November 11, 2006

Bah Humbug: A Pet Hate

One of the petty hates of any historian is hearing politicians like David Heathcote Amory come on the Radio and say that the violence in Iraq is so bad its medieval. Given that we all have just emerged from the century of the Gulag, Holocaust and Cultural Revolution, not to mention the second and first world wars- it seems rather ironic to imagine that another group of centuries was a hell of violence and ruffianship compared to our oasis of peace and security. Life now is better than it was in 1200 but can we please drop our habit of saying things are medieval as a synonym to saying that they are bad.

Seats for Peerages

With the untimely resignation this week from Ministerial office of the UK’s largest political donor in history, Lord Sainsbury, the loans for peerages scandal has once again hit the front pages. Regardless of whether or not his resignation had more to do with the need to keep Malcolm Wicks in a job after his energy brief was moved upstairs to the Secretary of State, Gracchii has decided to take this opportunity to consider another New Labour abuse of the House of Lords: the practise of offering MPs whose expiry date has passed a seat in the Lords.

Whilst it has always been a feature of political life, New Labour have turned it into an art form. The problem facing Blair when he came to office, and Cameron is now struggling with, is how to renew your parliamentary party so that it better reflects the composition of the wider electorate. In simple terms, at that time Blair needed his parliamentarians to be more at home in gastro pubs than working men’s clubs if he was to bring his party into line with Middle England.

The relative weakness of the local Labour associations gave him the opportunity. All women shortlists were imposed, the Islington elite were parachuted into the North East and elsewhere and the rest as they say was electoral history.

But once in Office the reform of the House of Lords, the removal of the rump of the hereditary peers offered Blair the chance to ratchet this renewal up another level.

MP after MP in the North East, Wales and the other Labour heartlands were bought off with the promise of a life peerage in exchange for relishing their seats in the Commons. Retired MPs would take their seats in the upper chamber sometimes only a matter of months following the election, safe in the knowledge that they would sit out the rest of their lives with all the privilege that such a position entails.

Why should we be so concerned? After all the result, we would all agree has been positive: it is because of this very practice that in the shortest time possible the House has made tremendous strides in terms of ethnic and sexual diversity.

Moreover it is no coincidence that it is the Labour party, blessed with weak local constituency parties, who have been able to fill their benches with the likes of Miliband and Douglas, who both gained their seats because of this practice, whilst the Tories, shackled with militant local agents, who have struggled to get their brightest stars into parliament.

Because if those sitting MPs are not considered good enough for the Commons, they shouldn’t be sent to the Lords. Because the seats in the upper House are nobody’s bargaining chips. Because if the House of Lords is to continue to make a meaningful contribution to political life, and balance the power of the Commons, it cannot be filled with Blair’s cronies or his castoffs.

With the Conservatives in desperate need of the same sort of makeover as Labour did in the 90's only makes the case for Lords reform even more pressing to outlaw this practice once and for all.

Psycho-sexual terrorism

Until now I'd been unaware of the American thinker, Ellen Willis, and have just become aware of her, thanks to Professor Cutler's blog which contains some interesting thoughts about the right, left and her place within that dichotomy. Despite this ignorance, and in the grand tradition of political blogging, I want to comment on something that Willis wrote in response to the terrorist phenomena which has permeated so much of political discussion for understandable reasons since the events of September 11th 2001.

Willis's essay on the mass psychology of terrorism is definitely one to read. She charts more interestingly than most theorists have at the moment the psychosis of terrorism. By linking terrorist atrocity to threatened sexuality, to threatened identity, she provides a much more coherent and interesting case for why young men and women become terrorists than has been provided in the past. Simple economic explanations such as that advanced here by Marwan Bishara fail to explain why citizens from so many countries with different economic expectations and also citizens from so many classes turn to terrorism to express their rage. Willis's analysis of the threat provided by "modernity" makes more sense of this phenomenon and links it rather more cogently to the violent rhetoric of other religions. Willis is right therefore to argue that there is a psychological background to what is going on and the psychological explanations she provides make a lot of sense- the threat especially to sexuality from female liberation is something that is often underplayed and underexposed as a source for the frustrations of modern politics. The fact that men, to paraphrase Dean Acheson on Britain, have lost an empire and not yet found a role, has led to all sorts of instabilities within the modern world- instabilities that Willis is right to note emerge in different contexts and are connected to other rationales.

