the Disillusioned kid: August 2005
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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Words And Pictures

Exhibit A:

Caption: "A young man walks through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery store in New Orleans on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005."

Exhibit B:

Caption: "Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store after Hurricane Katrina came through the area in New Orleans, Louisiana."

(Via Lenin's Tomb)

Assault With Battery

In my post and article on the introduction of Tasers in the UK I bemoaned the fact that the move seemed to have been made with minimal discussion. I have to say that I was more than a little surprised to see that one of the first people to speak up on the issue was LibDem MP Lembit Opik.

The Montgomeryshire MP has written to North Wales and Dyfed-Powys police expressing fears that officers have too much discretion over when to use the weapons. He warned that the stun guns might be used to break up drunken fights. He told the Daily Post, "I am asking them to rule out using Tasers in any situation where they would not have used guns." He continued, "If these weapons are used to police the kinds of incidents that arise at pub closing time, then policing in this country will be changed forever."

This all seems very sensible. The police's response?
[B]oth forces said they complied with guidelines set down by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo).

Acpo's policy document states Tasers will "only be deployed alongside conventional firearms".

But an Acpo spokeswoman said: "We do think they can be a useful tool in a non-firearms situation."
Doesn't that reassure you?

In related news, Taser International are being sued in four US states by police officers who allege that they were injured by the weapons in training. They claim that the company misled law encorcement officials about the capacity of the deivces to inflict injury. It's difficult to disagree here with SchNEWS' response: "We’re still ‘stunned’ that they thought being temporarily paralysed with a 50,000-volt jolt wouldn’t hurt!" Neverthless, these cases do provide additional credibility to concerns about the dangers posed by tasers. Unsurprisingly, Taser's vice-president Steve Tuttle announced that they would "aggresively fight" all the suits.

These cases are perhaps part of the motivation behind a major PR campaign currently being waged by Taser in the States which hopes to "prove" to people that the weapons are in fact safe. As you might expect, the company is not best pleased by suggestions that its product might just be a little bit dangerous. No doubt we can expect something similar here if concern about the devices ever amounts to anything.

Returning To The Fold

After losing his way over the last few weeks George Monbiot's back on form with this analysis of the constitutional process in Iraq and what it tells us about representative democracy.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Things I Didn't Know About Iraq

US forces have been shelling the city of Tal Affar near the Syrian border (population 570,000). Caught between the US and insurgent, thousands of families have been forced to flee. (via)

The number of Iraqis killed in Baghdad last month was only 700 less than the US death toll since April 2003. (via)

Forces loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) clashed violently following attacks on a Sadrist office in Najaf. (via)

According to police in Baghdad, 56 civillians were killed in US airstrikes in the west of the country on Monday. (via)

The Iraqi Islamic Party has accused elements in the Ministry of the Interior of kidnapping 36 citizens from Hurriyah Township in Baghdad. The party alleged that the victims had subsequently been shot and thrown in the Tigris.

Monday, August 29, 2005


I'm back from my travels and now in need of a short holiday to recover. Between the late nights, alcohol and public transport it's something of a miracle I can still right coherently. I may or may not get around to writing a rant about the superfulity of First Class carriages on over-crowded and generally overpriced trains, but I'd like to go on record as saying they're bloomin' irritating.

Anyhoop. Some stuff has probably happened while I'm away, although I've not yet had a chance to catch up with - let alone reflect on - it. In lieu of the usual incisive analytical writing therefore, a few tit-bits about a few things.

Firstly, Sheshrugged (purveyor of delights here) points out that the Economist seems to want to get in on the act with the Uzbekistan blogging day of action (which incidentally now has the requisite numer of supporters to fulfil the pledge, although anybody else is still welcome to get involved) with this near-perfectly timed article advocating sanctions on the country. Not so sure about the last paragraph, but a good start anyway.

Elsewhere, this burst of common sense has now been reprinted on Z-Net. This marks the completion of something of an ambition for the author (sad as that may seem), so why not take the time to read and consider what the piece has to say? (And try to ignore the dodgy maths, which - honest to god - isn't mine, although I really should have picked up on it.)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Outta Here

I'm off for the weekend. Until then you'll have to content yourselves with the few morsels I deign to toss in your collective direction:
Firstly, a new site supporting the workers sacked by catering company Gate Gourmet.

Secondly, some reflections on Americans responding to climate change.
See you all next week!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

And so on and so forth...

George Orwell gets reshelved.

Some guy talks some sense. *ahem*

Salam Pax returns to the blogosphere.

Joel Achenbach tries to ignore the blog.

The Onion discovers "Intelligent Falling".

Gilbert Achar disagrees with Prof. Juan Cole.

Paul Glavin discusses anti-authoritarian organizing.

Some weirdo 'explains' how licensing laws fuel terrorism.

Jamie considers the links between economists and zombies.

Police big-wig expresses frustration at the cost of policing Dsei.

Bringing the discussion back to the subject...

I happen to be quite a big fan of George Monbiot, but of late I've begun to worry about the poor guy. Last week he was explaining how he found comfort in his own death and today he's going after Kenneth Clarke in an column which leaves me in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with this fellow. Now if Monbiot were going after him about his involvement in Uzbekistan (which he mentions only in passing), that'd be a different matter. A possible discussion point for next week?


That Time of the Month Again...

Yes, the ever-reliable UK Chagos Support Association have brought out their latest update (albeit only on their email list for the timebeing, it should be up on the website in a few days). Much of interest within, but I thought I'd flag up this extract on the latest developments in the legal wranglings between the Chagossians and the British Government:
The Government has now exceeded the time directed by the Court for their response to the Chagossians’ case which is based on International law and Human Rights law. They were given twenty eight days which expired on July 21st. They then asked for the end of July, which was agreed by the solicitors. Then they said they could do nothing until September 30th, despite the Court order. Is procrastination the name of the game?

A simple request for information, made by this Association, to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which should have been answered on August 10th has been delayed, citing many reasons including :
"Section 27 of the Freedom of Information Act. This states that information is exempt from disclosure under the Act if its disclosure would, or would be likely to prejudice:
a) relations between the UK and any other state.
c) the interests of the UK abroad, or
d) the promotion or protection by the UK of its interests abroad."
There was no b) [In case anyone's interested it's "relations between the United Kingdom and any international organisation or international court" - Dk]

This extract begs several questions :
a) what about relations between the UK and its own citizens – the Chagossians?
c) how does it help the UK abroad (and its image abroad) to trample on the Human Rights of its own people?
d) Surely the promotion or protection by the UK of its interests abroad does not include exiling them illegally from their own land and leaving them in a destitute state?
There doesn't seem much more to add. So I'll leave it there. More as I hear about it

Monday, August 22, 2005

A "Non-Lethal Alternative" To Firearms?

Returning to an issue I discussed on Thursday, this photo (via) provides graphic evidence (in every sense) of the reality of taser usage. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette, police "used a Taser and pepper spray on one woman and charged her with disorderly conduct, failure to disperse and resisting arrest". Presumably, if the "tasers are a non-violent alternative to firearms" argument is to be believed, if it wasn't for the stun-gun the police would have had to blow her brains out.

Samarkand Unrest

Some apparently positive developments in Uzbekistan, with two protests (link via Registan) taking place in the city of Samarkand, the country's second largest city.

