Friday, November 9, 2012

Driving My Own Destiny: An Inspiring Story of One Woman's Courage

by Manal al-Sharif

My name is Manal al-Sharif. I’m from Saudi Arabia. I want to tell you about two separate chapters of my life. Chapter one is the story of my generation; it begins the year I was born, 1979. 

On November 20 of that year, there was a siege of Mecca, the holiest shrine in the world for Muslims. It was seized by Juhayman al-Otaybi, a militant Islamist, and some 400 of his men. The occupation lasted for two weeks. Saudi authorities had to use force—heavily armed force—to eject the occupiers and end the violation. They beheaded Juhayman and his men publicly.

Nevertheless, the authorities became very anxious. They feared another uprising. Saudi Arabia was newly formed, rapidly changing, and had been adopting a new civil way of life. For rebel militants, such changes were against their beliefs, against Islam, and they wanted to stop them. 

So, although the Saudi government had executed Juhayman, it began to abide by his doctrine. In order to prevent another uprising, extremists in power quickly moved to roll back liberties that had been tolerated in previous years. Like Juhayman, some ruling Saudis had long been upset over the gradual loosening of restrictions for women. In the weeks after the Mecca uprising, female announcers were removed from television. Pictures of women were banned. All possible female employment was narrowed to two fields: education or healthcare. 

Activities that encouraged male-female contact were curbed: Music was banned; cinemas were closed; the separation between genders was strictly enforced everywhere. That separation became law, from public places to government offices, to banks, schools, even to our own houses. In time, each house in Saudi Arabia ended up having two entrances: one for men, one for women. 

There was another sea change: Petrodollars began to pour into those extremists’ pockets. They used that money to spread missionary teachers around the world, many of whom preached hatred of the infidel, dedication to global jihad, and a rejection of anyone who didn’t share the same ideals. 

Saudi Arabia’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, or “the religious police,” was also given a free hand in society. In other words, the ruling authorities had beheaded a monster, but they had enshrined his ideology of hate. 

Saudi authorities tried their best to put the story of the rebellion out of public memory, and so they moved to purge all articles and records from magazines and newspapers, hoping that history would be erased and people would forget about Juhayman. 

But his memory remained. I remember one day, it was Hajj time and I was performing tawaf with my mother. This is a ritual in which you walk in circles around Kaaba, the most holy of Muslim shrines in Mecca. There was a hole in one of Kaaba’s walls, and as we walked around, Mom pointed to it and said, “That’s a hole from a bullet, from the time of Juhayman.”

Juhayman. The name itself brings terror to Muslims around the world. For me, that hole went beyond those walls. It went back in time; it was like a hole that we Saudis fill in, and continue to fill in. And so we keep going backward in my country.

The eighties went by, and the years after that brought the Afghan War and historic events in the Soviet Union. In the meantime, the extremists had become very powerful in Saudi Arabia, promoting their ideas and forcing everyone to abide by strict rules. 

Leaflets, books, and cassettes calling for jihad in Afghanistan and insisting on ejecting all non-Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula were given out freely. I was one of the youths recruited to distribute them. A twenty-two-year-old man was among those fighting for jihad. His name was Osama bin Laden. Such were the heroes of our time. In the days of Sahwa—al-Sahwa al-Islamiyya, or the Islamic Awakening—one of the main subjects of debate was women. I was taught that if I left home, I would be fully responsible for any evil that would befall me, because men cannot be expected to control their instincts. I am the seductive fruit, they said, and I would seduce men in all my shapes and forms. So I was made to stay home.

For Saudi extremists I was awra. The word awra means a sinful thing, an intimate part of the body you should not show. It is against the law to disclose it. By the time I was ten I was covering myself fully.

My face was awra, my voice was awra. Even my name was awra. Women cannot be called by name, so they are called “daughter of” a man’s name, “wife of” a husband, or “mother of” one of her sons.

There were no sports for women, no engineering schools. There was also, of course, no driving. And how could there be? We weren’t even allowed to have identity cards with pictures, except for passports, which were only necessary to leave the country. 

We were voiceless. We were faceless. We were nameless. And we were completely invisible.
Our lives had been stolen with a lie: We are doing this to protect you from the prying eyes of men, they told us. You deserve to be treated like a queen.

But during that time, something happened to show that not everyone was going along with this. On November 6, 1990, forty-seven courageous women emerged to challenge the ban on women driving. They went out into the streets of Riyadh and drove. The women were detained, banned from leaving the country, and dismissed from their jobs. I remember receiving that news when I was a kid. We were told that those women were really bad. Afterwards, there was a fatwa. The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia said that a woman driving was haram, forbidden in Islam. A television announcer came on to say that the Minister of the Interior had warned that women were not allowed to drive in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Al-Sharif delivering her historic speech in May 2012 at the Oslo Freedom Forum. She was honored at the event with the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent. (Oslo Freedom Forum)
Al-Sharif delivering her historic speech in May 2012 at the Oslo Freedom Forum. She was honored at the event with the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent. (Oslo Freedom Forum)

For the next twenty-two years, we were not even supposed to talk about women driving, whether on television and news broadcasts, or in magazines and newspapers. 

So, yet another taboo was created. 

The first had prevented us from talking about Juhayman; the second prevented us from talking about women driving.

