the Disillusioned kid: April 2005
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Friday, April 29, 2005

Vote Chagos

Some clever so an so involved in the UK Chagos Support Association has pinned the LibDems down on their policy vis-á-vis the Chagossians. What have they got to say?
Thank you for your recent letter regarding the island of Diego Garcia.

The Liberal Democrats share the sentiments of many that the treatment of the islanders by successive British Governments has been shameful. The displacement of the islanders from their homeland should never have taken place and is something to be deeply regretted. However much we may regret their displacement it seems to be unrealistic and impractical for the islanders to be resettled now back on Diego Garcia after so many years.

This issue remains a sorry chapter in British history. Her Majesty's Government can go some way in repairing the damage by providing the Chagossians with the apology they deserve, adequate compensation and assistance for those islanders where they are currently located, and the opportunity to return, for visits to loved ones gravesides for example.

There have also been persistent reports that prisoners from the war on terror are being held and interrogated on Diego Garcia in a facility called 'Camp Justice'. Our spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, the Rt. Hon. Sir Menzies Campbell MP, has raised this subject with the Government on several occasions and you can be assured that the Liberal Democrats will continue to monitor events in the region.

I hope that this is helpful.


Marianne Sladowsky
Policy Officer
Liberal Democrat Policy Unit
The first paragraph with its assertions that the "displacement" was "shameful" and "to be deeply regretted", while return is "unrealistic and impractical" is essentially identical to the line pushed by Bill Rammell and the Labour Government. The second paragraph also doesn't seem to be much of a step forward from Government policy (although its worth bearing in mind that while facilitating visits to ancestors' graves is government policy on a rhetorical level, none have as yet been able to return). The third paragraph is a positive sign and a real concern, although where they mention reports of detainees being "interrogated" I would use the less slippery "tortured".

In related news, Green Left Weekly have an interview with John Pilger about his documentary about the islanders (which incidentally is being reshown in the UK in July in case anybody missed it).

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

For Your Delectation

Apologies for the paucity of posts over the last week or so. Various things got in the way. Unfortunately with exams looming this state of affairs is likely to continue. Hopefully the smorgasbord of thoughts below will go some way towards making up for my absence.

Dave Riley pointed me in the direction of this report from Australia's Green Left Weekly about Mauritian socialist Ram Seegobin's participation in the Asia-Pacific International Conference (ASPIC), held in Sydney at Easter. Ram is a member of Lalit and was talking (among other things) about a campaign against US bases, focusing particularly on the question of Diego Garcia. Quoth he:
“We have got to demand that all foreign troops leave Iraq certainly, but let’s also demand that the troops come back from the US bases around the world, not just the war zones. We need to mobilise against the [current] wars, but also against militarisation and for that the US bases have to go.”
The rest here. Stan Goff a US based anti-imperialist activist and former special forces officer who also attended the conference has some interesting reflections on the campaign.

In other news, the BNP launched their general election manifesto (in secret) over the weekend. It apparently contains (although I can't be bothered to waste my time actually reading the thing) all the stuff you would expect about cracking down on immigration and abolishing multiculturalism. My favourite idea, however, is the suggestion that those who have undergone national service (which they would make compulsory) would be required to keep a "modern assault rifle" at home. According to party leader Nick Griffin, "It's there to shoot burglars with if they want, it's there to shoot people who invade this country if they want, and if in the end a tyrannical government wants to usurp the rights and freedoms of the people it is there to use against the government as well." I don't know about anybody else, but I can't help but feel that ifwe had to be subjected to a fascist government, it would be a good thing if everybody all had assault rifles. I for one certainly wouldn't be wasting mine on burglars...

Elsewhere, those nice people at the Radical Activist Network have reprinted my latest article on the Chagos Islands. They've also just set-up a page focusing on the little-discussed corporate takeover of Iraq which is worth checking out and brings together a variety of useful resources.

That'll have to do for the timebeing.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Good News For The Chagossians. For Once.

This article, from London's Evening Standard, appeared in my inbox via the Chagos Discussion list (formerly Student Friends of Chagos):
Members of families forced by the British to leave their Indian Ocean "paradise" in the Chagos Islands have won permission to bring a High Court challenge for the right to housing and social benefits, including jobseeker's allowance, in the UK.

They were moved in 1971 so that Diego Garcia, one of the islands in the Chagos archipelago, could be handed over to the US for a strategic airbase.

Since then the British action has been widely condemned by lawyers, journalists and politicians as "underhand" and "shabby" and one of the most shameful episodes in the country's recent history.

Most of the islanders went to Mauritius, but over the years families found it hard to settle and became impoverished, with many committing suicide.

In recent months many have headed for the UK, via Gatwick, in search of a better life.

They are UK passport holders entitled to reside in Britain.

But they have been refused access to the benefits system on the basis that they are not "habitually resident" in the UK.

Lawyers acting for 40 Chagossians argued they were entitled to be treated "like the Irish".

Citizens of the Republic of Ireland are entitled to benefits in the UK because of the historical ties between the two nations, said their counsel Simon Cox.

Lawyers for the Government argued that the Chagossians had already been compensated for the loss of their islands, and they were not entitled to special treatment when it came to entitlement to benefits. But Mr Justice Newman ruled the Chagossians were entitled to make a full application for judicial review.
This is a positive development, although it should be stressed that the Chagossians have only won the right to bring a judicial review, they still have to succeed in such a review. This may prove difficult and will certainly be very costly.

The comparison with Ireland is interesting and perhaps merits further comment. Recall that the Chagossians not only have "historical ties" with the British, they are actually British citizens with British passports. Indeed, the only reason the British government was able to force them from their homes is because the UK still asserts that the Chagos Archipelago (which they call the British Indian Ocean Territory or BIOT) is British territory. It is also worth noting that where the Irish are white and all speak English, the Chagossians are black and most can only speak French Creole. As such, the conclusion that old-fashioned racism is a major factor underlying the different treatment of the two groups is difficult to avoid.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Classy Response, Part 2.

