the Disillusioned kid: November 2005
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Monday, November 28, 2005

The latest issue of the ever excellent Ceasefire is out. Loads of great stuff on anti-fascism, Tibet, pacifism and Bill Murray. Oh and if that ain't good enough for yer, there's a superlative article on the recent French riots!
All being well you should be reading this in the latest Dk redesign. Hopefully this will work in Safari. If you're really lucky you'll even get this in one of my new "Short kid" boxes where I'll be putting the stuff that isn't long enough for a proper post (and probably shouldn't be written about at all). Most of this code is 'borrowed' from Europhobia, but, as ever, the blame for any problems is entirely mine. That is all.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Hitting Home

Today (November 25) is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (more on which here) or alternatively White Ribbon Day, either way the focus is on the issue of violence against women. This year, the day has been marked by the release of a report by the World Health Organisation which reveals the extent of the problem.

The report focuses on the issue of so-called "domestic violence," that commited against women by their "intimate partners." The reality the study illuminates is a bleak one, as the accompanying press release explains:
The study finds that one quarter to one half of all women who had been physically assaulted by their partners said that they had suffered physical injuries as a direct result. The abused women were also twice as likely as non-abused women to have poor health and physical and mental problems, even if the violence occurred years before. This includes suicidal thoughts and attempts, mental distress, and physical symptoms like pain, dizziness and vaginal discharge.


For policy makers, the greatest challenge is that abuse remains hidden. At least 20% of women reporting physical violence in the study had never told anyone before being interviewed. Despite the health consequences, very few women reported seeking help from formal services like health and police, or from individuals in positions of authority, preferring instead to reach out to friends, neighbours and family members. Those who did seek formal support tended to be the most severely abused.
Isn't our "post-feminist" world a wonderful, happy place?

One of the things which struck me from the coverage of the report, was the way its authors have conceptualised domestic violence as a health issue. This is, of course, a reflection of the fact that it was commisioned by the WHO, but is distinctive from the way that I think most people consider the issue. While the health of the victims is an crucial element of any response to domestic violence, I think it is insufficient for those of us interested in effectively tackling the problem and its root causes, rather than simply seeking to remedy its effects after the fact.

American activist Stann Goff describes domestic violence as one one of the US's "most immediate, systematic, and violent forms of oppression," an insight which can be applied to the UK with discomforting ease: Acccording to Amnesty International, one in four women in the UK will be the victim of domestic violence in their lifetime; police receive one call about domestic violence every minute, yet only 35% of offences are reported; 2 women are killed each week by a former or current partner - 1 every 3 days.

Unlike many of the examples of oppression which this blog gets exercised about, this is not something taking place in some far-off country (although it happens in many of those places as well) this is much closer to home. In fact, for many women it is at home. I refuse to accept that any of this is inevitable, however. The feminist movement (understood in the widest sense) has acheived a huge amount over the last hundred years or so. Why shouldn't that history of success continue? As ever, accepting the immutability of the status quo is the single best guarantees that immutability.

Has It Come To This?

I normally don't pay a lot of attention to what MP, Spectator editor, media star and Tory weirdo Boris Johnson is up to, but he seems to have come out fighting after Blair's attempts to gag journalists reporting on the Al-Jazeera bomb memo:
The Attorney General's ban is ridiculous, untenable, and redolent of guilt. I do not like people to break the Official Secrets Act, and, as it happens, I would not object to the continued prosecution of those who are alleged to have broken it. But we now have allegations of such severity, against the US President and his motives, that we need to clear them up.

If someone passes me the document within the next few days I will be very happy to publish it in The Spectator, and risk a jail sentence. The public need to judge for themselves. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. If we suppress the truth, we forget what we are fighting for, and in an important respect we become as sick and as bad as our enemies.
This seems to have gone down well in the blogosphere, with a veritable phalanx of bloggers promising that if Boris will publish it, so will they, the consequences be damned. Not wanting to be left out, I'm throwing my hat in the ring. Fortunately I'm in good company, which will be particularly fortuitous if we do get banged up.

On a related note, you might care to check out the new blog started by Al-Jazeera staff, plaintively titled "Don't Bomb Us," a sentiment I'm sure we can all related to.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Cops And Throbbers

Police in the US have once again demonstrated why tasers are such a vital part of their arsenal:
A flasher was literally shocked when police fired two 50,000-volt tasers into his private parts. Jeremy Miljour, 26, was taken from Fort Myers Beach, Florida, to hospital to have the dart probes removed
What can one say? Ouch, I suppose.

HTMLephant In The Sitting Room

Apologies for the paucity of posts. I've been busy. This is very much a work in progress, but I'd appreciate any comments/tips/hints etc.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Video Nasty

Tim Ireland is a genius. A sick, twisted genius to be sure, but a genius nontheless. (If you think the image is shocking, the reality (via) is even worse.)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Shades of Atwood

A poll by ICM on behalf of Amnesty International reveals "that a third (34%) of people in the UK believe that a woman is partially or totally responsible for being raped if she has behaved in a flirtatious manner." The report, part of Amnesty's ongoing Stop Violence Against Women campaign, suggests that the "blame culture," as they have dubbed it, also views choices about clothing, drinking, promiscuity, personal safety and the clarity with which a woman has said "no" in the same light:
For instance, more than a quarter (26%) of those asked said that they thought a women was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing, and more than one in five (22%) held the same view if a woman had had many sexual partners.

Around one in 12 people (8%) believed that a woman was totally responsible for being raped if she’d had many sexual partners.

Similarly, more than a quarter of people (30%) said that a woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was drunk, and more than a third (37%) held the same view if the woman had failed to clearly say “no” to the man.
As Amnesty point out, this would seem to put a sizeable chunk of the British population behind the legislature who recently changed the law relating to consent. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 requires that the defendant reasonably believed the victim had consented, which "is to be determined having regard to all the circumstances, including any steps A has taken to ascertain whether B consents" (section 4(2)). (Parenthetical aside: Does anybody else think it's stramge that the Sexual Offences Act describes the victim - "complainant" - using masculine pronouns?)

Strikingly, the "blame culture" seems to be almost as prevalent amongst women as men. ICM note in their report (available as a Word document) that "there were very few gender differences in attitudes; with the only stand out difference relating to male’s opinion that certain dress can make a woman responsible for being raped." In fact, the Guardian - who've had longer to number cruch than I have - point out, "Men are marginally more likely to blame the victim than women, although in the case of drunkenness 5% of women thought a woman would be totally responsible if she were raped, compared to 3% of men."

The survey also reveals a widespread underestimation of the severity of the problem. Amnesty estimates that there "likely to be well in excess of 50,ooo" rapes in the UK every year (according to the Guardian, the police recorded 130,000 rapes last year). Only 4% of respondents even thought that the number exceeded 10,000, however. Conversely, the conviction rate tended to be massively overestimated: "Six out of seven people either said they didn’t know that only 5.6% of rapes reported to the police currently result in conviction or believed the conviction rate to be far higher." The average estimate of 26% was almost five times as high as the actual figure.

