the Disillusioned kid: December 2004
| Email | Home | Linkage | Profile |

Friday, December 31, 2004

Ego Trip

You may be interested to know that I have had a letter published in The Independent. The letter, an adaption of a post I published here a few days ago, appeared in Wednesday's edition, although as I don't actually get the Indie, I didn't find out until today. The Times were also interested, but will unfortunately only print "exclusive" letters.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Electioneering, Part 5.

Perhaps I was wrong about the elections in Uzbekistan. Then again, maybe not.

Diego Garcia and the Tsunami

I was interested to note that the daily number of visits to this site, which normally number less than 20, have over the last few days leapt dramatically. On December 28 and 29 I had 141 and 137 visits respectively. The vast majority of these visitors seem to have come here as a result of searching for information on the fate of Diego Garcia in Sunday's tsunami (information on which is available here). I'd like to take this chance to welcome anybody who's new to the site, I hope you find it interesting and informative.

You might, or might not, be interested in some of the other material I've written about Diego Garcia, the Chagos Archipelago in which it is located and the islanders removed from them to make way for the US military base which was so fortunate over the weekend. It is likely to be clear from my writings that I am not exactly the bases's biggest fan. Nonetheless I'm glad to hear that none of the servicemen or workers (most of whom come from Mauritius or the Philippines, while Chagossians are not allowed to work at the base) who live on the island suffered the same fate as so many thousands of others in the region.

Electioneering, Part 4.

From Interfax, via Google News:
Uzbekistan will have the second round of parliamentary elections in 58 electoral districts on January 9, 2005, the press service of the Central Elections Commission told Interfax on Thursday.

Uzbekistan elected the parliament's lower house on December 26.

The commission said none of the candidates gained enough vote to win the elections in 58 of 120 electoral districts and the second round would be held.

Two candidates, who gained the majority of votes in the first round of the elections, will take part in the second round, the press service said.
And so the farce continues...

Friendly Fire

Vijay S. Makhan, Mauritian Secretary for Foreign Affairs has an article in l'express dimanche looking at Mauritus' foreign policy. It isn't exactly stimulating reading, but I picked up on the following passage:
Defending and preserving our sovereignty and territorial integrity has been an underlying characteristic of our foreign policy. Our relentless diplomatic initiatives relating to our sovereignty claims on the Chagos Archipelago and Tromelin are a testimony of the importance we attach to this issue. These "friendly disputes" are of considerable concern to us and our endeavours have highlighted the legitimacy of our cause as reflected by the support we have mustered from the International Community. The struggle continues.
For more on some of these efforts with regard to the Chagos Archipelago see here.

The extent of their international support is, in fact, not as clear as Makhan suggests. With regard to Chagos, Mauritius certainly has the support of the African Union and apparently also the Commonwealth in its sovereignty claim, but beyond that remains to be seen.

I was particularly struck by Makhan's description of the disputes as "friendly". While I don't know much about the dispute over Tromelin (details in the comments box if you do), friendly is hardly the word I'd use to describe the dispute over Chagos. On a visit to the UK earlier this year, Mauritian PM Paul Berenger sought meetings with Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Both were apparently unable to meet him, Blair apparently on account of "diary commitments". Commonwealth general secretary Don McKinnon rebuked the government, for this and their decision to implement the Orders in Council which bar the islanders from the archipelago only days before, remarking, "You do not hit someone over the head before they come to your front gate." Even Bush managed to meet talk with Berenger when he came to the US and, as I noted at the time, when you're being outdone by George W. Bush in the diplomacy stakes, something's very wrong.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Electioneering, Part 3.

The following article by, the leader of Erk Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, Muhammad Salih, appeared in the Moscow Times, having been written from exile in Europe. The site it is taken from appears to be subscription based, so the article will only be available free for a short while, for this reason and because I'm too lazy to write much more today, I append the whole thing below for your delectation:
Uzbek voters knew absolutely nothing. They did not know who to vote for because they did not have any information about the candidates running for parliament. Everything was shrouded in mystery, except the fact that all parties in the race had been founded by state authorities.

Another curious aspect of the Dec. 26 elections was that they were held under an artificial state of emergency. Particular attention was paid to the Ferghana Valley, Bukhara and Samarkand. Ten days before the elections, troops from the Interior Ministry, the Defense Ministry and the National Security Service began regular patrols of these regions. Security forces took full control of all city mosques and public places, supposed potential sites for terrorist attacks. Operations to detain "extremist elements" also took place. So-called suspicious persons were brought into local police stations and booked, or were simply arrested on the spot. These included political activists calling for a boycott of the elections. Arrests occurred across Uzbekistan, and human rights activists and opposition party members were followed, put under house arrest and not allowed to register at the polls, even though the main opposition parties, Erk and Birlik, had been excluded from the race. [Not sure about this, it was my understanding that while Birlik had sought to register candidates and been prevented from doing so, Erk had decided to boycott the whole farce from day one - Dk.]

