A certain essay appeared in the Wall Street Journal last Saturday, titled "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," to which one excerpted reaction from the Journal community itself was "I am in disbelief after reading this article." What I am in disbelief about, after reading the article, is that the Journal published it. The author is a Chinese mother, Amy Chua—a professor of law at Yale perhaps best known for writing the New York Times bestseller World on Fire.
The essay affirms that stereotypical Chinese parenting produces stereotypical cases of success for the children raised in that fashion—impeccable grade reports, precocious competence in the violin and piano (but mind you, those instruments and no other!), and fortitude of mind in the child to boot—and it explains how all this can be achieved by drawing on representative episodes from the author's own experience as a Chinese mother. The most instructive and blood-chilling of these is the story of how little Lulu, Chua's youngest daughter, was compelled to learn, just in time for her piano recital, how to play "The Little White Donkey"—a most difficult piece, apparently requiring uncommon ambidexterity and, one would think, rapid and fluent communication between the hemispheres of a seven-year-old's brain, across its not fully developed corpus callosum:
Lulu couldn't do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off. "Get back to the piano now," I ordered.... She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu's dollhouse to the car and told her I'd donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn't have "The Little White Donkey" perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, "I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?" I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn't do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.... I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress.... Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.
The author beams with pride over this "success story" and seems to consider it a vindication of her school of parenting against all naysayers. And throughout the article, starting from its title, she does little to disguise her scorn for Western parents, their tolerance for underachievement in their own children, and their squeamishness at the sight or report of the treatment other (luckier) children undergo everyday in the hands of their Chinese mothers.
Having been long convinced that nothing harms stereotypical Western children more than their parents' stereotypical laxness, I nevertheless find appalling much of what Chua states and even more of what she implies. Perhaps the foibles of modern Western parenting have grown so obvious and so ridiculous that any criticism of them is allowed to stick and any proposed alternative is welcomed; the more diametrically opposed to the status quo, the better even. But what Chua is prescribing in her article should not be rashly applauded by even the most frustrated critics of modern parenting mores.
It was not uncommon for a pharaoh to deface the monuments of his predecessors, insert his name in their inscriptions, or impose his likeness on the heads of their statues. The enterprising ruler—whoever he might have been—responsible for introducing this practice debased the respect traditionally accorded to a Pharaoh’s postmortem, opening the door of precedent for successors to usurp his monuments and achievements in turn. Fiddling with the permanence of the past in exchange for artificial boosts to a leader’s legacy tends to be self-defeating.
Today the Obama administration is behaving as if its mandate—conferred by a majority of voters frustrated with the Bush administration—carried sufficient authority not only to break with the past but also to undo it. The new man in the White House is bringing retroactive changes to foreign policy and showing no scruples about reneging on the long-term commitments of his country when they interfere with his own plans. On September 17, President Barack Obama officially announced that he would abandon the Eastern European missile-shield program, thus scrapping the treaties Gorge W. Bush had signed with Poland and the Czech Republic. The decision has drawn expressions of dismay from the governments of both countries.
“Catastrophic for Poland” is how a spokeswoman at the Polish Ministry of Defense described the suspension of the program. Mirek Topolanek, the former Czech prime minister who had gone out on a limb with his own electorate by signing the missile-defense treaty two years ago, interpreted the decision as another sign that “the Americans are not interested in this territory as they were before.” He added ruefully that “this is not good news for the Czech state, for Czech freedom and independence.” Lech Walesa, the former president of Poland and founder of Solidarity, observed with bitterness: “I can see what kind of policy the Obama administration is pursuing toward this part of Europe. The way we are being approached needs to change.”
P.S. This is my first article for Commentary.If you like this post - buy me a coffee
About an hour ago I was holding an umbrella against the wind and rain, in the outer skirts of the crowd that had gathered on Foley Square, Manhattan, to protest Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s impending civil trial. Judging by how much space had been barricaded, I’d say the city must have expected a bigger turnout. Doubtless, the weather deterred many would-be attendees. But the 300-400 people who had shown up were determined and righteously angry—at the president’s and attorney general’s measly arguments for extending to the 9/11 mastermind the same legal privileges of American citizens; at the travesty of justice that his civil trial would entail; and at the cheap rhetorical shots through which the administration is dismissing the critics of its decision.
Read the rest at Commentary.If you like this post - buy me a coffee
I thought I was done writing about Robert Spencer for a number of reasons. First, compiling the exposé of his friend and colleague James Jatras was a laborious effort for which, until recently, I had little to show besides publication in the Albanian-American newspaper Illyria (I have little interest in preaching to the converted) and a few (mostly unsympathetic) comments. Second, the more I read about Spencer's other associates and their agendas, the more I felt that by virtue of their sheer extremism, these fringe elements could never achieve anything of substance in America; so why bother exposing them? And third, I do have a life. And a job.
That being said, in the wake of second-hand threats of legal action I have decided my best defense against potential charges of defamation is the truth. More truth about Robert Spencer.
While I don't think Spencer and his associates stand a chance of implementing what I fear are their stealth policies, their shrill and unfortunately universally accepted identification with "the counter-jihadist movement" is severely detrimental to the efforts of respectable intellectuals standing up to Islamofascism. Front groups for radical Islamist interests -- along with their Western apologists -- conveniently employ such critics of compromised backgrounds as straw men against any legitimate scrutiny of their own activities. I believe everyone acquainted with Robert Spencer's work should consider the causes he is involved with and the company he keeps before lending him support; this is one more reason for me to write about him.
In this article I would like to draw attention to Robert Spencer's relationship with Srjda/Serge Trifkovic, author of books critiquing Islam and self-styled scholar of Islamic history, theology and law. In fact, his books are so similar to Spencer's in tone and tenor they are often purchased together on Amazon. The two authors are friends: they've held joint interviews, collaborated on a documentary film, "Islam: What the West Needs to Know," and Spencer has frequently featured and extolled Trifkovic's work and commentary throughout his website JihadWatch. Trifkovic is heavily promoted by the American Council for Kosovo -- a Serbian lobbying organization in which Spencer serves as board member. Another board member -- until his death -- was Alfred Sherman, who also founded and financed a similar organization, the Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies, currently headed by Srdja Trifkovic. Moreover, Trifkovic and the director of the American Council for Kosovo, James Jatras, have coauthored articles and held interviews together.
What's so interesting about Trifkovic? Just about everything omitted or whitewashed from his Wikipedia profile.
The following is an accurate albeit incomplete introduction:
...Trifkovic was one of the leaders of the Bosnian Serbs during the years of ethnic cleansing. Unsurprisingly, he has an online article titled "The Hague Tribunal: Bad Justice, Worse Politics," in which he argues that there was no ethnic cleansing at all against Bosnian Muslims by Serbs. His subtitle reads "The Myth of the Bosnian Holocaust," and to support his eccentric case he repeatedly accuses the U.S. authorities of distorting or covering up "facts" about Bosnia to accuse Serbs unjustly...
In the same article, Trifkovic openly supports Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic and argues for their innocence. These two have been indicted by the U.N. Tribunal on sixteen counts of genocide and war crimes regarding the Bosnian war of 1992-1995...
In March 2003, Trifkovic appeared as a defense witness in the trial of Milomir Stakic in [the Hague Tribunal.] On July 13, 2003, Stakic was sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty on the following counts:
Count 4: Extermination, a Crime against Humanity
Count 5: Murder, a Violation of the Laws and Customs of War
Count 6: Persecutions, Crimes against Humanity, incorporating
Count 3: Murder, a Crime against Humanity, and
Count 7: Deportation, a Crime against Humanity.
The Stakic case is of great importance in the overall context of the Bosnian war and The Hague Tribunal, because it centers on the expulsion of non-Serbs from the area of Prijedor in northern Bosnia-Herzegovina, in which the notorious concentration camps of Keraterm, Omarska and Trnopolje were located. Stakic himself stated on television that the camps of Omarska, Keraterm, and Trnopolje were "a necessity in the given moment."
There are some illuminating points in Trifkovic's testimony. At page 13757, Trifkovic admits that he served as "representative of the Republika Srpska between 9 November, 1993, and July, 1994, in London," a fact that he had omitted from the C.V. he submitted to the Tribunal. The Republika Srpska [R.S.] was the Serbian occupation zone in Bosnia-Herzegovina created on the orders and under the direction of Slobodan Milosevic.
On March 19, 2003, Judge Wolfgang Schomburg commented on the character of Trifkovic's testimony, which he described as showing "the clear lack of tolerance, the poor basis of facts relying on secondary instead of primary sources. And not going into details, we discussed some examples yesterday. This is clear. But as I said yesterday, this has nothing to do with Dr. Stakic being the accused here in this Tribunal."
That is, the Judge states that the opinions of Trifkovic should not be attributed to the defendant Stakic. The opinions of Trifkovic were so extreme they should be excluded so as not to prejudice the defense of a man who finally was given the first LIFE SENTENCE for his crimes against Bosnian Muslims!
The full transcripts of Trifkovic's defense of Milomir Stakic at the Hague Tribunal can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here, in chronological order. Robert Spencer is close friends with not one, but two defense witnesses for Serbian war criminals, the other being James Jatras, who defended Slobodan Milosevic at his trial. But Trifkovic's testimony was even more scandalous than the above account would indicate:
[S]ources at the Hague report that war crimes prosecutors last week ripped apart Chronicles editor, paleocon speaker and longtime war-crimes tribunal critic Srdja Trifkovic for plagiarism; according to people at the trial, Trifkovic republished verbatim and without attribution four pages of sensitive court documents, allegedly obtained from a member of the defense team.
Whenever confronted with his ties to the genocidal Bosnian Serb government, Trifkovic pulls out an entire portfolio of published statements to prove his vehement opposition to Slobodan Milosevic throughout the 1990s. His indignant alibi is that, in fact, he worked as adviser to a "determined foe" of Milosevic:
Yes, I was Plavsic's consultant during her brief presidency (1998), when she was persona gratissima in Washington, where I accompanied her during her visit in May of that year. She was certainly not a "member of the Milosevic regime" -- quite the contrary, she was his determined foe, which made it possible for me to help her, and made her attractive in the eyes of the U.S. Administration.
Slobodan Milosevic is so infamous that in the sensitivities of many a Westerner, opposition to such a monster is conflated with epic struggles of "good vs. evil." It is hard to fathom that many Serbian leaders (as well as a significant portion of the Serbian population) opposed Milosevic not because he was planning and executing genocide and mayhem all over Yugoslavia, but because he hadn't gone far enough and had failed to fully deliver on those counts. After all, who can be expected to keep track of all these colorful characters? Milosevic, Karadzic, Mladic, Stakic, Plavsic, Blagojevic... Opposition to Milosevic is automatically considered a proxy for human decency.
The most fascinating thing about Biljana Plavsic, whom Trifkovic admittedly served as a consultant, is she's not a fictional character! The descriptions below do not refer to a comic book or horror film caricature. She did indeed live and rule in Serb-occupied Bosnia:
Biljana Plavšic is a former Bosnian Serb politician and university professor currently serving a sentence in Sweden as a result of a conviction by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for war crimes. She was the president of Republika Srpska for two years from 1996 through 1998.
Besides being the highest-ranking Bosnian Serb politician to be sentenced [by the ICTY], she was also known for her fiery nationalist statements during the War in Bosnia, against the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), and, later, her remorse for the crimes against humanity she admitted to have been responsible for as a high-level politician.
She was infamous for some of her comments during the war, and for her April 1992 appearance in Bijeljina with Željko Ražnatovic, aka Arkan. Serbian President Slobodan Miloševic's support for the "Vance Owen Plan" caused her to refuse to shake his hand, as she denounced him as a traitor to the Serbian nation.
Vojislav Šešelj, at the Miloševic trial, described Karadžic's motives for nominating her.
"She held very extremist positions during the war, insufferably extremist, even for me, and they bothered even me as a declared Serb nationalist. She brought Arkan and his Serb Volunteer Guard to Bijeljina, and she continued to visit him after their activities in Bijeljina and the surrounding area... Radovan Karadzic...believed her to be more extreme than himself in every way. He thought that the Western protagonists who tried to eliminate him at any cost would have an even greater problem with her... Radovan Karadzic believed that she would continue to occupy her patriotic positions until the end..."
Vojislav Seselj is the founder of Serbia's neo-fascist Radical Party, so just what kind of thoughts and plans were roaming in Biljana Plavsic's head to be deemed too extremist even for him? Srdja Trifkovic's utterances were so outrageous that the ICTY judge explicitly cautioned that they not be attributed to the war criminal Stakic. Is it any wonder, then, that not even Milosevic was a worthy embodiment of Trifkovic's political philosophy? Biljana was his true and only match.
More (<-- excellent source I recommend reading in full) about and from the "iron lady":
"I'm not saying that we no longer wish to live with Croats, but rather that we shall not allow them to live with us."
"I don't have much faith in political negotiations. One good battle would settle this war," she told Telegraf (Belgrade) on 15 July 1994. Hence her statement that she "exchanges kisses only with heroes [more on that later -ed.]." Her conception of heroism is personified by Zeljko Raznjatovic-Arkan, the perpetrator of horrific ethnic cleansing in B.-H. "When I saw what he'd done in Bijeljina, I at once imagined all his actions being like that. I said: here we have a Serb hero. He's a real Serb, that's the kind of men we need." (On, Belgrade, 12 November 1996.) "Arkan is wonderful... he impressed me as a humane person forced by necessity to take up arms." (Bosnian Serb News Agency, 1992.)
Plavsic's monstrous celebration of Arkan as the symbol of Serbdom and heroism can be understood only in the context of her own authentic conception of ethnic cleansing: Arkan is not simply the Serb Empress's favourite hero, he is the loyal and systematic executor of her "imperial" design. This is the reason for her great affection for him, which has lasted to the present day. "I would prefer completely to cleanse eastern Bosnia of Muslims. When I say cleanse, I don't want anyone to take me literally and think I mean ethnic cleansing. But they've attached this label 'ethnic cleansing' to a perfectly natural phenomenon and characterized it as some kind of war crime." (Svet, Novi Sad, 6 September 1993.)
What the difference is, in this concrete case, between the cleansing of Muslims from eastern Bosnia and ethnic cleansing, is something that only Biljana Plavsic's monstrous mind can discern. "It's not the nape but the neck," as the saying goes.
From the very beginning of the war Plavsic was already invoking Dragoljub-Draza Mihailovic, leader during World War II of the Serb(ian) nationalists better known as Chetniks and a proven collaborator of the German occupiers. "He fought for the unification of all Serbs within a single Serb state, the borders of which were to run from Djevdjelija [on the Macedonian-Greek border] to Karlobag [two thirds of the way up the Croatian coast]... Uncle Draza intended to cleanse the future united Serb lands of all enemies of Serbdom and Orthodoxy, as well as of anti-national elements." (Srbija, 3 September 1992.)
"That's true [i.e. that the Bosnian Muslims were originally Serbs]. But it was genetically deformed material that embraced Islam. And now, of course, with each successive generation this gene simply becomes concentrated. It gets worse and worse, it simply expresses itself and dictates their style of thinking and behaving, which is rooted in their genes..." (Svet, Novi Sad, 6 September 1993.)
As a concrete example of her thesis about Muslims being "genetically deformed material," she has used Ejup Ganic: "I have never met a more deformed person than him in political circles, which abound with such deformed people." (On, Belgrade, 12 November 1996.)
"We are disturbed by the fact that the number of marriages between Serbs and Muslims has increased... because mixed marriages lead to an exchange of genes between ethnic groups, and thus to a degeneration of Serb nationhood." (Oslobodjenje, Sarajevo, May 1994.)
[Plavsic] once said, at the time of the Vance-Owen Plan [which led to her falling out with Milosevic, because he settled for peace -ed.]: "there are twelve million of us, and even if six million perish the other six million will live decently." Later she tried to explain this away by saying that Milosevic had misquoted her (NIN, Belgrade, 6 May 1994.) She claimed she had only repeated to him what a wounded soldier had told her! It is not known what reply she gave to the wounded soldier, but if Milosevic said one good thing during the war it was that she belonged in an institution.
"The Serbs of Bosnia, especially those living in frontier regions, have developed and refined a special ability to sense danger to the nation and to evolve mechanisms for self-protection. In my family it was always said that the Serbs of Bosnia were much better than the Serbs of Serbia... As a biologist I know that the best ability to adapt and survive is possessed by those species which live next to others that are a threat to them... Hence, the separation of Serbs from other nations is both a natural and a necessary phenomenon." (Borba, Belgrade, 28 July 1993.)
From another source:
Even the former Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic's December 2002 confession of guilt in The Hague seemed more aimed at appeasing the guilt of Serbs than remorse for the victims of Bosnian Serb atrocities. Her explanation that egregious crimes had been motivated by Serbs' "blinding fear," which led to an "obsession" that they would "never again become victims," as they had in World War II, had little resonance in non-Serb quarters. Few can forget the woman who was once shown on local TV stepping over a Bosniak corpse to kiss and congratulate the Serbian warlord Zeljko Raznjatovic, known as Arkan.
This is the person for whom Robert Spencer's friend and colleague Srdja Trifkovic worked at a time when her actions and pronouncements were a matter of public record. He also worked for Karadzic in the capacity of official spokesperson, a fact he has tried to deny since his self-refurbishment as a pundit and scholar of Islam in the US:
I have met Karadzic during my many trips to the Balkans but I never "worked" for him.
Sources say otherwise. A BBC article identifies him as a former spokesperson for the Bosnian Serb government as he argues against Karadzic's extradition to The Hague. But the smoking gun comes from elsewhere:
Dr Trifkovic, in a 1994 interview with Adam Nicolson of the London Sunday Telegraph:
"In the press the Serbs have been portrayed in a Manichaean way, as the perennial and only culprits, demonised as a collective monstrosity. It was this which induced me to give up my other career pursuits and become a spokesman for Dr. Karadzic, which is not much easier at the moment, I must say," he smiled, "than being the spokesman for the Afrikaner Republican Party." The Serbs' main shortcoming, as he saw it, had been in public relations. "There is a Serb reluctance to manipulate the truth," he said. "A sense of propriety. The concept of public relations is morally repugnant to the Serbs, to manhandle people's minds in that way we believe the truth will become known by itself. The result was a lack of preparedness for this aspect of the war from which we have suffered."
Ah, but what's a little bit of personal revisionism from a man who denies the Srebrenica genocide and other meticulously documented massacres without batting an eye? Trifkovic's on-record views include:
[T]he commonly quoted figure of victims of the Srebrenica massacre was a "long-debunked myth."
[T]he often-cited figure of 200,000-250,000 Bosnians killed in the entire conflict is incorrect, and that it is closer to 80,000-100,000 on all three sides (Serbs, Croats and Muslims), about half of them civilians, which is the figure confirmed by the Hague Tribunal research team.
Muslims in the UN-designated safe havens, like Srebrenica, led by Naser Oric, were actually using them "as armed camps and springboards for offensives against the Serbs."
He has said that the alleged Bosnian Serb "rape camps" were "entirely fictitious."
Invoking Lord David Owen's memoir, he has described the Breadline Massacre, where 22 people died, as a public relations "stunt" by the Izetbegovic regime.
What did an average workday as Karadzic's spokesperson entail? No comment:
Dr Trifkovic, as featured on CBS EVENING NEWS (6:30 PM ET) May 26, 1995, Friday:
HEADLINE: BOSNIAN SERBS HOLD UN PEACEKEEPERS HOSTAGE IN RETALIATION FOR NATO AIR ATTACKS
DAN RATHER, anchor:
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization stepped up its air attacks against Bosnian Serbs today, but the Serbs are still very much in control on the ground, and they came back with even more terror against civilians and United Nations' soldiers. Correspondent Barry Petersen begins our report.
BARRY PETERSEN reporting:
American and NATO strategists expected the air strikes to change the course of the war. They were right; it got worse. Serbs reacted by imprisoning unarmed UN observers.
Unidentified Man #1: Our lives are in danger.
PETERSEN: Some were turned into human shields at the ammunition dumps NATO was targeting. There was a desperate radio message, apparently sent by a UN hostage.
Unidentified Man #2: If the bombing stops, we will be set free. Otherwise, we will be--we will be killed, over.
Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken.)
PETERSEN: The Serbs chose a somewhat different response to yesterday's air strike: a massacre; artillery blasting a crowded street in Tuzla lined with sidewalk cafes. More than 70 were killed. The youngest victim was two months old. The Serbs know they can't stop the warplanes militarily. They think if they can make the price of the air strikes high enough in human terms, that will stop the UN generals.
Mr. SERGE TRIFKOVIC (Bosnian Serb spokesman): The next time there is a call for stern action against these dastardly Serbs, if it is known that it will result in 2,000 shells falling on the so-called protected areas, people will think twice.
PETERSEN: The shells rained down on Sarajevo today, another of those so-called protected areas that isn't.
Mr. MARTIN McCAULEY (Eastern European specialist): The military must now consider whether it's worth using military force against military objects if the result is the death of innocent children and men and women.
PETERSEN: The UN now stands at a terrible crossroads about what to do next. It has never stood up so strongly to the Serbs, and Bosnia has never paid so dearly. Barry Petersen, CBS News, London.
At this point, I would like to briefly revisit the recent online debacle over Robert Spencer being caught joining a genocidal Facebook group championing the "Reconquest of Anatolia," which would be accomplished through the ethnic cleansing and forced sterilization of the Turkish population. Anyone disposed to charitably dismiss the evil lunacy espoused by the group as merely hyperbolic sentiment ought to remember that Robert Spencer is closely associated with a man who has personally participated in an actual ethnic-cleansing campaign of similar proportions. Spencer's family background is a reasonable fit for irredentist intentions toward Turkey, not to mention his seething hatred for everything Muslim/Islamic:
LAMB: What's your own background as far as country?
SPENCER: Well, I'm an American and my family is from what is now Turkey and actually that is the beginning of my interest in the subject of Islam that my grandparents shortly after World War I were offered the choice of conversion to Islam or exile from the land where they had lived for many hundreds of years - that is my family had lived. And many Christians in that area had lived there.
They were - those chose exile and they came to the United States. They, despite their experiences which involved some violence and some of the - some killings of some of the family members, they were - they spoke in a uniformly positive fashion about life over there and made me become quite fascinated with it such that I took the first opportunity I could when I went to college to read the Koran and to begin studying Islamic theology and history.
But I won't elaborate on Spencer's genocidal sympathies or lack thereof, lest I be freshly accused of making libelous allegations. Readers can draw their own conclusions, though by now they're probably just wondering whatever happened to our old friend Trifkovic in the wake of the Dayton Agreement, when the Bosnian Serb government he worked for was assimilated within the federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. I believe I already gave it away, but it's worth rehashing: He became an American pundit, analyst, author, and anti-Islamic polemicist. Anyone impressed with Spencer's credentials and achievements should be in awe of Trifkovic's: after all, the latter holds a PhD as opposed to a mere Master's degree, has been a visiting scholar at no less than the Hoover Institution (on the State Department's dime), and has also authored bestselling books on Islam. A counter-jihadist par excellence, wouldn't you say?
A closer look at his activities in America reveals involvement with the paleoconservative Rockford Institute. Trifkovic is the director of the institute's Center for International Affairs and publishes its magazine, Chronicles. The leader of the John Randolph Club -- an offshoot of the Rockford Institute preoccupied with "renewal of Christendom" -- is Justin Raimondo, owner of the anti-Semitic conspiratorial site Antiwar.org, which has published several of Trifkovic's articles.
As a curious aside, speaking of Christendom, the director and producer of the documentary "Islam: What the West Needs to Know", starring both Robert Spencer and Srdja Trifkovic, is a contributing author to Chronicles. In a recent article he prophesies that Barack Obama is the Antichrist, whose presidency heralds the end of our times. Gregory M. Davis writes:
I propose that with president-elect Obama we have taken a significant step toward the end of the world-and not just because a left-winger is likely to make a botch of whatever he touches. By the end of the world we mean the end of human history, which had its beginning with the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. The fall was the beginning of history; the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment-when we shall all be changed in the twinkling of an eye and the elements burn with fervent heat-will be the conclusion. History as we know it is the story of the separation of man from God through disobedience and the saga of his redemption through divine grace. We do not know when the Master shall return-no man knoweth the day nor hour-but we do have powerful indications from Holy Scripture and Tradition about the general course of history and what its latter days will look like.
This same Gregory M. Davis also contributes to Spencer's JihadWatch, where he has authored an entire column, Islam 101. Back to Chronicles: A magazine that would publish insane screeds of the Obama-is-the-Antichrist caliber can be safely assumed to carry more craziness on board, and it does. On the magazine's website the League of the South is prominently blog-rolled. In fact, Thomas Fleming, Chronicles' current editor-in-chief, is a founder and former board member of the neo-Confederate League. Pat Buchanan also has a regular column, and the magazine has strongly supported his presidential bids. The magazine's attitude toward Jews and Israel can be gleaned from a simple Boolean search of their archives. Fleming writes:
From a fairly homogeneous ethnic base-a British core with Northern European accretions-we have morphed into a multiethnic, multilingual, multicultural population in which no one, not even descendants of the oldest stock, knows or cares who he is. Leftists now rejoice that the White House will be presided over by someone whose middle name is Hussein and actually run by someone whose middle name is Israel.
Paul Craig Roberts writes:
Vast numbers of people in the United States and abroad are hoping that President Obama will end America's illegal wars, halt America's support for Israel's massacre of Lebanese and Palestinians, and punish, instead of reward, the shyster banksters [sic] whose fraudulent financial instruments have destroyed economics and imposed massive sufferings on people all over the world.
Elsewhere he writes:
It is the same media that today provide only Israeli propaganda as "coverage" of the Israeli war crimes in Gaza.
