Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Israeli death squads in Gaza

IDF soldiers in disguise:

The four men in traditional Arab garb didn't attract the attention of Ahmed Khalil, 27, when he drew near his farm not far from the town of Beit Hanun in northern Gaza. They looked like the vegetable merchants who usually come to buy produce in the early hours of the day. But as soon as they approached, two of them fired at his head with pistols equipped with silencers. He died immediately.

The four men, disguised as Palestinians, were members of the most recent death squad formed by the Israeli government in Gaza to eliminate Palestinian fighters. The four thought that Khalil was a member of the resistance movement on his way to carry out an operation against an Israeli target, Israeli military sources later said. The Southern Zone Command of the Israeli army said that the death squad was formed on instructions of the Israeli mini-cabinet, which urged the army chiefs of staff to take more aggressive action against the resistance in Gaza, so as to end the firing of local-made rockets at Israeli settlements.

The new death squad is code-named Samson. It is a new edition of the Arabists, or units made up of men in Arab garb with orders to attack resistance men deep inside Palestinian territories. On the outskirts of Gaza, members of such squads often abduct farmers and hand them over to Israel's internal intelligence service, Shabak, for interrogation. There, the men are routinely coerced to supply information about the resistance. Yediot Aharonot recently admitted that Palestinians were being blackmailed by the Shabak into working as informers.

Such units have been operating for a long time in the West Bank. They are called Duvdevan (Hebrew for cherry) and are responsible for most of the target killings of leaders of the Palestinian resistance. Israeli television has just aired a documentary on the training of such units. Experts in makeup, language training and undercover operations help train Duvdevan members. The latter are often disguised as vegetable merchants and told to drive around in Mercedes pickups, the same type of vehicle favoured by Palestinian merchants. The occupation army now has the Arabists as well as the Samson units working undercover in Palestinian territories.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Iraqis letting the occupiers down again.

What other country could so torture another country, so devastate it, so thoroughly plunder and destroy it for over a decade, and yet have thousands of people still saying "well, hell, maybe they'll do a better job with Darfur"? Take a look at this. I think there might have been a short time, maybe for the first twelve months of the occupation, where Bush's supporters would still have ironised about how happy-go-lucky life was under Saddam, but we should have heard the last of that. The statistics in the Oxfam-NIIC report describe a cruel and callous asset-stripping operation. We knew about the refugees, the attacks on women, the SPC death squads, the torture chambers (that, remember, were actually worse after Abu Ghraib), the abritrary imprisonment of tens of thousands, the shooting up at checkpoints, the bombing of housing estates, the deliberate destruction of water and power facilities, the attacks on hospitals, the black and decker punishment, the dawn raids, the sport killing and raping, the proliferation of mass graves, the slave labour, the curfews, the biometric lockdown, the subjection of Iraqi cities to blitzkrieg then military fascism. One could have guessed that people were also starving to death, and dying from preventable disease, and suffering from mental trauma. But here are the statistics: 43% of Iraqis are in absolute poverty; 28% of Iraqi children are malnourished; 32% of internally displaced persons who need food rations can't get them; 70% of Iraqis don't have adequate water supplies; 80% don't have effective sanitation; 4 million Iraqis are in dire need of humanitarian assistance (no, not that kind, get the damned finger off the trigger); and 11% of new born babies are underweight.

The causes of this are fairly straightforward: a violent occupation has driven out about forty percent of professional Iraqis, destroyed much of the infrastructure in which they were able to work, frustrated transport of people and goods, terrorised communities and disrupted the provision of basic services like schooling; the country has been privatised and purchased, with the effect of massively increasing unemployment since about half of the Iraqi labour force had been employed in the state sector prior to the occupation; the billions of US tax dollars that were supposed to be for 'humanitarian assistance' have been handed over to political clients, mercenaries and rent-seekers (Ahmed Chalabi is predictably one of the big levers used in this, having been placed in charge of the Supreme Contracts Committee in 2005); the cut tarrifs and flat taxes have reduced state income even more than it might have been; the main institutions of the state welfare structure were attacked and squeezed to near genocidal effect under sanctions, hollowed out by 'de-Baathification', and then transferred to patrimonial control; such state-run organisations as are functioning are often leased out or contracted under memoranda of understanding, thus further transferring potentially huge amounts of Iraqi government resources to private entities; everything that is built and rebuilt (after a good bombing campaign, usually) is run within the public-private hybrid that characterises the state-capitalist extortion of Iraq, so that all the profits accrue to Halliburton, all the liabilities accrue to the puppet regime, and all the costs are borne by the public. Were it not for the presence of several thousands of NGO organisations in Iraq, the situation would be a great deal worse than it is.

There might, who knows, be another epidemiological survey of Iraq released next year. If the above statistics are correct, a third of the population of Iraq is at risk of dying from starvation, never mind the much more frequent causes of death such as gunfire and aerial bombardment. One estimate that models the Lancet's statistics on IBC trends suggests that close to a million are probably dead already, in addition to the death rates that one would have expected under Saddam and sanctions. Yet, the death rate had a doubling time of one year in the Lancet study. That is, if it was 3.2 per thousand on year, it was 6.6 per thousand the next, and 12 per thousand the following year. If organised violence has slowed down over the last year, then it is possible that slightly less than a million have died as a result of the occupation to date. If the rate of increase stayed the same, then there were 24 deaths per thousand this year, which would add roughly 650,000 to the total, meaning an excess death rate of 1.2m. I don't know how much the rate of violence can potentially increase, but if the same trend held until 2010, then the death rate would be approximately 10 million.

Still, the teleprompter continues to give both Democratic and Republican candidates the following line in some variation: "can't win em all, better luck next time, Iraqis let us down".

"The Nazi Conscience"

If you're wandering through the bookshops in a daze, collecting more words to clutter up your untidy life with, you might want to grab a copy of Claudia Koonz's The Nazi Conscience. I haven't time for a full review here, but it is one of the most systematic efforts I have read to encompass the specific set of moral claims that facilitated Nazi atrocities, and to detail how these were produced and became hegemonic. What is most impressive about it is how it describes both continuity and discontinuity - that is, it is as attentive to the ways in which the Nazis drew upon norms that were then ubiquitous as it is to the singular range and intensity of the Nazi indoctrination programme. It also, whether the author intended this or not, deals a sharp blow to the Goldhagen thesis that Germans were collectively guilty for the Nazi holocaust, that it was something embedded in their specific cultural arrangements. Koonz shows that by contrast, Germany was among the least antisemitic countries in Europe until the late 1930s. The Nazis, in courting mainstream opinion, suppressed some of their vicious hatred of the Jews - Streicher was good for the activists, but they recognised that they would have to lay the basis for widespread acceptance of racial 'science' through more moderate sounding, 'impartial' bodies and journals. Even Hitler's 1939 speech, which contains what we now rightly see as a threat to commit genocide against the Jews, spent only a few minutes of a lengthy speech on the topic. Victims of the Nazis, like Klemperer, described - even in their most despairing moments - forms of solidarity and aid, even as a terrifying consensus was being constructed against the Jews. That consensus licensed a two-front war: a global war on those blamed for retarding German expansion, and a domestic war on Germany's putative existential enemies.

The construction of that consensus couldn't rely on repression alone, since recent evidence suggests that the Gestapo were frequently ineffective and that Germans could selectively circumvent rules they did not approve of (provided they weren't Marxists or Jews). Nor could it rely on the blaring, vulgar output of rags like the Sturmer. And nor were the conditions of the battlefield a sufficient cause of the atrocities of the frontline. Rather, Koonz urges readers to see Nazi soldiers as being something apart from conventional troops - they were treated and indoctrinated as race warriors, selected for acceptance of the core elements of Nazi ideology (respect for the Fuhrer, devotion to the 'Volk', belief in the justice of conquest, and a belief in the existence of a Jewish threat). For Koonz, there are four basic intellectual and moral assumptions of Nazism. The first is that the life of a Volk is like that of an organism with "stages of birth, growth, expansion, decline and death", a motif drawn straight from the evolutionary sociology of people like Herbert Spencer and from quite widespread rightist doctrine. For example, the response to class struggle was frequently to appeal to workers to sacrifice themselves (their class interests) for the greater good, for the survival of the national organism. The second assumption, also widespread, was that values were specific, appropriate to the nature of the ethnic group and their environment. This appeal to particularism, supremacism in other words, was expressed in the high camp of love for one's ethnic comrade (Volksgenosse) and, of course, for Germany above all else (this, for Goebbels, was "the first commandment of every National Socialist", as he explained it in "The Little ABC's of National Socialism"). The third was the acceptance and promotion of outright aggression against "undesirable" peoples, something also drawn directly from the colonial experience, and the nation-building one. Take L Frank Baum - he of The Wizard of Oz - who wrote that "The whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilisation, are masters of the American continent and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians ... better that they should die than live like the miserable wretches that they are." And of course the final assumption was the right of governments to annul the legal protections of assimilated citizens on the basis of what the government defined as their ethnicity. The Nazis appealed particularly to analogies with American policy in justification, hoping that their racial codes would one day be as widely accepted as US immigration quotas, antimiscegenation laws, involuntary sterilization programs in twenty-eight states, and segregation in the Jim Crow south. What was unique in Nazi persecution was that although their propaganda frequently bestialised Jews and black people and gypsies and so on, they considered their enemy invisible: they didn't oppress on the basis of a visible or cultural marker of difference. Their racialism was hopelessly inconsistent and befuddled, as all quackery is, based on certain arbitrary considerations of lineage: but it was also based on what was considered by US-European ruling class and rightist circles to be the best biological (genetic) knowledge.

