Tuesday 13 September 2011

The Legacy of 9/11

Sowing The Wind: And the whole world has reaped the whirlwind of American wrath.

IT WAS A Wednesday morning, much like any other, ten years ago, when I switched on my television set to witness the fall of the North Tower of the World Trade Centre. I stood there, transfixed, as all the air left my lungs. It was as if someone had punched me in the gut.

I wasn’t alone. The blow struck that day connected with the soft emotional tissue of the entire world; and in the ten years that have passed since “9/11”, the entire world has hardened-up.

But not in a good way.

The enormity of the assault upon the United States conferred upon its Al Qaeda perpetrators a momentary equivalence that proved to be entirely spurious. Yet, at the time, and when the inevitable American counter-attack came, it was enough for people to be convinced that human savagery had become uncontainable, and that all those who sought to “rescue” and “improve” humanity were, ultimately, cheats and liars. After 9/11 and Abu Ghraib, the best thing we, the sparrows of this world, could hope to do was stay out of the hawks’ field of vision.

Which suited the hawks just fine.

Conservative intellectuals and politicians all over the world – but especially in the United States and the United Kingdom – had long maintained that the human animal was wild, vile and in need of constant restraint. Enduring moral fables, insisted the followers of the conservative philosopher, Leo Strauss, were necessary to keep the masses headed in more-or-less the right direction. And for those who stepped out of line there needed to be punishments of sufficient severity pour encourager les autres.

I use the word “fables” advisedly here, because the stories constructed by the men who were empowered by 9/11 did not need to be true – merely motivational. In fact “truth”, with all its unrelenting and indiscriminate powers of illumination, was actually much less helpful than untruth. Those “weapons of mass destruction” – ready for deployment in 45 minutes – were far more effective in mobilising war-fever than any number of tiresome lectures on the geopolitics of middle-eastern oil.

9/11 has cowed and coarsened the quality of public discourse to the point where, increasingly, the wielders of power at home and abroad are treated as forces to be appeased rather than challenged.

We have witnessed some particularly telling examples of this attitude over the past fortnight as conservative academics, politicians and journalists have responded to the investigative journalist, Nicky Hager’s, latest book, Other People’s Wars.

Central to the conservatives’ response is the effort they’ve devoted to shoring up the “moral fables” justifying New Zealand’s involvement in the post-9/11 conflicts. The scorn directed at the book’s author by his fellow journalists shows clearly what a vital role the news media plays in perpetuating the “necessary fictions” so important to New Zealanders’ self-image.

As well they might. The horrors of the 9/11 attacks unleashed, in their turn, many new horrors (Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, prisoner rendition, waterboarding, drone-aircraft-assisted assassination) as well as rehabilitating many old ones (carpet-bombing, free-fire zones, collateral damage, extra-judicial killings, mass surveillance of civilians).

Many of these latter evils date back to the United States’ last great exercise in imperial power projection – Vietnam. It should come as no surprise, therefore, to learn that many of the principal architects of the post-9/11 global horror franchise (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld) cut their political teeth in the Nixon Administration. While 9/11 spawned many historical novelties, it also reproduced an equally large – maybe greater – number of continuities.

At the heart of these continuities lies the inescapable fact that the United States remains the planet’s dominant military, economic and cultural power. Like Hitler before him, the leader of Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, misread the secular pluralism and cultural heterogeneity of his enemy as signs of weakness. He paid for that miscalculation with his life.

Nevertheless, the attacks carried out in Al Qaeda’s name ten years ago have produced enduring – if unintended – consequences.

It wasn’t just the twin towers that crumpled and fell on September 11 2001. Demolished also was America’s faith in the humane and progressive ideals which for so many centuries had distinguished it from other great empires. Bin Laden’s true triumph came when President George W. Bush was persuaded to tear up the Geneva Conventions and sanction the use of torture.

How tragic that the man occupying the White House on 9/11 lacked the rare moral strength and wisdom of Norway’s Labour Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, who, when confronted with the horrific work of Anders Breivik, told his people that the only answer to such violence was “more democracy, more openness”. And who then, using the words of one of Breivik’s intended victims, spoke directly to our broken world:

If one man can show so much hate, think how much love we could show, standing together.”

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 13 September 2011.


Anonymous said...

Hm - the one occupying the White House at present has'nt done much about the situation either.

Brendan McNeill said...


It's seems to be a desire of those on the left to draw an equivalence between the atrocities of 9/11 and the atrocity perpetrated by Anders Breivik. Both events were inhumane and evil in the extreme, but that is where the similarities end.

The former was the intentional continuation of a war against the Western world by an the followers of Islamic ideology, whose European expansion was halted at Vienna on 9/11, 1683.