But something else happened in that first chapter of my young life: the attack on Khobar Towers, a housing complex for foreign military personnel. The Towers were bombed on June 25, 1996, and, according to the Saudi government, the attack had been carried out by Saudi Islamic militants, including many veterans of the Afghan War. Nineteen US Air Force personnel had been killed and 372 more people of various nationalities injured. 

I remember my mother gasping when she saw the pictures. “Juhayman is back,” she said.
I was only seventeen, and it surprises me now to recall it, but I had no sympathy for the dead. I was brainwashed, I had been brought up in a particular time; I was the product of a terrorist culture. 

The change in my life started four years later, in 2000. That year, the Internet was introduced in Saudi Arabia. It was the first time I went online. Now, let me give you a picture of myself: as an extremist, I covered myself from head to toe. I had always followed that custom strictly. I also loved drawing, but one day when they told us in school that it was sinful to draw portraits of animals or people, I felt I had to comply. I dutifully took all my paintings and drawings and burned them. Meanwhile, I found myself burning inside. This was not fair. I had learned as much from a computer. The Internet, you see, was the first door for Arab youth to venture into the outside world. I was young, thirsty to learn about other people and other religions. I started communicating with people who held different opinions, and soon those conversations raised questions in my head. I began to realize how very small was the box I was living in. It looked all the smaller once I stepped out of it. Slowly, I started to lose my phobia of having my pure beliefs polluted.

Let me tell you another story. Do you remember the first time you listened to music? Do you remember your very first song? I do. I was twenty-one years old. It was the first I had ever allowed myself to listen to music. I remember the song: It was “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely,” by the Backstreet Boys. 

Maybe it will help you to understand if I tell you that I used to burn my brother’s cassettes in the oven. I was that extreme. And then I listened to that song. 

They had told us that music was Satan’s flute, a path to adultery, a door to sin. But the song I heard sounded so pure, so beautiful, so angelic. It could be anything but evil to me. It was then that I realized how lonely I was in my isolated little world.

Another important moment for me was 9/11, a turning point for so many people in my generation. When the events of 9/11 happened, the extremists said it was God’s punishment to Americans for what they had done to us over the years. 

I was confused about which side to take. I had been brought up to hate any non-Muslims or anyone who didn’t practice Islam as we viewed it. But when I watched the breaking news that night, I saw a man throwing himself from one of the World Trade Center towers. He was falling, straight down, escaping the fire.

That night I couldn’t sleep. The picture was in my head, and it was ringing a bell. Something is wrong, it was telling me. No religion on Earth can be this bloody, this cruel, this merciless.
Al Qaeda later announced their responsibility for the attacks. My heroes were no more than horrifying, bloody monsters. It was the turning point of my life. 

After 9/11, Saudi Arabia faced a sweep of terrorist attacks on our own land. The interesting outcome? A few months later, for the first time, authorities started issuing women identification papers. Even though an appointed male needed to give the permission, we were finally being recognized as citizens in our own country.

Which brings me to chapter two: driving for freedom. In this chapter, the inspiration was the Arab Spring—for me as for so many of my generation. I had been leaving my doctor’s clinic at nine o’clock one night, and couldn’t find a ride home. A car kept following me and the men in it almost kidnapped me. The next day at work I complained to my colleague how frustrating it was that I have a driver’s license from traveling overseas, but at home I’m not allowed to drive because I’m a woman. He said the simplest thing: “But there is no law banning you from driving.” A fatwa was a fatwa. Not a law. That plain truth ignited everything. It was June 2011, and a group of women, Saudis all, decided to start a movement, “Drive Your Own Life.”

It was to be a very straightforward campaign, using social media and calling women to come out and drive on one single day, June 17. We encouraged women with international drivers’ licenses only to participate, as we didn’t want to cause accidents.

A video still of Al-Sharif driving in Oslo, an action forbidden in Saudi Arabia by a fatwa. (courtesy of Aftenposten TV)
A video still of Al-Sharif driving in Oslo, an action forbidden in Saudi Arabia by a fatwa. (courtesy of Aftenposten TV)

That day, I recorded a video of myself driving. I used my face, my voice, my real name. I was determined to speak for myself. I had once been ashamed of who I was, a mere woman, but not anymore. When I posted that video on YouTube, it got 700,000 views on the first day. 

Clearly, I was not alone. On June 17, when we called for women to come forward, some 100 brave women drove. The streets of Riyadh were packed with police cars and religious police SUVs were posted in every corner of the city. But of the 100 who drove, not one was arrested. We had broken the taboo on driving.

The next day, I was arrested and sent to jail. A riot broke out around Saudi Arabia, and people were divided in two camps: one called for my trial and a flogging in a public place. They called me a whore, an outcast, licentious, immoral, rebellious, disobedient, Westernized, a traitor and double agent to boot. Pages sprang up on Facebook to denounce me, claiming that men would take their igals, cords Arab men wear on their heads, and thrash any woman who dared break the taboo and drive. Women shot back, “We will throw shoes at you.” So it was a full fight between genders.

I didn’t realize until after I was released from prison how many people had been inspired by a simple act that many women do every single day. The support that was rallied around the world led to my release nine days later. 

This is not about driving a car. It is about being in the driver’s seat of our destiny. I now say that I can measure the impact we made by how harsh the attacks were. It’s this simple: We’ve started a movement in Saudi Arabia. We call it the Saudi Woman’s Spring. 

