Back home again

Back from Crete.   Had a wonderful time in the sun and on the beach.  Ate more food and drank more alcohol than can possibly be good for me, and read more novels than I’d normally read in a year.

Now I’m back in England, where the clocks have gone back, it’s dark and gloomy, and I have to go to work every day. 

So, back to blogging. 

Should we protect the embassies of our enemies?

A Muslim police officer apparently objected to protecting the Israeli embassy on moral grounds.  To make matters worse, the bungle-prone Metropoliatan Police accepted his request for another posting:

PC Alexander Omar Basha, who is attached to the force’s Diplomatic Protection Group, objected to being posted to protect Israel’s embassy in central London from possible terrorist attack because he disagreed with the country’s bombing of Lebanon. The officer had reportedly attended a recent anti-war protest.

Most commenters are – rightly – upset because he’s been allowed to pick and choose what parts of his job he does based on his political beliefs, rather than demonstrate the political impartiality that is required of a police officer. 

But I thought I’d add one more thought to the mix.  Has PC Basha considered what the role of an embassy actually is?  It’s too facilitate talking – negotiation rather than war.  We encourage the presence of the embassies of our enemies, so that we can try to talk our way out of crises – even occasionally while fighting rages around.  

If we all followed the logic of PC Basha’s actions, we’d remove all protections from embassies of those countries with whom we disagreed.  They’d then either be attacked, or live in fear being attacked.  And, if they had any sense, they’d pack up and go home.

And we’d have no-one to talk to about peace. 

Update: And how’s this for a breath-takingly stupid take on the affair:

MPA member Peter Herbert said the row was a “ridiculous fuss about nothing” and attacked Sir Ian [Blair – head of the Met Police] over an “unwise judgement” on opting so quickly for a review.

“From a security point of view, the Met would be seriously criticised if this guy has relatives in Lebanon and his picture was used around the world to demonstrate the irony about having a Muslim defending the Israeli embassy in the UK.”

Has Peter Herbert not noticed that 40% of the people of Lebanon are, in fact, Christians?  Would he also advocate preserving the Met’s reputation by preventing Christian police officers from protecting the Israeli embassy?

Russia ratchets up the tension in Georgia

Despite Georgia’s decision to hand over four Russian’s suspected of espionage, Russia isn’t in any mood to let up the pressure on its southern neighbour

Russia’s migration service said on Thursday that the suspension of visas to Georgians would be extended, and that 180-day visas held by Georgians already in Russia would be cut to 90 days.

Russian parliamentarians are also expected to examine a bill this week that would prevent Georgians living in Russia from making bank transfers to relatives back home.

Estimates vary but it is believed that at least one million Georgians currently live in Russia. Many Georgian families depend on the remittances they send home.

I’m sure enterprising ‘businessmen’ will adapt very quickly to these new money transfer rules, by simply sending the money via a third country, but nonetheless, this represents a significant escalation of tensions. 

Georgia, in my opinion, handled the whole spying affair badly, but it’s time for Russia to take a step back, and consider the long term impact of its actions as well.  The Russian government must learn to be as gracious in victory as it is ungracious in defeat. 

Earlier this week, Georgia looked rather foolish, having done little more than embarras itself.  Today, it looks like a victim of Russian bullying again.     

NATO takes over entire Afghanistan misson

NATO today took over full responsibility for the troops of all Alliance member states currently in Afghanistan:

Officials say the move will make the force more efficient, as it seeks to secure Afghanistan for reconstruction.

Some 10,000 US troops have come under the command of Gen David Richards from the UK.

The addition of US troops brings the total number of troops under Nato command in Afghanistan to about 31,000.

This is good news, and represents a major step forward for NATO.  A successful mission in Afghanistan (which is still not guaranteed) will boost the organisation’s credibility.

The cynic in me does wonder, though, just how effectively a British general will be able to ‘command’ US troops in practice.  I’m sure many of NATO’s member states will be watching with interest to see how well the US adapts to putting such a large number of its troops – who are currently engaged in combat missions – under the command of a foreign general.

