Archive for the ‘UK’ Category
Behind the scenes at Newsnight, John Baron MP said to me, “If you put your emotions aside, for the sake of containment, wouldn’t it be better if Assad won?” I wrote him the following response. As he hasn’t responded, I’m making it public. (To John Baron’s credit, he was one of the few Tories to oppose the invasion of Iraq and the occupation of Afghanistan).
We met at the BBC Newsnight debate on Syria. I think you gave me a card, which I promptly lost. I hope you find this message.
I’m taking the liberty of sending you my latest article concerning sectarian readings of the Syrian situation (my other stuff is on the same blog) as well as something by the secular intellectual Yassin al-Haj Saleh which presents a case better than I could.
As for your question, wouldn’t it be better for containment if Assad were to win? here’s a slightly fuller answer.
Assad can’t win completely, even with continuing solid support from Russia, Iran and Iran’s Iraqi and Lebanese clients, because the opposition has numbers on its side (and secondarily because Saudi weapons will continue to come in). If things go on as they are, a much more likely medium term result is the splintering of the country into zones of destabilisation:
1. a regime/Alawi zone between Damascus and the coast bridged by Homs, which will involve a massive ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from the Homs area (the regime has already burnt the land registry) and probably from the coastal cities too. The blowback from this probable future may well catalyse the sectarian mass slaughter of civilians which hasn’t yet happened from the opposition’s side. As I said in the green room, Assad’s rump state would be in effect Iran’s state (as opposed to Iran’s ally, which Syria was before 2011), beholden to Iran, because it’s Iran and its clients who are directing the regime fightback now. The risk is high that Iran will use Syria as a proxy front for its war with Israel in the same way that Syria once used Lebanon. And while Iran already ‘has’ Lebanon, Hizbullah is forced to deal with other groups in Lebanese politics. Control of a straightforward military/sectarian dictatorship, and a bigger country, is much more of a prize for Iran. I’m no friend of Israel, but America and Britain generally are, so it’s surprising to see all concerned ignoring the emergence of a greater strategic threat to the status quo than Iran’s nuclear programme (if they actually believe their rhetoric of Iran posing a threat to Israel).
This reminds me of the debates I saw breaking out in Tahrir Square. And it’s what TV should be like. FlipLife TV took a camera to Clapham and let the people speak.
Dear Sir/ Madam
I appreciate the Guardian allowing a range of voices to be heard on the issue of Israel-Palestine, but I find straightforward propaganda in the news (as opposed to opinion) pages very worrying indeed. I refer to the ‘story’ by Harriet Sherwood – “Flotilla raid: Turkish jihadis bent on violence attacked troops, Israel claims”.
In Muslim cultures, it is common to refer to those who have died for a cause or who have been killed by state terrorism as ‘martyrs’. In the hospitals of Palestine, one might hear people crying – “My baby has been martyred! They’ve martyred my mother! My grandfather was prepared for martyrdom, and now it’s happened!” This does not mean that the baby, mother or grandfather in question were trained-up, armed Wahhabi-nihilists.
Sherwood’s ‘story’, which the Guardian positioned so prominently, is based on the assumption that when grieving Turks use the word ‘martyr’ they mean ‘Islamist suicide bomber’, that they mean what we decide they mean. This is not journalism but propaganda. Its purpose is not to inform readers concerning facts or to give more background on Turkish culture and Turkish responses to the attack on their ships, but to whitewash the piracy and murder committed by Israel in international waters. Sherwood’s sources are “the Israeli government” and Colonel Richard Kemp, who Sherwood doesn’t tell us is a well-known pro-Israel propagandist.
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Democracy is supposed to mean ‘government by the people’. In the ancient Greek city states all the free men (but not women or slaves) would cram the theatre for lively, informed debate on a relevant issue, and then would decide it by a show of hands. Not so today. Putting a mark on a piece of paper every five years and imagining that you run things seems like a sad parody of such activity, a demotic populism masking power rather than a popular democracy negotiating it.
In our society the most important decisions are often made by unelected movers of capital and unelected civil servants and generals. Elected officials are very often at least as loyal to the lobbies easing their way as to the voters they supposedly represent.