We believe in full citizenship for women, because a child cannot be free if his mother is not free. A husband cannot be free if his wife is not free. Parents are not free if their daughters are not free. Society is nothing if its women are nothing. 

Freedom starts from within.

I am free. But I have to admit that when I go home to Saudi Arabia, it’s not the same for everyone. The struggle has just begun. 

I don’t know how long it will last, and I don’t know how it will end. But I do know that a drenching rain begins with a single drop. And eventually there are flowers. 

This essay is adapted from Manal al-Sharif’s speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum in May 2012.
Manal al-Sharif is a women’s rights activist and one of the primary organizers of the Women2Drive campaign, which advocates for women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia.  


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Israel and U.S. on a Collision Course?

by P. David Hornik

Some 57 percent of Israeli Jews preferred Romney, only 22% Obama (in my sector of American Israelis it was even more lopsided, a full 85% having cast absentee ballots for the challenger, only 14% for the incumbent). So, naturally, for the most part, November 7, 2012 was not a day of celebration in Israel.

Israel, too, has elections coming up—on January 22. That has prompted speculations that Obama will now throw his weight behind Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s left-of-center challengers. There are precedents for it, most notably in 1999 when President Bill Clinton sent a team of PR strategists Stanley Greenberg, James Carville, and Robert Shrum to help out Ehud Barak, then challenging Netanyahu (in his earlier term) from the left. Barak won by a narrow margin.

The difference is that this time, according to all polls so far, the right-of-center bloc that Netanyahu heads will win at least as decisively as it did in 2009. The left-wing challengers (some of them again being helped by Greenberg) are already crowing that the Netanyahu-Obama tensions are the former’s fault, and he thereby endangers Israeli-U.S. relations. Some say Obama will exploit this to stir fears among Israelis and shift the balance to the left.

It seems, though, that even if he tries, he won’t succeed; Israelis’ perception of a dangerous Middle Eastern environment, and of Netanyahu as a leader realistically attuned to it, is too strong.

Then there is the Palestinian issue. Will second-term Obama make a renewed pitch to get a state for the Palestinians—clearly one of his most burning aspirations when he took office?

Some say that, freed of concerns about the Jewish vote (which proved unfounded anyway), Obama will now go all-out to create another Arab state squeezed up beside a truncated Jewish one, claiming all the while that this is the greatest blessing Israel could hope for. Others contend that Obama, burned by experience, now realizes the pitfalls of such an attempt and, apart from rhetoric, won’t really embark on it.

Again, even if he does—while it may well involve further frictions with Israel and public castigations—it won’t get anywhere, for the same reason it didn’t the first time, and never has since 1937: the Palestinians aren’t interested in a compromise.

That leaves Iran.

Does Obama “have Israel’s back” on Iran, and is he prepared to do whatever is necessary, including the military option if all else fails, to stop this regime from going nuclear?

Or is he actually a softy on all Islamic radicals other than Al Qaeda, into cutting the defense budget rather than launching another war, and likely to seek a “grand deal” with Iran that will absolve him from taking any real action?

The dangers of the second possibility were well articulated on Wednesday by Israeli commentator David Weinberg, who noted:
A U.S.-Iran agreement could involve tacit recognition of Iranian hegemony in the Gulf region and acceptance of its nuclear status, in exchange for a long-term freeze in Iran’s enrichment of uranium to high levels. This would leave Ahmadinejad’s nuclear development facilities, including the Fordow underground center, intact, instead of dismantling them. This would allow the Iranians to continue refining their nuclear skills. Even at low levels of enrichment this provides a framework with which Tehran can bypass Western restrictions and hoodwink Western inspectors.
This despite the fact, Weinberg points out, that
Iran has clandestinely crossed every “red line” set by the West over the past 20 years…and has gotten away with it. So any deal that scales back sanctions and allows Iran to keep operating its advanced nuclear development facilities, even at a low level, is a fatal bargain.
Under such a scenario—with Obama having grandly proclaimed a successful deal while Iran keeps progressing toward the bomb under cover—would Netanyahu, now truly standing alone, make good on his vow to abort such progress by military means if necessary?

These questions stand to be answered in the rest of 2012 and in 2013. Meanwhile, Israel is not celebrating.

P. David Hornik


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The view from Jerusalem

by Isi Leibler

Should Obama revert to his earlier approach of continuously, and publicly reprimanding Israel whilst treating the duplicitous Palestinian leaders with kid gloves, he could bring about a confrontation with Congress.

Bedfellows. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be obliged to endeavor to overcome the personal animosity which bedeviled his relationship with Obama.
|Photo credit: AP

Isi Leibler


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Prepare for the Economic Storm

by Daniel Doron

Obama was elected to a second term, and Israel will likely face a tough diplomatic road due to disagreements over a fitting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The American president has demanded in recent years that Israel immediately fix the historical injustice to the Palestinians — caused according to the president by the creation of Israel — by creating an independent Palestinian state.

Such a step, however, could lead to a Hamas takeover of the newly created state, attacks on cities in central Israel and harsh Israeli retaliations that could spiral the entire region into severe hostilities. Meanwhile, this concern hasn't prevented prominent officials in Israel (mostly on the Left), namely President Shimon Peres, from enthusiastically pushing the measure forward, which could prove to be destructive for both peoples. Unrestrained political ambition is capable of blinding some people.

