Sunday, 27 March 2011

Part of life is to plant trees that other people will sit under. Somebody planted a tree for me long ago in the form of an educational institution and I sat under that tree, metaphorically. The same happened in one area after another in my life. (Warren Buffett)

Is the US ambassador the only confidant of Indian politicians and bureaucrats?

wikileaks
The Call Of The American Demarche
Does India really follow the US lead as blindly as the Wikileaks cables seem to suggest?
Pranay Sharma

A Few Views Through The Cablegate

Cable 162458 July 17, 2008: Claims Congress MP Satish Sharma's aide, Nachiketa Kapur, confided to an embassy official that RLD MPs had been bribed Rs 10 crore each and showed him two chests containing Rs 50-80 crore for bribing Opposition MPs before a no-confidence vote against UPA-I.

Cable 195165 March 4, 2009: Home Minister P. Chidambaram confides to FBI chief that the constitutional status of the National Investigation Agency is debatable.

Cable 220281 Aug 11, 2009: US ambassador Timothy Roemer is told by NSA M.K. Narayanan that he differs with PM Singh on his policy to engage Pakistan.

Cable 206814 May 13, 2009: BJP leader L.K. Advani says his party, if it were to come to power, would rethink its decision of opposing the nuclear deal.

Cable 243925 Jan 15, 2010: M.K. Narayanan tells US ambassador Roemer that Chidambaram needs someone “to check him and put a bit in his mouth”. Congress leader Digvijay Singh says Narayanan had to leave because of his turf war with the home minister.

Cable No 215357 July 7, 2009: Quotes India's PR to the UN Hardeep Puri saying his “clear” brief from New Delhi is to seek “a greater degree of convergence with the US” in the UN.

Cable No 205168 May 1, 2009: Cites joint secretary (Americas) Gaitri Kumar saying that the US should convey to the MEA any complaint about Puri's functioning in the UN.

Cable No 149884 April 15, 2008: An MEA official informs the US about the Iranian president's visit to India even before the information is made public or conveyed to other government agencies.

Cable No. 64794 May 19, 2006: Indian deputy PR Ajai Malhotra criticises his boss, Nirupam Sen, for opposing the US in UN, says his brief is to oppose him.

Cable 225053 Sept 14, 2009: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants to know about finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's ideological orientation, and why Montek Singh Ahluwalia wasn't given that post.

Cable 40501 Sept 13, 2005: Ambassador David Mulford asks Condoleezza Rice to tell Manmohan Singh that India's decision to not vote on Iran in the IAEA could have an adverse impact on the nuclear deal.

Cable 51088 Jan 30, 2006: Mulford hails the sacking of Mani Shankar Aiyar from the petroleum ministry, and says the cabinet reshuffle has an "undeniable pro-America tilt".

***

As Parliament stalled repeatedly over the sensational Wikileaks cables and the nation was left aghast at the seemingly unfettered access American officials have to the corridors of power in New Delhi, you’d have thought the Indian officialdom had been warned about the perils of rubbing shoulders with all those whose calling cards mention the Embassy of the United States of America. Yet, indifferent to the shock and awe The Hindu-Wikileaks cables generated, a government luminary had the chutzpah to accommodate in his breathless schedule a meeting with a middle-rung American official, to brief him, of all things, on the functioning of his department. It was a gross violation of protocol—the Indian official’s rank meant he met none other than the American ambassador.

Last week also saw a leader of a coalition partner of the UPA government desperately seek from the US embassy a special slot for a visa interview for his son, in the hope of helping him circumvent long queues. Imagine the scenario before the little Wikileaks bombs exploded so dramatically? Secretary-level officials of different ministries readily furnish their mobile numbers to US embassy officials and provide appointments to them without going through the Union ministry of external affairs (MEA). In fact, all those who matter in New Delhi—from politicians to industrialists to opinion-makers—vie with each other to have a one-to-one meeting with the Americans, sharing information and gossip, and unwittingly articulating, often highlighting, the American point of view on sensitive issues.

There are simply too many Indian tongues whispering into the American ear, spilling, as the Wikileaks cables (see infographic) bear out, sensitive aspects of Indian foreign policy, relations between top politicians, their ideological inclinations, even their machinations, and their propensity to strike strong anti-America poses only for public consumption. So then, are we America’s chamcha, a lackey willing to do its bidding? Is America’s penetration of the Indian system worrying?

Take the cable that quotes an American official saying he had been shown two chests of cash by Congress MP Satish Sharma’s aide, Nachiketa Kapur, who claimed the money would soon be utilised for bribing Opposition MPs to vote against the no-confidence motion against UPA-I. A school of thought argues that the money was perhaps America’s, supplied by an intelligence operative, and Kapur was only accounting for the cash to the official who had come calling on him. “What was the need for Kapur to otherwise show the cash to the official? It proves America has become a player in our system,” says one diplomatic source.

A tad exaggerated perhaps. Yet, Kapur’s candour illustrates vividly the confidence an aide of an important MP reposes in the Americans. Says former foreign minister and BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, “Since the US hasn’t spoken about the authenticity of the cables, these are therefore deemed genuine. It’s an invasion by the Americans into the Indian system.” Endorsing Sinha is former foreign minister K. Natwar Singh, who was miffed to discover that his parleys with Myanmarese leaders during his 2005 trip to Yangon had been relayed to the US, quite obvious from a Wikileaks cable. “How many moles do we have? The American penetration of the Indian establishment is alarming indeed,” he said, adding that the controversy shows the Manmohan government in “poor light”.


Waltzing to whose tune? A US embassy party in New Delhi. (Photograph by Sanjoy Ghosh)

A clutch of cables pertaining to the United Nations bolsters the theory about America penetrating the Indian system. One cable quotes India’s Permanent Representative in the UN, Hardeep Puri, as saying that his specific brief is to seek a “greater degree of convergence” with the US, in contrast to his predecessor, Nirupam Sen’s. Another cable has an Indian official criticise Sen’s ‘anti-US’ approach. But the former diplomat asks of his detractors: “Since I was perceived by at least some American diplomats in an adversarial light, how was I able to continue there for another two years after retiring on March 31, 2007?” Sen wasn’t willing to provide the answer, but MEA sources say he was given an extension at the behest of Sonia Gandhi, who wanted to correct UPA's pro-Washington tilt.

Yet, the pro-America lobby in the UPA-I regime felt emboldened enough to scuttle a fundamental change in the UN that Sen had initiated, only to please the Americans. This pertained to the choice of a candidate for the post of UN secretary-general. Under a 1946 resolution, described as 11/1, the US and other P-5 members of the Security Council (SC), along with the support of four non-permanent members, send only one name for the approval of General Assembly (GA). This practice had once led Sen to remark that the UN secretary-general acted more like a “secretary to the P-5” and a “general to the General Assembly”.

Sen and some members of the GA, therefore, proposed that it be made mandatory for the SC to shortlist at least three names for the post of secretary-general. South Block, sources say, initially tried to dissuade Sen from pursuing this course, but he remained steadfast saying he needed a written order before he could retract from his position. It was then that South Block turned wily, writing a new script that, sources insist, was truly Machiavellian—and aimed at pleasing the Americans.

What was that script? In 2006, Shashi Tharoor threw his hat in the ring, not as an official Indian candidate, but as an ‘independent’ who, straw polls indicated, enjoyed tremendous popularity in the UN and was supposed to give the SC (read the US) nominee a run for the money. Sources say a nervous US asked New Delhi to endorse Tharoor as its official candidate. The announcement sowed seeds of doubt among the GA members who perceived Sen’s attempt to alter 11/1 as a ruse to win for India the post of secretary-general. The GA became badly divided, provoking many of its members to abandon the plan of rewriting 11/1—and diluting the powers of P-5.

Yet another example of the craven behaviour of Indian officials towards America is borne out by the experience of Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, whose divestment of the petroleum ministry portfolio is celebrated in a Wikileaks cable. The Americans thought Aiyar was anti-America, a charge he dismisses outright. “I was disappointed (at the divestment),” says Aiyar, “but I don’t believe it was because of pressure from outside.”

But what rankled Aiyar was that then US ambassador David Mulford declared in a public speech that Murli Deora was better informed about the petroleum ministry than Aiyar. As he told Outlook, “While Mulford was perfectly within his rights to send secret cables to his government about us, to make a public statement comparing two ministers was an act of gross impropriety. I objected very strongly to it, and conveyed my protest to the foreign secretary. But instead of a public expression of deep displeasure, the foreign secretary preferred merely to whisper in the US ambassador’s ear. I thought it was inadequate.”

The love for America is a trait the BJP too shares with the Congress. One cable has the US embassy complaining to Washington that the NDA government gave them better access than the UPA. Again, BJP leader L.K. Advani was initially opposed to the idea of sending Indian troops to Iraq, but a 2003 trip to the US and defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s visit to his hotel room saw him accede to Washington. Ultimately, Indian troops weren’t sent because of prime minister A.B. Vajpayee’s opposition. Says Sinha, “There is no denying that there were elements even in the NDA who were very close to the US, but you should judge us by our actions.” He says it is well-documented that the BJP-led NDA warded off American pressure to sign the CTBT and the nuclear deal, believing these militated against India’s interest. (Analysts, however, say the NDA would have agreed to the nuclear deal had it been voted to power in 2004.)


