Daily Archives: July 20, 2008

July 20, 2008 — Contents

SUNDAY JULY 20 CONTENTS


(1) The Sunday Photos

(2) The Sunday Stalin

(3) The Sunday Religious War

(4) The Sunday Scandal

(5) The Sunday Funnies

The Sunday Photos


Russian blogger Savva Terentyev, upon learning he would be sentenced to a year in prison (suspended) for writing a comment on a blog the authorities didn’t like, and below him the “judge” who issued that sentence in a decision that was ridiculed as being quasi-literate. Global Voices has the wrap-up and a review of Russian blog postings on the subject including the pathetically cowardly statements of Russia’s #1 blogger Anton Nossik, who merely says he’d prefer the police catch violent criminals rather than scouring the blogosphere.

EDITORIAL: Russia and Stalin, the Love Affair Continues

EDITORIAL

Russia and Stalin: The Love Affair Continues

Police in Nizhny Novgorod have arrested a man who shot dead two pet parrots after his wife refused to buy him beer, news agencies reported.When his wife refused to go to the shop, the man became enraged, seized an air pistol and opened fire on the two birds, which were inside a cage, Interfax reported, citing a regional police official. No humans were harmed in the incident.

— Moscow Times, July 18 2008

Russia is an insane country where, as in the mafia, people really believe they can simply demand respect rather than earning it, killing anyone who fails to deliver, and the above news item perfectly encapsulates that insanity. Both Tsarist Russia and Communist Russia collapsed, in the space of just one century, because of this crazy, self-destructive obliviousness to reality. There are others, too many others to count.

Last week for instance there were dozens of news stories about a contest now underway on state-sponsored Russian TV to identify Russia’s greatest historical figure. In internet voting, Russians were having great difficulty deciding who their #1 choice was — the dictator Nicholas II or the mass-murdering dictator Josef Stalin. When voting was suspended “for technical reasons” on Wednesday, Nicholas II had received 275,065 votes and Stalin had 273,877 votes. In the third place was Vladimir Lenin with a paltry 188,372 votes. As the Wall Street Journal reported: “Stalin took an early and large lead in the contest but was narrowly overtaken by Nicholas II on Monday as thousands of monarchists and anti-communists organized an anti-Stalin ‘clickathon.’ Nikolai Lukyanov, chairman of a large monarchist group, said a Stalin victory would shame Russia internationally. He said the ‘clickathon’ was organized to show that Russians ‘are no lover of Stalin, disgrace and blood.'”

In effect, though, Lukhyanov was lying. The “clickathon” was organized to hide the fact that Russians love Stalin, disgrace and blood, not to alter that reality. Russia’s leading opposition politician, the Communist Party’s Gennady Zyuganov, stated proudly that if Stalin were back in charge of the country he could solve it’s problems “in one day.” Imagine Germany’s main opposition leader saying that about Hitler.

We believe it’s clear that the online voting dramatically understates Stalin’s popularity in Russia, and not only because of Lukyanov’s manipulation of the vote (a measure Stalin would have, ironically, heartily approved). Only about 10% of Russia’s population has any access to the Internet, and those who can routinely utilize it are few and far between. Netherlands, a tiny country nearly 1/10 Russia’s size, has almost as many Internet users. So in other words, no internet vote can accurately capture the true attitudes of the people of Russia.

As the Wall Street Journal reported, and as we have routinely done: “New textbooks hail Stalin as an effective manager, and TV documentaries stress his achievements and alleged selflessness.” In the Russian people’s defense, one might point out that they simply don’t know that Stalin’s “victory” in World War II, the main reason he receives such adulation, has a few dirty secrets:

  • Stalin caused the war in the first place
  • Though “defeated” the Nazi army obliterated huge swaths of Russia, hobbling it forever
  • As bad as the Nazi army was, Stalin was far worse, murdering more Russians in his “gulag archipelago” than Hitler ever dreamed of doing. The Wall Street Journal reported: “Sergey Kovalyov, a former dissident who spent seven years in Soviet labor camps and three years in internal exile in Siberia, said the popularity of Stalin was “very sad. How many people did he take away?” said Mr. Kovalyov, his voice trailing off.