This (which was itself a response to a comment here) seems to have triggered quite a debate here. All good stuff worth taking the time to read and digest.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Believe it or not, they're lying to you

The trial and conviction of Kamel Bourgas has been one of the boiggest stories (apart of course from the election) this week. Bourgas we are told was at the centre of a terrorist cell producing ricin to use as a poison. The Sun printed this scaremongering frontpage:

The Tories used it as an argument for tightening up restrictions on immigration ("It's not racist. Honest!") and Alan Milburn even went so far as to apologise for the governments for Bourgas having been in the country.

Problem is, there never was a ricin cell. There was never a danger of thousands being killed by Bourgas and his acomplices. It was all bollocks. George Smith reveals in an article for (reprinted at UK Focus) that months before the trial
the British government had seen its claims, that the group had the capability to produce ricin and that materials on a ricin recipe found in their belongings could be linked to al Qaida, rupture. And equally startling, it was confirmed that a preliminary positive finding of the poison in a residue tested in a raid on their apartment in Wood Green in January of 2003 was false but that through bureaucratic bungling, just the opposite news was presented to British authorities.

Two days after the January 5th search of the Wood Green “poison cell” flat, and well before the outbreak of war with Iraq, the chief scientist advising British anti-terrorism authorities, Martin Pearce—leader of the Biological Weapon Identification Group at Porton Down, had finished lab tests which indicated the ricin finding was a false positive. “Subsequent confirmatory tests on the material from the pestle and mortar did not detect the presence of ricin. It is my opinion therefore that toxins are not detectable in the pestle and mortar,” wrote Pearce in one document.

But in an astonishing example of sheer incompetence, another employee at Porton Down charged with passing on to British authorities the information that the preliminary finding of ricin was in error, turned around and did the opposite, informing that ricin had indeed been detected.
The more dubious might interject at this point that Bourgas was convicted in a court of law (for all that's worth in light of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four) and indeed he was. But not of terrorism. Instead he was convicted of the murder of DC Oake and causing a public nuisance. Horrific enough, perhaps, but not terrorism. Smith notes, "In the British anti-terror sweep that netted them, there were 90 arrests. Nine people were charged and none have been convicted." Either they're very, very good at doing things without leaving evidence (which is hardly supported by the fact that there house was raided) or the whole thing was a mountain out of a mole-hill job

This misapprehension that Bourgas was a major threat to large numbers of people has been cultivated and allowed to continue, because at the time it was useful. The search of the flat and murder of DC Oake took place in January 2003 when the build-up to the invasion of Iraq was in full-flow. The claims about WMDs were already falling apart as UN weapons inspectors scoured the country and the government jumped on the story as a way of terrifying a dubious population into supporting something the vast majority of them could see was both wrong and uneccesary.

Epilogue: In 'researching' this post I noticed Tim Ireland had been here already and probably done a better job than I have.


"I drive a Mercedes because there is no Rover equivalent for the tasks my Mercedes has to perform. I wish there was."
- George Galloway explains why he doesn't drive a Rover after expressing support for MG Rover workers, 14/4/05

Friday, April 15, 2005

Sovereignty Schmovereignty, Part 2.

I found the following exchange, buried in this report of representations to the Commission for Human Rights on the rights of internally displaced people, thanks to Google's News alerts system. I think it is instructive as to the reality of Mauritian policy vis-a-vis the Chagossians (more on the back story to this here for those of you unfamiliar with it):
MIKE SUTTON, of National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the Government of the United Kingdom had, between 1965 and 1973, intentionally and systematically displaced the established indigenous inhabitants of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean. Their forced removal was done to facilitate the leasing of the islands to the United States for use as a strategic military base. Since then the displaced Chagossians had been abandoned to a life of poverty and social marginalization, and had never been adequately compensated for their losses; nor had their efforts to regain control and resettlement of their islands been realized. The United Kingdom had in effect a pocket of colonialism inoculated from international human rights scrutiny, and was selectively dismissing international law and human rights. The Commission should instruct the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous peoples to investigate this issue.


IQBAL LATONA (Mauritius), speaking in a right of reply in reference to the statement made by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said that the Chagossians were full-fledged citizens of Mauritius and derived their status as citizens from the Constitution. The Chagos Archipelago had always been an integral part of the territory of Mauritius, and it had never relinquished its sovereignty over the Archipelago. It reaffirmed that there were no indigenous peoples on the islands, and all those who had gone to inhabit and work there came from Mauritius. The Government had always expressed concern about the manner in which the Chagossians were displaced from the Archipelago, and had taken numerous initiatives to safeguard the welfare of the Chagossians whilst supporting their right to return to the Chagos Archipelago. The Government had always and would continue in its endeavour to pursue all actions within its possibility to exercise the enjoyment of its sovereignty over the Chagos Islands.
In short: the Mauritian government not only don't really care about the Chagossians, they don't even admit that they exist. Their assertion that all the islanders went there from Mauritius is simply not true. Many of them were descended from slaves who were brought from Madagascar, Mozambique and Senegal. The population did have close links with Mauritius and went there to trade, but had developed their own culture and language in the course of their time on the islands.

Classy Response

Alex Gregory's Sleep of Reason continues to be a though-provoking read and is well worth taking the time to read. Not that I agree with everything he says, mind. On Wednesday he posted some thoughts on class (entitled 'Classy Rant' if you wanna read it for yourself) which I feel compelled to take issue with.

Alex makes two key assertions.: (1) Relationship to the means of production (the cornerstone of Marxist class distinctions) is of less value in modern times than it was when Marx was writing; (2) People within society are not arranged in tiers, but along a continuous spectrum. While I broadly agree with Alex on both points, I still think that class analysis and even the concept of class struggle is of value today.

Alex concedes that relationship to the means of production is still a useful rule of thumb. This is indeed the case and I think it was always a mistake to reduce class down to this alone. Such a reduction ignores the existence of a class between the owners of the means of production (the bourgeois of Marxist rhetoric) and the workers (the proletariat) who are forced to work for the former, but exert influence over the latter by means of a virtual monoply control over information, skills, knowledge, and positions relevant to daily economic choices and decisions. This class includes managers, intellectuals and probably teachers (depending on who you ask). While they do organise the workers for the owners, they also pursue their own independent interests. The significance of this class becomes clear if one applies a consistent class analysis to the various state socialist regimes (such as the USSR) as it becomes clear that in these countries, it was this class which came to power.

