Friday, July 27, 2007

Harry Potter: How bureaucracy enables tyranny

Hermione gave a shaky laugh ... "What's Voldemort planning for Hogwarts?" she asked Lupin.

"Attendance is now compulsory for every young witch and wizard," he replied. "That was announced yesterday. It's a change, because it was never obligatory before. Of course, nearly every witch and wizard in Britain has been educated at Hogwarts, but their parents had the right to teach them at home or send them abroad if they preferred. This way, Voldemort will have the whole Wizarding population under his eye from a young age."

~ Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, p. 210
In his essay "Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy," law professor Benjamin Barton examines what the Harry Potter series has to say about government and bureaucracy. (After reading the abstract, scroll down to the bottom to download Barton's 21-page .pdf essay.)

Barton got me thinking about the power of ideas, especially among young people. Witness the popularity of Ron Paul's freedom message among the 18-25 year-old crowd — many of whom grew up reading Harry Potter.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Will we get fooled again?

It seems to me that the U.S. is spoiling for a fight with Iran. Allegations have been made for what seems to be the better part of a year that Iran is in violation of a nuclear non-proliferation treaty. And of course, there is the more recent charge that the government of Iran is supporting the Iraqi insurgency — i.e., killing American soldiers — with training, men and arms.

After the "justifications" for our invasion of Iraq — WMD threats, unmanned chemical-weapons drones able to attack Europe in 45 minutes, mushroom clouds, links to 9/11 via al Quaida and Osama Bin Laden, yellow-cake uranium, aluminum tubes etc. — turned out to be bogus, you'll excuse me if I don't just readily accept these latest neo-con saber-rattlings at face value.

Indeed, I recently read what appears to be a quite plausible challenge to the now-standard claim that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is threatening to "wipe Israel off the map." (Why anybody thinks that a militarily adept and nuclear-armed Israel is somehow unable to defend herself against possible Iranian aggression and thus in need of U.S. interposition is a discussion for another time.)

In his 26 May 2007 essay "'Wiped off the Map' – The Rumor of the Century," Arash Norouzi goes into much detail in order to show that Ahmadinejad's supposed threat against Israel was actually a mis-translation into English of Ahmadinejad, in a 2005 conference called "The World Without Zionism," quoting an old observation by the Ayatollah Khomenei. Norouzi also puts Khomenei's statement — and Ahmadinejad's use of it — back into the original context from which it has been torn:
Ahmadinejad acknowledges that the removal of America's powerful grip on [Palestine] via the Zionists may seem unimaginable to some, but reminds the audience that, as Khomeini predicted, other seemingly invincible empires have disappeared and now only exist in history books. He then proceeds to list three such regimes that have collapsed, crumbled or vanished, all within the last 30 years:
  1. The Shah of Iran – the U.S. installed monarch
  2. The Soviet Union
  3. Iran's former arch-enemy, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein
In the first and third examples, Ahmadinejad prefaces their mention with Khomeini's own words foretelling that individual regime's demise. He concludes by referring to Khomeini's unfulfilled wish: "The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time. This statement is very wise." This is the passage that has been isolated, twisted and distorted so famously. By measure of comparison, Ahmadinejad would seem to be calling for regime change, not war [Norouzi's italics — F.G.].
Stating that the "regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time" is certainly not the same as threatening to "wipe Israel off the face of the earth."

The alleged mistranslation of Ahmadinejad's 2005 quote from an old speech by the Ayatollah Khomenei has been discussed at least a year ago, by Juan Cole in May 2006:
Ahmadinejad was not making a threat, he was quoting a saying of Khomeini and urging that pro-Palestinian activists in Iran not give up hope — that the occupation of Jerusalem was no more a continued inevitability than had been the hegemony of the Shah's government.

Whatever this quotation from a decades-old speech of Khomeini may have meant, Ahmadinejad did not say that "Israel must be wiped off the map" with the implication that phrase has of Nazi-style extermination of a people. He said that the occupation regime over Jerusalem must be erased from the page of time.
Note that neither Cole nor Norouzi are apologists for Ahmadinejad or his world-view. Norouzi concludes his essay with this statement:
Iran's president has written two rather philosophical letters to America. In his first letter, he pointed out that "History shows us that oppressive and cruel governments do not survive." With this statement, Ahmadinejad has also projected the outcome of his own backwards regime, which will likewise "vanish from the page of time."
And Cole states:
I should again underline that I personally despise everything Ahmadinejad stands for, not to mention the odious Khomeini, who had personal friends of mine killed so thoroughly that we have never recovered their bodies. Nor do I agree that the Israelis have no legitimate claim on any part of Jerusalem.
But they certainly don't think the widespread and belligerent accusation that Iran intends to wipe Israel off the face of the map ought to be allowed to go unchallenged, for it would seem to lend credence to the American interventionists' view that Iran is nation full of Islamist zealots bent on developing nuclear weapons in order to eradicate the nation of Israel, and that it is thus somehow America's obligation to militarily intervene on behalf of our only ally in the Middle East.