Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Gerard Henderson and more nostrums and snake oil for Afghanistan, women's rights and the Arab spring ...

In the course of a wasted life, it once fell to the pond to study in detail the course of the Hundred Years' War ...

It took the best part of the year, and the conclusion? The series of wars must have made little sense to the medieval participants, because reading about them afterwards made even less, though there's a fairly short summary at the wars' wiki here.

The course was conducted by a Scot - highland of course - so it immediately became clear that the English were responsible for everything that was wrong in the fight (in much the same way as my Irish inclined father reminded me that the English ruined everything - and when you look around world at the current hot spots - the middle east and Afghanistan - you can mount a pretty convincing case).

Yep, seven hundred years after the wars began the Scots still maintained the rage, and now it seems, some time around 2014 or 15, they'll score a referendum in relation to independence from Westminster in favour of Holyrood (Scots back independence). The wheels of history grind slowly, but they continue to produce flour and unpredictable consequences ...

It's a bit like the Soviet war in Afghanistan, a nine year wonder that ended in 1989. What was it all about? What did the Soviets hope to accomplish, except provide material for later bad Russian movies about innocent Russians trapped abroad in a pointless, futile war? (The 9th Company for starters).

It was, of course, a war by proxy, with the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom (blame the English) and the Chinese chipping in to help out the mujahideen, and so set the Taliban on their path to power.

The result of the war was entirely problematic for the Soviets and for Afghanistan, and for those who interfered by proxy but then refused to assist at war's end, as warlords and then the Taliban ran wild ...

Meanwhile, for the likes of Gerard Henderson, furiously scribbling away in Iran remains at the heart of Middle Eastern instability, it's important to maintain the rage.

Och aye, the Henderson tribe is a highland clan with connections to the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692, but jokes aside, it seems we haven't done enough in Afghanistan by simply staging a ten year war. It must go on and on:

In the face of the growth of Islamism, any precipitated withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan would be most unwise. Already, President Barack Obama has erred in declaring 2014 as a withdrawal date for US forces, irrespective of the military situation on the ground at the time.

Uh huh. After all, it would only be a thirteen year old war by then. Where's the other eighty seven?

A return of the Taliban would be disastrous for Afghans, especially women. It would also re-establish Afghanistan as a base for Islamist terrorist attacks against the West.

Ah yes, the women, and they've done so well under the corrupt Karzai government, haven't they. It would be nice to fancy Henderson as a proto-feminist, but that would take a power of fancy ...

Naturally Karzai is banging the Taliban drum too (Taliban could return, Karzai warns Bonn conference) but if you read about his efforts in relation to women, the result is almost as depressing as reading about the Taliban (Will Bonn deliver results for women in Afghanistan?)

The Soviet invasion was disastrous for women, and the warlords supported by the United States were disastrous for women, as was the civil war, and as is the current war, especially as the rights of women have proven to be a great cover for a war of revenge - in much the same way as implementing democracy and nation building have been a handy smokescreen for the corrupt Karzai regime and its supporters:

Key to this largely supportive public opinion was how, over the course of a few weeks in 2001, a war of revenge was reframed as a war for human rights in Afghanistan, and in particular the rights of women. It was a narrative to justify war that proved remarkably powerful. A cause that had been dismissed and ignored for years in Washington suddenly moved centre-stage. The video of a woman being executed in Kabul stadium that the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan had offered to the BBC and CNN without success was taken up by the Pentagon and used extensively. The Taliban's brutal treatment of women, the closure of girls schools: all were used to justify military invasion and close down debate. (Can the spread of women's rights ever be accompanied by war?)

Ten years on, Henderson - always a one-trick pony - performs the same routine, mentioning the rights of women, then rolling right on to the geopolitical concerns for which women's rights is mere window-dressing:

Then there is the fact that a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan could be in a position to co-operate with the Pakistan Taliban. Unlike Iran, Pakistan already has nuclear weapons - which potentially threaten India and more besides.

But hang on, why is there a Pakistan Taliban? Could it be that the war in Afghanistan has cultivated and empowered a whole new generation of Taliban within Pakistan's borders, destabilising the country, and spreading the conflict? And now Pakistan has got the sulks, and didn't turn up to the Bonn conference ...

Instead of maintaining the rage, might it not be a handy opportunity to seize the moment, as reported in Pakistani Taliban Splintering Into Factions?

Henderson's own contribution to regional peace and constraint in relation to nuclear matters was to link the bashing of Indian students in the streets of Melbourne to the refusal to sell uranium to India (Student assaults teach some harsh lessons about racism - forced video at end of link).

