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<p><h1><font color="#FFFFFF">Le Live Marseille, commentaire sur : harry's place: international archives</font></h1></p> <p><h4><font color="#FFFFFF">résumé :</font> <font color="#FFFFFF"> - [ Traduire cette page ]Kevin Zuccato, head of the Australian government’s High Tech Crime Centre, ...... On the banks of the Jordan, Degania, where Israeli general Moshe Dayan was ...</font></font></h4></p> <p><h5><font color="#FFFFFF"> harry's place: international archives . december 06, 2007 chavez to supporters: "you have no excuse... let's see if you pay your debt to me" perhaps as a result of shock, hugo chavez was unusually gracious earlier this week in conceding defeat on the referendum to "reform" venezuela's constitution. "i thank you and i congratulate you," chávez said calmly, referring to his opponents. "i recognise the decision a people have made." turning to supporters, some of whom were weeping, he added: "don't feel sad." however, given a few days to brood, he seems to be his old, unhinged self again: president hugo chavez on wednesday called the venezuelan opposition's unprecedented victory in the weekend's referendum "shit," signaling the firebrand former soldier was back on the offensive after initially humbly accepting his loss. the self-styled socialist revolutionary was angry at a local newspaper report saying he had conceded victory in the narrow vote on expanding his powers only after the military pressured him. he called the report "shit," too. "it's calm, so keep it calm," chavez said at a news conference in a message to the opposition. "i wish you knew how to manage your victory. but you are already covering it with shit. it's a shit victory and it's yours." after expressing his contempt for the opposition, chavez-- speaking at a political rally-- expressed contempt for his own supporters, saying it's their fault he will have to give up power in 2013. katy of caracas chronicles has provided a translation of a press report on the speech. as she notes, it is not-- as it appears-- a parody produced by the opposition: in a political rally held at caracas' poliedrito, president hugo chávez reiterated that he will remain in power until 2013, because some of the people present did not go to vote last sunday. "as i stated december 2nd, i have been thinking the past few days and i have to leave the government in 2012. you did not approve the reform, so therefore i have to go." "shout all you want, the truth is the truth, the sí lost in miranda, lost in caracas, and write this down, the sí lost in petare, in the barrios, people didn't vote, a good chunk of the people didn't vote, millions didn't vote, you can say whatever you want but you have no excuse, you have no sense of conscience, you have no resolve for the fatherland, you have no excuse, revolutionaries don't look for excuses." he criticized that now people might be saying "that the reason is that i don't like such and such mayor or governor, those are the excuses of the weak, the cowards and the lazy ones, of those who have no conscience, no love for the fatherland, no revolutionary consciousness." "here, the sí lost, you let the sí lose, miranda owes me one, people of miranda and caracas you owe me a debt, i have it written down in my planner, let's see if you pay your debt to me or if you don't." "if the people get scared, are confused, forget it then, if the people allow themselves to be blackmailed, if the people let themselves be scammed, if we, the revolutionary leaders, lose sight of our goal and are not able to tame this colt that is the revolution, then all will be lost, write it down, i will be reminding you of this every day. i don't matter at all, what matters is the venezuelan fatherland, the future of our children, the fatherland of our grandchildren." "i have been warning you, we are confronting the united states empire, and if we get careless and don't do our job and let ourselves be confused, well, december 2nd is a sign of what will happen." he affirmed that "our enemy, the empire, does not forgive" and he mentioned that if an option different from his were to win, there would be no community banks, "and what would await the people would be misery for a hundred years more, persecution, violence, racism and abuse." katy says she is reminded of the german film "downfall," about hitler's final days in the bunker. and no, you don't have to see chavez as a modern-day incarnation of the führer--which i don't-- to grasp her point about the leaders' eagerness to blame defeat on everyone but themselves. posted by gene at 10:15 pm | comments (21) | trackback december 04, 2007 mohammad wins turner prize! oh wait a second, i think i've got it mixed up. sorry, what i meant to write was that mark wallinger has won the 2007 turner prize. he's best known for his 'state britain' work, which is a reconstruction of peace campaigner brian haw's anti- iraq-war protest in parliament square, and for dressing in a bear suit. but it is worth mentioning here again (and giving prominence to a piece of anti war art? what's that about?) that british teacher gillian gibbons was pardoned by sudan's president omar al-bashir (humanitarian crisis in darfur? what crisis) yesterday after she was jailed for insulting muslims by allowing her students to name a teddy bear mohammad. wallinger said in liverpool lastnight that he was flabbergasted. so am i, but that's politics/art and definitely one or the other. i'm not sure which. gene adds: the jury, in an e-mailed statement, said "state britain'' had "immediacy, visceral intensity and historic importance. the work combines a bold political statement with art's ability to articulate fundamental human truths.'' i knew this reminded me of something. posted by gordon at 10:07 am | comments (41) | trackback december 03, 2007 afghans grateful for nato support here's the third afghan public opinion survey. some responses: country going in the right direction: 54% top problems: security/warlords/attacks/violence - 30% taliban - 26% the single most important priority for our country? security from crime and violence - 28% getting u.s. troops out of afghanistan - 3% who would you rather have ruling afghanistan today? current government - 84% taliban - 4% reaction to u.s. military forces bringing down the taliban government in 2001? very good - 35% mostly good - 40% mostly bad - 10% very bad - 10% support for us forces: strongly support - 25% somewhat support - 42% somewhat oppose - 17% strongly oppose -13% support for taliban fighters: strongly support - 1% somewhat support - 4% somewhat oppose - 19% strongly oppose - 73% (weirdly, foreign jihadi fighters are more popular than the taliban) who do you blame the most for the violence that is occurring in the country? taliban - 36% al qaeda/foreign jihadis - 22% u.s./american forces - 9% bush/u.s. government/america - 7% when should the us leave afghanistan? leave now - 14% within 6-12 months - 13% within 1-2 years - 18% only after security restored - 42% remain permanently - 7% do you think the pakistan government is allowing the taliban to operate within its borders, or trying to stop the taliban from operating there?2007 is allowing - 69% trying to stop - 19% and finally: the popularity contest! the taliban very favourable - 3% somewhat favourable - 10% somewhat unfavourable - 15% very unfavourable - 69% osama bin laden: very favourable - 2% somewhat favourable - 7% somewhat unfavourable - 11% very unfavourable - 76% the united states very favourable - 17% somewhat favourable - 48% somewhat unfavourable - 11% very unfavourable - 21% great britain very favourable - 11% somewhat favourable - 38% somewhat unfavourable - 17% very unfavourable - 28% pakistan very favourable - 2% somewhat favourable - 17% somewhat unfavourable - 16% very unfavourable - 63% posted by david t at 03:04 pm | comments (41) | trackback thoughts on chavez's defeat it's good news, of course. some other observations: --well done to venezuela's student movement for resisting violent intimidation and leading the opposition to the constitutional "reform." --despite what some seem to think, the referendum was not just about abolishing presidential term limits. --i've never believed chavez is uniquely evil among world leaders, or even among the very worst. i focus on him because of his inexplicably high standing among the "anti-imperialist" left. they need to be reminded exactly whom they're supporting. i'll wait to see if the new kinder, gentler chavez is for real. and if it is, i wonder how long some chavistas will continue to back him. --i'm not the only one who would love to know what went on in government circles in the frantic hours between the closing of the polls and the long-delayed announcement of the results. quico at caracas chronicles raises the possibility that the actual "no" vote was larger, but that chavez insisted on a smaller margin as a condition for conceding defeat. --as one who accepted the results of elections that chavez won, i absolutely agree with ken livingstone, harold pinter, tony benn and others who called on the international community to "respect the outcome" of the referendum and "support the sovereign and democratic right of the venezuelan people to self-determination." of course when they urged that, they fully believed the referendum would win. --i hope this highly-troubling report does not get lost in the post-election shuffle: police raided venezuela’s main jewish social club on the eve of a national referendum. the raid on la hebraica late saturday night occurred just hours before venezuelans went to the polls to decide on constitutional changes proposed by president hugo chavez. the raid was seen as a provocation against the jewish community, which is almost unanimously opposed to chavez, a major ally of iranian president mahmoud ahmadinejad, and his leftist reforms. the police raid took place as 900 jews enjoyed an all-night wedding party at the nearby union israelita synagogue in altamira, an upscale suburb of caracas. according to sources, members of the police unit that investigates drug-trafficking and terrorism broke the main gate of la hebraica in the middle of the night, allegedly looking for weapons and explosives. officers searched the premises but found nothing, the sources said. ..... saturday night's raid echoed one from november 2005, when venezuelan police raided a jewish school in caracas looking for weapons. none were found. (please comment here.) posted by gene at 02:47 pm | trackback chavez loses so, chavez has lost - 51% - 49% - in his bid to persuade the venezuelan people to grant him exceptional powers, and remove the term limits which would require him to step down in 2011. this is what happened: "i thank you and i congratulate you," chávez said calmly, referring to his opponents. "i recognise the decision a people have made." turning to supporters, some of whom were weeping, he added: "don't feel sad." the former soldier said he would continue his battle to build socialism and that the proposed changes had failed "for now" but were "still alive", suggesting he may try to revive them later. the conciliatory tone was a sharp contrast to his campaign rhetoric, which denounced his opponents as "fascists", "traitors" and "mental retards". sceptics said the president played the role of dignified democrat only after frantic backroom talks with senior aides and election officials that delayed the results for hours. i think chavez is more of a fool than a monster. perhaps he is not as bad as some of his strongest critics hold. nevertheless, i find the adulation heaped upon this rather comic man - more of a peron than an allende - in some parts of the left difficult to understand. i look forward to reading the analysis of the result by former soviet "agent of influence", richard gott. this result illustrates that venezuelans have an affection for a robust democracy, and prefer to keep their leaders on an electoral leash to government by coup. posted by david t at 09:45 am | comments (123) | trackback november 29, 2007 stalin and keith take on hugo the miami herald has a piece about stalin gonzalez, a leader of the student opposition to hugo chavez in venezuela. and yes, he was named after you-know-who and raised in a marxist-leninist family. gonzález believes that chávez's socialist rhetoric is a lie because the country has not set about to create a working class, instead surviving off its oil wealth. ''this government talks a lot, but it does very little,'' gonzález said. "chávez isn't a marxist-leninist, he's a crazy military officer.'' (hat tip: modernityblog.) and msnbc's keith olbermann, who has become something of a leftwing icon for his often-deserved and funny denunciations of the bush administration, fox news's bill o'reilly and the political right in general, took a verbal jab at chavez (between shots at the rightwing website and bush's retiring homeland security advisor frances townsend). for this, of course, olbermann drew the ire of counterpunch. posted by gene at 10:47 pm | comments (24) | trackback november 27, 2007 if you go carrying pictures of chairman mao... according to afp, nepal's maoist revolutionaries are threatening to end their participation in parliament and return to armed struggle, if the country isn't immediately declared a republic. nepal currently has retained the monarchy, but the king is no longer an absolute ruler. in a previous peace deal - which brought the hostilities which had already claimed over 13 000 lives to an end - the maoists had agreed to decide the fate of the king through consitutional means. but they didn't get their own way, so they're ready to throw their toys out of the cot. this means bringing out the so-called "people's army" for a good old-fashioned shoot 'em up until they get their own way. personally, i think they're right about the king. i don't like monarchs. on the other hand, i don't like maoist revolutionaries who think that blowing things up is a valid way of lobbying parliament. anyhow, i'm not the least bit surprised by this development. last week i attended a seminar hosted at goldsmiths college by the world people's resistance movement in london where a senior representative of the maoist party, c.p. gajurel, gave a lengthy presentation - to all 17 people who turned up. i had gone specifically to draw his attention (and the attention of his supporters in the uk) to the treatment of lgbt people detailed in a hrw report and letter to ask what his party intended to do about it. more on that later. however, i was quite shocked by the cynical dishonesty which he seemed to think was "revolutionary". he kept repeating like a mad mantra "the enemy of your enemy is your temporary friend". he stated quite openly that the decision to participate in the parliamentary process was not an abandonment of the 'armed struggle', but the opening up of a new front. while conceding that the maoist influence in parliament was amplified by the threat of violence by their "people's army", he admitted (or rather boasted) that the aim of parliamentary participation was to sow chaos and division. he then outlined some bills his party had introduced for the purely strategic reason of dividing the other parties. he claimed that a revolution requires a "dynamic situation" which presents opportunities to exploit in furtherance of the revolution, and that negotiations and compromise cause the opposite effect. thus, i'm not surprised that they have decided to upturn the parliamentary apple-cart, as it were. they were never serious about peace in the first place. on the gay issue, he seemed terribly uncomfortable by the subject, turning to the chair of the meeting, professor john hutnyk, a chap from the wprm, several times to confirm that i was in fact talking about "gays". nevertheless, he rejected the hrw allegations and said his party had no interest in gay issues because it wasn't a revolutionary priority. at this point, hutnyk the wprm chap who chaired the meeting rushed to his defence as he seemed to be foundering (odd, since the he didn't feel the need to help him answer any other questions). hutnykthe wprm chap who chaired the meeting said that he had been in touch with the blue diamond society (though not hrw, which he thought were "too big" to speak to him) and said the bds had only managed to allude to 2 or 3 cases and that this was to be expected in any country and not evidence of any systematic persecution. he said these claims might be propoganda to discredit the revolution. i asked if human rights watch was part of that conspiracy. he conceded that probably not. i asked mr gajurel about the homophobic rhetoric that hrw specifically addressed in its letter, and he said he'd never heard of any. finally, i asked him if, since his claim was that his party stood up for the marginalised and oppressed, if they would make a positive statement on lgbt rights. he wasn't sure what i meant, so hutnyk the wprm chap who chaired the meeting explained, again exposing mr gajurel's discomfort at discussing gay issues. he simply repeated that it was not a priority. on the positive side, one of their top priorities is seeking international support. so there is an opportunity here to demonstrate that a commitment to lgbt rights might make finding this support (or at the very least, contact) much easier. as a footnote, strangely his party believes their biggest enemy is american imperialism. now, the us has had little to do with the feudal conditions in nepal that fermented revolution in the first place, but apparently the real reason why the us fears nepal is because it is set to become the "hub of global revolution". apparently there are no model worker states at the moment and if nepal suceeds it will be, ahem, the shiny beacon that will inspire us all to take up arms against the oppressor. hell, comrade gaurav (as he is affectionately known) came quite close to inciting his uk supporters to take up arms in preparation for this glorious eventuality. up til this point, i'd just thought they were cynical and mean. now i think they're cynical, mean - and mad. posted by brett at 12:05 pm | comments (55) | trackback zim law soc appeal all lawyers should support this: today the law society of england and wales has launched an appeal to collect £100,000 by the end of the year to help the law society of zimbabwe maintain its services for lawyers and society in zimbabwe. president of the law society of zimbabwe, beatrice mtetwa, was in london last week to raise awareness of the challenges and threats to their lives that she and her colleagues face on a day to day basis as a result of their commitment to their professional duties as lawyers. this followed a meeting in nairobi with andrew holroyd, president of the law society of england and wales, to discuss the law society of zimbabwe's request for capacity building support and basic materials such as books and it equipment. andrew holroyd, law society president, says the law society of zimbabwe is a vital voice in defence of the rule of law, constitutionalism, the independence of the judiciary and human rights. 'i cannot be sure that i would be as brave as beatrice and her colleagues, but all solicitors will share my determination to do what we can to support our colleagues in zimbabwe. given the speed with which the justice system in zimbabwe has collapsed over the space of only a few years the strengthening of the rule of law is a top priority. the law society of zimbabwe needs our help to support its stances in defence of the rule of law and zimbabwe's own legal constitution.' the law society, through its charity, aims to use the money collected to: - provide facilities for law society members in five regional centres to enable them to consult law books, use the internet and get support for pro bono cases. - provide a means of transport for the use of the law society staff and council members to maintain contact with their members in the face of a non-existent internal communications infrastructure. - continuing legal education training for lsz members - travel expenses and other costs for lsz members to attend hearings at the african court and other legal institutions. beatrice mtetwa, law society president of zimbabwe, says: 'the law society of zimbabwe has always been an important voice in defence of the rule of law, constitutionalism, the independence of the judiciary and human rights. lawyers in my country have been subjected to threats, intimidation, arbitrary arrests and detention, false prosecutions, abductions, assaults and torture in attempting to resist attacks on legal institutions. we appreciate the help the law society is giving us to help protect human rights and legal standards and agitate for the return to the rule of law in zimbabwe so that the country is given a chance to develop.' for more information and to donate please visit posted by david t at 11:42 am | trackback syria bans access to facebook so how many friends do you have now? possibly more than syrian leader bashar assad whose regime has found all this social networking a little much and banned access to facebook. it's unclear exactly why, but various reports including the jerusalem post and the washington post are citing the ability of syrians to contact israelis directly and the rise in the number of anti regime groups. "although it might be interesting to hear what syria-girl alaa or syrian guy or syrian damasine have to say about the decision of their president, bashar assad, to send a delegation to the annapolis conference, it's too late for that. "i'm deliberately not listing any of the many registered facebook members by their actual names, since syrian officials have cited the site's capability to connect israelis and syrians directly as the main reason for the shutdown. but a check of several syrian facebook members shows that almost none list israeli friends unless they have arabic names." some have claimed assad (a one time chairman of the syrian computer society, no less) has blocked access to the site as part of a wider crackdown on political activism on the internet. of course, bloggers have recently been targeted among many others. "facebook helped further civil society in syria and form civic groups outside government control. this is why it has been banned," women's rights advocate dania al-sharif told reuters. while there are plenty of pro-regime facebook groups, there are plenty attacking the regime with many focusing on lebanon such as: "save the lebanese detainees in syria," "no syria, no bashar," and "now that syria is out of lebanon, let's keep them out". the post says no syrians are listed by name as belonging to these groups, or in others that object to damascus. the washington post quoted ammar al-qurabi, head of the national association for human rights, as saying: "we have asked officials and they said facebook could become a conduit for israeli penetration of our youth, but the real reason for blocking the forum because it provides for criticism of the authorities," qurabi said. "there is now an 'internet political crimes' ward at one prison. internet cafes have been required to limit their communications services," said qurabi. posted by gordon at 11:39 am | comments (21) | trackback why hamas should have been invited to annapolis i have a post on about why hamas should have been invited to annapolis: nobody expected the annapolis middle east peace conference to have finally ended the israeli-palestinian conflict, but it was still quite a party. just think of the networking and schmoozing opportunities. the israeli prime minister ehud olmert was there, together with mahmoud abbas, president of palestine. egypt and jordan sent delegations and syria too, hoping to swap the golan heights for a peace deal. even the saudi foreign minister, saud al-faisal turned up, dolefully warning that he won't shake hands with the israelis. at least not in public, but as the washington post reported, he took lengthy notes while olmert spoke and even applauded. the only important middle east government which was not there was palestine's, for hamas, which won the 2006 elections, was not invited. and that is a mistake. hamas should have been at the negotiating table. yes, that's right. hamas, the palestinian branch of the muslim brotherhood which calls for the destruction of israel and its replacement with an islamic state. hamas, whose ‘despatchers', safe in the warrens of jenin and nablus, order confused teenagers wrapped in explosives and shrapnel to blow themselves to bits on israeli buses. hamas, article of 22 of whose charter blames the jews for the french and communist revolutions, working through the "freemasons, the rotary clubs and the lions [sic]'. you can read more here. and, happy birthday 5th birthday hp, and here's to many more years of vigorous debate. harry, who is an old friend of mine, has performed a valuable service for the left, for free speech and humanity in general by setting up this blog. posted by adam l at 07:53 am | comments (54) | trackback chavez "reforms" trail in poll with less than a week to go before the the referendum on hugo chavez's proposed constitutional "reforms," a poll of likely venezuelan voters finds that opponents of the plan outnumber supporters by 49 to 39 percent. what makes this poll especially interesting is that the firm which conducted it has consistently predicted chavez's victories in past elections. the reforms chavez is seeking would remove term limits for president of venezuela, allowing him to hold power indefinitely. (other elective offices in the country would continue to have term limits.) and jose miguel vivanco, americas director for human rights watch, has warned that the constitutional changes would allow chavez to "invoke a state of emergency to justify suspending certain rights that are untouchable under international law." these include the presumption of innocence and rights to a fair trial, to an attorney, against self-incrimination, for a defendant to know the charges and evidence against him, and against double jeopardy, he said. the proposed amendments would eliminate limitations on how long a state of emergency could last and the requirement that a constitutional tribunal review the suspension of rights during times of emergency, vivanco said. they also would get rid of language requiring that any such decree "meet the requirements, principles and guarantees established in the international covenant on civil and political rights and the american convention on human rights," he said. now assuming the poll results are close to accurate, i suppose it's possible-- at least theoretically-- that the chavistas can close the gap in the next few days and soar ahead to win by the 20-point margin predicted by at least one enthusiast in the comments here. but if that happens, will the rest of us be entitled to view the results with a dollop of skepticism? in an effort to help even his supporters understand the importance of voting "si," chavez explained on friday: "he who says he supports chavez but votes 'no' is a traitor, a true traitor... he's against me, against the revolution and against the people." does "traitor" in spanish (unlike in english) mean "one who opposes you politically"? chavez sure throws the word around a lot lately. (hat tip: mike) posted by gene at 01:48 am | comments (40) | trackback november 22, 2007 keep it in the family bad news. despite his campaigning support, galloway's chum has lost his bid for a parliamentary seat in jordan's karak (first district) in this week's rigged elections. still, not to worry. it was his cousin who beat him. few expected him to win: at 4:33 pm, samar nusairaat said... poor galloway. does he know he will be dragged in the mud of the elections? and what's the point of fawwaz zreiqat running for elections when we all know with 101% that the elections are rigged and no one on the black list, like fawwaz, will be allowed to make it to the jordanian parliament because of his anti-colonialist stances. at 5:05 pm, khalaf said... samar, zreigat's biggest problem is that his cousin is running against him. this will split the vote and give a better chance for candidates from other clans. not everybody was sad: at 11:45 pm, batir said... i was happy to see this "anti-colonialist" who has made his fortune at the expense of the sufferings of iraqi people fail. if he was really black listed then good for the government. abdullah zreikat has won and he is a very respected person in karak and beyond. may this be the start of a long run of losses for the galloway gang. tim says: perhaps george was just visiting fawaz to bring back the mariam appeal accounts. which will clear his name. i'm also surprised that george would participate in an election where christians have their religion in brackets after their name,and where there is a womens quota tagged on at the end. posted by david t at 10:28 pm | comments (4) | trackback afghanistan 'falling into hands of taliban' worrying report in the guardian today, based on research by think tank the senlis council, that says the taliban has a permanent presence in 54% of afghanistan and the country is in serious danger of falling back into the hands of the mullahs. the reports says that despite the tens of thousands of nato-led troops and billions of dollars in aid poured into the country, the taliban and their foreign jihadi allies now control "vast swaths of unchallenged territory, including rural areas, some district centres, and important road arteries. the nato mission is hampered by lacklustre support from the likes of france and germany whose forces operate under restrictive caveats. german aircraft for instances will, almost comically, not fly at night. they might once have conquered europe but by dusk they are tucked up in their base. german forces were recently accused of abandoning norwegian troops as dusk fell although the german army has refuted this. the research goes onto say that the taliban is also exercising a "significant amount of psychological control, gaining more and more political legitimacy in the minds of the afghan people who have a long history of shifting alliances and regime change". it also says the territory controlled by the taliban has increased and the frontline is getting closer to kabul - a warning echoed by the un which says more and more of the country is becoming a "no go" area for western aid and development workers. the council is calling for nato to double its force to 80,000. maybe nicolas sarkozy, fresh from his love-in in the us, will step up to the plate and allow france to pull its weight. the council's disturbing conclusion is that, despite a universal desire to succeed in afghanistan, afghanistan is in grave danger of becoming a divided state with the taliban exploiting public frustration over poverty and "inflammatory us-led counter narcotics policies". norine macdonald qc, president and lead field researcher of the senlis council, said: "it is a sad indictment of the current state of afghanistan that the question now appears not to be whether the taliban will return to kabul, but when this will happen. "their stated aim of reaching the city in 2008 appears more viable than ever, and it is incumbent upon the international community to implement a dramatic change in strategy before time runs out. defeat in afghanistan would be catastrophic to global security, and risks making nato irrelevant." the council argues that to succeed in afghanistan, nato countries must increase their presence in the country, but nato partners should share this burden equally. it says all nato countries should contribute at least 2.3 soldiers per $1 billion of their gdp . this would ensure the increase of troops to 71,000 – the remaining 9,000 troops should be invited to come in from muslim countries. "not only would the creation of this nato plus force improve the chances of defeating the taliban, it would also send out a strong political message to the afghan people that a caveat-free, pan-cultural, international community force is there in support of the karzai government to ensure stability in afghanistan," said paul burton, the senlis council’s head of policy analysis in london. it goes onto say that nato countries taking the position that they will not send sufficient troops, or continue to maintain their caveats that restrict troops fighting in the south is a luxury that can no longer be afforded if we do not want to lose afghanistan. senlis also called on nato forces to urgently enter pakistan’s north west frontier province, which has become a training ground for taliban and al-qaeda elements. according to the senlis report, such an increase in their activities would never have been possible without a sanctuary outside afghanistan. "the taliban have established firm roots across the border in pakistan. president musharraf has been unable to deal with these bases, and as a result it is impossible to stop the growth of the insurgency in afghanistan," said macdonald. "nato troops in pakistan are therefore urgently required to quell this growing threat, and ensure that this area is closed down as a home base for the taliban and al qaeda." if you've not heard of the senils council it was established in 2002, and is a european international policy think tank (offices in kabul, london, paris and brussels) and it has a special focus on foreign policy, security, development and counter-narcotics. the council sees the issue of opium production in afghanistan as the key to unlocking the security. the full report is available here. posted by gordon at 02:24 pm | comments (31) | trackback desperate tactics by howard supporters with australian prime minister, john howard, looking set to lose his bid for a fifth term to the australian labor party some members of the ruling liberals have stooped to some desperate tactics howard, who is trailing labor rival kevin rudd, has condemned party members who used fake leaflets implying labor backed muslim bombers, two days before the polls, according to a bbc report. the leaflets were distributed in a key sydney seat and claimed to be from a fake islamic group which thanked labor for its sympathy towards the bali nightclub attackers who killed 202 people a little over five years ago now on october 12 2002. posted by gordon at 09:22 am | comments (20) | trackback november 21, 2007 don bashar redux a brave (or foolhardy) lebanese shiite cleric denounces hassan nasrallah, the iranian regime and bashar al-assad, calling the syrian leader "the godfather of idiots." interesting. the godfather comparison occurred to me too a couple of years ago after the rafik hariri assassination. and i don't mean the godfather of soul. posted by gene at 09:45 pm | comments (11) | trackback november 20, 2007 ian smith dead former rhodesian prime minister ian smith, who resisted majority rule to the bitter and bloody end in what is now zimbabwe, is dead at 88. smith famously declared independence from britain on nov. 11, 1965 and served as prime minister from 1965 to 1979 during white minority rule. he earned the deserved contempt of (to use a lately-maligned word) decent people around the world. the associated