The aggrieved Both Aiyar and Natwar Singh have bones to pick

What has enabled the Americans to make deep inroads into the Indian system? To begin with, the Indian middle class, to which the elite belong, has made an ideological shift to the US. Every middle-class family seems to have a member working in the US. It is the land where parents wish to send their children for education, and seasoned bureaucrats are keen on short-term courses in the American universities. Visas have granted the US embassy an unprecedented clout and reach. In addition, bureaucrats have seen three successive governments, beginning 1999, tilt away from Russia and inch closer to Washington. This shift has transmitted a message to the officialdom that America is the flavour of the season, engendering hopes in them of advancing their careers by taking a pro-US line in consonance with that of their political masters.

There’s no denying that America’s support to India has given it a considerable heft in the international arena. Says an Indian diplomat, “We have used the US as a stepladder.” Has the climb up the hierarchy of global powers compromised India’s sovereignty? And though a country’s interests keep shifting, and there’s always give-and-take in diplomacy, New Delhi can’t be seen to have bartered on possible gains of the future for America’s support, other than on Iran.

Iran remains a contentious issue among foreign policy wonks. Former foreign secretary Shyam Saran insists it was in India’s interest to have voted along with the US in the IAEA in 2005 (see interview). Again, Aiyar pursued the India-Pakistan-Iran (IPI) gas pipeline on the basis of a cabinet decision. Substantial progress was registered on the issue in the first two years of Aiyar’s departure from the petroleum ministry. But the pipeline subsequently got stalled because of the instability in Pakistan.

Perhaps the Wikileaks cables are a timely warning to India to draw certain lines in its relationship with the US. As Aiyar says, “My only suggestion to our ministries is to exercise greater discretion in their exchange with foreign diplomats. Do not retail gossip, be more disciplined.” Perhaps the furore over Wikileaks cables is a reminder to Indians to not be unduly enamoured of America, to not sacrifice their self-respect, to introduce a certain balance in its conduct of foreign policy.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Teach history warts and all

By Christopher Caldwell

Published: March 25 2011 23:10 | Last updated: March 25 2011 23:10

“Time to head off!” wisecracks the hooded executioner on the cover of Even More Terrible Tudors, one of the popular titles in the Horrible Histories series. “I’ve got a mammoth brain!” grunts a caveman on the cover of The Savage Stone Age, holding up the dripping organ in question, while his family, sitting in the background, cooks the rest of the mammoth. History-minded schoolboys buy these books – written or co-written by the Englishman Terry Deary and aimed at presenting “history with the nasty bits left in” – by the dozens.

The idea that the history of one’s own country should be as exhilarating to young readers as, say, cars exploding or ladies in bathing suits is a peculiarly British one. When Michael Gove, education secretary, told Conservatives at their party conference last October that the narrative of children’s history courses could stand to be a bit snappier, he started an argument that has riled British historians ever since. If people are uninspired by the country’s past, Mr Gove says, “we will not properly value the liberties of the present”. Mr Gove is nationalistic to say so, but he is right. If defending one’s rights requires knowing where they came from, then learning one’s own history is indispensable.

The argument is over how best to breathe life into a mass of facts and dates. For Mr Gove, the missing element is a strong narrative, built of real protagonists facing big challenges. The government enlisted as its history adviser Simon Schama of Columbia University (and the Financial Times), who has found a way to make European and British history enthralling, both in books and on screen. Mr Gove and Mr Schama have their detractors, however. The University of California historian of Britain, James Vernon, believes teaching works best “not by turning schoolchildren into Britons but by enabling them to analyse the present and to think critically”. Richard Evans, the Cambridge historian of Germany, is not hostile to the narrative lines dear to Mr Gove and Mr Schama, but warns us against getting swept up in them. In a recent London Review of Books essay, he urges scepticism towards sources and warns students “not to accept passively every fact and argument they are presented with”.

This is the point on which Mr Schama and Mr Evans are most likely to agree. Mr Schama, too, has described history as a force for challenging orthodoxies, as the “greatest, least sentimental, least politically correct tutor of tolerance”. And yet, this may be the point on which classroom teachers have their deepest doubts. The intellectual independence that Messrs Schama and Evans extol characterises only a minority of published historians – why should we expect it from A-level students? Should we even want it? There are, after all, problems with teaching scepticism. The questioning of authority is indispensable and often heroic, but one needs a certain “feel” for a subject matter before one can carry it out. Until that point, scepticism is little more than a truculent contrarianism and a waste of other students’ time. It is most tellingly applied to the things one knows best. Where ignorance and scepticism meet, a course on British history becomes a course on running Britain down.

One wonders whether this is not Mr Gove and Mr Schama’s real gripe. Mr Evans accuses them of “confusing history with memory”. But maybe memory is what young people need to be taught before they can be taught actual history. An example of this memory/ history distinction comes from Black History Month, as it is taught in US grade schools. Children spend every February either learning or rehashing the achievements of African-Americans – always in a morale-boosting way. As history, such courses have little to recommend them. To treat the deeds of the 19th-century abolitionist Sojourner Truth in greater detail than those of George Washington, which is the inevitable end-result of a dedicated month, is to perpetrate a distortion.

But as memory, Black History Month has been a striking success. Children, and not just black children, quite like it. The reasons are paradoxical. Probably no pedagogical innovation was ever carried out for reasons more political, but Black History Month is the least politically correct corner of the grade-school history curriculum. You always know who the good guys are in Black History Month and their struggles are taught with an old-fashioned, un-nuanced moralism that makes Our Island Story look like Hamlet. The results are plain to see. In 2008, education professors from Stanford and the University of Maryland released a survey of 2,000 11th- and 12th-graders (high-school leavers) who had been asked to name the 10 most significant Americans, excepting presidents. Three mainstays of Black History Month – Martin Luther King, the anti-segregationist protester Rosa Parks and the escaped slave Harriet Tubman – ranked one, two and three, well ahead of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

By about the age of eight or 10, children should have a simple, logical and non-cynical narrative of their country to carry around for the rest of their lives as a net to catch knowledge in. Non-cynical, because children cannot build such a net if teachers are running down the credibility of what they impart. That is the problem with teaching young people: there is a line on one side of which a teacher’s duty is to promote credulity and on the other side of which it is to promote scepticism. Errors are inevitable. But they will be self-correcting, to some extent. By age 16, students will have as much cynicism and “distance” as any educator could wish.

The writer is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard

Monday, 14 March 2011

African Dissent on No-Fly Zone Counts

By M K Bhadrakumar

"Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence when it helps us to see the enemy's point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For, from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition."
- "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence" speech by Martin Luther King Jr, April 4, 1967, New York

At the height of the Egyptian uprising, well-known American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh said in an interview with al-Jazeera that the United States had a "Plan B" in the event of Hosni Mubarak stepping down. According to Hersh, it was none other than Amr Moussa - "whether he knows or not". There is nothing so far to show Moussa doesn't know.

He's far too well connected not to know - career diplomat and foreign minister for over 45 years and secretary general of Arab League (AL) since 2001. He hopes to succeed Mubarak as Egypt's next president.

Moussa delivers ...
Moussa's bid got great fillip by the AL decision Saturday to recommend imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya. His star has risen far above Mohammed ElBaradei's. Two major Arab countries opposed the AL statement - Syria and Algeria - but Moussa rammed it through, thanks to the AL heavyweights clamoring for democracy to succeed and autocracy to end - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan.

What bizarre drama! The plain truth is that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) commanded AL to speak since they need a fig leaf to approach the United Nations Security Council.

The EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, was in Cairo on Saturday by Moussa's side to ensure America's "Plan B" delivered. And he did. Promptly, the US, Britain, France and Canada "welcomed" the AL statement. NATO will meet on Tuesday to tone up its stance on Libya.

Britain and France, who spearhead the breathtaking campaign to mobilize Arab "support" for NATO intervention in Libya, have had a dream run. British Prime Minister David Cameron and newly-appointed French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe visited Cairo to explore how far the military junta could take charge of the oil-rich eastern Libyan province of Cyrenica.

... but Africa dissents
The Western powers had earlier mentioned the AL and African Union (AU) in the same breath as representing "regional opinion". Now it seems the AU isn't so important - it has become an embarrassment. African leaders are proving to be tough nuts to crack compared to Arab playboy-rulers.

Unsurprisingly, there is a virtual media blackout on the AU's activities on Libya. It is, therefore, useful to recapitulate. "The [AU] council reaffirms its firm commitment to the respect of the unity and territorial integrity of Libya, as well as its rejection of any form of foreign intervention in Libya," Ramtane Lamamra, AU commissioner for peace and security stated in Addis Abbaba. The AU's 15-member peace and security council decided to "put in lace a high-level ad-hoc committee" to monitor the Libyan crisis.

The leaders of South Africa, Uganda, Mauritania, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Mali would form the ad-hoc committee. "The ad hoc committee was set up ... to engage with all parties in Libya, facilitate an inclusive dialogue among them, and engage the African Union partners ... for the speedy resolution of the crisis in Libya," the bloc said. Lamamra said events in Libya needed "urgent African action" to bring about an end to the hostilities.

Most important, the AU "took note of the readiness of the government of Libya to engage in the path of political reforms. The council expressed the solidarity of the AU with Libya, and stressed the legitimacy of the aspirations of the Libyan peoples for democracy, political reforms, justice, peace and security as well as economic and social development".