There was one person, however, who seemed happy with the elections, namely Vladimir Rushailo, who led the observer mission from the Commonwealth of Independent States. He was so pleased with things that he flew off to Kiev before the polls had even closed. For once, everything went off just as Russia had hoped.

After these farcical elections, Uzbekistan faces yet another period of social and political tension. The regime of Islam Karimov will continue to turn moderate believers into fanatics in whatever quantities needed to keep the regime safe and to scare the West into handing over anti-terrorist aid.

At the same time, Karimov will cozy up with Russia out of fear of the recent revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine. Russia has promised it will try to guarantee that there will be no such revolution in Uzbekistan. However, the situation in the country is growing more and more explosive by the day. People who once feared prison have discovered that a life of freedom in Uzbekistan is not all that different from life behind bars. They no longer fear taking extreme measures.

Yet the Karimov regime's real enemy is not extremism, but the extreme poverty of the population at large. Real democratic elections could save Uzbekistan from this impending social explosion, but the regime refuses to risk losing power. The West may ignore Uzbekistan's human rights abuses and Russia may long for a manageable Uzbekistan, but only time will tell how long Karimov can withstand the increasing public discontent and desperation in Uzbekistan.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Tsunami, Part 2.

In response to my query about how the US military base on Diego Garcia was affected by Sunday's tsunami, the following comment was posted by an anonymous US service man:
Im on Diego Garcia, been here for two years now. The barracks in which I live is 50 feet from the breaking waves of the ocean, under normal conditions. During the Tsunami, the waves only increased in size about 1 foot, and tossed around coconuts like they were beach balls. Other than that, there was NOTHING out of the ordinary. We didnt even feel any tremors from the quake. I dont understand how the waves which started east of us, affected Africa which is west of us, yet, we didnt see or feel a thing. Strange. When I discussed this whith a friend, he said that some deep fault line to the east of us seperates us and buffered the effects of the tsunami. How true is this, I dont know. What I do know is that we are pretty lucky, since this isle is only 3 feet above sea level. Whew!
This article which I found via the Google News Alerts service provides more information:
Officials said the Diego Garcia Navy Support Facility, which houses about 1,700 military personnel and 1,500 civilian contractors, suffered no damage related to Sunday?s earthquake and ensuing tsunamis.

Personnel at the facility?s billeting office contacted by Stars and Stripes on Monday reported no unusual activity or problems over the weekend.

Diego Garcia, the southernmost island in the Chagos Archipelago, sits about 1,000 miles south of India and roughly 2,000 miles from the earthquake?s epicenter.

But officials in Somalia, whose coast is nearly 3,000 from the earthquake?s center, reported more than 100 deaths in coastal areas as a result of tidal waves.

Carolyn Bell, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Geological Survey, said even though an earthquake like Sunday?s will radiate destructive waves in all directions, the damage caused by the water differs greatly depending on the undersea topography.

She speculated that the numerous coral reefs may have dissipated some of the waves? impact on the British-owned island, resulting in only a slightly higher tide that residents might not necessarily notice.

She said residents of coastal areas in Australia reported no effects from the earthquake, even though researchers know the sea levels there rose several feet.

Diego Garcia is a horseshoe-shaped island about 39 miles long, surrounded by coral reefs on all sides. Its highest point is only 22 feet above sea level.

Both Naval and Air Force personnel are stationed on the island. The facility was used to support and launch strikes against Iraq in the first Gulf War, and was used for strikes against the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan, and again in 2003 for strikes in Iraq.

The Navy has eight ships active in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and officials said none reported any damage from Sunday?s disaster.
The US has begun taking steps to help in aid efforts. Three P3 Orion aircraft (very possibly from Diego Garcia where a number of these aircraft are based) have been deployed in Thailand to help in survey work, although they won't engage directly in search and rescue operations. US officials are also considering cargo flights to affected areas and there is a possibility of military transport planes being used to return American tourists to the States. I have to agree with remarks by Troy in the comments section of the Killing Train that "this is exactly what our military forces should be used for. I've often said that our military's primary training should be in emergency response and search & rescue. Any defence training should be secondary to that." This is where you really can win people's "hearts and minds," not on the battlefield.

Anybody who wants to donate money to help those affected can do so here by selecting "International Response Fund" or at one of these organisations (links courtesy of The Head Heeb).

Update: Go here for "news and information about resources, aid, donations and volunteer efforts" and here for some perceptive thoughts placing the disaster in the wider political context.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Electioneering, Part 2.

From The Head Heeb:
Via comments on A Fistful of Euros: President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, who barred opposition parties from today's parliamentary "election," isn't happy about the results of the Ukraine vote. According to Karimov, "it is unacceptable to use democracy to take over power," and given that he has labored hard to destroy any semblance of it in his country, he knows whereof he speaks. (And yes, I know what he actually meant by that sentence, but it... gained something in translation.)
Apparently Karimov thinks the "the international community should condemn this. Because otherwise, anywhere [people] lose elections, [they] might use such forces to oppose the results." This from a man who, in response to Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) criticism of Parliamentary elections in 1999, opined, "The OSCE focuses only on establishment of democracy, the protection of human rights and the freedom of the press. I am now questioning these values."