The latter was the deranged reaction of a lone individual who believed he was the defender of an 'historical' Europe which he could see changing before his eyes.

While the West is not at war with Islam, (at least not officially) there is a significant component of Islam that is at war with the West.

The problem, as others have stated, is not with 'them' it's with us.

Can you imagine Winstone Churchill refusing to use the word 'Nazi' in case it offended some Germans who were living in Britain at the time of WWII?

Can you imagine ANZAC day memorial services without allowing the participation of the clergy or 'first responders'?

Yet this is America today under the leadership of Obama and his fellow travelers.

Osama Ben Laden may have been wrong about his ability to 'take down' the American Empire, but only by degrees.

Instead of apologizing for its failure to properly reach out to the Islamic world, America, at the 9/11 Memorial service should have been celebrating, amongst others, Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer, who recited the 23rd Psalm with the telephone operator Lisa Jefferson in the final moments of his life before he cried “Let's roll!” in an attempt to overcome the hijackers.

Flight 93 crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing all on board, but Todd and his fellow passengers heroism undoubtedly saved the lives of hundreds, possibly thousands of innocent people who would have been killed had the plane reached its final destination.

While America has citizens like Todd Beamer, it has a future.

While they fail to recognize and celebrate them, it doesn't.

Anonymous said...

How you see Osama Bin Ladens' terrorist attacks as a continuity of the Ottoman empire is bizarre.

As for the similarities of Breivik to the terrorist 'Jihadis'. There are enough to put them in the same basket.

Breivik was not mentally ill, he was a political extremist. Someone suffering from psychosis wouldn't be able to plan the attack so neatly.

Perhaps he was more evil and twisted than the 911 hijackers, at least they didn't come up with their plan alone.


jh said...

"IT WAS A Wednesday morning, much like any other, ten years ago, when I switched on my television set to witness the fall of the North Tower of the World Trade Centre. I stood there, transfixed, as all the air left my lungs. It was as if someone had punched me in the gut."
Thank God for that; it's alleged that

"soon after September 11 Keith Locke spoke at a meeting in Rotorua on a platform with Annette Sykes. This was a meeting to protest the liberation of Afghanistan.
As Keith sat there smiling and nodding his head in agreement, Sykes told the audience: “I will never forget that morning turning on my TV and seeing those planes fly into those two towers, I jumped for joy, I was so excited to see that at long last capitalism was
under attack. I was laughing, I was so happy, but then I saw those people
jumping out of the windows and it suddenly hit me, oh those poor waiters, the poor cleaners, those poor lift operators, who the greedy capitalists had employed to do all the dirty jobs were probably the people jumping out of the windows.”
Keith neither challenged nor questioned Sykes’ rant, he sat there and smiled and nodded and then led the applause when she finished."

Viva la difference! (and why you don't get along with some on the left.

Anonymous said...

"I stood there, transfixed, as all the air left my lungs. It was as if someone had punched me in the gut."

Really? I was living not that far from New York, and my reaction was: "well, it finally happened". 9/11 or something much like it had been coming since the end of the Cold War. It was pretty obvious that something like that would happen sooner or later. After all, Arab terrorists had already tried and failed to knock over the WTC during the Clinton presidency.

It was also entirely predictable that the US and its allies would do all in their power to avoid discussing the material reasons behind the attack and pull their usual trick of painting it as a conflict of fundamental values (which always mandates a war to extinction rather than a sober examination of reality in service of a rational response).

If the US and its allies had not spent the previous decades crushing the political aspirations of Arabs in the service of western interests and Israel, 9/11 would never have happened, because the political space required for it to make sense would never have existed.

The true lesson of 9/11 is that the Emperor has no clothes. All our countries are run by incompetents.

Anonymous said...

A few days ago I heard Quentin Somerville, BBC reporter in Afghanistan, say that many people in that country had never heard of 9/11.

Victor said...


Although I share your horror at the failure of America’s better angels to triumph over its princes of darkness, I’m at least as much struck by the absence of collective wisdom during this long and dismal decade as I am by the republic’s loss of moral compass.

The inspiring example of Norway notwithstanding, it’s hard to imagine any truly powerful state, let alone a global hegemon, not resorting to a display of arms in some form or other, following an attack such as occurred on 9/11.

Had, for example, Bill Clinton still been in office, I suspect his response would have been a wave of cruise missiles aimed, with varying degrees of accuracy, at known Al Qaeda bases. His administration had ‘previous’ for that sort of operation.