Readers interested in further establishing the bona fide anti-Semitism of Chronicles can do their own digging. Trifkovic has been personally involved in Pat Buchanan's political debut in the Serbian American community and has jointly organized fundraisers for him with the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white-nationalist organization whose membership largely overlaps with the Ku Klux Klan's:
The Council of Conservative Citizens grew out of the old white Citizens Councils-the principal organization that fought for segregation in the South during the Civil Rights era. At the end of 1998, it appeared as if the role of the Council of Conservative Citizens in public life would be greatly diminished after the exposure of close ties to elected officials. However, recent events point to a new cycle of activity by the Council members in the electioneering sphere.
On June 30, 2000, nearly 100 supporters gathered at the Holy Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Cathedral on Chicago's Northside for a $100 a plate fundraiser for Reform Party Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan. Although a posted flyer announcing the hastily scheduled event claimed that the meeting was sponsored by a group calling itself the "Coalition for Just Peace in the Balkans," it was clear who was in charge.
The Very Revered Father Denis Pavichevich, priest of the Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Cathedral, was the host of the event, and clearly ran the show. Dressed in a gray cassock, accessorized with a large gold cross around his neck and a huge diamond-encrusted Confederate Battle Flag ring on his left hand, Father Denis-as most people referred to him that evening-was a friendly albeit imposing figure.
Flying in front of Pavichevich's residence next to the church is the third national flag of the Confederacy-just below a Serbian flag. In addition to running the church and being the RSVP contact for the Buchanan fundraiser, Pavichevich is the vice-chair of the Northern Illinois Council of Conservative Citizens (Northern Illinois CCofC). He uses his church to hold regular Council of Conservative Citizens meetings as well as this Buchanan fundraiser.
Staff from the Rockford, Illinois based Rockford Institute also played an integral role in the event, running the registration table and doing the introductions.
The crowd milled around the lobby, browsing through copies of Chronicles and Buchanan's latest book, Republic, Not an Empire, as they awaited the arrival of the Reform Party candidate. There was a virtual absence of Reform Party literature. Several people in the crowd wore the green "Buchanan 2000" buttons of the Spotlight-run "Americans for Buchanan Committee" on their lapels.
As Buchanan entered the room with Pavichevich and Chronicles Foreign Affairs Editor Srdja Trifkovic, people began filing into the banquet hall and taking their seats. With the verve of a politician, Buchanan made his way through the crowd, shaking hands with many of the people sitting down. Towards the end of his rounds, Buchanan stopped to chat with John Kelly, the chair of the Northern Illinois Council of Conservative Citizens, who was surrounded by CofCC activists at his table.
Another mini-commotion broke out at one of the CofCC tables. John Kelly brought a CofCC banner with him to the event. A discussion ensued about whether they should ask Buchanan to pose for a picture in front of it. But since the CofCC was a "controversial" group, they decided it might be too awkward for Buchanan to fully align himself publicly with the CofCC. They settled for a group picture with Buchanan, without the banner.
After dinner, Thomas Fleming, head of the Rockford Institute, stepped up to the podium to begin the Buchanan introductions. During his lively and brief remarks, Fleming discussed how someone had labeled Buchanan a "loose cannon." To Fleming, that was a good thing. He extolled the virtues of being loose (able to turn to meet the opposition, on all sides, and not tied down by money) and a cannon (a dedicated individual who is powerful). He then introduced Trifkovic, to give a "more serious introduction."
Trifkovic appealed to the large contingent of Serbian Americans in the crowd, by waxing [sic] on about how Buchanan is the only candidate who is pro-Serbian and how that position is a natural result of his "America First" stance.
Buchanan then took the stage for a canned stump speech and an announcement that Perot would not be running against him, followed by questions. During the Q & A period, Trifkovic seemed to guide Buchanan through the questions, at times whispering into his ear.
The same source summarizes Fleming's and Trifkovic's pasts and positions:
Fleming goes even further, mounting an assault on the legal foundation of civil rights and equality before the law in the United States - the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Arguing that "no one who believes in a federal system can accept the premise of the 14th Amendment," Fleming further asserts the genetic determinist view that has generally accompanied assaults on the rights of people of color in America. He writes that the "genetic differences" between the races "are responsible for gross statistical variations in...emotional and behavioral norms, and the various components of intelligence" (Chronicles, August 1994).
Given Fleming's views on matters racial, it is no surprise that he emerges as an apologist for the Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan. Fleming characterizes the Klan as a "national liberation army" of "ex-Confederates" who "refused to accept their status as a subjugated people." As such, Fleming argues, the "postwar struggles" carried out by the Klan were "only accidentally a struggle between races." (Chronicles, November 1997). Fleming's views on the Reconstruction Klan are in keeping with his position on the board of directors of the League of the South. This Alabama-headquartered group opposes the idea of "egalitarianism" between the races and argues that southern whites should not "give control over their civilization and its institution to another race, whether it be native blacks or Hispanic immigrants." To accomplish such goals, the League advocates overturning the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and states that "secession is the best way to restore good government to the South." The League has subsequently been a leading advocate of defending the use of the Confederate Flag in southern states.
Fleming has also offered his own twist on history and its uses. While rejecting the crass Holocaust denial of David Irving and Ernst Zundel, he nonetheless attacks Holocaust education curriculum such as "Facing History and Ourselves" as a "reigning ideology" that has "displaced the authentic religion of Judaism." Such ideology, he argues, has been "distorted into a weapon to destroy every real and good thing in the traditions of European and American Christendom." (Chronicles, May 2000).
Another Rockford staffer adept at bending history for political purposes is Srjda Trifkovic, director of the Rockford Institute's Center for International Affairs and Chronicles Foreign Affairs Editor. Trifkovic has dismissed ethnic cleansing in Bosnia as being "fabricated by the Muslim side" and minimized the devastating war in the Balkans as nothing more than "a medium-sized local conflict." Trifkovic and Fleming are listed as heads of the "Coalition for a Just Peace in the Balkans," the group sponsoring the Chicago Buchanan fundraiser. Trifkovic introduced Buchanan at the Chicago event and helped guide him through the difficult foreign policy questions from the audience.
Other individuals involved with Chronicles, the Rockford Institute, and the Council of Conservative Citizens have their backgrounds examined, but the connections and positions become as repetitive as they are nauseating, so I will refrain from airing them here. Readers may satisfy their morbid curiosity about the associations between various American and European neo-fascist fringe groups and their respective histories by consulting the above source.
Here are two other insightful sources related to Srdja Trifkovic and the insidious web of connections between Belgrade propaganda, neo-confederate/white-nationalist groups, and fringe elements of the GOP. Excerpt:
The Foreign Policy Editor of Chronicles, the Journal of the Rockford Institute, is Serge (Srdja) Trifkovic. Trifkovic, a proponent of extremist Serb nationalist causes and former advisor to the architects of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia (see below) has appeared on CNN as an expert on the Balkans.
The Chronicles web page on Kosovo includes every possible Belgrade position, from the claim that the atrocities at Racak were a hoax, to claims that Albanians in Kosovo were fleeing NATO bombs rather than Serb militias, that the Bosnian Muslims slaughtered themselves, and that Serbs were experiencing in Kosovo what white Americans are experiencing in the U.S. as the "browning of America."
One of the authors of this "browning of America" theme for Chronicles is another extreme supporter of Serb radicalism, Bob Djurdjevic. In a series of articles for Chronicles, The Washington Times, and on his own web site, Djurdjevic glorifies as a victim the indicted war criminal Simo Drljaca, who was responsible for the region of the most gruesome atrocities in Bosnia, including the Omarska, Keraterm, and Trnopolje concentration camps, and he extols General Ratko Mladic, now indicted for genocide by the International Tribunal, and shows a picture of himself with his hero Mladic. He writes [that] the New World Order (NWO) is out to destroy White, Christian America even as it is out to destroy the White, Christian purity of Europe. He even proudly publicizes a letter, sent to him by Ku Klux Klan leader Louis Beam, in which Beam volunteers to fight in Kosovo to protect Serbia from the non-Christian hordes. Beam, in turn, in an article called the Alamo of Kosovo, extols Prince Lazar and the Serb heroes of 1389 as the greatest defenders in history of Christian White culture and the effort by the Belgrade regime to continue this heroism in Kosovo in 1999. For full details, citations, and quotations of Djudjevic and Beam, see my full article, "'Mutt America', The Religio-Racist Right and the Balkan Genocide."
But Trifkovic is not a one-trick-pony; in addition to Serbian Fascism, he seems receptive to neo-fascist efforts all over Western Europe (not to mention his routine dissemination of Russian propaganda on all fronts, ranging from the situation in Ukraine to the conflict in Georgia):
Among the slew of anti-Muslim screeds published in recent years, one of the more prominent was The Sword of the Prophet by Serge Trifkovic. Despite Trifokovic's dubious background as a former spokesman for Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic (although he also spoke against Slobodan Milsoevic), he was embraced by American conservatives -- paleo and neo -- as yet another expert who dared to tell "the truth" about Muslims and Islam. Here he is on Frontpage, discoursing on the subject with fellow polemicists Robert Spencer and Walid Shoebat. Sites such as Jihad Watch and pundits such as Don Feder toasted his efforts; Brian Mitchell of Investor's Business Daily gushed over him as "a European historian of broad learning, sound philosophy and keen political insight."
In 2006, Trifkovic demonstrated this "keen political insight" in a cosy interview with the BNP's Nick Griffin, in which he took at face value Griffin's denials of racism and failed to ask any questions about either Griffin's anti-Semitic past or the various private comments made by BNP leaders expressing crude racism and praise for Hitler. The BNP has a Jewish town councilor, Patricia Richardson, and this is presented as evidence that the BNP has rejected its past anti-Semitism-although in fact Griffin has (by his own admission) merely discarded anti-Jewish politics for anti-Muslim as a matter of strategy.
And as it happens, Richardson and Trifkovic will be meeting at the end of this week at a conference in Baltimore entitled "Preserving Western Civilization".
The conference is being organised by Dr. Michael H. Hart, an astrophysicist who claims that human history should be interpreted by considering differences in racial IQs. He also argues that the USA should be divided into white, black, and mixed "nations." Other speakers include Philippe Rushton, the "scientific" racialist who believes that white intellectual superiority over blacks can be inversely correlated to size of genitalia-as I blogged here, in 2006 he spoke on the "biological basis of patriotism" at a Right Now conference held at Mark Mason's Hall in central London-and the usual characters from the American Renaissance circuit.
It’s interesting that despite the rabidly racist and anti-Semitic environment he is steeped in, Srdja Trifkovic takes time to tailor Belgrade propaganda specifically for Israel, as exemplified by his articles “Kosovo: A Threat to Israel’s Survival,” “U.S. Kosovo Policy is Bad for Israel” (coauthored with James Jatras), etc. This is yet another example of how anti-Semitic agitators are learning to pay lip-service to Israel’s interests for the sake of expediency when they think they can co-opt Jewish sympathy for their hatred of Muslims.
A confrontation with CAIR over his book, the Sword of the Prophet, has boosted Trifkovic’s profile as a reputable “counter-jihadist.” In such a conflict, asymmetric information can lead outsiders familiar with the disreputable background of only one of the parties involved to conclude that its antagonist is blameless. Just as whoever hears Biljana Plavsic was Slobodan Molosevic’s adversary may assume she was one of “the good guys,” whoever knows of CAIR’s disturbing tactics and connections to Islamist terrorists (e.g. the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas) may think Trifkovic is “fighting the good fight.” But how many people will in turn sympathize with CAIR and discount as motivated by Islamophobia any future scrutiny of its activities, should they learn of the baggage Trifkovic carries? In a perverse way, CAIR and their ilk, and Trifkovic and his ilk, are each other’s allies: they use each other as bogeymen to divert attention from their own severely compromised agendas.
CAIR is not interested in integrating Muslims into a liberal America, but rather in spearheading subversive movements to empower extremists at home and abroad. Conversely, Trifkovic is not interested in defending America, the institutional product of the Enlightenment, from the advances of radical Islam — in fact his writings and actions suggest he despises America’s liberal, secular, constitutional nature. Philosophically he yearns for the establishment of a tribal, medieval, eugenicist, proto-Christian aggressive state whose glory is defined by the cruelty it can inflict on its neighbors, while pragmatically he seems interested in furthering Belgrade and Kremlin propaganda in American circles. Anti-Islamic polemics is his platform for gaining attention and credibility to promote his true goals.
Effective opposition to the insinuations of radical Islam in the West ought to focus not only on what we oppose, but most importantly on what we affirm. No successful response to Islamofascism — or one worthy of success — can include the likes of Trifkovic and his supporters, including Robert Spencer.
As for Schwartz’s guilt-by-association attacks on Srdja Trifkovic, they are all the more beneath contempt for the fact that Trifkovic himself over a year ago supplied in this very publication a string of quotations from his own work going back to 1990 showing that he was an early and consistent opponent of the Milosevic regime. [And we've seen how much that's worth. -ed.] Trifkovic, of course, does not need me to defend him.
It is true that in Sharia courts, the testimony of non-Muslims need not be considered [a gratuitous jab at Schwartz for being a Muslim -ed.]; but Stephen, we are now in a different court: the court of public opinion.
Indeed, Robert. We’re in the court of public opinion. The spotlight is on you.If you like this post - buy me a coffee
The election is finally behind us. After initial sighs of relief and disappointment many are already beginning to re-examine the American electorate’s fault lines. What pundits call a “center-right” nation is actually a diverse culture characterized by respect for individualism, freedom, ingenuity, and by aspirations toward American exceptionalism. Articulating the tenets of this culture had been the driving force behind Ronald Reagan’s landslide electoral victories and this same ideological vigor is bubbling up again in certain parts of the Republican mosh pit.
Other elements within the American Right are insinuating corrosive tactics into the political discourse, and seek to counter Leftist-induced capitulationism with crypto-fascist madness. The ideological dilemma facing the Right is being played out in the political arena but also in the cultural microcosm of the blogosphere. The recent fallout between the libertarian Charles Johnson of LGF and the religious supremacist Robert Spencer of JihadWatch offers instructive perspective into the fractures of the Right.
For Johnson it wasn’t much of a blog-war rather a series of restrained guerrilla attacks on his open threads, where he announced the rift and reported on incoming hate mail from Spencer’s camp. However, Spencer himself along with the ever bellicose Pamela Geller did take the battlefield with public announcements or shall I say, denouncements, on their respective blogs.
Inquiring minds need to know how it got to this, so let’s trace back this affair’s developments chronologically, shall we?
September 8th, 2008: Charles Johnson posts an article denouncing the so-called Anti-Islamization Conference in Cologne, which was nothing but a congregation of European neo-fascists under the convenient shell of “opposition to Islamization.” Among the most prominent participants/organizers/speakers we can count Markus Beisicht of the Pro NRW (Pro North-Rhine Westphalia), blaster of “the-fags-running-down-his-fatherland” and fascist-slogan-waving Henry Nitzsche, white-Europe-choosing and hypothetically-black-man-mating-daughter-disapproving Filip DeWinter of Vlaams Belang, Moroccan-child-beating arsonist Mario (the “bourgeois”) Borgheze, Nazi-insignia-wearing and falafel-ophobic Heinz-Christian Strache of The Freedom Party, and the no-hyperlink-needing infamous Jean-Marie Le Pen.
In the comment section of this article, Charles posts a lone link to a JihadWatch post supportive of the conference, silently indicating that his eyebrows are raised at Robert Spencer.
September 12th, 2008: Robert Spencer pulls down the original article from his site, offering a detailed explanation of his reasons — an account conceding that the individuals and organizations involved in the Cologne Conference have pan-fascist agendas, which no respectable counter-jihadist ought to support. His explanation for why the post was ever published in the first place and had remained on his site for four days, essentially boiled down to its author —Raymond Ibrahim— having been unaware of “all the issues involved” while he —Robert Spencer himself— had been too distracted to notice the post. From Spencer’s clarification:
One of the advantages of having other people write for this site is that it allows me, every now and again, to do other things. But that also means that occasionally I miss things that are posted here. It was brought to my attention this morning that there was a favorable post here a few days ago about Iran protesting against an upcoming anti-jihad conference in Europe that features Jean-Marie LePen, the FPO of Austria, and other prominent European far-right politicians. I took it down just now, as we do not support European neo-fascism or race supremacism (and the person who posted it didn't know all the issues involved), but I didn't want simply to take the post down without explanation.
Charles Johnson seemingly bought it, but none of this squared off with me. It certainly didn’t help that from my initial cursory glance at the vanished article, the “Raymond” author signature had been blurred with “Robert” in my mind. Deciding that my memory was more trustworthy than anything coming out of Robert Spencer’s mouth, I accused him of being the original author of the article and of scapegoating Raymond for the debacle. Despite my good reasons for deeply distrusting Spencer, Google cache proved me wrong on this instance. My visual memory is by no means infallible and I retracted my accusation when presented with compelling evidence. Robert indeed screeched that this undoubtedly proved me a liar, while it merely proved me wrong: I knew at least Charles Johnson had read the article before it disappeared and that he would have noticed the author. I wouldn’t have charged Spencer of being the author unless I was convinced that others who had also read the article before it was pulled down would also vouch for what I thought I had seen.
Sometime Between September 12th and September 27th: Said article is stealthily reposted and live on JihadWatch —the same article that Robert Spencer wrote a 922-word backpedaling “clarification” to announce the retraction of. I was right not to put dirty internet tricks above him after all. I noticed it on September 27th, but who knows how much earlier it had been reinstated…
Didn’t Robert Spencer owe his readers another 1000-word enlightened clarification of why he re-posted the same article he had earlier repudiated as ill-conceived and ignorant of the disreputable people involved? Or was the initial retraction coupled with the public repudiation of the European neo-fascist participants of the Cologne Conference an insincere attempt to appease Charles Johnson —nothing but a farcical little show?
September 28th 2008: Robert’s conference-crashing buddy Andrew Bostom emphatically proclaims so:
Following Johnson’s e-mail threat to another close friend — the brilliant scholar and author Robert Spencer — after Raymond Ibrahim (editor/translator of The Al Qaeda Reader) simply blogged a favorable discussion (subsequently removed by Spencer, pace Johnson’s threat!) of Diana West’s September 18, 2008 Town Hall.com column at the Jihad Watch/Dhimmi Watch website — I noticed that National Review Online had a featured link (on 9/19/08) to the same West column.
Spencer has recurrently uttered vicious personal invectives against both myself and my husband on numerous occasions, with labels including but not limited to dishonest, smearing, mendacious, swamp-fevering character assassins, malicious and slanderous, liar liar liar, inveterate and consistent liar, manifold, intricate, and subtle liar who uses formidable intellect only for evil, and my favorite, Nazi emulator. Most of Spencer’s seething attacks, not included here due to their dull redundancy, tend to compulsively charge me with ‘libel’ over the contents of my report, which barely deals with Spencer personally but rather airs out the dark closet of his friend and associate James Jatras of the so-called American Council for Kosovo —the front group for a radical and violent organization called the Serbian National Council for Kosovo and Metojiha.
Spencer’s reaction has been so oversensitive and overblown, that I am amazed he hasn’t virulently charged Bostom (who supports the participants of the Cologne Conference and clearly alludes to Spencer also sharing such sympathies underneath the lip service paid to Charles Johnson out of fear) with making libelous accusations and smearing his character! For what could be more libelous, more smearing, more demeaning and shaming for an aspiring "scholar" than to be accused of prostituting his public assignment of grave characterizations (such as "fascist," "racist," or "race supremacist") to various people and organizations just in order to salvage his personal relationship with some blogger?!!
If I were a public figure and anyone publicly stated or implied that I don’t mean what I write or what I retract but merely act under coercion against my true convictions, I would: consider it a grave insult, vehemently deny the charge, demand an apology, and if not granted, entertain a lawsuit. In fact I would react the same way even in my own shoes of obscurity, minus the lawsuit part which I cannot afford to even entertain. Bostom has essentially ruled that Spencer does not actually believe the organizers and participants of the Cologne Conference to be neo-fascists worthy of being shunned, but “being vulnerable” (in Bostom’s own words), he acquiesces to Johnson and toes the line. If so, Spencer would ironically be guilty of the charge he loves to hurl at others —libel— namely making allegations he knows to be false, which give various individuals (the alleged/disputed crypto fascists) a bad reputation!
If, on the other hand, Spencer knows these organizations and individuals to be neo-fascist in agenda and character (as his post suggests), yet believes that’s all fine and dandy so long as he can subvert them toward his holy crusade again Islam —his pet-boogeyman— what then? What would that make him? A fascist apologist? A fascist sympathizer?
But Robert does expliticly state the anti-jihad movement should not indulge that side of the political spectrum in Europe or elsewhere. Only that Andrew Bostom claims Spencer doesn’t really mean this, and the pro-Cologne article sneakily crawling back up on JihadWatch shortly after the curtains went down on that little show Spencer put for Johnson certainly reinforces such impression. What does that make him then? A spineless hypocrite?
What kind of "scholar" triangulates his public positions so tightly between hypocrisy, fascist sympathy, and cowardice-induced libel? Then again, what kinds of "scholar" foams at the mouth over an obscure blog post of a 22-year-old college girl and goes as far as to call her a Nazi-emulator over it? Well Robert Spencer —the Beetlejuice of Internet forums who magically appears anywhere his name is invoked more than twice in order to furiously intimidate any critics— does.
But perhaps the points raised so far are too tangential. Robert Spencer discredits himself through his own words in much less equivocal terms. He writes:
The post in question was written by Raymond Ibrahim. I have discussed it with Raymond, who was not aware of the affiliations of the people involved when he posted it, and he was fine with my taking it down.
The only problem here is that —forgetting for a moment what Raymond did or didn’t know— Hugh Fitzgerald himself, the vice president of JihadWatch (whatever that means) made the following comment on the post in question on the very first day it was published:
If this Conference is left solely in the hands of those who are not only certifiably "right-wing" but lepenesque, and therefore disreputable, then it is the duty of others, the respectable anti-Islam legions, not to ignore the Conference or to stay morally pure, but rather to attend, even to swell its numbers, and change its nature, by appearing in force. Show Cologne, show Germany, show the E.U. that one can be just as sweet and liberal and anti-Fascist as all get out, and also want, for those very reasons, a complete halt to Muslim migration to Europe, and a deliberate policy of countering the Money Weapon, campaigns of Da'wa, and demographic conquest -- all over Western Europe, resulting in a greatly diminished Muslim presence in the Lands of the Infidels. This has to be done. It will have to be done now, peacefully, or later, less peacefully. It can't be avoided. It's what's to come. It is not still unsure. But, to quote an old poet, and to appropriate his more traditional use of the carpe-diem imperative, in delay there lies no plenty.
So get cracking.
Hugh knew of the lepenesque character of the conference’s protagonists and was clearly instructing his minions to not “stay morally pure” notwithstanding the neo-fascist agenda of the upcoming Cologne rally. In a lunatic leap of logic, he proposes that rallying up behind fascists and appearing in force at their events will show Cologne, Germany, and indeed all of Europe, that not only fascist agitators, but also sweet liberal anti-Fascists are concerned about Islam.
Wait… I thought anti-Fascists would never ally with fascists by definition. What about that rant regarding the inevitable clash of civilizations, demographic battles, and the need to greatly diminish Muslim presence in the lands of the Infidels? It can be done peacefully now or less peacefully in the future —he says— but done it must be. Is it me or this fatalistic tone foreshadows a borderline genocidal scenario Hugh sounds to be creaming his pants at the contemplation of?
Spencer’s 922-word backpedaling clarification for pulling down the pro-Cologne article from which Hugh’s comment is drawn, also absolves Hugh himself and in fact uses his articles as an example of how opposed to fascists “we at JihadWatch are.” In the meanwhile, Hugh has been drifting in an entirely different direction as we’ve just seen. So what happened? Did Hugh acquiesce to Spencer or to Johnson in towing the line? Are the internal affairs of JihadWatch so chaotic that Spencer cannot learn from his "VP" what is happening at his own blog, but rather needs problematic content to be second-handedly reported to him by readers of other blogs?
Again, why has the post been put back up on JihadWatch since at least September 27th without explanation?
Satisfied that no rational reader at this point can escape the conclusion that this has been a disgraceful flip-flop on Spencer’s behalf, I will move on.
October 25th, 2008: Spencer posts a rather awkward article lionizing a certain long-winded smarmy European pseudo-intellectual by the penname of Fjordman, whom Charles Johnson has long exposed as a fascist sympathizer. Robert Spencer’s justification for so unexpectedly standing assuredly by Fjordman and vouching for his character must have struck his readers as out of place:
The learned European essayist Fjordman here reviews Ali Sina's Understanding Muhammad. Since Fjordman has been accused of being a white supremacist and a neofascist, some people have also accused me of being a white supremacist and neofascist, because I publish his fine essays on jihad and the Islamization of Europe. So I thought I would take this opportunity to say that while white supremacism and neofascism are wrong and should everywhere be opposed, I do not believe Fjordman is a white supremacist or a neofascist.
Who are these people who have smeared poor Fjordman with such naughty epithets? And who is trying to drag Spencer down along with him? This is a passive-aggressive thinly-veiled affront to Charles Johnson and me, respectively, though I have never called Spencer a neo-fascist or white supremacist to date, and I believe Charles has characterized Fjordman as merely a sympathizer and apologist of said unsavory ideologies.
Johnson has made his repudiation of Fjordman public for almost a year now, so why did Spencer take so long to absolve Fjordman? He was obviously trying to play nice with both sides but finally tipped over the edge. This was his way of telling Charles he had chosen Fjordman, along with the associations the latter’s endorsement carries with it (Vlaams Belang, The Austrian Freedom Party, Sweden Democrats, The National Front, the BNP, The Brussels Journal, Gates of Vienna, etc.). In fact shortly thereafter, Spencer re-blog-rolled the last two, despite their well-documented support for European fascists.
I find curious Spencer’s choice in illustrating Fjordman’s anti racialist worldview: He quotes an excerpt which Fjordman had written —Spencer says— long before any allegations of race supremacism were uttered against him. In this very chosen passage Fjordman defines the challenge for cultural preservation against Radical Islam in racial and xenophobic terms!
