Hitchens on the Koran Burning

From Slate:

Heinrich Heine’s famous observation about book burning—that where books are burned, people also will be—was actually first made about the torching of the Quran. The Spanish Inquisition used to delight in putting heretical works “on trial,” and zealously convicted the Muslim holy book before feeding it to the flames in what is one of Christianity’s oldest traditions. (After all, it extends to the burning of unauthorized translations of the Holy Bible, too.) Heine’s 1821 play Almansor contains a character who observes that humans will next be burned, and the later incineration of Heine’s own writings by the Nazis, with its prefiguration of the Holocaust, has made the quotation an imperishable one.

The connection, however, is not always so neat. The moronic pastor who burned the Quran after a mock trial would probably refrain from setting fire to human beings. While in Afghanistan, where Islam already makes huge numbers of books unavailable and The Satanic Verses and the Danish flag must be in short supply, the news of book burning somewhere else is enough in itself to cause the random incineration of people.

How dispiriting to see, once again, the footage of theocratic rage in Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif. The same old dreary formula: self-righteous frenzy married to a neurotic need to take offense; the easy resort to indiscriminate violence and cruelty; the promulgation of makeshift fatwas by mullahs on the make; those writhing mustaches framing crude slogans of piety and hatred, and yelling for death as if on first-name terms with the Almighty. The spilling of blood and the spoliation of property—all for nothing, and ostensibly “provoked” by the corny, brainless antics of a devout American nonentity, notice of whose mere existence is beneath the dignity of any thinking person.

How a big US bank laundered billions from Mexico’s murderous drug gangs

From The Guardian:

On 10 April 2006, a DC-9 jet landed in the port city of Ciudad del Carmen, on the Gulf of Mexico, as the sun was setting. Mexican soldiers, waiting to intercept it, found 128 cases packed with 5.7 tons of cocaine, valued at $100m. But something else – more important and far-reaching – was discovered in the paper trail behind the purchase of the plane by the Sinaloa narco-trafficking cartel.

During a 22-month investigation by agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and others, it emerged that the cocaine smugglers had bought the plane with money they had laundered through one of the biggest banks in the United States: Wachovia, now part of the giant Wells Fargo.

The authorities uncovered billions of dollars in wire transfers, traveller’s cheques and cash shipments through Mexican exchanges into Wachovia accounts. Wachovia was put under immediate investigation for failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering programme. Of special significance was that the period concerned began in 2004, which coincided with the first escalation of violence along the US-Mexico border that ignited the current drugs war.

Criminal proceedings were brought against Wachovia, though not against any individual, but the case never came to court. In March 2010, Wachovia settled the biggest action brought under the US bank secrecy act, through the US district court in Miami. Now that the year’s “deferred prosecution” has expired, the bank is in effect in the clear. It paid federal authorities $110m in forfeiture, for allowing transactions later proved to be connected to drug smuggling, and incurred a $50m fine for failing to monitor cash used to ship 22 tons of cocaine.

More shocking, and more important, the bank was sanctioned for failing to apply the proper anti-laundering strictures to the transfer of $378.4bn – a sum equivalent to one-third of Mexico’s gross national product – into dollar accounts from so-called casas de cambio (CDCs) in Mexico, currency exchange houses with which the bank did business.

Glenn Greenwald on the Reaction to the Koran Burning

From Salon:

Harry Reid and Lindsey Graham yesterday both suggested that Congress take unspecified though formal action against the Koran-burning by Florida preacher Terry Jones, which triggered days of violence this week by angry Muslims in Afghanistan. Graham in particular — using the “but” that is the hallmark of all enemies of the First Amendment — said: “Free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war.” He claimed that “during World War II, we had limits on what you could say if it would inspire the enemy” (I think he was thinking of World War I, when Woodrow Wilson succeeded in all but criminalizing war opposition, including passage of the dangerously broad Espionage Act: the statute Dianne Feinstein and others now want to exploit to prosecute WikiLeaks).

There are several points worth highlighting about all of this. First, it demonstrates how many people purport to believe in free speech but don’t. The whole point of the First Amendment is that one is free to express the most marginalized, repellent, provocative and offensive ideas. Those are the views that are always targeted for suppression. Mainstream orthodoxies, harmless ideas, and inoffensive platitudes require no protection as they are not, by definition, vulnerable to censorship. But as has been repeatedly seen in history, ideas that are despised and marginalized are often proven right, while ideas that enjoy the status of orthodoxy prove to be deeply erroneous or even evil. That’s why no rational person trusts the state — or even themselves — to create lists of Prohibited Ideas. And those who endorse the notion that ideas they hate should be forcibly suppressed inevitably — and deservedly — will have their own ideas eventually targeted by the same repressive instruments.