Specter of disintegration
The paradox is, if you accept the principle of ascertaining the "regional opinion", then the AU's opinion becomes, arguably, more important to know than the AL's. Libya is as much an African country as an Arab country - if not more. The narrative of Libyan developments as a template of "Arab awakening" overlooks that reverberations and after-shocks of what happens are going to be felt deep inside Africa. As prominent Russian scholar on the region Yevgeny Satanovsky recently said:
It [unrest] won't be limited to the Middle East and North Africa ... The region will go through what Europe experienced in 1914-18. These processes always take a long time ... In Europe, the shooting started in 1914 and didn't stop until 1945 ... We have not seen what would happen to the other Gulf monarchies. We have not yet seen the end of the unrest that has gripped North Africa and the Middle East.

Algeria could still follow Libya's suit and Morocco might do the same. In January we saw Sudan split peacefully, but separatist elements have not been extinguished there. Former colonies tied together in unnatural conglomerates in the past by the English or the French never became integrated states. If this is so, we may still see disintegration of Nigeria, Kenya and other African countries.
Therefore, the British Foreign Office is opportunistic when it says the AL statement "is very significant and provides important regional support" for the idea of a no-fly zone. Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz of Saudi Arabia, Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain, Qaboos Bin Al Said of Oman, Abdullah II of Jordan - these autocrats cannot be hailed as stakeholders in Libya's march to democracy.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) regimes are tottering on the abyss and themselves hoping NATO will salvage them. Their rulers keep their personal wealth of tens or hundreds of billions of dollars hoarded in Western banks and the umbilical cord cannot easily be broken.

Scarred memories
But, how is it that African states are different? First, when they hear Cameron or French President Nikolas Sarkozy or NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen speak of military intervention in North Africa, it rings a bell in their collective consciousness - of scarred memories of imperial domination, the horrendous crimes that the British, French or Dutch perpetrated on African people. They know how difficult it will be to get a NATO army to vacate its occupation of Africa. (Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Saturday: "I would like to ask NATO and the US with honor and humbleness and not with arrogance to stop their operations in our land. We are a very tolerant people but now our tolerance has run out.")

Africans know NATO will eventually slither its way into the heart of their resource-rich continent from the North African beachhead. So, the AU faces an existential problem - unlike the GGC client states or Jordan, which have no conception of national liberation. The only "Arab revolt" Abdullah or Abdullah II ever knew is what British intelligence and Lawrence of Arabia financed in the debris of the Ottoman Empire a hundred years ago.

Besides, what dreads the AU countries is that Libya has a history of disunity. It was only in 1951 that King Idris unified the three autonomous provinces of Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenica. In the wake of the current strife, centrifugal tendencies have quickly resurfaced. Libya has dozens of tribes and Muammar Gaddafi knit together a tenuous alliance of some tribes but tribal feuds are common. The African countries share similar experience.

To be sure, Western intervention in Libya will necessitate at some stage involvement in "nation-building' - interference in the domestic affairs in the post-Gaddafi period. The native peoples will resent this involvement. And in the fullness of time, only the Islamist forces stand to gain. The stunning political reality of Libya is that Islam is the only unifying factor for the tribes and provinces of that fragile nation.

African leaders are genuinely nervous that the US is being myopic about the complexities involved. President Barack Obama should get to know them better, call them up from the Oval Office, reach out to them and consult them and ascertain whether they will accept NATO intervention in Libya. They are the real "stakeholders" - not the playboy kings, sheikhs or sultans from the bleached Arabian deserts. King would be pleased.

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.
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Thursday, 10 March 2011

What Will You Do, If Libya Repeats Itself In USA?

By Frank Scott

09 March, 2011
Countercurrents.org

Imagine This:

Armed Tea Party militias attack government facilities in several American cities, threaten to deport the president and abolish congress, and claim a new day for democracy. What would be the reaction from our corporate government and media? Great praise for the second amendment and the right of the people to bear arms and overthrow the government? Organized passive and non-violent resistance by the military involving prayer, meditation and chanting to disarm the rebels? Yes, if we believe in the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny and a free market. Yet, the reaction of mind management here has been that the Libyan government response to armed assaults on its power is somehow unthinkable to civilized people, subject to revulsion by all citizens of nuclear weapons armed nations, and an excuse to add to the death tolls by having America and its servant NATO powers get involved. In the cause of humanitarian justice achieved by murdering, of course.

Unconfirmed reports mostly from the rebellious Libyan groups claim air attacks and threats of genocide – the “g” word comes up almost every time anyone dies violently, anywhere – are repeated and embellished with charges of war crimes and threats to civilization. These near hysterical charges approach those hurled at Iran, regularly said to be planning to wipe out Israel, Jews, America, McDonalds, Christianity, puppies, kittens and all our shopping malls.

And this while our states and municipalities continue cutting public budgets on behalf of private wealth and corporate finance, and military expenditures and warfare increase even as surreality TV news reports tell us of alleged budget cuts, to take place at some future date.

And we are supposed to believe the leadership of Libya is insane?

Khadaffi may well have lost contact with reality in the often-quoted way that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But his alleged mental illness, commonly addressed by government officials here whose own sanity should be seriously questioned and whose ravings a public under continuous mental assault accepts, contrasts with the material status of the Libyan people. That not only compares favorably with most of the developed world but also is actually better than that of a majority of the world’s nations. There clearly are people, groups and elements in Libya tired of his rule and desirous of significant change, but exactly who are they and what is their economic and political base? Are there any foreigners involved, as in many of the color-coded “revolutions” assisted if not organized by outside infiltration to bring about governments more acceptable to “the international community”, a collection of national lap dogs and corporate financed NGOs controlled by the USA and Israel?

Such questions need to be asked before we rush into even more stupid, if not totally insane actions that support a global system which may be in process of breaking down naturally, if unnatural acts by perverse rulers can be controlled by democratic action of the people. While steps in that direction have begun speeding up in the Arab world, Europe and even in the USA, this present threat of backsliding could become a menacing blowback to what began as a very positive program for humanity, and not just the Arab world.

The urge for democratic rule of the people, even if still at a primitive level of organization, is an unmistakable emotional, spiritual and physical force in the world. Given the rapid changes taking place, many of them possibly beyond the understanding of the groups undertaking them, the rule that has brought us to this point is desperate and approaching a madness that makes Khadaffi look benign, progressive and harmless by comparison. Those nuclear-powered world “leaders” are near desperation and cannot be counted on to act rationally, as evidence clearly indicates. What are people to do when the information they rely on comes from the very sources striving to maintain the crippled, failing system?

Be very careful, wary and suspicious of all authority and what it tells us, remembering that its main duty is to maintain the status quo in substance even while changing the style in which it operates – see Obama and company - and be very critical of what alleged opposition to that authority tells us, too.

Frank Scott writes political commentary and satire which appears in print in The Independent Monitor and online at the blog Legalienate

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Arab revolt reworks the world order

By M K Bhadrakumar

India, Brazil and South Africa have put a spoke in the American wheel, which seemed up until Tuesday inexorably moving, turning and turning in the direction of imposing a "no-fly" zone over Libya.

Arguably, the United States can still impose a zone, but then President Barack Obama will have to drink from the poisoned chalice and resurrect his predecessor's controversial post-Cold War doctrine of "unilateralism" and the "coalition of the willing" to do that. If he does so, Obama will have no place to hide and all he has done in his presidency to neutralize America's image as a "bully" will come unstuck.

New Delhi hosted a foreign minister-level meeting with Brazil and South Africa on Tuesday, which was to have been an innocuous occasion for some rhetorical "South-South" cooperation. On the contrary, the event soared into the realm of the troubled world order and shaky contemporary international system. The meeting took a clear-cut position of nyet vis-a-vis the growing Western design to impose a "no-fly" zone over Libya.

All indications are that the US and its allies who are assisting the Libyan rebels politically, militarily and financially have been hoping to extract a "request" from the Libyan people within a day or two at the most as a fig-leaf to approach the United Nations Security Council for a mandate to impose sanctions under the auspices of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The Libyan rebels are a divided house: nationalist elements staunchly oppose outside intervention and the Islamists among them are against any form of Western intervention.

'Unilateralism' only option on table
NATO defense ministers held a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday to give practical touches to a possible intervention by the alliance in Libya. That the meeting was attended by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates was indicative of the importance attached to the run-up to the alliance's proposed intervention in Libya. Gates missed an earlier informal NATO defense ministers' meeting on Libya held on the outskirts of Budapest a fortnight ago.

United States-British diplomacy was moving on a parallel track drumming up a unified position by the Libyan rebels to seek an international intervention in their country and specifically in the form of a "no-fly" zone. The Arab League and the African Union also maintain an ambiguous stance on the issue of such a zone.

Obama's calculation is that if only a Libyan "people's request" could be generated, that would in historical terms absolve him and the West of the blame of invading a sovereign member country of the United Nations - from a moral and political angle, at least - as well as push the Arab League and African Union into the enterprise.

Being a famously cerebral intellectual also, Obama is a politician with a difference and can be trusted to have an acute sense of history. His predecessor George W Bush would have acted in similar circumstances with "audacity", an idiom that is ironically associated with Obama.

Obama's tryst with history is indeed bugging him in his decision-making over Libya. Robert Fisk, the well-known chronicler of Middle Eastern affairs for the Independent newspaper of London, wrote a sensational dispatch on Monday that the Obama administration had sought help from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for secretly ferrying American weapons to the Libyan rebels in Benghazi, for which Riyadh would pick up the tab so that the White House would need no accountability to the US Congress and leave no traceable trail to Washington.

The moral depravity of the move - chartering the services of an autocrat to further the frontiers of democracy - underscores Obama's obsessive desire to camouflage any US unilateral intervention in Libya with "deniability" at all costs.

