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DAESH Beheads Syrian Scholar

A 2002 picture of Khaled al-Asaad in front of a rare sarcophagus from Palmyra depicting two priests dating from the first century. Photograph: Marc Deville/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

A 2002 picture of Khaled al-Asaad in front of a rare sarcophagus from Palmyra depicting two priests dating from the first century CE. (Photograph: Marc Deville/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Renowned antiquities scholar, Khaled al-Asaad (82), is dead. On Tuesday (18 August 2015) a member of DAESH chopped his head off then hung his body from a column in the town square in Palmyra, Syria. Why? Because he wouldn’t tell them where some Syrian antiquities had been hidden for safekeeping when DAESH captured the city in May this year. They had been holding him for more than a month before the brutal murder, trying to get the information from him. We can only imagine what was done to him in that time.

According to the Guardian:

A board in front of the body set out the charges against him, which accused him of loyalty to the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, maintaining contact with senior regime intelligence and security officials and managing Palmyra’s collection of “idols”.

Jonathan Tubb is keeper of the Middle East department at the British Museum and got to know al-Asaad well. He wrote a short piece, also for the Guardian, about his memories of him:

Khaled al-Asaad hanged

Sickening images shared on social media by DAESH showed the mutilated remains of Mr Assad chained to a railing, with his severed head – still wearing glasses – placed on the ground between his feet. (Source: Al-Alam News)

I first got to know Khaled al-Asaad in the 1980s as a colleague, and subsequently as a longstanding friend. During my almost annual visits to Syria until 2008, I could always count on the warmest of welcomes at Palmyra, and I well recall Khaled, standing on the steps of the Tadmor Museum, his face beaming, ushering me into his tiny office and sweeping piles of papers on to the floor in an attempt to excavate a chair for me.

His enthusiasm for Palmyra was inextinguishable and, within minutes of my arrival, I would be immersed in plans, drawings and photographs of the latest research. His heartless murder has come as a great shock and he will be greatly missed.

Khaled was an outstanding scholar, a world expert on the history and archaeology of Palmyra, the site that was his passion to which he devoted much of his long and dedicated working life. There will surely be few people who visited this world heritage site who do not have on their bookshelves a copy of his book, Palmyra: History, Monuments and Museum (co-authored with Adnan Bounni), which became the definitive guidebook almost immediately after its publication in 1982.

Yet his scholarship was much deeper and he was a regular contributor to Les Annales Archéologiques Arabes Syriennes (the journal of Syria’s directorate general of antiquities and museums) with articles on all aspects of Palmyrene culture, especially those relating to the extraordinary series of funerary portrait busts and their associated inscriptions.

Khaled was a delightful person, with a warm and engaging personality and a wry sense of humour. He went to great lengths to welcome and assist scholars, students and visitors from around the world and his book-cluttered office in the Tadmor Museum was regularly full of a whole variety of people enjoying his tea and his company. As director of Palmyra, he encouraged and facilitated research, excavation and restoration and, at the same time, made it accessible for tourists as surely one of the most impressive and unforgettable archaeological sites in the world.

Butchered: Horrific images posted online show decapitated bodies strewn across a street, victims of the terror group's unrelenting savagery as they rampaged through the city. (Source: Daily Mail)

Butchered: Horrific images posted online show decapitated bodies strewn across a street, victims of the terror group’s unrelenting savagery as they rampaged through the city. (Source: Daily Mail)

Al-Asaad wasn’t the first person DAESH had murdered since capturing Palmyra in May (population 55, 062: 2004 census). The Daily Mail reported the city was strewn with the bodies of hundreds of Syrian regime soldiers, several decapitated.  The regime reports they kept a corridor open to allow civilians to evacuate. According to Al-Alam News Network, the official broadcaster of Iran, 300 soldiers were killed when the city was taken. DAESH then went around the city killing whoever was left – Al-Alam News says another 100 mostly women and children were killed in this operation.

The murder of Khaled al-Asaad is another brick in the wall of proof that most of the motivation of DAESH is religious. There are two reasons the terrorist group wants to know where the artefacts are. One is to destroy them as representing a religion they consider heretical. The other, in the typical hypocrisy of so many of the ultra religious, is to sell them to fund their illegal actions.

