Monthly Archives: January 2006

The Hamas Version of 42nd Street

David Brooks examines the “choice” the Palestinians had on election day:

Arafat channeled Palestinian aspirations into a romantic cause. He created symbols: the kaffiyeh, stubble and gun. He created a nationalist mythology, and instilled in his followers a revolutionary mentality: that political struggle is heroic; that lofty militancy is better than mundane governance; that vehemence is better than compromise; that opponents are evil, terrorism is noble and the eventual triumph will be sublime.

Arafat’s organization grew decrepit as he aged, but it never became ordinary. Arafat rejected peace at Camp David because it would have meant giving up the struggle for mere administration. Fatah never really had a place for the prosaic tasks that concern most governments.

And so a rival grew in Palestine. Hamas is attentive to average people, but in one way it is like Fatah. Hamas is also driven by a heroic and revolutionary ideology. It also sees politics in absolutist terms, as vengeance and glory, victory or martyrdom.

The Islamists of Hamas are not as fanatical as the leaders of Iran, the former U.S. envoy Dennis Ross says, but one look at their founding charter reveals a mentality that is hate-filled, paranoid and apocalyptic.

And so while Fatah and Hamas are rivals, neither has a democratic mentality. Democracy in its everyday manifestation is bourgeois and unheroic. It is about partial victories, partial defeats and issues that are never resolved and never go away.

Brooks is right about Palestinian politics: it’s all revolutionary romanticism. Seems to me Iraq is different. There are actually politicians there who want to build a “mundane” country.

Mark Steyn seems to agree:

The Palestinian elections were … clarifying. The old guard — Yasser Arafat’s Fatah cronies — had their own take on the “But some of my best friends are Jewish” routine. For years they insisted, at least in the presence of Americans and Europeans, that they were in favor of a “two-state solution” — Israel and Palestine living side by side — at the same time as they supported and glorified and financially subsidized suicide bombers and other terrorists. Insofar as their enthusiasm for a two-state solution was genuine, it was as an intermediate stage en route to a one-state solution.

Hamas, by contrast, [says]: Why the hell should we have to go tippy-toeing around some sissy phrase we don’t really mean? Hamas doesn’t support a two-state solution, it supports the liquidation of one state and its replacement by other, and they don’t see why they should have to pretend otherwise. And in last week’s elections for the Palestinian Authority they romped home. It was a landslide.

As is the way, many in the West rushed to rationalize the victory. The media have long been reluctant to damn the excitable lads as terrorists. In 2002 the New York Times published a photograph of Palestinian suicide bombers all dressed up and ready to blow, and captioned it “Hamas activists.” Take my advice and try not to be standing too near the Hamas activist when he activates himself.

Oh, no no no, some analysts assured us. The Palestinians didn’t vote for Hamas because of the policy plank about obliterating the state of Israel but because Fatah is hopelessly corrupt. Which is true: The European Union’s bankrolled the Palestinian Authority since its creation and Yasser and his buddies salted most of the dough away in their Swiss bank accounts and used the loose change to fund the intifada. After 10 years you can’t blame the Palestinians for figuring it’s time to give another group of people a chance to siphon off all that EU booty.

So I’d like to believe this was a vote for getting rid of corruption rather than getting rid of Jews. But that’s hard to square with some of the newly elected legislators. For example, Mariam Farahat, a mother of three, was elected in Gaza. She used to be a mother of six but three of her sons self-detonated on suicide missions against Israel. She’s a household name to Palestinians, known as Um Nidal — Mother of the Struggle — and, at the rate she’s getting through her kids, the Struggle’s all she’ll be Mother of. She’s famous for a Hamas recruitment video in which she shows her 17-year-old son how to kill Israelis and then tells him not to come back. It’s the Hamas version of 42nd Street: You’re going out there a youngster but you’ve got to come back in small pieces.