An undue focus on means of production also ignores other factors. Those who fall within the same class also tend to socialise, go to the same clubs, play golf together and send their kids to the same schools. The upshot of this is that they will tend to share many of the same ideas. For what it's worth, I think the Class War Federation's attempt to put forward a more complex analysis of class is well worth looking at (for a extract from Unfinished Business the Federation's most theoretical work, see here).

On this basis, I think we can argue that the reduced relevance of means of production based analysis does not neccesarily preclude the possibility of classes. This, then brings us to Alex's second contention. Of course he is quite right that there is a continuum on which we are drawing neccesarily arbitrary lines, but I question whether this need render the concept of class valueless.

Consider the concept of nationhood. It is widely accepted in liberal and leftist circles that nationality is an artificial construct and there is no doubt that it is. If we look to nationalism's role within the context of decolonisation, however, we see that the adoption of national identity by a group can help them to cohere, making them a more effective unit and helped them to overthrow colonialism. Race has played a similar role in the struggle against racism. Problems arise, of course, in the aftermath of the collapse (or weakening) of the system which is being opposed. Once that has happened there is a danger that the identity which has previously been cultivated and proved to be so useful can actually become divisive if not actively reactionary. For this reason I am quite drawn to Murray Bookchin's suggestion in Listen Marxist that what we need to cultivate not a class consciousness, but an unclass consciousness, but that's a subject for another post.

My key point is that arbitrary distinction, or no, class analysis has the potential to play a useful role in the armoury of modern progressives. People are poor, not because of some inherent flaw on their part, but because of the way the system operates. For their lot to be drastically improved that system is going to have to be changed. Those who benefit from it have no reason to bring about that change and every reason to seek to prevent it. Straightforward efficacy and solidarity with the oppressed require that we side with those at the bottom of society.

Making a Killing, Part 2.

I've been looking for information on British companies operating in Iraq for sometime now with little success. Weirdly enough the one day I decided to purchase the Financial Times rather than my usual paper (the Graudniad) was the day they decided to focus on that very topic. The paper had three articles on the matter. One looking at oil companies investing in the country; another, shorter piece looking at the role of construction companies; and a piece of less immediate interest on the emergence of Iraq's oil industry in the early-20th Century.

On the reconstruction contracts front, construction group Amec "became the only British firm to win one of the 19 so-called prime contracts to manage $18.4bn (£9.7bn) to reconstruct Iraq." However, their "subsequent 50 per cent share of a $500m contract alongside Fluor, the US contractor, to rebuild parts of Iraq's power network, has looked less appealing." They are "mainly working in the south of Iraq, which falls under British military control, but has admitted that security conditions have hampered progress."

Other construction companies have understanably been wary about investing in the country. "Costain has won three smaller contracts in Iraqi Kurdistan but the north of the country is largely peaceful. " On this basis it sounds like things aren't going so well for British companies, but don't worry, it isn't all bad:
Success for UK companies, in terms of scale of contracts and personnel deployed, has come in the private security industry, which is experiencing an unprecedented and possibly unrepeatable boom in Iraq. Ironically, the costs of providing security and insurance cover have drastically curtailed operating margins for companies, such as Amec, which are trying to do business in the country.
The FT, being good capitalists, have only made the longer piece on the oil industry available to paid-up subscribers. For those of you that don't have a subscription and missed the paper yesterday I'll try and draw out some of the salient facts.

Royal Dutch/Shell have a chairman for Iraq, Wolfgang Strobl who is based in Dubai and hasn't set foot in the country since 2002. Shell are working with BP to carry out technical studies of the large Rumaila and Kirkuk fields "for Iraq's oil ministry but neither has any people on the ground."

The FT is honest enought to concede that "all the big international oil companies do want access to Iraq's 115bn barrels of proven reserves with some estimating that twice that is waiting to be developed." Not that the invasion had anything to do with any of this, you understand. That said the security situation has made the oil majors cautious which, according to Mr Horgan (who doesn't seem to have a first name) from Ireland-based firm Petrel, "opens the door for entrepreneurs and all the animal spirit"; those, like his firm, who "are prepared to do irrational things." In case anybody has any illusions about oil-men doing any of this out of concern for Iraq and its people, Horgan admits, "We want to be in the next edition of The Prize [Dan Yergin's influential history of the global oil industry]."

That said, Petrel don't actually seem to have been all the succesful. They've lost out on two bids. One for the Khurmala Dome field in the north of Iraq was won by a Kurdish-led group, while another went to a group led by Canadian firm OGI (which Justin Podur blogged about at the time), although Hogan has yet to receive official notification that he has lost out. These decisions have led Hogan to bemoan the opacity of the bidding process for oil service tenders. "Another executive with Iraqi interests" goes further: "The procurement guy may just be checking price or there may be corruption... You can be sure that someone will will open up and look at your bid. And there are always political shenanigans in the shadows." Mahdi Sajjad, an Iraqi-born international business development director for Gulfsands, suggests, "People are not trying to be obstructive but there is no real experience in how to deal with international companies." Something I'm sure they wouldn't dream of exploiting.

More of the Same Please, Mr Murray

I found this article via Craig Murray's new weblog:
Britain’s parliamentary election campaign is heating up, with politicians grappling with the familiar themes of the welfare state and the economy. In the northern English constituency of Blackburn, though, Uzbekistan has emerged as an unlikely central election issue, as Britain’s ousted ambassador to Tashkent, Craig Murray, challenges his former boss, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Murray is running on an independent ticket, and is making British foreign policy towards Uzbekistan and Iraq the central issues of his campaign. While Murray believes he is on the right side of the issues, he admits his chances of defeating Straw seem slim. The Labor Party has held the Blackburn constituency for the last 60 years, and in the last general election, Straw dominated the Blackburn race by winning 53 percent of the votes cast.