In February DAESH released heartbreaking video, which they said showed their destruction of ancient monuments. Videos such as this are what led the Palmyra World Heritage Site to be designated endangered.

Brent Crude 2 years Aug 2015 NASDAQ

Official Brent Crude price for two years ending 20 August 2015. (Source: NASDAQ)

It seems that financial considerations have now led them to ameliorate this policy. The main source of DAESH’s funding is oil. They have control of several oil fields and at least two mobile refineries. However, oil has not been so profitable in the last year, although mostly not because of any direct action by the US and their allies. (They are reluctant to bomb the oil fields, I assume because they wish to leave the infrastructure intact for when DAESH has been defeated, and because it would cause an environmental catastrophe.) There are parts of the support network they have been able to successfully attack though. The main reason for the reduction in their income though is that the price of oil slumped a year ago, has remained low, and is likely to stay low for some time in my opinion. The price DAESH gets for oil is always lower again than the official price of course, as they have to rely on the black market. A year ago they were getting US$2.5 million/day, but they’re getting only about a third of that now.

They need a way to make up the difference. It’s estimated they’ve received about US$20 million in the last year from ransoms, but that’s not going to go far. They’ve also ransacked the banks and other institutions in the towns they’ve captured, and have a reasonably sophisticated civil infrastructure in the area they’ve declared their caliphate, which makes them money through taxes, fees, and fines. The area with the biggest growth potential for them though is the sale of artefacts, again on the black market. That is why when they took Palmyra they didn’t immediately destroy the ancient and beautiful city. Instead, they found al-Asaad and tried to torture him into giving up the location of the city’s treasures, which were hidden in anticipation of the imminent arrival of DAESH. His amazing bravery has saved some of the world’s most precious treasures from exploitation.

I wonder in they prostrate themselves in prayer before and after selling the items in the same way they do when raping Yazidi women and children.

ISIS Executed 20 Men in Ancient Roman Amphitheater of Palmyra

Roman Amphitheatre at Palmyra

Palmyra is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and has been designated “endangered” since 2013 because of the Syrian civil war. There is evidence of continuous human occupation in the area from 7,500 BCE – stone tools have been found that date to that era. It entered the historical record around 2,000 BCE when, according to Wikipedia, “Puzur-Ishtar the Tadmorean agreed to a contract at an Assyrian trading colony in Kultepe.” As well as several other documents, it’s mentioned in the Bible, Torah and by Josephus in The Antiquities of the Jews. Palmyra became part of the Roman Empire around 14 CE during the reign of Tiberius. It became a Christian city in the early 4th century, then was annexed to the Rashidun caliphate in 634. It became wealthy during the Umayyad caliphate as a key trading post between east and west. Like most of the Middle East, it’s had a complex and interesting history.

In May, the Roman amphitheatre there was reportedly used in a sick parody of its history as the location of the shooting execution of twenty men before an audience. The men were accused of being supporters of  the president of Syria’s regime.

The brutality of DAESH is personified in the torture and murder of Khaled al-Asaad. He deserves to be remembered for the millennia the artefacts he protected will last because of his bravery.

41 Responses to “DAESH Beheads Syrian Scholar”

  1. rickflick says:

    Sad. Very sad. al-Asaad was an example of the best of humanity. A dedicated scholar.
    I’m afraid to say it, but this kind of violence seems likely to go on a very long time in one form or other. It is a low grade war that is very widespread. As terrible as it is, at least it is not another WWII. Mankind will struggle through.

  2. Paxton marshall says:

    Yet another reason to make common cause with Iran in fighting these inhuman monsters. We’re instead enlisting Turkey and Saudi Arabia who are ambivalent at best in their opposition to ISIL/DAESH. Saudi Arabia is more interested in bombing Shia, such as those in Yemen. Turkey is more interested in fighting the Kurds, the most effective force in fighting ISIL. Israel, for some reason, seems more interested in making common cause with the Sunni against the Shia.

