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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What we call Islam is a mirror in which we see ourselves
15 September 2005

Patrick Woodward, Ireland

Your Guardian column offering 6 views of Islam offers a critical view of western consumerism as something solely occuring among disaffected muslim youth, implying all other groups accept it at face value when there is a history of the rejection of its values and current disquiet at its in your face current postioning in our own society.
That it's harder to see this may have something with the interests of the media which, of course, depend on it for their enrichment. Why for instance, does the new Berliner Guardian need to be the only newspaper with colour on very page? Does the editor feel the veracity of its image of the world lacking in some aspect? Or is he simply meeting the demands of his advertisers?

Dominic Hamer, London

Quoting, I hope, for reasonable use (if not, does this mean that you would have to sue yourself as promoting this? Eeek):
"6 Whatever your view of the relative merits of the west and Islam, the most acute tension comes at the edges where they meet. It arises, in particular, from the direct, personal encounter of young, first- or second-generation Muslim immigrants with western, and especially European, secular modernity. The most seductive system known to humankind, with its polychromatic consumer images of health, wealth, excitement, sex and power, is hugely attractive to young people from often poor, conservative, Muslim backgrounds. But, repelled by its hedonistic excesses or perhaps disappointed in their secret hopes, alienated by the reality of their marginalised lives in the west or feeling themselves rejected by it, a few - a tiny minority - embrace a fierce, extreme, warlike new version of the faith of their fathers. From Mohammed Atta and the Hamburg cell of al-Qaida, through the bombers of Madrid to those of London, this has become a depressingly familiar story.
"I wish I could find some compelling evidence against this claim. But I can't. (Can some reader help?) Even if we were to assist at the birth of a free Palestine and pull out of Iraq tomorrow, this problem would remain. It threatens to make Europe a less civilised, comfortable place to live over the next 10 years."
Evidence against this claim? It seems fact-based and inarguable, but the difficulty is that a great many people (especially in youth) feel marginalised and incompetent in the face of the "most seductive system known to mankind". That marginalisation appears as a likely door to arguments 1-5 as you outline in your article, from both sides, and sometimes wider socialisation does not work.
Should we expect to live in a perfect world? I think not, though we may hope for it. It is hard to see how margins can ever be eliminated from a society (Fulan Gong, the US's own bombing groups and individuals, F-IN N.Ireland, again <sigh>). I suspect that the best that a social system can do is try to keep its door open, should the marginalised and radicalised (what _does_ that word mean -- I just threw it in there as a rhetorical flourish -- does it just mean "doctrinally violent"?) choose to come back into a socially acceptable fold.
There is a nearly-smug sense of "We're perfect already" in the West (okay -- probably in _every_ governance ideology, let's not just be nasty to the rich folk with the pretty buildings), and anyone aberrant beyond certain limits is taken to be essentially insane or corrupted in contrast to the wider society. The real question is whether a social system is capable of stooping to the level of an individual and saying, "Please, if you like, walk back this way any time you feel like it. We can't promise you everything but see what you can do for the common wealth."
By drawing up bridges, by building barracades and by closing a billion minds at a time, I think we destroy the perception of that potentially open door.
(Could I just finally point out that the social group most at risk from violent is the most neglected: 15-24 year old males. Is it not time that we did something to assist these disenfranchised creatures?)

Raashid, UK

As a Muslim I commend the greater insight you've provided into the West's conflict with Islam then most commentators have provided but feel you have still missed the ultimate crux of the matter in your column in todays Guardian (15th Sept 05).
The conflict between Islam and the West comes about purely from International power politics and the struggle to free Islam's civilisation from Western domination. Many Muslim youths may well feel alienated, frustrated or whatever other reasons you made in point no 6 of your article, but these alone do not cause people to take up violence, any more then it did for Atta and his gang. Al-Qa'ida has attracted Muslims of varying religiosity, from Westernized nightclubbers from Westernised countries such as Tunisia, to fiercely conservative Saudis who may never have been exposed to Western culture and developed the sort of ensuing contradictions you beleive the London bombers may have had in their lives.
The injustices of Western policy in Iraq, the reduction of it to rubble, slaughtering thousands in 1991 and then hundreds of thousands through sanctions, all of which Western politicians callously dismiss way strongly on the conscience of the Muslim world.
An independent Palestine is not really satisfactory to the wider Muslim world as Islam inherently opposes the rule of the Holy Lands by the aggressor Israelis. Whatever the West may say about Israel's right to exist, as far as Muslims are concerned, Israel was created on Arab land without their permission, something that we beleive will eventually be reversed, yet as long as the West is determined to ensure Israel's existence we have no choice but to see it as at the very least an ally of an enemy.
Even Osama Bin Laden spelled it out for the West in his last infomercial: "Why do we not attack Sweden?"
The uncomfortable fact that the West refuses to acknowledge is that it's worldview is not shared as legitimate by the Muslim masses. Ultimately the elimination of Israel is what we beleive in, the removal of all Western forces from the Muslim world completely, so it can never again attack our people and cause the huge death and destruction that was wrought on Iraq and to live life according to our own values and beleifs, irrespective of whether the West approves or not.
The only hope for peace between Islam and the West would be a complete retreat from the entire Muslim world and the abandonment of Israel to it's inevitable fate. Yet, the West does not even consider this to be possible, let alone be willing.