We shouldn’t idealize mass-immigration too much. When one group of people move into a territory where another group of people already live, this has usually throughout human history ended in war. Either the newcomers will be expelled, or they will subdue or wipe out the previous inhabitants, or the groups will divide the country between them.
What a gem of historical determinism we have here: classic collectivistic chauvinistic European xenophobia. Hegel would be proud! Fjordman treats people in terms of groups moving into territories, as flocks of sheep or wolves in a perpetual struggle for territorial supremacy.
He advocates “sticking with one’s own kind,” one’s "culture," one’s "race," and resisting assimilation —a very ideologically and literally inbred worldview. I wonder what Fjordman makes of the American experiment where people from all cultures and races flooded into the melting pot: no invasions, no ethnic cleansing, no expulsions, no subduing, no wiping out of anybody. Fjordman is clearly stuck in cultural medievalism and considers all potential immigration as an invasion of his pure genetic and ideological pool by hordes of barbarians.
I see little reason to expect any different result where the indigenous population happens to be white. I do not see why I should have to choose between White Supremacy and White Worthlessness. It is one thing to reject the idea that your culture should be forced onto others, it is quite another thing to say that you shouldn’t be allowed to retain your culture even in your own country. The latter is simply a matter of self-preservation, the most basic instinct of all living things down to bacteria level.
No talk of institutions, no talk of what European culture is supposed to consist of: only racialist remarks and allusions to White Supremacy as the politically incorrect term for legitimate self-preservation. Yes, I can and do read between the lines.
I have a right to preserve my culture, too, even though I have blue eyes, and cannot see anything “racist” in not wanting my children to become a persecuted minority in their own country through mass immigration. That you are denounced as a White Supremacist for just stating the obvious shows how deeply entrenched and internalized this anti-white bias has become.
And what is it that your culture consists of, Fjordman, other than your blue eyes? You never elucidate on it beyond that. Why are you even bringing up unfair accusations of White Supremacy before anyone has implicated you? Are you making any "preemptive" moves in that direction?
Is this passage the best Robert Spencer can find toward exculpating Fjordman? Just what is Robert Spencer trying to get at here? He continues on:
More recently (two weeks ago), the genuinely neofascist VNN Forum (an evil site to which I will provide no link) criticized one of Fjordman's articles about Europe for not blaming Jews for the problem. VNN Forum writers called Fjordman "a neocon jew-ass-kisser who is either oblivious of the fact that jews are responsible for what is happening or is aware but doesn't have the guts to name the jew." They also pointed out that "the Brussels Journal is never critical towards the Jew" and went on to complain that "multiculturalism stops when the Jew is down and out. Those Islamophobic 'nationalist' parties accomplish nothing....I would rather see anti-synagogue marches over anti-mosque ones. The mosques become a non-issue if you defeat the wretched sheeny." I would rather stand with Israel, and Fjordman, than with those racist neo-fascists.
He would rather stand with Israel, and Fjordman, and Markus Beisicht of Pro NRW, with blaster-of-the-fags-running-down-his-fatherland and fascist-slogan-waving Henry Nitzsche, with white-Europe-choosing Filip DeWinter of Vlaams Belang, with Moroccan-child-beating arsonist Mario Borgheze, with Nazi-insignia-wearing and falafel-ophobic Heinz-Christian Strache of The Freedom Party, and with Jean-Marie Le Pen, because they too are opposed by some hard core neo-Nazis on the grounds of going after Muslims rather than Jews.
Impressive argument: So because Wahabbis claim Shias are apostates or otherwise infidels and we know Wahabbis to be indisputably Muslim, then we must conclude that Shias are indeed not Muslims because Wahabbis say so. Yes, that makes a whole lot of sense. So because the “genuinely evil” VNN Forum (as opposed to what, the “evil lite” Le Pen et al?) disavows those neo-fascist parties that are shrewdly picking their battles and choosing to demonize Muslims wholesale rather than Jews (the latter being a much less tenable target these days), then said parties cannot actually be neo-fascistic. Because they target Muslims, that is.
How mighty convenient for Spencer, who would just about sell his soul in order to witch-hunt Muslims and Islam all the world over, to have the definition of “fascist” so elegantly rewritten: “if you are anti-Muslim, you cannot be fascist because the VNN Forum would oppose you and one fascist/Nazi cannot be against another.” Whatever is going to happen now to JihadWatch’s long record of opposing Le Pen, the FPO, and Vlaams Belang? They’re magically not fascists now because they are anti-Muslim, and the two are mutually exclusive as we know from the VNN’s annals of wisdom?
It is on the comment section of this very post that Robert Spencer bursts in unprovoked despicable insults against me and starts compulsively scratching a spot that must have been itching for a while: He makes the following fascinating contention:
I went back and took a look at Kejda Gjermani's libelous "expose."
Much of her case hinges upon this assertion:
"The deceptively named American Council for Kosovo is in fact a front group for the Serbian National Council of Kosovo and Metohija, whose president Milan Ivanovic was arrested by the UN administration (he took his sweet time to turn himself in after initially going into hiding) on charges of attempted murder (later dropped) and of leading a violent demonstration, during which at least one hand-grenade was thrown at the police (Ivanovic has been personally accused of this act but evidence was inconclusive for a conviction, hence the dropped charge of attempted murder), and 22 mainly Polish peacekeepers were injured. [...]
Mr. Ivanovic is a hard-line nationalist by anyone’s definition, a staunch supporter of the neo-fascist Serbian Radical Party— an ultra-nationalists‘ melting crackpot of greater scale and proportion than even its name suggests. For starters, the Party organized the recent rallies in Serbia to protest Radovan Karadzic’s arrest, in which the same Ivanovic was visibly involved...
The only problem with this is that her basic assertion, that the American Council for Kosovo is a front group for Ivanovic's group, is false, and she provides no evidence to establish it. ACK spokesman James Jatras says this:
With respect to the Serbian National Council of Kosovo and Metohija as identified in the American Council for Kosovo's disclaimer, and the suggested relationship with Dr. Milan Ivanovic: in Kosovo today there is more than one organization operating under the name "Serbian National Council," or some variant of that name. These groups, some of them quite small, have differing political perspectives -- though all categorically reject separation of the province from Serbia -- and accordingly may align themselves with different Serbian political parties. As already noted, the American Council for Kosovo reflects the views of the Kosovo Serbian community as voiced by Bishop Artemije. I am unaware of Dr. Ivanovic's affiliation with any organization connected with the Bishop. If the implication of the comment is that the American Council for Kosovo is somehow controlled or directed by Dr. Ivanovic, that absolutely is not the case. However, I have met Dr. Ivanovic in the course of my visits to Kosovo and believe the aspersions cast against him are unwarranted. There is nothing "radical" or "anti-American," much less "supremacist," about him as far as I am aware, unless one regards opposition to Washington's illegal, pro-jihad anti-Serbian policy as being anti-American.
Kejda Gjermani is an accomplished liar, but in the final analysis that is all that she is: a liar.
Like momma said: “Don’t scratch that itch or it will only get worse!” Robert didn’t have to go there. If the investigative digs of an unknown college girl made him uncomfortable, the most sensible response for him would have been to ignore them and wait for my post to fade away in the vast cold blogo(atmo)sphere. But Robert just couldn’t let it go. He frantically calls me an “accomplished liar,” but I haven’t accomplished anything noteworthy and I only post articles at my private website once in a blue moon on miscellaneous topics of my interest.
Robert is the one who has built an entire career out of selling demagogic incendiary books demonizing Muslims and extolling the Crusaders, and out of giving public speeches trying to convince Muslims that their religion is indeed inherently and incorrigibly violent and supremacist and that they better get consistent in taking seriously any and all genocidal verses of the Qur’an —quite an accomplished demagogue, wouldn’t you say? Yet Robert’s career and, most importantly, his self-esteem, depend on his ability to maintain an aura of respectability and an image of erudite “scholar.” Exposed associations with vile extremists chip away at such carefully crafted public image, so Robert can’t help foaming at the mouth and impulsively suppressing anyone shining the spotlight on his putrid closet. Indeed he is outraged that I have not been banned on LGF and has even sent his sock-puppets to intimidate me with legal threats at my own blog.
Oh, but he has done it now! I have supposedly asserted without proof that A equals A: that the Serbian National Council for Kosovo and Metohija whose leader is the outrageous violent-protest organizer, alleged hand-grenade thrower, Radical Party supporter and flaming Karadzic devotee Ivan Milanovic, is the same Serbian National Council for Kosovo and Metohija for which Robert Spencer second-handedly works. As if linking organizations of the same exact name with the same identity begs any proof…
When doing my background research on Jatras, I was so struck by this man’s sheer maliciousness, callousness, and pathological lying pattern that I assumed he was some sort of evil mastermind concocting genial campaigns of nauseating Belgrade propaganda. But in Robert’s comment I am reminded again of the banality of evil. The claim that somehow there are many small organizations in Kosovo by the same exact name which act independently of one-another and bear no responsibility of each-others’ members’ and leaders’ acts or statements is a laughably desperate (and just plain laughable) attempt to evade the scrutiny that naturally comes with Ivan Milanovic’s disreputable background.
The claim doesn’t stand even at face value: Who has heard of multiple unaffiliated organizations by the very same name operating within the boundaries of a 10,908 km2 region? Wouldn’t people confuse them all the time among each other? Wouldn’t the self-respectable ones among these organizations, if there be any, adopt a different name in order to distance themselves from the anarchic ones which are staging riots against the police? How do they keep track of one-another? Do they have separate serial numbers by any chance?
Perhaps Jatras is banking on casual examiners getting confused upon seeing the acronym for the Serbian National Council for Kosovo and Metohije appear as SNV in some places and SNC in others, and concluding that there must be at least two different organizations by the same name. This is not, however, the case: SNV is merely the Serbian-language-equivalent of SNC and they both refer to the same organization led by Ivanovic and by the Bishop. I invite everyone to look at the source of this photo of the leadership of the Serbian National Council for Kosovo and Metohija, posted at the dear Bishop’s own website, with the caption “Leadership of the Serb National Council at press conference in Belgrade Media Center, May 30, 2003 (from left to right: Dr. Marko Jaksic, Dr. Rada Trajkovic, Bishop Artemije, Dr. Milan Ivanovic)”. That ain’t half bad for a smoking gun, now is it?
In short, Robert: You and Jatras are the liars, though I would not deign you with the “accomplished” prefix, because as fevered demagogues spouting off way too many lies to keep track of, you have accomplished nothing other than discrediting yourselves anew. And don’t bother pulling down the article or deleting the cache, because I have saved everything.
Robert Spencer is the stooge of an organization whose leaders have been blacklisted by the US government for providing support to war criminals, violently opposing legal institutions, and undermining the peace process in the Balkans. What a maverick of a "scholar" Robert is!
October 31st, 2008: Robert Spencer announces the break with Charles Johnson, violently echoed by the manic fascist supporters Pamella Geller and Gates of Vienna. In his long-winded diatribe against Johnson, Spencer wraps it up like so:
Is that not absurd? I have gone on record many, many times explaining why I reject race-based approaches to the jihad threat -- most recently in connection with the Cologne conference.
But Hugh did support the Cologne conference, and JihadWatch stealthily reinstated the post it supposedly pulled down.
But Le Pen and the BNP are anti-Muslim, and by the VNN Forum’s argument which Spencer employed earlier to absolve Fjordman, they cannot be neo-fascists. Also Vlaams Belang, the FPO, Sweden Democrats, et al. all traffic in “such approaches.”
The controversy here is over whether or not some other individuals and groups belong in that category, not over whether one should support race supremacism and genocide or not. Charles has done a grave disservice by acting as if those who reject his judgments about these groups and individuals, or who even -- like me -- are willing to entertain differing points of view on these matters, are ipso facto neo-Nazi or white supremacist sympathizers.
What would these different points of view of yours on the matter be, Robert? It is nothing but unsustainable middle ground that you are willing to entertain. You either believe these European parties have neo-fascist agendas or you don’t.
Meanwhile, I note also with sorrow that the mendacious Kejda Gjermani ("medaura") is spreading her libelous attacks on me at LGF yet again, as she has been allowed to do for months. It is telling.
So mendacious that medaura, eh? It is telling she hasn’t been censored for repeating inconvenient yet indisputable facts regarding Robert’s associations.
I want to emphasize that I have not endorsed the Vlaams Belang. This whole controversy is not about the Vlaams Belang, but about whether or not one can disagree with Charles Johnson and not be defamed as a result. I have merely recognized that people of good will, who are not "seriously deluded" (as someone calls them below) and are not racists or neofascists, have mounted a case opposing Charles Johnson's assessment of the Vlaams Belang. In other words, the question is not whether or not we should support neofascists, but whether or not Vlaams Belang is neofascist. That question is hotly disputed, and those who think that Johnson has not made his case are not evil just for thinking that.
Typical Robert Spencer “open-mindedness”: his official stance on Kosovo is one of only-time-will-tell skepticism, yet he aggressively works on behalf of the Serbian lobby in order to revoke the world’s newest country’s independence. That’s so neutral indeed. He is vehemently opposed to neo-fascists and white-supremacists (and who isn’t, on record?) yet he keeps an “open mind” as to which individuals and organizations deserve such labels. While he keeps his mind perpetually wide open, he supports everyone so long as they can be instrumental to him in attacking Muslims. It is oh-so-easy to vacuously oppose fascism when you don’t believe fascists are fascists, because the opposition can thus remain purely theoretical and abstract!
Spencer also fervently opposes Serbian genocide on principle, yet his closest associates (Jatras, Trifkovic, and Gorin) are Srebrenica genocide deniers. It is easy to vacuously oppose Serbian genocide if you never believe it happened. The genocide Spencer believes in supposedly took place in Kosovo, was perpetrated by the Albanian Jihadists against the poor Christian Serbs indeed, and was aided and abetted by NATO, the UN, and the EU. Yes, they were all in on it!
Of course, it has been exposed by only an anonymous individual claiming to be a current member of the international mission in Kosovo (the unverifiability of such claim due to the writer’s anonymity somehow escaping Spencer) writing under the penname of Iseult Henry. That’s right! After all, he has to be anonymous, otherwise his life would be endangered by the evil spies of the US, UN, and EU —entities which are all in on the genocidal master plan and would fall short of nothing to suppress the truth from leaking out!
What kind of "scholar" toys with genocide? Even Albanian supporters do not claim that genocide against Kosovars took place, however more reasonable such proposition would still be compared to the reverse claim made by Spencer. Stephen Schwartz writes:
Ms. Gorin states that NATO bombed Serbia “to prevent a genocide that forensics turned up empty.” Yes, the genocide was prevented. It did not take place. Nobody claimed it had taken place, only that it was attempted. Genocide means the murder of a whole people; obviously, the Albanians were not wholly murdered.
Charles Johnson, whatever one may think of his political leanings, has unequivocally exposed thinly-disguised fascists and repudiated them wholeheartedly again and again. He was never so desperate for allies as to turn a blind eye to the ideological demons swarming right under these European political conglomerates’ insincere pretensions toward "mainstreamness" and moderation. Johnson’s endorsement had been Robert Spencer’s last main reputational anchor into the sane respectable intellectual world. Now that he deservedly lost it, let him agitate away at the fringes where he belongs.
The spread of Radical Islam poses an eminent threat to the civilized world. Anyone knows it. Even brainwashed cultural-relativist Leftists know, hard as they may try to airbrush the elephant in the room.
Highlighting the need for formulating a strategic response to this menace is not rocket science. Yet it should take no towering genius either to categorically reject and denounce certain ideological proposals for being at least as abominable and dangerous to civilization as the militant islamism they purport to protect it from. The resurgence of neo-fascist activism across the Old Continent is alarming. Such regressive ill-conceived reaction to the rise of Radical Islam is yet another living testament to Europe’s ideological sterility. Disturbing shades of brown are agitating the zeitgeist of many European countries these days. Robert Spencer, James Jatras, Julia Gorin, Andrew Bostom, Pamela Geller, Fjordman, Baron Bodissey, and Dymphna are more than welcome to coalesce toward this violent brown where their ideological affinities truly lie, so long as everyone knows where they stand. It would be nice though, in fact too nice to ask, that they at least not lie to themselves about the nature of the choice they have made. Far from being friends of peace, freedom, prosperity, and civilization, they in fact belong to a hateful and subversive stripe of agitators. which must be marginalized if both progress against radical islamists and future electoral success are to be achieved.
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A casual observer of Albanian Communist cultural paraphernalia (such as Enver’s speeches, Socialist Realist paintings, Party-approved monuments or poems, state-produced films, etc.) might deduce that Enver Hoxha fancied himself a glorious leader of an epic rural nation because of the pervasive themes of mythological collective greatness and romanticized legends coloring Albania’s grim history. Enver is also portrayed as nothing short of an Iliadic hero. But that’s because of all the quixotic sugar-coating, underneath which Enver’s relationship with his people was merely that between a shepherd and a big flock of sheep. Yet judging by what little of his writings I have managed to stomach reading, he sounded like a romantic type of sorts, hence the many coats of purely ornamental lipstick on the pig that his 50-year reign was.
Aside from the vast legacy of quintessentially communist, hideous, decrepit, pigeonhole-type multipurpose buildings whose cheap paint has been peeling off for decades like a leper’s scabs, and, let’s not forget, the nearly 800,000 bunkers awkwardly dotting every corner of the country, Albanians have another haunting ubiquitous scar by which to remember Uncle Enver (as his young minions were expected to affectionately address him, just shy of full-fledged Big-Brotherhood): the aftermath of his pathological pursuit of Albanian folk music as a medium for communist indoctrination and personal self-aggrandizement. Certainly not the humblest of fellows, Uncle Enver relentlessly insinuated himself into Albanian art, and had epic songs re-written to glorify himself as the one and only eternal mythological leader of the Communist Party and, by extension, of the entire nation.
The repulsive paintings and sculptures in the vein of Socialist Realism are one thing. That genre was a totalitarian and expressionally barren artistic staple of Communist rule across the world. As much of a sore to the eyes as that “art” was, it is now no more, with no irrevocable harm done. By contrast, the perversion of Albanian music is a far graver and uniquely damaging offense because song has historically been the paramount medium of artistic expression for the Albanian people —an icon of cultural identity far more relevant than visual art. Epic songs form the centerpiece of Albania’s oral tradition. Replacing the historic themes of Albanian music with idolization of a modern totalitarian dogma is more subtly Orwellian than any act of blatant revisionism could have been.
In order for the Western reader to appreciate just how abominable this perversion of art truly is, some basic familiarity with the epic musical tradition of Albania is needed. Below are a few sample songs with lyrics translated by yours truly, for you to explore and digest before we dive head-on into Uncle Enver’s hard-core dementia. Traditional songs will be analyzed for a compare-and-contrast exercise with Communist pseudo-folk creations. I hope you may find this batch of songs interesting and, —dare I hope?— instructive, even from a purely anthropological perspective into the cultural heritage of this obscure Balkan nation.
Hasmi zu vatane/ The enemy has taken over the homeland
Lulet u thane/ Flowers have dried up
Flaka mbuloi fshane/ Flames have engulfed the village
Foshnjat u qane/ The babies have cried themselves out
O ju djemte tane/ Oh you boys of ours
Nxirrni Jatagane/ Pull out your swords
Zini histikme/ Take your positions
Ne na kini prane/ Stay close to us
Trima me palle/ Brave boys with swords
O ju djemte tane/ Oh you boys of ours
This emotionally electrifying, somber song from the South portrays the setting of a clash with foreign invaders, almost certainly Ottomans: the destruction of the village as its men are preparing to fight back is laconically described. The reference is probably to one of the countless spontaneous Albanian rebellions to which the Ottoman Empire typically responded by sending over punitive squads to burn down the rebels’ settlements, kill their leaders, and terrorize the villagers who had supported them. The tone of the song and the subtle dreadfulness of the lyrics —the nuances of which do not lend themselves easily to translation,— foreshadow a tragic end for the villagers: they are getting ready to put up a valiant fight before they die. Note that throughout the minimalistic lyrics, the only recurring epithet of praise is “brave”. Bravery (a notion loosely interchangeable with heroism) represents the pinnacle of valor for Albanian men to aspire to.
Here is another rendition of this famous song—albeit more mournful in tenor.
Janines ci pane syte/ What have Ioannina’s eyes seen! [If only you could have seen through Ioannina's eyes/ what happened in Ioannina]
Ja-Janino’/ Io.. Oh Ioannina
Ish e premte ajo dite/ That day was a Friday
Te Pese puset ne gryke/ At the entry of the Five Wells [geographic designation]
Zenel Celua vet i dyte/ Zenel Celo in second person [was not alone]
Zeneli me te Velcione/ Zenel with the Velcionian [someone from the Velc village]
Dhe trimi Jace Mavrone/ And the brave Jace Mavro
Cau mespermes tabore/ Cut right through the soldiers
E shtriu pashane e gjore/ And knocked down [slew] the poor Pasha
This very famous song commemorates the turning point of a battle against the Ottomans in Ioannina (a city situated in modern Greece which has been historically Albanian until the implosion of the Ottoman Empire, at which point Greece annexed it with the backing of Great Britain and France, and eventually had it ethnically cleansed). Three men, two of which are mentioned by name whereas the third one is identified by only his village of origin, heroically cut right through the enemy lines and kill the Ottoman Pasha in the heat of the battle.
The lyrics and melody reek of pride and reverence, but the song-writer’s perspective is modest: S/he lets the simple story speak for itself, and again, uses only the underhanded “brave” epithet (and uses it just once) to give any overt praise. Such laudatory restraint is a staple of not only epic music, but of Albanian tradition in general, which was forged by coarse minimalism through the centuries.
There are many renditions of this great song, a traditional polyphonic one to be found here, and —a modern, somewhat bastardized but uplifting version— here.
Doli Shkurti hyri Marsi/ February is out, March is in
Ne Gjirokaster u vra bimbashi/ Bimbashi [local head of Ottoman forces] was killed in Gjirokastra
Te vrane bimbash te vrane/ They killed you Bimbash, they killed you
Hitoja me Bajramne/ Hito and Bajram did
Nga Janina vjen Mazapi/ The Mazap [Ottoman leader] is coming from Ioannina
Ne Mashkullore te rrapi/ To Mashkullore [geographical designation] at the plane tree
Te rrapi ne Mashkullore/ At the plane tree in Mashkullore
Foli Cercizi me goje/ Cercizi spoke through his mouth [Cercizi said so himself]
Mylazim largo taborre/ Mylazim [Ottoman official], send your soldiers away
leri djemt e mij te shkojne/ Let my boys go
se do t’ju kuq t’ju bej me boje/ Or I shall make you red, with paint [an indirect reference to blood]
do t’ju kuq t’ju bej me boje/ I shall make you red with paint
se ashtu e kam zakone/ Because that is how I do things
Cerciz Topulli me thone/ They call me Cerciz Topulli
Hyri Prilli, doli Marsi/ April is in, March is out
Girokaster u vra bimbashi/ Bimbashi was killed in Gjirokastra
Bimbash, tu shofte emri/ Bimbash, may your name be extinguished [cursed]
me jete paguhet nderi/ With life is how honor is paid off
Nga Janina vjen mazapi/ The Mazap is coming from Ioannina
Ne Mashkullore te rrapi/ To Mashkullore at the plane tree
Te rrapi ne Mashkullore/ At the plane tree in Mashkullore
Foli Cercizi me goje/ Cercizi spoke through his mouth
-Mulazim hiq tabore/ Mylazim, send your soldiers away
Leri djemte e mij te shkojne/ Let my boys go
Se trimat ashtu leftojne/ Because that’s how brave men fight
Ashtu sic kane zakone/ The way they are used to [the way they know how]
Do t’ju kuq t’ju bej me boje/ I shall make you red with paint
- Cerciz vrane Hajredine/ Cerciz, they killed Hajredin
-Mire bene qe e vrane/ Good for them
Degjoni, qafa Kapllane/ Listen up, I swear on my life
Haken s’ja leme pa marre/ We won’t rest until we avenge him
Ne xhandare e ne nizame/ Through nizams and policemen
Kokat e tryre ne sater do vene/ Their heads shall roll
Ashtu sic beme per anene/ Just like we did for Mother
Cerciz Topulli was a revolutionary hero from Gjirokaster who fought for the liberation and independence of Albania. With his guerrilla unit, he killed the head of Ottoman armed forces in Gjirokaster in early March, 1908. Later that month he led the battle against Ottoman reinforcements in Mashkullore. That is the historic reference of the song: him facing down the Ottomans with a speech under the plane tree in Mashkullore. This is an early 20th-century song —much more recent than the others presented so far— hence the instrumental background (a modern occurrence) instead of the bare polyphony.
Though Cerciz Topulli is one of the most loved national figures of Albania (especially in the south), the song-writer engages in no direct glorification of his persona. Here again more is less: Cercizi’s valor is instead illustrated by means of his own words, in terms which are self-evident to the audience: brisk yet somewhat implicit references to a tradition or second nature of fighting with bravery to the death and of how honor/freedom is worth dying/killing for.
Mora rrugen per Janine/ I was headed for Ioannina
isha vetem/ I was alone
bashke me arabaxhine/ Along with the servant
apo nate/ At night
bashke me arabaxhine apo nate/ Along with the servant at night
atje me zune pusine/ That’s where they had laid the ambush
isha vetem/ I was alone
copa-copa ma bene melcine dhe zemren/ They chopped my liver and heart to pieces
The reference to the ambush in this painful song is, I believe, actually Greek rather than Ottoman. Starting from the last half of the 19th century and until the first half of the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians have been killed or otherwise forcefully expelled from what consequently became the northern part of modern Greece. As can be easily inferred from these songs, Ioannina was a very important city in Albanian culture. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least two other touching songs centered on Ioannina.
