the Disillusioned kid: October 2005
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Monday, October 31, 2005

Bent Copper With A Stun Gun

In the States, Taser International have been having a hard time of late. They have faced increasing safety concerns about the electro-shock stun-guns they produce; been sued by police officers who claim that they were injured by the weapons during training; and been forced to reclassify the weapons from "non-lethal" to the less propitious "less lethal". The cumulative effect of this has been a slump in sales with the company's earnings falling to £152,000 for the three months to the end of September, a figure which pales in comparison to the same period last year when they took £3.4 million. Given this increasingly hostile climate over the pond it seems strange that tasers should be being adopted with such enthusiasm by the police over here. Yesterday's Sunday Times offers a possible explanation in the form of a good old-fashioned bent copper.

Inspector Paul Boatman was in charge of assessing the merits of tasers for Northamptonshire police, acted as an adviser to the Home Office and came to be “regarded as a national and international expert” on the weapon, according to Chris Fox former chief constable of Northamptonshire. He even helped develop the country's first training programme for police officers unfamiliar with device a programme subsequently adopted and built-upon by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo). In his own words he "was the one who initially looked at the Taser and indicated that I think (sic) it would be a workable option in the UK." "My driving force was I wanted to help introduce tactics and equipment into the UK to make both the police forces and the members of the public that they serve . . . safer." Noble protestations aside, the Sunday Times reveals a problem, while all this was going on Boatman held a 50% share in Pro-Tect Systems, the exclusive UK distributor for the US-based Taser International.

Boatman first encountered Tasers at an exhibition in Germany in 1999 and was apparently quite taken by them, becoming involved in Pro-Tect in December 2000 when he took a 50% stake in what was then a start up company. He became the company's director on December 5 only to resign, retaining his stake, three weeks later on December 27. Pro-Tect received the Taser contract in February 2001. Despite this apparent conflict of interest, Boatman apparently had no qualms about becoming a Home Office adviser two months later. The Home Office went on to approve trial imports in September 2001 (three months prior to December according the article) although the full extent of Boatman's influence on this decision is unclear. He retired from the police on April 16, 2002 and was installed as a chairman of Pro-Tect two days later, his fellow founding director and friend Kevin Coles having held the fort in his absence.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Boatman insists that he had not connection with Pro-Tect prior to his retirement from the police. Records at Company House seen by the Sunday Times tell a different story, however. In a strict sense, his claim that he has "never been paid by Taser to do anything on their behalf" (because "as a serving police officer that would have been unlawful, unethical and immoral"), may well be true, but given how much he stood to gain from a positive appraisal of their product by law enforcement officials in the UK, the specifics of his relationship with the company should not detract from the fundamental untenablity of his position. Taser International for there part say that they were unaware of Boatman's involvement in Pro-Tect (although one wonders how long they spent checking there was nobody on the company's board who's position might be said to be compromising).

When confronted by the Sunday Times with the evidence of his stake in the distribution firm while a serving police officer Boatman declined to make any further comments or answer questions about whether his stake had been declared to superiors, Acpo or the Home Office. The Home Office, Northamptonshire police and Fox - now the president of Acpo - were similarly tight lipped.

Unfortunately, such commitment to principle on the part of those who claim to be protecting us is not limited to the UK:
Among research considered by the Home Office from police in other countries during trials was a report by Darren Laur, a Canadian officer. Laur and six other serving or former officers in north America are now accused of accepting valuable share options from Taser International.

Court documents released last month in Arizona — where Taser is based — contain a deposition by Tom Smith, the company’s president, that show that all seven served in cities that bought stun guns.

Taser says the officers were not in a position to influence any buying decisions. It also states that the options were granted after the orders were placed. The Home Office said it reached its decision on the basis of independent research.
A quick Google search turned up this article which suggests that the rot doesn't stop here and may even have spread to the top of the US's Homeland Security Department, with former Secretary of Homeland Security Bernard Kerik having made more than $6 million from options in Taser International, whose product he had - entirely coincidentally - been an active advocate of.

So let's recap: tasers have the potential to kill you; undoubtedly facilitate torture and police brutality; serve to lower the threshold on the use of force; and to top it all off, the people promoting them are probably being paid by the manufacturers. Now do you see why I've been going on about them for so long?

None of this prevents advocates of the weapons from trying to convince people of their utility, sometimes in the most bizarre manners. In order to demonstrate that tasers were safe Boatman staged a public demonstration of their use in November 2004 in which he fired one at his wife, Stephanie. This would seem to raise a number of questions about their relationship. Why, for instance, didn't he left her shoot him? One wonders how the conversation when the idea was brought up went:
Mr Boatman: Darling
Mrs Boatman: Yes dear.
Mr Boatman: Are you doing anything next Thursday?
Mrs Boatman: I don't think so, why?
Mr Boatman: I want to shock you with 50,000 volts of electricity in front of assembled officials and press in order to prove a point and make a quick buck out of that company I invested in.
Mrs Boatman: That's nice dear.
The Sunday Times reports that when "her husband unleashed the full 50,000 volts into her back" Stephanie "fell to the ground screaming 'like a pig'." Love it seems really is never having to say your sorry. Even if you've just electrocuted your wife.

Et Voila!

All things being equal you should now be looking at the site's new layout. Hopefully it's easier to use and more interesting than its predecessor. Unfortunately what I know about programming could fit on the back of a postage stamp. Several times over. If there's anything which falls over particularly spectacularly give me a shout and I'll see what I can do about it. No promises though.

I should probably big up the various people who made all this possible (i.e.) the schmucks whose code I pilfered, if only to minimise the chances of them hunting me down and eating my brain. The structure of the site comes from the nasally endowed primate, the colour scheme (with some tweaking) from everyone's favourite dairy product and the scrolling marquee thingy from this subsequently renovated Soviet monument. The expanding menus are from here via the europhilic europhobe and the permalinked titles from this fellow. Comments and trackback, as ever, are provided by the guys (and gals?) at Haloscan.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Stating the Obvious

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran courted controversy last week when he called for Israel to be wiped off the map. Surprisingly, given how far Ahmadinejad is from my positions on most matters, we actually agree here. I too would like to see Israel wiped from the map. My ambitions, however, are not limited to Israel. I'd also like to see Iran wiped from the map and for that matter, Iraq, the US, the UK and every other nation state on the planet.