Zocky, Slovenia

While #6 has its merits, it's misguided - it's not religion that drives these people to action, it's rage. Look at it this way - they come from countries very rich in natural resources, which serve only to enrich Western corporations - helped by occupying legions and corrupt local regimes - while local people remain desperately poor. Then they come to live in the West to escape the poverty and insecurity, many even fit in. And I guess that once you really get to know both kinds of life, you come to appreciate the difference. That some rage might ensue, especially if people you know are getting killed or victimized "on the other side of the world", is not entirely surprising.
That brings us back to #5, "it's our fault" and "we couldn't change the past". Forget the crusades, forget 1948. How about withdrawing our armies from their lands in the present?

Cynthia Rees, UK

Comment on "What we call Islam is a mirror in which we see ourselves". I agree with the first explanation as I do feel that all religious fundamentalism takes away reason, making it impossible to see the world objectively. I was brought up as a Baptist and believed everything I was taught until I reached my twenties. I cannot understand how educated people cannot see that the stories in the Bible are really myths or allegories to suggest how we should live our lives. Religion has it's place but a secular society may encourage people to be less divisive and the excuse that they are committing crimes in the name of "God" would hold no weight.
I also put a very small tick by the sixth argument as I do feel that young people who see no future can be driven to extrem action. However, it seems to be educated people, who are not marginalised in society, who prey on the insecurities of the disenchanted young men.

Daniel, Mars

Islam is a distraction as is our present conflict with it. The main game will be the wests interaction with asia, China, Japan, Vietnam, etc....
Everyone forgets that our tolerance is based on the fact we do not feel threatened, remove that assumption and whether the threat is Islam or something else and we will live in a very different world.

Helen Carroll, British

dear sir
It seems that it is more attractive to propagate theories containning segments of popular opinions ( even when not substantiated . One cannot make any of the statements that you made in the Guardian whithout evidence of some sort. How ever, there was the chilling bit of evidence of Mr Khan . If we are going to accept it as genuine the mere reference to 'my People' the distorted argument made sense. No one mentioned the Messianic complex that seems to be the mark all these people . No one explored the possibility of the conflict that these unfortunate people experience when in contact with western society and its foibles. it is possible for a social group to exclude another , but allienation it is not only base on exclusion . Old people feel alienated but they don't blow up other people. Disaffection and failure can be products of the home environment . Most of the articles have pursued a line of group/religious responsibility ignoring the fact that other maliciou!
s groups are influencing people whose mental health and social supports are week. I would like to find out if Mrs Begum Khan the mother of MrKhan speeks English or if the family had any contacts and friends with other than 'same ' group.

Sean McHugh, Liverpool, UK

Timothy Garton Ash presented in this piece six reactions to the Islamist attacks on the developed world. he asked for evidence to rebut his personal favourite which attributed the motivations of the bombers to a reaction against modernity by 'young people from often poor, conservative Muslim backgrounds'.
May I suggest that it is over hasty to lump together the likes of Mohammed Atta and the Madrid bombers? After all, the latter were not suicide bombers. The tube bombers in London seemed to me to have been more interested in killing themselves than in taking large numbers of their fellow-citizens with them. And Atta was from a reasonably well-off family.
Our attempts to beat these people seem at the moment to start from the viewpoint that they represent a foreign power, a power new in the world, which makes it unnecessary to understand the motives of that power's individual soldiers. This, I suggest is Black Hat versus White Hat thinking.
These people consider themselves the best of their generation, holy warriors who lay down their lives for their people, fighting an impossibly powerful enemy.
We may not agree with them, but it does no good to imagine they are taking a post graduate degree in Islamist ideology before blowing themselves up. Their motives, I suggest, are simple: they wish to be thought well of, they wish to be respected.
And when TGA writes that the Islamists are a tiny minority, he blurs the point. The world of Islam(Umma) does not approve of young men who make trouble for the rest of the Umma, but it is feeling sufficiently humbled and powerless to relish the sudden attention paid to Islamic preoccupations such as the presence of unbelievers and their soldiers in Muslim lands.
The rest of us may feel that this last problem is not exactly the kind of thing that, if conditions were reversed, would keep us up at nights. But we should remember the proverb about last straws and camels backs.
A backlash against modernity in a traditionaL society is to be expected and has happened as many times in the West as in the East(cf the weekend's riots in Belfast and the condoning of them by the Orange Order). I would suggest that the main grievance among the Umma is that their governments and governing elites are brutal, tyrannical, selfish, incompetent, self-perpetuating and immoveable.
It is only the last characteristic that they blame on the West, and that blame is not without justification.
The Islamists are analogous to the Baader-Meinhof Group, convulsed into nihilism by the perceived wickedness of their fathers' generation. They are often technically trained people who read only on one level. They treat the Iron Age poetry of Torah, Testament or Koran as an instruction manual.
How to beat them? You have a real problem there: their defenders are the most powerful governments of the world. A direct threat to the lives of the ordinary voters, the Islamists are God's Gift to the authoritarian natures in government. The Power of Nightmares has come to perch on the wrist of the elite. What government would deny itself more power over its own population?

Michael Gregg, University of Toronto, Canada

I found myself putting the biggest ticks beside numbers 1 and 5 in your six different views of 'our' troubles with Islam, but I couldn't help wondering if the 'polychromatic consumer images of health, wealth, excitement, sex and power' in number 6 on your list, are not, in fact, the root an even greater malaise that is causing all of 'us' to lose sight of our humanity...
Great piece.