This report is a damning indictment of a society which is ignorant of the realities of sexual violence and which holds the victims of that violence responsible for their own plight. One wonders if the problem were one which predominantly affected men whether we would hold comparable views. It think not. Anybody hoping that the report is simply an aberration which does not reflect the reality of modern British society would do well to consider some of the comments from readers of the Daily Mail (some of which have been reposted here should the Mail remove them), which include this not at all misogynistic remark:
There is a big difference between dressing to look attractive and dressing provocatively. Women send out mixed messages to men and then cry 'foul' when a man tries it on. Some women need to understand much better than they do the male psyche.
- Jim Turner, Selby, England
Perhaps Jim might be able to help out Emma who's looking for a guide as to exactly what she can wear this weekend if she isn't to be raped. It's worth noting that this comment issn't just insulting to women, but also to those men whose psyche does not compel them to rape every woman who decides to show a little cleavage.

Next time somebody tells you that the feminists have "won" and as such are unneccesary in modern Britiain, stick this report under their nose. If they still don't get it roll it up and beat them round the head with it. If that doesn't do it you might consider wrapping it in the Daily Mail.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Interwebnettery, Part 2.

I've done as I was told and gotten rid of the scrolling text thingy. Hopefully this should sort out the problems with viewing this site on Safari. If it's still not working properly, feel free to throw stuff in my general direction. (Hat tip: Galgacus.)

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Gorgeous Does Humphrys

Gorgeous George Galloway is courting controversy again. During an interview with John Humphrys on BBC Radio 4's Today programme he defended his support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, expressed during a recent visit to the country. Listening to the interview (available from the BBC article linked above, although I have no idea how long it'll remain there) I'm struck by how little conviction Galloway seems to have about his own views and the half-arsed job of pinning him down Humphrys does.

Galloway seems singularly uninterested in disputing the suggestion that he "praised" Assad, suggesting that the comments to which Humphrys was referring where merely "the plum" selected from a very long speech by an "Israeli website." Instead he makes a concerted, if unconvincing effort, to justify his positive appraisal of the Syrian regime. Galloway's argument seems to hinge on the following points:
(1) Assad isn't really such a bad guy.

(2) The British used to like him back when they had an "independent" policy towards Syria, which they were forced to rewrite by George Bush.

(3) He may not be all that nice, but at least he's not controlled by the west like other equally bad regimes in the region.
The first point is, I suppose, a fairly subjective one, but a quick perusal of materials produced by a range of human rights organisations (like this and this and this) suggests that Syria could probably do better. There certainly doesn't seem to be much which merits praise of any description.

Galloway dismisses Humphrys reference to Syria's position on the Index of Political Freedom as the second worst state as "nonsense," although he provides no evidence to back this up. He doesn't even recite the usual claims as to the alleged pro-US bias of Freedom House who produce the Index and also receive considerable funding from the National Endowment for Democracy an organisation funded by the US government and sharing membership with the Project for a New American Century. Eventually under tough questionning by Humphrys (who goes on about whether it is right that Syria "does what it does") Galloway concedes that it does engage in torture and other nasty extracurricular activities at which point he turns to point 3 (to which we will return anon).

Bizarrely, Galloway seeks to support his positive assesment of Assad by pointing to the parallels between his position and that of the British government until recently. He argues that Assad was seen as a "breath of fresh air" after decades of dictatorship under his father and that his reforming zeal and vision of an independent Syria was popular with the British government. As evidence for this proposition he points to a visit by Assad during which he was put up in Buckingham Palace. A quick Google search suggests that the visit to which Galloway is referring took place in December 2002. While Galloway construes this as an endorsment of Assad, others writing at the time took a different viewpoint. The World Socialist Website, for instance, argued that the point of the visit was to bring "Syria fully behind the planned US led war against Iraq" and that contrary to the MP's assertions that the visit was part of an "independent" British foreign policy, Blair spoke on behalf of Washington.

To his credit, Humphrys was astute enough to pick up on the obvious contradiction which this argument portends. He noted that Galloway is hardly known for taking what the government says at face value, suggesting that citing government policy in support of his own position seems at best inconsistent. The MP for Bethnal Green & Bow retorts (unexpectedly) that even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day. This is true enough (assuming, of course, its not a 24 hour clock), but seems largely irrelevant. There are 1,440 minutes in a day. Therefore, there is a 1 in 720 chance that should I look at the time on a stopped clock it will be correct. On that basis, making a decision on the basis of what that clock said would seem to be foolhardy at best. Similarly, if British policy towards the Middle East is often imperialistic, as both Galloway and myself would argue, then using British policy towards Syria as a guide for one's own actions seems unwise.

Having conceded that Syria does many of the things Humphrys accusses it of (torture, extended detention etc.) he points to the undisputable fact that so do most of the other regimes in the region. (Intriguingly he doesn't point to growing evidence that this is also true of the regime we helped install in Iraq.) Galloway points out that British foreign policy is hypocritical insofar as we support many of those regimes. He points particulalry to the UK's close and "profitable" relationship with neighbouring Saudi Arabia, citing specifically our intention to provide the Saudi regime with £40 billon worth of military equipment (presumably a reference to Al Yamamah). I'd be the first to agree with Galloway at this point and have long been critical of the hypocrisy which runs through so much of British foreign policy, belying our rhetorical concern for human rights and the like. Where I diverge with him, however, is the suggestion that any of this neccesitates support for Assad.

The crux of his argument seems to be that Assad should be supported simply because he is not a "slave" of the west, regardless of the character of his regime. While I share his concerns about western imperialism in the region I fail to see why this means I should throw my hat in with a Baathist dictator. I am anti-imperialist not because of some alienated hatred of the west, but because I believe in freedom, democracy and self-determination. None of those things is acheivable as long as the US and UK interfere in the region in pursuit of their own agendas as they have done for decades, but neither are they possible as long as the regime is ruled by vicious dictatorships, no matter how "independent" they may be.

Running out of time, Humphrys turns the interview to the Respect Coalition which Galloway formed and of which he is the de facto leader. At this juncture Galloway makes some ridiculously optimistic statements about the party's potential in local elections next May when he says he hopes that Respect will win a councillor in every local authority in the country. Perhaps they will secure a few seats, but if they can even field candidates in every local authority in the country I'll be amazed (in Chelmsford Respect is completely non-existent and I doubt this is unique).

Towards the end of the interview, Humphrys made a cack-handed effort to criticise Galloway's failure to turn-up for the vote on the amendment to the glorification proposal. Humphrys obviously hadn't read-up properly and implied that Galloway had failed to turn up for the vote on 90 days detention without charge. This allowed Galloway to respond that on the contrary he had been "present and correct" for the vote "which mattered," the one the government lost, thereby avoiding the fact that he had missed the vote (which didn't matter?) which the government only won by one vote.

Supporters of the occupation of Iraq and assorted right-wingers have made a sport of attacking Galloway as a way of getting at the anti-war movement left. The problem is that Galloway seems to go out of his way to provide them with amunition, a symptom I fear of his ideological predilections. He has quite the way with words (although you'd hardly know it from the interview, maybe he was jet lagged) and is an impressive public speaker, but his politics are another matter. Increasingly I find myself agreeing with Dave Wearing who suggested that Galloway's presence on anti-war platforms actually harms the movement. No doubt others will disagree, but I fail to see what we're getting out of this relationship apart from a collective kicking.

