Responses to Timothy Garton Ash's Guardian columns

This is an archived website, which offered an opportunity for readers of Timothy Garton Ash's book Free World and his weekly columns to exchange ideas. Updated links and new forums can be found at Timothy Garton Ash's new website,  

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Why the mice in the organ hold the key to success
23 December 2004

Crispin Kitto, Third Culture

Music doesn't have to be 'simple' in order to be played on the guitar, silly. Apart from that musical faux pas I thoroughly enjoyed what you did with Silent Night.

Camara, West Afrika

Interesting re Silent Night, but NOT if you are being bombed--suicide or otherwise--in Iraq.
Your points about luck in life are well taken--so why do humans seem so willing to reward attributes that result from sheer luck but decry the effort when it's artificially enhanced. Examples: persons considered beautiful and great natural athletes.

Brian Fitzgerald, Ireland

Hi Tim
Just wanted to tell you that was a wonderful column on the Silent Night/Good Fortune theme.
Happy Christmas

Wendy Fox, UK

I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments about „the illusions of retrospective determinism and that most outcomes are random.
However, may I take issue with you when you say The religion that Silent Night celebrates also has this insight: „The race is not to the swift" This is a quotation from the Hebrew Bible (Ecclesiastes 9:11). It was written long before „the religion that Silent Night celebrates" was founded.
The authors of the Hebrew Bible show magnificent wisdom and poetry. They are often hijacked by Christians, who seem to think that they originate with Jesus. Some other examples are: the libretto of Handel‚s Messiah (mostly Isaiah), „The Lord is my Shepherd" (Psalm 23) and „Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Leviticus 19:18).
Writers, commandment: give correct attribution.


What will be left?
6 January 2005

Linda Neate, England

Having just read your 'What will be left' column, where you quite rightly say that there is now a golden opportunity to step up the global war on poverty, and you quote philosopher Peter Singer's view that we should contribute 1% of our income to the developing world.
I have very recently written to Stop the War coalition to suggest that a rally be held, say in Hyde Park, one weekend day very soon where people demand an extra income tax of 1%. This sum should be spend solely on debt cancellation, and sustainable development and reconstruction in the developing world.
We must not forget poverty in places like Africa as a result of the overwhelming Asia disaster.
I think this idea could appeal to many groups, if presented appropriately, eg. to religious groups, to humanitarians, to those who think there are too many immigrants, as when their own countries become pleasant places in which to live, people will not wish to immigrate en masse to so-called first world countries.

R Simson, UK

Here is what I received from a friend:
"I pulled this from

According to this story[1] in the Chicago Sun-Times, the war in Iraq has cost $130 billion to date (per the Office of Management and Budget). Given that we invaded Iraq 20 March 2003[2], that comes to 3 656[3] days since the invasion, which in turn equals $198,730,732[4] per day.

In other words, the total amount committed by the US government to date for tsunami relief -- $350,000,000 -- equals 42.27[5] hours of the cost of the war in Iraq.

Just to put things in perspective"*24&btnG=Google+Search

Keep up the good work


In Praise of Blasphemy
13 January 2005

David Armitage, Switzerland

I'm scared stiff by the Christian right leaping to the defence of their divinity, as I am by fundamentalists of every shape, colour and creed. Tsunamis, not to mention the the odd thunderbolt, avalanche and tornado seem to indicate that deities are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves, without vindictive help from mere mortals. Thank heaven for irony, all the better if seasoned with blasphemy and scatology.

Eric Potts, UK

Your article was very interesting as you quoted J. Locke.Over fifty years ago, between my time in Her Majesty's forces and working for a living in Britain's engingeeering industries the State financed my leisure to read some politics and economics and other subjects.
I thought that the works of Locke, Mill, Hume, Hobbes, Smith etc etc were excellent examples of how Britain had given the world excellent precepts on which to create liberal democracies committed to free enterprise and trade. None of them were hostile to the Christian religion or any other religion.
As someone brought up in the Christian religion I am a little surprised that you feel the need to hint, as you do, that there is something "nasty in the wood shed" where Christians are concerned eg, the phrase "nasty little version". All I can say is "Tut Tut your prejudices are showing".
Like many "Guardian writers" you use the word "multi cultural" excessively. The UK today is a country that has welcomed successive streams of immigrants over the centuries.
However true liberals such as ourselves like to think that "Immigrants" have come here because they found where they had come had become quite uncongenial. And we do not expect them to carry with them into this liberal society the uncongenial aspects of the societies from which they have fled.
Therefore they should not expect to have their intolerances tolerated here. Therefore no sharia law to be infiltrated into English Law, no forced marriages, no FGM etc etc. These aspects of so -called multi culturism are to be shunned. As soon as the unwelcome aspects are made known there will be no need to go on about multi culturism as religion becomes a matter of personal conviction and choice.
Multi culturism is a weasle word used when we try to try to say we do not like certain things but we will accept them under duress. We are hypocrites if we have to cough up the word multi cultural to try and avoid awkward issues.
If one has come to Britain to stay become British and enjoy being |British. If you cannot well go back and try life elswhere.

Ian, Bristol, UK

The trouble with the 'Springer' debate is that there are at least three different issues competing with one another within the one subject. On the one hand there is the question of human dignity (or lack of it) on 'reality' television.
Next, there's the matter of what constitutes an offence to religious sensibilities. Then thirdly, you have a kind of secular lobby (exemplified in this article), trying to argue that self restraint in matters of basic civilised behaviour is somehow a bad thing. In what way, Mr Ash can obscenity, blasphemy and offensive behaviour ever be entertaining? You can be either a Christian Evangelical or a tub thumping athiest to see how ludicrous this suggestion is. As far as the last three paragraphs of this article go, well, they are a complete mystery to me. Firstly, how is anyone or anything enhanced by an offence free-for-all at religious and other cultural groups? (If I howl abuse at a group of Pagan tree worshippers, well it's only me that looks foolish in the end.) Secondly (as a Christian minister pointed out this week), the basic currency of religion has nothing to do with defence against ridicule, but everything to do with human needs. As such, a faith like Christianity for example, has no public relations component to fall back on if someone wants to make fun of it. This is why Christians see the lampooning of Jesus as a bit of an unfair fight.It's also the reason why the best religious jokes are usually private ones, told in quiet places, since they tend to sound pretty meaningless told anywhere else.


