the Disillusioned kid: November 2004
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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Lazy Blogging

'The Head Heeb', Jonathan Edelstein, writes,
In an interview with the Mauritian daily L'Express, departing British high commissioner David Snoxell shares his views on the Chagos Archipelago issue. If his statements represent the official line, then the British and the ilois don't have much to talk about: his position is that the ilois were fully compensated by the partial cash settlement in the 1970s, he's standing by the much-criticized study suggesting that resettlement is unfeasible, and even a visit to Diego Garcia will have to wait until "the Americans come round to it" - a development that may be some time in coming. To be sure, Snoxell is a diplomat and he can't realistically be expected to prejudice the British government's legal position while judicial review of its decisions is in progress, but his brusque dismissal of the ilois' grievances (not to mention his patronizing tone) suggest that Downing Street isn't interested in pursuing a parallel political track. Expect the Chagos question to be settled in the courts: if not in London, then in Strasbourg.
I post this, not only because he was kind enough to link to me, but because I think his assessment is essentially accurate, although I'm less optimistic about the issue being sorted by the courts.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Return to Darfur

Over the summer I went through a phase where I wrote about the situation in Darfur, western Sudan quite heavily, however, with one thing and another I haven't written much on the subject for sometime. This stems from a general sense of powerlessness over the issue and a belief that I have little to offer beyond what you can find in the pages of any half-decent newspaper. While researching my earlier post on violence against women, I visited the Amnesty UK website and my attention was drawn to a report by the organisation alleging that the UK along with others has allowed uncontrolled arms exports to Sudan, fuelling massive human rights abuses in the country. This inspired me to return to the issue and offer my two-pence.

For anyone who has been living under a rock for the last six months, Darfur is an area in western Sudan which rebelled against the central Sudanese government in 2003. The government based in Khartoum responded by arming, training and supporting Janjaweed militia who have attacked many villages, driving the inhabitants out or massacring them. This has precipitated a humanitarian catastrophe which may have claimed the lives of as many as 200,000 people. The scale of the death toll and the way the project has been carried out has led some to describe the situation as "genocide" which has a specific definition under the 1948 Genocide Convention. (For a more detailed background, I highly recommend people check out this piece by Alex de Waal from the London Review of Books.)

Last week I went to a meeting about the situation addressed by representatives of UNICEF and Justice Africa. This served to deepen my understanding of the situation and put it into context with conflicts in southern and eastern Sudan and northern Darfur which all stem from a sense of frustration at the marginalisation experienced by groups in those areas. With no way to express their grievances peacefully they have taken up arms and the government has responded viciously. The meeting also reinforced my belief that a genuinely empowered African Union peacekeeping force, with the power to intervene to stop massacres, is the best hope for an effective solution. A straight-forward Western intervention along the lines of Kosovo or even Iraq would most likely be counterproductive. One need only look at the mess which Iraq has become to see just how wrong such interventions can go.

The Amnesty report reveals,
Amnesty International has seen Sudanese End User Certificates authorising a UK company, Endeavour Resources UK Ltd, to negotiate on behalf of the Sudanese authorities for the supply of Brazilian handguns and large numbers of Antonov aircraft from a Ukrainian arms export company. Eyewitnesses in Darfur report the Sudan Air Force using Antonovs to drop ?barrel bombs?- boxes filled with metal shrapnel:

"Janjawid and soldiers of the forces of the government both in uniforms came and attacked...In the morning of 11 October they dropped 17 barrels of shrapnel from the Antonov. Then they came, the Janjawid on horses and the government army in cars. It was many many of them, maybe even 6000. More than 80 people were killed during the attack"

The UK?s Export Control Act outlaws UK nationals and residents brokering weapons to countries subject to an EU arms embargo, such as Sudan.

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Stephen Bowen said:

"It is sickening that UK companies may be attempting to profit from people?s misery in Sudan, by supplying the weapons that are used to kill, maim and drive people from their homes.

"The Export Control Act was put in place to stop this happening. The UK government must use its powers to clamp down on any UK companies trying to cash in on a conflict that has already claimed thousands of lives."
It surely wouldn't be difficult for the government to crack down on these activities if they wanted to. Indeed if they are serious about much of their rhetoric regarding Sudan and its actions in Darfur, one would have expected tat they would have done all they could to crack down on the arms trade to the country. That they haven't done so raises difficult questions. When considered alongside the west's failure ensure effective provision of aid it becomes difficult not wonder if the rhetoric is not perhaps a little hollow. While oil is cited by some as motivation behind Western interest in Sudan, the failure to intervene suggests that the rhetoric may only be intended for domestic consumption. This would explain why despite having declared Sudanese actions "genocide" shortly before the election, the Bush Administration have done little in its aftermath.

I remain very dubious about the imposition of sanctions on Sudan (and indeed elsewhere, as I've commented before) they are likely only to exacerbate the suffering of ordinary Sudanese and have little or no effect on the elites pursuing the policies which have resulted in the deaths of so many Darfurians. Nonetheless an effective arms embargo seems an entirely sensible course of action and all possible steps should be taken to bring this about, ideally in concert with efforts on other fronts (securing a mandate for an effective AU force etc.).

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Blogger Me!

