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Next Year in South Africa. Not.

This is a guest post by Ben Cohen of Z Word

Last Saturday morning, I switched on Fox Soccer Channel for the first of a series of World Cup qualifiers which the station, a veritable lifeline for football lovers in America, was broadcasting. A live feed from Tehran appeared on my screen. On the pitch, Iran was battling Saudi Arabia.

My two small boys dashed in and asked me – as they invariably do – “Who ya cheering for, Daddy?” I had to think about this one. They are too young for a lecture on Middle Eastern politics and I knew that if I said “neither,” I’d get pressed as to why. When you’re seven years old, you have to cheer for someone.

I thought for a few more seconds. I noted the electrified crowd. I studied the Iranian players, many of them groomed and pouting in the style of Manchester United’s Ronaldo. It struck me that what seems banal and irritating in the context of the European game is positively subversive in this context. “Iran,” I mumbled. Blank looks. “The white team,” I clarified. On hearing that, my contrarian sons decided to go for the green team – the Saudis. Islam’s civil war was now in our living room.

I’ve seen the Iranians play impressive football in the past, but on this occasion, the action off the field was more compelling. This being Iranian TV, every time the ball went out of play, even for a second, the cameras would sweep to the Presidential box, where Ahmadinejad and his unsmiling cronies sat looking thuggish and self-important. Whether or not you were actually in the stadium, there was no forgetting Mahmoud’s presence in the house.

As Saudi Arabia snatched a 2-1 victory, I remembered the story of how Saddam Hussein’s son Udai ordered the feet of the Iraqi national team to be whipped after they lost a vital match. Defeated in this crucial qualifier, Iran, which has played in the last three World Cup tournaments, has virtually no hope of going to the next one, next year in South Africa. For Ahmadinejad, revealing the nationalist lurking inside of the Islamist, this was little short of a disgrace.

I haven’t heard, yet, of any Iranian players being dragged into the chamber of horrors that is Evin prison. Instead, Ahmadinejad focused his wrath on the Iranian coach, Ali Daei. No matter that Daei, as a player, enjoyed the same status in Iran as did Bobby Charlton in England or Roberto Baggio in Italy. Reported The Guardian:

Daei was fired as team coach after Iran lost 2-1 to Saudi Arabia in a vital World Cup qualifier at Tehran’s Azadi stadium on Saturday. The match was witnessed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president, who is said to have been instrumental in ousting him.

Ahmadinejad had hoped a victory would bring him political capital before the presidential poll in June. The desire to score a propaganda coup even prompted the president’s fans to credit him when Iran took a 1-0 lead. But the euphoria evaporated in the last 12 minutes and Daei’s fate was sealed as a mass mobile phone text to Ahmadinejad’s supporters went out, reading: “Due to the importance of national public opinion to Dr Ahmadinejad, Ali Daei has been forced out.”

Ironically, as Daei was falling upon the mullah’s sword, Israel’s World Cup bid was also being decided. Playing Greece in Ramat Gan on Saturday night, the Israelis managed a disappointing 1-1 tie. They played another match against Greece the following Wednesday, one they absolutely had to win; they lost 2-1 after conceding a penalty to the Greeks late in the second half.

The worlds tyrannies will have their representatives at the 2010 World Cup. Football being the most global of sports, it necessarily encompasses those countries which hold their leaders accountable and those countries which have their leaders imposed on them. Judging by current form, both North Korea and Saudi Arabia have good reason to believe that they will be flying to South Africa.

But we will be denied the spectacle of Iran and Israel playing – and perhaps being drawn against each other – in the most glorious contest which world sport has to offer. In some ways, that will come as a disappointment to those campaigning for the exclusion of Israel from global competitions, especially as South Africa has become fertile soil for such braying mob politics. You could say that, in the end, it was not the politicians who decided their joint fate, but the players themselves. As Ali Daei might tell you, there is an inherent fairness in football which is absent from politics.

Except that football is not so pure. Missing in the coverage of Israel’s dashed World Cup hopes – the Israeli press was utterly scornful of the national team and its coach, Dror Kashtan, with Yossi Sarid practically frothing at the mouth – was a reminder of why Israel was playing Greece in the first place. Being located in Asia, Israel should be playing in the Asian qualifying group. However, most of the states in that group refuse to play against a country they don’t recognize.