But in the end, the Russian people’s jaw-droppingly barbaric ignorance of their own history is their own fault. They chose to look the other way at Stalin’s atrocities while they were happening. They either watched passively as their neighbors were taken away or they collaborated and informed on them, rather than rising up to strike down Stalin as they had done with Hitler. They willingly allowed Vladimir Putin, a proud KGB spy, to take and hold permanent dictatorial power even after watching that same organization break Russia’s spine and drive it to its knees.

Indeed, given the Stalin vote it’s not hard to understand why Putin himself remains so popular in Russia.

The Sunday Religious War

The blogger at Take Your Cross directs our attention to the following article by Andrei Smirnov in the Jamestown Foundation’s North Caucus Weekly:

From July 5 to July 7, an international Islamic conference entitled “The Place and Role of Sufism in the Islamic World,” which gathered together more than 200 clergymen from Russia and other countries, was held in the Chechen town of Gudermes. According to official sources, the event was organized by the Libya-based World Islamic People’s Leadership organization (Interfax, July 1). The event, however, was most likely financed by the Russian government. The Kremlin seeks support from international Sufi leaders to counter the aggressive Salafi ideology that inspires the anti-Russian insurgency in the North Caucasus.

Sufism is a mysterious branch of Islam whose main idea is that a Muslim in his lifetime should concentrate on improving his moral principles while the social environment around him is not so important. At the opposite side of the spectrum, the disciples of the Salafi branch of Islam believe that all Muslims compose one Umma (society) that should be united as one political force and live according to Islamic Sharia law. The separatists in the North Caucasus very often justify their armed struggle by the fact that Caucasian Muslims live in a country ruled by non-Muslims (Russians). Salafists are usually very hostile to non-Muslim societies.

It is no surprise that the Russian authorities prefer to deal with and support Sufi disciples and not Salafi preachers. The conference in Gudermes was just another attempt to strengthen Sufism in Chechnya, where Salafism has become very popular recently, especially among the Chechen youth. In an address to the conference participants, Chechnya’s pro-Russian president, Ramzan Kadyrov, said that the “spiritual and moral ideals of Sufism are directly connected with the acknowledgment of monotheism, with the perception of the multitudinous attributes of the Most-High, with spiritual perfection, with the purification of a believer’s heart from evil, with condemnation of luxury and social injustice, with equality and human brotherhood” (Vesti-Severny Kavkaz, July 7). The conference adopted a resolution stating that “for many Muslim peoples spiritual knowledge of Sufism is part of their culture” and that the spiritual knowledge of Sufism is directed toward the “establishment of tolerant relations between people and helps to block radical and extremist developments” (Vesti-Severny Kavkaz, July 7).

Thus, the participants of the conference did not hide their main goal: to find ways to confront Salafism effectively. “The conference was an important event to unite all healthy elements of the traditional Islam that opposes radical Islamic distortions of the true faith,” said Ruslan Saidov, a political observer and unofficial ideologist for Kadyrov’s regime. Saidov sees Sufism as an ideological basis for national and state construction in Chechnya (forum.msk.ru, July 4).

The Kremlin regards Sufism as an ideal alternative to Salafism because Sufism agitates for non-violent methods, does not interfere with politics and helps to divide Russian Muslims, especially in the North Caucasus, according to ethnic characteristics. The North Caucasian insurgency has the opposite goal: to unite Muslims living in the Caucasus with those living in all Russia under a banner of the holy war against infidels and for establishing a pure Islamic state. The rebels in the North Caucasus recently gained an important ally—the famous Russian Muslim preacher Said Buryatsky.

