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On trial in Egypt: then and now, etc.

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- there shall be no caging of free speech, right? ]

I was struck by the resemblance between these two photos of defendants in Egyptian courtrooms –

— one of Ayman al-Zawahiri on trial shortly after the Sadat assassination [upper panel, above] the other of al-Jazeera journalists on trial today. While there’s a great deal of difference between the defendants in the two trials, and while we’re familiar with prisoners at the bar behind bullet-proof glass from the cases of Adolf Eichmann [below, upper panel] –

— and the Pussy Riot grrls [lower panel], conditions for the defendants in Egyptian trials seem to have deteriorated from cages to chicken-coops over the years.



  • Al-Jazeera photo MT @marcellehopkins: Surreal photo of @AlJazeera journalists in #Egypt courtroom cage today. #FreeAJStaff
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    Religion in [and wrt] the Crimea

    Monday, March 3rd, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- ignorant, open, a tad sceptical, and willing to learn ]

    Praying for peace in the shadow of war


    That video was from Lindsey Hilsum‘s Inside Ukraine: praying for peace in the shadow of war. There we read:

    It was mid-morning as we drove up to the Ukrainian marine base at Perevalnoe. Russian soldiers were ranged along the wall and as I looked left I could see dozens of Russian military trucks in the lee of the hill where the Ukrainians normally do their training.

    Suddenly I heard the sound of chanting. An Orthodox priest was approaching the soldiers with his golden casket of holy water. As he sang his incantations and sprayed the soldiers using a brush, local people ran alongside clapping. I wondered if the Russian soldiers thought God was on their side – most armies have believed that through history.

    A few yards up the road, we came across a baffled young man looking at the scene wide-eyed “I’m not happy about this – who are these people? “I am Crimean, Russian and Ukrainian, I feel that I am all of these three, and I don’t want to be occupied.”



    Here’s an extraordinary series of tweets from ITV’s Europe Editor, James Mates, a couple of days ago:

  • Russian soldiers and 20+ vehicles. Surrounding Ukrainian base at Perevalne in Crimea. Reported demanding surrender.
  • Extraordinary standoff. Ukraine soldiers defiant behind gates of Perevalne base. Won’t surrender.
  • Squad of Russian reinforcements arrive at Perevalne base where Ukraine troops surrounded. No sign of them moving in.
  • Surrounded Ukraine troops at Perevalne look young, frightened, hopelessly ill-equipped vs Russians.
  • Priest + Ru Orthodox choir sing chants, prayers outside surrounded Ukraine base, while 2 armies stand-off
  • Col i/csurrounded Ukraine base just returned from talks with Ru counterpart. Said ‘will be no shooting, no war’.
  • Pro-Russian civilians have come out to support Russian troops at Ukraine base now surrounded.
  • Troops in Perevalne base say they understand units surrounding them are Russian special forces base with Black Sea Fleet.
  • ArchBsp Clement of Ukraine orthodox church, stands at gates of surrounded base ‘to protect my people’.
  • **

    Here, I believe, we see Archbishop Clement of the Ukraine orthodox church standing at the gates of the surrounded base…

    Below, or opposite him, is His Holiness, Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus’.


    An echange of notes:

    Locum Tenens of the Kiev metropolitan department sent a letter to Patriarch Kirill

    His Holiness, Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus’

    Your Holiness !

    Today Ukraine is experiencing without exaggeration the most difficult moment in its recent history. After three months of the socio-political crisis , a bloody confrontation in the center of Kiev and the death of dozens of people, we were faced with another equally formidable challenge.

    On March 1 the officials of the Russian Federation made a statement about the possible introduction in Ukraine of a limited contingent of Russian troops . If this happens, Ukrainian and Russian people will be drawn into a confrontation that will have catastrophic consequences for our country .

    The Locum Tenens of the Kiev metropolitan department appeals to you, Your Holiness, with a request to do everything possible to avoid bloodshed in Ukraine. I ask you to raise your voice about preserving the integrity of the territory of the Ukrainian state.

    In this difficult hour we raise fervent prayers to our Lord Jesus Christ, that He by the prayers of His Blessed Mother save us from a collision between the fraternal Russian and Ukrainian peoples .

    Onufriv, Metropolitan Chernovtsy and Bukovina, Locum Tenens, Kiev metropolitan department

    And by return, so to speak:

    The Church prefers to avoid taking one side or another when it comes to political struggle, but what Kyrill, Patriarch of Moscow, wants to ensure is that there will be no deaths of civilians in Ukraine.

    “Dear Lord, I assure you and our Ukrainian flock that ? will do everything possible to convince those who have the power on their hands to prevent the death of innocent people. The blood of our brothers shed in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities, is the fruit of the hatred that the opposition members from different parties have allowed the enemy of the human race grow in their hearts. May God stop any hand raised with intent to cause pain and suffering and bless those who defend the world” Kyrill stated during his address to the Ukrainian flock and Locum Tenens Metropolitan of Kiev Metropolitan Onufriv throne.


