The concept of the sacred in modern times

The future of blasphemy
The future of blasphemy

The future of blasphemy

Speaking of the Sacred In An Age of Human Rights

By: Austin Dacey

208 pages, $15

Published by: Continuum, 2012

After decades of being regarded an obscure, if not discarded, concept, blasphemy has made a spectacular comeback as a hot issue with international dimensions. Efforts to criminalise blasphemy are well advanced in the United Nations with talks of an international treaty. The Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Vatican have become objective partners in lobbying for such a treaty.

In its convoluted style, the European Court of Human Rights has endorsed the concept.

In recent years, blasphemy has also been at the centre of court cases in France based on lawsuits brought by Catholic and Muslim clerics.

But what does constitute blasphemy?

American philosopher and human rights campaigner Austin Dacey begins his journey into this labyrinthine subject by tackling that question.

Originally a mosaic concept, in its Judeo-Christian form blasphemy meant taking the name of the Lord in vain and, more generally, failing to respect the divine.

The Hebrew Bible uses the words nakob (speaking distinctly) and qillel (to curse) to describe two different but ultimately linked transgressions against the divine. Nakob meant uttering the forbidden name of God while qillel was insulting the divine. The Greek translated the two words as blasphemein or injuring by speech. Punishment was death by stoning.

Some Christian scholars were more relaxed about the whole thing. Aquinas quipped that an injurious word would not scratch the Godhead.

The Islamic version of blasphemy, tajdif, never attracted attention in comparison with kufr, rejection of “the Divine Truth”, an unforgivable sin.

In its latest epiphany blasphemy is a child of political correctness. The UN and various European courts that have ruled on it see it as “failure to respect a person’s or a group’s religious beliefs”. It is as if the divine has been scripted out of the debate.

Dacey shows that blasphemy is no longer the exclusive concern of Abrahamic religions. Some Hindus and Sikhs have also adopted the concept in its politically correct version.

For example, the Indian Muslim-born painter F.M. Husain was hounded out of his homeland by “over a decade of harassment and lawsuits by Hindu conservatives outraged by his nude portraits of Hindu goddesses.”

In exile, Husain’s travails continued; even in democratic England, he was hounded by fanatics. An exhibition of his work in London was closed after only days amid threats of violence.

Sikh militants have stopped the staging of a play by a British Sikh playwright in London, and leftists joined Islamists to force the cancellation in Berlin of the performance of an opera by Mozart.

Across the globe, the list of plays, art exhibitions, and concerts stopped on grounds of the new definition of blasphemy is getting longer by the day.

In 2008, the Indian High Court in Delhi sounded this warning: ”A new puritanism is being carried out in the name of cultural purity, and a host of ignorant people are vandalising art and pushing us toward the pre-Renaissance era.”

In many cases, those who use blasphemy as a weapon, have no religion themselves. They claim to be acting on behalf of a religious community supposed to have been “injured” by a novel, a play, or even a cartoon.

As Dacey demonstrates, defence of “cultural purity” is not the sole motivation of the benighted denizens of neo-blasphemy. More potent, and thus more dangerous, is the invocation of “respect” for virtually any version of a real or imagined “community” or “religious identity.”

But, should one respect what one does not believe to be worthy of respect?

And, would it be sufficient to oppose the use and abuse of blasphemy in the name of freedom of speech?

Dacey believes that the matter could not be settled by international treaties forbidding blasphemy and/or laws passed by any nation.

By some estimates, there are more than 5,000 different “religions” or versions of them across the globe. Should the UN ban criticism of all of those, or should some “religious communities” be regarded as second class and left defenceless against blasphemy?

Another problem is to decide who speaks for a religion at any given time, and who decides that blasphemy has occurred. More importantly, could someone outside a religion be charged with blasphemy in the context of that religion?

Not long ago few people would have known what blasphemy meant, and fewer would have cared.

Today, however, it is the subject of high power conferences, including a few sponsored by the United Nations.

In Nigeria, Muslims who massacre Christians and Christians who massacre Muslims both accuse the other side of blasphemy.

Dacey suggests that in dealing with this neo-blasphemy, we go beyond the question of free speech.

“Respect for citizens requires a public discourse that is open to all viewpoints,” he suggests.

Dacey proposes a No Compliance Principle. This means refusal to allow anyone to deny anyone else’s freedom of expression in the name of religion.

To Dacey “the practice of violent retaliation” against blasphemy is “analogous to the violence used by terrorists in pursuit of a political goal, or by kidnappers and extortionists in pursuit of personal gain.” Dacey continues: “Governments and law enforcement officials universally adopt a public posture of not negotiating with terrorists and hostage-takers.” This is because they wish to show that violence is an ineffective means of achieving political and/or personal gains.

The same principle should apply when blasphemy is cited as an excuse for violence. If universally adopted and practised, Dacey’s proposed No Compliance Principle would force those offended, or pretending to be offended, by blasphemy to fight back with art, literature and argument rather than bombs and daggers. The No Compliance Principle would make sure that “no lawful expressive acts are prevented by threat of violence.”

A well-researched piece of scholarship on a controversial subject, Dacey’s book is a major contribution to an important debate.

Ataturk: Lessons in leadership from the greatest general of the Ottoman Empire

The downfall of several Arab despots, starting with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, has fomented a new fear: seizure of power by Islamists determined to deny Arabs a taste of freedom. To allay that fear, leaders of Islamist parties in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria, where the despot has not yet fallen, use a magic formula: “The Turkish Model”.

The inventor of “The Turkish Model” was one Mustafa Kemal Pasha who founded the Turkish Republic and earned the sobriquet of Ataturk or “Father of the Turks”. By all accounts Ataturk remains one of the most significant figures of the 20th century.

But what is “The Turkish model”?

The common perception is that Ataturk created a secular system with a strict separation of religion and state. Arab Islamists, however, see “The Turkish Model” as one in which religious parties could win power through elections, as happened in the case of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Recep Tayyib Erdogan.

Neither view reflects the real situation.

What we have in Turkey is a secular government in a religious society. There is no separation of mosque and state because government controls religious institutions, including mosques and churches through intricate rules and regulations.

In Turkey, religion is a major industry employing tens of thousands of people. Ataturk could not allow such an industry to operate outside state control.

