the Disillusioned kid: January 2005
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Friday, January 28, 2005

Uzbekistan Roundup

There's far too much bad stuff going on in the world for me to cover more than a tiny, tiny fraction of it. So I try to focus on a few areas, with the odd commentary in response to the big story of the moment, or something which has caught my eye. One country which I try to follow closely is Uzbekistan. Much of my material on this is drawn from the reporting of the the Institute for War and Peace Reporting who provide an excellent email bulletin on Central Asia. Given that I haven't written much on Uzbekistan recently, I thought I'd run through a few of the stories that particularly struck me.

Firstly a report suggesting that torture continues amongst Uzbek authorities. This is hardly surprising to anyone familiar with the country and there isn't much more to say other than that this is obviously a bad thing.

I've written previously about the elections which took place in Uzbekistan on December 26 and warned in advance that they would be little more than a farce. This report by Galima Bukharbaeva and Yusuf Rasulov in Tashkent, and Tulkin Karaev in Karshi suggests that the reality may have gone even further than I'd previously suggested. The report questions the Central Election Commission's claims that 85% of voters took part in the December 26 elections and 80% in run-offs on January 9. They cite Erk party figures which estimate the turnout at around 30%. They even quote Bahriddin Shaivaliev, a member of the pro-government Fidorkorlar party who calculated that there had been no more than 300 voters in the polling station he monitored, but saw 1,000 ballot papers at the end of the day. They also report that some pro-government candidates were removed from the ballot, without any forewarning. While opposition parties were prevented from participating for political reasons, they point to political scientists who suggest that pro-government candidates "were removed because of financial interests and bribes." An entirely reasonable conclusion given the kleptocratic nature of the Karimov regime.

On a less obviously political note, a troubling report by Yusuf Rasulov reveals that "a string of murders and rapes of young girls in the Uzbek capital Tashkent has gone unreported by the country’s restricted state-run media, so that news is replaced by fearful rumours." While the whole piece is worth reading, I'd like to point out the following paragraph, which I think is likely to go a long way to explaining the virtual silence on the issue and says much about Uzbekistan's media:
A former correspondent for the national news agency UzA, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said strict state control of the news media has killed off initiative among many Uzbek journalists, saying many wait to be given a command before acting and have no “nose for news”. Journalists also lack the professionalism to act independently and dig out information, he said.


Apologies for the absence. I'd like to say my absence was due to me efforts to get here or that I've been doing something of value. Unfortunately that would be a lie, although I have increased my alcohol tolerance. In lieu of anything more coherent I append below various random links and thoughts which you might care to peruse. Or not.

Firstly a particularly narcissistic link to myself and some comments I posted on my other blog, The Peace Pipe, about the forthcoming elections in Iraq.

This article suggests that "the Chagos issue" is on the agenda for discussions during a state visit by Mauritian PM Paul Berenger to China. Anyone care to guess what exactly they're going to say? Could we be about to see China weigh in on the issue?

Elsewhere the Alliance for Workers' Liberty (AWL, a small Trotskyist sect, who get brownie points for being prepared to think outside the box) are appealing for the formation of a large, united (their big on unity in the AWL, at least in their propaganda) campaign to support Iraqi trade unions. Sounds like a good idea to me and I like the pluralist approach they suggest. I have felt at times that the AWL have tied themselves in knots trying to straddle diametrically opposed positions on the situation in Iraq, but here I agree with them and think their appeal merits serious thought and action. So, yeah. Go do something about it.

That's enough for now. Come back soon. Byeee!

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Stand up if you believe in good things

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq the indispensible Z-Net issued the We Stand For Peace and Justice statement and were able to attract 115,000 signers in the space of a few weeks, myself amongst them. In the aftermath of George Bush's re-election they have relaunched the initiative. Those of you who believe in democracy, autonomy, internationalism, equity, freedom, solidarity, diversity, peace, sustainability, justice and such like and more importantly, believe in doing something to realise those values may care to read the full statement and add your support.

Polyculturalism: Not just a silly name for a bird

In the light of the recent controversy around David Bell's comments on faith schools I've been thinking about multiculturalism and how those of us concerned about racism should advocate dealing with cultural issues. Readers may be surprised to discover that I am actually opposed to multiculturalism, not for the reasons given by the likes of Nick Griffin, who want to protect some supposedly "pure British culture" from contamination by immigrants, but because I'm far from sure it achieves the racial harmony its supporters (and myself) desire. Below I append some thoughts by others and some commentary of my own which you might care to take for a spin in your mental microwave to see how they defrost.

Vijay Prashad offers a compelling critique of multiculturalism's failings:
Multiculturalism assumes that people come in cultural boxes that are hermetically sealed, that their culture is a thing that is immutable and pure. There was a time when this theory was valuable against the torrent of white supremacy, but now it is itself a problem and it is historically ridiculous. There is no culture that is pure; even those who live in "remote" areas share forms and manners transmitted through traders, etc.