press observes: despite their bitter differences, smith and [robert] mugabe shared one common bond — their deep dislike of britain, which they saw as a meddling colonial power. just as mugabe accused former british prime minister tony blair of interfering in zimbabwe to protect the interests of whites, smith poured vitriol on the government of the late harold wilson for pressing him to hand political power to the black majority. posted by gene at 11:46 pm | comments (86) | trackback payback time? (this is a guest post by tim) george galloway is a busy man. his party has just split in two and the locks needed changing on the office. his commercial venture in blackpool collapsed and he’s involved in legal action against the theatre company. his radio show has been censured by ofcom but yesterday george was nowhere to be seen. oh, and supposedly he is a constituency mp. so where is george? well according to the jordanian press he’s in jordan. apparently, he’s campaigning for a candidate in the upcoming jordanian election. a man who bills himself as the karak visionary. the name of that candidate is fawaz zureikat. of course, we all know who fawaz zureikat is, don’t we? the man who, according to the volcker report, the us senate,and the uk parliamentary report , carried out oil deals in george galloway's name and channelled cash to george galloway's appeal and george galloway's wife. the middleman who george nominated as his appeals agent in bagdhad during the saddam era, at the height of the corruption of the un oil for food relief programme. if george is truly campaigning for this man to be elected as an mp, can we safely assume that zureikat did not break galloway's trust by doing those oil deals in his name, behind george's back? in the recent parliamentary investigation into george galloway's behaviour, fawaz zureikat refused to give evidence. is this the payback george? there were no staff in galloway's parliamentary office this morning when i phoned to confirm his whereabouts. posted by your view at 12:02 pm | comments (11) | trackback november 19, 2007 hud yer wheesht mobile phone ringtones featuring the spanish king requesting a bit of silence from the venezuelan president last week in chile are a hit with mobile users in both countries: an estimated 500,000 people have downloaded the insult featuring the words "why don't you shut up?", generating a reported 1.5m euros (£1m). readers should feel free to suggest comments box insults they have come across which might make similarly good ringtones. gordon adds: king juan carlos made his comment after chavez labelled former spanish pm jose maria aznar a "fascist". it's an irony free world, what can you do. it's a youtube hit as well. in venezuela, students who opposing chavez have also been downloading the ringtone. "it's a form of protest," a 21-year-old student in caracas told the miami herald. "it's something that a lot of people would like to tell the president." as the washington post reports in just 13 days, with systematic suppression and intimidation of student protesters, chavez will become the presumptive president-for-life. chavez has been milking it like crazy and has not only demanded an apology, but linked it to trade according to a reuters report. "they have sent me a lot of messages in all sorts of ways that they do not want this to become a problem. well then, they should put things right," chavez said in an interview on state television. "the least i expect is that the king ... offers some kind of apology." "i do not want things to get more serious but the king or the government of spain needs to in some way recognize they are the ones at fault," he added. posted by marcus at 11:21 am | comments (31) | trackback november 18, 2007 together at last they have more in common than heaps of oil money-- namely an utter contempt for democracy and free expression. but before feeling too superior, remember that each time you or i start the engines of our cars, we put a little more cash in their pockets. update: surely chavez-- as any champion of justice would-- took the opportunity of meeting king abdullah to bring up this outrage, among others. in fact you can see the barely-surpressed anger in chavez's face as he met the king. posted by gene at 12:11 am | comments (83) | trackback november 14, 2007 daddy or chips? george galloway's mate, the poltician and former cricketer, imran khan, was arrested in pakistan today. mr khan was cheered and hoisted in the air by several hundred students when he arrived, alone, on the campus of the university of the punjab to urge students to rise up against general musharraf. but his supporters were soon outnumbered by islamist protesters from the student wing of the jamaat-i-islami party, who bundled him into the nearby centre for high energy physics, held him incommunicado for an hour, then drove him off campus in a van and handed him over to police at the university gates. first crisis for george. should he call for his friend's release, and risk the ire of his jamaati allies in respect renewal? hat tip: tim in the comments posted by david t at 10:20 pm | comments (24) | trackback november 13, 2007 build institutions, not egos last week washington post columnist anne applebaum compared the american author john reed's breathless account of the 1917 bolshevik revolution with sean penn's and naomi campbell's breathless fawning over hugo chavez, and wrote: the western weakness for other people's revolutionary violence, the belief in the glamour and benevolence of foreign dictators, and the insistence on seeing both through the prism of western political debates, are still very much with us. this week applebaum offers an equally skeptical take on westerners like bill clinton (in the case of boris yeltsin) and george w. bush (in the case of georgian president mikheil saakashvili) who pin their hopes on dubious and flawed leaders to embody their efforts to promote democracy. indeed, in a single week, the president of georgia... saakashvili... probably did more damage to american "democracy promotion" than a dozen pervez musharrafs ever could have done. after all, no one expected much in the way of democracy from pakistan. but a surprising amount was expected of georgia -- a small, clannish, mountainous country wedged between russia and turkey -- expectations that have now vanished in the crowds of riot police and clouds of tear gas that saakashvili sent pouring out over the streets of tbilisi, breaking up street demonstrations there last wednesday. applebaum concludes: picking democratic "friends," it seems, is no easier than picking winning horses. we'd be better off building institutions, not egos. i hope that next time we will. posted by gene at 08:31 pm | comments (21) | trackback november 12, 2007 somaye zadeh, meet delaram ali lie number five: iran is an undemocratic and repressive country... any problems in iran can be and have been dealt with its own thriving democracy movement... in the case of women, the situation is not so black-and-white either. whilst there are restrictions of women, and nobody is denying that, the literacy rate amongst women is 98 percent in iran. and 64 percent of university students are women... iran has the only squad of female firefighters in the middle east, it has had a female champion race car driver, there are female lawyers, mps and judges... most of this is down the ability of the iranian women to fight, and the democracy movement they are a part of. --somaye zadeh, apologizing for the iranian regime at a stop the war coalition meeting on november 4, the iranian-canadian blogger arash kamangir wrote: delaram ali was arrested in june 2006, after she attended a peaceful protest against inequality of men and women in the iranian law. subsequently, she was sentenced to prison and lashes. read the rest from the official website of the iranian women’s rights movement. delaram ali, woman’s rights defender, … was sentenced to 2 years and 10 months prison term (which must be served in full) and 10 lashes, for her participation in a peaceful protest. the sentence, issued by judge salavati, … relied on … finding delaram guilty of propaganda against the state, sentencing her to a six month prison term, participation in the june 12th protest, sentencing her to a two-year prison term, and disruption of public order sentencing her to a 4 month prison term and 10 lashes (sources). in the latest development, her sentence was approved today [persian]. this is the latest press release from the group she is a member of, in an unprecedented and unexpected development delaram ali was sentenced to 2 years and 6 months and 10 lashing in appeals court…. delaram was beaten severely during this protest, dragged on the ground by several police officers and subsequently arrested... she suffered a broken arm as a result of these severe beatings. … in her original trial delaram was sentenced to 2 years and ten months prison term and 20 lashings, which was reduced to 2 years and 6 months and ten lashings in a ruling issued by the appeals court announced this morning. the courts have contacted delaram in regards to implementing her sentence by the end of the week. iranian women’s rights defenders appeal to the national and international community to take swift action condemning the unjust ruling of the court in the case of delaram ali. these pictures show delaram being dragged by a policewoman... would somaye zadeh consider the four-month and ten-lash reduction in delaram ali's sentence an example of "problems" in iran being dealt with by the "thriving democracy movement"? (hat tip: view from [outside] iran.) posted by gene at 03:09 am | comments (53) | trackback november 10, 2007 juan carlos to chavez: shut up you may or may not care for kings, but you have to admire someone who tells hugo chavez "¿por qué no te callas?" spain's king juan carlos told venezuelan president hugo chavez on saturday to "shut up" during closing speeches by leaders from the latin world that brought the ibero-american summit to an acrimonious end. "why don't you shut up?" the king shouted at chavez, pointing a finger at the president when he tried to interrupt a speech by spanish prime minister jose luis rodriguez zapatero. zapatero was in the middle of a speech to the summit of mostly leftist leaders from latin america, portugal, spain and andorra, and was criticizing chavez for calling former spanish prime minister jose maria aznar a fascist. and yes, i know juan carlos was chosen and groomed by generalissimo franco to be his successor. but after franco's death, he established his democratic credentials by legalizing the spanish communist party, giving up power to an elected government and, in 1981, thwarting an attempted military coup. so if any king has the right to tell chavez to shut up, it's juan carlos. (hat tip: fabian.) update: via daniel duquenal, here is a longer clip of the event. and here is a cnn report with english dubbing of parts of the confrontation. further update: daniel has an excellent post summing up a rather difficult week for chavez and his supporters. posted by gene at 09:28 pm | comments (244) | trackback edm against the persecution of iranian trade unionists whatever political party your mp belongs to, press them to sign the following early day motion which has been submitted on an all-party basis. it is important and self-explanatory. edm 141 persecution of iranian trade unionists 07.11.2007 anderson, david bottomley, peter brake, tom drew, david russell, bob vis, rudi that this house condemns the attempted assassination on 18th october 2007 of iranian trade union activist majid hamidi by three masked gunmen; notes that iranian labour activists are convinced that armed attacks of this type are done with the knowledge of the iranian government; shares their concern that this represents a considerable escalation in persecution of trade unionists, which they have called a colombianisation of the situation in iran; notes the continuing imprisonment of independent trade union activists such as mansour osanloo, leader of the tehran bus workers' union, as well as mahmoud salehi and ebrahim madadi, documented on the labour start website; and calls upon the uk government to press the international labour organisation to raise this issue as a matter of urgency with the iranian government. via harry barnes posted by david t at 09:27 pm | comments (12) | trackback november 07, 2007 yahoo still defends complicity in chinese dissident's arrest at a congressional hearing tuesday, the internet corporation yahoo continued to defend its role in ratting out a dissident journalist to chinese authorities. the journalist, shi tao, is now serving a 10-year prison term. “while technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies,” tom lantos, democrat of california and chairman of the house foreign affairs committee, said angrily after hearing from the two executives, jerry yang, the chief executive, and michael j. callahan, the general counsel. .... the committee is investigating statements mr. callahan made at a congressional hearing early last year. he said then that yahoo had no information about the nature of the chinese government’s investigation of mr. shi when the company turned over information about him in 2004. mr. callahan has since acknowledged that yahoo officials had received a subpoenalike document that referred to suspected “illegal provision of state secrets” — a common charge against political dissidents. last week mr. callahan issued a statement saying that he had learned the details of the document months after his testimony in february 2006 and that he regretted not alerting the committee to it once he knew about it. he reiterated that regret tuesday and contended that yahoo employees in china had little choice but to comply with the government’s demands. “i cannot ask our local employees to resist lawful demands and put their own freedom at risk, even if, in my personal view, the local laws are overbroad,” mr. callahan said. mr. callahan could not say whether there were outstanding demands from the chinese government for information from yahoo, or whether yahoo would react the same today to a demand for information from the chinese government. at a congressional hearing last year on us corporate complicity in china's repression of cyber-dissent, rep. chris smith of new jersey asked a perfectly reasonable question: "if the secret police a half-century ago asked where anne frank was hiding, would the correct answer be to hand over the information in order to comply with local laws?" posted by gene at 03:17 pm | comments (25) | trackback november 06, 2007 is chavez nearing his musharraf moment? some interesting recent developments in venezuela: hugo chavez's former defense mnister and close ally, raul isaias baduel, called chavez's efforts to rewrite the country's constitution "in practice a coup d'etat" and urged voters to reject it in a referendum next month. chavez in turn called baduel-- who stood by chavez during the 2002 coup and returned him to power-- a "traitor." meanwhile the chavistas' efforts on sunday to turn the masses out in support of chavez's "reform" plan appeared to be a less than overwhelming success. this despite the usual requirement for employees of government ministries to march or else. venezuelan blogger daniel duquenal wrote: as it is usual in time of chavismo troubles, their reply is to launch a march with all the necessary coercion for assistance. my s.o. was told simply that "el grupo" would meet at such place and at such time. from past experience that means my s.o. will have to march for at least half an hour until suddenly at some subway exit an escape route appears. not showing up is simply not an option. one (traitorous?) camera operator scanned the crowd as chavez spoke, revealing that-- aside from a few thousand people packed close to the stage-- the adoring masses were otherwise engaged or missing. the speech itself suggested that the opposition to his constitutional plans by university students, baduel and others, and the absence of huge and fervent crowds of supporters, is driving chavez into some kind of mental frenzy: on the middle class that lives in the east of caracas: "imagine a million people marching towards the east of caracas burning palm trees and other trees. we would be that million, not you, because you don't even reach one million. there would no stone left of this oligarchy without a fatherland" on the church that has opposed the proposed constitutional reform: "the cardinal and the bishops are leaving the same pile of shit. mr. cardinal you continue with the same pile of shit. ali primera used to say, don't look for the cardinal because god is happy with the revolution" on student marches: "next time you have to evaluate if you give them the permit to march, because you are going to give it to them so that they can come and burn downtown caracas. what government can be so weak to give a permit to some fascists that are threatening to burn cars with people inside?" on the leaders of the protests: "i have ordered to open case file on them…barreto, open cases against them…because they are looking for a dead body… what happened at the cne was planned. i am sure they were sorry nothing bad happened, but they want a bloody show. don't let yourselves (the students) be used to march like peasants to a bloodshed" on the media: "what is this conatel? what is this barreto, rodriguez and bernal? jesse chacon (minister of telecommunications). the tv stations call for a march with no point of return (sic) and nothing happens. apply the law. and if you don't dare do it, i sign it. each of us has to assume his own responsibility." on what may happen if he loses: "i prefer a peaceful outcome, but if for any reason i fail, i would go to the mountains of falcon, the plains of portuguesa, lara and the south of the orinoco. is that what they want? if i have to grab a rifle, i have no problem in ending my life like that" not exactly the words of someone confident of popular support and of democratic processes. i hope it's all his usual bluster, but i fear chavez is approaching his pervez musharraf moment. update: daniel duquenal reports on chavista thugs shooting at anti-"reform" university students returning from a demonstration wednesday. the associated press reports: photographers... saw at least four gunmen -- their faces covered by ski masks or t-shirts -- firing handguns at the anti-chavez crowd. terrified students ran through the campus as ambulances arrived. posted by gene at 10:46 pm | comments (104) | trackback november 04, 2007 musharraf clamps down on opposition; rice is "disappointed" pakistani general musharraf tightens his grip after declaring a state of emergency on saturday. about 500 opposition party workers, lawyers and human rights activists were arrested today as the government of general pervez musharraf tried to consolidate its control after imposing emergency rule. about a dozen privately run television news stations remained off the air, and international channels, including the bbc and cnn, were suspended. in the city of lahore, police officers armed with tear gas tried to break up a meeting of regime opponents at the headquarters of the pakistan human rights commission. they took dozens of people away in police vans. around the country, at least 80 lawyers were arrested, in an apparent bid to head off demonstrations that lawyers groups had planned for monday. the associated press reports: u.s. secretary of state condoleezza rice said sunday the u.s. will review its aid to pakistan after the country's military ruler suspended the constitution. her announcement puts in question some of the billions in u.s. assistance to a close terrorism-fighting ally. ..... the u.s. has provided about $11 billion to pakistan since 2001, when pakistan's president, gen. pervez musharraf, made a strategic shift to ally with the united states after the sept. 11 attacks. ..... "i'm disappointed in his decision, sure," rice said. "i think his decision sets pakistan back in the considerable progress it made toward democratic change." well, i suppose disappointment is better than nothing. but i liked the response of senator joe biden, who said, "i would be on the phone with musharraf making it clear to him that there's a price to pay if he does not rectify what he's just done." perhaps things now are as they are in pakistan in part because geroge bush, condoleezza rice and others in this administration have given musharraf a more-or-less free pass since september 11, 2001. posted by gene at 06:39 pm | comments (22) | trackback november 03, 2007 "no more mr. nice guy" in pakistan the new york times reports: the pakistani leader, gen. pervez musharraf, declared a state of emergency on saturday night, suspending the country’s constitution, blacking out all independent television news reports and filling the streets of the capital with police officers and soldiers. the move appeared to be an effort by general musharraf to reassert his fading power in the face of growing opposition from the country’s supreme court, civilian political parties and hard-line islamists. pakistan’s supreme court was expected to rule within days on the legality of general musharraf’s re-election last month as the country’s president, which opposition groups have said was improper. the emergency declaration was in direct defiance of repeated calls this week from senior american officials, including secretary of state condoleezza rice, not to do so. a day earlier, the senior american military commander in the middle east, admiral william j. fallon, told general musharraf and his top generals in a meeting here that declaring emergency rule would jeopardize the extensive american financial support for the pakistani military. ms. rice personally intervened twice in the past four months to try to keep general musharraf from imposing emergency rule, telephoning him at 2 a.m. pakistani time in august. on saturday, while traveling to turkey for an iraq security conference, she reinforced that message, saying, “i think it would be quite obvious that the united states wouldn’t be supportive of extra-constitutional means." my impression is that the words of ms. rice no longer strike any fear in the heart of general musharraf-- if they ever did. so now what? posted by gene at 08:00 pm | comments (18) | trackback october 30, 2007 mansour osanloo: sentenced to five years imprisonment bad news: commenting on news that iranian trade union leader mansour osanloo has been sentenced to five years imprisonment itf general secretary david cockroft said: “we have just heard that an injured, victimised trade unionist has been condemned to jail on charges that would be laughable if they weren’t so serious.” “for two years mansour osanloo has fought back against the iranian regime’s brutality. now they are trying to crush him with spurious accusations of endangering national security and criticising the regime. we know – the world knows – that mansour’s only crime in their eyes is to have asserted his right to belong to a trade union.” via the dstfw gene adds: and still no mention of osanloo or the tehran bus workers' struggle on the t&gwu website. if any of our readers are members of the union, or if they know anyone who is a member, could they contact t&gwu communications director andrew murray and ask why not? posted by david t at 07:37 pm | comments (9) | trackback october 29, 2007 "you didn't raise it today" last march, after linking to a the egyptian blogger sandmonkey's harrowing first-hand account of brutal repression at a small demonstration in cairo against the mubarak government, i wrote: it appears president bush's genuinely stirring second inaugural address ("all who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the united states will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. when you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you") is now null and void-- at least when it comes to putative allies. more evidence of this fact appeared in a review in sunday's washington post of a new book by glenn kessler about secretary of state condoleezza rice. the reviewer, rich lowry, writes: one of [rice's] first acts was to cancel a visit to cairo over the jailing of opposition figure ayman nour. egyptian president hosni mubarak promised competitive elections, nour was freed, and for a moment it seemed the administration's push for democracy in the middle east was bearing immediate fruit. you don't have to be a neo-con to enjoy reading about egypt's slick foreign minister, ahmed aboul gheit, struggling to find his footing with rice, who seemed to "scare" him, according to kessler. alas, he got the last laugh. he once begged rice not to mention nour in press conferences; by 2006 -- with the presidential election safely stolen and nour back in jail -- he could tweak her when she assured reporters that she always brought up nour's case with egyptian officials. "you didn't raise it today," a gleeful aboul gheit remarked. posted by gene at 06:57 pm | comments (12) | trackback october 24, 2007 venezuelan students protest proposed constitution despite the best efforts of the government, thousands of venezuelan university students marched in the rain on the national assembly in caracas to protest president chavez's plans for "constitutional reform," which would allow him to stand indefinitely for reelection. early tuesday, national guard troops blocked buses on the way to the demonstration. [carabobo university] student carlos azuaje said national guard troops stopped their autobuses claiming there was a traffic jam, but the troops allowed other autobuses, trucks, and cars to move. "i talked to a captain who did not provide his name and told me 'look, man, you are not passing through because that is the order we were given, and period,'" azuaje told reporters. in caracas police fired tear gas at protestors as they pushed through police lines. reuters reports: lawmakers in venezuela's national assembly, where chavez supporters hold all the seats, are rushing through a debate of the proposed constitutional rewrite to try to finished before the scheduled december referendum. the bbc reports: among the students' concerns about the erosion of civil liberties is the fear that the authorities will be allowed to detain citizens without charge during a state of emergency. mr chavez has dismissed criticism of the constitutional changes saying they are needed to accelerate venezuela's transition to socialism. daniel duquenal and miguel octavio have more. posted by gene at 04:38 pm | comments (72) | trackback october 18, 2007 look who's talking israel considered recalling its ambassador to belarus after the country's president made some antisemitic remarks in a press conference, the jerusalem post reports. alexander lukashenko was quoted as saying that the problems of the town bobruisk were caused by the actions of its jews. "it is a jewish town and the jews are not taking care of the town in which they live. look at israel, i was there and i saw for myself," said the president. lukashenko added that the situation in the town had improved only after the jews left, but called on the "jews who have money" to return to bobruisk. israel has some unsightly, decaying buildings (a reminder that not all jews are well-funded); but as israelis might say about lukashenko, he should talk. i mean, he can't even keep the buildings repaired in sight of the monument to a hero of his model social state: mr. red terror himself, felix dzerzhinsky. posted by gene at 09:02 pm | comments (17) | trackback october 12, 2007 "a bestiality that knows no limits" was che really talking about himself in this clip? guevara might have been enamored of his own death, but he was much more enamored of other people’s deaths. in april 1967, speaking from experience, he summed up his homicidal idea of justice in his “message to the tricontinental”: “hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine.” (source). still, while he may have been a mass-murderering maoist, he could do a better job of articulating 'anti-imperialism' than the burro below: and this is the great hope of the anti-imperialist left? (hat tip: lenin's tomb ) posted by shabba goy at 03:13 am | comments (300) | trackback the "moderate" former iranian president hashemi rafsanjani, chairman of the iranian assembly of experts-- whom some considered the "moderate" alternative to ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential election-- explained in a quds day sermon that the nazis wanted to expel the jews from europe because they were a "pain in the neck." the zionists, who constituted a strong political party in europe, caused much disorder there. since they had a lot of property and controlled an empire of propaganda, they made the european governments helpless. a lot of property? i guess that's another way of saying they were well-funded. argentine prosecutors have called for the arrest of the moderate rafsanjani in connection with the 1994 bombing of a jewish community center in buenos aires that killed 85. posted by gene at 02:23 am | comments (22) | trackback october 09, 2007 "why just columbia?" did preisdent ahmadinejad's humiliating appearance at columbia university in new york last month embolden the student opposition in iran? afp reports: iranian students staged a noisy protest against president mahmoud ahmadinejad at the country's top university in tehran on monday, likening him to the late chilean dictator augusto pinochet. riot police barred the group of about 100 chanting male and female students from leaving the tehran university campus, where ahmadinejad was giving a speech to mark the start of a new academic year, a witness told afp. "ahmadinejad is pinochet! iran will not become chile," the students shouted, the witness said. the demonstrators at iran's top academic institution were calling for the release of students detained since may for publishing writings considered insulting to islam, the semi-official fars news agency reported. ..... the demonstrating students briefly clashed with a rival group of supporters of the hardline president who shouted: "shame on you hypocrites! leave the university!" azarmehr links to a photo showing two of the signs carried by the demonstrators. the man's sign calls for the release of three tehran university students from prison. the woman's sign reads: "we have questions too, why just columbia?" and their questions would probably be a lot harder for ahmadinejad to deal with. posted by gene at 12:11 am | comments (3) | trackback october 08, 2007 iranian labor update hamid tehrani at global voices links to several farsi blogs with reports on a strike by thousands of unpaid, hungry sugar factory workers in the khuzestan province in iran. according to one report: the workers chanted, "our salary is our absolute right" (the iranian government's slogan is "nuclear energy is our absolute right"). tehrani also links to a video of imprisoned iranian labor leader mahmoud salehi handcuffed to a bed in a hospital where he was taken for an examination. posted by gene at 07:31 pm | comments (9) | trackback october 06, 2007 rough crossings london has become the european capital of sex-slavery apparently. earlier this year the joint lords and commons human rights committee estimated that more than 4000 women working as prostitutes in the uk had been smuggled into the country by trafficking gangs. i have lost count of the times our local rag has reported the bust of another “brothel” then added the almost obligatory story of illegal immigrants forced to work 24-hour shifts for up to five days at a time: having sex with up to 40 strangers a day. the (usually eastern-european) women having being brought to the british isles under the false impression that they would be working as a nanny or given another promised (and entirely mythical) job which would allow them to sample the "delights" of the west. apparently up to three quarters of london's currently active prostitutes were born abroad. all 55 police forces in the uk and the republic of ireland are currently taking part in a crackdown on trafficking named pentameter 2 (after a successful operation which took place last year and which rescued 80 women.) meanwhile, organisations such as the helen bamber foundation (run by a lifelong amnesty international member who was first awakened to human suffering whilst working at belsen camp in 1945) try to put a small sticking-plaster over the huge problem by helping rescued sex workers get over their trauma through psychotherapy and practical support. bamber states quite clearly that: in order to exploit women and trick them and betray them, you have to beat them into submission. this is no “belle de jour” world that we are dealing with here. the crown prosecution service said recently that "slave auctions" of women are actually taking place on the concourses of british airports. pimps bid for women as soon as they get off the plane. internationally as many as 1.1 million people, mostly women and children, are "trafficked" across borders and sold each year into slavery, according to the u.s. state department. the human traffickers use various methods to lure their victims, including the promise of a better life. surely even the most hard-hearted of us can accept that an 18 year old can be innocent, confused and naïve enough to accept such an offer (especially those without the advantages of a good education or a loving family. ) certainly not all trafficking is carried out with any consent whatsoever from the potential victims - the pattya daily news recently gave three examples of how young thai women were drugged and forced into sex trade against their will. in eastern european capitals sex-trafficking rings advertise in local newspapers offering nanny positions in the united states. some others claim to be scouting for models and actresses. many victims go through mexico en route to the usa. according to peter landesman writing in the ny times a couple of years ago: every day, flights from paris, london and amsterdam arrive at mexico city's international airport carrying up to seven eastern european women. officials at the airport in co-operation with elements of the mexican police force work with the traffickers and ''direct airlines to park at certain gates. officials go to the aircraft. they know the seat numbers. while passengers come off, they take the girls to an office, where officials will 'process' them.'' this is a truly international problem which becomes more ingrained and "normalised" with every passing year that nobody does anything about the corrupt policeman or airport official who "turns a blind eye" or ignores the blogger who tries to supplement his income by latching on to the dubious attractions of the sex industry in his adopted outpost. mexico for instance, is not just a stopover for eastern –european traffickers; the country makes its own contribution to the procurement of (often underage) prostitutes. mafia-like family associations of pimps called ''los lenones,'' run the show. according to landesman: the boys leave school at 12 and are given