The continuities are not only in the elements of the 'Nazi conscience', but especially in the conception of global war as a 'race war'. Gerald Horne's recent book 'Race War: White Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire' investigates some unexplored dimensions of the Pacific War, specifically the way in which both the Japanese and the Allies understood that war as in part a 'race war', in which the Japanese empire sought to subvert (or more correctly, reverse) the colonial racial hierarchy, and very conscientiously utilised the sense of outrage and hostility that populations in South East Asia felt toward centuries of white supremacy. This was manifest in the notorious atrocities carried out in the camps. They encouraged non-Japanese guards of the internment camps to see Europeans as they had always seen others - as inferior, subjugated people. The records show that London and Washington were deeply alarmed about this, and particularly worried about the potentially powerful propaganda appeal. After all, the main allies were all engaged in state-sanctioned supremacist policies, either through colonies (US, Britain, France) or domestic annihilation and domination (US, Australia, Canada). It became a crucial element of Allied propaganda to avoid any public statement that hinted at white supremacy, even while a 'race war' was pursued domestically - and it seems British officials bear partial responsibility for America's internment policy during World War II, advising their US counterparts of the 'lessons' of the attacks on Hong Kong and Pearl Harbour, which essentially involved the claim that America had been lax in allowing an Asian-American hybrid community to develop. Of course, America's own escape from some form of fascist rule was in some ways quite narrow: it is reasonably well known that business leaders in the US plotted a coup against Roosevelt, but there was also a mass, nativist, authoritarian racist movement that was flourishing in the States long before the Nazis were more than a cuckoo clan in Germany. Although they were not the centre of KKK obsessions, Jews were being lynched, or hounded out of institutions, or attacked in the United States, long before that horror began in Germany. The scale of their violent operations, the extent of collusion in the political elite, their ability to penetrate local office, and the unity they achieved between the upper class and 'white collar' workers, points to something that could have been American Fascism - had it not been for multiracial working class combat and resistance against the Klan in the urban centres.

Years of anti-racist struggle, the decolonisation movement, anti-imperialist solidarity campaigns, victories by the oppressed, and so on, have so radically altered official political culture that a world-view which was once only marginally challenged in Europe and America by socialists contesting the capitalist system (and not by all of them either) is now only marginally accepted by cranks. African-Americans destroyed southern apartheid, South Africans destroyed white supremacy, and while the dregs of antisemitism are reconstituted and re-valourised as the official ideology of Israel, it doesn't have much going for it beyond the Levant. So, we're safe, right? Not a chance. After all, imperialism hasn't gone away. European and North American states are still racial hierarchies, with increasingly aggressive anti-immigrant campaigns. The global class hierarchy is still intersected by a racial one. Far right parties have been making electoral gains across Europe, all galvanising antagonism to migrants and especially to Muslims (who are blamed in noxious literature for drugs, rape - of white women and children, of course - for sexual deviancy, crime, and terrorism), all preying on the sense of betrayal and breakdown that comes with the neoliberal assault on society. America still treats black life as cheap, regards young black men as prison material, applies a racist death penalty, and still indulges the occasional spot of ethnic cleansing, as in New Orleans. And, of course, no ruling class is going to hesitate to cancel bourgeois democracy, even as they now don't hesitate to curtail it in the name of a 'war on terror' (revoking the rights of subjects on grounds of suspect loyalty, spying on domestic dissenters, interning and torturing citizens etc). If fascism returns, it may not require the specific apparatus of 'race science': it will surely feed on the darkest excrement in the 'zeitgeist'. The existential threat is now, after all, an immaterial force, something called values, the binds populations and states, guides global agents, turns babies into suicide bombers and statesmen into freedom fighters. The revanchist racism of the Bell Curve may only be a fringe partner of a coalition that could involve minutemen, Christian fundamentalists, deranged 'secularists', militarists etc. The toxic elements are present, and could easily be convoked in a graver crisis than we are presently experiencing.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Iraqis celebrate victory

Well, they've won, and the Iraqis round here are going seriously festive. They've taken over Edgware Road, on and off, flags all over the place - not only Iraqi ones either - people throwing sweets out to the crowd, kids charging about like crazy, grandmothers watching from the pavements, young guys and gals turning the Iraqi ensign into a fashion item. The area around here is one immensely noisy gridlock at the moment. Car horns, clapping, dancing, foghorns, chanting, drums - quite a few English people taking part too. Here's some footage and pics:

This started two hours ago and it hasn't abated yet.

Disastertainment: the sequel.

As if to take the piss completely, this piece of shit slithers down the sewer (you can watch the trailer here). A big storm comes down the North Sea, and - to apocalyptic chorals ripped off from Orff - brings a vengeful mob of truculent waves down the Thames, tearing the barrier to shreds and causing alarm in Whitehall. Landmarks are drenched. Desperate phone calls are made ("get out of London, now!"). The deputy prime minister peers over his glasses while his COBRA team flounder, and ask stupid questions like "are you saying the worst is yet to come?" They evacuate the city, but all too late. Martial law is the settled way to accomplish this, of course. The hero, in a way, is a whacky scientician who has some crazy theories that turn out to be correct. This is a common theme in 'environmental' disaster movies: not that a scientific consensus with overwhelming evidence is conscientiously obscured, rebuffed and ignored. Not that there are any 'interests' involved in destroying the planet (yeah right, what are you, a conspiracy nut?). But that one salutary genius with oddball problems of his own and estranged relations has the answer, and a bungling political leadership refuses to act until it's too late due to some obscure complacency. Still, it's as well they don't act too soon, otherwise we wouldn't get to see all that cool water submerge the houses and landmarks, and cause big fuckin a-splosions everywhere. This film is rated 12 (some partial nudity, mild swearwords and nasal drug abuse), and will be appearing in cinemas across Gloucestershire this August.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Latest Iraqi resistance stats

The trends continue to be supported by the coalition's data. The rate of attacks is at an all time high, weapons cache finds are at an all time high, attacks are still directed overwhelmingly at occupying forces, but as the Iraqi police and army are trained and put into combat situations, they are taking a bigger brunt of the violence. The attacks on civilians remains the smallest wedge of all attacks. Resistance attacks are still concentrated in four provinces where the occupiers are most active, of course, and least present where the occupiers have given authority to regional parties. Once again, the areas under almost complete insurgent control are the areas most likely to have working electricity, which is telling. Support for a divided Iraq remains extremely low, predictably highest among the Kurds. One welcome new trend is a dramatic decrease in sectarian incidents reported. Sadly it continues to be the case that those attacks on civilians, whether sectarian or insurgent in nature, are those with the highest death yield, and civilians continue to bear the brunt of attacks. The report attributes the high profile attacks (suicide attacks and car bombings) that take large civilian casualties to "AQI", but this fits too easily into the occupation narrative: the truth is that there are a number of groups - still a minority of resistance fighters - who are using these tactics. Here are some charts:

One surprising claim is that huge areas of Iraq are either completely or partially read for transfer: that is, areas under complete or partial insurgent control are being designated as fit for a withdrawal of US troops. Diyala, Salah ud-Din, Baghdad, and Ninewah are all considered on the road to transfer. I doubt that this amounts to an admission that control has already effectively been handed over to the resistance in many cases, but clearly there is a rollback of operations being prepared, sure to be seen (correctly) as an ignominious defeat, even if the occupiers only withdraw as far as the Green Zone - which is itself under increasingly effective attack (and guess who the American government blames for that).

Incidentally, Channel Four news tonight reported from Afghanistan on the rolling wave of occupation massacres there: the scale of these, their ruthless brutality, their increasing frequency, is driving a growing rebellion against the occupiers. Local rulers are increasingly under obligation to criticise and attack the occupying forces and even the most pro-western elements in the elite are feeling under pressure to criticise their masters Nick Paton-Walsh summarised the situation by saying that the situation was gradually evolving from an insurgency into a revolt. So that's two failing occupations, two revolts - one full-blown, one germinal - and a caucus of North American and European governments under the threat of being ousted by outraged electorates.