  3. Although everyone agrees DAESH must be stopped, many are putting other interests first. Turkey and Iraq both feel threatened by the Kurds for different reasons, which is significantly hampering efforts imo.

    The new Iraqi government is having trouble ridding itself of the influence of Iran, especially as to some extent they need them as they have destroyed their own military. However, if they want to get the Sunnis to trust them, they’re going to have to sideline Iran as much as possible. The reason DAESH was able to gain a foothold in northern Iraq and later Anbar province was that the al-Maliki government treated Sunnis so badly. About a third of the senior organisational positions (25 people) are former members of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and there’re plenty who did a lot better then than under a Shi’a government, especially the former al-Maliki one. And he was virtually installed by the Americans – that was a major mistake.

    • Paxton marshall says:

      We can point out many mistakes that contributed to the present mess in Iraq/Syria, but the mistake from which all others flowed was the Bush/Blair invasion of Iraq in 2003. And that was less a mistake than a deliberate act of terrorism based on cooked intelligence. Beheadings seems to us barbaric, but it is less cruel than bombing buildings and leaving people to a slow death due to crushing injuries and burns. Until the west learns to judge itself by the same standards it judges others, there will be no peace or justice. The plan no doubt was to pacify Iraq, install a government subservient to us, and then to turn on Iran and Syria. It was a continuation of the imperialism conducted by western countries for 500 years.

      • I don’t really have much time for the argument that comes out sounding like it’s OK for DAESH to behead people because Bush/Blair bombed some people. Both acts were bad, and one doesn’t excuse the other. DAESH was created out of the debacle of the Iraq war, but that didn’t create the mentality that interprets a religion to justify the rape of Yazidi women and children. According to them, it’s OK to rape Yazidi because DAESH interprets their religion as polytheism. Rape is wrong whoever the victims are, and nothing anyone can say can justify or ameliorate what DAESH did the Yazidi. Also the murder of Yazidi men and older boys can’t be traced back to anything to do with the Iraq war.

        Also, if DAESH had access to the same weapons as the West does, they’d be murdering a helluva lot more people than were murdered during the Iraq war. That doesn’t make it OK, of course, but imo it’s a logical extension of your argument. Bad as it was, there was a least a level of control there by Bush/Blair.

        Killing happens in war. That’s bad. Torturing an old man for a month for information that will make you money before killing him is a lot worse. Whatever you say about Bush/Blair, neither of them would ever sanction something like that. Al-Baghdadi not only allows such behaviour, he both orders and celebrates it.

        • AU says:

          Killing happens in war. That’s bad. Torturing an old man for a month for information that will make you money before killing him is a lot worse.

          Why is it a lot worse? Is it because the “other” side are doing it?

          People were kept in Guantanamo for years, some died, after being tortured for months. They were much younger than this guy. One could argue what happened to them was worse, because whereas this guy was probably going to die pretty soon anyway because of his age, the others probably had a good 40-50 years left.

          How about Clinton bombing the al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory – he knew that thousands would die if he did it, including women and children, as this was the only factory in the country producing weapons, the evidence it was producing chemical weapons was very flimsy, yet he still bombed it. One could argue killing an 82 year old who you think is supportive of the Assad regime and is on the other side is a lot less worse than blowing up a factory knowing full well that thousands of civilians will die, including children and babies.

          Now, don’t get me wrong, just because this guy was elderly and nearing the end of his life, it doesn’t make his killing less worse. I am merely stating at how easy it is to be morally outraged at the violence others do and downplay the violence we do even though ours resulted in many more people dying.

          As for the idea that ISIS is mainly about religion, Dan Jones and Neil Godfrey have had a couple of articles on this recently, you might want to read the below and focus particularly on the comments.

          http://vridar.org/2015/08/12/on-how-to-be-completely-wrong-about-radicalisation-the-curious-case-of-jerry-coyne/

          • Hi AU. I in no way condone the torture at Guantanamo or anywhere else. I am completely opposed to it. I think it’s appalling and imo there is no way to justify torture under any circumstances. I am horrified that the US government did this. Any entity that uses torture loses any claim to the moral high ground. (Not that they ever had it, but they thought they did.)That is not what I meant with my comment. All I meant was that killing someone is bad, torturing them first is worse.