Now comes the body blow from the Delhi meeting. The three foreign ministers belonging to the forum that is known by the cute acronym IBSA (India-Brazil-South Africa) thwarted Obama's best-laid plans by issuing a joint communique on Tuesday in which they "underscored that a 'no-fly' zone on the Libyan air space or any coercive measures additional to those foreseen in Resolution 1970 can only be legitimately contemplated in full compliance with the UN Charter and within the Security Council of the United Nations".

Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota told the media in Delhi that the IBSA statement was an "important measure" of what the non-Western world was thinking". He said, "The resort to a 'no-fly' zone is seen as expedient when adopted by a country but it weakens the system of collective security and provokes indirect consequences prejudicial to the objective we have been trying to achieve." Patriota added:

It is very problematic to intervene militarily in a situation of internal turmoil, Any decision to adopt military intervention needs to be considered within the UN framework and in close coordination with the African Union and the Arab League. It is very important to keep in touch with them and identify with their perception of the situation.

He explained that measures like a no-fly zone might make a bad situation worse by giving fillip to anti-US and anti-Western sentiments "that have not been present so far".

Equally significant was the fact that the trio of foreign ministers also penned a joint statement on the overall situation in the Middle East. Dubbed as the "IBSA Declaration", it reiterated the three countries' expectation that the changes sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa should "follow a peaceful course" and expressed their confidence in a "positive outcome in harmony with the aspirations of the people".

A highly significant part of the statement was its recognition right at the outset that the Palestinian problem lay at the very core of the great Middle Eastern alienation and the "recent developments in the Region may offer a chance for a comprehensive peace ... This process should include the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ... that will lead to a two-state solution, with the creation of a sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestinian State, coexisting peacefully alongside Israel, with secure, pre-1967 borders, and with East Jerusalem as its capital."

'P-5' loses shine
Israel will be hopping mad over the declaration. That apart, does it matter to Obama and NATO if three countries from three faraway continents stand up with a common stance on a "no-fly" zone? Who are these countries anyway? But, it does matter. Put simply, the three countries also happen to be currently serving as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council and their stance happens to have high visibility in the world's pecking order on Libya.

The indications in Delhi are that at least one more non-permanent member of the Security Council is their "fellow-traveler" - Lebanon. Which means the "Arab voice" in the Security Council. In short, what we hear is an Afro-Asian, Arab and Latin American collective voice and it cannot be easily dismissed. More importantly, the IBSA stance puts at least two permanent veto-wielding great powers within the Security Council on the horns of an acute dilemma.

Russia claims to have a foreign policy that opposes the US's "unilateralism" and which strictly abides by the canons of international law and the UN charter. China insists that it represents developing countries. Now, the IBSA stance makes it virtually impossible for them to enter into any Faustian deal with the US and Western powers over Libya within the sequestered caucus of the veto-holding powers of the Security Council - commonly known as the P-5.

Therefore, the IBSA joint statement, much like the Turkish-Brazilian move on the Iran nuclear problem, is virtually mocking at the moral hypocrisy of the P-5 and their secretive ways.

Ironically, Delhi adopted the IBSA communique even as US Vice President Joseph Biden was winging his way to Moscow for wide-ranging discussions on the future trajectory of the US-Russia reset. Any US-Russian tradeoff over Libya within the ambit of the reset would now get badly exposed as an act of unprincipled political opportunism.

China's predicament will be no less acute if it resorts to realpolitik. China is hosting the summit meeting of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in Beijing in April. Three "brics" out of BRICS come from IBSA. Can the BRICS afford to water down the IBSA joint communique on Libya? Can China go against the stance of three prominent "developing countries"?

On balance, however, China may heave a sigh of relief. The IBSA position may let the US pressure off China and delist the Libyan "no-fly" zone issue from morphing into a bilateral Sino-American issue. China cooperated with last week's Security Council resolution on Libya. It was an unusual move for China to vote for a resolution that smacked of "intervention" in the internal affairs of a sovereign country.

Western commentators were euphoric over the shift in Chinese behavior at the high table of world politics and were egging on the leadership at Beijing to finally shape up as a responsible world power that is willing to work with the West as a "stakeholder" in the international system - like Russia does.

Clearly, China is being cajoled to go a step further and jettison its other red line regarding a "no-fly" zone. There is no indication that China is about to concede its red line by succumbing to flattery. But, now, if China indeed does, it will be in broad daylight under the gaze of the developing countries. And it will be very difficult for Beijing to cover up such "pragmatism" with the veneer of principles. In a way, therefore, pressure is off China on the "no-fly" zone issue.

India regains identity
An interesting thought occurs: Is India forcing China's hand? Delhi has certainly taken note that the Libyan crisis provided China with a great opportunity to work with the US in a cooperative spirit that would have much positive spin-offs for the overall Sino-American relationship. The "no-fly" zone issue would have been turf where China and the US could have created an entirely new alchemy in their relationship. Beijing knows that Obama's presidency critically depends on how he acquits in the Middle East crisis.

All the same, Delhi's move cannot be dismissed as merely "China-centric". In geopolitical terms, it constitutes a highly visible slap on the American face. And there will be a price to pay in terms of Obama's wrath. That Delhi is willing to pay such a price - when so much is at stake in its bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council - makes the IBSA move highly significant. Indeed, it is after a very long time that Delhi will be refusing to stand up and be counted on a major American foreign policy front.
It is much more than a coincidence, too, that the declaration vociferously supported the Palestinian cause. India has taken the calculated risk of incurring the displeasure of Israel and the Israel lobby in the US. Besides, there are other signs, too, that Delhi has embarked on a major overhaul of its Middle East policies and the IBSA is only one template of the policy rethink - and, possibly not even the most far-reaching in the geopolitics of the region.

Even as the IBSA adopted its stance on Libya and the Middle East situation staunchly favoring Arab nationalism, India's National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon, a key policymaker of high reputation as a consummate diplomat and who works directly under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was engaged in an engrossing and meaningful conversation elsewhere in the Middle East - with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

Away from the glare of television cameras, Menon handed over a letter from Manmohan to Ahmadinejad. According to the statement issued by Ahmadinejad's office, the Iranian leader told Menon:

Iran and India are both independent countries and they will play significant roles in shaping up the future of the international developments ... The relations between Iran and India are historic and sustainable. Iran and India due to being [sic] benefited from humanitarian viewpoints towards the international relations, should try to shape up the future world system in a way that justice and friendship would rule.

The ruling world is coming to its end and is on the verge of collapse. Under the current conditions, it is very important how the future world order will take shape and care should be taken that those who have imposed the oppressive world order against the mankind would not succeed in imposing it in a new frame anew ... Iran and India will be playing significant roles in the future developments in the world. Our two nations' cultures and origins are what the world needs today.

Menon reportedly told Ahmadinejad:

New Delhi is for the establishment of comprehensive relations with Iran, including strategic ties ... many of the predictions you [Ahmadinejad] had about the political and economic developments in the world have come to reality today and the world order is going under basic alterations [sic], which has necessitated ever-increasing relations between Iran and India ... The relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of India are beyond the current political relations, having their roots in the cultures and the civilizations and the two nations and both countries have great potentials for improvement of bilateral, regional and international relations.

Nothing needs to be added. Nothing needs to be said further. In sum, this sort of Iran-India high-level political exchange was unthinkable until very recently and it highlights how much the Middle East has changed and Iran's role in it, and Delhi's perceptions and the Indian thinking regarding both.

Most important, Menon's arrival in Tehran at the present tumultuous juncture on a major path-breaking political and diplomatic mission to energize India-Iran strategic understanding also underscores the growing recognition in the region that the era of Western dominance of the Middle East is inexorably passing into history and the world order is not going to be the same again.

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

'No-fly zone' is a euphemism for war. We'd be mad to try it

Cameron's urge to dust himself in military glory may be strong, but he should not interfere in the Libyan rebels' cause


* Simon Jenkins
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o Simon Jenkins
o The Guardian, Wednesday 9 March 2011

Happy days are back for the sofa strategists and beltway bombardiers. After the miseries of Iraq and Afghanistan, a Libyan no-fly zone is just the tonic they need. If you zero in from carrier A, you can take out the Tripoli air defences while carrier B zaps the mercenary bases and carrier C zooms with special forces to secure the oilfields. You might tell the Americans to go easy on Leptis Magna after what they did to Babylon. Otherwise, let rip. You can sense the potency surging through Downing Street's veins. This is how wars begin, and beginning wars is politically sexy.

Last week saw a brief but fading moment of sanity from the White House and Pentagon. Both counselled caution against trigger-happy comments from Capitol Hill and Downing Street. US defence secretary Robert Gates pointed out that no-fly-zone is euphemism for war. It requires the elimination of air defences by bombing, and total cover thereafter. Since the explicit purpose is to help rebels bring regime change to Libya, the inducement to deploy ever more force if that fails will be irresistible. Hence the caution.

We now learn that a no-fly zone is back on the menu, with added adrenaline. All the familiar phrases are heard. Nothing is "off the table", and "all options are under consideration". Should the UN fail to offer a licence, there would be a "coalition of the willing". The only requisite justification for attack is a tear-stained girl pleading over the corpse of her brother on TV, or a car-load of civilians hit by a strafing fighter, or just a mob anywhere howling for help. Nobody likes being bombed.

