Entries from May 2009

Ilan Halimi’s Murderer: “I Am Proud”

May 31st, 2009 at 7:05 pm 3 Comments

Given that the trial has been closed to both the public and press, it is difficult to know what exactly has been going on in the trial of Youssouf Fofana and the other members of his so-called “Gang of Barbarians.” As discussed in my earlier FF report here, Fofana and twenty six co-defendants are on trial in Paris for the kidnapping, torture and murder of Ilan Halimi. In 2006, the 23-year-old French Jew was held in captivity under horrifying conditions for over three weeks and then repeatedly stabbed, set on fire and left to die.

One French journalist has, however, developed a kind of “work-around” in order to be able to report on the trial. Elsa Vigoreux of the weekly Nouvel Observateur has been publishing a frequently updated blog on the proceedings based on interviews with persons who are authorized to attend the trial sessions. The sources are not named. Vigoreux’s blog is the only detailed public record available of the trial.

Last Thursday, Youssouf Fofana admitted that he was responsible for killing Ilan Halimi and that he personally doused Halimi in lighter fluid and set him on fire. According to Vigoreux’s account, Fofana referred to the hearsay testimony of his lieutenant Samir Ait Abdelmalek for the other details. Abdelmalek has previously reported that Fofana told him that he stabbed Halimi in the throat and tried to “cut his neck.” On Vigoreux’s account, Fofana said he had no regrets about killing Halimi and even added: “I am proud.” The remark is highly significant. As noted in my earlier FF report, French authorities and the French media have persistently tried to minimize the role played by anti-Semitism in the crime. But if Fofana’s motives were strictly economic, why should he be “proud” of having killed Halimi?

Numerous other details reported by Vigoreux likewise suggest that anti-Semitism played a more fundamental role in the crime than has hitherto been acknowledged by French authorities. Here a selection from the trial sessions earlier in the week.

On Monday, the court finished considering the case of Michaël Douieb: one of several other Parisian Jews that Fofana and his gang had attempted to kidnap before successfully abducting Ilan Halimi. Douieb was lured into an ambush in an apartment building in the southern banlieue of Paris by one of the young women whom the gang used as “honey-pots.” There he would be beaten up and bound by gang members. The gang members fled, however, when they heard residents approaching. A picture of the bloodied Michaël Douieb appears, incidentally, in the same issue of the magazine Choc that a Parisian court recently ordered withdrawn from circulation on account of a picture of Ilan Halimi. (See my FF report “The Photo France Does Not Want You to See”.) According to Vigoreux, Fofana said on Monday “that he had been happy to see Michaël Douieb’s blood flow.”

Marc Krief and Jérémy Ledoux were two other potential victims targeted by Fofana. On Vigoreux’s account,

Fofana indicated…that Jérémy Ledoux had been an “accident.” On the telephone he “sensed” that he “wasn’t Jewish.” But it was different in the case of Marc Krief: “I sensed that he was a Sephardic Jew,” he insisted.

Vigoreux quotes a lawyer on Fofana’s behavior in court:

Fofana continues to imagine that he retains power over the people present in the courtroom. He refuses to respond to questions. He whispers to certain lawyers, but only to them: perhaps he is willing to speak to them directly because their family names are not suspect.

In the present context, “not suspect” evidently means not obviously Jewish.

On Tuesday, two French police officials connected to the Halimi case gave testimony before the court. Vigoreux observes that despite all Fofana’s efforts at extortion, including an earlier plot to blackmail doctors, he “never managed to obtain any money at all.” “A terrified Michaël Douieb offers him his watch and 500 euros,” she continues, “but he does not take anything. What was he after then? Violence, above all? Was he really after money?”

The questioning of the two police officials raised another troubling issue: namely, concerning the conduct of the police themselves. Based on witness testimony, the police had created facial composite sketches of one of the “honey-pots.” One of the officials was asked why they did not publish the sketches:

The response: The risk of putting Ilan’s life at risk was too great at the time and the reaction of the perpetrators, too unpredictable. And moreover, according to the commissioner, too often the press refuses this sort of thing.

In fact, during the three and a half weeks of Ilan’s captivity, the public was not informed about his abduction. In her memoir “24 Days” [24 jours], Ilan’s mother Ruth recounts how the police asked her too to keep the matter secret.

On Wednesday, Ilan’s parents gave testimony before the court. Ilan’s father Didier criticized the police’s handling of the affair, saying that it had contributed to an “escalation.” Referring to the defendants, he is reported to have said: “When I see all these youngsters, I feel sorrow. I don’t feel hatred… But one has to take responsibility for one’s acts.” On Vigoreux’s account, he then addressed the members of the jury. “When you judge them,” he said, “I hope you will remember Ilan’s suffering.”