            I stopped reading Vridar recently because there was a period where there was stuff I wasn’t so interested in, and I’m struggling to keep up. I’ll have a look at this. I open to having my opinion changed about this, but so far none of the arguments have convinced me. I do acknowledge that religion is not the only motive – it’s complicated, and there are a lot of other factors in play too.

          • AU says:

            That’s the gist of Dan Jones article – people like Coyne say religion isn’t the only factor, yet they concentrate so disproportionately on religion and actually say things which suggest that religion is the leading factor and any other factors are simply mitigating.

            IF every time a woman committed a crime, I wrote an article on how women are committing crimes, about how them being a woman affected them (“if she was a man she wouldn’t have got all upset and jealous that her partner was talking to another woman and so wouldn’t have started trashing things”), and then every now and then threw in the caveat that “I have never said only women commit crimes, and their gender isn’t the only thing that influences their behaviour”, then a person would be quite right in thinking I am a dishonest, propagandastic, misogynist.

          • paxton marshall says:

            Thanks AU for the link to the Godfrey post. I very much concur with his position. Heather has already called me out on my obsession with Jerry Coyne, so I’ll try to be brief.

            My “obsession” was the result of my initial enthusiasm for Coyne’s clear explication of evolution, combined with his outspoken atheism, corresponding to strong commitments of mine. All the greater my disappointment when I realized just how narrow minded are his views, especially those related to Islam. But my real disillusionment stemmed from his refusal to engage with any views that differed from his, as is illustrated very clearly in the Godfrey post. I usually find the comments to a post as interesting as the original essay. But not on Coyne’s blog. I soon found out the reason: Coyne does not permit comments in opposition to his point of view. I soon found myself blocked from commenting, like Godfrey, Dan Jones and no doubt many others. Reading the comments on WEIT is mostly to read sycophants gushing their agreement with Coyne. Heather, I applaud you for your willingness to host a real conversation on topics, including views that take issue with yours. Reading through ten comments on your blog is of more value than reading a hundred on his.

            I could go on at length about my disagreement with Coyne’s views on Islam and terrorism, but I’ll just mention one criticism I haven’t seen before. For an evolutionist he has a curious lack of understanding or even interest in cultural evolution. Thus he takes Islamic doctrine and Islamic behavior at face value, rather than putting them in the context of the evolution of values and behaviors of other cultures as well as Islam. The brutality of ancient and medieval western societies is simply a historical artifact that was swept away by enlightenment values. He sees the barbarity of Islam stemming from religious doctrine, while he fails to acknowledge the even greater barbarity of the US/UK invasion of Iraq, or the Israeli slaughter in Gaza, presumably because he does not see them as stemming from religion. He sees western imperialism as a thing of the past, not an ongoing intrusion in Islamic, and other non-western societies. To use a possibly off-base analogy, he seems to have a creationist view of current politics rather than seeing them as products of cultural evolution.

            I think the root of Coyne’s extreme hatred of Islam is his ardent support of Israel. He travels around the country attacking any privileging of religion, but he gets extremely defensive, in an almost religious way, when Israel’s terror is put on a par with Islamic terror. He seems to not understand that religious denial of reality is not just belief in supernatural beings, but is uncritical loyalty to one’s own culture or people against other cultures and people. Ironically, this us versus them attitude is intrinsic to the origin and endurance of all religions, but Coyne seems blind to this.

          • rickflick says:

            I’ve been reading Coyne for a year now and I did not get the same impression. I find he is critical of Palestinians because they are unwilling to let Israel continue to exist. Otherwise he is as critical of theocratic Zionists as of theocratic Islam. His main criticism is of religionists and faithists of any stripe. I’ve seen him exclude a number of commenters but not for there philosophical or political beliefs, but by there refusal to abide by rules of polite discussion.

          • I’ve always found Jerry as critical of theocratic Zionists as Islamists too. He is perhaps less tolerant than I am with who he allows to comment, but that is his right. It’s his website and he can allow or disallow anyone he likes. You know yourself Paxton you can get pretty rough in your comments, and you’ve pushed the boundaries here a few times. Because I have less commenters it’s easier for me to engage than Jerry, which makes a big difference.