Friday, November 18, 2005


Apparently this thing doesn't work on Safari (Mac's internet browser). Unfortunately I don't have Safari so I'm not really in a position to check. Anyone know if this is an ongoing or transient problem? Anyone wanna offer any suggestions about what I need to hit with a spanner to fix it?

In the meantime please be aware that this site is tested in Firefox and probably best viewed using that. (I'm disregarding any suggestions that its best viewed as its tossed over a cliff.) It also seems to work alright in Internet Explorer, but I'd can't bring myself to recommend it.

Observing Irving

"Historian" David Irving's been arrested in Austria for holocaust denial. While in principle I'm opposed to people being incacerated for their views it's difficult not to enjoy the schadenfreude. Unfortunately, the reporting of Irving's politics appears to be consistent with that which accompanied his high-profile libel case against Deborah Lipstadt (a case he lost): Irving is presented as a "controversial historian," perhaps even one with some slightly dubious views, but nothing more (this BBC "profile" is particularly guilty of this). The truth, however, is that Irving is not a misunderstood historian berated by a totalitarian liberal elite for his deviance from a politically correct account of history, but rather a racist, fascist sympathiser hoping with his exploitation of "history" to advance the fascist cause.

This failure to examine Irving is particularly strange given that Denying the Holocaust, the book which led to the aforementioned court case, would have provided even the laziest journo with plenty of information to populate their reportage with. On page 161, for instance, Lipstadt notes that Irving is "a self-described 'moderate fascist,'" who "placed a self-portrait of Hitler over his desk [and] described his visit to Hitler's mountaintop retreat as a spiritual experience." Furthermore, Roger Eatwell (one of the leading academics analysing far-right movements - as if you didn't know) notes that during the 1970s Irving was interested in developing strategies for the far right, then represented most prominently by the National Front, to pursue in order to achieve power. He believed there was a need for an "officer class" to lead the movement's inarticulate working-class grassroots. In 1979-80 he took steps to lay the intellectual groundwork for the launch of a new party with the formation of a small focus-group of like-minded thinkers and the Clarendon Club a drinking and speaking coterie which brought together conservatives and fascists. It emerged during the Lipstadt v. Irving trial that Irving had written the following, charming ditty for his baby daughter, "I am a Baby Aryan …I have no plans to marry an Ape or Rastifarian."

Irving's holocaust denial efforts are a matter of public record. This is the aspect of Irving's ideology which receives the greatest coverage in the mainstream media, so it I don't feel a need to look at it in much detail. It is worth pointing out though, that Justice Gray, the judge who ruled on the libel case held that Irving had "misstated historical evidence; adopted positions which run counter to the weight of the evidence; given credence to unreliable evidence and disregarded or dismissed credible evidence." These "errors" he noted converged in such a manner "that they all tend to exonerate Hitler or to reflect Irving’s partisanship for the Nazi leaders. If indeed they were genuine errors or mistakes, one would not expect to find this consistency." Translation from legalesse: Irving lied to make his case.

None of this is very hard to find. This suggests (to me at least) that the mainstream media have taken a deliberate choice not to discuss any of this. There was a similar whitewashing of Austrian far-right leader Jorg Haider when his Freedom Party acheived impressive electoral results in 1999, going on to enter government in 2000. Many people may well have come away from this thinking that Haider was castigated for one ill-considered statement about Nazi Germany's employment policies, when in truth he had a long history of flirtation with the far-right and fascist sympathies. I'm not suggesting for a minute that the media is part of a fascist conspiracy, a ridiculous suggestion (although on some issues sections of the media aren't so far from the far-right), in fact I'm not entirely sure what I am suggesting, but it seems worthy of note.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Where's Peter Tatchell When You Need Him?

Uzbekistan watchers will recall that the EU announced plans to impose sanctions on Uzbekistan at the start of October. Included in these plans was a visa ban on all those officials implicated in the Andijan massacre, preventing them from entering the EU. At the time I suggested that the parallels with the sanctions targetted against Robert Mugabe's regime didn't exactly fill me with confidence. These too included visa bans, most notably a ban on Mugabe himself, although this doesn't seem to have done much to prevent Robert from visiting Europe on a number of occasions. (Pursued on many of these occasions by human rights activist Peter Tatchell.) Now I hate to say I told you so, but guess what?

According to Reuters and MosNews (via), Uzbekistan’s Interior Minister Zakirjon Almatov - who doesn't just get onto the list of Uzbek officials banned from entry into the EU, but manages to make it all the way to number one - has received a visa for entry into Germany. Although the Uzbek Embassy and International Neuroscience Institute in Hanover have both apparently declined to comment, it appears that Almatov made the journey for treatment on spinal cancer. The visa was issued in October, prior to the ban coming into effect yesterday (November 14), but a German spokesman explained that it had been run past the EU's executive Commission and Britain who hold's the EU's rotating presidency.

Germany claims that the visa was issued on "humanitarian grounds," and indeed the sanctions do allow for exemptions on such grounds. A number of questions still arise though. Firstly what does it say about the state of Uzbekistan's health system if one of its senior ministers feels the need to rush off to Europe for treatment? More worryingly, what interest does the country's elite have in improving that system if they can just fuck off abroad when they feel unwell? (This is hardly a uniquely Uzbek problem; if MPs have private health care and send their little brats to public schools why should we expect them to do anything positive about the NHS or education?) There is also a suggestion that Germany's motivations may not have been as high-minded as their rhetoric. MosNews suggests that the German government had initially refused Almatov a visa, but had relented in the face of threats from Tashkent that they would close down the German military base at Termez near the Uzbek-Afghan border.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Trials and Tribulations, Part 3.

What's the point of a show trial if everybody gets bored and loses interest half way through? I follow events in Uzbekistan fairly closely and even I had almost forgotten about the trial of the 15 men alleged to have instigated the uprising in Andijan (you remember that trial). Nosemonkey, however, was kind enough to point out that the kangaroo seems to have reached its destination and the fat lady's telling us they're guilty. (OK, the turn of phrase is mine, but credit for the heads up and the report goes to the recently married primate.)

A guilty verdict in the trial was inevitable from the beginning. The prosecution trotted out an array of witnesses who recited the government's account. Among those providing evidence in support of the official line were troops who testified that they had offered protesters a safe corridor and even those described by the BBC as "victims of the unrest." The sole exception was Mahbuba Zokirova (or Makhbuba Zakirova depending on how you transliterate her name), a 33-year old housewife, who recounted having seen "soldiers shooting at people with a white flag." She opined, "Even Hitler did not do it that way. It was the military who opened fire." Although the state-controlled media tried to discredit her and it's clear from her testimony that she's bricking it, Zokirova insists that she has not been hassled by the authorities following her comments at the trial. It is to be hoped this continues once the trial falls off the radar.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, prosecutors got what they wanted, securing 16-20 year sentences for the 12 Uzbek citizens on trial and 14 years for each of the three Kyrgyz citizens. The verdict was as long-winded as the trial itself, lasting for five hours according to RFE/RL. The defendants continue their not at all suspicious assertion of their own guilt saying they "deserve to be killed twice" for the actions. Actually the decision not to use the death penalty in this case is something of a surprise. Karimov recently announced the end of capital punishment in Uzbekistan, but insisted that this could not be implemented until January 2008. Many cynics, myself included, assumed that one of the reasons for this delay was an intention to execute those accused of responsibility for the Andiajn uprising.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Civil Rights Movement Takes On Tasers

This is an interesting and encouraging development:
LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. (AP) - About 200 protesters marched through this Atlanta suburb Saturday [November 12], urging police to stop using stun guns like the one that shocked an inmate who later died.