I didn’t watch Blair’s performance at the Chilcot inquiry, for health reasons, but I did read that he mentioned Iran 30 times, as in ‘the same good case for war applies to Iran’. This comes in the context of America concentrating ships and missiles in the Gulf. It is unlikely that the US will attack Iran directly, but increasingly likely that Israel will provoke a conflict. Blair may be preparing the ground for this.
Blair felt ‘responsibility but no regret’ over the destruction of Iraq which has killed over a million, created at least four million refugees, and turned a fertile land into a diseased desert. He focused on Saddam Hussain’s monstrosity, but refrained from explaining how Saddam’s most monstrous crimes were supported by his Western backers. He was allowed to refrain. He didn’t entertain the possibility that Hussain could have been deposed in other ways. He blamed Iran and al-Qa’ida, neither of which had a presence in the country before its collapse, for Iraq’s problems, and again his illogic was not questioned.
We have a country of words.”
A traditional Arab media operation, according to Abdel Bari Atwan, is “characterised by editorial interference from the owners, slavishness to social hierarchies, backstabbing and nepotism.” It goes without saying that all the Arab local-national press, TV and radio stations are controlled by their respective regimes. Only in the pan-Arab sphere, beyond the control of any single regime, is there a possibility of anything better. Yet of the pan-Arab newspapers, ash-Sharq al-Awsat and al-Hayat are owned by different branches of the Saud family dictatorship, while the smaller-circulation al-Arab is part of the Libyan regime’s propaganda apparatus. Even after the satellite revolution, pan-Arab TV remains tame and partial, fattened and diluted by Gulf money, often providing its viewers a contradictory diet of Islamic and American-consumerist bubble gum. The second most famous channel in the Arab world, al-Arabiyya, is yet another mouthpiece for the Sauds (during last winter’s Gaza massacre it became known amongst Arabs as al-Ibriyya, or ‘the Hebrew’). The most famous channel, al-Jazeera, is of course the model that broke the mould. Its challenging reporting and inclusion of all sides in open debate has had a revolutionary effect on the Arabs.
Al-Jazeera’s print equivalent is the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi, founded in 1989, seven years before al-Jazeera. It may not have the immediate impact or mass audience of al-Jazeera (it’s banned in most Arab countries) but with its cast of excellent writers, its fearless exposure of Arab regime corruption, its scoops (al-Qa’ida chooses to communicate with the world through its pages), its renowned culture section, and its refusal to bury news from Palestine behind the football results, al-Quds al-Arabi is indispensable. Rather than backstabbing, its staff have sometimes worked for no pay to keep the operation afloat. Its founder, editorialist and editor-in-chief Abdel Bari Atwan is as passionate and articulate in speech as on the page, and is admired by the Arabs for his call-a-spade-a-spade style on those TV channels which dare to host him, usually al-Jazeera Arabic and Hizbullah’s al-Manar. Atwan’s “The Secret History of al-Qa’ida” is a book-length account of his meeting with Osama bin Laden and of the development of the al-Qa’ida network. Now Atwan has written an autobiographical memoir titled with a line from a Mahmoud Darwish poem, “A Country of Words.”
Yesterday five British soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan policeman. Just as they keep promising that they’ve reached ‘decisive turning points’ in their battle with the Afghan resistance, British military officials immediately vowed that the ‘rogue’ policeman would be caught. Today the Taliban reports that the policeman is safe with them, and that he’s been greeted with flowers.
Our glorious patriotic press responds. Amusingly, the Daily Mail headline wrings its hands and squawks, “What kind of war IS this?” Because some people aren’t playing by the rules, you see. Instead of sitting quietly in their villages waiting for the drone attack, or perhaps sending their kids out to accept sweets and modernity from a rosy-cheeked English lad, some barbarians are actually shooting back at the invaders. How very unBritish. (To be fair to the Mail – which has never been fair to anyone – it does seem to be taking an anti-war stance today). Other sections of the media worry about the ‘loyalty’ of Afghan troops, as if love for foreign occupiers is a realistic standard of loyalty. Still others, even more clever, psychoanalyse the policeman, wondering if an argument with his commander pushed him to a moment of madness. But it really isn’t that complicated, as anybody who disabuses themselves of imperialist delusion can see. Very simply, people don’t like foreigners striding around their streets and fields with guns and assumptions of superiority. Afghans will kill British troops as surely as Britons would kill Afghan troops if they occupied this country.