It may be that she stood for parliament because she’s got a yen to be junior transport minister or deputy secretary of fisheries. But it seems more likely that she and her Hamas colleagues were elected because this is who the Palestinian people are, this is what they believe. The Palestinians are the most comprehensively wrecked people on the face of the earth: After 60 years as U.N. “refugees,” they’re now so depraved they’re electing candidates on the basis of child sacrifice. To take two contemporaneous crises, imagine if the population displacements caused by the end of the Second World War and by the partition of British India had also been left to the U.N. to manage and six decades later they were still running the “refugee” “camps,” now full of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, none of whom had ever lived in any of the places they’re supposed to be refugees from. Would you wish that fate on post-war Central Europe or the Indian subcontinent?

So what happens now? Either Hamas forms a government and decides that operating highway departments and sewer systems is what it really wants to do with itself. Or, like Arafat, it figures that it has no interest in government except as a useful front for terrorist operations. If it’s the former, all well and good: Many first-rate terror organizations have managed to convert themselves to third-rate national-liberation governments. But, if it’s the latter, that too is useful: Hamas is the honest expression of the will of the Palestinian electorate, and the cold hard truth of that is something Europeans and Americans will find hard to avoid.

… you’re always better off knowing what people honestly think. For decades, the Middle East’s dictators justified themselves to Washington as a restraint on the baser urges of their citizens, but in the end they only incubated worse pathologies. Western subsidy of Arafatistan is merely the latest example. Democracy in the Middle East is not always pretty, but it’s better than the West’s sillier illusions.

"Advanced Statistical Techniques"

Want to know why you should be very, very skeptical about anything having to do with test scores and claims about “improved student achievement”? Read an article in yesterday’s New York Times asserting that “A large-scale government-financed study has concluded that when it comes to math, students in regular public schools do as well as or significantly better than comparable students in private schools”:

The study, by Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski, of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, compared fourth- and eighth-grade math scores of more than 340,000 students in 13,000 regular public, charter and private schools on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress. The 2003 test was given to 10 times more students than any previous test, giving researchers a trove of new data.

Though private school students have long scored higher on the national assessment, commonly referred to as “the nation’s report card,” the new study used advanced statistical techniques to adjust for the effects of income, school and home circumstances. The researchers said they compared math scores, not reading ones, because math was considered a clearer measure of a school’s overall effectiveness.

The study found that while the raw scores of fourth graders in Roman Catholic schools, for example, were 14.3 points higher than those in public schools, when adjustments were made for student backgrounds, those in Catholic schools scored 3.4 points lower than those in public schools. A spokeswoman for the National Catholic Education Association did not respond to requests for comment.

The exam is scored on a 0-to-500-point scale, with 235 being the average score at fourth grade, and 278 being the average score at eighth grade. A 10-to-11-point difference in test scores is roughly equivalent to one grade level.

The study also found that charter schools, privately operated and publicly financed, did significantly worse than public schools in the fourth grade, once student populations were taken into account. In the eighth grade, it found, students in charters did slightly better than those in public schools, though the sample size was small and the difference was not statistically significant.

“Over all,” it said, “demographic differences between students in public and private schools more than account for the relatively high raw scores of private schools. Indeed, after controlling for these differences, the presumably advantageous private school effect disappears, and even reverses in most cases.” [All emphasis are mine]

So we are supposed to believe that the “advanced statistical techniques” which made “adjustments” for student “backgrounds” miraculously and “scientifically” reversed the higher scores achieved by private school students when “advanced statistical techniques” were not employed. We are supposed to believe that the Lubienskis didn’t cook the books to yield a politically correct result.

Where are the media cynics when we need them?

Hamas Election Will Have Little Impact on Israel

Israeli historian Michael B. Oren, in a Wall Street Journal column, notes that the Palestinian election will have little effect on Israel:

With little impact on Israeli politics, Hamas’s victory is also unlikely to effect major changes in Israeli security policies. Even before the elections, Israeli forces remained on constant alert and were actively engaged in combating the terror organizations which the PA refused to neutralize. The presence of a Hamas government in Ramallah will do little to alter the situation. There has never been a shortage of volunteers for suicide-bombers or the ordinance necessary for arming them, and augmented state support for terror will not increase the number of attempted attacks. Israel has already developed tactics for fighting terror, and will continue to apply them with success. Indeed, the legitimacy which the Palestinians have freely granted terror by voting for Hamas will facilitate Israel’s efforts to defend itself. The PA will no longer be able to claim ignorance of terror operations, and Israel can better justify pre-emptive and retaliatory actions before the world.