The first demonstration was triggered when authorities gave residents of around 100 homes in Bogimaydon, a village on the city's outskirts a weeks notice to leave before they're homes were demolished to make way for a highway-extension programme. They also complained that the compensation they were offered was far less than the market-value of their houses:
In response, the residents blocked the village's main road for several hours on 20 August, holding placards reading: "Don't demolish an old house before building a new one." It is a phrase familiar to the country's authoritarian leader, Islam Karimov. He uses the expression often during speeches, and has also used it as the title of one of his numerous books.

In a voice mail message left with RFE/RL's Tashkent bureau, a protester described the scene: "Several people who suffered a lot and were fed up took to the streets to say their houses were to be demolished. We blocked the road and were holding placards."
There are also concerns that the village is of considerable historical and architechtural significance. Residents and experts are worried that this may be threatened. Although the highway extension will not affect the historical part of the village Toshpulat Rakhmatullaev, an independent journalist and historian who lives in Bogimaydon, believes that such an intrusion should never have been allowed so close to a place of such value.

Local human rights activists were reported to be among the protesters. This, unfortunately, did nothing to mitigate the response of the authorities who roughly dispersed the crowd. According to one report (there only seem to be two on the incident at the time of writing) placards were wrenched from the hands of protesters and torn up and BBC correspondent Mustakhkam Tangierova had her equipment confiscated, although there seems to be no mention of this on the BBC site. One human rights advocate, Zhamol Mirsaidov, was so badly beaten by the police that he had to be hospitalised.

The second protest took place in Chuqurbozor, Samarkand's biggest clothing market. Merchants - most of them women - gathered to protest a decision by authorities to close the bazaar. Again they had been given little notice, this time the decision had only been announced the day before it was to come into effect:
Local police forces quickly blocked the area of the market where the protests took place. A BBC correspondent who was trying to get to the site was detained and held by police for several hours.

Eyewitnesses told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service the number of protesters may have risen as high as several hundred people.
Again this incident doesn't seem to have received coverage on the BBC site, despite apparent harrasment of their reporter (if this was also Mustakhkam Tangierova, mentioned above, you'd have to conclude she wasn't having a very good day).

RFE/RL suggest that these protests are the first since the violent crackdown on protesters in Andijan in May. This isn't strictly true; there was a rally numbering several hundred people in the town of Korasuv around a week after the Andijan massacre, indeed that massacre triggered an uprising in the city which saw authorities lose control for a time. There was also a rally in the city of Jizzakh organised by government supporters in order to counter the fallout from Andijan, although I'd be more than happy for such a display of servility to be missed off any tally of "protests". Regardless of the strict accuracy of RFE/RL's assertion, these protests are very significant. That people are prepared to face up to the threat of severe state repression in order to assert their rights is an inspiration to us all. It also offers a glimpse into a possible, better future for Uzbekistan.

Anybody interested in doing something to help (even if it's a very small thing) might care to consider this.

What kind of anarchist are you?

Well? (Via.) Apparently I'm an anarcha-feminist. This was something of a surprise given how poor my grounding in feminist theory is. Anyhoo:
Anarcha-feminists put a strong emphasis on the importance of patriachy, arguing that all forms of hierachy can be traced back to man's domination over woman. Although associated with the 1960s, the movement has its roots in the theories of Emma Goldman and Voltarine DeCleyre.
Anarcha-Feminist - 70%
Anarcho-Communist - 60%
Anarcho-Primitivist - 55%
Anarcho-Syndicalist - 45%
Anarcho-Capitalist - 15%
Christian Anarchist - 5%
Apologies to the non-anarchists amongst you.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Iraq's Founding Fathers?

It appears that the US government is so desperate for a deal on an Iraqi constitution that they've caved in to the demands of the Islamists who want to see the country ruled according to Sharia law. This is unlikely to go down well with womens' rights activists from the country who have been fiercely critical of proposed drafts of the constitution, although the Bush Administration is dismissive of such conerns. The deal shouldn't really come as a surprise and is consistent with the constitution of the US-installed "Islamic Republic of Afghanistan."

The US may find, however, that even this compromise is insufficient to get the deal they want as Sunni groups complained yesterday that they were being sidelined and warned that they may well reject the document. As if to underscore this point, 5,000 Sunni Arabs rallied in Ramadi to express opposition to the designation of Iraq as a federal state. Supporters of Moqtada Al-Sadr expressed similar concerns in protests in Baghdad, as did Arabs and Turkmen in Kirkuk, within the nominally Kurdish region of Iraq. Even as I write, reports are emerging of calls by Sunni negotiators urging the US and UN to block the proposed draft.

Alongside this wrangling, the violence of the insurgency continues. At least three groups have issued statements saying that they will kill anyone associated with the constitution. That these are not hollow threats was emphasised by two attacks last week. On Friday, masked gunmen murdered three Sunnis in Mosul who had been putting up posters urging fellow Sunnis to vote in a referendum on the new constitution. On Thursday gunmen burst into the Sunni Grand Mosque in Ramadi where a discussion about the constitutional process was taking place demanded that the meeting come to an end and then opened fire.

In other Iraq related news, insurgents continue to improve their ability to strike at occupation forces. Militias, many of them linked to parties participating in the new Iraqi government, wield ever greater power in Shia and Kurdish cities. Meanwhile, the US army is planning to maintain its current presence (over 100,000 troops) in Iraq for at least the next four years.

Remember Darfur?

A post at the Head Heeb provides a reminder that the conflict in Darfur continues apace, depite the almost total lack of mainstream media attention. Jonathan links to an article about the plight of nomadic groups caught in the middle of the conflict between government backed Janjawid militiamen and sedentary African tribes:
Around Kabkabiya, the ruins of destroyed villages lie scattered. They appear deserted, but a closer look reveals that several small, nomadic communities of Arab origin still eke out a living in the region.

The majority consider themselves members of the Riziegat ethnic community - one of the larger groups of Arab pastoralists in the western Sudanese region of Darfur.

Amongst the Riziegat are a number of clan-based communities such as the Mahadia, Maharia, and Mahami. These are composed of families. When the nomads are on the move, a group of close families usually travel together under the leadership of a clan head.

The nomads, who aid workers say are in their thousands, have largely been unnoticed by the international community, and Darfur's other residents often equate them with the notorious "Janjawid" - the government allied militia who have been accused of terrorising the region's non-Arab tribes.

The nomads live with the constant fear of being attacked by the rebels of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A), who could mistake them for the Janjawid.
The article suggests that the conflict has done very serious damage to relations between different groups in the region, which may prove difficult to repair:
"We used to mix with other groups," [Wave Abdallah, a chief from the Maharia community] said. "There was understanding and cooperation and there was no fear - even in school our children were mixed together.

"Now, the whole area is divided into Arab and non-Arab [African] groups; into so-called Janjawid and rebels. And because the rebels and the nomads are both in the field, the nomads suffer," he added.
It describes the traditional relationship between villages and the nomads as "symbiotic." Nomads had once been able to go to villages when in need of food or assistance from doctors, but many villagers have now been emptied by the Janjawid. One positive sign is that where the nomads animals were being looted on a daily basis prior to the arrival of African Union troops, this has now reduced considerably.

The situation in Darfur remains critical. This being the case the media silence on the issue is tragic. Compared with the coverage it received last year, however, it seems particularly strange. Perhaps, as some of us have suggested cynically, people really can only deal with one African issue at a time and this year Niger's the one. David Morse, suggests that part of the reasoning behind the media silence as well as the almost schizophrenic policy of the Bush Administration (screaming "genocide!" one minute and then seeking to undermine Darfur Peace and Accountability Act the next) is interest in Sudan's oil. Whatever the truth, the losers in all of this are those living in the region who don't just encounter the conflict on the odd occasions where it gets into the news, but have to live with it on a daily basis.

