Pope sends first e-mail apology

From the BBC:

Pope John Paul II has sent an apology by e-mail for a string of injustices, including sexual abuse, committed by Roman Catholic clergy in the Pacific nations. The 81-year-old pontiff transmitted the message, his first virtual apology, in a recent string of statements of contrition, from a laptop in the Vatican’s frescoed Clementine Hall on Wednesday.

Pope John Paul II Reporting on a Synod meeting held in 1998, the Pope wrote that bishops from the region “apologised unreservedly” for the “shameful injustices done to indigenous peoples” in Australia, New Zealand and the islands of the South Pacific.

The Vatican website is still highly recommended.Nick writes [23.11.2001]: “My favourite detail was in the last paragraph of the Grauniad account:

“The Pope pressed the send button which emailed the document, by tradition a publication he would deliver by hand. Aides said it was intended to spare him a lengthy journey.”

A perfect example IMO of your old friend, “traditional values in a modern setting.”

The Yes Men

Nick writes to recommend theyesmen.org.

Check out the Professors of Tampere speech — it’s a very odd thing indeed.

Brief background — a group of surrealist parodists who run a WTO parody website are inadvertently invited to give a presentation explaining the WTO’s outlook to Finnish textile manufacturers. Now read on…

There’s a Finnish press article summarising events here.

Against W

The US broadsheets are coming out strongly against W’s new thinking. Good for them. From the editorial columns of 16 November:

The Washington Post: “End-Running the Bill of Rights

“Any non-citizen whom the president deems to be a member of al Qaeda, or to be engaged in international terrorism of virtually any kind, or even to be harboring such people, can be detained indefinitely under his order and tried. The trials could take place using largely secret evidence…

“Such a process is only a hair’s breadth from a policy of summary justice. The potential to imprison or execute many innocent people is large, the chances that such mistakes would become known much smaller…

“When Americans accused of terrorism are tried in secret courts by hooded judges in Peru or other nations, the U.S. government rightly objects. To authorize comparable trials in this country will erase any legitimacy of such objections…. And worse in turn than the blow to the U.S. image abroad will be the potentially irreversible injury at home if Mr. Bush proceeds, as his order would allow, to undermine the rule of law.”

The New York Times: “A Travesty of Justice

“President Bush’s plan to use secret military tribunals to try terrorists is a dangerous idea, made even worse by the fact that it is so superficially attractive…

The administration’s action is the latest in a troubling series of attempts since Sept. 11 to do an end run around the Constitution. It comes on the heels of an announcement that the Justice Department intends to wiretap conversations between some prisoners and their lawyers. The administration also continues to hold hundreds of detainees without revealing their identities, the charges being brought against them or even the reasons for such secrecy…

“With the flick of a pen, in this case, Mr. Bush has essentially discarded the rulebook of American justice painstakingly assembled over the course of more than two centuries. In the place of fair trials and due process he has substituted a crude and unaccountable system that any dictator would admire…”

Thanks to Naunihal for sending these my way. He comments: “Note that the rights afforded to a prisoner of war will also be violated. This is a more damning indictment in my eyes since they get neither the protections usually given to residents, nor those given to an enemy, even though the pretext for the trial is that they are enemy agents in a war that we have not yet properly declared. Then again, the other European countries have passed restrictions far more draconian than this already.”


ATTAC — the Association for the Taxation of financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens — has set itself up in the UK. Here’s its press release:

British ATTAC Will Seek to Disarm the Markets

The worldwide popularity of ATTAC, an association that promotes controls on the financial markets, has inspired an attempt to set up an ATTAC group in Britain.

At a public meeting at London’s Conway Hall on the 17th of November, British campaigners will speak alongside representatives from the French, Irish and Swedish ATTACs, to discuss the question of how a British ATTAC could work. ATTAC, an international network of national and local pressure groups in 26 countries, has raised broad support in Europe for a tax on currency speculation (the Tobin tax), and for reforms of financial institutions, aimed at reducing the human costs of globalisation.

