the Disillusioned kid: July 2006
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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Blair: Peacemaker

Way back when, during preparations for the invasion of Iraq, much was made about how the UK's support for American-led aggression, would give Blair the ability to exert a positive influence on the US with regard to the Middle East. At the time, those of us capable of thinking for ourselves dismissed this as sycophantic nonsense, an assesment that has been borne out on numerous occasions, but rarely as clearly as in relation to the ongoing Israeli assault on Lebanon.

Apparently caught between a desire to lodge his head in Ehud Olmert's rectum and concern about overwhelming opposition to Israeli aggression in the UK, Blair has set himself in opposition to a meaningful ceasefire (i.e. one which isn't simply an Israeli victory by any other name) while trying to present himself as a bringer of peace. Typically, much of the media have lapped this up (witness the almost laughable headline attached to this article).

According to the Beeb
, "Mr Blair has maintained that, for any truce to work both Israel and Hezbollah had to be engaged in it," which looks suspiciously like a statement of the obvious. The problem is that implicit within this thesis is a belief that only Israel is interested in peace. Quoth the man himself in an interview with Nick Robinson:
It cannot be that Israel stops taking the action it's taking but Hezbollah continue to kill, kidnap, and launch rockets into the north of Israel at the civilian population there.
The obvious problem with this statement is that it glosses over the fact that Hezbollah have supported calls for a ceasefire, it is the Israelis who are intransigent. Some of his other comments are even more telling
If we can achieve a basis for a ceasefire that will allow Israel's security to be protected and the international community to be engaged in sorting out the south of Lebanon... then of course that's the right way to proceed.
Note that a ceasefire which will allow Lebanon's security to be protected and rescue the Lebanese civillians caught up in the Israeli bombardment, is apparently not "the right way to proceed."

Blair's position on the assault seems to be fuelling increasing dischord within the ranks of the Labour Party, which has even reached into the Cabinet, usually an oasis of obeisance. Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has put himself forward as the most prominent in-house critic of British foreign policy on the matter, telling "Muslim leaders" in his Blackburn constituency that Israeli actions "only escalates a dangerous situation". Straw also endorsed comments, made earlier this week by Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells: "Kim was right to say if Israel are 'chasing Hezbollah, then go for Hezbollah... don't go for the entire Lebanese nation'." Some more excitable media sources have framed this as Straw leading a revolt, but the Cabinet have rallied around in the usual fashion and dismissed reports of a split.

While all this has been growing on, the extent of British support for Israel has been emphasised by reports of US flights to the country being refuelled in the UK, including at Prestwick Airport. Sources have described their cargo only as "hazardous," but it is widely believed to be munitions which may well end up being used against Lebanon. Speaking in California yesterday, Blair tossed the finger to critics of the flights, opining: "We should just apply the rules in the appropriate way, which is what we are doing... What happens at Prestwick airport is not going to determine whether we get a ceasefire in the Lebanon." No doubt Our Glorious Leader actually believes such cant, but it is far from clear that it is true. Allowing such flights amounts to a tacit - if not explicit - endorsement of Israeli actions and may embolden the Israeli government, to say nothing of the use to which the cargo is likely to be put.

Some people may find Blair's appeasment of Israel inexplicable, although it is hardly anything new. As Mark Curtis has pointed out, the UK began eying Israel up as a major trading partner since the 60s in contrast to the Arab world, where "prospects for economic dealings" were likely to decline. Combine this with Blair's ideological commitment to the "War on Terror" which has already seen the US and UK visit comparable (if not worse) destruction upon Afghanistan and Iraq and the fawning relationship with George Bush which has characterised this premiership and you've got a heady, if distasteful, mix.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention

The bloody Israeli assault on Lebanon continues with apparent western acquiescence. Meanwhile, violence in the Gaza Strip continues, generating a fraction of the media interest. Media coverage has made much of the widespread support for this action in Israel, but fortunately this is far from total. Organising in a fiercely hostile environment, an incipient movement against the assaults seems to be finding its feet.Ha'aretz reports that some 2,500 people attended a demonstration in Tel Aviv last Saturday (photos here). Participants ranged from "the left flank of the Zionist left - former Meretz leader Shulamit Aloni and Prof. Galia Golan, alongside the radical left of Gush Shalom, the refusal to serve movement Yesh Gvul, Anarchists Against the Wall, Coalition of Women for Peace, Taayush and others." Gush Shalom suggest that the numbers taking part were substantially higher, with around 5,000 in attendance. They also have reports on their website of a number of smaller events in different parts of Israel, including one outside the Ministry of Defence organised within hours of the assault getting underway.