Muhammed Rasheed, Pakistan

You have written an excellent article on Muslims which I have read on today's Guardian unlimited. I will buy the first option mentioned in your article despite a Muslim from Pakistan, but 99% of my country men will not opt for secularism, which is the need of day for all the Muslims world over, if they want to have some sway in the modern world.
In my view the Muslims will find the best course of their existence through learning by the errors and then an evolution will take place in them that would take them to a coexistence with all the societies of the world within two decades. The method of terror to assert their views on others will die down after western societies handle the issue like Great Britain has done so after 7/7, which had dramatically turned the general Muslim opinion against suicide bombers and so called Jahadies.

Frank McMillen, USA

This is regarding your article.....the six views of Islam.
In number 6 you have identified the single most compelling reason for the creation of suicide bombers from the well to do middle class of Islam.....the revulsion they see in the decadence of the West and in particular the obsession with sex and money in the USA.
However you have failed to link it with number 2.....the nature of Islam itself. From what little I know of the basic Islamic religion, it is taught that sex between a husband and wife is a very private matter, and that sex outside of marriage is absolutely forbidden and punishable by death.
The only conclusion is that due to the fundamental chasm between Islam and the total acceptance by the West that sex has been commercialised and publicised to a point that every new generation in the West is obsessed by it. If my perception of this chasm is correct, it can only lead to a violent clash of civilizations sooner or later......we must accept it as fact and take preemptive measures.

John Faughnan, USA

I appreciated the column, though it was mostly review for people who've thought a bit about our security conundrums.
It also, I think, is misleading. The roots of our security problem don't like in Islam -- they lie in technology.
We've had centuries of spasm of ideological violence. The Economist recently did a great review of the peculiar rise and fall of the bloody-minded anarchists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Cultural dislocation, desperation, poverty and human peculiarities seem to combine to create these chaotic and non-linear spurts in organized violence. Islamism is only one recent expression.
So why is our security situation so severe? Technology. The anarchists were empowered by the new technologies of dynamite (Nobel's technology). Dynamite and its kind can do a lot of damage (witness Baghdad yesterday), but technology marches on. Modern ommunication services distribute techniques and enable sophisticated CCC. The cost and diversity of havoc has fallen fast in the past 50 years and will take another leap when bioengineering is widely available.
Islamism should be analyzed, researched, understood and we should conduct and analyze a wide range of interventions to reduce the motivation to harm us. These techniques may be similarly applicable to neo-nazis, american fundamentalists, etc. That is essential, but it does not suffice.
Our great challenge is a 16 yo pimply mail in central china @ 2030 who has been devastated by the rejection of his heart's desire. It is his biokit and adolescent fury that we need to think hard about.

Brunella Hoyos, Austria

sir,as a half Arab-half Italian who pray Jesus but accept the Profet and His message( I dont consider the Two to be antithetic)and in response to your article of september 15,having lived in both world ,I always felt a huge uneasiness at the way europeans consider their values to be universal.And their way of life to be the best.It is not.Are our society really so perfect,or so free?If so,why are we struggling with existencial questions so hard and why are we so dissatisfied with our lives and complaining about the erosion of our Christian values?Why do we have hooliganism and such agressive behaviors?Binge drinking?And then I think we often forget the atavism that we all have about the crusades.The moslem world and in particular the Arabs have it so ingrained in their memory as the rape of their culture and their faith.Witness the utter choc when Bush pronounced the word in all muslim country.It brought back terrible memories,enhancing in this way the way Israel is vi!
ewed.In europe and through our curriculum we where taught to see a self justifying crusade history thus dismissing Arabs and Islam for too long.Europe is unfortunatly a continent of predators,all the past centuries combined are proof of it and in order to achieve our goals we have been almost always dismissive of "the other and his culture".Arabs and Islam share the burden too for reacting always instead of acting.Both have been either too servile and still are toward the west or too angered and beeing too defensif thus generating irrational violence,though the one against occupiers in their territories is justifiable and in international law totally admissible.By their attitude they have not raise the respect of the west that is so urgently needed now more than ever.Brunella Hoyos

Wynne Greenhalgh, English, UK

It is painfully obvious that you do not understand Islam (Sept 15, „What we call Islam is a mirror in which we see ourselves‰) Of course, you are not alone. The wilful refusal of most journalists and the media generally to acknowledge the truth about Islam is lamentable, indeed shameful.
The best way to understand Islam is to compare it with Christianity, especially the two basic beliefs which, whether we think of ourselves as Œsecular‚ or not, nevertheless form the basis of our society, our language and culture and our attitudes and our thinking.
The core belief of Christianity and therefore Western society is that God is a human being (that he is also male and white is not immediately relevant). That fact alone accounts for our obsessive concern with individual free will, the absolute supremacy of man over all other forms of life, and also for our culture of class - the idea, so crucial to our own society, that some individuals are Œbetter‚ than others ˆ indeed, that some are gods or Œcelebrities‚.
Islam will have no truck whatsoever with the idea that God is a human being. For Muslims, the life that flows through the natural world has its origins in a power that lies totally outside of, and beyond, man (and is unknown, although all Muslims are urged to seek knowledge of it). Muslims, unlike Christians, always require physical evidence for their beliefs and the proof for this belief is the Kaaba in Mecca which is a meteorite originating way beyond our solar system and therefore evidence that there is a greater power out there beyond our own tiny little world.
(Since Muslims believe all beings in the natural world are equal, why then do we think we can lecture them on 'democracy'?)
The second crucial difference between Christianity and Islam is the attitude to reality. Christianity is wholly founded on miraculous events. To be a Christian means an acceptance of the scientifically impossible.
Islam denies the existence of miracles or any supernatural powers. (The writing of the Qur‚an is known as Islam‚s only miracle ˆ but then no scientist has ever explained Shakespeare.) In that sense Muslims do not need a "Reformation" and they certainly do not need an „Enlightenment‰!! The European Enlightenment was manifestly not about casting off religion but of furthering the Christian idea that man can control, and gain power over the universe and ultimately, life itself.
There are many other important differences ˆ Islam‚s endorsement of human physical pleasure has always scandalised Christians. What a pity for us in the West that we have inherited such a ridiculous idea as the sinfulness of pleasure. Understanding that difference explains why Western women have suffered far, far more oppression and are indeed more repressed than ever are our Muslim sisters!
Basically, to become a Christian one has to deny physical reality ˆ and we in the West have completely absorbed that lesson. No wonder we have such difficulties with other religions, other beliefs and other cultures!