In the three years since it was founded, ATTAC has enjoyed spectacular growth in membership and influence in several countries. Its French chapter now has 30,000 members. Its campaign for the Tobin tax has forced the French and German Prime Ministers to take the proposal seriously, and put the issue on the agenda of the European Council. Although the national ATTAC groups have a common platform, each one has its own structure, and campaigns are closely linked with local issues.

ATTAC’s work combines education with peaceful confrontation, as when hundreds of members of ATTAC France sailed to Jersey this past June, to debate with local authorities about Jersey’s status as a tax haven, and to attend workshops where they learned about proposals for eliminating money laundering. ATTAC also functions as a kind of think tank; its vigorous critique of free-market economic policies comes from an informal network of academics, who also provide a steady stream of alternative proposals for parliaments to consider. This approach appeals to a large number of people who are alarmed by the power of market forces in their lives, and who feel disenfranchised by party politics.

More information on the initiative to launch an ATTAC in Britain can be found at attac.org.uk. The international ATTAC web site is attac.org.

Press contact: Marcus Bischoff (tel: 07855 193 406).

Thanks to Uri for pointing this my way.

The Liberator of Kabul

From the BBC:

‘Excited’ Simpson regrets Kabul claims

The BBC’s John Simpson said he is “very, very, very embarrassed” after his widely-reported remarks that he liberated Kabul.

As he entered the Afghan capital he told viewers it was “extraordinarily exhilarating to be liberating a city”.

The Taleban had left the city and the veteran correspondent and other BBC staff arrived before the Northern Alliance column.

His remarks were pilloried by some commentators with even Home Secretary David Blunkett adding a note of sarcasm.

It was later emphasised that BBC correspondents Rageh Omar, William Reeve and Kate Clarke were already in Kabul.

Thanks to Jo for sending this to the weblog. She writes: “Not the story itself, you understand, but the fact that it appears in the “Entertainment” section of the BBC news site.”


Another book to recommend, this time by a former flatmate. (That’s Jennifer, not Alexis).

Alexis de Tocqueville, Writings on Empire and Slavery, edited and translated by Jennifer Pitts, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. “In order for us to colonize to any extent, we must necessarily use not only violent measures, but visibly iniquitous ones. The quarrel is no longer between governments, but between races… the day a European plough touches the soil”. Some people are surprised to learn that the celebrated author of Democracy in America was also a strong partisan of the violent French subjugation of Algeria in the 1840s. Jennifer Pitts’ excellent edition translates several of Tocqueville’s influential political essays on Algeria and slavery into English, astonishingly enough for the first time, and provides useful background and commentary in a valuable introduction. Currently only in hardback; let’s hope this one goes into paperback soon.

Good Books

What’s the point in having a weblog if you don’t get to plug good books by your estimable friends, colleagues and teachers?

Bonnie Honig, Democracy and the Foreigner, Princeton University Press, 2001. Readers in England will be especially interested in Bonnie Honig’s excellent new book, since her account of the ways in which foreign energies simultaneously supplement and subvert the project of democratic citizenship perfectly theorises the role of England football manager Sven-Goran Eriksson in the life of the nation. (Her analysis may even extend to Millennium Dome Supremo Pierre-Yves Gerbeau, too). With illuminating discussions of Machiavelli on founding, Shane, the Book of Ruth, Strictly Ballroom, Rousseau on Poland, the international marriage trade, The Wizard of Oz and Michael Walzer’s What It Means To Be an American, this book presents contemporary academic political theory at its most exciting and least stuffy. A fine, short, and not-too-expensive book. Highly recommended.

Sasha Abramsky, Hard Time Blues: how politics built a prison nation, St Martin’s Press, 2002. New York journalist Sasha Abramsky’s first book – published early next year – won’t be shipped to British bookshops, alas, so you may have to acquire it over the internet, or by getting a friendly US-based colleague to buy a copy over there. But if his writing in The Atlantic Monthly is anything to go by, promises to be a well-researched and exceedingly interesting account of the rise of the mass incarcertation regime in today’s America, where an astonishing two million people are today in the custody of the state and federal authorities’ prison-industrial complex.

