Saturday, 2 September 2006

Details of Jahanbegloo's "confession"

JahanbeglooAlmost immediately after his release, the Iranian intellectual made a statement that US institutions should refrain from contacting prominent Iranians.
Jahanbegloo told the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) in an interview on Tuesday, barely hours after his release from Tehran's notorious Evin prison, that contacting Iranians could result in putting them in danger of acting against their country's security. He accepted that this may have happened to him. Arrested on his way back from a seminar in India at Tehran airport on Apr. 25, Jahanbegloo is now out on 'heavy' bail. Curiously, one of his first acts was to pop into the offices of the ISNA and offer an interview, saying he trusted the agency.
To me, this sounds like code for "putting them in danger with their government." This impression is further strengthened by his subsequent remarks.
He cited contacts with U.S. think tanks as one reason for his arrest. "My relations with foreign institutions started in 1999 when I went to Canada and then to Harvard university," Jahanbegloo said. "But the chain of events leading to my arrest started when I got a fellowship from the National Endowment for Democracy which gets its budget from U.S. Congress and mostly investigates the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Later it was proposed that I do a comparative study of Iranian and East European intellectuals for them. I was arrested before I gave them the results of that research," he told ISNA.
His confession is being greeted with some sceptism in Iran, despite his assurances that he had not been tortured.
"The hard line part of the Iranian state considers the reformist movement and the contacts of individuals with circles abroad that want to strengthen civil society as attempts to undermine the Islamic republic. They call their activities 'attempts at a soft overthrow'," says an analyst in Tehran, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Jahanbegloo, women's rights and civil society activists and their like are seen as people attempting to very slowly and gradually empty the Islamic republic of its revolutionary and religious content. Jahanbegloo has confessed that he had done research for the Marshall Fund on the characteristics of the movements leading to the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe. The Islamic republic is so sensitive to the idea of similar attempts being made here," he says.

"Jahanbegloo is highly respected in intellectual circles and by the Iranian elite, but he was also the weakest link in the elite chain. He was not affiliated to any important political groups, nor had any revolutionary portfolio or connections to anyone influential within the system itself. He had lots of contacts with foreign entities. It was much easier and less costly for the regime to arrest him than say, for instance, Akbar Ganji, Abbas Abdi or Hashem Aghajari," the analyst says.

"Arresting Jahanbegloo was the most effective message to the intellectual elite here to know they are watched carefully and closely by the intelligence bodies of the Islamic republic and that they could be confronted seriously. The arrest and the confession could provide the Islamic republic with the opportunity to silence the elite and to reduce their relations with foreign entities to the lowest possible level. All these can very well serve to give the Islamic republic immunity to a 'velvet revolution', as Jahanbegloo was said to have been plotting,'' he added.
Jahanbegloo is not out of the woods yet. He is only out on bail, and must still stand trial. The Canadian government is declining further comment until they've heard from him personally.

Rasool Nafisi explains how the regime has found a more subtle form of pressure for intellectuals than the violence that Kazemi suffered: "bail" is their houses and their mothers' houses. If they do not respect their conditions, their mother is out on the street. Charming.

This new tactic seems to be more effective than old-fashioned television confessions, after which almost all those released reversed their statements, thus making a mockery of such orchestrated public performances. The strong bonds in Iranian families, and the fact that in most cases its house is the only property an urban family owns, mean that great psychological as well as financial pressure is exerted: the prospect of homelessness, especially for ageing family members, is intensely worrying.

In the case of Ramin Jahanbegloo, it seems that he was promised freedom and a passport if he gave an interview to "an agency of his choice", in order to tell them "just what he has confessed under interrogation." The offer had a twist: to make sure that Ramin would keep his side of the bargain, he had to post two houses as bail � his mother's as well as his own. The student news agency interview was the result.

The conclusions to be drawn are too obvious to require further comment.

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The saga of Kipling and the red paperclip

Kyle Macdonald and Alice CooperKyle MacDonald wanted a house. So he put a red paper clip up for trade.

