We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Koran burnings and their consequences.

Koran burnings predictably lead to murders.

So what. Free speech kills, we knew that. The lack of it kills more. Blame the murders on the murderers.

It should be allowed, but is it, or can it be, right to burn the Koran? In general I have contempt for those who deliberately insult what another holds dear. The fact that I uphold the right to say anything should strengthen, not weaken, my willingness to judge what is said. I despise Pastor Jones. I despise the members of Al-Muhajiroun whose insults to dead soldiers gave birth to the English Defence League.

However now that Jones has burned his Koran, and it has led to murders by Muslim fanatics as he must have known it would, I now see an argument that further murders will be made less likely by further burnings. If they keep happening it will have a desensitising effect.

Yet I still think burning someone’s holy symbol is a contemptible act. To hurt a group (and hurt feelings are a form of hurt) because some of its members are bad people is just another instance of the collectivist error. I would not do it. I suppose what I am saying is that given that it will happen somewhere in the world fairly regularly, this fact should be publicised. Eventually the mobs will get tired of assembling yet again.

Tuesday morning replay

Today’s Times has the headline:

Allies at odds over death of hostage in bungled rescue

The story is behind a paywall. It does not matter. I am only interested in the headline and whoever wrote it.

Do these people have any idea at all of what life-or-death fighting is actually like? I do not demand that they have actually done any before writing about it; little would ever be reported about war if that were the test. But they could at least have read a few memoirs, or talked to their grandfathers. Reading about the Dieppe Raid might put things in perspective.

Hint: it is not like planning a dinner party. With that sort of thing if you make a careful list of Things To Do and do them all in good time you generally can be reasonably confident that it will work out OK and if it does not work out OK, say the soufflé does not rise or the wine was too sweet, it probably was because someone bungled.

Military small group operations – by which I mean small group killings of people who can also kill you – are not like that. They always hang on a knife edge. The most skilled soldiers in the world frequently die young and frequently fail. A hand is a fraction of a second too slow on the trigger – a human mind is a fraction of a second slower than another, hostile, human mind to make sense of the confusion – and a comrade dies, or a hostage dies, and a lifetime of agonized mental replaying of that moment of failure begins.

Six hours later a headline writer in an office far away expresses his displeasure.

USA defeated by Afghanistan

Read about it here. Victorious Afghan Hamid Hassan blogs about it here:

After the match, I had to go to do a post-match media conference and they all wanted to know how it felt to beat USA, but the opposition didn’t matter to me. I was just happy to win another cricket match.

I love getting the chance to play against different countries and this was the first time we had ever played USA in an international match. I could never have dreamed when I was young, that I would one day play them in a cricket game.

I am a big fan of American television and movies and my favourite film is  Rocky  – I vividly remember watching it when I was growing up – and one of my heroes is Sylvester Stallone.

I think that there is a similarity in the story of Rocky and the Afghanistan cricket team – we both started at the bottom and gradually made our way up the rankings. …

Gradually? I thought Rocky did it with one fight.

Seriously though, it’s fun to see a guy so gripped by the American ideal of the common man excelling, and as a result … defeating America.

The way Hamid Hassan writes about Rocky and Silvester Stallone and so on makes me also think of this piece, about how the imminent decline into relative insignificance of the USA is once again being oversold, in which Joshua Kurlantzick says:

Most important, the United States is a champion of an idea that has global appeal, and Asia is not.

Although my part of the blogosphere is very anti-Obama just now, what with Obama seemingly hell-bent on ruining the USA’s economy, the rise of Obama to being President of the USA must look like a very similar kind of story to Rocky, if you are someone like Hamid Hassan.

Australian deserter in Afghanistan gets a free pass?

A member of the Australian military went missing in the middle of a deadly clash with the Taliban then, fourteen months later, she just wanders back into camp. Is a court martial convened to see if she is guilty of desertion? No, people just shrug their shoulders and start playing tennis with her. What madness is this?

What is the world coming to when a valued member of the armed services takes off under fire and leaves their comrades chasing their tails wondering what happened to her? And it should be noted there were persistent rumours that far from being held captive by the Taliban, she was sniffing around an area of Afghanistan notorious for opium production while her compatriots were risking their lives facing down the enemy. How can this not cause serious repercussions when she wanders back to base after being located by US soldiers (who reportedly said she was a real bitch)? Shocking.

Man’s inhumanity to taliban

Lynne Doucet, talking at the Edinburgh International Television Conference, gave a speech on the complexities of reporting in Afghanistan. She lamented that she was unable to convey the complexities of the conflict or the perspective of the Taliban factions. Whilst some may view this as a criticism of television reporting in general, snippets of her speech show the quest for impartiality. Let us consider what she says within that framework.

