Saturday, December 23, 2006

The ideological differences between Fatah, Hamas and Al-Qaeda

I dislike the "islamo-fascism" label used by the Right for a number of reasons. One is that it mistakenly implies that Islamic extremism has parallels with early 20th-century nationalism, probably more in an effort to paint people with the Hitler/Mussolini brush than to help illuminate details of the ideologies involved. Another is that it misleadingly gives the impression that all strands of Islamic extremism are identical. They aren't. Comments by Al-qaeda criticising Hamas, and the armed conflict that has been starting to occur between Hamas and Fatah in Palestine, may be useful in scoping out the differences.

I've previously used the catch-all term "jihadist" to get past the false comparison with Italy and Germany pre-World War II. I think I need to expand my definitions to highlight the different strands of extremism within the Islamic world. Fatah, Hamas and Al-Qaeda are representatives of three different strands.

1. Fatah. I would call their ideology "traditionalist Islam", or perhaps "conservative Islam". It isn't a group that defines itself by its upholding of Islamic tenets, but its members all adhere to Islam. It's not really extremist I think, although it is illiberal to a great degree. Their political agitation is not caught up in the rhetoric of "Holy War" to my knowledge, focusing more on dealing with immediate non-religious problems in a way that is pragmatic rather than visionary.

2.Hamas. The word here I think is "Islamism". Islamism is a political ideology which expressly states that all politics and political process must occur in the way dictated by the religion of Islam. Or by the Islamist's particular interpretation of Islam, anyway. It is more idealistic and visionary than Islamic traditionalism: Hamas seeks the destruction of Israel, while Fatah sees this as an unobtainable goal.

3, Al-qaeda. Jihadist. The goal is similar to Islamism - a way of life that is Islamic - but the method of bringing it about is through violence. It's not clear to me if their specific goals actually extend beyond that call to engage in violence against the enemies of Islam.

In terms of how each group functions, there's going to be some overlap - Hamas is willing to engage in terrorist strikes, which is jihadist rather than Islamist - but I think those are the core ideologies of each of those three groups.

Bush on current Iraq situation

Another Bush quote, this time on Iraq:
"I believe that we’re going to win, I believe that. My comments yesterday reflected the fact that we’re not succeeding nearly as fast as I had wanted."

What kind of view of the world does it take to look at Iraq right now and describe it not as "grave and deteroriating" like the ISG report did, but as "not succeeding fast enough"?

I've hesitated to use the "d" word about someone who may simply have a differing ideological framework than me, but this is going too far; I'm genuinely starting to think the the President of the United States of America, the most militarily powerful country in the world, is delusional.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bush quote for the day:

“‘Terrorists’ can’t be God-believing people.”

Hoo boy.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Internet portals 2.0? I'll stick with Google thanks

So I've discovered the existence of Netvibes. A place where you can access all your online content or somesuch. I have to wonder: what's the point? I already have technology to access all the online content that interests me: it's called a web browser.

It reminds me of the now long-dead "portal" craze going on when I first discovered the Internet in 1995. People like Yahoo and Netscape were vying to create a single Internet point of presence - a "portal to the Internet" if you will - which aggregated things like websearch, news headlines and weather forecasts on a single page. Now we have people like Yahoo and Newsvibe vying to create a single Internet point of presence which aggreates things like blogsearch, news headlines and RSS feeds on a single page, using Ajax. Portal 2.0.

I wonder if it'll be as uninspiring a flash-in-the-pan as the 1.0 version?

About the only useful thing I can see Portal 2.0 concepts doing is allowing online data to be presented in a manner more appealing to the user. But that isn't exactly what Newsvibe does. What it does is provide a limited framework for aggregating information in away that Newsvibe pre-determines. I have to say on first glance that I don't like it very much. It's easier and more convenient for me to visit's website directly rather than mess about with the limited control over content that Netvibe's module gives me. I haven't checked out the RSS feeds yet.