one or two girls their age to rape and pimp out to begin their training, which emphasizes the arts of kidnapping and seduction. throughout the rural and suburban towns from southern mexico to the u.s. border, along what traffickers call the via lactea, or milky way, the agents of los lenones troll the bus stations and factories and school dances where under-age girls gather, work and socialize. they first ply the girls like prospective lovers, buying them meals and desserts, promising affection and then marriage. then the men describe rumors they've heard about america, about the promise of jobs and schools. sometimes the girls are easy prey. most of them already dream of el norte. but the theater often ends as soon as the agent has the girl alone, when he beats her, drugs her or simply forces her into a waiting car. landesman also visited the area of mexico city where the “good time girls” are “taught” their trade: for the mexican girls abducted by los lenones, the process of breaking them in often begins on calle santo tomas, a filthy narrow street in la merced, a dangerous and raucous ghetto in mexico city. (...) when i first visited santo tomas, in late september, i found 150 young women walking a slow-motion parabola among 300 or 400 men. it was a balmy night, and the air was heavy with the smell of barbecue and gasoline. two dead dogs were splayed over the curb just beyond where the girls struck casual poses in stilettos and spray-on-tight neon vinyl and satin or skimpy leopard-patterned outfits. some of the girls looked as young as 12. their faces betrayed no emotion. (...) the men, who were there to rent or just gaze, didn't speak. from the tables of a shabby cafe midblock, other men -- also mexicans, but more neatly dressed -- sat scrutinizing the girls as at an auction. these were buyers and renters with an interest in the youngest and best looking. they nodded to the girls they wanted and then followed them past a guard in a yankees baseball cap through a tin doorway. most of the girls on santo tomas would have sex with 20 to 30 men a day; they would do this seven days a week usually for weeks but sometimes for months before they were ''ready'' for the united states. if they refused, they would be beaten and sometimes killed. they would be told that if they tried to escape, one of their family members, who usually had no idea where they were, would be beaten or killed. working at the brutalizing pace of 20 men per day, a girl could earn her captors as much as $2,000 a week. in the u.s., that same girl could bring in perhaps $30,000 per week. i don’t have any answers as to how you might even begin to put an end to this new version of the international slave trade. recent efforts have been made to suggest that criminalising men seeking sex might make a difference (police in canada for instance, plan to send letters to the homes of potential punters.) but this is surely pissing in the wind : rather like arresting a student smoking a joint in camden and hoping that colombian cocaine cartels eventually feel the “knock-on effect.” the transatlantic slave trade only ended because the royal navy was ubiquitous enough to hunt down rogue traders trying to traverse the ocean undetected. our modern slave trade will only be stopped when the world can bring itself to work together to expose the corrupt police departments, the traffickers and the pimps who live off exploitation and sex-tourism. even those who through some misguided sense of romantic "piracy" flirt with encouraging the trade in human misery should not be allowed to imply that what they are doing is in any way excusable. will anybody disagree that we should show zero-tolerance for the kind of scum who support and aid this kind of exploitation and violence? update in the comments soas student points us toward the helen bamber foundation's petition to ratify the council of europe convention on action against the trafficking in human beings. please sign it. posted by graham at 02:28 pm | comments (194) | trackback october 02, 2007 "conqueror - the world is yours" this guy is unbelievable. a dubai-based company conqueror real estate is standing by a decision to use adolf hitler in a national newspaper campaign in the united arab emirates. the ad, which places a picture of the nazi dictator next to the tagline "conqueror - the world is yours", ran in the national newspaper gulf news and provoked a string of complaints. but david dakak, general manager of conqueror real estate, said the ad had produced the desired effect and was part of the company's marketing strategy to provoke a response. dakak said: "i'm making business, i don't have any political opinion. he's a famous person -- bad or good, i don't care -- and i want to attract the attention of readers. and yesterday we had a lot of response. we had complaints, but it was one of the busiest days of the year too, so it has an affect." i'm not sure if this is a "dubai" thing or just the case of one guy and a moral vacuum. gene adds: and now "nazi" bedspreads, promoted with brochures featuring swastikas, are for sale in india. posted by gordon at 12:20 pm | comments (156) | trackback sugar factory workers in iran protest non-payment of wages daniel brett passes on the following news from the khuzestan province of iran: three thousand workers from the haft tapeh (saba atlal) sugar cane company held demonstrations outside the khuzestan provincial governor's office in shoush city (susa) on saturday demanding their wages. a protesting ahwazi arab worker told radio farda that "the islamic republic of iran helps palestine and arab countries, how come they have money to help them but they don't to pay us?" another worker believes that the currently the company management policy is "exhausting labours and encouraging them to leave the company in order to possess their lands." the workers intend to continue their peaceful demonstrations outside the governor's office. iran labour rights watch has more. posted by gene at 02:25 am | trackback october 01, 2007 bolivar and the buffoon a couple of interesting items via the venezuelan blog the devil's excrement: --venezuelan police removed a large banner quoting hugo chavez's hero and supposed role model simon bolivar, who said: “the continuation of the authority in the same individual frequently has been the end of democratic governments.” now that chavez is seeking the constitutional authority to extend his presidency indefinitely, i suppose some of el libertador's beliefs have become inconvenient. --after venezuela's ambassador to mexico accused the leftwing mexican author carlos fuentes of racism for criticizing chavez, fuentes responded that there are two buffoons in the continent, “one, the one from washington, is the most dangerous. the other, the one from caracas is the more ludicrous. ambassador chaderton demonstrates sadly, that he is only the buffoon of the buffoon, the servile rigoletto of the tropical cesar.” posted by gene at 05:59 pm | comments (71) | trackback we reject the repression, but... writing in the israeli newspaper yediot ahronot, sever plocker summarizes in a grimly amusing way the attitude of some american apologists to the visit of iranian president ahmadinejad to new york last week. posted by gene at 05:21 pm | comments (161) | trackback "a saudi hero is born" with a wind of change is seemingly blowing through hollywood, the times today carries a report on the saudi set film the kingdom, which following a test screening in london resulted in the lead arab actor in the post 9/11 revenge thriller getting a much bigger role. based very loosely on the may 1993 riyadh terrorist attack that killed 34, including eight americans, the kingdom tells the story of an islamic terror attack that sees more than 100 american contractors and their families murdered in saudi arabia. the americans, against the wishes of their saudi hosts, send in fbi agents led by jamie foxx and jennifer garner. a london audience (about one fifth muslim and hindu) saw an early cut of the film and part of the feedback was that the audience wanted to see more of the good saudi policeman played by christian arab israeli, ashraf barhom. david kosse, president of universal pictures international, said: "the audience loved him. after the screening we rounded out his character and put in more scenes with him in to heighten his personal story. "i can’t think of one in a mainstream hollywood film. i think it’s a significant cultural moment to have a character like that in a film like this." following the screening the character is now central to the plot and, although it is not a first, rounded middle eastern characters played by middle eastern actors are rare in hollywood. the film has been well received in the states and here by reviewers, although it has its critics some of whom have described it as over simplistic and more brawn than brains. kosse says that the film's producers (heat's michael mann) tried to be as accurate as possible in the "depiction of saudi society, from the precise details of dress to the rituals of family life". although one reviewer in a litany of complaints was particularly unhappy about garner's lack of a headscarf. oddly enough the bad guy in the movie is named after finsbury park's finest - muslim cleric abu hamza. and, like hook-handed hamza the film character has also lost part of his hand in an explosion. posted by gordon at 12:13 pm | comments (12) | trackback september 29, 2007 ahmadinejad invites bush to speak in iran in the comments to a post about iranian president ahmadinejad's appearance this week at columbia university in new york, i expressed skepticism that a university in tehran would ever invite george bush to speak. but according to the associated press, ahmadinejad has invited bush to speak at an iranian university "if the american leader ever traveled to the islamic republic." it's a propaganda bluff, of course, but if i were bush (shudder) i'd be inclined to call it. of course i'm not bush, and he won't call it. one thing i like about the idea of a barack obama presidency is that i could imagine him taking up such an offer and delivering one hell of a speech and-- if it was broadcast nationwide in iran-- actually creating popular momentum for regime change. which means, of course, that he would never be invited. posted by gene at 03:55 am | comments (91) | trackback september 28, 2007 václav havel on burma read him: for dozens of years, the international community has been arguing over how it should reform the united nations so that it can better secure civic and human dignity in the face of conflicts such as those now taking place in burma or darfur, sudan. it is not the innocent victims of repression who are losing their dignity, but rather the international community, whose failure to act means watching helplessly as the victims are consigned to their fate. the world's dictators, of course, know exactly what to make of the international community's failure of will and inability to coordinate effective measures. how else can they explain it than as a complete confirmation of the status quo and of their own ability to act with impunity? posted by david t at 10:55 am | trackback september 27, 2007 internal affairs the us and the european union wanted the council to consider imposing sanctions - rejected by both china and russia, who argue that the situation in burma is a purely internal matter. both vetoed a un resolution critical of the country's rulers in january. and when mr jones at number 33 smacks around mrs. jones after another night on the pop, that's between man and wife. and when it's discovered the local priest has been molesting half the choir, that's a matter for the church. and when we're told that one of the concerns about the decision to invade iraq is that it undermined the authority of the un security council, we're supposed to take that criticism seriously, right? wrong. nine killed in burmese crackdown posted by brownie at 04:56 pm | comments (136) | trackback september 26, 2007 "bloody crackdown" on burmese protestors the bbc reports: thousands of burmese buddhist monks and other protesters have been marching in rangoon despite a bloody crackdown by police. at least one death is reported. monks' shaved heads stained with blood could be seen at the shwedagon pagoda where police charged against protesters demanding the end of military rule. ... one unidentified person was shot dead and five received gunshot injuries, rangoon hospital sources told reuters news agency. a norway-based dissident radio station, the democratic voice of burma, said one monk was killed and several injured. analysts fear a repeat of the violence in 1988, when troops opened fire on unarmed protesters, killing thousands. in the united kingdom, gordon brown has called for a un security council meeting: the prime minister said: "the eu is going to look at a whole range of sanctions that could be imposed." mr brown said the burmese authorities would be "held to account". ... calling burma's government an "illegitimate and repressive regime", mr brown said: "the whole issue of sanctions is going to take on a new dimension. he also said: "i hope the security council will meet immediately - meet today - [to] discuss this issue and look at what can be done. "and the first thing that can be done is that the un envoy should be sent to burma." the envoy must "make sure that the burmese regime directly is aware that any trampling of human rights that takes place will have the whole eyes of the world upon them and will not be acceptable in future", mr brown added. the foreign secretary, david milliband, has also "warned that the ruling junta would be "held to account", with economic sanctions possible." the united states already operates sanctions against burma. will at dstfw links to this open democracy piece. posted by david t at 12:54 pm | comments (91) | trackback september 25, 2007 trade union rights worldwide the international trade union confederation has issued its 2007 annual survey of violations of trade union rights, covering 138 countries. i hope everyone will take some time to look it over-- and not just in a way to confirm pre-existing beliefs and biases. of course it's important to distingush between, one the one hand, countries where independent trade unions are outlawed and trade unionists are routinely murdered; and on the other hand, countries where the rights to union organizing, collective bargaining and striking are not protected as strongly as they should be. when it comes to actions against trade unionists, it's also important to distinguish between what governments do, what government allow, and what other elements are responsible for. but when it comes to trade union rights, no country has a spotless record. and whatever rights workers have are rarely the product of government beneficence-- they have to be struggled for. we've posted frequently at harry's place about trade union rights in iraq and iran-- and the ituf provides good summaries of the situations in those countries. but looking just at the western hemisphere, here are some countries that also deserve attention: --of all the trade unionists in the world, colombians continue to suffer the most most violence as a result of their union activities: there were dangerous signs of an increase in the systematic and selective violence against the unions, with 78 trade unionists murdered during the year, following a small decline in the last few years. impunity remained the main obstacle to the exercise of trade union rights in colombia this year too, given the involvement of paramilitary groups and national security officials in most of the assassinations of trade unionists in recent years. the education sector remains the most at risk in terms of violent acts, with a total number of 39 murders, i.e. 50 per cent of the total. the number of cases of harassment of trade unionists has also risen. one positive signal was the opening of an ilo permanent representation in colombia, as part of the tripartite agreement on freedom of association and democracy signed by the government, the union centres and the employers’ association. --if other countries have less violence against trade unionists, it may be partly because those countries simply forbid independent trade union activity in any form. the ituf reports on cuba: [w]here the single [government-controlled] trade union system persists, there is no genuine collective bargaining and the right to strike is not recognised in law. independent trade unionists continued to face persecution and seven of the trade unionists sentenced to lengthy prison terms in 2003 remained behind bars. humanitarian aid destined for them and their families was confiscated by the authorities. another trade unionist arrested in 2004 also stayed in prison. --venezuelan president hugo chavez claims to be on the side of the workers and the downtrodden. but the ituf reports that in venezuela: the interference of the national electoral council (cne) in trade union elections continued to undermine trade union activity. the reform of the regulation on the organic labour act (lot) addressed some of the observations made by the [international labor organization]. there were dismissals for involvement in trade union action in both the public and private sectors and a number of workers were arrested for the same reason. according to the ituf's account of this event, "six workers were injured and another six arrested following violent police intervention at a demonstration held by cvg (corporación venezolana de guayana) factory workers in november 2006. firearms and teargas were used to disperse the crowd." no word if president chavez expressed outrage at the police's behavior. --finally, when it comes to trade union rights, the usa has had relatively little to be proud of in recent years-- especially since the election of george bush in 2000: effective union busting campaigns mean that many union organising attempts fail despite initial support from a majority of workers. over 30 million workers are still denied basic collective bargaining rights by law, including 40 per cent of federal public sector workers. millions more were deprived of organising and bargaining rights in 2006 following an national labour relations board ruling that vastly expanded its interpretation of the term "supervisor". the employee free choice act, which would have protected the right of workers to organize without employer harrassment, had the support of majorities in both houses of congress this year, but failed because of a republican-led senate filibuster. meanwhile, the ituf reports: the ongoing "war on terrorism" has been used as a pretext to significantly roll back labour rights for employees of the u.s. government. in 2003, congress authorised two departments, defence and homeland security, to create a new system for resolving labour-management disputes for the next six years. it stipulated, however, that any new system maintain the right of employees to join unions and the right of unions to bargain collectively. both departments misused this authorisation to propose a new labour relations system that virtually eliminated collective bargaining... the approximately 56,000 airport screeners who work for the transportation security administration (tsa) have no rights of freedom of association or collective bargaining by virtue of a federal government order stating that they “shall not, as a term or condition of their employment, be entitled to engage in collective bargaining or be represented for the purpose of engaging in such bargaining by any representative or organisation." the bush administration opposes bargaining rights for tsa workers and other employees of the department of homeland security on the grounds of "national security." but as john gage, president of the american federation of government employees, wrote in response to a wall street journal editorial against bargaining rights: the 9/11 first responders -- police officers and firefighters -- are the most highly unionized workers in the country and were on the scene without giving a thought to clearing it with the union. additionally, u.s. border patrol, immigration and customs enforcement and capitol police all protect this nation -- and all have bargaining rights. it is an insult to these men and women to insinuate that they are unable to do their jobs to the best of their abilities. and an insult especially to 343 members of the uniformed firefighters' association of greater new york, whose union cards and bargaining rights did not prevent them from charging into the soon-to-collapse buildings of the world trade center on september 11, 2001. posted by gene at 10:08 pm | comments (151) | trackback the power and the glory given the criticism it has been receiving in recent times, events in burma are a timely reminder that religion can indeed be a power for good. from latin american priests to burmese monks, religious figures have been at the forefront of battles against tyranny throughout the ages. religious faith has led many more to freedom than it has ever convinced to self-immolate amongst the innocent. posted by brownie at 11:24 am | comments (159) | trackback september 24, 2007 ahmadinejad: iran is homosexual-free the big revelation of president ahmadinejad's appearance at columbia university on monday is that there are no homosexuals in iran. asked about widely documented government abuse of women and homosexuals in his country, ahmadinejad said, "we don't have homosexuals" in iran. "i don't know who told you we had it," he said. perhaps it would have been more accurate to say that his government is trying to ensure that there are no homosexuals in iran. ahmadinejad gave mealy-mouthed answers to questions about his attitude toward israel and the holocaust. as i rather hoped he would, columbia president lee bollinger, in his introduction, took the opportunity to verbally slam the iranian leader: "mr. president, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator," bollinger said to applause from many of the 600 people in the room for a speech from the iranian leader. he cited the iranian government's "brutal crackdown" on dissidents, public executions, executions of minors and other actions. and bollinger assailed ahmadinejad's "denying" of the holocaust as "ridiculous" and "dangerous propaganda." he called the iranian leader either brazenly provocative "or astonishingly uneducated." "the truth is that the holocaust is the most documented event in human history," he said. he said he doubted ahmadinejad would show the intellectual courage to answer the questions before him. who will be the first to accuse bollinger of warmongering? update: haaretz reports: by monday noon, tensions [at columbia] were running high. iranian and socialist counter protest groups were reportedly ripping down posters against the event, and replacing them with posters reading "ahmanidejad = bad, bush = worse," and "iran was one of the first countries to publicly denounce 9/11." i wonder who these groups were. another poster read: "jewish people have their own synagogue." excuse me? further update: the iranian blogger kamran ashtary (now living in the usa) writes: listening to ahmadinejad talk at columbia university a couple of hours ago made me wonder why they don't have an iranian ask him questions? the president of columbia university promised to blast hard questions at the iranian president. but the questions asked, like those asked by many others, were a bit soft. the answers were predictable. an iranian cab driver would know how to ask questions that would make ahmadinejad squirm. posted by gene at 08:34 pm | comments (121) | trackback september 23, 2007 a change is gonna come the pro-democracy demonstrations in burma are nearing critical mass and it does appear that the country could be about to enter a momentous period in its history. here's hoping. oscar wilde: “the only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes. change is the one quality we can predicate of it. the systems that fail are those that rely on the permanency of human nature, and not on its growth and development. the error of louis xiv was that he thought human nature would always be the same. the result of his error was the french revolution. it was an admirable result.” let's hope than shwe's ancien régime goes the same way. go here for more information. posted by brownie at 10:23 pm | comments (20) | trackback got a problem with iran? shut up, you warmonger! if, when he speaks to the un general assembly this week, argentine president nestor kirchner dares to mention iran's failure to help in the investigation of the 1994 bombing of the jewish community center in buenos aires, it will be a sign that argentina supports a war against iran. that, at any rate, is what tehran's top diplomat in argentina said. "for our country, this assembly is very important, it will show which countries are for or against war. it is possible that if president kirchner accuses iran, many countries will interpret argentina as being for war," mohsen baharvand [said]. of course, as we're frequently reminded (and not just by the iranian government), anyone these days who publicly denounces the iranian regime for any reason obviously supports a war against iran. don't like iran's refusal to cooperate in an investigation that points to its involvement in the murder of 85 argentinians? got problems with iran's repression of women, gays, students and trade unionists? it seems you'd better shut up about it if you don't want to be accused of warmongering. iranian president ahmadinejad is scheduled to speak monday at columbia university in new york. i have no objection to his doing so, as long as audience members are free to ask him whatever they like (which i understand they will be). but consider this gutless statement by the columbia coalition against the war, opposing planned demonstrations against ahmadinejad (via commenter flanker): a number of students and student organizations have already announced plans for a protest rally the same day. we are not among them. we do not endorse ahmadinejad or his views, many of which are inexcusable. however, as opponents of a us military strike against iran, we have serious concerns with the content of some of the hostility that has been expressed to his presence, and specifically with the planned protest. we fear the demonization of ahmadinejad, because we think this demonization contributes to the likelihood of war. in the current climate, with many on the political right in the u.s. and israel pushing for air strikes, a campaign against ahmadinejad is dangerous, regardless of the intentions of most involved. a call to action, unless it prominently rules out war, implies military action. so it seems that if you don't loudly proclaim your opposition to war every time you criticize ahmadinejad and company, it means you want war. the effect of all this, intentional or not, is to render as suspect any sort of public criticism of the regime. on the whole, it's a position i'm sure the iranian regime (as opposed to the iranian people) appreciates very much. posted by gene at 04:05 am | comments (198) | trackback september 14, 2007 crackdown "if you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face--for ever." --o'brien in orwell's nineteen eighty-four in the iranian regime's continuing crackdown on all forms of political and social dissent, police in the city of karaj arrested young people as part of a nationwide “plan to eradicate corruption.” in an obvious effort to spread fear, the regime published photos of the arrests in the state media. o'brien was wrong, of course. at some point the people of iran will push back. (hat tip: mick hartley.) update: i don't know what, if anything, the young people in karaj did to provoke their arrests in this instance. but here's a reminder from last month of what kind of behavior can get you arrested in karaj these days: iranian police said on thursday they have arrested 20 young people in a raid on party in the city of karaj outside tehran, the site of an illegal rock concert last week where 230 were detained. police colonel majid bazmun told the state irna news agency that police surrounded the building where the "decadent gathering" was taking place after acting on a tip-off from a member of the public. "all the people who attended the party were arrested by the police forces. the case will be handed over to the judiciary when the investigation has been completed," he added. the latest action come a week after police arrested 230 people in a raid on a "satan-worshipping" underground rock concert in karaj, in one of the biggest such arrests in recent months. posted by gene at 10:03 pm | comments (108) | trackback september 13, 2007 "a billion-and-a-half muslims" some of you may be familiar with abdel bari-atwan, the clownish editor of the london-based arabic newspaper al-quds al-arabi, and regular sky and bbc news pundit. mr bari-atwan was the fellow who appeared on lebanese tv a couple of months ago to discuss iran's nuclear capability, and announced his intention to "go to trafalgar square and dance with delight" if iranian missiles hit israel. if he's talking about nuclear missiles, i suppose he'd have to. there wouldn't be much left of gaza to dance in if they did. he also claims that arafat told him that he only signed the oslo accords in order to "turn this agreement into a curse" for the israelis. that certainly explains why they didn't turn out as well as many had hoped. here's a little story from the australian about the fellow: a palestinian journalist has warned of a muslim backlash over the failure of australian authorities to grant him a visa in time to speak at today’s brisbane writers festival. abdel bari-atwan, a best-selling author and among the last western journalists to interview osama bin laden, was cancelled as a speaker at the festival yesterday as he waited for his visa application to be processed … "i believe this is a deliberate delay because i am an arab and a muslim," atwan said. "it is ridiculous. i am not a terrorist, i am not a drug dealer, i am dealing in words and thoughts." ... he said his visa problems would air throughout the muslim world. “this could, in fact, incite trouble for australia because there are a billion-and-a-half muslims over the world and this will be publicised among those people,” he said. “they are not serving the australian peoples’ interests, they are not serving australian security, they are actually doing the opposite." mr bari-atwan submitted his via application less than a month ago. why do some people think that threatening a country with "trouble" at the hands of "a billion-and-a-half muslims over the world" is endearing? isn't it rather pathetic? (via tim blair) posted by david t at 10:49 am | comments (99) | trackback september 11, 2007 speaking truth to power? if i meet a powerful man, i ask five questions: what power have you got? where did you get it from? in whose interests do you exercise it? to whom are you accountable? and, how can i get rid of you? --tony benn, july 2002 in his sycophantic 2003 "interview" with saddam hussein, of course, tony benn asked no such questions. but they are excellent questions which anyone who purports to be a brave truthteller ought to ask powerful men and women at every opportunity. take three brave truthtellers who have met the syrian dictator bashar al-assad. george galloway: "i was very impressed by his knowledge, by his sharpness, by his flexible mind. i was very, very impressed… syria is lucky to have bashar al-assad as her president." clare short: "he is a charming and open man who, for a long time, was not going to be president and therefore took on the style of an ordinary western citizen. he is very popular in his country because he does not have a grandiose or fine-living style. he is keen to deliver significant reform in syria, to open up the country and to improve the economic opportunities of the people, but he made it clear that the situation in the region made that difficult. shortly after he took over, there was what has been called a "damascus spring"—a sort of opening up. it is difficult to continue such reforms when there is such bitter division all around and organised extreme islamist groups in the region. "the president stressed that the syrian regime is secular and takes a tough line against islamist insurgents, but that it was keen to work with others to help to stabilise the situation in iraq. he deeply regretted the fact that the uk did not have, as he put it, an independent foreign policy." dennis kucinich: "it was a very good meeting. it was a meeting where president assad showed a real desire to play a role in helping to create a peaceful settlement of the conditions in iraq, as well as a grander approach towards creating peace. so it was a very important meeting, and i felt honored to have the chance to speak with him... "and i'll tell you, president assad, today, indicated a very strong interest in playing a role to help bring about stability in iraq, and the fact of the matter is - whether the bush administration wants to admit it or not – that president assad is actually helping by providing a sanctuary in which iraqi refugees can come... and it also shows that here is a man, president assad, who should be respected and appreciated for the role that he has played." well, there's no record that they used the opportunity of a face-to-face meeting to ask the dictator any of tony benn's questions either. but surely they did. didn't they? consider, by refreshing contrast, senator (and democratic presidential candidate) joe biden's account of his meeting with libyan leader moammar qadaffi: "he starts talking about the green book, like mao's little red book. and he said, 'we're an athenian democracy, the people make the decisions in the neighborhoods, in the streets, in the dah-duh-dah-duh-dah.' and i said, 'that is really fascinating. that means they can vote you out of office then, right?' and that was the only time there was any animation. he said, 'no, i started the revolution.' and i said, 'you know, we had a revolution. we had a guy like you. his name was george washington.' and i said, 'we kicked him out after eight years.'" i'm glad somebody actually does what benn only claims to do. posted by gene at 06:37 pm | comments (61) | trackback september 10, 2007 kinder, gentler, cuter repression chinese security officials have created these adorable little cartoon figures to remind internet users that they are being monitored. reuters reports: the virtual officers, a man and a woman, "will appear either on motorcycles, in a car or on foot, at the bottom of users' computer screens every 30 minutes to remind them of internet security," the china daily said. the two will monitor major news portals and all web sites and online forums based in beijing from this saturday. "they will be on the watch for web sites that incite secession, promote superstition, gambling and fraud," an official with the beijing municipal public security bureau was quoted as saying. the newspaper did not explain how the two officers would monitor sites or enforce laws, but said users could click on the pop-up icons to link to an internet surveillance centre where infractions could be reported. china already keeps a close watch on the internet and media and will interrupt signals from the likes of cnn or bbc and black out television screens if a sensitive topic, such as tibet, taiwan or media freedom, comes up. posted by gene at 01:38 pm | comments (34) | trackback israel faces up to neo-nazi gang at first it seems almost too sick for words, but israel has come along way since 1948 and a year before it celebrates its 60th anniversary it has to deal with this as a new generation of israelis contains among it the same neo nazis who are sadly found all around the world. the irony is probably lost on this neo-nazi cell that has been carrying out attacks on religious jews, homosexuals, drug addicts and workers, in a case that has shocked the jewish state. according to a report in the times the young men, who are part of the soviet jewish influx, had nazi tattoos and allegedly celebrated adolf hitler’s birthday. the russian israelis many of whom are not jews moved to israel under the law of return. the arrests were made after a year-long investigation that began when vandals daubed swastikas and hitler’s name on synagogues in petah tikva, near tel aviv. the anti semitic attacks mirror those taking place across russia and eastern europe. "the tragic irony in this is that they would have been chosen for annihilation by the nazis they strive to emulate," said arieh o’sullivan, a spokesman for the anti-defamation league, which targets cases of anti-semitism. the times reports that israeli media published videotapes that the group of eight men, aged between 16 and 21, had made of themselves, showing them giving the nazi salute and kicking a victim to the ground in a subway. the news has caused shock and led to calls for a tightening of the regulations that have allowed large numbers of residents of the former soviet union, as well as many ethiopians of jewish descent, to become israeli citizens. the call was made by the ultra-orthodox trade and industry minister eli yishai, who said: "we have to rid ourselves of this satan who lives in the heart of israel." a change to the law of return will cause much soul searching in israel. the law of return is based on the nazi definition of what constitutes a jew: if a person was considered jewish enough to be murdered by the nazis they were jewish enough to live in israel. but israel has come a long way in 60 years and this small bunch of fascists is only one of the questions that israel has to deal with. posted by gordon at 10:36 am | comments (63) | trackback september 03, 2007 disgusting racism in switzerland switzerland's largest political party is collecting signatures for a referendum that would deport immigrant families if their children are convicted of a violent crime, drug offenses or benefits fraud. the not-so-subtle message of the campaign is clear from this poster, proclaiming "create security" (that's ueli maurer, president of the swiss people's party, smiling below). i assume that as a matter of equity, a similar sort of penalty (revocation of citizenship? internal exile?) will be imposed on native swiss families whose children are convicted of the same crimes. what's that? never mind. ronnie bernheim of the swiss foundation against racism and anti-semitism said the proposal was similar to the nazi practice of "sippenhaft" — or kin liability — whereby relatives of criminals were held responsible for his or her crimes and punished equally. (hat tip: inna.) posted by gene at 03:02 am | comments (136) | trackback chavez's world-class whatabouttery some of our comments-box practitioners could learn a thing or two from a master. rory carroll of the guardian reports from venezuela: the question landed on hugo chávez's desk with a thud and he paused to inspect it. his nose wrinkled, as if the caribbean which lapped metres away had thrown up something unpleasant. it was a rare moment of silence in a seven-hour talkathon and did not last long. venezeula's president hurled the question back out to sea, far over the horizon, and turned it into a harangue against europe, the british navy, the queen, racism, imperialism and that embodiment of old world vice, the guardian. by the end of it, mr chávez had urged the caribbean to reconsider membership of the commonwealth, latin america to recover the falklands, and this newspaper, which he named about a dozen times, to stir republican sentiment in britain. "in europe they still talk about the 'discovery' of america. never has a european journalist asked our opinion about the arrival of christopher columbus. 