allegations of hypocrisy (Bush does treat with tyrants when it suits him), hidden agendas (these are fine words to mask a new imperialism) or a more generalised suspicion of what might be termed “preventative war” best summarised, interestingly enough, by Abraham Lincoln in a letter dated 1848:

Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure…. If today he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, “I see no probability of the British invading us,” but he will say to you, “Be silent; I see it, if you don’t.”

Whether or not Bush is a hypocrite, or has a hidden agenda, are fit subjects for debate. But I’m interested here in the question of whether or not the doctrine itself is a valid one, and whether it might hold the key to lasting world peace and plenty. In saying that, it needs to be noted that neither of those goals are exactly imminent. It also needs to be emphasised that, if it is accepted that the only valid end for foreign policy, beyond immediate responses to circumstances, is the spread of democracy, there is still a great deal of room for disagreement as to how that might best be prosecuted.

Here are the two critical assertions:

  1. “…in the the 1816-2005 period there were 205 wars between nondemocracies, 166 wars between nondemocracies and democracies, and 0 wars between democracies.”
  2. “…no substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press.”

The first comes from the Wikipedia entry for R.J. Rummel, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Nobel Peace Prize nominee and exponent of Democratic Peace Theory. A good explanation of this theory, including the objections that have been raised against it, can be found here.

The second is a quote from a paper by Nobel Prize in Economics winner in 1998, Amartya Sen.

It needs to be emphasised that both of these theories have their detractors. However, nobody disputes that Democracy makes external aggression (especially against other democracies), internal repression and large scale famine very much less likely. War, tyranny, torture and starvation are not vote-winners, indeed the present electoral prospects of the Republicans in the U.S. and the Labour Party in the U.K. have been adversely affected by the Iraq invasion.

I quoted the Iraqi blogger Iraq The Model in an earlier post:

One of our biggest problems here is that many of us and of our politicians in particular seem to have lost the ability to strategic vision

When people do refer to a strategic vision, it tends to be one of fighting an enemy. Comparisons between the threat of Islamic Supremacism and that posed by the Nazis in the 1930s are frequently made. Here’s Nick Cohen from a recent book review:

Suppose there had been one million Germans in Britain in the 1930s, most of them at the bottom of the heap and all of them the potential victims of racism. Suppose only a few were actual Nazis, but many others either sympathised vaguely with Hitler’s demands that the punitive conditions of the Treaty of Versailles be lifted or were pushed back into a German identity by the constant harping of the rest of society on the Nazi menace. The liberal left of the day would have feared inciting racism if they joined the chorus, and found it far harder to oppose Hitler consistently

Cohen is as ever making an important point, but it is couched in terms of what one might oppose rather than the advocacy of something positive. It is also trapped in the disputes of one section of the political spectrum, the left. It is part of a squabble, not a vision for the future.

There have been other reasons for war than religious expansionism. There will be again when we have seen off this specific attack. There is widespread hunger and frequent famine around the world, and a general sense that we are all diminished by allowing it to continue.

If the only way to bring peace to countries, regions and, eventually, the world, and the only way to eliminate famine, is to spread democracy, then we should not be reluctant to say so. Moreover, migration in the world is almost entirely from unfree countries to free ones, and it is the free ones that are prosperous, not because they exploit the rest of the world, though occasionally they do, but because they are energetic and enterprising, because the energy and enterprise of individuals is free to be expressed in commerce and wealth creation. People generally prefer to live in free countries and to suggest that this somehow doesn’t apply to those of darker complexions is simple racism.

In the name of our common humanity, for the sake of world peace and for the elimination of famine, we should openly be following a policy of spreading democracy throughout the world. This should be a cornerstone of the foreign policy of every free country. What tactics we might use in furtherance of this could then be more widely discussed, and could benefit from the contributions not just of neo-conservatives and neo-liberals.

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Last month, Lord Falkoner came out fighting for the Human Rights Act, and this was sniped at, elegantly, by Tim Worstall. I won’t reprise either – follow the links if you want to see what they are saying – but the conflict here is between ancient English liberties and a different, more continental and more leftist approach to rights (yes, I know the Human Rights Act was based on a British initiative after the Second World war, but the point stands; WWII was a long time ago and contemporary interpretations of human rights wouldn’t have crossed even a fevered judicial mind in 1946).