Not sure I will either given the existence of Google Reader. Google I think gets the "point of presence" idea a little better I think. Sure, there's Google homepage where you can aggregate some stuff, but they don't cram everything into a single framework. There's an individual application interface for Gmail, a different one for Google Reader, another one for Google News. I don't know exactly what Google's style of providing different ways to examine different types of online data is called, but it feels more comfortable and usable. Google Reader and Google News feel like they supplement my web-browsing style, unlike Newsvibe's "Portal" approach which feels like it's trying to replace it. Badly. Maybe that's what bugs me about Newsvibe: they don't recognise the differences between different kinds of content. I think Google does.

I guess I'm turning into a Google fanboy. But really, can you blame me?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Howards new you-beaut citizenship test

An Australian citizenship test? I honestly thought we'd heard the last of that after it was laughed out of the public sphere when the PM first floated the idea. Guess not.

From the Australian's editorial in support of the test
If three months of feedback to the Government's discussion paper on the issue is any guide, there is overwhelming public support for the initiative. Ninety-five per cent of respondents agree that basic English language skills should be compulsory, and 93 per cent consider an understanding of core Australian values to be essential for migrants to make the most of the opportunities in their adopted land.

Can I call bullshit on this? Saying "we think that migrants need to learn and adopt our values to live here successfully" is not at all the same thing as saying "we think the government should ram 'Australian values' down migrants throats".

Then of course there's the question of what "Australian values" are. This isn't as hard as it sounds I think. For example, one Australian value that I like is a healthy disrespect and distrust of politicians. I don't trust John Howard to implement this test. I don't think it will be pushing what "Australian values" are so much as what John Howard would like "Australian values" to be.

Paranoid? Probably. But when it comes right down to it, I don't think it's the Government's job to define values to its citizens - even to its new citizens - so much as it's the citizens' job to have a government that reflects their values.

I don't think the concept of having an Australian citizenship test accurately reflects Australian values. Especially not one that asks questions about Australian history. We're famously bad at knowing our own country's history. To expect new citizens to learn about it in order to be citizens seems, well....un-Australian.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

ISG report: the press conference version

My opinion: the content of the Baker-Hamilton report isn't as important in forming policy so much as the political interpretation of that report, particularly how the US-UK governments spin it to make it line up with their future Iraq policy.

I haven't read the report. My impressions - like that of the average Western citizen - currently come from media reporting of it. Here's a transcript of a press conference with Bush and Blair for analysis.

First item of note, Bush has committed to the existence of a Palestinian state, I believe the first US president ever to do so:"In the Palestinian territories, they are working to stop moderate leaders like President Abbas from making progress toward the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security." Blair echos later on, showing it wasn't a mis-statement: "You are the first president who committed yourself to the two- state solution." I wonder how the Israeli political establishment feels about that?

I've read elsewhere that one of the reasons Blair was so willing to chum it up with Bush was as a way of trying to exert pressure to get a better deal for the Palestinians in Israel/Palestine negotiations. I guess he's succeeded in that, even though it looks like his own political career is basically over now after going against too many of his own constituents on the Iraq war issue.

The vision of the Middle East that Bush/Blair are pushing is pretty blatant: it's evil terrorists and exremists vs good democracy-lovers and moderates. I wonder if those four concepts always line up on two polarised sides like that? Hamas was democratically elected in Palestine after all. And Hezbollah faired pretty well at the polls in the elections in Lebanon.

I get tired of sloganeering in place of actual policy. From reading the conference I get the impression that Bush/Blair's top priority in dealing with the US mid-term electoral smackdown was changing the slogan: "stay the course" and "win hearts and minds" are out, "find a way forward" is in. It is repeated ENDLESSLY! Bush even pushes the "way forward" slogan as a way of avoiding a question:
QUESTION: Why did it take others to say it[that the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating] before you've been willing to acknowledge it to the world?

BUSH: You know, in all due respect, I've been saying it a lot[um...has he? I sure haven't heard it]. I understand how tough it is, and I've been telling the American people how tough it is. And they know how tough it is.

And the fundamental question is: Do we have a plan to achieve our objective? Are we willing to change as the enemy has changed?

And what the Baker-Hamilton study has done is it shows good ideas as to how to go forward. What our Pentagon is doing is figuring out ways to go forward -- all aiming to achieve our objective.

The "finding a way to go forward" slogan just doesn't seem to be getting into media headlines the way the "stay the course" slogan did, though.