Meanwhile, the rest of Henderson's piece trots out the usual stuff denigrating any attempt by middle eastern citizens to obtain democratic rights. He manages this in a two for one opening par:

Despite what eco-catastrophists believe, forecasting the medium to long-term weather is an uncertain science. However, the current signs indicate that what many hoped would be the Arab Spring might turn out to be yet another Middle Eastern political winter.

Climate science is weather forecasting?

Despite what the crypto-silly Henderson believes, linking climate science to a political winter in the middle east, in which once more the state of Israel and its current government escapes all blame for the present situation, only leads the pond to think that his understanding of weather v climate is about as dumb as his reliance on Godwin's Law as the way forward in political science.

Henderson manages the feat by trotting out a couple of texts, one - about Nazi Palestine - which comes to a remarkable conclusion:

A German victory in North Africa would have extended the European genocide to the Middle East.

Indeed. The pond has it on certain and reliable information that:

A German victory in England would have extended the European genocide to Scotland and Northern Ireland and Wales and even Cornwall.

The point? Apart from the blithering stupidity of the point?

Well the point is that anti-semitism has existed and continues to exist, and the ghost of the Nazis lurks in the soul of Ahmadinejad, but you won't find anything about the Israeli government and its ongoing campaign of occupation by settlement.

If you want an an alternative view, with a little bit more balance, and less flighty rhetoric, you have to look elsewhere, with the most notable eruption involving the recent spat over a set of Israeli advertisements in the United States.

In response, Roger Cohen in the New York Times wrote an eerily prescient piece Come Home to Israel:

The old Middle East of Israel’s cozy military-to-military relationships with the likes of Turkey and Egypt is gone. A new Middle East where Israel must deal people-to-people is being born. For a democracy this should ultimately be encouraging: People, including Arabs, with control of their lives tend to be focused on improving those lives rather than seeking conflict. The rise of Islamic parties opposed to despotism and adjusting painfully to modernity is cause for caution, yes, but not for manipulative Hendersonian dismissiveness.

Oh wait, I see a typo crept into that last cut and paste.

Cohen does of course refer to Israeli dismissiveness, even if it's also fully in view in Henderson's snide, sneering, dismissive, Nazi-laden piece.

So while we're at it, a few more thoughts from Cohen:

... I know several Israeli expatriates or would-be expatriates and their feelings are consistent. They are troubled by the illiberal drift of Israeli politics, the growth of a harsh nationalism, the increasing influence of the ultrareligious, the endlessness of the “situation,” and the tension inherent in a status quo that will one day threaten either Israel’s Jewishness or its democracy.

And then to a quote from Jonathan Freedland:

Israelis walk on streets full of vile anti-Arab graffiti and shuttered Arab stores daubed with Stars of David. “To see that cherished symbol used to spit in the eye of a population hounded out of their homes is chilling,” Freedland writes.

This is happening behind the wall-barrier-fence. It is the result of an untenable status quo involving the corrosive dominion of one people over another.

It's a strangely different view of the world than the one found in Henderson's piece, with its myopia, its paranoia and its berating of the Islamists, along with a barely concealed desire to keep the feuding going, and to dismiss any signs of hope:

So far, at least, the Arab Spring has witnessed the growth of Islamism, rather than the advent of democracy.

And is there any sign of a corollary? Like:

So far, at least, the Netanyahu administration has witnessed the rampant growth of intolerance, high-handedness and a new form of apartheid, rather than the advent of a two state solution ...

Apartheid? As per Cohen:

Jonathan Freedland, a Guardian columnist, visited Hebron recently and published a piece called “This Is Israel? Not the One I Love” in London’s Jewish Chronicle. He wrote of Hebron:

“A map shows purple roads where no Palestinian cars are permitted, yellow roads where no Palestinian shops are allowed to open and red roads where no Palestinians are even allowed to walk.”

You can catch the rest of the Freedland piece here - This Israel? Not the one I love:

Start with the place I visited a week ago: Hebron. What I saw there would shock even those who think they know all there is to know about Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians. The centre of a city of 175,000 people has been utterly emptied, its streets deserted, its shops vacant, thanks to a policy the Israeli army calls "sterilisation" - ensuring the area is clear and safe for Hebron's 800 Jewish settlers.

Sterilisation. Now there's a handy Godwin's Law word.

You won't find any of this coming from Henderson's pen, but you will find suggestions that the war in Afghanistan should continue as required, and that the middle east is full of anti-semitic Nazi lovers and that that climate science and the Arab spring are perhaps sure signs of a new ice age or at least an Arab winter ...

I do wonder why, and where it all might end.

Must dig out my old Scottish don, and see if he has an answer ... perhaps in six or seven hundred years or so ...

(Below: meanwhile, if you Google Gerard Henderson in images, here are the first two that turn up. The question is, who is who, and which is which, and did she change her name to Gerard to trade off on his famous cures for Afghanistan and the middle east?)

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