There are running problems with the concept of rights and their relationship to responsibilities. How can animals have rights, ask some, when they cannot have responsibilities? Yet almost everybody would feel it would be wrong to gratuitously torture an animal. Why, if they don’t have rights?

Well, they don’t, and nor do we. The concept of rights is convenient to a certain type of absolutist mind. It is one of the mechanisms whereby opinions are presented in the guise of natural laws by people who are strangers to uncertainty, questioning, skepticism, honest enquiry and doubt.

If you want to know the intrinsic qualities of an object, chemical, phenomenon, you isolate then examine it. So let’s isolate a human being – strand them alone on a desert island. What rights do they have? What responsibilities do they have? None, and none. But they do have to take the immediate consequences of their actions, or of their inaction. They can say whatever they like, do whatever they like, but if they don’t build a shelter they’ll get wet when it rains and if they don’t hunt, or gather, they’ll go hungry. That is our intrinsic state, as individuals.

But we don’t live alone on desert islands. We are still autonomous, because that’s our intrinsic quality. Living in a social group means we have responsibilities, and we all acknowledge this freely. The problem is, we don’t agree what those responsibilities are.

This is the proper terrain for debate: what are our responsibilities? Suddenly, everything becomes clearer. Whether or not animals have rights is neither here nor there. It’s a non-question. Instead we have to talk about what responsibilities we have to them – acknowledging that they are also autonomous creatures. We are, relatively, very powerful. Do we accept that this brings with it responsibilities? If so, what are they?

I don’t want to walk past starving people on the street, and I’m willing to pay tax to provide a safety net. But how much tax and what sort of safety net? The “rights” of the people in question disappear and suddenly the onus is on me. What should I be doing?

Nobody could present themself at a port and claim asylum based on their rights. Instead, I have to face the question of what I’m prepared to do – what I think it is right to do – not just for migrants but for every citizen of a despotic country.

The issue of free speech becomes very simple. We are autonomous. Plainly, what we say will annoy and offend others. The onus is on them to be tolerant. And the onus is on us – on me – to be tolerant of expressions that annoy or offend me.

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I tried to show, in an earlier post comething of the variety of opinion amongst Iraqi bloggers. Of these, Iraq The Model may be the most hawkish on the war situation. In his most recent post, he explains some of his reaoning:

One of our biggest problems here is that many of us and of our politicians in particular seem to have lost the ability to strategic vision and allowed themselves to indulge in details and are satisfied by looking at only one corner of the image that they are no longer able to comprehend the magnitude of this critical conflict of our time.

I am an Iraqi so naturally I am only interested in what’s going on within the borders of my country or even the city where I live, just like most people in the third world are, and this is fine and expected.
But what’s neither fine nor acceptable is to see politicians and decision-makers, who are supposed to be the leaders of the new world order, think and behave in the same manner as third world citizens.

All they seem to think about is how to get away from this debilitating conflict in Iraq no matter what the outcome would be. Even worse, few people seem to realize what the amplifications of a defeat in Iraq would be on the Middle East and the rest of our small global village.

Let’s call the battle for middle east, and I think politicians do not need anyone to explain to them what this part of the world means…the outcome of war in Iraq does not affect Iraq alone, a victory means disrupting the ring of terror and extremism the enemies are trying to establish while failure would be equal to allowing them to establish that huge ring, or should I say that gigantic octopus of terrorists and terror-supporting regimes that would extend from Afghanistan in the east to Libya in the west and from Iraq in the north to Sudan and Somalia in the south.

And instead of creating islands of democracy and liberty, connecting them and extend from there to change the world to the better, the enemies would engulf those islands and add them to their multi-jointed entity of terror.

We need the decision-makers to rise above the rhetoric of who’s right and who’s wrong and focus on protecting the world from falling prey to the vicious enemies of civilization.

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Nick Cohen reviews two post 9/11 books for the New Statesman. In conclusion, he comments:

The failure of [Joschka] Fischer [German Green Party] and so many other 1968 radicals to challenge the neo-conservatives with a left-wing argument that included solidarity with the victims of Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda astonishes him, and rightly so: it was astonishing.