Saturday, August 20, 2005


You may notice that the site has had a slight overhaul. Hopefully everything's working properly, but give me a shout if not. Not knowing much about programming, I've had to purloin much of the code from elsewhere, most of it from Europhobia. I'll probably continue tweaking thing, but hopefully this format will be easier to use. If not... Tough!

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Uzbekistan Meme

Tim Ireland the patron of Bloggerheads has knocked together an amazing little flash animation to promote the blogging day of action for Uzbekistan on September 1st. Check it out. Link to it. Send it to your friends.

If there are any bloggers reading this who are still unsure about whether or not to participate in the day of action take a gander at this selection of minor celebrities and prominent bloggers who've signed up: UKWatch, Craig Murray, Justin McKeating, Nosemonkey and Robin Grant. That's almost a line-up for the first series of "I'm A Blogger Get Me Out Of Here!" Just think what you'll be missing out on if you don't take part. Don't let this become your Fifth Beatle moment. (Hyperbole, moi?!)

If you worried about what to write have a looksee here, here, here, here, here or here. Being an expert on the country is most definitely *not* a requirement for participation. This is an issue that few people know anything about. Whatever you write, however little and however insignificant it might seem will help to develop awareness. Where things go from there is another matter, but even the journey of a thousand miles and all that...

More Pledgebank

Sign up. Only 573 more people needed...
"I will donate £5 to the Gate Gourmet Workers Hardship Fund but only if 600 other people will too."

— Maggie Bremner, Trade Unionist

Want details? Oh, and don't forget this one.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Next Move In the New Great Game

In my analysis of Uzbekistan's decision to evict the US from the Karshi-Khanabad (K2) airbase (see e.g. here) I have argued that this should be seen in the context of a concious decision on Karimov's part to reorientate himself towards Russia and China. I still think this is the case and believe that the "New Great Game" is a useful way of viewing politics in the region, however, this article (via) suggests that the US and Uzbekistan have not entirely gone their separate ways:
US officials remain interested in maintaining both a civilian and military presence in Uzbekistan. According to a senior State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity, Washington would like to secure a continuation of over-flight rights. American authorities also deem an on-the-ground presence to be vital for ongoing efforts to contain the growth of Islamic radicalism in the Ferghana Valley, and to stem the trafficking of narcotics grown in Afghanistan.

While still interested in engaging the Karimov administration on a variety of issues, some Washington analysts expect the State Department to reach out to a wide variety of political actors in Uzbekistan -- including those perceived to be pragmatists within the Karimov Administration, as well as to moderate Muslim elements. The United States, analysts say, would consider working with Uzbeks who would potentially pursue a reform course and would be willing to cooperate with the United States on matters of common interest, including the fights against terrorism and Islamic radicalism.
In itself this decision to reach out to "reformists" (the reason for the quotation marks will hopefully become clear) should not be all that surprising. The US's alliance with Karimov was never driven by any kind of ideological affinity, beyond a wish to crush Islamic extremist groups. Rather both sides were driven by considerations of what was in their interests. This hasn't changed. All that's different now is that Karimov's decided he's better off playing with the Russians and, as a result, Bush has had to step-up the search for a new friend in the country, a concern given the strategic import of the region. Expect any new ally to be trumpeted as a great democrat, even if - as the article seems to imply is likely - their actually involved in the Karimov regime and implemented in its crimes (cf Iyad Allawi). Ordinary Uzbeks, of course, remain unpeople in all of this.

Set to Stun?

According to local radio, police in Essex are to begin using taser stun guns and have chosen today to dismiss concerns about their safety. For some reason, however, I can't find anything about this online, apart from an Essex Police newsletter (available in pdf here). This reports that there introduction follows trials by five police forces.

The entirely impartial police newsletter soothes worried nerves, noting, that "despite initial conerns about whether the weapon could be lethal, no evidence has been found to deter its introduction to all forces in England and Wales." No evidence, eh? What about the 70 people who have died since 2001 in the US and Canada after being shocked with the guns? The reality, as Amnesty International notes, is that nobody's ever bothered to carry out a proper study into the risks the weapons pose:
Despite being widely deployed, there has been no rigorous, independent and impartial study into the use and effects of tasers, particularly in the case of people suffering from heart disease, or under the influence of drugs.
There are suggestions, however, that the Taser is even more lethal when used against people under the influence of drugs that induce tachycardia (an abnormally rapid heart rate), such as crack and cocaine. This, as you may have realised, is a potential problem given the increased risk that such people will find themselves in a confrontation with the police.

No doubt, proponents of Tasers will interpose that - legitimate concerns aside - the occasionally lethal Tasers are still preferable to nearly-always lethal firearms. This is an attractive argument, particularly in light of the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes on the tube. Unfortunately, what it overlooks is the way that the "non-lethal" appellation plays in lowering the threshold prohibiting the use of weapons. That is, police are likely to use Tasers in many circumstances when they would never even consider using firearms meaning people get shot who otherwise wouldn't have.

Amnesty have compiled extensive reports of the use of Tasers in the US and Canada. It is clear from even a glance that stun guns have been used in many, many cases where the utilisation of weapons is entirely innappropriate. Consider this sample from the Police Department in Chandler Arizona, where Tasers have been used to subdue
  • a female driver of a stolen vehicle being followed by police who, after she crashed the car and fled on foot and was caught by officers, "would not comply with verbal commands and made a move towards her waistband".
  • A trespassing suspect who was tasered when he "resisted being handcuffed".
  • a female suspect who had broken into her grandfather’s apartment and was tasered when she "attempted to walk away from the officer" and "pulled away" when he tried to stop her. The taser was applied five additional times before other officers arrived on the scene.
  • a burglary suspect hiding in an attic when he "refused to comply with commands".
  • a suspect who, stopped for driving with a suspended license, ran away from police.
  • an autistic teenager after he assaulted his mother and wrestled an officer to the ground.
  • a man standing on the sidewalk yelling and screaming at the sky. He was threatened with the taser if he did not comply with police commands to be quiet. He refused to comply and the taser was then deployed. The taser was effective but "as the subject began to get up, the taser was cycled a second time".
  • A thirteen-year-old girl was tasered in a public library after she threw a book at someone and was "yelling obscenities". The case summary states: "The juvenile continued to be verbally disruptive and resisted when officers attempted to place her under arrest. The Taser was displayed and threatened. The juvenile continued to resist by curling into a ball. As the juvenile was preparing to kick at the officer, she was touch-stunned in the middle of her back".
And there seems to be far more where that came from.

Quite apart from their use "in the field", there are very real concerns about the potential to utilise Tasers for torture. Amnesty warn, "Portable and easy to use, with the capacity to inflict severe pain at the push of a button without leaving substantial marks, electro-shock weapons are particularly open to abuse." There is a sickeningly large body of evidence of such weapons being used in this manner in US prisons (see e.g. this report on Red Onion State Prison in Virginia), while Amnesty allege that they were carried by the 800th Military Police Brigade who were implicated in the torture scandals at Abu Ghraib. In this country, there were 40 deaths in police custody in 2004, leading many to conclude that police brutality remains a very real problem. Do we really want to be adding Tasers to such a potentially volatile mix?

