Wednesday, March 29, 2006

V.S.Naipaul Flays Dickens, Austen and James

V.S. Naipaul, a knight and holder of the Nobel Prize for Literature, has attacked English writers like Charles Dickens and Jane Austen for being too parochial, concerned only with English themes.

"English writing is very much of England, and is not meant to travel too far," he said.

Naipaul, himself notably cosmopolitan - of Indian descent, brought up in Trinidad, educated in England, and impeccably well-travelled - has previously attacked James Joyce ("I cannot understand the work of a blind man"), E.M Forster (went to India to seduce gardeners' boys; Passage to India has "only one real scene"), and Indian writers, for their stifling obsession with oppression and suchlike faddish nonsense.

It would be better for literature if more writers were as outspoken as V.S. Naipaul.

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Naipaul attacks literary giants

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

"Community Rights" Crush Individual Rights

Francis Fukuyama writes (in Slate) that Europe's demographic/Islamist crisis is caused by its failure fully to integrate moderate immigrants into society.

Europe, unlike the USA, was more concerned to "tolerate" incoming communites as a whole, even if this meant overriding European values. Oppression of individuals within those communities (especially women and homosexuals) could thus continue, whilst deserving individuals who may have been westernised became radicalised instead.

Fukuyama thus urges European politicians to ignore calls from the "blood and soil" strand of the American right.

It's a valid point, as Europeans will not solve their "demographic crisis" simply by going to church and having more babies (even if politicians somehow found a way of making them do so, which seems unlikely). Then again, one should question the alarmism of those who fan and publicise this crisis, too. Some are actually hailing the crisis as a harbinger of the return of traditional patriarchy.

Europe vs. Radical Islam By Francis Fukuyama

See also: Fukuyama's End of Neoconservatism

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Science and Religion's "Parochial" Links

John D Barrow is professor of mathematics at Cambridge and he has just won a few hundred thousand pounds with the Templeton Prize. He writes nicely in today's Telegraph - how parochial, he laments, are "our attempts to find or deny the links between scientific and religious approaches to the nature of the Universe."

Telegraph | Opinion | Astronomy illuminates the glory of God

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Western Baby Dearth Will Lead To A Conservative Patriarchy, Says Conservative Patriarch

Phillip Longman argues that the failure of western societies to reproduce at replacement levels means that they will soon be run by the kids of people who are reproducing at relatively higher rates.

These people tend to be patriarchal conservatives, traditional Europeans who love their country, have nothing against armies, and take a dim view of bastardy. Hence, Longman concludes, Europe is set for a return to conservative patriarchy.

Longman's thesis is seductive. It disregards, however, another fertile source of patriarchal revival in Europe: Islam. The effect of large immigrant families on Longman's rosy patriarchy-building scenario is difficult to determine.

It could as easily nurture a revolt against patriarchy as an entrenchment of it. Large numbers of children brought up under the thumb of "repressed" Muslim patriarchs might well stage a backlash in favour of liberal, "progressive" values.

As with Mark Steyn, who ploughs the same demographic furrow from the other side of the field (ie: western baby dearth will lead to Islamic Europe), the argument is built up on the assumption that the childrens of patriarchs, both western and Muslim, will perpetuate precisely the kind of society their parents advocate. This outcome is possible, of course, but hardly inevitable. The Muslim immigrant, for one, is unlikely to believe that everything back home is fine and dandy, or he'd have stayed at home in the first place. And children of western patriarchs are notorious for turning against the values that shaped them - wasn't this one of the wellsprings of the whole countercultural lefty 1960s scene anyway?

Foreign Policy: The Return of Patriarchy

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Poland, Holland Oppose Moves For European Foreign Minister

Jacques Chirac, beleaguered President of France, has been pushing for the early adoption of some elements of the draft EU constitution (which was rejected by voters in France and Holland). One such is a stronger role for Javier Solana, currently the EU's foreign policy spokesman/co-ordinator. Chirac wants Solana to assume quasi Foreign Ministerial powers.