    Three documents of interest, not comprehensible to me in their original language, nor via Google Translate:

  • In ROC hope that Ukraine will not be much to resist
  • UPTsMP asked Patriarch Kirill to prevent bloodshed in Ukraine
  • and this one, not quite so bad, which I’ve patched together a rough translation of, above:

  • Press Service of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church
  • **

    The British, Anglican, conservative blogger who names himself Archbishop Cranmer has an intriguing twist on the matter, invoking in his title today, Crimea – a battle of principalities and powers, one of the most fascinating verses in the entire Bible, to wit Ephesians 6.12:

    For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

    His Grace, writing under the pseudonym of a martyred (21 March 1556) Archbishop of Canterbury, writes:

    While we view the current conflict through the distorted prism of secular European enlightenment and the primacy of economics, millions in the Ukraine are asserting their cultural and religious identities. On the one hand are the Western-inclined pro-EU reformists who are seeking liberation from oppression and corruption; on the other, the Eastern-facing pro-Russian conservatives are battling once again to preserve their way of life. And these are by no means the only hands: the region is fraught with complexities. But when priests sprinkle holy water over the troops, it is because they believe they are defending Christian orthodoxy and traditional morality against social liberal secularism and moral relativity. For many millions of ethnic Russians, this isn’t simply a question of gay rights and wrongs, but of good versus evil. It is about the spiritual and moral foundation of civilisation itself.

    So when we read the Daily Mail or listen to the BBC, we are understanding nothing of this crisis, for it is not a conflict of flesh and blood, but of principalities and powers. It is not about politics and opportunism, but morality and mission. Obama and Cameron can issue their warnings and demands that Putin respect ‘equality’ and ‘democratic values’, but when you believe you are called by God to do His holy work, a pesky liberal president and a devalued prime minister are of very little significance at all.


    A happier picture to close with?


    Ah, but other issues cropped and popped up on my screen — like Judaism and Neo-Nazism…

    Under the title The ex-Israeli soldier who led a Kiev fighting unit, Haaretz reportd a few days back:

    Delta says the Kremlin is using the anti-Semitism card falsely to delegitimize the Ukrainian revolution, which is distancing Ukraine from Russia’s sphere of influence.

    “It’s bullshit. I never saw any expression of anti-Semitism during the protests, and the claims to the contrary were part of the reason I joined the movement. We’re trying to show that Jews care,” he said.

    Still, Delta’s reasons for not revealing his name betray his sense of feeling like an outsider. “If I were Ukrainian, I would have been a hero. But for me it’s better to not reveal my name if I want to keep living here in peace and quiet,” he said.

    Fellow Jews have criticized him for working with Svoboda. “Some asked me if instead of ‘Shalom’ they should now greet me with a ‘Sieg heil.’ I simply find it laughable,” he said. But he does have frustrations related to being an outsider. “Sometimes I tell myself, ‘What are you doing? This is not your army. This isn’t even your country.’”


    Svoboda, the flag…

    To what extent is the battle here one of ex-Nazis fighting ex-Commies?

    I don’t of course know, and y’all may have strong opinions. Knowing how hard it was for almost anyone to understand Afghanistan, for instance, and how ignorant I am myself of the former Soviet sphere, I won’t hold my breath for accuracy, certainty, or concensus. But I’ll read and listen.

    Read, mark, know, and inwardly digest.

    Please educate me.


    Adding to the Bookpile

    Sunday, February 9th, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

    Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor / Hiroshima / 9-11 / Iraq by John Dower 

    Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941 by William Shirer

    Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II by Michael Burleigh 

    Picked up a few more books for the antilibrary.

    Dower is best known for his prizewinning Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, which unfortunately, I have never read.  Berlin Diaries I have previously skimmed through for research purposes but I did not own a copy. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany was an immensely bestselling book which nearly everyone interested in WWII reads at some point in time. I would put in a good word for Shirer’s lesser known The Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940 . It was a very readable introduction to the deep political schisms of France during the interwar and Vichy years which ( as I am not focused on French history) later made reading Ian Ousby’s Occupation: The Ordeal of France 1940-1944 more profitable.

    I am a fan of the vigorous prose of British historian Michael Burleigh, having previously reviewed  Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism here and can give a strong recommendation for his The Third Reich: A New History.  Burleigh here is tackling moral choices in war and also conflict at what Colonel John Boyd termed “the moral level of war” in a scenario containing the greatest moral extremes in human history, the Second World War.

    The more I try to read, the further behind I fall!


    Book Review: Hitlerland by Andrew Nagorski

    Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

    Hitlerland by Andrew Nagorski 

    Recent cyber problems here at ZP (as well as work commitments) have left me with an enormous backlog of book-related posts and reviews with which to wade through this month, including re-starting the aborted “friends of zenpundit.com who wrote books” posts.  Here is the first of what hopefully should be many posts to help readers add to their antilibrary:
    I recently picked up Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power by journalist Andrew Nagorski and found it to be an enjoyable read. Nagorski is telling the tale of Americans in Germany, predominantly journalists and diplomats, who witnessed the death of the Weimar Republic  at the hands of the Nazis and the subsequent construction of the totalitarian Third Reich under the messianic leadership of Adolf Hitler. It is, to be sure, a cautionary tale that is well-known at a superficial level where “Munich” – the 1938 diplomatic agreement where British and French leaders surrendered Czechoslovakia to Hitler’s aggressive designs – is a shorthand today for ill-considered appeasement of dictatorial regimes.


