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Through a glass, darkly

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

[ by Emlyn Cameron — On North Korea: a retrospective as preemptive strike ]
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Charles Cameron’s introduction: Regular readers may know my son Emlyn from previous contributions on Zenpundit [1, 2]. Here he wages a war of miniturization on the Korean fiefdom of Kim Jong-Un.

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Snow falls on Kim Jong-Il‘s funeral cortege

Reflecting on the Nuclear staring contest now ongoing between the United States and North Korea, I confront mixed feelings: Obviously one must consider different strategies and engage in a pragmatic calculus; One must consider the pros and cons, the risks and rewards, and the numerous lives which might be ended or fail ever to be lived as a consequence of any policy. It is, I need not say, a very complex issue. Worse still, it is an issue of severe import to many whose lives hang in the balance.

But I find myself grappling with a less practical question and coming away irresolute: If North Korea’s brand of surreal statism could be overthrown without bloodshed or tragedy, how would I feel? Would I be proud? Pleased? Grateful? Somehow, I can’t convince myself that I would be entirely satisfied. I feel certain that any pride, pleasure, or gratitude would be alloyed with something else. And this in spite of my knowledge that such a coup would be, well, a coup, and of the welcome it would justifiably receive.

“The bloodless anticlimax to an Orwellian police state?” I hear the likely refrain, “Terrific!”

“A peaceful end to a regime which embraced not only Stalinist propagandism, but De Facto Monarchy? Still better!” The voices continue.

“And a conclusion to tantrums and ICBM rattle throwing? Who could hope for more?” Comes the triumphal call.

And yet, I am unconvinced in the recesses of my heart. That might be strange to many people, even a tad immoral, but it’s how things stand.

In order that such a stance might make more sense, I’ll admit that I have a strange affection for the turbulent little state and its Emperor’s New Jumpsuits. This probably extends from more general conflicted feelings about overt dictatorships: I am someone who deeply loves enlightenment philosophy, and cherishes my personal freedoms. I am, all the same, a morbid person, prone to fatalism, and I harbor dark anticipations about the future of humanity. Somewhere in the middle I developed a great relish for bleak wit. For these reasons, it should come as no shock that I am a great admirer of George Orwell and a fan of his writings. Perhaps like others who count themselves among his readers, I find myself emotionally torn while reading Nineteen Eighty-Four or Animal Farm; The dystopias he presents disturb me, and yet, (in spite of my philosophical leanings) a small part of me is always tugged at by a desire to relinquish the struggle of self determination, and to escape the paradox of choice by giving in to such an oppression. The terrible certainties, even of state assigned conclusions and death, speak to some tired part in me, which recognizes strain from the ongoing alertness required of anyone who wants to be the arbiter of their own affairs.

North Korea, likewise, is a natural antagonist to the individualism I hold dear, but, perhaps because of its total conviction and flagrance in opposing my worldview, I am captivated by its iconography and insular existence. I have always been fascinated by the ludicrous spectacle, the stark imagery, and the total devotion of totalitarian nations, though I revile their premises. Having one around, therefore, leaves me in rather a strange position: I desire the grip of the North Korean state on its people broken as a matter of principle, while simultaneously fearing the death of a kind of dangerous endangered species; I am struck by the feeling that the end of the North Korean state would be a victory for my values, and the loss of one of the world’s great curiosities.

A friend recently called North Korea “an Eighth Wonder of the World”, and I agree. It is a tragic wonder, dangerous rather than glorious, but a wonder none the less.

My grandfather, a conservative philosopher, referred to himself as a “sentimental monarchist”. If a peaceful end came to the militaristic regime in North Korea, my relief would be tinged with a similar kind of sentimental loss; Something interesting would be gone, and I would feel a nostalgic pang for the missing strangeness. I fancy that I would rather keep the aggressive little power, not on a map, but on a shelf. I should like to keep it in a snow globe, I think (the state already more or less frozen as it is).

I’d like a little magnified globe, not unlike the coral paperweight in Orwell’s book, in which would be held the repressive slice of 1950’s authoritarianism: Marches and missiles behind safety glass. Occasionally, on a quiet night, I might chance to hear a soft, televised threat to my safety, or a report on bountiful rations; If I felt a stab of longing for the atmosphere of suspended aggression from my parents and grand parents age, I could go to the mantle and wind the little state up by hand (rather than by tweet) and hear a tinkling anthem that takes me back; I’d like to visit the trinket now and again and watch snow fallout from a nuclear winter after I shake it, or watch tiny jackboots and smiling, slightly condescending diplomats go about their days work. Maybe the mandatorily grateful workers would even build a cardboard city for my benefit, to give an impression of plenty. And once I had seen the last settling flakes fall, I would place it back above the fire place with a feeling of having harmlessly revisited my childhood, glad of a souvenir to solidify the bittersweet memory. After all, a snow globe can cast nothing else from the mantle to the floor, nor launch beyond its translucent border.