Maybe I'm just a crazy anarchist, but I'm worried about this, although I'm realistic enough to realise that my concern's unlikely to lead to anything. What I do find striking, however, is the way the police seem to have been able to bring in Tasers with almost no public debate. This is big step. Don't you think we should have talked about it? Considered the ins and outs? Balanced the various risks? ...Is this what democracy looks like?

More of the same...

Tim detourns Legoland Windsor.

Alex tries out a little experiment.

Mitchell explains the Gaza withdrawal.

Dan takes that guy of the news to task.

Simon examines the history of police lies.

Andriy copyrights the 'Orange Revolution'.

Doug debunks some market economy myths.

Pranjal posts on fuel rationing in Southern China.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


From Talk Politics. Serious analysis available at The Naked Lunch, and Lenin's Tomb.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Another Day Another Blog

Not having had much to do recently, I've been drifting around the internet trying to keep myself amused. Much of this time has been spent exploring the blogosphere. Like the atmosphere this is an expansive domain and made up largely of hot air. Mercifully this is interspersed by refreshing, eye-opening pockets (yeah, I know I'm stretching the metaphor well beyond its safety limit). One of the most intriguing blogs I've come across, however, is John Robb's Global Guerillas.

Robb seems to be some kind of military theorist, although there's no obvious biopgraphy anyway on his site and Googling the name turns up a wealth of unconnected John Robbs. The site is concerned with analysing terrorism and related issues, but does so in a fascinating and - as far as I'm aware - unique way. Robb talks about "open source warfare"; describes Fallujah (as of November last year) as a TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zone, a term presumably borrowed from the anarchist theorising of Hakim Bey); suggests that militant groups interact in a "bazaar of violence"; and argues that terrorist groups are moving away from body-count maximising attacks to system disrupting ones.

There's a huge amount to take in and, to be honest, I'm far from sure I understand more than a fraction of it. I certainly couldn't precis Robb's whole theory coherently. Nevertheless, I think Robb offers a fascinating and potentially powerful way of analysing groups which are becoming increasingly influential. Read it, think about it and worry.

Easy Week Ahead

From the front page of today's New York Times via This Modern World.

From The Horses Mouth

An Israeli commander explains the difficulties facing soliders trying to remove recalcitrant settlers from their homes in Gaza:
"Normally we would storm a house killing everyone inside, whereas here we have to storm the house and keep everyone alive," said one commander. "It’s not an easy job." (via)
Insert your own comment about the difference between the perceived value of Arab and Israeli life.

Monday, August 15, 2005

What Happens Next?

In a must-read commentary, Rahul Mahajan deals with "fears that a precipitous withdrawal [from Iraq] would inflame worldwide jihadi sentiment." While he implies that such concerns are limited to elites it has been my experience that they are widely echoed even among those deeply dubious about the conduct and/or cost of the Anglo-American occupation. As such they are concerns which those of us who oppose the occupation cannot dismiss lightly.

Mahajan asserts that
the Gordian knot of Iraq, insofar as political violence is concerned, is composed of three distinct strands: the American occupation and the resistance to that; the burgeoning sectarian conflict between Sunni Arab, Shi'a Arab, and Kurd; and the actions of a small number of fanatical extremist Sunnis who target all Shi'a as infidels and collaborators.

Ordinarily, that third group, representing only a handful of fanatics, would not loom particularly large in the Iraqi polity. It is the peculiar dynamics of war, foreign-imposed anarchy, and easy availability of high explosives that gives this group an effect out of all proportion to its constituency; it has killed 2700 Iraqis in the last three months and disrupted life immeasurably.

What few outside the antiwar movement seem to realize, and what elite dissidents must be told, is that the U.S. presence is the very factor that takes these three strands and tangles them into the seemingly indecipherable knot that is Iraq today.
He backs up his case by pointing to an article from Sunday's Washington Post (also picked up over at the Tomb):
...In Ramadi, a town much like Fallujah, 3,000 Shiites live among about 200,000 Sunnis. Recently, Zarqawi followers posted warnings that all Shi'a had to leave within 48 hours or suffer the consequences. Members of the Dulaym, the largest clan in the province and a key source of resistance to the U.S. military, established protective cordons around Shiite homes and the Jaish-i-Mohammed, a resistance group, engaged in pitched battles with Zarqawi followers, killing at least five.

They also put out statements saying Zarqawi had strayed "from the line of true resistance against occupation."

This kind of divergence must be encouraged. But it is and will remain very rare under occupation. Indeed, this same Jaish-i-Mohammed was present back in June for negotiations with the U.S. military. When the various groups present were asked to sever ties with Zarqawi, their response was, "we will never abandon any Muslim who has come to our country to help us defend it." This is the logic that will continue to animate most of the resistance, even as it deplores the killing of Iraqis by small groups.
Lots to think about. Read it in full.


Emma explores the role of alcohol in gender-based violence.

Naomi Klein considers how racism helps the terrorists.

Robert Pape explains the logic of suicide terrorism.

Tim Wise critiques the animal rights movement.

Linda Grant reports on the Israeli withdrawal.

Meaders exposes the truth about Omar Bakri.

Mark Kaplan takes on the "middle class left".

Dan Plesch warns of a US assault on Iran.

The Union Strikes Back

Remember Gate Gourmet who waxed lyrical on the dedication to be found in their "employees [sic] blood"? It turns out that they might not have viewed their "most valuable resource" so highly after all:
THE catering company at the centre of the travel chaos at Heathrow considered provoking strikes last year so staff could be replaced with cheaper labour, a leaked memo revealed last night.

A secret internal briefing presented to bosses at Gate Gourmet, British Airways’ catering company, reads: “Recruit, train and security check drivers.

“Announce intention to trade union, provoking unofficial industrial action from staff. Dismiss current workforce. Replace with new staff.”

The draft document set out a 15-week timetable for goading employees into striking so that they could be replaced with lower-paid Eastern European labour trained in secret.
Critics have been quick to point out that this plan bears more than a passing resemblance to events last week which saw the company dismiss 800 staff who had taken unofficial action. Similarly The Mirror, who originally obtained the leaked memo, note that the document had suggested that most of the new drivers be brought in from Poland, as indeed were all the drivers drafted in last week to replace staff.

As you might expect, Gate Gourmet have described the contents of the leaked memo as "sheer lunacy," as well they might given the likely costs to them and BA of the strike. Striking workers had a very different response. TGWU shop steward, Sarijit Singh Sandu, told The Mirror, "We've always believed the actions were pre-planned. Now we are in no doubt."

Sunday, August 14, 2005


In my post on Friday about the rise of the Christian Right in this country I opined, "Christian Voice were able to kick up quite a stink about the Jerry Springer Opera, but as yet their influence is limited." It turns out that I might have been understating that influence. The Sunday Times today reports that the Arts Council has decided not to fund a nationwide tour of the show, prompting "accusations that the funding body has bowed to pressure from Christian fundamentalists." Sure, Jerry Springer the Opera may not seem the most important battleground for free speech, but I fear this represents the thin end of the wedge; they've tasted blood and they'll be back for more.

Thinking about the implications of this and related developments I wish to suggest a new meme, which may go some way to countering the growth of groups like Christian Voice. The term "Islamofascism" has become a popular (if inconsistently used) term for describing Islamic extremism. I would like to suggest that we now start referring to Christian fundamentalists as Christiofascists in order to emphasise the parallels. Sure, it's unlikely to catch on, but at least I've had the chance to get something of my chest.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Big Questions: No. 1

Who are you doing after the revolution?