Be that as it may, at each step along the way, Washington’s response to 9/11 has been characterised by strategic and tactical errors of quite mind-withering crassness. The result has been to precipitate or, at least, vastly accelerate a decline in US and overall western power, prestige and influence across the globe.

The Neo-Cons are wrong about most things. However, I personally find their Straussian awareness of human imperfections more convincing than the Pollyanna-like stance of their Neo-Liberal and Libertarian fellow travellers, with their mythical eighteenth century world of perfect markets, rational choice and free individuals leaping fully grown from the womb of the goddess of reason.

What, however, the Neo-Cons never take on is that they might be just, if not more, mentally circumscribed than the seething masses over whom they presume to govern.

As a result of its rulers’ foolishness, the USA, like the British Empire after World War One, is now past its zenith, its economy wasted, such military victories as it's achieved earned at too great a cost and its admirably optimistic people cast untypically into an angry gloom.

Like millions of others across the globe, I will continue to ease my ageing frame into blue jeans, listen appreciatively to rasping saxophones and lovingly re-watch my favourite 1940s movies. But I know there will be no second “American Century”.

....more to come

Victor said...

Undoubtedly, ten years ago, a good legal case could be made for the initial NATO assault on Afghanistan. But, whether, in practical terms, it was all worth it was another matter.

According to the Guardian columnist, Simon Jenkins, the Taleban was already close to expelling Al Qaeda prior to the invasion. Maybe! Jenkins does tend to know what he’s talking about with respect to such topics.

It also seems that, once the invasion had taken place, the CIA was hoodwinked by its Pakistani associates into letting the al Qaeda leadership slip through its fingers, thus dragging defeat from the very jaws of victory.

You could argue that the Taleban’s toppling was itself worth a war. It was certainly an odious regime. However, the default position in Afghanistan is normally either constant conflict between warlords or domination by Pushtun Sunni fundamentalists.

It’s no surprise then that, after the expenditure of much blood and treasure, we should now hear talk of finding a ‘moderate’ element within the Taleban with whom to negotiate. How else is the war meant to end?

But the conflict in Afghanistan borders on sanity when compared with the blood-stained, mindless horror of Iraq.

Not only was there no connection between the admittedly atrocious Ba’athist regime and the Islamists who engineered the 9/11 attacks.

It should also have been obvious to anyone with the smallest smattering of local knowledge, that secular tyrants such as Saddam Hussein were close to the top of the fundamentalists’ hit list.

Similarly, it should have been obvious that invasion would splinter Iraq on sectarian and ethnic lines, destroy infrastructure that had taken decades to establish, empower local fundamentalists, down-grade the status of women and hugely boost the influence of Teheran’s bellicose Shi-ite theocrats, sending shock waves via Syria into Lebanon and further stoking the Israel-Palestine conflict.

In addition, of course, “Shock n’ Awe” (trans: Blitzkrieg) was bound to lead to hundreds of thousands of casualties and vast numbers of refugees.

And, along with the Afghan conflict, GITMO, the use of ‘Extraordinary Rendition’, the new respectability of torture and enhanced US support for Likkudnik hawks, the Iraq war seemed bound to substantiate Islamist claims that the West was at war with the Umaah as a whole.

The inevitable result was a boost to the flow of scant-bearded boys from Leeds, Bradford and elsewhere to Jihadist training camps in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Meanwhile, a blustering, bullying, sanctimonious administration in Washington lost friends and admirers worldwide, and not just for itself, but for the ideals it claimed to champion.

.....yet more to come

Victor said...

continuing from previous post.....

That all this would happen was obvious, well in advance, to my wife and I, two demure, late middle-aged people, cautiously munching our toast with such teeth as we had left, in the depths of suburban Auckland.

Why was it not also obvious to the then Masters of the Universe in the White House, State Department and Pentagon, not to mention their satraps in London and Canberra?

It had presumably also been obvious to President George H.W. Bush, who had ordered “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf to desist from finishing Saddam off in 1991.

There has, of course, been all manner of speculation over why Bush jnr. led America and its allies into this absurd and murderous escapade.

Those who believe in the power of ideas tend to emphasise the over-riding Neo-Con desire to make America safe and the Neo-Lib (or should it be Neo-Girondin?) obsession with ‘democratic’ regime change.

More cynical souls mutter darkly about Peak Oil, the corporate aims of the Halliburton Group or testing out new weapons.

Those who relish post-Freudian psychologising can always fall back on wee Georgie’s apparent obsession with the man who’d tried to have his Daddy assassinated, whilst secularists can point to the power of America’s own religious fundis eager, with often millenarian fervour, to fight the good fight.

So many reasons and yet not a single one capable of justifying the ensuing carnage!