Ordinary voters "are not really that interested in Uzbekistan," Murray recently told a EurasiaNet correspondent in an interview. However, a large percentage of Blackburn’s voters are Muslims, and Murray hopes to tap into their dissatisfaction over Straw’s support of the global "war on terror" and detention-without-trail of co-religionists in Britain...
Murray is probably massively understating the point here. Ordinary voters aren't just "not really that interested in Uzbekistan." Most of them probably don't even know where it is. No doubt, the politically aware sections of society are little better. I have tried to follow the situation in Uzbekistan and the West's relationship with Karimov regime quite closely here, hopefully with some success, but it is an issue which most of the radical left have seemed largely uninterested in and few other bloggers dedicate much time to. George Monbiot's excellent article on the subject (the inspiration for my interest in the country) being the major exception.

While I remain dubious about the value of running in elections I sincerely hope that Murray's campaign goes someway towards putting right the widespread ignorance about the brutality of the Karimov regime. The mere fact that Murray has addressed anti-war and lefty rallies (notably the Stop the War Coalition demo on March 19 and a RESPECT Coalition rally) is positive, because it suggests that those who have campaigned so vociferously against the invasion and occupation of Iraq are beginning to tie in other aspects of British foreign policy which are similarly distasteful. There may even be some hope of a serious campaign around the issue. Watch this space.

A nod's as good as a wink to a blind bat...

This handsome fellow has had an article published by these nice people which you might care to have a gander at.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Billboard Liberation for Beginners

For those of you like me who are revelling in the possibilities of those Tory posters might appreciate this. (Link via Chicken Youghurt.) Those of you who find that a little passe, might want to try moving on to this.

Iraqi Resistance Redux

In various previous posts (notably here and here) I've tried to demolish the misapprehension that the groups who have taken up arms against US/UK forces are a coherent, homogenous block. I have argued that it is instead made up of various movements with little or no co-ordination between many of them. Amongst this array of forces one finds secular nationalists, Ba'athists, moderate Islamic nationalists and messianic Islamic extremists (epitomised by the figure of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi). While these groups have not always seen eye-to-eye, until now they seem largely to have ignored each other. Patrick Cockburn suggests, however, that nationalists are becoming increasingly antipathetic towards the excesses of the Islamic extremists:
Gunmen ordered 16 off-duty Iraqi soldiers out of a truck in Latafiya, south of Baghdad, at the weekend and killed them, but signs are growing that the slaughter of all Iraqis in the army or police, or civilians working for the government, is leading to divisions in the resistance.

The split is between Islamic fanatics, willing to killing anybody remotely connected with the government, and Iraqi nationalists who want to concentrate on attacking the 130,000 US troops in Iraq.

Posters threatening extreme resistance fighters have appeared on walls in Ramadi, a Sunni Muslim city on the Euphrates river west of Baghad.

Insurgents in the city say that resistance to the Americans is being discredited by the kidnapping and killing of civilians. "They have tarnished our image and used the jihad to make personal gains," Ahmed Hussein, an imam from a mosque in Ramadi, was quoted as saying.


The key to the effectiveness of the resistance is that it has swum in a sea of popular support or acquiescence. However, often after an attack on Iraqi police or army recruits, furious by-standers have said to me: "Why are they attacking our own people and not killing Americans?"

The extreme Islamic groups, typified by that led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, see themselves fighting a world full of "infidels", "apostates" and "crusaders" in which an Iraqi Shia or Christian was as worthy of death as a US soldier. When American troops allegedly damaged two mosques in Mosul, insurgents blew up two churches in the city in retaliation.

The Sunni sectarianism of the Salafi limited the nationalist appeal of the resistance and ensured that Shias supported the destruction of Fallujah by the US Marines last November.
Where this will lead remains to be seen.

The demonstration In Firdaus Square on Saturday by supporters of "renegade cleric" Moqtada al-Sadr demanding the withdrawal of foreign forces and that Saddam Hussein be put on trial, may have involved as many as 30,ooo people. Juan Cole notes, "If it were even half that, these would be the largest popular demonstrations in Iraq since 1958!" While this suggests an increasingly confident anti-occupation movement, the protest seems to have been almost exclusively Shia. Sunni groups organised their own protests. While there have been efforts to establish a non-sectarian anti-occupation movement in the form of the Iraqi National Foundation Congress (INFC) this does not seem to have generated much activity on the ground as yet.

As long as resistance to occupation remains divided along ethnic lines its effectiveness will be muted. The risk of civil war while massively overstated by those seeking to justify the occupation, will also be something which cannot be discounted.

(Kudos for the Cockburn article to Lenin.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

What do they take us for?

Those of you as immature as me may appreciate this take on the level of political debate in the General Election. (Not recommended for the easily offended.)

Choose Your Words Carefully

"The entire pledge they are about to make is based on sums that don't add up. It's a false prospectus."
- Tony Blair on the Conservative Manifesto, 11/4/05

"We are still no closer to determining whether this country went to war on a false prospectus. We need an independent inquiry to find out why that happened."
- Charles Kennedy on the Iraq War, 28/1/05

(Spotted by Timx.)

Monday, April 11, 2005

Suffrage and Suffering

When questioning the value of voting as a political tactic, one of the most common arguments I come across is reference to the sacrifices of those who fought for universal suffrage. Timx, for instance, states, "I believe strongly that everyone should vote - the right was hard enough won." Tim's factual assertion is true enough, the Suffragettes and the Chartists being two of the most prominent movements involved in this struggle. Many supporters of both movements paid with their liberty and even their lives and nobody should understate the commitment or bravery of those involved. I question, however, whether it follows from this that we have a duty to vote.

Those who fought for the right to vote, rarely considered it an end in itself. Rather, they were concerned with the changes they thought would come about if suffrage were extended. The Suffragettes sought a better lot for women, while the Chartists incorporated a range of movements seeking social justice and/or a radical overhaul of the system. Insofar as their hopes have been realised (despite the many problems with modern society the plight of women and the poor is greatly improved on what it was one hundred years ago) this argument is no longer relevant and insofar as universal suffrage has failed to radically shake up the system (wealth and power is still concentrated in the hands of a few) they have, tragically, been proved wrong.

Recall also, that there were similar struggles for the right to trade union membership (witness the Tolpuddle Martyrs who were deported to Australia for having the audacity to organise against their bosses). Despite this, I have never come across anybody (even from the most rigidly workerist sections of the socialist left) who assert that consequentially we have a duty to join a union. Arguments for joining are typically framed in terms of why it is a good idea whether for yourself, your class or the interests of the "revolution".