Në Janinë ferman po vjenë/ The enemy is coming to Ioannina
Asqerëtë po vijnë/ The soldiers are approaching
Dil Ali Pasha përpara/ Come out Ali Pasha and face them [in battle]
Dil Pasha se po vjen nata/ Come out Pasha because the night is falling [it is getting late]
Këmbekryq mbi kanapenë/ He sits on his sofa with legs crossed [in lotus position]
Asqerëtë po vijnë/ The soldiers are approaching
Ali Pasha, dili pritë/ Ali Pasha, lay an ambush for them
Asqerëtë po vijnë/ The soldiers are approaching
Dil Ali Pasha përpara/ Come out Ali Pasha and face them
Dil Pasha se po vjen nata/ Come out Pasha because the night is falling
(inaudible) more koke-prere/ … head cut off [they are coming for your head]
Asqerëtë po vijnë/ The soldiers are approaching
Në Turqi (inaudible) ta prene/ In Turkey they cut your …. [quite possibly meaning "They ratted you out in Turkey" or "They sealed your fate in Turkey"]
Asqerëtë po vijnë/ The Soldiers are coming
O veziri në Janinë/ Oh you Vizier of Ioannina
Fitove mbi tradhëtine/ You won through treason
The song is from 1822, and depicts the last day of Ali Pasha, the infamous Albanian ruler who had rebelled against Ottoman authority. He’d been betrayed by his own nephews, was vastly outnumbered by the Ottoman forces closing in on him, and had retreated to his castle in Ioannina. His loyal troops are urging him to fight, but he quietly awaits his death, knowing that there is no hope for victory at this point.
We do know from historical sources that when the end was so imminent that he was asked to surrender for the beheading, he declared: “My head…will not be surrendered like the head of a slave” and kept fighting till the end. But the song suggests that he didn’t sacrifice his troops en masse through any hopeless confrontation with the Ottomans before it got to that point. The reference in the song to Ali’s head being severed is therefore quite literal, as his head was in fact cut off and brought to the Sultan in Istanbul. Though the song is sympathetic to Ali Pasha, it does not lionize him in the least, but rather emotionally recounts with a subtle touch of tragedy the last tense moments of his reign.
Full lyrics with some alterations:
Ne Pese-Puse Kala/ At the castle of the Five Wells
dolli palo Jorgua/ [is where] the vile George has come out
Kostandini shkeli krijne/ Constantine swore on his life
te ben pashken ne Janine/ to wreak havoc in Ioannina [in protest of Greece's annexation attempts]
Riza beu-tha-do ndroj dine/ Bey Riza said he would change his faith [convert to Greek Orthodoxy]
do bij bajram ne Athine/ and celebrate Eid al-Adha in [deflect to] Athens
Janine, e zeza Janine/ Ioannina, oh black [mournful/poor/doomed] Ioannina
del e shih asqere qe vijne/ Come out and look at the soldiers coming
Mahmut beu me dhjet mile/ Bey Mahmut with ten thousand [of them]
Moj Janine, o moj Janine/ Ioannina, oh Ioannina
veqil keshe Sheh Aline/ You have Sheh [Ottoman title] Ali for your lord
kajmekami me katine/ The assistant [Sheh Ali's] and his wife
radhazi telit i bijne/ are each playing strings [musical instruments] [meaning: Nero plays the flute while Rome is burning]
Mecove, e zeza Mecove/ Mecove [region near Ioannina], poor/black Mecove
shume u mbajte, pra tu hodhen/ You put up a lot of resistance [carried yourself with dignity], which is why they are assailing you
shqipetaret perpara shkojne/ Albanians are moving forward
me jatagane ne dore/ With swords in their hands
Valle kush e beri fora?/ Who do you think did it big [bravely jumped into battle]?
Selam Hasani nga Vlora/ Salem Hasani from Vlora
pika gjak i kullon kordha/ Blood drops are dripping from his sword
Janine e zeza Janine/ Ioannina, black/poor/doomed Ioannina
Janin-o/ Oh Ioannina
mire ta bene tertipne/ They served your tradition well [sarcastic: they treated you real well]
Selim Qori me Uznine/ Selim Qori and Uznia
ne Korfuz vane e te shitne/ Went to Corfu and sold you out [to the Greeks]
anapolona tre mile/ for three thousand napoleons [gold coins]
Janine te mbite ngjoli/ Ioannina, the swamp is engulfing you [concrete reference: the local lake---metaphorical reference: Greece]
hapi site se te mori/ Open your eyes or it will take you over
Po e pe qe te te marre/ If you see it taking you over
veri xhepanese zjarre/ Blow your castle up
me mire t’e djegesh vete/ Better to burn it yourself
se ta marre Junani shkrrete/ than for Greece to take it abandoned
Janine, motra Janine/ Ioannina, sister Ioannina
dil e shih c’djelma qe vijne/ Look at what kind of boys are coming for you
Taborret e Vlores vijne/ The warriors of Vlora are coming
per Bezhan e per Janine/ for Bezha [a region] and for Ioannina
dolli mileti i prine/ The people are coming to greet them
nuk e mbanin dot gezimne/ They cannot contain their joy
dridhej vendi ne Janine/ The ground is shaking in Ioannina
ka muzikate qe bijne/ from the music they are playing
The above is a merger of three Black-Ioannina-themed songs. Not long after the death of Ali Pasha, the Ottoman Empire started crumbling apart at the corners. Greece had GB’s and France’s backing to annex southern Albanian lands. Some Turkish warlords were bribed and joined the effort to invade Ioannina on behalf of Greece as mercenaries (Bey Mahmut with ten thousand soldiers). Other Ottoman officials are deflecting and converting to Eastern Orthodox Christianity so they can get asylum in Athens (Bey Riza). King George I has claimed Ioannina his, but Constantine (local Albanian leader) has sworn not to let it go. The Ottoman-appointed governor of Ioannina is doing nothing (his assistants are blissfully playing musical instruments). Greek soldiers are approaching. Meceva (region situated to the west of Ioannina) is under assault. Albanians are organizing a resistance. Fighters are coming in from Vlora (their heroism in battle against Greeks is described). The locals are cheering for them as Ioannina’s last hope and have taken heart from their arrival. The singer, in the vein of traditional Albanian honor, is advocating collective suicide for the keepers of Ioannina’s castle in case of defeat. The castle is to be blown to pieces rather than abandoned to the Greeks.
How that fight turned out is given away by today’s political maps of Albania and Greece respectively: Ioannina’s Albanians suffered a brutal fate. Even at this crucial moment when the need for heart-warming propaganda is at a record high, the song-writer does not succumb to the temptation of expediency: the Albanian fighters are modestly portrayed merely as brave boys with swords. The boundaries of praise and glory are unmistakably unpretentious.
One last great song before I get to Enver’s “gems”. This is in fact a lyrical song with epic overtones:
Mbeçe more shokë mbeçe/ I shall stay my friends, I shall stay [farewell]
Përtej Urës së Qabesë/ Across the Bridge of Qabea [somewhere in Asia]
Të fala i bëni nënëse/ Say hello to my mother
Kaun e zi le ta shesë/ Tell her to sell the black ox
Në pyestë nënëja për mua/ Should my mother ask about me
I thoni që u martua/ Tell her that I got married
Në pyeste se ç’nuse mori/ Should she ask what bride I got
Tre plumba te kraharori/ [Tell her] Three bullets in the chest
Në pyeste se ç’krushq i vanë/ Should she ask what guests came to his wedding
Sorrat e korbat e hanë/ [Tell her] Vultures and Crows who ate him
Another great rendition of this dreadful song can be found here. It is about the death of a young Albanian man as a “nizam” (forced recruit) serving in the Ottoman army away from home, in some remote corner of Asia. Ottomans used to draft local youths from the lands they occupied to serve for many years in the ranks of the Ottoman army and fight anywhere in the world for the Empire’s expansionary expeditions or defensive efforts.
The simplicity is striking and painful. This is Albanian folk music at its best.
… … …
This small repertoire is, I believe, more than sufficient to get the message across: Albanians have been an austere, impoverished, and proud people, who were caught for centuries between the brutal Ottomans and the aggressive advances of their neighbors —Greece and Serbia— in a triangulated struggle for survival. The self-imposed price for relative freedom under Ottoman rule was a nearly complete lack of infrastructure and urbanization. Warrior-villagers had to be able to disperse quickly in the forest or retreat into the mountains. Both transportation and long-term accommodation had to be made painstakingly difficult for the Ottoman armies. Hence Albanian settlements as well as personal codes of conduct preserved an archaic medieval austerity well into the 20th century.
Albanians had no resources or inclination to build magnificent edifices of exquisite artistic value, the kinds of which ornament Western European cities. They never reached the kind of prosperity through which talented individuals could afford to specialize as professional artists. For example, Albanians have had virtually zero accomplished painters from their midst (with the exception of Onufer, the famed Byzantine artist). The impoverished warriors had no business pursuing fine arts. Song was their only means of expressive recourse, through which anyone could afford to be an artist. Albanians made the most out of singing since it was the only testament they could assemble for their history: Ioannina is gone after a lot of bloodshed, but there are no photographs, videos, or documentaries depicting what happened. The archeological remnants of the one-time Albanian stronghold are now inaccessible deep within the borders of Greece. The only things Albanians have to commemorate their attachment to Ioannina are their ancient passionate songs. They provide the only livening supplement to the textbook-dry account of events.
Songs are all that Albanians have had of lasting artistic value and cultural impact. Through them traditional values such as honor and bravery are extolled, and measured —as opposed to sycophantic— praise is given to individuals who best exhibited these virtues during the course of memorable events. It is easy to notice the sincere, organic, and bottom-up nature of the songs’ lyrics: The fresh narratives were likely written by either the very participants in the depicted events or by their immediate friends or relatives. The tradition of epic Albanian songs is an intangible monument to freedom, and Enver Hoxha raped this respectable tradition.
The megalomaniac insinuation of his persona everywhere in the musical repertoire and the top-down engineering of labored, sycophantic lyrics, could only be matched in an alternate universe in which Il Duce Mussolini brought back Michelangelo from the dead and coerced him to repaint the Sistine Chapel —the pinnacle of Italian art— according to a fascist artistic tone: with sharp contours and blunt shades to represent fascist vigor, and with Mussolini’s face replacing God’s.
The performers were robbed of the archaic stoicism of their original songs. They were turned into tacky-colored clowns instead, in the big circus that the entire country had become. Just what am I talking about here? How’s this for a birthday present for the Fuhrer?
Dëgjo, Argjiro shqiponja/ Listen, Argjiro, [the castle of Gjirokastra, Enver's hometown] you eagle
këngën, që të sjell gjitonia/ to the song the fair woman has brought you
ç’të ka lezet lëm’ i këngës/ How graceful is her song
Për birin e shtrenjt’ të zemrës/ for her son dearest to her heart
Moj nëna gjirokastrite/ Oh mother from Gjirokastra
gjiri yt me qumësht drite/ Your breast-milk is made out of light
dhe mbi gjithë djepet që rrite/ And of all the cribs [infants] you brought up
ç’t'i jepje shqipes e dite/ You knew just what to give to Albania [i.e: Enver]
lum si ne!/ Blessed/Lucky are we!
Mbas çdo bore në furtunë/ After every snow fall from a storm
ball’ i malit zbardh më shumë/ The mountain’s [Enver's] forehead is even whiter [shinier]
në çdo thinj’ të mençurisë/ In every gray hair of wisdom
beharët e Shqipërisë/ lay the summers [golden days] of Albania
Mes çdo dallge e rrebeshi/ Through every wave and flood
sa udhëheqës, aq ushtarë/ as much a leader as a soldier
historia siç të deshi/ That’s how history wanted you
Komandant dhe Komisar/ Both Commander and Commissar
Shqipërisë, fjale jote/ To Albania, your word
kushtrim dhe flamur epoke/ is a call/chant and flag signifying an era
iu bë dritë siç ëndërronte/ and it was turned into light [fruition] as it [Albania] was dreaming
rrofsh sa moshë e kësaj toke!/ May you live as long as the age of this earth!
Shkon urimi gojë me gojë/ The blessing spreads from mouth to mouth
Shëndet trimit, Enver Hoxhës/ [Good] Health to the brave Enver Hoxha
se të vërtetës së kohës/ Because you were the truth of our times
i dhe krahët e shqiponjës/ You gave wings to the eagle
Shqipëria, nënë e gjirit/ Albania, your nursing mother,
të uron, bir: Jetë të gjatë!/ is wishing you, son: A long life!
dhe kur thotë: “Dita një mijë!”/ And when it says “May your days multiply by 1000!”
nënës prapë i duket pak!/ Even that to the mother seems like too little
O majë e malit me borë/ Oh you snow-capped mountain top
që s’qas re në sinorë/ allowing no cloud to cover you
emri yt gëzim lirie/ Your name is joy of freedom
lule në çdo buzë fëmije/ A flower in every child’s lips
Rrofsh Enver!/ Long live Enver!
Nga Saranda në Tropojë/ From Saranda to Tropoja [southernmost and northernmost cities]
shkon urimi gojë me gojë/ The blessing spreads from mouth to mouth
kush ndrit udhën siç do nëna/ You are the shining light on our path that mother [Albania] always wanted
sa vetë kombit i rreh zemra/ so much so that the entire nation’s heart beats [for you]
Over the top, much?
Uncle Enver seems moved and is weeping. At this point in his life he must be truly scared of dying, hence all the gag-worthy clues to longevity, the age of the Earth itself, and his days multiplied by 1,000. I can imagine how the prospect of death must have been much more painful to him than to us common mortals, since he had much more to lose in life: absolute power over the lives of over 2 million people, for one thing, and supreme control over perception of reality itself by an entire nation. He does not shy from milking his omnipotence for all its worth: he wants his entire nation to tell him he will live forever, in order to indulge himself in believing it. If perception is reality and he essentially controls both, with everyone telling him he will never die, who is he to say any differently?
Enver took great pride and satisfaction in urbanizing and “industrializing” Albania. Shedding the traditional rural garb in favor of mediocre Western clothing was seen as a sign of progress: the transcendence of the proletariat from provincialism and backwardness into the modernity and economic development brought by Communism. We are left to wonder then, why Enver would revel in the performances of such deliberate throw-backs to a more primitive era. The traditional costumes of these performers are symbols of inferiority and backwardness by Communism’s own standards, according to which industrial supremacy trumps all else. The discrepancy could have a purely sentimental explanation, of course: A young Enver may have enjoyed folk songs dedicated to local or national heroes (such as the one about Cerciz Topulli) and he probably once fantasized about being the one for whom such songs are written and performed, so in that sense he may be fulfilling a remote fantasy. Another explanation I suspect, is that the purpose of these songs, —his personal glorification— would be better served if the performers lowered themselves in the eyes of the audience. The tyranny of Communism operates under the cloak of universal equality, which is not the ideal environment for anyone’s personal aggrandizement. A certain perceived distance in status is required between Enver, —the would-be larger-than-life hero— and the sheep singing his praises, hence the deliberate status of inferiority in their appearance: they had to be lowered, so he could stand even higher by contrast.
Notice the lead male singer’s nervous smile and the woman’s exaggerated gestures. In genuine polyphonic epics, the performers almost universally acquire an intense, somber, and contemplative demeanor, as can be seen from the first two videos. The sycophantic servility and mindless collectivism permeating from these lyrics are alien to, in fact, antithetical to, the rugged, passionate, proud, and primitively individualistic culture that produced that choral singing arrangement in the first place.
Never before had Albanians been ruled by an absolute tyrant to whom they had to sell their souls in musical currency. Where is the underhanded praise? Where is the implicit pride? Where is the passionate minimalism? Gone without a trace: what we just saw has been a grotesquely faked orgasm of a traditional folk song.
Whereas here we have what seems to be a young Kyle MacLachlan (or perhaps his identical twin) singing to Enver’s glory, this time in the Northern tradition.
Enver Hoxha e mprehi shpaten, / Enver Hoxha sharpened his sword,
Edhe nje here o per situaten. / Once again for the situation.
Kjo asht shpata qe u rrin tek koka / This is the sword that hangs above the heads,
Gjithe amriqve o qe ka bota. / Of all enemies around the world.
Enver Hoxha, Tungjatjeta! / Long live Enver Hoxha!
Sa keto male e sa keto shkrepa! / [May he live as long] as these mountains and these rocks,
Zanin shqipes lart ia ngrite. / You raised the eagle’s voice up high.
Gjithe kete popull ne drite e qite. / You brought this entire nation out into the light.
Ylli i kuq shnderrin mbi maja. / The red star [communist symbol] shines above the mountain tops.
Bien daullja edhe zyrrhaja. / Drums and bagpipes are playing.
Porsi nuse asht ba Shqipria. / Albania is looking just like a bride [pretty/festive].
Flamurtare i prin Partia. / The [Communist] Party is leading her forward with a flag.
Enver Hoxha, Tungjatjeta! / Long live Enver Hoxha!
Sa keto male e sa keto shkrepa! / [May he live as long] as these mountains and these rocks,
Zanin shqipes lart ia ngrite. / You raised the eagle’s voice up high.
Gjithe kete popull ne drite e qite. / You brought this entire nation out into the light.
First things first: Anyone dressed like a medieval shepherd should not have the first clue on what a political party is. Having these archaic tribal characters sing about the glories of Marxism-Leninism is a deliberate anachronism. It’s completely out of place. And what’s with the depiction of Enver Hoxha as a fierce warrior? Sharpening his sword? Could there be a more absurd mental picture than the tame bourgeois old man in the gray suit barbarically threatening the world with a sword?
As if the performance were not derogatory in itself, these singers are subjected to another indignity: In the end, everyone in the choir is seen wearing wildly different costumes, which in fact represent the main regions of Albania with their respective micro-cultures. The spontaneous regimentation of these singers from such diverse musical and thematic traditions into a single choir is just about as natural as a Russian, Chinese, Sub-Saharan African, Italian, and Arab child, respectively, coming together and holding hands to sing Kumbaya My Lord. Parading the representatives of these largely disjointed traditions as interchangeable collective pegs (under the guise of national unity) on Enver Hoxha’s altar demeans the unique character of each micro-culture, whose songs are distinctively regional.
The same longevity themes are pounded on anew, with greater force with each passing year in order to counter Enver’s growing fear of death. These farcical songs are all so emotionally flat that they sound virtually interchangeable. The lyrics may have well been all written by the same author or by the same committee. Gone is the finesse, the originality, the pride. This prolonged desecration has delivered a devastating blow to folk music in Albania because people simply don’t respect the medium anymore, after decades of continuous subjection to such Orwellian performances as the ones you have just seen.
Folk song used to be a means of resistance to oppressors and commemoration of freedom-seeking revolutions. From 1945 to 1985 however, it became the jewel on the crown of Albania’s most ruthless dictator. The kind of radically collectivist intellectual atmosphere these songs were engineered to facilitate is best illustrated by the next and last song of this article: an unfathomable dynamic of crowd hysterics exalting a larger-than-life leader to whom the crowd’s minions fully surrender their egos. Hoxha instituted a civilian national security force in Albania, called “Sigurimi“, —literally meaning Safety/Security— which enforced the strict observance of the state religion, —Communism— across every corner of the country’s social life, no matter how remote.
Spies and agitators lurked everywhere, and it was not unheard of for family members to turn in one-another over miscellaneous charges of ‘blasphemy’ against statism. Under such repressive conditions so prohibitive to free thinking, citizens were left talking almost entirely to themselves whenever uncomfortable questions or suspicions would arise in their heads, while the rest of the world almost certainly appeared to each of them as a monolithic collective blissful in its unanimous acceptance of Party orthodoxy. I wonder how many a poor soul was ever reduced to wonder whether s/he was the only one in the entire nation entertaining ‘impure’ thoughts. Such ecstatic crowds bursting into unhinged Communist chants should come as no surprise under the circumstances then, since this predictable crowd behavior represented a rare chance for each person to be absolved of his/her private ‘thought crimes’ by publicly renewing the allegiance to the Party and to the Fuhrer and coming out of the experience with a clean slate on their hitherto troubled conscience.
An entire generation of Albanians was born, raised, and matured under such conditions —my parents among it. What’s done is done. Albanians have the cultural scars to remember this horror. I sincerely hope that Americans at least, will taste the danger of ecstatic crowds and spit out any ideological propositions stealthily conducive to such unhinged rampant collectivism before their political system gets poisoned.
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Gjirokaster heroine/ Gjirokaster, heroine,
Bujarisht prite Shqiprine. / You have been a generous host to Albania [the festival for Enver's birthday is held in Gjirokastra, his home town]
Sollem kangen, burim drite, / We brought the song, a fountain of light.
Lum per djalin qe ti rrite, hej! / Blessed be the son you raised [i.e Enver], oh hey!
Ke rrit trim, ke rrit dai, / You have raised a brave, great man
Për kët trull, për kët Shqipni. / For this land, for this Albania.
Zemrat tona gzojn njiherit, / All our hearts are joyous at the same time,
Në ditlindjen e Enverit, / for Enver’s birthday.
Urojn tbardhat nanat tona: / Our white [venerable] mothers wish:
T’njefshim tmirën, o Enver Hoxha! / May we only see good [things] happen to you, oh Enver Hoxha!
Si ortek që zbret prej malit, / Like an avalanche descending from the mountain,
Derdhëm n’sofër t’festivalit / We poured down to join the festival’s table.
Fjale prej zemre, bardh si bora: / Words from hearts white [pure] as snow [sincere words]:
Bir i popullit të lumt dora! / Well done [great job], oh son of the people!
N’lule tballit gjujmë tradhtinë, / We shoot treason [traitors] right in the forehead.
Qelibar e rujmë Partinë. / We safeguard the [Communist] Party like a gem.
Gjumi kurrë nuk të zuni, / You never fell asleep [working so hard],
Vepra jote armiqt tundi; / Your deeds shook the enemies.
çove lart grushtin e zanin, / You raised the fist of your voice high up.
Jetën lidhe me vatanin. / You tied your life to the homeland.
T’lindi kombi burr të rrallë, / The people/nation gave birth to you, a rare man.
Lum Partia që t’ka n’ballë! / Blessed/Lucky the Party for having you at its front!
Within less than 48 hours, Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch has labored to not only quasi-politely dismiss and marginalize Michael Totten’s reports from Kosovo in the comments section of LittleGreenFootballs.com (lest his positive, non-hysterical message prompt readers to question Spencer’s colorful portrayal of Kosovars as Talibans) but to also attack Glenn Reynolds for allegedly being a cultural relativist for even conceiving of non-Muslim religious activists possibly resorting to violence as a means to further their agendas given the right priming conditions— conditions which Reynolds himself ultimately traces back to the intellectual impotence of nothing but, wait for it, cultural relativism.
Spencer furiously denies any motivational or thematic connection between these attacks on the two prominent bloggers, yet his arguments are complementary sides of the same coin.
Totten is targeted as an impressionable naïve traveler who fails to recognize what Spencer believes to be the inescapable ideological vacuum within any not-yet-radical Muslim community —communities which, according to Spencer, despite any and all current pretensions of liberalism and Westophilia, are essentially unstable oxymoronic applications of Islam which are doomed to gravitate toward radicalism in the long run. Kosovo can be no exception, since a perpetual state of jihad is an inexorable core tenet of Islam. Here I will not dwell on the theological subtleties he employs to reach his conclusion (which I suspect Mr. Spencer would accuse me of misrepresenting anyway), but the bottom line of his dissatisfaction with Totten’s reports seems to boil down to Totten’s portrayal of Kosovars as an overall peaceful, progressive, Westward-oriented, and culturally modern people. To suggest that a population with a Muslim background could merit such positive characterizations (without casting apocalyptic doubts on their future sustainability) is heresy!
It is also heresy to point out, like Glenn Reynolds has, that not only Islam but also other world religions, notably Judaism and Christianity, are quite capable of fostering religious supremacy, bigotry, and violence. According to Mr. Spencer, Judeo-Christianity is fundamentally and qualitatively superior to Islam, so to suggest that there could be a degenerative least-common-denominator into which all three religions could converge under any conditions, reeks of cultural relativism, because it denies Judeo-Christianity’s irreducible superiority.
I can understand some of Spencer’s bias given that he is a Christian, but his position implies an astounding selective repression of common historical facts about Christianity in the West. As one of Instapundit’s readers put it so succinctly:
Robert Spencer writes:
“The most virulently fundamentalist Christian can find no sanction in Jesus’ teaching for the murder of his opponents any more than anyone else can.”
Maybe no one expected the Spanish Inquisition, but I would certainly hope that someone might remember it.
And lest we treat the Inquisition like a distant fairytale, let’s not forget about the very real death-threats and hysterical rallies originating in the US over John Lennon’s “bigger than Jesus” remark just a few decades ago.
But Spencer either doesn’t want to hear it or doesn’t care: Muslims cannot and must not under any circumstances be elevated in anyone’s consideration as civilized, peaceful, modern people, or as allies. Likewise, adherents of Judeo-Christianity cannot be conceived to ever, even under a real or hypothetical incentive structure that consistently rewards violence, lower themselves to acts of hateful aggression: That arena is supposed to be the theological monopoly of the “Religion Of Peace”.
Is it any wonder then, that Spencer’s own religious supremacy reflexively aligns him with “the Christian side” against “the Muslim side” on any complex world conflict where such dichotomy arises, without any internal need prompting him to further scrutinize the objective merits of the contenders or to study the contextual historical scenario of the conflicts? Sometimes even when the conflicts cannot be cogently redrawn along religious lines, as is the case in Kosovo, Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia, Spencer seems to have no problem connecting nonexistent dots anyway and ultimately tracing the villains back to his favorite arch-enemy: Islam.
I find it deliciously ironic that Spencer’s official stance on Kosovo today is one of severe ‘skepticism’ and concern over Kosovar Albanians’ vulnerability to cooptation by Islamist extremists, while he himself has been indisputably co-opted by noxious and extremist Serbian Nationalist elements through his involvement with The American Council for Kosovo. From their website:
The American Council for Kosovo is an activity of Squire Sanders Public Advocacy, LLC, and Global Strategic Communications Group, which are registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act as agents for the Serbian National Council of Kosovo and Metohija. Additional information with respect to this matter is on file with the Foreign Agents Registration Unit of the Department of Justice in Washington DC.
