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Ireland

This tag is associated with 9 posts

The Great Islamic Threat

4 September 2010

The Great Islamic Threat

By Gwynne Dyer

People often wind up believing their own cover story. Former British prime minister Tony Blair, for example, is trapped forever in the rationalisations he used in 2003 to explain why he was going along with George Bush’s invasion of Iraq. He was at it again last week, telling the BBC that “radical Islam” is the greatest threat facing the world today.

The BBC journalist went to Ireland for the interview, because Blair chose Dublin for the only live signing of his newly published autobiography: a personal appearance in Britain wouldn’t be safe. Even in Ireland, the protesters threw eggs and shoes at the man who was Bush’s faithful sidekick in the struggle to save Western civilisation from radical Islam.

But is militant Islam really a bigger threat to the world than the possibility of a major nuclear war (happily now in abeyance, but never really gone)? Bigger than the risk that infectious diseases are going to make a major come-back as antibiotics become ineffective? Bigger even than the threat of runaway global warming?

Blair has to say it is, because he was one of the people who launched a crusade against radical Islamists after 9/11. Or at least against those whom they accused of being supporters of radical Islam, although many of them (like Saddam Hussein) were nothing of the sort.

Blair has never publicly acknowledged that Saddam Hussein was actually an enemy of radical Islam: admitting it would drain the last dram of logic from his justification for invading Iraq. So he only talks in general terms about fighting “radical Islam”, and hopes that the more ignorant part of the public will think that includes the Iraq war.

Never mind. It’s far too late for Blair to change his story, and anyway the argument about Iraq has gone stale by now. Except for one thing: many influential people in Western countries still insist that “radical Islam” is indeed the world’s greatest threat. Some do it for career reasons, and others do it from conviction, but they all get a more respectful hearing than they deserve.

It depends on what you mean by “radical Islam,” of course. In some Western circles, any Muslim who challenges Western policies is by definition an Islamist radical. But if it means Sunni Muslims who believe in the Salafist interpretation of Islam and are personally willing to use terrorist violence to spread it, then there aren’t very many of them: a few hundred thousand at most.

These people are unlikely to start blowing things up in New Jersey or Bavaria, though they are a serious threat to fellow Muslims living in their own countries. (They are particularly keen on killing Shias.) The vast majority of them speak no foreign language and could never get a passport.

It’s a big, ugly problem for countries like Iraq and Pakistan, but it is a pretty small problem for everybody else. The number of people killed by “radical Islamic” terrorists in the past decade OUTSIDE the Muslim world is probably no more than 15,000.

None of these deaths is justifiable, but it is weird to insist that a phenomenon that causes an average of, say, 1,500 non-Muslim deaths a year, on a planet with almost seven billion people, is the greatest threat facing the world today. Yet the people who launched the “war on terror” do say that, as do many others who built their careers by pushing the same proposition.

They do it by the simple device of warning (to quote Blair’s recent interview) that “there is the most enormous threat from the combination of this radical extreme movement and the fact that, if they could, they would use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. You can’t take a risk with that happening.”

Never mind the quite limited damage that terrorists actually do. Imagine the damage they MIGHT do if they got their hands on such weapons. Very well, let us imagine just that.

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union had 10,000 nuclear weapons ready to launch at each other. If they had ever gone to war, hundreds of millions of people would have been killed – even several billion, if it had caused a nuclear winter. And of course the two countries had huge biological and chemical warfare capabilities too.

If “radical Islamists” ever got their hands on a nuclear weapon, it would be ONE bomb, not ten thousand warheads. If they managed to explode it, it would be a local disaster, not a global holocaust. The worst poison gas attack ever, on the Tokyo underground system in 1995, killed only thirteen people, and although germ warfare could be hugely destructive of human life, it requires scientific capabilities that are very difficult to master

Besides, just how does invading various Muslim countries shrink any of these dangers? It probably increases them, actually, by outraging many Muslims and providing the extremists with a steady flow of recruits.