Inmate Frederick Williams, 31, died in May 2004, days after Gwinnett County deputies shocked him with a Taser, a weapon that delivers a 50,000-volt shock to immobilize people temporarily.

The march was organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which has documented more than 150 deaths nationwide that it attributes to Tasers.
According to its website, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (hereafter SCLC) emerged out of the burdgeoning civil rights movement in 1957 and was co-founded by Martin Luther King Jr. Inexplicably, these details and the obvious fact that the SCLC draws the majority of its support from African American communities, who are likely to be disproportionately affected by the use of tasers, aren't considered worthy of mention in the Associated Press report.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Loud and Proud

This, which appears courtesy of Chris, is the mild-mannered response to this. Those of you looking for a more constructive response could do worse than having a gander at this. Alternatively (perhaps even additionally) why not join us in exposing the real traitor?

Blogger Says Robertson Rejects Science

Insignificant British blogger Disillusioned kid, has told American televangelist Pat Robertson not to seek science's aid in the event of the onset of illness after the right-wing loon vocally endorsed the teaching of "intelligent design" as part of the science curriculum in American schools.

The kid told his virtually non-existent readership that Robertson had turned his back on science.

"I'd like to say to Patsy: If you lose your legs in a freak accident, don't go running to hospital seeking the latest advances in medical science. You just rejected science in favour of your religious dogmas."

'Phone Jesus'

The egotistical activist and self-confessed "anarchist" has made controversial statements before. Nobody seemed very interested, however.

After his comments on Friday evening, Dk might issue a statement saying that he was simply trying to point out that "our actions have educational and scientific consequences."

"Science is really useful and pretty nifty, but you can't keep kicking it up the arse for ever," the kid said.

"If they have future medical problems in the Robertson household, I recommend they phone Jesus. Maybe he can help them."

Supporters of "intelligent design" try to pretend that their half-baked religious dogmas are somehow a scientific answer to real gaps within the theory of evolution.

Opponents say it is simply an attempt by Christofascist medievalists to introduce religion into the school science curriculum.

Last week the Kansas education board voted 6-4 to introduce teaching of "intelligent design" into the science curriculum.

(Disclaimer: This might be satire.)

Remembrance Day

Given the angle the media coverage is likely to follow you might be mistaken for thinking that Remembrance Day exists in order to provide us with yet another opportunity to marvel at our own ability to stand in silence. The day, however, as I'm sure you're aware is supposed to serve as a reminder of the costs of war. That being the case, you might care to remember this and this and this and this. And make sure you don't forget this.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Thanks Be To Galgacus!

I think I can now say with a certain degree of confidence that I've got rid off the pop-ups which were plaguing this site. Apparently the redesign was unneccesary (although I'm still glad I did it). All I needed to do was get rid of my Webstats4u counter. It turns out that "in order to finance the maintenance, hosting, new developments" they "will accept advertising sponsorships" which "can appear as a pop-up or pop-under advertisement or slide-in flash format." Translation: "We'll sell advertising on your site". Bastards.

Dealing with this was easy enough. I just deleted the relevant code and hey presto no pop-ups, but I'd never have thought to do this or noticed the small-print were it not for the eagle-eyes of Galgacus. I write this both to show my appreciation and to urge those of you still using Webstats4u to dump it.

This might be a timely opportunity to recall the words of Bill Hicks (via):
By the way, if anyone here is in advertising or marketing, kill yourself. Just a little thought. I'm just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day they'll take root. I don't know. You try. You do what you can. Kill yourselves. Seriously though, if you are, do. No really, there's no rationalisation for what you do, and you are Satan's little helpers, OK? Kill yourselves, seriously. You're the ruiner of all things good. Seriously, no, this is not a joke. "There's gonna be a joke coming..." There's no fucking joke coming, you are Satan's spawn, filling the world with bile and garbage, you are fucked and you are fucking us, kill yourselves, it's the only way to save your fucking soul. Kill yourself, kill yourself, kill yourself now.

"You know what Bill's doing now, he's going for the righteous indignation dollar, that's a big dollar, a lot of people are feeling that indignation, we've done research, huge market. He's doing a good thing." Goddammit, I'm not doing that, you scumbags, quit putting a goddamn dollar sign on every fucking thing on this planet!

Words v. Pictures

"This is using my image to push through draconian and utterly unnecessary terrorism legislation. Its incredibly ironic that the Sun's rhetoric is as the voice of the people yet they don't actually ask the people involved, the victims, what they think. If you want to use my image, the words coming out of my mouth would be, 'Not in my name, Tony'. I haven't read anything or seen anything in the past few months to convince me these laws are necessary"
- John Tulloch (the man pictured above) in today's Grauniad.

(Via the Tomb and TP.)

Identifying the Causes

I don't normally bother with the letters page in the Times, but today I stumbled across this tit-bit:
Police checks on ID cards are a great source of friction among minority populations in countries that have them. This is being borne out with a vengeance in France today, where one of the chief complaints of minority communities is the frequency of police ID card checks on youths. It was while attempting to avoid just such an ID check that the two youngsters whose deaths precipitated the rioting were electrocuted.
The writer, Professor A.C. Grayling, follows this up with the requisite denunciation of the rioters, whose behaviour he describes as "completely unacceptable," but concludes by suggesting that events in France "should give our own Government vivid reasons for thinking again about its misguided and illiberal scheme."

The key point here is not that ID cards necessarily equate with rioting, they don't and there are a multitude of other factors at play in events in France. Rather it emphasises the fact that the effects of such laws will inevitably fall disproportionately on those with the wrong skin colour (as stop and search powers already do). It may be easy enough for white people to ignore this, but it is unlikely to pass unnoticed in the targeted communities.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

One Man's Terrorism Victim Is Another Man's Freedom Fighter

You've gotta be careful with those victims of terrorism. Give 'em half a chance and they'll try to undermine your ill-considered meticulously worked out anti-terrorism policy:
As everyone reading this knows by now, I was on the bombed train at Kings Cross, in the first carriage. So yes, I am not surprised that terrorists seek to do what they can to attack my democratic society, to threaten my liberties, to spread fear, to seek to divide us.

I do not expect my democratically-elected government to do the same. I cannot, and do not speak for all the victims, and nor can, and nor should Tony Blair and Charles Clarke.

But I know one thing: to defeat terrorism and hate-filled individuals we need to draw strength from each other, to co-operate and talk with each other, whether white or black, Muslim or Christian, Sikh, Hindu, Jew or atheist. Just like we did went the lights went out and the tunnel filled with smoke and we heard the screams of the dying; we drew together, we held hands, we prayed and we did not panic.

I do not see why this ill-thought out macho posturing, which can only destabilise and divide us, by robbing men and women of the ancient and fundemental right of habeas corpus, and making sections of the community afraid, is going to defeat terror. (Via.)
That'll be her to the top of the list for 90 28 days at her Majesty's displeasure then.