Ataturk’s passion for a centralized government, as the key instrument in his modernization project, is in contrast with his military doctrine in which decentralization and flexibility were key concepts.

Austin Bay’s book focuses on Mustafa Kemal’s remarkable military career which made him “The Greatest General of the Ottoman Empire.”

This is a short but action-packed military biography which provides a dramatic perspective of Kemal Pasha’s leadership both on the battlefield and in headquarters.

Kemal entered the army at a time that history was in high gear.

Rival European empires were nibbling at the vast Ottoman Empire, already weakened with debt and mocked as “The Sick Man of Europe.” Then there was the First World War which eventually led to the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, leaving a rump that Kemal turned into modern Turkey. Kemal experienced fighting against more foreign enemies, among them Russians, Frenchmen, Greeks and Brits, than almost any other military leader in history.

Bay portrays the future Ataturk as a highly politicized man from his earliest days. It was as a student at the Istanbul War College that Kemal joined the pro-reform Unity and Progress secret society whose members came to be known as “The Young Turks.”

Kemal realized that if war had any sense it was only as an instrument of politics. In other words he was not one of those generals who morph into military robots with little understanding of the political undercurrents that shape history.

Austin Bay who has had a distinguished military career himself, is able to offer what sounds like an insider’s account of the many battles in which Kemal shined as a brave and visionary commander.

Kemal’s military career reached its peak with the Turkish War of Independence which transformed him from a popular general into the spiritual father of a nascent nation. If Turkey managed to escape being chopped into even smaller pieces, it was largely thanks to Kemal’s ability to galvanize his people in the darkest hours of defeat and desolation.

In an address in October 1927, Kemal said: “To speak of war means not only two armies but {in essence} two nations coming face to face and fighting against one another with all their being and all their resources, involving both material and spiritual resources. For this reason, I had to interest the whole Turkish nation in thought, sentiment and action in the same way as the army on the front.”

Kemal’s military doctrine was based on a hierarchy of values at the top of which was the “nation” (millet) just above the parliament (Majlis) as the political expression of the nation’s will. The “army” (Ordu) came at the bottom, indicating Kemal’s belief that the military were in the service of the nation and never its masters.

To practice what he preached, as soon as he became President of the Republic, and thus a political figure, Kemal shed his military uniform and took care to enhance the power and prestige of the elected Grand National Assembly (the parliament).

Ataturk is often labeled “nationalist”, a term that, in these days of “universal values”, makes some people uncomfortable. However, Ataturk’s nationalism was not defined in terms of aggressiveness or expansionism against other nations. His Turkey never even intended invading someone else’s territory and, remarkably for a country of its size, has not been involved in any war against its neighbours.

Ataturk’s was a creative nationalism. He needed to revive the long-dead national consciousness of the Turkish component of the Ottoman Empire so that he could build a new nation-state as its expression. In the process, most non-Turk components of the rump left by the disappearance of the caliphate were also re-moulded into Turks. Until the 1980s at least, even ethnic Kurds, though getting a raw deal from the Turkish Republic, accepted the rules of the game set by Ataturk.

While there is little doubt that Ataturk was a military genius and one of the most outstanding political leaders of the last century, we must not forget that his success partly depended on the fact that he reflected the spirit of his times. His were the days of nationalism, modernization and secularism in many parts of the world. This is why the model he created found a favorable echo in such widely different countries as Iran, China, Japan, the Arab Middle East, India and even Argentina.

A year ago, Ataturk and his “ Turkish Model” appeared to belong to another age. Now, however, both are back under the limelight as sources of inspiration for the historic movement that started with the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the pro-freedom uprisings in Iran and the Arab Middle East.

Bay writes : “ Ataturk believed that reason and logic provide the foundation for common values that all nations and cultures may share and respect.” This is a “ grand and affirmative ideal” indeed.

‘Steve Jobs’ delves deep into complex man’s life

“Steve Jobs” (Simon & Schuster), by Walter Isaacson: “Steve Jobs” takes off the rose-colored glasses that often follow an icon’s untimely death and instead offers something far more valuable: The chronicle of a complex, brash genius who was crazy enough to think he could change the world — and did.

Through unprecedented access to Jobs with more than 40 conversations, including long sessions sitting in the Apple co-founder’s living room, walks around his childhood neighborhood and visits to his company’s secretive headquarters, Isaacson takes the reader on a journey that few have had the opportunity to experience.

The book is the first, and with his Oct. 5 death at age 56, the only authorized biography of the famously private Jobs and by extension, the equally secretive Apple Inc. Through Apple, Jobs helped usher in the personal computer era when he put the Macintosh in the hands of regular people. He changed the course of the music, computer animation and mobile phone industries, and touched countless others with the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, Pixar and iTunes.

His biography, therefore, serves as a chronicle of Silicon Valley, of late 20th- and early 21st-century technology, and of American innovation at its best. For the generation that’s grown up in a world where computers are the norm, smartphones feel like fifth limbs and music comes from the Internet rather than record and CD stores, “Steve Jobs” is must-read history.

Isaacson, whose other books include biographies of Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and Henry Kissinger, uses anecdotes from friends, family, colleagues and adversaries to illustrate sometimes deep contradictions in Jobs.

Given up for adoption at birth, the young Jobs would go on to deny his daughter Lisa for years. The product of 1960s counterculture who shunned materialism, he’d go on to found what would become the world’s most valuable company. Deeply influenced by the tenets of Zen Buddhism, Jobs rarely achieved the internal peace associated with it and was prone to wild mood swings and mean outbursts at people who weren’t living up to his expectations.

But it’s these contradictions that make the out-of-this-world Apple magician human to a fault. And it’s his uncanny ability to meld art and technology, design and engineering, beauty and function that allowed him to put the Macintosh, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad into the hands of millions of people who didn’t even know they wanted them. Jobs changed our relationship with technology because he understood humanity as well as he understood chips and interfaces.

“I’m one of the few people who understands how producing technology requires intuition and creativity, and how producing something artistic takes real discipline,” Jobs tells Isaacson in one of the extended passages in the book that are in his own words.

These longer interview excerpts pepper the book like rare gems. In them, Jobs offers eloquent, no-apologies explanations of why he did things the way he did and what was going on in his mind amid decisions at Apple and in his own life.

