the Disillusioned kid: October 2004
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Sunday, October 31, 2004

It's Criminal! Part 2.

Robin's comments on my earlier post about burglary and progressive responses suggest that some clarification and elaboration on the point might be in order.

Robin says that he "can't actually remember encountering the 'making excuses for crime' people that the IWCA article talks about." And asks, "Just who are these people?" His point is sound, the cited article, by Dave Abbot, goes further than I would. It argues that "the Left" makes excuses for criminals, where I would contend that this is merely a perception. The important thing is that it is a widely held perception and one which "the Left " has done little to discourage.

Consider for instance this article from the Socialist Worker, arguably representative of the wider "Left", but certainly the organ of the largest organised "revolutionary" group. It makes many justified points about the consequences of New Labour's policies on working class communities, but has nothing to say about the consequences of anti-social behaviour by members of those communities on other members. Those who have to lives with these consequences cannot ignore them so easily. The article also has little to say about immediate solutions, focusing instead on platitudes about "a wider framework of secure, well paid jobs and good social services." As Abbot notes,
[T]he problem is having to deal with the impact of crime on working class communities in the here and now. We all have our ideals for how society should be but for people living in areas plagued by violent assaults, robbery, burglary and drug taking, they want to know what will be done to make their neighbourhoods safe again. For them, crime is an immediate problem which severely curtails their sense of freedom and vague promises of how the world could be in the future under a different economic and social system understandably don?t have any resonance.
I don't claim to have all the answers as to how we should propose "to make their neighbourhoods safe again," but I firmly believe that it is crucial that we ask the question, to do otherwise is to condemn ourselves to obscurity and irrelevance.

As to Robin's talk of "clueless 'anarchists'," I don't fully understand the significance of the quotation marks, so I'm not sure if he's referring to those who supplant reasoned political analysis with ill-considered anti-authoritarianism, or if it is intended as a criticism of the anarchist movement (such as it is). If he intended the former, than he is probably right. As to the latter, I don't think that anarchists are any worse than progressives of other stripes, indeed some are much stronger. I, for instance, often describe myself as an anarchist, although this is often for wont of a better term, rather than because it is a particularly accurate description of my politics. Additionally, SchNEWS published this article, making many of the points I've tried to express.

That said, anarchists might be more supportive of actions which are deemed "criminal" by the system, but which are quite different from the anti-social crimes I have focused on above and which I don't think are necessarily wrong. Consider theft for instance. My position on whether it is right or wrong in different circumstances has little to do with what the law says, but is instead informed by moral consequentialism. I am opposed to people breaking into other people's houses and stealing from them, primarily because of the psychological effects on the victims, which can often be serious. I don't, however, have a problem with people shoplifting from faceless corporations. I'd do it if I thought I could get away with it and only yesterday I was arguing for mass shoplifting as a potential political tactic. Many self-described anarchists would probably agree with me on this issue.

Buy, buy, buy!!!

Using Technorati to find out who's been linking to me, I stumbled across this page on kucinichworldpeace and discovered that I've been listed on Blogshares. Which is nice. Apparently shares are currently valued at $110.10 a go, so what are you waiting for?

It's Criminal!

This week saw the rekindling of the debate surrounding the rights of people to defend their homes after a judge opined that he could not criticise Kenneth Faulkner for shooting and wounding a burglar who received a seven-year sentence on Monday. It is tempting to dismiss much of the debate as the reactionary, but that is to make a mistake. In a column in Tuesday's Guardian Andrew Anthony commented,
I can't pretend to know why Mr Symons [stabbed to death by an intruder in his house on October 20] got out of bed on the night he died, but I do know that he had children, and my guess is that in a choice between losing his life and his video, he would have preferred to keep his life. But the error in this line of thinking is to see burglary as purely a crime against property.

As most people will tell you who have been burgled, it's also a crime against the person, an attack on his or her sense of security and wellbeing, which are, let's face it, basic needs common to all humans.
I've had the misfortune of being mugged, having my house broken into (twice) and my housemates' cars broken into (more times than I care to recall). These were hardly the most enjoyable experiences in my life, but what I lost was essentially inconsequential and besides the point. The emotional effect is very real regardless.

Polls consistently show that law and order concerns are among those which people consider most important, much more so than wars in far-flung countries. Unfortunately progressives (arguably a meaningless catch-all term, but it should be clear who I'm referring to) all too quickly dismiss these concerns as "reactionary" and leave the field open for the law and order brigade to push for increased police numbers and powers, longer sentences, harsher treatment of offenders and/or some new authoritarian law. I fear this reflects a tendency to talk to rather than with people.

A more proactive effective strategy would be to articulate alternative policies to deal with the problem. Drug decriminalisation, more effective prisoner rehabilitation and increased social justice could all go a long way towards reducing crime. Additionally, stronger community ties will make people feel less isolated and insecure. In the meantime, however we must be wary of viewing criminals, who may ruin people's lives, as victims.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Home From Home, Part 3.

The saga of the Chagos Islanders now seeking accommodation in the UK (blogged about previously here and here) continues.

The Scotsman reported on Monday that Nicholas Antoine, 25, had won temporary accommodation from Reigate and Banstead Borough Council in Surrey. This will be available until next Monday in order to give him time to launch legal action in order to be housed permanently in the UK as a homeless person. A further 10 islanders, including women and children, have been offered shelter and assistance by West Sussex County Council because of their care needs. Nonetheless the group of islanders who came to the UK on October 8 (the report suggests this group numbers "about 40", but reports from the time put the figure at 45) apparently "spent the weekend living rough at nearby Gatwick Airport" having initially stayed in the lobbies of the bed and breakfast hotels were they had been put up when they first came to the country.

Human rights lawyers apparently "hope [High Court Judge] Mr Justice Silber?s decision will lead to temporary accommodation being offered to all the islanders and save the expense of obtaining shelter through a number of High Court cases, all raising the same issue, paid for out of public funds." Lawyers are also seeking judicial review of Reigate and Banstead council?s decision in the previous week that did not have a duty to accommodate the islanders as they were not ?habitually resident? in the UK.