Parliament Discovers Spine

Colour me pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Sunny Side Up

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
- John F. Kennedy (12 March 1962)
The Sunshine Uzbekistan Coalition was formed in April, bringing together the Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Peasants) party, prominent opposition members and human rights activists. The Coalition's leader is Sanjar Umarov, an Uzbek oligarch who made his money in cotton and telecommunications. Although he has been strongly critical of the Karimov regime and called for the government to be dissolved there have been suggestions that he has actually been sponsored by the incumbent president. Recent developments would tend to militate against this interpretation, however.

In mid-October Sunshine Uzbekistan issued an appeal to the Oliy Majlis (Uzbekistan's Parliament) in which they sought to be registered as a "legitimate" party within Uzbekistan's political system (currently the only registered parties are those which articulate pro-government policies). What was striking about the document, however, was its uncompromising critique of Karimov's regime. Perhaps unsurprisingly the Oliy Majlis didn't recognise the Coalition. Nonetheless the appeal, hardly seems to have passed without notice. On October 23 Umarov was arrested in Tashkent.

The government accused him of embezzlement and tax evasion (cf Mutabar Tajibayeva's arrest for "extortion") but his lawyer Vitaly Krasiliovsky allleges he found him in his cell naked and incoherent three days after his arrest. As former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray points out, "To pretend there is a shred of legitimacy to this treatment of Sanjar Umarov is a nonsense. Why is an alleged embezzler naked in solitary confinement?" Umarov's incoherence was pointed to by the Coalition and others as evidence that he had been given psychotropic drugs.

Umarov's treatment had drawn criticisms from various quarters. Congress in the US has been particularly vocal. (Hell hath no fury like a superpower scorned?) Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, expressed serious concern about his health, calling for his release "pending an independent review of the charges against him." The EU, who in October imposed sanctions on Uzbekistan, called on Uzbekistan halt its "harrasment and detention" of human rights advocates and opposition activists and referred specifically to Umarov's case urging authorities to allow an "independent assesment" of Umarov's condition.

The Karimov regime has not limited its attacks to Umarov. They also searched the Sunshine Coalition's offices after a tense two-hour stand-off, apparently searching for one of Umarov's acquaintances. The targetting of the Coalition seems to be part of a wider crackdown which has also seen Mutabar Tabijayeva incacerated and Yelena Urlaeva forced to undergo pyschiatric treatment after publishing a cartoon critical of the incumbent government. RFE/RL report that at least 19 activists have been arrested since the Andijan uprising on May 13.

The regime is clearly terrified of a Ukraine-style coloured revolution. It is far from clear that Karimov can effectively crush dissent, but he seems to be having a go at it. Sooner or later though, something has got to give. No doubt it would be much better if that happened peacefully, but it isn't a given, as events in Andijan in May demonstrate. Don't get me wrong. I'm not going to shed any tears if somebody manages to put a bullet between Karimov's eyes, but leaving this as the only available avenue for dissent hardly seems to be in his interests.

Remember Remember?

Anniversaries are quite the thing nowdays. We have 9/11, 11/11, Waterloo 200, the monthly commemorations of the 7/7 attacks in London and probably an armful of others which I can't think of. Some anniversaries, however, receive rather less coverage. Mark Curtis, writing in today's Guardian, notes but one example:
Today, a British-engineered occupation enters its fifth decade. There will be no commemoration, despite the human toll and murkiness surrounding what is going on there. Yet an entire population, exiled from their homeland and betrayed by the British government, are stepping up their campaign to return home. The coming weeks may decide their fate.

Forty years ago this week, while African and Asian countries were throwing off British rule, Whitehall officials were busy establishing a new colony. The British Indian Ocean Territory (Biot) was created by detaching the Chagos island group from Mauritius and other small islands from the Seychelles, then both British colonies. Mauritius was given £3m in compensation; the following year, Britain signed a military agreement with the US leasing it the largest island, Diego Garcia, for 50 years.
Regular readers will be familiar with the events which followed: the indigenous population were removed by the British government, under the smokescreen of Foreign & Commonwealth Office lies, with the last leaving in 1973. There fight for the right to return has, as Curtis notes, continued ever since in the face of various government machinations.

Curtis has been a consistent critic of British foreign policy vis-a-vis Chagos, indeed his Web of Deceit, which includes a chapter on the issue, was one of the first places I learnt about the scandalous way the Chagossians had been treated. He made a brief appearance in John Pilger's documentary on the issue and more recently has decided to dedicate four or five days a month to the issue and campaign strategy. Hopefully then we can expect more of the same in the future.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Libertie, Egalite, Fraternitie, Realite

"A riot is at bottom the language of the unheard."
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
The term "race riot" gets bandied around far too often in my opinion. While often not without merit it tends to obscure as much as it elucidates. The riots currently spreading accross France provide ample evidence of this. While race and racism play a crucial role, so too does government repression, police brutality, poverty and unemployment.

Trouble began when three Arab youths were electrocuted after apparently being pursued by the police. The Federal Secretariat of Alternative Libertaire notes,
Ziad and Banou died of electrical burns in a power sub-station, and a third youth is in serious condition. They thought they were being chased by the police. Will we ever know whether this was the case, whether the police are guilty of non-assistance of persons in danger? Whatever the exact details of how these two teenagers died, their death was the spark. Young people in the suburbs already hated the State which for years has only appeared as police, courts, and (increasingly) prisons.
(Those of you aware of the Redfern riots in Australia may wish to draw your own parallels here.) The spark to which the FSAL refer ignited widespread resentment amongst France's immigrant population who had long felt excluded from French society.

Dan spent a year in Paris while studying for his degree and encountered the realities of French inequality. He recalls (in his inimitable capital-free fashion),
french society is very divided. the research department i was working for consisted of an entirely white european research team, whilst cleaners and chauffeurs, were almost entirely black and brown. this is, of course, true in areas of britain too, but i found it more striking in a country where both working class and middle class cultures were alien to me. to cut a long story short, there were some people who mattered and some who were a persistant nuisance, to be tolerated with contempt, or suppressed when they got out of hand. the events of the last few days will have the middle classes shaking in their beds as the downtrodden decide that enough's enough.
Dan was also present during the 2002 Presidential Election where Far Right leader Jean Marie Le Pen made it to the second round, beating the Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin into third place and forcing him from the contest. While the fascist fuckwit was given a solid kicking in the final vote, it did not pass unoticed that he secured almost 17% of the vote in a first round contested by no less than 16 presidential wannabes and in the aftermath of a damaging split within his Front National.