Timx over at Time The Dreaded Enemy has lots of lovely things to say about this blog. Which is awfully nice of him. Tim is one of my innumerable regular readers and frequently makes appearances in the comments section. His latest post is a reflection on the art (if I can call it that) of blogging and what makes a good blog. He follows this with the select number of blogs he reads daily and yours truly is among this prestigious few. The other blogs he lists are certainly worth a gander and his own effort (or more accurately efforts, as he now has a second blog) ain't half bad either. I must confess that I envy his ability to look at the mundane and point out the fascinating, unique or just plain weird which lies within. Go check it out.

Electoral Sham (and you don't even have to look at the exit polls to tell)

The world's attention is currently focused on events in the Ukraine. It is not, however, the only former Soviet Bloc country currently weighing up its relations with the West and Russia facing controversial elections. This is also occurring in Uzbekistan, although with Islam Karimov having all but abandoned even the facade of democracy, the situation in the Central Asian Republic may be even more extreme.

An article by Galima Bukharbaeva of the (highly recommended) institute for War and Peace Reporting reveals that Parliamentary elections to be held on December 26 are to be boycotted by three opposition parties. The Birlik ('Unity') and Ozod Dehkonlar ('Free Farmers') parties announced their decision after they were prevented from registering candidates, while a third party ERK ('Will') declared from the outset that they "did not want to take part in a lie".

Bukharbaeva explains the significance of the election:
The election will create a two-house parliament for the first time, replacing the old single-chamber body. The lower house will have 120 deputies elected on a constituency basis, less than half the 250 who now sit in the legislative chamber. The upper house will consist of 100 senators, 16 appointed by President Karimov and the rest picked by regional councils.
According to The Central Election Commission, CEC, about 500 candidates will compete for the 120 seats in the legislature. Birlik and Ozod Dehkonlar had hoped to be among them. Since no Uzbek opposition group has been granted official recognition, they are prevented from standing in their own name. The two parties had instead opted to have candidates stand as independents, who would be nominated by public "initiative groups".

Bukharbaeva notes that even this is a step forward as the two parties have been forced to operate underground, with their leaders in exile, for a decade. Despite this apparent step forward, both parties found officials unwilling to accept application papers. He reports, "Leading figures in Birlik accuse election officials of a range of tactics to avoid processing its applications, including refusing to accept documents, closing election offices and even running away from them. In cases where documents were accepted, they were returned later with officials complaining that signatures in support of the candidate had been forged."

The effect of these machinations was that the November 11 deadline ran out before Birlik was able to provide evidence as to the provenance of the signatures they had collected "and in some cases even before it managed to track down the election staff." Among those whose papers were rejected was the party?s deputy chairman Ismail Dadajanov who put his name forward in the Fergana Valley city of Kokand. He reported having difficulties previously when he had arranged a meeting of his initiative group in a theatre only for managers to abruptly change their mind and declare that the building required urgent renovation work.

And what does the CEC have to say about all this?
A spokesman for the CEC denied allegations of misconduct by officials. Press secretary Sherzod Kudratkhojaev said it did not matter to his commission whether independent candidates represented an opposition party or not, since their nominations came from an initiative group, not the party itself.

Documents were rejected not to stop the opposition taking part in elections, but because the candidates ? like many other independents ? had broken many rules, said Kudratkhojaev.

He dismissed the allegations of police intimidation made by Birlik?s Musojonov, saying, "There was no pressure on anyone; that information is not objective."

Some of the initiative group members did not even know their details were being used to nominate a candidate for the election, he said.

"How can these complaining opposition members nominate themselves as deputies - how can they call for order - if they commit violations themselves?" asked the CEC spokesman.
All very convincing given the Karimov regime's record, I'm sure you'll agree.

Dadajanov notes that the upside of his party's failure to achieve representation in the elections is that it clearly shows the paucity of choice on election day. "We showed in practice that these elections cannot be honest if there were violations even at the initial stage of gathering documents," he said. Bukharbaeva cites "independent political scientist" Bahodir Musaev who argues that the nomination of candidates by the opposition was doomed from the start because Karimov remains opposed to true pluralism. "These elections are without choice," he said. "This system of power does not allow outsiders in." Musaev also believes, "The boycott will not work, because to achieve that, one would need an organised structure to conduct an extensive public campaign. The regime will not allow that."

Karimov's opposition to true pluralism does not mean there will be no candidates contesting the election. There will still be five parties on the ballot, all set up with Karimov's blessing and articulating pro-government policies, with little to tell them apart. Nonetheless an Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe report on the elections noted, "The lack of registered opposition parties and obstacles for independent candidates seriously marginalises the possibilities for meaningful political competition."

The Day Today

Today (November 25) is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The date was so designated by UN General Assembly Resolution 54/134 of December 17, 1999, but has been marked as a day against violence by women's rights activists since 1981. November 25 was chosen to mark the murder of the three Mirabal sisters who were political activists in the Dominican Republic, on the orders of Dominican ruler Rafael Trujillo.

Before proceeding any further, it might be beneficial to consider exactly what we mean when we talk about violence against women. The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines it as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life." This, of course, raises the question of what constitutes gender-based violence. The Declaration seems to be silent on this point, but Amnesty International explain that this is violence "directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately."