So far the west's response has been tempered by possible counter-productivity. It is hard to imagine anything more calculated to please Osama bin Laden and jihadists around the world than the USS Enterprise, with British tugboat in support, steaming speedily towards the Middle East. For this reason cogent Libyan rebels have been pleading for the west to stay out of their conflict and not lend credence to Gaddafi's claim that the west wants Libya's oil.

No concept seems to carry less weight in military circles than that of counter-productivity. It is left to diplomats. If Nato knew the meaning of the word it would stop drone killings in Pashtun villages, shooting up buses, trucks and wedding parties and flattening Helmand villages. Counter-productivity appears to be a concept that gains currency only when a war is lost. The Americans in Vietnam knew massacring villages turned the rural population over to the enemy. They still did it.

While I have sympathy with William Hague in what must have seemed a low-risk covert operation that went wrong, it is odd that a specific rebel request not to put "boots on the ground" was so wilfully disregarded. We must assume that at SIS headquarters the James Bond urge simply overwhelms any consideration of counter-productivity.

Libya strategists are said to be torturing themselves over timing. Barack Obama says he "needs" Gaddafi to go, and David Cameron's position is much the same. Why this need is so pressing when, just months ago, Gaddafi was a dear ally and patron of western scholarship is a mystery. But in Cameron's statement on no-fly zones last week, Britain appeared to assert its right in international law to remove Gaddafi, as it did the Taliban and Saddam Hussein.

In this ambition he was supported by the leftwing international lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, who claimed to have found a right for "states to render assistance to innocent civilians battling for their lives" wherever that might be. This right apparently "emerges or crystallises" not from any democratic decision but from "state practice, conventions, writings of jurists and dictates of collective conscience". To this is added the bizarre claim that a "responsibility to protect" the underdog in a civil war "devolves on to the security council" and, if not, on to any Tom, Dick or Harry. In other words, military aggression is anything you can pay a lawyer to justify. It is the Bush-Cheney theory of zero national sovereignty, and could be used to justify every aggressive war by Washington or Moscow over the last 50 years.

This legal cobbling-together of "rights" to justify military intervention is an invitation to global mayhem. But if Cameron has persuaded himself that Gaddafi must go because he is being beastly to his own people, what is he waiting for? Liberal interventionism nowadays is self-legitimising and self-authorising. Why hold back? Libya is a tinpot country of just over 6 million people, within easy reach of air bases in Cyprus, Crete and Italy. Britain occupied Suez in a matter of days in 1956. The longer Britain and America wait, the more likely is Gaddafi to build his defences and win other Arabs over to resisting "western imperialism".

The answer, of course, is that nobody wants to go that far as yet. Politicians want to "send a signal", offer vague support to rebels, and aid humanitarianism. There will be no mission creep. But what happens if the no-fly zone proves ineffective? It did not topple the Taliban or Saddam. That needed ground troops. Mission creep is the result of halfheartedness and imprecision in the initial stages of intervention. Eventually the aggressor is drawn into ground attack. Failure becomes "not an option", and a new nation must be built and expensively supported.

The craving of politicians to dust themselves in military glory is as old as the hills, embedded in leadership psychosis. However daft a war may be, however illegal, however unwinnable, politicians seem helpless before the sound of trumpets and drums. Considerations of prudence, economy or overstretch are nothing. That Britain has been fighting and not winning two wars already in Muslim countries seems to teach nothing in Libya. Jingoism never dies.

There is no point is repeating that Libya is not our country or our business. It was always going to be bloody one day. I find it incredible that Labour ministers, as they simpered in Gaddafi's presence, could have thought he would lie down like a lamb should his people rise against him. But unless we redefine words, he is not committing genocide and his brutality is hardly exceptional. If the rebels win it should be their victory, emerging from a new balance of power inside Libya. If they fail, they must fight another day. There is no good reason for us to intervene. However embattled they feel, Obama and Cameron should find other paths to glory.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Spinoza, part 1: Philosophy as a way of life

For this 17th century outsider, philosophy is like a spiritual practice, whose goal is happiness and liberation

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o guardian.co.uk, Monday 7 February 2011 09.30 GMT
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Spinoza memorial at the New Church in the Hague Spinoza memorial at the New Church in The Hague. Photograph: Dan Chung for the Guardian

Although Baruch Spinoza is one of the great thinkers of the European philosophical tradition, he was not a professional scholar – he earned his modest living as a lens grinder. So, unlike many thinkers of his time, he was unconstrained by allegiance to a church, university or royal court. He was free to be faithful to the pursuit of truth. This gives his philosophy a remarkable originality and intellectual purity – and it also led to controversy and charges of heresy. In the 19th century, and perhaps even more recently, "Spinozist" was still a term of abuse among intellectuals.

In a sense, Spinoza was always an outsider – and this independence is precisely what enabled him to see through the confusions, prejudices and superstitions that prevailed in the 17th century, and to gain a fresh and radical perspective on various philosophical and religious issues. He was born, in 1632, to Jewish Portuguese parents who had fled to Amsterdam to escape persecution, so from the very beginning he was never quite a native, never completely at home. Although Spinoza was an excellent student in the Jewish schools he attended, he came to be regarded by the leaders of his community as a dangerous influence. At the age of 24 he was excluded from the Amsterdam synagogue for his "intolerable" views and practices.

Spinoza's most famous and provocative idea is that God is not the creator of the world, but that the world is part of God. This is often identified as pantheism, the doctrine that God and the world are the same thing – which conflicts with both Jewish and Christian teachings. Pantheism can be traced back to ancient Greek thought: it was probably advocated by some pre-Socratic philosophers, as well as by the Stoics. But although Spinoza – who admired many aspects of Stoicism – is regarded as the chief source of modern pantheism, he does, in fact, want to maintain the distinction between God and the world.

His originality lies in the nature of this distinction. God and the world are not two different entities, he argues, but two different aspects of a single reality. Over the next few weeks we will examine this view in more detail and consider its implications for human life. Since Spinoza presents a radical alternative to the Cartesian philosophy that has shaped our intellectual and cultural heritage, exploring his ideas may lead us to question some of our deepest assumptions.

One of the most important and distinctive features of Spinoza's philosophy is that it is practical through and through. His ideas are never merely intellectual constructions, but lead directly to a certain way of life. This is evidenced by the fact that his greatest work, which combines metaphysics, theology, epistemology, and human psychology, is called Ethics. In this book, Spinoza argues that the way to "blessedness" or "salvation" for each person involves an expansion of the mind towards an intuitive understanding of God, of the whole of nature and its laws. In other words, philosophy for Spinoza is like a spiritual practice, whose goal is happiness and liberation.

The ethical orientation of Spinoza's thought is also reflected in his own nature and conduct. Unlike most of the great philosophers, Spinoza has a reputation for living an exemplary, almost saintly life, characterised by modesty, gentleness, integrity, intellectual courage, disregard for wealth and a lack of worldly ambition. According to Bertrand Russell, Spinoza was "the noblest and most lovable of the great philosophers". Although his ideas were despised by many of his contemporaries, he attracted a number of devoted followers who gathered regularly at his home in Amsterdam to discuss his philosophy. These friends made sure that Spinoza's Ethics was published soon after his death in 1677.

Spinoza, part 2: Miracles and God's will

Spinoza's belief that miracles were an unexplained act of nature, not proof of God, proved dangerous and controversial

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o guardian.co.uk, Monday 14 February 2011 09.00 GMT
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At the heart of Baruch Spinoza's philosophy is a challenge to the traditional Judeo-Christian view of the relationship between God and the world. While the Hebrew Bible and the Christian scriptures share a conception of God as the creator of the natural world and the director of human history, Spinoza argues that everything that exists is an aspect of God that expresses something of the divine nature. This idea that God is not separate from the world is expounded systematically in the Ethics, Spinoza's magnum opus. However, a more accessible introduction to Spinoza's view of the relationship between God and nature can be found in his discussion of miracles in an earlier text, the Theologico-Political Treatise. This book presents an innovative interpretation of the bible that undermines its authority as a source of truth, and questions the traditional understanding of prophecy, miracles and the divine law.

In chapter six of the Theologico-Political Treatise, Spinoza addresses the "confused ideas of the vulgar" on the subject of miracles. Ordinary people tend to regard apparently miraculous events – phenomena that seem to interrupt and conflict with the usual order of nature – as evidence of God's presence and activity. In fact, it is not just "the vulgar" who hold this view: throughout history, theologians have appealed to miracles to justify religious belief, and some continue to do so today.

For Spinoza, however, talk of miracles is evidence not of divine power, but of human ignorance. An event that appears to contravene the laws of nature is, he argues, simply a natural event whose cause is not yet understood. Underlying this view is the idea that God is not a transcendent being who can suspend nature's laws and intervene in its normal operations. On the contrary, "divine providence is identical with the course of nature". Spinoza argues that nature has a fixed and eternal order that cannot be contravened. What is usually, with a misguided anthropomorphism, called the will of God is in fact nothing other than this unchanging natural order.

From this it follows that God's presence and character is revealed not through apparently miraculous, supernatural events, but through nature itself. As Spinoza puts it: "God's nature and existence, and consequently His providence, cannot be known from miracles, but can all be much better perceived from the fixed and immutable order of nature."

Of course, this view has serious consequences for the interpretation of scripture, since both the Old and New Testaments include many descriptions of miraculous events. Spinoza does not simply dismiss these biblical narratives, but he argues that educated modern readers must distinguish between the opinions and customs of those who witnessed and recorded miracles, and what actually happened. Challenging the literal interpretation of scripture that prevailed in his times, Spinoza insists that "many things are narrated in Scripture as real, and were believed to be real, which were in fact only symbolic and imaginary".