The Scotsman carried another story on the matter on Wednesday when Conservative Epsom and Ewell MP Chris Grayling raised the issue at question time:
Former residents of the island of Diego Garcia who were dispossessed under a previous Labour government have started arriving in the United Kingdom and are currently being housed at the expense of the residents of Reigate and Banstead in Surrey.

Thousands more could be on their way.

Will you explain why my constituents in one small Surrey borough should be paying substantial housing and legal costs as a result of this and can you also explain why appeals to the Deputy Prime Minister for help in this have so far gone unanswered?
Ignoring the ramifications of his question and its response for the timebeing, it's phrasing merits consideration. Grayling's emphasis on the dispossesion being the responsibility of "a previous Labour government," while strictly true, is misleading. None of the Conservative governments in the intervening period have done anything to rectify the injustice, indeed none of them even admitted that claims that the islanders had been merely transient labourers were untrue. This fiction was maintained until very recently when the Foreign Office quietly conceded that the island had been permanently inhabited for several generations prior to the expulsion.

His assertion that "thousands more could be on their way," is simply nonsensical. The entire Chagossian population numbers something in the order of 2,000 and only a handful of them intend to come to the UK. The British Indian Ocean Territory Islanders Movement suggested when the last group of islanders arrived that more were hoping to come, but numbers are likely to be in the tens rather than the hundreds, let alone thousands. Apart from anything else, most of the islanders have little money to spend on the journey. Presumably Grayling's concern is fuelled by reading too many Daily Mail headlines about the country being "flooded" by asylum seekers, or other undesirables.

In response to the question, Tony Blair claimed that Government help could set a precedent, telling Grayling, ?I will look into this very carefully and get back to you but I think the concern has been that if we start providing funding in these circumstances there is no reason why we shouldn?t across the board.? Quite apart from the moral requirement that the British Government do all it can to put right the injustice done to the Chagossians, Blair's response is logically flawed. Precedent is predicated on the idea that like should be treated as like - as Blair, a former lawyer is surely aware. Which poses the question, how many other British citizens (all the islanders have British passports) have been forced from their homes, prevented from returning, dumped on a distant island and left to rot in poverty all at the hands of succesive British Government? If there are none then providing the islanders with accomodation hardly sets a precedent.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Something wrong with the world?

I can't help feeling there's something very wrong with a world in which John Peel is dead and the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Donald Rumsfeld, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, Osama Bin Laden, Tony Blair and Islam Karimov aren't.

Monday, October 25, 2004

In Case You Missed It

If anyone hasn't found it yet, they may be interested in my reporting from the European Social Forum which took place in London over the weekend of 15-17 October. It's all available over at my other blog, The Peace Pipe. I've posted some introductory comments, a report of the anti-occupation demo on the Sunday and about disability rights, global warming, human rights in Uzbekistan and Jewish and Arab co-operation against racism and occupation. There's also some stuff by fellow blogger DanR on racism and fascism and on "closing down the open space".

Friday, October 22, 2004

Class Action, Part 2.

A report on the front page of today's Guardian (apparently the source of all today's posts) alleges, "The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, is attempting to block a new law that would punish negligent employers with heavy fines or imprisonment in cases of deaths or injury at work." This allegation is based on a letter the paper has obtained which was "sent by Mr Straw 10 days ago to John Prescott, deputy prime minister and chair of the domestic affairs cabinet committee." In this "the foreign secretary casts doubt on the need to create a new crime of corporate manslaughter."

The article is lacking in specifics on Straw's objections to the proposed new law, but suggests that the intervention may have been supported from behind the scenes by treasurer Gordon Brown. One statement, however, is likely to go someway to explaining his motivations:
Probably the biggest stumbling block to effective legislation is whether individuals at a company could be prosecuted, and, if so, how to decide who is personally responsible.
I've written before that it is my opinion this is a class issue. The vast majority of victims in cases likely to lead to litigation under the proposed legislation are workers with their employers as potential defendants. That employers are unlikely to be keen on this, goes without saying. To be sure, it does not follow that their concerns will be reflected in the form the law takes, but it is entirely possible. One does not need to accept a Marxist-esque analysis of society to see that employees typically have a greater ability to influence decision makers than workers by virtue of their greater financial leverage and connections.

As I said, it isn't entirely clear from the article why Straw is opposed to the new law, but until somebody comes up with a more convincing explanation I'm sticking to my guns.

Bizarre Story of the Week

From Tuesday's Guardian:
Football clubs have been known to show their soft side, supporting the poor and helping the sick and handicapped. But it is not often that a top European club hands its shirt and its cash to an army of balaclava-wearing guerrillas demanding autonomy in a large chunk of their country.

Inter Milan has donated ?5,000 (£3,475), an ambulance and the captain's No 4 black and blue team shirt to one of the last strongholds of the ragtag Zapatista army in a gesture of solidarity for the indigenous people of Chiapas in southern Mexico.

Argentinian star Javier Zanetti, the team captain, talked his club into donating its changing room fines for late arrival or using mobile phones to help villagers rebuild after the village of Zinacantán was reportedly attacked by government military forces in April. "We believe in a better world, in an unglobalised world, enriched by the cultural differences and customs of all the people. This is why we want to support you in this struggle to maintain your roots and fight for your ideals," Zanetti wrote in a note to the village, posted along with the first instalment of ?2,500.
For anyone not aware, the Ejercitio Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN, "the Zapatistas") is a guerilla army which emerges in Chiapas in 1994, demanding autonomy for indigenous people living in the region. They have been an inspiration to those struggling around the world and received support from various sources, although this donation may well be a first.

As if the story wasn't strange enough already, it appears that the donations have the blessing of the team's oil baron owner, Massimo Moratti. Regardless of its unusual source the Zapatistas are presumably not unhappy about the support, which the article suggests has already allowed villagers to rebuild homes and water pipes in Zinacantán which were damaged in the attack. Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos thanked the footballers in one of his famous communiques, "Brothers and sisters of the Italian team, I wish you the greatest success in your sporting campaign."