2,4,6,8, ignorant liberal knownothingism is really great!

This is really depressing. The Nation was never a radical magazine (I still remember its creepy lack of gumption over the Kosovo war), but Katha Pollitt is a fucking journalist. To write a polemical article about the Iraqi resistance, not only without attempting to find anything out about it, but while mashing together elements that plainly don't belong in the category, is exactly the kind of lazy, pompous, moralising that plays into the hands of the war's apologists. For Pollit, the resistance can be adequately characterised as "theocrats, ethnic nationalists, die-hard Baathists, jihadis, kidnappers, beheaders and thugs", and can thus be contrasted with the Sandinistas who "stood for health care, education, land distribution, modernization--not burning down liquor stores and music shops, beating up unveiled women, suicide-bombing ordinary civilians, bringing back sharia law."

I wish that the Iraqi resistance was a socialist one, but it ought to be a principle of socialists and liberals that people have a right to defend themselves against a violent occupation regardless of whether their politics are congruent with ours. It is not, of course, true that the resistance can be characterised in the fashion Katha Pollitt describes, and this happens to be relatively easy to find out. Each batch of statistics that emerges from think-tanks, the Department of Defense and the Multi-National Forces confirms that the military insurgency is overwhelmingly a guerilla war against the occupiers, targeting troops, and not civilians. Every sophisticated study describes a decentralised, acephalous, local resistance movement based on nationalism and Islam, animated by an experience of occupation brutality. There are restorationists, and there is a slender takfiri wing, but the bulk of the resistance is - curiously enough - not captured by the impressions conveyed in mainstream media reports. (Scour the dossier). Further, Pollitt doesn't seem to realise that resistance is a political term: as such it embraces precisely the trade unionists and secular feminists who are opposing the occupation, and whom Pollitt is outraged on behalf of, and it excludes those who are undermining the resistance by trying to turn it into a sectarian civil war.

Actually, Pollitt's position is a little worse than this. A little humility would compel her to recognise that the Iraqi resistance is doing far more to frustrate American imperialism than then American left is. The resistance is supporting us. It is their courageous insistence on combatting an enemy with immense death-dealing power, confronting them in the streets despite years of savage murder, despite the prospect of incineration and shredding, that is causing Bush's unpopularity. This is what caused the House to pass a bill opposing permanent bases in Iraq. It is this which is causing the Pentagon to draw up contingency plans for withdrawal. It wouldn't matter what position American liberals took if the resistance could do it alone, but the antiwar movement is - no matter what the President says - the decider. The articulate antiwar liberals in the media have a unique responsibility to combat racist myths and Pentagon propaganda, not collude in it. Instead of energetically accomodating itself to the beheaders, kidnappers, torturers and murderers in the Democratic Party, the antiwar movement must maintain its political independence. It should stolidly insist that the resistance is largely a necessary response to occupation and not some inexplicable excrescence. Then it will not be caught in the trap of calling for an unprincipled withdrawal which will empower people whom they concede are nothing else but psychopaths, tyrants, theocrats and beheaders. It isn't even necessary for the Nation liberals to ra-ra the resistance: they simply have to stop colluding in lies, recognising old-fashioned colonial mystique for what it is, and let people draw their own conclusions.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Brown: the Amis Papers.

Martin Amis is writing up his verdict on the new Prime Minister for The Observer, and I have been forwarded a sneak preview:

Honeymoon horrorism
A cosmic irony, the First Chancellor mused, that a predecessor whose mountainous reputation for vanity begat endless and opprobrious satire, should have left the body-length bedroom mirror behind. He stared, brownly, saturninely, into its reflective sheen. He had an expansive - even magisterial - front, but was it the front of Jove? It was a moment of insurmountable, excruciating misery when he realised that his hunched, resentful, guilty posture screamed 'usurper'. Each hooded, quasi-Oriental oculus bore the stamp of an apparatchik-led coup. He scowled, sending an orgiastic ripple from chin to shining chin. The Rubinesque body whose swimming convexities had moments ago been irrigated with molten jets of moisture, probed with lascivious amber bars, and pummelled with fluffed cotton towels, was now a seething patchwork of sunburnt red and blanched white. He stuffed every global inch of it into a handsewn two-piece suit whose tough fabric threatened to scorch his inner thighs with each stride. He breakfasted with the trusted team of glad-handers on yoghurt and fruit salad. Despite the suspicion he invariably gives that his adipose layers have been constructed with the mulch of kebab meat and pints of Spitfire, Gordon has the appetite, agility and acumen of a rabbit. Ed Balls shot him a suspicious glance as he lapped the surplus peach melba from the carton lid, but the Prime Minister winked reassuringly. The fat of the land was safe under his watch, his smirk seemed to say.

Such is the day, I surmise, that my new Prime Minister has been through when I meet him in the back of his charcoal limousine. Like Tony, he is an early riser (not career-wise, I realise with a moment of voltaic mirth that threatens to overthrow a strict poker face regime). He is also a considerate host, inviting me to brunch on a Murray's mint while his advisers gurgle with helpful phrases. "Labour's coming home!" Balls ululates. "Things can only get better," another chips in. Nice try, I think. Cool Brittania had existed for a leadership prodigiously more chilled out than this one. I inquire as to whether the fight against Islam will proceed with the same vigour under the new administration, and a frigid silence descends on the back seats. "I think," Gordon trembles, "that we have to be careful not to fight religious fanaticism with political fanaticism." I sense treachery. "Well then," I steam, "with what else should fanaticism be fought? A sense of benign resignation? Wistful moderation? A mournful sigh, followed by the complete transfer of the realm to the Islamic Emirate of Ali Baba?" The frigid silence mutates into a winter of discontent, until Sinister Balls interrupts my interrogation. "Now hang on a minute, Mart," he says, contracting my name in a dismal attempt at familiarity. "No," I tell him, "fuck off, Balls. I'm serious. Take that complacent civil service comportment and the suicidal love-embrace with the Mohammedan half-brothers, and fuck off."

We eyeball, Balls and I, for several minutes before Gordon, to whom I am increasingly partial, chuckles ruefully: "It's easy for you to say that, Martin. I've been wanting to say that for years, but I have to live with him! Anyway, we're cracking down harder - we won't be as madly insensitive about it as the last lot were. Tony and his gang, you know, they rushed out policies on the spot. I'll give it time to ferment in the opinion columns with the odd leak here and there." The levity has prepared the ground for some gratuitous flirtation. I tell Gordon that the world has grossly underestimated him. He touches my hair and kindly remarks that this was a problem I had never had to contend with. [In retrospect, I wonder how kind the remark in fact was. Consider deleting?] "What's it like," I ask him, "being the topic of discussion by media mooncalves?" He confides that the world of politics can almost be as savage as that of publishing, and slips in a remark about the scars on his back. Copycat, perhaps, but I'm starting to like the sound of his purr. And in strictest confidence, he reveals that the Alistair Campbell diaries were in fact ghost-written by a neice with learning difficulties, as were his columns for Mature Arseholes. The whole opus magnum horribilis, it seems, is a nepotistic palimpsest. "Am I," Gordon coyly inquires, "talking too fast for you?"

I return, exhausted, to my West London pad and give the Hitch a call. He is exuberant, or drunk, or both: his vowels are a touch more elaborate and enduring than usual. "One point upon which I trusted Blair less than his successor is the former's simpering religiosity. I think it accounts for the supererogatory restraint of his in the war on fascism." "And Brown?" I wonder. "Oh God, Mart, he's the face of boring theocratic tyranny. Honestly, try lighting a fag next to him and his lips become tighter than a duck's arse." "His wife's quite sensual, though," I say, feeling strangely protective of my Prime Minister. "I wouldn't fuck her with your dick," he blisters, "and I don't think he would either." Hitch gives offense, but only in a good cause. Somehow - this always happens nowadays - the conversation bounds suddenly from theocracy to sexual propinquities to eighteenth century revolutionaries, and back again. I suspect that he may be losing the distinction between irony and non-sequitur. I remind him that in older days, he would deduce from his descent down a Hebraic chute that Israel should be wiped off the map, from his sexual liberationism that abortion should be aborted, and from his revolutionary socialism that communism should be overthrown. "Don't. Be. Silly." He says, and rings off.