Apple fanboys, tech geeks and encyclopedic-minded journalists will likely comb the book for previously unknown details about Jobs and Apple. I went into it with only a little more knowledge than the average reader, and a tenuous, nostalgic connection to him through having attended high school with his daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs. I found myself combing the book not for secrets about Apple, but secrets about Steve Jobs the man, the father, the son.

With little patience for technical details, I found myself skimming through some of the book’s passages detailing the creation of the Apple I computer, the Macintosh and the i-gadgets of Jobs’ later years. It’s in these passages, though, where the reader might find explanations for why the iPhone’s battery is not replaceable, why Macs cost more than PCs and why the iPod’s headphones are white.

The intimate chapters, where Jobs’ personal side shines through, with all his faults and craziness, leave a deep impression. There’s humor, too, especially early on when Isaacson chronicles Jobs’ lack of personal hygiene, the barefoot hippie who runs a corporation. And deeply moving are passages about Jobs’ resignation as Apple’s chief executive, and an afternoon he spent with Isaacson listening to music and reminiscing.

“Steve Jobs” was originally scheduled to hit store shelves in 2012. Its publication date was moved up after Jobs died. As such, there are bits that might have benefited from another round of editing. There are anecdotes, for example, that Isaacson repeats as if introducing them to the reader for the first time.

In the end, it’s a rich portrait of one of the greatest minds of our generation.

Asharq Al-Awsat Book Review: The 9/11 Wars

It is ten years since the fateful 9/11 attacks, a day that for many serves as a dissecting line in history between “before” and “after”, between a world before that tragic attack which claimed the lives of almost 3,000 people, and after its even more tragic repercussions that resulted in a death toll many times greater. Jason Burke defines the fatal chain of events sparked by the 9/11 attacks – which itself was an effect as much as a cause – as the “9/11 Wars”, and in his book of the same name takes us on a journey beginning with the Al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon, through the Afghan and Iraq wars, and ending with the “Arab Spring” currently blooming in the Middle East. Jason Burke is the perfect man for the job, as one of the longest serving British foreign correspondents, he has a rich experience of all the places he describes and talks about in his book, whether this is Waziristan, Kandahar, or Fallujah. Burke also has a strong background in this subject, and his previous critically acclaimed book “Al Qaeda: The true story of radical Islam” remains vital reading for anyone wanting to know more about Al Qaeda in particular or Islamic radicalism in general.

“The 9/11 Wars” focuses on the ordinary people affected by this war. Burke makes sure to talk to everybody involved in this sprawling conflict, from academics to spies, mullahs to market traders. He talks to rank-and-file soldiers as well as generals, and even suicide bombers who changed their mind at the last minute. Burke says his aim is to provide “a grubby view from below” of this conflict, however he does much more than this, providing us with a coherent vision of the vast sprawling fabric of the global ‘war on terror.”

Burke avoids generalizations about the causes of the 9/11 attacks, and indeed their repercussions, concentrating instead on local characterizations. He argues that the series of struggles we have seen over the past decade are not a result of clash of civilization, or confrontation between different religions, or between the secular and the faithful, the East verses West, nor even between the “global haves” and the “global have-nots.” Rather, he views the 9/11 wars as being a “chaotic matrix of multivalent, confused but also lethal wars” where each country or community has adapted the struggle the conflict to its own unique situation. Russian President Vladimir Putin, for example, attempted to use the 9/11 attacks to “cast the brutal war in the southern breakaway republic of Chechnya as a battle against Islamic radicalism.”

He is extremely clear on the extremely complex and multifaceted nature of this conflict, and avoids ideological narratives that attempt to neatly summarize this chaotic conflict, whether this is from Al Qaeda or George W. Bush. He does not view Al Qaeda as a unified “axis of evil” but rather as an “amorphous, dynamic and fragmented movement based more on personal relations and a shared world view than on formal membership of an organization.”

“The 9/11 Wars” covers all the major struggles that have occurred since, and indeed because of, the 9/11 attacks: the toppling of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein regimes, the bloody insurgency and civil war in Iraq, the Al Qaeda bombings in London and Madrid, and returning to the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan five years later.

He describes the Iraq war as a “grotesque strategic error”, and captures both the US and Al Qaeda’s failures in this conflict. Both viewed this as being part of a global war, and failed to pay attention to Iraq’s particular context, local identity, and dynamics. Burke also writes strongly about the ineptitude of the western policies on the ground in Iraq.

A long-term resident of New Delhi with an intimate knowledge of south Asia, Burke writes extremely well on the social and political fabric of the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the tribal areas between them. His chapter on this lawless region and the radical groups that have made it their home is perhaps the best in the book and he writes that the Lashkar-e-Taiba is “arguably the biggest violent Islamic extremist organization in the world.” Burke writes authoritatively of the relationship between Pakistan’s military intelligence service and the jihadists they hope to use in their regional contest with India, stressing that this is today as great a threat to international stability as Al Qaeda.

Indeed Burke agrees that Al Qaeda is significantly weaker today than it was a decade ago, and that its ideology has lost much of its appeal in the Middle East, particularly in light of the “Arab Spring.” However he is not yet ready to completely write off Al Qaeda, stressing that it still poses a significant threat in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Burke’s account of the past decade stands out from other such accounts written by academics and diplomats, thanks, in part, to his first hand regional experience and expertise, and he is able to draw the reader in and describe events in a convincing and attention-grabbing manner. However, for all the interesting anecdotes and personal observations that pepper this book, it is as much an academic or scholarly work as it is an example of first-rate reportage.

The book’s greatest strength lies in its detailed, balanced overview of the past decade, rather than it advancing any grand new theory about what remains a complex and ever-changing situation. However at a time when more books than ever have been published about terrorism – 11,000 according to Burke in comparison to less than 1,000 prior to 9/11 –the “9/11 Wars” must certainly be considered one of the best.

Asharq Al-Awsat book review: From Dictatorship to Democracy

Opposition groups are poised to take power amidst the ongoing tumult in the greater Middle East. Yet the United States has embracing these revolutionaries tepidly, inspired by the possibility of change while haunted by the legacy of revolution in the region. Saddam’s Iraq, Khomeini’s Iran, and Assad’s Syria, after all, were born in opposition to the repressive regimes of their day.