While the women's rights movement has achieved many impressive victories over the past century, the problem of violence against women remains a serious one, as Amnesty note:
  • At least one out of every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime, according to a study based on 50 surveys from around the world. Usually, the abuser is a member of her own family or someone known to her.
  • The Council of Europe has stated that domestic violence is the major cause of death and disability for women aged 16 to 44 and accounts for more death and ill-health than cancer or traffic accidents.
  • More than 60 million women are 'missing' from the world today as a result of sex-selective abortions and female infanticide, according to an estimate by Amartya Sen, the Nobel Laureate. China?s last census in the year 2000 revealed that the ratio of new-born girls to boys was 100:119. The biological norm is 100:103.
  • In the USA, women accounted for 85 per cent of the victims of domestic violence in 1999 (671,110 compared to 120,100 men), according to the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women.
  • The Russian government estimates that 14,000 women were killed by their partners or relatives in 1999, yet the country still has no law specifically addressing domestic violence.
  • The World Health Organization has reported that up to 70 per cent of female murder victims are killed by their male partners.
Looking at that (apparently essentially random) series of statistics it would be easy to come to the conclusion that this is a problem which happens elsewhere. Unfortunately this is far from the truth. Amnesty provide a worrying summary of the reality in the UK:
  • Domestic violence accounts for a nearly quarter of all recorded violent crime in England and Wales.
  • Acts of violence against women recorded in the UK include honour killings, forced marriage, rape, sexual violence, trafficking, female genital mutilation, physical abuse and others.
  • One in four women will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime.
  • On average, two women per week are killed by a male partner or former partner. Nearly half of all female murder victims are killed by a partner or ex-partner.
  • The British Crime Survey estimates that approximately three-quarters of a million women (754,000) have been raped on at least one occasion since age 16.
  • One incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute.
Kind of takes the edge of all the nonsense about feminism having won and thus being redundant, doesn't it?

I don't want to present the idea that the problem is insurmountable. There are various groups active around the issue. Among them, Amnesty International who have launched a new campaign around the issue which is to run until 2010 and V-Day who organise performances of "The Vagina Monologues" to raise awareness and funds for other anti-violence groups. Elsewhere, a Guardian article from early November reported that women from the slum of Nagpur, central India "have attacked alleged rapists who they say are walking free from court, often with the connivance of the authorities." I'm not necessarily encouraging such actions, but my point is that women can and will fight back. As long as this continues the idea of a world where the scourge of violence against women has been effectively tackled remains within reach.

In order to achieve such a world, the support of men will have to be sought and achieved. This may prove to be more difficult to do than it might at first seem. I recently went to a meeting about violence against women organised by Amnesty. The turn-out wasn't bad, with perhaps 30 people in attendance. Unfortunately the ratio of males to females was not encouraging. There were only 4 men. Of them, one was speaking, another was there with a housemate and a third had been dragged along by their girlfriend. As a consequence only one (me) was there of his own initiative. Hardly an encouraging development.

Apparently many men feel that if they don't commit violent acts against women (and most, of course, don't) then it isn't there problem and doesn't affect them. In reality this is far from true. All men will have women they know or are related to, whether mothers, sisters, friends, housemates, girlfriends, wives, daughters, nieces or whatever. Any one of these could be or have been a victim of violence and given the statistics, it is more than likely that one or more of them will. Altering men's perception of the problem lies at the heart of effectively dealing with it.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Fame and Fortune Awaits!

I'm now sufficiently influential to be quoted in the Guardian!

You know something's wrong when... find yourself agreeing with Charles Clarke.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

More Anti-BIOT-ics

Celia Whittaker, Secretary of the UK Chagos Support Association, pointed me in the direction of the following Press Release on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Website, dated November 16:
Bill Rammell MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office today met with Olivier Bancoult, Chairman of the Chagos Refugees Group and other representatives of the Chagossian communities in Mauritius and Seychelles.

The Minister said:

'Following consultations with the US Authorities, the British Government has agreed to a visit by a fixed number of Chagossians to their relatives graves on Diego Garcia. The visit to these graves would be in addition to their visiting the graves on some of the outer islands of the British Indian Ocean Territory for which permission had already been granted. When we took the difficult but correct decision to stop the repopulation of the British Indian Ocean Territory I nevertheless undertook to seek to allow a visit to Diego Garcia and I am pleased that I have been able to agree this.'
As Celia points out it seems awfully gracious of him to allow a visit by the Chagossians to the homeland from which they were forcibly expelled.

That aside, don't hold your breath over this one. Similar claims have been made before and come to nothing. Those of you who saw the recent John Pilger documentary, Stealing A Nation, may remember the footage of Baroness Amos addressing the House of Lords on this very point. That trip was ultimately cancelled, ostensibly because of objections of the part of the Americans. It is telling that Rammell doesn't set a date for the visit.

On a related note, regular readers may recall my promise, sometime ago now, that I'd post about the Adjournment Debate, dealing with local authority provision for those islanders who have come to the UK, which took place on Thursday November 4. I have not forgotten about this, but after reading the debate, there was little I could think of to write. The debate went over much of the same territory as did the one on the previous day: The expulsion was bad; the Chagossians have been treated badly; we sympathise with their situation, but our resources are limited; the government have a moral duty to help local authorities support them.