The Twin Pillars
20 January 2005

Laura Jones, British, living in Austria

Timothy Ash's report on his interview with Blair (Guardian article, The Twin Pillars, 20.01.05) was clearly an attempt to be both revealing and impartial. What I found lacking, however, was any kind of real perception that, despite all the rhetoric about "equal opportunity for all", "key players in Europe", etc. there is something fundamentally cockeyed, fundamentally unsound, about Blair. Indeed, Blair seems to be able to turn on a certain tired but boyish charm when one meets him, making it easy to forget that he has helped to cause the death and maiming of thousands of civilians and soldiers in Iraq - on false grounds and against the will of the majority of the British people. It's easy to forget the hounding and mysterious suicide of David Kelly - the man guilty of revealing too much about Blair's spin-doctoring. Perhaps, Ash seems to suggest, we should try to forget all the blood on Blair's hands and concentrate on more positive things - like the EU constitution: after all, poor Tony has a hell of a lot on his plate - so let's forgive and forget, and be kind and supportive.

Mike, Germany

Dear Sir,
Regarding your article "The Twin Pillers" January 20, "The Guardian". I cannot understand why British prime ministers set so much importance on keeping American presidents happy. It seems to have become a tradition. Blair must be getting something in return but what it is escapes me. I know the British people get nothing apart from a few dead soldiers in Iraq. I remember that Churchill thought that Roosevelt was his friend, until the war ended (or was about to end) and Roosevelt told him in no uncertain terms that it was time to hand over the empire. By nature America is a unilateral beast, always has been, it played or dabbled at multilaterlism after 1941, but its now back in its default mode.
In your article you mention that Blair used the word "evolution" concerning Bush, but I'm afraid the only real evolution that has taken place is the present crop of Washington neocons. They have "evolved" from the primeval swamp of the post-soviet period, their right-wing concepts multiplying like algae in sewage. Welcome then to the new carpetbaggers, the new barbarians of the modern age, the new yankee - men without a scrap of compassion or humanity. These men and women don't give a "rat's ass" about Europe or any international agreement in any form, and that includes the Geneva Convention. The EU is for girly men. And they ain't afraid in telling yer so. Are these the sort of people you would buy a used car from Mr Ass?
I know its childish, but nothing gave me greater pleasure than seeing the new Airbus A350 roll out, knowing that Boeing must now be squirming and sweating. Its from "Old Europe" too, so stick that in your pipe. Its good that the CEO of Airbus is French - a Brit wouldn't want to offend the fat cats in Chicago. He would be concernd (like you Mr Ash) in keeping our so called "friends" across the water happy, even though they spat on us after we had produced Concord, and will do so again with the A350. But this time we don't need the Americans, this baby is going to sell itself! As our "friends" say Mr Ash, "you need to wake up and smell the coffee". Bush won't give Blair the dirt from his fingernails. And the British should be careful in thinking that they are the only country in Europe that "understands" the Americans. You are walking on thin ice my friends, most Americans wouldn't know where the British Isles is, even after a geography lesson, and those who do ain't tellin. All I can say is thank God for the French, and thank God for the Germans. "Tis the times' plague, when madmen lead the blind."
I realize that there are many freethinking, intelligent Americans who visit this website, but they are still in the minority and have no say in running their country. Like Europe, they could do nothing about stopping the massacre in Fullujah, which incidentally, can stand proudly with most other barborous military actions of history - not to mention the kinky S&M that Americans seem to like in their prisons, which is strange, because I always thought that was a British speciality. But the fact of the matter is, the vast majority of Americans were in favour of attacking Iraq, including Kerry; something like 72 percent. Only now are Americans beginning to question the wisdom of what they have done - I mean the "people" not the neocons.
The opposition to the Republican Party is still, yep, the Repubican Party. Until that changes, nothing much will change in America. In fact the Repubicans used to be more "liberal" (going back in history), than the so called "liberals" today. Those "liberal" Americans who like to write letters attacking European newspapers for having the audacity to criticise American foreign policy (so they may emphasise some fine political point that has been overlooked), would spend their time and energy better by writing their congressman instead - organize petitions, do a Michael Moore, anything. Go to the source of the problem instead of trying to pick a fight with Europeans, who, it must be said, warned Americans about Bush a long, long time ago, and got attacked for it by the ass kissing American press for doing so. Not to mention sheep brained Americans who poured French wine into the gutters and renamed their fried potatoes. I was waiting for them to return the Statue of Liberty but it never happened, probably too dumb to realize they got it from the French in the first place. There is only one pillar Mr Ash, and that's Europe, which for all its imperfections, is a wonderful place to live, I mean "Old Europe", as defined by the neocons, this does not I'm afraid include England, sorry. And as someone once said, you can't serve two masters.