This would certainly be in the interests of the big EU countries such as France and Germany, whose mouthpiece Solana would become, but would tend to override the interests of smaller states. Poland's President Lech Kaczynski, who is in Berlin today to meet Chancellor Merkel, observes that such a move would be premature and undemocratic (the interview will be in tomorrow's Frankfürter Allgemeine Zeitung).

Kaczynski is supported in The Hague, where the Dutch government recently protested about Javier Solana's apologies to Muslims, during last month's controversy over some unfunny cartoons published in a selection of European newspapers.

Solana's apologies were impertinent, as it is no business of the EU (nor of national governments) to interfere with the freedom of expression of European newspapers published in sovereign countries.

Similarly, whilst big countries such as France and Germany opposed US actions in removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, others (Poland and Holland among them) came out in support of regime change. In light of such continuing conflicts of interest, it would be otiose to instal a European Foreign Minister to parrot the opinions of the larger European nations.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Man To Watch: Lech Kaczynski, President of Poland

Some thoughts from Polish President Lech Kaczynski, prior to his visit to Germany this week (his first ever). Some folk describe him as a right wing nationalist, but he comes across rather well: statesmanlike, and - in contrast to most European politicians' disconnectivity to European voters - able to talk about things that concern ordinary people:

- the most important event in his life was the restoration of Polish sovereignty in 1989 and this experience drives his suspicion of Russia;

- his experience as mayor of Warsaw showed him that many EU directives were utterly unsuited to the situation in Poland;

- he is in favour of Ukraine and Turkey joining the EU;

- his aim is to restore Law and Order in Poland, specifically, to act against the crime caused by an unholy alliance between the local MAFIA and the ex-communist security forces;

- the deal between Germany and Russia's Gazprom to build a new gas pipeline (brokered by ex-Chancellor Schroeder, who is now an employee of Putin's at Gazprom!) is against Poland's interests;

- Kaczynski is proposing an "Energy NATO" to the European Union, involving the creation of a new pipeline, in order to protect the European supply which, as we saw this last winter in Ukraine, is at least partly the mercy of Russian whims.

Kaczynski's views are timely in several respects. First, the energy crisis facing Europe requires a new vision, and Kaczynski is the first politician in Europe to come up with one. Second, Kaczynski's instinctive mistrust of federalist power is shared by many in Europe - voters who rejected the draft EU Constitution in Holland and France foremost amongst them, but many more, who were not allowed to vote on the question by their own politicians. Recent efforts (by Angela Merkel and others) to revive the document are dangerous becuase they persist in seeing the problems of Europe as caused by the nation state. But these days it is EU institutions themselves that are demonstrating myopia and an inability to listen to their citzens' concerns. Europe needs more politicians of Kaczynski's calibre who are willing to challenge this corporatist orthodoxy.

Troop Withdrawal From Iraq By 2008

The most senior British general in Iraq, Lt-General Nick Houghton, is saying that there are plans for all British - and, one assumes, US - troops to be out of Iraq in two years' time.

If this is true, it marks an abandonment of the position - previously promulgated by President Bush and Tony Blair - that coalition troops would remain until Iraq was stable and democratic. It is also a strange contradiction of their previous opinion that only the terrorists and insurgents would benefit from a timetable for withdrawal. If General Houghton is right, it seems that that timetable now exists.

So why this change of direction? The following possibilities come to mind:

- the direness of the situation in Iraq has been grievously exaggerated and everything is nearly under control;
- the competence of the Iraqi security forces has been grievously underestimated;
- the unpopularity of the war is forcing Bush and Blair to adapt their tactics;
- the political, financial and human cost of securing Iraq has become too high.

If the withdrawal is mainly driven by some mixture of the first two possibilities, then the allied invasion of Iraq has been a splendid unacknowledged success. If the withdrawal is mainly driven by the last two possibilities, then the terrorists appear to have won in Iraq.