So Hamid al-Bayati’s From Dictatorship to Democracy is timely. For the history of Saddam’s regime, the mobilization of an opposition to his rule, and American diplomacy through it all captures the nuances of the region and the paucity of tidy options for the United States.

Bayati is well-positioned to tell the story. An intellectual who spent his formative years at a private Christian school in southern Iraq, Bayati settled in London after Saddam’s regime tortured and then banished him for his political activities. Much of the book is a first-person account of Bayati’s time as the Western spokesman for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution (SCIRI) – a predominantly Shiite opposition party – and as a senior official in the Iraqi National Congress – the umbrella organization of the Iraqi opposition. Bayati draws extensively from his personal archives — notes, minutes, correspondence, and recollections of meetings — that he collected in these capacities. For someone who lived in close proximity to the saga, Bayati writes with admirable detachment.

The book chronicles the experience of the Iraqi opposition as it coalesced into a serious force and sought support from the United States. The first strains of the Iraqi opposition emerged soon after Saddam took power in 1979. But for the United States, Iraq was a secular Sunni bulwark against the Shiite Islamist regime in Iran. The fledgling Iraqi opposition became a victim of American realpolitik.

The Gulf War opened an opportunity for the Iraqi opposition. As American officials began to look for alternatives to Saddam, they noticed the Iraqi opposition – exiles of various ethnic, sectarian, and political backgrounds uniting behind a message of democracy and human rights.

The seeming confluence of interest between the United States and the Iraqi opposition however was not enough to spur a close alliance between the two sides. As Bayati shows, the Iraqi opposition and the American government were on different wavelengths.

The Iraqi opposition wanted Saddam’s immediate ouster. Its leaders advocated that the United States shake the foundations of Saddam’s regime through: the creation of a safe-haven in southern Iraq; more arms and funding for the Iraqi opposition; the prosecution of Saddam and his henchmen in an international tribunal; and a more robust effort to promote human rights and democracy in Iraq.

The United States by contrast was focused on the more modest goal of containing Saddam’s regime. Though American officials tried to orchestrate coups against Saddam, the United States mostly sought to check Iraq through sanctions, weapons inspections, periodic air strikes, and UN Security Council resolutions. The Iraqi opposition was an important factor in the US Congress’s decision to pass the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998, making regime change official American policy. Yet Bayati demonstrates convincingly that neither the Clinton Administration nor the Bush Administration in its early months worked seriously with the Iraqi opposition to topple Saddam.

What would have been the consequence of greater American support for the Iraqi opposition? Bayati is convinced that the “Iraqi opposition’s plans to liberate the country from the dictatorship and oppression of Saddam Hussein before the U.S.-led invasion of 2003…could have removed Saddam’s regime decades earlier…”

After 9/11, the Bush Administration cooperated with the Iraqi opposition as part of its postwar planning efforts. Bayati and other exiles worked with the United States to unite the Iraqi opposition and coordinate plans for the country’s post-Saddam future. Yet the United States decided against empowering Iraqi opposition leaders after Saddam’s overthrow. Bayati saves his strongest criticism for the American refusal to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi people right away. The occupation government headed by American diplomat Paul Bremer, he claims, was the “gravest mistake committed after the war of 2003,” and the principle cause of the violence, instability, and insurgency that followed.

Bayati’s assessment is convincing in the sense that key assumptions behind the decision to occupy Iraq proved mistaken. Officials at the State Department and CIA long argued that Iraqi exiles were out of touch with realities within Iraq, and accordingly, were ill-equipped to govern the country. Bayati’s firsthand account of how the Iraqi people celebrated the return of opposition figures offers evidence to the contrary. Almost a decade after the start of the Iraq War, Iraqis continue to elect erstwhile opposition leaders to senior positions in their democratic government.

Yet From Dictatorship to Democracy is disappointing in that it does not grapple sufficiently with the shortcomings of the Iraqi opposition and its leaders. Notwithstanding American blunders, the reality is that Iraqi opposition figures secured top positions in the post-Saddam government. Bayati for one is now the Iraqi Ambassador to the United Nations. To what extent do Iraqi opposition leaders share the blame for all that went wrong? Bayati skirts the question. He is quick to celebrate the Iraqi opposition’s commitment to democratic values and nationalist ideals. Bayati characterizes his own SCIRI party as “a moderate Islamic organization that believes in the unity of Iraq as a land and as a people; in the unity of the Iraqi opposition; and in a constitutional democratic, pluralistic future for Iraq.” He is less candid about the deep ties between SCIRI and the Iranian regime, nor does he address the unsavory relationships between the Iraqi opposition and patrons in Damascus. Bayati largely glosses over the sectarian agendas of the Iraqi opposition that continue to bedevil the country.

Read in the context of the current Middle East shake-up, From Dictatorship to Democracy provides mixed lessons. On the one hand, the book suggests that the United States could benefit from linking up with opposition groups across the region. At critical points, the Iraqi opposition grasped the pernicious nature of Saddam’s regime, brought urgency and commitment in seeking its ouster, and ultimately lead Iraq in a democratic direction. It is true that the case for overthrowing the current illiberal regimes in the region is not as clear-cut as it was with Saddam. And the prospect of regime change in many of these countries could bode even worse for the interests of the US and its allies. But as Bayati shows, breaking events and domestic political realities can lead to dramatic changes in US policy. If Bayati is correct, earlier and more sustained support for the opposition may have precluded the American invasion and occupation that followed. The policy would have produced a more palatable situation in Iraq without a destabilizing war.

Yet even Bayati’s moving accounts of Saddam’s tyranny and the courage of the resisters to his regime cannot change a basic reality of the Iraq experience. American support for the opposition had bloody consequences of its own. Hopes for a swift military mission were dashed as erstwhile opposition leaders failed to solve many problems of their own creation. Shortcomings of the Iraqi opposition ultimately necessitated a sustained American presence in Iraq.

Pratik Chougule served at the State Department in the George W. Bush Administration.