Ah, Tony Blair…. inheritor and champion of Thatcherite neo-liberal economics and Zionist neo-conservative foreign policy, presidor over a dramatic rise in British Islamophobia, appointer of unelected Zionist tycoons to manage the good behaviour of the Palestinians while they lose the last of their land and rights, holy liar, war criminal, hypocrite, a man complicit in the Gaza massacre, and in the 2006 assault on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure … and soon, perhaps, first president of the European Union. I’ve written about this lovely chap before. Those of you who believe the appointment of Blair to the EU presidency would be the worst possible start to the post and a sure sign to the rest of the world that Europe has no interest in justice or good governance, can sign this petition. I certainly have. On the other hand, some of you may agree with George Monbiot’s provocative argument that Blair’s appointment to the post will provide the best opportunity for having him tried for war crimes. So far, Blair has only been rewarded for his crimes, with directorships, a book deal, and the joke post of ‘Middle East peace envoy’, which Monbiot calls “the supreme crime against satire.”
Monbiot’s article is here:
On a couple of occasions – that I know of – I’ve had my irises scanned. These in the airports where I get pulled over for the stupid questions. In theory, a computer link can now tie my iris to my bank account, credit rating, police record, driving license and passport details – all in the sharpest microsecond.
The town centre has been replaced by a shopping mall, owned and controlled. People take more interest in Angelina Jolie’s romantic life than in the course of political events. The politics on show are soap opera, and the soap opera is determined a ‘British value’. According to the new points system for migrants, access to Britishness can be speeded up by campaigning for a political party (I presume they don’t mean Hizb ut-Tahrir), while ‘active disregard for British values’ – which might or might not mean protesting against imperialist wars – will retard membership of the club.
The great Englishman Dr. Johnson said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” And on that sound note allow me to introduce a short story by the Syrian writer Ibrahim Alloush, translated by Domenyk Eades.
Abdullah Quilliam was a 19th Century British convert to Islam, the founder of a mosque in Liverpool. He was also an anti-imperialist and a supporter of the Caliphate. He argued that Muslims should not fight Muslims on behalf of European powers, citing specifically Britain’s enlistment of Muslim soldiers against the resistance in Sudan. If Quilliam were alive today he would, at very least, be kept under observation by the British intelligence services.
It is ironic, then, that this activist Muslim’s good name has been appropriated by the government-backed and funded Quilliam Foundation, established in April 2008, supposedly to counter extremism in Muslim communities.
Those who read my stuff will know that I despise Wahhabism, and still more Wahhabi-nihilism. I oppose Islamic political projects which aim to capture control of the repressive mechanisms of contemporary Muslim states. I am stunned by the stupidity of such slogans as “Islam is the solution.” I take issue with anyone who attempts to impose a dress code or an interpretation of morality on anyone else, and I loathe those puritanical ideologies which fail to recognise the value of music, art, mysticism, philosophy, and popular and local cultures in the Muslim world. It is obvious that political Islam has often been exploited for very unIslamic purposes by the American empire and its client dictators in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and elsewhere. Nominally Islamic political parties bear a great weight of responsibility for diverting the Iraqi resistance into a disastrous sectarian war. The terrorist attacks on London in July 2007 were abominable crimes and a catastrophe for all British Muslims. I know all that, yet I oppose the Quilliam Foundation.
I’ve recently written to Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Khaled Mahmood MP to complain about their positions on the massacre in occupied Palestine. I’ve also written to Gerald Kaufman and Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, to praise their calls for an arms embargo on the apartheid state. And I walked into the office of my local MP, Russell Brown, and spoke to Mr Brown’s assistant. A few days later I received a letter from Mr Brown which repeats the usual rubbish about ‘peace’ and the need to disarm the resistance so the oppressor can sleep more soundly at night. At least he bothered to send me a letter. I received responses from Brown, Cameron, Clegg and Kaufman too, but none from Khaled Mahmood. Mr Mahmood was quoted by the Guardian as “dismissing” calls for sanctions and an arms embargo. Mahmood is a Birmingham MP who no doubt receives a lot of votes because he has a Muslim name. Not only is he betraying his Muslim voters who would like to see their representatives develop a peaceful strategy of resisting the murderous British-Zionist alliance, he isn’t even capable of replying promptly to letters.