It still is.

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I’m not usually a swearblogger, but now I’m cross.

Writing in The Times today, the Archbishop of Canterbury says:

COMING BACK from a fortnight in China at the beginning of this week, into the middle of what felt like a general panic about the role of religion in society, had a slightly surreal feel to it. The proverbial visitor from Mars might have imagined that the greatest immediate threat to British society was religious war, fomented by “faith schools”, cheered on by thousands of veiled women and the Bishops’ Benches in the House of Lords. Commentators were solemnly asking if it were not time for Britain to become a properly secular society.

The odd thing was to come into this straight from a context where people were asking the opposite question. Wasn’t it time that China stopped being a certain kind of secular society?

Rarely has a human being crammed so much dishonesty and self-deceit into so few words.

The greatest immediate threat to British society IS religious war, you cretinous, bearded twat. 7/7 isn’t a fucking convenience store.

Terrorism IS fomented by faith schools.

Headline-grabbing campaigners for the veil ARE activists in mosques that churn out suicide bombers or puppets of supremacist religious cults.

And exactly which “kind of secular society” is China? In case you didn’t notice on your visit it’s a fucking communist dictatorship. A communist dictatorship that killed some 70 million people in the twentieth century (also see next link). All told, communist dictatorships murdered more than 148 million people in the twentieth century.

And Williams has the mendacious, bare-faced duplicitous cheek to characterise China not as a communist tyranny, but as a secular society.

And who the FUCK has mentioned the Bishops’ Bench in the House of Lords? I haven’t seen a single reference to it in the newspapers of the past few weeks. But let me remedy that omission right now. Last year the Fabian society called for:

the Church of England’s preferential status to end and for its bishops to the lose the right to sit in the House of Lords.

The Fabian Society says the change is needed to establish the principle of equal treatment of religions, including Islam, and that it remains the only part of the constitution untouched by reform since 1997.

Damn right. And it can’t be soon enough.

A self-deceiving moron like Rowan Williams, a man who would put the sectional interests of religious partisans above social cohesion and peace, has no place in Parliament.

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It’s very strange to admire someone as much as I admire Peter Tatchell, while disagreeing with almost all of his politics. While we always disagree with every person about some issues, we rarely find individuals with such courage, integrity and consistency.

Of course, I need to declare an interest, to the extent that he supported and spoke at the Rally for Free Expression last March. But his attitude towards Simon Hughes after the disgusting Lib Dem campaign in Bermondsey in the ‘eighties was that of a saint.

And anybody who had the balls to attempt a citizen’s arrest of Robert Mugabe is a fit subject for anyboby’s admiration.

I know you won’t like a lot of my politics, Peter. But, as you signed your correspondence to me during the build-up to the Rally:

Solidarity!

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Michael Gove, M.P. and Times columnist as well as author of the book Celsius 7/7 has been asking a series of Commons questions. On the 24th October:

Michael Gove: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how much (a) financial support and (b) support in kind his Department and its agencies have given to the Muslim Council of Britain in each year since 1997. [96284]

Mr. Hain: The Northern Ireland Office has provided no financial assistance or support in kind to the Muslim Council of Britain.

On the 25th, two question:

Michael Gove: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how much (a) financial support and (b) support in kind his Department and its agencies have given to the Muslim Council of Britain in each year since 1997. [96283]

David Cairns: The Scotland Office was established in July 1999. Since that date it has incurred no expenditure in cash or in kind in support of the Muslim Council of Britain.

and

Michael Gove: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how much (a) financial support and (b) support in kind his Department and its agencies have given to the Muslim Council of Britain in each year since 1997. [96282]

Mr. Hain: The Wales Office was established in 1999 and has given neither financial support nor support in kind to the Muslim Council of Britain.

So what is his point? Surely there are public accounts from which he could get this information.

Well, not exactly. The MCB has a very unusual structure(pdf):

7. Legal Status

The MCB shall be an unincorporated association.

a) The MCB shall cause title to all property, land and investments held by or on behalf of the MCB, to be vested in not less than five individuals appointed by the MCB as Holding Trustees.