If we assume that cultures are pure and that people live within these cultural boxes, then any struggle on the terrain of race (now seen as culture) is sought to be managed by someone who is a cultural expert or a multicultural officer. This is most obvious on college campuses, where tensions are to be softened by education, which actually means a banal discussion about cultural stereotypes masking as cultural literacy. Multiculturalism fosters the idea of racial harmony, whereas I am more interested in anti-racism, in the struggle to abolish the idea of racial hierarchy and of race itself.
As an alternative he advocates something he calls "polyculturalism":
Polyculturalism, taken seriously, obliterates authenticity. The pose of authenticity offers the ruling elites of a "race" to attain demographic power vis-à-vis other "races," to argue that they represent a group of people and because of "race" can speak for them. Authenticity allows race to top all other social fractures, and thereby give entrenched elites of color the power to be representative when all they are is compradors. Fanon's diatribe on the "pitfalls of national consciousness" is an early smash at the idea of authenticity. By the way, the argument about the authentic (whose content is often colonial ethnology) allows white supremacy to adjudge who is a real native, to say that the rebellious Asian, for example, is doing a disservice to Asian culture.
He argues,
A polyculturalist sees the world constituted by the interchange of cultural forms, while multiculturalism (in most incarnations) sees the world as already constituted by different (and discrete) cultures that we can place into categories and study with respect. What would history look like from a polycultural perspective? Well, rather than see Hong Kong business exclusively as a hybrid of an ancient Confucianism and a modern capitalism, as in the work of Tu-Wei Ming, we might take heed of the Jesuit role in the making of early modern ?Confucianism?, as in the fine work of Lionel Jensen? Rather than treat Indian students at Yale as aliens, we might consider that the university received seed money from Elihu Yale, one time governor of Madras, whose wealth came from the expropriated labor of Indian peasants
'Lenin' meanwhile takes a different approach, focusing on multiculturalism as a discursive framework he notes the way that the far-right have been able to co-opt this for their own ends and argues, "What must displace multiculturalism is universalism; that is, we must replace a discourse which fetishises difference with one that prioritises the rights which we all have." He expands on this idea in response to criticism explaining,
[W]hen I protest against the fetishisation of difference, it isn't because I wish to see difference obliterated. To that extent, I am not that bothered about whether people choose to 'integrate'. I simply find it irrelevant from a political point of view whether one prefers the pie 'n' mash shop or the curry house. In fact, the only point at which such a thing would become relevant would be if the universal rights that we all are entitled to as basic, fundamental trumps over-riding anything else, were infringed on for a particular group - say, if curry houses were firebombed by racists.

This is what I mean when I say that culturalism must be displaced by universalism. This isn't about us having different cultures and you respecting my culture and me respecting yours, it is about social justice, about rights that we are all entitled to. The universalist (socialist) attitude to the oppression of gays or Muslims is to say that these are common strategies of exclusion and marginalisation which say something more fundamental about the society as a whole. We all want good housing, decent jobs, safety from bullying and so on, and being an anti-racist is a logical corollary of that.
This strikes me as being an entirely sensible position and I can see no reason why it should be inconsistent with polyculturalism as outlined above.

Elsewhere the Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) assert in their manifesto, "Multiculturalism, which insists everyone be treated differently, also undermines the concept of fairness at the core of anti-racism. For example, in America recent research has found that the application of the multicultural strategy has increased segregation in many cities and created a black middle class, often directly at the expense of the black working class." They advocate a position in line with that of their de facto parent organisation Red Action who draw similar conclusions to 'Lenin' on the co-option of multiculturalist discourse, although they expand the point to include its co-option by the status quo in order to forestall radical challenges. In the place of race, they argue that anti-racists (and anti-fascists a group amongst whom Red Action have some influence given their central role in Anti-Fascist Action) should instead focus on class. This appears to be the strategy being pursued by the IWCA.

For what it's worth, I think there is much of value in the IWCA strategy and I have written before that I think that the wider left should pay more attention to their efforts than it does. I also think that their focus on class is important, not just because it is a more progressive basis for identifying oneself than race, but also because class as an issue has largely been sidelined in mainstream and much radical discourse. Nonetheless I don't think, as some Marxists seem to suggest, that class is a totalising phenomenon. Rather, it should be seen as one element within a web of oppressions which interact with each other and vary in severity according to context. It is important therefore that other forms of oppression (such as racism or patriachy) are not ignored.