Return Of The Ambassador: Episode III

I wrote on Monday about the dismissal by the Foreign Office of the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray for his criticisms of major human rights abuses on the part of the Islam Karimov regime, an ally in the "War on Terror". As if this wasn't bad enough an article in today's Guardian reports that he "is to face a disciplinary hearing into charges of gross misconduct, according to the Foreign Office." The article suggests that charges stem from interviews he gave to the media last week, which were critical of the Foreign Office, but it quotes a "Foreign Office spokesman" who comments, "He is suspended on full pay pending an investigation into his conduct. I think it is more what he said than giving interviews. There was some question about how we handled matters with Uzbekistan." In short, criticising the human rights abuses of an allied country is now a disciplinary offence.

In related news, a report in yesterday's Independent reveals, "Uzbekistan's fractious opposition parties have united to send an open letter to Tony Blair, accusing the hardline government in Tashkent of putting pressure on Britain to dismiss its outspoken ambassador to the central Asian republic." The letter comes from nine groups including the ERK Democratic and Birlik Parties who are prevented from contesting the forthcoming parliamentary elections (the government have not registered a single opposition party and Human Rights Watch describe its refusal to register Birlik over the summer as "blatantly arbitrary").

The letter, addressed to Mr Blair, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, and the British parliament, "deeply regrets" the decision to dismiss Mr Murray. The Indy reports,
The letter expressed support for Mr Murray, saying that he had "played a significant role" in the development of democracy in Uzbekistan. "It is no secret that in Uzbekistan, the present authoritarian government is seriously violating human rights and democratic principles," it said. "The decision of the British government to recall Mr Craig Murray, in our view, took place under the pressure of the Uzbekistan authorities."
There may well be some truth to this, but there may also be motivations behind the dismissal which cannot be attributed to pressure from the Karimov regime. Domestic concerns about the embarrassment he was causing to the Foreign Office and government by revealing the reality of one of our allies are likely to have been a major factor as well.

Whatever the true motives behind his dismissal it seems clear that it is a contemptible move, driven by the worst kind of realpolitik. I encourage anyone who hasn't done so already to write to their MP about this, assuming your from the UK of course. It may not get him reinstated, but it may encourage the government to think twice before they try something similar in the future. Readers might also be interested in signing a new Amnesty International petition calling "on the governments of Belarus and Uzbekistan to abolish the death penalty in law and practice, and by doing so make Europe and Central Asia a death penalty - free zone."

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

It Makes Me Sick

At a meeting with 200 GPs at the Royal Society of Medicine conference, works and pensions secretary Alan Johnson urged doctors to think twice before signing patients off-work in a bid to end the so-called "sick note culture". The Medical News Today report of the speech (discovered via Google News) goes so far as to attribute to Johnson the suggestion that delegates "act to get sick people working again." Presumably this is an error and they mean those who have been sick, but are now better. Whichever, I remain dubious about the whole idea. We already work the longest hours in Europe and this seems to be a way of making us work even more. Why shouldn't people have sufficient time off to recover from illness or injury? We are more than simply cogs in a capitalist machine and work is not, nor should be, the only thing in people's lives.

The Only Bush I Trust...

An article in today's Guardian reveals that Vladimir Putin - a former KGB officer, wannabe dictator and a man responsible for the slaughter of thousands of people in Chechnya - has "waded into the American election campaign in support of George Bush". Apparently, "International terrorists have set as their goal inflicting the maximum damage to Bush, to prevent his election to a second term." Quite where Putin has derived this insight into the thinkings of Osama Bin Laden from is not immediately clear. Nonetheless, he continues in the same vein, "If they succeed in doing that, they will celebrate a victory over America and over the entire anti-terror coalition. In that case, this would give an additional impulse to international terrorists and to their activities, and could lead to the spread of terrorism to other parts of the world." So there you go. Any suggestion that Putin's stance might stem from a belief that the Texan will be much more willing to stand aside while Russia continues its destruction of Chechnya is obviously nonsense.

The truth of course is that Al-Qaeda probably don't give a damn who's in the White House. Liberals often make quite the opposite argument in support of Kerry, with as much evidence. Bush's policies have fuelled anti-American feelings across much of the world, driving untold numbers into their arms. It is possible that Kerry might be able to repair some of his damage, although I remain unconvinced. His position on foreign policy is little different from that of Bush. Indeed, Rahul Mahajan points out that where he has criticised Bush it has usually been for being insufficiently militaristic and agressive and his postion on Israel appears to be even more hawkish than that of his contender.

All that aside, one thing which struck me particularly was a quote, later in the article, from Dubya himself, made at a rally in New Jersey: "Senator Kerry's approach would commit a response only after America is hit. That kind of September 10 attitude is no way to protect our country." Which just about says it all really. The policy the Bush Administration were pursuing prior to September 11th was, by the President's own admission, "no way to protect" the US.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Return Of The Ambassador: Episode II

I noted on Wednesday that the British ambassador to Uzbekistan was likely to have his security clearance withdrawn, effectively removing him from his post. It was not, then, a great surprise to read in the Guardian on Friday that he had been dismissed from the role "as the Foreign Office claimed its ministers and his colleagues no longer had confidence in him." The move is the culmination of the struggle between London and Murray who has been an embarrassment, vocally criticising the human rights abuses of Uzbekistan's government, an ally in the "War on Terror":
"What I have been told about why I have to leave Tashkent is that the publicity surrounding my position would make my return impossible," he told the Guardian. "I have not been told as to why in any great detail."

He said it was clear from his conversation with his employers that the Uzbek government had been informed of the FO's decision before he was. "My immediate reaction was bitter disappointment. I intend to sue them for the damage to my health".
The Foreign Office have previously claimed that they are concerned about human rights abuses in the country and that Murray is merely expressing government policy. It has been obvious for a long time that this position was disingenuous, but Murray's dismissal makes it clear for anyone in any doubt.

At the ESF over the weekend, I attended a meeting organised by Amnesty International and others about the death penalty in Uzbekistan and China, although the focus was very much on the former. Among the speakers were two representatives of Mothers Against the Death Penalty and Torture in Uzbekistan. One was a woman who's son had been arrested for a murder he didn't commit. He had been tortured and signed a confession when his captors threatened to beat his mother. After a sham trial he had been sentenced to death and subsequently killed. His mother was not informed of the execution until it had happened and she still does not know where he is buried as the authorities will not tell her. The other lady had a brother who had been accused of terrorism and was currently on death row. On one occasion he had been beaten so badly that when she visited him she didn't even recognise him. His conviction also impacted on her as recent laws make family members responsible for the actions of relatives and she was essentially prevented from getting a job. Both gave powerful, moving talks about the country's brutal regime and its human rights abuses.