Willis's analysis is not however complete. Part of the problem lies in the way that we in our society deal with the religious impulse within human kind. Psychological research done by many practitioners throughout the world has found that religious experience is an almost universal feature of the human psyche. Almost 10% of the population claim to have heard voices at some point, the number of Americans claiming to have been abducted by aliens stands at around 4 million, my own research into the New Model Army in 17th Century England shows that one of the ways that people cope with extreme situations and mass casualties is to fall back upon religion. As Richard Noll's anthropological research of Native American Shamans showed the diagnosis of schizophrenia and the state of Shamanism share simularities- indeed Richard Bentall has claimed that one of the distinguishing factors about more traditional societies is that they deal with some varieties of delusional belief in a different way to the way that modern societies do. In that sense the capacity of modern society to deal with delusion as opposed to older societies has been diminished and one of the consequences might be the terrorism we all perceive.

One of the problems with her article is that missing that aspect misses the timelessness of this phenomenen. The Children's Crusade, the Assassins in early Islam and many others illustrate that beleivers in a cause have often been casual about the loss of their own or other's lives. Terrorism is as much a function of technology as it is of modernity and can't be linked as simply as she has linked it to psychosexual frustration.

Despite these caveats, Willis has picked up on something interesting- the sexual rhetoric of the Islamist or indeed of some rightwing Christians and Jews is fascinating. Her article as a brief survey isn't able to deal with the nuances of the situation- the American reaction to modernity is not the same as the Egyptian- though Said Qutb and Pat Robertson would be revolted and were revolted by the same aspects of American modernisation. Each kind of reaction comes attached to its own cultural context and economic context- those contexts influence the ways that that reaction is pursued. Furthermore each reaction comes with its own individual context- I react in a different way from you to the reordering of society.

Willis's paper is interesting and worth reading. She delineates one of the most important changes in the history of the world, a change in many ways which we are still living through and whose implications will govern the rest of our lives. That change has yet to find a mould in which to settle itself- our structures are largely those evolved within patriachal society- but they are evolving under new pressures and one of the birthpangs of the modern World may well be the emergeance of terrorism- we should just be cautious about being too absolute in our claims about this.

November 10, 2006

Carnival of Cinema

Its back with a load of great posts including one from this blog.

Boys

Interesting article here about the problems of boys in education which notes that many of them in the US aren't the problems of men but the problems of men from lower class and ethnic minority backgrounds and very few of them have anything to do with feminist attacks on men.

November 09, 2006

The Times Literary Supplement and the joys of serious thought and frivolity

Sometimes owning a blog just allows you to be an egomaniac- well here I am and this post is solely about a link but what a link, this link my friends is to an article that soars from donnish joshing to the heights of speculation about the sin of Onan, from masticating at high table to masturbating in high old biblical times! The TLS is an institution- many a time some grizzled Cambridge old hand has said to me something like just look back at the TLS of 19-- and you'll find the article by Wilkins that destroyed Bilkins's career by showing that his analysis of Charles I's letters were wrong. Anyway go over and enjoy the frivolity of high serious thought! Better still read the TLS...

Freedom of Speech

Today's issue of Spiked carries an article which raises an interesting issue. The article is an interview of the American public intellectual Wendy Caminer, who raised in the American tradition of respect for the first ammendment, argues against any restriction of free speech on university campuses. Her fury embraces not only the student Union of the SOAS who banned the Israeli ambassador but also students at Sheffield who dubbed Eminem too homophobic to be heard. In my view Caminer is over sensitive to these issues- there are in particular two distinctions that she isn't making that allow us to decide what is and isn't dangerous on the university campus.

The first distinction is about the nature of students. Students are young people emerging for the first time into their intellectual maturity, encountering ideas for the first time. When I was at university and still I think that produces a fair amount of self righteousness- when you first encounter the world you tend to think it is a simple thing and that right and wrong are labels to be simply applied. Part of the process of university life is to teach you that that isn't neccessarily true- that the world is complicated and difficult and that pontificating doesn't always work. Student Unions are always likely to be places where stupid resolutions are adopted but firstly they have little impact on the student population as a whole and secondly in my view they reflect an immaturity that people soon grow out of.

The second distinction that Kaminer doesn't make is between what we might call argument and abuse. It is important for example that every argument could be heard on a university campus, though I should add a caveat which is that there is a heirarchy of arguments at university based rightly on academic knowledge- unless we have good reason to think it is true I can't imagine that the thesis that the moon is made of Stilton or that Nazi eugenics were right will ever get a hearing at any university because they are ideas held by those out of contact with the real world. But abuse is a different matter. If I shout 'fag' or 'Paki' at someone in the street I don't mean to have an argument about the nature of homosexuality or the culture of Uttar Pradesh, I want to make them feel bad about themselves, I want them to hate themselves. That kind of act is a mental fist in the face- consequently I see no reason why it should be tolerated and in many places correctly it isn't tolerated.