This may seem reasonable enough to many contemporary religious believers, but Spinoza's attitude to the Bible was far ahead of its time. Today we take for granted a certain degree of cultural relativism, and most of us are ready to accept that ancient peoples understood the world differently from us, and therefore had different ideas about natural and divine causation. When it was first published in 1670, however, the Theologico-Political Treatise provoked widespread protest and condemnation. In fact, it was this reaction that made Spinoza decide to delay publication of the Ethics until after his death, to avoid more trouble.

But what are we to make of Spinoza's claim that God's will and natural law are one and the same thing? There are different ways to interpret this idea, some more conducive to religious belief than others. On the one hand, if God and nature are identical then perhaps the concept of God becomes dispensable. Why not simply abandon the idea of God altogether, and focus on improving our understanding of nature through scientific enquiry? On the other hand, Spinoza seems to be suggesting that God's role in our everyday lives is more constant, immediate and direct than for those who rely on miraculous, out-of-the-ordinary events as signs of divine activity.

And of course, the idea that the order of nature reveals the existence and essence of God leads straight to the view that nature is divine, and should be valued and even revered as such. In this way, Spinoza was an important influence on the 19th-century Romantic poets. Indeed, Spinoza's philosophy seems to bring together the Romantic and scientific worldviews, since it gives us reason both to love the natural world, and to improve our understanding of its laws.

Spinoza, part 3: What God is not

In his Ethics, Spinoza wanted to liberate readers from the dangers of ascribing human traits to God

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o guardian.co.uk, Monday 21 February 2011 08.30 GMT
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Spinoza's Ethics is divided into five books, and the first of these presents an idiosyncratic philosophical argument about the existence and nature of God. We'll examine this in detail next week, but first we need to look more closely at how the Ethics challenges traditional Judeo-Christian belief in God.

The view that Spinoza wants to reject can be summed up in one word: anthropomorphism. This means attributing human characteristics to something non-human – typically, to plants or animals, or to God. There are several important implications of Spinoza's denial of anthropomorphism. First, he argues that it is wrong to think of God as possessing an intellect and a will. In fact, Spinoza's God is an entirely impersonal power, and this means that he cannot respond to human beings' requests, needs and demands. Such a God neither rewards nor punishes – and this insight rids religious belief of fear and moralism.

Second, God does not act according to reasons or purposes. In refusing this teleological conception of God, Spinoza challenged a fundamental tenet of western thought. The idea that a given phenomenon can be explained and understood with reference to a goal or purpose is a cornerstone of Aristotle's philosophy, and medieval theologians found this fitted very neatly with the biblical narrative of God's creation of the world. Aristotle's teleological account of nature was, then, adapted to the Christian doctrine of a God who made the world according to a certain plan, analogous to a human craftsman who makes artefacts to fulfil certain purposes. Typically, human values and aspirations played a prominent role in these interpretations of divine activity.

Spinoza concludes book one of the Ethics by dismissing this world view as mere "prejudice" and "superstition". Human beings, he suggests, "consider all natural things as means to their own advantage", and because of this they believe in "a ruler of nature, endowed with human freedom, who had taken care of all things for them, and made all things for their use". Moreover, people ascribe to this divine ruler their own characters and mental states, conceiving God as angry or loving, merciful or vengeful. "So it has happened that each person has thought up from his own temperament different ways of worshiping God, so that God might love him above all others, and direct the whole of nature according to the needs of his blind desire and insatiable greed," writes Spinoza.

It is interesting to compare this critique of religious "superstition" with the views of the 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume. In his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hume challenges the popular belief in a creator God – and he also, elsewhere, undermines appeals to miracles as evidence of divine activity. Although Hume seems to echo Spinoza on these points, there is a crucial difference between the two philosophers. Hume thinks that many aspects of Christian belief are silly and incoherent, but his alternative to such "superstition" is a healthy scepticism, which recognises that religious doctrines cannot be justified by reason or by experience. His own position is rather ambiguous, but it involves a modest and pragmatic attitude to truth and seems to lead to agnosticism.

Spinoza, on the other hand, thinks that there is a true conception of God which is accessible to human intelligence. He argues that misguided religious beliefs are dangerous precisely because they obscure this truth, and thus prevent human beings from attaining genuine happiness, or "blessedness". There is, therefore, more at stake in Spinoza's critique of popular superstition than in Hume's. For Hume, religious believers are probably wrong, but the existential consequences of their foolishness might not be particularly serious. Spinoza, by contrast, wants to liberate his readers from their ignorance in order to bring them closer to salvation.

So Spinoza is not simply an atheist and a critic of religion, nor a sceptical agnostic. On the contrary, he places a certain conception of God at the heart of his philosophy, and he describes the ideal human life as one devoted to love of this God. Moreover, while Spinoza is critical of superstition, he is sympathetic to some aspects of Jewish and Christian teaching. In particular, he argues that Jesus had a singularly direct and immediate understanding of God, and that it is therefore right to see him as the embodiment of truth, and a role model for all human beings.

Spinoza, part 4: All there is, is God

Being infinite and eternal, God has no boundaries, argues Spinoza, and everything in the world must exist within this God

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o guardian.co.uk, Monday 28 February 2011 10.00 GMT
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So far in this series I've focused on Spinoza's critique of the religious and philosophical world view of his time. But what does he propose in place of anthropomorphic, anthropocentric belief in a transcendent creator God?

Spinoza begins his Ethics by defining some basic philosophical terms: substance, attribute, and mode. In offering these definitions, he is actually attempting a radical revision of the philosophical vocabulary used by Descartes, the leading thinker of his time, to conceptualise reality. When we understand these terms properly, argues Spinoza, we have to conclude that there exists only one substance – and that this is God.

Substance is a logical category that signifies independent existence: as Spinoza puts it, "by substance I understand what is conceived through itself". By contrast, attributes and modes are properties of a substance, and are therefore logically dependent on this substance. For example, we might regard a particular body as a substance, and this body is not conceptually dependent on anything else. But the body's properties, such as its weight and its colour and its shape, are qualities that cannot be conceived to exist in isolation: they must be the weight, colour and shape of a certain body.

Descartes's world view draws on Aristotelian metaphysics and scholastic theology in conceiving individual entities as distinct substances. Human beings, for example, are finite substances, while God is a special substance which is infinite and eternal. In fact, Descartes thought that each human being was composed of two substances: a mind, which has the principal attribute of thought; and a body, which has the principal attribute of extension, or physicality. This view famously leads to the difficult question of how these different substances could interact, known as the "mind-body problem".

The philosophical terminology of substance, attribute and mode makes all this sound rather technical and abstract. But Cartesian metaphysics represents a way of thinking about the world, and also about ourselves, shared by most ordinary people. We see our world as populated by discrete objects, individual things – this person over here, that person over there; this computer on the table; that tree outside, and the squirrel climbing its trunk; and so on. These individual beings have their own characteristics, or properties: size, shape, colour, etc. They might be hot or cold, quiet or noisy, still or in motion, and such qualities can be more or less changeable. This way of conceptualising reality is reflected in the structure of language: nouns say what things are, adjectives describe how they are, and verbs indicate their actions, movements and changing states. The familiar distinction between nouns, adjectives and verbs provides an approximate guide to the philosophical concepts of substance, mode and attribute.

If, as Spinoza argues, there is only one substance – God – which is infinite, then there can be nothing outside or separate from this God. Precisely because God is a limitless, boundless totality, he must be an outsideless whole, and therefore everything else that exists must be within God. Of course, these finite beings can be distinguished from God, and also from one another – just as we can distinguish between a tree and its green colour, and between the colour green and the colour blue. But we are not dealing here with the distinction between separate substances that can be conceived to exist independently from one another.

Again, this is rather abstract. As Aristotle suggested, we cannot think without images, and I find it helpful to use the image of the sea to grasp Spinoza's metaphysics. The ocean stands for God, the sole substance, and individual beings are like waves – which are modes of the sea. Each wave has its own shape that it holds for a certain time, but the wave is not separate from the sea and cannot be conceived to exist independently of it. Of course, this is only a metaphor; unlike an infinite God, an ocean has boundaries, and moreover the image of the sea represents God only in the attribute of extension. But maybe we can also imagine the mind of God – that is to say, the infinite totality of thinking – as like the sea, and the thoughts of finite beings as like waves that arise and then pass away.

Spinoza's world view brings to the fore two features of life: dependence and connectedness. Each wave is dependent on the sea, and because it is part of the sea it is connected to every other wave. The movements of one wave will influence all the rest. Likewise, each being is dependent on God, and as a part of God it is connected to every other being. As we move about and act in the world, we affect others, and we are in turn affected by everything we come into contact with.

This basic insight gives Spinoza's philosophy its religious and ethical character. In traditional religion, dependence and connectedness are often expressed using the metaphor of the family: there is a holy father, and in some cases a holy mother; and members of the community describe themselves as brothers and sisters. This vocabulary is shared by traditions as culturally diverse as Christianity, Buddhism and Islam. For Spinoza, the familial metaphor communicates a truth that can also be conveyed philosophically – through reason rather than through an image.

Spinoza, part 5: On human nature

We are not autonomous individuals but part of a greater whole, says Spinoza, and there is no such thing as human free will

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o Clare Carlisle
o guardian.co.uk, Monday 7 March 2011 09.00 GMT
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o Article history

Last week, we examined Spinoza's metaphysics, looking at how his radical reinterpretation of the philosophical terminology of substance, attribute and mode produces a new vision of reality. According to Spinoza, only God can be called a substance – that is to say, an independently existing being – and everything else is a mode of this single substance. But what does this mean for us?