When Meat Isn't Murder

Nella links to this article in today's Guardian which suggests that it may soon be possible to produce meat without the need to kill animals:
Scientists have adapted the cutting-edge medical technique of tissue engineering, where individual cells are multiplied into whole tissues, and applied them to food production. "With a single cell, you could theoretically produce the world's annual meat supply," said Jason Matheny, an agricultural scientist at the University of Maryland.
The report notes that this would be more environmentally friendly than farm-reared meat and could be tailored to be healthier by increasing its nutrient content and screening for diseases. Experiments for NASA have apparently already yielded morsels of edible fish, although no one has as yet eaten any of it.

Scientists working on the idea envisage cells growing in huge sheets which could then be turned into processed meat products like chicken nuggets. Steak produced in this way is still some way of, however:
"Scientists believe that while tissue engineering is advanced enough to grow bland, homogeneous meat, tasty and textured cuts will have to wait."

"Right now, it would be possible to produce something like spam at an incredibly high cost, but the know-how to grow something that has structure, such as a steak, is a long way off," said Mr Matheny.
The question then arises whether anybody would eat the stuff. Nella notes, that "since the fact that an animal cell is used at the start of the process makes it not vegan." Whether vegetarians will do so depends on why they gave up meat. Kerry Bennett, of the Vegetarian Society, notes, "It won't appeal to someone who gave up meat because they think it's morally wrong to eat flesh or someone who doesn't want to eat anything unnatural." Which then brings us onto meat-eaters. Is this new development likely to convince them to give up old-fashioned farm-reared meat?

Those who eat meat because they think it's a neccessary part of their diet in terms of health might be convinced, particularly if its nutritional content can be shown to be higher. Those who don't want to limit their diet are less likely to be converted, particularly if the only thing on offer is animal-free "chicken nuggets". Nella is probably right to point out that many meat eaters will also be put off because the new process grosses them out. This is strange because it hardly seems anywhere near as gross as the slaughter, dismemberment and perhaps even reconstitution of an animal neccesary to produce meat in the current manner (and that's before we've even started talking about what goes into chicken nuggets), but this won't detract from the strength with which such convictions will be held.

Long story short: I'm far from sure that it'll catch on. Like Nella I'm dubious about whether it will actually be used for the benefit of those in the third-world as some advocates suggest. Not because it doesn't have the potential to be used in this manner, but because the global economic system operates in such a way as to make it unlikely. I'm not even sure if I'd eat it although I think we should look very carefully into something which offers such potential for reducing the suffering of animals.

Cottoning On to Karimov

For anyone wanting to find out more about Uzbekistan's cotton harvest - either in preparation for September 1st or simply out of curiosity - there are probably few better places to start than this photo essay, brought to you by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, always a good source for information on what's going on in the country. (Props to Pitch in for Uzbekistan for the heads up on this one.)

We will hang the last imperialist with the entrails of the last theocrat...

The execution in July of two teenagers in Iran for the "crime" of homosexuality has attracted widespread criticism and quite rightly. Doug Ireland now reports that a further two gay men - Farbod Mostaar and Ahmad Chooka - have been tried and sentenced to be executed for homosexuality on August 28, in the Iranian city of Arak. Ireland notes that surveillance and repression of homosexuals under the clerical regime appears to have got worse since the international attention focused on last month's hangings. All told this portends a bleak future for Iranians of the "wrong" sexuality.

These developments also pose some difficult strategic and tactical questions for activists in the west trying to build solidarity with those resisting the Iranian regime. Insofar as international attention has exacerbated the situation it could be argued that we are better off doing nothing, but it should be pointed out that the initial hangings took place *before* the new crackdown. Sitting back and doing nothing is hardly an admirable response however it is wrapped up. This leads us to an obvious question: what is to be done?

Pete Tatchell calls for the international community "to treat Iran as a pariah state, break off diplomatic relations, impose trade sanctions and give practical support to the democratic and left opposition inside Iran." I have no problem with the pariah state business, but the imposition of sanctions seems more problematic; the US already imposes such sanctions and they seem to have little effect. Tatchell's call for the support of "democratic and left opposition inside Iran" is fine and decent, but unlikely to be heeded by the powerful who have rarely supported opposition groups on the basis of their principles, their subservience to the interests of power being a much more significant factor in the selection process.

If the drums of war continue to be beaten by the White House, not an unrealistic possibility - although I think a war with Iran is far from certain at the present time - then such questions will be thrown into stark contrast. Those of us interested in building a better world must find a way to beat a path distinct from that of both the incumbent Iranian regime and US-led imperialism. Linking up with the "democratic and left opposition inside Iran" to which Tatchell refers is an important part of that.

African Famine Driven by Fundamentalism! Part 2.

I've written about the role of free market reforms in bringing about the humanitarian catastrophe (there's apparently some debate over whether it's actually a famine or not) in Niger previously (as have Pranjal and Lenin), but my key source was the Grauniad which sceptics might consider to be less than objective. That it now seems to have been picked up by the Washington Post (link via This Modern World) might go someway to strengthening its credibility. If nothing else, it re-emphasises the point.

The picture painted by the article is a bleak one:
With her family's stocks of millet long gone, Rachida Abdou tied her shrunken baby girl to her back and grabbed the emaciated hand of her 7-year-old son. Together, they set out in search of food, or for somebody who might help.

On the fifth day of their journey, they stumbled into Maradi, a trading center. There, Abdou recounted, they saw something that they hadn't encountered in a very long time: food. There were sacks of rice, bags of peanuts and baskets of millet in the bustling markets. There was enough food -- here in the epicenter of a major hunger crisis -- to feed her family and thousands like it, if only they had the cash.

"What can you do?" said Abdou, a tall woman of about 30 with dark, piercing eyes. She sounded frustrated, and a bit desperate. "The price of millet is very high."
The reason for this horrific situation?
In a country adopting free market policies, the suffering caused by a poor harvest has been dramatically compounded by a surge in food prices and, many people here suspect, profiteering by a burgeoning community of traders, who in recent years have been freed from government price controls and other mechanisms that once balanced market forces.

At the same time, Nigeriens said, the tradition of sharing in their society is giving way to sharper, more selfish attitudes as Niger, one of the world's poorest countries, reaches for a more materialistic, Westernized future. That is especially true here, along the southern border with Nigeria, where an aggressive entrepreneurial culture has created the economic powerhouse of West Africa.

"There are people who are making profit out of this whole situation," said Abdoulkader Mamane Idi, a local radio journalist. "The link of brotherhood and solidarity has been broken."
Clearly traders must take some blame for the situation, benefiting at the expense of their less fortunate fellow citizens, but what of the Nigerien government?
A government spokesman, Ben Omar Mohamed, said from Niamey that the government has provided 42,000 tons of free and subsidized food to ease hunger. In Maradi, however, there is little evidence of official food distribution.

Longer-term economic policies may be working against a solution, according to some observers. In 1993, the government scrapped price controls at the urging of the World Bank and stopped heavy-handed interventions in grain markets by an import-export agency.

Mohamed acknowledged that prices have risen sharply but said the government was attempting to address the problem. "Absolutely, traders are making money because the demand is very high," he said. "We let the market determine the price."
Read over that last line again and remember that it is being said in the face of a humanitarian catastrophe in which 3.6 million people may be facing starvation. Are these people to be sacrificed on the altar of the free market? Are we prepared to standby and let that happen? I hope not; as Zeynep Toufe notes, the situation in Niger raises some very important questions.