Here’s my response to Russell Brown’s letter. I won’t publish his letter because I don’t have permission and because it’s on paper, but I quote some of it. You can imagine the rest – it’s the standard New Labour magical incantation.
Dear Mr Brown
Thank you for your letter in response to my conversation with Cameron concerning the situation in occupied Palestine.
You write: “It is not difficult to understand the frustration, fear and anger of those Israelis who are the targets of Hamas rocket attacks, and the pressure on Israel’s democratic government to take action.” You then state the government position, and that of the European Union Presidency, that Israel’s use of force is “disproportionate.”
Dear Prime Minister
I am very pleased that you have been calling for an immediate ceasefire in Israel-Palestine. This marks a clear difference from the statements not only of President Bush but also of Tony Blair during the 2006 assault on Lebanon. Your stand shows some degree of British independence, and I thank you for it.
I am much less pleased to read this Downing Street statement: “We are working urgently with international partners to address the underlying causes of the conflict, including trafficking of arms into Gaza. Moderation must prevail.”
Here’s a piece I wrote for the National about Arabs on Hadrian’s Wall.
Beyond the fleeting days of summer, Hadrian’s Wall in the north of England is a cold place to be. I stood on a high ridge looking down the line of the Wall at black cloud building over the ruins of Housesteads fort. I was fully exposed to the wind, which carried small seeds of rain, and the mud covering my clothes seeped slowly towards my heart. For a moment I dreamt myself into the skin of an ancient soldier, one come here from warmer climes to serve his empire, and I shivered to my frozen toes. Then my son grinned, turned towards the fort, and with a delighted scream charged downwards, slaying imagined barbarians as he went.
We had set out early in the brisk morning from our home in south west Scotland, over bridges and past floods in low-lying fields. Streams gurgled in roadside ditches; pond-sized puddles occupied town centres. There’s enough water here to produce the illusion of hopping island to island through a vast archipelago.
I had great sympathy for Chechnya when it was twice destroyed by Russian forces. The Chechens have been fighting for their independence for more than a hundred and fifty years. But Prime Minister Gordon Brown had no sympathy for Chechnya because, he says, Chechnya is officially part of Russia. The Chechen issue is a matter of Russian ‘territorial integrity.’ I admit that Brown’s position here makes sense. However brutal Russia’s treatment of Chechnya, it isn’t Britain’s business. (It may be the business of concerned British people, but that’s something else).
I don’t have much sympathy for Georgia, however, and none at all for the bleatings of the US, Britain and Germany, including Brown’s ridiculous bleatings in the Guardian. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia relinquished its control of eastern Europe and allowed independence to Caucasian and Central Asian nations. But instead of independence several of these countries became absorbed into the American empire. The fear that some of them had of their huge neighbour was understandable and deeply rooted (though not in Georgia, which had participated in Soviet rule from the Georgian Stalin to the Georgian Shevardnadze). The real fault was the West’s, to so stupidly exploit this fear, and to extend, by hubris, NATO membership and American missiles right to Russia’s borders. Russia in 1991 was too weak to do anything but let power slip, but its tolerance of Western expansion also showed a naivety, an overly-optimistic trust in Western capitalism. The very memory of that naivety is a humiliation to Russians.
This appeared in Gulf Life (Gulf Air’s inflight magazine):
It’s August and, as well as the Notting Hill Carnival, west London is seeing its yearly influx of Arab tourists. While the visitors are here they’ll rub shoulders with a varied and well-established Arab community.
Unlike some cities, London is too mixed to be ethnically zoned. When I lived a few years ago on the Harrow Road in west London, my neighbours were Poles, Pakistanis, Trinidadians, Lebanese .. I could go on. In London there are no monocultural ghettoes, but there are cultural concentrations, and my Harrow Road bedsit was in the middle of the Arab one.
At lunchtime I would cross the canal to buy steaming bowls of harira from the Moroccan stallholders on the Golborne Road. North towards Willesden I would meet newly-arrived Iraqi refugees, each with a story. If I walked west to Shepherd’s Bush I found Syrian grocers selling olive oil from the old country, and balls of salty shellal cheese. On the Uxbridge Road I could even eat fetteh, the essential Levantine working man’s food, and I prayed with men of all sects in a basement mosque.