First know your donkey
6 January 2005

David O'Donoghue, London

Tim, I have a few points regarding you column today, titled: First know your donkey.
1) You compare the way democracy was brought to the Ukraine with the way it is being brought to Iraq. Are you suggesting that the solution in the ukraine might have had a chance at working in Iraq?
2) what do you think might have happened to the protesters in central Baghdad if they camped out like those in independence square, demanding a change in regime fore days on end?
3) You ask, of Iraq " what is the result?". Don't you think you need to wait for the end of the game before you assess the result? The iraq war has barely begun. US troops will be there for at least another 10 years. If I am wrong, which is quite possible, and the US pulls its troops out now, then yes, you can correctly judge what was achieved. Until then, you may not.
4) Do you think that the US thought process went something like this:. "yes, well we could change the leadership in Iraq entirely peacefully, and not a single person will die, or we could go in with weapons to do it. What do you think boys? Sure, a lot of people will die, but that's just the way we prefer it."
By saying there is a right way and a wrong way, suggests that you think the same solutions apply to all countries, and its purely a matter of choosing the one you prefer. Each country is different, and different solutions apply. Not even the most extreme hawk in the US administation is advocating a full-scale Iraq-style invasion of Iran. That is because the asssessment of the nature of the threat and the regime is different to that of Iraq. Is it not sensible to take specific measures for each case? - as you youself suggest, know your donkey. With some regimes it will be about offering encouragement to the dissidents/opposition, with some it will be striking trade and diplomatic deals that include improving the human rights of the citizens. Wilh some it may be targetted military strikes, in the case of Iraq the option decided was a full-scale invasion. I am struggling not to be rude to you, but to think you can apply the same formula to 2 such wildly differing cases is, not very well thought out.
It is a complete revision of history to imply, as I believe you do that the Iraq invasion was always what the US wanted to do. Sanctions were tried for over ten years, encouragement of the opposition was tried, with disastrous results. Enforcement of the no fly zone was tried, as was any amount of diplomatic pressure. Breaking news: It didn't work.
That is not to say it won't work in many cases, but in Iraq it didn't.
The choice was not: Shall we replce this tryannical regime with a democratc Government peacefully, or shall we do it violently?
The choice was: Shell we replace the regime violently, or shall we leave it in place?
If you believe the choice should have been to leave Saddam in place, that is a valid position to take. But I think you should be honest with us and yourself, and say clearly which of the real world choices you would have gone for.

A.M.P. Koya, India

Mr. Timothy Garton Ash‚s analysis (Know Your Donkey ˆ Jan. 27) is excellent except for one flaw: He still thinks the Iraq war was all about spreading democracy in the Middle East.
If Americans were really serious about democracy in the Middle East there was one country that was really liberated by them and owes its very sovereign existence to Washington. Kuwait would have done anything to please Papa Bush if only he had dropped some hints that the US would like Kuwait to reform its archaic political system. Instead all what the American administration wanted was that Kuwait become, if not friendly at least less hostile to Israel by breaking ranks, as a first step, with anti-Israel trade boycotters.
The joke in the Middle East is „How can you afford to be both anti-Israeli and anti-democracy?‰
Does Mr. Ash believe that a country has to undergo 12 years of penal sanctions accompanied by „no-fly zone‰ and other kinds of destructive bombings every now and then and finally had to taste the awesome killing powers of American war machine if it is to become a democracy?
And can anyone explain why a country should have some dozens of American bases for it to funcion as a democracy?
By the way, nobody in the Middle East believes that neocons have failed in their Iraq mission. Instead they are reedy to admit that they have fully succeeded in it. Those in the region know what the mission was, don‚t they?

K. Smith, Canada

Mr. Ash,
In your recent Guardian article, "First know your donkey" you incorrectly cite the Kissinger/Shultz article about persuing an exit strategy in Iraq as a criticism of the Bush policy. In fact, Kissinger & Shultz make a strong endorsement of the US program of withdrawing based upon results achieved, and not upon some arbitrary calender based timetable. Kissinger & Shultz argue the importance of the US staying the course in Iraq as it fosters the first democracy in the Arab world.
As for your argument that "Ukraine was the right way, and Iraq was the wrong way" to promote freedom, let's just observe that if your advice had been followed the Iraqi people would still be suffering under Saddam's regime. During his 25 years of tyranny, Saddam murdered some 1.3 million Iraqis, at an average rate of 4,300 deaths per month. The death toll in Iraq since the US led invasion has ran at about 1/4 that rate (and many of those deaths were Baathists and terrorists who, quite frankly, richly deserved it). Simply put, Mr. Ash, your "better way" would have caused the death of at least 4 times the current number of Iraqis.
You do point out the importance of Europe acting in concert with the US in helping the situation in Iraq. To which I agree and point out many Europeans are, although more should. Given the huge oil profits the French & Russian oil industries were promised by Saddam, and the generous bribes to the French & Russian politicians through the UN run Oil for Food scam, it is not surprising some Europeans are still reluctant to support democracy in Iraq.
In the same spirit, it is the greed of these same players for the oil & gas wealth of Iran which is strengthening the Iranian dictatorship and undermining the underground Iranian democratic movement. So long as the mullahs are able to buy off the Russians, Chinese, French and other Europeans with the cash from their oil & natural gas, the Iranian people will continue to suffer. On a positve note, reports from Iran indicate Bush's innaugural address in support of freedom and against tyranny was joyfully received by the Iranian people.

Jaroslav, Teply, Netherlands

Dear Mr.Ash,
The last sentence of your column should be (but is not) a generally valid rule.
Western Economic Thinking Got Lost In Translation
Shock therapy was the principal reason for the catastrophic course of the transition of post-socialist countries to the market economy ("Poland and the EU," European Edition Cover Story, May 10). Western economists have actually never understood what was going on in so-called socialist countries and in their economies. That necessary knowledge of the internal workings of the past socialist system should have been the only possible basis for any attempt to reform it.
Direct application of Western economic thinking to disrupted and disabled societies controlled by yesterday's men was an ill-considered business. Nationalized industry was not the main problem, but rather the destroyed natural professional hierarchy in companies and in the whole society; misappropriation; corruption; lack of discipline and morals; etc. A necessary period of political, social, and moral cure was skipped over for the sake of such insane ideas as "shock therapy" and fast privatizations.
Poland had an outdated economy unaccustomed to a market environment, bad management, and lack of money, not to mention a network of the Communist party still in place. How could something go well or even fast without careful, in-depth preparation? The privatization of coal mines in Great Britain took more than 10 years of preparation -- and that was in a market economy. A quick launch of the market system is only half of the story. The other is to convince citizens that it has been done in their own interest, and that won't be easy.