During the question and answer section towards the end of the talk someone mentioned Murray's dismissal. The two ladies said that British citizens should be proud of Craig Murray who had felt the pain of ordinary people in Uzbekistan and that everyone who had met him agreed that he was a man of honour. Murray represents the kind of person we should have shaping foreign policy if talk about "hearts and minds" is anything more than vacuous rhetoric. We may not be able to get him back into his job, but writing to your MP and expressing your concerns about his dismissal might discourage the Foreign Office from acting in a similar way in the future. If nothing else, it presents a chance to give Murray the recognition he deserves.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

London Calling

I'm off to the European Social Forum in London tomorrow. The forum is a weekend of discussion, debate, celebration and protest, bringing together activists and interested parties from accross the country, continent and beyond. Hopefully it'll be pretty good, but whatever happens, don't expect any posting for a few days.

Passing the Torch

A friend pointed this out, but the similarities are striking...

New Conservative Party Logo:

New Conservative Party logo

National Front Logo:

National Front logo

Mutual Back Patting

The UK Chagos Support Association have a section on their front page with links to various articles about John Pilger's Stealing A Nation documentary on it. I point this out because they've been kind enough to include both my thoughts on the documentary and my response to Joe Joseph's article in The Times (they also provide a link to the original article). Which is nice. To return the favour I encourage you (yes, all three of you!) to go and check them out.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The unimportance of "The importance of not being earnest"

I was directed to this review of John Pilger's recent documentary on the Chagos Islanders from the Times. Although it's now almost a week old I thought a few comments might be in order.

The biases of the writer, Joe Joseph (surely not his real name), are not difficult to discern and I should stress that in my opinion this is a good thing. We all have prejudices, beliefs, preconceptions and ingrained ideas, however we might seek to hide them. I generally think that it's far better to make these explicit and leave the reader to draw their own conclusions on what you are saying with that knowledge in mind. This is a belief which has always informed my writing, but it is less common in the dominant media with its exalted rhetoric about "impartiality" which all to often obscures vested interests. My problem with the article then, is not the style, but what it has to say.

The treatment of the Chagossians is so disgraceful that no-one with any shred of decency could really put forward a credible defence of the policies pursued by the British and American governments. For this reason Joseph doesn't seek to defend the policy, instead he largely ignores it and focuses his attention on Pilger, and his style in particular, as if being a little didactic somehow detracts from the entire argument. As I noted in my commentary on the programme, criticism of Pilger's style is not without justification and the straight-to-camera moments (the opening example of which Joseph describes as "address-cum-sermon") are largely unnecessary, but it does not detract from the documentary as a whole, nor from its central message.

Joseph argues that the fact "that the vacated island was used as an American base, or a theme park, or a beach resort" is irrelevant to Pilger's argument and has nothing to do with the immorality (or otherwise) of the treatment of the islanders, but a documentary which didn't look at why the islanders were removed would be seriously lacking. He also contends that "Pilger?s slipping into his commentary that Diego Garcia was the take-off point for some of the US Air Force jets that bombed Afghanistan and Iraq was irrelevant, wasn?t it? Or does that compound Britain?s guilt in what Pilger called an ?unrecognised crime? against the islanders?" The same argument applies and it could be pointed out that even if it doesn't compound the injustice done to the Chagossians it does reinforce the immorality of the Iraq War (which Joseph presumably wouldn't accept). The two incidents in concert also serve to undermine the widely held misconception that British foreign policy is largely benevolent, a misconception the likes of Joseph would no doubt like to see continue.

This argument about Pilger's use of irrelevant facts reflects a theme which runs through the article, whereby Joseph seeks to insinuate that Pilger is anti-American and so, presumably, should be dismissed out of hand, although he is never crude enough to express this openly. Instead he opines, "
To Pilger the world is a vortex of conspiracies, most of them involving Americans throwing their weight around." If he is suggesting that Pilger believes that institutions in the world often do bad things, in many cases in secret, than he is clearly correct, but this seems a strange criticism as it is a widely held view and arguably a perfectly reasonable way of viewing the world. This is certainly the case as regards Chagos, as that is exactly what happened, a fact Pilger details with extensive documentary evidence. That the US, as the world's most powerful nation, is involved in many such "conspiracies" goes without saying and anyone claiming otherwise would be someone genuinely worthy of the scrutiny Joseph seems to feel is required for Pilger.

At times Joseph's criticism seems not only pointless, but ridiculous. Consider his comments on the killing of the islanders' dogs.
Another typical Pilger aside infects his report of how, as part of Diego Garcia?s clear out, almost a thousand of the islanders? pet dogs ?were rounded up and gassed, using the exhaust fumes from American military vehicles?. Amid the tragedy of this episode you can nonetheless imagine Pilger?s heart skipping when he learnt that the dogs were killed not only by American vehicles, but by American military vehicles.
Who exactly imagines Pilger's heart skipping at this?! I certainly didn't.

To his credit Joseph does acknowledge that the expulsion was an "ugly injustice," but later suggests that it was a "smallish, footnote of mistreatment and injustice". Hardly "smallish" if you were one of the victims forced from your home, or one of those who would later lose family members, whether as a result of suicide, drink or drug addiction or simply "sadness". As to the incident being a footnote, this is only the case because the whole affair has been largely been expunged from history by the powers-that-be. To be sure the expulsion only affected 2,000 people or so, but does this make it any less wrong? Was the murder of Kenneth Bigley alright because he was only an individual? The argument is hardly credible.

Counting column inches is a crude way of establishing anything, but in this case it provides a very telling picture. At my count the article stretches to 71 lines (on-line at least) of this only 7 lines can be said to deal with the treatment of the Chagossian and that's being generous. The rest are dedicated to a largely personal attack on Pilger. The only conclusion which can be drawn from this is that Joseph considers Pilger's stylistic excesses and supposed anti-Americanism more serious than the expulsion of 2,000 people and their subsequent contemptible treatment. In short, the article tells you more about the writer than it does about Pilger.