Then again, just because I’d have the terror held safely under glass, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t continue in earnest within.

Of martyrdom and forgiveness

Monday, August 1st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — of martyrdom according to ISIS and the church, & of forgiveness in response to hate — continuing from Of sacrifice and martyrdom ]
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Martyrs

Icon by Coptic artist Tony Rezk. The martyrs’ faces are the faces of Christ.

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My Lapido piece closed with these words:

That is, in part, why Pope Francis in his official comment on the event said he was “particularly troubled to learn that this act of violence took place in a church, during Mass, a liturgical act that implores of God His peace on earth.”

The Pope went on to say he “asks the Lord to inspire in all thoughts of reconciliation and fraternity in this new trial, and to extend to everyone the abundance of His blessings”. And that, perhaps, is the hardest thing for us – and for France – to understand.

The natural reaction to such a barbarous act as the killing of a defenceless 86-year old priest is horrified anger, and French President François Hollande, true to France’s claim to be secular, described the killing as a “desecration of French democracy” – and declared “France is at war.”

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Democracy was far from the only thing that was desecrated. The image of God in the person of Fr Hamel was desecrated, his priesthood, speaking the words and making the gestures Christ himself had made at the Last Supper was desecrated, the sacred place in which he stood and woshipped was desecrated, and the sacrament of the Mass was desecrated .

And to all this, The Pope responded with words of forgivesness, asking God “to inspire in all thoughts of reconciliation and fraternity”.

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Martha Nussbaum:

The American philosopher Martha Nussbaum has recently written an essay titled Beyond Anger, in which she begins to explain the futility of vengeance, citing Nelson Mandela as someone who went beyond anger to achieve great things:

He often said that he knew anger well, and that he had to struggle against the demand for payback in his own personality. He reported that during his 27 years of imprisonment he had to practice a disciplined type of meditation to keep his personality moving forward and avoiding the anger trap.

Nussbaum is presenting in psychological, philosophical and political terms the outlook which for Pope Francis is embodied in the words of Christ: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be children of your Father which is in heaven.”

This attitude runs strikingly against the grain of secular thinking in our age.

With the tragic death of Fr Jacques Hamel and the words of Pope Francis, we are reminded once again that there exists another possibility than retribution, a way of forgiveness and peace in place of redoubled fury and war.

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Tibhirine:

We hve seen this forgivesness before. To grasp how different Pope Francis’ message is from the vegneance which seems like second nature to us, we may want to recall the French Trappist monks of Tibhirine in Algeria, killed by Islamist terrorists in 1996, and to read again the remarkable words of Christian de Chergé in his Last Testament:

If it should happen one day – and it could be today – that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. I ask them to accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure.

Addressing his future attacker, de Chergé says:

And you also, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing. Yes, for you also I wish this “thank you” – and this adieu – to commend you to the God whose face I see in yours.

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Copts:

We witnessed it among the Coptic Christians when so many of their sons were brutally beheaded by ISIS.

As I noted at the time in Some recent words from the Forgiveness Chronicles, Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, said when he was interviewed shortly after the event:

Q: Not long after the video released, you tweeted about the killings, using the hashtag #FatherForgive. Did you mean that you forgive ISIS?

A:Yes. It may seem unbelievable to some of your readers, but as a Christian and a Christian minister I have a responsibility to myself and to others to guide them down this path of forgiveness. We don’t forgive the act because the act is heinous. But we do forgive the killers from the depths of our hearts. Otherwise, we would become consumed by anger and hatred. It becomes a spiral of violence that has no place in this world.

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For Christians, it is clear that Fr Hamel was killed for his faith, and died a martyr. For the followers of ISIS, the same kind of claim will be made — that the two jihadist “soldiers” died at the hands of the French police while fighting jihad fi sabilillah — in the cause of God. But for the Muslim community of France as a whole, the killing of Fr Hamel was an act of brutality without religious sanction — indeed, quite the opposite:

Community leaders in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Normandy said they did not want to “taint” Islam by having any association with Adel Kermiche, the 19-year-old jihadist who killed Father Jacques Hamel in his hometown in northern France.

Mohammed Karabila, president of the local Muslim cultural association and imam of one of the town’s mosques, told Le Parisien newspaper: “We’re not going to taint Islam with this person. We won’t participate in preparing the body or the burial.”