'cultured' europe, and us the barbarians. what cynicism!" what prompted the ire was a guardian query about a draft constitution and its most contentious provision: the abolition of presidential term limits to allow mr chávez to run again when his period in office expires in 2012. given that he had ruled out a similar change for governors and mayors, on the grounds that they might become corrupt in power, why risk it with the president? ..... the carnival mood curdled when mr chávez was asked about term limits. "why don't they ask for a referendum in the caribbean [commonwealth] islands and ask people if they want the queen to be their head of state? why doesn't the guardian make an investigation in britain about the monarchy?" he asked. there was no chance to explain that the paper has advocated republicanism. "in the name of the latin american people, i demand that the british government return the malvinas islands to the argentinian people." and this breathtaking, you-couldn't-make-it-up conclusion: later, his voice softer, mr chávez said he needed to be able to run again because venezuela's socialist revolution was like an unfinished painting and he was the artist. giving the brush to someone else was risky, "because they could have another vision, start to alter the contours of the painting". other officials were not responsible for the big picture and so did not need to run again and again, he said, looking at a row of governors and mayors. "nothing personal." they smiled wanly and applauded. (hat tip: daniel at venezuela news and views.) posted by gene at 01:03 am | comments (103) | trackback august 22, 2007 more on london's 'oil for jams' scandal yesterday, i complained about the deal whereby chavez gave livingstone a generous discount on oil for london's buses, and in return livingstone is sending urban planning and transportation 'experts' to caracas. to summarise, i think that the "oil for expertise" swap is inspired. it is an excellent idea. just not with london. i think it is a scandal that the richest city in the world accepts subsidies from a poor developing country, and what's more, i don't believe london has even has the appropriate expertise to offer in return. i mean, didn't london have to bring in outside help itself? and didn't that end in tears? my feeling is that a swap with a city like johannesburg would be far more mutually beneficial. but i don't want to rehash yesterdays discussion - comments are still open there. but something else has been bothering me about this deal. it started with trying to work out how £70m in benefits could be bought for £16m (see 'update' on the previous post), and i confess i'm confounded by this. but then i got to thinking: 'wait a moment, who is paying for the gla's caracas office?' according to the financial times, "in return, london is establishing an office in caracas, venezuela's capital, that will school officials there in techniques of traffic management and urban planning." in order to set up this office, london is going to have to hire staff - both 'experts' and support staff - pay them salaries, pay for their relocation, rent premises, furnish said premises and install it and telecommunications, plus travel allowances, security, insurance, wages for local people employed, and all the baggage that goes with running a foreign office. my question is: who is paying for this, and what proportion of the £16m 'subsidy' is this consuming? if the mayor's office has surplus cash to open a branch-office in caracas - and there was an urgent need to provide cheap fares to the poor - how come this cash surplus was never considered? isn't it actually all smoke and mirrors? imagine this scenario: i have saved up £1000 but i don't really feel justified spending it on a new wide-screen tv. so i sell you my car and use the proceeds from the sale to buy the tv, and then use the £1000 i originally had to buy a car. boy do i feel good i didn't waste my £1000 savings on a silly tv. the fact that the costs of setting up shop in caracas weren't published (or even alluded to) in the pr about this deal, makes me think that this economic 'smoke and mirrors' is exactly what we're dealing with! in short, they're giving us discounts on oil calculated at £16m per annum. we are giving them services of indeterminate (and unmentionable) value in return, and somehow extracting benefits worth almost five times the value of that £16m gross on top of that? just who is the bookkeeper? oliver north? can someone explain? posted by brett at 10:43 am | comments (102) | trackback august 21, 2007 who do you think you are kidding mr putin? last seen heading for lincolnshire posted by graham at 08:56 pm | comments (24) | trackback carpetbagging for oil some might say that ken livingstone, mayor of london, and hugo chavez, venezuelan jr ewing, share a certain chemistry. well, ken has taken his medicine show to caracas and put this alchemy to astounding use: he has actually succeeded in turning lead into gold - metaphorically speaking. the financial times reports that chavez has agreed to use venezuelan oil money to subsidise bus travel for the poor... of london! and what does he get in return? london will open an office in caracas to "school officials there in techniques of traffic management and urban planning." bwahahahahahaha!!! is this a joke? where to start!? london is one of the top three city economies in the world (alongside new york and tokyo) with a gdp of around us$660 billion. this is almost a third of the uk's total gdp. in contrast, venezuela has a gdp of only us$176.4 billion, almost entirely based on oil reserves. in other words the the entire country of venezuela's gdp is only a quarter of the city of london. expressed per capita, the uk's gpd is just shy of us$32 000, while the per capita income of a venezuelan is less than a fifth of that. in fact 35% of venezuela's population live below the poverty line. so why the hell is london, one of the richest cities in the world and the capital of the world's 5th largest economy, accepting money for subsidies from one of the worlds poorer countries and extracted from their only major natural resource? it's scandalous! worse, according to the mayor's press release, the subsidy will be financed by means of a 20% discount in oil supplied by venezuela to london's bus fleet. but according to the footnotes of the press release, this results in a less than 1% overall saving in the cost of running london's buses. but wait! in return they're getting advice on traffic management and urban planning.. from london!? oh for fuck's sake! trading urban planning and traffic management with johannesburg in return for subsidised public transport - now there's an idea, mr chavez. there's a deal that would actually be mutually beneficial. but london? london, with it's pokey little streets and convoluted one-ways, spider-webbing through its clogged arteries to the the london orbital car park? with its city planning manual that was written by the tudors! sorry, hugo - while you've been distracted by shutting down tv stations and securing indefinite re-election, you've been hoodwinked by our carpetbaggers. there's a reason we're so rich, you know. as livingstone says, "when someone turns up and says: 'do you want £14m?' they get my attention." but after they got his attention, what else did they get for their money? update: i knew something was bugging me about the mayor's press release. it says that 250,000 londoners will benefit and that the benefit is the equivalent of £280 a year. but if a quarter of a million people get bus discounts worth £280 per annum, surely it means the total cost is £70,000,000 - more than quadruple the 'subsidy' from chavez? what am i missing? are there any accountants in the house? posted by brett at 11:39 am | comments (102) | trackback august 16, 2007 boy dies in sugar stampede as leaders sugar-coat mugabe a teenage boy and a security guard were trampled to death in zimbabwe, reports the mail & guardian, as shoppers stampeded in an effort to buy sugar and other foodstuffs. the had been queuing since 6am. the reason for this latest shortage has been yet another one of robert mugabe's idiotic and economically illiterate schemes. the m&g explains: a government order slashing prices of all goods and services by about half in june has led to acute shortages of cornmeal, bread, meat, petrol and other basic commodities. the price cuts led to panic buying and hoarding. meanwhile, says the times, "despite more evidence of an economic meltdown within zimbabwe, with inflation now up to 9,000 per cent, leaders of the surrounding african nations today greeted robert mugabe with cheers, applause and laughter as he arrived at a regional summit and refused to make any kind of stand against the president." in contrast, the zimbabwean newspaper, run by exiled journalists publishing from the uk reveals that inside zimbabwe, emperor mugabe's new clothes don't seem so snappy. in an editorial, they say: "howls of laughter at last! this week's front page story about junior officers booing army and air force supremos chiwenga and shiri is extremely encouraging news. at last, the number of zimbabweans brave enough to show the zanu (pf) fatcats that they no longer believe their stupid promises, nor are afraid of their power, seems to be increasing. no longer are the few courageous woza, moza and nca supporters alone in their battle against the mugabe regime - its lies, its thieving and its injustice." before some of the usual suspects arrive to say that the zimbabwean opposition press is conrolled by racist whites, let me introduce you to wilf mbanga, editor of the zimbabwean. i profiled him about a year or so for rhodes journalism review - a southern african media journal. posted by brett at 06:40 pm | comments (57) | trackback august 15, 2007 revolutionary guards join terror list the washington post and new york times are reporting that the us is preparing to "designate" iran's revolutionary guards as a foreign terrorist organisation allowing it to target the organisation's finances among other things. the guards work independently of iran's armed forces and have long been connected to many terror organisations in the middle east most notably hezbollah in the lebanon and hamas in the gaza. more recently the us and britain have accused iran of using them in iraq and afghanistan to supply the insurgents and taliban with weapons and training. that said this move is a provocative one as the guards are still an officially sanctioned unit of the iranian state even if they are more a clerics private army. secretary of state condoleezza rice is said to be behind the move, according to the new york times. the ny times says that in taking aim at the guards, the administration is also trying to divide iran's population. during his news conference on thursday, president bush addressed the iranian people directly. "my message to the iranian people is, 'you can do better than this current government,' " mr. bush said. " 'you don’t have to be isolated. you don't have to be in a position where you can’t realize your full economic potential.' " a us official familiar with the plan told the washington post anonymously: "anyone doing business with these people will have to reevaluate their actions immediately. it increases the risks of people who have until now ignored the growing list of sanctions against the iranians. it makes clear to everyone who the irgc and their related businesses really are. it removes the excuses for doing business with these people." officially dubbed the islamic revolution guards corps they number 125,000 and were formed after the 1979 revolution and are loyal to the clerics. notable alumni include current iran president ahmadinejad. as well as everyday terror and murder, the guards are said to run many businesses and other ventures, the post reports: "they are heavily involved in everything from pharmaceuticals to telecommunications and pipelines -- even the new imam khomeini airport and a great deal of smuggling," said ray takeyh of the council on foreign relations. "many of the front companies engaged in procuring nuclear technology are owned and run by the revolutionary guards. they're developing along the lines of the chinese military, which is involved in many business enterprises. it's a huge business conglomeration." the news follows talks on tuesday between, ahmadinejad and president hamid karzai where the iranian said that he was "fully supporting" afghanistan's government. with support like that who needs enemies. posted by gordon at 01:52 pm | comments (108) | trackback august 14, 2007 pakistan tries to crush the people of baluchistan today pakistan celebrates its 60th anniversary of independence. but baluchistan is the dark underside of pakistan independence, argues peter tatchell in this guest post. pakistan, he says, is now colluding with the taliban to crush the baluch people’s struggle for freedom. pakistan is escalating its war against the people of baluchistan. in recent years, thousands have been jailed, tortured or killed. military operations have included the use of chemical weapons. nearly 100,000 baluch people have been made refugees in their own land. pakistan ignores their plight; refusing to allow the un and international aid agencies to assist these displaced persons. simultaneously, the islamabad imperialists are stripping baluchistan of its vast natural resources of gas, oil, coal, copper and gold, which include an estimated 19 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves and six trillion barrels of oil reserves on-shore and off-shore. despite this fabulous wealth, the people of baluchistan live in abject poverty. much of the population is malnourished and illiterate, living in squalid housing with no electricity or clean drinking water. to subjugate and pacify baluchistan, islamabad is working on a sinister plan to colonise the region with ethnic punjabis (the largest and dominant ethnic group in pakistan). the aim is to make the baluch people a minority in their own homeland, as happened to the native americans in the us and the aboriginals in australia. this has already been achieved in major cities like quetta, where colonist settlers, mostly punjabis, now predominate. cultural imperialism is another weapon in pakistan’s bid to subjugate baluchistan. isalamabad believes it has a sacred duty to ‘civilise’ the ‘uncivilised’ baluch; to transform them into ‘good pakistani muslims'. it has imposed an alien language, urdu, on the baluchi-speaking people. urdu is now the compulsory language of instruction in educational institutions. the cultural conquest of baluchistan also involves the islamification of the traditionally more secular baluch nation. a large number of religious schools have been funded by the pakistani state, with a view to imposing pakistan’s harsher, more narrow-minded interpretation of islam. this 'colonisation of the mind' through language and religion is a strategy for the erosion of baluch national identity and aspirations, according to baluch nationalist, dr. naseer dashti: “replacing a traditional belief and social system of a people by an alternative frame of reference often amounts to changing the entire identity of a people,” he suggests. “as the distinct secular identity of baluch….is a vehicle of nationalist aspirations, these efforts were used as a means of diminishing political resistance to domination and subjugation.” the pakistani contempt for the baluch people is evident in the way they have used baluchistan - not the punjab - as their nuclear testing ground, staging five atomic tests at chagai in 1998. since then, there have been an unusually high number of deaths of livestock and nomads. locally-grown food now tastes strange, water supplies have become contaminated and there has been a significant increase in skin diseases, mental disorders and physical deformities in new-born infants. pakistan is an oppressed nation turned oppressor nation. a former colony of the british empire, it now adopts similar imperial tactics to persecute and exploit the baluch people – and the people of other provinces such as sindh and north west frontier. to maintain its iron grip on baluchistan, the pakistani military is building three new garrisons at kohlu, dera bugti and gwader. this expanded military presence is evidence that the baluch people are putting up serious resistance to islamabad’s colonial rule. what has been the response of the international community and the left? only silence and inaction. no solidarity. they have allowed the baluch people to be suppressed; ignoring their right to self-determination. since the us is not doing the killing, the anti-war movement doesn’t care. if westerners were massacring muslims, the islamists and their far left apologists would be up in arms. but when pakistani muslims slaughter baluch muslims, they don’t give a damn. pakistani repression is nothing new. after a century as a british protectorate, baluchistan declared its independence in 1947. it was a short-lived freedom. within a year, pakistan invaded and annexed the new nation. when the british granted independence to india and pakistan on 14 august 1947 baluchistan secured its independence as a separate entity from pakistan, as it was never a part of the british indian empire. both houses of the baluchistan parliament rejected the idea of joining pakistan. but under threat of being arrested by pakistan army, as some of his ancestors had been arrested during the british colonial era, baluchistan’s ruler, mir ahmedyar khan, signed an instrument of accession on 27 march 1948 with pakistan's founder mohammed ali jinnah. this controversial accession, which khan was not mandated by the baluch people to sign, promised semi-autonomy to baluchistan. alas, genuine self-government never happened. despite six decades of pakistani military occupation, the baluch people have never given up their quest for independence. a recent baluch grand jirga, or assembly, decided to approach the international court of justice at the hague to force pakistan to honour its autonomy commitments under the 1948 instruments of accession. their legal case is strong but realpolitik may deny the baluch the justice they deserve. the west’s attitude towards baluchistan’s quest for the resumption of its brief 1947-48 sovereignty has been less than honourable. because britain and the united states want pakistan as an ally in the so-called “war on terror,” they have armed pakistan and acquiesced with its suppression of the baluch. this is short-sighted political manoeuvring. pakistan’s war against baluchistan is strengthening the position of the taliban, who have exploited the unstable, strife-ridden situation to establish bases and influence in the region. from these bases, the taliban terrorise the more liberal and secular baluch people and seek to enforce the talibanisation of baluchistan. the pakistani government tolerates the taliban, on the grounds that its presence acts as a second force to crush the baluch people and weaken their struggle for independence. the taliban bases in baluchistan are also hide-outs from which they mount military operations to overthrow the imperfect but democratically elected government of afghanistan. this campaign to usurp power in kabul and reimpose a fundamentalist regime seems to be taking place with the tacit collusion of key figures in the pakistani government, military and intelligence services. the pakistanis are talking no serious action to stop the taliban using baluchistan as a base for its war against afghan democracy and human rights. if the foreign secretary, david milliband, wants to strike a blow against the taliban and islamic fundamentalism he should press for un and eu initiatives to end the repression in baluchistan and secure self-government for the baluch people. more information on the baluch freedom struggle: and this article was first published in tribune, 3 august 2007. posted by brett at 12:38 pm | comments (65) | trackback iran arrests more bus union leaders while supporters of imprisoned trade unionists mansour osanloo and mahmoud salehi (including, i hope, some of our readers) gathered last week for a vigil at the iranian embassy in london, and demonstrated solidarity in other locations around the world, the authorities in iran responded with predictable contempt. the international transport workers' federation reported: [f]ive members of the executive board of the bus drivers’ union were arrested while state security agents have been positioned at osanloo’s house and are threatening union members who had planned to rally there to request his release. osanloo is being held without charge in tehran’s notorious evin prison as the latest move in a brutal two year government campaign against him and his tehran bus drivers’ union. the arrested men are ebrahim madadi, davood razawi, yagoub salimi, homayoun jaberi and ebrahim gohari. the iranians for human rights and democracy blog has more. (hat tip: rostam farrokzad.) the afl-cio blog has photos from the demonstrations in djakarta and london. meanwhile we still await word one about osanloo and the struggles of the tehran bus workers on the transport and general workers union website. (i check the site fairly frequently, but if anyone finds anything there, please let me know and i'll post an immediate update.) posted by gene at 01:31 am | comments (38) | trackback august 06, 2007 second life jihad there's been a lot of talk about the virtual world second life this year. mostly how brands jumped on the band wagon and joined the once peaceful (but dull) digital paradise. it seems the corporate types aren't he only ones islamic extremists are also getting in on the act as well. according to a report in the sunday times, islamic militants are suspected of using second life to hunt for recruits and mimic real-life terrorism. the paper reported that police and the intelligence services are concerned that islamic terrorists may have been infiltrated second life to preach hate, communicate and transfer money to one another. they might also behind bomb attacks in the virtual world. that's right, they are blowing up building in second life. a virtual nuclear attack was launched on australian broadcaster abc and a car bomb blew up a virtual mcdonald's…. is that a bad thing? i mean blowing up virtual burger bars? as some might have read there are many brand in second life including mastercard, sony, bmw and reebok and they have been on the receiving end of flak from second life geeks who are just a step away from elfs and orcs and the world of warcraft. kevin zuccato, head of the australian government’s high tech crime centre, said jihadists may also be using the virtual reality world to hone reconnaissance and surveillance skills. as a dozen known jihadis are thought to have taken on identities in second life. some have innocuous names while others have names such as irhabi007 (arabic for terrorist007). part of the attraction to islamic terrorists is that second life provides a means to transfer money across borders in a way that is more difficult for the authorities to monitor and they can do it all anonymously with avatars that bear little relation to their real-life identities. this is possible because second life has its own currency, dubbed the linden dollar after the firm that owns the world. at the current rate about 250 linden dollars are equivalent to one us dollar. intelligence sources told the paper that although communications traffic through second life could in theory be monitored, often the only means of tracking an individual is by tracing the user's ip address, which many people can fake without too much trouble. the battle against terrorism is already being waged digitally as islamic fanatics use the web to spread hate against the west and use it as an organising and educational tool where they have posted sick videos of hostages being beheaded. second life (or no life as it has been dubbed) is just a new front. having played some online gaming (ok, socom iii) where the object is usually to hunt down some non-descript bad guy terrorists with the automatic weapon of your choice this is clearly an opportunity. second life always seemed a little dull to me as do any games where blowing up things is not involved. now the game's owners have the chance to open second life up, arm the inhabitants and hunt real virtual terrorists. a trip to those caves in virtual pakistan you always dreamed? no problem, we can take you there courtesy of boeing (boeing apache attack helicopter rather than 747). of course, it could be that these jihadis are really just pigging out on all that western culture they have denied themselves in the real world. it would be the kind of hypocrisy that one has come to expect from such people. posted by gordon at 02:32 pm | comments (86) | trackback july 30, 2007 preemptive blogging one of the drearily familiar routines at harry's place goes as follows: 1. we criticize x (where x represents a person, a government or a political movement). 2. one or more commenters responds, not with a direct defense of x, but with "what about y (where y represents a person, a government or a political movement for which we supposedly have more sympathy), who did something we consider just as bad, if not worse." 