Davos man's death
2 February 2005

julia, usa ... sort of

thank you TGA for covering this meeting, let alone telling it like it is ...and what timing! ...on the eve of the innaugural address ...bravo! TGA! <s>
having lived adn worked among the chinese adn in china ...i sense too the waiting game ...the wisdom of 5,000 years of history ...a turbulent and harsh and magnificent history ...vs. 200 years of what ...i can't quite say ...but i do sense the roller coaster of time has changed direction ...

Peter Pettit, UK

I read your most recent Guardian Comment ( 3.2.05) with interest. One query . You say : " If the west goes on playing Hamlet , then Asia , like Fortinbras , will inherit the kingdom". Which kingdom do you have in mind ? The Magic Mountain ?

Tom McLaughlin, USA

Tim's penchant for glib or clever quotes too often obscures deeper truths. Freud's notion of "the narcissism of minor differences" could well describe US-European sniping on social and domestic policy issues, but there are indeed great and enduring differences on crucial issues such as the use of US military force and support for Israel's self-defense measures. No major US politician questions these. Most major European leaders are, if not opposed to both, at least ambivalent about them.
Certainly it would help matters if the current administration could manage a soothing diplomatic tone a la Clinton, or his magical ability to bulls*** (such as signing Kyoto and then allowing his own party's liberals to unanimously vote it down in the US Senate). But as the US liberal politicians made clear at Davos, the core differences between them and their European counterparts are real, deep, and serious. The spectacle of French leaders refusing to support US troops against Saddam, or declaring that Saddam's fascist killers are France's "best allies," is not a minor irritant.
Finally, Tim like so many Europeans fails to grasp the changing face of America. It's not white anymore, and increasingly it's turned toward Asia, the source of many of the most dynamic and successful young Americans. Davos is not representative of this new elite in the making. The elite investment banks and corporations are increasingly filled by talented Asian-Americans, some of them first-generation but many more of them second- and third-generation immigrants, and they will during the next twenty years make their mark on US politics as well. Their foreign policy predilections may not follow those of the Bush administration, but one thing is certain: an America in which a majority of the citizenry and a third or more of the elites are not of European descent will devote a great deal less attention to Europe.
The transatlantic alliance is indeed on its last legs, but not because of ideology. Demographics, Tim, demographics.

Wayne A. Clark, USA

Senator Biden:
Just wondering why you accused Timothy Garton Ash of „Bush bashing" at Davos when he was pointing out that our esteemed president ranks somewhere below Attila the Hun in European polls. You‚d be a better Democrat if you did more Bush bashing and less accommodating where Bush is concerned. It seems that the only Democrats in the Senate with gonads these days are the women, particularly Sen. Boxer. If you want to be a Republican lite, do us all a favor and stay out of the 2008 presidential race. Meanwhile, tell Bush you are available as Sec. if he wants to create an Office of Toady Affairs.

Richard Schweitzer, Historian, Red State

Regarding Davos Man's death wish, didn't Sec Of State George Schultz counsel Americans to avoid being the "Hamlet of NAtions?" Colonel Quadafy got the message on April 12, 1986 and W has hasn't exactly been plauged by Danish indecison since Sept 11, 2001. If there are any Danish princes in the Western Camp, I'm afraid they're from Old Europe. And if a rising China is to be feared, why is the EU about to lift the embargo on arms sales to China? No doubt,lifting the ban is in harmony with the EU's high regard for and nuanced understanding of human rights. But still, I think I smell something rotten in Brussels- could it be the whiff of Galliist power politics?

Kevin Jones, the protection of the commons

I sent the link to the Death of Davos man column link to a listserve of creative and literate people, predominantly but not totally from the tech industry which occasionally descends into rancorous partisan sniping. I think they are fiddling while Rome.


Seize this moment
2 February 2005

scottie bowman, bongobongoland

'...the name could suggest condoglianze ...'
No, no, no, Tim. Not to an Englishman, not to an Italian - not even to this one whose existence I find hard to credit.
I think he was invented to provide you - tortuously - with what ends up as a fatally donnish closing line.

Steve Long, Germany

I suggest reading:
World briefing

Rice wows Europe - but charm offensive can't hide hard line
Simon Tisdall
Thursday February 10, 2005
The Guardian

Nick Jordan, United Kingdom

Dear Timothy, in your most recent Guardian column (10 February, 2005) about Condeleeza Rice and the renewed chances of peace in the Middle East, you quote her as saying: "in my own experience, a black woman named Rosa Parks was just tired one day of being told to sit in the back of a bus so she refused to move. And she touched off a revolution of freedom across the American south" You rightly note that this is not a line that George Bush could credibly deliver.
I would go further and suggest that this is not a line that Dr. Rice can credibly deliver either. Rosa Parks may well have been 'tired' on the day of her famous protest. Tired of being refused entry to buses containing empty, but prohbited, seats and tired, no doubt, of institutional racism in the Deep South. But Parks was more than just a tired black woman in need of a seat, she was an activist for the NAACP and had been so for a decade. Her protest was an elemental part of the strategy of civil disobedience, advocated by the NAACP leadership. In fact, Parks' protest was part of an organised campaign and it must have taken great courage and resolution for this lone woman to achieve, in the face of intense physical and verbal hostility.
It worries me that you are prepared to take Dr. Rice - who was not even a year old at the time of Parks' protest - at her word, that Parks was simply some black woman who got tired and sat down. It robs this famous protest of its courage, its determination, its dignity, its creativity and its sense of action. It disturbs me that intelligent columinsts such as yourself are prepared to simply repeat the self-aggrandising puff that politicians like Rice use to justify their positions. Rice was not even a year old when Parks' protest took place, she took no part in the wider civil rights campaign later on and now she misrepresents a significant act of resistance as the actions of a tired old woman. And you quoted her directly, almost admiringly.
Of all people in the current adminstration, Condoleeza Rice has no place to talk of such things. In her experience, Rice as certainly benfitted from the NAACP campaign and the contribution of activists like Parks, as her impressive educational record shows. But she has never given them anything back, other than the fact of her success, embodied in the corporate oil tanker that bears her name. Perhaps this is what Rosa Parks and the NAACP leadership had in mind when they embarked on the long and dangerous battle for civil rights, all those years ago? Somehow, I doubt it.