I suspect that all of these causes played a part but none was wholly dominant. Most influential of all was probably the need to intensify the sense of a nation at war in the lead up to the 2004 election, in which, it should be remembered, 49% of those who voted showed themselves to be amongst America’s better angels.

And whilst all this was going on, the balanced budget bequeathed by the Clinton administration was turning into a deficit of horrendous proportions, rendered all the less manageable by unaffordable tax cuts for the wealthy.

Meanwhile, China became the US Administration’s chief creditor nation. It’s as if the Bank of England, circa 1900, had been owned by Wilhelmine Germany or Tsarist Russia!

But profligacy was not restricted to government. Financial institutions were lending as if the property bubble (unlike all previous such bubbles) would never burst, whilst thinking up ever more complex ways of disguising and spreading debt.

Economists too had lost their wisdom, assuring their paymasters that “boom and bust” was now a thing of the past and government need not bestir itself to interfere with the natural and hence, by definition, beneficial operations of the market.

The USA was becoming a land of consumers rather than producers, sucking in ever increasing levels of goods from Chinese factories. Meanwhile, wealth was slipping into fewer and fewer hands and the eternal American promise of a better life for the next generation was losing all plausibility.

And now we have the crowning folly of the Tea Party, which has hamstrung the normal workings of the US government and wants to balance the budget without further taxes, at a point when the economy is still ailing, if no longer wholly moribund.

I’ve already written far too much and will leave it to others to explain why the United States, which commenced the new millennium at the height of its wealth, power and influence, embarked on these multiple paths of folly.

The Hip-Hop-Opotamus said...

Where's the anonymous guy who initiated 'The Shorter Brendan' when you need him ?

In his absence, I'll attempt my own 'Shorter Brendan' (a concise summary of Brendan's comment):

(1) Muslims are Evil
(2) Christians are Saintly
(3) Namby-Pamby American liberals should focus less on analysing why much of the World hates the US and more on...
(4) celebrating those particular 9/11 heroes who clearly displayed a commitment to Biblical Christianity.

Or (and this is a completely new service) 'The Even Shorter Brendan':

(1) What Samuel P Huntington said.
(2) Wooo Hooo !, USA !, USA !, USA !

Brendan McNeill said...

@The Hip-Hop-Opotamus

I take the view that being paraphrased is a form of flattery. It is clearly the next best thing to being quoted!

The difficulty with paraphrase, especially when written by those who are inclined to disagree with your perspective, is that it often misrepresents your position. Perhaps that's intended.

However, because I enjoy this column and the opportunity to engage in the discussion of important issues, usually with thoughtful people, I would like to bring a gentle correction to avoid misunderstanding.

(1) "Muslims are Evil". Not so. I had lunch earlier this week with a former Muslim employee who worked in my business. He has successfully obtained a new role in Sydney, in part based upon my reference.

My family has helped resettle Muslim refugees in Christchurch, we have eaten in their home, they have eaten with us in ours.

Muslims are people, they are no more or less evil than you or I.

Islam however, is another matter. It is a totalitarian ideology dressed up in religious clothing. The Prophet in the latter part of his life was a military leader that personally executed captives by beheading. Perhaps that's why it's so popular for Islamists to execute captives in this manner today.

Kiwis would do well to educate themselves about Islam, rather than listen to politicians who look to the Islamic community as a voting block.

2) "Christians are Saintly". Some Christians are saintly, some are courageous, some are people I wouldn't choose to invite for dinner.

The difference between the followers of Christ, and the followers of the Mohammed are as follows:

When Christians kill and go to war 'in the name of Christ' they do so in direct contradiction to his teaching and his example.

When the warriors of Islam go to war in the name of Mohammed, they do so in obedience to his teaching and example.

The supporting evidence is in the Bible and the Koran for those who are interested, or who may wish to challenge this view.

3) "Namby-Pamby American liberals ...". I'm not an apologist for American foreign policy. I think it's now too late for America on many fronts. I agree with Victor in that respect.

4) "celebrating those particular 9/11 heroes..". I believe that we should resist evil and celebrate the selfless heroism of those who do, particularly in the defense of others, just as Todd Beamer did on flight 93. Just as my father did in WWII, and probably your grandfather did as well.

I don't know if Todd was a Christian or not. Perhaps when confronted unexpectedly with imminent danger or death, people turn to God for help?

"Wooo Hooo !, USA !" I was recently cheering for the USA, well their rugby team anyway. Something in me always wants to back the underdog.

Olwyn said...