            I found the Vridar article AU linked to very interesting, and at the time I formulated a long enough response in my head to write a post. Then I wrote the latest Brickbats and Bouquets, and most of the wording has gone from my head. It’ll come back though and I will write something. I see his point, but there’s a big hole in the argument imo, which I’ll elaborate on. Sorry to muck you around by not writing it now, but you’re all subscribed, so you’ll see it when I get around to it – I’m not up to writing much more today.

          • AU says:

            Hi Paxton,

            I agree with you – Heather allows comments which are highly critical of her and her article – I once even accused her of outright lying, and she still allowed my comment through. I respect that, I really do, and that’s the main reason I still come here every now and then, because I know Heather is interested in exchanging views and having a debate, something which cannot be said of Coyne. Funnily enough, I first came to this blog because of Coyne’s blog linking to an article here!

            That’s interesting what you mention about Coyne and Israel, I haven’t read enough of his blog to have noticed that, I just got bored when he would not allow my comments through, and left. It does actually make sense though, the last article I read of Coyne he was paraphrasing an article where the Zionist Daniel Mael launched a vicious (and false) attack on Max Blumenthal, and Coyne then went on to call Blumenthal an “Islamophile”!

            Coyne pretends to be a “liberal”, but let’s be honest, he isn’t, he is a neocon, and I an glad that more and more people are exposing him for what he is.

          • If I had been lying, I probably would have banned you – if I was that type of person I wouldn’t want to be exposed! 🙂

            I don’t lie. I get things wrong, or I have a different opinion, or I have interpreted something differently, or something else, but it’s never a lie. So since I know that, it doesn’t worry me.

          • AU says:

            If I had been lying, I probably would have banned you – if I was that type of person I wouldn’t want to be exposed! 🙂

            I don’t lie. I get things wrong, or I have a different opinion, or I have interpreted something differently, or something else, but it’s never a lie. So since I know that, it doesn’t worry me

            Actually, I found the post, and I didn’t actually accuse you of “lying”.

            http://www.heatherhastie.com/reza-aslan-pontificates-atheism-is-an-ideology-and-new-atheists-are-violent/#comment-324

            I simply called you out on wrongly smearing Reza Aslan.

          • Fair enough – it was only implied. I couldn’t actually remember so I took your word for it. I just remember lots of robust debates.

  4. paxton marshall says:

    Heather, how do you infer that I was saying “it’s OK for DAESH to behead people because Bush/Blair bombed some people”? First. the US/UK didn’t just “bomb some people”. They invaded a country without good cause. They killed thousands and thousands of people. And they created the conditions from which DAESH emerged. You have mentioned some of these conditions: The al Maliki government, the dismissal of the Iraqi army, etc. It is important to understand the historical circumstances which lead to (not excuse) certain behaviors. The religion of Islam has been around a long time. The Yazidis have lived with Muslims a long time, not necessarily treated well, but not systematically murdered and raped. Islam was not interpreted to justify these atrocities until their society was thrown into chaos by the US/UK invasion. You say “the murder of Yazidi men and older boys can’t be traced back to anything to do with the Iraq war.” What do you trace it to then? Why were they not being murdered before the Iraq war?

    You say “Killing happens in war”. Yes, we use the horrors of war to justify dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the fire bombing of Dresden. Historians and moralists have discussed at length whether these things were justified or not. But the Iraq invasion bears little similarity to a real war, where powerful militaries are arrayed against one another. The Iraq war was an asymmetrical attack where a powerful military was unleashed on a society with no defense against it. It can more appropriately be described as one society willfully destroying another, than a war. You say “if DAESH had access to the same weapons as the West does, they’d be murdering a helluva lot more people” and I wouldn’t argue with that. But as you admit, such a hypothetical cannot be used to justify such atrocities as we unleashed on the Iraqi people.