Nuala McLaughlin, Ireland

Re your article in the Guardian 15/9/05, I would come down mostly on the side of the number 1 argument with a bit of number 6 thrown in.

Mojtaba Hadian, Edinburgh, UK

Regarding your article titled: Œwhat we call Islam is a mirror in which we see ourselves‚ published in Guardian the 15th of September 2005, I would like to draw your attention to some points:
1- I am Iranian and you have been in Iran and I am sure that you have experienced how the most of Iranians behave with a foreigner, say a westerner like you. Out here I am also faced with your countrymen manners (most of them ˆnot all) towards non-European or American people. This is a shame for so called civilised society! This is the kind of low behaviour can‚t be expressed by the words.
2- I don‚t know when this feeling of superiority and arrogance has been ingrained in the western society, but I have got some suggestion in this issue that I can put forward later if you want!
3- You played around with Islam, religion without distinguishing what you want with this vague differentiation. In terms of superstition and false idea I am afraid to say that either Christianity or Judaism they equals (if not more) with Islam in this respect.
4- You were talking about a metal arrow on the ceiling of my hotel room pointing to Mecca which had forced you to write about Islam. It is very pity for a researcher that these matters have forced to write about trouble s with Islam. Don‚t you think that these aforementioned symbols are part of a problem?!
5- Out here in the UK in every room in halls residents or dormitories at universities you could find a copy of bible. Even in hospital wards which hygiene matters there is a copy of bible beside each bed! This is not the case in Iran at all and seemed me strange when I first saw it.
6- Christianity, as it showed in past, have got a desire to run the society on the basis of religious rules. However, this opportunity has been taken from them a while ago.
7- You have said „Tell me your Islam and I will tell you who you are‰. Again I afraid to say that this sentence comes from feeling of superiority that I mentioned earlier. It seems that you have got used to telling other people who they are? What is best for them? What should they do? And etc. For goodness sake, turn your eye on yourselves and rectify some of your fundamental wrong thoughts.
8- I wish this little poor planet one day would get rid of all its troubles including fanatics, terrorism, hatred, famine and injustice.
May the day come that all people from different race, background, and religion live together in harmony and peace.

Frank Adam, UK

I thought your piece on Islam being a mirror of ourselves in Thur 15/9/05 Guardian clever enough to warrant asking if you considered that it makes good intellectual sport to invite the Moslem World to consider, "What We see as The West is a mirror of ourselves," ?
Such a piece would cover:
1) Reversion to Salafi style observance enforced by lathi wielding "religious police" or financial and other measures is no guarantee of genuine: faith, good will, nor the materialisation of the relatively open creative society of Andalusia or Abbassid Baghdad.
2) With all its faults representative voting since The Enlightenment in the West allows for the peaceful replacement of governments and shifts in government ideas. Apart from the pagan inheritance of primogeniture and the seizure of power by brute force there is no specifically Moslem doctrine and practice for the peaceful change of government.
3) The problems of East - West incomprehensions and resentments might not be, "just with Arabia," but the prose and grammmar a admit part is; so when are the Moslems and the Arab states and society in particular willing to face up to and cope with:
* The Crusades were sparked partly by the cruelties of Hakim II to Christian pilgrims, even as European exploration of the Cape Route to the East was sparked by excessive Egyptian customs dues on the spice trade in the 1430's;
* Arabs took the Arab World beyond the Arabian Peninsula - Al Jazeera - by force of arms and between the Fall of Rome and the Rise of maritime Europe the Arabs, and Moslems in general were the imperialists. Further Islam has not rescinded its imperialist ambitions to convert the non - Moslem World as only too well broadcast by Ayatollahs and Salafis.
* The petro-sheikhs have mis-spent their oil windfall is one of the complaints of the discontented of the Moslem World - whether any more than any other society that has had a windfall remains to be researched. However the intra Arab warring and armament spree quite apart from the frequent assassination of Arab leaders is not a good advertisement for Arabs nor Islam in general by any standards and needs and internal explanation beyond blaming outsiders.
* The Palestine Arabs were offered an independent Arab state three times and spurned all three offers and a long opportunity: Peel (1937), UN 181 (1947), the Israeli offer to return to the Green Line for a treaty of peace turning it into a legal frontier and recognising Israel's independence and self determination (1967 the week after the June war), that between 1949 and 1967 the Arabs could have cut their losses made peace with Israel keeeping everything they want since, and saved everybody a lot of money, blood and aggro.
6) Why be disappointed that there is no counter evidence that whatever we do about Palestine and Iraq there will still be discontented local Moslems resorting to arms against European governments and society? Surely this is the proof that there is a bent in Islam that is not in other religions and therefore Islamic scholars should do something about it such as teaching their equivalent of the North Wind blowing but the Sun smiling to make the wayfarer remove his coat?
7) All our present religions are the products of the subsistence agriculture epoch from the neolithic to the pre-industrial 18th century. As such they are angled to the maintenance of a few in prosperity or scholarity, and consoling the many in the misery of a breadline existence: "Bless the squire and his relations and keep us in our proper stations," [because even the slightest rocking of the boat will starve us all]. A Moslem Reformation does not have to be like that of Western Christianity - a ridiculous idea to take literally given the differences of ideas, abuses and contemporary politics - but like all the other religions it needs accelerated review of its law etc to cope with the real world as it is.
8) The antisemitism of the 19th and 20th century; the creation of the Holocaust and the Gulag derived precisely from the opponents of The Enlightenment equality and liberty for all as religious establishments, snobs and vested interests seized on anything to stifle and divert the ideas of The Enlightenment and pervert the new science and technology to plunder society. The graduate technical education of Mohammed Atta and Bin Laden follows the path trodden by Hitler the cathedral choirboy, Stalin the novice monk and Pope Pius IX preaching that, "To vote liberal [ie 1776,1789 ideas of liberty and justice for all] is a mortal sin." The Third Reich was an attempt revert to paganism and to use the new engineering without its technical meritocracy spilling over into society.
I think it was Rana Kabbani who once patronisingly referred to Israel 's problems with the Arabic saying, "Show me whom you hate, and I will show you whom, you need." Touche.