It should be clear from the above that I don't have all the solutions and much of what I have laid out raises as many questions as it answers. Nonetheless racism is a major problem. Racist attacks appear to be a growing problem with the BBC reporting in October last year that referrals to Victim Support had increased ten-fold over the previous decade. You hardly have to look far to find someone prepared to make vitriolic, unsubstantiated allegations about asylum seekers. The consequence of this (coupled with other factors) has been the increasing electoral successes of the BNP, who as I've noted before polled more than three times as many votes in last June's European Elections as George Galloway's Respect Coalition. In light of this we cannot afford to be pursuing a misguided strategy, the stakes are too high.

Update: I forgot to mention a lengthy interview with Justin Podur (of the Killing Train) available in two parts here and here which considers the arguments for multiculturalism, polyculturalism, assimilation and nationalism. It's very good.

Yes Minister

The UK Chagos Support Association have just posted this report (as a Word document) on their website. It originates from Mauritius and recounts visits by Bill Rammell and Don McKinnon to the Chagossian community living on the island earlier this month. For those who are unaware, Bill Rammell is a Foreign Office Minister whose purview extends to what the British government call the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) and what everyone else calls the Chagos Archipelago, while Don McKinnon is the Commonwealth Secretary-General (and incidentally hails from New Zealand). Both men were in Mauritius for a UN conference on Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

McKinnon's interest in the plight of the Chagossians is encouraging and consistent with some of his previous statements criticising the action of the British government on the issue. Rammell is similarly consistent, but in a less than heartening way. He treats the Chagossians with the contempt which has characterised UK policy about the islanders for more than forty-years. The (unknown) author of the report describes him as "unprofessional, undiplomatic, and condescending" and latter alleges that "it was almost as if he wanted everyone to know that Chagossians and this meeting were great inconveniences for him." Elsewhere the author notes that Rammell "took about a half-dozen questions, but provided no real answers and no new information" and recounts the Minister's assertion (which I've commented on previously) "that Chagossians live no differently than some Mauritians, and it is clear to him that their poverty and their life in these communities has 'absolutely nothing' to do with the fact that they are Chagossian."

Clearly a visit by a British Minister is a significant development in the Chagossian struggle, but alone it will change nothing. If we want to move the situation on we are going to need to step up pressure on the British government to which end you might care to consider some of these steps.

Friday, January 21, 2005

For Whom The Bell Tolls...

Comments by chief inspector of schools David Bell that Islamic schools posed a challenge to the coherence of British society have attracted considerable criticism. 'Lenin' has some intelligent thoughts on the issue which I recommend you read. For my part, I worry about Bell's focus on Islamic schools in a climate where anti-Muslim and Islamophobic sentiment is already high, but think that there is an important debate to be had. I would actually go much further than Bell and have felt for some time that the idea of faith schools is little more than segregated education by the back door. Pupils in faith schools may get better results in exams (a limited measure anyway and which can be explained at least in part by selection of the intake), but will lose out in other areas primarily in that they will not interact with those from other cultures. Such interaction also has the potential to benefit the wider society as it is likely to limit the potential of culturally isolationist or racist ideas.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Onward Christian Soldiers...

Sometimes I wonder if they do this sort of thing to confirm my prejudices.

Chagos Update

The UK Chagos Support Association has its January update online, written by their Secretary Celia Whittaker, and it contains much of interest.

Whittaker reports that the "Association has had many enquiries about the Chagos Islands since the tsunami". This reflects my own experience, In the days after the tsunami traffic to this site increased massively, most of the new visitors coming here while searching for information on the fate of the island. As I've noted previously the island escaped largely unscathed thanks to ocean typography in the area. One thing which I didn't know, but which the update reveals is that "the Chagos Archipelago also survived the Krakatoa earthquake and its after effects without being trashed in 1883." She notes, quite rightly, "It is ironic that islands the Foreign and Commonwealth Office decided (for reasons of their own) were unfit for resettlement by their exiled inhabitants because of 'flooding, storms and seismic activity' survived unscathed."

She reports further, "Pierre Prosper, leader of the Seychelles Chagossians emailed us to say he 'witnessed the tsunami but Seychelles was not hit as badly as those closer to the epicentre. One life was lost and much structural damage. A really sad happening for our region.'"

However, the following is probably the most interesting part of the update:
On December 27th., Olivier Bancoult (leader of Chagossians on Mauritius) visited the office of the United Nations Displaced Persons Resident Representative in Port Louis to hand in a letter for the Secretary General, Kofi Anan. The UN international conference on sustainable development of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) has just been held in Mauritius.

Whilst there, Bill Rammell of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office visited the Chagossian Community. He said "…while I understand there may well be some individuals who may be in need, my observations…tell us that this is not because of their status as Chagossians." Obviously, being forcibly exiled and deserted by the government who should care for you, exposed to new diseases and living in grinding poverty at the bottom of the heap in a society that didn’t want you are not considered a handicap to progress by the Minister.

Once again, he repeats the debatable line that £14.5 million compensation "at today’s prices" has been paid. It would be interesting to know what would be a realistic annual rent to charge the United States for use of Diego Garcia "at today’s prices". Nothing is what they actually pay.