Half ethnic Russian, half Buryat (the Buryats are a minority in Siberia very close to the Mongols), Sheik Said Buryatsky graduated from an Islamic Institute in Egypt several years ago. According to Jamestown’s sources among Moscow Muslims, Buryatsky’s main spiritual teacher in Egypt was Sheikh Mukhammad Khasan, an Egyptian scholar who issued his own fatwa (religious ruling) concerning defensive and offensive Jihad (holy war). According to his fatwa, a defensive Jihad requires every Muslim to defend any Muslim land against infidel aggression while an offensive Jihad is not obligatory.

Some people say that while studying in Egypt, Said Buryatsky was arrested once by the Egyptian police on charges of extremism. Despite this fact, Buryatsky became one of the leading young Muslim preachers after his return to Russia. Russia’s Muslim community lacks good preachers and Buryatsky has demonstrated good skills as a religious missionary. His emotional sermons are well-constructed, and his knowledge of the Koran and religious literature in general is exceptional. He also speaks fluent Arabic.

Said Buryatsky used to preach on Radio Islam (which is controlled by the Spiritual Directorate of Russian Muslims and is the main source of propaganda for Islam in Russia). It is astonishing that the Russian authorities allowed Said to preach on the radio for such a long time because some of his sermons sounded clearly Salafi-like. In his sermons, Buryatsky targeted Shias as well as Sufis, calling them people who distort the true Islam. The official Muslim clerics probably overlooked this simply because they needed a preacher as brilliant as Said Buryatsky.

However, Buryatsky suddenly appeared in Chechnya accompanied by two top rebel leaders of the Caucasian insurgency: Dokka Umarov and Supyan Abdulaev. In a video posted by the rebel Kavkaz-Center website on June 19, Buryatsky stated that after the declaration of a Caucasian Emirate (see Chechnya Weekly, November 1 and 8, 2007) it became clear that the Emirate is what Russian Muslims really need and that all Muslims should support it. Buryatsky called Dokka Umarov “our amir”—meaning “our leader.”

Buryatsky’s appearance in Chechnya and the recent conference of Sufis in Guderemes demonstrate the important role that religion has started to play in the Chechen conflict, which back in the early 1990s appeared to be simply a political dispute between the federal center and one of Russia’s regions.

The Sunday Scandal

Harpers reports:

Back in January of 2007, the House Ethics Committee (“Press 1 if you are a member of Congress covering up a criminal offense. Press 2 if…”) released a statement saying that it had reviewed a foreign trip by Congressman Curt Weldon and determined that he had violated the gift rule ban. Weldon, said the statement–which was signed by Republican Doc Hastings, then the Committee chairman, and Howard Berman, then the ranking Democrat–had traveled in January 2003 with “several” unnamed family members. “Donors,” who were also not identified, picked up the tab for much of the trip, said the committee. The statement also failed to disclose where precisely Weldon & Co. had traveled, but did say that Weldon had been told to reimburse the trip’s financial sponsors for some $23,000 in expenses.

So where did Curt Weldon go? I’ve learned that he traveled to Eastern Europe (stops included Moscow and Vienna) with 10 family members and acquaintances, including one son’s girlfriend and a daughter’s boyfriend. The trip was paid for by three private foreign groups, including a Russian aerospace manufacturer and members of a controversial Serbian family that were barred from entering the United States due to their alleged ties to accused war criminal Slobodan Milosevic. Very soon after the trip the Russian firm and the Serbian family retained Karen Weldon, the congressman’s young, politically inexperienced daughter, to be their Washington lobbyist–which led to charges about whether her father was steering business to her that are currently the subject of a federal investigation.

This was all known to the Ethics Committee when it released its statement in January of 2007. As is inevitably the case, the committee opted to cover up for one of its own as opposed to holding members of congress accountable.