Kenneth Smith, Canada

By describing Dr. Rice's speech in Paris as consiliatory, you make the typical Eurocentric assumtion that she was attempting to "make-up" to Europe over past trans-Atlantic differences.
I would suggest the US Secretary of State was instead offering to Europe, quite graciously, the opportunity to make-up to the US. To the American point of view, and underlined in her speech, it was the French who strayed from the common Western values of liberty and democracy, and if encouraged to reflect upon this common heritage, would see the US policy has been correct, and should now rejoin the alliance. As evidence of the correctness of US foreign policy Dr. Rice listed the successes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine, where tyrrany has been replaced with the birth of democracies.
Your missinterpretation of Dr. Rice's speech is reflected in your incorrect history of the decline of the USSR. Gorbachev did not rule over a post-totalitarian state. The USSR under Gorbachev was still a one-party police state with the gulag very much open for business. The Western policy of detente did not encourage the evolution of a free society inside the USSR. Quite the contrary, as has been explained by many Eastern dissidents, detente only served to extend Soviet rule while discouraging underground democracy movements. It was Reagan's policy of confronting the "Evil Empire", economically by accelerating the arms race, militarily by bleeding the Red Army white in Afghanistan, and by publicly supporting pro-democracy movements in the Soviet block, that lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In a similar vein, the openning for peace between Israel & Palestine is not dispite US policy, but rather a direct result of it. Poverty in Palestine was not the cause of tyrrany, it was the result of it. The corruption of the Arafat & the PA and it's dissinterest in building a real functioning society generated the misery. Bush backed Sharon's forceful response to terror, he cut off Arafat, and undermined the financial & diplomatic support the terrorist organizations were used to receiving from the Arab states, not least among which was Saddam's Iraq.
The foreign policy laid out by Dr. Rice during her European tour is not new, nor does it represent a shift in direction. This is the same policy the Bush administration has been clearly enunciating since Sept. 11, 2001: The US will fight terror by diplomatic, economic, and when necessary, military means, and by attacking the root cause of terror, namely tyrrany, by promoting liberty and democracy in the greater Middle East.
What Dr. Rice said in Paris on Tuesday was essentially this: "Let's put our differences behind us, shall we? This has been the US policy for the past 3 years, it's working, and we will continue to pursue it. Would you like to get back on side and help?"

J. Duggan, UK

In "Seize this moment", Timothy Garton Ash tries to analyse the new line from Washington, but can't help adopting soem of its articles of faith. So, the problem is no longer terrorism, now it's tyranny. Where to start - China? Saudi Arabia? Kuwait? No, Iran, of course, which - TGA informs us - is "working towards a nuclear capacity", supports terrorists, and doesn't respect human rights. As if Iran weren't surrounded by states armed with nuclear weapons, as if "support for terrorists" didn't simply mean "support for Hezbullah", who's main terrorist crime was to drive Israel out of Lebanon, and as if - after Guantanamo and Abu Gharib (and Chile and El Salvador, the list goes back some way) - the US is still uniquely qualified to enforce human rights in the world. Thankfully, TGA didn't use the bit about "meddling in Iraqi affairs". We all agree there is a "problem" in the Middle East, but it's called the USA, not Iran.

F.Gamberini, UK/EU

What might it mean? It looks as though there may have been a mispelling or misreading at some stage, which has since become official. "c" and "e" could easily be confused, especially in handwritten form.
Containment succeeded? Who knows? Some will say the USSR was forced into an arms race which caused it to implode, which is tantamount to saying a country was deliberately wrecked in order to see it fail. As for "political engagement", I'm not sure there was too much of that either. Surely the way to conduct international relations is by means of negotiation on the basis of equality, not through an arms race in which the aim is to stay ahead at all costs.
Nuclear-capable? Let's get the terminology right, so as to avoid clouding the issue. As I see it, there are three steps to the possession of WMDs: capability, equipment, armament. Wanting to stop a country from becoming nuclear-"capable" is tantamount to wanting to prevent it becoming technologically advanced.
How to do both at the same time? By thinking in terms of a woldwide disarmament program, with the lead in disarmament being taken by those who have been on top all the time.
I heard you on the radio last night. The issue of whether the coming world civilisation should be called "Western" or something else is one that can be debated at leisure. The point is this- a truly integrated world needs to be predicated on the principle of equality. This involves giving up all selfishness in trade, energy consumption, armaments. Can the "Western" powers be relied upon to do all this?



Stop this folly now
17 February 2005

Peter Ashby, Scotland

Hear! Hear! well said. A lucid piece which encapuslates the problems with this pernicious clause. In my opinion we are seeing the effect of this proposal already with the problems over the Birmingham play and Jerry Springer the Opera. When you signal legislation like this you create, as you say, an environment and expectations. If the legislation is passed then we will see more and more examples of the religious attempting to stifle expression.

Ted van Gaalen, The Netherlands

To me it seems the solution you bring to the fore has a serious flaw. The amendment proposed to the law on incitement to racial hatred doesn't cover cases in which there is incitement to hatred against persons or groups with reference to their beliefs, but where no racial motive is involved.
So perhaps what we need is (an amendment to) a more general law on incitement to hatred against persons or groups.

Christine Shearman, English

I thoroughly welcomed your article in Guardian thurs feb 19. I am frightened by the present government's seeming incacity to understand the possible future implcations of its proposed legislation on "incitement to religious hatred".
I have spent my life studying and attempting to understand what happened to germany in the thirites. it was so easy to play on the hidden bigotry, that needs so little to ignite. we have plenty of it is our own times aand this law would do nothing to heal and keep whole. On the contrarty it would split and create the very conditions it wishes to prevent.
Your suggestions about abolishing our blaphemy law I also support. I forsee disestablishmentism vs antisame will be long and hard fought struggle, but of course if Prince Charles really wishes defender of faith then it is a logical necessity.