The Foreign Office also says that the ship booked by to take some Chagossians to visit their ancestral graves has been cancelled by the Mauritian government.
I was aware of Rammell's commitment to visit the Chagossian community, but didn't know that this had been carried out, although I subsequently found this article which gives some additional information. As for his comments, I can but echo Whittaker's comments.

Whittaker goes on to note,
A traveller’s club has been advertising trips to the Chagos Islands. “This is your once-in-a-lifetime chance to dive and snorkel in these remote coral atolls….the cost per person is a value-for-money £4250….air-conditioned cabin with en suite and delicious meals etc. etc…” and only four places left. As our Chairman, Paul, says “ It is an extreme affront (for the Chagossians, who live in poverty and deprivation elsewhere) to witness this expensive, luxury cruise taking place to what are, in reality, THEIR islands”. Perhaps the Chagos Conservation Trust who seem to have a hand in organizing this trip, could offer the remaining places, free, to genuine Chagossians. The CCT is interested in conserving flora and fauna, rather than the native population.
This is presumably the trip organised by WEXAS travel which I have previously dealt with at some length here, here and here. I'll avoid making a comment about being there first and instead encourage those of you who didn't write a suitably critical letter to the organisers the first time round to consider doing so now.

Elsewhere in the update Whittaker explains some of the developments the Association has been going through and report that the Chagossian community in Crawley, Sussex "are still waiting for the court hearing to start (which should decide who is responsible for the exiles). Several of the most recent incomers to the area now have jobs and have started courses at Crawley College studying English and Information Technology."

She helpfully appends a list of ways you can help further the cause which you might care to consider:
1.Please encourage your MP to support us and to sign the Early Day Motion 1355 which deplores the treatment of the Chagossians by the government. If enough MPs signed this, the government would have to take notice.

2.Contact your MEPs as well and ask them what they CAN do then get them to do it!

3.Write to Jack Straw at the Foreign Office, King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AH

4.Write to Nigel Pickard, ITV Network Ltd., 200 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1 8HF and ask him to repeat the Pilger programme at an earlier time. His email address is and his phone is 0207 843 8000

5.Encourage everyone you know to do all the above as well.
And for anyone interested in the history of the islands Whitttaker recommends getting hold of a copy of Limuria by Robert Scott who "was Governor and Commander-in-Chief over Mauritius and its Lesser Dependencies (Chagos etc) from 1954 to 1959" published in 1961 by Oxford University Press. Not having read this I can't comment on whether or not it's worth getting, but then I write this blog, what do I know about what's worth reading?!

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Don't say I never do anything for you...

Those of you who wanted photographic evidence that the US military base on Diego Garcia survived the Indian Ocean Tsunami, should go here. (Link via the Student Friends of Chagos list.)

Thursday, January 13, 2005

What does 'opprobrium' mean anyway?

Unfortunately due to my commitments in the real world posting is likely to be patchy over the coming few days. To bide you over until my next slice of incisive analysis I append below a few topical (if incoherent) observations for your delictation:

Prince Harry's a twat and I don't say that just because of this. I've thought so for a while.

Christian Voice is the bastard child of Mary Whitehouse and John Ashcroft.

Amidst all the attention on the consequences of the Indian Ocean Tsunami it's interesting how stories like this seem to have been largely ignored. Could it perhaps have something to do with this? (Links courtesy of Lenin's Tomb.)

In case anybody's missed it, the US has a new plan for bringing democracy to those recalcitrant Iraqis who have been so ungrateful thus far: Death squads. You couldn't make this shit up (unlike all that stuff about WMDs).

Yeah, I'm immature. I could do better. You're *so* offended. But, what makes you think I care? It's not like anyone can fire me for this stuff, is it?

Sunday, January 09, 2005

ABCs of Activism

I've written before that it is my opinion that a useful way of thinking about social change is to break down activity to acheive it into three parts: information, vision and action. Information refers to knowledge about what is wrong with the activity or system we are concerned with, vision to what we want instead and action to what we do to acheive that vision. Like the three factors of the fire triangle, all must be present or we end up with nothing but a damp squib. This blog has tended to focus very heavily on the information element, exposing the many things which are wrong with the way the world today is organised. While the issues I have focused on are no doubt worthy of the atttention I am very much in agreement with Marx here (if not elsewhere) that the task is not to understand the world, but to change it.

Which is a roundabout way of introducing today's topic for discussion: this article by Stan Goff, which I found via the Killing Train. The article sets out a strategic direction for the American left over the coming years. The article makes many interesting suggestions and is well worth reading. While it is very heavily focused on the American context it makes a number of points which generalise and could apply either directly or in a slightly altered form in the UK.