Alongside the dangers on the diplomatic front, Israel must prepare for a global economic crisis during Obama's second term — a crisis that has already begun hindering Israeli exports. The crucial measures on the diplomatic front are obviously dependent on cooperation from outside factors that we can't control. However, we have a great deal of control in regards to dealing with our domestic problems, specifically the economy, which is the basis for Israel's power, including its military strength. 

But it seems that due to the immense pressures caused by external problems (of which the Likud-Yisrael Beytenu coalition is an indicator), the Israeli government cannot find the time or strength to implement essential reforms which have a proven ability to quickly improve our situation and which would help the country to withstand the difficult pressures it will soon face. The past has taught that delaying implementation of reforms can lead to missing them altogether. Much damage has already been done relating to the effectiveness of reforms in the concentration of wealth and market control, despite it being a measure initiated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the support of the Bank of Israel.

The time to prepare the reforms is now, so that after the Israeli elections, the prime minister can immediately devote part of his extremely busy schedule to moving them forward. This way, the economy will become more efficient and Israel will be able to successfully deal with the threatening global economic crisis. 

Economic reforms are vital because, to keep up with the increasing competition during a global crisis, Israel must become more efficient and lower its bloated production costs, which are affected by high concentration of wealth and market control, tax rates, cost of living, monopolistic labor unions, and cost of raw materials and services compared to abroad. A reduction in exports, which account for a third of the country's national revenue, could cause a severe economic crisis in Israel and mass unemployment.

Daniel Doron


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Obama Win Won’t Derail Netanyahu

by Jonathan S. Tobin

There’s little doubt that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu wasn’t celebrating President Obama’s re-election, but he has more important things on his mind today than commiserating with his old Boston colleague Mitt Romney. Netanyahu’s priority is his own re-election campaign. But with Obama now in place for the next four years, speculation centers on whether that makes it less likely that the prime minister can skate to an easy victory in the Israeli balloting scheduled for the day after Obama takes the oath of office again in January.

Most Israelis understand that among any prime minister’s most important tasks is maintaining close relations with their country’s only ally, the United States. Many of Netanyahu’s foes, including American Jewish left-wingers, have spent the last four years hoping that the clashes between Obama and the prime minister would sooner or later undermine his grip on power and either topple his government or sink him at the next election. Yet despite years of often non-stop fights picked with him by the Americans, Netanyahu has prospered. The question now is whether Obama’s victory changes the equation enough to actually place Netanyahu in political jeopardy. But while the certain prospect of four more years of clashes between the two leaders ought to trouble both Israelis and Americans, Netanyahu probably hasn’t too much to worry about.

If Obama were to signal his hope that somebody other than Netanyahu would win in January it wouldn’t be all that unusual. Israelis and Americans have been interfering in each other’s elections for decades with the latter generally having a lot more impact on the opinions of Israeli voters than the reverse. The disfavor with which the administration of the first President Bush regarded Yitzhak Shamir was thought to have materially contributed to the Likud prime minister’s defeat in 1992. Seven years later, Netanyahu’s first stay in the prime minister’s residence was cut short in no small measure because of President Clinton’s obvious disdain for him.

Netanyahu was widely criticized at home this fall after publicizing Obama’s refusal to meet him in New York during the opening of the United Nations General Assembly to discuss setting “red lines” about diplomacy with Iran. The prime minister’s comments about the time were seen as an effort to undermine Obama during his own re-election campaign, and many Israelis were uncomfortable with the intervention as well as the prospect of their prime minister being seen as trying to pressure the United States into conflict with Iran.

But there are two problems with the idea that Obama’s undisguised animosity for Netanyahu will have a major impact on the Israeli election.

The first is that although Netanyahu’s political position looks a lot less secure than it did only a couple of months ago, there is still no plausible alternative to him in the field.

Netanyahu would probably have been better off going to early elections last spring rather than attempting to make a super coalition with Kadima work. That effort was doomed by Kadima’s futile attempt to revive its fortunes at Likud’s expense. Had the prime minister passed on that experiment, elections would have probably already been held and he would be now safely re-elected with Obama having nothing to say about it.

I also agree with those who argue that Netanyahu’s recent decision to merge the Likud with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party may yield his party less seats than the current combined total of the two groups. Netanyahu’s determination to consolidate the right behind his banner will allow his opponents to portray him as being in the pocket of extremist forces rather than as the leader of the center-right coalition. Yair Lapid’s new party may benefit from this realignment, in which it can gain more votes in the center.

But those expecting a new super party of centrists and various left-wingers to take on Netanyahu, with some failed politician like Ehud Olmert or Tzipi Livni at the helm, are probably dreaming. None of those likely to lead opposing parties are seen as even remotely having a chance to defeat Likud. Moreover, even if the Likud/Lieberman alignment loses seats, polls show the current coalition parties from the nationalist and the religious camps still easily winning a majority in the next Knesset.

Nothing Obama can say or do will make any of the alternatives to Netanyahu a realistic alternative and the president probably understands he would be foolish to try.