The nation state is arguably the hegemonic institution of modernity. Cutting across religious, idelogical, cultural and linguistic barriers the state has forced its way into almost every corner of the globe, controlling the lives of literally billions of people, errecting articifical boundaries between peoples and leading to hugely destructive wars.

The experiences of Russia in 1917 demonstrate the folly of trying to utilise the state (in whatever form) as part of a revolutionary project. It is not an impartial arbiter between competing interests as the Liberals would have it, nor the mere product of economic relations as in Marxist theory. Rather, the state represents a tool of control (by means of both hard and soft power, with the balance between the two determined by the particular historical and social conditions of specific states) in the hands of a ruling elite and can be nothing else.

Some contend that Israel's existence is predicated on the supression, expulsion or outright murder of the indigenous population and hence that existence is uniquely illegitimate. While this asessment of Israeli history is essentially accurate (there is a tendency amongst some supporters of the Palestinian cause to pretend that the issue is entirely one-sided, it isn't, but this takes nothing from the fact that a historic and ongoing injustice has been done to the Palestinians), I question the suggestuion that the situation is in any way unique. Compare, for instance, the experience of North America which witnessed the reduction of its indigenous population from 12 million in 1,500 in 1500 to perhaps 237,000 in 1900. No doubt there are similar skeletons in the cupboard of most, if not all, settler states. Why single Israel out for particular ire? The two-state solution is not the answer, but in lieu of a global anarchist revolution, it's about the best option available at the moment.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Geekery, V3.0

Dave has pointed out one of the many problems with the design of this site. This is something I've been aware of for a while, but I've been putting off the kind of root and branch redesign neccesary to deal with it for ages. No longer, however. I've started a test site where I'm going to try out a few things (most of them 'borrowed' from somewhere or other) before installing them here. If you could saunter over and offer any helpful suggestions, I'll be thanking you muchly.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Pop Quiz

Anybody seen Speed? (Perhaps the question should be has anybody not seen Speed?) If you have you'll no doubt recall the pop quiz motif:
Harry Temple: All right, pop quiz. Airport. Gunman with one hostage. He's using her for cover; he's almost to a plane. You're a hundred feet away. Jack?
Jack: Shoot the hostage.
This is a real policeman's version:
If somebody was holding a 10-year-old child with a knife to the child's neck and is about to start cutting the child's head off, the only shot available might be to the head, in which case that's what would be done. (via)
Strangely enough, in the movies, the scene where a bunch of trigger happy cops blow a Brazillian electrician's brains out always ends up on the cutting room floor. If only real life were so convenient.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Sit Down

Famed civil rights activist Rosa Parks passed away yesterday at the age of 92. Parks became famous throughout the world after her legendary refusal to give up her seat on the bus for a white person, a "crime" which saw here arrested and charged. Her resistance, insignificant as it might have seemed at the time, served as the trigger for the Montgomery Bus Boycott and propelled the civil rights movement into the national arena.

It is important while recognising Parks' courage and the importance of her act that we not allow her to become a mythical figure; somehow separated from other lesser mortals. Parks herself would no doubt have agreed with this and spent much of her life seeking to dispel the myths which surrounded her refusal.

Parks is often depicted as a lone opponent of southern racism. She was, however, a veteran of anti-racist organising. Parks' family had a heritage of challenging racism which could be traced through her mother to her grandfater. Rosa and her husband Raymond had both been involved in the Montgomery branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), where she set up the youth council, since the early 40's. When the Alabama chapter of the NAACP was formed she became its first secretary, a position which brought her into contact with many other campaigners. Among them were labour leader A Philip Randolph, who led a march of 50,000 against unfair government and war industry emloyment practices; Ella Barker who would later go on to be involved in the formation of the Student Non-Violent/National Coordinating Committee (SNCC, the meaning of the N shifted in the late 60s with the emergence of the Black Power movements). Just six months prior to her arrest she attended the Highlander Folk School (latterly the Highlander Research and and Education Center) an institution for the trainning of grassroots campaigners.

The idea of a boycott had been bandied around for some time and had got of to a number of abortive starts. Other possible candidates to launch a legal challenge to the segregation laws had been rejected as unsuitable. A fifteen-year old thrown off a bus, was shunned, for instance, after it had emerged she was preganant. Parks, however, was a mature, married woman and hence respectable. After being arrested, Parks consulted with her husband and mother before deciding that her "crime" would serve as the test case. Organisation for the boycott began immediately and the rest, as they say, is history.

As I say, none of this contextualisation detracts from Parks' very real bravery. Rather I want to emphasise that she was not acting in a political vacuum. Individuals ranting against the system (familiar, no?) rarely, if ever, change anything. Real change is brought about by movements, which bring people together around a common cause, providing support networks for activists and ensuring activity is sustainable. Within such movements, even apparently spontaneous actions are in fact connected to others by a complex network of often obscured relationships (theory heads describe this sort of thing with terms like rhizome). Our leaders would not doubt like us to be unaware of all of this and to wallow in our individual powerlesness. Stop wallowing and get organised.

Monday, October 24, 2005

No Pasaran!

I've been out of touch with events in Nottingham since I left, but recently decided to put myself back on the Lenton Anarchist Forum email list to see what was going on. Big mistake. In one day my mailbox was bombarded by a barrage of messages debating the far-right British Nationalist party (BNP) and how we should respond to them, the key point being whether we should support an "no platform" policy. (For those of you who haven't spent as much time as I have hanging around with lefty's, no platformism entails denying fascists, or in some cases other extremist groups, the right to free speech, although the means adopted to acheive this can vary widely.)

The brouhaha started after Sanctuary, a free newspaper written by students and disseminated around the university decided to print an article by "Dr Phil Edwards" encouraging students to vote for the BNP. I haven't as yet been able to read the article so I can't comment on it directly, but I think the issues which it raises generalise and so I thought it might be worth offering my hapenny's worth.

I've touched on a lot of the relevant issues on at least two seperate occasions and I don't want to go over too much of the same territory (god forbid I might repeat myself repeat myself!). The basic point of my argument then was that progressives should be opposed to bans of fascist/racist organisations even where we consider their ideology abhorrent. The same applies to official no platform policies. Sure, we might be able to get the University or the Students Union (incidentally Nottingham's Union is one of the few in the country which doesn't have a no platform policy) to support such a policy, but what's to stop them using it against other "extremists".