Update 15/8/05: Pranjal Tiwari pointed me in the direction of this article from Z-Net which says much the same thing, but provides more historical context.

Compare and Contrast

1) The soothing phrases on Gate Gourmet's flashy website:
Dedication – it is not to be found in any management training manual, but it is in our employees blood. Gate Gourmet people thrive on pace and on meeting tough demands. Explore our people section in order to learn what really is behind our most valuable resources – our employees.
2) Gate Gourmet's comments to Tony Woodley, Transport and General Workers Union general secretary, about those self same workers:
The company has told us that "this is a community we cannot work with".
Background here. Links via Dead Men Left and the forums.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Flashy Technical Stuff

I think that I've succesfully installed Haloscan comments and tracback, although it'd could all go tits-up at any time given my technical know-how. Please give them a whirl and report back if they don't work properly/at all. If you don't have trackback enabled on your blog you can still "ping" me using this handy free resource (via Europhobia).

The Unintelligent Designs of the Christian Right

Dogma is a powerful thing. It is also a very dangerous thing. Despite this it remains strangely seductive, promising not just a quickly forotten one night stand, but a serious long-term relationship. (What do you mean you don't know what I'm going on about?!)

Consider Dinosaur Adventure Land (via Manic) which appears to be for real (it's a bloody impressive hoax if not). As will become quickly obvious if you take the time to peruse the site, DAL is a Creationist Theme Park, set up by American Christian Fundamentalist-types in order propagate anti-evolution propaganda. Nowdays the trendy "theory" among such people is intelligent design, which seeks to explan evolutionary change by attributing it to design by a higher being (i.e. God). What's striking about DAL is that the organisers don't have any time for such mealy-mouthed compromise. No siree. They're proper dyed in the wool believers.

It gets better, however. These people don't just literally believe in creation, they also think that dinosaurs used to roam the earth with humans and were only wiped out by the great flood recounted in Genesis (the one with Noah and the Ark and all that stuff). There evidence for this? A few passages in the Bible which describe things which nowdays sound a bit like what we call Dinosaurs and folk-stories from people's around the world which bear a similar resemblance. You'll excuse me if I maintain my scepticism.

It's easy to look at stuff like this and use it as an excuse to laugh at the Americans. We'd never have anything so stupid over here right? Unfortunately, as the saying goes, when the US sneezes the UK gets a cold. This is usually applied to economics, but is just as relevant in the context of crazy religious groups. There are real fears about the role of creationists within the governments new privately-funded "City Academies" scheme, while Creation Fest, a "Christain youth festival" has apparently doubled its attendance year on year since 2001. Couple that with the emergence of evangelical pressure groups like Christian Voice and you've got a dangerous combination.

The Christian Right in the US is at the present time on the offensive. American liberals seem to have little idea how to respond. The reason for the right's success lies in the fact that it has organised itself into a movement. They don't just mobilise themselves every four years for an election campaign and then disappear. They're advocating their ideas and attacking their enemies constantly. There's even an industry of books, videos and computer games growing up around them. Those on the left (and I use the term in its widest sense here) should be doing the same thing. If they want to stop them then they need to be just as organised. Unfortunately at this point they've got a long hill to climb and there are few signs of interest in such movement building anyway (Air America being one of the few exceptions). On this side of the pond, we have more time. Christian Voice were able to kick up quite a stink about the Jerry Springer Opera, but as yet their influence is limited. That is unlikely to remain the case and in the future they may be more succesful. If we're going to make a stand we need to do so soon.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Miscellaneous Verbage

Ann Coulter makes a fool of herself.

George Monbiot laments our hypocrisy.

Karen Armstrong discusses interpretation.

Brian Leiter Google Bombs Intelligent Design.

The Scottish Socialist Party seeks your support.

Bronwen Maddox reveals the truth about Basra.

Rahul Mahajan reflects on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Hairy Jedi meets some Seriously Organised Criminals.

Doug Ireland reports on Iraqi boys forced into the sex trade.

Public Service Blogging

When I mentioned that I was planning on starting a series on the "underreported world", it generated what in these parts passes for a flurry of activity in the comments section (i.e. two comments) as people suggested conflicts and countries I should look at. That being the case, and me having an overblown sense of my own usefulness, I thought I'd put the issue up for a vote. If you'd like me to find out and write about a specific country please say so in the comments section. Possible suggestions (in alphabetical order) include: Aceh, Burundi, Chechnnya, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Venezuela and West Papua, but feel free to suggest others.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Ban Ban Not Dead, Part 2.

Ken at Militant Moderate has an interesting post in which he argues that plans to ban Islamic extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir (HUT) are analagous to Belgium's decision to ban the far-right party Vlaams Blok. He believes that a ban is probably a mistake in both cases and I tend to agree with him. I posted my opinions on the Vlaams Blok ban at the time, but I think it is probably worth running through them again and applying them to the specific case in hand.

In both cases the first issue which springs to mind is that of freedom of speech. While I think this is important, I argue that it is a mistake to see it as an absolute right. To do so would render any rights system essentially meaningless. Should I, for instance, be allowed to barge into your house, plaster your walls with posters and excoriate this or that government policy through a megaphone while you try and watch Eastenders? Clearly not, because you have a right to privacy with which my freedom of speech must be balanced. There must then be circumstances in which we can - perhaps even should - curtail people's freedom of speech. The only question is when.

There are probably few hard and fast answers here. The classic example of somebody shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre does not have a particularly wide application. If people were actively inciting racist or terrorist attacks, this again would seem to be fairly clear cut, but most far-right groups have made increasing steps to appear reasonable and restrict their rhetoric, while HUT appear have been consistently non-violent throughout their history. Perhaps then their legality gives the positions these groups espouse some legitimacy in the eyes of potential supporters. My guess is that this is likely to be more significant in the case of Vaams Blok who have participated (and unfortunately done quite well) in Belgian elections, but I'm unconvinced that it is sufficient basis for a ban. Consider also that they might actually get more legitimacy if banned as they can present themselves as martyrs, repressed by an oppressive Francophone/Islamophobic (delete as appropriate) elite.

There is also a not insignificant matter of practicality. Groups can simply change their name and continue on virtually as before without legal censure as Vlaams Blok have done. Alternatively they can simply go underground. Many of HUT's Central Asian branches have done this. No doubt it has had some effect on their membership, but even in the face of vicious government repression the organisation may have as many as 20,000 members in the region. More worryingly there are rumours that repression may actually be pushing previously non-violent groups towards adopting more confrontational tactics. EurasiaNet reported in 2003:
Dr. Bakhtiar Babadjanov, a Tashkent-based political scientist, suggested Hizb-an-Nusra [a HUT splinter group - Dk] leaders believe that non-violent tactics will never be sufficient to bring about the collapse of Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s administration.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s main tactic of distributing leaflets caused the arrest of "a significant proportion of Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s younger membership," Babadjanov wrote. As a result, the Hizb-an-Nusra leaders decided it "was time for more radical efforts."
This hardly looks like a model we should wish to emulate.