    Although we don’t know that al-Assad was tortured, it is probably reasonable to assume that he was. We do know however that Bush authorized torture of POWs and that such torture was carried out. So it is not accurate to say “neither of them would ever sanction something like that.” People will do things in desperate circumstances that they would not do otherwise. If Bush would authorize torture when his country was not threatened, what would he do if he were in al-Baghdadi’s position where it is either destroy or be destroyed. We do not know.

    Again, please believe that I am not trying to justify DAESH’s barbarities, and I have no affection for Islam. But I am appalled and dismayed that westerners can so easily condemn the actions of people they have wronged, and be in complete denial that they have done anything to create the circumstances under which these things happened. We cannot control the actions of others, but in a democracy we should be able to control the actions of our own countries. If we continue to deny our own barbarities while focusing only on the barbarities of others we will never break the cycle of abuse. And if we continue to vilify the religions of others, and blame their behavior on that religion, rather than recognizing that these behaviors, horrible as they are, derive more from a response to our behaviors to them than from anything intrinsic to their religion, we are only reinforcing the religious bigotry of our own society, no matter how much we may proclaim our atheism and objectivity in opposing all religions.

    • AU says:

      I think it should be mentioned that the first attacks on Yazidis in Iraq in recent times occurred after a Yazidi girl was stoned to death by her community because she had started a relationship with a Muslim guy.

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-452288/The-moment-teenage-girl-stoned-death-loving-wrong-boy.html

      So, yes, these things are all very complicated and interrelated, to cherry-pick items out in isolation is wrong IMHO.

    • Hi Paxton. I didn’t infer that’s what you were saying, I said that’s what it comes out sounding like – I don’t think you think like that. Also, you know perfectly well that I was opposed to the Iraq war. There’s nobody following the comments on this post who knew me at the time to provide proof, but I was quite vociferous in my opposition back then, and my opinion has never changed.

      Saying “killing happens in war” doesn’t mean I’m in any way condoning it. I’m just accepting reality. I oppose war. We (by which I mean humanity as a whole) go to war too easily. I agree that on the whole Westerners don’t recognize their own barbarities.

      However, I’m not about to stop criticizing Islam. I am a single woman, living alone, making my own decisions, going where I want when I want, freely and openly expressing my opinions, and lacking a belief in God or gods. All that would be impossible in an Islamic country, and I think I should have the right to say so. If a religion tells people they should treat women less well than men, then I am going to continue to criticize that religion, and I’m not just talking about Islam – I criticize other religions when I see them treating women badly too. There’s a Christian cult that’s been getting a lot of TV time in NZ recently, which is absolutely disgusting in the way it limits women’s lives. There are plenty of individual Muslims who treat women as equals of course, and you won’t catch me criticizing them.

      I have said somewhere in these comments, or maybe in the post itself, that it was the conditions created by the Iraq War that led to the formation of DAESH, so I’m not blind to the West’s role in this. However, I don’t think it’s all the West’s fault either.

      • Paxton marshall says:

        Hi Heather, like you, I feel very fortunate to live in a democratic society with free speech, freedom of religion etc. I’m even afraid to visit most Islamic countries. I also know that you were opposed to the Iraq invasion, and like me are opposed to war in general. And I agree with most of your criticisms of Islam. Unfortunately, in my country, any criticism of Islam is seized upon by militarists to justify aggression against Islamic countries. It was used to gin up support for the Iraq invasion and is being used now to try to defeat the Iran deal, and ultimately to make war on Iran. I think most our differences are related to where we live.

        As usual, I want to thank you for hosting such interesting discussions, and for allowing me to participate. I hope you are well.

        • Cheers Paxton. And I’m not too bad at the moment thanks.

          As well as living in a democratic society, I’ve got the added advantage of living in a small country that isn’t militarily powerful and where the media is largely unbiased. We don’t have entities like Fox News that spin the news and go out of their way to get people worked up. We have the Broadcasting Standards Authority which requires news and documentaries to be fair. Breaching those standards is taken pretty seriously – if the 6 o’clock news is found to be biased for example, they have to broadcast the correction and apology on the 6 o’clock news – it can’t be buried where no one will see/hear it. So as you say, where we live makes a big difference.

