Ceci n’est pas Mahomet

5 February 2006

Persian or central Asian illustration showing Mohammed (on the right) preaching

Sickos. That is the overwhelming feeling I have while watching the pictures of furious muslims besieging Scandinavian embassies and consulates in Syria and Lebanon because of a few cartoons. It is not the first time we see pictures of furious muslim masses rioting against something “the West” did to them. But the disturbing thing is that most of those previous times I could understand at least some of their anger by picturing myself in their situation. This time I just feel completely alienated from a major part of the world population.

That is not to say that they don’t have a case at all. The cartoons are not funny and are, considering their context, perhaps rightly understood as racist. But by turning onto everything and everyone Danish or Norwegian instead of just the newspapers concerned, so is the response.

VoltaireAnd no, ridiculing the holocaust as the symbol that is as holy to the West as Muhammad is to the East is not the equivalent thing. First of all, it was not Muhammad but the extremists pretending to follow him who were ridiculed in the Danish cartoons. Secondly, it is not forbidden to picture the holocaust in the west, only ridiculing it is (at least in most countries). Thirdly and most importantly, there is a huge difference in terms of good taste and moral righteousness between ridiculing mass murder and ridiculing those who commit it.

Had the Danish cartoons ridiculed muslim victims of western violence, the protesters would have found most of western public opinion on their side. Now, despite having a point on western racism and discrimination, they are just bad PR for their case.

The more effective regime change?

26 January 2006

It is now clear that Hamas has won the Palestinian elections. Equally clear is the challenge this poses to all parties involved: to the outside world (Israel, the EU and the US) on how to deal with an organisation that still officially endorses terrorism and the annihilation of Israel, and to Hamas itself on whether it wants to become respectable and change something on the ground for Palestinians.

My bet is that Hamas will, indeed, choose the respectable route, even if it may take some time before the rhetoric changes accordingly. A sign of this is the fact that it chose to take part in the elections at all, and that it has declared and kept a cease-fire over the past year. This shows that its’ leaders not only have brains but also influence over their followers. Such a decision makes sense, because taking the respectable route is the sensible thing to do also from their own point of view. After all, by taking part in the elections they have achieved more power and a better negotiating position in a few months of campaigning than in decades of terrorist attacks. (more…)

Chavez II?

25 January 2006

The new president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, was inaugurated this weekend. His inauguration address in parliament was a long plea for the indigenous people of Bolivia, second-rate citizens for 500 years. Bolivia is the poorest country of South-America, but with its wealth of natural resources it could be richer than Sweden, he argued.

So, am I happy? I am not sure. He certainly highlights important problems and it is wonderful and rather exciting that more and more countries in the region are electing presidents that speak for the impoverished masses instead of the rich elites. That is democracy in action. (more…)

New year predictions

4 January 2006

David Weman over at A Fistful of Euros keeps sort of a Fistful tradition alive: making predictions for the new year – a somewhat hazardous endeavour if you ask me. Still, reading past predictions (2005, 2004) is fun and I am looking forward to being confronted with my own in a year’s time. I repeat and add to them below.


16 December 2005

Tony Blair is an able politician. His fellow government leaders are slightly less, but still quite, able politicians. In the coming days, the 25 of them will try to come to a unanimous agreement on the EU’s long term budget, the Financial Perspectives 2007-2013 (see Finances in perspective for the previous episode). Judging from the latest text proposed by the UK presidency, and taking account of the unexpected optimism I hear around me (although today the tone seemed to be different), our dear leaders will agree on an EU budget that is a shameless, provincialist sham of a common enterprise.

Of course this is what can be expected with the decision-making system we have. When each and every of 25 able politicians who are only answerable to their own constituencies can veto an agreement any time they like, and when the whole thing has to be brokered by another able politician who is only answerable to his own constituency and has a giant stake in the outcome, the result is bound to be riddled with the effects of pork barreling. However, after the defeat of the European Constitution last summer and subsequent grandstanding on “reform” and “leadership” and “reconnecting Europe to the people”, this is much, much worse than what could be expected, even within the constraints posed by reality. (more…)

Reformed CAP even less irregularity proof

7 December 2005

Further on the topic of a previous post, it seems that the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is being reformed in exactly the wrong way. At least if you agree (as any sensible person would do) with the EU’s Court of Auditors that public money should only be spent according to criteria that can be checked. But there could be an alternative: giving local voters a direct say on agricultural policy. (more…)

Polish bigotry – why bother?

27 November 2005

Reacting to the criticism raised by myself and others on the result of the Polish elections and cabinet formation, some people wondered why this should be of any concern to us non-citizens and non-residents. Here are my considerations:

  1. Universal values are at stake
  2. We are in the same boat together
  3. Poland could be committing a breach of contract