This climate of poverty and racism is a potent combination on its own, but the ferocity of the riots seems to have been further fuelled by the response of the government. This response has been led by Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy (below), commonly referred to as "Sarko." Pushing the ambitious and famously hardline minister to the forefront appears to have been a deliberate strategy on the part of President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, based on the belief that his inevitable failure would hurt his nasceant campaign for the presidency.Sarko certainly failed, but Chirac and Villepin may not have accounted for his not inconsiderable ability to fan the flames, exacerbating an already serious situation. Doug Ireland, who lived and worked in France for a decade and is fluent in French, explains:
"Sarko" made headlines with his declarations that he would "karcherise" the ghettos of "la racaille"-- words the U.S. press, with glaring inadequaxcy, has translated to mean "clean" the ghettos of "scum." But these two words have an infinitely harsher and insulting flavor in French. "Karcher" is the well-known brand name of a system of cleaning surfaces by super-high-pressure sand-blasting or water-blasting that very violently peels away the outer skin of encrusted dirt -- like pigeon-shit -- even at the risk of damaging what's underneath. To apply this term to young human beings and proffer it as a strategy is a verbally fascist insult and, as a policy proposed by an Interior Minister, is about as close as one can get to hollering "ethnic cleansing" without actually saying so. It implies raw police power and force used very aggressively, with little regard for human rights. I wonder how many Anglo-American correspondents get the inflammatory, terribly vicious flavor of the word in French? The translation of "karcherise" by "clean" just misses completely the provocative, incendiary violence of what Sarko was really saying. And "racaille" is infinitely more pejorative than "scum" to French-speakers -- it has the flavor of characterizing an entire group of people as subhuman, inherently evil and criminal, worthless, and is, in other words, one of the most serious and dehumanizing insults one could launch at the rebellious ghetto youth.
The response to this on the part of the rioters was as mild-mannered as you might expect. The Grauniad reports, for instance,
In Strasbourg, youths stole a car and rammed it into a housing project, setting the vehicle and the building on fire. "We'll stop when Sarkozy steps down," said the 17-year-old driver of the car, who gave his name only as Murat.
The tear gassing of a Mosque in the northern Clichy-sous-Bois suburb, even if it was accidental as claimed, can hardly have helped to reduce tensions.

I don't want to overstate the potential progressive potential of the riots, but I tend to agree with Lenny that "to have this end up as no more than a futile expression of anger at the government would be tragic - think how many cars would have lost their lives in vain." I realise it might be controversial to suggest this, but I do think that the "race riots" which Britian experienced in the early 80s did have a positive impact, forcing the country to face up to the realities of racism. That isn't to suggest that we live in any kind of multiracial paradise, but I think its clear that we have come a long way. The almost nostalgic way these tend to be remembered by those who were around at the time suggest that I may not be alone in thinking this.

On the other hand, of course, the violence has provided additional amunition for those seeking to whip up animosity against Muslims. The death of Jean-Jacques Le Chenadec, apparently the result of a beating by rioters on Friday night, is only likely to strengthen their hand (Newsweek offers an intriguing comparison here, pointing out that the LA riots in 1992 claimed the lives of more than 50 people). There have been various claims that the riots are coordinated by Islamic extremist groups (they've even been described , although the Union of Islamic Organisations of France, described by Associated Press as "France's biggest Muslim fundamentalist organization" issued a fatwa forbidding all those "who seek divine grace from taking part in any action that blindly strikes private or public property or can harm others." I have yet to see any comment from Le Pen or the FN, but you can guarantee that they'll seek to make political capital out of this. The worrying thing is that they may well be successful.

I make no claims to be any kind of expert in France nor of any ability to see the future. I don't know how this is going to turn out and I'd be pretty wary of making guesses. Like I say, I hope something good comes out of it, but I am not so naive as to suggest it is inevitable. Those of you interested in such things can find translations of articles analysing the riots by assorted French leftists and anarchists here. The rest of you can go and fireproof the garden fence.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Orwellian Multiplicity

"The history of a given thing is, in general, a succession of the forces that take hold of it, and the coexistence of the forces that strive to take hold of it. A single object, a single phenomenon changes meaning according to the force that is appropriating it."
- Gille Deleuze, Nietzsche et la philosophie (1962)
The fact that it is possible to have multiple interpretations of the same thing should hardly be controversial. If it were not the case there would seem to be little need for politics or academia or in fact any activity predicated on debate.

Nietzsche, as the Deleuze quotation above portends, is a classic example of the potential diversity which can result from differing interpretations. In the eyes of many, Nietzsche has come to be associated with the Nazis, who sought to co-opt many of his ideas, such as the "will to power," in pursuit of their own ends. This ignores, however, Nietzsche's vitriolic denunciations of anti-semitism (after he went mad, he even claimed to have ordered "all anti-Semites shot") and his rejection of nationalism. In fact alternative very different, interpretations of the German philosopher's writings are popular.

I have recently read I Am Not A Man, I Am Dynamite, a fascinating collection of essays which examines the conjunction of Nietzsche's ideas and anarchism. This emphasises the parallels and commonalities and suggests some strategic possibilities which arise from such an analysis (on this point, Saul Newman's contribution is particulalrly recommended). What emerges is an interpretation (or more accurately interpretations) diametrically opposed to that of Adolf Hitler, yet both are derived from essentially the same texts.

We can see similar contrasting interpretations of almost any historical figure you care to name. Consider the way Che Guevara has become a icon for selling anything from t-shirts to watches or the way capitalists have come to appreciate Marx's prophecies about globalisation and the tearing down of all walls. Mike Wood has noticed a particularly egregious example:
I was at a protest against the BNP [on Wednesday] at Leeds Crown Court. Highly enjoyable. Quite a few anti-fascist protestors turned up (1000+) and only a hundred or so BNP members themselves. Most of the BNP were late as well. When I first arrived there was only about 30-40 of them, which cheered me up no end. They had the usual bizarre selection of banners and Daily Mail headlines, plus a large amount of George Cross flags. what really shocked me was that they also had a large banner with a quote from George Orwell on. It proclaimed: "In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act". Bastards.
Mike suggests that this is particularly shocking because "George Orwell is probably politically most well known for havig the guts to jet off the Spain and physically attack fascism. He did not just oppose fascists politically, but through actually trying to kill them." I'm not sure, however, that this is in fact what Orwell is best known for. In the public imagination my impression is that Orwell, most famous for 1984 and Animal Farm, is seen simply (and innaccurately) as an anti-communist.

Orwell, in fact, has long been fought over. While the revolutionary socialists have held him up for his criticisms of capitalism, the pro-war left have emphasised his opposition to Stalinism and Fascism and implied that on this basis he would have supported the invasion of Iraq and the Stalinists denounced him for being a counter-revolutionary. Meanwhile Orwell's arguments in support of patriotism have been cited by the right in an attempt to lay claim to him, while the CIA used Animal Farm as anti-Soviet propaganda. It is true, of course, that whatever one's take on Orwell it is probably possible to find something to back it up. In his own life Orwell went through a number of phases: there's Orwell the colonial policeman; Orwell the revolutionary; Orwell the anti-fascist; Orwell the anti-war activist in the run up to World War II; and Orwell the pro-war propagandist once it began. There really ought to be something for everybody in there. Given the foregoing is it really so surprising that the Fascists should attempt to claim his legacy for themselves?

None of this is to suggest that we should accept the BNP's attempt to "appropriate" Orwell for their own ends. The best response, in my opinion, is for the left to try and reclaim Orwell's legacy in the hopes of making the BNP much less comfortable about citing him in support of their position. In my own small way I have attempted to "appropriate" Orwell, utilising his image in my profile. A concerted effort along similar lines by the anti-capitalist left might have some success. If nothing else it ought to encourage people to read what he wrote, which can only be a good thing.

What Was He Thinking?