Central to the action plan Goff sets out is a massive increase in public education efforts in order to delegitimise the current system. Clearly this demonstrates a blurring of the information and action 'arms' of my 'fire triangle', revealing one of the major weaknesses of my 'fire triangle' idea, that the elements are not as separate as it suggests. Nonetheless, I think my conception still has value and helps to elucidate thinking. Returning to Goff's suggestion, there is no doubt that public education is vital, but questions arise as to how we go about doing it. Organising meetings is fairly easy (I've done it enough times) but getting new people to turn up, rather than simply the same old faces, is much more difficult.

Goff also sets out a list of issues he thinks should be priorities for education efforts, which, broadly speaking, I agree with: Anti-racism; anti-sexism; domestic violence; environment and energy crisi; gay marriage; guns; immigrant protection; labour - all labour; national self-determination; Palestinian self-determination; prison; and reproductive rights. I particularly appreciated his inclusion of domestic violence and reproductive rights which I think the left has a tendency to neglect and his thoughts on guns are interesting, although I'm not sure the logic would apply in the UK. I do have a few concerns, however. I would have been tempted to make global waming an issue on its own given its importance and think that, in the UK at least, the left must think long and hard about how it handles issues of immigration. Too often the way we have conducted ourselves in this area has served to alienate the "white working class". Additionally I am always dubious about the way the Palestinian struggle is raised above that of other oppressed nations, often without any reasons being given, but there is little doubt that it is one of the issues of our age and, therefore, something we cannot avoid taking a strong position on, although I'm far from sure I agree with Goff's analysis here.

Goff sees education as part of a three phase plan. Phase I is about delegitimising the prevailing institutions, hence the importance of pedagogy. Phase II would see the beginnings of a campaign of disobedience "that includes the old tactics of the Civil Rights era, but also non-violent hit-and-run tactics that reduce the probability of arrest and are not perceived as inimical to the public interest--like banner drops. Billboard 'corrections,' and other creative actions." Finally Phase III is disruption which includes "the kinds of actions that close things down businesses, governments, transportation." He argues that actions in this phase require at least 25% support amongst the wider population, but fails to explain where this apparently arbitrary figure comes from. I am not entirely sure about this system of phases. How are we to know when to move from one phase to the next? I think it is more useful to constantly seek to use a diversity of tactics, expanding these as and when we can.

Another element of Goff's plan, which I think applies particularly well to the UK is his argument for "a campaign to bring down the Democratic Party from the left." He opines, "The argument that we must build an alternative before we tear down the Democrat fortress is singularly unconvincing." In the context of the UK I believe the same applies to the Labour Party which some porgressive types still insist we must support for fear of the return of the Tories. I disagree and tend to see the Labour Party as a barrier to positive social change which we must sweep aside if we're serious about building a better world.

Goff also makes a number of further points, emphasising, for instance, the potential importance of military veterans in anti-imperialist efforts (Goff himself being a former special forces officer), which seems entirely accurate and while some of his vaguely Marxist turns are a little off-putting I think that article merits reading and careful thought. For too long those involved in activism, whether against the war or global warming or the capitalist system as a whole, have allowed themselves to become ritualistic and unthinking in their activity. If we are serious about changing the world, rather than simply feeling good about ourselves, we must think long and hard about what we do and whether it is really effective.

Support the Resistance? Part 2.

A while ago I posted some thoughts on "the Iraqi resistance" in which I sought to suggest that much of the thinking about resistance to the occupation in Iraq was deeply flawed. Exoplanet set out some of his disagreements with my analysis in the comments box and I have only now gotten around to responding.

In the original post I contended, "Talk of 'the resistance' implies a degree of homogeneity and coherence that I do not think is accurate." Exoplanet responded,
A common enemy will lead to the most unlikely bedfellows - hence I do believe that there certainly is a level of cooperation amongst disparate groups in Iraq, that the US & Britain did not foresee. Of course it is in the interest of CIA etc to make sure that this does not happen. When I read reports of 'civil war' I ask myself how much of it is genuine? How much of it is caused in part by covert activities?. Agent provocateurs?
I think here there is a fundamental misunderstanding of my point, which stems largely from my overemphasising the extent to which there are open disagreements between groups engaged in armed resistance to the US/UK occupation of Iraq.

In the original post, I linked to this article by Molly Bingham, who was in Baghdad from August 2003 - June 2003 "researching the resistance" (whatever that means). In it, Bingham sets out to demolish four myths about "the resistance" which she believes need to be dispelled. One of these is that "the Iraqi resistance is a monolithic, tightly organized structure with a leadership that can be obliterated and a fixed number of fighters who can be eliminated."
The many levels of violence in Iraq after the US attack on Fallujah last month reveal the absurdity of this myth. Of the 15 resistance members who told me about their lives, most were from the same small neighborhood of Adhamiya in Baghdad, but were not necessarily in the same cell or command structure. By the end of 2003, these cells had grown while maintaining their independence. They were no longer carrying out attacks in their own home turf but were traveling to other areas of the country. The rise in attacks over the past year has been attributed as reactions to the transfer of power to the Allawi government in July 2004, or to the elections in January. However, more likely, it is simply an indication of improved funding, coordination, and resources.
The point being that even groups with shared aims in the same area can be separate. Hence the lack of homogeneity and coherence.