Brendan: while I agree with some of your views, and trust that you are a man of good will, I have a specific point of disagreement with you, & it is your tendency to treat modern parties of the right as if they were conservative parties. They are not. They are both radical and hegemonic, constantly pushing to remove representation from government, pay a minimal tax, put public goods into private hands, and to throw those who are of no use to the status quo that would result from this onto the scrapheap. Also, by and large,they are far more interested in owning assets than in producing anything. Recently in the Herald, Damien Grant said, "Economically, the unskilled are irrelevant. They are a commodity.Only talent matters and a progressive tax system hurts the most productive members of the community." He himself is a liquidator, which as I understand it is not exactly a productive activity.

His view, I'm afraid, is not atypical, and I cannot see how you can reconcile your Christian conservatism with such views.

In some ways you remind me of those on the left who back in the day felt compelled to turn a blind eye to Stalinism while sentimentally quoting Marx.

Anonymous said...

Bravo Victor! Rarely does an interweb offering warrant a second reading (our luminary host excepted, of course), but in this case it also inspires a call for Longer Victor! Well done, chew that toast well and keep tapping.

As a brief contribution to your "why", I think we need look no further than our old favourite, the privately-owned media and its monopoly on shaping the opinion of the crucial, (and by definition politically apathetic), "Middle Voter".

Mr Fox wrote the comic, aimed solely at the readership that decides US governance. Plot outline: the cowardly, evil Joker Trashbin-laden murdered our babies and destroyed our trade centre: crashing retribution by the mighty forces of Good is the only possible, glorious denouement. (Target and consequences utterly immaterial - details revealed in next decade's exciting release. Maybe. Who cares.)

Our own kiwi edition is fittingly less grandiose and follows a more biblical line to appeal to readers' "practical christianity streak".

Plot outline: a cunning cabal of evil, conniving high priestesses and arrogant Leninist intellectuals has hatched a dastardly plot to destroy democracy by changing all the lightbulbs and showerheads in the land and prohibiting the buying of elections by the rich.
Into this seething cauldron of wickedness emerges a mild-mannered clerk of fabulous wealth and the miraculous ability to smile and wave simultaneously; to lead us all in glory to the promised land of milk and north of $50 a week.
All Brendanians fall awestruck before him as he delivers us from evil and billions to the rich and media concerns.

Next action-packed edition: Rubberman uses family silver to defeat Armageddon

(PS: The all new Hip-Hop-ESB service carries the full unqualified endorsement of parent SBS inc)


Brendan McNeill said...

@ olwyn

You said: "..Brendan: while I agree with some of your views, and trust that you are a man of good will, I have a specific point of disagreement with you...."

Olwyn, I appreciate the concession, and I too prefer to believe that people are of 'good will' until they prove otherwise!

I also accept that you may well be correct in your assessment of my 'Christian conservatism' potentially blinding me to the ugly side to the 'right' of the political spectrum. We are after all, usually blind to our own faults.

That's one of the reasons I appreciate being challenged in this forum, although to be fair, I have not positioned myself as a 'person of the right' in the way that you have depicted it, and the examples you have given.

I had en email exchange with a young conservative American friend recently, and he has given me permission to quote him. I think it helps to explain some of our differences in this forum.


In a crude analogy I see the "conservative right" as the father figure and the "liberal left" as the mother figure of America. The 'right' stands for rationalism, conservatism, grow-up-and-get-a-job(ism) and all of the things that a good "fatherly figure" would encourage in a person. The left is all about nurturing, back-rubs, emotions, sensitivity, and taking care of the little guy - the things a good mother does. The problem lately has been that "mom" has been telling the kids that dad is "a mean and heartless dictator" - and she keeps telling them that over and over agains so that they've actually started to believe her. As a result she's taken over the household and is trying to kick "dad" out (by turning the kids against him).

What we'll end up with is no money, too much nannying, no "growing up and becoming responsible", and no "cahones" (if you will) to deal with the difficult things in life. We'll be left with a "mom" who still changes our diapers, wipes our noses, avoids conflict, doesn't stand up for anything except how much she hates "dad" and doesn't teach the kids "the way things work". I suppose that would explain why America is becoming increasingly spineless, spending itself into oblivion, and developing the nanny-state as quickly as possible.


We need both a mum and a dads voice in our lives, but not one at the exclusion of the other.

As a Christian, there are things that I appreciate about the left, like 'caring, compassion, looking after the little guy' although I think they are corrupted politically by a desire to take money by coercive taxation from 'the rich' in order to fulfill those expectations.

My struggle, if you will, is to accept the narrative of the left, that the use of political coercion against the 'rich' is justified in the cause of the poor.

To me that looks exactly like the oppression of 'the right' that the left continually complain about, but dressed up in different clothes.