Cables from Kabul

This book, as its title and sub-title imply, appears to be about Afghanistan. Thus, those tired of the avalanche of recent books about that troubled land might hesitate to pick this one up at a bookshop. They would be mistaken. “Cables from Kabul” is only incidentally about Afghanistan. It is a must read on current Western diplomacy and the way the North Atlantic Treaty (NATO) operates in a partially hostile territory.

One could rapidly skip the bits about Afghanistan in this book which is really a study of the West. The bits include the usual myths about Afghans having defeated every invader from Alexander of Macedonia to the Soviet Red Army, passing by the British Raj. We are also told that, composed of numerous ethnic groups, Afghanistan could hardly be regarded as a nation in the modern sense.

In any case, Cowper-Coles’ time in Afghanistan was mostly spent either in Kabul or in part of the Helmand Valley where British troops were based until recently. The ambassador had few chances of meeting Afghans aside from top officials and occasional informers. He spent most of his time with other Westerners, including journalists, businessmen and, visiting politicians. To fight the boredom of a life confined to the walls of a poorly equipped embassy building, Cowper-Coles even organised annual competitions for growing the longest beard in the British community.

Once we have pushed aside the annoying clichés about Afghanistan, we would find “Cables from Kabul” an intelligent study of the failure of the richest nations to develop a coherent foreign policy that is not hostage to political correctness and short-termism.

Cowper-Coles shows that NATO nations, led by the United States, went to Afghanistan without knowing what they wanted. Initially, the campaign was presented as a response to the 9/11 attacks on the US, the aim being to dismantle Al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan. Once that was done, roughly around 2003, a new aim emerged: turning Afghanistan into a democracy. By 2008, a discount was offered: the alliance would be satisfied with any “working political system” in Kabul. Two years later, there was another discount. This time, NATO hoped to train enough Afghans to ensure a minimum of security, allowing the alliance forces to leave.

what Muslim historians have labeled By the time Cowper-Coles’ book hit the bookshops, it was no longer possible to fathom what the policy was or, indeed, whether there was one.

In “Cables from Kabul”, NATO appears as a collection of armies modeled on those of Frankish dukes from feudal Europe who led expeditions to “the Orient” during the Crusades without ever developing a common strategy.

It is clear that NATO allies agreed to join the Afghan expedition largely, and in some case solely, to please the Americans.

Otherwise, it would be hard to determine what “national interest” Lithuania, or even France, have in “The Land of Insolence” as Muslim historians called Afghanistan.

NATO powers have divided Afghanistan into a patchwork that reminds one of the map of feudal Europe.

Worse still, unlike those of the Frankish dukes, NATO contingents believe in nothing in particular. Mined by political correctness, multiculturalism and “the guilt of colonialism”, the modern version of the “Original Sin”, they want to be half in and half out in everything.

That may be admirable in a stable, prosperous and pluralist society at a time of peace. But it is a recipe for disaster in war. Like love, war requires total commitment to a clearly identified objective.

Every NATO contingent is present with its caveat, a document that details what the contingent would and would not do. On paper, the overall of NATO commander in Afghanistan has almost a quarter of a million men. In practice, he could rely only on a few thousand that are ready and willing to combat.

The Dutch refuse to fight after sunset. Germans would not pursue a fleeing enemy into villages. The French would fight only in self defence. Until recently, the Americans wanted to fight only Al Qaeda.

The allies treat the so-called war as a garden party where one could drop in and out at a time of one’s choosing. Hence, the current race among the allies to withdraw from Afghanistan faster than others. No one wants to be left behind to turn off the lights.

Western publics are seldom told that most of the 2200 NATO troops killed in Afghanistan did not die in combat. In fact, there is surprisingly little fighting even in the four provinces where the Taliban and their allies, including drug barons, are active. The majority of NATO soldiers who died were victims either of roadside bombs, the so-called Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), and/or suicide attacks.

Cowper-Coles shows that what matters to most Western leaders is not how things are in Afghanistan but how they look back home. Without making grandiose statements, the ambassador portrays a political culture in which perception is often as important as reality.

The ambassador’s account is laced with thinly disguised contempt for Afghan officials including President Hamid Karzai. Cowper-Coles says that at one point he had the impression that Karzai, during a visit to London, was on the point of demanding political asylum from Britain rather than returning to Kabul.

Cowper-Coles is far from flattering on Britain’s American allies. The late Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama’s “special envoy” on Afghanistan and Pakistan, emerges as a self-satisfied but jovial fellow who would cancel an important meeting because he wanted to go to an expensive Paris restaurant.

The book is also a primer on how things are done at Whitehall, the seat of the British government. The reader gets glimpses of the intrigues at Downing Street and the Foreign Office and constant turf wars between the military and the diplomatic establishment.

Always attentive to public mood, Cowper-Coles echoes the currently fashionable view that Afghanistan is a hopeless case and that the British should get out as fast as possible.

Cowper-Coles offers nothing resembling an argument why the British should get out. But neither did he discover why the Brits went there in the first place.

Asharq Al-Awsat book review: The road to Fatima gate

There are two ways to read this unusual book.

The first is as a thriller in which a daredevil reporter puts himself in harm’s way in search of the “inside story” of some of the most dangerous outfits in the world.

The second is as a penetrating portrayal of Lebanon’s fraught, and at the same time Quixotic, politics.

Michael J. Totten is an independent American reporter and political analyst who has covered events in such places as the Caucasus, the Balkans and, of course, the Middle East.

He seems to have chosen Lebanon as the subject of his new book because almost all the fault-lines of Middle Eastern politics are reflected in that small and vulnerable country.

At one level, Totten portrays Lebanon as part of the Islamic Republic’s glacis, and advance post in Iran’s indirect war against Israel. At another level, the Lebanon that emerges from Totten’s account is more than a just a pawn in the deadly game played by bigger regional powers in pursuit of their often conflicting interests.

Totten offers a portrait gallery of almost all key figures in Lebanese politics. It is amazing that almost all agreed to spend a lot of time with him and, in some cases, open their hearts to him as if he were an old friend. I specially liked the portraits of the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and the Christian former militia commander Samir Geagea.

Jumblatt appears a disappointed and tired man who would, if he could, throw in the towel and retire to his mountain palace to read books by long discarded leftist writers. He tells Totten that the Syrians were responsible for the assassination of his father Kamal Jumblatt and that Hezbollah was capable of murdering him on orders from Tehran.