Further, as Rahul Mahajan notes, not all the groups in engaging in armed resistance agree on what they wish to acheive, "Most of the resistance has the goal of driving the foreign occupiers out; other parts have the goal of keeping them bogged down in Iraq." Compare and contrast here the tactics of the Mehdi militia of Moqtada Al-Sadr and Zarqawi's Tawhid wal-Jihad (Monotheism and Holy War).

Exoplanet goes on to recommend this article about the "al-Zarqawi Myth" by Scott Ritter, which I found interesting, but far from compelling. No doubt Zarqawi's influence within Iraq has been massively exaggerated (although I'd place far more emphasis on the interests of western propaganda here, than does Ritter), but to imply that this means he doesn't exist is not something I found entirely convincing. It's worth bearing in mind that during the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Ritter opined that the Americans would be forced to exit Iraq "with its tail between its legs, defeated. It is a war we cannot win." That he has been wrong before doesn't preclude his analysis being right today, but it is worth bearing in mind.

I could say more, but I have other stuff to do. Anyone with further disagreements is welcome to express them in the comments box.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Getting The Job Done

Lalit is a Mauritian socialist group. One of the issues they have been very involved in is campaigning against the US military base on Diego Garcia. They report in a recent article that John Pilger's documentary on the story has attracted considerable interest. With many people wanting to know what they can do to help. They claim that people's questions usually take three forms:
1. What can I do to help to get the USA-UK military base on Diego Garcia closed down?

2. What can I do to help the 2,000 people and their children who were forcibly removed 35 years ago and just abandoned on the dockside in Port Louis, on Mauritius main Island?

3. What can I do to help decolonize the Islands of Chagos, and put an end to this fiction of British Indian Ocean Territories?

The first answer is simple: In all things you do PLEASE KEEP ALL THESE THREE ISSUES UNITED INTO ONE ISSUE. Experience has taught us that victory lies in understanding how history has worked and how we can, if we understand the issues a little, work together with a future history to win.

What we must remember is that it was the very same historical forces (the USA and UK State) that created these apparently three different problems that can be dealt with separately. In fact, they did them all in one-and-the-same-thing. And then it led to these three different cruel legacies.
I find it intriguing that the people they have encountered see these questions as separate issues. In my experience most people are more than capable of seeing them as a grimly coherent whole. Nevertheless their central point remains valid.

Having made this point, they go on to suggest a number of steps that those interested can take to further the cause, which I fully endorse and encourage you to consider:
1. You could write to your MP or Congressman or woman, asking them to bring up the issue with the Prime Minister of President, as the case may be, mentioning all the points:
  • Decolonization of Diego Garcia and the Chagos, by re-unification of Mauritius.
  • Immediate base closure! (Add that no new base should be built either!)
  • The right to return, and full compensation to all Chagossians.
  • To let the Red Cross and journalists come and investigate the allegations that there are prisoners on Diego Garcia.
  • Demand an ecological clean-up of Diego
2. You could also write direct to your PM or President on these points, calling on them to change their policies.

3.Your letter can also become a petition from a group of people, or from an organization, club, association, union branch.

4. You can join and support the NO US BASES campaign whose aim is to Close down all military bases worldwide, and which has put Diego Garcia as one of its four priorities amongst the 702 U.S. bases in 140 countries outside the U.S.

5. You can put the Diego Garcia issue on to the agenda of the anti-war movement in your country. The General Assembly of the Global Anti-War Movement which met in Mumbai in January 2004 adopted the resolution to work on base-closures world-wide, including Diego Garcia as a priority. The Social Activists Assembly at Mumbai rejoiced in the closing down of the enormous US Navy base in Vieques, Puerto Rico, 63 years after the forcible removal of the inhabitants. REMIND PEOPLE THAT BASE CLOSURE IS POSSIBLE, just look at Vieques!

5.Support the idea of the PEACE FLOTILLA TO DIEGO GARCIA.

6. If you are lucky enough to have an MP like Jeremy Corbyn (who has kept the Diego Garcia issue on the table for years) or live near Prof. Stoddard (I think he is at UCLA), you could invite people like them to give a talk on what is happening around the issue (at your school, university, or in your neighbourhood).

7.You can write a short article for your local newspaper or for a newsletter, based on information on our site.

8.You can perhaps get a copy of the John Pilger film and organizing showings so that other people can join the campaign. Apparently you can write to Video Library, ITV1, Gas Street, Birmingham B1 2JT, UK for a copy.