No platform policies are commonplace at Unis accross the country and supported by the National Union of Students (NUS). While initially targetted specifically against far-right groups these have subsequently been extended to Islamist groups such as Al-Mujahiroun and Hizb ut-Tahrir. (Fascism is in any case notoriously difficult to define.) What's to say they couldn't be extended further? The Peace Movement at Nottingham has made a point of being as irritating as possible and is considering a sustained campaign against arms-manufacturers Rolls Royce who are a major sponsor of the Uni. Is it so hard to believe that the institution's governing body would like to shut them up? The George Fox 6 demonstrates just how repressive universites can be when they want to be. Why give them another stick with which to beat us?

Rejecting an official no platform policy, however, does not preclude an unofficial one whereby activists set out to prevent fascists from being able to speak. This has been attempted, with varying degrees of success, by a number of anti-fascist groups over the years. I don 't neccesarily reject this as a tactic. The fascists are our enemy. If we are serious about building abetter world, or even about stopping this one getting any worse we are going to have to beat them. Exactly how we do this will neccesarily be determined by context, but I don't think that rational debate alone will be sufficient. In 1936 the only response to the fascist coup in Spain was to take up arms against it, similarly Hitler could only be defeated through the application of military force (which is not to say that World War II was fought because our leaders were commited anti-fascists; they weren't). I am not suggesting that we should be arming ourselves with mail order Kalashnikovs and marching round to Nick Griffin's farm in Wales (although it's a heartwarming thought), but what I am trying to point to is the historical context in which the struggle against fascism should be viewed.

I make no secret of my respect for the militant anti-fascists who have confronted the Fash over the years. In the 1970's it was not uncommon for meetings to be turned over by the National Front. That doesn't happen anymore, in large part because groups like Anti-Fascist Action took them on at their own game and won. While a riot might inject some excitement into otherwise mundane meetings, I tend to think on balance that not being hit round the head with the furniture is probably a good thing. Nevertheless, with the BNP having withdrawn from the streets, turning instead to electoralism (which they have done with some success); the NF amounting to little more than an unfunny joke; and Combat 18 having been decimated by the very anti-fascists they were formed to defend their aryan brothers against, it is not immediately clear that this strategy can or should be transplanted into the present context.

I believe that activist no platformism (as opposed to official no platformism) should be viewed as a tactic which we may take up on occasion, but which should not become a dogma. Too many leftist groups have taken this position, with the result that even tiny fascist meetings are assailed by huge numbers of anti-fascists. Is this really the best way we could be spending our time? I think not. Insofar as they're not really a threat at the present time I don't see that preventing them talking to themselves really helps us much. Nevertheless, I think we should adhere to the slogan of the Republicans in Spain: "No Pasaran!" "They shall not pass!" We may allow them to go so far, but no further. If they try to cross that line then we do whatever it takes to stop them.

Some people argue that freedom of speech should be an absolute. I disagree. If we talk about freedom of speech that implies a rights system. Rights within such a system may well conflict and will neccesarily have to be balanced. Your right to privacy prevents me from barging into your house, flypostering your walls and berating your taste in televisual entertainment. Such an extreme example is easy, in the real world the conflicts are much more complex. The important thing is how we confront them.

I think freedom of speech should be allowed to go a long way. I'm opposed to the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill and proposals to prohibit the "glorification of terrorism" (although that specific provision now seems to have been dropped). I'm increasingly dubious even about the laws against racism, not because I have any support for people who espouse such bigotry, but because I'm unconvinced that imprisoning them is the most effective response. I even think that holocaust revisionists like David Irving should be allowed to pedal their obnoxious nonsense for much the same reason, in any case banning such material only serves to strengthen its credibility in the eyes of believers.

The distintion I draw with regard to fascism (as a movement) is a strategic one. The struggle against fascism is more than a parlour game. It has real consequences for real people in the real world. As such we need to think long and hard about how we respond to fascism wherever it may rear its ugly head. During global economic summits (Seattle, Genoa et al) attempts by activists to stop delegates getting to their Very Important Meetings could be said to be restricting their freedom of speech, yet it is widely considered to be a justified tactic to use against the system we are opposing. Nevertheless, despite all of this, I hardly think an article in a shitty student rag which probably only gets skim read by the predominantly middle-class students who are likely to pick it up, is something we need to get all that worried by. A well written rejoinder would almost certainly be more effective than some attempt to restrict (or even prevent) the paper's circulation.

As an adjunct to the above, it might be worth briefly considering the provenance of the article's author. "Dr Phil Edwards" is in fact a pseudonym adopted by the party's press secretary Stuart Russell. Even his doctorate is dubious, he claims to have taught quantum mechanics at the University of Nottingham, although when I directly challenged him on the issue of his qualifications he dodged the question. Make of that what you will. (How I got to ask the question is an intriguing story in itself. I'll limit my comments, however, to noting that I had considered trying to prevent him being able to speak, but am glad I didn't because of how much useful information I learnt about the way the BNP actually views the world. It was also encouraging. As the party's press secretary, Edwards/Russell is presumably the best they have to offer, this didn't prevent him being torn to pieces by a bunch of politics students.)

Blogging Makes The World Go Around

Apparently this thing's worth $96,536.34. At current conversion rates that works out at £54,416.02, which is rather a lot of money. More than enough, in fact, to pay off my student loan. Anybody interested? Didn't think so.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Twilight of the Dead

I'm away this weekend, doing this and that. In the meantime, go amuse yourselves with this (picture via).

Friday, October 21, 2005

Half Nelson

Apparently it's Trafalgar Day and people seem very excited. There's been loads of stuff going on, including some woman setting fire to something and talking about just how excited she was by the whole experience. Even Chelmsford got in on the act, although I can't help feeling a gazeebo hosting a DJ who would look more at home at a wedding reception didn't quite capture the stature of the event.

Anyway, not everyone is entirely enamoured with the whole shindig. Martin Kettle commented on the burdgeoning zeitgeist back in August and suggested a re-examination of Nelson and his place within British heritage might be in order. As he points out, Napoleon's explanation for his plans in the event of victory don't sound so bad:
I would have hastened over my flotilla with 200,000 men, landed as near Chatham as possible and proceeded direct to London, where I calculated to arrive in four days from the time of my landing. I would have proclaimed a republic and the abolition of the nobility and the house of peers, the distribution of the property of such of the latter as opposed me among my partisans, liberty, equality and the sovereignty of the people.
While the policy suggestions contained therein might not seem all that bad to a treasonous lefty like myself, there is, as Kettle notes, a major downside: "we would not have been offered the second half of Napoleon's scenario without the first. The reform would have been established, but it would only have been achieved at the point of a French bayonet." A situation which didn't go down so well in most of the countries where it was implemented. In fact, reading over the passage I couldn't avoid the images which sprung into my head of Bush and Blar proclaiming their glorious humanitarian mission in Iraq. The British would never have accepted Napoleon's rule, extrapolate from that what you will.