a imam, uk

in your article(what we call islam)
you failed to mention the most important point which is:the failure by none muslims , you included to understand islam.

J, West

Thank you for the article in the UKs Guardian newspaper on September the 15th that has been missing from the debate. An article that challenges the individual to make up their own mind across a range of perspectives rather than dis/agree with an author/speaker in a single &#8216;event&#8217;.
Of the 6 options may I propose a 7th (and in light of acknowledging the art in the article a little of myself)?
Identifying the polychromatic consumer images of health, wealth, sex and power as an initiation of discontent was particularly insightful, however limited. While I readily acknowledge:
1. the purpose of advertising is to create discontent and a need to achieve personal fulfilment through acquiring [perceived] fulfilment
2. those unfamiliar with it (due to cultural constraints) may find this particularly overwhelming especially at times of emotional vulnerability
I believe this is escapist and blameist.
People who find themselves disaffected through physical oppression have a right to use violence in return of those who oppress. Sometimes the only way out when a force is seeking to destroy you and everything you believe in is to resist with physical violence. But frankly I cannot recall an advert that does or did that.
Make no mistake, I believe women have been oppressed for decades by the images of what they should be (looks and behaviour) and now men are also (behaviour obviously, but over the last decade the same unreasonable aspirations about bodies).
But to assume a tiny minority of individuals become dysfunctional because they are marginalized through not owning a Rolex watch?
Let us also move it away from the young. Finding yourself marginalized is available to everyone. Travel the globe to cultures and languages you don&#8217;t know, have a sexuality that doesn&#8217;t fit your tribe, believe that any God is flawed, fail those you love&#8230; run out of patience with the stupid, ignorant and fearful and state it.
Anthropology and social psychology tells us that people identify with and obey the norms of their environment. Allow a festering cell of hatred to nurture its own naivety and it will explode in the pus of destruction.
Empathetic logic tells us that only those who feel all self determination has being robed seek the final act of ownership and commit suicide. And, it also tells us that people will die to belong. Perhaps these individuals and their mentors create their own marginalisation through a timely reinforcement of feeling dislocated from society?
Frankly, what teenager hasn&#8217;t felt this?
What power mongerer hasn&#8217;t believed themselves unjustifiably denied? And established a cultural norm around themselves to justify this. And who is to say their wrong?
Non-state players are gaining voice, they can do this within or without society. When they resort to physical oppression, then they may be wrong. Who can deny the right to defend at all cost? No one.
And no one can justify attack.
It saddens me past soul that Bush and Blair are both re-elected after murder and rape. That is the self centred indictment that damns those who intellectually scoff at extremist positions; politics is critical to a peaceful destiny, yet democracy is inherently marginalizing.
Thank you for a great article. Keep up the outstanding work of making people think for themselves.
And option 7. The bearded portrait of Darwin on the wall can help remind us that we can understand how things evolve, but not how they started. Spiritually we may embrace, respect and cherish every person on the planet, for the fulfilling of a destiny we have already fulfilled.

Anothny Howson, London, England

Sorry I've been a little slow to reply following your Guardian article last Thursday. Fascinating really enjoyed the social undercurrents you explored.
Maybe there is some evidence against description no. 6. Whilst the media we see here and from America must have an impact upon young lives that exasperate the differences in our lifestyles and beliefs the media can surely only be apart of the problem?!
An article in yesterdays Guardian highlighted the educated and informed backgrounds from which the London bombers came. On this basis (I'm assuming) their thoughts and knowledge of what drives this country and the capitalist operations that we pursue must also have gathered some depth.
7. Does the question beg in young Muslim minds of; Of why the quest for monetary wealth need be so destructive to the people of the world and to the consciousness of the global super-organism in which we exist? And that many of us in the west seem immune to the wider consequence of the way we spend our money and work our days.
I do believe the problem is placed at our feet, through history, through the media and our corporate process. Why must the Middle Eastern people (and African, Asian and many of European South and North American poor) suffer for our interests that socially do not make a lot of sense. Oil, war and a lack of holistic responsibility?
Maybe the bombers are not so much trying to free Muslim's but all the people of the world from the tyranny we all face from our business and governments. Is it only a Muslim fight or misunderstanding, or does the misunderstanding encompass possibly 90% of the worlds population. Why? What and who's social interest are we trying to fulfil? Surely the fight will only force heals to be dug deeper to values held, on both sides. So who wins or understands.
Is Islam making the final stand for the people of the world the trouble is on their doorstep, and why are we so blind to see the way we buy encourages these outcomes.
Could write for hours. Please tell me who I am or just confused?