One of the central questions of philosophy is: what is a human being? And this question can be posed in a more personal way: who am I? As we might by now expect, Spinoza's view of the human being challenges commonsense opinions as well as prevailing philosophical and religious ideas. We are probably inclined to think of ourselves as distinct individuals, separate from other beings. Of course, we know that we have relationships to people and objects in the world, but nevertheless we see ourselves as autonomous – a view that is reflected in the widelyheld belief that we have free will. This popular understanding of the human condition is reflected in Cartesian philosophy, which conceives human beings as substances. In fact, Descartes thought that human beings are composed of two distinct substances: a mind and a body.

For Spinoza, however, human beings are not substances, but finite modes. (Last week, I suggested that a mode is something like a wave on the sea, being a dependent, transient part of a far greater whole.) This mode has two aspects, or attributes: extension, or physical embodiment; and thought, or thinking. Crucially, Spinoza denies that there can be any causal or logical relationships across these attributes. Instead, he argues that each attribute constitutes a causal and logical order that fully expresses reality in a certain way. So a human body is a physical organism which expresses the essence of that particular being under the attribute of extension. And a human mind is an intellectual whole that expresses this same essence under the attribute of thinking.

But this is not to suggest that the mind and the body are separate entities – for this would be to fall back into the Cartesian view that they are substances. On the contrary, says Spinoza, mind and body are two aspects of a single reality, like two sides of a coin. "The mind and the body are one and the same individual, which is conceived now under the attribute of thought, now under the attribute of extension," he writes in book two of the Ethics. And for this reason, there is an exact correspondence between them: "The order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things." In fact, each human mind involves awareness of a human body.

This way of thinking has some important consequences. One of the most obvious is that it undermines dualistic and reductionist accounts of the human being. Descartes's mind-body dualism involves the claim that we are, in essence, thinking beings – that the intellectual should be privileged above the physical, reason above the body. Conversely, modern science often regards the human being as primarily a physical entity, and attempts to reduce mental activity to physical processes. In Spinoza's view, however, it is incoherent to attempt to explain the mental in terms of the physical, or vice versa, because thinking and extension are distinct explanatory orders. They offer two alternative ways of describing and understanding our world, and ourselves, which are equally complete and equally legitimate.

Another important consequence of Spinoza's account of the human being is his denial of free will. If we are modes rather than substances, then we cannot be self-determining. The human body is part of a network of physical causality, and the human mind is part of a network of logical relations. In other words, both our bodily movements and our thinking are constrained by certain laws. Just as we cannot defeat the law of gravity, so we cannot think that 2 + 2 = 5, or that a triangle has four sides.

Spinoza's criticism of the popular belief in free will is rather similar to his analysis of belief in miracles in the Theologico-Political Treatise, which we looked at a few weeks ago. There, we may recall, he argued that people regard events as miraculous and supernatural when they are ignorant of their natural causes. Likewise, human actions are attributed to free will when their causes are unknown: "That human freedom which all men boast of possessing … consists solely in this, that men are conscious of their desire and unaware of the causes by which they are determined." For Spinoza, belief in free will is just as much a sign of ignorance and superstition as belief in miracles worked by divine intervention.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

The real scandal at the LSE

A tangled web of relationships with the last Labour government and Libya have brought a high-minded institution to its knees, says Peter Stanford

There is a revealing remark in the minutes of the debate that took place in October 2009 at the governing council of the London School of Economics over whether to accept a donation of £1.5 million from Saif Gaddafi, son of the Libyan dictator. Fred Halliday, the school’s professor of international relations, had warned the council that accepting the money would taint the LSE’s reputation, but his concerns were dismissed by a fellow academic, David Held, professor of political science. Refusal, Held protested, would cause “personal embarrassment” to Saif Gaddafi.

Concern for Gaddafi Jnr’s feelings, rather than Halliday’s hard-headed analysis, evidently won the day. The governing council accepted the loot (of which £300,000 was subsequently paid) from the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation. The fact that among those members giving their assent to supping with the devil was Sharmi Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty and merciless scourge of those who compromise principles of justice, only adds to the air of unreality that surrounds the whole shameful episode. She has since spoken of her “bucketfuls” of regret.

They must all now be wishing that they had used a longer spoon because their decision, as the disgraced LSE director, Sir Howard Davies, observed this week, has backfired spectacularly. With Saif Gaddafi pictured on the streets of Tripoli brandishing a semi-automatic weapon and telling a global television audience that he would do anything to perpetuate his father’s regime, right down to “the last bullet”, Sir Howard has been forced to resign.

He leaves behind an institution in crisis, its good name compromised. Which is precisely what Fred Halliday (who has subsequently died) predicted, but at the time he was sidelined by colleagues who muttered in private that he was difficult and a heavy drinker.

Before rushing to condemn, of course, it is always worth dispensing for a moment with hindsight. Anyone who has sat on the board of a charity or educational institution will recall similar dilemmas (albeit on a smaller scale) to that faced by LSE’s council that day. An offer of money comes in, but there are unpalatable strings. You know you could put the funds to good effect – in this case to the study of civil society and democracy in north Africa – and you could do with a fund-raising success.

British universities, in particular, have been complaining for years that they are underfunded compared with rival overseas institutions. Various governments’ standard responses to such pleading has long been to tell them to seek private and corporate sponsors. So, even if they feel queasy about it, our higher education institutions would argue that they are being forced to turn a blind eye to the skeletons in the cupboard of donors likes Saif Gaddafi, and a deaf ear to those tiresome old-world souls such as Halliday who insist on mentioning ethics and morality.

That is certainly part of the story behind what happened this week at the LSE. In the wake of Sir Howard’s resignation, the focus has switched to the “accommodations” made by other universities with questionable donors. Liverpool John Moores, for example, has been accused by Tory MP Robert Halfon of also having dealings with the Gaddafis. It says it received only £14,000, to improve health care in Libya and said it was no longer involved in the work. “We are not ashamed of trying to help the people of Libya develop their economy and their infrastructure to improve their health services,” it said in a statement.

So is this just business as usual on the campuses and in the quads, or is there something deeper and more perverse going on at the LSE governing council, as a spokesman for the students’ union there has suggested? One headline has described the council as a bunch of “useful idiots”, a phrase borrowed from the tyrant Stalin who used it to mock Left-leaning academics who eulogised his brutal form of communism.

The degree to which the LSE outperformed others in abandoning principle to engage with a Libyan regime with a long, bloody and truly appalling history of crimes against both its own people and British citizens – supplying semtex to the IRA in the Seventies, and downing a jet over Lockerbie in 1988 – is now to be investigated by Lord Woolf, the former Lord Chief Justice. Among the issues for him to address will be the awarding of a PhD to Saif Gaddafi. The Labour peer Lord Desai, who examined the thesis, has praised the “idealism” Gaddafi displayed in his study, but others claim it was all plagiarised.

What is not disputed is that the interviews upon which the thesis was based were carried out not by the student himself, as is usual, but by a US-based consultancy, Monitor, whose board is made up of academics and former senior civil servants. An act of generosity towards a young man in a strange country? It seems it had more to do with Monitor’s ongoing mission to present a more pleasing image of the Libyan regime in the West. Monitor has since admitted that its actions were “misguided”.

A single, almost casual footnote on page 173 of the Gaddafi thesis should have alerted Lord Desai and his colleagues at the LSE to the peculiar gestation of the document. In reference to a section on the role of oil companies in improving transparency in democracies, this attribution is written: “Comment from Tony Blair in private communication with the author of this thesis”. It must be handy to be able to ring up the British Prime Minister to try out your pet student theory.

Also on Lord Woolf’s list of questions will be Sir Howard’s personal mission – as a former head of the Financial Services Authority, hardly an institution famous for taking a tough line with miscreants – to offer financial advice to the Libyans. “I wish I hadn’t done it now,” the former director said in his resignation interview, “but I was asked by the Government.” I thought it was only in Gaddafi’s Libya that you had to do what the government asked.

It is that web of relationships between government – specifically the Blair government – the LSE, Monitor and Saif Gaddafi that is at the heart of this whole debacle. Sir Howard’s predecessor as director was Anthony (now Lord) Giddens, guru of the Blairite “Third Way” and apparently such a starry-eyed admirer of the Libyan dictator that he wrote in 2005 of how Gaddafi senior cut “an impressive figure” and appeared “genuinely popular” with his own people.

Then there is Sir Mark Allen, former MI6 spy and adviser to Blair and BP, who is on the board of LSE Ideas, a study centre at the school for international affairs and “grand strategy”. It is chaired by another Blair adviser, Sir David Manning, and includes Jonathan Powell, former Chief-of-Staff, and Baroness Symons, a Blairite former Foreign Office minister.

For those tempted to think that the LSE’s current troubles are simply the result of being backed into a corner by the need for money, and then being conned by Saif Gaddafi into believing he was really a force for change at his father’s side, these connections are hard to explain away. There is, at the very least, the semblance of a calculated political and commercial plan here to win influence with the Gaddafis by peddling the good name of the LSE.