On the diplomatic front, the Palestinian election has sown confusion among U.S. and European sponsors of the Road Map. The Bush administration has adamantly refused to deal with Hamas until it disavows violence and accepts Israel’s existence, even calling on Mr. Abbas to remain in office. The European Union has been more equivocal, intimating a willingness to deal with any Palestinian government “interested in peace.” Still, even the most imaginative Europeans will have difficultly construing Hamas’s platform of praising terror and categorically rejecting Israel as peaceful. U.S. and European officials alike have maintained the hope that by taking on the responsibilities of government, Hamas will be forced to moderate its policies. But this presumes that it is committed to the democratic process, and that radical parties, upon achieving power, invariably moderate. The example of Iran refutes both assumptions. Even if Hamas agrees to a prolonged ceasefire, it will remain doctrinally incapable of accepting the legitimacy of the Jewish state or of permanently refraining from seeking its destruction. The presence of a Mr. Abbas as a puppet president will not dissemble the basic reality that Hamas is in control and cannot be a partner for peace.

I think Oren underestimates the imaginative capabilities of the Europeans (and their similarly “creative” American counterparts like Jimmy Carter). I have no doubt that they are more than imaginative enough to portray Hamas as a defenseless paragon of peace victimized by Israeli and Bushian intransigence.

Meet the New Boss. Same as the Old Boss

John Podhoretz in the New York Post:

Fatah is no better than Hamas. It has a comparably monstrous history of Jew-killling, including the murder of Americans. During the last intifada, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade — which was a wholly owned subsidiary of Fatah — stood second to none in its bloodthirsty slaughter of Israelis as they dined in cafes or rode on buses.

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

There are two distinctions to be drawn between Hamas and Fatah. First, Fatah has supposedly given up its goal of destroying Israel and has supposedly accepted the principle of a two-state solution. Big deal. The Palestinian educational system created by Fatah preaches Israel’s destruction from kindergarten through college, as do the state-run media. Fatah remains philosophically committed to Israel’s destruction, even though it has adopted a more pragmatic stance politically.

Second, Hamas has always been a very useful tool for Fatah and its leaders, who garnered support in America and elsewhere (including Israel) on the grounds that, whatever sins Fatah and Arafat might have committed, they at least weren’t Hamas.

Hamas was said to be infinitely worse than Fatah on the grounds that Hamas was an Islamic movement, whereas Fatah was a secular nationalist Arab movement. All well and good — except that a dead Jew is a dead Jew no matter who kills him.

… Which is why Israel was so wise to give up on the notion of actually negotiating with Fatah in favor of an approach toward the future that says, simply: We will decide what is safe for us, and how best to manage our own destiny. What we don’t want we will give you whether you want it or not, and you can take Gaza and whatever parts of the West Bank we renounce and stick them where the sun doesn’t shine.

That policy will be the one Israel adopts toward the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority too, no matter who succeeds Ariel Sharon as prime minister in the upcoming elections.

Don’t be fooled by the headlines that declare these elections a catastrophe for the “peace process.” There is no “peace process.” There hasn’t been a “peace process” for years. And there won’t be a “peace process” with Hamas just as there wasn’t with Fatah once President Bush realized the truth about Arafat and his lies and cut him and the Palestinian Authority off.

America remains committed to a vision of two democratic states living side by side, and it should. But there was a good reason why Bush never fixed a timetable for the realization of that vision: It’s not going to happen during his presidency.

Clarity Counts

Some common sense from the Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland:

Even after Hamas’s victory became clear, Bush urged President Abbas to “stay in office and work to move the process forward.” The president seemed to be proposing that Abbas seek a political blessing from Hamas and a power-of-attorney to continue talks that the radicals denounce as worthless.

That is precisely the wrong direction to take. The Bush administration and other governments should do nothing to obscure for the Palestinians the consequences of their actions at the ballot boxes on Wednesday. It would not be effective diplomacy or politics to cushion the Palestinians from those consequences.