9. You can also visit our website There is a whole book available if you double click on the picture of the book of Diego Garcia. Please feel free to invite other people who want peace and justice to visit our site too.

10. Let us know of anything you do organize (however small you might think it is), because when we put all these things together, they become big.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

It's probably just me...

Is it just me or is there something a little dubious about the media coverage heaped on the three minute silence held for the victim's of the Indian Ocean Tsunami? Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with the idea of the silence, indeed given the numbers who have perished I think it was entirely appropriate. Certainly much more appropriate than the minutes silence for the Queen Mother who died in her sleep at the age of 1,000 (or something like that) or all the nonsense around the death of Diana. My problem is with the way news programmes yesterday were dominated by reports about people marking the event. The whole thing feels quite narcissistic, as if we're saying, "Look at us, we're so caring," and detracts from the dignity of the event, which is surely the whole point of the exercise.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Emperor's New Clothes

In The Water is a blog I've been getting into recently. Maintained by Pranjal Tiwari who's based in Hong Kong, it deals mainly with the politics of East Asia. I point it out today to draw your attention to a must read post about the subcontracting of British military uniforms to factories in China. The Ministry of Defence is dispatching a delegation of officials to inspect the factories. Not as you might expect because of concerns about the conditions in which the low-wage labourers are working in, but because of complaints that the uniforms are sub-standard. As Tiwari notes, it's difficult to know what to say...

Year of the Blog

Apparently I'm one of the people of the year, but then you all knew that anyway ;)

Monday, January 03, 2005

Busy, busy, busy

Too busy to post much at the moment, but while you await my next life-changing pronouncement check this out.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Homophobes Suck!

Believe it or not, some people are actually celebrating the tsunami which has claimed the lives of at least 120,000 people. (Via A Tiny Revolution.)

Saturday, January 01, 2005

What Is To Be Done?

The humanitarian catastrophe which comes in the wake of Sunday's tsunami has brought much worthy rhetoric from various world leaders, but the five million people who the World Health Organisation estimates are at dire risk of disease don't need rhetoric, they need help and lots of it. Now and for the foreseeable future.

The Indonesian region of Aceh was won of the worst hit in the country with tens of thousands already dead. The region has seen a long running separatist campaign waged by GAM (Free Aceh Movement) and activists familiar with the conflict have expressed concerns that politics on the part of the Indonesian government might be put before the needs of the region's inhabitants, although a ceasefire was called by both sides. Unfortunately, I now see, via Lenin's Tomb, that the Indonesian government intends to continue its war against GAM. This can only impede humanitarian efforts and add to the already gargantuan death toll. The response from our wonderful humanitarian leaders? Nothing as far as I can tell.

On another front, Canada has announced a debt moratorium for disaster struck countries and the Paris Club of debtors is apparently planning a similar, coordinated move, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has advocated the idea openly. This is a good start, but as Chris Spannos argues, we could and should go further:
[R]ather than a moratorium, immediate cancellation of all debt, with no obligation to ever pay it back should be the outcome. First for those countries hit by the tsunami. Then for countries suffering the same scale of disaster, wether man made or natural, like Darfur in the Sudan. Then for all third world countries who have suffered similar disasters in recent years. Then finally, once these transitions have become manageable, a cancellation of all third world debt.
The need for such a cancellation is made clear by the Jubilee Debt Campaign in an FAQ written prior to the tsunami:
Poor countries need a lot of investment and giving aid, whilst simultaneously enforcing debt repayments, is to give with one hand whilst taking with the other. In fact, debt cancellation is more reliable than aid, as it can't be switched off when the political climate changes. The reality is that poor countries need both debt cancellation and increased aid to meet the huge challenges they face.
The campaign for debt cancellation has had many successes, but should now step up a gear.

Under The Same Sun meanwhile has an innovative suggestion for how to generate money for Asian relief efforts which demonstrates the importance of ensuring that promised aid actually gets sent to the people for whom it is ostensibly intended.

I Hate Conspiracy Theories

So Diego Garcia wasn't affected by Sunday's tsunami or was it? The conspiracy theories are already bouncing around the internet. The International Action Center allege,
Within minutes of the massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Indonesia, U.S. scientists working with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suspected that a deadly wave was spreading through the Indian Ocean. They did not call anyone in the governments in the area. Jeff LaDouce, an official in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that they e-mailed Indonesian officials, but said that he wasn’t aware what happened after they sent the e-mails.
They are critical of the US's failure to do more with this information and continue.
The NOAA immediately warned the U.S. Naval Station at Diego Garcia, which suffered very little damage from the tsunami. It is telling that the NOAA was able to get the warning to the US Navy base in the area, but wouldn't pick up the phone and call the civil authorities in the region to warn them. They made sure that a US military base was notified and did almost nothing to issue a warning to the civilian inhabitants who were in the direct path of the wave--a warning that might have saved thousands of lives. This is criminal negligence.
The implication presumably being that Diego Garcia was able to deal with the tsunami because it had a warning, which raises a big question: What the hell did they do exactly? The highest point on the island is only 22 feet above sea level meaning there is no where to go for shelter. Similarly the numbers of people stationed at the base (including 2,000 troops and support staff) would make moving them incredibly difficult, particularly if you want to do it in secret, and would still leave the structures - not to mention billions of dollars of military hardware - at the mercy of the waves.