The statements by the parents prompted a response by Fofana in turn. Vigoreux quotes Fofana’s statement as follows:

As a human being, I understand the pain of a mother who loses her son, of a family who loses a child, of a community that loses one of its members. I can understand that the family of Ilan is demanding justice. But Gaza and Africa are also demanding justice.

According to Vigoreux, Fofana then added: “I understand that there is a contract out for me. The Jewish Organization [sic: l'Organisation Juive] wants me dead. But it will cost four million judeo-dollars for my corpse.”

Vigoreux also reports, however, that numerous of Fofana’s co-defendants expressed remorse and took their distance from the statements of their former “boss.” Jean-Christophe Soumbou, who is supposed to have been one of the leading members of the gang, is reported to have said the following:

There is not a single way of thinking in the dock. Fofana’s way of thinking is not mine. I take responsibility for what occurred, for my participation in the kidnapping. When Fofana asked me to kidnap the young man, I didn’t know that he was Jewish. I know that I’m going to spend many years in prison, but that’s nothing compared to the suffering of the family.

In a related development, on Thursday a Paris appeals court ruled that the June issue of the magazine Choc could be returned to the newsstands. On one condition: the photo of Ilan Halimi in captivity that features on its cover has to be obscured, both on the cover and on all the inside pages where it appears.

Capitalists Of Little Faith

May 31st, 2009 at 6:53 pm 7 Comments

The New York Times ran an irritating piece about a new trend at American business schools. It appears that b-school students are pledging to behave ethically when they’re launched into the waiting arms of the world’s companies, many of which will presumably still be struggling to survive by the time these little geniuses arrive to create flow charts and say stuff like “highest and best use.”

At Columbia, the students promise not to “lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do.” Apparently, coveting thy neighbor’s oxen is still permitted. Wharton, doing its part to create jobs, has seen its number of ethics professors multiply from 2 to 7. And at Harvard, one-fifth of students have signed a pledge promising not to act on behalf of “their own narrow ambitions.”

What makes this story extra annoying are the self-satisfied looks on the faces of each pledge signer in the Times photo. But one wonders what might those evil “narrow ambitions” include? Making piles of money, of course. Money that goes toward hairdressers and waiters and carmakers and pilots and homebuilders and gardeners and teachers and countless others. Doesn’t seem all that narrow.

It will be very interesting, ten years down the road, to compare the track records of those who signed the voluntary pledges with those who didn’t. Have they lived more ethical lives? Have they been kinder to their neighbors and more faithful to their spouses and more generous to those in need? I doubt it. But if I were hiring, and two b-school candidates stood before me, identical in every respect except one had signed this pledge, I’d hire the one who hadn’t. I like employees who believe that their narrow ambitions, properly aligned with the company’s success, serves everyone’s interests.

A Future Republican Star?

May 31st, 2009 at 6:35 pm 10 Comments

I have just returned from the nominating convention of the Republican Party of Virginia. The Virginia Republicans long ago united around Attorney General Bob McDonnell for Governor. He is going to give whoever is the Democratic nominee fits. There were contested races for Lt. Governor, Party Chairman, and especially Attorney General. I’m pleased to report that Ken Cuccinelli, a full spectrum conservative who wins in Northern Virginia when many are losing around him, won that race. His opponents also brought a lot to the table. David Foster wins as a Republican in Arlington, Va., which is nigh on impossible and John Brownlee, former U.S. Attorney General from the western portion of the state gave a tremendous speech (without teleprompter or notes I might add) and showed formidable organization. Sean Hannity gave a speech in support of McDonnell and was amusing and well received. The Republicans of Virginia are pumped and ready for a fight.

But the surprise of the convention was Cadet Colonel Adnan Barqawi from Virginia Tech. I will make a confession, in my wildest dreams I could not imagine a twenty-something Palestinian, native of Kuwait who had only been an American for a month would be the most talked about guy at the convention. Cadet Colonel Barqawi electrified the convention with his declaration of personal service and patriotism. A portion of the speech can be seen here. He is heading to Mississippi to teach elementary school but my bet is we have not heard the last of this young man.

Olson: Latecomer On Gay Rights?

David Frum May 31st, 2009 at 5:54 am 3 Comments

So suggests a letter writer to Andrew Sullivan, here

I can attest first-hand that Ted Olson has been involved with this issue for a long time. I remember a spirited conversation on this subject just before he went into the Bush administration as solicitor general, over dinner at the Caucus Room restaurant in the year 2000. Agree with him or disagree: the view he holds today is the view he held a decade ago.

Human Genetic Engineering? Why Not?

David Frum May 31st, 2009 at 5:49 am 2 Comments

My weekend column for the National Post sees human hope in those glowing green monkeys.