Sunday, December 26, 2004


The tidal wave which struck coastal areas throughout across South and South-East Asia earlier today was unquestionably a tragedy for those it affected. At the time of writing the death-toll has already reached 10,000 and is certain to rise. Nonetheless the interest which the phenomenon and its horrific consequences have attracted seems to me to raise some troubling questions. According to the World Health Organisation, nearly 30,000 children under the age of five die every day with preventable and treatable diseases being responsible for 70% (21,000) of these deaths. Why does this tragedy - which we could do something about, unlike an unpredictable natural disaster like a tsunami - not attract a proportionate amount of attention? Perhaps because it would compel us, and those who organise the global system which allows this to continue daily, to do something about it.

As an aside, regular readers may recall that the US military base of Diego Garcia which I've written about at leangth, is located in the Indian Ocean, presumably in the path of the wave. I have heard nothing about it in the news, however, and a Google News search failed to turn anything up. Was the island (and the others in the Chagis Archipelago) - which we are told is too low lying to allow the return of the indigenous people because of the effects of global warming - affected? How seriously? I don't know, perhaps someone visiting this site does, in which case I'd be interested to hear.


Today sees the Ukraine and Uzbekistan go to the polls. While the former is testament to the country's vibrant democractic culture (difficulties and foreign intereference aside), the latter is a flagrant sham a fact which has been obvious for sometime, as I've noted previously. That said, even Karimov couldn't top the frankly ridiculous excesses of neignbouring Turkmenistan where all the candidates in elections last Sunday based their campaigning on the book Rukhnama by President Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Niyazov in which he sets out spiritual and moral guidelines for the country's citizens and where election officials went door to door collecting votes and distributing copies of Niyazov's book, towels and notebooks.

Seasonal Ramblings...

Provided you haven't had *too* much to drink it will no doubt be dawning on you that this year's "pagan winter piss-up" is once again drawing to an end. I trust that you had a good 'un and Santa bought you everything you wanted. I for one am now the proud owner of a talking George Bush doll (?!). Those of you still wanting to spread some seasonal cheer might want to drop by this chap who had some nice things to say about me and this site. I'm sure he'd appreciate the company on the cold nights.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Don't Let The Bells End!

It's that time of year again when we all celebrate the birth of Cliff Richard and make our annual sojourn to the Church of Consumerism. Not the best time to be a Turkey, but a lot of fun for the kids (big or small) amongst us. Cue the Disillusioned kid's first seasonal message.

Much has been made recently by various right-wingers including the fascist fuckwits of the BNP about the supposed "attack" on Christmas and by extension "our Christian culture and heritage" they claim is being waged by liberals/multiculturalists/secularists/Muslims/socialists (delete according to your prejudices). This, we are told, is expressed in the replacement of "Happy Christmas" as a greeting with "Happy Holidays" and such like. (For an amusing debate along these lines, involving Christopher Hitchens and American Christian fundamentalist type Pat Robertson - via Lenin's Tomb - go here.) As an atheist I frankly couldn't care less, but in the vain hope of pissing off a few reactionaries I've decided to go out of my way to utilise non-Christian salutations. You can direct your opprobrium towards the comments box below.

Happy Chrismukkah, HumanLight, Kwanza, New Year, Saturnalia, Winter Solstice, Winterval and/or Yalda!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Support the Resistance?

One of the subjects which I return to occasionally is the nature of the Iraqi resistance. My own position in this regard is an ambiguous one. Anyone who reads anything I write about Iraq can hardly have failed to notice that I am opposed to the US-UK occupation (which continues even as we approach the six-month anniversary of the "Handover of Power" and will continue into the next year, regardless of whether elections happen or not). Additionally I do not question the right of those who are oppressed to resist, by violent means if necessary. I have no illusions about the violence of the current system being transcended by good feelings or happy vibes. Nonetheless the politics and actions of many of those who have taken up arms against the occupiers makes me feel more than a little uncomfortable.

Rahul Mahajan has posted some thoughtful comments on this issue which I think merit serious consideration. One piece was a originally radio commentary, the second part of a series entitled "Thinking Beyond the Comfort Zone", which focuses on the politics of the resistance. (One reader posted this on the bulletin board of a Russian site, generating a deluge of comments which are worth reading both for the entertainment value, as Mahajan notes, and as an example of the overly simplistic thinking on this issue of some within the anti-war movement.) A second is a response to an article in the Boston Globe looking at some of the myths about the resistance commonly held in the West.

For what its worth, my own opinion is that the discourse on the subject is fundamentally misleading. Talk of "the resistance" implies a degree of homogeneity and coherence which I do not think is accurate. Instead, it is my perception that the insurrection is being waged by various groups with only limited links. Indeed, some of these groups are actively opposed to each other. Abu-Musab Al-Zarqawi, apparently the leader of the Islamic extremist group Tawhid wal-Jihad (Monotheism and Holy War), who have carried out various suicide bombings, kidnappings and executions, described Moqtada al-Sadr as an infidel at the height of the Sadrist uprising in April, for instance.