I'm hardly the world's biggest fan of George Galloway at the best of times, but I think Jamie k is onto something when he suggests Gorgeous George "was returned to Westminster as a walking, talking, litigating fuck you to the Prime Minister, his allies and his foreign policy." The very least we can expect from the MP for Bethnal Green & Bow is that he give the government a solid kicking over the "War in Terror". Which is precisely why his failure to turn up for the vote on the Terrorism Bill on Wednesday is so inexcusable.

Wednesday's rebel amendment to the Bill would have introduced a requirement of proof of intention in order to pursue a prosecution under the incitement to commit terrorism offence. While I remain dubious about the proposed offence, caveats or no, this would seem to have been a step in the right direction. Sensible or not, the amendment was defeated by 300 votes to 299, the closest the government has come to losing a vote since 1997. Had Galloway been present the government would have been forced to turn to the casting vote of the Speaker, a humiliating spctacle, even if the amendment had still been defeated.

And where exactly was Galloway during all of this? Attending what the Grauniad describe as "a lucrative speaking engagement" in Cork. This all provides an opportunity for us to witness the bizarre spectacle of various Labour party representatives slagging him off for not being sufficiently active in his opposition to government policy and letting down his constituents, but hypocrisy aside, the criticisms are valid. To be sure, the LibDem MPs who failed to turn up to the vote are also responsible for the defeat, had they been present the government would have been beaten fair and square, but given the anti-war basis of his campaign, Galloway's absence is particularly blameworthy.

It has long been my opinion that the attempt by certain groups to push the anti-war movement in an electoral direction was a mistake, but predicating this entire strategy on one man in the way the party has done does them no favours. The simple truth is that Galloway was only able to get elected in Bethnal Green because of who he was and a massive campaign by Respect supporters, which saw members being shipped in from at least as far away as Nottingham. Galloway hasn't done so badly out of all this what with his speaking tours and whatnot, but what does the wider anti-movement have to show for it? A humiliating near defeat for the government would have been a start. Maybe next time George?

(Hat tip MTC, Paul, Jamie, Chris and Quarsan.)

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Ask A Stupid Questionnaire Get A Stupid Answer

It's Bonfire Night! As I'm sure you're all aware this is a British tradition, now almost four hundred years old, which commemorates the only occasion on which an honest man entered Parliament. Usually this event is marked with fireworks and the burning of effigies. The Labour Party, however, appear to have come up with an innovative celebration in the form of this entertaining "survey":
Do you think that our laws should be updated to cope with the current security threat? Yes - No - Not sure

Do you think police should have the time and opportunity to complete their investigations into suspected terrorists? Yes - No - Not sure

Do you think the government should make sure there are new safeguards to protect innocent people? Yes - No - Not sure

Would you like to be kept up-to-date on the progress of this legislation and other issues? Yes - No - Not sure

Nasty men want to make you go boom. Are you frightened? Yes - No - Not sure
OK, Justin made the last one up, but does it really look so out of place?

The accompanying blurb claims that Charles the Safety Elephant not only want our views, but wants them "as soon as possible." Frankly I'm not convinced. If he were genuinely interested in anyone but Tony Blair's opinion you'd have thought it might have occured to him to include at least one question touching on the points of contention in the debate surrounding proposed anti-terror legislation. Maybe he couldn't think of anything. I guess he's a really busy guy. Being the helpful sort I thought it might be useful to offer a few suggestions of my own:
Do you think the police should have the power to arrest somebody for something they said just because it sort of, maybe, sounded like an endorsement of political violence? Yes - No - Not Sure

Do you think the police should be spending more time hassling and alienating dodgy looking people with dark skin and beards? Yes - No - Not Sure

Do you think that the police should have more powers to detain octogenarian suicide hecklers than they already do? Yes - No - Not Sure
If you read this Charlie, please feel free to borrow them. I'm sure you'll find them very useful. Or not.

The rest of you might be interested to note that anybody can submit answers to the questionnaire and you don't even have to enter a real email address. If I was a malicious person I'd suggest you go and fuck it up. Fortunately for Charlie I'm actually quite nice. Most of the time.

Before anyone accuses me of anything improper I'm not disputing the need for a serious, intelligent debate about how we respond to terrorism, but this laughable excuse for a survey is neither serious nor intelligent and as such deserves every bit of the opprobrium it has been subjected to.

Friday, November 04, 2005


Iraqi president Jalal Talabani is hardly a vociferous critic of American foreign policy, but even he apparently has to accept the realities that it entails:
"I categorically refuse the use of Iraqi soil to launch a military strike against Syria or any other Arab country," Talabani told the London-based Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat in an interview published Tuesday.

"But at the end of the day my ability to confront the US military is limited and I cannot impose on them my will." (via)
Remember, this is not some former Ba'athist chauvinist cursing the wind. Talabani is, whatever one might think of the process which installed him in the position, the president of Iraq and was appointed to that role six months after the so-called "handover of sovereignty" of June 28, 2004. As such his comments tell us much about the truth behind Anglo-American rhetoric. Not that anybody should be greatly surprised.

Memory Hole Here We Come

So everything's alright then? Our Boys didn't really kill that Iraqi. Just a bunch of self-serving Iraqis, do-gooder lawyers and incompetent investigators cooking up a case in order to get some "blood money" from our much maligned armed forces. Everything tied up quite neatly really. Apart from this:
Judge Blackett said that notwithstanding the weaknesses in the investigation, there was sufficient evidence to conclude that “Nadhem is dead”, and that he died “as a result of an assault” — he had bruises to his head and was groaning and vomiting — and that the “assault was carried out by Corporal Evans’s section”. However, he said it was up to the prosecution to prove that the stop and search "degenerated into the illegal use of force and that all the soldiers were part of a joint enterprise".
Legalistic caveats aside, that's pretty damning. Much better to emphasise the other angles; we can't be letting ourselves get distracted by wishy-washy concepts like justice.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Be Realistic: Demand The Impossible

Alex had a post a few days ago about the role of intuition in moral debate. He argued (essentially) that intuition is usually a bad guide to morality. In the comments I suggested that it was a mistake to draw to strong a distinction between intuition and rationality. Generally, I suspect, people intuit that something is wrong and then construct a rational explanation for why they feel that way. Ideally they will subsequently come to believe this rationalisation. I think an analysis of the roles of rationality and irrationality (I am not here regarding these as value judgements) in other contexts can potentially be instructive.

There is an implication in much leftist writing that rationality is the driving force behind social change; it is merely neccesary to show people in a rational and logical manner what is wrong with the status quo for them to be convinced of the need to radically alter the way the world is run. Noam Chomsky is arguably an exemplar of this way of thinking, although I doubt he's ever stated it explicitly. The problem with this approach is that despite an enormous volume of books, speeches, papers, dissertations, articles, pamphlets, websites and blogs providing evidence of the multitude of flaws of the current system, the number of people actively engaged in the struggle for a better world is limited to say the least. Clearly rational argument alone isn't sufficient.

My instinct is that the decision to move from a rational critique of the status quo to an active challenge to it is one which is neccesarily predicated on the irrational. It neccesarily entails a belief that change is possible, a faith that we can acheive something better. Neither of those things can be justified on the basis of evidence and rational evaluation alone. They can only be felt, hoped or wished for.