Doucet wishes to show the motives and perceptions of the Afghan population, yet uses the term Taliban rather than Afghan: her true target is those who resist, not those who support:

“What’s lacking in the coverage of the Afghans is the sense of the humanity of the Afghans.

“In the Prince Harry coverage for example, there were all these people out there you never really saw them.

“You knew that the bombs were dropping in that direction and the guns pointing in that direction but you never got a sense of how Afghans are as a people.”

In further detail, she notes the factionalism of the Taliban, yet does not move beyond her original goal of giving the opponents a voice or conveying their ‘humanity’. Doucet understands that part of her moral mission is to explain the complexities of the conflict, but her method is to give the mic to the other side.

Her impartiality is already flawed by her admission that journalists in Afghanistan support the troops through coverage of the Prince Harry mission:

Canadian-born Doucet said: “It probably did bring a lot of people to think about Afghanistan who normally wouldn’t ordinarily think about Afghanistan. If the Prince Harry story can bring more people to think about Afghanistan then that’s a good thing.

“There was a lost opportunity. There was hardly any mention of Afghans, even of Afghanistan … (just a) sense of ‘I went to a country far away’.

But she added: “Viewing figures went up, Prince Harry got a hero’s welcome and recruitment for the British Army went up so an objective was achieved. Did that mean people knew more about why Britain was there? I don’t think so.

Doucet wishes to be the gatekeeper for explaining the conflict: living up to her perceived concept of impartiality by maintaining a position of neutrality and providing access to all parties fighting in Afghanistan. But her freedom to report is bounded by the protection that the Western forces provide: the Taliban would neither respect her as a woman or as a non-Muslim. Without this understanding of her own limited freedom of movement, she is unable to provide a rounded understanding of the limits to reporting in Afghanistan.

Journalists find that they are unable to report voices where values are incommensurable and their own position is at risk, since they are viewed as the enemy. Underneath all the verbiage, Doucet’s unspoken lament is that the Taliban consider her the enemy too, when all she wishes to do is understand them. Poor lamb.

Eight of nine lives used…

… this guy needs to buy a cat and take some well deserved ‘chill time’ for, oh, the rest of his life maybe?

“So I got down with my back to the grenade and used my body as a shield. It was a case of either having four of us as fatalities or badly wounded – or one. I brought my legs up to my chest in the brace position and waited for the explosion.”

The short version: he set off a booby-trap (the old tripwire/grenade shtick) in the middle of his patrol, jumped on the grenade and his body armour and the stuff in his backpack took the brunt of the explosion. Other than getting blown through the air, this Royal Marine walked away pretty much in one piece. Fortitude and insane luck are a very cool combination.

Let me offer the Lance Corporal a career suggestion: head back to civilian life and get a job doing endorsements for a certain backpack manufacturer.

It is fascinating what you can find on YouTube

Just came across some footage of a Dutch Apache helicopter gunship facilitating some interesting ‘inter-civilisation dialogue’ with a couple Talibs in Afghanistan.

I find myself watching YouTube more than TV these days.

Not Matt Drudge’s finest hour

The Ministry of Defence is to be commended (not often I write that) for the way they have handled Prince Harry going to Afghanistan. Aware that knowledge of his presence would greatly increase the risk to him and those serving with him (killing a Royal Prince would be a propaganda coup for the Taliban), they hid the fact for ten weeks, which is no small feat in this day and age. Their tactic was to both appeal to reason and to in effect ‘buy off’ the highly competitive UK media by promising juicy photos of Harry if they kept their collective cakeholes shut whilst he was deployed… quite clever really and it is a credit to the wiser heads amongst the UK press that they could see there was no broader ‘public interest’ at stake here (quite the opposite in fact).

I am all for the media and new media reporting the news and in particular news that the powers-that-be might be discomforted by. However reporting a wartime operation detail likely to increase the chance particular group of serving soldiers will attacked by the enemy (namely revealing the presence of a political ‘high value target’ in the war zone) fall way outside acceptable behaviour. Even if you oppose the war, such behaviour suggest you are not so much against the war as actually on the other side. It is at the very least socially despicable and quite frankly giving aid to an enemy in wartime. Unsurprisingly that is something far beyond the ken of a dim bulb like that self-important idiotarian ass Jon Snow.