This is the normal way of going about getting a house, isn't it?

His quirky approach to house ownership attracted international attention, and the whole town of Kipling, Saskatchewan is now throwing him a house-warming party. Because he actually succeeded in trading a paperclip for a house. With more than a dozen intermediate trades along the way and a little help from Alice Cooper along the way, mind you. He chronicled the whole process at his blog, One Red Paperclip.

For such a small town (1200 people), Kipling, Saskatchewan, has attracted a lot of attention over the years, sometimes unwanted. It first attracted my personal attention when my father married a Kipling native, but that didn't exactly make international waves. It didn't even make big waves in Kipling.

The romance novelist Mary Balogh succeeded in raising the town's profile a little more than that. Some townspeople were a little concerned when they found out those steamy scenes were being written by the elementary school principal, but once she retired from teaching, I guess the controversy more or less died down.

Then there was the case of the infamous Dr. John Schneeberger, who sedated his female patients to facilitate rape. That one got a lot of attention, I'm afraid, and still can provoke a lot of feeling in Kipling. The first victim was not believed for a good number of years, because the very popular doctor was uncommonly good at covering his tracks.

And you now know more about Kipling than you ever thought to ask.

Really, you don't have to thank me.

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Keep those cards and letters coming!

Stephen Taylor has a mole in the CBC who has informed him that the CBC has never received as many complaints about the work of reporter as they did over Christina Lawand's newsclip last month. I was still shocked to hear that only 118 people wrote or emailed. Still, politicians and media executives are accutely aware that for every person who writes in, there are many, many more who think the same thing but who don't express it, at least not to them. Never underestimate the power of a complaint!

Or a note of approval. I've actually sent a couple of emails to elected officials when I way particularly pleased with what they were doing. I think it's fair to say that an email can have more practical impact than a vote.

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Friday, 1 September 2006

Gleanings from the blogosphere, Sep. 1

Simon at Stubborn Facts makes a very clear case for some degree of human causality in climate change, although he gets some knowledgeable arguments thrown back at him.

Callimachus at Done With Mirrors has an astonishingly astute - and readable - analysis of the Iranian situation, from a guest poster with direct connections to Iran.

Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters chilled my blood with this post on the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany.

Subcontracting torture

Maher ArarMaher Arar has moved to B.C. And I for one wish him well. I didn't know the man, although I did run into him on the street a couple of times when we lived in the same neighbourhood. But the mere thought of what he has had to go through makes my blood boil.

I don't care how spooked we or the Americans were by 9/11, there is NEVER any excuse whatsoever for sending ANYBODY to be tortured in foreign jails. Which is what happened to Maher Arar, on the flimsiest of evidence, with no court hearings, no appeal.

This is such a fundamental breach of justice it just about makes me ill. I don't believe for a minute that he was guilty. Guilty people do not clamour loudly for extensive public investigations, as Arar has. But even if he had been a fire-breathing jihadist, we profoundly violate our own values as a society if we take our own criminals and hand them over to other criminals who happen to be in charge in another society.

First, it violates the principle of presumption of innocence. Quite frankly, if we sacrifice that, we might just as well join the Taliban, because we have lost one of the main things that allows us to claim any moral superiority over them.

Secondly, it violates the principle of an accused person to face those accusations in an open trial. Again, this is such a fundamental principle of our society that it can not and must not be sacrificed.

Thirdly, we are big boys and girls. If we have terrorists to deal with, we are capable of handling them. We don't need Syrian torture chambers. This was not only a violation of fundamental justice, but an abdication of responsibility.

Fourthly, torture is just plain wrong. You may call this a subjective moral judgment, but I'm not budging. It's too big a topic to handle in this context, so I may tackle it another time.

Fifthly, even if you can stomach the idea of torture, in practice, it is horribly inefficient. Confessions and information obtained under torture are always highly suspect.

