Robin Yassin-Kassab

Selective Sentimentality

with 2 comments

Living in Britain again, I am struck anew by the selective sentimentality of government and media, and how popular acceptance of this emotional manipulation results in restrictions on our freedom of expression.

One stirring talking point has been the 15 British soldiers killed in Afghanistan in June, one of them (horror!) a woman. Lots of stuff on TV and in the papers about heroes sacrificing themselves for their country. Not long ago it was revealed (deliberately?) that good prince Harry had been serving in Afghanistan. Disappointing news. A member of the royal family swaggering armed through Asia makes it more difficult to explain away the current British militarism as ‘Blair’s wars’ and not necessarily the British people’s. Harry mumbled patriotically about the wounded ‘heroes’ he’d accompanied back to Britain, and the nation was encouraged to celebrate British toughness rather than question the justification for these pointless wars.

I sympathise with any parent who loses a child, and I sympathise with young working class people who join the army because they can’t see another way to earn a decent wage or develop useful skills. My advice, however, is to keep well away from the army. Joining the military means signing away your individuality – you agree to kill and be killed on behalf of the state. If your country is under attack this may be justifiable, but the wars Britain is now involved in are offensive, unlawful, against the interests of the British people, and doomed to failure. In their classic ‘Black Soldier’, radical proto-rappers The Last Poets discouraged African Americans from fighting in Vietnam, but if you’re white British the sentiment is easily transferred: if you want to fight a noble battle in defence of your community, you should do that at home, as part of your community. Killing the empire’s enemies is not the same as killing yours.

Then there’s the huge fuss over Zimbabwe. I don’t wish to excuse or mitigate the megalomania and criminality of Mugabe’s regime. More than 85 supporters of the opposition have been killed since the election which Mugabe obviously lost, hundreds more have been wounded and tens of thousands displaced. Land redistribution should have started in 1980 when the country achieved independence; it should have been carefully planned and directed to benefit the people socially and economically. Mugabe did it late and theatrically; the process was dictated by crude populism and corruption. Many Zimbabweans today are hungry, and this is in large part the regime’s fault. Drought, AIDS and Anglo-American sanctions are other causes. Africa isn’t helped by geriatric autocrats, and clearly it would be best if Mugabe stood down, or was removed by the people of Zimbabwe.

But let’s keep this in proportion. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are also run by geriatric autocrats, yet I don’t hear the same pulsating of British glands. Egypt arrests and routinely tortures hundreds of opposition members every week. These victims of the American-Mubarak order suffer anal rape and beatings because they are striving to make their own country freer and more dignified – it may be that they deserve the title ‘hero’ more than British boys who travel round the world to blow up the brown people their officers direct them to. Saudi Arabia has never had anything resembling an election. Neither country has an economic policy other than to do what Washington says, and neither, naturally, has an independent foreign policy that represents the interests of the people – which is why the British don’t whimper and whine about such regimes. And I mention only two of the client states.

One person not keeping it in proportion is the ridiculously titled Lord Paddy Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon – the politician who distinguished himself in the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War by camouflaging his face with mud and crawling through TV studios muttering grittily about his SAS experience. Last week he told the Times: “The situation in Zimbabwe could deteriorate to a point where genocide could be a possible outcome – something that looks like [another] Rwanda.” He added that, in that case, international military action, with Britain playing a “delicate role”, would have to be considered.

There COULD be genocide in Zimbabwe, and there could be in Italy. But there isn’t. Talk of ‘delicate roles’ relies on British imperialist amnesia, or worse, an arrogant refusal to recognise that British interference in Africa and Asia has been overwhelmingly destructive. This is why the ‘Britain can go hang’ rhetoric coming from Mugabe will play very well in much of the world. It doesn’t, as the BBC and ITV seem to think, make Mugabe seem ridiculous. Zimbabwe isn’t Britain’s business. Or better put, a Britain informed of its own recent history should feel a little ashamed of itself, a little embarrassed even to say the word ‘Zimbabwe’. When Britain ruled, the country was called Rhodesia after the great colonialist pillager and racist Cecil Rhodes, under whose administration the country’s richest land was seized at gunpoint from its Shona and Ndebele owners.

A government truly interested in human rights, international law and the peaceful cooperation of nations would sanction the state of Israel, with its apartheid system, its continuous ethnic cleansing over the last 60 years, its violations of tens of UN resolutions, its occupation of Syrian and Lebanese land, its holding of eleven thousand political prisoners, and its refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. A lot more Palestinians have been killed since they elected Hamas than Zimbabweans since they voted against Mugabe.

Instead of sanctioning Israel, which it continues to support militarily, economically, politically and culturally, the British government said on Wednesday it was amending a ban on Hizbullah to cover its entire military wing. The Home Office stated: “This means that it will be a criminal offense to belong to, fundraise and encourage support for the military wing of the organization.”