The final - and for me - clinching consideration is a decidedely self-interested one. Governments do make decisions to ban organisation partly on the basis that their views are abhorrent, but they also do so on the basis that they fall outside the elite consensus: Those advocating the bombing of tube trains are banned; those csupporting the bombing of Arab cities run the country. Insofar as Islamic extremists or fascists fall outside this consensus they may well be banned, but it is not inconceivable that they could also ban progressive organisations who manage to get themselves into a position where they can effectively challenge the status quo. In fact, we needn't lose ourselves in such fantasies. The government has on a number of occasions taken the decision to ban anti-fascist events such as a carnival in Burnley in 2001.

Events in recent weeks suggest an offshoot from this last point which did not arise in the context of Vlaams Blok; the issue of Islamophobia. Who is to say the government won't deicde that this or that Islamic organisation is "extremist" simply because it is Islamic. Note that they have gone after HUT very early on. Many of their views are indeed contemptible (and in my opinion they're a little crazy), but they do appear to have been consistently non-violent and according to Wikipedia, even government documents argue that they do not participate in or espouse terrorism. Where do we draw the line between disagreement, but tolerance and disagreement leading to a ban? Logic might suggest that the line would be based on advocacy of violence, but this doesn't seem to have been the case with HUT, so where is it?

Long story short: The ban's a bad idea. This I suppose raise the question of what I propose the government do instead to deal with Islamic extremism and/or fascism. On the latter I will simply note that I don't think it is something governments can deal with and as such, I think it's up to the rest of us to follow in the long, proud anti-fascist heritage and deal with the bastards ourselves. As for Islamic extremism, the response, I think, is the same as that I've suggested for dealing with alienation amongst members of ethnic minorities: tackle the causes of that alienation. If we deal with poverty and unemployment, tackle racism and sort out our foreign policy it's going to be a lot harder for HUT and the like to recruit. Of course, the government aren't going to do that. Much easier to maintain the status quo while satiating the right-wing press with an ineffective ban or two.

Brand Loyalty

The latest government proposals:
Home Office Minister Hazel Blears today backed down from her controversial proposed policy of "re-branding" British Muslims, claiming that she had been misunderstood.

"I never mentioned "'re-branding'" she said. "What I said was 'branding'. We're going to brand British Muslims."
The rest here. (Via here.)

Lording Over It

Today marks the 94th anniversary of the passing of the Parliament Act 1911. This was only ever intended to be a temporary measure and the preable asserted that "it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation." Here we are 94 years later, little closer to the constitution of a Second Chamber on a "popular" (i.e. democratic) basis. Sure, we've had some reforms, but all they really mean is that most of the hereditaries have been replaced by patronage - Tony Blair has been able to appoint more people to the House of Lords than any other Prime Minister.

To mark this anniversary and to push for further reform, Elect the Lords have declared today Lords Reform Day. They have asked bloggers to mark this and raise awareness about the campaign by writing about it on their blogs. There was a pledge which people could sign up to in order to demonstrate their support (an idea, incidentally, which inspired this). Typically late off the blocks, I missed the deadline on this, but thought I'd chip in anyway.

Those of you who followed this blog during the elections will be aware that I am more than a little cynical about what passes for democracy in this country. (Those of you who didn't might care to read this, which will give you some idea of where I stand). Despite my criticisms, I still believe that an elected Second Chamber is better than an unelected one. The basic reason for this is that I see democracy not so much as a specific way of doing things, but as a scale against which different systems can be judged. The greater the degree of popular participation in decision making, the greater the degree of democracy. In this view, liberal democracy is actually not all that democratic, given that the main choice you make is who you are going to select to make decisions for you. Nevertheless, such a system is still much more democratic than a dictatorship. An anarchist utopia in which workers controlled the means of production and organised society co-operatively would, of course, be yet more democratic.

Anything which extends popular participation is, I would argue, a good thing and a step in the right direction. This is not to suggest that it brings us any closer to the kind of fundamental social change which I think is desirable, but given that such a change looks to be someway of at the present time, it's a start.

Subsequent Update: See what others have to say on the matter here.

Technorati tag (flashy technical thingy):

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

More Miscellany

Nathan bids farewell to K2.

Nosemonkey gets suspicious.

Monbiot deals with patriotism.

Tim tackles conspiracy theories.

Justin McKeating muses on the left and Iraq.

Nottingham Indymedia emerges into the sunglight.

The Department of Social Scrutiny investigates your financial circumstances.

Underreported World I: Western Sahara

Although it wasn't really my intention when I started this thing, much of what I have written has been concerned with international relations. I have, however, tried to avoid discussing only the "big stories" (like Iraq and Israel-Palestine), but also to look at others which attract less attention (particularly Uzbekistan and Diego Garcia). Continuing in this tradition I have decided to start a new series looking at little known conflicts around the world. This may include (perhaps, maybe, if I don't abandon the idea) Aceh, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and West Papua. I should stress that I'm not an expert on any of these conflicts and I'm likely to make the occasional mistake, but I'm hoping that this will be outweighed by what we learn along the way. Anyway, on with the first entry in the series: Western Sahara.

(Map of Western Sahara from New Internationalist)

Western Sahara
is Africa's only remaining colonised country, having been under Moroccan occupation since 1975. Despite having never been able to enjoy their independence and having been condemned to exile for thirty-years, the Saharawi people continue to resist and assert their right to self-determination.

Spain took control of what would then become "Spanish Sahara" in 1884. They faced stiff resistance from the Sharawis from the beginning and were not able to assert full colonial rule until 1936. Even then Spain seems to have been largely disinterested in developing the country, at least until the natural resources of the territory (primarily phosphate) became evident.

In 1966, the move towards decolonisation was in full-force and the UN called on Spain (then ruled by General Franco) to organise a referendum on independence, but this never took place, although the Spanish would eventually - and apparently quite reluctantly - carry out a census ostensibly in preparation for such a plebiscite. Saharawis organised large demonstrations calling for independence. These came to an end on June 17, 1970 when a protest in Zemla (El Aaiun) was brutally crushed; many were killed and hundreds arrested. In 1973 Polisario (the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro) was formed and began an armed struggle against Spanish forces.

There were a number of competing claims to sovereignty over Western Sahara and in 1974 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution requesting an opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The ICJ ruled, in October 1975, that although a number of tribes in pre-colonial Western Sahara had some alleigances to the Moroccan sultan, there were no ties which prevented the country from asserting its right to self-determination. Despite this, Morocco announced that 350,000 volunteers would cross the border into Western Sahara on a "Green March". This took place on November 6, but the volunteers were replaced with soliders within days. On November 14 as Franco lay on his death bed, Spain signed a secret agreement handing the territory over to Morocco and Mauritania.

As Morocco advanced, thousands of Saharawis fled into the desert, setting up make-shift refugee camps. A number tried to stay in Western Sahara, but came under attack from Moroccan aircraft which the Red Cross reported were using napalm. Eventually thousands of refugees reached Algeria where the government ceded control over part of its territory to Polisario who set up and organised their own refugee camps.

Polisario, who declared the formation of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in February 1976, shifted its struggle towards the new occupiers, but concentrated its attacks on the weaker Mauritania, forcing them to enter talks and withdraw in 1979. Moroccan forces greatly outnumbered those of Polisario and were soon in control of the whole country, forcing the Saharawis to revert to guerilla warfare.

From 1980 onwards Morocco began building a fortified wall - protected by minefields and artillery - to enclose the the occupied territory. The wall is now 2,500 km long (which makes it longer than Israel's security barrier/apartheid wall around the West Bank or the Berlin wall) and encloses two-thirds of Western Sahara (see map above for route).

