Friends across the divide

For Plato the art of music was so firmly anchored in moral and political reality that any alteration to the musical system would necessarily require a corresponding political shift. Two and a half millennia later, when classical music is generally seen as a high-class lifestyle accessory, Plato’s conception seems outlandish, even absurd. To be sure, most people involved in classical music today consider their art to be of profound cultural importance, but there are very few who are able to articulate this convincingly.

One such, however, is the Argentine-born, Israeli and Palestinian passport-wielding conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim. Since founding the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in 1999 with the late Edward Said, Mr Barenboim’s advocacy for music and music-making as forces for social and political good has grown in prominence and force. Invited to give both the BBC Reith lectures and the Harvard Norton lectures in 2006, he chose the same topic for each—the power of music—and it is from these lectures that the current volume is shaped.

The basic thesis of “Everything is Connected” is simple and powerful. We live in a world in which different voices—different expressions of political will and behavioural norms—collide and compete. Some struggle to be heard; others seem to be continuously present. In music we have the perfect model of contrasting voices working together harmoniously.

Editor’s Comment — Music is the quintessential expression of multiculturalism; the proof that there is no such thing as cultural purity; the language that animates language; the promise of the possibility of one world.

Wrong on Russia

In the wake of Russia’s military incursion into Georgia, too many current, former, and aspiring U.S. officials are caricaturing the Russian state that was shaped and is still guided by Vladimir Putin as a revisionist aggressor. For Robert Kagan, John McCain’s neoconservative foreign policy adviser, as well as for long-time Democratic foreign policy hands Richard Holbrooke and Ronald Asmus, Russia’s actions in Georgia are comparable to Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938. For Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russia’s actions are more reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

But, in reality, today’s Russia is not a resurgent imperial power. In the post-Cold War period, it was Washington, not Moscow, which started the game of acting outside the United Nations Security Council to pursue coercive regime change in problem states and redraw the borders of nominally sovereign countries. In Russian eyes, America’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, including arresting and presiding over the execution of its deposed President, undermined Washington’s standing to criticize others for taking military action in response to perceived threats. And American unilateralism in the Balkans, along with planned deployments of missile defense systems in Eastern Europe and support for “color revolutions” in former Soviet republics, trampled clearly stated Russian redlines.

Georgia after war: the political landscape

As the dust from Russia’s tank-tracks settles again over Georgia, the accounting inside the country has begun. For the moment, the accent is on damage- assessment and reconstruction but the focus is already slowly shifting to the role in starting the conflict of Mikheil Saakashvili. Georgia’s young president will soon find himself in the spotlight again and it will not be a comfortable place.

So far, the criticism has been muted. I spent two weeks in Georgia in the immediate wake of the Russian attack and found few ready to publicly condemn Saakashvili’s decision on the night of 7 August 2008 to launch an offensive against South Ossetian positions. But Saakashvili should not mistake that for acquiescence.

Across the country – from occupied Poti on the Black Sea coast to Tbilisi in the east – the murmur of complaint is growing louder. Why, people are asking, did he allow himself to be dragged into a fight that Georgia could not possibly win?

US-Russian deal on nuclear access may be shelved

A key civil nuclear agreement between Russia and the U.S. looks likely to be shelved until next year at the earliest amid mounting tensions over the fate of Georgia’s breakaway republics.

The nuclear pact — signed last May — set the framework to give the U.S. access to Russian state-of-the-art nuclear technologies, while helping Russia establish an international nuclear fuel storage facility for spent fuel. Russia cannot achieve that goal without the deal, since the U.S. controls the vast majority of the world’s nuclear fuel.

US tax breaks help Jewish settlers in West Bank

The United States says Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank threaten any peace between Israel and the Palestinians — yet it also encourages Americans to help support settlers by offering tax breaks on donations.

As Condoleezza Rice flew in on Monday for another round of peace talks, Israeli and American supporters of settlements defended the tax incentives, which benefit West Bank enclaves deemed illegal by the World Court and which the U.S. secretary of state has said are an obstacle to Palestinian statehood.

Pro-settler groups say they are entitled to the tax breaks because their work is “humanitarian”, not political, and reject any comparison to Palestinian charities, some of which face U.S. sanctions over suspected links to Islamist groups like Hamas.

Taliban gain new foothold in Kandahar

The Taliban bomber calmly parked a white fuel tanker near the prison gates of this city one evening in June, then jumped down from the cab and let out a laugh. Prison guards fired on the bomber as he ran off, but they missed, instead killing the son of a local shopkeeper, Muhammad Daoud, who watched the scene unfold from across the street.

Seconds later, the Taliban fired a rocket-propelled grenade into the tanker, setting off an explosion that killed the prison guards, destroyed nearby buildings, and opened a breach in the prison walls as wide as a highway. Nearly 900 prisoners escaped, 350 of them members of the Taliban, in one of the worst security lapses in Afghanistan in the six years since the United States intervention here.

The prison break, on June 13, was a spectacular propaganda coup for the Taliban not only in freeing their comrades and flaunting their strength, but also in exposing the catastrophic weakness of the Afghan government, its army and the police, as well as the international forces trying to secure Kandahar.

U.S. killed 90, including 60 children, in Afghan village, U.N. finds

A United Nations human rights team has found “convincing evidence” that 90 civilians — among them 60 children — were killed in airstrikes on a village in western Afghanistan on Friday, according to the United Nations mission in Kabul.

If the assertion proves to be correct, this would almost certainly be the deadliest case of civilian casualties caused by any United States military operation in Afghanistan since 2001.

The United Nations statement adds pressure to the United States military, which maintains that 25 militants and 5 civilians were killed in the airstrikes, but has ordered an investigation after Afghan officials reported the higher civilian death toll.

A Syrian-Israeli breakthrough?

Of all the wild cards in the Middle East deck, this one may be the most intriguing: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appears ready for direct peace talks with Israel, if the United States will join France as a co-sponsor.

That’s the word from senior advisers to Assad, who spoke with me here this week. The same assessment comes from top French officials in Paris. A direct meeting would raise the Syrian-Israeli dialogue to a new level; so far, it has been conducted indirectly, through Turkey.

The Syrians would like to see a clear signal from the Bush administration that it supports the peace process and that the United States is prepared to join the French as “godfather” of the talks. But Syrian officials are pessimistic and say they doubt that the administration, which has sought to isolate and punish Syria, will change its policy in the few months it has left. That would disappoint some of Assad’s advisers, who prefer to move quickly, rather than wait for a new U.S. administration to organize its foreign policy priorities.

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