The deceptively named American Council for Kosovo is in fact a front group for the Serbian National Council of Kosovo and Metohija, whose president for Northern Kosovo Milan Ivanovic was arrested by the UN administration (he took his sweet time to turn himself in after initially going into hiding) on charges of attempted murder (later dropped) and of leading a violent demonstration, during which at least one hand-grenade was thrown at the police (Ivanovic has been personally accused of this act but evidence was inconclusive for a conviction, hence the dropped charge of attempted murder), and 22 mainly Polish peacekeepers were injured. This is not the only violent demonstration Ivanovic is accused of orchestrating and his organized outbursts have even claimed innocent lives.
Ivanovic said he had not decided yet whether to surrender. “I’ll make a decision after talking seriously with lawyers and members of my family,” he said. He denied having been handed the indictment on 30 July, claiming he had instead been requested either to turn himself in voluntarily and “be locked up in the Mitrovica prison” or become a fugitive from what he termed “an Albanian” law.
Ivanovic described the attempt to arrest him as politically motivated and accused UNMIK head Michael Steiner of seeking to force the local Serb population to flee ahead of the 26 October local elections. He warned that the move to arrest to him “could have very grave consequences” and invited the authorities in Belgrade “to join in and discuss these things.” UNMIK dismissed Ivanovic’s claims.
The Serb National Council for northern Kosovo is believed to be actively supporting a vigilante organization known as the Bridge Watchers. The group operates in the industrial town of Mitrovica, divided between an ethnic Albanian south and a predominantly Serb north. It takes its name from the three bridges dividing the city. Despite UN efforts to make them hand over their weapons and submit to UN authority, the Bridge Watchers continue to act as a sort of parallel police force, claiming to be simply protecting local Serbs from ethnic Albanian attacks.
International officials accuse the group and local Serb leaders of staging seemingly spontaneous violent riots against UN police and NATO peacekeepers, but Serb leaders in northern Kosovo have rejected the accusation.
Opposing UN policies in Kosovo, the Serb leaders in Mitrovica prefer to keep close ties with Belgrade rather than recognize UNMIK’s authority in many areas.
Mr. Ivanovic is a hard-line nationalist by anyone’s definition, a staunch supporter of the neo-fascist Serbian Radical Party— an ultra-nationalists' melting crackpot of greater scale and proportion than even its name suggests. For starters, the Party organized the recent rallies in Serbia to protest Radovan Karadzic’s arrest, in which the same Ivanovic was visibly involved:
“Karadzic’s arrest means a termination of the Republic of Srpska and a kidnapping of Kosovo,” said Milan Ivanovic. “We shall never surrender neither the Republic of Srpska, Serbia, nor Kosovo. We shall never surrender Radovan,” Ivanovic exclaimed and called on the citizens to “fight the oppressors”.
Again, this is from a key leader of the Serbian group which the so-called American Council for Kosovo serves as a front for, in which Robert Spencer is an advisory board member.
The Serbian Radical Party (Srpska Radikalna Stranka — SRS) is an extremely right-wing nationalist organization. Its founder and director Vojislav Šešelj is currently on trial in The Hague, accused of war crimes and atrocities against humanity.
… … … … … … … … … …
The ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party — which once advocated union with Russia and Belarus, and is now tied for first place with a coalition of more pro-Western parties — could enter government alongside nationalist Prime Minister Kostunica’s DSS.
Enough about Ivanovic as I am sure you already get the picture.
At this point I hope you will all excuse my cynicism regarding Robert Spencer’s contorted statements of how no Christian exegete has ever interpreted any genocidal passages in the Bible as a plan for action against unbelievers in his own day, while he openly associates himself with violent genocide proponents/deniers (the typical combination) funded and supported by a Christian Orthodox bishop.
By law, all items distributed by the American Council for Kosovo include the following disclaimer:
“The American Council for Kosovo is an activity of Squire Sanders Public Advocacy, LLC, and Global Strategic Communications Group, which are registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act as agents for the Serbian National Council of Kosovo and Metohija, under the spiritual guidance of His Grace, Bishop ARTEMIJE of Ras and Prizren. Additional information with respect to this matter is on file with the Foreign Agents Registration Unit of the Department of Justice in Washington DC.”
…though the Bishop’s involvement is curiously absent from the otherwise identical notice posted on their website. Let’s close in on the rest of Spencer’s circle at the American Council for Kosovo. One of Spencer’s friends whom he has appointed as Advisory Board member at JihadWatch, stands out in particular. He is James/Jim George Jatras, Director of the American Council for Kosovo:
Where do I begin? In the above-linked-at comment, Spencer smugly concludes that I must have no idea who Walter Duranty is just because I found absurd his parallel between the Stalin idolizing propagandist and genocide denier (whose revisionist bile and fabrications were not sufficiently challenged due to overall lack of access to information/data regarding the USSR) and Michael Totten (who reports from a freely-accessible country with a strong international presence, and which anyone, including Spencer, can visit to see things for oneself).
Since he fancies himself a far more knowledgeable expert of Ukrainian issues than myself, I would assume Robert Spencer ought to know who Viktor Yanukovych is, but for those who do not know, he can be safely characterized as one of Vladimir Putin’s cronies: a Russian proxy embedded within the Ukrainian political system, a corrupt politician, often at the center of electoral-fraud scandals.
James Jatras is not only a proxy of the Serbian lobby, which he openly admits, but also, quite interestingly (though not the least surprisingly), a veritable stooge of Russian interests:
On March 7, 2003 Alex Kiselev signed a written agreement with the law firm of Venable, LLP to provide PR services to Mr. Yanukovych for the amount of $100,000. Alex Kiselev signed and initialed every page of the agreement acting on behalf of Mr. Yanukovych. On behalf of Venable the agreement was signed by Mr. Patrick E. O’Donnell and Mr. James George Jatras. Venable, LLP is tasked to work on improving the image of Viktor Yanukovych personally, rather than the country of Ukraine. Additional amounts are as follows:
- $ 20,000 for arranging a personal meeting at the White House between Prime Minister Yanukovych and President Bush, “with a success fee of $ 60,000 to be paid if these efforts are successful.”
Since Mr. Yanukovych did not come to Washington in the spring of 2003 as was originally planned, no fees were paid for arranging a State Department dinner or a White House meeting.
… According to the US Department of Justice Supplemental Statement (Form CRM-154) for a six month period ending November 30, 2003, filed by Venable LLP, it is reported on page 5 that Alex Kiselev paid the total amount of $ 341,396.50 for providing PR services on behalf of Mr. Yanukovych. …beginning in March 2003, Kiselev paid $1,041,396.50 to PR firms in Washington to promote Viktor Yanukovych?! So do we have now to accept as true that it was a charitable contribution out of his own pocket?
Venable LLP is also the lobbying firm for The American Council for Kosovo, again through James Jatras.
James Jatras, a Greek American with a long history of pro-Eastern Orthodox and anti-Muslim activism in the Balkans and formerly senior foreign policy analyst for the U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee (1998-2002), signed the agreement between Venable and the Serbian National Council of Kosova and Metohija (SNV) on March 22, 2006. Far from being a neutral observer of Balkan affairs, Jatras is a paid lobbyist for the SNV and an Orthodox extremist with deep connections to the Serbian Unity Congress. Jatras has written numerous articles aimed at warning Americans about the threat of militant Islam in Southeast Europe, several of which appear in a magazine connected to Bosnian Serb groups called Chronicles. (Srdja Trifkovic, Chronicles’ foreign affairs editor, was formerly the official spokesperson for indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic.) Jatras was the keynote speaker at the 9th Serbian Unity Congress (more on that later) and a principal in the Serbian-American-made propaganda film, “Yugoslavia: The Avoidable War” produced and directed by George Bogdanich. And during the Kosova war, it was Jatras, in his capacity as senior foreign policy analyst for the U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee, who commissioned and circulated Yossef Bodansky’s outrageously spurious report in the House and Senate, entitled “Kosova: The U.S. and Iran’s New Balkan Front,” (more on the Iranian conspiracy theories later) in an effort to block Congressional support for intervention in Serbia’s war against Kosova and to discredit the Kosova Liberation Army.
From another source linked to above:
Chronicles magazine, which published Jatras’ rantings, is also cited by the film in support of its claim that Muslims blew up their own people to arouse international sympathy, and it is connected not only directly to the Bosnian Serbs but also to white Southern neo-Confederacy groups. The magazine is run by Thomas Fleming, who rose to prominence as an opponent of school desegregation in Rockford, Ill., and became a founding member of the right-wing neo-Confederacy group League of the South. Its foreign-affairs editor is Srdja Trifkovic, formerly the official spokesman for Radovan Karadzic and the Bosnian Serb government and a source whom Mr. Bogdanich interviewed for the film but apparently decided not to use.
But we heard enough about the man; let’s now hear from him. Some interesting positions of James Jatras, mostly in his own words:
James Jatras, former assistant to Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) and onetime defense witness for Slobodan Milosevic (that’s right), now directs the American Council for Kosovo, a pro-Belgrade lobbying organization based in Washington. In an interview with the Belgrade daily Vecernje novosti, Jatras advises the Serbian government to be “more aggressive” and to demonstrate its “seriousness” by holding military exercises along the border with Kosovo.
“Serbia must stop looking at the United States as if they rule the world, what they like to present themselves as,” Jatras said in an interview.
Thursday for Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti, when asked “how could Serbia be more aggressive without ending up even worse?”
“They are but a paper tiger, stop treating them with the respect they do not deserve,” Jatras said of the United States.
“Washington behaves in this way because it believes Serbia will have to accept the fact that part of its territory is to be snatched from it,” he went on, stressing that Belgrade “had to make it clear that this was not the case.”
He added that Serbia should “in no case join NATO,” (why, that would not go smoothly with Jatras' master, Vladimir Putin, who is known to go as far as to invade and dismember former Soviet satellite countries in order to prevent them from joining NATO) and that the European Union “should be told clearly that Belgrade will suspend its association process in case Brussels decides to recognize Kosovo.”
“I suggest that, come November, half a million people show up on the streets of Belgrade, protesting the U.S. policy. As a demonstration of how serious Serbia is, holding a military exercise in the south of the country should also be considered,” Jatras concluded.
Did I mention that James Jatras is Robert Spencer’s friend, a JihadWatch board member, but first and foremost, an American citizen, who has worked for the US government as the aide of disgraced Senator Larry Craig, but also as senior foreign policy analyst for the U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee? We are all too familiar with the self-loathing fetishes of Leftist moonbats, and the kind of seething anti-Americanism they are known to proudly sport. Let’s not, however, confuse suicidal cultural masochists with malicious puppets of foreign interests: the former tend to blow off their self-hatred in the “we” form, whereas stooges like Jatras make calculated statements in the “they” form. Jatras is not a self-hater because he doesn’t even identify with America, which is how he manages to come so close to advocating attacks on US embassies (which Serbs, catching Jatras' drift, did indeed perpetrate) without batting an eye. He’s just a puppet of anti-American foreign interests to which he has whored out his citizenship.
Some more interesting tidbits before we get into what you must really be itching to hear about, his defense of Milosevic:
At the Serbian Unity Congress convention in 1998, Jatras is quoted as saying that the U.S. government’s policy toward Serbia “was criminal and worthy of being brought to The Hague tribunal.”
In other articles, he downplayed Serbian massacres (he even placed the word in quotation marks) in Bosnia, claimed Bosnian Muslims killed their own people as a ploy to gain Western support and referred to “the myth of Muslims as innocent victims in the [Bosnian] war.” (source: The Washington Times, 7/20/97, page B5)
Milosevic’s witness James Jatras publicly denounced former governor and one-time Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis as a “pagan” because, while Dukakis is from a Greek Orthodox family, Dukakis’s wife Kitty (daughter of Harry Ellis Dickson, violinist and long-time conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra) is Jewish.
And this provides a smooth segue way into his disgraceful appearance in Milosevic’s trial, because the prosecutors felt the obscure need to make an issue out of the witness’ bigotry, as if his factual testimony alone were not outrageous enough to discredit him.
The entire convoluted transcript of the hearing can be found here, but its gist is neatly summarized by Slobo’s fans at Slobodan-Milosevic.org. The claims made by Jatras are truly incredible and I urge everyone to scrutinize them. It all starts coming together now:
Jatras gave evidence about what was contained in U.S. Congressional reports regarding the Iranian arms transfers to Bosnia and Croatia.
Jatras pointed out that the congressional reports had concluded that the Clinton Administration’s scheme to facilitate weapons transfers from Iran to Croatia and on to Bosnia was a secret program, and that the administration had attempted to cover it up.
Interestingly, almost all of these insane conspiratorial reports which Jatras refers to as objective US inside sources happen to be either planted personally by Jatras himself, or originating from the office of Larry Craig, for whom Jatras was working as an aide. In any case, they are not US intelligence reports.
According to Jatras, the Clinton Administration had decided to attack F.R. Yugoslavia long before the indictment against Milosevic alleges that any “joint criminal enterprise” was afoot.
To bear this out, Jatras pointed to a report that he had written in August of 1998 predicting that Clinton would attack Yugoslavia over Kosovo (possibly because it was obvious to anyone with more than two brain cells what Slobodan was preparing to do in Kosovo?).
Jatras said that Racak was merely a trigger used by the Clinton Administration to launch its pre-planned attack against Yugoslavia.
He said that the occupation of Kosovo and the establishment of K-FOR had been planned out well before the bombing even started.
Milosevic was just a pawn. The Clinton administration and other great conspiratorial powers set him up in order to cover up an arms trading intrigue. The Bosnians, of course, gracefully started killing themselves off to perfect the ploy and frame Milosevic. And the Racak massacre was a calculated self-inflicted “trigger” to get this whole party started.
Can you say crazy or just plain evil?
Jatras mentioned, as an interesting side note, a psy-ops campaign in the Krajina, where after Serbian radio facilities had been bombed, Croatian radio announcements were broadcast that instilled fear in the Serbian population and encouraged them flee from the territory.
Well, actually Mr. Jatras, on August 4, 1995, Milan Martic, the “president” of the “Republic of Serb Krajina” authorities, issued an order calling for the evacuation of all persons incapable of military service from the Knin, Benkovac, Obrovac, Drnis and Gracac municipalities. The decision indicated that the civilians should be evacuated toward Srb and Donji Lapac, with the U.N. base in Knin enlisted to assist with the evacuation. This account is corroborated by Milan Babic in his Hague trial. Segments of the Serbian press attacked Martic for ordering the evacuation and surrendering to Croatian forces without a fight. Others surmised that the Republic of Serb Krajina, Croatian and Serbian government authorities had reached an a priori agreement to surrender the area to Croatian government control.
The Croatian government actually encouraged Serbs to stay, albeit perhaps not entirely sincerely. A good number would have eventually had to leave in any case, because they were residing in the houses of the 200,000 Croatians ethnically cleansed from Krajina in 1992, who would be returning to claim their real estate.
In the specific context of the refugee debate, the Krajina exodus bears comparison with the flight of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, which brought about the creation of Israel. Croatia claims —as has Israel since 1948— that the refugees fled largely of their own accord, under instructions from their leadership, and those specific instructions have been well documented in both cases. Here is a detailed account of the Serbo-Croatian war for those interested.
And if anyone is wondering about the making of such a monster—how a Christian Taliban (in both ideology and appearance) came to be—let's just say the apple did not fall far from the tree. Stella Jatras, the late mother of James Jatras, is a regular contributor to the anti-Semitic conspiracist site AntiWar.org. Her consistent praise of Karadzic, sympathy for Milosevic, denial of Srebrenica's massacre, and overall lunatic revisionism on all Serb-related fronts, can give some insight into the kind of poison James must have been inhaling throughout his entire life. It is worth mentioning that the Jatrases are ethnic Greeks although they sound like Serbian ultra-nationalists. Stella and James Jatras are perfect examples of how ethnic chauvinism and religious supremacy can feed off of one-another in the minds of the demented, and jointly fuel a very predictable kind of hatred.
All that’s been unearthed here is but a whiff of James Jatras’ dark closet, some very rudimentary fragments of which my husband revealed on Robert Spencer’s site two nights ago through the comment sections, and which curiously elicited a defensive volley of verbiage from Jatras himself within just a few hours!
This man is obviously a professional propagandist, and I am actually surprised that the Internet is not littered with comprehensive reports on his outrageous activities and statements. I have no interest in rebutting his entire piece line by line as there are too many lies to counter and it would feel as futile as Don Quixote’s fight against windmills.
Certain claims I cannot ignore, however, nor should I be tempted to, as their debunking is a mere matter of correcting blatant revisionism by providing historical sources. I invite readers to check out his post linked-to-above so that they know exactly what we are talking about:
Regarding Jatras’ “point #1” (i.e. his allusions to jihadist Kosovar violence): So far I have noticed that the claims of Kirk in Human Events regarding attacks in Gjilan, Ferizaj and Prizren seem to all be echoes of earlier attacks by Serbs and then some retaliatory attacks by Kosovars, but as to shooting at KFOR or UNMIK, there is nothing to suggest that these attacks are anything more than old wives’ tales. Searching the KFOR site and The Daily Falcon, which is the newspaper published for the servicemen at Camp Bondsteel, there appears no mention of any hostilities by the Kosovars.
Neither do the laptop bombadiers in the media, who, as they had in Bosnia, cheered on the great Kosovo “humanitarian intervention” in 1999 to stop a nonexistent “ethnic cleansing” of Albanians — and which led directly to the real eradication of more than two-thirds of the Serbian community, as well as Roma (mostly Muslim, some Orthodox Christian), Croats (Roman Catholic), Jews, and others.
It doesn’t seem like James Jatras ever met a psychopathic butcher he didn’t like, and if he came to Milosevic’s defense, equivocating Karadzic’s crimes is small potatoes by comparison. As is genocide denial… What nonexistent “ethnic cleansing” of Albanians? This one listed in great detail at the State Department? Was this also part of the propaganda and misinformation that the US planted to frame Jatras’ poor friend Slobo?
With all due respect to Mr. Jatras, well actually, wait a minute, I don’t owe him any respect; but I lived in Tirana in 1999 myself and I saw with my own eyes floods of people hosted in soccer stadiums, ravaged families, torn families, everyone looking for each others’ lost relatives feared dead.
And should Jatras contend that I along with everyone who was in Albania at the time were simply collectively hallucinating (nothing would surprise me from him at this point), the stranding of hundreds of thousands of refugees in Albania and Macedonia for months at a time is an indisputable fact, and I can assure Mr. Jatras that these people were not out on a picnic. Insisting otherwise is no less absurd than proposing that September 11th, 2001, was as Photoshop job.
Oh, and I almost forgot: His statistics about the displaced Serbs (who left un-coerced, which Jatras conveniently neglects to mention) are also bogus.
Jatras further says:
With respect to the nexus in Kosovo between religion (Muslim vs. Christian) and nationalism (Albanian vs. Serb), it needs to be kept in mind that sharia rule under the Ottoman Empire ended less than a century ago, in 1912, when Kosovo (then known as “Old Serbia”) was liberated during the First Balkan War. For the preceding centuries, Muslim Albanians had migrated at will over the mountains from Albania, taking over land from which Serbs had fled from reprisals following repeated unsuccessful revolts against the Ottoman caliphate. (That the Serbs are the original inhabitants in Kosovo is beyond question. There are no pre-Ottoman Albanian structures, no Albanian toponyms. There is not even an Albanian word for Kosovo itself, the Albanian term “Kosova” being merely their rendering of the Serbian name — derived from kos, “blackbird,” in reference to the famous 1389 battle — much as we English-speakers call München “Munich” and Roma “Rome.”)
Just like this British historian (one out of many) who is about to prove the factual content of every single clause of Jatras’ every sentence to be false, I do not even think ‘who got there first’ is particularly relevant in deciding the rights and wrongs of any present-day political situation. Still, since James decided to go there:
The previous chapter brought the political history (if such it may be called) of Kosovo up to the final period of Bulgarian-Macedonian rule, before the territory of Tsar Samuel was reconquered by the Byzantine Emperor Basil the Bulgar-slayer. Medieval Kosovo is often referred to in general terms as ‘the cradle of the Serbs’, as if it had been a Serb heartland from the outset; but the reality was rather different. Just over 800 years separate the arrival of the Serbs in the Balkans in the seventh century from the final Ottoman conquest in the 1450s: out of those eight centuries, Kosovo was Serb-ruled for only the last two-and-a-half— less than one-third of the entire period. Bulgarian khans or tsars held Kosovo from the 850s until the early eleventh century, and Byzantine Emperors until the final decades of the twelfth.
All the toponyms which Jatras has been desperately looking to avoid so he could claim their nonexistence are carefully referenced in the source I just provided. The Albanian name for Kosovo was Dardania, by the way, derived from the Illyrian/proto-Albanian word for “pear” because of the many pear trees lining the region. There is at least one town named Dardha (pear) in Albania today.
Kosovo remained Ottoman territory until it was conquered by Serbian forces in 1912. Serbs would say “liberated”; but even their own estimates put the Orthodox Serb population at less than 25%. The majority population was Albanian, and did not welcome Serb rule, so “conquered” seems the right word.
So taking into account Albanians’ indigenousness in Kosovo which is exhaustively sourced by Malcolm in his book, as well as by many other independent historians, we have a classic case of projection with respect to Jatras’ statement:
By the same token, the prevailing attitude among Kosovo’s Albanian Muslims, even those with no discernable Islamic piety, reflects their sense of entitlement to mastery over the land and its rayah (essentially, “cattle”) inhabitants. The attitude is hardly different from those of Turks with respect to Constantinople or Arabs to “al-Quds,” no matter how secular they may be: “we” conquered it, and no one can take it back from us.
My husband has politely informed Spencer of Jatras’ connections, the most problematic of which (his defense of Milosevic) Spencer was already aware of and unbothered by. What seems to bother Spencer, to the point of calling me an Islamist agent in so many words (wait for him to squeal “Where did I write that!” as he’s been in a very literalist mood lately but doesn’t want to either eat his words or regurgitate them, but will instead twist them like worms), is when I set the historical record straight about what has happened in the Balkans, and when I condemned the genocide deniers/sympathizers and self-styled holy warriors with, among other epithets, those which the most flaming ones of them proudly self-describe by. For those new to this blog, I am a non-religious Albanian soon-to-be American, and my father is what Mr. Jatras would call a pagan, for coming from an Eastern Orthodox family himself and marrying my mother, a woman of Jewish descent.
I find it curious that Robert Spencer closes both eyes to atrocities perpetrated by Serbs, because if it had only been Muslims on their receiving end, I would understand now (but of course not justify it) seeing where Spencer is coming from, but Serbs have also fought against Croats and Slovenes —their fellow Christians. Yet he takes the side of the most historically aggressive representatives of his own “Religion of Peace.” Could it be that while ostensibly and quite irrationally denying any violence within Christianity, he in fact secretly and perhaps subconsciously admires violent Christianity?
What more is there to say? Going back full circle: no, I do not find any traces of relativism in Glenn Reynolds’ innocuous statement, nor does the outlook that produced his comment represent any hindrance to the West’s response to the jihadist threat. Quite on the contrary, the most significant drag in formulating an appropriate response stems from those Judeo-Christian supremacists such as Spencer and his associates, who discredit the anti-jihadist movement by overstating its scope (uncontrollably screeching “jihad!” even where none is involved) and who, most importantly, see the fight against jihad as a holy war of their own, in which they end up allying with the devil to further their agendas.
With his honest and balanced dispatches from the Balkans, Michael Totten has crippled these Serbian Nationalist front groups’ propaganda efforts just like he had earlier, along with fellow independent journalist Michael Yon, exposed the mainstream media’s coverage of the Iraq war for the self-serving doom-and-gloom panic mongering that it was.
Spencer has made various controversial and often self-mitigated pronouncements regarding Kosovo, but when push comes to shove his on-record position is one of only-time-will-tell “skepticism.” I don’t know how aggressively lobbying on behalf of an organization that seeks to revoke Kosovo’s independence, thus leaving Kosovar Albanians with no time at all to “tell” Spencer or the rest of the world anything, is possibly reconcilable with self-declared above-the-fray skepticism, but I have a more pressing question for Spencer:
What is his position on the Iraq war, and particularly on US efforts to build a stable, peaceful, and pluralistic democracy in the heart of the Middle East? If the prospect of sound self-governance by the liberal, if not nominal, Muslims of Kosovo is such a tough sell for Spencer, then what about the future of Iraq, whose population is incomparably more religiously conservative? Doesn’t intellectual and moral consistency dictate that if Spencer would rather see Kosovars “kept in check” by Serbia’s violent hand, then he should also prefer the “stability” that Sadam Hussein provided Iraqis with to the fanciful prospect of freeing them so they can govern themselves? Doesn’t intellectual and moral consistency dictate that Spencer be rallying it up with Moveon.org over the almost certainly wasteful loss of American lives and resources into as inherently unachievable, or failing that, at least unsustainable, a project as a Muslim democracy? Consistency is a beautiful thing but some of us feel no ethical imperative to be bound by it.
The question is, at this point, purely rhetorical.If you like this post - buy me a coffee
That the GOP is experiencing an identity crisis is self-evident. Over the last few months the Party cannibalized herself as one candidate after another tripped over his feet trying to climb on top of her shaky political pedestal. No one can convincingly say what Republican voters were looking for, but we must infer they’ve pretty much found it in John McCain. Yet there is restiveness in the so-called Conservative sector, once hailed as the core ideological constituency of the Right but now finding itself marginalized to the peripheries of the Republican Party whose political headquarters are being rebuilt Leftwards.
Most Conservative icons have criticized the Arizona senator’s controversial Conservative credentials, but some have gone as far as to boycott the Party over his nomination, thus translating the Conservative tantrum into a highly leveraged ultimatum. So Conservatives indeed feel betrayed by the GOP’s leadership, but have they ever scrutinized their faithfulness to their own principles? Most importantly, have they ever coherently articulated what Conservative principles represent? …Can they?