Sixthly, it was a violation of Canadian sovereignty. What business do American officials have deciding to deport a Canadian citizen, dual citizenship or not? He hadn't violated any American laws on American territory. Public inquiries or no, I don't think we've ever really found out how much Canadian complicity there was in this affair (correct me if I'm wrong). From the little I know about it, there was some cooperation between the police forces and possibly secret services of the two countries, which might make this a moot point.

Great as the wrong committed against Arar was, we violated ourselves just as much in this whole sorry affair. No one has ever been held responsible, no heads have rolled, and as far as I know, no measures have been implemented to ensure it doesn't happen again. We desperately need to address these issues or risk becoming a society unworthy of defence.

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Thursday, 31 August 2006

More on Jahanbegloo

...The Globe and Mail had a front-page article on Jahanbegloo's release today, speculating on the reasons for his release and debunking Iran's case against him.

Several reasons have been cited for his release, reportedly on bail (the Canadian government would not confirm that yesterday). Those reasons include pressure from the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, diligent work by Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and a purported confession from Mr. Jahanbegloo. The UN Security Council's deadline for Iran to suspend its nuclear program is today; Iran was not expected to comply. It may have seen the release as a helpful diversion.

But nothing obscures the fact that Mr. Jahanbegloo was treated as a threat to national security for trying to build a simple academic centre to which he could invite speakers from the West. These speakers were not demagogues urging Iranians to overthrow the Islamic government. They were philosophers and historians esteemed in the upper reaches of academia, but virtually unknown by the general public -- people such as Leszek Kolakowski, a historian of philosophy from Poland. Mr. Jahanbegloo was deemed a dangerous man because he acted as if intellectual inquiry had a secure place in Iran.

Consider Iran's accusations. At first it said Mr. Jahanbegloo was a spy for the United States. Then it said he was in league with U.S. attempts to bring about regime change. (No formal charges were ever laid.)

"One could say that Ramin's commitment to a civil society through a dialogue of civilizations is part of what one may call a Velvet Revolution," his friend Mohamad Tavakoli, who teaches at the University of Toronto, said yesterday. "But the way the Iranian government and the conservative media have been presenting it, it's a new American-style coup."

For instance, he said, part of the case against Mr. Jahanbegloo is that he had a Woodrow Wilson fellowship, which Prof. Tavakoli described as "every academic's dream" -- and enough for Iranian authorities to deem him in league with the United States. "This is silly," Prof. Tavakoli said. "They take a fact that has some sort of reality and turn it around and bastardize it.'"

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Darwinian Fairytales

Darwin is apparently getting clobbered from a rather unlikely source: a philosopher of "no religion", the late David Stove. In his recently published book Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity and Other Fables of Evolution, Stove acknowledged Darwin’s “great genius” and admitted that natural selection had great explanatory power when it came to “sponges, snakes and flies.”
However, Stove regarded Darwinism as a “ridiculous slander to human beings.” Flesh-and-blood people do not act in any ways resembling what the Darwinian dogma says they should. For instance, natural selection dictates that “every organism has as many descendants as it can.” Stove asks, “Do you know anyone of whom that’s true?”

Likewise, Darwin insisted that natural selection would “rigidly destroy” any variation that would hurt its possessor “in the struggle for life.” Stove replied, “start with the letter ‘A’: Abortion, Alcoholism, or even Altruism.” Are any of these “variations” being “rigidly destroyed”?

After hearing about this book from Chuck Colson, I've checked out reviews on the web, and it's generally hailed as being razor sharp and extremely funny, as well as relentless in its use of logic.

I just thought the questions were cool...

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Gleanings from the blogosphere, Aug. 31

Sean McCarthy, CEO of SteornAmba at Ambivablog tells us about an Irish company, Steorn, that claims to have invented a technology that produces free, clean and constant energy. Skepticism is allowed. Read the Wikipedia article too.

Something perhaps a little more credible, but almost as fantastic:
University of Arizona physicists invent single-molecule transistors, which could result in a microprocessor as powerful as the top-of-the-line workstation small enough to fit on the back of an E. coli. Ed at Hassenpfeffer has his eye out for this kind of thing, as befits a science fiction writer.

