Foreign Policy‘s David Rothkopf beat me to it with his latest blog post, “A Tea Party Made in Heaven,” which argues that if Tea Baggers want no taxes, unhindered gun rights, and theocratic government, then Pakistan should be their next stop.

I couldn’t agree more. One of the first things I told my brother upon arriving in Karachi–as I remarked at the complete chaos, manifested in the way people drive–was that Pakistan is such a libertarian society. You can do pretty much anything you want, and not just on the roads.

You can tote your AK-47 around in public.

You also apparently don’t have to pay taxes, according to the New York Times‘ Sabrina Tavernise. She reports that out of a population of 170 million (and I’d venture to say that the population is probably 180 million) less than 2 percent actually bother paying taxes. And there’s no doubt that most of the 2 percent aren’t even fully declaring their income.

In her insightful book, “Breaking the Curfew: A Political Journey through Pakistan,” Emma Duncan recounts that a study by the IMF revealed that there wasn’t anything wrong with Pakistan’s tax collecting system. It was, after all, established by the British Raj. The problem was that–much like the Tea Baggers–Pakistanis simply didn’t want to pay taxes. Of course, the reluctance of Pakistanis to not pay taxes does have some merit. Their government for the past 60 years has been anything but representative, and, as the American colonists said, “no tax without representation.”

Pakistan is the Tea Bagger’s paradise for yet another reason: it’s a state whose laws are inspired by a “divine” book. Just as Sarah Palin imagines that the Founding Fathers based the United States Constitution on the Bible and the Ten Commandments, Pakistan’s leaders think their country’s laws should be based on God’s other book, the Koran. And like Palin, Pakistanis don’t know jack squat about the actual secular roots of the country’s founding. Jinnah famously said: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples… You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state”–now that’s a pretty unambiguous declaration of secularism. Period.

And Tea Baggers also happen to share the same socially conservative values as Pakistanis: homophobia, pro-life, virginity, and a whole gamut of stupid values. So yeah, Palin et al., come to Pakistan. I’ll show you around.

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I’m currently in a city rife with drugs and rampant with prostitution–yet I feel safer here than I did in either London or Paris. In fact, over 90 percent of Amsterdam’s residents report that they feel safe in their city, while the denizens of Paris, London, Dublin, and Berlin gave their respective cities lower marks. Only Scandinavian cities such as Copenhagen and Stockholm have a better perceived sense of safety.

It’s remarkable–much to the chagrin of social conservatives–how legalizing marijuana and prostitution, and recognizing same-sex marriage (circa. 2001) haven’t unraveled the social fabric of this tiny, quiet Northern European outpost. A small trading village in the 12th century, Amsterdam grew into a major European port over the centuries by luring foreigners with its relative tolerance. It’s still a small city by international standards, counting only 1.36 million in its entire metropolitan area.

So how does modern-day Gomorrah avoid collapsing into a giant gaping sink hole that leads to hell? How, in other words, can the low crime rate be explained?

Actually, statistically speaking, Amsterdam is the crime-infested cesspool imagined by the Religious Right. It has the third highest number of registered crimes per 1000 residents among large European cities. The number of registered crimes per 1000 is an entirely different metric from the measure of perceived security I cited above. More people report crimes in Amsterdam than in other European cities, but its citizens still feel safer than those in Paris or London. It’s just that people in Amsterdam are more likely to report crimes. Oh, and about 9000 bike thefts–a significant seven percent chunk of the total–are registered by the police each year. The thieves here, like the people, love bikes.

An intelligent social conservative (one of few) would interject: Firstly, Amsterdam does indeed have high crime, as the numbers show. This conservative would also add that Amsterdam cheats on its crime stats, since by legalizing the sale of marijuana and sex it effectively underreports crime statistics in relation to other European cities, which do count prostitution- and drug-related offences in their books.

And yes, the conservative is right on both counts. Statistics don’t lie. But that raises the larger question of what is a crime, anyway? (What is “is,” anyway?) We call certain acts crimes because they either they have a deleterious social effect–gambling, prostitution–or because they harm others–murder, rape–or because they do both.

In the U.S., weed is illegal because it is presumed to have a negative impact on society by fostering a criminal drug trade and by impacting the health and productivity of its citizens. The Netherlands’ experience undercuts those two assumptions. If you legalize it, there’s no criminal supply chain, and thus a smaller drug trade. As for health and productivity arguments, they’re easily challenged. Gross Domestic Product per hour–how much is created by hour worked measured in U.S. dollars–is 55.5 and 55.3 in the Netherlands and the U.S., respectively. I’m not even going to bother comparing life expectancy between the two countries; America’s failing health care system allows me to assume the worst.