Terrorism, by radical Islamists or anybody else, is a real threat but a modest one. It cannot be “defeated”, but it can be contained by good police work and wise policy choices. It might make it into the top ten global threats, but it certainly wouldn’t make it into the top three. Anybody who says it does has something to sell or something to hide.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 2 and 5. (“The BBC…Islam”; and “Blair…war”)

The Lawless Church

21 March 2010

The Lawless Church

By Gwynne Dyer

The Biblical formula “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” is generally taken to mean that people should recognise the authority of the state in secular matters, but that is not necessarily what Jesus meant by it. It is certainly not the current practice of the Roman Catholic Church, although the rule in modern democracies is very clear: the law applies equally to everyone, even priests.

It’s more than two decades since evidence of widespread sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic clergy began to surface in the United States, Canada and Ireland, and still the revelations continue. A “tsunami” of allegations of child abuse in Catholic schools and orphanages is spreading from Ireland across the rest of Europe, and at the same time the extent of the cover-up is becoming clearer.

Even the Pope was involved. For over twenty years he headed the Vatican office that deals with paedophile priests, but he did not order them to be reported to the police because – as a Vatican spokesman explained – Church law “does not envisage automatic penalties” for child abuse. Evidence emerged this week that in 1996 he did not even answer letters from two archbishops asking him to take action against a priest who allegedly abused 200 boys in a school for the deaf in Wisconsin.

The priests who abused and raped the children were individuals, and such people exist in other walks of life too. But the decision to cover up their crimes was a greater crime, committed by men whose main concern was protecting the reputation of the large organisation which they served, the Catholic Church. They acted as they did because they genuinely believed, and still believe, that the Church is above the law.

No other organisation makes this claim. Consider, for example, what would have happened if any other large organisation had discovered that some of its members were exploiting their positions and their power to have sexual relations with children.

The organisation in question might be a welfare department, or a boarding school, or a long-term care centre for severely handicapped children; it could be in the US, or Chile, or France. It makes no difference: the response would be the same.

The people in charge would immediately suspend the individual against whom the accusation has been made, so that he or she has no further contact with children until the matter has been fully investigated. If there was any actual sexual contact, they would immediately report it to the police, because that is a criminal offence. Not to report it would be a criminal offence on the part of the managers, and they could go to jail for it.

Well, a lot of child sexual abuse has been going on in the Catholic Church, and offences of this sort have been coming to the attention of the abusers’ superiors on a quite frequent basis for decades now. What did they do about it?

They hushed it up. They swore the child victims and their parents to silence, exploiting their loyalty to the Church. They moved the paedophile priests to other schools or institutions where they generally still had contact with children. And they didn’t report them to the police.

No bishop, cardinal or pope ever went to prison for his part in this massive cover-up of grave crimes. This is the really shocking thing about this scandal: the sheer contempt for “secular” law that permeates the entire Catholic hierarchy.

At a relatively low level, you can see it in the ignorant remarks of Monsignor Maurice Dooly, one of Ireland’s leading experts in canon law, who explained to Irish radio last week why priests did not have to report child abuse to the police. “Priests are not auxiliary policemen,” he said. “They do not have an obligation to go down to the police.” But they do: they are Irish citizens, and that is the law in Ireland.

Even Pope Benedict XVI doesn’t get it. In 2001, when he was still known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and serving as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he sent a letter to Catholic bishops around the world instructing them to report all abuse cases to his office at the Vatican for confidential handling.

This was taken by most bishops as meaning that they should NOT report abuse cases to the police. Vatican sources now claim that that’s not what Ratzinger really meant by his letter, but what else could it mean? He still doesn’t understand that bishops and even cardinals must obey the laws of the country they live in.

As a head of state, Pope Benedict XVI is now truly above the law, so he need not fear the policeman’s knock at the door. But there are still many priests who committed horrendous crimes but have been protected by the Church. There are also a good many bishops who should face trial for covering up those crimes, but it will never happen. A dog-collar is as good as a get-out-of-jail-free card.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6 and 11. (“The organisation…same”; and “At a relatively…Ireland”)

The EU’s Democratic Deficit

3 October 2009

The EU’s Democratic Deficit

 By Gwynne Dyer

You can get the Irish to agree to anything, even a European super-state that forces abortion on them, conscripts their citizens for a European army, and compels Ireland to abandon its traditional neutrality. All you need is a severe recession (Ireland’s economy is the hardest-hit of all the European Union members), and suddenly all those concerns fade away.