The Moral Math Of Glowing Green Monkeys

David Frum May 30th, 2009 at 9:44 am Comments Off

Genetically engineer monkeys to make them glow green? It’s always cool when actual scientists do what 11-year-old boys think scientists do. Next thing, the marmoset monkey team will produce a working starship for Starfleet Command.

The Japanese team got their results by encoding a fluorescent green protein (derived from glowing jellyfish) into a virus. The virus was then injected into a marmoset embryo. The marmoset was born with skin and hair that glowed green under ultraviolet light. Next, the Japanese scientists bred the glowing marmoset with a regular marmoset. The new genetic mutation was passed to a second generation — and theoretically on to posterity. Eureka.

But not everybody is delighted by the achievements of the team at Japan’s Central Institute for Experimental Animals. The Washington Post called American ethicists and found widespread dismay: “It would be easy enough for someone to make the leap to trying this on humans. If you make this kind of change, it’s passed on to all future generations. Many people think it’s hubris to have people remaking people in this way.” So remarked Lori Andrews at the law faculty of the Illinois Institute of Technology.

So — do we stand on the verge of a brave new world of glowing green humans?

Not immediately. And no our descendents probably won’t glow. Genetic manipulation of the human species is coming. In fact, it has arrived.

On Jan. 9, 2009, there was born in England the first human baby screened to be free of breast cancer genes. The girl’s 27-year-old mother had been grieved to see many of her husband’s female relatives die of breast cancer. She wanted to ensure that her own children were born free from the gene. She and her husband underwent in vitro fertilization at a London clinic. Eleven embryos were produced. Six were found to contain the genetic fault. Two of the remaining five were implanted in the mother, producing one pregnancy.

This pregnancy raises very troubling ethical issues. Nine of eleven embryos were discarded. All of them were potential people. Yes, six of those potential people carried a gene for breast cancer which might have killed them (if they had been born female) or their descendents (if they had been born male). But not all women born with this particular genetic fault get breast cancer, and not all breast cancers are fatal. Moreover, more than 90% of breast cancers have a cause other than the faulty gene for which the London clinic screened.

To do the moral math: 9 abortions in order to gain a very slightly reduced risk of breast cancer in one’s children and descendents. That seems a bad balance. What if one could guarantee that none of one’s descendents would suffer from some terrible disease by screening one’s children? There might be more takers for that idea — especially if medicine develops some less invasive way to screen.

Playing God? Already human beings have changed their own species dramatically. We are taller, stronger, longer-lived than a century ago. We have eradicated or controlled whole categories of diseases that used to shape the human condition, from polio to smallpox. From the point of view of earlier generations, these advances would have looked plenty Godlike.

The ultimate strength and wealth of nations is the capability of their populations. That’s why governments invest in education and public health. As we advance to the next stage of human improvement, can societies ignore this potential? And what if one society decides to proceed — if an authoritarian state like China, for example, were to begin systematically trying to upgrade the intellectual capability of its population through some future genetic innovation? Would other societies agree to be left behind?

Can one imagine some 21st century arms race, with the prize being not a better weapon but a more highly evolved population? Could the process of evolution, once a matter of chance, itself evolve into a process humanly willed and humanly directed?

Such a transformation will not occur immediately or even soon.

The traits that parents would want to pass to their posterity — health, strength, intellect, beauty — are not encoded in single genes. Genetic enhancement of the human race remains a far-off scientific possibility.

Even the introduction of single genes for highly specific traits carries a high risk of unintended hazards. The genetic screening done for that British mother at current technology looks impossibly expensive, minimally beneficially and morally objectionable.

Yet even so:

Our descendents — with lifespans of 200 years, with perfect vision and hearing — may someday look on those glowing green marmosets and say: Here was the beginning of the next great chapter of human history; the moment when humanity’s mastery of nature culminated in mastery of itself.

Originally published in the National Post.

Sotomayor: It’s Not About Race

May 30th, 2009 at 6:18 am 3 Comments

Michael Kinsley goes over the top with this one:

It’s clear that the one paralyzing fact about Sonia Sotomayor, to Republicans, is the color of her skin. If she weren’t Latino, they would be in full revenge-for-Clarence-Thomas mode. Instead, they are in an agony of indecision, with GOP strategists openly warning: Support the Latina or die. If the 40 remaining Republican senators end up voting for Sotomayor, her race will be the reason.

Yes, congressional Republicans have been nearly unanimous in opposing Obama’s economic plans.  But that’s no reason to be so sure they’d be unanimous in opposing a white Supreme Court justice.  Just for example, Stephen Breyer was confirmed on an 87-9 vote, and if the Republicans wanted to be in “full revenge-for-Clarence-Thomas mode.” that would’ve been a more natural time to do it.  I know that Kinsley specializes in clever arguments, but in this case I think he’s too clever by half.