What Kaminer misses therefore by lumping everything together is instances where we actually need to be worried- where a lecturer for example, and I don't know if this has happened, is sacked for supporting a particular intellectually respectable theory (obviously lecturers are sacked for supporting stupid theories but then academia should be about intelligence) together with student politics and the prohibition of abuse. There are subtle lines here and legitimate argument about all sorts of things in this post, but we should all agree that this represents a way of going forward- Kaminer is wrong because her scaremongering and absolutism could lead to us neglecting real abuse. We should guard free speech but not against imaginary dangers.

November 08, 2006

Prostitution at Westminster

Yet another interesting post by a member of the History and Policy Website. Julia Laite from Cambridge discusses the changing and in particular unchanging face of the law on prostitution. A couple of things emerge from her discussion, firstly that legislation upon prostitutes encourages waves of violence and hatred against prostitutes- she links for instance late 19th Century violence against street walkers with the proffusion of late 19th Century acts about prostitution. The second thing that she suggests is that British law has as the Government thinks been far too aggressive when it comes to deciding that a place where two or three prostitutes live together is a brothel. Such measures encourage women to live apart in vulnerability and recruit pimps of various kinds. Thirdly she points out some truly horrific figures on the conviction of pimps- in 1900 despite a bill having been passed a couple of years earlier against profiting from prostitution only 160 pimps were punished as opposed to 7,000 prostitutes. The one pity about this article is that possibly for reasons of space we never hear from any of the actual prostitutes- this article is one compiled from the outside by the politician or protester looking in and whilst it is happy to annex and argue about the experience of prostitution doesn't actually give us any statements from actual prostitutes. This is an interesting article and well worth reading, it obviously doesn't and can't include much information about prostitution, but it does give some historical background, that's worth a look and consideration.

Sophie Scholl, the White Rose and the nature of heroism

Of course, the terrible things I heard from the Nuremberg Trials, about the six million Jews and the people from other races who were killed, were facts that shocked me deeply. But I wasn't able to see the connection with my own past. I was satisfied that I wasn't personally to blame and that I hadn't known about those things. I wasn't aware of the extent. But one day I went past the memorial plaque which had been put up for Sophie Scholl in Franz Josef Strasse, and I saw that she was born the same year as me, and she was executed the same year I started working for Hitler. And at that moment I actually sensed that it was no excuse to be young, and that it would have been possible to find things out.- Traudl Junge, Secretary to Hitler in the closing frame of the film Downfall.



Turning to the Nazi regime, its easy to forget both its popular support and the fact that people could and did find out about it. Recently a film was made about one such group of people, or rather one character within that group- Sophie Scholl. Scholl was a member of a group of students called the White Rose who during 1943 postered and pamphleted through southern Germany against the Nazis- messages which got through even to the concentration camp at Dachau, arrested and later executed alongside her brother she became a symbol of the fact that some Germans had indeed known and had resisted however helplessly. For Traudl Junge- she served even in a new millenium as a mark of how far Junge and most of the German nation had failed.

The story of Scholl and her friends is one of the most interesting therefore around for a film maker to tell- the central question being what distinguished them? What made these Germans so conscious of the ills of the Third Reich that they resisted and resisted to the point of death? Consequently its no surprise to find that Scholl has become the subject of a recent film, Sophie Scholl Die Letzen Tage. The film makers here simplify the story by concentrating on the lonely figure of Scholl herself but they use the actual SS files on her interrogation in order to script much of the central part of the film. Shining a spotlight on Scholl they pose her as an alternative to Junge, the central character of the film Downfall about Hitler's fall, and ask what made her special.

Consequently much of the film focuses intimately on Scholl herself, her reactions, her feelings, and her death. Thankfully in Julia Jentsch they found an actress capable of carrying the role. Scholl as here painted is an ordinary young woman- we first see her playing discs with a friend, we see her thinking about her fiance on the Russian front, we see her with her brother. But one thing comes out of the film and that is her faith. Scholl's christianity is referred to again and again, particularly in the scenes in which she discovers she will die and retreats to her cell to confess her feelings to her cell mate. Scholl is offered a way out which she refuses upon grounds of faith- the position of the film is that Scholl's faith in many ways is the animating principle of her life, without it this would be an ordinary girl, with it she becomes corageous enough to take on the Third Reich.