The statement continued: “Hizbullah’s military wing is providing active support to militants in Iraq who are responsible for attacks both on coalition forces and on Iraqi civilians.”

What is certain is that British and American forces are occupying Iraq against the will of its people, and that they provide active support to militias responsible for attacks on both Iraqi civilians and nationalist resistance fighters. It is possible but unproven that Hizbullah is training some anti-occupation Iraqis, but highly improbable that it is supporting attacks on civilians. The sectarian aspect of the war in Iraq potentially weakens Shia Hizbullah’s position in the Sunni Arab world, and Hassan Nasrallah has frequently spoken out against the targetting of Iraqi civilians. On the other hand, of the million Iraqis dead as a result of the invasion and occupation, at least 310,000 have been killed directly by Anglo-American bullets and bombs. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lancet_surveys_of_casualties_of_the_Iraq_War#cite_note-update-77) Perhaps this is Paddy Ashdown’s ‘delicate role.’ Once again, no embarrassment. Not even a sense of irony.

I don’t belong to Hizbullah’s military wing and I’m not involved in fundraising for anybody except myself, but I have to say that I encourage people to support the military wing morally and politically. It is, after all, the only organisation in modern Arab history to have liberated land occupied by zionists. It is the most disciplined, intelligent force in the region. While Israel’s victims are overwhelmingly civilian, Hizbullah’s are overwhelmingly military. I encourage moral and political support for the resistance, but I don’t go so far as to ask Britons to volunteer. British people, meanwhile, can and do go to fight for the IDF.

And why do I ‘have to’ express my support? As a result of my British patriotism. Because Hizbullah is not al-Qa’ida. Hizbullah does not wish to murder British civilians or to annhilate ‘Jews and Crusaders.’ Hizbullah is engaged in a war it did not start, and is fighting for just principles. If people who support the fight feel they cannot speak openly about their politics in Britain, then Britain faces a very grim future.

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

July 7, 2008 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Excellent post. The UK’s obsession with Zimbabwe and Mugabe appears to be more of a colonial hangover, and is getting rather tiresome. Here in the UK, the so called “free” (more like orchestrated) media keeps on harping on and on about Zimbabwe.

    It was quite amusing to see the UK sponsored sanctions resolution on Zimbabwe get vetoed by Russia and China at the UN. Boy wonder Milliband’s reaction was even more hilarious – a sort of mock outrage. The UK spin is that Russia apparently faltered, when, it may be more likely that Russia was just exercising its well-earned right to humiliate the UK.


    July 12, 2008 at 4:36 pm

  2. Demotix- The Citizen Wire

    Dear Qunfuz,

    You’re site is fantastic. We hope you might see a cross over with what we’re launching!

    Demotix is a website for user-generated news, and a citizen ‘wire’ service. Think of it like Flickr or YouTube, but only for original photo/video news. You tell us what is going on, we tell the worldwide web and the world’s mainstream media. As of now, http://www.demotix.com is live.

    Why are we doing it?
    We believe citizen journalism – well-managed – can be a tremendous force in political participation, civil society, and freedom of speech around the world. And we believe the media needs rescuing.

    • Only four US newspapers have foreign news desks (the NY Times, LA Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal), and there are only 141 US foreign correspondents currently working today (in print and broadcast media)
    • In the UK, a 2006 study of the broadsheets showed that more than 50% of the news was directly attributable to press releases
    • The world’s media (over 90%) relies on the wire services – the Associated Press and Reuters – for their news. But some 80 countries, or 40% of the world’s nations, have no bureau from either agency.
    The news is shrinking daily. We hope Demotix can plug that gap, and more.
    We hope to be giving a megaphone to the man and woman in the street with a story to tell. We hope to be able to change the news map – bringing real, raw, original information from countries and about issues the mainstream media haven’t touched in years.

    Eventually we hope that Demotix will be THE place where anyone in the world can go, in safety, to upload news – major, minor, local, cultural, political, social… We already have agreements with the Daily Telegraph, Newsweek, La Repubblica, Prospect and others – and will now supply them with a daily wire and picture feed of ‘citizen’ news. We have also built partnerships with Amnesty, Reporters Sans Frontieres, Witness and many others.

    But we need your help. We want to do in pictures/video what you do for text. If you think there is a cross-over and you like us, please write about us, link to us, spread the news. We’re nothing without contributors, and your readers are exactly whom we want to be reaching out to. We can get their news out to the world, and in the process change what news is reported. And we’ll charge the mainstream media for anything they use, splitting the fees 50:50 with our contributors.

    Please be in touch! Are there other ways we might collaborate?
    With all thanks


    Turi Munthe


    July 18, 2008 at 12:30 pm

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