Second, and even more important, for all of the fear that Israelis have of the idea of there being daylight between their country and the U.S., they dislike and distrust Obama far more than they worry about Netanyahu. Every spat with Netanyahu strengthened the Israeli because most of the fights Obama picked were on issues on which the prime minister was able to defend the Israeli consensus, such as Jerusalem. Were he to start sending signals that he wants Netanyahu defeated, most Israelis would rightly interpret that as a prelude to more pressure on their country to give on such issues and that would, as it has throughout the last four years, strengthen rather than weaken Netanyahu.

The prime minister faces a tougher fight now than he might have had if the elections had come sooner or it Romney had won the American election. But Netanyahu remains a prohibitive favorite to win his own new four-year lease on power. The prospect of four more years of Obama-Netanyahu spats is disturbing, especially if Obama seeks to compromise on a nuclear Iran or hasn’t learned his lesson about the Palestinians’ disinterest in peace. But it isn’t likely that there is anything Barack Obama can do to prevent a Netanyahu win in January.

Jonathan S. Tobin


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Obama First Trip: Doubling Down on Islamism

by Michael Rubin

President Obama has now fought his last election and no longer needs to submit himself and his accomplishments to the voters. Accordingly, all bets are off as to how far the president will push his foreign policy agenda on Iran, Russia, the Palestinians and Israel, and Islamist regimes in general. Perhaps there will be even more open U.S. outreach to Hamas, and perhaps American diplomats will soon get their wish to sit-down with Hezbollah.

Today, Frank Ricciardone, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, announced that Obama’s first trip of his second term will be to Turkey, a country which has witnessed under its increasingly Islamist government an unprecedented roll back of basic freedoms. The Turks are looking at Obama’s choice as an endorsement. They are probably right. On top of this, Ricciardone’s announcement comes right after Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan announced that he would soon travel to Gaza, in recognition and support of Hamas.

Votes matter. How ironic it is, therefore, that Obama chooses to embrace most those governments and entities where they don’t.

Michael Rubin


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Barack Obama and the Cult of Dependency

by William Sullivan

Barack Obama has won the 2012 presidential race. We will hear from the left that this amounts to America's rejection of conservative principles. The media will posit that the American people heard Mitt Romney's message, thought about it from each and every angle, and decided on principle and merit to support the president.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. For millions of Americans who pulled the lever for Obama in this election, there was never any contemplation about ideology or the merits of Mitt Romney's message. And this election certainly does not signify a center-right nation's rejection of center-right conservatism in favor of Obama's leftist extremism. No, what this election signifies is that we conservatives can no longer find solace in the comforting hope that there are enough rational people in this country to overcome the ideologically infected social engineers that cannibalize American liberty while leading their mindless flock to worship at the redistributive altar.

This mindless flock of the Democratic base is simply too large in terms of sheer numbers, and too far removed from reasonable perception to do anything other than vote for more collectively subsidized "stuff," whether it's food stamps, unemployment checks, health insurance, or contraception and abortions. For them, the impulse to vote Democratic is more a conditioned Pavlovian response than a result of thoughtful exploration. The conditioned stimulus (promises of government entitlements) is coupled with an unconditioned stimulus (free food via food stamps, for example), and in time, either stimulus will, like clockwork, produce the response of a vote for the name that appears on the Democratic ticket.

This is tragic not only for political reasons, but for humanistic ones as well. It is precisely our ability to think and reason as individuals that makes us human. And effectively, the Democratic Party has systematically dehumanized a large part of its constituency by making them obedient dependents -- unable to reason, robbed of individualism in a manufactured groupthink culture, and relegated to the graciousness of a benefactor who claims to have their best interests in mind. In the best way of describing them is as entranced cultists. In the worst, they are willing slaves.

However one might choose to describe them, Barack Obama has certainly been efficient in his efforts to garner their devotion. Taking food stamps alone as an example, he has added more than 15 million new dependents to the government rolls in his tenure as president, each of which now has a vested interest in voting Democrat -- it is their job, and the source of their livelihood. It is only logical to assume that few among them have the good sense to consider, say, a continuation of rising food and energy costs that an Obama re-election portends. Why would they, when they have been conditioned to feel entitled to both if they are without, regardless what it might cost taxpayers? No, these dependents likely never mustered a thought beyond the conditioned assumption that a Democratic vote preserves a continued right to free food. One Twitter user going by the handle @_MaliksWright articulates this position nicely, laced with one of many death threats against Mitt Romney that have been curiously uninteresting to the media at large:
Food stamps are such a beautiful thing. Romney better hope he lose tomorrow, I cock my gun on his ass he take MY food stamps away lol
Certainly, there are millions of those not on the government dole that vote Democrat because the concepts of "fairness" and "social justice" are simply more important to them than those guidelines for liberty enumerated by the Constitution. Count them among the clergy in the progressive cult. But this election has made it as clear as ever that the misguided progressive ambition rests squarely on the shoulders of this army of dehumanized dependents. Every election, we see the intellectual leaders of the self-proclaimed "free thinking" Democratic left unashamedly goad the opiate-and-compliant rabble to the polls with promises of free government handouts -- and this one was no different.

There might be humor in the irony of that, if it were not so shameful and sad.

But it is on the strength of millions of such votes, and only on the strength of millions of such votes, that Democrats can carry such narrow victories as we saw in the presidential election of 2012.