Gordon has been on the task for only a brief while, but his stature is assured. His pachydermic confidence has stampeded the Tories into retreat - which can only be good for as long as a scandalous number of them are lurching back to the old hobby of appeasement. One of them, spotting me lounging about in the Commons tea room, approached me with an outstretched hand and malevolent eyes. "I am a big fan," he said. Excuse me, I thought, while I evacuate my bowels. "I always remember," he continued, "your review of Hannibal. Very funny. Especially when you said that Thomas Harris had 'gone gay' for his creation. Some people called that homophobic, but I think it was inspired. Isn't it always sad, though, when a talented author goes gooey over a psychopathic serial killer?" He was casually fucked off by Balls, who had come with Kit Kats and Espresso. The Brown regime radiates homeliness and protection. It is not the nanny state, it is the Daddy State, and this patriarch shows no sign of relenting in the necessary war on the burglars. Yet, as besotted as I am with New New Labour - a superfluity of novelty, an excess of change, a surfeit of modernity - Tony will never be completely parted with. I think about him with the blood. Last night I masturbated, electrically, in his memory. Hair stood aloft on every surface of my body, and I spasmed rhythmically. It might, to any observer, have resembled a scene from An American Werewolf in London. I directed shapeshifting visions of him in a prefrontal movie, a semi-pornographic romance (for some reason, I protected his modesty even in my fantasies). To a miraculous, wrist-cranking crescendo, I imagined him floating through the open sash window and winking at me from three feet above. "Mmmm," I gristled as his ghost hovered over me, "Mr Blair".

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Afghanistan: poppy in one ear, cock in the other.

Perhaps the coalition currently ruling Afghanistan militarily is getting fed up with American annihilism. Conn Hallinan of Foreign Policy in Focus has an interesting article up at Counterpunch, describing a bit of grumbling among America's allies. Too many bodies piling up, looks bad on television. The SPD have most to worry about, of course, because it is outflanked to the left by the Left Party, and there is a vote coming up on extending Germany's role in the mission. Suddenly their shower of uncharismatic largely right-wing leaders are vocalising complaints about the occupation. The UK Defense Secretary is apparently trying to pin the blame for the failure of the occupation on the United Nations.

Also interesting is the discussion of widespread opposition to Washington's eradicationist policy toward opium growth, which makes up about a third of total income in Afghanistan. It's treated as if it's an accident that in Colombia, where Dyncorps has practised this policy before, coca acreage is at exactly the level it was when the crop spraying began in 2001. It's as if the destruction of peasant communities, the ruining of food crops, the poisoning of a fragile and threatened ecosphere, was all an incidental byproduct of an exuberantly idealistic war on narcotics. On the other hand, if the whole thing was a counterinsurgency effort, all of these effects would be predictable. If there was no serious effort to disrupt the biggest coca barons and their right-wing paramilitaries, and if the main aim was to attack the sources of support for FARC among poor peasant communities, then none of it would be a surprise. The reason is that, as the United Nations Drug Control Programme acknowledges, there is no evidence that FARC are themselves involved in any trafficking: they have even participated in programmes to replace the crop with other sustainable commodities. On the other hand, what FARC do endanger are American interests in Colombia: as Under-Secretary Marc Grossman explained, FARC

"represent a danger to the $4.3 billion in direct U.S. investment in Colombia. They regularly attack U.S. interests, including the railway used by the Drummond Coal Mining facility and Occidental Petroleum's stake in the Cano Limon oil pipeline. Terrorist attacks on the Cano Limon pipeline also pose a threat to U.S. energy security. Colombia supplied three per cent of U.S. oil imports in 2001, and possesses substantial potential oil and natural gas reserves."

In the past, the US has abandoned the mass poisoning policy in the face of opposition from Karzai and its client regime. And it may be that they will abandon it again if it threatens to fracture the military alliance. However, consider its utility: the best thing from the point of view of the American government about using Dyncorps is that, as civilians, they are exempt from the usual scrutiny, even though they were routinely engaged in combat with Colombian rebels, and were caught transporting heroin. They may engage in a range of actions well beyond stated US goals, and the administration need never have to answer for it. William Wood, the current US ambassador to Afghanistan, used to oversee Dyncorp's campaign in Colombia. He'll know what the score is.


It could happen. The trouble is that if the Thames did flood, we would be the last to be prepared because media groups like Associated Newspapers have spent so much time commodifying the disastrous aspects of human experience that we simply become inured to it. We do face a range of risks as a species, but the information we get about these is filtered through entertainment and media industries that are frequently contributing to the problem, and who, moreover, make their living from aestheticising disaster. They are incapable of doing otherwise. The daily block headlines and striking images of flood water deliberately mimic those in the Hollywood parent productions. If it can't be commodified (or if it may be politically inconvenient) it doesn't get a look in, as per the destruction at the Japanese nuclear facility after last week's earthquake, which disappeared from the news very quickly.

Catastrophe is only saleable inasmuch as it is an aesthetic object in itself. This is most obvious in docu-dramas, television emergency simulation spectaculars, and in movies, like The Day After Tomorrow, in which the most striking thing is precisely how gorgeous and alluring disaster and its means of destruction happen to be. For example, it may one day be the case that an earthquake in the ocean basin will produce a series of twenty- to forty-foot waves speeding toward the American mainland. Who is to say the first thing you think of wouldn't be that fucking stupid film? Twentieth Century Fox had already succeeded in preemptively capitalising the spectacle of pillars of wind and walls of water devastating American cities long before Katrina made landfall. This is why historical and present context, and sustained attention, is always missing. Few of the news reports about Katrina, for example, really spent much time discussing even what preparations Ray Nagin or the various private enterprises contracted had made, never mind why the aid was being blocked and why the Department of Defense called the city's desperate population an insurgency. They haven't returned to spend much time examining why the victims haven't had their houses rebuilt or their insurance paid out, and why the ethnic cleansing hasn't been reversed. There has been the very occasional nod to the possibility that carbonising the atmosphere could have contributed to causing the disaster, but on the whole it remains a freak accident. There is presumably an effort in some bureacracies to 'learn the lessons', but then there always is. Whatever the lessons are, we won't get to hear much of them: it will be new footage, new angles, shocking photographs, and then the weather.

Meanwhile certain looming threats tend to slip out of sight once the novelty goes out of them. Mike Davis has been warning about the risks from avian flu for a few years now, but it is only transiently placed in the headlines. The H5N1 virus is in fact spreading, and among the infected there is a 60% death rate. There are things that can be done, such as stock up on Tamiflu and similar antiviral drugs, although there are now resistant strains developing. Essentially, a massive international effort is required, and what is being offered is an uneven set of local initiatives based on early warnings systems. We might soon see a repeat of the 'Spanish Famine' (it wasn't particularly Spanish, but Spain reported its incidence more accurately than other countries) which, beginning in September 1918, killed about 20 to 40 million people worldwide and infected about a quarter of the US population. And then the employers will be yapping their heads off because of the high absence rate. But again, we will have been sacrificed in large numbers because we had no input into the response.

We are given no information, or such information as we are permitted to have is either false or extremely vague. Take terror, the most overrated threat to the human species since it was widely believed that masturbation would lead to blindness. America has colour-coded terror alerts, and since 2006, MI5 has operated a similar system based on the words 'Critical', 'Severe', 'Substantial', and so on. Tells us nothing, but it sounds cool. It's an ideal media management tool, a labour-saving device that purports to boil down complex realities (and/or fictions) to a single phrase or colour. We are thus encouraged to adjust our sense of how much we need the state in its punitive and coercive capacity to expand its operations, (even as its meliorative and public service functions are gradually disengaged), on the basis of little actual information. We are not encouraged to do anything, except be more suspicious of the neighbours.

A ubiquitous public understanding of risks and how to handle them is fatal to power, because the sources of these risks are quite commonly embedded in our social structure. In the United States, for example, an exercise called Dark Winter was run in June 2001 by the John Hopkins Centre for Civilian Biodefense. It involved several senior national politicians and former security and intelligence directors. Its findings were perfectly predictable: one was that the political leadership was fairly clueless about how to handle such things as bioattacks; another was that America's healthcare system didn't have the capacity to deal with such eventualities; another was that the response of ordinary people would be key. The latter is very often the case: the response of passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 was in some ways a model in disaster-prevention - they stopped the attackers from finding a much better target than a field in Pennsylvania by collectively discussing the situation and then acting decisively. But the broader point is that to understand the risks we live with is not merely to have a handle on the failings of a particular administration. It is to strip away the mostly unnecessary secrecy of official deliberations and planning. This would render us both more effective at dealing with problems and less susceptible to scaremongering. It is also to understand properly the nature of the social world that we are reproducing (and may choose to stop reproducing at some point).

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

In which I become a diverting anecdote.