This understanding of the conflict makes the question, raised by some in the anti-war movement, of whether we should support the resistance rather meaningless. One might ask whether we should support certain groups who have taken up arms, but to suggest we should or could support them all is nonsense. I think there is a further question which should be asked as well, one which would force the anti-war movement and the more radical sections within it to think seriously about the reality of its own influence: Do we really think al-Sadr or Zarqawi care if a bunch of western lefties "support" them or not? Of course not, our "support" would inevitably amount to nothing more than rhetoric and as such is irrelevant. Instead we should focus our efforts on the actions of our own government, somewhere we can hope to have at least some influence.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Mistaken Identity

Legislation to establish an ID card system throughout the UK passed its second reading in the House of Commons last night. There are a whole load of reasons why this is a bad thing and consequently the idea has attracted opposition from across the political spectrum. Unfortunately I don't have the time to examine all or even most of these reasons here. Instead I'll point you in the direction of NO2ID, a recently established coalition campaigning around the issue, whose supporters range from Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party to the Bournemouth West branch of UKIP via the Libertarian Alliance. Check out their website for information on ID cards and information on the campaign.

One of the recurring mantras among supporters of the scheme has been the threat from terrorism, which we are to take it ID cards will go some way towards reducing. Both NO2ID and Justice Not Vengeance offer useful analysis of this argument concluding that it doesn't really stand up. Privacy International produced a report in April of this year, examining this issue. This presented one of the first serious attempts to research the relationship between terrorism and ID cards and drew a similar conclusions. The report examined data from the US State Department and the Israel-based International Policy Institute for Counter-terrorism revealing the 25 countries which have suffered most heavily from terrorism since 1986 (using, of course, the official definition of terrorism which excludes the examples perpetrated by western powers such as the bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan). On the basis of this information, they noted,
Eighty per cent of these countries have long-standing identity card systems, a third of which contain a biometric such as a fingerprint. While it is impossible to claim that terrorist incidents have been thwarted as a result of an ID card, the above data establishes that the cards are unable to eliminate terrorist incidents.
For more concrete evidence, consider Spain which requires all those over 14 to carry ID cards, a rule which did nothing to stop the bombings in Madrid.

NO2ID National Coordinator, Phil Booth suggests on their front page that the backlash against ID cards "could far exceed the impact of Stop the War and the Countryside Alliance and could turn into Labour?s Poll tax." I hope he's right, but the muted response thus far leaves me far from sure. One thing does seem certain though. Once we've got ID cards it's going to be very, very hard, if not impossible to go back. If we want to stop them and everything they entail we need to do so ASAP.

NO2ID - Stop ID cards and the database state

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Uzbek Prisons - A Survivor’s Guide

Via the Institute for War and Peace Reporting 'Reporting Central Asia' email list I would like to draw your attention to an article written by journalist and human rights activist Ruslan Shapirov who formerly lived in Uzbekistan, but now resides in the US where he has been granted political asylum. In it Shapirov recounts what he experienced during the 13 months he spent within Uzbekistan's penal system. I have tried to follow developments in Uzbekistan, but it is easy to forget that away from the broadbrush political developments, there are very real human consequences to what is going on. Shapirov's account is a particularly vivid reminder of that fact.

Shapirov's ordeal began with interrogations in police stations on the country's capital Tashkent. From there he was transferred to the city branch of the Uzbek Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD). Here he himself was tortured as were many of his fellow detainees, some apparently to death. During his time at the MVD he encountered Ministry workers more than happy to brag about their participation in torture and competing to see who had killed the most "hizbutchiks" (members of Islamic organisation Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which has been a particular target of the Karimov regime's crackdown on dissent).

Rape was a daily occurence at the Ministry. Shapirov reports that warders would allow male detainees access to female cells in order to rape the inmates in return for a bribe of 15-20 US dollars. Males were also raped, sometimes by warders but often by other prisoners. In scenes reminiscent of torture at Abu Ghraib this would often be photographed. These photos would then be sent onto the prison camps where detainees would go once convicted. This was of considerable significance as it would be regarded as homosexual and relegated to the position of "untouchable". This is the lowest position within the prison hierachy and meant that other prisoners would not shake hands with them or even look at them and meant that they became virtual slaves doing menial tasks such as cleaning toilets. Shapirov notes that the stigma does not end when they are released, instead "as word gets out and such men become the object of insults, especially in a conservative society like Uzbekistan."

Shapirov comments that the prison camp where he was sent later (after a period in Tashkent prison), Colony No. 64/3 at Tavaksay, 70 kilometres north-east of Tashkent, is little different from the Soviet Gulags and describes a brutal regime. Surprisingly the everyday rules at the camp were made by the inmates not the warders because it is a "black camp". This doesn't, however, mean the regime is any more liberal, quite the contrary in fact. Shapirov describes a "reign of terror" under the undisputed boss of the camp Zokir. Under Zokir's auspices taxes were levied and "justice" meeted out in the form of beatings and even rapes (with the resulting relegation to the position of untouchable).