Quite what this insight entails from a strategic point of view I'm not sure although I'm certainly not suggesting we abandon rational thinking and debate which I believe should still underpin our worldview. While I'm aware that there is political theory looking at this area, I've read little of it. My instinct, however, is that if we accept the role of the irrational in politics that we clearly shouldn't be limiting ourselves just to listening to speeches, marching from A to B or reading pretentious blog posts. Activism should be engaging, fun, attractive; in short, it's time to make politics sexy again.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Luddites Anonymous

This thing's still plagued by pop-ups and I haven't got the faintest clue why. If ayone who knows anything about HTML wants to look at the source code and make helpful suggestions about where they're coming from it'd be greatly appreciated. My own skills in this regard are limited to say the least.

Torture, Lies and Chagos: It's Gotta Be A DK Blog Post

Talk Politics has a post linking Blairite duplicity, complicity in torture and the plight of the Chagossians, the latter being something he (?) has taken quite an interest in lately. Towards the end there's a suggestion that a blogswarm around the issue might be appreciated. I have to confess that I'm not entirely sure what a blogswarm is, but I guess it's got something to do with blogging and swarming, so I suppose a contribution by myself wouldn't be unreasonable.

Apparently Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean isn't just a lady with a stupid name who nobody's ever heard of before. She's also now responsible for negotiating with regimes in countries we want to deport recalcitrant Muslims and from whom we first want to obtain sincere and heartfelt guarantees that the aforementioned recalcitrants won't be tortured. Too much. You know the kind of democratic paradises were talking about: Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco etc.

The idea that were going to take assurances from the leaders of anybody on that list is bad enough in itself, but that isn't the central point here. What Symons said the the House of Lords last December is. Because it wasn't true.

At this juncture it might be prudent to chuck in TP's get out of jail card:
Now, before I go on, I'm not alleging that Baroness Symons has deliberately or knowingly misled the House of Lords - I simply do not know whether the untruthful statement made is one of her own crafting or the product of a briefing received from her Civil Service advisors; that is ultimately a matter for the House of Lords to decide, but what I do know is that she did mislead the House of Lords and that at no time has she offered the House the correction required by the Ministerial Code - she may, to this point in time, genuinely be unaware of her error.
Those of you wondering why something which sounds as thoroughly uninteresting as the Ministerial Code sounds should be of any interest to anybody might care to recall the consequences which have just befallen David Blunkett for breaching it. The specific passage which is relevant here readeth thus:
It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister.
Not so unreasonable I'm sure you'll agree.

Symons breached the Code on december 13 last year while responding to a question by Lord Beaumont of Whitley who asked (somewhat naively in my opinion, although the actual phrasing may be a reflection of the machinations of Parliament): "Whether [the government] will reconsider their decision to prevent the British people of the Chagos Islands returning to their original homes." Symons responded with the following comments:
The expulsion of the people from these islands took place in the late 1960s and, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, is aware, the Government have already paid compensation to the Chagossians. There were two payments, which altogether amounted at the time to almost £5 million. In today's value that amounts to some £14.5 million. At that time, the Chagossians' own lawyers advised them that that represented a fair and reasonable settlement. It is important to remember that when the noble Lord implies—as he managed to do in his Question—that we have somehow behaved dishonourably.
Symons' attempt to deflect criticism by drawing attention to the payment of compensation should not be a surprise to anybody who has followed this story as it is the government's stock answer to any criticism of their policy towards the islanders. In fact the compensation which was paid had little effect on the lives of the Chagossians and did nothing to mitigate the underlying and ongoing injustice done to them.

The first compensation payout was to the tune of £650,000 which was transferred to the Mauritian government for the aid of Chagossian exiles. The UK Chagos Support Association suggests that the money was intended to allow the islanders to relocate the islanders from the slums where they had ended up after being expelled from Chagos to farm land. The islanders were so desperate for the money, however, that the relocation plan was eventually abandoned and the money distributed amongst the islanders in 1978.

TP notes that the population at the time numbered around 1,500 and that "Britain's 'generous' settlement was, therefore, a little of £400 per head." In fact money was not equally distributed and children received less. Mark Curtis suggests, in the pamhlet produced to accompany John Pilger's documentary on the Chagossians, that adults received 7,590 rupees (around£650) and children 356-410 rupees depending on their age. Curtis also quotes secret a Foreign Office file which comments that "we must be satisfied that we could not discharge our obligation... more cheaply." While the money helped some islanders obtain better housing, many had been forced to borrow money to survive in the preceding years and much of the compensation ended up discharging debts. Lawyers acting on behalf of the islanders assert that the sum given in compensation "would in no way be adequate for resettlement." None of this prevented the government of the day from trying to claim that this "represented a full and final discharge of HMG's obligations."

The idea of a second payment was first raised in 1979 when the figure of £1.25 million, but consistent campaigning by the islanders and their supporters saw this raised to £4million in 1983. It is at this point that we get to Symons' misleading of Parliament, although we will first have to take a minor detour through Tim Slessor's Lying in State:
Something must have pricked (just a little) the conscience of the Foreign Office, because in 1979 it tried another 'full and final settlement'. This time the amount was £1.25 million. But there was a condition: each Ilois [Chagossian] had to sign a binding agreement to renounce any claim ever to eturn to the Chagos Islands. Some of the most destitute families signed without appreciating what they were doing [many were illiterate]. One imagines that it was a case of 'if you want some money, then sign here'. But when other Ilois realised what was happening, they sent the English lawyer charged with the arrangements back to London - with a flea in his ear. Strangely, it was a law firm started by this same lawyer, Bernard Sheridan, which later became the legal champion of the Ilois.
TP explains the significance of this in case anybody's missed it:
Note the critical discrepancy between Symons's statement and Slessor's account - back in 1979, the Chagossians were indeed advised to accept the government's compensation offer by the lawyer who is, today, the head of the law firm which has, since the mid-late 1980's, represented their interests in taking British government to court (although it is a lawyer named Richard Gifford and not Bernard Sheridan, himself, who has actually represented them during this period) - however, at the time they were advised by Bernard Sheridan in relation to this offer, Sheridan was not acting for the Chagossians but for the British government.

All rather different from Baroness Symons contention that "the Chagossians' own lawyers advised them that that represented a fair and reasonable settlement".

So can we now expect Symons or her successor Lord Triesman to fufill their obligations under the Ministerial Code and correct their misleading statement or better yet resign? Can a hippo fly under its own power?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Courting Chagos

I haven't written much about the Chagossians for a while, mainly because there hasn't been much to write about. Things seem to have gone quiet in the run up to the judicial review into the Orders in Council. These you may recall were passed using the Royal Prerogative without even the pretense of democratic oversight in order to prevent anybody from stepping foot on the island. Their ostensible universality aside, it is clear that the Orders were intended to prevent the return of the Chagossians to their island home. The UK Chagos Support Association have learnt that the review will take place at the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand (London WC2) from 10.30 on December 6. A number of Chagossians including community leader Olivier Bancoult will be travelling to the UK to attend the hearing and the UKCSA encourage people to turn up and show their support. Given that I've now (whisper it quietly) got a job(!) the chances of me getting along are slim, but I'll be there in spirit. As I hope will you.

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