Curiously this leaves the film rather flat, Scholl's character is almost so internally strong that she gives no sign of growth and her feelings are merely there to be combatted and not to sway her. The most visible example of this is the interrogation scene where proceeding from denial to admitting what has happened, she abandons a posture of defence to come out with an attack in which the film shows her as being partially successful. Because the heroine is so heroic, rejecting temptation at every moment, the film can't show us what temptation is. Scholl in this sense becomes almost inhuman in the way that she strides purposefully to her death- she knows the end and she wills the end. In many ways this film is not a film in the conventional sense- but a freeze frame of defiance.

Therefore this film aims to be disappointing, because it aims to show us a resistance that could not be overcome and cannot be explained by rational methods. The actions of the White Rose echo through history and yet were personally full of folly- there was no question that eventually they would be caught and that mere pamphleteering was a gesture not a strategy to bring down the Reich- once caught there was no question that open defiance would end in death- and yet they continued down that path. By staying faithful to that problem, the film fails to satisfy as a film but it does portray the emmense psychological certainty that religious belief (or any belief for that matter) can give someone- even in the depths of a Nazi jail.

Stanley Fish, Locke and Tolerance

Stanley Fish writes eloquently in this week's Chronicle. His argument based on a recently published book is that tolerance, the much-vaunted liberal virtue is actually tolerance merely of a circumscribed number of political beliefs. He points out that in the United States, the article is heavily biased toward an American readership, that

those Americans who refuse to leave their sectarian beliefs and convictions of core identity at home when they venture into the public sphere — fundamentalist Christians, Orthodox Jews, strongly observant Muslims, gays and lesbians, etc. — must be made to understand that only by relaxing the hold of those personal commitments and promising to act as liberal citizens (rather than as Southern Baptists, Hasidic Jews, or citizens of the Queer Nation) in public spaces will they be welcomed into the fold. Should they resist the requirement to live a double life — apostles of individualism, progress, profit, and secularism in the courthouse and the ballot box, devout upholders of religious and cultural imperatives at home — they will either be tolerated and marked as "other" (the Amish) or made the objects of surveillance and profiling (anyone wearing a turban or a burkha) or detained and perhaps deported.

He is right to point this out and argue it- it isn't a novel point as Fish recognises John Locke argued this point many years ago. Locke beleived that the security of the state trumped the value of toleration. What Fish doesn't acknowledge is the robustness of Liberalism- a Liberal tolerates anyone willing to accept the key liberal value of toleration. Like a Democrat becomes unsure about a party elected that promises not to hold elections, so a liberal becomes intolerant of someone not willing to recognise toleration. What Fish tries to do is to reconfigure this as a tolerant liberal impeding other's lifestyles- he's wrong. Impeding say the fundamentalist isn't stopping him living strictly by a religious text, but stopping him making others live that way. The liberal has no problem with him living in a certain way but does when he says its crucial to him to force others to live that way.

Stanley Fish doesn't offer answers- I'd be curious to see how you could be more tolerant than the Liberal position. Ultimately any system of toleration involves a ban on a lack of toleration in government policy- ultimately me recognising your right to live as you choose means that you have to recognise my right to live as I choose. How you abandon that and keep a tolerant polity I'm not sure.

Maybe in this Fish needs to beware- quibbling about tolerance may let in those who are really intolerant.

Supreme Election

If the Democrats win the House or Senate the most momentous change could not be in terms of foreign or economic policies but in terms of the kind of nominations that George Bush can made. There are rumours flying around say that John Paul Stevens who was 86 in April could retire after these elections. Were he to do so and were the Democrats to capture the House or Senate, Bush would not be able to nominate a Sam Alito to the bench but would have to choose a more moderate or circumspect candidate. Stevens is not the only one, despite the fact that he is the oldest justice, but there are others both in the Supreme Court and on the Federal Courts who are approaching either retirement or death. That ultimately could have a longer term effect on America given the fact that Supreme Court Justices seem to stay around than anything else.

4AM The Democrats have won the House of Representatives at least so this prediction now looks to have come true!