The article does not make for light reading, but there are glimmers of hope. Shapirov suggests that because his was "a high-profile political case and the object of international concern" this made his own time at Tavaksay easier. The significance of this is that it confirms that those of us fortunate enough to be living in relatively free states in the west can make a difference in apparently distant dictatorships like Uzbekistan. The first step towards improving the situation, of course, is to understand what's going on, hence my own focus on Uzbekistan.

Ethics? Moi?

Regular readers will be aware that I have written a great deal on this site about the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, a British territory from which the indigenous population were expelled in order to make way for a US military base. An arguable of the weaknesses of my analysis in this regard has been a tendency to focus on the plight of the exiled islanders. While undoubtedly important, this diverts attention away from the criminals of the piece the UK and US governments, with whom responsibility for everything the Chagossians have suffered must lie. Via the Student Friends of Chagos list (worth being on if you're interested in the issue, whether or not you're a student - few of the members actually are) I found an article by Taleb Durgahee from Mauritian paper, L'Express, which could go someway towards redressing the balance. The article, entitled 'Diego Garcia: the ethics of superpowers', does more or less what you'd expect given the title and begins,
The USA and the UK are supposedly among the countries that champion democracy and fairness. They want to be the role models of the century. But, when security is of concern, fairness is of no value and consideration to them. They react just the same as Israelis do against Palestinians. This is what the ethics of Western superpowers underline as far as Chagos is concerned. Naming and shaming do not seem to have any impact on these countries that bulldozed the Middle East into chaos in the name of fairness and democracy.
Another one for the 'go, read it' file, methinks.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Blogroll: More Than An Arse-Wipe

I read quite a few blogs. Sometimes simply getting through them seems to take up a large chunk of my day. I persist with the exercise not just because of an irrational obsession (although that helps), but because they are consistently interesting and often eye-opening. One of my favourites is Under The Same Sun, maintained by Zeynep Toufe. Her style is impassioned yet clear, concise and original. She recently spent some time in Venezuela looking at the achievements of the Chavez regime and, presumably, investigating the efforts to destabilise his government on the part of domestic and American elites. In her absence, Jonathan Schwarz posted on the blog, introducing me to his style and leading me to his very own blog, A Tiny Revolution. This combines incisive political analysis with a vicious sense of humour, which Zeynep, not unreasonably, as "ahem, sick". Just what the doctor ordered and as such, the latest edition to my burdegeoning blogroll.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Rights Of The Wronged

The UK Chagos Support Association (hereafter UKCSA) has a report, linked from its front page suggesting that progress was made during a recent vist by representatives of the Chagossian community to the UK:
Among other things, they managed to secure an unprecedented visit to Diego Garcia for 100 Chagossians in April next year.

Olivier Bancoult and other representatives of the Chagos Refugees Group, as well as members of the Chagos Committee of the Seychelles, and other supporters, met with parliamentary undersecretary of state Bill Rammell, with whom the visit was agreed.

Mr Rammell also agreed to visit the Chagossians living in Mauritius in January, to see the conditions they are living in.
The UKCSA also link to a report of a debate on the plight of the Chagossians organised by the Minority Rights Group (MRG), but before turning to the details of this debate, it is worth pointing to comments it attribute to Chagossian community leader Olivier Bancoult:
Bancoult's delegation had earlier in the day met with Foreign Office Minister, Bill Rammell, in a meeting which they suggested did little to inspire faith in any government rethink on their position to allow no further consideration of the rights to return or compensation for the islanders.
If Rammell did indeed give permission for a visit, this is an important step, but we shouldn't get carried away. Similar things have been promised before (although, to my knowledge, a date has never previously been set for such a visit) and come to nought. Furthermore allowing the islanders to visit their homes does little to rectify the injustices done to the Chagossians by the British government.

The debate held by the MRG looks to have been fascinating and it is unfortunate that I missed it. The event, 'Diego Garcia: A Crime Against Humanity?' was held in the Houses of Commons and sponsored by MP and long-time campaigner for the rights of the Chagossians, Jeremy Corbyn. The meeting was addressed by the aforementioned Olivier Bancoult, lawyer for the Chagossians Richard Gifford, Cambridge-based anthropologist Laura Jeffrey and as a representative of the islanders living in the UK, Allen Vincatassin. There is much of interest in the report of the meeting and seeing as I wasn't there and so have little of my own to offer the best solution would seem to be to encourage you to go and read it yourself.

The report explains that Gifford's contribution to the discussion was an analysis of the expulsion as a crime against humanity. As a useful adjunct to this the MRG presents the arguments for considering the expulsion of the islanders and their subsequent treatment as a crime against humanity and the implications of such a verdict. I had considered selecting the the key parts of their analysis here, but in practice I would have to excerpt nearly the whole text. Instead I think I'll again have to encourage you to read it yourself. This time, however, I should emphasise that this is something of a must read for anyone interested in correcting the injustices done to the Chagossians. As a bonus, the analysis avoids becoming too technical, is easy too read and fairly short. Go, read it. Now!