          • rickflick says:

            “Broadcasting Standards Authority”
            Wow! I never knew this about NZ. Very interesting. Now, in the U.S. the view tends to be to avoid national “Authorities” since it smacks of some totalitarian governmental force for conformity. Here there are forces pushing to privatize our social security system. I suspect in NZ it doesn’t work out that way. But here in the U.S. it is greatly feared because, I assume, we have a recent history with Nazies, and the communist Soviet Union and China. Today, “socialism’ is the dread enemy of democracy and Obamacare is the wedge that will someday bring us full dictatorship. I’m amazed that NZ citizens don’t feel the threat as much as Americans do.

          • We have a lot of independent bodies like the BSA that are funded by the government. Over time, they have proven they can be trusted to make decisions independent of the government. Our biggest broadcaster is actually owned by the government, but that doesn’t stop them being critical of the government, and if there was even a smidgen of a suspicion that they were trying to influence what was broadcast, they know they’d be out on their ear next election, and probably be forced to resign because of public outcry long before that.

            These days, even the IRD (our IRS) is not hated or mistrusted, although they were pretty unpopular 40 years ago. Then there were a couple of well publicized suicides by people who said they’d been driven to it by the IRD, and that was a catalyst for change. They now have a motto “It’s our job to be fair,” and they really do make an effort to be fair. They’re pleasant on the phone, they explain things, and successive governments have made frankly heroic efforts to simplify the tax system, and have succeeded. We don’t have all the crooked stuff in our system that you have either, added via other Acts.

            The Police have also been making a huge effort over a number of years to change their culture, to be fair etc, and it all starts with the type of people they recruit. For example, a women who was raped by several police officers several years ago over a number of years is now teaching them how to treat rape survivors.

            It doesn’t happen overnight – all these things have taken years and hard work, but there’s a reason people here mostly trust the government. It’s not blind trust, there’s still a lot that has to be improved, and there’s still plenty of criticism that goes on, but I think people feel like if they have a genuine grievance something will be done about it. Government departments are run a lot like private businesses, and have been for about thirty years or so. There’s a culture of continuous quality improvement in most of them. Some are better than others of course too.

          • rickflick says:

            I visited NZ a couple of years ago and had a wonderful time. It’s an amazing little country. I didn’t realize it had such an idyllic governmental structure. I think something like that can’t work in a large country with such a contentious history as the U.S. Unfortunately.
            But, maybe someday.

          • I’m glad you enjoyed it. I don’t know that any NZer would call our government structure idyllic, and maybe that’s the point – we’re always trying to make things better. We don’t have any attitude of automatic exceptionalism.

            It is much harder in a big country. It could probably be done on a state level, especially the smaller states, and then the federal level once that’s done. I think another thing about being a small country is we’re always trying to be just as good as the big countries. We can’t just dominate by size – if we want to do well at anything it takes an effort to even get noticed. The US dominates just by being there, and internationally others often have no choice but to listen.

            I think parts of the US could do it.

          • rickflick says:

            The states of Oregon and Washington come to mind. They tend to be socially liberal and they seem to lack the overwhelming influence of screwball religious nuts and jingoistic solipsists you see in many other states. A state that would be the least likely to succeed is Texas. I’m sure, as an observer of American politics, you are familiar with that deranged and neurotic society.

          • Yeah – I can’t imagine Texas thinking the way we run things has anything to offer them!

          • Paxton marshall says:

            Just to be a devils advocate Heather, doesn’t it discourage free speech to have a government agency looking over your shoulder all the time, determining the acceptability of what you say?

          • I can see why it would look that way, but no. Also, the agency isn’t looking over your shoulder – it’s completely reactive, there for the public to use to adjudicate complaints. If, for example, there was thirty seconds of a full-on sex romp from a swingers night on the six o’clock news, but nobody complained about it, they’d do nothing, not even comment. They’re funded by the government, but completely independent. I can see why that’s a concept that might be difficult to believe, but it’s true. As a society, we consider corruption seriously bad – we’re usually no 1 in the world for lack of corruption, and if we slip to no 2, it’s big news, and everyone wants to know why, and who let us down.