David Renton, This Rough Game: Fascism and Anti-Fascism, Sutton Publishing, 2001. The ever-prolific David Renton has yet another book published, hard on the heels of his Fascism: Theory and Practice, Fascism, Anti-Fascism and the State in Britain in the 1940s and Marx on Globalisation. This Rough Game brings together a collection of his recent-ish essays on the subject(s), all of them lively and engaged; and one of them, I am very pleased to say, first published in the pages of The Voice of the Turtle.

Patrick Riley, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Rousseau, Cambridge University Press, 2001. This is where I declare an interest, since my own essay on the Stoic and Augustinian origins of Rousseau’s political thought has been published in these pages. The rest of the volume, however, looks superb, and Patrick Riley has done a fine job of assembling a set of essays which provide a comphrehensive overview of Rousseau’s many-sided achievement without a dull moment in sight. Good stuff. Available in bookshops now in an expensive hardback and cheap paperback edition. Buy the paperback.

War on Terror

A lot of the warmongers have been gloating over the last few days, not so much over the fall of Kabul to the Northern Alliance but at the peaceniks who opposed US-UK involvement. Having a good gloat is one of life’s most underrated pleasures, of course. As gloating goes, however, this has been pretty feeble stuff, and it is sad to report that the single most stupid column in this tradition was written by the once-admirable Christopher Hitchens in the Guardian.

It is true that many opposed the war because they feared that millions in Afghanistan would starve during the winter if the supply routes were cut off. If food convoys are able to enter the country safely again – and it is a big if – then this is marvellous news, for which we should be thankful. But the major reasons for opposing the British and the American participation in the war in Afghanistan remain as valid as they ever were, and in the midst of the mindless jubilation of the cheerleaders’ chorus, it is worth reminding ourselves what some of these are.

We oppose the clampdown on civil liberties licensed by Mr Bush’s “war on terror”, which has already led to the absurdities of the Patriot Act and to an executive order permitting extraordinary military tribunals in the US, and to Mr Blunkett’s proposals to allow indefinite detention without trial of terrorist suspects in the UK. We fear the open-ended nature of the Orwellian “War against Terror”, which permits the State Department to open and close hostilities against Iraq, Iran, Syria, Pakistan and various other regimes in the region as the mood takes them. We hate the double standards of US policy in the Middle East (and elsewhere), which underwrites the criminal regime in Saudi Arabia, supports the criminal behaviour of Israel in the Occupied Territories, and sponsors the crime of the UN sanctions regime against the people of Iraq. We have always thought, and continue to think, that the hunt for the perpetrators of the September 11 atrocities should be an international police operation, and that to insist on conceptualising the current crisis in military terms is to hand an important victory to the terrorists themselves. And we have never thought that destroying still more lives from the air – with the detestable use of “cluster bombs” and the inevitable civilian “collateral damage” – is any kind of appropriate response to the abominable destruction of the World Trade Center.

The record of the Northern Alliance in power, of course, is grim. It is not quite as grim as the record of the Taliban in power, but it is close. Since it is possible that the US will find ways to restrain these allies of theirs this time around, there is some reason, though not nearly as much reason as the mainstream press has managed to find, to think that things might have changed for the better in Kabul and Northern Afghanistan. In these times we do well to study the statements put out by Amnesty International or Oxfam, which sound important notes of caution; to continue to read the careful reports from Robert Fisk in the Independent; and to reflect on whether the sudden “collapse” of the Taliban may be no more than a prudent decision to fight from Afghanistan’s hills rather than attempt to defend fixed positions against relentless US bombardment.

When the military campaign brings peace and self-determination to the peoples of the Middle East, then the gloating at people like me can begin in earnest. But, please, not till then.

Hitting Prince Charles

From the BBC:

The schoolgirl who hit Prince Charles across the face with a flower while he was visiting the Latvian capital has been charged with endangering the life of a foreign dignitary.

Latvian police said Alina Lebedeva, 16, will remain in custody in Riga until Sunday following Thursday’s incident.

The schoolgirl said she was protesting about the war in Afghanistan, but police have taken her actions seriously and the charge carries a maximum sentence of 15 years.

The Latvian police and the prosecuting authorities need to get a grip.