Paul Bunting, USA

When catching up on some recent Guardian features, I read with interest your piece ŒStop this folly now‚ (17.02.05). Whilst I am very sensitive to the difficult balance to be obtained between overall civil freedoms and legislating for the protection of individuals and groups (a sensitivity particularly attuned by the present government‚s disturbing record of illiberality) I am not convinced that the proposed measure to deal with the Œleaking waste-pipe‚ of incitement to religious hatred is such a folly as you argue. My problem relates to both your analysis and proposed solution.
I do not have access to the full text of the relevant Parliamentary Bill, or indeed to the legal expertise that has informed your case, but I am confused by your statement that the proposed law, the wording of which you quote, will result in the criminalisation of criticism of particular religious beliefs, whatever interpretation the courts may give to this concept (and I cannot see that it is as elastic as you contend). To be criminal, the act has to one Œthat would ∑∑likely stir up religious hatred‚ defined as Œ∑hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious beliefs‚. So a court would have to establish that a Œrational objection‚ to a particular religion‚s tenet(s) was likely to stir up religious hatred, presumably taking into account the context and circumstances involved.
Nevertheless, I would accept that even this less alarmist interpretation has implications for how one successfully Œnegotiates‚ the right balance between the implementation of the principle of freedom of speech against the other rights/principles involved. It is not enough for writers, artists, academics and their fellow travellers to appeal to an absolute right to Œfreedom of speech‚ when this has to be, and in fact substantially is, moderated in relation to other rights, some more fundamental, eg that to life. So, I would be delighted if there is a better solution than the current draft. But the one you champion ˆ the Lester/Harris amendment ˆ does not, despite its distinguished legal provenance, provide what we agree is required in terms of protection of religious groups. The problem is the point you make strongly earlier in your article: ŒRace and religion are quite different‚. Therefore, bolting an add-on to the race relations legislation is just not adequate. Even if we ignore the grave problems that exist with the definition, categorisation etc. the whole Œrace‚ construct, the demographics just do not allow this equation. Taking the example of British Muslims, whilst the majority originate from Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere in South Asia many within the total c1.6m (2001 census) do not, including those with Arab, African, East Asian and, indeed, European/American origins. Conversely, there are many British citizens with family origins in South Asia who are not Muslim ˆ and indeed are anxious not to be confused as such (ref. Sarfraz Manzoor, ŒWe‚ve ditched race for religion‚, Guardian - 11.01.05). As I understand it from your article, the Lester/Harris formulation would not allow the prosecution of a person who incited hatred, resulting in violence from a group of white youths, against Cat Stevens and fellow white Muslims by reason of their religious beliefs. I hope that, despite my far-fetched scenario, you would agree that this is not good enough.
The answer is, as you argue later, for a more fundamental review and change to our outdated constitutional/legal provisions relating to religion, including the specifics to which you refer. We agree also that something is needed in the short-term to address the legitimate concerns of our Muslim neighbours in the ugly aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks against America and to ensure that they can enjoy the same civic rights as the rest of the population. So, whilst I am sympathetic to the laudable motives of you and the prominent allies to which you refer, I am not convinced by your arguments that I should add this case to the worryingly long list of the Government‚s erosions of our civil liberties. However, I accept that I may have missed something important and I would be very interested in your (and others')comments.


The agony and Extase
24 February 2005

Peter Bolt, UK

I am even more convinced, after reading the latest offering by Timothy Garten Ash (Guardian 24th Feb) that his addiction to the EU is driven as much by hatred of the USA than his belief in a "United Europe". To my ears the `extase` has a similar ring as `Statsi`. A sound which Mr Joska Fischer of the German Green Party (now thats real irony) will heartily welcome. I am old enough to recall the vicious Bader-Meinhoff gang of the old Bundesrepublik Deutschland, whose ideology consisted of a united Europe to fight "American imperialism". How sad.

David Le Page, South Africa

The Agony and Extase seems to suggest implicitly that Europe is somehow lacking for not having its own emperor yet, though I might misread you. Well, who cares if Europe is messy, and filled with politicians tumbling over each other to 'bask in the imperial presence'. The danger of having a United States of Europe is that it will behave like a United States of America. This seems to be an inevitable consequence of concentrating that much power in a single institution or person. The current 'chaos' of Europe should be celebrated and preserved.

Randy Thomas, Texas & Bucks (mostly Texas)

With regard to your euphemistically titled European External Action Service, and specifically to the lack of a suitable acronym to do it justice, might I suggest a rename: the Androgynous Reaction Service of Europe.


Cedar revolution
3 March 2005

David, USA

Mr Ashe,
In your column in today's Guardian (3/3/05), you say the Iraqi election is the "odd one out" in the list of democratic elections in central Asia and the Middle East mentioned by a U.S. State Department official (Ukraine, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, an announcement from Egypt, and now movement in Lebanon).
You explain that Iraq is different from the others because its elections were the result of a U.S. invasion and toppling, by force, of a regime.
You say you do not favor such things, even if the result IS democracy. Democracy, you suggest, when it results from this much bloodshed, is too costly.
Apparently, it WASN'T too costly for the Iraqis who voted. I'd like to see you go to Baghdad and tell them: "It would have been better to leave Saddam in power, because the U.S. has caused (sic) so much bloodshed." I have a better idea: Wait a year and THEN tell them that. I'd like to see the look on their faces.
Anyway, the real question is quite different from the one you pose yourself. The real question is, Would any of these regional democratic rumblings have occurred without Iraq (that is, the invasion + elections)?
Causality in such matters is a matter of conjecture, but certain facts stare you in the face.
Three years ago, the French were cozying up to Syria (as they had been cozying up to Iraq for years), talking about multipolarity, and balking at U.S. hegemony in the region. Even Blair was happy to receive and talk softly to Assad. Among western governments, only the Bush administration has been consistently tough on Syria--to the extent that many on the left said it must be on Bush's "hit list."
Now that Syria is boxed in, you're going to say the credit belongs to... (as per your lead) Osama Bin Laden!
You might at least give Bush credit for being the middleman!
You're absolutely right that the "purple revolution" in Iraq differs from the other revolutions in one respect. But that one respect is not that it alone was made possible by bloodshed--it is that it alone was made IN THE FACE of bloodshed. Of all the peoples protesting for democracy, lately, Iraqis have been and are by far the bravest. And I suspect their bravery has contributed enormously to the "ripple of change" of which Blair speaks.