Reading the tea leaves, and from previous efforts with slogans, I predict that in six month's time, maybe a year's time, we'll still be repeatedly being told that Bush is boldly and confidently "finding a way to go forward", and will continue to be "finding a way to go forward", until it becomes blatantly obvious that the war effort is not "going forward" and is never going to "go forward", because there is no way to "go forward". We'll see how long Bush/Blair's "we're all about finding a way to go forward" posturing can obscure that from the American public.

On negotiation with Syria and Iran, Bush and Blair seem to split. My impression is that Bush really doesn't want it, and is trying to find a way to lay the blame for not negotiating with Iran and Syria at the feet of Iran and Syria:
When people -- if people come to the table to discuss Iraq, they need to come understanding their responsibilities -- to not fund terrorists, to help this young democracy survive, to help with the economics of the country.

BUSH: And if people are not committed -- if Syria and Iran is not committed to that concept, then they shouldn't bother to show up.

I heard this particular excerpt spoken aloud on the radio while riding a taxi. Bush sounded really angry when he was saying this. I really don't know what's going on in his head here, but I'm pretty sure that the idea of negotiating with Evil on Earth isn't something he would ever be willing to do. Please God, let us never have another Evangelical Christian as President of the United States.

Blair's more open to the idea, and has a comment which to my mind sounds like someone who is good at diplomacy, unlike, President Cowboy:
And let me come directly to the Iran and Syria point. The issue, for me, is not a question of being unwilling to sit down with people or not, but the basis upon which we discuss Iraq has got to be clear and it's got to be a basis where we are all standing up for the right principles, which are now endorsed in the United Nations resolutions, in respect of Iraq.

At which point, he points the finger at Iran:
BLAIR: In other words, you support the democratic-elected government, you do not support sectarians, and you do not support, arm or finance terrorists.

Now, the very reason we have problems in parts of Iraq -- and we know this very well down in the south of Iraq -- is that Iran, for example, has been doing that. It's been basically arming, financing, supporting terrorism.

Hmmm. Maybe not that good at diplomacy...

Blair also mentions how "the old Middle East had, within it, the origins of all the problems we see." Are we still talking about magically solving all of that region's deepseated problems through the neoconservative pipedream of creating a "new Middle East" through military might, Mr Blair? Well, to be fair, the UK I think understands that military strength alone is not enough. But to have an echo of the neoconservative utopia-pretensions for the Middle East in Blair's commentary is deeply unsettling.

Last point before I finish off, this comment from Blair:
Its[Iraq's] people can either be presented with a choice between a secular or a religious dictatorship, which is not a choice that any free people would ever choose.

seems way off the mark, and indicates even further his embrace of the wrong-headed idealism of neoconservatism. "Free people" I believe are entirely willing - eager, even - to embrace dictatorship and oppression of people, so long as there's a pretty good chance that they are the ones who get to do the oppressing.

People will not choose to be an oppressee, but we are often all too willing to choose to be an oppressor. Perhaps we might justify it to ourselves with the usual moral equivocations - "they did it to us for so long", "it's not oppression if they deserve what they get", there are others I'm sure - but we would be freely choosing oppression nonetheless. That is a part of human nature that Bush and Blair's grand vision of a "new Middle East" doesn't take into account. That's why this vision simply cannot work.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Iraqi blame game

Seems the remaining opinionaters who still think the Iraq war was a good idea even now have to find a scapegoat for the failure of Bush II to deliver on anything that was promised by the invasion. The targets of blame for the Bush Administration's own failures appears to have been narrowed down to two:
1. Blame the American people. Supposedly everything would be fine if the Bush Administration hadn't been hampered by skittish voters refusing to allow Bush to fight the war the way he wanted to fight it. The level of historical revisionism needed to make that one float is pretty impressive. But there are True Believers[tm] out there still who accept it, apparently.

2 Blame the Iraqi people. In this scenario, it wasn't a failure of Bush's "new Middle East" policy that has brought Iraq to ruin, but a failure of the Iraqi voting public to properly take advantage of the opportunity afforded to them. Do I detect a smidgeon of cultural chauvinism here? I think I do.