The analogy is limited of course: Napoleon lost. Despite what you might think given the recent hoopla, this defeat didn't end the Napoleonic Wars. In fact these continued on and off until Napoleon was forced to abdicate in 1815, ten years later. It was, however, instrumental is establishing British naval hegemony which Kettle asserts "makes Nelson not the man who saved the nation but the man who made the British empire possible." But of course, where Napoleon's empire was bad and evil and stuff, ours was nice and sunny and stuff and anybody who says differently is French.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Protecting Our Precious Bodily Fluids

It's possible that I might have mentioned anti-terrorism legislation once or twice. I might even have implied that perhaps I didn't think that the laws we've got got had been implemented in an entirely satisfactory manner and that some of the proposals for further legislation were just a little authoritarian. At least, I think I said something like that. Certainly sounds like me. Strangely enough the Government looks like it's going to ignore my concerns and go ahead with the legislation anyway. Which seems to be how we got here...

All this very important precious bodily fluid protecting legislation was being debated in Parliament on October 13 when the discussion turned to the government's proposal that 15 organisations be proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000. Among these groups is the Islamic Jihad Union (hereafter IJU) and this is where things get interesting (or they do if your me).

Various MPs expressed concerns about the proposed ban on the organisation, Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price, for instance, pointed out that the hundreds of civillians massacred at Andijan in May "were killed not by the Islamic Jihad Union but by the brutality of the Karimov regime that it is trying to overthrow," He asked, not unreasonably in my opinion, "Should we not tread very carefully before proscribing an organisation that has less blood on its hands than a Government with whom we still maintain diplomatic relations?"

Seeking to defend Government policy Home Office Minister Hazel Blears (of ethnic rebranding fame) set out the case for the prosecution:
There is a range of activities that all these organisations will be undertaking. We have attempted in the explanatory memoranda to outline, as far as we can, the activities that have taken place. As for the Islamic Jihad Union, in March 2004 there was an explosion in Uzbekistan that killed nine people who were involved in the construction of portable improvised explosive devices. Over the following three days, there was a series of shoot-outs and suicide bombings that were carried out in Tashkent, Bokhara and Uzbekistan, leaving about 25 dead and 35 wounded. I also asked about the impact on British interests to satisfy myself that the order was an appropriate way forward.
Note the careful wording. She never says that the bombing was carried out by the IJU, just that it happened. Any other conclusions you draw are entirely your own. This presumably reflects the fact that evidence backing up IJU culpability is at best limited.

In fact, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and vociferous critic of the Karimov regime, Craig Murray suggests that the bombings may not have happened at all, at least not the way Blears alleges:
As Britain's ambassador, I visited the site of each of the bombings within a few hours - or, in one case, minutes - of the alleged explosion.

The physical evidence on the ground did not coincide with the official explanation. For example, each suicide bomber was alleged to be using explosives equivalent to 2kg of TNT. But nowhere, not even at the site of an alleged car bomb, was there a crater, or even a crack in a paving stone. In one small triangular courtyard area a bomb had allegedly killed six policemen. But windows on all sides, at between 10 and 30 metres from the alleged blast, were not damaged; nor was a tree in the middle of the yard. The body of one of the alleged suicide bombers was unmarked, save for a small burn about the size of a walnut on her stomach.

A full account of my investigations of these bombings is to appear in my forthcoming book: one reason, perhaps, why the Foreign Office will seek to block its publication. There is no more reason to believe this version of events in March 2004 than to believe the Uzbek government's version of the Andijan massacre in May this year. What is more, as ambassador I sent back the details of my investigation to London, and the Joint Terrorism Assessment Centre (Jtac) agreed with my view that there were serious flaws in the Uzbek government account - agreeing with my view that the US was wrong to accept it. I concluded then, and still believe now, that these events were a series of extrajudicial killings covered by a highly controlled and limited agent-provocateur operation.
Even if Murray is very wrong - a possibility I grant, although I trust him more than I do the present Government - it should be clear that the picture is not as black and white as Blears' suggests. One might be forgiven for asking then where Blears gets her information from.

The Minister insists, "The information that we receive is from our own security and intelligence services." Murray interjects, however,
There was no intelligence material from UK sources on the above events. The UK has no intelligence assets in central Asia. We are dependent on information given to us by the United States' CIA and NSA. There was information from the NSA. We had NSA communications intercepts of senior al-Qaida figures asking each other if anyone knew what was happening in Tashkent (no one did). Despite the only intelligence we had indicating plainly that al-Qaida was not involved, Colin Powell immediately went on the record in Washington to support the US's ally, stating specifically that Uzbekistan was under attack from Islamist militant forces linked to al-Qaida. Almost certainly MI6 and MI5 happily accept this nonsense, as it suits their own agenda. But if they pretend that they have independent information, that is a lie.
The UK, presumably, has also received information from Uzbek authorities, although I guess any such flow is likely to have dried up in the past few months. Any information garnered this way will of course be tainted by the dictates of authoritarian governance and the distortions which result from the gathering of intelligence by torture. In short it's chronically unreliable.

Terrorism is a real threat. The terrorist attacks in London and in Bali in September underline that fact. It's difficult to see, however, how basing our response on bad intelligence and authoritarian propoganda makes us any safer. Then again, reading over that last line again I'm reminded of the role of intelligence and propaganda in build-up to the war in Iraq. If nothing else, they are consistent.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Impending Halfhead

So. The Tory party has jilted Ken Clarke once more. Excuse me while I stifle a yawn.

I've always found the support for Clarke amongst people who don't vote Conservative inexplicable. If, like me, you'd rather crawl naked over broken glass than vote Tory, why would you care who their leader is? Perhaps Clarke is the only person who can lead the party out of the wilderness, if so you'll excuse me if I don't mourn his defeat. No doubt pro-Clarke leftys can and will point to the absence of a decent Parliamentary opposition to the Blair regime. This might be fair enough if the Tories even vaguely came close to what I believe in. I seriously doubt that even an invigorated Tory opposition is going to pull Neo Labour towards supporting any of the things I believe in. They could just as easily have the opposite effect (what do you mean privatising the police is a bad idea?). You want opposition? Don't just wait around for somebody else to do it, go oppose.