David Starkey, the historian who taught for many years at the LSE, has damned the whole farrago at his alma mater as “typically Blairite”. It is hard not to agree. Getting concessions from Gaddafi over nuclear weapons in 2004 may have shown the former Prime Minister at his pragmatic best, but the ill-advised, headlong rush thereafter to cosy up to an always ugly Libyan regime so as to get hold of the dictator’s billions, and his country’s oil reserves and revenues, has now ended up tainting many reputations.

Such a fate is often the lot of politicians, but it is a calamitous and self-inflicted blow to the academic institution set up in 1895 by George Bernard Shaw and social reformers Sidney and Beatrice Webb on such high-minded Fabian principles.

Adjust your compass now: the north pole is migrating to Russia

Movement of the magnetic north is causing problems for aviation, navigation and wildlife

By Guy Adams in Los Angeles
Sunday, 6 March 2011

It sounds unlikely but it's true: the magnetic north pole is moving faster than at any time in human history, threatening everything from the safety of modern transport systems to the traditional navigation routes of migrating animals.

Scientists say that magnetic north, which for two centuries has been in the icy wilderness of Canada, is currently relocating towards Russia at a rate of about 40 miles a year. The speed of its movement has increased by a third in the past decade, prompting speculation that the field could be about to "flip", causing compasses to invert and point south rather than north, something that happens between three and seven times every million years.

Already the phenomenon is causing problems in the field of aviation. Tampa International airport in Florida has just spent a month renaming its three runways, which in common with those at most US airports are identified using numbers that correspond to the direction, in degrees, that they face on a compass. "Everything had to be changed; it was a huge project," Brenda Geoghagan, a spokeswoman for the airport, said.

The current rate of magnetic north's movement away from Canada's Ellesmere Island is throwing out compasses by roughly one degree every five years, prompting the US Federal Aviation Administration to re-evaluate runway names across the country every five years. Similar changes were recently made to runways at Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach.

Geologists believe that magnetic north pole (which is different from the true North Pole, the axis on which the Earth spins) moves around due to changes in the planet's molten core, which contains liquid iron. They first located it in 1831, and have been attrying to follow its progress ever since.

Records indicate that the pole's location barely moved in the early decades, but in about 1904, it began tracking north-east at a rate of about nine miles a year. That speed increased significantly from about 1989, possibly because of a "plume" of magnetism deep below ground. The pole is now believed to be heading towards Siberia at about 37 miles each year. "Earth's magnetic field is changing in time. And as far as we know, it has always been changing in time," geophysicist Jeffrey Love of the US Geological Survey in Colorado told Discovery News, which investigated the issue last week.

GPS systems, which rely on satellites, have replaced compasses as the means by which the majority of professional navigators orientate themselves. But compasses are still valuable, and are widely used by hikers and other amateur map-readers. In some environments, such as underwater or beneath ground, which cannot be reached by satellite signals, they remain the only option. The oil industry, which uses magnets to determine which angle it should drill into the earth, needs to keep track of the exact location of magnetic north.

Birds that fly south for the winter, along with migratory sea creatures, could face confusion. Long-living animals, such as whales and turtles, may in future be required to recalibrate their navigational instincts.

Despite the cost and inconvenience of altering runway names, not to mention the indignity of losing magnetic north to Russia, inhabitants of North America stand to benefit from the changes in at least one respect: it will give them more opportunities to observe the aurora borealis.

No one can predict the impact of "polar reversal", during which magnetic north and south reverse, since one hasn't happened for 780,000 years, the longest stable period in the past 5 million years. Some geologists think we could be about to find out, though: they believe that the current changes to magnetic north could be the early stages of a "flip". But Mr Love says we shouldn't be too concerned. "Reversals typically take about 10,000 years to happen," he said. "And 10,000 years ago civilisation did not exist. These processes are slow, and therefore we don't have anything to worry about."

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

War porn in Libya

By Pepe Escobar

Forget "democracy"; Libya, unlike Egypt and Tunisia, is an oil power. Many a plush office of United States and European elites will be salivating at the prospect of taking advantage of a small window of opportunity afforded by the anti-Muammar Gaddafi revolution to establish - or expand - a beachhead. There's all that oil, of course. There's also the allure, close by, of the US$10 billion, 4,128 kilometer long Trans-Saharan gas pipeline from Nigeria to Algeria, expected to be online in 2015.

Thus the world, once again, is reintroduced to war porn, history as farce, a bad rerun of "shock and awe". Everyone - the United Nations, the US, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) - is up in arms about a no-fly zone. Special forces are on the move, as are US warships.

Breathless US senators compare Libya with Yugoslavia. Tony "The Return of the Living Dead" Blair is back in missionary zeal form, its mirror image played by British Prime Minister David Cameron, duly mocked by Gaddafi's son, the "modernizer" Saif al-Islam. There's fear of "chemical weapons". Welcome back to humanitarian imperialism - on crack.

And like a character straight out of Scary Movie, even war-on-Iraq-architect Paul Wolfowitz wants a NATO-enforced no-fly zone, as the Foreign Policy Initiative - the son of the Project for the New American Century - publishes an open letter to US President Barack Obama demanding military boots to turn Libya into a protectorate ruled by NATO in the name of the "international community".

The mere fact that all these people are supporting the Libya protesters makes it all stink to - over the rainbow - high heavens. Sending His Awesomeness Charlie Sheen to whack Gaddafi would seem more believable.

It was up to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to introduce a note of sanity, describing the notion of a no-fly zone over Libya as "superfluous". This means in practice a Russian veto at the UN Security Council. Earlier, China had already changed the conversation.

In their Sheen-style hysteria - with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton desperately offering "any kind of assistance" - Western politicians did not bother to consult with the people who are risking their lives to overthrow Gaddafi. At a press conference in Benghazi, the spokesman for the brand new Libyan National Transitional Council, human-rights lawyer Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, was blunt, "We are against any foreign intervention or military intervention in our internal affairs ... This revolution will be completed by our people."

The people in question, by the way, are protecting Libya's oil industry, and even loading supertankers destined to Europe and China. The people in question do not have much to do with opportunists such as former Gaddafi-appointed justice minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, who wants a provisional government to prepare for elections in three months. Moreover, the people in question, as al-Jazeera has reported, have been saying they don't want foreign intervention for a week now.

The Benghazi council prefers to describe itself as the "political face for the revolution", organizing civic affairs, and not established as an interim government. Meanwhile, a military committee of officer defectors is trying to set up a skeleton army to be sent to Tripoli; through tribal contacts, they seem to have already infiltrated small cells into the vicinity of Tripoli.

Whether this self-appointed revolutionary leadership - splinter elements of the established elite, the tribes and the army - will be the face of a new regime, or whether they will be overtaken by younger, more radical activists, remains to be seen.

Shower me with hypocrisy
None of this anyway has placated the hysterical Western narrative, according to which there are only two options for Libya; to become a failed state or the next al-Qaeda haven. How ironic. Up to 2008, Libya was dismissed by Washington as a rogue state and an unofficial member of the "axis of evil" that originally included Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

As former NATO supreme commander Wesley Clark confirmed years ago, Libya was on the Pentagon/neo-conservative official list to be taken out after Iraq, along with Somalia, Sudan, Lebanon, Syria and the holy grail, Iran. But as soon as wily Gaddafi became an official partner in the "war on terror", Libya was instantly upgraded by the George W Bush administration to civilized status.

As for the UN Security Council unanimously deciding to refer the Gaddafi regime to the International Criminal Court (ICC), it's useful to remember that the ICC was created in mid-1998 by 148 countries meeting in Rome. The final vote was 120 to seven. The seven that voted against the ICC were China, Iraq, Israel, Qatar and Yemen, plus Libya and ... the United States. Incidentally, Israel killed more Palestinian civilians in two weeks around new year 2008 than Gaddafi these past two weeks.

This tsunami of hypocrisy inevitably raises the question; what does the West know about the Arab world anyway? Recently the executive board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) praised a certain northern African country for its "ambitious reform agenda" and its "strong macroeconomic performance and the progress on enhancing the role of the private sector". The country was Libya. The IMF had only forgotten to talk to the main actors: the Libyan people.

And what to make of Anthony Giddens - the guru behind Blair's "Third Way" - who in March 2007 penned an article to The Guardian saying "Libya is not especially repressive" and "Gaddafi seems genuinely popular"? Giddens bet that Libya "in two or three decades' time would be a Norway of North Africa: prosperous, egalitarian and forward-looking". Tripoli may well be on its way to Oslo - but without the Gaddafi clan.

The US, Britain and France are so awkwardly maneuvering for best post-Gaddafi positioning it's almost comical to watch. Beijing, even against its will, waited until extra time to condemn Gaddafi at the UN, but made sure it was following the lead of African and Asian countries (smart move, as in "we listen to the voices of the South"). Beijing is extremely worried that its complex economic relationship with oil source Libya does not unravel (amid all the hoopla about fleeing expats, China quietly evacuated no less than 30,000 Chinese workers in the oil and construction business).

Once again; it's the oil, stupid. A crucial strategic factor for Washington is that post-Gaddafi Libya may represent a bonanza for US Big Oil - which for the moment has been kept away from Libya. Under this perspective, Libya may be considered as yet one more battleground between the US and China. But while China goes for energy and business deals in Africa, the US bets on its forces in AFRICOM as well as NATO advancing "military cooperation" with the African Union.

The anti-Gaddafi movement must remain on maximum alert. It's fair to argue the absolute majority of Libyans are using all their resourcefulness and are wiling to undergo any sacrifice to build a united, transparent and democratic country. And they will do it on their own. They may accept humanitarian help. As for war porn, throw it in the dustbin of history.