3. despite protestations (of subject-changing, unfair moral equivalence, etc.), the commenters of paragraph 2 believe they have achieved stalemate, if not checkmate. so i admire venezuelan blogger daniel duquenal's recent post, in which he denounces hugo chavez for refusing to fire his incompetent, politically-driven oil minister and then notes, correctly, the similarities with george w. bush's stubborn refusal to fire his deceitful attorney general-- thus preempting the whatabouters. bush is also shielding malfeasance by one of his top officials? yes, indeed he is! now how about addressing the issue? posted by gene at 08:50 pm | comments (59) | trackback july 25, 2007 pew global attitudes survey the bbc summary is here. the full report is here. knock yourselves out! posted by david t at 02:02 pm | comments (110) | trackback god is not so great i did not upload this to youtube because i know they’ll delete it very soon. it is very graphic. this is taken recently in iran. do pay attention to people who shout “allaho-akbar”, allah is great. great is obviously the last word i’ll use for any religion which supports this. so says iranian blogger arash kamangir, speaking of course from canada, where he is a student. in teheran, of course, he would also be executed for this blasphemy. so here's the video. (apologies for posting another of these horrific clips. it comes with the same disclaimer as last time.) now, according to some reports, the four were executed for murder and conspiracy. this might be the case, but, frankly, who the hell knows? iran's judiciary routinely trump up ludicrous charges or tag on extra charges like 'rape' or 'murder' to sow confusion amongst local and international human rights campaigners. take for example this case. according to mr kamangir's blog, a student leader was beaten, tortured and then executed as "a gang member". meisam lotfi (&#1605;&#1740;&#1579;&#1605; &#1604;&#1591;&#1601;&#1740;) was reportedly executed for being a gang-member. he is in fact a student activist. shahrzad news, a reputable independent website, talked to his mother, before he was executed. it was 1am when they woke up with a knock on their door. the 25-year-old son tried to escape from the police, but was shot at with 17 bullets, two of which hit his leg. he was then sentenced to execution. before we managed to find and publish his pictures he was executed. meisam spent six month in the infamous evin prison after the july 1999 student riots. his sister was also attacked by the police and received 40 stitches. meisam had spent 55 days in solitary confinement after he was accused of setting tires on fire during the protests which followed the fundamentalists’ raid to the dormitory of university of tehran. kamangir also notes that a persian blog claims fazel ramezani (&#1601;&#1575;&#1590;&#1604; &#1585;&#1605;&#1590;&#1575;&#1606;&#1740;) and haajat morad mohammad (&#1581;&#1575;&#1580;&#1578; &#1605;&#1585;&#1575;&#1583; &#1605;&#1581;&#1605;&#1583;&#1740;) were among the executed men. the blog claims they were political activists. there is more about their story here. meanwhile, the international gay & lesbian human rights commission this week condemned iran's continued use of the sodomy laws (lavaat) to execute homosexuals. posted by brett at 09:04 am | comments (48) | trackback july 23, 2007 chavez: foreign critics must go last month i posted about a meeting i attended in washington featuring the iraqi trade union leader hashmeya mushin hussein. as i noted, "mushin hussein... denounced the occupation of iraq and the us and iraqi governments' actions against the country's trade unions." she was perfectly within her rights to criticize the us government, as is any foreign visitor to these shores-- including george galloway. (of course others have the right to argue back.) in fact i would argue that allowing foreign visitors to denounce us policy in the harshest terms (short of advocating violence) is one of the tests of our democracy. so i hope everyone who agrees with me will join me in condemning the latest threat to free expression from the president of the bolivarian republic of venezuela: [hugo] chavez has vowed to expel foreigners who publicly criticise him or his government. "no foreigner can come here to attack us. anyone who does must be removed from this country," he said during his weekly tv and radio programme. mr chavez also ordered officials to monitor statements made by international figures in venezuela. his comments came shortly after a senior mexican politician publicly criticised the venezuelan government. has even castro gone this far? update: daniel duquenal has more from chavez. further update: venezuelan blogger miguel octavio links to an example of chavez's contempt for even supporters who dare to complain to his face. posted by gene at 03:02 pm | comments (83) | trackback july 18, 2007 will they condemn hamas repression? trade-union supporters of the anti-israel boycotts have justified themselves by claiming the endorsement of palestinian trade unionists, including the palestine general federation of trade unions, and telling us they are standing in solidarity with their palestinian sisters and brothers. the feelings of their israeli sisters and brothers don't seem to concern them. however if they and other leftwing boycott backers are truly interested in solidarity with the pgftu, they might want to consider the latest press release from that federation: in the circle of continuous violations take place in gaza strip after hamas plot against legitimacy, and after occupying pgftu main branch in gaza, a group of gunmen from the executive force, this day 17-7-2007, have attacked pgftu office in gaza and khan younis, occupying them and stealing everything inside. they asked the unionists to appear before this outlaw force for interrogation. shaher sae'd, the general secretary of pgftu condemned this attack, considering it as a blatant violations against union freedoms, democracy and diversity. he added that the palestinian workers are not facing outside siege only but they are also facing inside siege used against them by hamas military force, in a time when the workers are in great need for humanitarian assistance, medical care and social protection. he stressed that hamas has only brought to them more poverty and more percentage of unemployment and ignoring their rights and freedoms. therefore, pgftu is appealing to the international community, alo, ilo, ituc, icatu and friendly federations to make their best to secure the life of the unionists and to evacuate the branches of pgftu to enable our unionists to serve the workers, their families and children. i assume every organization that backed the pgftu's call for a boycott, and which rightly denounces israeli actions against palestinian unions, will condemn hamas's act of repression against palestinian workers. of course i want to give full credit to those who do so-- even if they recently welcomed hamas's armed takeover of gaza. please let me know. update: to its credit, unison has linked to the tuc's condemnation of hamas for its repression against the pgftu. posted by gene at 09:53 pm | comments (57) | trackback balochistan on the radar peter tatchell's programme on 18 doughty street consistently comes up with guests seemingly ignored by the mainstream media, representing a range of causes hardly on anyone else's radar. his recent show featured mehran baluch, the balochistan representative at the un human rights council. the discussion centred on the baluch struggle for "liberation from pakistani occupation and oppression". watch the show here. briefly, the background seems to be this: pakistan invaded and annexed the newly-independent state of balochistan in 1948. but the baloch people have never given up their struggle for freedom. after six decades of occupation and bloody repression, pakistan is once again escalating its war against the people of baluchistan, detaining without trial thousands of balochs and executing hundreds more. i confess i don't know much about the issue of balochistan. some cursory investigation suggests that it may be a rather um, 'religiously conservative' place - according to wikipedia, for example, women are required to wear hijabs, and there are a great many organisations - some appearing rather less than kosher - involved in the fight against pakistan. but, as mehran baluch notes in the programme, the common thread for all is the desire to see independence and an end to what they see as punjabi occupation and exploitation. by all accounts, balochistan appears to be the richest 'province' of pakistan, but complains about lack of educational opportunities and social deprevation. just to complicate things further, balochistan also has pieces attached to iran and afganistan. anyhow... amnesty international does confirm "arbitrary arrests and detention, extrajudicial executions, torture and 'disappearances' committed by [pakistani] security and intelligence agencies." - so something is definitely afoot. i think this is an issue worth investigating. posted by brett at 02:34 pm | trackback what europeans think of jews here's the anti-defamation league's 2007 survey of attitudes in austria, belgium, hungary, the netherlands, switzerland, and the united kingdom towards jews and israel. the bad news is that negative attitudes and sterotypes of jews is on the up in europe from 2005 in almost every area. for example, 50% of brits think that "jews are more loyal to israel than to this country". the good news, however, is that only 22% of people in this country think that "the jews are responsible for the death of christ". report here. summary here. via engage posted by david t at 01:22 pm | comments (116) | trackback brotherhood on trial forty members of the clerical fascist political party, the muslim brotherhod, have gone on trial in cairo on terrorism and money laundering charges. what is particularly outrageous about the proceedings is that the defendants are being tried by military tribunal, rather than by civilian courts. representatives of amnesty international have been excluded from the hearing. as have two other, familiar faces: former u.s. attorney general ramsey clark on monday called egypt's decision to try 40 members of the country's most powerful opposition group before a military tribunal "pitiful" and demanded their case be tried in an open courtroom. and not only ramsey clark; but also the paid iranian propagandist and lunatic, yvonne ridley, turned up to cheer for her side: 'we are not going to get justice in a military court. we're not going to get justice from dictators and scholars for dollars who do not recognize the injustice (that happened) yesterday,' ... 'it's a great shame and i really feel your pain,' she said addressing the families of the accused, 'but we have to try to make a difference and get your (families) out of these prisons.' egypt's government wants to promote what ridley referred to as 'a diluted form of islam' and so they have always feared the 'real islam' that the brotherhood practices. '(they want) a pacified islam that means that we submit to the west and not to allah,' she said in her fiery statement, calling on the people to 'expose the government for what its is; a puppet for america (and) a complete sham.' ridley said that she believed the brotherhood leaders were punished not because they're egypt's foremost opposition group but because 'neo-conservative think tanks in america have been trying to link the brotherhood to hamas.' eh? has yvonne ridley read the hamas covenant? article two: the islamic resistance movement is one of the wings of moslem brotherhood in palestine. moslem brotherhood movement is a universal organization which constitutes the largest islamic movement in modern times. it is characterised by its deep understanding, accurate comprehension and its complete embrace of all islamic concepts of all aspects of life, culture, creed, politics, economics, education, society, justice and judgement, the spreading of islam, education, art, information, science of the occult and conversion to islam. i'm nonplussed. why would she lie about this? update 27 july 2007 yvonne ridley and i have been corresponding. she wants to make it clear that, when she said that "'neo-conservative think tanks in america" were "trying" to link the muslim brotherhood to hamas, she was referring to the conduct of these organisations, not to the issue of whether they are linked. she accepts that these two organisations are linked. i therefore accept that she did not lie. posted by david t at 09:38 am | comments (109) | trackback july 17, 2007 daniel pipes finds a cult a guest post by mikey daniel pipes is the director of middle east forum, a think tank designed to “promote american interests in the middle east,” and a founder of its journal, the middle east quarterly. he is a columnist for both the new york sun and the jerusalem post. his personal biography adds the following information: a former official in the u.s. department of state, he has taught at the university of chicago, harvard university, and the u.s. naval war college. mr. pipes is the author of fourteen books on the middle east, islam, and other political topics… he has published widely in leading magazines and newspapers and his writings have been translated into eighteen languages. mr. pipes frequently discusses current issues on television and radio. he was appointed by president bush to the board of the u.s. institute of peace, has testified before many congressional committees, and has served on four presidential campaigns. with such a record, one might think that his opinions are worth reading, agree or disagree. this is not the case. i could barely contain myself when i saw his recent column in the jerusalem post. pipes focuses on iran. he wants to put pressure on the ayatollahs. there is nothing objectionable about that. what is truly shocking is that pipes speaks in admiration of the mujahedeen-e khalq (mek) or the people’s mujahedeen of iran (pmoi) – which, in his own words, stands “accused of being a superannuated marxist-islamist terrorist cult.” the mek wants to overthrow the iranian regime. according to pipes, “no other opposition group in the world can mount so impressive a display of muscle as does the mek, with its thousands of supporters, many young, and a slate of dignitaries.” so pipes offers some suggestions: [t]he bush administration needs to take three steps. first, let the mek members leave camp ashraf in a humane and secure manner. second, delist the organization from the terror rolls, unleashing it to challenge the islamic republic of iran. third, exploit that regime’s inordinate fear of the mek. the rationale, presumably, is that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.” but championing mek takes things a little too far. as nigel brew commented in a research note for the australian parliament: during the 1970s, the mek was accused of conducting several assassinations of us military personnel and civilians working in iran, and of actively supporting the takeover of the us embassy in tehran in 1979... the us designated the mek as a foreign terrorist organisation (fto) in 1997, on the basis that it kills civilians… the mek has now lost three appeals (1999, 2001 and 2003) to the us government to be removed from the list of ftos, and its terrorist status was reaffirmed each time. the mek is a banned terrorist organisation in both the uk and the us. the european union listed the mek as a terrorist group in may 2002. as recently as this january, the council of the european union stated that mek should be placed on the list of persons and entities subject to restrictive measures. the mek is led by a husband and wife, massoud and maryam rajavi. according to the council on foreign relations, it “has increasingly come to resemble a cult.” during the 1970s, the council adds, mek supported “killings of u.s. military personnel and civilians working on defense projects in tehran” as well as “the 1979 takeover of the u.s. embassy in tehran by iranian revolutionaries.” in 1991, mek assisted “saddam hussein’s suppression of the 1991 iraqi shiite and kurdish uprisings.” in other words, the group collaborated in genocidal massacres. the mek claims to seek a secular and democratic iran; it promises free elections. the truth is much more sinister. elizabeth rubin emphasized the cultist nature of the organisation in a detailed report (new york times magazine , july 13, 2003): [d]espite its rhetoric, the mujahedeen operates like any other military dictatorship. mujahedeen members have no access to newspapers or radio or television, other than what is fed them. as the historian abrahamian told me, “no one can criticize rajavi.” and everyone must go through routine self-criticism sessions. “it’s all done on tape, so they have records of what you say. if there’s a sign of resistance, you are considered not revolutionary enough, and you need more ideological training. either people breakaway or succumb.” salahaddin mukhtadi, an iranian historian in exile who still maintains communications with the mujahedeen because it’s the strongest armed opposition to the iranian regime, told me that mujahedeen members “are locked up if they disagree with anything. and sometimes killed.” afshari, who fled the group 10 years ago, told me how friendship was forbidden. no two people could sit alone and talk together, especially about their former lives. informants were planted everywhere. it was maryam’s idea to kill emotional relationships. “she called it, ‘drying the base,’” afshari said. “they kept telling us every one of your emotions should be channelled toward massoud, and masssoud equals leadership, and leadership equals iran.” the segregation of the sexes began almost from toddlerhood. “girls were not allowed to speak to boys. if they were caught mingling, they were severely punished.” though maryam and massoud finagled it so they could be together, they forced everyone else into celibacy. “they told us, ‘we are at war, and soldiers cannot have wives and husbands,’” afshari said. “you had to report every single day and confess your thoughts and dreams. they made men say they got erections when they smelled the perfume of a woman.” men and women had to participate in “weekly ideological cleansings,” in which they would publicly confess their sexual desires. it was not only a form of control but also a means to delete all remnants of individual thought. apart from totalitarian controls so extreme that married members were compelled to divorce each other, human rights watch has stated: human rights abuses carried out by mko [mek] leaders against dissident members ranged from prolonged incommunicado and solitary confinement to beatings, verbal and psychological abuse, coerced confessions, threats of execution, and torture that in two cases led to death. even for his admirers, pipes’s article may seem somewhat bizarre. the current editor of his own journal is michael rubin, who wrote an article for the conservative site frontpage that concluded: many “monsters of the left” use the rhetoric of democracy to realize their ambition. masud and maryam rajavi, and the organization over which they exert dictatorial control, are no exception. the islamic republic of iran victimizes its people and threatens u.s. and regional security. the solution to the problem rests, not with empowering a group or individuals just as bad, but rather in supporting the iranian people in their quest for liberty, freedom, and democracy. supporting the overthrow of the president of iran and his regime is all well and good. but that hardly justifies helping the pol pots of persia. has daniel pipes lost his marbles? posted by gene at 05:53 pm | comments (72) | trackback july 16, 2007 nahoul's dilemma as hamas-run tv replaces the late, martyred farfour the mouse with his cousin nahoul the bee-- who vows, in his squeaky little bee voice, to "take revenge upon the enemies of allah, the killer of the prophets and of the innocent children, until we liberate al-aqsa from their impurity"-- there are encouraging signs that palestinians in gaza and the west bank are wearying of this sort of thing. the associated press reports: the violent takeover of the gaza strip has cost hamas some support there and bolstered its rival, fatah, according to a poll released sunday. hamas swept through gaza last month, vanquishing numerically superior forces aligned with fatah leader and palestinian authority chairman mahmoud abbas, who responded by dismissing the hamas-led government and installing a new one with his backers. the poll of gaza residents shows a backlash. hamas got only 23 percent support, down from 29 percent in the previous survey last month, while fatah climbed from 31 percent to 43 percent. the poll, the first major survey since the hamas takeover, also showed that 66 percent of hamas supporters said they would vote fatah if it undertook reforms. the poll, released by near east consulting, interviewed 450 residents of the gaza strip. it quoted a margin of error of 3.05 percentage points. "i was surprised," said jamil rabah, head of near east consulting. rabah said price hikes and food shortages along with a perception that hamas was becoming increasingly authoritarian, contributed to its fall in support. trust in the gaza-based deposed prime minister ismail haniyeh of hamas stood at 37 percent, compared to 63 percent for abbas. prime minister sallam fayad got higher trust marks than haniyeh, 62-38 percent. "a lot of people answering this question said we like haniyeh more, but we want people who can really deliver," rabah said. "people are becoming more realistic." and former us envoy dennis ross, writing in the new republic after recent visits to the west bank (free registration required), reports: [palestinians] will tell you that the palestinian public is basically secular and wants a national, secular future. hamas's position has grown within palestinian society by default. the palestinian public remains more alienated from fatah than attracted to hamas. ross writes that if fatah can root out corruption, establish the rule of law and start providing basic services its position will be greatly strengthened. the worst thing fatah could do, he says, is try to reestablish a coalition with hamas. fortunately palestinian authority president mahmoud abbas shows no signs of wanting to do that. those who pointed to hamas's narrow victory in last year's parliamentary elections as a sign of the failure of democracy in arab world were perhaps too hasty. as often happens in even the most stable democracies, experience with misrule by one party has created a strong desire for something else. the question, of course, is whether hamas will ever allow itself to be replaced, democratically or otherwise, in gaza. (hat tip: sisyphus.) posted by gene at 04:32 pm | comments (21) | trackback july 11, 2007 iranian bus workers' leader kidnapped iranian bus workers' leader mansour osanloo-- who spoke in london last month at a meeting of the international transport workers' federation-- has been kidnapped in tehran, the itf reports. while on his way home, osanloo was getting off a bus, when he was assaulted by the unidentified kidnappers, who yelled at the passengers to stay away and called him a 'hoodlum and a thug'. they then forced him into the unmarked peugeot which then drove away. the witnesses on the bus stated that he was beaten severely, and his attackers continued to beat him even after they had stuffed him into the metallic grey peugeot. given the past history of osanloo's treatment by the security forces there is strong reason to believe that some part of the iranian authorities was responsible for this attack but the local police station, to which his family turned, refused to confirm or deny that the police were involved. it's distressing that the uk's transport and general workers' union has never once on its website mentioned the iranian regime's ongoing repression of osanloo and his union. and while the t&gwu found time at its recent delegate conference to endorse a boycott of israeli products, i can find no evidence that the union even considered an expression of solidarity with the bus workers in iran. if anyone knows different, please correct me. (hat tip: labourstart.) update: tuc general secretary brendan barber has written to the iranian ambassador asking for information about osanloo's abduction, and calling for his prompt release. (hat tip: harry barnes in the comments.) posted by gene at 03:33 pm | comments (158) | trackback july 09, 2007 somaliland five years ago, somaliland - the self-proclaimed independent republic on the horn of afirca - made the transition to multi-party democracy. the country broke away from somalia after the collapse of central government and the destruction of most of the civic, economic and political infrustructure during the all-in/all-out civil war. despite the reconstruction of civil society in this region (the 2002 multi-party elections - in which six parties participated - having been declared "the most peaceful in africa for twenty years" by international observers, no one in the international community even recognises the state of somaliland. while islamic courts in somalia impose sentences of flogging, amputation and execution, somaliland - also a majority-muslim country - strove to be different. as an amnesty international report from 1998 notes, somaliland adopted a constitution which "maintains the independence of somaliland and contains a number of human rights provisions relating to the independence of the judiciary and protection against arbitrary imprisonment." but it hasn't all been plain sailing. in 2004, amnesty international expressed concern over allegations by two defendents charged with attempting to assassinate vice-president, ahmed yusuf yasin of rape and beatings while in prison. a few human rights campaigners were detained - but later released without charge - when they protested this. amnesty stated that the trial of the two accused had "fallen far short of international standards of fairness". only a fortnight ago, reporters sans frontières condemned mayor hussein mohamoud ji'ir of hargeisa, the capital who slapped journalist abdirahman musse omar several times in the face and then had him arrested. the journalist had apparently asked uncomfortable questions about recent police behaviour. he was, however, freed two days lated. these incidents aside, the country has nevertheless escaped the chaos and human misery associated with the clashes between government, warlords and islamist militias in neihbouring somalia, and the uncomparibly horrific human rights abuses and brutality that accompanied that. peter tatchell says he thinks somaliland is "a muslim and african success story". he says "somaliland is an african and muslim nation that is embracing peace, democracy, human rights and economic development". despite a lack of international recognition and aid, says tatchell, "somaliland is an oasis of peace, stability and progress". his comments follow his interview on his 18 doughty street show 'talking with tatchell' with dr mohamed-aar a mohamed of the somaliland research society uk and lulu farah of the somaliland forum uk. tatchell concludes: "isn’t it time the world recognised, celebrated and supported this great african and muslim success story?" while i dislike the notion of a "mulsim success story" (is south africa a "christian success story" because it is predominantly christian? and it is not a success because it is muslim) i think that he is right to combat the idea that a majority-muslim country necessarily has to be a caricature of sharia barbarity. it is possible to separate mosque and state. what certainly ought to be uncontroversial, however, is that the country deserves international recognition and support. posted by brett at 09:28 am | comments (52) | trackback july 03, 2007 doctors' dark side doctors are in a position of great power, controlling the health of their patients. we've all met medics who regard themselves as demi-gods, their opinions never to be questioned, their decisions to be instantly implemented by their juniors. my mother used to work in a hospital where the consultants would not even acknowledge the existence of secretaries and suchlike when they met in the lift. the vast majority of doctors, of course, go good. but what happens when that desire to heal turns dark? two of those arrested over the weekend terror attacks are doctors and recent reports say as many as seven of those involved work in the medical profession. the news that educated professionals are involved in terror seems to have caused surprise among media commentators. but there has always been a dark side to doctors. doctors were disproportionately represented in the nazi party, and carried out hideous experiments in the camps. during the yugoslav wars some of the worst warlords were doctors. radovan karadzic, the bosnian serb leader wanted for genocide, was a psychiatrist. (practicing in sarajevo before the war he advised one man having trouble with his wife to beat her more). milan babic, the leader of the croatian serbs, who committed suicide in his cell at the hague, was a dentist. klara mandic, the founder of the serb-jewish friendship society and a close associate of karadzic and milosevic was also a dentist. islamic radical doctors seek to 'heal' society as a whole. dr abdel al-rantissi (who succeeded sheikh yassin as leader of hamas) studied medicine at alexandria university. dr ayman al-zawahiri, deputy leader of al-qaeda is a qualified surgeon. george habash, founder of the pflp, was also a doctor (although as 'get it right' points out in the comments habash was not an islamic radical) . anyway, physicians, heal thyselves. hat tip: tom gross posted by adam lebor at 08:20 am | comments (49) | trackback july 02, 2007 on changing one's mind cath palasz, a former "palestine solidarity" activist and supporter of the boycott-israel campaign, has written about how an encounter on the engage website last year convinced her to change her mind. ...i happened upon “engage” and an article around anti-semitism . to be honest i barely read it but launched into a tirade on the wrongs of israel and zionism... what came back at me was an argument that was somewhat unexpected and disarming, because it did not excuse the injustices to the palestinians, it acknowledged them but questioned the method to address the problems and the rejectionist nature - a politics of despair not hope. it was a serious accusation to a christian and one that challenged me fundamentally because if it wasn’t working towards hope and peace then it wasn’t in my view the path to tread. palasz has not become a fervent zionist or stopped caring about injustice to the palestinians. but she has quit the anti-israel palestine solidarity committee and dropped her support of a boycott. but according to one of our regular commenters, writing at another forum, her change of heart is "wierdly [sic] implausible." the commenter wonders how anyone could fall for "the strange mixture of dishonesty and cliche" which he thinks convinced her. has your thinking on israel-palestine changed (either way) recently? perhaps you could help our commenter understand how it's possible to think for oneself and to honestly and sincerely change one's mind. posted by gene at 07:54 pm | comments (84) | trackback gasoline rationing sparks outrage in iran after president ahmadinejad's gasoline rationing plan provoked rioting throughout iran last week (including the burning of service stations), the government has finally responded to the public outrage-- by warning journalists not to report on it. iranian and western media report that the official warning came a day after the government announced the introduction of gas rationing on state television on june 26 just a few hours before it went into effect. ..... the website reported that iran's supreme national security council reacted by ordering media to abstain from reporting on the damage, fires, and casualties that may have resulted from the protests over the rationing plan. ..... a reporter from the daily "shargh" told radio farda that journalists have been told not to talk to foreign media about the rationing situation and other related issues. the new york times suggests the decision to ration is based on the regime's fear of sanctions if iran continues its nuclear program. despite its massive oil production, a poor refining capacity requires iran to import about 40 percent of its gasoline. “iran’s dependence on imported gasoline has been a focus of international debate over future sanctions,” according to the eurasia group, a political risk consultant. “rationing will reduce iran’s vulnerability, and iran’s leadership explicitly mentioned this goal in commenting on the measure,” it said. saeed leylaz, an economist and political analyst in tehran, said, “the high gasoline consumption has made iran very vulnerable, and this is a security decision now.” “we are importing gasoline from 16 different countries,” he said. “the country would be on the verge of collapse if they suddenly decide not to sell us gasoline. the government has to find a way to lower the consumption.” gasoline is highly subsidized in iran, although the price increased slightly last month. apparently the government decided rationing would provoke less anger than another price hike, but there was plenty of anger nonetheless. under the rationing plan, private cars are allowed 26 gallons a month and taxis are permitted 211 gallons a month. but many low-income iranians use their private cars as taxis to make ends meet. the times reports: mr. ahmadinejad is facing growing discontent over his economic policies and is being blamed for failing to deliver on his promises to improve the economy. he suffered a setback last december when he lost local elections, and he faces crucial parliamentary elections in march. “the government will have to back down or face consequences,” said ehsan mohammadi, 32, who uses his motorcycle to work as a delivery man. “there are many people like me, and we cannot support our families with rationed gasoline.” and while drivers wait in endless lines for their meager supplies of gasoline, they may start wondering why the same government can afford to keep hamas, hezbollah and shiite militias in iraq so well-supplied. now if there is one thing i hope virtually every harry's place reader can agree on, it is that it would be a good thing if the iranian people, as non-violently as possible, overthrew their repressive, theocratic regime and replaced it with a more democratic and secular government. i can't think of any single event that would be more of a body blow to extreme islamism worldwide. so a genuine question, which i've raised here in various forms before: what is the best way to help the iranian people get rid of a regime which an overwhelming majority are clearly fed up with? would an effort to cut off gasoline supplies from the outside help to topple the regime? or would it backfire and cause iranians to rally to the support of their government? update: paul kersey, who recently visited iran, has some interesting thoughts in the comments. further update: comrade chavez is coming to the rescue. posted by gene at 06:55 pm | comments (17) | trackback june 28, 2007 bolivarian sclerosis? as hugo chavez flies off to visit old friends in russia, belarus and iran, he may be regretting his decision to force the closure of the popular tv station rctv (an action opposed by 70 percent of venezuelans). venezuelan blogger daniel duquenal notes that chavez and his government have appeared very much on the defensive since then. student-led protests against the shutdown have continued, while calls from chavez to his alleged supporters in the barrios to come down and challenge the students are met by a massive lack of revolutionary zeal. one sign of the government's nervousness and confusion is the downright reactionary nature of its response, reminding me of the american "establishment"'s reaction to the student protests of the 1960s. for example, the venezuelan student protesters have taken to holding the national flag upside-down as a sign of their anger. in response, the government produced this charming video, which all over-the-air tv stations in the country have been forced to broadcast: daniel translates the song as follows: who turns upside down his flag is not a good venezuelan he behaves like any villain and does not love venezuela my flag is yellow blue and beautiful red my flag must be respected and must wave upright whoever puts it upside down offends the whole country i want to claim it back for our blessed fatherland imagine the reaction if all american tv stations had been compelled to broadcast a similar ditty about the us flag in the 1960s, when many anti-vietnam war demonstrators displayed upside-down flags. last refuge of a scoundrel, anyone? in keeping with the old-fuddy-duddy approach, desiree santos amaral, vice president of the national assembly, reacted to the students protests by calling on venezuela's mothers to keep their children at home. they [who?] are using the boys as cannon fodder... i want to make a call to the venezuelan mothers that they do not allow them to use their sons because they are looking for a dead body. we've heard this before in other times and places, haven't we?