One point of interest was the government response, perhaps better characterised as a non-response. Labour MP for Gillingham Paul Clark was apparently charged with putting the government case and refuses to commit on whether or not the government will provide such assistance, instead pontificating on how wonderful various pre-existing - and largely irrelevant - government programmes are.

Another point worth flagging up is the government's focus on a letter sent to "to the leading member of the Chagossian community [presumably Olivier Bancoult, although possibly Allen Vincatassin - DK] on 27 September." This warned,
Those Chagossians who are British citizens are of course free to go the United Kingdom if they wish. However, as you know, those that do exercise this right cannot expect more favourable treatment than any other British citizen going to the United Kingdom from abroad and, just like any other British citizen, they have to fulfill the normal conditions of entitlement and habitual residence before qualifying for social security benefits etc. These entitlements are clearly set out in the leaflet which accompanies each new passport issued to members of your community by the British High Commission passport section.
On the basis of this letter, Clark seems to be insinuating that the government have excused themselves from any moral duty to support the Chagossians who have come to the UK. In my opinion, in light of the government's history with regard to the Chagossians this is abhorrent. Having forced them from their homes, dumped them in poverty and prevented them from returning, it strikes me that allowing them to come to the UK and live here is the very least the government can do, although allowing them to return to the islands they consider home would be preferable.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Ban The Blok?

Vlaams Blok is a Belgian Far-Right (some might say Fascist) party. According to Wikipedia, it was "[o]riginally a mainly Flemish regionalist and republican party, it has developed into the Flemish equivalent of the French National Front, concentrating on immigration positions, often accused with xenophobia and racism." On its website, party leader and MEP Frank Vanhecke describes Belgium as "an artificial construct dominated by the Socialist Francophone minority in Wallonia." For this reason, he explains that the " party's main objective is the secession of Flanders from Belgium." They have called for the deportation of all non-European immigrants and leading members reportedly deny that the Nazis carried out the holocaust. Wikipedia contends that "studies shows that a major party (if not a majority) of the party's electorate oppose its separatist and republican standpoints." Nevertheless, the Blok has achieved considerable support. It has 18 representatives in the 150-seat Parliament, came second in EU elections in June and two opinion polls last month apparently showed that it was the most popular party in the region, ahead of even the Christian Democrats.

Despite its successes, World Crisis Web comment that "the Blok has been kept out of power by a political 'cordon sanitaire' of isolation by mainstream parties." This was taken to new levels this week with a supreme court ruling that the party was guilty of "permanent incitement to segregation and racism". The BBC explain, "The ruling means the Blok will lose access to state funding and access to television which will, in effect, shut down the party." Given the abhorrent views expressed by the party (I'm referring here to their racism rather than their belief in an independent Flanders which is unlikely, but hardly contemptible) it is tempting to think that the ruling is a good thing and that banning such organisations is a sensible policy, but I am far from convinced that this is the case. I believe strongly, and have done for sometime, that it is a mistake for progressives to calling for bans of Far-Right groups and Fascists. Clearly the decision in this case falls short of a full-blown ban, but it is not far short and it raises many of the same issues. In this light, it seems a good time to consider the merits of bans in such situations, an important tactical and strategic question.

The obvious argument against banning is a straightforward retread of the freedom of speech argument. This has certainly been articulated by representatives of the Blok in their criticisms of the court ruling. Vanhecke, for instance, opined, "Exactly 15 years after the Berlin Wall came down and the people of East Germany and eastern Europe regained their freedom, it was confirmed today that in the Belgian state, democracy and freedom of speech are under threat." Perhaps the best articulation of this argument from a progressive viewpoint, is the case made by Noam Chomsky in defence of the freedom of speech of holocaust denier Robert Faurisson.

The freedom of speech argument is important, but not, in my opinion, conclusive. Many advocates of this position base their arguments on an assumption of an absolute right of freedom of speech, yet in reality nobody actually accepts this. Freedom of speech is almost always seen as an element of a wider rights system which would also include rights such as freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, privacy etc. The system in which these rights exist is not axiomatic and their are contradictions. I cannot simply barge into your home, for instance, and begin pontificating on some issue or other, because this infringes your right to privacy. This being the case we cannot avoid the conclusion that there are in fact limits on freedom of speech. The only question is what they are.

It might be contended that conforming to a broadly consequentialist position we might justify a ban on the effects of an organisations rhetoric. For instance, most people would probably find it difficult to argue against someone being prevented from inciting people to carry out racial attacks. However, in recent times, far-right groups have largely moved away from this position and toned down their rhetoric, although it is unclear how much of this is simply cosmetic. There is an issue of the legitimacy given to less violent, but no less racist views, by the presence of far-right parties within the political system and it is not inconceivable that this could encourage racism. The problem with this argument, however, is that it could be applied to many "mainstream" parties, whose increasingly xenophobic rhetoric about immigration has helped to encourage anti-immigrant sentiments.

Quite apart from the philosophical arguments, there is a straightforward question of practicality. The Blok's response to the court ruling has been to declare that it will "relaunch" itself. In truth it appears that this will amount to little more than a name change and is to occur officially next weekend. Would a group who had actually been banned find it any more difficult to get around the restrictions? An alternative response might be for the group to go underground, most likely becoming increasingly violent.