Coercion never featured in Jesus life, teaching or ministry.

So, for that reason I'm opposed to coercion from both the left and the right.

Coercion is evil and needs to be resisted, just like we resist terrorist attacks on innocent civilians.

It comes back to what we view as a legitimate role of the State, and that discussion is for another time.

Anonymous said...

Woefully ignorant stuff, Brendan.

The Muslims in the day of the Prophet had war forced upon them. They fought back.

Pagan Arabia was a rough, decadent and cruel place, the Prophet dispensed rough justice and created a civilisation which enriched the world.

Anonymous said...


Caring and compassion is good.

Taxation of the rich is like terrorism.

Jesus opposed taxation and loved the moneychangers.


Olwyn said...

@Brendan: I would run the mum & dad narrative a little more pessimistically than your American friend: how about, Dad, his business run into the ground by cheap imports, & his home on the verge of foreclosure, decides there is nothing for it but to sell the kids into slavery. Mum is unaware of this, since she is at the mall getting her hair straightened and buying a few sophisticated snacks and dips on the credit card before her pilates class.

Taxation is not necessarily the only way of ensuring that some people are not crushed under the chariots of others, but it is the way that, prior to the neo-liberal revolution, was deemed most acceptable in these sorts of societies in recent times.

Back in the ancient world, Solon banned the rich from lending to the poor against their land, then seizing their land and selling them into slavery (which was not as different from the fate of the landless now as you might think). A guaranteed minimum of resources + restraints on compromising their ownership is another way that has worked under different circumstances.

But the neo-libs would find this even worse than taxation - "an undefended resource, let me at it," would be the message of their lobby groups. Solon had the advantage of living at a time when people still believed in the gods (not the Christian God), so he was able make them swear an oath and then bugger off out of lobbying distance for 10 years. Fearing the wrath of the Gods, and the wrath of their fellow citizens should they offend the gods, they reluctantly obeyed him.

Brendan McNeill said...

@ andrewmahon1234

Prior to the events of 9/11, I was 'woefully ignorant' about the teaching and practice of Islam and its Prophet. Not any more.

Which of my specific assertions about Islam do you consider to be 'woefully ignorant'?

a) That Islam is a totalitarian ideology.
b) Mohammed was a military leader.
c) Mohammed beheaded his captives.
d) Mohammed advocated the use of violence by his followers against infidels.

Regarding your comments regarding Islamic 'civilizational enrichment', there is plenty of Islamic 'enrichment' taking place at present in Britain, France, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium and Germany, just to name a few countries.

That's why the leaders of France, Britain and Germany in particular have all recently publicly stated that (Islamic) multiculturalism has been a total failure.

While the Islamic world has produced its share of poets and beautiful architecture, that is after all part of what it means to be human, that doesn't mean you will find it any easier to open a gay bar in Riyadh.

Victor said...

Ah Brendan, Brendan, amico mio!

What hot water you seem to have deliberately exposed yourself to!

Your caricature of America’s right wing as a sort of ‘father figure’ couldn’t be more wrong.

Its characteristic political stance is that of neither father nor mother but of a self-obsessed, vainglorious, gullible, emotionally self-indulgent, wilful, greedy and needy adolescent.

Being myself of a conservative temperament, I would suggest that most of them require stern, old-fashioned parents to pull them down to size for their own good.

You write that the US Right stands for “rationalism”. This, despite many of them believing that the world is less than six thousand years old and that humans once coexisted with the poor old brontosaurus (as if that bulky herbivore didn’t have enough problems).

Even those who don’t share this fairy tale perception of reality, believe in other chimeras, such as self-correcting economies, perfect markets or “the hidden hand”.

If this loopy land of delusions constitutes rationalism, then I shudder to think what unreason must be like!

.....more to come.....

Victor said...

...continuing remarks

You also write that these paragons of immaturity represent “conservatism”.

I will not bore you with a lengthy regurgitation of my frequently expressed view that the current fad for anti-statist individualism runs counter to the main Anglophone conservative tradition of Hobbes, Hume, Burke, Oakeshott and, latterly, John Gray.

Olwyn has already expressed a similar viewpoint on this thread, and with far more succinctness than I am capable of.

Suffice it to say that conservatism is either about conserving or it is about nothing and that realism, scepticism, pragmatism and prudence are all, therefore, primary conservative virtues.

You will, I think, look in vain through the policies of the American Right, in or out of office, for evidence of these virtues, whether we’re discussing the economy, foreign/defence policy or the environment.

Indeed, it is the absence of these virtues that has brought the republic to its current pretty pass.