Chris Roberts, Deptford, NJ USA

#6 has some merit. It's analogous to plate tectonics. The earthquakes and volcanos happen where they meet.
I would broaden the scope of the article to include all religions and entitle it How Can We Get Along? Legislators seem to focus on the separation of powers but that's not the point. What we really seek is "respect". OK so it's difficult to legislate but we know when it's missing.

Germany and France are the new sick men of Europe
22 September 2005

Dr John Buchanan, Berlin, Cambridge (West), USA

English reportage and commentary on continental Europe is increasingly pathetic. Garton Ash the Guru is a good/bad example, with cliches like "sick Man" , more appropriate for Tony Blair's regime , hiding the facts.

Graham Southernwood, British/Germany

As an Englishman who has lived and worked in Germany for 20 years as well as being a Guardian reader for more than 30, I think the juxtaposition of your article and the Leader "Economic Confidence Trick" provided a perfect opportunity to "compare and contrast".
The result of the weekend's election explicitly invites thinking politicians and economists to consider whether globalisation and its effects really are as axiomatic as some people (presumably including Ms. Merkel) seem to believe.
If democracy is about re-running elections until (one or other set of) politicians get what they want, then I must have misunderstood something...

Jerome, France

I am concerned that you would be putting Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy on a same plane. While similar in economic policies and atlanticism, Ms Merkel has displayed none of Mr Sarkozy's gusto for populist speeches and sometimes very borderline language, TV-ready police intervention and other show-offs which cast a not-so-nice shadow on his potential domestic policies.

Albert, USA

That is a load of portentous horsesh... about Germany and France

Seth Brown, USA

Touche'! Your comments on the issues facing Germany, France, the EU etc. are telling. I am American. I consider myself a moderate/conservative (politically,socially), which means on the neoliberal scale, I'm somewhat right of Attila the Hun. East Germany won the cold war....they got what they wanted, socialism. Germany will soon become a second rate economic power unless they put the free back in free economy. France ofcourse, abdicatd years ago. It seems the EU is crumbling due to perceptions of what it means to individual's dependance on the type of socialism practiced within the existing boundries on the map.. Rather than creating a formidable economic power; equal to or in advance of the US, the squabble is over the social state each one has created and who has to pay for who's "ENTITLEMENTS".
The left has been on the wrong side of history in virtually every instance that can be recounted. Yet every new generation produces those who are convinced that market economies are the enemy ( we've got them too, in droves).
After visiting the continent this past spring, I take comfort in kowing that my grandchildren's way of life is secure.
I know that on your side of the pond we are perceived as naive, materialistic without a world view.
I would agree on the materialsm. I would add that our pop culture is flat out scary. I would argue however that our form of Nationalism not only works, it's esential. As to naive; history will tell.

Laurens Meekers, Belgium

This is good, let's stick to the medical metaphor. France and Germany are the world's leading geriatric economies. There's nothing wrong with that. Of course, Mr Ash cannot accept the fact the he's growing old. He thinks it's unnatural. He wants to hide his wrinkles and look like a pubescent boy again (like India). Moreover, he not only wants to camouflage his wrinkles, he's also looking for a "cure" to growing old (which is a ridiculous idea - you don't cure old people, you give them a massage).
So it would be better to ask which medicines can relieve some of the pain of France and Germany (because being the world's oldest and most successful wellfare states, they are mildly suffering from all kinds of small ailments, which is very normal for old people.)
So what pain-relief therapy do we have? We can try to give it a neoliberal testosterone shot and hope that it will then swallow the Protestant-Work-Ethic which goes with it. The risk is that we end up with a wrinkled body-builder on steroids in a wheelchair. Which would be totally ridiculous.
Or we can try to find appropriate therapies. We call nurses with empathy, who understand what it means to be old, and look for specific pain-killers, never denying the fact that the economy in question is old indeed. We can ask these economies to do some mild form of exercise (not sprinting around like obsessed Anglosaxon fools - the risk of fatal heart attacks is too great). Surely, it would be senseless to point out to them the example of new economies like India, which have no history of modernity, and which have no experience as a wellfare state. (In fact, India's 7% growth is quite mediocre, compared to Germany's 15% growth 100 years ago.)
The goal we must set is to grow old beautifully. France and Germany are the only countries on the planet who are trying to do so.
You can't compare them with new economies who've just been born (India) or with economies obsessed with the Protestant Work Ethic.
Mr Ash would not make for a good physician. Because he confuses patients, illnesses, cures and therapies. He also makes wrong diagnoses (because he uses a-historical perspectives and cross-culturally false comparisons).
In short, Germany and France, merely by the grace of being the world's oldest, will remain the engine of Europe. Europe's challenge is to become the first viable geriatric economy on the planet.