-- the old appeal to parents to control their hotheaded, impressionable young and keep them away from the subversive elements orchestrating anti-government protests. incipient bolivarian sclerosis, anyone? posted by gene at 06:23 pm | comments (78) | trackback june 26, 2007 another iran is possible my friend, pippy, sends me this lovely iranian music video: delkash in farda roshan ast. i'd guess it was made in the early 1950s. more iranian nostalgia at posted by david t at 09:33 am | comments (8) | trackback june 25, 2007 the missing poles anne karpf in comment is free blasts the kaczynski twins who run poland for their suggestion that poland should have extra votes at eu summits because of their war dead. the twins argue that if germany had not killed six million poles (including three million jews) poland’s population would be around 60 million instead of the current 39 million or so. let’s put that aside for the moment, and examine anne’s arguments. basically they seem to boil down to: lots of poles were or are anti-semitic, the polish government has anti-semites and homophobes in it, so they should just **** off. or, as anne writes: "half of them [the six million dead poles] were jews - and the polish record on jews is just a mite troublesome. those polish jews weren't exactly living in clover before the war, when the "numerus clausus" (jewish quota) restricted their access to the professions. and when they were carted off to the camps, most of their polish neighbours were at best indifferent, and at worst grateful to the germans for ridding them of this pestilential presence. "polish nationalism had long been nourished by anti-semitism. although the relations between poles and jews are more complex than often crudely characterised, and there were many poles who exposed themselves to enormous risk by hiding jews, my own mother's experience - denounced to the nazis by a polish catholic - was common, perhaps even typical." i understand anne's anger, especially about her mother's terrible experience. but it's also interesting quite how many poles “exposed themselves to enormous risk by hiding jews”. the yad vashem holocaust memorial museum in jerusalem keeps statistics on the ‘righteous among the nations’, that is non-jews who risked their lives during the second world war to save jews. number one in the saviour’s table is, you guessed it, poland, with 6004 rescuers. there is an argument of course that the polish figure will be statistically higher because poland once had europe’s largest jewish population. divide the number of jews by the number of rescuers and you get the figure of one rescuer for every 500 jews. still pretty dismal, of course, but better than many other countries. hungary had a pre-1945 jewish population of around 800,000 jews (including transylvania after 1941). there are 685 hungarian rescuers, which makes for one rescuer for every 1167 jews. compare that to neighbouring romania, with 53 rescuers for 800,000 jews, which makes one rescuer for every 15,100 jews. pluckly little albania does very well – 63 rescuers for a jewish population of several hundred, almost all of whom were hidden away and survived. russia has just 41. so while i understand anne’s emotional response to the twins, i don't i agree with it. posted by adam lebor at 09:53 pm | comments (25) | trackback singled out those who think we complain too much about israel being "singled out" among all the nations of the world for condemnation should read jackson diehl's column in monday's washington post. it provides compelling evidence that, at the recent meeting in geneva of the un human rights council, israel was once again, um, singled out among all the nations of the world for condemnation. more distressing still is that the representatives of reasonably democratic india, south africa, indonesia and mexico participated in this travesty; and that an official of human rights watch did her best to minimize it. posted by gene at 03:50 pm | comments (113) | trackback june 21, 2007 poll: palestinians want new elections; favor fatah over hamas for what it's worth, the ap reports: a survey published thursday by an independent palestinian research center found that 75 percent of palestinians would back new elections. the palestinian center for policy and survey research conducted the poll during and after the hamas military takeover of gaza last week. it was conducted among 1,270 respondents in the west bank and gaza and had an error margin of 3 percent. if new presidential elections were to be held, 49 percent would vote for palestinian authority chairman mahmoud abbas, head of the fatah movement, and 42 percent would vote for his political rival, deposed prime minister ismail haniyeh of hamas, the survey said. if imprisoned fatah leader marwan barghouti were to run against haniyeh, he would win 59 percent to haniyeh's 35 percent, the poll said. barghouti is serving five life sentences in hadarim prison for murder and attempted murder. [israeli] cabinet minister gideon ezra recently called for barghouti's release as part of israeli efforts to boost abbas. update: from the same poll: the greatest threat to palestinians today is infighting and lack of law and order in the eyes of 56% followed by poverty in the eyes of 21%, israeli occupation (12%) and international sanctions and boycott (10%). no! i can just hear the "palestinian solidarity" people in the west protesting. can't you understand how wrong you are! (hat tip: normblog.) posted by gene at 03:30 pm | comments (16) | trackback real solidarity it would have been nice if the unison conference had managed a word or two of solidarity with iran's struggling trade union movement, one of whose leaders, mansour osanloo of the tehran bus workers' union, was in london recently to meet with the international transport workers' federation-- a case of genuine solidarity. osanloo and other iranian labor activists have been frequent targets for arrest and imprisonment by the tehran regime. logo of the tehran bus workers' union (hat tip: labourstart.) posted by gene at 12:51 am | comments (15) | trackback june 19, 2007 senior moment ijaz-ul-haq, the religious affairs minister of pakistan has just stumbled into an 'oops, did i say that out loud' gaffe. here's what he said on learning that british author salman rushdie was to be knighted: “if somebody has to attack by strapping bombs to his body to protect the honour of the prophet then it is justified,” here's what happened after his pr guys paid him a visit: he later retracted his statement, explaining that he had intended to say that knighting rushdie will foster extremism. nice catch ijaz. update: our glasgow correspondent directs readers' attention to this. posted by marcus at 06:40 am | comments (83) | trackback june 18, 2007 a new hatikvah inspired by the discussions about israel's evolution and the post-zionism/"state of all its citizens" debate here at hp, i have an op-ed in the new york times on why israel should update the hatikvah. thanks again to everyone who posted comments. more feedback welcome, of course. posted by adam lebor at 08:13 am | comments (155) | trackback june 17, 2007 supporting palestine or destroying israel? guest post by mikey amir taheri made a very striking point in the times yesterday: hamas is pan-islamist, fatah palestinian nationalist....hamas is ... dedicated to creating a single global islamic state. for it, palestine is no more than a small corner of dar al-islam (the house of islam) that must one day defeat dar al-kufr (the house of the infidel) to unite mankind under its banner. the suggestion is that hamas is not pro-palestinian at all. it is simply pro-islamist; its ideology sees the whole of historic palestine - as well as the rest of the middle east - as part of the wider muslim ummah. palestine, as a country, means nothing to hamas. where does this leave the “palestine solidarity” campaigners? they are in a bind. some of the more ardent anti-zionists do not care. they are so fanatical in their hatred of israel that nothing takes precedence. there is, for example, the vituperative blogger mark elf, who compares fatah to the judenrat in the warsaw ghetto - and therefore israelis with nazis: many jewish writers who were there have written of how the ghetto fighters in warsaw had to kill the collaborators before they could fight the germans. so this might be the start of a good thing. by making this statement mark elf has aligned himself with hamas against the "collaborators" of fatah. his argument is clearly anti-israel (let’s be honest – his analogy is antisemitic) as opposed to pro-palestine. this is not new. other anti-zionist veterans - including the likes of tony greenstein and roland rance - left the palestine solidarity campaign when the plo appeared to recognise israel. at that point the "anti-zionists" showed their true colours; their aim was not to create palestine, but to destroy israel. regardless of the religious fanaticism of hamas, and heedless of the genocidal antisemitism in its charter, these marxist anti-zionists are supporting the new rulers of gaza - and making fools of themselves in the process. richard seymour (under his nom de plume “lenin”) of lenin's tomb – a blog that supports the supposedly trotskyist socialist workers party, but which is more appropriately described as “strasserite” - announced yesterday: hamas, not fatah, has spoken the language of moderation and conciliation in this dispute. perhaps he missed this report from the daily telegraph: in the past 48 hours 19 palestinians have been killed, tossed from rooftops, executed at point-blank range, and shot in hospital wards. that number seems certain to rise. more than 80 palestinians have now been killed since mid may. among yesterday's dead was a 14-year-old boy and three women, all killed in a hamas attack on a fatah security officer's home. "they're firing at us, firing rpgs, firing mortars. we're not jews," the brother of jamal abu jediyan, a fatah commander, pleaded during a live telephone conversation with a palestinian radio station. if this is what the “palestine solidarity” activists regard as “moderation and conciliation” towards the palestinians, what fate do they have in mind for the israelis? posted by gene at 01:19 pm | comments (220) | trackback june 15, 2007 justice then and now first there was the justice league: now there's the alliance for justice: that's nicaraguan president daniel ortega on the right of the poster, which apparently was produced in honor of his recent visit to the islamic republic of iran. now i know that in this crazy world, the anti-imperialists, anti-americans and anti-zionists have to stick together. but i've never got a good answer from their apologists: why do these latin american "leftists" insist on making such of show of solidarity with a regime that represses women, trade unionists, students and anyone else who dares to challenge them (not to mention hosting racists and holocaust deniers)? one is all but forced to believe that they really don't care about that stuff. although in fairness to ortega, despite the kefiyyeh, he seems a little more pragmatic and less ideological than castro or chavez. ortega said his visit was intended "to improve relations between the two countries," according to irna. but ortega also stressed that even as nicaragua is strengthening ties with iran, the country also wants to work closely with the united states, the news agency said. ..... ortega said his country and iran had agreed to "support each other to help nicaragua" end its poverty. i'm afraid iran will prove to be of little use to nicaragua when it comes to ending poverty. (hat tip: hamid tehrani at global voices.) posted by gene at 02:08 am | comments (123) | trackback june 14, 2007 gaza battle nears victory for hamas reports are suggesting that hamas is near victory over rival secular fatah as heavy fighting continues. the times/cnn/bbc all report that hamas gunmen are pressing fatah and have encircled its security and political headquarters in gaza city. the building is surrounded by hundreds of hamas fighters. fatah supporters are on the run with some having fled across the border to egypt or surrendered. hamas is predicting it will have the entire coastal strip by the end of the week. palestinian authority president mahmoud abbas, of fatah, is to make a statement on the future of "the unity government". with 80 dead a way back from this the most serious fighting looks next to impossible. its another blow for a unified palestinian state and a step towards an islamic mini state in gaza. hamas have said they have no plans to go as far as the taliban and support the education of women, but that's hardly a comfort. israel and egypt have accused iran and syria of being behind the new violence. egyptian intelligence chief omar suleiman insinuated syria were involved in a reported call to damascus-based hamas leader khaled mashaal to get his people to agree to a ceasefire. olmert later backed a call made last week by israeli foreign minister tzipi livni for a un intervention force to enter southern gaza to patrol the border with egypt in a bid to stop weapons smuggling. however, the force would not play a peacekeeping role inside the strip itself. it's all ominous. the times quoted an israeli soldier on the border crossing who said that while fatah guards were still there when asked what would happen if hamas showed up, he shrugged and replied: "i don't know, maybe there will be war." update - june 15: 'there will be no dialogue with fatah, only the sword and the rifle' from the times: triumphant hamas fighters are planning to celebrate their final gaza victory with friday prayers today in the captured administrative compound of the routed secular president.the pledge came from a leading preacher as the islamist forces overran the last fatah strongholds. in the west bank mahmoud abbas, the palestinian president and fatah leader, declared a state of emergency last night and dissolved the hamas-led government. he said that he would call new elections "as soon as the situation allows". the outlook does not look good for abbas. another report in the times says fatah fighters are blaming him for a lack of leadership. in comaprison hamas look very organised. the bbc reported that the al-aqsa martyrs brigades, affiliated to fatah, has called for "martial law" and the complete deployment of the fatah movement. during the night, fatah militants in the west bank city of nablus claimed to have killed a hamas member in retaliation for events in gaza. as many as 90 hamas loyalists across the west bank are also reported to have been rounded up as a similar process goes on in gaza. daash qannah, a senior fatah fighter in nablus, loaded cans of petrol into the boot of his car and three kalashnikov rifles on the back seat, said: "the kidnappings are over with, now we will start with the killing," mr qannah declared before driving off, with vague plans of burning hamas buildings to the ground. update: 2 - fabian posted this link from zionation in the threads below. worth looking at. what is happening in gaza, the destruction of the fatah by the hamas, is an unmitigated disaster for united states and western policy, and a grave threat to israel. inexplicably, nobody seems to have planned for this "contingency," though everyone knew it was coming, and nobody is doing anything about it. a relatively small force of hamas islamist extremists are liquidating the possibility of a two state solution. any possibility of peaceful coexistence is being swept into the dustbin. the following are the last broadcast words of a fatah activist, in the process of being murdered by the hamas: hamas has stormed the home of jamal abu jideyan, general secretary of fatah in northern gaza and an al aqsa brigades commander, and assassinated him. about 20 minutes ago we were listening to sawt al hurriya, a palestinian radio station, as jideyan’s brother called into the station frantic. hamas militants had surrounded the family’s home in the jabbaliya refugee camp and had fired 16 rpg rounds at the home, with 35 family members inside, he said. “they’re firing at us, firing rpgs, firing mortars. we’re not jews,” he screamed into the telephone live on air, gun fire bursting in the background. gene adds: slightly off-topic, and you probably won't agree with everything, but i recommend reading s.o. muffin's eloquent comment (of june 16, 2007, 10:46 pm) on what he is proud of and ashamed of in israel. posted by gordon at 11:29 am | comments (411) | trackback june 12, 2007 ain al-hilweh refugee camp lebanon the guardian's g2 feature today is on the ain al-hilweh refugee camp in lebanon. it is not a great piece, but worth a look. it comes in light of the fighting taking place between the lebanese army, which has the backing of the un security council, and the fatah al islam militants in the country's refugee camps. its main flaw is that it states the problem very early on, but then proceeds to ignore it completely. in many respects, ain al-hilweh and other camps are the microcosm of a failed arab state and its anger and politics: packed, crowded, frustrated, hot-housed and surrounded by guards. they reflect the politicisation, the islamisation and the radicalisation of arab youth all over the middle east. their inhabitants are oppressed and kept poor by badly managed and corrupt regimes; they are hemmed in by visa restrictions and borders that are almost impossible to cross. after this the feature moves quickly on without any examination of these "badly managed and corrupt regimes" who you would think after decades actually want to keep these people in these camps. that can't possibly be true. the piece gives us more tales of the jihadis and their exploits. yawn. before descending (unintentionally, i think) into a 'life of brian' style comedy commentary on the different factions and how they operate. a few metres down the main road there is the military hq of the popular front for the liberation of palestine (pflp), the marxist militant group that was responsible for spectacular attacks in the 1970s, such as the leila khaled hijacking of an el al plane. "it's so easy to form a faction and a militia here," he says. "we are poor, our parties are not paying us, we can't leave here and we can't travel, so if someone pays a young kid $500 a month, of course he will join any movement. most of those jihadis were once fighters with us and other palestinian factions. "if you come to me and give me a $100,000, i will split from the pflp and form the pflp: believers' army. it's so easy." small joke aside, the arab world while it protests and proclaims the palestinian cause, does very to help these people when it comes down to it. posted by gordon at 01:39 pm | comments (193) | trackback june 11, 2007 albania is not like other countries a friend of mine married a former albanian ballet dancer. when i first met him i was surprised by his fervent embrace of all things connected to america and american capitalism (he loved bill gates), but clearly with a ticker tape parade for george bush this was no one off. it seems they are all like that. bush is clearly lapping it up, but obviously ruing his luck that all this adulation comes from a european backwater. clearly, albania is not like other countries (enver hoxha's brand of communist isolation will do that for you - whatever did happen to the cpbml?) and with its support for the war on terror it is not like other muslim countries either. bush's popularity is further helped by his enthusiastic support for kosovan independence much to the chagrin of russia (not to mention serbia). "at some point in time - sooner rather than later - you've got to say enough is enough. kosovo is independent' and that's the position we've taken," bush said during a news conference with the albanian prime minister sali berisha. posted by gordon at 11:19 am | comments (46) | trackback israel hits back the proposed ucu israeli boycott could have some positive cultural upswing for israel. according to a report in the times today the knesset is to debate a draft law today that could lead to a consumer boycott of all british goods while others want the musical 'mama mia!'. cancelled. it is due to open in israel next month. we should be so lucky. posted by gordon at 10:30 am | comments (42) | trackback june 08, 2007 eric lee on union boycotts of israel eric lee of labourstart has an excellent post on his personal blog about the disturbing trend among some unions to support boycotts of israel. posted by gene at 08:11 pm | trackback the new (cultural) imperialism i wouldn't usually post on the subject of israel (education being more my area.) but howard jacobson, writing in the independent, seems to me to hit the nail right on the head concerning the proposed ucu boycott: ...the assumption on which the entire boycott is based - is breathtaking. an israeli scholar dare not be in even the most partial agreement with his government. for an israeli academic not to think exactly as they think on the campuses of birmingham and brighton is to be guilty of a crime for which the punishment is expulsion from the international community of thought. he's right, isn't he? posted by graham at 10:51 am | comments (139) | trackback the well-connected prince i have no idea of the accuracy of the media reports on saudi prince bandar bin sultan's receipt of up to $2 billion in secret payments from bae systems. but i can't say i would be shocked if they're true. bandar, the former longtime and well-connected saudi ambassador to the united states, has enjoyed a famously extravagant lifestyle, even by saudi-royal standards. the new yorker published a revealing profile of him a few years ago, which noted that "he was so close to the president's father, george h. w. bush, that he was considered almost a member of the family." and when his close friend colin powell stepped down as secretary of state in 2005, us news and world report had this account of a lavish party the ambassador threw for him: "the beluga caviar at my table," said one partygoer, "would have bought my automobile 30 times over." guests washed that down with dom perignon and puffed on real cuban stogies as roberta flack crooned "killing me softly." our tipster said the scene was "almost obscene." everyone who deals with that medieval, misogynistic kingdom sells his or her soul to one degree or another. posted by gene at 02:25 am | comments (57) | trackback june 07, 2007 tariq ramadan convicted tariq ramadan has been convicted in paris of the offence of "outrage" (less sensationally, of "insulting a public official"). he entered a guilty plea. tariq ramadan's account of the events leading to his conviction is as follows: i arrived from mulhouse after a 35 minutes delay. i had 3 minutes left to catch the flight for london. feeling very tired after an intensive weekend, i ran from a terminal to the other. at a barrier, you have to present your boarding card in order to enter the area, if you were coming from outside a schengen country. i only had my passport with me. however, one of the members of stalf let me pass. then a woman stopped me from proceeding. i explained the situation to her: that i had only 2 minutes to make my flight, but she gestured to me to stand in line. she added “the law is the law”, with an smarmy smile. it is that smile which irritated me. i walked on. she ran after me. and at that point, i said to her: “you are bitch , madam.” a colleague arrived. i repeated to him that it was the result of an mistake on their part. he responded that it wasn't and that i was going to miss my plane. exasperated, i spluttered: “you are really two arseholes.” i wish i hadn't said that. i used two bad words. but listen to what happened next! a police officer pushed me in the car brutally, and then then insulted me: “” i spent the night rotting in a cell as a result of this pointless overzealousness. it is an experience which has taught me that you're never safe.” the word "conne" is usually translated as "bitch". as it is derived from the word for a woman's private parts, it is probably better translated as "twat": a sexualised insult which is less offensive than the insult, "cunt". there are those who will seek to explain ramadan's response to being asked to stand in line in terms of the differing cultural norms in middle eastern society. that would be absurd. ramadan is swiss, and is a university professor. look at it this way. those who think they are rather grand, irrespective of their background, are prone to getting into trouble with public functionaries. ramadan's behaviour, and his response, is precisely the sort of thing you'd expect from a superannuated tory mp who had downed one whisky too many in the airport bar. progressive liberals are certainly not immune from getting into slanging matches with public officials. although liberal and lefties tend to shy away from using sexualised terms of abuse. and they tend not to find women sporting sarcastic smiles particularly infuriating. still, ramadan is neither a liberal, nor a progressive. posted by david t at 12:21 pm | comments (57) | trackback june 06, 2007 darfur deportations i have been meaning to post for a while on the story of the darfur refugees in britain. you may remember that in april news came out that britain was rushing to send back darfur refugees before a court of appeal ruling that would prevent them being sent back to khartoum. i first heard about this at hp. the story was covered in the times, the guardian, the independent and on channel four. i also wrote something for the times, pointing out the hideous irony of the civil servants in the home office, which was the ministry in charge of launching holocaust memorial day, also sending back refugees to a country whose government is running a campaign of genocide. anyway, the point is, that after these stories appeared the deportations stopped and nobody was sent back. i hope the publicity helped. sometimes it's good to be a hack. posted by adam lebor at 12:03 pm | comments (100) | trackback june 05, 2007 how peace broke out in the middle east tony klug is gazing into the fabians' crystal ball: the greatest frustration and tragedy of the four decades after the 1967 war, when the middle east conflict was so widely regarded as among the most intractable and destabilising of all global tensions, is that it was never difficult to discern the compromises on both sides that were necessary for israelis and palestinians to agree to live alongside each other in mutual peace, security and respect. yet as each effort at securing peace raised hopes but eventually failed, the mood of pessimism and despair deepened and the cycle of violence seemed unending. those on both sides working for an equitable settlement were forever being told that theirs was an impossible dream. read on. kluggy will give a lecture on his vision of the future later this month, possibly alongside hillary "the sensible" benn mp, says sunny posted by david t at 01:00 pm | comments (37) | trackback lie lab here's a programme i wish i'd seen: buried away in the schedules with almost no advance publicity was lie lab. making use of new techniques in magnetic resonance imaging, the programme set out to discover if its subjects were telling the truth. last week those subjects were ruhal ahmed and shafiq rasul, better known as two-thirds of the tipton three. that was the name given to the three young men who were picked up in afghanistan in late 2001 by american forces and transported to guantanamo bay, where they were held without charges or trial for two years before being released back to britain. campaigners for the men have always maintained they were innocent tourists-cum-aid workers, caught up in the invasion of afghanistan. this was also the line of michael winterbottom 's film, the road to guantanamo. and given the tone and approach of lie lab, it also seemed to be a belief shared by the programme makers. but at the end of what was actually a rather dry and laborious piece of science tv, when confronted with results that suggested he was less than forthcoming with the truth, ahmed confessed (rasul had refused to go through with the test) not only to visiting an islamist training camp but also handling weapons and learning how to use an ak47. none of which justifies or excuses his sub-legal and subhuman treatment in guantanamo, but it does raise some questions about the portrayal, in some quarters of the media, of the tipton three as blameless heroes. the lie lab seemed almost embarrassed by its findings and was neither prepared, nor set up, to follow through on the story. but perhaps another tv programme might one day ask what a british citizen (or citizens) was doing at a guerrilla training camp, learning to fire weapons, in the middle of a war. nb - this entry was accidentally deleted. the comments are set out below. posted by david t at 12:06 pm | comments (10) | trackback six day war my thoughts on the 40th anniversary of the six day war posted by adam lebor at 08:28 am | comments (67) | trackback june 01, 2007 sing a song of chavez no, these aren't people taking to the street in celebration of president hugo chavez's benign rule by decree, they're cizitens fleeing an attack by his soldiers who fired teargas and rubber bullets to break up free speech protests after he closed down a popular tv station which was not supportive of his presidency. a new state-run station took its place and programming includes songs praising chavez. perhaps like this one? creepy stuff, this cult of personality business - especially when it's armed to the teeth. human rights groups like hrw and amnesty international have condemned the closure of the station. reporters without borders says that chavez is now setting his sights on other opposition media outlets, calling them "enemies of the motherland". a website, free rctv, has been set up to protest against the action and to document resistance. posted by brett at 10:43 am | comments (183) | trackback may 31, 2007 academic drawbridges raised british lecturers don't want to co-operate with their counterparts in israel: delegates at the first conference of the new university and college union in bournemouth voted by 158 to 99 for "a comprehensive and consistent boycott" but british education minister bill rammell disagrees with the proposed action: "the uk government fully supports academic freedom and is firmly against any academic boycotts of israel or israeli academics. whilst i appreciate the independence of the ucu, i am very disappointed that the union has decided to pass a motion which encourages its members to consider boycotting israeli academics and education institutions. i profoundly believe this does nothing to promote the middle east peace process." meanwhile in the islamic republic of iran the government is more obliging towards those who view the exchanging of academic experience as less than an unmitigated good: iran's powerful intelligence ministry has stepped up its war of nerves with the west by telling the country's academics they will be suspected of spying if they maintain contact with foreign institutions or travel abroad to international conferences. a government official said: "we are worried about many academic conferences which foreigners attend and establish relations [with iranian academics]. any foreigner who establishes relations is not trustworthy. the task of the ucu boycotters would be made a lot easier if mr rammell acted more like his counterpart in tehran - thankfully he takes academic freedom more seriously than both british lecturers and paranoid islamist officials. posted by marcus at 08:50 am | comments (385) | trackback may 28, 2007 the promised city meet robyn andraus, sami abou-shehade and michal meisler, three of jaffa's new generation of israelis. one is half-palestinian and half-jewish, one is palestinian and one is jewish. and they all live in the same city. posted by adam lebor at 09:57 pm | comments (59) | trackback may 22, 2007 silence since the beginning of the year 150 palestinians have been killed in "internal violence" in gaza. in the past week, more than 50 have died in "clashes" at the nahr al-bared palestinian refugee camp. i am looking for information on rallies and other events protesting these deaths. so far i have checked the home pages of the following groups: the international solidarity movement. the palestinian solidarity campaign. the scottish palestinian solidarity campaign. the exeter palestinian solidarity campaign. the york palestinian solidarity campaign. the brighton palestinian solidarity campaign. at the time of writing, they have nothing to say about these deaths at all. respect and the stop the war coalition both usually protest the deaths of palestinians. not today, though. it is as if these palestinians have not died at all, or that their deaths are simply unimportant and not worthy of note. (hat tips: sonic, ami, s.o. muffin and fabian) posted by david t at 11:56 am | comments (441) | trackback may 21, 2007 what price the sacred? whilst busy in the catacombs of hp towers developing penis-melting zionist robot combs and other assorted weapons of mind control, i came across the following paper - "sacred bounds on rational resolution of violent political conflict," published in the proceedings of the national academy of sciences. in summary, the authors suggest when resolving violent political conflicts, material incentives can actually inflame the situation if one side feels it is compromising a "sacred" position, regardless of the benefit obtained were that party to grab the carrot-on-the-stick. however, when both sides agree to yield a little on sacred issues of their own, the likelihood of violent opposition decreases. to test their hypothesis, the authors interviewed a mixture of palestinian refugees, jewish israeli settlers and members of hamas, analysing their responses to various hypothetical peace deals where the incentives on offer varied from the material: e.g. israel will pay each palestinian family 1,000 u.s. dollars a year for 10 years in economic assistance &#47 in return, the united states would give israel 1 billion dollars a year for 100 years to the "sacred": e.g. israel would symbolically recognize the historic legitimacy of the right of return &#47 palestinians would give up any claims to their right of return. read the paper (it's open access so should be free for all) and see what you think. (supplementary information here.) ignoring their choice of conflict (and in fairness the authors haven't set out to solve the israel-palestine conflict - there are more parties involved than settlers, refugees and hamas-supporting students for starters), one reservation i have about this paper is that it tells us nothing about disputes where one party has "sacred" positions that cannot be matched by the other side: one desiring an ethnic cleansing of the other, for example. thankfully, such conflicts are the exception rather than the rule. the paper also got me thinking about the principle of giving concessions to terrorists. on the one hand you have doves who favour the "do as they ask and they'll leave us alone" approach and on the other hawks convinced giving even an inch only encourages further acts of terrorism. take the current war on terror. the authors' conclusions suggest there is little point trying to buy off islamist terrorists as material incentives may lead to an escalation in violence, supporting the hawkish philosophy. that said, were we to find a suitable "sacred" issue on which to compromise, we'd stand a better chance of coming to some kind of arrangement, which is essentially the doveish position. hold that thought. meanwhile, the authors miss another trick by assuming both sides appreciate the true nature of their opponent's conciliatory gesture. the key to an agreement is not actually the gesture itself, but how the other party perceives it. if one party's compromise is not viewed as sacred by the other it doesn't matter a jot whether it truly is - the second party is unlikely to play ball and may instead step up hostilities. back to dealing with terrorists. take one of al qaeda's pet hates: western boots on islamic soil. one could argue hauling our troops back from afghanistan, iraq and wherever else they might find themselves ought to appease the head-choppers and suicide bombers. but would bringing them home be viewed as a compromise over a sacred issue or simply seen as a compromise over material gains such as political influence or oil? if the latter, we're damned if we do and damned if we don't. if the former, we're alright jack, but pity those left behind - unless you happen to be one of the cifilitic left who buy into (or make themselves mouthpieces for) hizb ut tahrir propaganda. what do we actually consider sacred in the west? is our faith in democracy a truly sacred belief? what would we have a hard time selling our souls for? i'd like to think the vast majority of people in this country would cry "blue murder" were our rights or freedoms to be frittered away in return for peace with a foreign foe or terrorist group. yet i've met several people (some of them online) who've taken the hard yuan and turned a blind eye to the not-so-subtle activities of a fairly unpleasant regime in the process. i've known people come back from cuba extolling its virtues, claiming crackdowns on political dissenters weren't really a problem. after all, with its legendary healthcare system and literacy rates, "what would you really protest about over there anyway?" so whilst we'd be livid at losing our own personal freedoms, we're a little more cavalier when it comes to other people's. which is i guess why realist foreign policies work so well - for those of us lucky enough to live in the west and the privileged few elsewhere. &#47rant off critiques of the paper, comparisons with other conflicts and suggestions for sacred compromises to solve the world's problems welcome in the comments box. posted by dan at 04:56 pm | comments (72) | trackback