Apparently these expressions of dissent are considered of sufficient weight to merit discussion by the Beeb. Disappointingly (if unsurprisingly), Raffi Berg's seems to be primarily interested in emphasising that opponents of the war "are in a tiny minority" (my emphasis). Intriguingly, however, the only evidence they offer to support this is "recent opinion polls" which show that "as many as 90% of Israeli citizens approve of the offensive against Hezbollah and want it to continue." This seems to imply that 10% of Israeli citizens disapprove of the offensive, a minority to be sure but not exactly tiny.

The article does reveal (to me at least) that Peace Now, probably the most prominent Israeli peace group, has refused to condemn the assault, indeed its website notes a "solidarity" visit to Israeli villages in the North, with no mention of a similar visit to Lebanese villages which have suffered far greater violence. As disappointing as this capitulation may be, it shouldn't be that surprising. Peace Now has always been first and foremost an adjunct to the Labor Party, whose commitment to peace and justice has been aptly demonstrated by their policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians during their time in office.

The piece closes with an extended - unchallenged - comment from "Gerald Steinberg, professor of Political Studies at Bar Ilan University" who restates the "fact" that the "the anti-war protesters are very far on the fringe," in case anybody has missed the central thrust of the article. He goes on to claim, without evidence (because none exists) that "don't seem to care about the value of Israeli lives." Note, the thinly-veiled assumption that to care about the lives of Lebanese civillian neccesarily entails an acceptance of the entire Hezbollah programme. Apparently not content with these fantasies, Steinberg insists that this war is different to the 1982 invasion of Lebanon because "Israelis understand the stakes, which are the survival of the State of Israel and the potential for a confrontation with Hezbollah and Iran in the future, and the stakes are far too high for that." Got that? At stake in this hugely disproportionate war is the very survival of the aggressor. If such lunacy truly is representative of Israeli society then it's no surprise that participation in the anti-war movement is so low.

Friday, July 21, 2006


We live in an age where we have access to a far greater array of media than at any time in human history, yet do we really know anymore? Witness the current Israeli assault on Lebanon and the coverage which has been largely execrable.

Unless you've been living in a small box on top of a mountain somewhere it can't have escaped your notice that using the pretext of rescuing two soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah Israel has begun bombarding Lebanese towns and villages near the Israeli border and begun massing its forces, apparently contemplating a ground invasion. A largely complaisant media has happily described these areas as "Hezbollah strongholds"which glosses over the fact that, even insofar as the description is true, these areas also happen to be heavily populated civillian areas. Imagine if a suicide bomber decided to strike in Tel Aviv justifying his actions on the basis that it is a "Likud stronghold." One assumes that few of Israel's cheerleaders would be impressed.

One of the most irritating things about much of the coverage of the assault has been the supposed "evenhandedness." Long held up as a key tenent of the "free press" this supposed objectivity conceals a multitude of evils. On Australia's ABC, for instance, one reporter asserted, "Between the two sides, there were 57 deaths," ignoring the fact that 54 of those casualties were Lebanese. Such instances are not unusual nor unique to this assault (cf Turkey's campaign against the PKK).

Coupled with the diversionary obsession with the relatively small numbers of British residents being evacuated the media has done a useful job in forestalling any kind of widespread outrage against Israeli agression. This has been particularly useful for Messrs Bush and Blair who seem to have decided that they're going to stand by and let Israel do just about whatever it wants. Various commentators aver that this acquiesence is motivated in large part by a desire to hurt Syria and Iran, who the US and Britian claim are manipulating Hezbollah - and, of course, Hamas - from behind the scenes.

Elsewhere, the Israeli military operation in Gaza, ostensibly motivated by a desire to free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, continues. Protected from the attention of the media, one assumes, because there aren't any Brits there awaiting evacuation.