I stress that I'm not necessarily saying that people shouldn't vote. I'm simply questioning the importance adduced to it as a form of political activity. This is important because the undue focus on electoralism diverts people and movements away from strategies which have real potential to bring about significant radical change.

Googlebombs Away

Go to Google and try searching for "swivel eyed loons", "ignorant bigots", "liar", "miserable failure", "worst president" or (using the "pages from the UK" feature in "poodle". Isn't the internet wonderful?

Wanna know what's going on? Check this.

Who Says They're All The Same?

Some of you may have seen this before:

Well believe it or not, somebody (namely Asda) has actually gone and done something very similar. For real:

(Tips hat to Guido Fawkes.)

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Firdaus Square, Take 2

Timx and Juan Cole have both posted on a protest in Baghdad today, involving "tens of thousands" (according to corporate media reports) of demonstrators, demanding the withdrawal of foreign troops and that Saddam Hussein be put on trial. The demonstration took place in Firdaus Square, where the much-televised (and apparently staged) toppling of the statue of Saddam took place two years ago and was called to mark the anniversary of that event. The event was organised by supporters of "radical cleric" Moqtada al-Sadr and according to Cole is the largest demonstration his movement has achieved. While protests occured throughout Iraq, the symbolism of the Baghdad demonstration's location (and the fact that most journalists are too scared of being kidnapped or killed to travel far from Baghdad) meant that this was the one which attracted the most media attention.

Protesters burnt US flags and reenacted the toppling of the statue of Saddam pulling down efigies of Bush and Blair (which may remind some of you of the demo in London during Bush's visit to the UK in November 2003). These were apparently dressed in orange jumpsuits, recalling those held in detention US facilities such as Guantanamo Bay. They chanted, "No America! No Saddam! Yes to Islam!" This essentially sums up Sadr's political programme, albeit he'd be appreciative if he was the one responsible for interpreting Islam.

Clearly this is a bad thing for the Americans. The US fought Sadr's Mehdi Militia twice last year. They intiailly thought they had defeated them by late May, only for fighting to begin again in August, this time centred around the Shia holy city of Najaf (site of the Shrine of Ali). Since then he had largely gone quiet and seemed to have been co-opted by the US and Iraqi Authorities. This latest flexing of his muscles will be a worrying reminder to the occupiers and the new Iraqi Assembly that they have a long way to go before they genuinely control Iraq.

This report claims that clerics from the Association of Muslim Scholars, which is alleged to have links with insurgents, but is at the very least sympathetic towards their aims, also called on people to join the protest. Cole, however, suggests that AMS "declined to have their Sunni Arab followers join the Shiites at Firdaws Square." Other reports seem to suggest that they held a protest elsewhere, although it isn't clear. Indeed with the paucity of journalists in Iraq and the even smaller number actually prepared to travel around it is not entirely clear how reliable mainstream press reports are anyway. If Cole is correct in his assesment than it seems reasonable to accept his assertion that this "points to continued sharp ethnic divisions that have made it difficult for Iraqi nationalists to unite against the American presence." If Cole is wrong and Sunni and Shia groups opposed to the occupation have begun to work together than things may be even worse for the occupiers than we'd realised.

(I can't be bothered to rehearse my thoughts on the role of radical Islam within anti-occupation movements in Iraq, so instead I'll just point you in this direction.)

Consequentially Speaking

Having elucidated my political philosophy it might be worth considering the closely related matter of ethics. Again, this is inspired by Alex's blog and a debate me and him had of the back of a piece he wrote. Incidentally, if you're looking for proper philosophy from someone who actually knows what he's talking about than he's your man. Like Alex I consider myself a consequentialist, but we disagree on some of the specifics (although I wonder if we actually disagree about anything of consequence).

It is normally asserted that consequentialists believe that what is significant for evaluating the morality of an action is its consequences. This is not entirely true, however. Were this strictly the case it would mean that people would be unable to judge the morality of an action until after the action and its consequences had taken place. Further, considering only the actual consequences of an act gives us nothing to compare it with; how do we decide if it was a bad thing to do unless we have some idea what would have happened had alternative action been performed? Therefore it seems - to me at least - that the key thing is probable consequences. Shooting someone is bad, therefore, because they will probably (almost certainly?) die.

The next question which arises is consequences for whom? I think this is best evaluated according to the principle of "equal consideration of interests". This principle holds that we should give equal weight in our moral deliberations to the like interests of all those affected by our actions. This should apply regardless of arbitrary distinctions, perhaps even regardless of species (Peter Singer makes a compelling case for pursuing the principle to this end in his Practical Ethics).

This then leads us onto the problem of evaluating consequences. This is often expressed in terms of maximising the "good", which poses the question of what exactly constitutes "good". Utilitarians often talk about happiness or pleasure, but this is not universal and Singer, probably the world's most prominent living utilitarian, focuses much of his writing on minimising or ending suffering. Alex suggests that there are seven elements to this, while Ted Honderich proposes a list consisting of six. Both have some value and there is a considerable amount of crossover, so much, perhaps, as to suggest that they will in fact lead to the same result even if by aparently different means. Regardless of what is or isn't on the list, I think that in most cases it'll be pretty obvious what should be considered to be "good" and what shouldn't.

How we apply this good is a further point of difficulty and was central to the debate which inspired this piece. Alex is uneasy about the use of a rights-based system in which we measure the "good" in terms of inherent entitlements. If we accept (as I and many others do), for instance, that people have a right to freedom of speech then in this conception we should seek to ensure that as many people as possible are able to exercise that right.

It is important here to emphasise that rights should not be conceived of as absolutes, a common mistake. Rights systems are not axiomatic (without contradictions) and it is important that we are aware of this. Noam Chomsky uses an example (in Understanding Power) which I think is useful for explaining this point: I have a freedom of speech. We might well seek to ensure that I can exercise this as extensively as possible, but that does not mean that I am entitled to say whatever I want, whenever I wante, wherever I want. I am not entitled to burst into somebody else's house and begin pontificating on the justice of this or that cause and emblazoning the walls with propaganda. The reason I'm not entitled to do this is because it conflicts with the residents right to privacy. Further examples would probably not be that difficult to come up with.