may 20, 2007 no to academic boycott of iran the washington post reports that: momentum is building behind an academic boycott of iran to pressure the government to free imprisoned american scholar haleh esfandiari, who was jailed in tehran's notorious evin prison on may 8 after more than four months under house arrest. norm says - and i agree with him - that: i don't think this is well-judged as a form of solidarity and protest. it isolates iranian academics if westerners decline to attend conferences in iran. wouldn't it be better precisely to attend those conferences, using the opportunity to speak against the actions of the iranian government in attacking and imprisoning iranian intellectuals? meanwhile, scholars at risk requests that urgent letters of appeal, emails and faxes be sent: --respectfully calling on the authorities to publicly explain the reasons for dr. esfandiari’s arrest and to work for her immediate release; --respectfully seeking assurances of dr. esfandiari’s physical well-being while she is in custody pending any release or proceedings; --respectfully seeking guarantees that dr. esfandiari has immediate access to legal counsel, to family and to any necessary medical treatment; --respectfully reminding authorities that the free exchange of ideas across national boundaries is a core value of academic freedom and higher education generally. posted by david t at 10:44 pm | comments (61) | trackback may 18, 2007 hello etranger who would have expected the new french president nicholas sarkozy to put together such an interesting cabinet? france's president nicolas sarkozy unveiled a compact 15-minister cabinet today that makes history by including seven women, the country's first top minister of north african origin, and a maverick socialist. perhaps most intriguing for harry's place readers is france's new foreign minister, bernard kouchner: the appointment of bernard kouchner, a 67-year-old doctor-turned-politician as foreign minister is a coup for mr sarkozy, but has sparked angry recrimination in left-wing ranks. mr kouchner backed the losing socialist presidential candidate ségolène royal in the election campaign. more on kouchner here. posted by marcus at 09:00 pm | comments (74) | trackback may 15, 2007 free haleh esfandiari this is human rights watch on her arrest. here is a campaign page. this is the bbc report. posted by david t at 10:53 am | comments (171) | trackback may 14, 2007 sign a petition, go to jail when i suggested that hp readers might like to sign a petition calling for the release of the bbc's gaza correspondent, alan johnston, not everybody was convinced it was worth the bother. one commentator argued: signers of petitions are not in a position to 'demand' anything, except to be admired for their costless, selective show of concern. that might be true in democratic, free, britain. signing petitions is not, however, "costless" in syria: a syrian court has sentenced two democracy activists, michel kilo and mahmoud issa, to three years in prison. the pair were convicted of spreading false information, encouraging sectarian strife and weakening national sentiment, a syrian rights group said. the men were arrested last year after signing a petition that called on syria to improve its relations with lebanon. (hat tip: jonz) posted by david t at 08:55 am | comments (39) | trackback may 11, 2007 alert: bangladeshi journalist tasneem khalil arrested sunny reports: i’ve just had an email informing me that prominent journalist tasneem khalil has been arrested by the military police in bangladesh, a serious attack on press freedom in the country. an editor and outspoken journalist for the english daily newspaper daily star, he also worked for cnn and human rights watch in the country. of late he has been documenting the military’s attempts to take over bangladesh and restrict political rights and free speech in the country. ... we need to organise joint protests in washington and london in front of the bangladeshi embassies to raise the profile of this arrest and highlight human rights abuses there. who’s with me? email me if you’re interested or post below. updates on graham adds sunny reports that tasneem khalil has now been released by the bangladeshi authorities. posted by david t at 02:29 pm | trackback may 01, 2007 the boliburguesa a few years ago the american journalist david brooks published a book of pop sociology called "bobos in paradise." the subject was "bourgeois bohemians" (bobos)-- well-to-do, well-educated professionals who try to incorporate elements of a 1960s countercultural, anti-establishment ethos into their lives. in venezuela, meanwhile, rampant favoritism and cronyism in the government of hugo chavez, combined with record oil prices, has produced a quite different phenomenon: the boliburguesa, or bolivarian bourgeoisie. reporting from caracas, alexandra starr writes in the current issue of the american scholar: boliburgueses had constructed mega-mansions in the most storied caracas neighborhoods and bought spanking new jets. a journalist friend who shadowed one of chávez’s closest allies was chauffeured around in a bulletproof bmw, flanked by korean bodyguards who can allegedly brain a would-be assailant with a butter knife at a distance of 20 meters. “it was like something out of goldfinger,” my colleague said, still somewhat incredulous. just as bizarre was his description of a caracas sushi restaurant that had been enthusiastically recommended: rare tuna could be served—for an exorbitant fee—on the belly of a woman in the buff. to be sure, this hedonism is out of reach for the great majority of venezuelans. even with the billions of dollars that have arrived in the country, four out of 10 residents subsist on two dollars a day or less. venezuelan blogger miguel octavio ("the devil's excrement") elaborated last november on the boliburguesa: while hugo chavez has used the terms oligarchs and oligarchy to refer to his enemies and the opposition in a derogatory manner, after eight years the term has certainly worn off, more so when one realizes that the "old" oligarchy has been quickly replaced by the "boli-bourgeois" the name given to the new class of rich bolivarians who defend the revolution and are part of the revolution only because they are getting rich beyond the wildest dreams of the "old" oligarchy, some of which actually even had to work for it. ..... the new oligarchy flaunts their wealth in ways never seen in venezuela. case in point is the fact that in 2005 the government banned all private airplanes from landing in the la carlota military airport of caracas, saying that for the benefit and safety of the people only helicopters could land there. and for a while it worked. in fact, a while back i made a post of actually seeing and taking a picture of a jet plane land in la carlota, because it not only violated the law, but showed that some people are more equal than others under the law. this is no longer a rarity. where i live is actually in the landing path of la carlota and at least a dozen planes take off and land daily, with increasing traffic on friday and sunday afternoons, as the new boli-oligarchs take off for the weekend to the fancy resorts of the caribbean where they can enjoy their anonymity their new found wealth, without annoying fellow venezuelans recognizing them or god forbid, staging a protest against them. to hell with equality under the law or even the law itself which simply bans the any airplane from landing there, but the law can be skirted as the revolution is in a rush to have its leaders enjoy themselves or make efficient use of their new flying toys, which range from cessnas to long range jets. yes, venezuela has become the largest growing market for private jets in south america and the planes are being bought by those affiliated with the revolution. ..... then there is scotch consumption, up from us$ 40 million to us$ 100 million from 2005 to 2006. it is, of course, presumptuous of me to assume that it is the new oligarchy that drinks 18 year old scotch. but who else could it be? the old one was perfectly happy with your run of the mill johnny walker black label, why would they change all of a sudden?... ...[t]he rich revolutionaries do not want to give up neither their wealth nor their priviliges. they wear red shirts at rallies, but cartier watches and lanvin suits and ties in private, they do not fly commercial, have purchased the finest properties in the east of caracas and their kids go to the best schools. how do you carry out a revolution like that. the answer is you don’t. these guys are the revolution’s worst enemies. they no longer want change, they want to preserve their new status quo, they have become the new and rich oligarchy. alexandra starr notes that chavez has used some of the country's oil wealth to fund social programs ("misiones") that have helped many of venezuela's poor with cheap food and free medical care. but the huge gap between the luxuries enjoyed by chavez's cronies and the bare subsistence of the poor disturbs at least one old-fashioned marxist curmudgeon. jose rafael lopez padrino, a venezuelan scientist, wrote recently in the opposition newspaper tal cual: certainly what the lt. colonel [chavez] is proposing as “socialism” is in reality state capitalism, in which the dominant and production relationships of the past are preserved... the regime has demonstrated that it does not have the smallest intention of modifying the social relations of production and the forms of ownership with a true socialist sense. in effect, the forces and social relations of production, which act in venezuelan society, have remained identical since about the midpoint of the xixth. century. let us recall that it is the relations of production, which constitute the economic structure of a society, over which the political and legal superstructures lies upon. of which socialism can we speak about if this regime has allowed the rise of an ostentatious and spendthrift boli bourgeois class, as perverse and exploiting as those linked to the adeco/copeyano governments [venezuela's two main pre-chavez political parties]? on top of that, it has allowed a flexibilization of labor rules (cooperatives and other forms of management sharing at companies) which area aimed at lowering costs of production and thus at increasing the rate of return of the profits of the owners... those darned old-fashioned marxists: always spoiling the fun. update: miguel has some observations on may day in the bolivarian republic. posted by gene at 01:39 am | comments (79) | trackback april 30, 2007 misleading impression looking at hezbollah's reaction to the winograd report harshly criticizing prime minister ehud olmert and other israeli officials for the conduct of last summer's war (they claim it proves hezbollah won, which it doesn't), i'm reminded of this observation: a closed society conveys the impression of order and discipline; an open society, buffeted by the crosswinds of reality and rumor, criticism and revelation, conveys the impression of disorder, chaos and uncertainty, but this impression can be misleading. indeed. which is one reason israel's enemies have confidently predicted its imminent demise for the past 59 years or so. what they fail to grasp is that countries which publicly air their mistakes and failures are stronger than those who put on great shows of lockstep, unquestioning unity, and who win the awed admiration of "leftwing" power worshippers. update: you can read the main findings of the interim report here (a full report will be released later). many of the deficiencies cited by the report-- in foresight, preparedness, creativity and adaptability-- were obvious at the time. posted by gene at 10:46 pm | comments (52) | trackback april 25, 2007 question time here's something that ought to be of interest:humanitarian intervention post-iraq, monday 30th april. april 21, 2007 nothing essential separates socialists and centrists or so said veteran of the french left michel rocard last weekend with regards to a theoretical royal-bayrou alliance to prevent a sarkozy victory in the presidential election. i wonder how many commenters here would agree with that statement? it called to mind remarks made in an interview with terry glavin by the canadian liberal michael ignatieff:“as for the left, i’ve always been a progressive liberal. i’m a fierce believer in publicly funded health care. i’m a fierce believer in aboriginal self-government. i’m a fierce believer in bilingualism, and i have a fierce attachment to the multicultural achievement in canada. but you also have to remember that the most bitter fights in modern politics are actually between liberals and anybody to the left. i don’t take it personally.“liberals are the people that the left has always hated. if you go back into the 1960s, there was nothing more sneering or damning in the 1960s, when the georgia straight began to come out, than calling someone a liberal. we now associate, `oh, he’s a liberal,’ with the right. but when i grew up, in college, all the best and the brightest were slightly to the left of me. . . but run the tape back even further, you know i wrote a biography of isaiah berlin, and you listen to berlin in the 1950s and the 1960s, this anti-war, cold war liberal, getting pounded by the left for being an apologist for the americans, for being an apologist for the cold war, for being an apologist for containment.“but when you ask the question, `why are you hated?’ i’m sure it has something to do with me and my obnoxious personal characteristics. i’m sure. but it’s part of a long historical argument that goes back really to the end of the second world war, to the fracture between liberalism and the social democratic left to straight communists, and that divide was sharp as a knife on the edge. and a liberal believes in a market economy and personal freedom, and these guys, no. "liberals i think also have this, and this is a key thing, a strongly anti-protectionist view, of political choice. it’s not an accident that i wrote a book called the lesser evil. politics is about the management of lesser evils. the utopian left has a view that you can engage in a kind of angelic social choice, where there’s no cost, no penalties, no losses. well, my sense is that politics is always about choosing the lesser evil, in metaphoric terms, and sometimes the lesser evil in a very real sense. you do a small evil to avoid a much greater one. and that’s actually - i don’t want to invest that with any dignity – but it is basically driven by a quite tragic sense of what politics is about. and in my view a more realistic sense. so there we are.”so here we have ignatieff portraying his liberalism as a kind of pragmatic socialism. interesting. and back to royal. having dismissed the idea of a socialist-liberal pact and stating france would never go down on its knees for us president george bush, she surprised both me and charles bremner yesterday:readers here may remember that royal has tried to rid herself of the taint of blairisme from which she suffered after praising the british prime minister early last year. when france-inter taunted her over blair this morning, i expected her to perform her usual evasion, instead, she bravely said the following: "there was a taboo. the socialists were not supposed to mention tony blair. my concern is to look at what works and see how we can apply solutions to france. tony blair invested massively in public services, in health care, schools and the battle against youth unemployment. he succeeded in meeting the challenge."as it's the weekend, feel free to drop thoughts both on what's left and what's not, and/or predictions for sunday evening's results into the usual box below. me? i'm not going to sit on the fence on this one: i think it's fifty:fifty. posted by dan at 05:20 am | comments (57) | trackback april 18, 2007 do we need a new word? ...i have no hesitation in saying that hizbollah is not and has never been a terrorist organisation. ..... i glorify the hizbollah national resistance movement, and i glorify the leader of hizbollah, sheikh sayyed hassan nasrallah. --george galloway in socialist worker, july 29, 2006 even with regard to the firing of missiles on israeli citizens, when they were bombing citizens on our side... this was done in order to put pressure on them. even that required general permission based on islamic law. --naim qassem, deputy secretary-general of hezbollah, on al-kawthar tv, april 16, 2007 so if deliberately targeting israeli citizens (men, women and children, jews and arabs) with missiles-- which started before israel struck back-- is not terrorism, what is it? george? anyone? update: if galloway bothered to respond to this post, it would go something like this: it's an israeli - israeli organisation... it's an israeli translation... it's an israeli website... further update: in answer to my question, "[i]f deliberately targeting israeli citizens (men, women and children, jews and arabs) with missiles... is not terrorism, what is it?" commenter david gehrig suggests: pretaliation. posted by gene at 02:32 pm | comments (207) | trackback april 17, 2007 the red and the green regular readers of harry's place will be more than familiar with the islamist/communist alliance that has developed and deepened in britain since the overthrow of the taliban regime in 2001. it's an increasingly problematic international phenomenon as well, as this story from the telegraph makes clear: iran and north korea have appointed high-level delegations to deepen co-operation between the two countries on nuclear weapons technology, according to diplomatic sources in beijing. despite teheran's insistence that its nuclear programme is aimed at meeting the country's future energy needs, iran has already admitted to buying the blueprint for pakistan's nuclear bomb from dr a q khan, the "father" of that country's atom bomb. nuclear experts believe that iran is now seeking to acquire north korea's expertise to assist its own clandestine programme to develop a nuclear weapons arsenal. iran's shahab-3 missile is based on north korea's nodong ballistic missiles and teheran is also keen to maintain the existing co-operation between the two countries on the development of long-range missiles. a backward medieval theocracy and the world's first totalitarian primogeniture practicing state swapping mass destruction technology and its system of delivery - hardly a marriage made in socialist heaven, but i can almost guarantee the comments box will have certain 'leftists' defending this cynical and dangerous marriage of convenience within hours. posted by marcus at 12:23 pm | comments (84) | trackback april 14, 2007 police block anti-putin demonstration in moscow reuters reports: russian police detained at least 170 people, including chess champion garry kasparov, on saturday as they snuffed out an attempt by opponents of president vladimir putin to protest near the kremlin. activists had planned to gather at a city centre square about one km (half a mile) from the kremlin to protest at what they say is mr. putin's trampling of democratic freedoms and demand a fair vote to choose a new president in 2008. teams of riot police, acting on a ruling from the city authorities banning the protest, pounced on protesters as they appeared in small groups near the square and swiftly loaded them into buses, reuters witnesses said. the blog whims of fate has photos from the scene. it's deeply unfortunate that kasparov and other genuine democrats in the other russia movement have allowed the creepy national bolsheviks to participate. no matter how much i detest putin's authoritarianism, it's hard to support an opposition that includes them. posted by gene at 04:55 pm | comments (9) | trackback april 12, 2007 israeli newsreader lucy aharish, a 25 year old arab muslim from nazareth, is the new anchor for israel's popular channel 10 news show. this follows the appointment of raleb majedele, as israel's first muslim cabinet minister, in charge of science and information. both very welcome developments, to be sure. but does the advancement of israel's arab minority also highlight a contradiction between israel being a democracy and a jewish state? majdele stands for the hatikvah, the israeli national anthem, but refuses to sing it, as its lyrics eulogise a 'nefesh yehudi', a jewish soul. is it time to change the words to a 'nefesh israeli', an israeli soul - which would include all israeli citizens, whether jewish, christian or muslim so majedele could sing it as well? or even abolish the law of return which gives automatic citizenship to all jews, and make israel a modern, hebrew, secular state? (not the same as merging israel/palestine into a bi-national state) this is a debate that is moving from the fringes of the israeli left into the mainstream of israeli politics, although you wouldn't know it from the british media coverage of israel/palestine. just a few thoughts..... hat tip: tom gross posted by adam lebor at 08:09 am | comments (121) | trackback april 11, 2007 mapping the devastation in darfur google earth is mapping the destruction of darfur, in conjunction with the us holocaust memorial museum. when users scan over darfur, fire icons represent destroyed villages with flames and refugee camps with tents. clicking on them will open windows with the village's name and statistics on the extent of destruction. posted by adam lebor at 03:54 pm | comments (53) | trackback april 10, 2007 final justice? a war crimes court in serbia has found four serb paramilitaries guilty of the murder of six muslim youths in the final days of the bosnian conflict. the murders were caught on videotape which was later discovered by a serbian human rights activist. the images were first shown during the trial of former serb leader slobodan milosevic and reveal an orthodox priest blessing members of a serbian military unit who then force six men in civilian clothing, their hands bound, out of a lorry onto a country road, where they are made to lie face down. when other soldiers arrive, they march the six men into an area off the road and shoot four of the young men in the back. at gunpoint, the soldiers then force the two remaining men to drag the bodies off to a nearby building. later, the two men are made to lie down on the floor of the building and are also shot. this was a sickening crime and yet today's conviction in a serbian court offers some small hope for change for the better. the serbian people themselves certainly seem more willing to accept the truth than do some british commenters on blogs. one wonders how they will spin a video showing both the convicted perpetrators and their victims and the act of murder itself. a croatian serb member of the death squad is already serving 15 years for the crimes in a croatian prison. rwandans this week observe the anniversary of the 14 week reign of terror that left at least half a million dead. in canada, desire munyaneza faces seven charges including genocide and crimes against humanity under the country's new war crimes act. “he told people to kill us and was standing there, making sure no one would escape,” one woman, known in court as c16 in order to protect her identity, told jurors. “when they slashed the woman next to me, i fell down so they would think i was dead, and i stayed there until they were gone.” we forget such brutality at our own peril. despite the vomit-loads of "whatabouttery" from the usual suspects. posted by graham at 03:31 pm | comments (166) | trackback april 04, 2007 ahmadinejad announces release of captives trying to squeeze every last drop of propaganda value from it, iran's president ahmadinejad has announced the release of the 15 captured british sailors and marines. "on behalf of the great iranian people, i want to thank the iranian coast guard who courageously defended and captured those who violated their territorial waters," the president told a press conference. he then interrupted his speech and pinned medals on the chests of three coast guard officers involved in capturing the british sailors and marines in the northern gulf on march 23. ..... "on the occasion of the birthday of the great prophet (muhammad) ... and for the occasion of the passing of christ, i say the islamic republic government and the iranian people — with all powers and legal right to put the soldiers on trial — forgave those 15," he said, referring to the muslim prophet's birthday last saturday and easter, next sunday. "this pardon is a gift to the british people," he said. please assure me that no one in britain will actually respond to this "gift" with gratitude to the iranian regime. ahmadinejad criticized britain for deploying leading seaman faye turney, one of the 15 detainees, in the gulf, pointing out that she is a woman with a child. "how can you justify seeing a mother away from her home, her children? why don't they respect family values in the west?" he asked of the british government. family values? like this? or this? update: an important point mentioned by robin wright in a washington post piece: tehran was... unable to rally significant public support for another long-term showdown like the 1979-1981 hostage ordeal involving 52 american diplomats, experts added. "there was no nationalist bounce out of this," said patrick clawson of the washington institute for near east policy. "all the usual people you'd expect to be frothing at the mouth simply weren't." and indeed, an anti-british protest by 200 students in tehran-- no matter how noisy and violent-- contrasted markedly with the hundreds of thousands of iranians who shouted "death to america" at demonstrations during the earlier hostage crisis. posted by gene at 03:24 pm | comments (260) | trackback march 31, 2007 turney is a feminist issue so says janice turner discussing kidnapped leading seaman faye turney in today's times: what a perplexing and alien creature seaman turney must appear to this iranian regime. a young woman working close-knit with men, proud to perform her dangerous task of piloting speedboats as well as any one of them. a wife and mother, moreover, away from her small daughter, who has put military career before marital and maternal duties. the iranians were satisfied to have her 14 male comrades surrender as sailors or marines: seaman turney had to surrender also as a woman. while the men were free to eat their pitta bread and lamb stew with weary resignation, she had to work out how best to appear adequately humble, grateful and submissive. she must submit not just to iran’s military authority but its patriarchal might. after all, here she stood, the end-product of 100 years of bitterly fought — and now mostly unacknowledged — western female emancipation. in britain our own reactionaries may finger-wag at the unnatural spectacle of a mother in a warzone, distracting our male warrior caste. one strain of feminism can question why womankind — nature’s peacemakers, oh mother gaia! — would want to fight men’s wars, particularly this one. read the rest here. update: the bbc poses some of the legal questions arising from the seizing of the 15 british personnel here, as well as publishing a copy of the third letter allegedly from faye turney to the british people. note the lack of a definite article in the first line: not a grammatical mistake likely to have been made by someone whose first language is english, i would have thought. full text of the letter at the guardian. posted by marcus at 09:25 am | comments (92) | trackback march 29, 2007 chavez accuses judges of treason in 2004 venezuelan president hugo chavez tried to make sure he would be untroubled by an independent judiciary by packing the country's high court of justice (tsj) with his supporters. at its opening session in 2006, the court hardly enhanced its reputation for impartiality when judges joined in the applause as members of the audience chanted "uh-ah, ¡chavez no se va!" (imagine the justifiable outcry if justices of the us supreme court applauded while bush partisans chanted their support for the president.) now a power struggle has emerged between the tsj and venezuela's national assembly-- which consists entirely of chavez supporters. and chavez, apparently feeling betrayed by the court, is accusing it of "treason to the people, treason of the revolution." (again, imagine the outrage if bush accused supreme court justices who ruled against him of treason.) venezuelan blogger daniel duquenal has a translation and an analysis of chavez's rant against the court. he adds: so now we know what is the problem between the national assembly and the tsj. it is in fact a proxy fight as the tsj is stopping, refusing, denying something to chavez. the "thing" is not that relevant when all is said and done. what is relevant here... is that something has dared to stand in front of him. be it a meek or strong protest, it is simply unacceptable and it must be crushed... daniel calls chavez's behavior "openly fascist." i'm not sure that's the correct description, but it certainly bears no resemblance to anything recognizably democratic. and what will chavez do to stamp out this "treason"? posted by gene at 03:41 pm | comments (64) | trackback boycotts and the principle of the universality of science read professor michael yudkin's article in the engage journal, is an academic boycott of israel justified?: to most working scientists, the principle of the universality of science is axiomatic; they don't spend much time thinking about it or considering the reasons why, as the icsu statement i quoted just now asserts, it is fundamental to the progress of science. a few years ago, in response to an earlier call for an academic boycott - on that occasion one that was specifically directed against scientists - three oxford colleagues and i set up a discussion group to examine the principle of the universality of science and to tease out its theoretical basis. we published the results of our discussions (2) in the journal nature in january 2003, and as i still think our conclusions were on the right lines i shall summarise them here. the main feature of our paper was to give three reasons why boycotting scientists by reason of their country of residence should not be permitted. 1) the advance of science is potentially of net benefit to all mankind, and therefore avoidable obstacles to its pursuit are undesirable. 2) since the value of a given contribution to science ought to be judged on its own merits rather than on the basis of any characteristics of the person making the contribution, the exclusion of a particular group of people from the scientific enterprise for reasons that are irrelevant to the science itself is a perversion of the objectivity that science demands. 