November 07, 2006

Islamic Nationalism

Apologies to readers for not getting to this quicker but this is an important lecture from the leading scholar of political Islam, Olivier Roy. Roy points to the fact that the Islamist movements of the last fifty years are changing their complexion yet again, turning once more to become nationalists and unify nationalism and religion. Roy opposes two paradigms of evolution towards Islamic radicalism- the first being that of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in democratic Turkey and the second being that of the Taliban. He advocates making deals with the Erdogans of the world, or at least allowing them to assume power before the Talibans of the world seize power. He also argues that Islamist movements are trying to annex to themselves the ideal of an uncorrupt man campaigning in the national interest- incorruptable because he is religious.

Roy's image is interesting because it is precisely the image used in many religious societies evolving towards the concept of nationality. We can see say in 17th Century England that rather than loyalty to rulers, loyalty to a public interest and consequently a concern with the ethics and corruption of rulers became more and more important. As I have noted before, perhaps one of the things that is happening in the Middle East is that thanks to the proliferation of new media like Al-Jazeera the ideals of democracy aren't becoming more important but the idea of incorruptibility is. What the consequences of this are may in the long term be to push the Islamic world towards democracy: whether the electorates of those countries will discover that corruption may be an institutional not an individual flaw. While it seems an individual flaw, Islamism will seem increasingly attractive to a number of people who beleive that a clean religious conscience equals an incorruptible moral one.

This stress on corruption might be another varient of the heresy against democracy diagnosed in my last post- in both cases the problem is an avowed monism- an idea that there is one answer to political problems and that the problem of politics is either in finding it or implementing it correctly. The problem is that neither corruption nor inexpertise explains why politics often fails to satisfy the public: it often fails to satisfy them because they disagree with it and because its impossible to satisfy everyone.

The Virtues of Democracy

Over at the Cato Institute, Bryan Caplan argues that democratic voters may not always vote for the best outcome for themselves. He compiles plenty of data to suggest that he is right about the average voter- but the problem is that being right is not the same as having a political system that works.

What Mr Caplan fails to understand is that democracy is not a system for providing perfect government but for providing legitimacy- what Mr Caplan does is assume that all politics is technocratic- all his issues have an answer so he asks for smarter people to vote smartly over thick people or for councils of advisers to veto uneconomic policies. In many ways what Mr Caplan is doing is similar to the ideas in Europe about the Independence of Central Banks- similarly decisions being taken out of the political realm because they are assumed to be merely decisions about questions that have answers.

But do political questions have answers neccessarily? Take the issue that divides American politics most- abortion- handing that over to doctors would not neccessarily empty it of its power and handing it over to Judges has upset a significant minority of the American population- so significant that it has swept the Republican right to power. Putting it this way, compare that to the decision in Britain made in Parliament which has seemed much more legitimate- therefore in this case the decision in Britain has become pretty firm, in America it has become a major catastrophe in terms of anger and fear expended from both sides upon it.

Why? Partly the reason is that the decision over abortion is not one that has an answer that an expert can establish- it is a moral one over how you conceive of an embryo- is it alive or is it not alive. So many other questions can be submitted to the same problem- these are moral questions not questions resoluble by experts. Maybe there is an answer to Mr Caplan's problems in that sometimes we aren't as voters capable of voting for ways which take us further towards our own hopes and dreams- are soluble but only in the context that democratic elections maintain their control over the ultimate aims of policy.

Mr Caplan should be careful therefore- losing democratic legitimacy is a problem- politics is not a matter of precise judgement by men glasses of curves on graphs, often it involves judgements about morality that no expert is able to take for people, that ultimately as Isaiah Berlin argued many of these conflicts are irreconcilable and can't be discussed in some science of society- they must in the end be ressolved to their satisfaction by electorates if electorates are going to have confidence in the way that they are governed.

Carnival Roundup

Hey little Carnival round up here of carnivals that have recently linked here-

The Philosopher's Carnival provides some really great philosophy posts this week presenting them all as playground rides- you'll find us in the tunnel of linguistic confusion but there are epistemic slides, moral teeter totters, historical jungle gyms and philosophy of mind sandpits. Seriously there are some great thoughtful posts to go and run through over there so take a look.

LATER sorry in the excitement of navigating this philosophical playground I mislaid my own blog actually we are amongst the moral teeter totters- anyway its a great carnival!

Also Tim Worstall included a post from here in his roundup of the latest posts from Britain- see here for your update of all things British, blogging and beautiful!

Art and Memory: Thoughts on the Middle Stage, the Bell Jar and Wild Strawberries

This Post on the blog A Middle Way is an intriguing look at time and art and the way that the two interrelate. This is obviously a very personal and difficult thing to think about- afterall I don't know how you the reader experience great works of art or literature and don't know that you experience them similarly to me. My own experience is exactly as Chandrahas describes it and I think his discussion is very interesting- not to mention filled with echoes of Walter Benjamin and Nabokov. For me though reading accomplishes this transcendence of the human state by introducing me to another subjectivity.