Were Israel allowed to play in its own region, its chances of qualification would be virtually assured. Europe, where it is forced to play, is a much tougher prospect. Those disappointed that they won’t now be greeting the Israeli team with banners denouncing “Zionist apartheid” will probably take some comfort from the fact that while Iran was denied by the ball alone, when it comes to Israel, the boycott was the opposing team’s twelfth man.

Avigdor the Foreigner

This is a guest post by Michael Weiss

His first week on the job and the new Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is all smiles, reaffirming his commitment to a lack of commitment to a two-state solution.”Those who think that through concessions they will gain respect and peace are wrong,” Lieberman told the New York Times. “It is the other way around; it will lead to more wars.”

One of the strangely unremarked aspects of Lieberman’s ascendancy is that he has a vested interest in ensuring settlements in the West Bank aren’t dismantled anytime soon. He lives in one. But that raises an interesting question: Assuming that by some miracle of geopolitics a Palestinian state did emerge on Netanyahu’s watch, would that make the foreign minister for Israel from… another country? How would that go down amongst a constituency that wants Israelis to swear upon loyalty oaths?

Modern life

Will smash windows to order

Here is a picture from the G20 protest of a brave anti-capitalist outlining his alternative vision of a brighter future for mankind. Cathode ray tubes were so more effective in this situation don’t you think?

G20 Protestor throw monitor

I count roughly about 19 photographers (not including the one taking the picture) standing watching 5 protestors. There is the possibility that the protestors included a high proportion of the Flickr community, but I suspect many of the photographers are there for journalistic reasons.

The fact the media are present at events like G20 will influence protestor behaviour. That’s no big insight, that’s why protestors attend these events. However, when the media outnumber the protestors and acts like the above are performed, seemingly to cue, how much complicity in the event is there? Do the photographers say “Can you throw that again, after I get the angle right,”? Did the photographers gather round the individuals, or did the individuals go the cameras?

Media look on at protestor

In fact, isn’t there something rather ironic about an anti-capitalist protestor acting out his expected role so capitalists can sell newspapers?

Hope not Hate Says

Earlier this week we launched a petition condemning the BNP’s billboard campaign to whip up interfaith tension. Within hours thousands of people joined us in condemning the BNP’s paper-thin attempt to use Jesus Christ to spread hate and division.

And now we’re going turn their disgraceful tactics against them. The BNP tried to use Jesus in their ads to generate some cheap publicity.

And we’re going to give them that – but instead of the BNP getting a few lousy newspaper stories, we’re going to unite entire communities against their message of hate. We’ve just finished designing a leaflet about the BNP’s billboard that we want to distribute to faith groups across the country. But to do this we need your help – please donate £5 or whatever you can afford now -

We’re hoping to bring in tens of thousands of supporters – and hundreds of thousands of votes – in the next 72 hours. It’s a crucial moment in our campaign.

To pay for this campaign we need to raise £4250 by midnight. We’re at a turning point in our movement – we’re expecting thousands of people to unite against the BNP. Will you donate £5 or whatever you can afford to help us run this campaign?

Yesterday I met with the Reverend Paul Butler, who said that the BNP had given us a “gift.” He said that this issue could rally hundreds of thousands of people of faith to our campaign – building on the strength of Britain’s peaceful and tolerant society. This really could be our most crucial hour against the BNP yet.

Will you give a fiver by midnight tonight to make this happen?

We’re in the process of turning the BNP’s attempt to divide Britiain into a rallying call for hope. But this can only happen with your immediate help. We can’t afford to let this moment pass us by. Please donate £5 or whatever you can afford by 12am tonight.

I know that I ask a lot from our supporters. But this time it’s even more crucial.

Stop the what?

I was thinking about the various G20 demonstrations over the last two days and of all the groups demonstrating I was trying to work out what the Stop the War Coalition were out on the streets for? What was their exact beef?

Oh yes, I know it is to get Nato Troops out of Afghanistan, very noble. I mean who wouldn’t want to allow the Taliban back into power. After all, they flog young women and film it.

From the Guardian today: “A video showing a teenage girl being flogged by Taliban fighters has emerged from the Swat Valley in Pakistan, offering a shocking glimpse of militant brutality in the once-peaceful district, and a sign of Taliban influence spreading deeper into the country.

“The two-minute video, shot using a mobile phone, shows a burka-clad woman face down on the ground. Two men hold her arms and feet while a third, a black-turbaned fighter with a flowing beard, whips her repeatedly.”

Anyway, today is the day that Nato leaders get together and Barack Obama will  plead for more troops to be sent to Afghanistan.