A rights-based system also helps by making it simpler to measure the good (provided we work out what rights we are concerned with). One of Alex's criticisms, however, is that it places too much emphasis on the individual and not enough on the collective. In fact this is (too some extent) one of the things which draws me towards this approach. One of the major criticisms of consequentialism is that it allows the ends to justify the means (in fact the reality is more complex, but this post is getting long enough as it is). It is often alleged that provided the benefit to society was great enough, consequentialism would allow some people to be held as slaves. Emphasising the rights of individuals should avoid this danger (overplayed anyway in my opinion, but a justifiable concern nonetheless). While I'm not neccesarily saying that a rights-based approach is the best way of organising a consequentialist system, I am as yet unconvinced that it is a bad way of doing so.

(The balancing of the individual and the collective is a perenial problem and one which I'm not going to consider in anything like the depth it merits here. Anyone interested in this issue might care to consider this piece which I think is heading in the right direction.)

I've probably missed a lot out and done a great deal of violence to some quite involved ethical philosophy. Shame. Any thoughts, disagreements, corrections etc. in the comments box.

Horse Marries Cock

I feel I should say something about the Royal Wedding, given that I am sitting in front of my computer in the hope of avoiding it. Nothing very clever springs to mind apart from a reassertion of my complete rejection of the institution of Monarchy. Not only is it an anachronism, but it's also embarassing. Do I really want to be "represented" around the world by this bunch of inbred, blue-blooded, bigotted, half-wits? Let's just call the whole thing of, brush democracy down and start all over again.

Unfortunately, you're not exactly encouraged to say this sort of thing publicly as Republic "the campaign for an elected head of state" found out when they submitted an anti-monarchist advert (available as a pdf here) to the Daily Mail. The paper simply refused to print it and has, as yet, not given a reason. It could be worse. During the celebrations around the Jubilee in 2002, the Movement Against the Monarchy (MA'M) organised an "Execute the Queen street party". Apparently horrified by their failure to show the required degree of obsequiousness the police turned up and arrested everyone, forcing them onto a comandeered Number 11 Buswhich then dropped them off at various police stations across London. This was completely undprecedented and a ridiculous over-reaction. It ultimately cost the police a small fortune, after they had to pay out over £80,000 in damages (£3,500 for each protester). The protesters celebrated their payout by using some of the money to go for a tour around London in an open-topped Routemaster bus, stopping off at New Scotland Yard, Buckingham Palace, Plumstead and Bishopsgate Police Stations (two of the stations the arrestees were detained) before finishing off at the pub where it had all started.

Plumbing The Depths

The "vote Labour or you'll get the Tories" Blair apologists are getting desperate and plumbing new depths. In yesterdays Grauniad, Robin Cook warned,
There have been enough casualties already from the invasion of Iraq. Do not make vulnerable people in Britain victims also. It is they, not Tony Blair, who would be punished if there is no longer a Labour government.
Got that? Vote Tory and Britain will look like occupied Iraq: Checkpoints will spring up across the country; your brother will be detained; your father will be tortured; your town will be flattened; insurgents will strike at will; persecution of women will mushroom; and students will be attacked by religious extremists. (It's worth recalling at this juncture that Cook's from the "anti-war" faction of the party?!)

Friday, April 08, 2005

From the People Who Brought You

Wow! Forget this and this and even this. Come May 5 it's all about this.

A Solution Looking For A Problem

Having tried to convince us that the introduction of "entitlement cards" (what the straight-talking amongst you might call ID cards) is the panacea for (largely fictitious) immigration problems, terrorism, crime and benefit fraud, David Blunkett is now (resignation or no) asserting that it is also the required response to election fraud. Nick Barlow has the run-down and quotes No2ID, who point out very sensibly,
Of course, a moment’s thought reveals that ID cards wouldn’t prevent any kind of “citizen not present” fraud, such as fraudulent postal voting, precisely because the citizen and his ID card aren’t available to be verified.

Mr Blunkett’s comments do nothing to dispel the impression that compulsory ID cards are a solution looking for a problem - and not finding one.
Honourable Friend draws a similar conclusion, but is somewhat more succinct. (Thanks to Tim Ireland for pointing me in the right direction on this one.)


It should be clear to anybody who gives this thing even a cursory glance that there are many things I think are wrong about the world. I have in the past been accused of being "anti-everything". Inspired by Alex Gregory's efforts, I wondered if it might be worth trying to set out my underlying political philosophy.

Many left-leaning philosophies, particularly Marxism and many strands of anarchism emphasise the centrality of class struggle. They see the working class as the agent which will otherthrow the prevailing system, thereby liberating all of humanity. This is not to say they ignore other struggles, but it does explain how they see them fitting into the bigger picture. Regular readers will be aware that I do think class and the class struggle is important, but I don't believe that it should be elevated to a pre-eminent position in this manner.

The key thing which concerns me is oppression. In my opinion this can be broadly be considered to be synonymous with illegitimate power. Power here simply meaning your ability to exert influence over another in order to get them to do something they would not otherwise do (or to stop them doing something they would otherwise have done). Many anarchists have, at least rhetorically, opposed all power, but I think this is a mistake. If a child trys to run out into a busy road their parent will seek to stop them. This is a use of power, but not only are most people likely to consider that it is entirely justified, they are likely to think poorly of any parent who didn't act in this way. The question of legitimacy revolves around whether the use of power can be justified and the burden of proof lies with the person using power, not the person over whom it is exerted.

Oppression is a bad thing not only because of its deleterious effects on the victim, but also because it distorts our fundamental humanity. This is not an essentialist claim that there is a human nature which we have been alienated from. Rather it is an assertion that oppression prevents individuals, and as a consequence wider society, from realising their full potential.