As for Clarke's supposed progressive credentials? Recall that this is a man who since 1998 has been the director of British American Tobacco, a company eager to support emerging democracies in Burma, Uzbekistan and North Korea; a man who is apparently supportive of the database state; and a man who as a student invited Oswald Mosley to speak at Cambridge Union not once, but twice. I'm sure he's a nice enough fellow, but if he really is our best hope things are worse than I'd thought.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Not so bad after all?

With a violent insurgency raging in Iraq; US/UK threatening Iran; government-backed militias ravaging Darfur; rebels launching increasingly audacious assaults on Russian towns; and Islamists bombing tourist hot-spots in Indonesia, suggesting that the world is becoming a more peaceful place seems at best counter intuitive. It turns out, however, that this is exactly what's happening:
Armed conflicts in the 21st century are less deadly than they have been at any time in the past 55 years, according to a three-year survey on warfare and violence.

The Human Security Report, written by a professor at the University of British Columbia, concludes that the number of genocides or mass murders has declined dramatically since the late 1980s, despite the large-scale killing of civilians during the past 11 years in Rwanda, Bosnia and Sudan. And it asserts that the number of coups or attempted coups has fallen by 60 percent since 1963. The report's research was funded by Britain, Canada, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.


"Warfare in the 21st century is far less deadly than it was half a century ago," wrote the report's author, Andrew Mack. "The wars that dominated the headlines of the 1990s were real -- and brutal -- enough. But the global media have largely ignored the 100-odd conflicts that have quietly ended since 1988. During this period, more wars stopped than started."
Others, too have noted this phenomenon. Niall Ferguson, more famous for his support for the American Empire, noted the apparent decrease in violent conflict in an article for the Telegraph in September. He tentatively attributed this to a decision among local people to opt "for peace because they're sick to death of fighting each other. War, after all, is attractive only to a minority of people: bored young men and the cynical politicians who see violence as a route to power and its perquisites. That's why only a handful of the post-1989 civil wars lasted longer than seven years."

Not everyone's so optimistic though. Counter-terrorist expert and "open source warfare" theorist John Robb opines,
Wars will continue to occur, but in a new form. Future wars will be fought over systems and by networks. The participants won't (or at least, shouldn't) measure the effectiveness of their activity in body counts but rather through their impact on systems. For the West that means efficient systems (or at least resilient systems), for guerrillas it means disruption (which translates into capacity to coerce states or breakdown state function).
Translation: less old fashioned warfare, more Iraq-style insurgency (at least I think that's what he's getting at).

Even with these qualifications it should be clear that a less war-torn world where less people have to die or be seriously injured has got to be a good thing. I think there is much to be said for Ferguson's analysis in this regard, which bodes well for the potential of people power to bring about positive developments. The revolution may not be round the corner, but maybe - just maybe - we're moving in the right direction.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Four Legs Good, Two Legs Badder

After the tube bombings in July, many Londoners decided to stop using the tube and cycle to work. It seems, however, that even cyclists are not safe from the scourge of international terrorism, which now takes on a new form: the seemingly innocent pedestrian.

This worrying development emerged in yesterday's Sunday Times which reported that 34-year-old "property developer" Sally Cameron had been detained for several hours under anti-terrorism legislation after she was caught walking on a cycle-path in Dundee.

In a shocking example of the complacency which has permeated the highest echelons of the British legal system the prosecutor fiscal's office declined to prosecute Cameron despite the fact that, by its own admission, "the evidence is sufficient to justify bringing [her] before the court on this criminal charge."

One couldn't hope for a clearer example of why the proposed Terrorism Bill is so important. For too long the police have countered the terrorist threat to our precious bodily fluids with one leg tied behind their back. No longer can we allow this to continue. The Safety Elephant is pointing the way to the future. Let us follow his lead.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

CSI: Basra

There are so many detective shows on TV that its safe to assume moreorless everyone watches at least one. Personally I'm rather partial to a bit of CSI. A recurring meme in such programmes is for the suspect to change his alibi in the face of new evidence. This is a surefire sign that they have something to hide and usually a good idication of guilt. How close to reality this might be is open to question, but nevertheless this was the first thing which sprang into my head when I read the latest claims about the mission being carried out by the two SAS soliders arrested by Iraqi police last month.

You may recall that it was initially claimed that the pair were engaged in a "secret war" against insurgents smuggling weapons into the country from Iran. This fits nicely into the "Iran (or the Revolutionary Guards or Hezbollah or some other shady Persian organisation) is supporting the insurgents" paradigm which the dominant media are eagerly propagating according to their usual journalistic standards. Now, however, we discover that "the real story" behind the undercover mission is that they were spying on a senior police commander who had been torturing prisoners with an electric drill. (Intriguingly the Telegraph article makes no mention of the earlier explanation which is presumably to be consigned to the memory hole forthwith.)

Even if we accept this new explanation a number of questions remain. Why then the initial story about combatting smuggling? Was this little more than a conveniently timed propaganda exercise? Why if we are so concerned about torture by Basran police have operations against them been "suspended", apparently without resolution? Unsurprisingly, the Torygraph doesn't engage with any of this and as yet hardly anybody else has picked up on the story.

One further point of interest in the article was the following assertion:
British Government ministers are understood to be extremely concerned and embarrassed by the allegations of torture because it was the Army that helped to re-create the police force and reopened Jamiyat jail.
I can't help feeling that, given the context, accurately described in the passage, "extremely concerned and embarrassed," doesn't get the tone right. I prefer "morally culpable".

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Iraq's Founding Fathers? Redux

Today sees Iraq go to the polls to vote on the proposed constiution (the text of which was still being tweaked on Wednesday). Fearing violence the Iraqi government claims to have closed its frontiers (surely an entirely symbolic gesture given the length of Iraq's borders) and has imposed strict restrictions on movement.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the top figure in the Shia hierachy in Iraq has called for a yes vote. This is significant because Iraqi Shia, who constitute the largest ethnic group in the country, regard his instructions as a religious duty. Most of the various Shia parties were already supporting the document, the only exception being the Sadrists. Even Moqtada al-Sadr, who has various reasons to oppose the constitution, has said he will not insist that supporters vote no. The Kurds are generally reckoned to be similarly enthusiastic, although there are suggestions that there support may not be the given it is usually assumed to be.