Sixteen months ago the Irish voted “No” to the Lisbon Treaty, a deal that streamlined decision-making in the EU. For the first time the 27-member union would have a president, a foreign minister, and voting rules that do not require unanimity on every single policy decision. Twenty-six members ratified the treaty in their parliaments, but Ireland’s constitution required it to ratify treaties by referendum.

This led to a campaign in which Irish nationalists and leftists, backed by the right-wing anti-EU press in Britain (which circulates widely in Ireland), scared Irish voters into saying “No”. All the allegations in the first sentence of this article are untrue, but they all played a large part in that campaign.

The Irish “no” vote brought the process of European integration to a halt, but the EU then issued various statements promising the Irish government not to do what the Lisbon Treaty never gave it the right to do anyway. Last Friday the Irish were sent back to the polls, and this time sixty-seven percent of them voted “Yes”.

Presidents Lech Kaczynski of Poland and Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic, the last two hold-outs, will both sign the treaty before the year’s end, and it will come into effect before the British election due by next spring brings the Conservatives to power. David Cameron, their leader, will therefore be released from his promise to hold a referendum on the treaty if it is still open to debate, and the EU wins once again.

By the way, this whole exercise became necessary because the original proposal to create an EU constitution was voted down in Dutch and French referendums in 2005. Whenever you ask the actual people of European countries if they want to “strengthen” and “deepen” the European Union, they have this distressing tendency to say no.

So after a “period of reflection,” the proposed EU constitution was re-packaged as a mere treaty, which in most EU countries can be ratified by a parliamentary vote without a referendum. Party discipline ensured that most members of parliaments will vote the right way, and 26 out of 27 parliaments did. Only Ireland required special treatment, and it was duly administered.

There is an obvious democratic deficit here. The grandees decide, and the people obey. Moreover, some of the grandees are very grand indeed. Take Jacques Chirac, president of France for twelve years until 2007.

Chirac has most recently been in the news when his pet Maltese terrier, Sumo, leaped up and bit him on the stomach – the dog was depressed by the move from the spacious grounds of the presidential palace to a private apartment on the Quai Voltaire – but the politician’s real claim to fame is his ability to escape corruption charges.

The charges date back to when Chirac was mayor of Paris in 1977-95. Between 1992 and 1995 alone, he spent two and a half million francs (about $500,000)in cash, mostly stuffed into brown envelopes in 500-franc notes, to pay for lavish holidays for his family, his friends, and their families. The money probably came from almost $100 million in bribes and kickbacks paid by companies seeking a share in a rebuilding programme for schools in the Paris area.

Chirac avoided prosecution for twelve years by insisting that he could not be questioned about the affair while he was president. The legal machinery ground slowly into motion once he left office, but like banks that are too big to fail, Chirac is too grand to go to jail. It now appears that all legal proceedings against him will be quashed.

There are other current example s of this phenomenon – Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, for example – and many past ones. But the larger reality of which this is only one facet is that high politics in most European countries is still an elite project. That is nowhere truer than in the project of the European Union.

If it had been left to the normal politics of European countries, the EU would never have happened. It was the post-Second World War elites of Europe, appalled by the wars that had devastated the continent, who conceived the goal of a European Union where the rival nationalisms would eventually wither away and Europe would live in peace.

From the European Coal a nd Steel Community in 1951 to the European Economic Community in 1957 to the European Union in 1993, they summoned into existence a political entity for which there was little popular demand. When local nationalism got in the way, they worked round it or waited it out – like in Ireland just now.

While the forms of democracy are always observed, the spirit that animates the EU is we-know-what’s-good-for you, vote-again-till-you-get-it-right. If the result had not been a Europe that is prosperous, committed to protecting human rights, and astonishingly peaceful, you’d condemn the whole project out of hand.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6 and7. (“By the way…administered”)

The EU’s Democratic Deficit

3 October 2009

The EU’s Democratic Deficit

By Gwynne Dyer

You can get the Irish to agree to anything, even a European super-state that forces abortion on them, conscripts their citizens for a European army, and compels Ireland to abandon its traditional neutrality. All you need is a severe recession (Ireland’s economy is the hardest-hit of all the European Union members), and suddenly all those concerns fade away.