Oppression arises in a huge range of forms along lines of class, race, gender, sexuality, age, disability, caste, status, nation, tribe, species etc. These interact with each other in complex ways and are probably best conceptualised as a web. (Conceiving of a hierachy of oppression, as suggested by Ward Churchill among others, has some value and is clearly useful in extreme cases such as a comparison of sexual harrasment and genocide, but in most situations is far more complicated and involvedl. Which is worse, for instance: dictatorship or imperialism?) A consistent anti-oppressionist (for want of a better term) would oppose all of these forms of opression, but clearly you could not hope to actively (or, perhaps more importantly, effectively) campaign against all of them.

Neccesarily you must prioritise. There are a number of approaches which could be taken here. You could focus on the most serious form of oppression; the one which affects the greatest number; the one you think you are most likely to be able to change; the one with which you have the greatest personal experience; those where the oppressors are physically closest to you; those which you have the greatest responsibilty for etc. In practice, however, you take into account all of these factors and others and ultimately make an essentially random choice.

One of the offshoots of this conception is that it implies a more pluralist conception of revolutionary change than is usual on the left. Most self-proclaimed revolutionaries seem to believe that in the aftermath of a succesful revolution when we have a new polity and economy, everything will be hunky-dory. In fact, such a revolution might well have a major impact in those spheres, but is unlikely to have such a major influence on gender relations or the way we deal with other species. (I am aware that the Russian Revolution did make important steps towards improving the position of women in Russian society, but this only went so far.) What is needed is revolutions in every sphere of human life. (I'm borrowing the term spheres from Michael Albert who argues that society can be conceptualised in four spheres: economy, polity, kinship and culture; broadly reflecting what he believes were the four key left-wing ideological movements of the 60s: Marxism, anarchism, feminism and nationalism. I think this way of thinking is of considerable value, but I am concerned about its focus on the anthropocentric; what about the environment and/or other species?)

Removing one form of opression may reveal others which we previously couldn't see. The task may even be neverending, but this does not change the fact that we should try. The acheivments of various anti-oppression movements over the centuries have won many important victories and vastly expanded the realms of freedom available today, at least to those of us fortunate enough to have been born in the western world. The best way to honour those movements and their participants is to continue their fight.

I should probably say something about moral consequentialism as well, but I think that'll do for now.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Make Capitalism History

Make Poverty History looks set to be a major campaign this year. Bringing together campaigns around third world debt, trade justice and for more and better aid they have mobilised over 300 groups, huge numbers of celebrities and thousands of grassroots supporters (the police are already predicting that the MPH demo in Edinburgh which will take place in July to coincide with the G8 Summit will attract 200,000 people). The white band which symbolises it has become ubiquitous and is apparently very trendy (Tony Blair made a point of being seen wearing one), there's even an online version (which you can see in the top left-hand corner of this website) available here.

Clearly anything which gets people involved in changing the world for the better is a good thing and there is no doubt that if even a fraction of MPH's demands were implemented it would save hundreds of thousands if not millions of lives every year. I would very much like to see the reforms advocated by MPH implemented in the aftermath of this year's G8, but I'd also very much like to see the G8 - a unelected, self-appointed, all male world government - gotten rid-of entirely. And if they could take the capitalist-imperialist system they run with them, that'd be nice.

I'm not naive enough to think that any of this will be easy or that it can be acheived over night, but I am wary of going cap in hand to our leaders and "asking" them to help those suffering in the Third World, particularly when they are as flagrantly illegitimate as the G8. If we want concessions from them (whether on the issues with which MPH is concerned or on global warming, the arms trade etc.) we should demand that they accede to our wishes. If they don't it's up to us to raise the costs of their refusal until it becomes impossible for them to continue their non-compliance.

Fortunately the Dissent network's working along these lines already.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Resistance = Existence

The Weekly Worker is the organ of the Communist Party of Great Britain, a small Marxist sect. While most lefty papers are read by only a handful of people, the WW has an online readership which apparently approaches 10,000. The reason for this is that the paper offers extensive analysis of the internecine politics of the British left. Somebody (I forget who) described it as a "gossip paper of the left," and with good reason. This week's edition includes a brilliant article by Sarh Young critiquing the strategy of the Stop the War Coalition. I would urge you to read it and can find little contained therein with which I disagree.

Update 8/4/05: Pranjal Tiwari helpfully pointed out that I'd forgotten to append a link to the relevant article, an error I have now corrected.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Pope...

Homophobic, misogynist responsible for the deaths of millions from AIDS or misunderstood progressive? You decide.

Lalit Go Down Under

Thanks to Dave Riley for this from Australia's Green Left Weekly:
Ram Seegobin, a leader of the Mauritian socialist organisation Lalit (meaning “struggle” in Creole) addressed a meeting here [i.e. Perth - Dk] on March 30 and spoke at a Fremantle showing of The Control Room on April 1. The meetings were organised by the Socialist Alliance with around 80 people in total attendance.

Seegobin said that Lalit's major current campaign aims to force the closure of the US military base on the island of Diego Garcia, situated in the Chagos Archipelago in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Rented to the US by the British in 1965 in an underhanded deal just before Mauritius became independent, the island has been used as a base for bombing Afghanistan and Iraq.

Lalit's campaign demands Mauritian sovereignty for the Chagos Archipelago, the right of return and reparations for the evicted inhabitants, the closure of the military base and its conversion into a tsunami warning system.
It's heartening to see the Chagos issue being picked up Down Under and 80 people is an impressive turnout for such a little-known cause.

Lalit's demands are probably worth commenting on briefly. While I have no problem with any of them in principle and particularly appreciate the call for the base to become a tsunami warning centre (the base has seismic detectors which reportedly picked up the tremors which caused the Indian Ocean Tsunami, but the base had no ability to contact anybody to warn them), it is worth bearing in mind the comments of Chagossian leader Olivier Bancoult. In August 2000 (I'm not 100% sure about the year, but that appears to be correct) he told Mauritius News, "We are fighting for our rights, and I am concerned with our rights and our own interests," a position which - perhaps unsurprisingly - drew applause from his compatriots. "All the time that Mauritius has been talking to the British Government, the Mauritius Government never bothered to bring in the islanders or to consult with them. Why should we worry about Mauritius." This is not to suggest that the Mauritian sovereignty claim should be dismissed out of hand (as I've said before, independence for the Chagos Archipelago seems unrealistic), but rather that those of us campaigning around the issue should be wary of making it the central plank of our case.