As you can see, I come not to praise Johann Hari but to demonise him. A few people have drawn my attention to this weird segment in Hari's latest for Dissent:

One of the most popular left-wing blogs in Britain, Lenin's Tomb, goes further, viciously scorning Muslims who fight back against Islamic fundamentalism. Even though it is written by an atheist writer who enjoys alcohol, female company and free speech, it has ridiculed Muslim women who attend freedom of speech rallies as "Uncle Toms", and condemned Muslims who have "comfortable upper-middle class" lives because they aren't "interested in subjecting [themselves] to the ascetic demands of religion." Cohen's thesis applies with laser-accuracy to these parts of the left, and it is here that his critique is most powerful: they have indeed become reflexive defenders of the far right. Against this, Cohen quotes the Iranian author Azar Nafisi: "I very much resent it when people - maybe with good intentions or from a progressive point of view - keep telling me, 'It's their culture'... It's like saying the culture of Massachucets is burning witches." Again, he exaggerates the extent to which these thoughts are part of the mainstream left. But this error is as nothing to the pro-war left's final and most disastrous reading of all.

The last time I was referenced in a mainstream US magazine, it was obliquely in Ian Parker's exceptional eulogy to Christopher Hitchens for The New Yorker. And the last time I was so misconstrued was when the unhinged son of the Hoares decided to paint me as a supporter of Slobodan Milosevic. It isn't all that worrying that I didn't say the things that Johann Hari thinks I said. Who doesn't sometimes get that treatment? Practically everyone else who is referenced in the article is dealt with in a similarly unfair fashion (and more generally, I can count Negri, Derrida and Hobsbawm among my companions). And it isn't as if that is the part of his article that I disagree with most. However, bloggery is narcissism or it is nothing, so I will take the trouble to direct readers of that infidel magazine to the small matters of fact in this small case.

I don't viciously scorn Muslims who fight back against "Islamic fundamentalism", because that can be a very good thing to do. I do viciously scorn all those who misrepresent and vilify Islam in the service of imperialism, because that is a bad and wicked thing to do. I don't condemn Muslims who live comfortable upper middle class lives and aren't interested in the ascetic demands of religion. I mentioned in this post about the neocon American Islamic Congress that one member of it was probably of that ilk, but I did not and do not think that being in that position merits special criticism. What I did think at the time, and what I still think now, is that "being determines consciousness", and that one's class perspective is likely to regulate one's political purview. I don't describe women who attend freedom of speech rallies as "Uncle Toms". This was probably passed on to Hari by his friend, 'Dave', who sometimes comments here. In the comments to the post about that so-called 'March for Free Expression', I was asked to comment about a speaker named 'Ali', who is in fact a man (the gender fabrication is symptomatic). He was well received because the rally was designed to appease racism. I retorted: "it's always good to have an Uncle Tom present, so I don't doubt he got good cheers". The worst thing about that sentence was the offense against the English language. The BNP Nazis and right-wing libertarians in the crowd would certainly have appreciated 'One Of Them' coming out and abetting the charge that Muslims are the principal threat to liberty and free speech. Such was the theme of the march, and such were its politics. At any rate, 'Dave' took this to mean that I consider all Muslims who demand free speech "Uncle Toms" (hence the pluralisation). Hari is quoting 'Dave' and not me. On such insignificant fluff was a paragraph of piffle built: the inference that I think 'It's their culture' is clearly nonsense. That essentialising, culturalist gesture is more likely to be found among Hari's friends on the 'pro-war left' than it is on this blog. Hari could do himself a favour and read what one of his favourite authors, Sam Harris, has to say on the topic. Or indeed, he could inspect Hitchens' latest.

Anyway, to be sullied in a magazine that has migrated from Cold War liberalism to Hot War liberalism is no particular dishonour. But you might ask, and you would justified in asking, as the Black Eyed Peas once did so gracefully, where is the love?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Annihilism: preparing for the worst.

Naturally, the floods are forcing us to think about climate change. Obviously. Sure. Even as we exchange ribbons of viral hypertext, I can see the government preparing to dump the oil companies and airlines and motorway construction outfits and petrol retailers and car firms and steel giants and supply industries and gas suppliers and so on, all to protect a the rurban hybrids in Gloucestershire from drowning in muddy water pestilence. This post isn't actually about 'climate change' (or impending doom, as it ought to be known, without a trace of sarcasm). There's nothing to write about: the scientific consensus is rock solid. Everyone who is empowered to act immediately knows what it will take, and not one of them has any intention of doing what it will take: this separation between conception and action gives rise to alienated language, in which our existence is threatened not by our own actions, but by impersonal forces, rather like those that supposedly operate under the canopy of 'globalisation'. We need to make a 90% reduction in our carbon emmissions merely to prevent ecospheric destruction from sliding beyond our capacity to remedy it. That requires a massive global programme of public works, of house construction and reconstruction, of renewables, of extensive public transport, and an elaborate system of rationing. It requires such a radical transformation, and such a tremendous mobilisation of public activity to accomplish it, that no really existing capitalism could cope for half a minute with the impact. Similarly, any solution that did emerge from the current ruling elites, supposing such was available, would concentrate massive power in their hands rather than, as is surely indicated, radically democratising it. But for now, we are stuck in our death pact, and the only controversy is over how many eco-contrarians' heads would be required to fill the hole in the ozone layer.

No, this isn't about 'climate change'. It is about another kind of annihilism (which term may, and should, be contrasted with 'Islamic nihilism' whenever that preposterous phrase is issued). It is about threats that will not be 'taken off the table'. It is a truism of American political discourse that no option - not even the nuclear one - can be taken off the table with respect to Iran. From Rudi Giuliani to Hillary Clinton (across that vast ideological spectrum), the prospect of Iranians getting their Hiroshima and Nagasaki is officially not 'off the table'. Gordon Brown earlier today refused to take the military option "off the table" with regard to Iran, but he hasn't as yet raised the prospect of turning Tehran and its citizens into a boiling twelve mile high column of white hot dust and smoke capped by future fall-out. Rest assured, he will get round to it. What does it mean not to take an option "off the table"? Firstly, it is to put an option "on the table" that wasn't there before. Obviously in the case of Iran, it is also a calculated insult: you may not strive to possess weapons even at the level of our imaginations; however, we will not only possess them, but we will proliferate them, and threaten you with them, and few will notice the absurdity. It is nuclear terrorism with added irony.

Additionally, this 'table' is more tilted than usual, since no one else has any 'option' but to comply or be punished. Imagine Chavez saying that he wouldn't remove 'the option' of eating Bush's liver with fava beans and a fine chianti from 'the table'. That would be certainly be a much less wicked transaction than atomic megadeath, and no innocent people need die from it, even if that mobile facsimile of shit they call the Vice President would be tragically still alive. Somehow, though, I expect this sound, forward-looking policy for 21st Century socialism would receive a great deal more flak from the Washington press pack ('pack' as in 'running dogs'). Well, that is to be expected. What is more insidious is the language, redolent of good husbandry, and sound strategic calculation. Never say never, don't burn your bridges, keep your options open etc etc. How very coy, and sly, and grotesque, to raise the prospect of barbecuing countless human beings as a matter of sane planning, and sensible tomorrows. And since they haven't got a whisp of an argument that could persuade us to keep paying for these weapons of mass destruction, it has to be insinuated both that they would never be used, and that they may well have to be used one day. The American, and by extension British, administration is devoted to a policy of breaking down the strict barrier between conventional obliteration and the nuclear fashioned kind. With mini-nukes, and radioactive weapons and nuclear-tipped warheads and so on, that process is already well underway. Plainly, they need to break the taboo on the use of anything both military and nuclear, and so the rhetorical escalation may well be capped by a nuclear-tipped strike on Iran's enrichment facilities and revolutionary guards depots, sure to be followed by 'we-got-away-with-it' victory celebrations.

Alarmist, you say? Possibly, but the alarm bell hasn't stopped ringing for over fifty years, and it is occasionally worth paying attention to the background noise. Furthermore, we are beseeched daily to remember what act of cartographical discourtesy Iran supposedly threatened Israel with. We are invited by America's demure and restrained political class to consider charges of genocide against that country, apparently to be accomplished through the discharge of fissile material. And you will remember that this particular bunch, far from being alarmist, worked assiduously to tell the truth about Iraq's threat to the United States. You do remember that, don't you? If you don't remember that, remember this: several high-profile American politicians have threatened Iran with nuclear strikes, while one senior British politician threatened Iraq with nuclear attacks. Neither country, quite obviously, threatened us or anyone else with the same. I merely raise the possibility that what is happening here is old-fashioned imperial transference: the murderous plots of states are almost always matched and preceded by even worse plots on the other side. If American politicians are on the one hand charging Iran with intent to destroy, and on the other hand threatening them with nuclear weapons, it is surely not a bad guess that Iran - for its revolutionary resistance to colonialism, not for its bazaari class and its religious repression and its neoliberalism - will be made an example of.