The Economist Stands Firm Against “Religious Defamation”

So says The Economist:

AT FIRST glance, the resolution on “religious defamation” adopted by the UN’s Human Rights Council on March 26th, mainly at the behest of Islamic countries, reads like another piece of harmless verbiage churned out by a toothless international bureaucracy. What is wrong with saying, as the resolution does, that some Muslims faced prejudice in the aftermath of September 2001? But a closer look at the resolution’s language, and the context in which it was adopted (with an unholy trio of Pakistan, Belarus and Venezuela acting as sponsors), makes clear that bigger issues are at stake.

The resolution says “defamation of religions” is a “serious affront to human dignity” which can “restrict the freedom” of those who are defamed, and may also lead to the incitement of violence. But there is an insidious blurring of categories here, which becomes plain when you compare this resolution with the more rigorous language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 in a spirit of revulsion over the evils of fascism. This asserts the right of human beings in ways that are now entrenched in the theory and (most of the time) the practice of liberal democracy. It upholds the right of people to live in freedom from persecution and arbitrary arrest; to hold any faith or none; to change religion; and to enjoy freedom of expression, which by any fair definition includes freedom to agree or disagree with the tenets of any religion.

In other words, it protects individuals—not religions, or any other set of beliefs. And this is a vital distinction. For it is not possible systematically to protect religions or their followers from offence without infringing the right of individuals.

What exactly is it the drafters of the council resolution are trying to outlaw? To judge from what happens in the countries that lobbied for the vote—like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan—they use the word “defamation” to mean something close to the crime of blasphemy, which is in turn defined as voicing dissent from the official reading of Islam. In many of the 56 member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, which has led the drive to outlaw “defamation”, both non-Muslims and Muslims who voice dissent (even in technical matters of Koranic interpretation) are often victims of just the sort of persecution the 1948 declaration sought to outlaw. That is a real human-rights problem. And in the spirit of fairness, laws against blasphemy that remain on the statute books of some Western countries should also be struck off; only real, not imaginary, incitement of violence should be outlawed.

I wonder if the time will ever come, when the Ken Livingstoneish left will decide that Venezuela under Chavez is not a force for good.

Craig Murray Latest Lunacy

Craig Murray was formerly an ambassador, but now is a professional nutter. 

You might remember that in the immediate aftermath of the Tiger Tiger bombing, Craig immediately ran a cui bono argument, speculating that “the only people who can possibly benefit are the vast and ever-burgeoning security industry of all kinds”. 

He’s doing it again:

All of which leads me to resurrect this bit I wrote in a comments thread in reply to someone asking why I hadn’t mentioned the possibility of agents provocateurs:

There was a fascinating and drawn out scene outside the Bank of England yesterday when a distinct group of some thirty were attacking the police, one hitting the police with a long pole. Prominent was a group of young Asian lads.

I recognised them because I was crushed up hard for a good while against the same bunch of young Asians outside the Israeli Embassy a couple of months ago, where again they were being inexcusably violent.

The very strange thing was that, plainly from Sky’s overhead cam, the Police had the ability to isolate and snatch this group of obviously violent individuals, and the police would have had my support in doing so. But they didn’t.

So who are they?

It is articles like these that make Craig Murray such a popular figure on the lunatic fringes of the Left.


… and of course, Craig “Can’t Imagine Why He Was Sacked” Murray responds

His argument seems to be that I’m a racist: something which he feels perfectly relaxed about saying, as he knows that I won’t sue for libel. 

But I mustn’t be too harsh on Craig Murray. He is only trying to make a living, in a marketplace already crowded by the likes of David “Jesus Reborn” Shayler and David “Lizards” Icke.

Positive changes?

Guest post by DaveM

It’s the little, almost insignificant, things from my time in Syria that will never leave me.

The big things you thought you’d never forget, such as the constant explicit news footage during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, the pictures of dead children from that war displayed on lampposts, etc., just faded into the background.

It was relentless and once you got over the initial shock it was as if your subconscious, as some sort of defence mechanism, just shut all that stuff out. After a while you became so desensitized it just became invisible, though you did find yourself getting angry and stressed for seemingly no apparent reason.

Nonetheless, small things would always find a way into your head. Such as when I was buying blankets and told the shopkeeper that I didn’t expect that Syria actually had winters.

“It’s always winter here,” he muttered under his breath unable to look me in the eyes.

The time I was in Beirut’s Virgin Megastore, saw Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies Volume 2: Hegel & Marx, and asked the clerk if they sold an Arabic translation of this book. He looked at me, laughed and said, “Maybe if you come back in about 200 years time”.