Red Pill / Blue Pill?

There have been several stories in the past week looking at the use of antidepressants in the UK. There have been concerns about the safety of these drugs and further concerns about the level of usage of such substances. The Guardian quoted, public affairs director at mental health charity Rethink, Mr Brook who expressed concern about the fact that prescriptions for such drugs had risen to 13 million over the last decade and asked, "What is the influence of the pharmaceutical companies in creating this situation through marketing, and how effectively have they been regulated and overseen?"

I don't doubt for a minute that drugs companies would pursue strategies which were contrary to the needs of those they claim they are seeking to help. You only need to look at the machinations they have gone through to prevent third-world countries using generic versions of anti-retrovirals for treatment of HIV positive patients to see how little they care for the wellbeing of those with illnesses. Nonetheless, I wonder if there is not a more fundamental question raised by the story: Can we avoid the conclusion that there is something wrong about a society in which 13 million people feel they need medication for medical illness? That's quite apart from any others in therapy or who haven't received any treatment.

Marxists might attribute the problem to "alienation" stemming from our relationship to the means of production. I wouldn't be so pretentious, but I do think that the realities of modern, post-industrial capitalism are probably psychologically harmful. We work long hours for crap pay and typically have little to show for it at the end of the day. Those of us not yet assimilated into the workforce must pass through an increasingly exam-orientated education system which places more value on our ability to jump throught the right hoops then in genuine personal development. Outside our respective institutions we face a constant compulsion on the part of the dominant media to conform to a manufactured image of beauty or manliness. None of this is natural and I doubt it's very good for us.

In the face of all of this we have two choices. We either carry on taking our medication and continue in blissful ignorance or we take the bull by the horns, smash capitalism and get on with reclaiming our humanity.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Lazy Blogging, Part 2.

Jonathan Edelstein over at The Head Heeb has a fascinating post looking at the issue of settlements around the world. Edelstein comments, "Populating conquered territory with settlers is a tactic that may be as old as warfare" and cites Assyrian and Roman efforts as early examples. The tactic serves to consolidate control over territories by expansionist states and further, "makes resolution of a territorial dispute vastly more complicated" demonstrated, perhaps, by the settling of Ireland by British Protestants which continues to have ramifications today. In the modern world, Israeli settlement of the Gaza Strip and West Bank is perhaps the most obvious example, but is hardly unique. Edelstein cites eight other cases of settlement projects which are international in scope and notes that there are at least two others which do not strictly fall within the criteria he advances, although their exclusion might be controversial.

Edelstein has also done a concise and informative run-down of the candidates in the upcoming Palestinian elections. Much of the coverage of the elections has focused, understandably, on the two probable frontrunners: Mahmoud Abbas (AKA Abu Mazen) and Marwan Barghouti, but there are a further 8 candidates, among them Marwan's distant cousin and co-founder of the Palestinian National Initiative Dr. Mustafa Barghouti.

Elsewhere the Institute for War and Peace Reporting has a report by Galima Bukharbaeva and Malik Boboev in Tashkent which looks at responses to the closing of Uzbekistan's Parliament in preparation for its replacement with a new bicameral institution and elections on December 26. The general view seems to be that it didn't do very much and that its replacement is unlikely to be much better.

And while we're sauntering along the Information Superhighway, check out Noam Chomsky's comments, on the Z-Net Blog, on the conduct of occupation of Iraq, which I think are spot on:
I expected that this would be perhaps the easiest military occupation in history, and with even a minimum amount of sanity on the part of the civilian planners, it probably would have been. To my great surprise, Rumsfeld-Cheney-Wolfowitz and the rest have created a huge catastrophe?one of the worst in military history, so highly knowledgeable correspondents have pointed out (for one, Patrick Cockburn, who knows the region and its history well). The Nazis had an easier time setting up client governments and domestic security forces in occupied Europe, the Russians surely did in their satellites. In fact, it is hard to think of a counterpart, particularly when the circumstances were so favorable: a country that had been driven to total ruin, virtually no external support for resistance and no counter whatsoever to the occupying army that was, furthermore, by far the most powerful military force in history and with huge resources at its command, etc. It took real genius to fail.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Re-entering The Blogosphere

Apologies for the paucity of posts over recent days. I would like to be able to attribute this to busy schedule, but I'm not entirely sure what I've actually been doing. I suppose I have managed to get my christmas shopping started (!) and I've had some work to do and some events to organise, but mainly it seems to come down to the fact that I'm just too darn lazy.

The one thing I did do which filled up some time and might be of interest was my trip to the annual National Union of Students anti-fees march, this year held in Cardiff although it's previously been held in London. Unfortunately this was hardly the most exciting demonstration I've ever been on. There was a brief sit-down protest with NUS stewards doing all they could to move people one, clearly horrified at this expression of individual thought and deviation from the party-line. This didn't last long, however, and we were marching again within minutes, the structures of power no doubt shaken to their very core.