The pro-war lobby will, no doubt, insist that opposition to the constitution is limited to recalcitrant Sunnis who resent their fall from power following the collapse of the Baath regime (Sunnins have traditionally dominated Iraq despite constituting only 15-20% of the population). On this basis they will claim that a yes vote vindicates the Anglo-American invasion and everything that has followed it. Unfortunately the truth is more complex. It appears that many secular Iraqis who are deeply concerned by the constitution's enshrinment of religious law will vote yes because they are even more worried about the consequences of having to go through the drafting process again. Furthermore, the call for a boycott of the referendum by Iraqi feminists demonstrates that explicit opposition is not restricted to reactionaries.

Sunnis have also complained that there are no polling stations in the predominantly Sunni western province of Anbar, leading to allegations that the US is seeking to prevent the region - expected to overwhelmingly vote against the constitution - from expressing its opinion. Expressing its opinion is something the Sunni community seems to want to do. While many boycotted January's parliamentary elections, this time there are suggestions of a campaign to maximise turnout amongst Sunnis in order to defeat the constitution. Certainly, US marines in Ramadi (large parts of which are essentially controlled by the resistance) claim that everyone they've spoken to intends to vote.

To be sure, opposition to the constitution is no unanimous amongst Sunnis. The Iraqi Islamic Party has shifted its position from advocating a no vote to support for the document. In response demonstrators have marched against the party, imam's have denounced the organisation for breaking "the nationalist ranks in return for nothing" and insurgents have attacked the homes and offices of promintnet party members. We've already seen inter-party conflict amongst the Shia between the Badr Corps controlled by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Militia. Until now the Sunni have tended to be more united. While a divided Sunni community might be in the short-term interests of the occupying powers who are facing widespread Sunni opposition to their presence, its hard to believe that its in the long-term interests of Iraq.

Despite the attention lavished upon it, the constitution is not in any sense a endpoint for Iraq. The document merely postpones rather than deals with the most divisive issues (such as whether provinces should be able to form regional governments). Juan Cole describes it as being full of "trapdoors" and recalls the experience of the framers of the US constitution who failed to deal with slavery leaving the door open for the American civil war. A bright and happy future ahead, then.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Uzbekistan: Do Something, Part 2.

Mutabar Tajibayeva, who you're all supposed to be writing to your MPs about, has gone on hunger strike (via) in protest against her illegal arrest. This caused her situation to deteriorate so seriously that "an ambulance was urgently summoned," although it isn't clear from the report exactly when this happened nor what happened subsequently.

The report also provides more background on Tajibayeva's arrest than was available from initial reports. The activist was arrested on October 7 after she had addressed a meeting attended by (foreign?) journalists. She told them:
"I'm scheduled to go to Tashkent today but I do not know if I make it or not. I'm under surveillance now. Several cars tail me constantly. No, I'm not afraid of detention. Deputy Prosecutor General Anvar Nabiyev said at the trial in Tashkent that I support the opposition and that I called for armed action. He was lying."

"I did support the Kyrgyz opposition," Tajibayeva was quoted as saying. "In any case, I did not object to a peaceful demonstration. I reckon that the authorities grew scared when I said I had documents proving the innocence of the businessmen tried as Akromians..."
(The violence in Andijan was sparked after the government tried 23 businessmen they accused of being members of "Akramia" which they claim is a terrorist wing of banned Islamic fundamentalist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir.)

Tajibayeva's arrest took place around 10pm after she had returned home. her daught, Makhliye Pulatova, believes that over a dozen men broke into the house. According to the report they were dressed "in uniforms and civvies." This would seem to contradict some earlier reports, including one carried on on October 10 which claimed, "More than 20 men (including senior police officers, servicemen of special forces, and six masked men brandishing assault rifles and truncheons)."

Clearly terrified of the threat posed by a female human rights activist and her daughter, the dozen or so representatives of Uzbekistan's security forces who were involved in the arrrest were not alone. Pulatova noted, "There were several others outside as well. I could not count how many because most were sitting in cars." After the arrest, Tajibayeva's house was searched by law enforcement officials, although they didn't have a warrant. They left taking various documents and a PC.

According to Dilafruz Nazarova, one of Tajibayeva's lawyers, authorities claim that Tajibayeva was arrested under Article 165 Part 2 Provision B of the Criminal Code. This apparently deals with extortion and carries a custodial sentence of ten years. The authorities claim to have corroborating documents and insist that the arrest has nothing to do with events in Andijan (as well they might). Nazavora has also complained that it has been difficult for any of Tajibayeva's three lawyers to meet with he, noting, "that cannot help having its negative effect."

Local activists don't buy the government story. They are convinced that the arrest was deliberately timed to prevent Tajibayeva attending an international human rights conference in Dublin (presumably this one) and you have to admit, the timing is convenient, some might say suspiciously so. They also accuse the government of seeking "to conceal the truth on what really happened in Andizhan, and to find out what documents concerning the so called Akromians she possesses."

If you haven't written, do. I've already got a response from my representative. I may not care much for his politics, but to his credit he is very good at responding to letters and a comunique is currently winging its way to the Foreign Office. On its own it isn't going to acheive much, but think about the potential if all of you write. Recall that in 2002 Theo van Boven, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture described the use of torture in Uzbekistan as "systematic". Last month an imam died in an Uzbek prison, apparently as a result of torture. In this context, the potential consequences of failing to act are clear.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Ego Fum Papa

Usually the fact that Christian Voice were opposed to something would be reason enough to support it. The idea of an opera about Jerry Springer is something approaching my conception of hell, but after seeing CV get themselves worked up about the production I have to confess that I did flirt with the idea of going. Fortunately, good sense got the better of me, but only just. Rules, however, are made to be broken. Its just that some of them leave you feeling dirtier than others when broken.

The subject of our atypical agreement is the government's proposed Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. CV supporters were amongst 1,000 protesters who rallied against the Bill outside Parliament on Tuesday as the House of Lords subjected it to its Second Reading. Most of the demonstrators were evangelical christians, but there were also a number of representatives from the National Secular Society (no doubt feeling slightly out of place). The fact that two groups, who could hardly be more different,have come together against the bill goes some way to demonstrating how deep concern about its potential effects runs.