Europe and the U.S. may be on the same page now, but face it, it's Bush's page.
P.S. You can't say Bush doesn't deserve credit because has changed his belligerent, unilateral policy and NOT invaded Syria or Iran! He never did anything more than threaten, which, as you can see, is sometimes helpful.
P.S. Why don't you arrange your website so your most recent columns and comments are posted at the top, not the bottom? Thanks for considering this suggestion.

Jordan Michael Smith, Canada

Mr. Ash,
I am a great fan of yours, but I don't understand how you can honestly say that the invasion of Iraq did not seriously influence those in Lebanon. Surely the Lebanese leader who said in the Washington Post that the crowd was inspired after seeing Iraqis, on their satellite dishes, has a point. I think one can say that the invasion was still not worth it, but I don't see how you can say there is no correlation between the events in Iraq and those in Lebanon.

Youssef, Egypt

Dear Mr. Ash,
I read your editorial concerning the US and France walking hand in hand to promote freedom and your excitement about a new dawn.
I find it sad that someone with your education could help spread these myths. France and the US also recently marched hand in hand to recolonise Haiti and destroy its democratic system, with no protest from anyone really.
The situation in Lebanon, just as in Ukraine, is engineered. Its neither spontaneous nor is it grass roots. the Oppostion you speak of is not any oppostion at all but the same faces from the civil war.
As an Arab, like most other Arabs, I am very aware that they only wish to enslave us. That never in history has a white man ever respected the freedom or dignity of the brown people of the world unless it suited their interests.
Syria and Lebanon were French colonies and France is primarily responsible for many of the inequalities and tensions that exist their today.
I would even venture that all this is an attempt to further marginalise the importance of the increasingly powerful Shia majority.
I find it sad when intellectuals such as yourself give support to recolonisation of the Midde East. I ask you this, do you truly believe we will have our freedom when Syria leaves and 'peace-keepers' come in. You will see what will happen to us, and then you will right a leftist commentary to justify it. I hope you sleep well.

Robin Aitken, British

Timothy Garton Ash has some brass neck.
Having spent the past couple of years loftily dismissing the Washington neocons as barbarians whose vulgar, redneck, foreign policies could do nothing but harm, he now confronts a different reality. Now there is a fledgeling democracy in Iraq, also Afghanistan; the Lebanon is about to throw out a foreign occupier, Egypt is stirring and, lordy lordy, so is Saudi. It looks as though we may be on the brink of something momentous, something comparable with 1989; perhaps even - whisper it - a settlement of the Palestinian question.
As the neocons have argued for years the "stability" of the Middle East was nothing less than the stasis of the prison camp. Liberals like Garton Ash, secure in the belief that theirs is a higher wisdom, poured scorn on Bush and his Iraq adventure. How many more decades of "diplomatic pressure" were TGA and others prepared to countenance to bring hope to the people of the region?
Well who's laughing now?
It's a delight now to watch TGA trying to square his wrong-headed dogma with the new realities . It's always tough trying to make sense of something you never predicted and don't understand.
Instead the new line is "To say all this does not mean that George Bush was right all along." (Guardian 3/3/05) Oh no? Well it sure looks as though Dubbya got it a lot more right than TGA and his pals. The best bit of all is trying to claim that France can now claim some of the credit. France! Yeah, just remind me, about the constructive role that Paris has played in the region these past couple of years? TGA's blinkered europhilia distorts his vision even to that extent.
TGA has ample opportunity to get his views across - the Guardian gives him a platform, the fellow-travellers at the BBC always reverentially lap up his views - isn't it time he used those platforms to 'fess up?
TGA got it hopelessly wrong. For all his learning, his reputation, for all the adulation of the Guardian reading classes - he's ended up on the wrong side. is he big enough to admit it?
Bush - the scorned and loathed "stupid" president, the one who couldn't remember the name of the Indian prime minister, the one who mangles syntax and wouldn't be able to hold his own on high table - yeah, that Bush - is winning the argument hands down. I can understand how that might be sticking in TGA's craw somewhat; I guess he just must be hoping that things take a bad turn for the worse so that all the pessimistic griping begins to look prescient instead of the corrosive, defeatist and wrong-headed bile it actually is.
For myself,as an Englsihman, on the day that the 1500th US servicemen died in the cause of freedom and democracy in Iraq, I say God Bless America and its president.

Michel Bastian, France

Interesting view on the future of european foreign policy. One little remark, though: TGA seems to focus mainly on Paris and London when he says Europe has to hammer out a common foreign policy. Actually I think that´s not doing justice to the rest of the EU. For starters, I wouldn´t forget Berlin and Madrid in that reckoning. There will be no common foreign policy without these two, either. Germany will have a general impact on everything the EU does, including foreign policy, and I think Spain will have a word or two to say also (especially when it comes to northern Africa and the middle east; this one´s closely related to immigration policy and the spaniards will have to coordinate policies with Paris and Rome on that). And then there´s the so-called "smaller" member states who might make a difference, especially when it comes to questions regarding specific regions other than the middle east, like the Balkans, or (in the case of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) Ukraine and Russia.
Other than that I agree with TGA´s assessment: Lebanon is an excellent example of what America and Europe can do when they work together. Let´s hope Iran and Syria become another example.