The march eventually wound its way to the heart of Cardiff University where we were addressed by various NUS, union and political figures who were kind enough to explain what we were marching for. This was very helpful as I obviously wouldn't have known otherwise. I was surprised to hear one or two speeches delivered in Welsh and in fact probably paid as much attention to those as I did to the speeches I could understand. I did pick up on several speakers who commented on the discrepancy between government claims that there is insufficient money to fund Higher Education and the huge sums invested in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Surprisingly no-one seemed to have read an article in the Independent which estimated the cost of the war at £5 billion.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the whole day was the journey home when we crashed on the motorway, but that's a whole other story... (In case anyone cares, everyone was fine.)

That's pretty much me done. I s'pose I'll see y'all again in a week! Until then make sure you check out Planetshift's compelling defence of the two-party solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict which says everything I'd want to and a few things I'm too stupid to have thought of. You should also go read Zeynep Toufe's thoughts on activism around the situation in Darfur which avoids shying away from the "real political thorny issues," which I fear has discouraged many within the anti-war movement from confronting the issue.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Good News in Uzbekistan?

I have written about Uzbekistan on various occasions over the last few months. I have focused on that country in particular because it is the only Central Asian Republic with any real links with the west, yet it vies with neighbouring Turkmenistan to be the region's leading abuser of human rights. Given the severity of the situation, most of what I write about the country leans towards the negative, focusing on the torture of dissidents, the rigging of elections, the crackdown on religious freedom and the dismissal of Britain's ambassador to the country after he made the mistake of criticising the regime's actions. Given all of this it is easy to become disillusioned and cynical, but there are occasional glimmers of hope, outbreaks of apparently spontaneous resistance and signs that Karimov's position may not be a strong as it appears.

One of these found its way into my inbox this week via a report for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting by Timur Salimov (a pseudonym adopted because of repression against independent journalists). This revealed that riots beginning in the city of Kokand which had occured on November 1 and noted that analysts believed that this was "a sign that many Uzbeks are no longer prepared to put up with government restrictions on business." More generally they, at least in my opinion, constitute the first signs of resistance to the Karimov regime which could potentially translate into political action and perhaps even social change.

Kokand is historically the "capital city" of the Fergana Valley "a densely populated and periodically restive region." It has a long history of resistance to outside interference, as Salimov notes:
One of the Russian Empire's first actions when it expanded into Central Asia was to destroy the Kokand Khanate, the statelet that controlled the Fergana valley and beyond. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Kokand was the seat of a brief-lived government which held out against Bolshevik expansion into Central Asia.
While quiet during the Soviet years, presumably on account of the supression of the Kokand government, ethnic violence between Uzbeks and Meskhetian Turks exiled to the city by Stalin stimulated opposition to Soviet rule and the emergence of the Birlik movement calling for Uzbekistan's independence.

The recent violence was triggered when police and tax inspectors were sent to impose new regulations at the city's main market. Among these regulations was a rule requiring anyone selling imported goods to have imported them themselves. Thousands of people at the market, however, sell foreign manufactured goods, often originating in China. This being the case efforts by officials to ensure compliance with the rules did not go down well and between 5,000 and 10,000 traders and sympathisers took to the streets. Police and tax inspectors were beaten and two police cars were set alight. Very quickly these protests were replicated in other Fergana Valley cities and in more distant parts of Uzbekistan including Karshi, Bukhara and Khorezm.

Salimov comments:
The scale of the unrest, the rapidity with which it spread, and the fact that participants were prepared to take on the security forces using violence if need be, are all new to this tightly-controlled society and must be worrying the authorities.

“The recent beatings of tax inspectors and police were an entirely new phenomenon as a manifestation of protest," said a political scientist from the Institute for Strategic Research and Regional Security, who wished to remain anonymous. "The Uzbek authorities were scared by this, and temporarily delayed implementing the order.”

That creates a stand-off which Jahongir Shosalimov, an economist and a member of the opposition party Erk, characterises as "revolutionary".

"Those at the top are incapacitated, while those at the bottom won't stand for any more," he said.

With relations between rulers and subjects at an impasse, the government has held off on doing anything more to impose its trade regulations.
This "revolutionary" potential is precisely why I think the incident is so important.

For the timebeing tax officials and police are keeping a low profile, presumably for fear of exacerbating the situation. Shosamilov comments, “Police at the Chorsu market in [the capital] Tashkent have started wearing civilian clothes because they’re scared to turn up there in uniform – can that be normal?”

The imposition of trade restrictions may not seem the most important issue in a country where, according to the UN Special Rapporteur in 2002, torture is "systemic", however Salimov notes,
Political and economic analysts interviewed by IWPR suggested that the restrictions look like the latest move in a campaign to squeeze traders out of business, which goes to the very heart of the way Uzbekistan is governed.