          • Paxton marshall says:

            I think there is too much money in play for that to work in the U.S. I’d rather put up with the Faux news, than have political appointees be able to censor what could be said. You can be sure that if news stories threatened someone’s profits, that would complain and complain loudly. Christians would complain about anything that represented abortion or same sex marriage in a favorable light. Neocons and Aipsc would complain about any stories that questioned Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. It’s already hard to find any criticism of Israrl in the American press.

          • They can’t censor it – that’s not how it works. People say what they want. If someone complains, the BSA decides if it’s a valid complaint, and if it is, then there has to be an apology. The type of things you’re mentioning would be considered vexatious complaints and wouldn’t be upheld. There’s no limiting of free speech, and it doesn’t apply to opinions, editorials, blogs, or anything like that. It’s only news and documentaries and they only have to be fair in the way they present the issues. They don’t have to make an a-hole sound good – they can show him/her putting his foot in his mouth as much as they like, they just can’t make up the words themselves. In a documentary, NZers get the point of view of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, and they decide who makes the best case.

  5. Diane G. says:

    Great column, Heather, as always. I was sickened when I first heard of this atrocity, in the NYT. You have fleshed it out quite a bit.

    • AU says:

      Were you also sickened when you heard that 120 Syrians had died in a market attack by Assad that same day?

      • Diane G. says:

        I am a pacifist. All unnatural death is upsetting, esp. those murdered by war, terrorism, or politics. It is human nature to react more strongly when more details about a victim’s life & works are known and/or one knows more details about just how the crime unfolded.

        I don’t appreciate the insinuation in your question.

        • AU says:

          There is no insinuation.

          If you are a pacifist, are you against the current airstrikes that Obama has been conducting against ISIS, or are you a semi-pacifist i.e. you are selective in when you believe violence should be used and when it shouldn’t?

          • The way you expressed it AU, it sounded like an insinuation rather than just a question. I would’ve reacted the same way Diane did.

          • AU says:

            How can there be any insuniation when I don’e even know her.

            I was curious to know because people like to say they are equally sickened by killings etc no matter who the victim, but the truth is, many seldom are. Instead, they tend to be more sickened when people who they can relate to, either religiously, nationally, ideologically, or have you what are killed. So I wanted to know whether she is from the ones who are genuinely equally sickened by people dying no matter who they are.

          • I know you were just asking a question, but I’m just saying that’s not how it came across. I’m not accusing you of anything, just explaining her reaction.

    • Cheers Diane. I appreciate your support, as always. 🙂

  6. Paxton marshall says:

    Yes, it is human nature to judge others more harshly than one’s self, and strangers more harshly than friends, but that doesn’t make it right or rational. Few Americans will admit that our terrorism in invading Iraq and killing many thousands, dwarfs the evil of Charlie Hebdo, or even the Isis beheadings. But it’s hard to make a rational argument otherwise. If someone has one, let’s hear it.

  7. AU says:

    I found the Vridar article AU linked to very interesting, and at the time I formulated a long enough response in my head to write a post. Then I wrote the latest Brickbats and Bouquets, and most of the wording has gone from my head. It’ll come back though and I will write something. I see his point, but there’s a big hole in the argument imo, which I’ll elaborate on. Sorry to muck you around by not writing it now, but you’re all subscribed, so you’ll see it when I get around to it – I’m not up to writing much more today.

    Heather, I will await with interest your article on Coyne when you get the chance.

    Just FYI, the debate is still happening at Vridar, and Dan Jones has posted another comment showing Coyne’s hypocrisy.

    http://vridar.org/2015/08/12/on-how-to-be-completely-wrong-about-radicalisation-the-curious-case-of-jerry-coyne/#comment-72707

    You might want to read that too before you write your article.

    • Cheers AU. Thanks for letting me know. 🙂

      I thought I better try to work my way through the van Leuwen/Boudry/Coyne thing as well, which is taking a while. (I fell asleep the first two times I tried!) Of course, when I do respond, I make no pretense that I have any specialized academic knowledge in any of the areas concerned. It’ll just be my opinion.

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