“Iranian flights to Beirut should be stopped,” Jumblatt tells Totten,” because Iranian flights may b e bringing money and arms” for Hezbollah.

Jumblatt also insists that “Iranian ambassador should be expelled.”

Jumblatt has all but abandoned his and his party’s “socialist” pretensions.

“The Socialist Jumblatt died a long time ago,” he says. “He died with my father. He had a dream with the leftist parties to change Lebanon. It was my father’s vision to change Lebanon. This is also one of the reasons he was killed. He was seen by the Arab world as backing Communists.”

In other words, Kamal Jumblatt’s assassination was part of Syrian Hafez al-Assad’s broader strategy of eliminating the leftist parties and leaders I both Syria and Lebanon.

Totten’s account of how the Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad humiliated Jumblatt is sharp and moving.

“Walid Jumblatt was next in line to make his pilgrimage to Damascus and apologize for resisting a regime that had killed his father, his friend Rafik Hariri, and so many more of his colleagues,” Totten writes. “Al-Assad made the ordeal as humiliating as possible and forced Jumblatt to all but beg for the privilege.”

To make matters worse, Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, publicly state that he had asked Damascus to let Jumblatt in.

Totten leaves Jumblatt with the impression that “the warlord in his castle was slowly but inexorably preparing his people for another surrender”, this time to Hezbollah.

Geagea is unashamedly on the right of the political spectrum and harbours no illusions about changing Lebanon. But, unlike Jumblatt, he is not prepared to surrender to anyone without a fight.

Totten portrays Geagea almost as a warrior- monk. Having spent years in prison after being convicted of murder, Geagea used the time to study Christianity, his religion by birth, in some depth. As a result, he claims, he learned to add “a spiritual dimension” to a life hitherto dominated by fighting.

Totten portrays the ex-General Michel Aoun, who heads the largest Christian bloc in the Lebanese parliament, as an egomaniac clown obsessed by the desire to become President of Lebanon.

At times the book sounds like a declaration of love for Lebanon. It is clear that Totten is smitten by the Lebanese culture in all its rich diversity.

Fatima Gate is the name of a village on the Lebanon-Israel border and thus a flashpoint of the 2006 mini-war that inflicted heavy losses on the Hezbollah without providing Israel with a clear-cut victory.

Totten shows that the mini-war was planned and managed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, with the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah used as a local cover.

Totten depicts Tehran’s ambition to create an empire in the name of Islam.

He writes: “In the spring of 2010, Ayatollah Muhammad Bagher Kharrazi, head of the Iranian branch of Hezbollah boasted that Tehran would soon be the capital of anew ‘ Greater Iran’, which he called The Islamic United States. This new Persian Empire would stretch from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean and would necessitate the destruction of Israel.”

According to Totten, Lebanon would not gain a measure of freedom as a nation until regime change happens in both Iran and Syria.

On that score, Totten dismisses optimism “in the short run” but sounds optimistic in the medium and long-term.

“Totalitarian regimes are always self-defeating and temporary,” he declares.

Thus, both the Khomeinist regime and the rule of the Assad clan in Damascus are bound to come to an end.

Though written earlier this year, The Road to Fatima Gate was published at the start of the current popular uprising against Assad’s tyranny in Syria. Thus, Totten’s rejection of “optimism in the short- run” may sound premature. No one knows how the current revolt in Syria might end or where it might lead that key country. However, one thing is certain: the Assad clan has lost much of its power to dictate Lebanon’s policies.

Totten links “real peace” in Eastern Mediterranean to regime change in b the Iran and Syria.

He writes: “There will be real peace…. When citizens of Iran seize the levers of power, when al-Assad loses his control over Syria, and when Lebanon is the final home for all her children.”

Book Review: Our last best chance

“I live in a rough neighbourhood,” King Abdullah II casually remarks in this fascinating account of his first 10 years as ruler of Jordan, a small Arab nation that has always tried to punch above its weight.

As one turns the pages, the remark appears an understatement. Equally casually, he notes that “several Arab leaders tried to kill my father”, the late King Hussein, while Palestinian terrorists wanted to finish him off with acid and poison.

Abdullah himself has been the target of numerous plots hatched by Al Qaeda. On one occasion, Al Qaeda planned to blow up the king’s yacht in a suicide operation killing the whole royal family on vacation in Greek islands.

On occasions, this autobiography reads like a fast-paced thriller.

We see a young Abdullah alone in a fishing-boat off the Red Sea port of Eilat waiting for his father to return from a secret meeting with Israelis. The light of the cigarette of an Israeli sniper onshore, keeping his telescopic gun focused on Abdullah, punctuates the jet-black night.

At one point, Abdullah says, Jordan was host to a who-is-who of international terrorists including the Japanese Red Army, the German Baader-Meinhof, and the Venezuelan Carlos the Jackal, not to mention the Palestinian Yasser Arafat. More recently, it was the home of Abu-Musaab al-Zarqawi, the late leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

We learn of a plot by Iraqi “diplomats” sent by Saddam Hussein to Amman to poison the waters of Jordan, hoping to kill hundreds of thousands of the king’s subjects.

When the book shifts gear, we are taken into a world that recalls the Arabian Nights. We meet the late King Hussein’s brother plotting to win the crown while each of the king’s widows tries to promote her own son’s claim.

We see King Hussein, hat in hand, visiting a Palestinian family to ask for the hand of their beautiful daughter, the future Queen Rania, for Abdullah.

We see King Abdullah disguising himself as a dervish, just as Caliph Haroun Al-Rashid had done in medieval Baghdad, touring his capital at night to find out what was really happening. (The king could easily find out what is happening in his kingdom by lifting censorship and letting the media do their job.)

On a grimmer note, we learn that Saddam Hussein’s eldest son, Uday, had a habit of visiting girls’ high schools in Baghdad to abduct “the most beautiful” to re-damsel his cot.

We see General Zia ul-Haq, the future dictator of Pakistan, rebuilding Jordan’s “shattered army” after the kingdom’s defeat by Israel in 1967.

Abdullah’s account of his trip to North Korea, including a rare audience with The Great Leader Kim Il-Sung, provides comic relief.