Watch Galloway

If you aren't watching it, go ahead and view his speech here. The speaker is attempting to shut Galloway up, while the Tory who made the complaint in the first place has crept up on the bench behind Galloway to heckle more loudly.

Update: you can watch the whole thing here, thanks to Spidered News and the Couchtripper.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Britain's faked map during Iran 'hostage' crisis.

A parliamentary report into the 'hostage' crisis some months back has conceded Craig Murray's point that the maritime map published by the Ministry of Defence was actually confected from thin air - that between the ears of defence ministers. The report says that the map could be regarded as "deliberately misleading", that there is no certainty in the coordinates given by the British government, and that the government was lucky that Iran didn't contest it. There hasn't been much time, given the very rapid lurches by the Brown government, to reflect on the extraordinary mendacity of the regime we've recently ousted. The Blair era might well have been known for nothing much more exciting than sell-outs and sleaze had it not been clear early on that the priggish lawyer in charge was also a fervent imperialist. From the first bombing of Baghdad in 1998, the usual spate of very British lies and hypocrisy were augmented by a blood-curdling moralism drawn directly from Cold War B-Movies. And as the policies became more outrageous, the deceptions became more egregious, never reaching such a ridiculous height as during the summer of death in Lebanon. And so, by the time the troops were siezed in the Gulf, hardly anyone could believe a word the government said. And they still didn't get it: they confidently expected that if they pressed the old buttons, brought out the flags and the imperial bunting, and issued resolute messages via The Sun and the usual scum press, they would galvanise a mass of support against the Mad Mullahs. It must have been a shock to discover that people were more willing to believe the Iranian government than the British one. From start to finish, the farrago showed what a dwindled figure the former Prime Minister cut, what a petty crook he had become in the eyes of most. Most Americans would be happy to see Cheney impeached, and quite a few would like to see the same happen to Bush. I believe that most Britons would probably be content to see Blair hanged. Either by the Mahdi army, or on the end of stockings with an orange in his mouth after a failed erotic asphyxia transaction, it makes no difference.

Now they're talking about a Brown bounce as if it has anything to do with anything he's doing. On the contrary: it is because Cameron only looked good next to the last bunch of belligerent fanatics. The Tories' 'radical' plans for expanding privatisation in the NHS and Cameron's mealy-mouthed phrases about the environment simply aren't enough to cut it on their own. Brown is ahead in the polls now, but the recent two bye-election victories actually marked sizeable swings away from Labour, 11% in Sedgefield and 5% in Ealing Southall, as compared with the record lows of the 2005 election. And that serves as a salutary warning to the hardline Atlanticist who is presently threatening single mothers and the unemployed with cuts and workfare. Labour's core vote doesn't have to return to the fold simply because the mad bastard with the humourless grin has been kicked out. They probably won't unless there's something in it for them.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The curious case of the controversial cartoons that didn’t count

"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.

Some short time ago, some of you may recall, there was something of a controversy involving the publication of controversial cartoons in Denmark linking, shall we say, the Prophet Mohammed with terrorism. These cartoons caused a certain reaction, as they were intended to do. During the ensuing controversy, many people thought it best to express solidarity with the provocateurs, by reprinting the cartoons, by expressing sympathy with them, by marching in their support and by publishing a great number of articles and internet comments condemning people who had threatened the publishers - or even disagreed that they had a right to publish these cartoons.

It was a freedom-of-speech issue. There were no complexities here, no questions of provocation or offence and anybody who observed that it wasn’t necessarily so simple could be expected to be abused as an apologist for terrorism, a relativist and what you will. (It was, however, quite in order to abuse the cartoons’ Muslim opponents for thinking there was only one side to the question, a paradox I seem to remember noticing in a letter I wrote at the time to Private Eye.)

Anyway, that was then and this, apparently, is now. Yesterday, in the Western liberal democracy where I live, a High Court judge ordered a cartoon banned and all copies of the magazine that published it seized. Police were sent to raid newsagents and the editors of the magazine were ordered to reveal the name of the artist who produced the cartoon, so that proceedings could be considered against them, proceedings which could lead to a two-year prison sentence for all involved.

These cartoons did not seek to inflame ethnic tensions, nor did they imperil national security (assuming a cartoon could do so). Their offence was simply to lampoon the Royal Family, in a manner which was certainly rude but not destructive. Giles Tremlett reports in the Guardian:

The cartoon on the front cover of El Jueves (“Thursday” – ejh)….showed Crown Prince Felipe and his wife Letizia in the midst of an ardent session of love-making.

A speech bubble issuing from the prince's mouth makes a joke about the amount of work done by the royal family and a government decision to give families €2,500 (£1,680) for each new child.

"Do you realise what it will mean if you get pregnant?" the prince asks. "This is going to be the closest thing to work that I've ever done."

Not all that ardent, really, if you look, but leaving that aside, this is the sort of social commentary which surely falls a long way within the bounds of legitimate free speech - if free speech is to mean anything. Is Prince Felipe depicted as a terrorist? He is not. He is depicted having sex with his wife. We know they do this, because they had their second child just a few weeks ago.

I bother with the detail and the circumstances, by the way, because it is possible that this controversy has passed you by. This is because for some reason this case has not brought on the worldwide outcry occasioned by the other matter to which I alluded earlier.

Which is a strange thing. The case, one would have thought, is no less strong, in fact it is a rather less complicated matter. It is surely an outrage in a Western democracy that newsagents should be raided, magazines seized, editors required to reveal names of contributors, people threatened with prison, all for no more pressing reason than there appears to have been an offence to the dignity of a member of the Royal Family (if, indeed, he was actually offended). It is the sort of thing that might have appeared in a cartoon and been prosecuted in 1820s Britain, where Crown Princes - and indeed, Kings - were frequently the butt of cartoonists' abuse. When people talk about modernity and the need to defend it, you would think this would be exactly the sort of thing they mean. You’d think this would be a cause célèbre.

Yet curiously, it is not. I am unable to detect a worldwide controversy about the police raids. Or even a small one. It has of course made some small impact in Spain, where some newspaper editors and journalists still remember what it is like to face bans and the threat of imprisonment. (For this reasons, the general level of political and cultural debate seems to me to be rather higher, more serious-minded, than back in the UK.) El Mundo, for instance, reprinted the cartoon in an act of solidarity.

But where, elsewhere, are the concerned and the outraged? Where, in the UK, are the bloggers? Where are the newspaper columnists and editors? Where are the politicians? Where are the editorials, the statements, the demonstrations? Where are those who stood up for freedom in Denmark now that it is menaced in Madrid? Where are those who believe that freedom, if it means anything, means telling people what they do not want to hear?

Well, fair enough. If individuals don’t want to comment on this or that controversy, if it doesn’t particularly interest them, if they have better things to do if they just don’t feel like it then that’s OK. I mean it. One can condemn people for what they say, but one should not condemn for what they have not said – there are far too many websites that cater for the opposite persuasion. Besides, it’s not as if the internet is full of commentary on the subject from people who don't think you have to invade countries and bomb their civilians before you can be accepted as a friend of civilisation.

So it’s not that any individual person or party or paper or website isn’t saying anything. That’s not what bothers me. It’s the difference between the two situations that bothers me. Remember, when it came to Denmark, this was a Matter Of Principle. It was nothing to do with Islam, or provocation, or anything: it was to do with freedom of speech. That particular freedom had to be defended and everybody needed to say so. There were no complications. You couldn’t pick and choose. That was Relativism and that was what led to the trouble in the first place.

Well, what’s the difference? Where’s the storm of protest this time? Is freedom really not to be protected abroad as readily as it would be at home? Isn’t the real difference that those who were threatening freedom of speech in the Denmark case were a small minority of Muslims, whereas now it is the police and the courts, the apparatus of the law?

Isn’t this actually a matter not of principle so much as narrative? Isn’t that narrative one that says that the apparatus of law is what we in the West should fight for, because it is what protects our liberties - whereas the Muslims threaten our liberties so they are who we are supposed to fight? Isn't it only a matter of principle when it's a chance to Get The Muslims?

For what it’s worth, my underinformed opinion is that nobody will go to jail. Although Prince Felipe may be a chinless wonder, his father is certainly not and it would be unwise of him to have people thrown in clink merely for making ribald commentary about his family. But still, there will presumably be fines levied and precedents set.

So perhaps this is a ‘sleeper’ and there will be a torrent of complaint tomorrow or next week. Concern will be expressed by politicians, outrage in newspapers, apoplexy in the blogosphere. But if there is not, then a principle will have been created, indeed may already have been created. It is all right for cartoons to risk provoking hatred against Muslims but it is not all right for cartoons to risk provoking laughter against princes.