The economics of “Heroic Destruction” are not conservatism, nor are pointless, expensive wars of choice and nor is “Drill, Baby, Drill”!

And you also claim the American Right stands for “grow-up-and-get-a-job(ism)”.

What jobs and where?

.....still more to come......

Victor said...

....continued from previous post

As to the notion that the rich are “oppressed” by taxation, I’m tempted to ask how oppressed someone is if he owns, for example, a Maserati, a Porsche and a Ferrari but has to give the Maserati up because of his tax bill.

I think he would still be rather less oppressed than the person who only owns a third-hand Honda Civic, which he can no longer afford to run, leaving him unable to transport a sick child to hospital.

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but your belief in the oppressiveness of taxes seems based on the assumption that the wealth of the affluent is self-created and that we can all similarly create wealth, if we can only bestir ourselves and follow the wise example of the already rich.

This may be an emotionally gratifying view. But it ignores the crucial roles of social capital and established infrastructures in wealth creation.

As I’ve written to you before, no-one, not even the most highly taxed individual in the land, is capable of putting more into our social capital than they take out.

Nor can one generation put in more than it takes out. We are all dwarfs who stand upon the shoulders of multiple previous generations of dwarfs.

The central error of current right-wing ideologies is to see us as free-standing individuals, whereas, in reality, our human condition is a state of constant indebtedness to society.

Some may, indeed, have worked harder than others. Some may have been more intelligent or enterprising. Some may have been in the right place at the right time. Some may have benefited more from intelligent and influential parents or from high energy levels, good looks, brute cunning or the serendipity of good health. But none of us deserves what we have in any absolute sense. We are but trustees.

No-one likes paying tax but it’s part of the price we pay for living in a functioning society.

If you don’t want to live in such a society, there are plenty of failed states around, to which you could move. Just remember to pack your armalite, your grenade launcher and your body armour before you go!

Personally, though, I hope you don’t go as I would miss our spirited exchanges and the good-hearted and good-humoured frankness with which you express yourself.

Besides, I might not withstand the rigours of travelling to Lord-knows-where for your funeral!

The Hip-Hop-Opotomus said...

Ahhh, Brendan. So that's what all the fuss is about. You tried to open a gay bar in Riyadh and they rejected your application ? Hence, the obsession with Islam.

Brendan McNeill said...

Whoa! I do seem to have stepped on a land mine or two here. I might need the armalite, grenade launcher and body armor just to remain, let alone move to a failed nation state!

Ok, perhaps one more grenade over the top before I quietly shrink back behind the parapets...

It seems to me that the left really does under-estimate the need for wealthy people in our communities and the necessary role they play in a functional civil society.

For example, here in Christchurch our city council has a room full of town planners busy deciding what the future of Christchurch will look like, following lots of 'community consultation' of course.

Meanwhile, commercial property owners in the CBD are taking their multi-million dollar insurance payouts and moving their capital to Auckland or Brisbane, without giving a thought to the dreams and aspirations of the town planners who have never seriously bothered to consult them anyway.

Who is going to fund the commercial rebuild Christchurch? It won't be a room full of well meaning town planners.

There needs to be a direct relationship between risk and reward in all business activity. If you expect 'the rich' to risk their capital in commercial ventures, provide employment, and opportunity for the wider community, pay taxes on their profits for the good of everyone, then there needs to be a commensurate reward for them to do so.

We need to stop being cynical about the rich. Sure, some of them are unpleasant people, but there is equally a good number of unpleasant people on the other side of the economic spectrum as well.

Yes, some are dishonest. So are some employees, so are some beneficiaries.

Despite assertions to the contrary, the 'rich' do pay the bulk of taxes. As a direct result of those tax payments we have a wide range of social services and a generous entitlement welfare system by world standards.

This country is still a land of opportunity, even if Australia might be an even better one.

Ok... back to the digging..... sure is lonely down here....

Victor said...

Relax Brendan!

I really don’t think anyone on this thread intends any harm to your august person.

So please keep your armalite in your travel bags for when you head off into the blue yonder and don’t waste any grenades here, as you’re bound to need them where you’re going.

Nor, as I understand it, does anyone hereon think that the rich are all personally unpleasant, anti-social, selfish or unkind.

Some are and some aren’t. And some, like Sir Michael Hill or Dame Rosie Horton, are, to my mind, downright admirable and verging on the status of national treasures.

But, obviously, the rich need to pay their taxes like everyone else who benefits from our common social capital and our common social product.

And they need to pay rather more than most, both because they benefit more and because they have a greater margin for paying without suffering severe deprivation.