What is remarkable is Abdullah’s access to the centres of power across the globe. He has worked with three US presidents and has had encounters with Iran’s “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenehi. More importantly, perhaps, Abdullah is the only Arab leader with good relations with all the leaders of the other 21 nations of the Arab League, making his close ties with Israel all the more remarkable.

Abdullah portrays President George W Bush as a man of few words and a lot of actions, not all of them praiseworthy. In contrast, President Barack Obama emerges as a man of many words, most of them moving, and little action.

A soldier by training, Abdullah never thought he would be king until the last days of his father. King Hussein decided to discard his brother Hassan, Crown Prince for decades, and anoint Abdullah as heir to the throne.

Abdullah’s military background is visible all along.

He does not blush to report that he sent a message to Paul Wolfowitz, a key architect of President Bush’s strategy, to “get stuffed”. He also reports Bush as saying, “You can piss on Chalabi”, referring to Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi businessmen whom Wolfowitz ostensibly wanted as Saddam Hussein’s successor.

Abdullah’s view of Saddam is ambiguous.

He skips over their meetings but notes some of the vicious aspects of the dictator’s regime.

At the same time, he portrays Saddam’s execution as a cause of anger among Arabs. If true, the claim might not be a compliment to Arabs.

Abdullah says he opposed the toppling of Saddam but now is concerned about a premature withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

Not missing an opportunity to remind us that one of his father’s cousins, Faisal, had once been King of Iraq, Abdullah barely conceals his dislike of new Iraq with Shi’ites in a dominant position.

He warns of the emergence of a “Shi’ite Crescent”, spanning from Iran to the Mediterranean, challenging Sunni Arab states and their Western allies.

To counter that threat, Abdullah formed an alliance with Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Because the book was written before the fall of Mubarak and major changes in GCC’s strategy, it is not clear what has happened to the alliance.

The Jordanian sovereign praises the merits of secularism, including the kind supposedly practised by Saddam. He forgets that his family’s legitimacy is based on a religious claim, that of descent from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). In fact, Abdullah’s country is called The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Abdullah forgets secularism when he claims that the Palestinian issue is “the number-one iconic Islamic cause” and concerns “all Muslims, from Indonesia to Morocco”.

When it comes to showing a path to peace, the king has little to offer beyond the Arab Peace Initiative (API) of Saudi Arabia, which, he insists, was initiated by his father. Launched six years ago, API has already run into numerous hurdles. The reason is that as long as neither Israel nor the Palestinians really want peace, no outsider could impose it on them.

King Abdullah dreams of a “Middle Eastern Benelux” grouping together Jordan, Israel, Lebanon and a Palestinian state.

“It would become an economic power-house,” he says as if licking his lips.

In line with popular misconceptions, the king exaggerates the importance of the Israel-Palestine conflict and calls it “the thread of all Middle Eastern conflicts” and a “global issue.” It is precisely by blowing the importance of this conflict out of all proportions that one might make it harder to find a solution.

The current uprisings in several Arab countries reveal a different picture. It seems that most Arabs, while certainly interested in the Palestine issue, have a whole host of other political, economic and cultural preoccupation more directly linked to their own life.

Over the past weeks, we have seen how President Bashar al-Assad’s desperate attempt at prolonging his reign of terror by harping on the Palestine issue has not silenced the popular revolt in Syria.

Despite his family’s close ties to Israel, the Jordanian king does not trust the Israelis.

He says that Israel’s claim of “being a tiny nation surrounded by hostile powers” is a myth that has “allowed the Israelis to portray their own calculated acts of aggression as self-defence and, in some cases, to persuade other nations to attack its enemies.”

From this book, King Abdullah emerges as a jovial companion with a sense of humour, perhaps picked up from his English mother or his British schoolmates at Sandshurst, and enough cynicism to survive in the Middle East.

The Western reader would find his concern with such fashionable themes as environmental protection, fair trade, and empowerment reassuring. Positioning himself mildly to the left, he brands people he does not like, including Bush, Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu, and, once again, Wolfowitz as “right wingers.”

No one knows how the current turmoil in the Arab world, which is also affecting Jordan, might play out. This book, however, portrays a young and energetic leader who might not always know what he should do but is determined to serve his people as best as he can.

Asharq Al-Awsat Book Review: A Journey

Asharq Al-Awsat Book Review: A Journey
Asharq Al-Awsat Book Review: A Journey

It is too early to judge what lasting impact Tony Blair’s long tenure as prime minister might have on British politics. His enemies already dismiss him as a light-weight pugilist more interested in spin than serious policymaking. His friends praise him as a statesman who led the United Kingdom through a difficult decade of change.

What is certain is that Tony Blair is one of those all too rare politicians ready to take a risk in pursuit of their goals. This is why his 11-year long premiership was an interesting period in British politics. And this is why his book, A Journey, makes a fascinating read.

In reading A Journey, one should not look for explosive revelations regarding major policy issues. No prime minister would spill the beans so soon after leaving office. One should not look for intimations of a personal kind either. After all, Tony Blair, his belated conversion to Catholicism notwithstanding, is no Saint Augustine.

With these caveats in mind, reading A Journey could be a rewarding exercise. In what one could describe as an impressionistic style, it provides a deep insight into contemporary British politics and one of its most talented practitioners in recent times.

Blair’s trajectory is an exceptional one. He is the first British politician to become prime minister without any previous experience of government. He is also one of only two British prime ministers to win three consecutive general elections (The other one was Margaret Thatcher). Of the nine post-war Labour Party leaders, only three, Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and Blair won general elections. Both Attlee and Wilson ended up also losing a general election. Blair never did.

Historians might decide that Blair’s principal contribution was to transform Labour from a party of declining trade unions, with a Marxist hangover, into a modern European-style social democratic outfit. Blair succeeded in imposing reforms first evoked by Hugh Gaitskell in the late 1950s.

Blair also freed the party from an absurd sentimental attachment to unilateral disarmament, and renewed its unequivocal support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). After all, Labour’s great Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin had been one of NATO’s original architects.

Under Blair’s leadership, almost a century of ideological war in British politics came to an end, leading, in its place, towards a debate on the pragmatic means of managing a market economy in the best interest of the majority.

Many of Blair’s enemies claim that he was nothing but a cynical politician with no firm conviction. This is not the impression that one forms after reading A Journey.