With no practical health or productivity drawbacks of legalizing marijuana, why hasn’t the U.S. or any other Western country legalized marijuana? It boils down to the fact that the Dutch are just more lax. As with weed, they’re also less concerned about safety–a perception that in turn fosters a safer, freer society.

Ceci n’est pas socialisme

Ça, c’est socialisme

I’ve developed an irrational hatred for France’s Société Nationale des Chemins de fer (SNCF). Since I’ve been here, its ticket machines have broken down, the trains have been late, and the metro system has been skipping stations because of “construction.”

Canada 1, France 0

The Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart has a new book out that’s receiving a lot of attention. “The Icarus Syndrome,” which is a history of 20th century America–and subtitled, A History of American Hubris–identifies three periods of hubris in American foreign policy, from Wilson’s stillborn peace in Paris, the blunder in Vietnam, and finally to the Iraqi quagmire. His thesis is a simple one: that America’s “hubris,” or delusion, led it to commit grave errors abroad. The praise for the book lies not in his facile conclusion, but in his synthesis and eloquence, according to The Economist.

An excerpt from the book can be found on The Daily Beast’s website. Here’s a gem:

In different ways, all these presidents understood that in foreign policy, as in life, there are things you may fervently desire but cannot afford. And in foreign policy, the recognition that resources are limited, and precious, is even more important since you are not merely spending other people’s money; you are spilling other people’s blood.

This is Great Britain, the land that gave us habeaus corpus, the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights–the land that gave us civil liberties, in essence. So it struck me as paradoxical to find, as I keenly took pictures of Trafalgar Square and Westminster, that I wasn’t the only one with the camera. Closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras are hunched atop lamp posts all across London, creating the impression that you’re never beyond Big Brother’s reach. “The average Londoner going about his or her business may be monitored by 300 CCTV cameras a day,” according to the New Statesman.

Cameras, gazing

There is, of course, a Londoner who would be mortified–were he not dead–at the sight of those white cameras gazing into the lives of the citizens of his city. George Orwell wrote of a dystopian future in his novel, 1984, in which a totalitarian regime, known only as “the Party,” controls virtually all aspects of its citizens’ lives. We are today a bit closer to that dystopia. Big Brother’s suspicious eye is on those lamp posts, watching Britons as they go to work, to school, to wherever they go through the lens of CCTV cameras. There are even Minority Report-style CCTV cameras that take a “proactive” approach to spying by alerting authorities if someone has loitered too long or if what it thinks are drug dealers meet up.

But London’s residents aren’t outraged by the cameras, which they have come to accept as perhaps the price of security. On balance, that’s not entirely surprising: after the 7/7 bombings and with the burgeoning threat of terrorism, it’s understandable that they’d tolerate unobtrusive cameras in exchange for some measure of security. The cameras do, however, leave you feeling like you’re in a police state–and with that feeling, you get the type of mutual suspicion and fear that exist in totalitarian societies. For instance, check out this notice outside the Central Criminal Court:

It reads, “Terrorists use surveillance to help plan attacks, taking photos and taking notes about security measures like the location of CCTV cameras. If you see someone doing that, we need to know.” Oops, I just did that. Arrest me?

The new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has vowed to curb some of the excesses that occurred under Labour, including “the abolition of ID cards and the children’s database…, the further regulation of CCTV and the restoration of right to protest.” But the CCTV cameras, though regulated, are here to stay. Outside the Foreign Office, I saw this:

CCTV at Foreign Office

Europe is poor. That’s my impression after spending the day strolling Parisian streets, and then hopping on a train to London later in the evening. The observation isn’t an uncommon one, nor is it the first time I’ve made it. And by poor, I don’t mean that there are impoverished beggars stalking tourists–though the gypsies do a pretty good job of it–but that the houses are smaller, the roads are narrower, and that the infrastructure isn’t in the best shape. On the train in from Charles de Gaulle, I saw laundry drying on balconies–a sight unseen in North America, where most houses have energy-guzzling dryers.