I wish there was a silver lining here, but there is not. With increasing dependency upon the government comes increasing difficulty in defeating a Democratic presidential candidate at the national level. We need but look at Obama's "Life of Julia" slideshow to verify that this is precisely what he has in mind, and as we taxpayers are doomed to endure the full scope and measure of ObamaCare taking effect in the coming years, the wheels are already in motion for American dependency upon the government to unprecedentedly expand. And with it, the chances of a return to conservative governance predicated on individualism and limited government are vastly diminished. In a time very soon, those chances might be nil. 

The completion of Obama's fundamental transformation of America is nearly at hand. And we who value what America once represented rightfully mourn its coming demise

William Sullivan blogs at can be followed on Twitter.


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by Matthew May

This is a thank you note to a good man.

Thank you for turning aside from a life of ease and security to run for the presidency against an incumbent.

Thank you for enduring the slander of you, your family, and your faith perpetrated by a criminally negligent media.

Thank you for calling things such as terrorism by their right name.

Thank for selecting Paul Ryan as vice presidential running mate.

Thank you -- and your lovely wife -- for demonstrating true love.

Thank you for handling yourself with grace and equanimity in every situation.

Thank you for your patriotism.
Thank you for believing in America.  It is to our eternal shame that America did not, in this time and place, believe in you.

Matthew May


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Where Would Hezbollah Be Without the EU?

by Douglas Murray

The EU has been here before. During the same period they came up with their false wall-of-separation within Hezbollah, they they did the same thing with Hamas. The fiction disappeared in Europe because it was no longer possible to allow a group to operate which blew up buses full of civilians.
However bad many Americans think that the Obama administration is on security matters, at least one thing can be said in their favor: they are not Europeans.

An advisor to President Obama last week condemned the European Union's weakness on security issues, and one, in particular, namely its disgraceful and pusillanimous behaviour on what should be an open-and-shut case.

Speaking in Dublin last Saturday, the chief counter-terrorism adviser to President Obama, John Brennan, criticized the European Union for its complete failure to stand up to the terrorist group Hezbollah.

It will be amazing to many Americans – and indeed to many Europeans – that the group remains able to operate, recruit and raise funds within the EU. In America, which like France, felt the full brunt of Hezbollah activities in Beirut in 1983, the organization has long been banned in any and all of its guises. This last August Washington, which already sanctions and classifies Hezbollah as a foreign "terrorist organization," additionally put the group on a list of organizations under sanctions for involvement in the slaughter being carried out in Syria by Bashar al-Assad's regime. As Brennan added, in addition to its involvement with terrorist activities carried out by Iran, Hezbollah "is training militants in Yemen and Syria." Even that does not do justice to the scope, range and history of Hezbollah's ambitions.

In the EU however, the group is able to fundraise unhindered. This appalling fact has come about because of an entirely false distinction which the EU continues to observe. It is a distinction entirely of its own invention.

For the EU claims that there is a difference between the "political"' and the "military" wings of Hezbollah. Therefore as long as the "political" side of their activities is being pursued the EU considers it legitimate activity. Of course there is a striking fact here: nobody outside the EU believes there is any such internal distinction within Hezbollah. The American government does not see it; the Canadian government does not see it. The governments of Iran and Syria do not see it. The people of Lebanon do not see it. And of course Hezbollah itself certainly does not see it.

For the leadership of Hezbollah the issue of its legitimacy within the EU is a source of considerable satisfaction. Where would Hezbollah be without the EU? The Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has already made it very clear where they would be. A few years back Nasrallah said that if the EU designated Hezbollah as a terrorist group in its entirety it would "destroy" the organization; as Nasrallah put it, "[t]he sources of our funding will dry up and the sources of moral, political and material support will be destroyed."

Any other political entity in the West would recognize that as an invitation. But for the EU it is a terrible warning. For one of the reasons why the EU continues to argue for a political-military divide is that proscribing the fictitious "political wing" of Hezbollah would risk destabilizing Lebanon. Anybody who knows anything at all about Lebanon might observe that Hezbollah is doing perfectly nicely at destabilizing Lebanon already. Hezbollah's parallel state within Lebanon, its private army and road-blocks, its blackmailing of its opponents and its bribery of those it wishes to keep it in power is destabilizing enough. And that is not even to mention the deeply "stabilizing" (if you are the EU) effects that the group must have as they carry out assassinations of opponents, bombings in civilian areas and so on.

The EU has been here before. During the same period they came up with their false wall-of-separation within Hezbollah they did the same thing with Hamas. That terror group too, they decided, had a military and a political wing. After the atrocities of the Second Intifada, however, that fiction disappeared. It did not disappear because the EU was made aware of something it had previously been unaware of. It disappeared in Europe because it was no longer possible – in terms of public opinion or political expediency – to allow a group to operate which blew up buses full of civilians.

Of course in July this year an Iranian proxy of some kind – believed by many to be Hezbollah – did exactly that on European soil. The bombing of a bus of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria showed that Iranian proxies like Hezbollah are not only willing but able to use within the EU the tactics they have used for years in the Middle East and, in the case of Hezbollah, as far away as Buenos Aires in the 1990s.

That the same EU which has seen a member country attacked by such terror should continue to permit such terrorists to recruit and fundraise on EU soil is an utterly unsustainable position. The distinction will break down, but it will have to be pushed. Recently in Dublin John Brennan did some of that pushing. He described the European stance on Hezbollah as something that "makes it harder to defend our countries and protect our citizens."