For me personally the clinching argument as to why progressives should not call for nor support bans of far-right groups is a pragmatic one. Governments make decisions to ban such parties partly on the basis that their views are abhorrent, but to a large extent because they fall outside the elite consensus. It is not inconceivable that the banning of a fascist group could be used as precedent to ban a progressive organisation which managed to get itself in a position to effectively challenge the status quo. In fact, they would hardly need to get so far, the government has on several occasions banned anti-fascist events, such as an Anti-Nazi Carnival in Burnley, planned for September 1, 2001. It hardly seems sensible for progressives to support a policy which could very easily be used against them.

None of the above should be taken to suggest that I don't believe that we should not confront the far-right. Rather, I think it is a mistake to go cap in hand to the powers-that-be and ask them to do this for us. A cursory perusal of history shows that the ruling classes of the world were hardly consistent opponents of Fascism in the 20s and 30s, with the result that it was ultimately left to the masses to defeat it, with the massive costs that entailed.

The Family From Hell

Posted by Hello
I've had this for a while, but have only just worked out how to post it here. It's the front cover of the Express from November 4th. I found the juxtaposition of the headline and the picture mildly amusing. (In case it isn't obvious, the happy family in the picture is the Bushes.)

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Are These People Stupid Or Evil?

Posted by Hello
The picture above comes from The LA Times, via Under The Same Sun, and shows American soldiers "resting" in a mosque in Fallujah. Now I tend to dismiss this sot of thing as stupidity, but imagine how it will play in the Islamic world. Zeynep Toufe raises a worrying question in response to the image:
Does anyone understand anything about religious feelings in general or about Islam in particular? Have they spent even half a day watching a documentary or two about Islam and noticed that people carefully and respectfully take their shoes off before entering a mosque, where they will kneel and put their head on that carpet?
She goes on to conclude,
Seriously, this is either the most arrogant, incompetent, ignorant occupation, ever, or the most clever, insidious, skillful effort towards bringing about an apocalyptic world war. Are they asleep at the awheel, drowning under their own ignorance, or simply want to end life on earth as we know it?
God help us!

Friday, November 12, 2004

Bill Gates Must Die!

This week has seen the long awaited official release of the Mozilla Firefox 1.0 web browser. Firefox is an alternative to Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) and has begun to eat away at Bill Gates' virtual monopoly of the market. Even before the official release, 8 million people downloaded the Preview Version and Firefox developers are apparently hoping to control 10% of the browser market by the end of the year, an ambitious, but not unattainable, objective.

The main reason for its success is simple, Firefox is just a much better programme than IE. I've been running various earlier versions of the programme for some months and I can't speak highly enough of it. It's difficult to put your finger on exactly what is better about it, but once you start using Firefox, going back to IE simply doesn't feel right.

The rise of Firefox is also important because it demonstrates the strength of free, open source software. As the Guardian notes, it is this that has Microsoft worried: "Firefox is dangerous because it represents more than just another rival to Microsoft's browser: it is also a showcase of how good free software can be." There are non-proprietary programmes to fulfill all the functions people currently use Microsoft programmes for and many of them are far better. Based on these fears, Microsoft has responded to the challenge not by seeking to develop a better product but by abusing its market power and massive wealth.

What I'm trying to say in a roundabout way, is dump IE and get Firefox. You won't regret it.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

See the world...

From Indymedia, via DanR. Posted by Hello

Arafat Is Dead, Long Live Palestine!

Perhaps unusually, I find myself lost for words and so instead, I'll point you in the direction of Ramzy Baroud's powerful piece in the Palestine Chronicle.

In the article, Baroud notes that we must not indulge in misrepresenting the Palestinian struggle by reducing it to the legacy of one man," while this is undoubtedly true, it is clear that the choice of his successor will have major ramifications. Fellow blogger 'Lenin' opines, "My money is on Marwan Barghouti to succeed him, barring some internal fixing shenanigans." I have felt for sometime that Barghouti would be the logical successor to Arafat, but 'Lenin' neglects to mention the major obstacle to his assuming the leadership of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, that for the foreseeable future he will continue to rot in an Israeli prison. In lieu of Barghouti, the PLO have elected former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas as their new chief, meaning he is likely to be the new Palestinian leader, at least for the timebeing.

Anybody thinking that Arafat's death will end the Palestinian struggle, is sorely mistaken. Huge numbers took to the streets to mourn the death of a man they see as a symbol of their struggle. Some of them burned Israeli and American flags, while others turned to violence, throwing stones at Israeli cars and soldiers who responded with tear gas and rubber-coated bullets (a far less humane weapon than the name might suggest). Additionally, the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, a militant group with links to Arafat's Fatah movement and responsible for several suicide bombings within Israel, has changed its name to the Martyr Yasser Arafat Brigade.

Arafat's death might actually lead to a major increase in violence. He has been instrumental in holding the Palestinian Authority together. If his death leads to the organisation being weakened this will help not only the Israelis, but also Islamic extremist groups in the Territories, most notably Hamas. None of this is inevitable, however.

On this Rememberance Day...

...Remember this and this, not to mention this and while you're at it, don't forget about this.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

No More Fallujahs!