At present, there may be an additional case for the rich paying rather more than they do, as it would help lift the burden of taxation off the working poor, placing more money in their pockets and helping stimulate the economy to the benefit of rich and poor alike.

I recognize, however, that this last contention raises further issues of economic policy that are perhaps best left to another time.

What intrigues me, though, is the recurrent bleep from the Libertarian Right that the rich are somehow an endangered species and that our current and all recent governments are and have been gunning for them.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Our top 50 NBR rich-listers own wealth equivalent to 18% of our GDP or 61.3% of the value of NZX listed companies.

The equivalent of 11% of our GDP is owned by our top 10 rich-listers. Not bad for a country that once posed as an egalitarian paradise!

In the United States, where most of the currently modish Libertarian guff originates, the wealthiest 1% owns 40% of all wealth, a greater sum than 90 % of the entire population

Draw what conclusions you may from these figures. But they don’t suggest a policy environment hostile to wealth retention.

Good luck with the digging. And take care not to strain the aged back.

Anonymous said...

The Prophet Mohammed did a lot of violent things. That was what was needed in pagan Arabia.

The civilisation that followed was a huge improvement. It's not just the few good buildings and nice lines of poetry.

Algebra, surgery, astronomy, mysticism, philosophy, achitecture, poetry, science, mental health studies were given a huge boost by Islamic civilisation.

The hand of God was at work then as it works today in the hearts of many millions of Muslims.

If you have read the Quran and studied it you would have to have a heart of stone to not see the merciful sytem of self and community development it has given us.

The early days of Islamic justice were harsh and rightly so in a society of pederasts and men who buried their baby daughters alive.

It is a different revelation to the earlier one of Jesus; more suited to Arab conditions, more grounded in every day practicalities and unafraid to make hard decisions.

If you want to be part of building a better world Brendan you're going to have to offer something better than calling the worlds second largest religion a 'totalitarian ideology'.

Brendan McNeill said...


It is precisely because I want to be part of building a better world, that I feel we need to be honest in our assessment of the risks that conspire against it.

I own a Koran and have read a good proportion, but not all of it. Of course its in English, so technically speaking, because it is not in Arabic, it's not really the Koran at all.

Do you understand the Islamic theological concept of 'abrogation' ? Where two verses in the Koran conflict, then it's the chronologically later verses that take precedence.

That's why the Koran can state "there is no compulsion in religion" and then later mandate the death penalty for those who forsake Islam for other religions. (apostasy)

There is no prize for guessing which command takes precedence.

When the prophet was militarily weak, his teaching was peaceful, when he became militarily strong, both his teaching and example changed to become more violent and militaristic.

We have to stop forming our views on Islam based upon sanitized BBC documentaries. Where is the 'huge civilizational improvement' of which you speak?

Somalia, Saudi-Arabia, Iran, Pakistan? If you look at the country economic 'freedom index' below you will find only one Islamic type nation in the top 20.


If it were a religious freedom index rather than economic, then they wouldn't rate at all. Not to mention, equality for women, homosexuals, and non-muslims.

There is a sound theological basis for Christian reformation, and the embrace of enlightenment values because of the humanity of Christ and his peaceful teaching and example.

There is no equivalent theological opportunity in Islam.

Anonymous said...

I have read the Qur'an and am on my second reading. I was brought up in a family which had an open attitude towards religion.

I have attended numerous Muslim religious events and found the atmosphere very loving and peaceful.

The Qur'an has not one reprehensible Aya in it that contradicts the human conscience.

It is very strict and it needed to be. It is a more collectivist religion and promotes community responsibility. Those who undermined the social cohesion based on work, prayer, family, restraint, charity and education were dealt with very severely in the history of the caliphate and fair enough.

Current mainstream Islamic scholars are varied and offer a number of interpretations of Shari'a.

In an Islamic leagal system a great deal of decision making authority is given to the Qadi or Judge. The punishments are on hand for the cases which show outright contempt for Qur'anic law. They don't necessarily eventuate.

The huge civilisational improvements happened in the eras when Islam was a strong and independent civilisation.

The US backed dictatorships of Saudi Arabia (which is a kingdom not a caliphate) and Pakistan are not examples of Islamic civilisation. They are casualties of the weakness of the Muslims, preyed upon by the West.

Your example of abrogation was flawed. It is not Islamic to force someone into the religion as that is not a true awakening.

If a person becomes a Muslim then apostasises then the death penalty is on hand. I believe Christian civilisation has burned people alive for far less.

Anonymous said...

As for the theological opportunity of reformation in Islam there have been numerous reformers and reformation movements. They exist today. Tariq Ramadan is one such example.

You should have more patience. Christianity is 640 years older than Islam.