Reading say the Bell Jar as I did yesterday, you are introduced through the novel to a particular world- the world of a young woman striving to cope with depression and often failing. The peculiar thing say about the Belljar is the way that for a brief space of time you acquire a sense of the way that things logically appear to her- for example at one point in the novel she speaks of the division of the world into those who have had sex and those who haven't (she falling into the latter group and the boyfriend she despises surprisingly to her revealing himself falling into the former). The point of a novel like the Belljar is the way it completely emmerses you into this world, into these misjudgements and these judgements of the world. Somehow the most satisfying work of literature is one which emerses you in another person's view of the world- one that presents the world to you as inherently subjective. Film can do it too- take the film Wild Strawberries where Bergman takes the viewer on a journey, on a journey taken by an old man to receive an honorary doctorate but also a journey through the old man's psyche. You don't see the journey as much as you see his thoughts as he journeys. The Belljar is similar, presented rather than chronologically episodically. I wonder whether its this emersion in the episodic living of another person's life- reliving not the instant but the instant remembered and experienced at the same time: the instant as rendered significant by memory and as lived at the same moment- thus curiously manipulating our consciousness.

These are incoherent thoughts about art and they are also very personal ideas- we all have I suspect a kind of personal metaphor for the effect of art. Mine is the immersion within another's consciousness or imagined consciousness but others may be different. There is a curious mental concentration at work though and for me at least it is through this double or even triple experiencing- experiencing as myself, experiencing another through empathy and lastly experiencing that other's life as rendered significant by a process of selection that ressembles memory.

I should note that Chandrahas's post puts it much better than this- so if this captures you in any way then go and read what he says as well.

November 06, 2006

Ahbash in Lebanon

This is a fascinating article from 1996 by Associate Professor A. Nizah Hamzeh (American University of Beiruit) and Professor R. Hrair Dekmejian (University of South California). The two Professors seek to lay out in some detail the history and experience of a group called the Ahbash. They distinguish between Islamic theorists who follow thinkers like Ibn Tamiyya and Said Qutb who both argued that some Muslims despite following the Koran were unislamic because they failed to follow the Islamic law as rigourously as they should have(see Emanuel Siwan's study for a discussion of this point and of the links between the 14th Century Imam and the Egyptian revolutionary) and on the other hand theorists who refuse to make that distinction between Muslims and hence argued for a tolerant peace. The Professors argued that the Ahbash fell within the second group providing an alternative future if you like from that which the Fundamentalist Sunni groups proposed. Definitely some websites have responded with vitriol to Al-Ahbash accusing them of not being Muslim, this rather strident analysis even argues that their founder was Jewish and their natural allies are Christians.

Within Lebanese politics many informed onlookers argue that the group is now merely a front for Syrian intervention. Al Jazeera reported that the Mehlis report into the assassination of Rafiq Hariri had found some Ahbash members were involved. They have also been accused (see the sources I cite above and this) of being involved in violent pro-Syrian protests. Consequently the academics' analysis needs updating- the Ahbash are not neccessarily a benign force in Lebanon. The Ahbash's aims of being a more tolerant type of Sunni would definitely fit with an Allawite Syria allied to a Shia Hizbollah- so even their political thinking may have contamination from Damascus.

Having said that, this is an interesting article and does look to be an interesting group. If for nothing else, as Thomas Pierrot from Science Pol in Paris argues they are one of the more innovative Islamic sects in using the internet to prosletyse. The sheer fact that the Ahbash could make plausible enough arguments to attract votes in 1992 proves that the demonology of Middle Eastern citizens is wrong- when offered a tolerant alternative some will vote for it- there is an Islam out there which is peaceful and this minor group's declared doctrine is part of that wider phenomenen. Lebanon is obviously a traumatised and complicated country, whether the Ahbash are part of a pluralist future or a Syrian past (or even whether those two adjectives should be reversed) is outside the scope of my knowledge. Their international role, which seems from my brief internet research to be particularly strong in Australia where they have a radio license, is also beyond my scope. All I finish this article upon is a conclusion that this is an interesting group, which the sources above refer to as everything from a cult to extremist to tolerant and that I would welcome comments from those of you that are more expert than me in discussing what kind of organisation this is.