The long anticipated assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah has begun in earnest. Weeks of increasingly heavy bombing, including the targeting of an emergency hospital, have been followed by the taking of the city's general hospital located on its outskirts and large scale incursions into the city proper. The taking of the hospital was a particularly reprehensible act, constituting a breach of the Geneva Conventions and being justified by the US military on the basis that it was "a center of propaganda," a claim they supported by citing its dissemination of casualty figures during the assault on the city in April. Having captured the hospital they then, according to ITN Lunchtime news yesterday, proceeded to arrest all "military-aged males". This very likely included many - if not all - of the doctors at the facility, not to mention many of their patients.

The US and UK government have sought to present the assault as an Iraqi mission which they are supporting. They point to the participation of Iraq forces, although this appears to be limited to say the least. The Pentagon reportedly claim that the operation involves some 10,000 US troops and 2,000 or so Iraqis. However, this is only the number of Iraqis who are supposed to be involved, Zeynep Toufe cites a report which suggests that many may already have deserted:
A National Public Radio correspondent embedded with the Marines outside Fallujah reported desertions among the Iraqis. One Iraqi battalion shrunk from over 500 men down to 170 over the past two week - with 255 members quitting over the weekend, the correspondent said.
The numbers deserting are only likely to increase with the Muslim Clerics Association, a national group with some influence among insurgents, urging Iraqi troops to "beware of making the grave mistake" of joining the US-led assault.

Make no mistake, whatever Rumsfeld might try to claim, this assault will claim hundreds if not thousands of lives. Many will be killed directly, but others will die as a result of medical supplies running out and clinics being forced to close, as is already happening according to a report in the Guardian. It is clear that, contrary to the rhetoric, US forces are not that bothered about "collateral damage", another article in the Guardian reports, "US army soldiers fired volleys of mortars into the southern parts of the city," without further comment. I don't know much about mortars, but something tells me they aren't particularly discriminating.

This assault is an atrocity, that should be opposed by all decent, right-thinking people. There have already been protests across the country called by local anti-war movements, including one, yesterday evening in Nottingham. Unfortunately most of these demonstrations seem to be small (the one in Nottingham drew 20-30 people) and are unlikely to have much, if any, effect. This doesn't mean people shouldn't participate in such actions, if only as a moral statement, but does raise important questions about what tactics we should use and how we go about campaigning. However, while we wrestle with these questions people will continue to die in Fallujah and the US will prepare to attack other Iraqi cities such as Ramadi. This being the case, I can't avoid the conclusion that in the short to medium-term, the only thing which can stop or even slow down the current wave of US aggression would be serious losses inflicted on US forces by the Iraqi resistance in their defence of Fallujah. I say this without any illusions about some of the people involved in the resistance and as someone who had serious reservations about the adoption of "victory to the resistance" as a slogan by many in the anti-war movement.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Watching me, watching you...

I took this photo of a police Forward Intelligence Team (usually known as a FIT-team, inspite of the tautology) at the anti-occupation demo which closed the European Social Forum. I append it here to test my new photo publishing thingy. Seems to be working alright, which is nice. Posted by Hello

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Debating Chagos, Part 1.

Activity around the expulsion of the Chagossians seems to be like buses. There's nothing for ages and then a whole load happens at once. Wednesday saw a demonstration by up to 80 islanders at Downing Street. They demanded that Tony Blair either allow them to return to the islands from which they were forcibly removed or house them in the UK. On the same day, there was an Adjournment Debate on the issue, the second this year. There was another debate on the following day, focusing on the role of local government, but I will blog about that seperately.

The debate was opened by Conservative MP for Reigate (one of the areas the Chagossians have sought to be homed in lieu of being allowed to return to the Chagos Islands) Crispin Blunt, who also secured the debate:
I see this debate not in isolation but as part of Parliament's role in the continuing unhappy and shaming saga of our country's treatment of a small group of its subjects and their descendants, namely, the Chagos islanders, who are drawn principally from Diego Garcia, the largest island in the chain.

I use the term "subjects" advisedly. Although it implies a rather unfashionable view of the relationship between the people and their sovereign, I am entirely clear that my sovereign—in practice, her Government—owes her subjects a profound duty of care. That duty of care is cast as a sacred trust on a sovereign power to promote the welfare and advancement of the people under article 73 of the United Nations charter, but our Government have shamefully and disgracefully honoured it over four decades, and mainly in the breach, in the case of the Chagos islands.

In coming to an understanding of this issue—embarrassingly late, given my service as a special adviser in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—and in raising it on behalf of my constituents, who are now being invited to pay the nation's price, I am still astonished that a liberal democracy in the early 21st century continues to behave in a shabby manner towards its subjects.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) for his work on the issue and for raising it in the Chamber on 7 July. I also pay tribute to the Father of the House, whose work over four decades on behalf of these unfortunate people is an example to us all.

My remarks should be seen in the context of the debate on 7 July, which focused on the Orders in Council, promulgated on European and local election day on 10 June, which prevented the right of return to the islands as lawfully established four years earlier in a British court. In pursuing the matter, I am in complete harness with my hon. Friends the Members for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) and for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) in that we all represent council tax payers of the borough of Reigate and Banstead. I am also grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) for their support, and for the presence in this debate of the hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt), whose constituents are also affected by the issue and who has been dealing with it for about a year.
Elsewhere he continued and was highly critical of the Government's decision to prevent resettlement through the use of legislation, commenting, "The only thing to be said for the Government's position on the Chagos islanders is that it is clear":
The lack of consultation and the way in which the decision was taken and promulgated were outrageous, and I am far from convinced that the decision was correct. Indeed, it is probably practically and morally wrong, but at least it is clear.