He is right, and should be applauded for stating the case. The EU will have to listen. The only question is how long they remain willing to help Hezbollah in its last European hurrah.

Douglas Murray


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Secessions That Will Redraw Europe

by Peter Martino

As the richer center-right regions are increasingly unwilling to pay for the poorer leftist regions, the strain on multi-ethnic nations in Europe is growing. We might very well see an entirely different Europe – with a handful of new nations – five years from now. Washington would be wise to take this possibility into serious consideration.
On November 25, Catalonia, the richest region of Spain, will hold regional elections. Artur Mas, the leader of the regional government, is campaigning on a platform demanding more autonomy for Catalonia. Mr. Mas's government in Barcelona called early elections in an effort to attain greater independence from Madrid.

Spain is divided into 17 autonomous entities, of which only 14 can be considered truly Spanish. Two states have their own language, Catalonia and the Basque Country, while in a third state, Galicia, a dialect of Portuguese is spoken. Like the Basques, many Catalans are striving for independence from Spain. The independence movement has been growing since the economic crisis hit Spain.

Catalonia encompasses less than 6.5 percent of Spain's territory. Its 7.5 million inhabitants comprise 16% of Spain's population. However, its GDP constitutes almost 20% of Spain's. Over the past years Catalonia's economy has been contracting, though at a less dramatic rate than the overall Spanish economy. The Catalans resent the fact that each year they are forced to transfer about 8% of their GDP to other Spanish regions because the central government in Madrid demands that Catalonia help support the poorer regions of Spain.

The Catalans claim that this enforced form of "solidarity" is harming their own region. Every year the Catalans pump some $20 billion more in tax revenue into the central government's coffers than they receive in return. Like the rest of Spain, the eurocrisis has cast Catalonia into heavy debt. When Madrid recently turned down Barcelona's request for a no-strings-attached bailout of $6.2 billion, angry Catalans began to clamor for secession from Spain.

Last September 11th, a staggering million and a half of the 7.5 million Catalans joined a pro-independence demonstration in the streets of Barcelona, shouting No Vull PagarI don't want to pay.

While in the past, the arguments in favor of Catalan independence were mostly cultural and had to do with the need to preserve Catalan national identity, today the arguments have become financial. They have to do with the need to safeguard Catalonia's economic prosperity. The mostly center-right Catalans do not want to subsidize regions over whose – often leftist – economic policies they have no influence.

A similar phenomenon can be observed in Flanders, the most prosperous region of Belgium. The Dutch speaking Flemish are increasingly averse to supporting the French speaking Socialist southern part of Belgium, which is in economic decline. A conservative Flemish-nationalist party, the ideology of which resembles that of Artur Mas's Convergence and Union party in Catalonia, won the recent local elections and has taken over the city council of Antwerp, Belgium's economic powerhouse.

In Italy, too, the economically stronger North – so-called Padania – is increasingly reluctant to subsidize the poorer South. The Lega Nord, the largest party in many parts of northern Italy, wants to lead Padania to independence.

The unwillingness of the richer northern parts of Belgium, Spain and Italy to pay for the southern parts is mirrored on the pan-European level by the unwillingness of the North to pay for the South. Indeed, as the Financial Times has noted, many Germans are wondering why they should support poorer Spanish regions if even the Catalans object to it.

It is a legitimate question: the point that the North is richer than the South cannot be attributed to natural phenomena beyond the people's control. On the contrary, politicians in the South have for decades been pursuing wrongheaded Socialist policies, showering their voters with subsidies, in the knowledge that if these policies led to bankruptcy the North would foot the bill.

Last October, the Catalan regional parliament decided to stage a "public consultation" on Catalonia's future. The word "referendum" was carefully avoided: under the Spanish Constitution of 1978, a referendum on regional independence is prohibited. Even a referendum probing the Catalan voters about their views on greater fiscal autonomy is illegal.

The Catalan initiative was immediately slammed down by Spain's central government and parliament. The Cortes, Spain's national parliament in Madrid, overwhelmingly voted down a proposal to allow the Catalonians to hold a referendum with 276 votes against, 42 votes for and no abstentions, while Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy pledged to halt any illegal referendums. Ironically, Rajoy is a Galician and happens to be the grandson of one of the drafters of the botched 1932 Galician Statute of Autonomy.

Despite the opposition from Madrid, Catalan Prime Minister Mas has announced that after this month's regional elections he will carry on preparing for the "public consultation," regardless of Madrid's position.

The Catalans feel encouraged by events in Scotland, where the Scottish National Party (SNP), which is governing the province, has announced that within two years it will be holding a referendum on Scottish independence. The Scottish situation is different from the one in Catalonia, Flanders or Padania. Scotland is poorer and more leftist than England. The Scots are even being subsidized by the English. They reckon, however, that with the proceeds from North Sea oil flowing directly into Scottish coffers, they would be better off than they are today.

The international implications of Spain, Belgium, Italy and the United Kingdom unraveling might be considerable. The Catalan, Flemish, Padanian and Scottish nationalists have all indicated that they want to remain members of the European Union. When Catalonia, Flanders, Padania and Scotland secede, they become new nations and will have to reapply for EU membership. Given that every EU member state can veto new members, the governments of what remains of Spain, Belgium, Italy and the United Kingdom would be able to block the accession of the seceded entities.