The only conclusion which makes any sense then, is the official story, exemplified by this statement from the US Navy's Diego Garcia website:
Favorable ocean topography minimized the tsunami’s impact on the atoll. Diego Garcia is part of the Chagos Archipelago, situated on the southernmost part of the Chagos-Laccadive Ridge. To the east lies the Chagos Trench, a 400 mile long, underwater canyon that ranges in depth from less than 1,00 meters below the surface to depths that plunge to over 5,000 meters. It is one of the deepest regions of the Indian Ocean.

Diego Garcia is located to the west of Chagos Trench, which runs north and south. The depth of the Chagos Trench and grade to the shores does not allow for tsunamis to build before passing the atoll. The result of the earthquake was seen as a tidal surge estimated at six feet.
No doubt some of you are thinking that I'm being very naive here, taking the US's word. Perhaps, but frankly I can't be bothered with conspiracy theories. No doubt things could have been done better and I don't question for a second that the US is capable of doing very bad things (you need only look at much of what I write to see that). What I don't accept is the perception among some within the anti-war movement that the US is essentially omnipotent and *obviously* responsible for every bad thing which happens in the world.

You only need to look to the conspiracy theories which surround September 11 to see just how ridiculous the whole farce can become. To be sure there are unanswered questions about the attacks, but the theories articulated to explain these are inconsistent, facile or plain ridiculous. One video available somewhere on the internet, for example, implied that the Pentagon hadn't been hit by an airliner. It's evidence for this? A series of interviews with a number of lay eye-witnesses who offered various inconsistent interpretations of what they'd seen. Anyone who's ever been in a stressful situation knows that people can never agree afterwards what happened. To suggest that this is conclusive evidence of the dishonesty of the official story is nonsense, although this is the level the claims are pitched at.

Michael Albert does, I think, a good job of setting out why conspiracy theories appeal to progressives:
NATURALLY CONSPIRACY THEORY and its associated personalistic methodology appeals to prosecutors and lawyers, since they must identify proximate causes and human actors. But why does it appeal to people concerned to change society?

There are a many possible answers that probably all operate, to varying degrees, on people who favor conspiracy theory. First, conspiracy theory is often compelling and the evidence conspiracy theories reveal is often useful. More, description of the detailed entwinements become addictive. One puzzle and then another and another need analysis. Conspiracy theory has the appeal of a mystery--it is dramatic, compelling, vivid, and human. Finally, the desire for retribution helps fuel continuing forays into personal details.

Second, conspiracy theories have manageable implications. They imply that all was well once and that it can be okay again if only the conspirators can be pushed aside. Conspiracy theories therefore explain ills without forcing us to disavow society's underlying institutions. They allow us to admit horrors, and express our indignation and anger without rejecting the basic norms of society. We can even confine our anger to the most blatant perpetrators. That government official or corporate lawyer is bad, but many others are good and the government and law per se are okay. We need to get rid of the bad apples. All this is convenient and seductive. We can reject specific candidates but not government, specific CEOs but not capitalism, specific writers, editors, and even owners of periodicals, but not all mainstream media. We reject some vile manipulators, but not society's basic institutions. We can therefore continue to appeal to the institutions for recognition, status, or payment.

Third, conspiracy theory provides an easy and quick outlet for pent up passion withheld from targets that seem unassailable or that might strike back. This is conspiracy theory turned into scapegoat theory.
It should be clear from this that conspiracy theories are not something progressives should embrace. They divert our attention away from the structural factors which largely determine how those within institutions act (consider, for instance, the CEO forced by the law to do all he can to maximise dividends to his shareholders) and towards individuals. We may well be able to change those individuals, but doing so will do nothing to alter the underlying structures which should be our real concern. (That is, we could, continuing the example above, replace the CEO, but his replacement would be bound by the same rules and act little differently.)

None of which is to suggest that things can't be done by governments in secrecy. If you want an example of that, you need look no further than the story of the Diego Garcia's indigenous population, expelled to make way for the US military base. Unlike so many conspiracy theories, this is backed by a wealth of documentation and has been proved in court. Alternatively you could look to reports (here and here) that "terrorist suspects" are being held on the island in Guantanamo Bay style facilities and perhaps even being tortured.

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