The Atlantic‘s Megan McArdle once remarked on that difference between North America and Europe, critiquing Paul Krugman’s–and the American Left’s–fascination with European social democracy. “[T]he standard of living in any given profession is much lower. Preserving London’s dazzling antique architecture has meant that most of the people I knew had much longer and more expensive commutes than their American counterparts would,” wrote McArdle. I noticed that today. Paris and London are beautiful, but the cost of preserving the historic buildings has meant sacrificing on newness. With fewer new buildings, there are probably fewer jobs and less room for the kind of enterprise that the U.S. and Canada have. Paris’ Gare du Nord, a major train hub, for instance, was magnificently built in the mid-nineteenth century. But housing the station in a centuries-old building limits the quality of infrastructure. On a hot Saturday afternoon, a non-air-conditioned station was not the best place to wait for several hours. And for some reason, France’s glorious bureaucratic state has placed only a few benches in a station that sees 180 million visitors a year. (Suffice it to say, waiting there for hours was not fun.)

Stowed away in a drawer beneath a pile of ties is my Pakistani passport. Green with fading gold ink, it’s a passport I take out once a year for reluctant pilgrimages back to Karachi. Yesterday, I ruffled through my drawer to confirm that my passport was still valid–that the Islamic Republic would indeed allow me back in. For now, I’m safe: it expires at the end of July. But its fast approaching expiration forces me to think about the next time I have to apply for a Pakistani passport, and the morally unconscionable statement I will be required to sign in order to get it.

Since the rule of Islamist-generalismo Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistanis have had to declare their religions on their passports. And for 95 percent of Pakistan’s Muslims that means signing the following statement:

1. I am a Muslim and believe in the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad the last of the Prophets.
2. I do not recognize any one who claims to be a prophet in any sense of the word or any description whatsoever, after Prophet Muhammad or recognize such a claimant as a prophet or a religious reformer as Muslim.
3. I consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani to be an impostor prophet and an infidel and also consider his followers whether belonging to the Lahori, Qadiani or Mirzai groups, to be non-Muslims.

Notwithstanding the absurd declaration itself–who gets to define what makes a Muslim anyway?–I have serious problems with the Government of Pakistan requiring me to declare my religion. As the country’s founder very clearly told the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, “I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal [of equal citizenship] and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.” That was an unambiguous plea for a secular Pakistan, where the equality of all citizens would be recognized. And if in the “political sense” we should “cease to be Hindus and Muslims,” then why the draconian passport rule?

Of course, those who hold dearly to Pakistan’s Islamic identity would argue that the declaration of religion is necessary because, in Pakistan, for the full functioning of Sharia law, one’s religion needs to be clearly stated. Well, let me pick apart that straw man with a simple fact: the country’s ID cards (the much-beloved shinakti cards) don’t state our religion. I’m not even going to delve into the multitudinous reasons why Sharia law–as it currently exists in Pakistan–is a wholly unjust enterprise. If the various provincial and federal bureaucracies have no use for our religion, then why does the passport authority require it?

The bearded Mullahs would now retort: our passports must declare our religions, because how else would our patrons, the Saudis, know who is a Muslim and who is not for Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage) visas? Ah yes, we have the silly rule in place for the convenience of the Saudi government. Lovely. Except, there are hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world whose passports don’t call them Muslims, and yet they still find their way to Mecca.

If the government doesn’t require our religion to be stated, and if foreign governments don’t require our religion to be declared either, then for what purpose does the infamous religion column exist? To make life easier for U.S. immigration officials at JFK? At present, U.S. authorities don’t need to think too hard about who goes in for a “secondary-screening.” The Government of Pakistan has already done most of the work by blatantly stating our religion. I’m in favour of screwing with them a bit and removing the religion column.

As the “epistemic closure” debate–about whether there has been a closing of the conservative mind–rages in the blogosphere, I found Jonah Goldberg’s (of Liberal Fascism fame, ew) critique of young bloggers particularly jarring, though inadequate.

From NRO:

Let me offer a counter theory. When I first came to Washington, I hung around in very similar circles of young eager-beavers. I may not have been as smart as many of them, but I was just as determined to get my articles published and make my mark. We had many gripe sessions conversations about how hard it was to break-in at places like NR, the Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal etc. But, because Al Gore hadn’t gotten around to inventing the internet yet, there was no place for me to vent these complaints in print, never mind work them up into a meta-narrative about the decrepit state of conservatism.

That’s not the case for today’s 20-somethings who have the luxury of translating their frustration with “the business” into long cri de coeur blog posts and essays that tend to bounce off one another for reinforcement. Instead of late night griping at the Toledo Lounge, the way we did things in the 1990s, the conversation has gone public. Indeed, so public that it has become something of an intellectual grievance culture all its own.

And here’s Conor Friedersdorf ripping apart Jonah.