The Chagos islanders, in the Government's view, are not going home. That leaves 5,500 islanders and their descendants, who live mainly in Mauritius and the Seychelles and who are now entitled to British citizenship and residence, with no practical alternative if they are to extricate themselves from their largely poverty-stricken existence but to come here in increasing numbers. Some 900 passports have been issued so far by the high commissioners in Mauritius and the Seychelles. The Prime Minister was either misleading or misinformed when he told my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell last week that my hon. Friend was exaggerating the number of people who would come. Why does the Prime Minister think that 900 passports have been applied for when these people have perfectly good Mauritian travel documents of their own?

Now that the Government have slammed the door closed on people returning to the Chagos islands, they must prepare for a significant part of the community to come here. A failure to plan will result in the events that have engulfed the borough of Reigate and Banstead in the past month being repeated hundredfold. Uncontrolled immigration of those people would be a disaster.

I am advised that 95 per cent. of the original islanders are illiterate, as are 40 to 50 per cent. of their descendants, because of how the Mauritian education system works. If someone fails to meet the necessary standards at 12, their formal education comes to an end. The vast majority speak not English but a French patois, and even now interpreters are being sought to converse with the 32 islanders with whom the borough of Reigate and Banstead is coping, as classical French speakers are deemed inadequate to interpret the reviews of the islanders' circumstances.

The first groups of these British citizens have arrived destitute at Gatwick over the past two years. A few have already settled in the area. In the wake of the Orders in Council, we are facing an uncontrolled immigration of penniless and unqualified British citizens to one part of the country. The huge sympathy for their plight, when understood nationally, will almost certainly rapidly turn to anger and resentment as local services are overwhelmed.

The islanders are bound to concentrate in one area if immigration is uncontrolled, as they will lack the ability to communicate outside their group. The social problems that they endured in Mauritius will simply be repeated here. This country can and should avoid that. The least that we can do is properly prepare those in the community in Mauritius and the Seychelles who wish to exercise their right to move to the United Kingdom.

There is an overwhelming case for controlled immigration. I hope that the Minister will urgently consider a properly funded programme, which would teach such people English, equip them with the skills and training to enable them to be part of the United Kingdom work force, and provide services to enable them to identify jobs and homes in the United Kingdom before they leave Mauritius and the Seychelles. Legally, we cannot control their immigration but, practically, we can prepare for those British citizens, now habitually resident in Mauritius, who wish to come to the United Kingdom.

The Foreign Office is more than capable of administering a suitable programme over several years—that is how long it will take—that will help such people to meet the challenge. It could co-ordinate the resources of the British Council and other Departments in order to do that. I cannot imagine that any teachers sent to the Seychelles or Mauritius on programmes run by the British Council or other Departments will regard it as a punishment posting.

Also, if the Foreign Office administers such a programme, it will at least go a little way towards making up for its unhappy role in the affair of the Chagos islanders over the past four decades. Failure to make investment in such a programme will not save any money. It will cost far more to provide for education, training, housing and social services in the United Kingdom after an unprepared population arrives, and in all probability we would cause further social disaster for an isolated and mistreated people. If we do not deal with the issue now, in years to come, we may find that we have forced the islanders to turn to crime to support themselves, and the criminal justice budget will then make a contribution to this sorry saga.

The Government's decision to block a return to the islands requires follow-up action now. Telling the local authorities of Crawley, Reigate and Banstead, Surrey and West Sussex that they are on their own could be disastrous. Controlled immigration must be the objective of Government policy. As that means discharging our moral obligations generously, we will be doing the right thing for the right reasons. I invite the Government to do so.
This all seems reasonable. I've written before that given everything we've done to the Chagossians, allowing them to live in the UK and supporting them in their efforts to come here is the very least we can do.

The Government position in the debate was presented by The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Bill Rammell who expounded the usual platitudes. He insisted for instance, "The measures taken by successive Governments of the 1960s and 1970s to depopulate the islands did not—to say the least—constitute the finest hour of UK foreign policy." In the same breath, however, he defends policies which continue and consolidate that crime. In truth he has little new to say as the focus of the debate is on efforts to support those islanders who have come or intend to come to the UK, which is not really within his purview. Nevertheless he makes some interesting comments about UK policy regarding Chagos. A few stuck out when reading the debate and merit further comment.

At one point Rammell claims:
The islands were detached in 1965 to form part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, which was created to provide for the defence needs of Britain and the United States. The copra plantations were becoming no longer economically viable, and partly for that reason, and partly because of defence requirements, it was eventually decided that the islanders should be relocated. That was done in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The vast majority of islanders—some 1,200—were relocated in Mauritius, but some went to the Seychelles.
This raises a number of issues. The first is to note that the base on Diego Garcia has nothing to do with "defence" in the true sense. It is instead a platform for extending US offensive power, as its use in the recent attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate.