Sixteen months ago the Irish voted “No” to the Lisbon Treaty, a deal that streamlined decision-making in the EU. For the first time the 27-member union would have a president, a foreign minister, and voting rules that do not require unanimity on every single policy decision. Twenty-six members ratified the treaty in their parliaments, but Ireland’s constitution required it to ratify treaties by referendum.

This led to a campaign in which Irish nationalists and leftists, backed by the right-wing anti-EU press in Britain (which circulates widely in Ireland), scared Irish voters into saying “No”. All the allegations in the first sentence of this article are untrue, but they all played a large part in that campaign.

The Irish “no” vote brought the process of European integration to a halt, but the EU then issued various statements promising the Irish government not to do what the Lisbon Treaty never gave it the right to do anyway. Last Friday the Irish were sent back to the polls, and this time sixty-seven percent of them voted “Yes”.

Presidents Lech Kaczynski of Poland and Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic, the last two hold-outs, will both sign the treaty before the year’s end, and it will come into effect before the British election due by next spring brings the Conservatives to power. David Cameron, their leader, will therefore be released from his promise to hold a referendum on the treaty if it is still open to debate, and the EU wins once again.

By the way, this whole exercise became necessary because the original proposal to create an EU cons titution was voted down in Dutch and French referendums in 2005. Whenever you ask the actual people of European countries if they want to “strengthen” and “deepen” the European Union, they have this distressing tendency to say no.

So after a “period of reflection,” the proposed EU constitution was re-packaged as a mere treaty, which in most EU countries can be ratified by a parliamentary vote without a referendum. Party discipline ensured that most members of parliaments will vote the right way, and 26 out of 27 parliaments did. Only Ireland required special treatment, and it was duly administered.

There is an obvious democratic deficit here. Th e grandees decide, and the people obey. Moreover, some of the grandees are very grand indeed. Take Jacques Chirac, president of France for twelve years until 2007.

Chirac has most recently been in the news when his pet Maltese terrier, Sumo, leaped up and bit him on the stomach – the dog was depressed by the move from the spacious grounds of the presidential palace to a private apartment on the Quai Voltaire – but the politician’s real claim to fame is his ability to escape corruption charges.

The charges date back to when Chirac was mayor of Paris in 1977-95. Between 1992 and 1995 alone, he spent two and a half million francs (about $500,000)= 0in cash, mostly stuffed into brown envelopes in 500-franc notes, to pay for lavish holidays for his family, his friends, and their families. The money probably came from almost $100 million in bribes and kickbacks paid by companies seeking a share in a rebuilding programme for schools in the Paris area.

Chirac avoided prosecution for twelve years by insisting that he could not be questioned about the affair while he was president. The legal machinery ground slowly into motion once he left office, but like banks that are too big to fail, Chirac is too grand to go to jail. It now appears that all legal proceedings against him will be quashed.

There are other current example s of this phenomenon – Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, for example – and many past ones. But the larger reality of which this is only one facet is that high politics in most European countries is still an elite project. That is nowhere truer than in the project of the European Union.

If it had been left to the normal politics of European countries, the EU would never have happened. It was the post-Second World War elites of Europe, appalled by the wars that had devastated the continent, who conceived the goal of a European Union where the rival nationalisms would eventually wither away and Europe would live in peace.

From the European Coal a nd Steel Community in 1951 to the European Economic Community in 1957 to the European Union in 1993, they summoned into existence a political entity for which there was little popular demand. When local nationalism got in the way, they worked round it or waited it out – like in Ireland just now.

While the forms of democracy are always observed, the spirit that animates the EU is we-know-what’s-good-for you, vote-again-till-you-get-it-right. If the result had not been a Europe that is prosperous, committed to protecting human rights, and astonishingly peaceful, you’d condemn the whole project out of hand.

______________________________________

To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6 and= 07. (“By the way…administered”)