I have been unable to find a page on the MCB website that lists who these holding trustees might be. And they have had a fair chunk of public money. I have a copy of a letter from the Home Office that confirms

1.I am writing to make you a formal offer of a grant for this financial year ending 31 March 2005.

2.This offer is subject to the terms and conditions set out below and in the enclosed Standard Terms and Conditions of Grant (1 April 2004). Please read these conditions, and this letter, carefully.

3.The purpose of the grant is to fund 5 projects that you proposed. These are 1) MCB Leadership Development programme 2) MCB Leadership mentoring programme 3) MCB Direct 4) British Citizenship Programme 5) British Muslim Equality programme. You may regard the money as restricted funds for accounting purposes.

4.The sum offered for the financial year ending 31 March 2005 is £148160.00 This will be a single payment and will be made on a one off basis.

There have been other grants – for website development and other specific projects.

There is a registered charity, The Muslim Council of Britain Charitable Foundation but this handles more modest sums:

Financial Year Start Financial Year End Gross Income TotalExpenditure
01 Apr 2001 31 Mar 2002 £27,146 £9,376
01 Apr 2002 31 Mar 2003 £27,848 £17,263
01 Apr 2003 31 Mar 2004 £2,215 £4,877
01 Apr 2004 31 Mar 2005 £13,401 £7,926

Small potatoes, compared to the grants flowing from the public purse to an apparently entirely unaccountable body. Their annual reports show no financial information whatsoever, just the Chairman’s speeches.

I have no idea what reason Mr Gove has for his questions. But I cannot see any justification for giving taxpayers’ money to such an opaque organisation as the MCB. Until they adopt a proper structure with filed public accounts, they should receive no more public money.

UPDATE: On reflection, my reaction was far too calm. I suppose I’m so used to seeing public money being poured into unaccountable and positively destructive holes that I just grunt and move on.

Of course the MCB should be compelled to provide audited financial statements for every year in which they have received any grants whatsoever from public sources of any kind, including the National Lottery. This is MY money and I want to know how it is being spent. As things stand, I am aware of no mechanism whereby it can be established that the MCB have spent money on the purposes for which it was awarded.

This is a disgrace.

UPDATE 2: 26th October 2006:

Michael Gove: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development how much (a) financial support and (b) support in kind his Department and its agencies have given to the Muslim Council of Britain in each year since 1997. [96280]

Hilary Benn: To date no financial support has been given to the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB)

MCB were successful in securing the commitment of funding for a development awareness project among the Muslim community through the 2005-06 Development Awareness Fund which is a competitive funding scheme. The programme has not yet begun and DFID has not given any funding for activity yet.

DFID has had dealings with the MCB on occasions, including co-chairing a seminar for Islamic NGOs in 2005, and in 2001 publishing its fourth Target 2015 booklet, in association with the Muslim Council of Britain, Muslim Aid and Islamic Relief. These activities did not involve direct funding of MCB.

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I had to nip in and post this.

Argentinian prosecutors are seeking the arrest of former Iranian president Rafsanjani in connection with the 1993 bombing of a Jewish cultural centre that left 85 dead and injured more than 200.

They also were asking the judge to detain several other former Iranian officials, including a former intelligence chief, Ali Fallahijan, and former Foreign Minister Ali Ar Velayati.

They also said they were urging the judge to order the arrest of two former commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, two former Iranian diplomats and a former Hezbollah security chief for external affairs.

Nisman and fellow prosecutor Marcelo Martinez Burgo said they suspected that Hezbollah undertook activities outside Lebanon only “under orders directly emanating from the regime in Tehran.”

This a very welcome initiative, and is based on a very important principle – the rule of Law.

While all complicity in terrorist actions should be prosecuted, and every tyrant should know that a court awaits them unlessd they peacefully relinquish power, the principle should be extended beyond actions to include words. The only valid exceptions to freedom of expression are incitement to violence and treason, neither of which is actually a free speech issue at all. When a cleric in, say, Pakistan offers a bountry for the murder of a cartoonist they should be extradited, tried and if convicted imprisoned for a term commensurate with an incitement to murder.

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