Home From Home, Part 2.

On Friday, I posted on a group of Chagossians who were coming to the UK looking for accomodation, support and ultimately a new life. They were hoping that they would be put up by West Sussex County Council, who had previously accomodated 19 islanders who came to the country in 2002. Unfortunately WSCC refused. The group sought to challenge this decision in the High Court, but on Tuesday a judge ruled that the council was not under a duty to accomodate the islanders:
Mr Justice Collins refused to allow the islanders to seek judicial review of the council’s refusal to house them. The judge criticised those who had encouraged the islanders to come to the UK on the basis that they were entitled to be provided with help.

The council spokesperson said: “The judgment means we will not have to provide block assistance to any future group of islanders.

“It is a crisis for the Diego Garcians. We have very great sympathy for them, but it is very much a matter for the Government, not the people of West Sussex.”

The spokesperson said the islanders would continue to be given accommodation at hotels around Crawley until Monday. Assessments would also be made to see if individuals were entitled to assistance on the basis that they were sick or vulnerable.

After that, the council would have no responsibility for those who were well and able-bodied.
The council, as you might expect, welcomed the "landmark decision". The reporter who wrote the article for the Scotsman, from which the above is taken, apparently didn't feel the need to get a comment from a representative of the islanders, but it is safe to conclude that they will not have been so appreciative of the decision, which leaves them in a very difficult situation.

To argue that the problem is "very much a matter for the Government, not the people of West Sussex" is fair enough - the Government certainly holds a far greater degree of responsibility for the plight of the islanders - but it is far from clear that the Government will actually do anything to help them. It is worth stressing again that these people are British citizens and are in their current state because of a policy deliberately pursued by the British Government and continued, with full knowledge of the consequences, by its successors (more on which here). Housing them in the UK is the very least we can do for them.

The Return of the Ambassador

According to yesterday's Guardian, British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray may have his security clearance - the vetting which allows senior diplomats to view sensitive documents - withdrawn by the Foreign Office, effectively removing him from his post. He is currently on hooliday in Europe and was expected to return to tashkent this week, but has been told that his return has been postponed indefinitely until his security clearance is reviewed.

This is all a little suspicious, because it is not the first time that Murray has been hassled by the British Government. He has attracted the ire of his superiors for his vocal criticism of the the human rights abuses perpetrated by the regime of Islam Karimov, a British and American ally in the "War on Terror". He has apparently continued this criticism and extended it to his own government:
Documents seen by the Guardian show that Mr Murray has repeatedly complained to his colleagues that for the Foreign Office "to receive or possess information under torture" may contravene the UN convention against torture.

A Foreign Office lawyer, in a memo written in March 2003, rebuffed his concerns, saying that there was "nothing in the convention to this effect".

In the internal memo quoted in the Financial Times, Mr Murray was quoted as saying: "Tortured dupes are forced to sign confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the US and UK to believe - that they and we are fighting the same war against terror ... This is morally, legally and practically wrong."

He expressed his "utter contempt for such casuistry" and said the information was skewed to persuade the US and Britain that Uzbekistan was fighting al-Qaida, rather than internal dissidents.
A recurring motif in Karimov's rhetoric, although there is little evidence to support the assertion.

I have suggested before that links with the Karimov regime are becoming politically embarrassing. This being the case focusing attention on this episode may well force the government to back down. Perhaps a letter writing campaign is in order...

Sunday, October 10, 2004


Indymedia is a global independent media network, set up around the time of the WTO protests in Seattle in November 1999 to disseminate news about protests, struggles and activism from those actually involved. It has been incredibly successful and there are Indymedia Centres across the world. It's success has also brought with it some unwanted attention on the part of spammers, right-wing troublemakers and the authorities. This week saw Indymedia servers in the UK seized by FBI agents, affecting 20 Indymedia sites in different countries and various unrelated projects:
On Thursday morning, US authorities issued a federal order to Rackspace ordering them to hand over Indymedia web servers to the requesting agency. Rackspace, which provides hosting services for more that 20 Indymedia sites at its London facility, complied and turned over the requested servers, effectively removing those sites from the internet.

Since the subpoena was issued to Rackspace and not to Indymedia, the reasons for this action are still unknown to Indymedia. Talking to Indymedia volunteers, Rackspace stated that "they cannot provide Indymedia with any information regarding the order." ISPs have received gag orders in similar situations which prevent them from updating the concerned parties on what is happening.

It is unclear to Indymedia how and why a server that is outside the US jurisdiction can be seized by US authorities.

It is ironic that this happens now, just days before Indymedia is due to participate in the European Forum on Communications Rights being held alongside the European Social Forum and several other days of discussions about electronic civil liberties and community media. For more information on these events see
It is difficult to know what to make of this. Tony Bunyan editor of Statewatch, which monitors civil liberties in Europe, comments,
This begs the questions: Why did the Home Office agree? What grounds did the USA give for the seizure of the servers? Where these grounds of a "political" nature? Has the Home Office requested that the servers be returned? What does this action say about freedom of expression and freedom of the press?
Presumably the answers will emerge over time, until then you'll excuse me if I expect the worst.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Stop, You're Killing Me!

This is hardly news anymore, but nonetheless I think it's important enough that it merits posting on. (I'm also indebted to Jonathan Steele's article in today's Guardian for reminding me about it and providing a source for the original report.)

In late-September, American news organisation Knight Ridder obtained statistics compiled by the Iraqi Ministry of Health showing that "[o]perations by U.S. and multinational forces and Iraqi police are killing twice as many Iraqis - most of them civilians - as attacks by insurgents". Unsurprisingly this fact was hardly trumpeted by London or Washington and many people may have missed it.

Knight Ridder reported
According to the ministry, the interim Iraqi government recorded 3,487 Iraqi deaths in 15 of the country's 18 provinces from April 5 - when the ministry began compiling the data - until Sept. 19. Of those, 328 were women and children. Another 13,726 Iraqis were injured, the ministry said.

While most of the dead are believed to be civilians, the data include an unknown number of police and Iraqi national guardsmen. Many Iraqi deaths, especially of insurgents, are never reported, so the actual number of Iraqis killed in fighting could be significantly higher.