Considering the importance of quick burial in Muslim theology, that is a pretty clear indication of the distance the Muslims of St Étienne-du-Rouvray wish to put between their faith and its distorted image in the mind of ISIS.

Not only didnthe local Muslims refuse to accept Kermiche’s body for burial, an appeal went out for Muslims to attend Mass on today, Sunday, in grief and solidarity with the Catholics and with the people of France. As Hend Amry put it:

Catholic priests were invited to attend, and spoke at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray mosque, which had been built on land donated by the church — and across France, in tears, countless Muslims attended Mass, in St Étienne-du-Rouvray, in Rouen Cathedral, and as far away as Italy and Corsica.

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Muslims at Mass in Milan
Muslims at Mass in Milan, Italy

Solidarity AFP photo JCMagnenet
Catholic-Muslim friendship in wake of killing of Fr Hamel, AFP.

Catafalque, Requiem for Fr Hamel
Catafalque, Requiem Mass for Fr Hamel, Faternity of St Joseph the Guardian, La-Londe-Les-Maures.

The Center Can Hold

Friday, July 8th, 2016

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

dallas16190332494608

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity….”

The sad and shocking events this week have come at a time when America is more politically and socially polarized than any other time in recent memory. This has led to casual comparisons between 2016 and the America of the most turbulent year of the Vietnam War, 1968.

They are not the same.

It is not 1968. That year saw the assassinations of MLK and RFK, race riots and arson in 125 American cities and armed troops on the streets. 16,899 young American men were killed in Vietnam that year while massive anti-war demonstrations closed universities and rocked Washington, DC.  Lyndon Baines Johnson, President of the United States, declined under the pressure to run for re-election and a “police riot” broke out in Mayor Daley’s Chicago on live television. America was torn apart on generational, racial and political lines. This week has certainly been tragic for a variety of reasons that go deep into the American psyche, but thankfully we are not even close to reliving 1968.

It might be useful however, to recall Robert Kennedy’s words, spoken after announcing to his supporters at a campaign stop that Martin Luther King had just been assassinated:

….We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times; we’ve had difficult times in the past; we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; it is not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.

Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

 

Washington wording..

Friday, July 1st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a DoubleQuote catches some WaPo weaseling with words ]
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This is a day or two late, but I’ve been sick, so here you go:

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It was David Auerbach who pointed out via Twitter that the Washington Post had changed its headline from an unseemly to a more seemly version:

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DoubleQuote! — in fact, DoubleTweet! since WaPo still has its original tweet announcing its Wonkblog article, and also a revised version:

and:

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So what?

Somehow, Washington the Post and We the People are not coterminous, although together they make for a nice alliteration. Government of the people, by the people, for the people is less convincing when some things just shouldn’t be decided by the people, ne?

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I dunno. Because then again, there’s Andrew Sullivan, Democracies End When They Are Too Democratic, and Roslyn Fuller‘s response, America Needs More Democracy, Not Less.

Forget Plato for a moment — what would Socrates say?

New Book- The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House

Friday, March 25th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / a.k.a  “zen“]

The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House […] by Zalmay Khalilzad

Just received a courtesy review copy of The Envoy, the memoir of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, from Christine at St. Martin’s Press.

Khalilzad was part of a small group of diplomatic troubleshooters and heavy hitters for the second Bush administration, whose numbers included John Negroponte, Ryan Crocker and John Bolton who were heavily engaged during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Like the others, Khalilzad had held a variety of important policy posts at State, the NSC and the Department of Defense before assuming ambassadorial duties; the bureaucratic experience, ties to senior White House officials and the exigencies of counterinsurgency warfare would make these posts more actively proconsular than was typical for an American ambassador.   Indeed, the endorsements on the book jacket, which include two former Secretaries of State, a former Secretary of Defense and a former CIA Director testify to the author’s political weight in Khalilzad’s years of government service.

It’s been a while since I have read a diplomatic memoir, so I’m particularly looking forward to seeing how Khalilzad treats Afghanistan’s early post-Taliban years, given that he personally is a bridge from the Reagan policy of supporting the anti-Soviet mujahedin to the toppling of the Taliban in the aftermath of 9/11 and helping to organize the new Afghan state. Khalilzad is also, of course, an Afghan by birth, giving him greater insight into that country’s complex political and social divisions than most American diplomats could muster.

I will give The Envoy a formal review in the future but Khalizad has given a synopsis of where he thinks American policy went awry in Afghanistan over at Thomas E. Rick’s Best Defense blog.


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