The Bill is widely understood as a sop to the Muslim community alienated by the invasion of Iraq, racial profiling and the disproportional effects of anti-terror legislation. Ironically though Muslims may well be among the first to be targetted by the legislation. Despite their ostensible opposition to the Bill, CV fuhrer Stephen Green warned on Tuesday they if the legislation were passed they might take legal action against bookshops selling the Qur'an:
If the Qur’an is not hate speech, I don’t know what is. We will report staff who sell it. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that unbelievers must be killed.
The government apparently doesn't expect much of this sort of thing. Rohan Jayasekera suggests in his masterful critique of the Bill that they predict only 2-3 cases to come before the courts a year.

Furthermore, they have included a provision requiring Attorney General Lord Goldsmith QC to authorise any and all prosecutions under the Act. Jayasekera warns that the faithful will be mobilised, as they have been previously against Jerry Springer the Opera, Behzti and the Satanic Verses, leading Goldsmith to "become ringmaster of a medieval circus":
Calls to prosecute the blasphemous will become rallying cries. Religious extremists will lead, fired not by fear of violence or threat of crime, but by the desire to bring their apostates and critics to court to be punished and silenced.
Cue a proliferation of cases and not insignificant harm to inter-faith relations. It may just be me, but Goldsmith's role in all this is less than reassuring. The Attorney-General's commitment to principles was amply demonstrated, you may recall, by his supine acquiesence to the demands of power in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Can we really rely on him to stand firm in the face of the assembled ranks of God's foot soldiers?

The government claims that the legislation is necessary to fill a loophole in the law against incitement to racial hatred which exempts religious hatred. They have been hard pressed, however, to come up with a situation which would not be covered by the present legislation. Intriguingly the fact that in the 19 years since that law came into force only 67 people have been prosecuted under it and a 44 convicted. You might have thought that if we were serious about dealing with racial/religious hatred (as opposed to, say, securing the support of Muslim voters) ensuring that legislation already in place was effective might have been a better place to start than introducing a new piece of legislation widely viewed as unnecessary, unwise and ill considered.

Concern about the legislation is wide spread and growing. Even former Archbishop George Carey has come out against it. A number of organisations have mobilised to try and stop the bill. Whether any of this has had an effect will be clear soon enough.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Uzbekistan: Do Something

Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and vociferous critic of the Karimov regime Craig Murray reports on his blog that human rights activist Mutabar Tadzhibaeva has been arrested by Uzbek authorities:
Among many brave human rights activists with whom the British Embassy worked was Mutabar Tadzhibaeva. This brave lady worked continually to help victims of human rights abuse in the Ferghana Valley, despite being continually harassed by the authorities.

On 8 October Mutabar was dragged from her house at 2am in a raid by scores of armed Uzbek troops. She has not been seen since. She had been due the next morning to fly to Dublin for an international human rights conference.
Murray urges readers to write to their MP demanding that they "urgently contact FCO ministers to ensure that the British Embassy in Tashkent act immediately to determine Mutabar's whereabouts and to make plain to the Uzbek government that her ill-treatment would bring further international consequences."

I'd like to suggest at this juncture that this is a jolly good idea deserving of your support. (Those of you from foreign can adapt the above instructions as appropriate.)

Eminently Sensible Methinks

Yes? No?
"I will write to my MP to request that he demands the Government dramatically increase it's funding and preparation to meet the threat raised by H5N1 Avian Influenza virus. but only if 10 other people will too."
Sign up here.

Witty Title Superfluous?

Today's Independent (via) provides further evidence (as if any were needed) that Jeremy Clarkson is a dangerous, deluded fool:
Iraq has been through a tempestuous time of late - and then came Jeremy Clarkson. The BBC presenter was the latest "celebrity" to make a whirlwind visit to the country and has left speaking glowingly of his experience of covering combat.


At one point during his visit to Basra he is said to have asked the British military to organise the blowing up of a car. He was told, however, that staging explosions in Iraq of all places was not a good idea.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Warnography, Part 2.

Remember this? Access to free porn in exchange for pictures of eviscerated Iraqis, an offer so hideous that I'm still lost for words. Via Juan Cole's Informed Comment we now learn that Christopher Michael Wilson, the American operator of the site, has been arrested on obscenity charges, although these are apparently unconnected to the war photos. It's too early to say anything with any certainty, but I can't help wondering if the fact that revelations about the site's existence were more than a little embarrassing for the US government who've made so much of their humanitarian intentions in Iraq was a motivating factor behind the arrest. Then again, maybe it genuinely is unconnected.

Reuters' report of the arrest is cursory, but one line particularly caught my attention:
The Pentagon has said it found no evidence any of the photos were posted by soldiers.
Eh? What? I'm sorry, but how many people who haven't served in Iraq have pictures of Iraqi civilians with their brains blown out down the back of their sofa? If the photos didn't come from soldiers where the fuck did they originate? Are we to believe that Zarqawi, tiring of the puritanical lifestyle associated with Islamic fundamentalism, has taken to tossing himself off to images of infidel women in exchange for photos he collected to use in anti-American propaganda? Give me a fucking break.

Xmas Starts Here (Or Not)


Saturday, October 08, 2005

Raise Your Glasses

A slightly different story (via) to those we are used to hearing from the Palestinian Territories:
With its arm-wrestling contest for the under 16s, the brisk trade in embroidered cushion covers and home-made pastries made by the local equivalent of the Women's Institute, a boy scout parade, and the chance to drink draught lager in the afternoon sunshine, Taybeh's festival had more than a passing resemblance to an English country fete.