During the same period, 432 American soldiers were killed.
Note the massive discrepancy between American deaths, which are also scrupulously recorded, and those of Iraqis.

The most important part of the report comes later:
Iraqi officials said about two-thirds of the Iraqi deaths were caused by multinational forces and police; the remaining third died from insurgent attacks. The ministry began separating attacks by multinational and police forces and insurgents June 10.

From that date until Sept. 10, 1,295 Iraqis were killed in clashes with multinational forces and police versus 516 killed in terrorist operations, the ministry said. The ministry defined terrorist operations as explosive devices in residential areas, car bombs or assassinations.
Ministry officials believe that the vast majority of the deaths reported are of civilians, not insurgents. Dr. Shihab Ahmed Jassim, a member of the ministry's operations section, pointed out that family members are unlikely to report the killing of a relative if they died fighting for rebels and they would almost certainly be buried immediately.

This report demolishes the illusion promulgated by the dominant media in the west that the vast majority of violence in Iraq is caused by insurgents and that we are merely there to try and restore order. The reality is much murkier.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Home From Home

John Pilger has written a very good article on the plight of the Chagossians and the machinations which forced them from their homes. It covers much of the same ground as his documentary on the issue, shown on Wednesday, but there is some additional material and much even careful viewers may have missed.

In other Chagos related news, 45 displaced Diego Garcian islanders were due to be arriving at Gatwick Airport today, accompanied by community leader Allen Vincatassin, seeking a new life. They are already British citizens (as are all Chagossians) and hope by traveling to the UK to escape the poverty trap, find work and better education for their families and become self-sufficient and independent.

This is not the first time that exiled islanders have traveled to the UK in search of a better life, as the British Indian Ocean Territory Islanders' Movement explain in their press release (from which all this information is drawn):
On 16th of September 2002 a pioneer group of 19 Diego Garcians came with their leader Allen Vincatassin. They had to remain at Gatwick Airport for three days and nights until West Sussex County Council agreed to accommodate them for a period of six months, after which they would become entitled to state benefits. A second group of 50 people arrived at Gatwick in March 2003. A third group of 30 arrived at Heathrow, in June 2003 and experienced complications. A High Court Order was used to get WSCC to accommodate them.

All of these people have managed to find jobs, are integrating successfully into British society and are contributing to the British Economy.
More will be arriving on October 20 and in January 2005. They warn, "Supporting the group could cost taxpayers half-a-million pounds. If WSCC refuses assistance, the islanders will ask for a judicial review. Exactly what will happen when the group arrives remains to be seen!"

The BIOTIM explain the reasons why the group is coming to the UK:
On the 3rd November 2000 the High Court upheld the islanders? right to return to the outer islands in the BIOT. A feasibility study was commissioned, creating an expectation in the community that they could return and rebuild their life and culture, and enjoy self-determination, peace and freedom. But on June 10th 2004, this decision was overturned by two Orders in Council, which denied this right to abode. Their hopes dashed, these British Citizens resolved to come to the UK.
Alongside their efforts to relocate to the UK, the islanders continue to fight to be allowed to return to their homes and for compensation. They have as yet been unsuccessful in achieving the former and have lost all their court battles for the latter. Nonetheless, "Allen Vincatassin has appointed a new legal team (Phil Shiner of the Public Interest Lawyers) to represent the islanders in case WSCC refuses to accommodate them, and also to explore the possibility of further legal action regarding compensation."

The parallels with the plight of immigrants from across the world are obvious, but this case is qualitatively different in one major element, which bears repeating: the islanders are British citizens. How would the media and wider society respond if Falklands Islanders were treated in a similar way? They, of course, are predominantly white, while the Chagossians are black.

Rapid Reaction Blogging

From today's Guardian:
Tony Blair yesterday proposed a 15,000-strong European Union battle force, including British troops, dedicated to intervening in African conflicts and deployable within 10 days of a political instruction. He said the force should be ready next year.


The EU brigade, capable of more rapid deployment than any other multinational force, would intervene with the sanction of the African Union or the UN. The intention is that it would hold the line until an AU or UN force could be assembled.


Explaining his plan for EU battle groups dedicated to the continent, [Blair] said: "There will be times when Africa cannot stop a conflict on its own. Then the rest of the international community must be there to help. That is why I want Africa to be the top priority for the EU's new rapidly deployable battle groups and to get them operational initially as soon as possible in 2005."
Got that? Those dumb Africans are obviously incapable of sorting out their own problems and are therefore reliant on our selfless benevolence. White man's burden anyone? Fortunately not everyone buys into this neo-colonial nonsense:
Donald Anderson, Labour chairman of the Commons foreign affairs select committee, said in Morocco, where he will attend today's opening of parliament: "There are dangers because of the fear of raising old colonial hackles again. The best thing we can do is not to intervene as Europeans but to help train African Union forces to take the lead themselves."
Not only would this very likely cost a fraction of the amount of Blair's plan (which to be fair also includes some training of AU forces), it is also more likely to be successful. Of course, its major flaw is that it would leave European powers less able to exert influence in a continent of increasing strategic importance.

Occupation vs. Radical Islam?

Naomi Klein had an interesting piece in yesterday's Guardian (originally published with a brief postsript in The Nation) looking at the factors influencing support for Moqtada Al-Sadr and theocracy more generally within Iraq. It reflects my own concerns that the occupation is strengthening such forces, probably at the expense of putative progressive counterbalances, but does a much better job than I have of providing evidence to back up that claim:
Sadr has deftly positioned himself not as the narrow voice of strict Shias but as an Iraqi nationalist defending the entire country against foreign invaders. Thus, when he was attacked with the full force of the US military and dared to resist, he earned the respect of millions of Iraqis living under the brutality of occupation.

This shift in attitude is evident in all the polling. A coalition provisional authority poll conducted in May, after the first US siege of Najaf, found that 81% of Iraqi respondents now thought more highly of Sadr. An Iraq Centre for Research and Strategic Studies poll ranked Sadr - a marginal figure six months before - as Iraq's second most influential political player after Sistani.