The notion of a true Conservative is farcically reinvented ad nauseum by the latest self-proclaimed specimen, the same way that “change” has become a politically prostituted mantra for the Left, devoid of any substance or pretense thereof. Yet change can ultimately mean anything to Leftist “revolutionaries” preaching overhaul for the sake of overhaul: nothing ideologically uncomfortable about it. While the Party of perpetual “progressive” reform need not be bothered with the intricacies of well-defined “change,” conserving for the sake of conservation just doesn’t fly as well. The future is necessarily open-ended, but anyone invested in preserving valuable aspects of a supposedly cherished past, ought to be able to coherently pinpoint what is worth preserving (or even restoring, if the past is remote enough) and fluently articulate why.
The Conservative movement has lost its conceptual anchor into the essence of America’s greatness and is now consumed with merely conserving the Conservative movement. The future has historically been unkind to reactionaries; hence Conservatives’ recent fall from relevance should come as no surprise.
Vague platitudes of a Conservative golden era are ludicrous. There was never such a thing as a glorious way of life Americans ought to have preserved like an insect captured in the amber of history. Allusions to morally airbrushed “good old days” founded in sound “Judeo-Christian” values are nothing but blurred second-hand collective hallucinations of a generation disastrously failing to grasp modern-day ideological challenges. Before ever being entitled to a dominant voice in this country’s future, Conservatives must sever their romantic attachment to this idealized fabricated past.
American traditions and lifestyles always have and always will be in a vector of flux and experimentation toward modernity. However, the political recipe for human flourishing and sustained prosperity is timeless. America’s founders lucidly articulated it throughout the Founding Documents and embedded it in the early American institutions. This philosophical prescription for maximal individual liberty and limited government has transcended centuries as America’s fundamental nature.
The fathers of Modern American Conservatism—Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and William Buckley Jr.—are now all dead. Instead of bemoaning their loss as tragically irreplaceable and praying in vain for a second coming, Conservatives better adjust their intellectual rear-view mirror until the founders of the American Nation come into clear sharp focus. Ironic corruption of language notwithstanding, it is Liberalism, as it is classically understood, that Conservatives better get in the business of conserving, and in so doing, shed some ideological dead-weight of their own.
The inane treatment of Judeo-Christianity as a proxy for Western Civilization should be first to go. Tying the moral foundations of the American Nation with cultural archetypes of prehistoric Biblical Jews, or with those of devout Europeans emulating them is beyond preposterous. The dogmatic authoritarianism inherent in Judeo-Christianity and its ubiquitous tradition of framing Man as a wretched sinful creature fallen from grace since birth, are antithetical to a societal infrastructure built around individual freedom and dignity.
Judeo-Christianity provides no coherent moral justification for why humankind deserves freedom. The Bible presents men and women as fundamentally unequal and incorrigibly flawed, offhandedly condones slavery, and offers absolute monarchy as the sacrosanct form of government prescribed by God.
The reference to the Creator in the Declaration of Independence by the Deist Thomas Jefferson was appropriate in so far as it further legitimized the proverbial self-evident truths through divine pedigree. Free enterprise is not the coincidental result of collective utility maximization by enlightened social engineers. It is rather the inescapable byproduct of the enshrinement of individual rights, which are inalienable and morally absolute, and which deserve philosophical protection as such. The loose mention of a non-denominational Creator served as a rhetorical shield to the indisputability of natural rights, through appealing to Colonialists’ lowest common philosophical denominator. But nothing in the founding documents insinuates individual rights to be derivatives of religious dogma.
The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion. —John Adams
Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together. —James Madison
Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, more than on our opinions in physics and geometry... The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. —Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson casually defines the protection of citizens and their property from aggression to be the only legitimate domain of government intervention. Such negative rights retain their internal consistency even when scaled up for large complex communities and are always straight-forward to enforce.
Social Conservatives seeking to use government to legislate morality to the masses have been poisoning the well for too long by destroying the consistency of negative rights, thus opening the door to government co-optation by demagogues with various agendas and malignant vested interests from all sides of the political spectrum. Their religiously inspired diatribes against full American freedoms continue to alienate people in droves, particularly because most Americans today are rightfully oversensitive regarding matters of conscience, religion, social institutions, and private behavior.
Until it extirpates this reactionary faction, the Conservative movement’s defense of free markets is hopelessly doomed to intellectual impotence. Economic self-reliance through free proud enterprise on the one hand, but moral paternalism in matters confined to the bedroom or uterus on the other hand, are ideologically irreconcilable positions both of which sound hypocritical when preached by the same voice.
Judeo-Christian values are neither sufficient nor even necessary components of Americanism. Conservatives with a mental blind spot to this reality often try to justify the institutionalization of Judeo-Christianity by deeming it to be the only absolute ideological shelter for freedom. Plato alone has spoken with more clarity and conviction about absolute transcendental values such as Justice and Goodness, than there can be found throughout the entire Bible. Natural Law has enjoyed a fertile tradition in Western Philosophy, originated by Protagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, carried out by the Stoics, and augmented by many great thinkers up to the present day.
Not only is the firm binding of natural law with religion not dictated by any philosophical necessity, it is also a strategically self-defeating position for Conservatives to take in the ongoing battle for hearts and minds. I cannot think of a more dangerous proposition for the future of American institutions than the prospect that their desirability and justification depend on the dubious existence of Abraham’s God.
Didn’t Conservatives get the memo? Organized religion is dying at a head-spinning rate not only in this country but across the entire Western world. The proverbial writing on the wall could be seen for decades but reality checks for Social Conservatives come with a time lag. The Religious Right has been running on very tenacious fumes against the demographic tide of events thanks in part to the politically convenient tendency of its base to vote as a block on pet issues. The levels of bi-partisan pandering Social Conservatives have enjoyed in the past are no longer sustainable.
Religion never provided a particularly satisfying map of reality for its subscribers, its main redeeming quality being community building. Churchgoing used to be an essential social event for millions of interaction-starved Americans. It is no longer so. With new lanes being added to the information highway, increasing opportunities for remote social networking, and free access to scientific materials, the Church cannot compete with the sophisticated social outlets Americans can afford today.
That is not to say the new generation is ready to live without dogma, but modern outlets for mysticism cannot be so blunt. The religionists’ children are rejecting their parents’ stale Judeo-Christianity only to fall prey to “secular” new-age religions. These new cultural bubbles can be harder to burst than organized religions because proud “secularists” aren’t self-aware of their own mysticism and violently resist being called out on it. Reality escape-routes unmarked by 6,000-year-old Earths and Noah’s Arks are necessarily and conveniently more elusive.
If religion ever was the opiate of the masses, the “secular” Left is crack cocaine for the ideologically-vulnerable apostates of organized religion. New generations are laughing Judeo-Christian superstitions out of the cultural scene but are also rejecting economic freedom and limited government by association. The Religious Right nearly drowned the baby in the filthy bathwater, and the “secular” Left is ready to throw both out altogether.
Many thumbs sticking in the wind are becoming increasingly sensitive to the “spiritual hunger” aspect of the Zeitgeist. Al Gore and Barack Obama are already successfully exploiting it to bootstrap their own glamorous personality cults. Feminism, radical environmentalism, animal rights, anti-globalization, anti-Americanism, global-warming hysteria, and all-encompassing Statism, are all very much in vogue.
Such developments should attune Conservatives to the cultural necessities of our times: Americans are experimenting with many templates of morality, but they would rather succumb to nihilism or moral relativism than return to the “caves.” Judeo-Christianity is going to die and unless Conservatives genuinely reform their movement to develop enticing modern ideological propositions, the Left will undoubtedly win by default and civilization will succumb to the void.
The name Conservatism should be second to go. Its taxonomic subtleties don’t scale well across long periods, as the ideological reference-point can be easily lost with such a term that doesn’t directly address what it is conserving, but only that it is conserving it. This inherent vaguery is a potential melting crack pot for multidenominational reactionaries. The mental associations are not sexy either in a world where Saudi Arabia can claim conservative as a label.
Liberalism may be a suitable replacement, though I am not convinced enough Conservatives can be de-programmed to call themselves Liberals. It would certainly be an interesting exercise in ideological self-assertion, forcing a public fight over what true classical Liberalism stands for and who deserves to call oneself a Liberal. Putting the Left on the defensive would allow today's Conservatives to define the boundaries for tomorrow's battles.
The stance on abortion must also go, and I don’t care about the order in which it does. There are intelligent arguments on both sides of the fence, but in so far as the anti-abortion cause is religiously inspired, it is lost. What is worse, Conservatives are earning compounded surpluses in the hypocrisy department with shady political maneuvers. Nowhere does the Constitution address the issue of abortion, therefore the Tenth Amendment spells doom for universal anti-abortion activists.
Lacking the kind of demographic muscles needed to erect a Constitutional Amendment for their pet issue, Social Conservatives have repeatedly tried to pressure the Supreme Court as a backdoor toward their ends. Conservatives who spiritedly call out Democrats on their big-government insinuations that flagrantly violate the Tenth Amendment need to look in the mirror first. There will never be popular support for an anti-abortion amendment, and such political middle-ground is clearly unsustainable. Abortion is an unfortunate issue for Conservatives to tarnish their reputation as committed defenders of the Constitution.
Indeed, the sanctity of life is a moral topic deserving great political attention. Just as there may genuinely remain environmental issues to be dealt with collectively after, but not until, full property rights are conferred and enforced, there may remain hues of uncertainty to be settled politically (preferably at the state level), as to when an embryo becomes a fetus and when a fetus becomes a person. However, this issue is hardly worth political priority until full Constitutional rights are restored for non-uterus-bound citizens, or at least a general contraception/early-abortion alternative is secured for all women. In any case, no cause is worth the corruption of Constitutional channels.
The Conservative position on immigration is also overdue for a makeover. The need for secure borders is a forgone assumption, but most other problems and solutions are open-ended and politically challenging. Under current arrangements, illegal immigrants largely subsidize a thoroughly corrupt Mexican government, thus indirectly supporting a vicious cycle: destructive socialist policies keep Mexico’s economy paralyzed--in turn further promoting more employment-seeking adventures across the border.
America has invaluable leverage for pressuring Mexico’s government to reform. Here the proverbial stick is not as effective as a politically-engineered carrot. Offering realistic guest-worker programs contingent upon Mexico meeting well-defined milestones could spark an economic renaissance in Mexico and greatly discount economic despair as a motive for illegal immigration. Only the cream of the crop of today’s Conservatives could devise a coherent platform of concentrated classically liberal measures for Mexico.
Other pro-capitalist templates for combating the roots of illegal immigration are available. Undocumented workers are attractive to American employers because as a source of labor, they exhibit none of the problematic rigidities of the domestic labor pool: they don’t unionize, are not owed social security or other benefits (though millions of undocumented workers pay payroll taxes), absorb below-minimum-wage positions, cannot sue the employer over work-related damages, and provide much needed overall labor liquidity. Undocumented workers are meeting a demand which only a free labor market could satisfy by itself. Domestic reforms dismantling labor’s internal barriers are not only very American per se, but would also essentially dissolve the comparative advantage illegal immigrants currently enjoy.
Such proactive solutions require leadership of a level currently unknown in the Republican mainstream. Even if immigration reform were successfully implemented, it would not be more than a patch-up solution. Establishing a principle of citizenship is the only final answer.
The Constitution outlines an implosion-proof political structure that leaves virtually no channels for economic parasitism by any groups or individuals. To an American it isn’t supposed to matter much who her fellow citizens are, their culture, customs, race, or language, because the only way they can legitimately affect her is through voluntary trade and cooperation, which are mutually beneficial by definition. The corruption of American institutions through collectivist meddling in general and welfare statism in particular, turns every American into a partial slave to his fellow citizens. It is not fashionable to resent such arrangement, but who wants the collective pool of burden to grow!
Nativist immigration policies chronologically coincide with the rise of the Welfare State, but this is more than a coincidence. Aspiring Americans get the short end of the stick, which is regretful because Americanism by choice is nobler than merely by birth. Immigrating to America is itself a highly entrepreneurial act and the Right ought to welcome the many millions of worthy aspiring Americans from across the world.
The Left has astutely cultivated the victimization, destructive subsidization, and exploitation of every under-class into a politically lucrative enterprise. When Democrats screech out for unconditional amnesty for the twelve million illegal aliens, don’t think they mean it! The Left needs this permanent under-class to remain such, but these outbursts earn sympathy from minorities and force Republicans into the ugly nativist role, a role which many have displayed great natural talent for.
Republicans cannot afford to be the anti-immigration Party, and no, insincerely squealing against “only anti-illegal immigration” will not cut it if they are clearly unwilling to propose any practical channels for foreigners to legally settle into the country. Until these rhetorical attitudes are drastically revamped, the Left will win over new Americans by default.
Full circle back to the current election…
The brief taste of political relevance Conservatives enjoyed with Reagan may be ironically preventing them from moving forward. Their movement seems tragically chained to the past by a delusion of bygone grandeur. For many, the Reagan administration symbolized the triumph of unadulterated Conservative principles, a golden era they nostalgically evoke the return of, a glorious legacy not to be compromised. Having once had it their way, the prospect of ideological reformation is now an unpalatable concession, akin to selling out.
I don’t think most Conservatives have an appreciation for the unrepeatable constellation of historic factors, all the odd stars perfectly aligning to momentarily propel their movement into prominence in the 1980s. As powerful as Reagan’s appeal was, the 1980 election was equal parts a rejection of Nixon and Carter’s destructive Statism. Even the supposedly untainted Conservative principles implemented during the Reagan years were largely divergent elements cobbled together in an unstable mandate. Those times will be no more because they can be no more. “True Conservative” principles are too ideologically explosive for any Republican executive to handle consistently (e.g. the failed Contract with America). Something’s got to give. Unless they are content with perpetual scraps from their own Party (i.e McCain), Conservatives need to challenge the nation to get excited about freedom, individualism, entrepreneurship, the dignity of self-reliance, and the future.
Instead Conservatives have chosen to overextend their electoral reach with a stubborn bluff from which their movement can only emerge bankrupt. The tantrum is unsatisfiable because their demands are helplessly incoherent. They won’t get their cake and are politically starving no matter how obnoxiously they want to both have it and eat it: low taxes but swelling deficits, individual freedoms but moral paternalism, limited government but virtuous intervention, a strong military but the equivalent of suicide in the battle of ideas, attacking terrorists overseas but refusing to coherently communicate how and why.
Amidst resentment and overall stupefaction, the GOP’s ideological foundations are cracking louder and louder as the presidential election approaches. One thing is clear in this mess: The GOP is haphazardly dragging her dirty political consciousness further to the Left with her candidate choice, despite sparkling friction from the Conservative base.
Judging by the relatively far-fetched and often unrelated or even contradictory explanations presented over the course of the nomination race, I suspect that even pundits are just as confused as everyone else by what’s happening. Some rightfully emphasize that none of the more ideologically appealing candidates were interesting or inspiring; others contend that the leadership has fallen out of touch with the base over core issues, and cite the Republican record on spending in recent years to corroborate their case.
This macro-scale shift to the Left cannot be blamed on any renegade political actor usurping the electoral spotlight. Unhappy Conservatives are giving too much credit for the Republican fallout to John McCain, the reheated electoral left-over from the 2000 campaign. The nodes on the cause-effect chain can be elusive to trace, but we must not get this pivotal issue backwards: The shift to the Left has already happened in America, the witnessed reflection into politics being a mere manifestation of this deeper sadder reality.
Eight years of vacant leadership, blurred sense of purpose, and compromised half-measures by the Bush administration have left America confused, disheartened, and hyperpolarized. Republicans simultaneously slammed on both the gas and the brakes of their political machine through very curvy terrain.
A politically expedient immigration plan was unconvincingly presented and quickly swept under the carpet. The administration halfheartedly fought Democrats over spending, only to outdo them with reckless Republican deficits, thus absurdly equivocating the principles behind the otherwise greatly beneficial tax cuts.
George W. Bush sleepwalked through his ambitious mandate in the Middle East, unwilling or unable to communicate to the nation the strategic purpose of the fight in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond, failing to defend the many successes, and refusing to provide assertive counter-narratives to the “Bush lied, people died” hysterics. Unchallenged, the Left has monopolized nearly all communication channels assessing the progress of American foreign policy and has compoundingly invested its political comeback in the debasement of America’s efforts abroad in general, and in the framing of Iraq’s war as a meaningless failure in particular.
And now a giant sore economic boil is imminently bursting, leaving many intelligent and well-meaning Americans confused, vulnerable, and in many cases helpless, from their last taste of this politically constipated Republican rule. The themes running through Barack Obama’s campaign are evidence to how attuned the vanguard Left is to this moral void. Soothing tales of collectivist utopias are creeping into the nation’s cultural subconsciousness through the widening cracks of the Republican status-quo.
America is the world’s highest-philosophical-maintenance institutional experiment, but many of her traditional defenders are unworthy of today’s challenges. The problem is that the Right doesn’t know what it is fighting for. Freedom isn’t free, but until freedom is even properly understood, let alone defended, America’s future is in urgent jeopardy.If you like this post - buy me a coffee
The burqa/headscarf is unfortunately becoming so ubiquitous in the US and Canada that I am starting to get tired of getting outraged every single time I spot it. Being rightfully appalled can be exhausting business. I have noticed that I tend to bypass the appropriate emotional response (read: repulsion) increasingly more often lately, and instead just silently proceed to make more additions to my deportation wish list. I do make a distinction between the headscarf and the full-body burqa: while the former is simply disgraceful, the latter should be illegal to wear in public because it covers the face along with enough loose space in the gut area for its wearer to comfortably squeeze in a concealed weapon, which has practical ramifications for criminals on the run and would-be bank robbers. I also differentiate with respect to the nuances of disgust reserved for the spread of the burqa in Western Europe on the one hand, and across the US, Canada, and Australia on the other hand. How so?
In short, Europe stands for nothing today. Ethnic nation-states in the Old West are crumbling under a scary moral void. Too many European citizens have no such thing as a comprehensive set of principles behind their various national identities; all they’ve got is their measly “Germanness”, “Frenchness”, “Britishness” or whatnot to hold on to, all of which are rapidly eroding in the acid of Cultural Relativism that the Europeans have been so eager and so stupid to embrace. Europe cannot stomach the backwardness of its Muslim Immigrants, yet it has no new cultural home to offer them. The French want their immigrants to participate in their “Frenchness” somehow, but “Frenchness” is inherited, it can never be acquired. Of course Sarkozy’s father was an outcast because of his Hungarian last name. There’s no way to get around it: Europe never forgets anyone’s ethnic otherness. The Holocaust is very eloquent on this subject. The European identity is ethnic/tribal at its core, not ideological. Europe has no moral shelter to offer even its natives, let alone its immigrants. Now that the church has been dethroned from its historic position of moral hegemony, the Old Continent is mutely agonizing like a giant headless cockroach awaiting slow starvation.
So what do Europeans have to say to burqa wearers, or to female circumcisers for that matter? “That’s not how we dress/do things over here”?? Europeans have no firm conceptions of why some of their traditions and practices are objectively superior to the new influx from the savage world. That’s because the moral foundation of their civilization has been a mix of Christian theology (now increasingly irrelevant) and pure ethnocentricity (Cultural Relativism has rendered ethnocentric supremacism impotent.) So I do not feel as strongly about defiant burqa-girls in Western Europe. I think it would be in their best interest to renounce their backward ways and embrace the less backward European tradition, but there is no guarantee that they will be fully accepted by the nationalistic establishment even if they do so. Furthermore, because Europe advertises its culture as a nationalistic dogma instead of a cogent moral argument, of course there will be poor penetration within the Muslims: they’ve already got their own big fat dogma! It also makes European culture less appealing to defend, thus I am less outraged when I spot burqa-girls flagrantly defacing it.
By contrast, the former British colonies are not ethnic nation-states. They are essentially membership clubs, the belonging to which is based on clear ideological commitments. For example, the national identity of the US is nothing but a moral profile outlining American values. That’s all there is to it. If you don’t like freedom, then why do you come to the US? If you don’t value self-realization, then what are you doing here? The burqa/headscarf and the subjugation they imply, of women to men, flies in the face of the American tradition of freedom and equal moral entitlement of genders. It is an uncompromising culture of freedom that is supposed to make Americans “American”. A lot of Americans themselves skimp on the “all men created equal” statement here and there but at least pay it due lip service. Now if someone so visibly refuses to partake in that culture, then what is supposed to make them “American”? They clearly do not belong in the country.
Until the day comes when national boarders are obsolete and anyone can freely go/live anywhere, the US will have to discriminate between peoples of the world with respect to their admissibility into the country. Because America is not an ethnic nation-state, it would be racist to select on the basis of ethnicity (the Diversity Visa Lottery is preposterous, I know). All that remains then is ideology, and to a lesser degree, skills. Being American should not be a matter of arbitrary background circumstance, though it’s sadly becoming more and more fashionable for disaffected youths born in the country to view it as such, but rather a conscious choice affirming one’s embrace of a free life and the moral entitlements and responsibilities stemming from such a life. A similar argument goes for Canada, Australia, and New Zealand too, although these countries’ values are perhaps less explicitly outlined than in the case of the US constitution.
Back to Europe... Well you know what they say: there’s eurotrash and then there’s Euro Trash. I must confess that for practical reasons I consider most if not all of Europe to sadly be trash. I exhausted a good part of this topic above, but there’s plenty more to be said. Western Europe is plagued by rampant political correctness and a Fallen Empire syndrome: what a deadly mix!
The former is manifested in hasty and pathetic attempts by Western European countries to reinvent their identities within a contrived culture-neutral neo-leftist frame. This confirms my gut suspicion that neo-leftism is the popular fallback of the half-assed apostates of Christianity. The nanny state is increasingly replacing the Church’s traditional social and moral functions in European countries.
The latter haunts the conscience of nearly every European but they are so repressed about it that you wouldn’t have a clue, and probably wouldn’t believe me unless you have some first-hand experience with Eurobullshit. We need to remember that it’s been less than a century since the Old West gave up its imperialist status quo. The European public image has been drastically sanitized since, maybe too drastically in too short a time for the European sub-consciousness to catch up. The Old Continent is torn between its emerging proletarian neo-leftist identity and the burning shame from its fall from relevance.
A lot of it is sublimated into raw leftist strife, but underneath it all Europe deeply resents not being a superpower: it misses its old glory, its colonies. This motivation can be traced back to the foreign-policy inclinations of the former superpowers: they keep supporting their traditional vassals of centuries ago, no matter how much the dynamics have changed since. The European stance on Serbia is a prime example of this. There is no practical reason to maintain these positions because the imperialist intentions of exerting influence by proxy in any given region have almost completely disappeared. Europe sticks to its antiquated positions/favoritisms for nothing but continuity’s sake. It’s a way of reassuring itself that it’s still relevant in the world, that it can still decide the fate of smaller nations, that it has the cojones to stick with its stubborn and arbitrary nation-building (or “nation-destroying”) initiatives without being made to flinch (take that, America!). Defiance and rage against the US are outlets for Europe’s sour grapes mentality.
The bottom line: a growing army of passive-aggressive drones in chronic collective-identity crisis. So many European youths feel helpless, have no light in their eyes, lack an ideological back-spine, and are brainwashed into State worshiping. Europeans like thinking of themselves as cultured, tolerant (I’m probably repeating myself, since the conventional wisdom maintains that cultured and tolerant are synonyms) worldly, classy (unlike those brute Americans) and progressive. Yet they obsess over petty nonsense like attacks on the purity of their languages (the perpetrator being of course, English), commonly despise avant-garde entrepreneurship as plebeian vulgarity, but value the study of dead languages, equation-drilling, their regional literature, and pedantic academicism.
The truth is that while Europe has been the driving locomotive of Western Civilization for the major part of the latter’s existence, the amazing philosophical evolutions (revolutions?) it spurred have found room to burst only at the seams of Europe’s backwardness: the greatest most progressive ideas originating from the Old West were only grudgingly and halfassedly accepted by the establishment, often not before vigorous attempts to repress them. Socrates got served, the Athenians almost had Aristotle’s head on a plate, Galileo was persecuted, Roger Bacon was imprisoned, John Locke was intimidated, and the list goes on and on. The revolutionary thinkers who carried the Western tradition forward were very often cutting against the grain of their own culture, and to this day Europe has yet to fully accept and adopt what its best minds have suggested it…
There are meaningful historical reasons for Europe’s decline:
Under many variations, ethnocentrism has been ubiquitous in the world since the dawn of civilization: to view essential aspects of oneself as derivative from the collective, and not only to prefer one’s way but also to believe it best, superior to all others, has been the natural status quo for millennia. Collectivism and the firm binding of the good with one’s own way through refusing to see a distinction between the two, form the very cultural fabric of ethnic nation-states.
Greek philosophers were the first men we know to address the problem of ethnocentrism. Distinctions between the good and one’s own, between nature and convention, between the just and the legal, are signs of this movement of thought. They related the good to the fulfillment of the whole potential of the individual and were aware that few, if any, of the nations of men had ways that allowed such fulfillment. They were open to the good: They used reason to seek it out. They wanted to be able to evaluate themselves and others, and thus had to use objective standards to judge even their own practices (The Closing of the American Mind, p.36-38).
Fast forwarding to the end of Medievalism: Eventually, in as far as curious objectivity was applied to the physical world through the quest for finding new and better ways, the advancements in technical knowledge/engineering yielded such staggering tangible results to the benefit of the population at large, that most of Europe eventually embraced this new fashion of thinking (to the Church’s great discontent). It even became fashionable for wannabe enlightened monarchs to cultivate their own “pet scientist-philosophers” in their courts.