Modesto Gomez, USA

Did you dream of the color metaphor first, and then had figure out how to fill up a page with impressionistic analysis. Tellingly, even this metaphor gives away the shallowness of your analysis. Purple is indeed an apt color to describe Iraq'a revolution. Purple is not the color of blood. Purple is a mixture of Red and Blue. Red is the color of blood, both coalition and Iraqi; Blue is the color of the first free election in the Arab world. If you think you could have had the latter without the other; or that the latter is somewhat tainted because it involved bloodshedding, you need to study the histories of not just the Middle East, but that of America, and Europe post-1939.

Donal Greco, USA

The holes in your logic are gaping. Had George Bush merely sought legal prosecution of the perpetrators of the 9-11 attacks, do you think that any democratization in the Arab world would be on the fast track, as it is now? Had George Bush been an enabler of Yasser Arafat, as were previous administrations, would there have been an incentive for policy changes in the Palestinian territories, ending now in free elections?
By the way, what an incredibly perverse conclusion you reach in assigning credit to bin Laden according to the Law of Unintended Consequences, so as to avoid the obvious recognition of the man whose INTENDED and stated policies are achieving there intended purpose.

Joe Smoke, USA

Well Done, Tim Ash. Whatever people say should be of no matter to you. The piece you penned is just GREAT and it is clear that you have a deep and heavy grasp of what is going on in the "Middle East"? I did not intend to read anything but I did and "IT" took me here. I'm glad it did.

William McDill, United States

Dear Mr. Ash
Your observation that the Lebonese revolt was not caused by the Iraq invasion is contradicted by someone who would seem to have a valid perspective- I quote from The Times (you really ought to read other papers sometime)
"Even Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Druze leader whose fiefdom was once pounded by a US Navy battleship, has conceded that his criticism of US policy was misplaced.
"It is strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq," the man leading Lebanon‚s uprising against Syria said. "I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world," he told The Washington Post. "

Robert A. August, Pearland, TX, USA

The only reason there is a Cedar revolution is because 8 million Iraqis gave terrorists the purple finger. This kind of revolution was unheard of in the Middle East before Afganistan and Iraq. The 8 million fingers would not have happened if George Bush had not invaded Iraq and banished Sadam to a spider hole.
Since the invasion, Lybia has given up their WMD. Elections in Iraq. Small sprouts of democracy in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
The Lebanese saw the Iraqis stand up to thugs and they did too. Syria could crush them but they know the whole free world would unite behind the US to banish Syria's dictators to their own spider holes.
None of this happens if we don't invade Iraq. You were wrong and Bush was right. It is getting harder and harder to find honest left-wingers anywhere. Maybe we should be looking in spider holes.

Hanna Jibrael, Libanon

Dear Mr. Ash,
If you insist on commenting on events in parts of the world with which you are not familiar, kindly pay your readers the courtesy of at least doing your research. This at least shows them that you accept that they may have attained a level of education, and it doesn‚t discredit you, as this particular article has.
Three points to make:
First, the man you refer to as Camille Chamoun is in fact Dory Chamoun, the eldest son of former President Camille Chamoun. He is head of the National Liberal Party not National Liberation Party. It is a secular nationalist party founded by his father in July 1958.
Of all politicians, Dory Chamoun has the very least „chequered past‰.
Second, you claim the demonstrators were „mainly Maronite Christians, Druze and some Sunni Muslims‰, and that the Shia Muslims „have so far largely stayed away from the anti-Syrian rallies‰. Did you personally attend the rallies and count the number of Maronite Christians, Druze Sunni and Shia, or are you relying on the same old tired Western propaganda that make good television but bear no resemblance to reality?
If you are trying to convince your readers that Shia Muslims are happy with Syrian occupation, then you are barking up the wrong tree. Of all religious sects in Lebanon, Shia Muslims were persecuted most by the Syrian occupation forces. In fact why do you suppose west Beirut swelled with Shia Muslims during the conflict, leaving their traditional areas in south Lebanon?
Shia Muslims didn‚t take part in the rallies for one single reason: Fear. Syria backs Hizbullah and contrary to European dreamers not all Shia support them; many fear retribution if they are seen to be doing anything against Hizbullah‚s interests. Nevertheless, thousands of Shia attended the rallies and thousands more will join the celebration once Syria‚s occupation comes to an end.
Furthermore, it seems that if you equate Shia Muslims with Hizbullah then you are narrow-minded. The more religious Shia support Hizullah, others support Amal, while many are part of the Free Patriotic Movement (another secular nationalist party), whose leader, Michel Aoun, happens to be a Maronite Christian.
Finally, it is US support (for whatever motive) for a free Lebanon that has emboldened the Lebanese opposition to demand the end of Syrian occupation, something absolutely unthinkable without such support.
Walid Jumblatt wholeheartedly joined the opposition when US support was given. If you know your Lebanese history (which I assume you should if you insist on commenting on Lebanon) his father Kamal Jumblatt was assassinated by Syrian forces.
As a Lebanese person I can say, with hand on heart, that we are sick of people like you.

Jan Etlerant, Norway

In your Guardian comment on "Cedar revolution" of March 3, 2005 you point out that the present democratic opening several places in the Middle East can be seen as an unintended consequence of bin Laden's 9/11 attack on the USA. It not difficult to agree with your pointing out this paradox. Still, I find your opening question, "Has Osama bin Laden started a democratic revolution in the Middle East?", pretty perverse. You seem to be willing to give far more credit for the present Middle Eastern events to unintended consequences of the deeds of a liberty hating master terrorist than to the intended consequences of the American war effort aimed at promoting liberty. It seems to me in other words, that your article draws attention less to the fascinating phenomenon of unintended consequences in recent history than to another fascinating recent phenomenon, namely the stubborn unwillingness of European journalists to give credit where credit is due.

Sheila Wallace, USA

In response to your "Cedar Revolution" article. You wrote, ..."Purple revolution" in Iraq? Purple, as in the colour of blood?"
I think you're wrong. I believe it is in reference to the recent Iraqi election on January 30th.


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