As well as a monopoly over political life – meaning that all forms of opposition are throttled nearly out of existence – the administration of President Islam Karimov has maintained rigid controls over an economic system that retains many features of its Soviet past.

Large businesses are in the hands of the same elite that rules the country, managed by officials whose knowledge of market economics is limited to the Soviet system and who are driven by a desire to maximise income from the companies they won in the privatisation of the early nineties.

“The current situation with the Uzbek economy is similar to the Sukarno era in Indonesia in the sixties, when the generals held power in one hand and business in the other,” said Uzbek historian Sodik Abdullaev, who now lectures at a university in Paris.

Despite the power exerted by big business groups with government links, small-scale entrepreneurs such as market traders were nevertheless able to find a niche on the margins of the economy through the nineties.

But even that space may now be closing. A series of regulations and government decrees issued over the last two years, ranging from tougher border controls and swingeing import duties to the requirement that every market stall operates a cash register and files its accounts with a state-run bank, have made the lives of traders and small shopkeepers a misery.

Some analysts to whom IWPR spoke suspect that as well as retaining a very Soviet aversion to the free market, senior officials want to corner the import business for themselves and are crowding out the competition. Sugar and vegetable oil imports have long been a monopoly, for example.
The report also suggests "an alternative explanation offered by a western diplomat, who asked not to be named." This suggests
that the government is in fact trying to pursue the economic reforms required by lenders such as the International Monetary Fund, IMF. As a precondition to a resumption in lending, the IMF has insisted that the Uzbek currency be made fully convertible – and the goal of financial stability could explain why the authorities are trying to clamp down on unrestricted flows of goods and cash.
While Salimov reports that "most of the analysts interviewed disagreed with this view that the government is fumbling its way towards the free market", the idea is not implausible. Governments across the world have wrought devastation on a massive scale against their own people at the behest of the IMF (consider, for instance, Argentina). Even if true, this hardly alters the responsibility of the Karimov regime for the consequences of their actions.

Observant readers may have noticed that these incidents took place at the start of November, now over a month ago. Like me you may wonder what has happened in the interval. Most likely things have largely returned to normal. This reassertion of normality should not be overstated, however. The Karimov regime and those who carry out its policies will not quickly forget the spontaneous resistance they faced and will not rush to act the same way again. Similarly, those involved will not soon forget their first taste of political power and may thirst for more. It is to be hoped that this is the case and that they won't have to thirst for much longer. Those of us in the West must do what we can to ensure that their hopes of freedom are realised, turning most immediately to our own governments' support for the Karimov regime.

Side Projects

Carnival of Anarchy
The Peace Pipe
UK Watch Blog


Against the Current
Culture hits and gendered bits
Daniel Randall
In The Water
Mike Wood
On The Barricades
Pizarro's Sword
Space Cat Rocket Ship
Surveillant Assemblage
TashCamUK FotoPage
The Naked Lunch
The Peace Pipe
The World of the Dynamite Lady


Anarchoblogs Blog
Arte & Lingua
Barker in Valencia
Blood & Treasure
Bombs and Shields
Born at the Crest of the Empire
Chase me ladies...
Chicken Yoghurt
Craig Murray
Dead Men Left
Disreputable Lazy Aliens
Empire Notes
Friends of Al Jazeera
Global Guerillas
Guerillas in the Midst
I Blame the Patriachy
Informed Comment
Janine Booth
Lenin's Tomb
Life of Riley Blog
Media Watch Watch
Neil Shakespeare
NO2ID NewsBlog
One Hump or Two?
Otto's Random Thoughts
Pitch In For Uzbekistan
Run over by the truth
Solidarity With Iraqi Workers
Shut Up You Fat Whiner!
Sudan: Passion of the Present
Talk Politics
The Anthropik Network
The Daily (Maybe)
The Devil's Kitchen
The Disillusioned
The f-word
The Head Heeb
The Killing Train
The Revenge of Winston Smith
The Socialist Unity Blog
The Wicked Truth
Theory of Power
Things I Don't Have Time For
This (Fresh) Gringo
This Is My Truth
Thumping the Tub
Time The Dreaded Enemy
UK Watch Blog
UK Poli Blogs
Under The Same Sun
What Fresh Hell Is This?
Where is Raed? (RIP)
Who Are You to Accuse Me?
Words and Rocks
Z-Net Blog


Asbo Community Space
Eastside Climate Action
Faslane 365
No Borders
Nottingham Student Peace Movement
Refugee Forum
Stop the War
Sumac Centre
The Demo Project

Ivory Towers

Anarchist Studies Network
Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice
Postanarchism Clearinghouse


Anarchist FAQ
Chagos Discussion List
Chagos Support Forums
Electronic Intifada
Future of Iraq Portal
Index of Political Blogs
Indymedia UK
Iraq Occupation Focus
Refuser Solidarity Network
Socialist Unity Network
The New Standard
UK Chagos Support Association
UK Watch
Weekly Worker

The Progressive Blog Alliance

Register here to join the PBA.