The application of rational objectivity began to spread by contagion to the conception of human nature. The fruits of this experiment were thornier than their counterparts from the natural sciences: The emergence of Man in a new ethical frame that conceived of him as a free rational agent with inalienable moral entitlements derived from his very nature as Man, with his life, liberty, and happiness as paramount values, was an ideological stab to the heart of the collectivist ethnic nation-state and its authoritarian power structure. So this re-conception of ethics on a universal individualist plane appeared as a threat to ethnocentric culture and a dangerous uprooting charm. Politically, the development of these heretical ideas inspired administrative transformations: mostly on an incremental basis but also through bloody revolutions.
There is no national science just as there is no national multiplication table; what is national is no longer science. —Anton Chekhov
Yet friction from Europe’s tribalistic heritage was enormous, and certainly sufficient to considerably damp down the impact of these advancements. Compromises with the establishment were sought, which often corrupted the essence of the proposed liberal values for the sake of preserving social order: at the end of the day, it meant conserving the status quo. This resistance to liberalism didn’t originate from just the ruling class with indeed much to lose, but sadly from Europe’s masses, the people with so much to gain from the adoption of liberty. National identity pointed them back to the passionate attachment to their backward provincial ways, and away from Western Thought that was trying to liberate them from it. Science chipped away at subjectivity while universal individualist ethics eroded collectivist chauvinism, but the bulk of Europe’s population could not bring itself to turn the page.
The people of Europe had been split into fanatic religious sects at constant war, isolated in ethnic factions, pitted against one-another for centuries, trapped in puddles of provincialism infested by superstition. Embracing liberalism meant giving up the immense pride derived from the minuscule differences between their customs and myths and those of their neighbors. It meant giving up their collectivist identity with its perks of supremacist righteousness and feelings of superiority, which they had no felt need to objectively scrutinize.
They defend their errors as if they were defending their inheritance. —Edmund Burke
Countries like England and Holland did experiment with economic freedom with great results, but only on a fickle discretionary basis and for purely consequentalist reasons. They never accepted the moral foundations that supported free markets and free societies. Lacking firm ideological and institutional commitments to universal individual rights, these countries’ courtship of these classical Man-centric values did not stand the test of time. In short, Europe had too much cultural baggage for liberalism. The seeds of freedom had to be sewn somewhere else.
After failed efforts to conceive a new society within sterile Europe, the United States of America was Western Thought’s first love child: a country conceived in liberty, self-determination, and natural law. Indeed its initial political formulation wasn’t flawless: slavery and deficient political rights for women were ugly incumbents. Yet it’s noteworthy that the Founding Fathers never specifically banned women from voting (but the states did have that power and used it). Many of them were also vocal abolitionists throughout their lives. Most importantly, they drafted the Constitution as such an airtight argument for freedom, that with time it successfully transcended all the leftover debris of Old-Continent tyranny that were originally incorporated into the country for the sake of expediency.
Whereas Europe’s kinky flirts with freedom revolved around the whim of kings, queens, political coalitions, or angry mobs, America’s political heart was always in the right place. While Europe was still consumed by its ethnic wars well into the 20th century, America was busy getting prosperous through commerce. While Europe was preparing to butcher millions of its own, America was becoming a new home to thousands every year, affording them opportunities never dreamt of in their old caste-based societies.
So I wonder: How and why exactly did Europe pull a 180 and get so hard-core PC in just a matter of decades? What catalyzed such a drastic surgical detachment from the tribalist undertones of its billennial culture? I think it was mostly an implosion:
Marxism had an ideological binding-effect on European nations. It consolidated international strife into an intra-national dynamic of factions in perpetual state of struggle and discontent: from the old chauvinistic rivalry between the English and the French, to the more intimate strife between the proletariat and the capitalist class within the same country. Note that the Marxist paradigm is an elaboration of, and qualitatively self-similar to, the original looser frame of ethnic hatred: Like the latter, it interprets people in collectivist and dehumanizing terms (ethnicity/class), pits them against one another over grievances that are often imaginary or second-hand (differences in language, religion, regional customs/ transient relative positions in the labor market), and encourages them to consume their hatred (ethnic cleansing/class war). Marxism was a fractal refinement of ethnic conflict. It brought it physically closer to the hearts of those who had craved hatred for its own sake throughout generations. It was a deeper more “nuanced” drill into the same direction of projecting hatred inwards.
One important trait Marxism doesn’t share with classical ethnic chauvinism is self-victimization. While ethnocentrism is usually supremacist, leftist strife acknowledges a deep inferiority complex through its obsession with the “exploitation” of the proletariat. This partly explains why Marxism spread like fire in Russia and Eastern and Southern Europe: these nations were history’s rejects. Their powerful western neighbors, the Ottoman Empire, and other transient regional superpowers had brutalized and humiliated them for centuries, often using them as pawns in international conflicts. Marxist self-victimization appealed to these countries’ peoples on a very intimate level.
By contrast, Western Europe was too invested in its grandeur to immediately succumb to an oppressed and dispossessed internal vision of self. But around the middle of the 20th century, the Old West woke up with a terrible headache from a hangover of lost greatness. A few remarkable things had happened:
First of all, Europe practically lost all its colonies. So used were the former colonial powers to their international limbs, that they now felt stubbed. This certainly took a toll on their collective self-esteem.
Most importantly, America saved Western countries’ political viability after both world wars, besides saving their people directly from annihilation. The vital and one-sided reliance on their unrefined transatlantic cousin was hard to swallow. Both wars had exploded from the major western powers’ unhinged ambitions of world dominance. By the end of WW2 all the initial contenders were devastated to the bone, while the insolent fresh-faced USA emerged as the world’s supreme powerhouse among international applause for saving Europe from its homicidal lunacy.
The pendulum of power had permanently shifted away from the Old West, but the humiliation did not end there. Adding insult to injury, as a bonus consequence of their insane war, the USSR was now looming like a giant cancerous nuclear mole right on Europe’s ass. The troubled continent had to look for protection from the US, again.
The prospect of being vassals to the US does things to the sub-consciousness of a people whose primary notion of identity for centuries had revolved around the ability to dictate submission to the rest of the world. If you’re an American who has felt European rancor first-hand, this might explain a few things.
When the USSR ceased to be a threat, there was a collective sigh of relief, and then just silence. With no imminent threats to distract it, Europe could finally fully digest the realization that it was now irreversibly light years behind America in just about every relevant respect. Europe did slowly succumb to a pitiful internal vision of self, which allowed socialism to creep in like a virus since the end of WW2, infiltrating the severely weakened immune defenses of national pride.
Cultural relativism is an interesting highlight of Europe’s neo-leftist disposition. It’s generally touted as an umbrella to shield the mostly Muslim immigrants from cultural scrutiny but in reality it’s largely a self-serving construct. It serves as an outlet for collective neurosis through escaping reality. In a world dominated by pragmatic dynamics, led by the USA and trailed by Eastern emerging powers, Europe has to face everyday what it missed out on: the opportunity to be relevant, to institutionally embrace freedom and capitalism, and to be part of the new world order. Instead the Old West cannibalized itself in the last century over supremacist collectivist dogmas, and its consolation is now that at least its priorities were correct: that everything is culturally relative, that there is no such thing as natural law dictating what man’s proper mode of existence is, that one politico-economic system is just as good as any other (so long as a collective culture backs it) no matter the objective level of prosperity it can afford its people (so Europeans can proudly refuse to acknowledge failure or back away from their societal miscarriages), that cultural hegemony is the only thing worth fighting for (as Europe bloodily did), and that their delusions are not deluded so long as they really believe in them.
The core of Europeans’ passion for political correctness lies in their psychological need of escaping reality, of hiding their heads in the sand, of refusing to acknowledge their ideological failures, and avoiding a much needed objective assessment of their situation.
Many Europeans channel these repressed needs by applying the sophistry of cultural relativism to their backward immigrants, but in reality it’s themselves they are trying to shield and protect. When the clash between their culture and the savage Islamic influx is truly shocking, most Europeans don’t know how to react. They are so invested in cultural relativism that the path of least resistance is often appeasement.
There is a minority that fights fire with fire, counteracting the pressure from Islam with ultra-nationalistic fascist sentiment. This goes to illustrate that the European identity is mostly tribal/ethnic, not ideological, and that itself is the main problem. The most popular defense of Europe’s identity comes as a resurgence of ethnic chauvinism, rather than as an appeal to Western values on their own objective merits.
Europe needs a reality check urgently. It is sad to see America becoming more and more like Europe, when Europe is the one in dire need of looking up to what America is supposed to be. Rome didn't fall in a day, but until Europe acknowledges its big problem, gives up the stubborn and irrational attachment to its collectivist ways, and develops enough character to challenge radical Islam on a moral plane, it will remain the sick man of the Free World.If you like this post - buy me a coffee
This Islamic garment is a symbol of oppression for a variety of mostly straightforward reasons, and as such is morally reprehensible. What I just said shouldn’t be controversial at all to uphold, were it not for the raging storm of political correctness that has swept through our culture lately. So I’m not going to go through the ideological reasons of how and why the burqa sucks, because to me it’s so trivial. Plus I don’t even invoke any of that when I see a woman in a burqa: the silent war of cultures, the sickening throwback to a savage era of female subjugation to men, etc…
My immediate reaction whenever I spot a burqa-girl comes as an intimate shocking shudder down my spine. What an awkward and obtrusive image! It ironically generates the same kind of silent tension in common social settings as would the presence of a completely naked person sitting next to you in the bus, or nonchalantly walking into a bank or a restaurant. Whether one tries to mingle with people while naked or hermetically covered from head to toe, the absurd contrast to what everyone else is wearing screams out loud at the crucial subtleties we commonly take for granted in the spectrum of human relations.
Our clothes keep us warm, seal off and protect our most delicate body parts from environmental damage, conceal our genitals and breasts so as to not rub in everyone’s faces our crude sexual attractiveness or lack there of, but also allow us to invent a public identity through a personalized combination of designs, accessories, and possibly symbols and slogans. So our clothes enhance our individuality but it’s our face that forms the epicenter of our public persona: we cognitively anchor the representation of anyone’s personality to that person’s unique facial features. We are prone to recognize faces out of random mixes of objects whenever possible, so our brains are primed for this. The face takes up a disproportionately large chunk of our mental representation of human beings as children’s drawings illustrate. Eye contact and facial expressions play an important role in how we relate to others during conversations and even in how we warm up to strangers.
The burqa is a monstrous device because it effectively shaves off the most basic and accessible dimension of identity: the face. The woman hiding underneath it is dehumanized in the eyes of her beholders: she is reduced to an indeterminate object of unspecified form and features. A horse can hide under a burqa, or a clown, or a monkey, or a coffin, or a thief, or a ghost, or a mummy, or a giant noodle. Not only does the burqa erase the wearer’s most human and recognizable trait, her face, but it also razes to the ground all other external symbols of identity: the distinctive combinations of clothing items, styles, accessories, jewelry… How can I empathize with someone in a burqa if all I see is a monochromatic faceless shapeless bag? The wearer is practically interchangeable with anyone else wearing a burqa. There is zero potential for deep or subtle interpersonal relations through such a discomforting barrier. It’s alienating on a human level to be the one who is fully open and exposed while your interlocutor is hiding behind an opaque veil. This makes any kind of interaction with burqa-girls intrinsically awkward.
The burqa has also a perverse X factor that elicits laser beams out of my eyes: in its underhanded way it’s so self-righteously slutty! The entire rationale for it is that you need to fully cover every square inch of your face and body lest any random male passerby spontaneously breaks down and starts to compulsively drool (or worse) all over you. You really think you’re such hot shit that it’s a big deal whether anyone can see your hair or face? Nobody cares! Nobody is aroused by your stupid hair! Get over it!
Not only does wearing the burqa imply an overly sexualized sense of self, but it also silently spells out a moral condemnation of all women who do not abide by such anal and self-demeaning standards of “modesty”. If your standards for socially proper attire are so far removed from the norm that you are practically living in your own moral planet, and that planet is collapsing into a black hole under its own warped field of ‘judgmentality’, there will be a point where the principle of general cultural relativity breaks down in an asymmetric fashion: As viewed from the PC planet, your style is kind of weird and no fun, but perfectly equivalent to whatever they’ve got over there, and while they might not go out of their way to bond with you for one politically correct excuse or another, you must surely be a great girl underneath and the PC crowd wishes you all the best in life. As viewed from your planet, however, the PC crowd is roaming with lustful immodest sluts who seduce every male in their path by flaunting their face and hair, and are so going to burn in hell for it.
The burqa is eerie, alienating, judgmental, demeaning, dehumanizing, and is calling everyone else a whore.
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I wish I had some sort of backhanded entry into the Larry Smith phenomenon, but here I am without any tangent to get started on. After all it’s been a long time since I last showed up for his class.
I'm afraid that ramming into the topic cold-turkey in reverse might stir up my already strong ambivalence toward him to a point that I find myself unable to write a single intelligible sentence. Indeed writing about Larry Smith in any other fashion but drooling babbling adoration is a task of epic proportions and I’m afraid I am already way in over my head. However, this influential figure deserves to be followed and analyzed in the annals of his greatness by someone who wouldn’t get lost inside.
…If not now, then when? If not I, then who?
For those of you who didn’t attend my school (University of Waterloo), suffice it to say, Larry Smith is the second coming as far as whoever has taken his class is concerned. Genuine boss of charisma. Students love him. I loved him too, but I’m talking about an evangelical glow in the eyes of his worshipers.
He’s got his own sinister Politburo, roaming with zealous spies planted throughout the Fortune 500, tipping him off about the latest and greatest plots to subvert markets around the world. His courses of intro economics are a legend, probably the most likely experience for any two random Waterlooians to have in common. Every other sentence coming out of his mouth is a classic quote belonging on the wall. But what is Larry Smith’s universal appeal? What does his magic really consist of?
Two different types of people are magnetically attracted to him for different reasons, and sometimes within the same person two conflicting character traits compete for the perk-up effects of his rhetoric. For those on the margin, which of these two inner drives ends up prevailing by the time their ride in Larry’s ideological tornado is over will probably mark a turning point in their lives.
And the funny thing is I suspect Larry has no idea about the full extent of his power. Oh I know he knows he’s damn influential, but I don’t think he really understands what he does to people.
The Good: Larry’s appeal to the free spirit in all of us
This is the part I bet Larry is most aware of. It’s the reason he loves recruiting snot faced frosh into his class. He picks these comfortably confused kids, indoctrinated from their years in high school, most of whom have probably already picked a major but probably for the wrong reasons, and whose intimidation by what’s all out there has cornered them into their current pathetic expectations about life.
Larry Smith just loves bursting these kids’ haze bubble. He teaches his students that life is a friendly experience for reasoning people, and the world is an exciting and intelligible place that you can make sense of! He makes you sense it in your gut that the real world can be figured out, that you are responsible for your life.
That’s all he teaches, really. He makes you see that you don’t have to be a follower to get by, that nothing is beyond the reach of your abilities if you employ your reason and imagination, and, well, growing a pair of balls wouldn’t hurt either.
And there, suddenly nothing seems mystical about value creation. For many students that’s the first spark of the spirit of entrepreneurship right there. He’s a spectacular motivational speaker.
For those of you who find this cliché or trivial commonsense, I’d like to smack you off your pedestal so you can come down and smell the coffee: The half-baked pseudo intellectuals with a license to spread cynical and self-victimizing bullshit are the norm at universities; no-nonsense professors trying to instill a dignifying sense of life in their students are the exception. In that regard Larry has little to no competition that I know of at Waterloo. Many of his alumni make the best out of his teachings and go on to start successful multi-million-dollar enterprises: hard core entrepreneurs.
The Bad: Larry’s appeal to the little authoritarian in most of us
Now you all know this is what I’m dying to get to. After every class Larry attracts around him a little crowd of zealots who stay and talk for at least another hour about all sorts of things. Well, most of the time it’s Larry talking, and I can’t say he seems to mind the sound of his own voice.
I used to go up to listen to him too, but I usually kept my mouth shut because there was a weird vibe to that little crowd: They were all so uncritically enamored with Smith that a lot of things coming out of their mouths were just excuses to flatter him in some way, and there was something embarrassing to that.
So I felt uncomfortable engaging him in front of everyone, assuming that at least on a subconscious level, he would have expected me to pay lip service in one way or another. As much as I admired the man, I could not bring myself to have a conversation where I didn’t feel an equal.
In a way it was good though, because I focused all my attention in observing Larry’s interaction with the others instead of worrying about sounding smart. I was more comfortable talking with the zealots on the side, and I befriended a bright Serbian guy and a hysterical Taiwanese girl among others. The girl would scream at the top of her lungs that people are sheep who don’t know what they want or what’s good for them and need the government to protect and guide them. It was funny, she quoted the results of the Penn & Teller Dihydrogen Monoxide hoax, which was actually a scathing attack on environmentalists, leftists, and the type of people who generally are the first to think we need the nanny state to keep the citizenry in check.
In the “Penn & Teller” example, a fake activist asks random hippies at a hysterical environmentalist crap-fest to sign a petition to ban Dihydrogen Monoxide (H2O) and they sign in droves without even asking what it is. She saw this segment as the perfect example of how people are idiots who need a paternal government to get by in life.
Here she was, shouting this at my face, as I was trying to tell her that all her example showed was that people are quick to make idiotic policy decisions involving banning something, regulating something, or basically telling others what to do. The irony of using this example was certainly lost to her, but that was really the point of the hoax.
Policy decisions often have very considerable yet unforeseeable micro effects which are hard to discern because they get spread out across many sections of the market. Henry Hazlitt explained how we must consider the true opportunity cost of any government policy on the marketplace and society. (I preferred to talk markets; she liked ‘society’ better so I kept alternating between the two)
Typically, there is no immediate feedback loop to provide a reality-check for the ‘legislator’: deliberations are made from his office desk, often in the company of interest group lobbyists. In time, the negative effects are incrementally diffused across society, often while the public has forgotten the initial law, and the legislator is on to the next pet project. Unable to factor in the true costs of knee-jerk prescriptions to purported market problems, “corrective” market interventions are often just as bad.
So I was trying to explain her that her argument boomeranged because it showed only just how stupid people can be at making universal decisions for everyone else, i.e. being authoritarian cocks. The market has shown time and again that people are not such stupid sheep whenever it comes to budgeting for their own lives. I challenged her to repeat the experiment, only this time she should try to sell people some Dihydrogen Monoxide; then I’d be curious of the findings she’d report back: how many shelled out their cash, and how many and what kind of questions were asked.
Larry was standing a few feet away and heard some of the commotion. He said professors will usually promote levelheaded discussions, but he actually liked it better when people screamed and swore at each-other. I don’t know if he was being sarcastic. I’ve got to say, she was the one doing all the swearing, and jeez, for conversing with me, that’s noteworthy.
But I mean, these were most of the people who gloated over Larry Smith’s charisma, this is the kind of people he’d throw a bone at once in a while. They weren’t all as annoying as this girl, but there was a definite underlying pattern in their thoughts. When in doubt whether any of them belonged to this category, my test was to confront them with the flaming ones: if they were not annoyed at any significant level by the flamers’ bullshit, then they were all in it together as far as I was concerned.
I have often been asked about my libertarian epiphany and I never had a good answer. I don’t remember a specific moment. It span more across days, or actually weeks, like a slow but confident chain reaction in my brain. The first node on the chain was this particular sense I got from getting to know some of these Larry Smith zealots.
How do I say this? They just sounded so stupid! Many of them were bright kids too but there was something off about them, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. After talking candidly for a bit, something would always get on my nerves, a deep antipathy that made my lips curl up.
It was their arrogance stemming from utter lack of epistemological consideration for the prescriptive bullshit they’d spew out. Their deliberations were so cheap because they never ever considered the possibility of… Being wrong! …and the human and moral cost of that possibility. Neither did they seem to ask themselves “How do I know for sure?” The people at the bottom were fine to experiment with and apply their half-baked ideas to.
They were all signing blank petitions on Dihydrogen-Monoxidic-equivalent economic matters with total disregard for the principles of human action. In this context they were all very similarly minded, however strongly they happened to disagree on concrete matters. And at one point or another during any serious conversation most of them exhibited this distinct though subtle (sometimes not even much so) contempt for ‘people’.
I didn’t want to be one of them —that much I intuitively decided. And such people shouldn’t be the ones making decisions for everyone. I began analyzing what made them that way. I have concluded that it's principally sheer megalomania expressed as irrational subjectivity and intellectual arrogance. I wrote an entire essay as an appetizer to this post, where I explain in detail my thoughts on the authoritarian personality. At the end of the day, people lacking even the basic sensitivities of the vigilant unpretentious mind can be found sitting on top of their own self-generated smug clouds, making outlandish deliberations with an unjustified sense of authority and appearing like utter dicks to those who do posses such sensitivities.
Intuition can be a shortcut to reason, and at the time I only loosely sensed that there was something malignantly arrogant about a lot of these Larry Smith zealots. But my formation in economics was not sufficiently robust for me to confidently rebut many propositions being thrown around which I felt were full of shit. The class was ECON 101 after all.
However I did get all stirred up because the supremacist traces of thought in the zealots’ discussions must have been inconspicuous to a noble and untainted intellect such as Larry’s. To me he was an unknowing victim. I wasn’t comfortable being in the middle of it so I stopped staying after class.
The Ugly: Maybe they are a perfect match?
About a year and a lot of econ-literature later, I returned once more to introduce my friend Saad to the joys of Larry’s inspirational rhetoric as well as to get a Larry-fix for myself, for which I had grown nostalgic.
I was in a constant state of déjà vu throughout his lectures: being an exceptional stand-up performer, Larry can effortlessly deliver a memorized speech and make it sound like he’s coming up with every line on the spot. I remembered everything from the year before, but I was absolutely shocked and overwhelmed by how much between the lines I had completely missed the first time around! The subliminal messages Larry was sending through the ether were disturbing to say the least.
In an illustration of inelastic demand Larry reveals his advocacy of the thug-state: he thinks it’s preposterous that George W. Bush does not intervene to cap the profits of pharmaceutical companies. Nonintervention in this market must be the result of the crony pharmaceutical lobbies bribing legislators into betraying their constituents’ interests. The state can and should approach the industry and be like:
Yo, bang-up job inventing and manufacturing this cool drug that’s saving people’s lives, but I’ve got citizens who can’t afford it at the market price. That’s unacceptable! I understand you’ve been making some serious monopoly profits here with your fancy little patent exploiting the inelastic demand for your good, so it’ time for us to negotiate some reasonable profits for you. We’ll get together and talk about it… What? You don’t like the sound of it? Dude, I’ve got legal monopoly over the use of force, I can jail your ass! Nah, I don’t need to do that, I can just revoke your patent so everyone else can manufacture your drug.
Stunned, I raised my hand and asked if it wouldn’t perhaps be more effective and less arbitrary to just make patents expire sooner, so the public at large would be deprived of the generic drugs for a shorter period of time, or maybe just subsidize the bottom income bracket thus making drugs affordable for all without brutalizing the market. He bit the bait, disinterestedly replying that those were all fine alternatives.
He couldn’t have meant it! Being an economics PHD, Larry must know the purpose and effects of patents. He must be aware of the colossal investment involved in R&D: entire teams of the best chemists, molecular biologists, technicians, and computer scientists that money can buy, expensive computer technologies for simulations, state-of-the-art logistics for large-scale experiments and their countless replications, legal costs, the risk of harming research participants, the risk of reaching a dead-end, the risk of sudden obsolescence from a new competitive drug entering the market, the years of accumulating interest on debt and no revenues waiting for the FDA to finally approve the product. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
We are talking about great but calculated costs and risks, which pharmaceutical companies decide to undergo based on the prediction that they will be able to sell their new drug at a markup for 20 years, or until whenever the patent is supposed to expire. Until they recuperate their colossal fixed costs through monopoly margins they won’t even see any profits, regardless of how cheap it is to actually manufacture the drug.
So would they invest billions of dollars if they knew they could keep their monopoly for only 6 months, or even 5 years? It obviously disrupts the incentive structure, so no, Larry, shortening the patent’s life would not be a long-term solution. Not if you want there to remain such a thing as a private pharmaceutical industry that will continuously take investment risks and put those drugs on the market for the government to have anything to regulate at all.
I am sure Larry knows all this, and he would either like to eventually nationalize the pharmaceutical industry to complement his beloved universal health-care, or (and this is even more sinister), he likes predatory discretionary state policies. I'd put my money on the latter: the state making rules of thumb, issuing patents and guaranteeing their enforcement, but reserving itself the right to break its own rules once in a while to ‘promote the public good’; a policy that ignores the extraordinary costs from the resulting stifling of innovation and investment...
This evokes the image of the cheetah waiting in the bushes for the antelopes to come prancing around in herds; they will run for their lives once they see the cheetah is for real, and one of them is going to get it. But the cheetah knows they will be at it again tomorrow, each feeling that the chances of being the one out of the entire herd to get clawed in the ass are small.
After all, discretionary thuggery is how central banks roll! I would argue that there’s plenty wrong with the government at large taking after central banks but that’s not even the point. What disturbs me is how liberally (deliberately?) Larry slips such controversial tidbits under the table. Blemishes of legal and moral considerations are airbrushed into irrelevance so that Larry’s conceited solution can pretend to be self-evident and logically necessary. Perhaps it is acceptable for an economist to deliberate in a moral and legal vacuum, but how can he keep a straight face giving his students a piece of mind while conveniently neglecting to mention the very economic dynamics of incentives which his 'solution' would blast off?
He won’t tell students that companies wouldn’t keep investing in proprietary material if they knew the government would steal their hard-earned intellectual assets, so such a 'solution' cannot work in the long run. These are subtle economic issues ECON-101 students wouldn’t need to be bothered with if Larry could manage to refrain from presenting his personal master plans for humankind in class, but since he chooses to indulge them, he has an ethical obligation to fully inform his students of the common side-effects of his prescriptions.
The student who knows nothing of economics just sits in class taking notes with the filter of criticism completely turned off, absorbing like a sponge everything coming out of the trusty instructor’s mouth. It’s upsetting to hear Larry feeding his students so many subjective prescriptions, rarely if ever hinting at the difference between fact, mainstream economic theory, and pure “Larrysmithonomics”. He polishes his value judgments with iridescent charisma until the unwitting student sees only a gem whose value and splendor are self-evident and indisputable.