Augo Knoke, German

I was somewhat surprised how easily a normally well-informed pundit falls into the traps of a political discussion ever more separated from reality, when referring to the results of the German election.
But worst of all, you seem to think that new elections would result in a different outcome. I very much doubt it.
I think that we Germans grudgingly adjusted to a package of rollback in our welfare state that seems digestible to a large majority - only the Linke on the far left voted against it. Furthermore, there are deep doubts on the advisability of the more radical reforms within the conservative CDU, and particularly within its Bavarian sister party, CSU, with the acronym "S" standing for "social". I sincerely doubt that a coalition government of CDU/CSU with the liberal FDP would have gotten very much further on the road to neoliberal redemption. Once they would have started losing elections in the Länder, the brakes would be on, and Ms. Merkel history.
Why not try out whether the good grades Schröder got from the Economist and the IFC/Worldbank will produce moderate growth in the future? In reality, despite all the hoopla in the election campaign, there is a lot of common ground between CDU/CSU and SPD, so forget all the talk about gridlock.
The real problem in Germany (and possibly in France) is that almost nobody seems to have a positive vision of the future - I find the anti-reform of cutting social welfare nothing but a negation and a U-turn into the past.
There is a real problem of sluggish domestic demand while exports are on a record high - and all recipes so far will only aggravate the problem. The savings we all need in order to provide for less dependency on welfare later on, cannot be spent at the same time in order to spur growth. Something's got to give - and so far, it is growth.
There is a terrible problem of turning our (record number of) patents into viable products, the risk-averse being the very econmists and particularly finance people who chastize us for not being risk-takers. So, let us have a little more imagination - and certainly less bureaucracy.

To keep its dream alive, American must end its military obsession
29 September 2005

S., Germany

"After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?"
This poem written by Bertolt Brecht after the East German uprising in 1953 came to my mind after reading the last article by Mr Timothy Garton Ash ("Germany and France are the new sick men of Europe").
Mr Garton Ash writes a new election "would be much the best outcome". Alas, the Germans didn't cast the right vote because they didn't vote for Ms Merkel. "Would it not be easier to dissolve the people and elect another?" Yes, we could try, but I am not so sure the result would be so much different.
As an admirer of Mr Garton Ash books about Poland and Germany during the Cold War -- and as a reader of his fine political analysis -- I cannot understand how he can despise in such a way the German voters. I also cannot understand how can he quote a communist -- or should I say stalinist? -- newspaper like L'Humanité to make the point about the Germans voting against the so called neoliberalism. Perhaps they did vote against neoliberalism -- but just who was proposing neoliberal policies in Germany? Even the liberals of the FDP were rejecting a flat tax.
In my view, the Germans did not vote against reforms. On the contrary. All the parties who are behind the Agenda 2010, the reform programm aproved by the German chancellor Gerhard Schröder and the Christian Democrat opposition, recieved around 90 % of the votes. The only party who is against reforms, the Left Party, didn't even get 10% of the votes.
I wouldn't like to comment the comparison between Germany and India in Mr Garton Ash's article, neither the attempt in comparing the present situation with the Weimar Republic. I guess these are boutades.
Anyway, I'm not so sure a grand coalition will not be so "bad for Germany, bad for Europe and bad for the world economy". Why should it be? Germany will have the strongest government it had in the last years, with almost 70% of voters and both Germany's big parties behind it. In a moment like the present one, perhaps it's not such a bad idea. Germany needs a huge consensus to reform itself: one Maggie Merkel cannot do it alone.
The grand coalition between 1966 and 1969 didn't just prompted the strengthening of the extremes and gave birth to the Baader Meinhof gang. It was also a moment of important reforms, full employment and growth. And it brought a political and social change, with the arrival, in 1969, of Willy Brandt to power. And Brandt didn't win the election: he became chancellor but he was not the leader of the largest parliamentary group. The Christian Democrats received more votes.
Finally, I'm not sure the SPD and the CDU/CSU are like fire and water. In fact, in the last years they've been working as a sort of grand coalition, agreeing on the labour market reform and the health reform, among other subjects. The grand coalition already already exists in Germany!
I feel I've written too much. I'm sorry, and I'm also sorry for my poor English. It's not my mother tongue. But today I am a Mr Garton Ash disappointed fan and I had to do that.

Peter Smith, USA

This is to add something to today's article - September 29th's - about what can be learned from the two hurricanes. For me, one of the most surreal of the many strange utterances coming out of George W. Bush came during his first visit to New Orleans - only to the airport, mind you - when he said, with enthusiasm, more than once, that the Superdome and the Convention Center had now been "secured." It sounded as if had in mind something like "downtown Falluja." Disconcerting to say the least.

Deirdre, Ireland

Laurens Meekers's comment is most impressive in that he manages a paen of praise for the German and French economies without mentioning the taboo word 'unemployment'. Does he assume that the EU will lead the world in this area? With 10% unemployment evenly spread, so that there can be no odious 'cross-culturally false' comparisons?

Yenn Kelley, USA

In regards to your column "To keep its dream alive, America must end its military obsession", nothing in your column backs up your contention. First of all Americas economy still has no rival and the standard of living of our poor exceeds that of the middle class of much of Europe. Our unemployment is much lower and our productivity is much higher. When it appeared that Japan's economy would rival ours it was found that theirs was built on smoke and mirrors. Secondly, America not only has separations of powers in our federal government but also acknowledges states rights. A President can not send troops into a state unless requested and although the Governor took her sweet time requesting them she did request them. Had she requested them sooner the distribution of food and water, the rebuilding of the levies and the re-establishing law and order would have happened much sooner. You also failed to see that American's were upset that the troops were not there sooner. Thi!
rdly our so called military obsession,(which had brought freedom to millions world wide) has nothing to do with d the fact that we have a low degree of saving and poor people. Although America is a land of opportunity a women dooms herself and her children to poverty if she chooses to have children outside of marriage or a stable relationship where the father of the children are supporting them.