When Barack Obama was inaugurated, many Canadians sighed with relief. After watching our southern neighbor stumble for eight long years on the world stage, we were glad to take a break from all our Bush jokes and our self-righteous denunciations of U.S. foreign policy. “What a crazy crusading ideologue that Bush, eh?” we’d say. But now the joke’s on us. George W. Bush is alive and well, and he lives at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa.

His new name is The Right Honourable Stephen Joseph Harper, the prime minister of Canada. While Canadians were too busy poking fun at Americans, Canadian foreign policy underwent a change so drastic that we hardly resemble our former progressive selves. Prime Minister Harper’s positions on a range of issues—from aid policy to the Middle East—read like the Bush Doctrine. (Note to Sarah Palin: By that I mean the toxic mix of social conservatism, military adventurism, and ideological blindness that characterized the former president’s foreign policy.)

Take, for instance, Harper’s recent decision to stop funding NGOs abroad that provide abortions. Even though a woman’s right to choose is firmly entrenched in Canadian law, and even though experts consider access to safe abortions vital to maternal health, Canada—which will preside over a G8 meeting on maternal health—will radically adopt a “gag rule” on abortions. It was Ronald Reagan who first infamously put in place the eerily similar Mexico City Policy, which required NGOs receiving U.S. aid to not perform or promote abortions. Bush Jr. restored the policy, but thankfully Obama rescinded it and his administration has challenged Harper’s move. Secretary Clinton had harsh words for the decision: “you cannot have maternal health without reproductive health and reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortions.”

The comparisons of Bush to Harper don’t end there. On Israel, Harper’s Conservative government has surrendered Canada’s role as an honest broker for Middle East peace, and has instead chosen to side with Israel at all costs. When Israel violated international law by expanding settlements in East Jerusalem, Vice President Biden “unequivocally” condemned the move. Canada’s Foreign Minister, on the other hand, blandly commented that the expansion of settlements “does not advance the cause of peace in the region.”

In line with American neoconservatives, Harper has described any criticisms of Israel as anti-Semitic. His government has revoked funding for KAIROS, a Christian aid group, because the NGO dared to criticize the policies of the Israeli government. And controversy engulfed his government recently when it was learned that he stacked the board of Rights & Democracy, a Canadian human rights agency, with pro-Israel advocates.

His government’s support for Israel is not in itself problematic—in fact, support for Israel ought to be a cornerstone of Canadian and American foreign policies. Harper’s decision to boycott Durban II, the second round of a U.N. conference that degenerated into anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic commentary, was a wise and laudable one. In all fairness, the shift towards a pro-Israel policy occurred under the previous Liberal government. However, the Liberals followed a balanced policy that didn’t shun criticism of Israel and expressed support for Israel’s legitimate security concerns. But like Washington’s neocons, Ottawa’s mini-neocons live in a Manichean world where any criticism of Israel’s government is deemed anti-Semitic. This translates into a suffocating and ideological foreign policy that deprives legitimate peace groups in Palestine and Israel of the funding they need. And now his decision to stop funding safe abortions abroad imperils maternal health and family planning measures in developing countries.

We could easily brush aside these changes to Canada’s foreign aid policy as merely cosmetic. But aid policy is to Canada what military power is to the United States—the way Canada most effectively exercises its influence around the world. Imagine Bush using American military power to invade countries to fulfill an ideological fantasy (i.e the Iraq War.) That’s exactly what Harper’s doing, albeit on a Canadian scale.

Michael Cohen thinks journalists are bad foreign policy analysts, taking aim at one particularly pathetic example of journalism — Tom Friedman. He accuses Friedman and other journalists of over-dramatizing.

I feel like it’s endemic in the profession – a propensity to make grand simplistic pronouncements based on anecdotal experiences rather than rigorous analysis. Granted this is a problem in not just foreign policy, but it seems particularly bad in this field. Maybe its because foreign correspondents are seen to have some sort of unique insight; when in fact the opposite is quite likely true because they are basing their analysis on immediate experience rather than actual historical or cultural study. Or maybe it’s the difficulty that journalists face in getting to the heart of a story – a point bravely raised here by Jerome Starkey in regard to Western coverage of NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan.

Cohen’s main argument is that journalists gain an exaggerated picture of reality by relying on anecdote — which their jobs often requires — over academic study. I don’t think I’d make as sweeping a statement as he does. Robert Fisk is a prime example of a journalist who both tells good stories and understands cultural and historical nuance. Even academics fall victim to the Manicheanism Cohen blames on journalists. Case in point: neoconservatives.

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