Does Larry know his effect on students? If so, it’s reproachable that he instrumentalizes his influence to indoctrinate and deceive them. I am not talking about just a few odd cases, since objectivity can temporarily betray any of us. Unfortunately Larry Smith’s indulgences in pompous subjectivity are systematic. Below are just a few eyebrow-raising instances.
In his seemingly innocent recap of the industrial revolution, I caught an innuendo of the overtired Marxist theme of ‘alienation’. Although the medieval farmer lived in destitution, his sense of ‘self’ and perceived place in the world was cohesive. How romantic, but then automatized mass-scale manufacturing turned him into a brain-dead appendix of the machinery he was to operate. This notion helped Erich Fromm sell books but I don’t see how it belongs in an introductory course on economics.
In a subsequent turn of thought Larry contemplates the possibility of custom-programmable robotization replacing mass-manufacturing in the near future. His forecast is that of a classic technophobe: machines will put people out of work, this next wave of automatization will be for real, and so on and so forth. Once we have programmable robots doing customized work craftsmanship will go extinct. There will be no room for unskilled labor so only highly creative intellectual work will have any market value; the same old Marxist argument repackaged for the 21st century.
He was using this prospect as a warning that we better be prepared to use our heads very hard in our careers, which is of course good advice. However the alternative to fully using our intellects is unlikely to be starvation, like he proposes!
If anything, robotization will bring down the real cost of production in all sectors, affording abundance especially to the poor. Unskilled labor will shift to tasks involving basic cognitive operations in new industries Larry Smith or I cannot even fathom at the present day.
Man as a nano-engineered machine, which he technically is, cannot be exhaustively replicated in his full spectrum of faculties by any conceivable man-made robot. Abilities like ours come bundled with a consciousness. The duplication of our neural-network is impossible even with futuristic nano-technology.
Human reproduction as prescribed by our DNA and as implemented by coitus, is the most efficient way of generating beings with human abilities. The fully-and-creatively-using-intellect elite will certainly find innovative ways of making plain people useful: feeding, sheltering, and providing social interaction for unskilled workers will always be more cost-effective than fully replacing them by robots.
What else… Larry loves using the hint of externalities as a pretext for nationalizing industries. If fire departments worked for profit then no one would bother putting out fires in uninsured buildings which would quickly spread across insured buildings, and everybody would fry. So fire services must be owned by the state.
A bit radical, don’t you think, since a similar argument for car-insurance only dictates that insurance be mandatory, at most, not that the state must provide it. Fire departments don’t need to be state owned and operated. Simply making subscription to fire service compulsory would do: let the market actually provide it.
But even this conclusion is too radical, because the imminent possibility of fires spreading across uninsured to insured apartments in one building would be sufficient incentive for the owner to contractually mandate fire service for all tenants. Conversely, the insured tenants and buyers of individual apartments would themselves put pressure for such contracts to be extended to everyone in the building. Neighbors can treat the few remaining uninsured buildings pretty straightforwardly: they can put the fire out to prevent it from spreading to their own property, cover the immediate fire-service expenses if need be, and then demand the court to freeze the uninsured’s assets to pay through the nose for the effort and expenses they had to incur on his behalf.
Externalities find no room to emerge when third parties at risk can flex their transactional muscles to guard themselves from the eventuality. The market knows how to close such gaps all by itself. Of course externalities do exist but not in the liberal range Larry describes them to students: a lot of his examples are only plausible if property rights of third parties are not respected or enforced by law, which render his arguments straw-man attacks against free enterprise.
It’s manipulative to not provide any context on what kind of society he places his examples. If he’s talking about anarchy, then of course, almost everything is an externality in the war of all against all. But under free enterprise externalities can potentially occur only in cases where property rights are hard to define. So if he wants to keep it straight, Larry would have to shave off a lot of his examples in which state intervention doesn’t have to go any further than enforcing contracts and protecting private property.
But all of this is small potatoes compared to his ‘boo-hoo’ exposé of the supposed economic evils of collusion, natural monopolies, and predatory pricing. Antitrust legislation is championed by ‘progressive’ capitalists who see competition as a tame game which no one should lose, and therefore no one should win. It’s just an excuse for big government to orchestrate a grotesque rat-race in the big-business world for its own gain. If your prices are lower than your competitors’ then they’re predatory, if they’re the same as your competitors then you are colluding, and if you can afford to charge higher prices you must be conspiring to establish a monopoly. Damned if you do, damned if you don't!
Give me a break! The little farts who can be bled to death by the big guys deserve to go under. ‘Predatory pricing’ would be ineffective if the small competitor’s product/service was truly superior: investors would back his venture through the times of pressure until the incumbents realized they could not forever operate at a loss. The little guy would eventually succeed in tearing himself a hole in the market.
Collusion only invites newcomers. Sharks smell the blood and bite themselves a piece. There is no such thing as long-run abnormal profits for a cartel, unless of course, it owes its existence to government license.
A natural monopoly is a living testimony of great technological efficiency in a niche market: Either the upfront fixed cost (usually of buying excess capacity) is so high that the seemingly everlasting profits barely cover the initial investment if taken in perpetuity with the interest rate of capital factored in, or the monopoly is temporary and will eventually crack under competition. Some ‘monopolies’ are great because they provide a common platform in areas where a good standard is more efficient than a multitude of competing poorly-integrated differentiated products. One example is the standard keyboard design. Another one is Windows being the central node of the market for operating-systems.
…Which brings me to Larry’s scathing attack on Microsoft for being such a big bully. A lot has already been said about it and yet more remains to be said. I would wrap up my position more or less like this. Ultimately Netscape didn’t make it because its browser was crap and incompatible with Windows. It was Netscape’s responsibility to go out of its way and adapt its product to Windows, not the other way around. Look at the market for browsers today. With Microsoft off its back, where is Netscape now? And most importantly where are Microsoft’s coercive superpowers now that Firefox is taking over the internet? There has been nothing but continuous innovation online since this debate started over ten years ago.
Microsoft was very deliberate in its attempt to take over the web browser market, yet no one was ever forced to purchase Windows. What right does the state have to dictate how Microsoft should bundle its products, and how is it economically sound to prevent it from offering consumers Internet Explorer for free? Oh but it would hurt Netscape: same argument for protectionist tariffs. One thing you can’t say is that they benefit the consumer.
In a world with no legal antitrust considerations, try to imagine if Microsoft could yet get away with blocking Google, its greatest competitor, off of Internet Explorer or Windows altogether. Ask yourself if consumers would stand for it. Only shitty products and companies need antitrust protection, but to hear Larry exuberantly airbrushing the bumps and holes of his argument you wouldn’t have a clue.
He fervently supports Canada’s nationalized health-care system, but I think he talks about it only after class, which is forgivable. The economic preposterousness of backing universal health-care is perhaps not so forgivable to an economics professor. If groceries were nationalized, I’d consider it animal cruelty to not feed my cat caviar every night. Likewise, making health care ‘free’ effectively fuels the demand for it to a point where shortages are inevitable, hence the 12-hour average waiting period at Canadian hospitals. The entire industry degenerates into slack incompetence from lack of internal competition, with an extensive range of specialized services ceasing to be provided at all since they are vital to only small fractions of the population. Of course the bulk of the population would be best served by directing those funds toward more generic treatments. Universal health-care is so democratic, isn’t it? Without any alternatives to mass-scale generic health-care, no wonder so many Canadians have to travel to the U.S for proper, timely, specialized medical care every year.
Nonetheless Larry vaguely brings up this gigantic high-cost structure inherent in private health-insurance which would be crushed to a pulp if only the industry were nationalized. He couldn’t possibly be talking about the asphyxiating regulations that forbid private providers from differentiating their coverage rates according to risk, or force them in some states to include absurdities such as hair-transplant surgery in their coverage plans. Nor couldn’t he be talking about the legal cartel of pharmacies. It must be some other kind of intrinsic high-cost structure which has got nothing to do with idiotic government regulations but which is just so convoluted and puzzling that Larry doesn’t care to elaborate on what it actually is.
But perhaps the most outrageous statement Larry Smith has ever uttered, in class or otherwise, perhaps in his entire life, is that... ... ... Lack of foresight into the usefulness of electronic databases for central-planning applications, held the soviets back from investing into the IT sector, and because of this bad investment decision, they were unable to manage their central-planning databases once their complexity started growing out of proportion, and this was consequently responsible for the collapse of communism in the USSR.
I don’t even care to comment on the stupidity of such a theory, except that seeing a politico-economic problem and its alleged forgone solution as a technical issue, is the classic mark of an authoritarian (see my essay). Being a granddaughter of communism myself and having some personal idea of what it means, it’s distasteful to hear my economics professor present such a ‘theory’ in class. For him to even entertain such a thought seriously enough to voice it is unjustifiable. Food for crazy thought… Who knows, maybe it will stick with a few, —most likely some of the little authoritarians who drool all over him after class—and it will be up to the pointy headed software engineers among them to bring Neo-Communism into the Web 2.0 era. I’m sure it will work out much better this next time around, with slick electronic databases and all.
I have partially confronted Larry about some of this, his explanation being that his hero is Adam Smith, who was a social revolutionary. Lame… Perhaps Adam Smith was his economic-childhood hero but he found himself much more resoundingly in Keynes as a grown-up. His charismatic authoritarianism must have been yearning for an ideological shelter and Keynes’ theme of the interventionist hero perpetually saving the Capitalist day from itself was right up his alley.
I still respect Larry in many ways, but I am deeply disenchanted. His skill at making everything he says sound like common sense can be a sweet stroke to the ego for those who like the tone of what they hear. Little authoritarians adore Larry Smith because he makes them feel smart and important for having all sorts of master plans of their own for humankind, his arrogant charm validating their arrogant stupidity. They want to be just like him, prescribing solutions to everyone with effortless charisma and being listened to with awe and respect.
Identifying with him makes them feel superior to those who challenge their dogmatic 'solutions' to world problems. They close their eyes and abandon themselves in this larger-than-life figure’s river of allure, and when that river eventually discharges in their own ocean of complacency they see only its majestic delta of intellectual aftertaste. With Larry’s holy image as a continuous source of inspiration and facilitation in their daily attempts to prescribe humankind what’s best for it, they emerge as a born-again authoritarians.
I understand now how this student walked up to Larry after class and asked with a laid-back smirk on his face: “Then why doesn’t the US government intervene? I mean, we can all absolutely see that capping pharmaceuticals’ profits is the way to go. It’s so obvious. How come they don’t see it?” Of course, everything you want to prescribe becomes oh so blatantly obvious, even though he himself didn’t see it as such until Larry Smith told him and the rest of the class that it was. I replied that the U.S constitution doesn’t allow for that kind of intervention because it was founded on libertarian ideals that are irreconcilable with one politician’s or another economist’s whim. In return Larry claimed that most constitutional scholars would disagree with me. Sure Larry, whatever.
The good in what Larry Smith has to teach is very straightforward and easy to grasp, but it is also commonly accessible to everyone who has set some time apart for reading in university. The subversive, controversial and misleading ideas he also teaches are equally easy to absorb but very hard for most students to discern for what they are.
Both the closet entrepreneur and the closet authoritarian in all of us are receptive to Larry’s magic: He is a catalytic force to be reckoned with. What’s the bottom line? I remain unconvinced one way or another whether he ultimately does more harm than good. Perhaps a more important question is: Does he subvert students on purpose or are his slips from objectivity largely subconscious? I don’t know, but I suspect that he is not aware of the full extent of his deceptiveness. It would be constructive to hear Larry’s own thoughts on the matter. We have heard great things about the entrepreneurs he has cultivated, but I dare not even imagine what kind of people his authoritarian disciples grow up to be. I know of only two:
One of them is the boring and pedantic Prof. Van de Waal who seems to have sprained an ankle in the dark basement of Plato’s Cave of Ideas. He stares at the shadows on the wall with dilated pupils, mentally masturbating at the patterns of utility curves as they vary across utility functions. He passively exercises his authoritarian streak by punishing students who try to think outside the box and who dare divert from his formulaic lecture notes ever-so-slightly. Only his way of solving what essentially are mathematical problems is legitimate. He clings to irrelevant rules, making an issue out of petty things for lack of creativity and decisiveness in devising an actual master plan for the world at large.
The other one is the malignant and deranged Prof. Picard who has desperately and embarrassingly turned his persona into a disturbing Larry Smith clown: he steals Larry Smith’s quotes, ideas, mannerisms, and lecturing approach. This man is evil, with a keloidal chip on his shoulder, having embarked on a sloppy career in economics for the sick sake of being closer to Larry, and now seeking professorship for the pure sadistic joy of harassing students. If you dare challenge him intellectually he will go after your average. And he’s not repressed or passive-aggressive about it either: his vindictiveness is so premeditated that he will openly confide in his officemate that he intends to do everything in his power to destroy you. All he really wants is to be loved like Larry Smith but it never works: the genuine allure, the beautifully-sculpted intellectual muscles, and the quirky sense of humor are simply lacking. Being loveless brings Picard down, and his impotent emotional response is to sublimate frustration into cruelty toward students.
These are examples of failures: pseudo-intellectual douche-bags who couldn't make a decent living in the real world outside the bubble of a university environment. Who knows what the star pupils will achieve…If you like this post - buy me a coffee
I understand that I am just a person, and however smart, rational, and well-guided I might be, there are others out there like me. I have changed my mind many times in life about many issues, as I explored and experimented with various currents of ideas growing up. I have abandoned many positions when I realized they were unfounded, and I don’t find it hard to conjecture that as I was mistaken in the past, I can find myself being wrong again in the future. My mind is fallible therefore I have no privileged epistemological access to universal truth.
Others around me have opinions and attitudes about everything. I agree more with some, less with others. Some I think are complete idiots. I don’t know of a single person I agree with 100% about everything there is to discuss or speculate over. I am the only person I fully agree with all the time about everything (at times even agreeing with myself goes wrong). That’s a statistically certain indicator that I am wrong at least on some counts: What are the odds that while not having any privileged access to truth in general, I am always right about everything while everyone around me is wrong at least on their point of disagreement with me?
Why can’t I tell what exactly I am wrong about right now? Just like I can push almost anyone to a point where I am certain they are being irrational about something but just can’t see themselves being foolish, I too, being just another person, must be vulnerable to the same unaware-bullshit-harboring tendency.
This makes me humble in my approach to truth. I keep the engine always running on the bulldozer of skepticism at the base of my most crucial intellectual pillars. Entire neighborhoods can turn out to be hastily-put-together public-housing-thought projects, with no business being in my metropolitan mind. While the government might have some life-long commitment to the parasitic beneficiaries of its stupid decisions, I have no intention to stick with my idiocies once I discover them to be such. Knowing that I have the guts to tear them down once I spot them, and the strength to erect new skyscrapers over their ruins, and most importantly, knowing that I can manage to know this without falling into complacency is my most effective formula for intellectual sanity.
So I constantly ask myself “How do I know?” about everything important. When something under consideration either implicitly or explicitly prescribes rules for others, my skepticism is attuned ever more so to its justification because telling others what to do is kind of a big deal! For starters, it's almost universally backed by a looming “or else”. I don’t care who these “others” are. I am able to empathize with them, to conceive of them as people with an identity, consciousness, free will, and potentially legitimate points to the contrary. How can I possibly know that what’s being proposed is just and necessary?
What moral and epistemological authority do the proponents of this rule have, to defy the will of those to be ruled over, who might disagree? What can they properly be justified in replying to someone who tells them to just mind their own damned business? Applying this skeptical approach with fresh rigor to innumerable cases, my evaluations have historically converged to a rather consistent position which can be safely summarized as “Nothing is superior to freedom. Only negative rights are legit. Live and let live, and screw those authoritarian cocks telling you they’ve got something better figured out for everyone.”
Not everyone thinks along those lines… I wasn’t always this way either. I don’t mean so much about the pan-libertarian conclusions I have arrived at, but the actual train of thought that happened to lead me there. Most people just don’t scrutinize themselves with such modesty or skepticism and subsequently incur a high risk of screwing up.
The ThinkFuture Radio Show is my favorite podcast (sort of by default, since it’s the only one I listen to). The host, Chris Future, has this theory that almost everyone is a libertarian underneath. It goes something like this: “Do you like having other people telling you what to do, how to live your life? Do you want the government interfering with you and pulling money out of your pocket? The bottom line is that most people would like to be left alone.” So there, most of us are closet libertarians.
The crucial counter consideration to this argument is that while most people don’t like to be told what to do, they would nevertheless love to dictate others what to do. It might very well be true that most of us want the IRS out of our pockets, but we’d still love to dig our hands into others’ pockets for all sorts of reasons. We intuitively seek freedom for ourselves but find it hard to genuinely extend that courtesy to others. Accordingly, most of us are not closet libertarians but rather closet authoritarians.
But why? Don’t we know that we can’t both have our cake and eat it? I find it incredible just how eagerly most people will renounce their own freedoms just for a chance to have a say in other people’s lives. Instead of identifying with one-another and regarding arbitrary interferences with anyone as harbingers of unjust intrusions into our own lives, we usually find it intuitively easier to identify with the invasive authority. I suspect there are psychological reasons for this.
Ah, the intriguing authoritarian personality. I keep meeting these people especially at school, la crème de la crop of authoritarianism, with many passionate convictions and one or two master plans for humankind or the country. They tend to be engineers, but this might be purely coincidental given the career demographics at the University of Waterloo. They are generally pretty smart but almost always unwarrantedly smug, a sense of self probably reinforced from repeated victories in intellectual horseplay with kids not as intelligent as themselves. They think they’re hot shit, alright.
I find them reverse-engineering human nature or the global economy, with all sorts of ideas which I even might find interesting until I realize how seriously they take themselves. They are almost exclusively determinists: human relationships are exhaustively explained through caricatures of rationalized instincts, scale-free networks and intricate feedback loops. People are puppets bound by deterministic strings: their actions predictable and fully captured by reductionist analysis. Although they see free will as a naiveté, they usually are not perplexed at the corollary of their own thoughts and convictions being epiphenomenally preordained. They indeed see themselves as being above all this.
It is typically fashionable for them to have some background in economics or history, and they advertise the shit out of that knowledge. Contempt for ‘the ordinary person’ can be found bursting passively-aggressively at the seams of their statements. Of course people are like sheep, unable to cope left to their own devices.
Authoritarians hate free enterprise. They see poverty, progress, and social cohesion as a technical problem that can be fixed (by them) with top-down intervention from the natural sciences. Human institutions are mechanical organisms to be operated on with the incisive touch of a surgeon. Naturally the view that social problems are essentially technical in nature leads authoritarians to administrative solutions. The emphasis is on creative master plans as they are to be decreed at the top, with little concern for their implementation at the bottom. They simplify or ignore reality if it clashes with the effects of their 'right interventions’.
It seems almost cognitively impossible for them to grasp the main opportunity cost of central planning: the cumulative creativity of the ‘ordinary people’ they despise so much. They can’t understand that innovation cannot be planned. They see free enterprise as doomed to fail because it’s so stupid, without a controlling intelligence behind it, but they don’t consider how stupid and myopic their “smart” planning is, doing away with the creativity of all the interconnected ‘little people’ at the bottom. The authoritarian par excellence cannot conceive of an unspecified anonymous ‘ordinary person’ to come up with an unpredictable good idea.
This kind of person might deeply disagree with a government policy but they generally regard it as a matter of trial and error before getting it right. The issue is getting the brightest leaders in power so that the best policies are implemented to make it all right. They have an elaborate plan of what everyone should be doing to achieve the greater good and they would love to tell you about it…
I know from personal experience that this kind of person tends to be very condescending to anyone who will challenge him. Persisting rational counter-arguments can easily be interpreted as a personal attack to be responded with a personal counter-attack. If you go as far as to question their authority to prescribe everyone what to do, contempt and cynicism might ooze out of their pores before they sever all ties with you.
There is a lot to be said about the authoritarian personality. My most noteworthy personal observation is that authoritarian types tend to suffer from a poor theory of mind. I am not sure whether it is a building-block of their character or merely a consequence of deeper psychological factors, but the problem of other minds is certainly problematic for them.
During early childhood we emerge from our egocentric shell and start to understand that other people are not us, that everyone has a mind of one’s own and others might have different opinions and feelings from ours. This childhood revelation is just the foundation. The theory-of-mind edifice is still shaky in most adolescents, making reality checks very difficult for them and leaving little room for objectivity. The maturation of one’s personal theory of mind is marked by the realization that one's own mind is fallible just like everyone else’s. This is the first step toward dismantling our inherent megalomania. It results in an overall epistemological modesty, and an ability to vividly conceptualize being in other people’s shoes. We can respect the consciousness of others, perhaps even empathize with them, and interpret reality from multiple perspectives.
I vaguely remember outgrowing the authoritarian state of mind sometime in my mid-teens. I used to be very radical about everything I believed in. The truth of my convictions, whatever they were, was self-evident to me, but of course it was only so because I happened to believe in what I believed. Whoever disagreed was an idiot for not being able to see what I saw. Condescendence was a natural attitide. Only now as I think back I realize I used to be a little authoritarian girl.
Overcoming that stage was a great achievement which unfortunately is not a routine developmental milestone. A lot of teenagers never make it. In my case I suspect it had something to do with reading classic novels with great characters. Getting in the head of robust fictional personalities who can feel, think, be aware of the world around them no less intensely than I can, and plausibly convince themselves of being right when they are not, helped put other people’s minds as well as my own into perspective. Being a sucker for movies where I had to put myself in the shoes of all sorts of characters also had a strong auxiliary and catalytic effect, as certainly did the epic turmoil of the transitional period in Albania after the fall of communism. Escaping reality or my own stupidity in that environment became too dear a luxury.
Therefore I scrutinize my authoritarian friends with a certain autobiographical amusement. The subconscious assumptions underlying their thought patterns evoke these crude megalomaniacal ideas from childhood, which stripped of their innocent romanticism sound as crazy as “Maybe I will never die: so far only others have”, or “Maybe I am the only person who is ‘real’: others in the world are just cardboard-cut figures who come in and out of illusory existence as they appear and disappear from my sensory field”, or “I am always right: truth is my state of mind”, or even “Reality is all in my head: I can learn to ignore it into nonexistence or wish it into change”.
There are people who still hold on to this kind of regressive egocentric bullshit to some degree or another. Theory of mind can be a developmental precursor to a theory of reality. Some realizations need to happen for others to follow. Our inherent childish subjectivity is an obstacle to learning.
If at some level your sense of reality is still that of a colorful background encapsulated in your mind, then why should you bother challenging your beliefs? It’s not like there is an objective state of affairs outside your head on which you could possibly be missing out. Outlandish statements will find their way out of your mouth much more comfortably without any counter considerations to weigh them down. Other people? How can you truly respect them for being persons of their own if you cannot conceive that there are true minds like yours, thinking, feeling, and wrestling with life’s existential puzzles inside their skulls?... How much different from sheep are they to you?
They’re just ‘people’; they’re not ‘you’! They’re complicated figures bouncing around, bound by deterministic principles. But you’re not, you’re something else, you can see through it all, you can tell them what to do! Presenting your solutions to world problems can be done with unbelievable nonchalance if the people at the bottom are just grains of sand.
Theory of mind is important. Without its sensitivities cementing genuine interpersonal relationships, someone’s ability to build bridges across his own interests and those of others is fundamentally hampered. Such a person’s mode of dealing with people can easily degenerate into a regressive state of psychological functionality based on the instinct of domination: alpha male or alpha butch bringing down the house and putting the other inferior apes in their place, hence the ‘authority’ in ‘authoritarian’.
I would call it one psychological step backward from human nature. It makes evolutionary sense for the instinct of domination to be aggressively displayed in healthy animals, since they have to fight for their limited resources. But man has reason, creativity, and craftsmanship. Survival is not a zero-sum game for us. We can use our intellect to discover ways to manipulate nature in our favor and thus pull plentifulness out of scarcity’s ass. Trade is infinitely superior to domination. We take it for granted, but you need to acknowledge the other person’s mind in order to understand the value of what it has to offer. You need to recognize that it can think of something innovative which you might have not thought of yourself, in order to realize that you have something to gain from it. Without being able to respect other minds for their own sake, in your eyes your fellow men will be little more than potential threats, beasts of burden, or pieces of ass.
Did I take it too far? Is this too psychologically farfetched? I’m not sure…
I used to ask myself what the world must look like through the eyes of a genius. I am talented in mathematics, but there are people who can see in a few seconds what would take me minutes, as there are areas where I can just follow with a lot of effort but a few minds can lead, proving excruciating theorems and whatnot. So what about the world at large, all the complex patterns appearing chaotic to the profane, the beautiful structure of reality baring its secrets to those who can see through the superfluous? What kind of wisdom would that be? Impossible to even fathom, but I think I ultimately just wanted to establish if I had reason to be jealous.
And well, I have met people with specialized areas of intellect close to genius. To both my disappointment and relief, their minds are very fallible. An abyss of megalomaniacal subjectivity lies between their mighty intellect and the beauty of the world awaiting to be conquered. Crossing that abyss seems to be beyond the capacity of intellect alone. I know too many intelligent people who talk like idiots when their buttons are pushed. It’s disturbing to see great minds being too cocky to take things rationally, nonchalantly taking the soundness of their positions for granted, leaving indignant emotionality as the only appropriate response to any intellectual duel. In all its impressive depths and heights, the human mind seems to be chronically vulnerable to irrationality. Modesty and skepticism can mark the line between the intelligent and the wise, or that between the intelligent and the insane. Reason is a fragile and shaky hanging bridge, of which the life-long traversal can be accomplished by only the perpetually vigilant and humble mind.
Update: These select writings from Karl Popper speak truth to power; shame I didn't learn about Popper's ideas until very recently.If you like this post - buy me a coffee