Most alarming, the attacks appear to be boosting support not only for Sadr personally, but for theocracy generally. In February, the month before Bremer closed down Sadr's newspaper, an Oxford Research International survey found that a majority of Iraqis wanted a secular government; only 21% of respondents said that their favoured political system was "an Islamic state". Fast-forward to August, with Najaf under siege by US forces: the International Republican Institute reported that a staggering 70% of Iraqis wanted Islam and sharia as the basis of the state. The poll didn't differentiate between Sadr's unyielding interpretation of sharia and moderate versions. Yet it's clear that some of the people who told me in March that they supported Sadr but would never vote for him are beginning to change their minds.

I recently received a letter from Major Glen Butler, a US marine helicopter pilot stationed in Najaf. Major Butler defended the siege on the holy city by saying that he and his fellow marines were trying to prevent the "evil" of "radical Muslims" from spreading. Well, it's not working. Helicopter gunships are good at killing people. Beliefs, when under fire, tend to spread.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Another One For The List...

As if their shitty, piss-poor excuse for music wasn't a good enough reason to hate them, it turns out that Busted are Tories.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The Battle of Hastings

There was fascinating, and possibly quite revealing, piece in Monday's Guardian by Max Hastings "former editor of the London Evening Standard and the Daily Telegraph". My attention was caught by the prominent title,"To quit Iraq now would be as shocking as the invasion," which was followed by a purported summary claiming, "If the prime minister is serious, our troops will be there for a decade." Given the chaos into which the occupation of Iraq has descended and the carnage of recent days I was curious to see exactly what arguments supporters of the occupation are now offering in defence of the debacle and its continuance. If this is the best they have to offer then the occupation will be over very soon.

Title and conclusion aside, the article is actually a damning indictment of the conduct of the occupation and to my mind a compelling case against its continuation. He comments, towards the end, "Rationally, those who argue that the coalition forces should withdraw have a case. It is hard to be optimistic about what will happen if they stay." Hardly a compelling argument in support of the occupation. Elsewhere he refers to the "half-baked reconstruction efforts" and the dire law and order situation, which demonstrate that rhetoric aside, the occupation has provided little of benefit to most Iraqis.

Hastings argues that the elections planned for January may well take place, although difficulties and low turnout will mean that "the result will lack credibility". That the way the elections are to be conducted might impact on their credibility doesn't seem to occur to him. Once this has happened he believes that "Washington and London will attempt to wind down the coalition's military role and transfer security responsibilities to Iraqis":
Thereafter matters will become much messier, the outcome hard to foresee. Tony Blair told the Labour conference last week that Britain should stick it out in Iraq "until the job is done". If he really meant what he said, our troops would be there for a decade. The black hole in Blair's remarks is that he did not address what happens if, as seems overwhelmingly likely, the Iraqi people will not tolerate the coalition's presence for a tithe of that time.

Next year, a growing body of non-violent Iraqis will press for the withdrawal of the "foreign occupiers". Their demands could well become irresistible. It is implausible that, without allied firepower, either new Iraqi institutions or security forces will be strong enough to sustain the country's political integrity.
Hastings seems to consider the demands of Iraqis irrelevant. Otherwise, how does his belief that "the Iraqi people will not tolerate the coalition's presence" or that "a growing body of non-violent Iraqis will press for the withdrawal of the" US and UK, square with support for the occupation? This is perhaps why Hastings doesn't really engage with the point, instead seemingly ignoring it as irrelevant. By contrast I think it is absolutely central. If the majority of Iraqis oppose the occupation, this not only makes it practically unworkable, but undemocratic as well.

Elsewhere he remarks that "failure in Iraq seems certain, unless Bush, Blair and Allawi can create civil structures while containing violence, and provide Iraqis with evidence that their lives are getting better." Note that we need merely to provide "evidence that their lives are getting better." The insinuation is that all that is required is a better PR job, which is presumably why the US "recently solicited proposals for 'aggressive' public relations and advertising to shore up faltering Iraqi support for the U.S.-led operation". The truth of course is that in many senses Iraqis are much worse of than they were before the war. Muggings, rape, murder and kidnappings are endemic and many facilities damaged during the war have yet to be returned to pre-war levels of output. In Basra, for instance, as recently as August, UN officials were warning of a humanitarian crisis due to a shortage of water and reporting that the water supply in the city was unlikely to return to pre-war levels before the end of the year.

Hastings seems to believe that troops should remain in Iraq in order to secure the future of the Allawi government, although he never expresses this view openly. He comments, "It is implausible that, without allied firepower, either new Iraqi institutions or security forces will be strong enough to sustain the country's political integrity," which suggests to me that he sees both the new regime and the security forces as legitimate. That many Iraqis may well view them, arguably with good reason, as stooges of the occupiers and so illegitimate is not something he considers. This in fact, is an important point. If such a view is widely held, seeking to ensure the regime remains in power is not only destined to fail, but also undemocratic.

The core of his argument in support of the occupation only emerges in the final paragraph:
Yet allied troops must surely remain through 2005 to support some edifice of government, however rickety. Simply to quit would be as shocking an act of irresponsibility as was the original invasion without postwar planning. Bloody anarchy may overtake Iraq anyway. It will assuredly do so if coalition troops depart prematurely. In this, at least, Blair seems right. Unfortunately, neither he nor the Iraqi people may yet have felt the depths of George Bush's capacity for folly and the abuse of force.
That Iraq will descend into anarchy is a recurring motif amongst supporters of the occupation, but not entirely compelling. The implication that Iraqi is essentially peaceful now is simply risible. Recent figures put the average number of attacks at 80 a day, with 35 suicide bombings over the last month. How much worse could things get if the occupiers, against whom the majority of the insurgents' anger seem to be directed, were to leave?