High tech, low class. Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters takes Radio Shack to task for its recent firing by email - effective immediately - of 400 employees. Callimachus at Done With Mirrors treats the subject with similar disdain.

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Wednesday, 30 August 2006

Gleanings from the blogosphere, Aug. 30

After my two earlier posts today, it seems appropriate to signal the Bull Moose's musings on evil and Ahmadinejad. Somehow, it ties right in.

Annie at Ambivablog is talking about the dark side of hyper-freedom, which refuses to accept any limits. Her excerpts from are spot on. Unfortunately.

Anonymous Liberal muses, with some bitterness, on the importance of getting the media on your side if you are a presidential hopeful.

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Iranian dissident freed [Updated]

JahanbeglooThe good news is that Ramin Jahanbegloo has been released on bail from an Iranian jail. The bad news is that it apparently required a bogus confession (yes, I'm making a value judgment here) and a prohibition against communicating with foreigners of any kind, especially the media.

Ramin Jahanbegloo is that most dangerous of Iranian dissidents: a Western-educated thinker who believes in dialogue and a secular state. His invitations to Western philosophers for lectures posed such an acute danger to the Iranian government that he obviously had to be jailed for "being involved is US efforts to overthrow the government". Of course.

His dual Canadian/Iranian citizenship probably did him more harm than good, especially in the wake of the Kazemi affair. Canada doesn't exactly have any big sticks to beat Iran with in this kind of case, but the Foreign Minister, Peter Mackay, did take the highly unusual step in June of asking Germany to arrest Iranian Prosecutor General Saeed Mortazavi, an Iranian official implicated in the murder of the photojournalist, should he set foot in Germany on the way home from Geneva.

Iran did not appreciate the gesture and Mortazavi took a direct flight home.

I applauded the action of the Canadian government at the time. It may not have been a grand gesture, but it did signal to the Iranian government that we would do whatever was in our reach to defend our citizens. Unfortunately there was little we could do in the Jahanbegloo case that wouldn't endanger him further.


I'm not the only one questioning the validity of Jahanbegloo's "confession".

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The morality of war

HiroshimaAt Sideways Mencken, Takhallus is asking a very difficult moral question: was the American incendiary and nuclear bombing of Japan moral or not? If yes, would a similar bombing of Teheran be moral today? And he wants answers to go beyond a simple yes or no; he wants justification. Why or why not?

This is a very uncomfortable question and it's making me squirm, quite honestly. But I'll do my best.

War is always and inevitably a morally equivocal act, at best. In absolute terms, it can never ever be right. Horrible things will be done, even in "just wars". Innocent blood will flow. All of this is wrong.

Sometimes though, in a world where evil walks, it is sometimes necessary. Allowing an evil man at the head of an evil regime to go unchecked can result in even greater evils. And those who stand back and allow it to continue are complicit. In other words, there are cases where you are damned if you do, damned if you don't. The only moral solution is to go for the lesser of damnations.

It's pretty hard to rally the troops around a war cry of "the lesser of evils," so the justification of war is seldom framed in those terms. My uncle, a WWII navigator with the RCAF probably participated in the bombing of German civilians. I don't know, because he won't talk about it. I know for a fact he did do bombing runs over Germany. This was one of the few wars in history where good and evil appeared with some clarity, but even so, men of honour sleep uneasily sixty years after the fact.

It was necessary to bring Germany to its knees, it was necessary to bring Japan to its knees, because the alternative was even more horrific. Sometimes the lesser of evils is the only moral response, even when innocents have to die.

But when the euphoria of victory has had its day, and the rubble is cleared and the cities rebuilt, perhaps the only moral response is to weep for our victory. Golda Meir, prime minister of Israel, famously said at a 1969 press conference in London: "When peace comes we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons."

Not your standard walruses!

Since we (all one of us) at The Walrus Said have a natural prejudice in favour of walruses, we would like to point out that this does not mean we are specieist. Proof:

Bull walrus

Elephant walrus

Walrus chimp

More unusual critters can be found here. There may even be one to fit your blog! Thanks to Hassenpfeffer for pointing us (all one of me) in the right direction.