It's not racist to oppose Tory scum.

The General Election is now upon us. The campaigning, however, has been underway for sometime. The Tories contribution to this has been a series of posters offering simplistic (some might go so far as to say populist) slogans on a largely blank billboard. The brilliance of this is that it makes them incredibly easy to 'detourn' as the various pictures collected below demonstrate. Now, obviously, I wouldn't want to give the impression that I am in any way condoning such flagrant criminality, but you've got to admit, they do look much better now...

Update 7/4/05: More of the same here. Thanks to for the link.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Who Killed Kenny?

According to Dave Riley, this is doing the rounds amongst US soldiers stationed in Iraq:

Further comment seems superfluous.

Link Dump

Anyone interested in what I've been up to over the last few days might be interested in photos here and here, all taken by the apparently omnipresent Tash.

On a similarly narcissistic note, Timx, Alex Gregory and Pranjal Tiwari have all been kind enough to link to me from their blogs over the last few days. That being the case you might care to go and pay them a visit. While you're at it you might also be interested in Z's response to Timx's post, which was itself a response to a comment I put on a post he wrote... if you see what I mean!

In other news, UK Watch have a Q&A with former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and anti-Jack Straw Parliamentary candidate Craig Murray looking at life under the Karimov regime. Lots to digest, even for those with some familiarity with the situation in Uzbekistan.

Finally, following on from this post, may I present the Bluffer's Guide to the Bolkestein Directive.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Sovereignty Schmovereignty

This blog has over the last year or so (when I started posting consistently) taken in a huge range of issues. I have covered some more comprehensively than others and many have unfortunately fallen by the wayside (it's months, for instance, since I wrote anything about Israel-Palestine). One of the issues I have followed very closely has been the developments regarding the Chagos Archipelago and the islanders who were forced from it in the 60s and 70s in order to make way for a US military base on Diego Garcia, the largest island.

Regular readers may recall that one of the developments in this area has been Mauritian attempts to reassert its sovereignty over the archipelago. Prior to independence (in 1968) it had been considered Mauritian territory, but in 1965 the British carved it off as part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), an entity almost nobody else recognises, in order that they could retain control over the islands so that the Americans would be able to establish their base. This is the only new British colony established since decolonisation and was also probably a breach of international law (a key element of the Mauritian government's case for sovereignty).

This exercise violated UN Declaration 1514 of 1960 which asserted the inalienable right of colonial peoples to independence and Resolution 2066 of 1965 (which Britain never signed). This called on the UK to "take no action which would dismember the territory of Mauritius and violate [its] territorial integrity". Unconcerned by any of this, Britain retains the islands promising to return them to Mauritius when they and the US are done with them, although rumours that the US wishes to extend its lease over Diego Garcia until 2016 suggest that this is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

None of this is really newsworthy and will be familiar to anyone who has followed the story over the last few years. What is newsworthy (at least in my opinion) is India's declaration of support for Mauritius' sovereignty claim. The issue figured in talks between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Mauritius counterpart Paul Berenger according to Indian Officials. Shashi Tripathi, Secretary (West) in the external affairs ministry said that India reiterated its commitment to the territorial integrity of Mauritius and "stands by the stance taken" by the government regarding Chagos. The importance which India attaches to Mauritius is demonstrated by the fact that this was Singh's first bilateral visit since his election last year.

This is a potentially important development. Recall that India is one of the world's fastest growing economies and a potential future superpower. The issue also came up during Berenger's recent visit to China (although it was less clear what was said), suggesting that Mauritius may soon have some very powerful backing for its claim. This all seem to be broadly positive (I won't bother with the hypocrisy of Chinese support for the cause while they continue their brutal occupation of Tibet), but it should be borne in mind that the Chagossians themselves seem largely removed from all if this, as ever they are considered irrelevant to the machinations of power. It is to be hoped that if Mauritius were to regain control over the archipelago the islanders would be allowed to return and live largely autonomously (total independence is probably unrealistic, particularly given the relatively small population). It's up to those of us concerned about their plight to do what we can to make sure this happens.

Update 4/4/05: Further to my concerns about Maritius' lack of concern for the islanders, I found the following passage which may help to put the above into context:
In August [2000? - Dk], the leader of the UK Chagossians, Olivier Bancoult, told the UK based Mauritius News that "we are fighting for our rights, and I am concerned with our rights and our own interests", to the thunderous applause of his compatriots. "All the time that Mauritius has been talking to the British Government, the Mauritius Government never bothered to bring in the islanders or to consult with them. Why should we worry about Mauritius."

Friday, April 01, 2005

Hypocrisy? Surely Not!

Given all the furor about Terry Sciavo you'd have thought somebody might be a little more concerned about this.

Fascist Fuckwits Get a (Not Entirely Metaphorical) Kicking!

Here, here and here.

Bloody Hell!!!

Found this via Bloggerheads, it still works at the time of writing...

Who'd Have Thunk It?

You know what it's like. You go out for a cycle round the Nottinghamshire countryside and the next thing you know you find yourself standing in the doorway of the regional Labour Party Headquarters with a bunch of activists. Before you've worked out what's going on there's a banner hanging off a nearby fence, the police have arrived in force and you're giving out leaflets about the inequities of government policy towards asylum seekers.

Seriously though the action was a precursor to the noise protest in Nottingham's Market Square tomorrow (organised by Nottingham and Notts Refugee Forum) which is part of a Europe wide day of action for migrant rights. It wasn't the most succesful or best organised demo ever (we'd planned on occupying the place), but we did cause some disruption to the party machine and attracted at least a modicum of attention from the local media. Which all in all isn't a bad day's work.

Amusingly the building which constitutes the Labour Party's base in the East Midlands (supporting something like 40 MPs apparently) and which was the target of our ire today, is named Harold Wilson House after the Labour politician who was Prime Minister from 1964-70 and 1974-76. I say amusingly because as regular readers may recall, Harold Wilson's main contribution to the issue of refugee rights was the depopulation of the Chagos Archipelago. Not that many of the Labour Party activists beavering away within the structure's walls are likely to know about that.

Next stop: Tory HQ?

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