But we knew that already, did we not?

A 'surge' of their own

The monthly figures for June showed the highest daily number of attacks on US troops for four years, confirming an upward trend that has been happening for the last four years. The figures also confirm an encouraging downward trend in attacks on civilians which, at any rate, still constitute a minority of such attacks: roughly 70% of attacks are directed at coalition forces, 16% at the Iraqi security forces, and 14% on civilians. As Marc Lynch explains [audio file], this, combined with the revelations of a united resistance political front on Thursday, reflects a sense of growing confidence that the occupiers may be pushed out of Iraq. It also expresses a desire by the nationalist mainstream of the resistance to push the takfiri elements to the margins, since they now believe that they can articulate their interests in a post-occupation Iraq.

Despite some efforts to spin it in a contrary fashion, this pretty well ruins the narrative that the Americans are trying to push, that they are winning Iraqi insurgents to their side against 'Al Qaeda'. Incidentally, there is an interesting psyop going on right now with this 'revelation' that Omar al-Baghdadi, supposedly the leader of the 'Islamic State of Iraq' was a fictitious character (even though it has been claimed that he was captured). This emerged in US interrogation of a captured 'Al Qaeda leader', which means it was probably tortured out of him. Whether the information is true or not, the backstory being provided by the military is certainl false. They claim that this character was invented to give the impression that the 'Islamic State of Iraq' was not a front group for 'Al Qaeda in Iraq', and that it is a national movement and not a foreign one. This is designed to be confusing, but it is reasonably well known that a) the ISI is a composite of different groups, and b) most of the membership of 'Al Qaeda in Iraq' is actually Iraqi, and not foreign (although most of the suicide attacks are alleged to be carried out by the tiny input of 'foreign fighters'). If I didn't know better (and I don't), I would guess that the US military is right now busily trying to win a domestic propaganda battle in order to legitimise a long-term occupation. The Iraqis, they say, are coming to realise that we are their allies, and that 'Al Qaeda' are their real enemies, and so we must stay and protect them alongside our former enemies. It's something to do with leveraging xenophobia.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

New United Iraqi Resistance Front

This story is accompanied by a lengthy interview with three resistance leaders hiding out in Damascus. The scoop is that seven Iraqi resistance outfits, including the Army of Islam (whom the occupiers have claimed are working for them), the Iraqi nationalist 1920 Revolution Brigades, Hamas Iraq and a faction of Ansar al-Sunna, are forming a united front called the Political Office for the Iraqi Resistance, in preparation for a US withdrawal of troops. It is to articulate a shared political programme, "including a commitment to free Iraq from foreign troops, rejection of cooperation with parties involved in political institutions set up under the occupation and a declaration that decisions and agreements made by the US occupation and Iraqi government are null and void ... The programme envisages a temporary technocratic government to run the country during a transition period until free elections can be held." The opposition to working with groups currently involved in political institutions means there will not be an arrangement with the Mahdi Army, especially since it now looks as if Sadr's movement may be going back into the government.

Abu Aardvark points out that Hamas Iraq results from a split with the 1920 Revolution Brigades, but that it hasn't been seen much since. It is apparently close to the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, and it opposes the sectarian drift of some organisations. The faction of Ansar al-Sunna that is participating (the Legitimate Committee of Ansar al-Sunna) is reported by the Guardian to have broken with the main group over sectarianism and the strategy of suicide attacks:

"We wanted to unite with other resistance forces, but the other group is moving closer to al-Qaida and refused. Al-Qaida has brought benefits and problems," Zubeidy says. "They attack the US occupiers. But every day the problems they bring become greater than the benefits.

"Resistance isn't just about killing Americans without any aims or goals," he continues. "Our people have come to hate al-Qaida, which gives the impression to the outside world that the resistance in Iraq are terrorists. Suicide bombing is not the best way to fight because it kills innocent civilians. We are against indiscriminate killing - fighting should be concentrated only on the enemy. They [al-Qaida] believe that all Shia are kuffar [unbelievers] - and most of the Sunnis as well."

Well, there had been attempts before, in 2004, to form a united, non-sectarian political platform for the resistance, but it seemed to hit the skids very quickly. A number of these organisations include both Shi'ites and Sunnis, and operate in the south as well as the north, but that is not sufficient to make them the broad Iraqi political front that is clearly indicated. Most Iraqis support resistance attacks and oppose the occupation, and a Maliki-led government is unlikely to last long if the troops are chased out. But the main anti-occupation force among Shi'ites appears to have been excluded because it decided to participate in the elected bodies under the occupation. And given that one strategy the occupiers are considering is partitioning Iraq into three, a political front that doesn't command cross-sectarian support might well play into America's hands.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Independent news.

This is a good idea.

Mass Graves

Beseiged Iraqi city overflowing with bodies.

Planetary Oblivion: or, how I learned to stop worrying and love capitalism.

I am told that David Aaronovitch is planning a book entitled 'Voodoo Histories' which is (oh, bless), a book about 'conspiracy theories'. Presumably in an inspired moment, he thought that title up all by himself, (although why should it be that the terms for mystical nonsense so frequently refer to beliefs attributed to colonised Others - Wheen's 'Mumbo-Jumbo' is such an example?). This flood of tributes to various kinds of supposedly irrational belief (religion, pomo, New Age, etc) is itself the latest outbreak of obscurantist drivel, a fetish, a symptom of the utter lack of intellectual and moral responsibility among the literati. Having been accessory to something approaching genocide its awful criminality, these guys - the contemporary equivalents of Julius Streicher - want to say something about irrational beliefs and their pernicious effects on politics. A moment's reflection would surely compel the conclusion that the main types of irrational belief formation that threaten humankind are those that enable colossal damage to be done to us and our life-support systems. I mean to say that those incorrect beliefs that are encouraged by corporate-funded propaganda are covering for the worst, ongoing threat to human life that we have ever faced, bar nuclear war.

Suppose the oil corporations were correct in one single respect - that the predictions so far made by all the prestigious scientific bodies and global panels such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are all wrong to date. Suppose, however, that instead of being dire pessimists, these bodies have been outrageously happy-go-lucky in their assessments, and that things are much worse than we have so far understood. As George Monbiot points out, this is what is entailed by a recent NASA-led study:

The IPCC predicts that sea levels could rise by as much as 59cm this century(2). Hansen’s paper argues that the slow melting of ice sheets the panel expects doesn’t fit the data. The geological record suggests that ice at the poles does not melt in a gradual and linear fashion, but flips suddenly from one state to another. When temperatures increased to 2-3 degrees above today’s level 3.5 million years ago, sea levels rose not by 59 centimetres but by 25 metres. The ice responded immediately to changes in temperature(3).

The effects?:

As well as drowning most of the world’s centres of population, a sudden disintegration could lead to much higher rises in global temperature, because less ice means less heat reflected back into space. The new paper suggests that the temperature could therefore be twice as sensitive to rising greenhouse gases than the IPCC assumes. “Civilization developed,” Hansen writes, “during a period of unusual climate stability, the Holocene, now almost 12,000 years in duration. That period is about to end.”

And what's stopping the government from doing something about it? Why is the Stern Report so pathetic in its recommendations? Why does it so irrationally propose to solve a problem with means that its authors explain will not solve the problem? Oh, business as usual. The CBI - the ruling class in congress - might withdraw its support. The newspapers aren't exactly communicating much of this urgent reality or the political consequences, because fossil fuels is good advertising revenue. In fact, the state of scientific knowledge seems to make as little impress on this situation as the putative good intentions of the very powerful. Perhaps some sectors of the ruling class are unwilling to see the environment in which their system operates disintegrate, which is going to take place without urgent action in the next couple of generations. Yet they balk at the costs of the necessary measures, perhaps correctly assessing that they could trigger a social revolution (I mean it). Perhaps BP really does mean Beyond Petroleum. Perhaps Shell really is turning green in the face. Yet, for some mysterious reason (something to do with capital accumulation or, to be even more technical, profit), they continue to mine the ancient remains of carbon-based life-forms, sending tremendous pulses of carbon dioxide into an ecosphere that is not equipped to handle it, thus effecting massive chain-reactions that will eventually obliterate the basis on which much of the ruling class subsists. (It might also do something rather nasty to you and I, but we don't really count except as labour power.) And the core industries continue to insist that all is rosy. If it isn't rosy, it's murky - very complex, unclear, mixed signals etc. Aside from the 1.2 million road deaths each year, which we are not supposed to notice, the implanting of oil use into the - you might say - genetic make-up of advanced capitalist economies is driving a global series of oil wars. Oil is not the only cause of conflict in Nigeria, Angola, Colombia, Russia, Aceh and so on, but it is a commodity unlike any other, and ensuring its profitable distribution and transportation is a very important goal for the world's ruling elites. In the same way, coltan wasn't the only cause of conflict in the Congo, it simply happened to cohere and augment every other cause of the conflict. Sadly, if someone wanted to write a Black Book of Capitalism, those particular instances would be far down the list of depravity. Capitalism is organised crime, but these are among the lesser busts that could be made.