Yet the more than 5,000 visitors were enjoying the first-ever Palestinian beer festival, in the heart of the occupied West Bank. Even the few setbacks were familiar; the Palestinian National Theatre troupe failed to turn up on the second day because of artistic issues with the noisiness of the child-packed hall they had played the previous afternoon. "If you mention this please say how grateful we are to them for coming at all," said the October Fest co-ordinator Maria Khoury. "They performed for free and we'll find a quieter venue for them next time."
The festival is sponsored by the Taybeh Brewing Company who in 1994 established Palestine's first - and only - brewery. While the Israeli occupation, the Islamic prohibition of alcohol and the opinions of fundamentalist groups has ensured that growth has been difficult, the company are currently developing a non-alcoholic beer for the Muslim market. You can buy Taybeh Beer in select stores in the UK thanks to these nice people who donate a portion of the proceeds to Medical Aid for Palestinians and Yesh-Gvul. Sounds like my kind of solidarity!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

You Are Free To Do What We Tell You

According to the Scotsman more than 600 people were detained under the Terrorism Act during last week's Labour Party Conference in Brighton (and this at the "friendliest" conference in Europe!). It seems to me that there are two possible conclusions which can be drawn from this: (1) There are an awful lot of people who not only want to kill Tony Blair, but are actually prepared to back up their convictions with action; (2) The Act is being used against people who don't quite confrom to the generally accepted definition of a terrorist. Obviously I wouldn't want to jump to conclusions, but the fact that "anti-Iraq war protesters, anti-Blairite OAPs and conference delegates" (including the infamously man-handled heckler Walter Wolfgang) were among those detained suggests the latter may be closer to the truth.

Unfortunately, as Dan notes, the use of anti-terrorism powers in this manner isn't without precedent. In 2003 protesters against the Dsei arms fair were also the targets of searches under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. In fact there are a whole host of examples of such legislative creep, as George Monbiot explained in the Grauniad yesterday:
All politicians who seek to justify repressive legislation claim that they are responding to an unprecedented threat to public order. And all politicians who cite such a threat draft measures in response which can just as easily be used against democratic protest. No act has been passed over the past 20 years with the aim of preventing antisocial behaviour, disorderly conduct, trespass, harassment and terrorism that has not also been deployed to criminalise a peaceful public engagement in politics.
Examples include the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, the Protection from Harrrasment Act 1997 and the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 1995. As if that isn't enough the Vagrancy Act 1824 and the Justices of the Peace Act 1361 have also been used against people who make the mistake of dissenting from the status quo. Is anyone naive enough to think that the proposed counter terrorism bill will be any different?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Non-Lethal? Erm... Not Exactly

Oh dear:
The manufacturer of a stun-gun used in the arrest of a July 21 London bomb attempt suspect is restricting the use of the phrase "non-lethal" in its marketing campaigns amid an investigation by American state authorities.

Taser International, which makes weapons that fire up to 50,000 volts and are used to incapacitate a person, also said it would no longer claim in its consumer literature that its guns "left no lasting effects".
This cosmetic shift seems to be concerned primarily with the commercial sale of the electro-shock-stun-guns (yes you can actually buy your very own taser - in the States at least), but the potential ramifications for their use by law enforcement officials should be obvious. While Taser's president Tom Smith goes out of his way to emphasise the voluntary nature of these (and other) concessions even claiming that his company suggested many of them, it's hard to avoid the obvious signs of furious back-pedalling by a company terrified of expensive litigation and the effects of tighter regulation of its product. (The introduction of background checks as a prerequisite to purchase in some states caused revenues to halve between the final three months of last year and the first quarter of 2005.)

Among the other changes is the substitution of "leave no lasting after-effects" with "are more effective and safer than other use-of-force options". It might just be me, but don't you think "might have lasting after-effects" would have been more honest? Particularly if they added an admission that they've never really bothered to find out either way.

None of the above is likely to slow the deployment of tasers in the UK. This fits a worrying pattern. Just as the US is becoming increasingly concerned about the use of tasers (the company have even faced legal action from police injured by the weapons during training) the police in the UK are dishing them out to their officers with not inconsiderable enthusiasm.

The article contains one further interesting tit-bit towards the end when it notes that "in 2001, Home Office researchers discovered people who had been in contact with CS gas were at "serious risk" of catching fire if a Taser gun was subsequently used. Many officers are told to use CS gas to resolve a situation before employing a more extreme method such as a Taser." But you needn't worry, it's not like this sort of thing could actually happen outside the lab is it?

Danny Boy has more, including the intriguing suggestion that the police be armed with toy guns and plastic swords.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Waving a straight banana in the general direction of Islam Karimov

Seeing as Nosemonkey's suggested people come here to find out more about the proposed EU sanctions against Uzbekistan I guess I'm duty bound to say something about it.

The proposals include an embargo on "arms, military and other equipment that might be used for internal repression," a cut in aid and visa bans on Uzbek officials implicated in events in Andijan (although a list of targets has yet to be drawn up). Although the move will not be approved by Foreign Ministers until Monday, the Commission has already prepared the neccesary legislation.

Clearly it's a good thing that something is finally being done about Karimov's human rights abuses, but as the Telegraph notes it's taken a while for the EU to get around to implementing these measures. The parallels with diplomatic sanctions levied against Mugabe don't exactly fill me with confidence. Perhaps the Uzbekistan solidarity movement (for want of a better term) should start looking for it's own Peter Tatchell? Further, as Nosemonkey points out, Karimov can still get weapons from Russia (or for that matter China), rendering the excercise primarily symbolic.

The EU's proposal comes shortly after the US dispatched a high-level delegation to Uzbekistan to have strong words with Karimov and criticised the regime at an OSCE human rights conference in Warsaw. The contemporaneity of these events has fuelled suggestions that western "retaliation" against Uzbekistan has begun in earnest. Whether this is the case or not remains to be seen, but it does seem that the US is going to leave Karshi-Khanabad airbase, formerly the linchpin in the US-Uzbekistan strategic relationship (I for one had wondered if this would actually happen).

Something's finally being done about Uzbekistan. This is a good thing. Whether the measures taken serve to improve the situation there only time will tell.


It's happened again. Almost three years to the day after the terrorist attacks against holiday resorts in Bali, bombs have once again shaken the island. The death toll currently stands at 30 with at least 50 injured and we can no doubt expect these figures to rise. We don't yet know who carried out the attacks, but the coordinated detonation of devices, the deliberate targetting of civillians and the lack of any warning fits the modus operandi of Islamic extremist groups and suspicion has fallen on Indonesian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah which reputedly has links with Al-Qaeda. I'm not really sure what can be said about this beyond the obvious. Three years and one war after the bombing of Jimbaran have we really moved forward? If so, I for one find it hard to see how or where.

That's not to say there haven't been any steps forward. Indeed one of them took place in Indonesia only weeks ago. In August the Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) negotiated a peace agreement which ended the war between the two which has raged on and off since the 1970s. Under the agreement hostilities came to an end, the Indonesian army reduced its force in the province and GAM pledged to disarm. International monitors have also been dispatched to oversee the peace process. It is to be hoped that the bombings and any response by the Indonesian government don't damage this process.

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