Matt Drudge and the German Newspapers were not the first to mention where Prince Harry had been deployed, that dubious ‘honour’ goes to the Australian publication New Idea, who have at least expressed regret that they blew Prince Harry’s cover, suggesting they may be guilt of a lack of thought rather than callous disregard for someone’s safety in a war zone. The MoD kept quiet when New Idea first broke the story, suggesting they rather sensibly assumed an Australian woman’s magazine was probably not high on the reading list of many Muslim fundamentalists and indeed it took over a month for it to get picked up elsewhere. But the person who really moved this into wider circulation and got the story picked up globally was Matt Drudge. Although the Berliner Kurier and Bild also reported this, Drudge was at some point claiming this as an ‘exclusive’ and claiming the ‘credit’ for himself, so I will take him at his word and call him an honourless shit in that case.

Government “infrastructure”

A wonderful snippet from a BBC radio reporter (Ed Stourton) in Afghanistan for the Today programme: A new bus-stop has been built in Lashikar Gah as part of the ‘reconstruction’ effort.

The report does not say whether it is a replacement for a pre-war bus-stop. Somehow I doubt it. It is very well-equipped, having its own mosque and a pharmacy, as waiting times “can be rather long”.

An odd approach. In most of the world a bus-stop is a place where buses happen to stop. Of course bus-stops, like ports and railway stations all round the world provide opportunities for traders, places of worship, bars and cafes and so forth, but they seldom have them built in. Bus companies and their passengers are primarily interested in selling and buying travel. The pause at the roadside to move from foot to wheel, wheel to foot, refuel, refresh, is just procedural necessity.

Even in the first world, where there are some fabulous bus stations and garages, mostly this is an utilitarian afterthought, contingently well-designed. Everywhere (I thought) the buses are the transport network, not the stops. You have a shed for the buses at the end of the route, and signs to show where the buses are supposed to stop. Many places they do without the shed, not least because the buses are always on the move maximising their passenger-, luggage- and livestock- miles.

But a government bus-stop is built to different, higher, standards. A throwaway line at the end of the report reveals just how long those waiting times are: “There are no buses yet.”

Not exactly a picnic in Southern Afghanistan

An article about the exploits of the Royal Anglian Regiment reminds us that the fighting in Afghanistan has been very sharp indeed: over six months the Royal Anglians suffered one hundred and forty four casualties (nine killed and one hundred and thirty five wounded), in return for one thousand Taliban killed (which according to the traditional 5:1 ratio which would probably be more accurate for the technologically unsophisticated Taliban, implies at least a further five thousand wounded).

Yet I cannot escape the feeling that the quality of the politics has gone a long way to undermining the quality of the military efforts. Why oh why are we trying to stop people in that poor country from growing the cash crop they have grown since time immemorial and thereby making enemies of people who just want to make money? And as paying people to not plant opium is a demonstrable waste of time, if the governments of the west are so keen to stop opium ending up on the streets of western cities, why not take the vast ocean of money wasted on odious subsidies to affluent western farmers in Europe and the USA, and instead just buy whatever opium the Afghan farmers can grow? At a stroke the Afghan economy is improved in the short term, distorting subsidies removed from western economies and Afghan farmers and warlords alike given a very good reason to maintain good relations with their western patrons (i.e. addict them to subsidies).

Korean military ‘assistance’? No thanks

By caving into the demands by the Taliban to get their troops out of Afghanistan in return for the return of South Korean hostages, the Korean government simply entourages more of the same tactic. Clearly the US seriously erred accepting military ‘assistance’ from Korea given that the South Korean government are not just utterly craven, they seem to have no concept of cause and effect. The only way to demotivate hostage taking is to respond in the opposite manner to what is being demanded.

If I was the US government I would be making a simultaneous complete withdrawal of US forces from South Korea, timed to coincide with the departure of Koreans forces from Afghanistan. Quite why a wealthy nation like South Korea requires US forces to keep its psychopathic neighbour at bay is unclear anyway. Perhaps this incident will shake loose any residual attachment to the value of subsidising South Korea’s defences in the minds of US taxpayers and politicians. There are parts of the world that it may well suit the US to defend but surely South Korea is more that wealthy enough to look after itself given how primitive North Korea is.

Samizdata quote of the day

I would like to emphasise that we by no means strive to seize full power and to dominate the Afghan policy. Our aim is not to have the upper hand in Afghanistan. No at all! What we struggle for is something else: there should be Afghanistan where every Afghan finds himself or herself – irrespective of sex – happy. I am deeply convinced that this can only be ensured by democracy and a democratically elected government, based on consensus. It is only then that we can indeed solve a number of problems that have been besetting Afghan people. The true solution lies only in such a political and social situation and only with such a type of administration when all the tribes, all the ethnic groups and all people will see themselves fairly represented.

Ahmed Shah Masoud, the ‘Lion of the Panjshir’, one of the greatest guerilla leaders and in my view the most admirable one since the American Revolution, from an interview shortly before his assassination by Islamofascists.