The time I was at a friend’s house, the doorbell rang, he went white and the first thing he did was hide his books. That’s right. Books.

But most of all it has to be Farouq’s look of dismay when Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, visited Damascus, and he asked me, “What kind of message do you think that sends to us? Those of us who want democracy and freedoms that you have in the West, how do you think this makes us feel?”

Those words never leave me. They’re always there in my head.
They motivate me.

I tried to reassure him by telling him she was a US opposition member of Congress, and Britain would never do anything as naïve that; after all they have many years experience in the region.

I could not have been more wrong.

Hezbollah MP, Dr. Hussein El-Hajj Hassan’s visit to Britain has people wondering if London and Washington are seeing eye-to-eye on this issue.

Especially as 2 weeks ago the US administration expressed its unease with Britain’s overtures towards Hezbollah [which took place in Beirut].

And US administration officials are wondering exactly what distinguishes Hezbollah’s political wing from its military and social wings

El Hajj Hassan: “In regards to this issue– Europe in general, and specifically I’m talking about Britain here, has relationships with the area [Lebanon and the Middle East] and views the area from a position of neutrally. We’re not demanding that they fully align themselves with us, but at the same time it’s not understood how they can align themselves with Israel or are biased against our causes”.

Dr Hussein El-Hajj Hassan was happy with his meetings with the different groups during his visit, most notably one at the House of Commons along with other meetings with British political and media personalities such as MP Tony Benn and members of both House of Lords and House of Commons.

El Hajj Hassan: “I think that there are a number of developments taking place in the world which have lead to Western governments, specifically the British Government, understanding some of the realities in the Middle East and specifically Lebanon, and changing their stance [towards them].

“And so we heard an announcement from the British government in which they talk about their wish to communicate with Hezbollah in order to specify some of the goals connected with the peace process, UN declaration 1701, and internal Lebanese issues.

“From our position we have made clear our willingness to communicate and we’ll listen to their point of view on all the issues at stake here”.

If the Foreign Ministry wishes this opening up to Hezbollah to transform positively on the Lebanese field it’s clear that this visit hasn’t impressed Washington.

Barry Marston, Foreign Office spokesperson: “Britain has taken this decision against the backdrop of positive changes in the Lebanese domain. These changes include the Doha Agreement, agreements re national dialogue, forming a national unity government and efforts that will ensure successful elections. Therefore Britain wants to endeavour to move these positive changes in the right direction.”

I really don’t understand what the government is trying to do here.
Discourage Hezbollah from violence? Convince them to give up their weapons? How exactly?

Hezbollah use violence because it works. And they’ll continue to use it as long as it works. No amount of cups of tea overlooking the Thames is going to change any of that. So what’s really going on here?

And Barry Marston: I understand only too well the sacrifices, the hard work, the long hours, the frustration, the isolation and the loneliness which is all part of learning Arabic. Maybe I’m not the one to be saying this, as I’m not exactly Mahmoud Darwish myself, but you have to realise this is how you sound to native speakers.


Hezbollah must be laughing their asses off at us. If I was a member of that militia I know I would be. And this is a slap in the face to Lebanon’s independence movement and an insult to those in it who were killed.

So why stop at Hezbollah? I think Ayman al-Zawahiri has an opening in his schedule, so why not invite him too?

After all doesn’t he represent Al Qaeda’s political wing? And we’re all OK with political wings, aren’t we?

Shifty Crook

It hasn’t started well for Avigdor Lieberman, really:

Israel’s new Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has been questioned by police for at least seven hours over corruption allegations.

Police said Mr Lieberman was questioned under caution on suspicion of “bribery, money-laundering and breach of trust” as part of an ongoing investigation.

Mr Lieberman was sworn in as foreign minister on Tuesday.

He has previously denied any wrong-doing and says the corruption probe against him is politically motivated.

Police confirmed that the interview had been scheduled in advance with Mr Lieberman.

Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, said Mr Lieberman had been questioned over the long-standing investigation into his business dealings, the Associated Press reported.

The accusations are believed to relate to a company run by Mr Lieberman’s daughter.

A spokesman for Mr Lieberman said it was “the same investigation that has been ongoing for the past 13 years and which he has petitioned the courts to have speeded up.

“He co-operated fully with police investigators and answered all their questions and enjoyed drinking their coffee,” said the unnamed spokesman.

Were he a politician in some European countries, of course, he’d simply change the law.