Blair says he did what he did because he believed it was right. And there is no reason not to believe him. For example, what cynical interest might anyone have had in sending British troops to restore a democratically-elected President in Sierra Leone? And why should a British prime minister take the lead in persuading the European Union and NATO to intervene militarily in Kosovo to save its Muslim majority from being massacred by the Serbs?

A similar question could be asked about Blair’s decision, possibly the most controversial in his career, to join the 34-nation US-led coalition that liberated Iraq from almost 30 years of savage tyranny.

Blair could have easily stayed out of the Iraq war. In fact, the then US President George W Bush had told Blair that Washington would ‘understand’ London’s decision not to join the coalition. There was a precedent. In 1964, Harold Wilson, the then Labour prime minister, had declined an American invitation to join the war in Vietnam. Convinced that the Ba’athist regime was evil, Blair, however, had no qualms about helping topple Saddam Hussein.

Nostalgia for Saddam Hussein may still be strong in some circles of the chattering classes. Blair, however, has no regrets about British participation in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Blair’s refusal to give any concessions to fashionable clichés is underlined with the tribute he pays to George W Bush, the quintessential hate-figure for many self-righteous pundits across the globe. Blair praises Bush as a sincere man and a true idealist dedicated to do what he could against brutal dictators in the so-called developing countries.

Blair is surprisingly forthright in his assertion that the Islamic Republic in Iran is the principal cause of instability and terror in many countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan. He also implies that, had he remained at 10 Downing Street, he would have advocated a concerted Western policy to contain and roll back the Khomeinist regime in Tehran. He even evokes the possibility of taking military action to prevent the Khomeinists from obtaining nuclear weapons.

In the past few days, the British media has focused on the part of the book that deals with the complicated relationship between Blair and his Chancellor of the Exchequer and ultimate successor Gordon Brown. Here, there is no sign of Blair’s Christian charity. Blair claims that Brown was a control freak and plotter with ‘ zero emotional sentiment’. Since there is no independent evidence to confirm such a sobriquet, one could think that Blair is venting years of accumulated anger against a colleague and rival who often made life difficult for him.

Not a formal memoir, A Journey, could be read as a thriller superimposed upon a premier in British politics.

Uranium Wars

Uranium Wars
Uranium Wars

According to legend, the great Iranian city of Isfahan was, until recently, the site of a public bath built by a medieval sage known as Sheikh Baha’i. The bath was designed in a way that its water supply remained constantly hot with a single magical candle.

Had the sheikh managed to build a candle with enriched uranium, thus obtaining virtually endless energy from a small quantity of fuel? Perhaps, not. However, man’s quest for cheap and endless energy dates back to the beginnings of humanity.

The raw material that could help man realise that dream is uranium that, until not so long ago, was regarded as a worthless substance of no obvious use. Today, however, uranium is often referred to as “the king of metals”, the magical substance that, in a world fast running out of fossil fuels, could provide mankind with virtually endless quantities of energy.

In this short and fast-paced book Amir Aczel, an American mathematics teacher tells the story of uranium with both sympathy and authority. In the process, he demystifies a substance that has become the subject of intense power struggles and international rivalries.

It was the French physicist Henri Becquerel who discovered radioactivity, and wondered whether it was possible to harness the energy released by the process.

Until the end of the 19th century, science assumed that radioactivity, that is to say the transmutation of one chemical element into another, was impossible. Such ideas, official science insisted, belonged to the medieval times and its obsession with alchemy.

However, in 1909, a British chemist named Frederick Soddy offered a series of lectures on the topic at Glasgow University in which he evoked the possibility of a transmutation that could multiply energy by a factor of one to a million. Soddy imagined a world in which the use of uranium would recreate “the Garden of Eden” on earth.

Soddy’s lectures, published in book form, attracted the attention of H.G. Wells, the most popular of British science fiction writers of the last century. Six years later, Wells published his novel “The World Set Fee” in which he imagined the production and use of atomic weapons in a European nuclear war.

Wells’ imagination failed to inspire British scientists. But it did attract the attention of German scientists who, inspired by Hitler, began looking for a magic weapon of mass destruction in 1938. News of the German quest, forced the French to also begin looking for the ultimate weapon of the next war. By the time the Second World War had started in 1939, however, the German scientists, led by Werner Heisenberg, the great theoretician of “uncertainty” were way ahead of others. The result was an arms race in which Britain and the United States tried not to fall too far behind Nazi Germany.

Aczel regards Heisenburg as one of the “baddies”, despite the fact that the brilliant physicist failed to come up with a practical formula for making a nuclear weapon.

That task had to await a report in 1940 by two German scientists, captured by the British, who showed that a nuclear bomb could be made with a few pounds of enriched uranium. Because Churchill feared that research centres on British soil could be bombed by Germans, he agreed that the nuclear project be transferred to the United States. It took the Americans five more years, and an investment of over $2 billion (almost $30 billion at today’s prices) to build the bombs that were subsequently dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

According to Aczel, who cites a number of recently released Soviet, American and Japanese documents, Washington’s decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan was really meant as a warning to Moscow.

The weakest part of this fascinating book is the one dealing with the present situation and projections for the future. Aczel is less than convincing when he assesses the nuclear ambitions of such controversial regimes as North Korea and the Islamic Republic in Iran. He admits that Pyongyang and Tehran are embarked on uranium enrichment projects far beyond the needs of any normal energy programme they might develop. However, he is less than convincing in analysing their deeper motives in pursuing what is a high-risk political and diplomatic posture.

Today, nuclear energy provides a tiny proportion of the energy used in the world. However, all projections show that nuclear energy could become the biggest source of power generation within the next few decades. That would dramatically raise the price of uranium, a relatively rare substance found in less than a dozen countries. In fact, Canada, Australia, South Africa and Gabon own more than 60 per cent of all known supplies of uranium ore.

When it comes to uranium enrichment, only eight countries have the scientific and industrial capabilities needed. It is not hard to imagine them creating a global cartel to control the world supply of enriched uranium at a rime that mankind has come to depend on nuclear energy. North Korea and Iran are trying to force the door and impose themselves as members of that restricted club.

Thus, uranium, like other precious substances- from gold to oil- is likely to emerge as the big prize in many future wars.