The world should not move backward 20 years, to the time when diplomats moved heaven and earth to coax grudging and obscure statements from Yasser Arafat acknowledging Israel’s right to exist. That effort led to Israel’s 1993 decision to install Fatah in command of the Palestinian territories in return for Arafat’s unfulfilled installment-plan promise to make peace.

That history suggests there is little to be gained now from trying to induce Hamas into reasonable-sounding rhetoric or from trying to keep afloat an Abbas administration that has just been repudiated. Clarity counts in this election’s aftermath

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"An Aesthetic System of Opinions"

Tony Kushner, radical chic playwright and the guy mostly responsible for the script of Steven Spielberg’s Munich, holds forth (with another “useful idiot” E. L. Doctorow) on the “innocence” of the Rosenbergs.

Joseph Rago writes in the Wall Street Journal:

The forum was generally arcane and self-serious. Messrs. Doctorow and Kushner ventilated many concerns about the relation of culture to society, chief among them the obligation of the artist to accurately represent the past. The pair eventually settled on the definition of historical art as “an aesthetic system of opinions,” as the good Doctorow put it.

Fair enough. But why would “the artist”–let alone anyone–still be hung up on the Rosenbergs? To plow through the evidence for the millionth time: While the trial of the Rosenbergs was flawed by technical improprieties, their crimes are not uncertain or unresolved. Julius Rosenberg, with Ethel as his accomplice, was the head of a sophisticated spy network that deeply penetrated the American atomic program and relayed top secrets to Stalin’s Kremlin. In his memoirs Nikita Khrushchev noted that the Rosenbergs “vastly aided production of our A-bomb.” Joyce Milton and Ronald Radosh wrote a damning account of their activities in “The Rosenberg File” (1983). And the Rosenbergs’ guilt was corroborated by the 1995 declassification of the Venona documents, thousands of decrypted KGB cables intercepted by the National Security Agency in the 1940s.

The notion that anyone would today deny their fundamental complicity in Soviet subversion is extraordinary, almost comically so. But comedy was not quite the mentality at the Rosenberg event. “Ambiguity is the key word, I think,” said Mr. Doctorow, regarding our understanding of the past, though in this instance ambiguous is precisely what it is not.

Mr. Kushner argued the Rosenbergs were “murdered, basically.” Mr. Doctorow went further, explaining that he wanted to use their circumstances to tell “a story of the mind of the country.” It was a mind, apparently, filled with loathing and paranoia–again, never mind the truth of the charges against the Rosenbergs or other spies of the time. “The principles of the Cold War had reached absurdity,” he continued. “We knew that the Russians were no threat, but we wanted to persuade Americans to be afraid” and so impose “a Puritan, punitive civil religion.” Pronounced Mr. Kushner: “Our failure to come to terms with a brutal past, our failure to open up the coffins and let the ghosts out, has led to our current, horrendous situation.”

Now that Oprah and the rest of the media have eviscerated author James Frey for publishing lies about his own past, perhaps they ought to turn their attention to those writers who commit the greater transgression of lying about their country’s past.

From the Cave, Live!

Mark Steyn on Osama’s soundbites:

… you start to notice that, for a guy supposedly holed up in a cave, bin Laden seems to be remarkably well informed about current Democratic party soundbites and media spin. Indeed, his withdrawal plan was presented in pretty much the same terms as the House Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi would put it. He points out that most Americans favour getting out of Iraq. ‘There is no shame in this solution,’ he said genially, ‘which prevents the wasting of billions of dollars that have gone to those with influence, and merchants of war in America’ — i.e., Dick Cheney and Halliburton. It was the same in November 2004 when he popped up to pledge that Kerry-voting blue states wouldn’t be laid waste in this big new attack he’s been working on. Whether he’s been hiding out at the Cannes Film Festival or he’d just sent Ahmed on a three-day ride to the Jalalabad Blockbusters, he’d evidently seen the bit in Fahrenheit 9/11 where, as the planes hit the World Trade Center, the President stays in the Florida grade school classroom reading ‘My Pet Goat’. ‘It appeared to him,’ scoffed Osama, ‘that a little girl’s talk about her goat and its butting was more important than the planes and their butting of the skyscrapers.’ It’s the way he tells them.