Deirdre, Ireland

Yenn Kelley's definition of the elevated standard of living of the USA's 'poor' seems a trifle naive in the wake of the disaster in New Orleans. Does he seriously think that everyone in the USA has full medical insurance? 40 million people in the USA have no medical cover whatsoever. Hardly the situation with those he terms Europe's 'middle class'.
As it happens I was recently sent (by a friend from Harvard) an account of a fabulous 'only in America' procedure at the Mayo Clinic --which as it happens I already had performed at at a UK NHS hospital(no charge) some 18 months ago.


To Yenn Kelley, USA
You assert that your unemployment is much lower than in Europe and that productivity is higher. However that might be more a product of creative statistics than anything else.
Germany for instance counts all people on disability benefit who are able to work at least three hours a day, as unemployed. The USA ignores people on disability benefit when calculating the unemployed. According to the 2000 census, the USA had 21,287,570 people who were "employment disabled" out of a population aged 16 to 64 years(i.e. the workforce) of 178,687,234 - that is 11.9% of the workforce. Assume that at least 40% of these could work for at least three hours a day - that is 4.7% of the workforce. Add that to your unemployment rate for healthy people and you get 8.7%. I understand that since 2000, Mr Bush has actually made it easier for people to qualify as disabled - no doubt many people availed themselves of this when things went to pot after the dot-com crash. But hiding things doesn't mean they don't exist. In fact better to be honest like the Germans - you can't solve a problem until you define it.
A better way to look at employment is to look at the labour participation rate. The worforce is defined as people aged 16 to 64 and those who don't participate are housewives, people who've retired early, people on disability benefit and people who are unemployed (actively looking for work).
The labour participation rates for 2004 were as follows:
Austria 67.8%
Germany 65%
France 63.1%
Netherlands 73.1%
Sweden 72.1%
UK 71.6%
USA 66.5%
Figures for Europe come from eurostat and for USA from their treasury dept. AS you can see not that much difference between USA and Germany - but because of differences in what to include in the "official Unemployment rate", American citizens get to crow about how well their country is doing, never mind it's a myth.
Similarly, in the calculation of GDP, in the USA since the mid 1990s, the deflator is calculated using hedonics, unlike in Europe (GDP is always net of inflation, the deflator is the level of inflation). So for instance, if a PC is retailing for £1000, but has improved processing speed than computers in previous years, the Fed assumes it costs £600 in their calculations for inflation, never mind that the customer has shelled out £1000 in actual money. In Europe we take the orthodox view that the prices in the inflation calculation are the actual ones paid (we ignore techonogical improvements on the grounds that these have happened continuously for all of Europe's long history and will always be around). If you therefore calculate a lower inflation rate (using hedonics), then your real GDP (GDP after inflation) will be higher. But does statistical sleight of hand change anything in reality - or is it merely designed to make people feel good?
(if you are interested in how hedonics works, see the following academic paper if America was so wonderful why did the aftermath of Katrina happen? Old people left to die in their wheelchairs surrounded by their own faeces, mothers desperately trying to feed their babes, people being shot if they tried to evacuate into the white suburbs, corpses left in the streets like carrion for weeks on end with alligators feeding on them (a huge taboo - since the stone age all humans have displayed respect for the dead - what has happened to you?). They manage things better in Bangladesh. This is your Kirsk submarine moment - you are no longer a superpower.



How the dreaded superstate became a commonwealth
6 October 2005

Chris Sinha, UK

It is probably true that the EU of the future will be a Commonwealth, rather than a Federation, and it is to be hoped that this will make armed conflict between the states of the "new" Europe as unthinkable as the EU of the past has made it for "old Europe".
However, this will not necessarily check forever the historical momentum towards a Western European Federation based on a Franco-German union. Such a federation is not wildly improbable, and how it would co-exist with or within the larger EU is a large question.
Given the shared sentiment of the German and French peoples of distrust of globalization, such a "deeper union" might well prove popular, which is more than can be said for the prospect of Turkish accession to the EU. The big issue which is not addressed in the commentary is this question of public opinion. Having berated the EU for years for not being responsive to the people, many of those advocating Turkish entry are now treating the widespread hostilty to it as an inconvenient but minor and short term irritant. I suspect, on the contrary, that it may be prolonged and implacable, and shared by many people of otherwise different political views. Although I concur with TG-A in his reasoning and conclusions about the desirability of Turkish accession, it is not exactly the kind of argument which will enthuse the voters, and accession without their endorsement would be fatal for the EU.




Chancellor Merkel's walking stalemate of a government
13 October 2005

For our future prime minister make way for nice Mr Camerair
20 October 2005

Can Hampton Court be Europe's Great House of Easement?
27 October 2005

Europe needs memory as much as it needs jobs
3 November 2005

This is not only a French crisis - all of Europe must heed the flames
10 November 2005

The forward march of liberty has been halted - even reversed
17 November 2005

America and Europe should listen to a whispered message from Isfahan
24 November 2005

Blair must show leadership in the battle for free expression
1 December 2005

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