To put it another way:  the simplest response to Kinsley is that he’s taking pure untestable speculation and claiming it’s simply true.  A more nuanced response is that I don’t actually think his statement is true.  Much depends on the particular nominee.

Just Say “No” To New Gop Voters

David Frum May 29th, 2009 at 2:35 pm 177 Comments

New contributor Crystal Wright yesterday posted a debut piece here at FF explaining why she now regrets her vote for Barack Obama in November 2008. A healthy political movement and political party enthusiastically welcomes new supporters. And unless those new supporters are just emerging from infancy, there is only one place to find them: among former non-supporters, even former opponents. 

Many years ago, at another dark time for conservatism, William F. Buckley did a marvelous interview. It’s collected in his book of columns, Inveighing We Will Go. I’ll have to quote from memory here, but the interview concluded with an explanation from Bill about the mission of National Review as he then saw it. We are maintaining an air strip in the jungle. And when the planes begin to land, we’ll be there to welcome them – coffee and coke on the house.

That’s the spirit of the evangelist. 

As I said, that was a long time ago. Today, conservatives are barricading our landing strips. Look at the comments under Crystal’s piece: 55 as I write this. Do a blogsearch for her name. The cumulative hostility of the discussion is breathtaking. I realize blog discussion is not a statistically valid sampling, and that no doubt many read Crystal’s words in the right spirit. The trouble is that the tone of our movement is set by those who do speak up. And too many of those who do speak seem to think that the test of true conservatism is tolerance for maximum obnoxiousness. 

That it seemed to me was a subtheme of the discussion earlier this week of the now notorious Mark Levin “gun to temple” broadcast. A prominent conservative radio voice shrieks at a woman caller, accuses her of hating her country and the constitution (actually “my country” and “my constitution” – apparently US citizenship and the US constitution are not to be shared with those who disagree) and then advises her husband to kill himself. Unattractive, one would think. Off-putting even. Across the conservative blogosphere, however, opinion ran strong: This kind of talk is OK, a pardonable, even laudable, way of communicating frustration.

Unfortunately, frustrated people make poor spokespersons, and they make worse welcome committees. Barack Obama won almost 10 million more votes than John McCain. The next Republican president will have to win a lot of them back. Berating and insulting is probably not the most effective strategy for doing so. 

Here for once is where the Reagan example really does hold continuing validity: Reagan never asked the people who joined him for proof of lineage. He was as glad – even more glad! – to welcome those who had voted for Carter in 1976 as to welcome those who had voted for Goldwater in 1964. Bill Buckley was the same way. That spirit of inclusion ranks high among the qualities that made these men not only great men, not only good men, but successful men. Let’s emulate them, and say: “Welcome Crystal. We’re glad to have you.”

Wanted: Dead Or Alive

May 29th, 2009 at 2:34 pm 9 Comments

Let’s start with this one:  Earl Warren, the 14th Chief Justice of the United States, who, despite his whiteness, rather famously ended racial segregation in the schools.  As for the richness of his life experiences, it may be that this father of six and children of immigrants didn’t have time for many — given that he served in the army in World War I; was elected Governor of California; ran for vice-president in 1948 on the Dewey ticket; and his father was murdered in a robbery when Warren was still a boy.

We’ll keep looking.

For Virginia Gop Party Chair: Pat Mullins

May 29th, 2009 at 2:32 pm 2 Comments

This weekend, delegates to the Republican Party of Virginia convention have two important decisions to make: who will be the nominee for Attorney General, and who will serve the remainder of the term as Chairman of the RPV. We’ve had a very healthy AG debate, and I’d be comfortable with any of the candidates.

For Chairman, however, the choice is clear: Pat Mullins. Pat has done a great job getting the party back on track after former Chairman Jeff Fredericks was removed in a vote of the State Central Committee. But let’s focus on Pat’s past and the party’s future: Pat has served as Chairman in two quite different counties (Fairfax and Louisa). We’re going to need both, and the types of voters who live in both, to win this fall. 

Pat believes in the importance of grassroots development to win elections. He is a conservative and committed to the party’s conservative values. But at the same time, he has a history and a record of reaching out in honest conversation to every Republican who seeks our party’s success, conservative or moderate. Pat understands what it takes to be a viable party in Northern Virginia – and how to make that appeal without giving up our core values. He is the best choice for a Virginia that stretches from Arlington to Appalachia to the Tidewater.

We have crucial elections to win this fall, and we can’t be divided by another argument over who should be the Chairman. Let’s elect Pat and get on with the more important work of winning real elections.