However, as Catalonia, Flanders and Padania will be rich countries and net contributors to the EU institutions in Brussels, it is unlikely that the EU would refuse the new applicants' membership. As far as Scotland is concerned, England is much more likely to leave the EU than Scotland. Viviane Reding, the EU Commissioner for Justice, has already indicated that Brussels would be ready to take a constructive attitude toward a Catalan membership application.

But there will be implications for the United States as well. Given that most Catalans, Flemish and Padanians are center-right, they are much more pro-American than the remainder of Spain, Belgium and Italy. Independent Catalonia, Flanders and Padania are likely to be trustworthy allies of Washington. Their secessionist parties have all indicated that they want to remain members of NATO. Here, too, the Scots differ from the others. The SNP used to oppose NATO. With independence becoming a serious possibility, however, the SNP has changed its position. At last October's SNP party conference, it voted to ditch its 30-year opposition to NATO. With 394 votes against 365 the SNP decided that following Scotland's eventual independence in 2014 it would apply for NATO membership.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week that the crisis in the eurozone is likely to last for at least "five years or more" -- with the eurocrisis putting ever more pressure on richer center-right regions to pay for poorer leftist regions. As the former are increasingly unwilling to pay for the latter, the strain on multi-ethnic nations in Europe is growing. If the eurocrisis continues for another five years, we might very well see an entirely different Europe – with a handful of new nations – five years from now. Washington would be wise to take this possibility into serious consideration.

Peter Martino


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Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Death of Ordinary Decency

by James Lewis

This has been a mean-spirited campaign, and the meanest, most destructive people won.
So be it.

In the last two Democratic administrations we have seen a sleazier, angrier and more selfish part of America rising up more and more in our political class. The Founders told us that ultimately our elected politicians are a mirror of ourselves. Just like you, before November 7, 2012, I lived in the fervent hope that the degradation of the Clinton and Obama years might be an exception to the long trend of American history. But two times eight years of radical leftists in high office can't be an accident. We can't just blame our sleazy media, or just the leftist political class, as corrupt and malevolent as they truly are.

No -- the balance of decency in America has changed. Every society has normal, decent people and the other kind. The America we grew up in was fundamentally decent. Decency was the expected standard.

Now the balance has changed.

The evidence for our sleazified culture can be seen all around. It is in our pop music, which has lost melody and now just has rhythm. We have a President who won on revenge against middle class values. That's what he meant by telling his people to vote for revenge. And they did -- showing us exactly who they are.

We are now a society divided between the makers and the takers, and the takers are on a campaign of theft and revenge.

We have a President who takes dangerous pride in his hatred for "middleclassness" as Jeremiah Wright taught him to believe. We have a President who culminated his campaign with a ghetto singer rapping about hoes and bitches, about drug-ridden and broken families, as if all those cruelties were good.

This is not normal, decent America.

It is not.

We need to face that.

Morality and values are not small things. The new tide in the affairs of America also means that we can no longer be trusted to defend civilized values around the world, as we have done for the last hundred years.

It's a sea change. Fools around the world will applaud Obama as a savior, but wise people will see us crumbling. They know they will be the worse for it.

Today the world is far more dangerous place than four years ago.   If you doubt that, keep an eye on the rise of barbarisms around the world. Obama constantly facilitates barbarism, and the barbarians understand that much better than decent people do.

History buffs will remember that we've had decades of sleaze before. The Founders were followed by Jacksonian corruption. Abraham Lincoln was followed by Reconstruction. Yet we somehow found our way back. Come-backs can happen, but probably not soon.

So this is an elegiac moment, a moment of mourning for what has passed. From Truman and Eisenhower to Bush 43 we have had leaders of character.
 No longer.

 Republicans by and large still look, act, and speak like normal, decent people. But they have a hard time even understanding a thoroughly sleazified America. Normal, decent people do not know how to live in this new, barbaric society. We live in protected communities, we drive around in SUVs, like armored cars.

The left knows exactly how to act in this Brave New World. They've made it. We are now ruled by sleazy demagogues who take bribes from foreign nations that do not wish us well. Obama is the worst example so far. Even the Clintons, both selfish narcissists, were somewhat better.

 With the decline of American decency, the civilized world has lost its foremost defender. America wasn't a world power in earlier times of corruption. We could afford to make mistakes. Today, our national decay endangers the world. The left has purposely attacked our self-respect, our pride in our morality and decency, and our crucial role in the defense of civilized values. We are no longer the Leader of the Free World, because we have lost -- for now -- the values that guided us.  America can no longer be trusted, as we saw so clearly in Benghazi and the fraudulent Arab Spring. Any nation that places any trust in our promises today is run by fools. Our allies must arm up to protect themselves, or they must find new, trustworthy allies.

For sixty years Europe has lived off our willingness to come to its defense.  The southern rim of Europe is now going bankrupt, and even France looks ready to crumble. Without our leadership Europe has to rely on itself, or on Russia, or on the spreading Muslim empires. But Europe has shown no capacity to defend itself. Maybe they will learn. Or maybe they will be swamped.  We can no longer be trusted.

William Butler Yeats's most famous poem, "The Second Coming," was written out from overwhelming sense of social degradation in Europe in the 1920s and 30s. Years afterwards Yeats wrote that maybe he was anticipating the rise of Hitler and Stalin, the two greatest evils that rose from the rubble of World War I.

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

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
James Lewis


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.