A turning point in Iraq?

The Guardian notes that tribal leaders in Western Iraq are turning on al-Qaeda:

The clashes erupted after a new grouping calling itself the Anbar Rescue Council – which claims to represent a large number of Anbar tribes and sub-clans – said it intended to clear the province of the terrorist group. It also follows a meeting between tribal leaders and the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, last week in which they asked for government support and arms in their fight against al-Qaida.

The tribes’ courtship by Iraq’s prime minister has been oiled by cash gifts and alleged salaries to some sheikhs of up to $5,000 (£2,650) a month. Tribal fighters have also asked for weapons.

Al-Qaeda bought influence in Iraq using cold hard cash, and now it looks as if that money is running out.  The Iraqi government, by contrast, does have the cash to buy political support.  And I’d imagine that, once they finally start ramping up oil production levels, they’ll have onging reserves to cement their control of the country.

Although, if this pattern continues, it does seem likely that Iraq will return to the patriarchal pattern so beloved of countries across the Middle East.

Mozart opera cancelled for fear of offending Muslims

A Berlin opera house has cancelled performances of a Mozart opera, Idomeno, because of fears that it might offend Muslims, and that they could not guarantee the safety of their audiences.

In the ‘offending’ scene which already caused audience walk-outs mainly amongst Christians when it was premiered almost three years ago, King Idomeneo produces the heads of Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha and the Prophet Mohammed from a bloody sack, and displays them on four chairs.

Fascinating that they don’t fear offending followers of Jesus, Poseidon or Buddha. 

Anyway, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has shown some backbone and roundly criticised their decision:

“We must be careful that we do not increasingly shy away out of fear of violent radicals,” Merkel told the Hannover Neue Presse. “Self-censorship out of fear is not tolerable.”

Which will be equally fascinating news for those who regularly condemn Europeans for being lily-livered appeasers.

(By the way – Idomeno is set in Crete.  I’m going to Crete in a few days.  Which is why posting this has, oddly, put me in a holiday mood).

US passes ‘torture’ bill

The US House of Representatives passed an amended bill last night on how they should treat detainees in the US war on terror.  Or, to put it another way – how much they can torture people.

John McCain proposed an amendment which weakened some of the original bill’s more outrageous elements, but it’s still a pretty revolting bill, authorising ‘interrogation methods’. 

These methods include sleep depravation, exposing inmates to extreme temperatures and simulated drowning – also known as ‘waterboarding’. 

Waterboarding, as The Agonist points out, was one of the ‘war crimes’ that were cited in convicting Japanese prisoners at the end of World War Two.  The irony seems to have completely passed by the members of the House of Representatives. 

Many Democrats were content to support this bill.  Sean Paul, a longtime Democrat supporter, isn’t impressed:

All we heard we arguments why it was politically damaging to argue against the McCain compromise, or whatever. It really doesn’t get any more craven than that. I don’t care what anyone says, or how they justify varying levels of torture. Torture is torture and what the Senate did is a betrayal of our fundamental human values.

Neither am I.  Aside from the pure repulsiveness of this bill, it’s suffers from being just plain dumb.  This bill does nothing more than hand a spectacular propaganda victory to the United States opponents. 

Terror board game offends

War on Terror: The BoardgameWar on Terror: The Boardgame is just about to hit the streets in England. The aim of the game is world domination, with ‘terrorists’ fighting against ’empire builders’.

Predicatably, people are upset – particularly those who survived terrorist attacks:

“If someone had told me that barely a year after the London bombings someone would create a board game like this, I wouldn’t have believed them. It is beyond belief,” said Jacqui Putnam who was injured during the suicide bombings, which killed 52 commuters in the British capital.

“The idea that it can be reduced to a board game … amazing. And they announce the release on the anniversary of 9/11!” she said.

The decision to release it on the anniversary of 9/11 was certainly crass and, doubtless, the game itself will be too.

But, when it really comes down to it, I can’t see much of a difference between this game and Risk. Or any PC wargame.