According to the Committee’s statement and other evidence I have obtained, prior to traveling Weldon had disclosed his trip and sought a waiver from the gift-rule provisions that at the time permitted a member of Congress to accept “travel and other benefits resulting from outside activities that are unrelated to official duties.” Weldon argued that his trip was unrelated to official duties, because the invitation to travel to Eastern Europe (to give a speech) was made on the basis of his membership in the Russian Academy of Sciences–not because he was a member of Congress. Even the typically lame Ethics Committee rejected that argument, recognizing (for obvious reasons we’ll soon see) that the trip was connected to Weldon’s position as a member of Congress. So Weldon, according to the January 2007 statement, “then sought a gift rule waiver from the Committee, but withdrew his request prior to receiving a formal written response from the Committee.”

In other words, Weldon apparently didn’t get the answer he wanted so he simply ignored the committee’s advice and ethics rules and went anyway, with the tab being picked up by outside sponsors.

In January of 2003, the Weldon clan headed to Eastern Europe. In addition to the congressman, the travelers included his wife, his three daughters, two sons, one son-in-law, a niece and two other people, whose identities were apparently known to the committee but were not revealed. I’ve learned that those two people were the girlfriend of son Andrew Weldon and the boyfriend of daughter Karen Weldon, who at the time was embarking on a lucrative career as a lobbyist (though a short-lived career, interrupted in October of 2006 by a federal raid on her offices).

So the Weldon clan departed to Moscow, and the Moscow International Petroleum Club, “a non-profit international organization, with membership of over 25 leading Russian, European, and American oil and gas production and service companies committed to doing business in Russia,” picked up about $12,000 in planes fares and hotel lodging.

Other stops in Russia included the Saratov Aviation Plant, a company building a flying saucer, whose technology Congressman Weldon was aggressively pushing in Washington. Saratov paid for roughly $4,000 of airfare, which included flights from Moscow to the plant and then from the plant to Belgrade. Soon after this visit, Karen Weldon closed a deal with Saratov to lobby for the firm in Washington.

In Belgrade, the Weldon family stayed at a private residence owned by the controversial Karic family. As I wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2004:

Because of evidence that the Karics had supported Milosevic, the Treasury Department placed them on a list of Serbians banned from doing business in the United States. They all had been removed from the list by last year, as the United States normalized relations with Serbia, but they still cannot get visas.

In a written statement, a spokesman for the Karics said, “Regarding the alleged links of the Karic Group or family to the Milosevic regime, we can only reiterate that these allegations are the product of groups or individuals from our country who have been themselves profiting from ties with the former regime.” Rep. Weldon came to adopt the view that the Karics, whose businesses thrived under Milosevic, were being unfairly portrayed as sympathizers of the former leader.

From Belgrade, the Weldon clan traveled to Vienna. The roughly $7,000 in airfare was picked up by the Karic Group. In March 2003, two months after this trip, the Karic Foundation hired Karen Weldon’s firm on a renewable one-year contract paying $240,000 to help it in “establishing and developing a U.S. presence.”

The Ethics Committee’s limp, pathetic response to this egregiousness came in January 2007–two months after Weldon had lost his House seat. The Committee essentially protected one of their own up until the point that it was irrelevant. Furthermore, Weldon had during the campaign claimed–falsely, as the statement shows–that he had been fully investigated and cleared of any wrongdoing by the committee. By not releasing the statement until months after he had lost his House seat, the committee allowed then-Congressman Weldon to lie.

Finally, the Committee had determined that it would not take any action over charges that Weldon had steered business to daughter Karen’s firm. But, as is customary, the committee’s investigation was largely limited to reviewing information submitted by Weldon’s own office. Imagine how many convictions we’d get if the police limited their investigations to data provided by suspects, yet that’s the way our Congress works.

(This also makes it easy to understand this story from today’s Washington Post, “House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) said yesterday that he would welcome an ethics committee investigation into his fundraising efforts for an academic center that bears his name.” Yes, I can imagine the propsect of a committee investigation doesn’t keep Rangel up at night.)

Weldon’s attorney, William Winning, did not reply to a request for comment about the trip, nor to a question about whether Weldon ever in fact paid the money back. If he does reply, I will update this story immediately.


The Sunday Funnies

Source: Ellustrator.