Of course, as Monbiot also points out, by a colossal and ugly historical irony, the regions most responsible for what we tweely refer to as 'climate change' are those that would be struck last, and struck least. Those that will drown to death or have to flee with clutched belongings to overcrowded and shrinking land masses will not be the wealthy. Those who will starve to death because of the ruination of fertile soil, lack of water and reduced crop yields will not be Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. As New Orleans showed, the increasing frequency and intensity of tropical storms will not be borne by the rich, who will have guards perched beside housebound turrets with automatic weapons aimed, in case anyone comes a-begging. And if they can batten themselves down in gated fortress communities, the ruling classes would sooner ride out the deluge than part with a solitary iota of their power and wealth to alter the course of this calamity. This is the same class of people who are callous enough to poison us on a regular basis: who still try to sell children tobacco as a lifestyle choice (and not as it might more properly be understood, as a style of death); who vend unhealthy slop and call it diet food; who give us carcinogens in our food and atmosphere; who pump fumes into our environment that give us bronchitis and asthma; who allow shit to go into our burgers with letting on; who allow toxic chemicals into our food; who give us BSE (and then try and blackmail us into Buying British); who give us radiation poisoning and asbestos sickness; who give us unsafe environments to work in; etc etc etc. These are not our allies in the struggle against planetary oblivion.

The most menacing and dogmatic voices of unreason are therefore: the mad extremists who insist on continuing in our present state of affairs; the utopian idealists who think that it can bring us a poverty-free, well-fed, sustainable planet; the evildoers who profit from it; the cool psychopaths who try to charm us into believing that all will be well; the cruel men of violence who will go to all lengths to conserve and defend the system. Root out the evil ideology within, I say. We have been indoctrinated for too long by this slavish cult of capitalism, and I say we have endured enough together.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The American Ruling Class

Oily cretins (latest attack on Galloway)

You remember, I think, some years ago there was a libellous story in the Telegraph. The newspaper, still then under the control of the now convicted felon Conrad Black, ran a story about documents purporting to show that George Galloway was in the pay of Saddam Hussein. Galloway was awarded £150,000 in compensation for the defamatory claims, and also full legal costs, amounting to over £1.5m. Justice Eady defined the claims in the newspaper's coverage as containing four basic claims that any ordinary reader would take away:

a) Mr Galloway had been in the pay of Saddam Hussein, secretly receiving sums of the order of £375,000 a year;

b) He diverted monies from the oil-for-food programme, thus depriving Iraqi people, whose interest he had claimed to represent, of food and medicines;

c) He probably used the Mariam Appeal as a front for personal enrichment;

d) What he had done was tantamount to treason.

This was libellous, and these remain defamatory claims to make. However. Immediately upon hearing of the allegations, a pro-war hard-right Tory MP named Andrew Robathan wrote to the Committee on Standards and Privileges to demand that an inquiry be made into them, reminding them as he did that he had fought in the Gulf War. Subsequently a prolonged inquiry was held into this matter, and the Committee has now concluded that George Galloway will be suspended for 18 days from the House of Commons for "damaging the reputation of the House".

This may seem curious. After all, the Commissioners accept Eady's definition of the libellous claims, and the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards either acknowledges that George Galloway did not personally benefit from "moneys derived from the former Iraqi regime", or accepts that George Galloway did make many declarations of interest over Iraq, eleven times. Further, he finds no instance in which monies from the appeal were improperly spent. There is no suggestion that George Galloway attempted to deceive anyone about his involvement in the Appeal or his interest in the matter. The Commissioner does not believe that George Galloway's views or advocacy were a result of receiving money from Saddam Hussein, because he doesn't accept that George Galloway's views changed or that he received money from Saddam Hussein. The complaint made by Andrew Robathan is clearly unsubstantiated: this should have concluded the matter. So, what gives?

Well, here's a clue: the majority of the Committee voted for the war on Iraq. Two of its members are former chairs of the Labour Friends of Israel. One of them, Kevin Barron MP, played a pivotal role in the witch-hunt of miners’ leader Arthur Scargill in 1990. Seasoned red-baiters and warmongers, then, and they had to find him responsible for something. Here is the basis of the suspension: he called into question the motives of the inquiry and therefore brought the House of Commons into disrepute. That is to say, because he dared to suggest that a committee of ten members of parliament might have a political motive, he is suspended. This is pathetic.

Now, the committee did make other complaints, which Galloway disputes, but they say these would have resulted merely in a request for an apology. Namely, they say, George Galloway: didn't use his parliamentary resources in a "reasonable" fashion by using them to help the Appeal (this is stretching the definition of what is "reasonable", but those are the breaks with a bunch of pro-sanctions, pro-war MPs); didn't cooperate with the inquiry and tried to conceal "the true source of Iraqi funding" from them (in fact, the claim that Galloway didn't cooperate is belied by the record of transactions which is available on the website of the committee, in which the Commissioner notes as late as November 2006 that he was very content with Galloway's cooperation); wasn't quite forthcoming enough about declaring his interests (despite the fact that he did discuss it in the House of Commons numerous times, widely advertised the appeal, held meetings in the house, and consequently was satirically known as 'the MP for Baghdad Central'); did not register the Appeal in the Miscellaneous Category (although as they concede, he was not directed to do so when he consulted the previous Commissioner in 1999). This ragbag of petty complaints is the sum of a great effort made over several years to try and impugn the reputation of an antiwar MP.

Added to it are several bizarre implications, which occur throughout the deliberations, but not in the recommendations. At one point, the Commissioner raised a 'suggestion' that had been made to him that Elaine Galloway, George Galloway's former spouse, received £13,000 in payments from the appeal. The Commissioner then claimed to have 'forgotten' who 'suggested' this to him. This allegation of criminal behaviour rests on the person of Ms E Laing, who received payments from the appeal: the implication was that Ms E Laing could be made to look like 'Elaine'. But, as the Commissioner acknowledges, George Galloway tracked down Ms E Laing and passed on the details to him, and so there is no mystery about who Ms E Laing is and what the sum was paid for (secretarial work), and who paid it (Stuart Halford, since she has his personal assistant). So, this smear was introduced into the proceedings and instead of being removed or clarified, was deemed 'peripheral'. Additionally, a photocopy of a purported "minute" of a meeting between Galloway and Hussein in 2002 was introduced at the last minute, having landed on the commissioner's desk some hours before a meeting with Galloway. It was without any explanation as to its specific provenance or how it remained secret until then. It purports to show Galloway suggesting that some of his work on behalf of the Mariam Appeal might be financed by "an oil-related mechanism". The only possible explanation as to its provenance, provided by Ms Alda Barry, was stricken from the record. She explained that it would have been a tape recording. However, since Galloway supplied the Commissioner with the evidence that there had not and could not have been such a tape recording, a letter of apology was sent by the Commissioner on 17th April 2007 to George Galloway, in which he apologised for having tried to prove that such a tape existed. His report nevertheless left open the 'possibility' of such a tape. We are told that it comes from 'intelligence' and that the commissioners "take the view that the alleged record of the meeting between Mr Galloway and Saddam Hussein in August 2002 is authentic", even though they acknowledge that it has not been "substantiated". Similarly, the Committee members decide, citing only one of the experts who looked at the Telegraph's documents (while ignoring the existence of other forged documents), that on balance they think they're probably not forgeries: whether they are forgeries or not, the information contained in them is certainly untrue, as the Commissioner also concedes. They breach their own standards, too, by insisting on including claims made by utterly discredited witnesses, including one "Tony" Zureikat, whose evidence supposedly supports the claims in the 'minute', but who manages to get the time of the meeting wrong by at least six months (he is vague: it happened in Christimas time or New Year, according to him).

Given that the nature of the evidence they adduce is so flimsy, and so disreputable, the Committee's decisions are naturally sparse. You might have thought that a Committee that was confident in its various assumptions would be a bit more harsh than asking for an apology for not having registered the appeal in Miscellaneous and so on. You might have thought that the basis of a suspension from the House of Commons for bringing it into disrepute would be somewhat stronger than that George Galloway said mean things about the committee's motives. Instead, they have produced a great many conclusions, which proceed from ommissions and distortions, and as such the best that they could do with it was trump up some sort of headline-grabbing charge. How pathetic, and how risible. If the Commissioners don't realise that they have brought themselves into disrepute with this disingenuous charade, this can only further confirm the impermeability of the Westminster village to the real world.