    That said, the deep reluctance of American officials and the public back home to acknowledge intellectually the nature of Nazi Germany and the threat it represented at the time, to the frustration of reporters like William Shirer, is less familiar and too often acknowledged only sheepishly – perhaps because the same “see no evil” pattern was replicated in regard to Stalin’s Russia until well after WWII ended. Indeed, one of the book’s more pathetic figures, Martha Dodd,  the irresponsible party-girl daughter of the American ambassador, transitioned seamlessly from being an enthusiastic useful idiot for Nazism to a slavishly loyal Stalinist and lifelong Soviet agent. A phenomena that mirrored that of many young German men who in the latter years of the Weimar Republic found themselves shifting between Communist fighting groups and membership in the Nazi SA without any democratic or liberal waystation in between.

    Some thoughts about Hitlerland in no particular order:

    • Nagorski, like most journalists, is an excellent writer and more skilled at weaving a story than are most historians. Hitlerland is extremely “readable” for the general layman who is the target audience of the author.
    • .
    • If you are well read enough on the subject of the Third Reich to be familiar with Nagorski’s major primary sources you will not see much that is original here as the same texts have been relied upon very heavily by many other writers and historians of the Nazi period. I learned only a few details or anecdotes that were new to me. What Nagorski did that is new is to bring together the stories of the Americans in Germany into one book for a synthesis and explained it smoothly and concisely.
    • .
    • One of the more famous of the primary sources, Dr. Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstaengl, who wrote a memoir about Hitler and was a very early (if minor) member of the Nazi Party leadership, a P.R. mentor and court jester of sorts to Adolf Hitler, is given close scrutiny. Nagorski brings out the more sinister and machiavellian side of Hanfstaengl, whose ability to charm and play the clown and his influential Harvard connections helped him escape any kind of punishment for his numerous contributions toward Hitler’s regime.
    • .
    • The inescapability of street level Nazi brutality, the crude and fanatical anti-semitism and the increasing enthusiasm of the German people, even relative anti-Nazi Germans, for accepting the regime’s propaganda claims with credulity after years of being submerged in them is an excellent feature of Hitlerland. Propaganda does damage simply by crowding out truth, even when it is not believed.



    Kristallnacht at Seventy-five

    Monday, November 11th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- of fire and light ]

    Since Zen tweeted a link to my own Armistice Day, Veterans Day post from last year and posted his own The Vietnam War at Fifty today, I’d going to skip back a day or two in my own calendar this time, and commemorate the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, which fell on the night of November 9/10, 1938.

    I believe this is a photo of the Hannover synagogue burning:


    I don’t know how we even begin to think about this.

    George Steiner famously said “We know that a man can read Goethe or Rilke in the evening, that he can play Bach and Schubert, and go to his day’s work at Auschwitz in the morning” — and also observed, “The world of Auschwitz lies outside speech as it lies outside reason” — and Adorno: “to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric”.

    Contemplating that photo of the burning of the Hannover synagogue, then, I am thrown back on a story told of the rabbi — a disciple of Rabbi Gershon — who came to visit the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidic Judaism, and to whom that great master first revealed his spiritual station:

    In the night the rabbi found no sleep. It seemed to him as if here and now the wonder of the far and the wonder of the near must flow together. In the middle of the night the command came to him, soundless and without form. He arose and went. Then he was already in the other chamber and saw: The chamber was filled with flames up to the height of a man. They rose dull and sombre, as if they were consuming something heavy, hidden. No smoke ascended from the fire, and all the furniture remained uninjured. But in the middle of the fire stood the master with uplifted forehead and closed eyes.

    The rabbi saw further that a division had taken place in the fire which gave birth to a light, and the light was like a ceiling over the flames. The light was twofold. Underneath it was bluish and belonged to the fire, but above the light was white and unmoving and extended from around the head of the master unto the walls. The bluish light was the throne of the white, the white rested on it as on a throne. The colours of the bluish light changed incessantly, at times to black and at times to a red wave. But the light above never changed, it always remained white. . Now the bluish light became wholly fire, and the fire’s consuming became its consuming. But the white light that rested on it did not consume and had no community with the flame.

    The rabbi saw that the head of the master stood entirely in the white light. The flames which leaped upward on the body of the master turned to light, and every little while the amount of light increased. At last all the fire became light. The blue light began to penetrate into the white, but every wave that penetrated itself became white and unchanging. The rabbi saw that the master stood entirely in white light. But over his head there rested a hidden light that was free of all earthly aspects and only in secret revealed to the beholder.

    It was thus that the Baal Shem Tov become known to the wider world.


    If I might draw the moral here, suiting my tale (quoted from Martin Buber‘s The Legend of the Baal-Shem) to the occasion — there is fire that destroys, and there is light indestructible.

    We choose, always we choose.


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