There is also the issue, which I have warned of before, that the occupation may be strengthening the very elements its supporters cite as the justification for its continuance. At the height of the US assault on Najaf, I wrote,
The situation in Iraq still strikes me as bleak. There are at this point no good solutions. There is a real risk that when the US withdraw some form of undemocratic theocracy could take power, but I still do not believe that this is a justification for the ongoing occupation or the assault on Najaf. It seems that Islamist groups are taking legitimacy from their opposition to the occupation as there is no credible secular force filling that role. The longer the occupation continues the stronger they may become. Quoting Noam Chomsky is something of a lefty cliche, but in this case he makes a point so well, I feel it's justified. With regard to the unpredictable consequences of an "expeditious withdrawal" he notes,
We cannot say much with confidence, of course, any more than we could have said anything with confidence about withdrawal of Japanese armies from much of Asia in the early 1940s, or of Russian forces from Afghanistan, and many other cases. But that lack of confidence is not much of an argument for military occupation.
There are, I repeat, no easy answers. However, it seems clear that the US and UK cannot bring peace and stability, let alone democracy to Iraq by force of arms. The occupation is part of the problem (arguably a large part), not the solution. We are going to have to withdraw eventually. If I am right and the presence of the "coalition" is only strengthening the hand of the reactionaries, is it not better that we leave now to maximise the chance of a good outcome, rather than allowing these groups to grow in strength?
I do not offer this as a cast-iron prediction of how things will play out in Iraq, but I do think the risks are very real. Hastings' convenient assertions that "bloody anarchy... will assuredly" "overtake Iraq" if we leave, are based on no better empirical foundation.

Additionally opposition to the ongoing occupation does not preclude some of its functions being replaced by another force. One could conceive of a situation where an UN and/or Arab peacekeeping force fulfilled some security roles in Iraq until a domestic force could be established and trained. This would, however, require that the US and the UK give up any control over international forces in the country and would look very different to the US-led force with greater participation from other countries, which Kerry has called for. Such a force might operate along the lines of the "UN Transitional Authority" advocated by Justice Not Vengeance. Such a force is likely to be far from perfect given the UN's many flaws and the fact that the Arab states from which forces could be sent are all far from democratic, but who else in the world could fill the role. As such, this strikes me as the least worst solution.

In short, Hastings' argument, such as it is, is far from compelling. Indeed, if anything it makes quite the opposite point to the one he intends. Despite that, however, it is important to engage with such arguments as they are widely held. A huge portion of the population feels uneasy about the conduct of the occupation (albeit primarily because of the cost in western lives), but also about calling for an end to the occupation because of the possible consequences. Easy slogans about bringing the troops home and ending the occupation "now" will do nothing to convince those people and therefore nothing to further the cause of Iraqi self-determination.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The One To Watch

Those of you living in the UK may be interested in a documentary by John Pilger which will be shown at 11pm, Wednesday evening on ITV1. Entitled "Stealing A Nation" it will recount the little-known story of the Chagossians, forced from their home to make way for a US military base on the island of Diego Garcia. The blurb on Pilger's website explains,
This is a shocking, almost incredible story, largely hidden from history, of the secret expulsion of the entire population of the Chagos Islands, a British colony in the Indian Ocean, by the British Government, so that the main island, Diego Garcia, could be given to America as a military base. More than 2,000 people were dumped a thousand miles away, in the slums of Mauritius, and received little in compensation. Their fortunes changed in the 1990s with the discovery of a bundle of official files, which reveal a conspiracy between the Foreign Office in London and officials in Washington. This remarkable story has further twists, as John Pilger reveals.
Regular readers will be familiar with this story as I have written about it on various occasions. That the story is not a national scandal is, as Alex Doherty has commented, testament to the subservience to power of the British media and while Pilger's documentary is unlikely to have much effect in that, it should at least raise awareness about the issue, which can only be a good thing.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Holidays in the Sun, Part 3.

A few weeks back I posted on the trip, organised by WEXAS International, to the Chagos Archipelago (more on the history of which here). I also suggested that readers might want to write to Simon McMahon, the suggested contact. I have no idea if anyone else actually did, but I eventually got around to writing and sending the following:
Dear Sir,

I am writing to you as you are listed as a contact for further information on the trip, organised by WEXAS international, to the Chagos Archipelago, due to take place in April and May of next year.

Your website describes the trip as ?a rare opportunity to explore these unspoilt islands and snorkel in some of the world's most untouched coral atolls.? This may be strictly true, but the implication that the islands are and always have been uninhabited is untrue.

Are aware that the population of the islands were removed from their homes, in some cases forcibly, by the British Government between 1965 and 1973 in order to make way for a US military base on Diego Garcia? Or that they have subsequently been prevented from returning by various machinations on the part of successive British regimes, culminating in the Orders in Council passed in June (without any democratic oversight) which prohibit them from setting foot on the islands without permission?

I?m sure you will agree these are serious issues. What message is being sent out if you and your clients are able to visit the island while those forced from their homes, and in many cases condemned to live in poverty, are not? Have you considered inviting representatives of the Chagossian population along for the trip to provide some historical context?

I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,
[Disillusioned kid]
Very diplomatic, I'm sure you'll agree.

I was unsure whether I'd get a response at all and even less sure of what form it would take. To my surprise they got back to me very quickly, although their response is not entirely convincing:
Dear [Disillusioned kid]

Simon Mcmahon at WEXAS has passed on to me your e-mail about the Chagos trip since I am the person organising it.

I am fully aware of the situation of the Ilois people and have been following this sorry affair for some thirty years now. Your e-mail implies that we should not be going to the islands. However I do believe that this relatively unspoilt environment can best be conserved through awareness and an eco trip of this kind can, I believe, help that process. The islands are threatened by illegal fishing and by feral cats and rats (which have already wiped out several bird species), as well as by the effects of global warming on the reef structure and on the sea level. The coconut plantations of the last two centuries have done extensive damage to the indigenous hardwood species. My point is that a higher profile for the islands can do something to encourage funds that will move in the direction of resolving or relieving these problems.

The trip is strictly apolitical and is being led by Dr Mark Spalding, one of three UK experts on the ecology of the islands (the others being Prof David Stoddart and Dr Charles Sheppard, both of whom I have been in touch with).


(Dr) Ian Wilson
This strikes me as a further example of what I described in my last post on the issue as "the time honoured practice of burying your head in the sand". Note that Wilson's list of ecological threats to the islands does not include the presence of an extensive US military base, which somehow escapes mention at all.

The response also appears to be logically inconsistent. Wilson claims that "the trip is strictly apolitical", suggesting that it will not confront questions about the treatment of the Ilois ('islanders'). If this is the case it is difficult to see how it can raise awareness about their plight as he seems to be implying it will. In addition with a price tag of £4,250 and only a handful of places the only thing the trip is likely to raise is money.

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