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Tuesday, 29 August 2006

Gleanings from the blogosphere, Aug. 29

Ed at Captain's Quarter's comments on a Jerusalem Post article about Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official who is urging Palestinians to stop blaming Israel for their internal problems and to take responsibility for their own chaos. He blames the armed factions who are crawling over the Gaza Strip for the mayhem. I will confess to a state of shock after reading this. It's not often you hear a voice of reason being raised in the Gaza Strip. I hope he survives.

The other face of Haiti

Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere, is in the news again as Hurricane Ernesto sweeps over it. It seems that whenever we hear about Haiti, it is in connection with disasters - sometimes natural, usually man-made - and bleak grinding poverty. But there is another face of Haiti, and Jeff Mills wants you to see it.

Schoolgirls in Haiti
Inspired by the documentary Born into Brothels, the Ottawa-area photographer took some cameras along with him when volunteering on a road-building project in March and gave two photography workshops for high school students. The cameras were then given to the students who proceeded to document their lives with the first cameras they had ever held.

It's obvious they see a different Haiti than the one we see in the news. Poverty, yes, but also hope and joy.

Child in Haiti
The project is continuing and expanding, with the young photographers immensely excited to see their work being published on the Internet. They're currently working on a writing project explaining the content of their work for inclusion in the photo gallery of Jeff's website, where you can go to look at all of the photographs to date.

To read more about the project and to find out how you can help encourage these young photographers and future leaders of Haiti, please visit the website. After all, any country that decks its cemeteries in cheerful colours has obviously not yet given in to despair.

Cemetery in Haiti

Monday, 28 August 2006

The limits of free speech

American neo-Nazi rally"Adolf Hitler was the living instrument of God on Earth." Bill White, Commander of the American National Socialist Workers' Party, has the legal right to say this. I find it revolting, but I defend his legal right to say it. (No, I am not going to provide any links. I will not do anything at all to direct traffic to his site. Email me if it bothers you.)

Calling Canada a terrorist state that has to go makes me just snort in derision.

But what about this?

There is no actual published threat to kill Richard Warman. He has just made it up.

This means that, when you are searching my websites and looking for it, you will not be able to find it, and I can't send you the URL to it. It does not exist.

The irony here, which no one is grasping, is that there never was any "specific threat to kill Richard Warman" -- just the recommendation that all Jews, which, one would suppose, indirectly includes him, be legally executed after a revolutionary government takes power in Canada.

What annoys him is that I put up his home address, and people who have been threatening to kill him all along apparently have picked up on it. Not my problem.

But what do I think about it if someone uses this knowledge to kill him illegaly (sic)? I wish them luck -- and its (sic) no different to say that than it is to say that you wish Saddam Hussein were killed or the president of Iran were killed or Yassir Arafat were killed, et cetera.

Richard Warman is an Ottawa lawyer who brought a successful suit against Tomasz Winnicki for refusing to stop posting nasty things about non-Caucasians online. One of White's many responses was to publish Warman's address online.

So what do you think? Is this acceptable free speech? Death threats are not legal free speech, not even in the more lenient United States, but White has equivocated around that charge. He doesn't actually string the words together in one place at one time, but his actions have effectively put Warman in danger. "Not my problem." Could somebody south of the 49th please find a way to make it his problem? I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that there is a loophole here large enough to drive a truck through, if this actually constitutes legal free speech in the United States. Legislators should be taking a look at this.

Even if shutting down his websites would be akin to playing Whack-a-Mole, with new ones popping up as fast as they're shut down, I think it would be worth it. At least it would put a severe dent in his traffic. It takes search engines a while to find new sites.

Google, incidentally, provides this warning at the top of his Blogger-hosted blog:


Some readers of this blog have contacted Google because they believe this blog's content is hateful. In general, Google does not review nor do we endorse the content of this or any blog. For more information about this message, please consult our FAQ.
Makes you wonder why Google even bothers with the Flag function on Blogger websites, doesn't it?

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