Diplomatic pressure on Morocco grew during the 1980s and in 1991 a ceasefire overseen by the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) came into effect. Morocco, however, did what it could to delay and disrupt any hopes of a referendum, knowing that a free vote would go against it. In August 1991, they presented a list of 120,000 Moroccan settlers resident in Western Sahara who were not included in the Spanish census (because they had only moved to the territory after it was invaded) but whom the Moroccans insisted were eligible to vote. Although it was a flagrant attempt to stack the vote and retain control over the territories (cf the use of settlements for demographic engineering elsewhere in the world), the UN endorsed the Moroccan list. After this little happened until the appointment as a special UN representative of former US Secretary of State James Baker in 1997. This breathed new life into the peace process and for a while the referendum looked more likely.

In 2003 the latest UN plan was unveiled. This asked Polisario to accept the presence of 200,000 Moroccans in the territory, which they did in the hope of getting things moving again and under some pressure from their Algerian allies. Nonetheless, Morocco rejected the deal outright. Baker became so frustrated that he resigned in June 2004. Since then there have been few developments in the peace process, but there has been a growing trend for governments to formally recognise the SADR, with over 70 now doing so, South Africa which took the step in September 2004 being only the most prominent.

May-June this year saw a popular uprising, widely described as an Intifada, on the part of many Saharawis. The uprising began as a relatively small protest in El Aaiun calling for respect for human rights, but large numbers of ordinary Saharawis took the streets, calling for an end to the occupation. Met with Moroccan resistance, protests spread to other Saharawis towns and even to several Moroccan universities. It is unlikely that these protests portend the final days of the Moroccan occupation, but they do show that Saharawis reject it and that they will not sit back and allow it to continue unhindered.

Like so many conflicts around the world, the occupation of Western Sahara is driven by a desire to control natural resources, in this case phosphate and oil (the latter being something Polisario appear to be trying to use to their advantage by offering exploration licences which will become valid once they take power). This coupled with institutional inertia and national pride has prevented Morocco from leaving. Its position in the country, however, appears to be shaky (even many of the Moroccan settlers would apparently like to see Western Sahara become independent) and a little bit of international pressure on Morocco and solidarity with the Saharawis could go a long way.

You can find out more here, get the latest news here and get involved here.

Monday, August 08, 2005

What the Hell is Britishness Anyway?

Lenin's Tomb is currently playing host to a number of unsavoury characters, but the Tomb's resident dead Russian is still resident and remains his usual mild-mannered self. Today he comments on this piece from the Telegraph by MP, journalist and TV "star" Boris Johnson. Picking up on the meme of the moment (which he claims to have had a part in instigating), Johnson pontificates on the need for more "Britishness".

Like Lenin, I was particularly struck by this passage:
We've all got to be as British as Carry On films and scotch eggs and falling over on the beach while trying to change into your swimming trunks with a towel on. We should all feel the same mysterious pang at the sight of the Queen. We do indeed need to inculcate this Britishness, especially into young Muslims, and the problem is how.
Personally, I think the Carry On films are overrated and as a vegetarian I don't eat scotch eggs. As for Johnson's mysterious pangs... Well, whatever arousal he may experience at the sight of Queeny is, of course, his own business, but she doesn't do anything for me. All I feel when I see her is a barely repressed class-hatred, but I doubt that's what he's getting at. Does this mean I'm not British?

And that isn't Johnson's only pearl of wisdom:
Americans all understand instinctively that they are equal citizens of the greatest country on earth, and they all have an equal chance of rising to the top of that country.
They also understand that it helps if you're not black, you're not born into the wrong family and you're daddy's already rich and powerful. Johnson's understanding of America, it would appear, is as grounded in reality as his take on "Britishness".

I concede that there are real questions to be confronted about the integration of ethnic minorities and I have my criticism of multiculturalism, but we need to get away from the idea that the problem lies with those recalcitrant Muslims who don't subscribe to an idea of "Britishness" which bears little or no resemblance to real life in Twenty-First Century Britian. Insofar as alienation amongst ethnic minorities has causes (discussed briefly here) these need to be confronted and dealt with and it is this we should concern ourselves with, rather than the inane expatiation on the evils of multiculturalism offered by various members of the Conservative Party.

Uzblog Redux

So far I've had a number of people expressing an interest in the proposal for an Uzbekistan blog campaign day. Among the interested parties was one Robin Grant of who suggested using this model to capitalise on the power of the Pledge Bank website. This didn't seem like a bad idea and so I started this.

The pledge reads, "I will blog about the situation in Uzbekistan, supporting call for sanctions on Uzbek cotton on September 1st but only if 20 other people will too." I'm not entirely sure about the numbers involved. Twenty seems quite low, but equally I didn't want to be over-optimistic. Besides, there's no reason why there couldn't be more participants if the idea takes off. If you think it's a good idea, please support it and spread the word.

Veganism = Sexy?!

If I say the word "vegan" to you it is unlikely that the first word which springs into your head is "sexy". The Vegan Vixens, however, are trying to change that perception. The basic idea behind what The Times describes as "a television phenomenon," is a group of attractive, young, scantily-clad ladies attempting to convince men to give up meat.

There is, unfortunately, no guarantee that the programme will have much, or even any effect, on meat consumption in the States. Male sexual arousal entails blood running away from the brain to be used elsewhere. This doesn't exactly create the best situation to engage in political and ethical debate. The failure of Babes Against Bush perhaps stand as a testament to that. I gave up meat (although I'm not vegan) for a number of reasons. That it would make me more popular with the ladies was someway down the list and I figure that will be the case for most - if not all - vegetarians.

The sexism which the programme reflects also merits comment, although I'll limit myself (the rest seeming so obvious) to noting that there is no "Vegan Beefcake" programme and I doubt there will be. (This is probably a good time to link to this article on feminism and the British left via The World of the Dynamite Lady.)

This White-British Blogger on Hazel Blears Latest Idea

The government is quickly backtracking from its suggestion, reported in many of today's papers, that ethnic minorities take on new titles in order to strengthen their sense of "Britishness". Home Office minister Hazel Blears had suggested that members of ethnic minorities be known by US-style hyphenated names such as Asian-British or Pakistani-British.

Those of you familiar with A Thousand Plateaus may want to ponder what conclusions a Deleuzo-Guattarian reading of this proposal might reach. The rest of us will have to content ourselves with a consideration of what the idea might tell us about those who suggested it.

I think Lee Bryant of is onto something when he opines, "As an enthusiastic and earnest new Labour Minister, Hazel Blears presumably believes that no problem in life is so intractable that it cannot be solved with re-branding or a new logo." Arguably the idea is consistent with a polycultural worldview insofar as it acknowledges that individuals are not monocultural islands, but instead the product of complicated cultural interactions. Nevertheless, it is unlikely it would achieve what it set out to, even if the government could find a way to encourage widespread use of the new terms. In large part, this is because it feels like a way of trying to respond to the problem without doing anything about its causes.

There is no doubt that there are people from ethnic minorities in this country who feel alienated. This hasn't come about, however, because they haven't had enough hyphens. It is, instead, a consequence in large part of the conditions in which they live (members of ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented in unemployment and poverty figures); the racism many of them have been subjected to; and a rejection of British foreign policy. Dealing with these problems would entail serious changes on the part of the government, many - perhaps even most - of which they are unwilling to bring about.

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