Israel appears to be prepared to continue its bombardment for several weeks and unless the hugely disproportionate death toll shifts radically they may well be able to do so. Nevertheless, its hard to imagine a situation in which they could defeat Hezbollah in any real sense. Lebanese Defence Minister Elias al-Murr averred, "Our constitutional duty is to defend Lebanon as a Lebanese army. This is our role," promising to resist any attempts at an invasion. In military terms this is likely to be of little concern to the Israeli army, who are by far and away the most powerful and well equipped in the region, but a succesful invasion is no guarantee of success. Recall that Hezbollah originally emerged under an Israeli occupation of Lebanon which it would later play a key role in ending.

This is a long way from being over and a lot more people are going to die before it is, the vast majority of them Lebanese. Burying our heads in the sands does nobody any favours and won't protect us if some nutjob decides to take out their frustration about British appeasment by blowing themselves up on the tube.

If you're free tomorrow (Saturday) you may be interested in these events.
I tend not to link to these sort of things, but this (via) is just completely brilliant. Who says Germans don't do satire?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Lenny has managed to secure an interview with renegade British ambassador Craig Murray whose new book, Murder in Samarkand, is just out. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy yet (a situation I'll have to rectify) and I'm not influential enough to have been granted an interview myself, so instead I'll just gesticulate in the appropriate manner and encourage y'all to follow the links above.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Eyes on the prize

In modern Britian we are, on average - as an advert for some flashy automobile, currently doing the rounds, casually reminds us - caught on CCTV 300 times. If we don't yet live in a full-blown Big Brother state, we certainly live in a society replete with "little brothers". Strangely, this proliferation of surveillance doesn't seem to have led to a proportional reduction in crime (quite the contrary if the ongoing media brouhaha about violent crime and anti-social behaviour is anything to go by), but this doesn't seem to deter its proponents and we can no doubt expect the growth in this area to continue.

Concern about surveillance is hardly anything new. George Orwell's Ninteen Eighty-Four, which was published in 1949, describes a society ruled over by an all-powerful party who monitor the populace constantly via ubiquitous telescreens. It is an issue which has been of particular concern to political radicals. The dominant paradigm for analysing the role of surveillance remains the analogy of the Panopticon developed by Michael Foucault.

The Panopticon was a new kind of prison conceived by Liberal Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham. He envisaged an annular building with cells arranged around a central tower. Each cell was to extend "the entire thickness of the building to allow inner and outer windows. The occupants of the cells [...] are thus backlit, isolated from one another by walls, and subject to scrutiny both collectively and individually by an observer in the tower who remains unseen." As the prison guard could not be seen, inmates could never know if they were being observed and thus would act - at least according to the theory - on the basis that they were under constant surveillance.

Which rather long-winded introduction, brings me onto this item (via), which Auntie inexplicably feels merits inclusion in their Health section:
A Newcastle University team monitored how much money people put in a canteen "honesty box" when buying a drink.

They found people put nearly three times as much in when a poster of a pair of eyes was put above the box than when the poster showed flowers.
Dr Melissa Bateson, one of the team involved in the research, "said CCTV or speed cameras might be a possible application":
Professor George Fieldman, an evolutionary psychologist from Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, said: "This paper beautifully demonstrates that people behave better when being watched.

"It would be interesting to know how one can apply these sorts of findings more generally in organisational structures and in society in general to maximise upon honourable and altruistic behaviour."
Which all sounds harmless enough until you ask a few difficult questions: How do we define honesty? Who gets to decide on that definition? The reality, of course, is that in modern British society the final arbiter will inevitably be the state and its a fairly safe bet that attempts to undermine the status quo won't exactly be looked on kindly.

Anybody who has been on a major protest or action in recent years can hardly have missed the prevalence of police photographers snapping away. During the protests around the G8 and the ministerials which proceeded it we also began seeing camcorders and even in one case what appeared to be a full-blown TV camera. I've always wondered what they do with the huge amount of imagery and footage they must have accumulated, much of it even less exciting than Saturday night ITV. Perhaps they don't do anything with it. That's hardly the point. The mere presence of recording equipment is quite sufficient and if they manage to secure a conviction subsequently based on evidence collected in this manner all the better.

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