The claim that "the copra plantations were becoming no longer economically viable" is more complicated. It is possible that this was the case, although he would need to provide evidence to support this claim. Even if true, there seem two points which might be raised in response. Firstly there is no reason why the islands could not find another resource on which to predicate their economy, such as fish. According to a UK national report to the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, during the 2002/2003 fishing season (April 2002 to March 2003) a total of 1,467 tonnes of mainly of yellowfin and bigeye tuna, and 722 tonnes of skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye tuna were caught in the "British Indian Ocean Territory (Chagos Archipelago) Fisheries Conservation and Management Zone (FCMZ)". As it is, the Chagossians see none of the money this fishing generates, but there is no reason why this need be the case. Secondly there is a moral question as to why economic inviability should justify people being forcibly removed from their homes. Imagine if it was decided that farmland in Sussex was no longer viable. Would this justify farmers in the county being forced from their homes - not to mention having their pets gassed, being told that they may be bombed etc. - and sent to live in poverty in Scotland? I think not.

Elsewhere Rammell asserts, "Prior to Mauritius achieving independence in 1968, and with the agreement of the Mauritius Council of Ministers—that is an important point—the islands were detached in 1965 to form—". He is interrupted at that point, but presumably meant to say that the islands were detached to form the British Indian Ocean Territory. This explanation, while not strictly untrue ignores the fact that this was a violation of UN Declaration 1514 of 1960, which asserts the inalienable right of colonial peoples to independence, and Resolution 2066 of 1965 (which Britain never signed), which instructs Britain to "take no action which would dismember the territory of Mauritius and violate [its] territorial integrity".

In some ways the debate is encouraging. The issue has been debated in the very belly of the beast, suggesting that there is hope that there is hope of securing a victory in the future. At the same time the Government continue their unbroken policy of lies and deceit alongside the dispossession of the Chagossians, with the voices of dissent remaining few and far between. Optimism is not something I'm very good at, but watch this space. Times are a' changing.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Four More Years...

Four more years of belligerence, unilateralism, misogyny, imperialism, environmental destruction, lies, free-market fundamentalism, authoritarianism and ignorance. I have no illusions about what a Kerry presidency would likely have entailed, but however you look at it, four more years of Bush is a bad thing.

To make it worse, he actually won this time, gaining not only the greatest number of electoral college votes, but the popular vote as well. The ramifications of this, for anyone who missed it, is that he actually has support. Shitloads of it in fact. The front page of the Mirror on November 4 asked, "How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?" Unfortunately this is hardly a sufficient response and demonstrates a misunderstanding of the reasons why people voted for Bush. Simon Shama's article in the Guardian goes someway towards offering a more compelling explanation, positing a "Divided States of America" split between a strongly moralistic "Godly America" and a liberal, urbane "Worldly America". Where this explanation is lacking, in my opinion, is in its failure to note the key difference between the two in political terms: only the former have organised themselves into a movement.

Writing prior to the election, Canadian activist and fellow blogger, Justin Podur noted,
[T]he difference between John Kerry and George W. Bush is not so much what they say or what they promise to do or what they will do once in office. The difference is that John Kerry is a slimy politician flailing around looking for a winning formula and George Bush is at the head of a massive, incredibly well organized, incredibly well disciplined, incredibly well resourced, truly revolutionary movement. And movements, radicals ought to understand, are serious business.

Movements can force governments out of power. Movements can constrain what elites can do even from a position of opposition. Movements can organize for the long haul and change the culture and context in which everyone has to operate. Movements can set the agenda even if they do not have majority support, compensating for that with ideological clarity, discipline, and organization. And that is exactly what the right has done in the US.
I think there is a considerable element of truth to this. Had Bush lost, the movement, of which he is merely the most obvious manifestation, would have continued to push its agenda regardless. In the aftermath of a Kerry defeat his supporters will most likely fade away until the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2008. By then it may be too late. A woman's right to abortion, for instance, looks particularly shaky right now.

This would probably be a good time for reflection among activists. Many progressive forces put massive efforts into mobilising the vote for Kerry, but what do they now have to show for it? Very little. Not that the rest of us should be patting ourselves on the back. There's much to be done. I happen to be unconvinced by the argument, advanced by Juan Cole among others, that Bush will rush of to another war (whether in Syria, Iran, North Korea, Cuba or elsewhere) to celebrate his success. The reality is that the US has bitten off more than it can chew in Iraq and is likely to be bogged down there for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, that does not mean that he will not seek to advance his agenda in other areas and by other means. The real questions is whether we can oppose this anymore effectively than we have over the last four years. To do that we need a movement capable of challenging his.

One of the most telling examples of our impotence is the coming assault on Fallujah. We've known about this for sometime, yet been completely unable to prevent it, it might be more accurate to say we've done very little to try. During the last attack on the city in April US forces only got as far as the outskirts. When Iraqi Body Count analysed the death toll, they discovered that between 572 and 612 civilians had been killed, of which at least 300 were women and children. With the US declaring that its stated aim this time is to retake the city - which will inevitably entail street fighting - we can expect even worse when they go in again. Regular readers will know that I dislike hyperbole, but in this case I don't hesitate to use the term "bloodbath". A bloodbath which we as citizens in an ostensibly democratic state are complicit in by virtue of our inaction.

Stop the world. I want to get off.

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