As bin Laden went on making Bush the butt of his goat jokes, Michael Moore must have been calling his lawyer. ‘Did you get the feeling that he had a bootleg of my movie?’ mused the corpulent provocateur. ‘Are there DVD players in those caves in Afghanistan?’

You know, that’s not a bad question. It’s clear from their taped messages that Omichael bin Mooren and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are news junkies. .. Is it possible to get premium cable service in the Pakistani tribal lands without anybody in Washington getting wind of it? According to Peter Bergen’s new book The Osama bin Laden I Know, the bin man and his lieutenants are big fans of Larry King Live. Given CNN’s ratings, I’ll bet they’re glad somebody is. Rob Long of National Review has joked for years about Osama and Saddam winding up doing the big interview with Larry, but apparently at Jihad Central it’s no laughing matter: ‘Saratoga, Florida, you’re next with Osama bin Laden! Tomorrow night for the full hour, comedy legend Dick Van Dyke! Osama, tell me about the cave. Smelly?’

They're in Syria

Iraqi air force general under Saddam Hussein says weapons of mass destruction taken to Syria in planes.

Bin Laden's Gift

Columnist Steve Chapman agrees with me that because the Democrats lack seriousness, Bush benefits every time bin Laden or Zawahiri makes a video.

An excerpt:

You might think it would hurt the president for the al Qaeda leader to make a sudden reappearance, chirping away about new attacks on American soil. The latest tape furnishes an annoying reminder that more than four years after the World Trade Center towers fell, the guy who brought them down is still mooning us from his mountain hideout.

That’s humiliating to the greatest military power on Earth. But every tape bin Laden makes reminds Americans how much they loathe him, distracting them from the fact that they’re not all that crazy about Bush. If the president can’t sell his policies on their merits, he can pitch them as the opposite of what the enemy wants.

By renewing his pledge to slaughter Americans, bin Laden conveniently took the focus off of Iraq, where the president is weak, and put it on terrorism, where he is strong. In the latest polls, only 37 percent of Americans now approve of how Bush is conducting the war in Iraq. But 53 percent support his handling of the war on al Qaeda.

That explains why the administration doesn’t mind getting beaten up by civil libertarians for its secret domestic spying program. To many voters, the criticism only confirms their belief that Bush is serious about fighting the terrorists. In Iraq, the administration was accused of doing too little to ensure victory. To be faulted for doing too much is a nice change.

Plantation Pander

Shelby Steele , the best analyst of racial politics, takes a look at Hillary’s “plantation” pander.

An excerpt:

Of course Hillary Clinton’s recent claim that Republicans run the House of Representatives like a “plantation” was old-fashioned political and racial pandering. After all, she uttered this remark at what certainly would have been a prime venue for her husband: a largely black audience on Martin Luther King Day. So, clearly, she was looking to connect with this most loyal Democratic constituency. But Mrs. Clinton is possessed of a tin ear precisely where her husband is all deftness and charm. Black audiences are beyond her. The room of black faces that brings her husband alive, freezes her in overbearing rectitude.

And yet, pandering of the sort she exhibited on MLK Day requires a convincing human identification in order to work. The political panderer always identifies with the suffering of those pandered to–always “feels their pain.” And this is where a tin ear can be disastrous: In giving witness to a group’s suffering, one can seem to be shaming the group. Must blacks have their slave past rubbed in their face simply for Hillary Clinton to make a little hay against modern-day Republicans?

When political pandering goes awry, it calls you a name. On an emotional level, many blacks will hear Hillary’s remark as follows: “I say Republicans run the House like a plantation because I am speaking to Negroes–the wretched of the earth, a slave people–who will surely know all about plantations.” Is this a tin ear or a Freudian slip, blacks will wonder? Does she really see us as she projects us–as a people so backward that our support can be won with a simple plantation reference, and the implication that Republicans are racist? Quite possibly so, since no apology has been forthcoming.