3) with humankind dangerously divided by race, citizenship, religion and so on, the continued ability of scientists to cooperate in a way that transcends these boundaries is an important symbol of, and impetus to, the breakdown of such divisions. ... the principle of the universality of science and learning – that academics do not discriminate against colleagues on the basis of factors that are irrelevant to their academic work (such as race, religion, nationality etc.) – is well established and almost universally respected. to boycott academics by reason of their country of residence breaches this principle and harms the interests of the academics concerned. two kinds of argument speak in favour of maintaining the principle of the universality of science and learning: 1) that undesirable consequences would flow from violating it, and 2) that to harm people who are innocent of wrongdoing is morally unacceptable. those who wish to boycott israeli academics attempt to defeat the second type of argument by claiming that these academics are complicit in discrimination against the arab minority in israel or the occupation of the west bank, and/or that israeli universities suppress dissenting voices. analysis of these claims shows that they are without serious substance. posted by david t at 12:46 pm | comments (20) | trackback march 28, 2007 faux pas my mother always used to say to me: "there are some things you say, and other things you just think". this is a lesson this young fellow from the pro-israeli un watch has clearly not learnt. via dstfw posted by david t at 05:59 pm | comments (88) | trackback ahmadinejad's adoring masses an encouraging sign for supporters of internal regime change in iran: despite the efforts of president ahmadinejad's underlings to round up the masses for his appearance in the central iranian city of yazd (population: about half a million), this was the best they could do: notice that a small group of apparently trusted people sits close to the president, while security personnel watch the rest of the crowd through a barricade. on the other hand, it could herald desperate and dangerous efforts to hold on to power. (hat tip: azarmehr.) posted by gene at 02:33 am | comments (121) | trackback march 27, 2007 "i want a safe country... and also a moral country" at some point between the anti-zionist stereotype of the faceless, wantonly brutal idf soldier on the one hand, and a tiny minority of refuseniks on the other, is where i think you will find most israelis. the new york times has an account of a recent meeting in jerusalem addressed by mikhael manekin, who served four years with the golani infantry brigade in the west bank. mr. manekin and his colleagues spent a lot of their time at security checkpoints around hebron and nablus, controlling the movement of palestinians to try to ensure that suicide bombers could not infiltrate israeli cities. the checkpoints are part of a security network, including the separation barrier, that protects israel, but also deeply inconveniences palestinians who would never consider strapping on a bomb. mr. manekin is the director of breaking the silence, a group of former israeli combat soldiers and some current reservists, shocked at their own misconduct and that of others, who have gathered to collect their stories and bear witness. since 2004, the group has collected testimonies from nearly 400 soldiers... he spoke of how some soldiers humiliate or beat palestinians to keep crowds in line and how soldiers are taught to be aggressive, but how most behave within decent moral limits — and of how the fear that hundreds of people could erupt in anger wears on the soul and turns young men callous. “i don’t think this is a problem of the military,” he said. “it’s a problem of the society. we’re sending these kids in our name. and there has to be a space to talk of bad things. it’s not enough to say, ‘but there’s palestinian terrorism,’ which there is, but that’s too easy.” he felt conflicted whenever he went back into the army on reserve duty, he said. “i love my soldiers, and i’m a good officer,” he said. “but going back into that system is hard. still, i see my future here and my children’s future. and i want a safe country, like everyone, and also a moral country.” the point is that this dilemma-- weighing the overriding need for security against a wish to be as humane as possible-- is something large numbers of israelis do worry about. when similarly large numbers of palestinians are publicly willing to express moral concerns about the behavior of their liberation fighters, perhaps peace will finally be at hand. update: it's worth noting that in 2004 israel's supreme court ordered changes in the route of the security barrier between israel and the west bank to lessen the hardship on palestinians. the court said: this route has created such hardship for the local population that the state must find an alternative that may give less security but would harm the local population less. so there are times when security-- as vital as it is to israel-- does not override humanitarian concerns. posted by gene at 08:24 pm | comments (102) | trackback null and void the egyptian blogger sandmonkey has a harrowing first-hand account of brutal repression at a small demonstration in cairo against the mubarak government's anti-democratic constitutional amendments. sandmonkey writes: who do you go to when it's your police that's assaulting, kidnapping and raping? what can you do to stop them, when they are the law? what do you do when you need protection from those who swore to protect you? where exactly do you go? for an american sympathizer, perhaps the most distressing part of the account is when sandmonkey-- a self-described "extremely cynical, snarky, pro-us, secular, libertarian"-- writes: [i]t's not a good sign that [secretary of state] rice is meeting up with mubarak today and... the us doesn't give a damn anymore what happens to us. sandmonkey and his fellow demonstrators could hardly have been encouraged by rice's tepid comments on the constitutional admendments, which rights groups have called a step backward for freedom and democracy. rice, in egypt as part of a middle east tour on the eve of a nationwide referendum on the amendments, said she had broached the issue with president hosni mubarak but recognized that political change would have "ups and downs." ..... rice said washington was not trying to give orders to egypt how to proceed with reforms. "we recognize that states do this in their own way, and that they do it in a way that is consistent with their own cultural circumstances," she said. according to a washington post editorial: the package essentially will make the "emergency laws" that have underpinned mr. mubarak's regime a permanent part of egypt's political order. one amendment would write into the constitution the authority of police to carry out arrests, search homes, conduct wiretaps and open mail without a warrant and would give the president the authority to order civilians tried by military courts, where they have limited rights. other amendments would ban independent political candidates as well as parties based on religion, which would eliminate the muslim brotherhood from parliament. only parties with parliamentary representation would be able to nominate presidential candidates; since the government has refused to register most opposition parties and rigged parliamentary elections, there would be no alternative to the ruling party's choice. it appears president bush's genuinely stirring second inaugural address ("all who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the united states will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. when you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you") is now null and void-- at least when it comes to putative allies. (via andrew sullivan.) posted by gene at 04:01 pm | comments (23) | trackback march 25, 2007 confessions, iranian style if the 15 captured british sailors and marines really did confess to "aggression into the islamic republic of iran's waters," it's probably safe to assume the confessions were obtained in roughly the same manner as those elicited from dissident iranian journalists a couple of years ago. and we can only shudder at what that might be. posted by gene at 02:40 pm | comments (300) | trackback march 23, 2007 iran's act of aggression iran has captured 15 british naval personnel in iraqi waters, according to the bbc. this is an obvious and overt act of aggression. for all those who have answered any and all criticism of iran's human rights abuses with the line that anyone who protests about these abuses is giving "neocons" or "zionists" or "bush/blair" a pretext to attack iran, i ask: why is iran offering this obvious pretext to those who might seek to go to war on a plate? i would advise iran to release these illegally seized british navy personnel within the hour and offer profuse apologies. what's your advice? why is iran seemingly less concerned about providing the us/uk a pretext for war than the far-leftists who denounce those who criticise iran on human rights grounds? posted by brett at 03:01 pm | comments (151) | trackback march 22, 2007 the arab league and darfur writing in the arab daily newspaper al-hayat, nadim hasbani, of the international crisis group, castigates the arab league for its pathetic response to the genocide in darfur, and its continuing protection of sudan: the arab league has expressed concern over the violence in sudan's darfur, but, like individual arab member states, it has failed to support international action to protect the sudanese citizens of darfur. their inaction in the face of mass killings edges closer and closer to complicity every day. despite heavy-handed censorship on arab media covering darfur, knowledge of the massacres started reaching the arab public by the end of 2003. in 2004, an arab league commission of inquiry into darfur publicly condemned the attacks on civilians as "massive violations of human rights". yet the statement was later suppressed and removed from the arab league website, after a negative reaction from the sudanese government. since that moment, the arab league has consistently counseled international patience in dealing with khartoum, despite more than 200,000 civilian deaths in darfur as a result of the sudanese government's military strategy of targeting of the civilian population. read more posted by adam lebor at 11:31 am | comments (64) | trackback march 21, 2007 iran: can the regime be changed from within? can iran's regime we changed from within? this is the question that maryam namazie - iranian broadcaster, blogger, humanist, feminist and communist - addresses in the latest edition of talking with tatchell on the online tv station, 18 doughty street. maryam and peter also talk about the general human rights situation in iran in the 30 minute discussion programe. watch the programme here. posted by brett at 12:19 pm | comments (25) | trackback march 20, 2007 singled out number of resolutions criticizing israel (pdf) for its treatment of palestinian women approved by the un commission on the status of women at its 51st session: 1 number of resolutions criticizing the palestinian authority for the situation of palestinian women: 0 number of resolutions criticizing iran for beating and imprisoning women's rights demonstrators or approving the stoning to death of alleged female adulterers: 0 number of resolutions criticizing saudi arabia for prohibiting women from driving, traveling unaccompanied by male relatives or voting in municipal elections: 0 number of resolutions criticizing sudan for supporting the janjaweed militia, which engages in mass rape of women in darfur: 0 number of resolutions criticizing any country other than israel for anything: 0 number of countries with worse women's rights records than israel: substantially >0 the resolution singling out israel was approved by a vote of 40 to 2. the us and canada opposed it. (hat tip: tom gross.) posted by gene at 10:17 pm | comments (187) | trackback crackdown on teachers' protests in iran last year it was the bus workers. now iran's teachers are the victims of the regime's latest crackdown on labor protests. in an excellent report from tehran, the guardian's robert tait writes: the authorities in iran have signalled their determination to break a teachers' pay revolt by arresting up to 1,000 people in a brutal crackdown. in a carefully coordinated operation, riot police swooped on demonstrators and beat them with batons as they tried to gather outside iran's parliament and education ministry. they herded groups of teachers into police vans and buses and transported them to detention centres across the capital, tehran. around 150 of those arrested in wednesday's protest are still in custody, with the ringleaders believed to be in tehran's notorious evin prison. others were released after signing a commitment agreeing not to participate in "illegal" demonstrations. education international, a worldwide federation of teachers' unions, and the afl-cio are lending their iranian sisters and brothers support. (note: will someone please accuse me of posting about this to whip up support for an attack on iran? you know, just to get it over with.) posted by gene at 02:57 am | comments (24) | trackback march 19, 2007 natwest closes interpal account last july the bbc's panorama investigated the links between interpal-- the charity for which george galloway made a fool of himself on big brother-- and the islamist terrorist movement hamas. in 2003 the us treasury department designated interpal as a "terrorist entity" for its connections to hamas, freezing its assets in the united states and prohibiting transactions with us nationals. now the friends of al-aqsa website reports that natwest bank is closing interpal's account in the uk. the uk charity commission-- which in the past has given interpal a clean bill of health-- has begun another investigation. (hat tip: tim) posted by gene at 11:41 pm | comments (16) | trackback march 17, 2007 taking on mugabe's apologists i disagree with almost every comment suec has posted here over the years, but well done to her for standing up to the apologists, minimizers and whatabouters at medialens on the matter of robert mugabe's brutal and corrupt regime. brett adds: reuters is reporting that an opposition parliamentarian was ambushed and badly beaten by mugabe's thugs at harare airport as he was about to leave for an africa, pacific and carribean-european union parliamentary meeting. nelson chamisa is being treated for facial injuries and blood loss. on saturday, two other mdc officials, sekai holland and grace kwinje, were prevented from travelling to south africa for medical treatment following assults on them while in police custody. posted by gene at 11:37 pm | comments (52) | trackback the muslim world and darfur the organisation of the islamic conference, which has 57 member states, is demanding that the un human rights council reject the latest un report on darfur. why? because the mission 'did not fulfill its mandate'. why did it not fulfill its mandate?'. because sudan did not grant its members visas. the oic's continuing defence of sudan's campaign of genocide goes against the basic tenets of islam. read more in today's times: posted by adam lebor at 09:53 am | comments (96) | trackback march 16, 2007 failing to protect workers at home and abroad of course the us government doesn't always challenge corporate abuse in latin america as firmly as it did in the case of chiquita. despite pledges by central american governments to improve labor rights as part of the cafta free trade agreement with the us, there has been very little change, the washington post reports. in guatemala, for example, trade union leaders are assassinated and workers who try to organize are routinely fired. the latter practice is hardly unknown in the united states, as you can see in these videos supporting the employee free choice act now in congress: in both countries, the us government's efforts to protect workers' rights are spotty at best. posted by gene at 05:58 pm | comments (39) | trackback spiritual prizes i’m rather intrigued by charles taylor, the canadian philosopher who has won this year’s templeton prize - worth more than $1.5 million. taylor investigates people's desire to seek meaning and spiritual direction, and has suggested that the world’s problems can only be solved by considering both their secular and spiritual roots. he argues that by failing to take individuals' spiritual needs into account and focusing only on the economic and political, politicians have left out a large part of how people of all religions find meaning in their lives. "i think the reason why young children turn to violent in gaza city is not just through socio-economic factors but also through the meaninglessness of their lives," (taylor) said yesterday. "they feel no purpose and people come along and offer them a 'cause'. "or take the people who were involved in the july bombings in london. what we know is that some were highly successful and integrated in british society and yet they did what they did, because they were excited by some greater cause of islam on a global level. they were giving some sense to their lives by becoming fighters. we need to understand this 'dark spirituality' as the west is very unschooled in this." ok, i can see just how this will be interpreted by some of our more-right-wing commenters. and on the face of it this seems little different to sayid qutb’s reasons for rejecting western values. i know also that the philosophical “schools” mentioned in connection with taylor (bakhtin, heidegger, wittgenstein etc) are very unlikely to find favour at harry’s place. but taylor has a history of involvement with social democratic politics and is not exactly arguing that modernity should be scrapped, merely that something is missing;that traditional liberal theory's conceptualization of individual identity is too abstract and one dimensional and has in the process of coming into being somehow neglected the individual's ties to community. this may sound strange coming from an atheist (although i am taking “spiritual” here in its broader sense of “connection to something greater than oneself”) but in modern life many people do seem to be spiritually deprived. something of their humanity is stolen from those who do endless, dreary monotonous jobs. those who monotonously process food for a living are, it has always seemed to me, not terribly far from processing human beings through gas chambers- perhaps just a change in orders from above away in fact . doing terrible things in an organized and systematic way rests on "normalization," the process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as "the way things are done." as arendt pointed out, adolf eichmann was an utterly innocuous individual, operating unthinkingly, following orders, efficiently carrying them out, with no consideration of their effects upon the human beings he targeted. on a much smaller but also much wider scale i worked for many years with people with learning difficulties, starting off rather idealistically, but by the end i could have easily killed one of them, and judging by my recent experiences with a school many teachers seem to be taking the same route. could it be, that for all it’s benefits modern life is killing off something which makes us human? we have talked many times of the experiences of qutb (which led to him rejecting the west and joining the muslim brotherhood on his return to egypt) but are many of us gradually and slowly becoming more like adolf eichmann? cutting to the chase, is our western idea of what constitutes “progress” all good? or are we actually prepared to admit to a downside? posted by graham at 02:00 pm | comments (98) | trackback march 13, 2007 palestinian lesbians will meet in z.e. it appears the only safe place in the middle east for palestinian lesbians to hold a conference is, um, israel. and they're getting flack for it from the leaders of israel's islamic movement. last week, the movement's heads, mks ibrahim sarsur and abas zkoor (united arab list-ta'al) published a statement calling on "all respectable people from all communities and streams to stand up against preaching sexual deviance among our women and girls." the haifa-based asawat, a palestinian gay women's organization, most of whose 85 members hail from israel and the territories, has called the march 28 conference to mark its five-year anniversary. the islamic movement found common ground with ultra-orthodox jewish groups last year in opposing a gay pride parade in jerusalem. haaretz reports: the arabic-language newspaper affiliated with hadash [the israeli communist movement], al ittihad, last week published a harsh critique of the islamic movement's stand. i don't usually have much complimentary to say about hadash, but good for them. posted by gene at 02:16 am | comments (31) | trackback march 12, 2007 mugabe's mielie-mouthed media's moral maize while zimbabwe starves, robert mugabe's state-controlled media feeds the people a staple diet of bullshit. according to reuters, this weekend, zimbabwean police arrested several opposition leaders, including movement for democratic change leader morgan tsvangirai, and shot another man dead while breaking up a prayer meeting held "to address the deepening political and economic crisis". of course, normally i'd scoff at people praying to achieve anything, but of course, mugabe has banned political gatherings. and, since all rational avenues to effect change in the country seem to have been explored, it is no wonder that people might request divine intervention - even if only as a means to discuss the national catastrophe inflicted upon the country by mugabe. imagine inflation at 1700% and over 80% unemployment. however, state-controlled zimbabwe herald reported the story thus: "one person was shot dead by police and three police officers severely injured during an attack by mdc thugs, while opposition faction leaders morgan tsvangirai and arthur mutambara were arrested for inciting people to engage in violence." for me, this is nothing new because i remember the state of emergency in south africa. in fact, i wonder if mugabe didn't buy surplus boss and ccb textbooks at auction. posted by brett at 11:10 am | comments (95) | trackback march 07, 2007 state department assesses worldwide human rights the us department of state has issued its assessment of human rights by country for 2006. at a glance it appears to be a non-politicized report, pointing out abuses by "friendly" nations as well as hostile ones. i appreciate that each country's report includes a detailed assessment of workers' rights. if anyone is familiar with the human rights situation in a specific country, and thinks the state department got something wrong, i'd be interested to know about it. posted by gene at 10:09 pm | comments (49) | trackback peter tatchell on tehran's heroic women read peter tatchell's piece on comment is free: why is much of the left and the liberal media ignoring the struggle for democracy and women's rights in iran? tomorrrow - march 8 - is international women's day and the women of iran are growing bolder and more defiant than ever. last sunday, a group of courageous women's rights activists staged a vigil outside the engelab court in tehran. they held banners demanding: "we have the right to hold peaceful protests". these gentle, unthreatening women - armed only with words, ideals and paper placards - were violently attacked by the police, on the orders of president mahmoud ahmadinejad's regime. one woman had her head battered against the side of a police bus, shattering her teeth. another demonstrator, nahid mirhaj, accused the police chief of "using obscene words and describing us as 'misfits'." the bbc correspondent in tehran, frances harrison, says police and plainclothes security men arrested at least 32 women, including nearly all the leaders of iran's women's movement. they were shoved into curtained buses and driven away. unbowed, they are now on hunger strike in evin prison, which is notorious for torture and deaths in custody. their families and friends have begun a vigil outside the jail. human rights watch says that some of the arrested women have since been released, but confirms that 26 are still in detention. sunday's demonstration was the latest in a series. it was called in solidarity with five women activists who are on trial after they staged a peaceful rally last june against islamic laws that discriminate against women - in particular the sexist laws on polygamy and child custody. the five activists in the dock are nusheen ahmadi khorasani, parvin ardalan, sussan tahmasebi, shahla entesari and fariba davoodi mohajer. for holding a peaceful protest, they are charged with endangering national security, propaganda against the state, and taking part in an illegal gathering. another four women's rights campaigners are awaiting trial on similar charges arising from the same protest last june. parveen adalan, one of the women currently on trial, said her lawyer had not been shown any of the evidence against her, even though she has been interrogated five times by the police and intelligence agencies. "they didn't give them our documents to read, so we don't know what's happening," she told the bbc. posted by david t at 07:34 pm | trackback jumblatt's apology i can't help admiring his guts, but can anyone explain why the lebanese druze leader walid jumblatt continues rhetorically to poke bashar al-assad in the eye with a sharp stick? also note his comparison of hezbollah demonstrations to nazi rallies. posted by gene at 03:20 am | comments (54) | trackback march 04, 2007 candid conversation the united nations ambassadors from venezuela and iran-- two key elements of george galloway's "axis of good," i suppose-- will particpate in a "candid conversation" later this month at georgetown university in washington. the meeting on "the continuing relevance of the non-aligned movement" will be closed to the media. posted by gene at 12:32 am | comments (54) | trackback march 01, 2007 creeps attract creeps creeps like these just can't seem to stay away from each other, can they? do they send off some kind of mysterious vibes-- detectable only by other "anti-imperialist" israel haters-- that draw them across continents and oceans into each other's arms, calling each other "brothers," competing with each other only in the field of hyperbolic rhetoric about the american empire and the zionist entity? in other sudan-releated news, the associated press reports: the main sudanese opposition leader said the government is refusing to allow u.n. peacekeepers into the violent darfur region because it believes the troops would help hunt down war crimes suspects for the international criminal court. former prime minister sadiq al-mahdi said the government's other reason for rejecting u.n. forces is that it still believes it can defeat the darfur rebels. ..... on tuesday, the chief prosecutor at the international criminal court accused sudan's state minister for humanitarian affairs, ahmad muhammad harun, of war crimes and crimes against humanity in darfur, saying he paid and recruited militiamen responsible for murder, rape and torture. the prosecutor also said the militia concerned, the janjaweed, was armed and financed by the government -- an accusation that officials in khartoum have always denied. posted by gene at 09:36 pm | comments (33) | trackback february 27, 2007 chavez and antisemitism on christmas eve 2005, venezuelan president hugo chavez delivered a rambling speech in which, among other things, he declared: the world has enough for all. but it turned out that some minorities, descendants of those who crucified christ, descendants of those who threw bolivar out of here and also crucified him in their own way in santa marta, there in colombia, a minority took the world's riches for themselves. unlike the simon wiesenthal center and others, i was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that chavez was referring to jews. and i did not join them in accusing him of antisemitism for making those remarks. far more disturbing to me was the account by the jewish venezuelan filmmaker jonathan jakubowicz of reaction to his popular movie "secuestro express": jakubowicz was... denounced on the chavista tv show, the blade, presented by mario silva and lina ron, where the film was accused of being part of a hollywood-zionist conspiracy. "ron said she wasn't anti-semitic," explains jakubowicz, "but asked how could a jew know what was going on in the ranchos. it was the responsibility of the jewish community to control someone like me if they wanted respect in this nation. the day after, chavez said he thought the show was too soft on me." now sammy eppel, a caracas-based columnist, has posted excerpts of a slide show he presented at a recent conference, in budapest, of the tel aviv university-based stephen roth institute for the study of contemporary antisemitism and racism. (click the images to advance.) the slide show consists largely of quotes from the venezuela's pro-chavez and government-affiliated press. not every item is conclusively antisemitic, but enough of them are to cause uneasiness (i hope) even among chavez's most devoted leftwing enthusiasts. this, for example, is from the monthly newsletter of docencia participativa, the government-affiliated educational institute: the walls of the tiferet israel synagogue in caracas are the frequent target of antisemitic graffiti, especially after pro-chavez demonstrations: despite (or perhaps because of) this, the government considered the synagogue an appropriate venue for an anti-israel "vigil" during last summer's war against hezbollah: now perhaps chavez would be shocked, shocked, to discover these actions by his fervent supporters, although i'm reminded of fidelistas who-- when confronted by some of the abuses of the cuban government-- respond by saying, "if only castro knew..." but there's a reason why jew-haters like ahmadinejad and nasrallah consider chavez a "brother." and it appears chavez himself recognizes he has a pr problem. he recently tried to arrange a visit to a chabad synagogue in caracas-- which, i suppose, he believed would grant him immunity from charges of antisemitism. fortunately the synagogue's rabbi saw it for the stunt it was and rejected the proposed visit. it seems chavez wants to have it both ways-- to inflame the antisemitic prejudices of some supporters when it suits his political purposes, while piously disclaiming personal animus against jews. what else is new? (hat tip: engage.) posted by gene at 06:04 pm | comments (128) | trackback february 26, 2007 drawing a line under it? the guardian reports that the international court of justice has found serbia not guilty of direct responsibility for genocide during the 1992-95 war in bosnia. the court has already found that genocide did take place at srebrenica, and ruled both that the serbian state could have prevented the massacre, and has also failed in its duty to bring those responsible for the killings to justice. the effect of the ruling will allow serbia to avoid heavy reparations which were being demanded by the bosnian government. boris tadic, the serb president, has asked his parliament to condemn the massacre, saying: for all of us, the very difficult part of the verdict is that serbia did not do all it could to prevent genocide, much has been written about historical responsibilities and reckonings at harry's place recently. as we have all actually lived through the wars in the former yugoslavia, and followed at least the press reports of events in the region, hopefully there will be many comments on today's judgement . press release, summary and full verdict here (hat tip - ian cresswell.) venichka adds neretva river mentions another international court case concerning the aftermath of the balkans wars of the 1990s, specifically the division of bosnia & herzegovina into two ethnically-defined entities, the "republika srpska" (serb republic) and the (bosniak and croat) "federation of bosnia & herzegovina" (the latter of which is subdivided further into a number of cantons, most of which are defined as either majority-bosniak or majority-croat). along with this division came strict quotas and requirements (as in, for example, the tripartite rotating presidency of bosnia & herzegovina as a whole) for political representation of each of the three main ethnic groups. while this measure has served, for example, to ensure that croats and bosniaks have some representation in those areas of republika srpska from which they were largely "cleansed", and also that serbs have representation in the federation, one side effect is to discriminate against those who choose not to identify themselves by one of the three principal ethnic (and effectively religiously specific) labels of bosniak, croat or serb. (it should be noted that before the war a large minority of the inhabitants of the republic, and an even larger proportion of the population of sarajevo avoided such terminology, preferring the specifically non-specific and secular term "yugoslav" ) as a result of that, a case is to be presented, led by jakob finci, of sarajevo's jewish community, to the european court of human rights, that the dayton accords are effectively in breach of european anti-discrimination legislation and norms. (see also east ethnia's take on the matter, including the observation that it seems surprising that there have not been more legal objections to a framework that treats (some) ethnic groups as though they were citizens, and citizens as though they were nothing.) graham adds there are nearly a thousand news reports about this story on google this morning. this one from the australian is a short and sensible summary of the issues involved. posted by graham at 07:56 pm | comments (107) | trackback february 23, 2007 treating "internet addiction" in china this article in thursday's washington post-- about chinese efforts to treat "internet addiction" among the nation's young-- reads in parts like dystopian fiction. sun jiting spends his days locked behind metal bars in this military-run installation, put there by his parents. the 17-year-old high school student is not allowed to communicate with friends back home, and his only companions are psychologists, nurses and other patients. each morning at 6:30, he is jolted awake by a soldier in fatigues shouting, "this is for your own good!" sun's offense: internet addiction. alarmed by a survey that found that nearly 14 percent of teens in china are vulnerable to becoming addicted to the internet, the chinese government has launched a nationwide campaign to stamp out what the communist youth league calls "a grave social problem" that threatens the nation. ..... there's a global controversy over whether heavy internet use should be defined as a mental disorder, with some psychologists, including a handful in the united states, arguing that it should be. backers of the notion say the addiction can be crippling, leading people to neglect work, school and social lives. but no country has gone quite as far as china in embracing the theory and mounting a public crusade against internet addiction. to skeptics, the campaign dovetails a bit too nicely with china's broader effort to control what its citizens can see on the internet. the communist government runs a massive program that limits web access, censors sites and seeks to control online political dissent. internet companies like google have come under heavy criticism abroad for going along with china's demands. ..... the clinic in daxing, a suburb of beijing, the capital, is the oldest and largest, with 60 patients on a normal day and as many as 280 during peak periods. few of the patients, who range in age from 12 to 24, are here willingly. most have been forced to come by their parents, who are paying upward of $1,300 a month -- about 10 times the average salary in china -- for the treatment. led by tao ran, a military researcher who built his career by treating heroin addicts, the clinic uses a tough-love approach that includes counseling, military discipline, drugs, hypnosis and mild electric shocks. ..... located on an army training base, the internet-addiction clinic is distinct from the other buildings on campus because of the metal grates and padlocks on every door and the bars on every window. ..... inside room no. 8 are toys and other figurines that the teens can play with while psychologists watch. room 10 contains rows of fake machine guns that the patients use for role-play scenarios that are supposed to bridge the virtual world with the real one. room no. 4 is made up to look like home, with rattan furniture and fake flowers, to provide a comfortable place for counselors to talk to the teens. the staff tries to blend into the artificial environment. before meeting with a patient, one counselor swapped her olive military uniform for a motherly cardigan and plaid skirt. ..... no one is comfortable talking about the third floor of the clinic, where serious cases -- usually two or three at a time -- are housed. most have been addicted to the internet for five or more years, tao said, are severely depressed and refuse counseling. one sliced his wrists but survived. these teens are under 24-hour supervision. ..... earlier this month, four teens fled their dorm rooms and jumped in a taxi. they made it to a train station before soldiers caught them, according to li jiali, a military guard. they were isolated and asked to write reports about why their actions were wrong. and perhaps someday-- like winston smith-- they will win the victory over themselves. posted by gene at 02:50 am | comments (20) | trackback february 21, 2007 a footnote to a footnote bob pitt at islamophobia watch takes hitch to task, for suggesting that leading sunni and shiite clerics are excessively preoccupied with such trivialities as the motoons, and are doing too little to combat sectarian slaughter: but where are the denunciations from centers of sunni and shiite authority of the daily murder and torture of islamic co-religionists? of the regular desecration of holy sites and holy books? of the paranoid insults thrown so carelessly and callously by one muslim group at another? this mounting ghastliness is a bit more worthy of condemnation, surely, than a few danish cartoons or a false rumor about a profaned copy of the quran in guantanamo. bob pitt's response is to direct readers to a report of an inter-denominational islamic conference on combatting sectarianism in iraq. the only problem with that is that one of the heroes of islamophobia watch - the muslim brotherhood spiritual leader, sheikh yussef qaradawi - used the conference to launch a nasty attack on the shiites: leading qatar-based sunni cleric sheikh yussef qaradawi on saturday denounced what he described as "attempts to convert (sunnis) into shiism" in countries that are predominantly sunni. "it is not permissible for a sect to try to spread in a country that is dominated by the other sect," he told the conference. egyptian-born qaradawi also accused shiites in iraq and neighboring iran of harboring militias that kill and displace sunni arabs in iraq, which is wracked by sectarian killings that claim scores of lives daily. apparently, iranian scholar ayatollah mohammad ali taskhiri, who chaired the closing session, attempted a reconciliation with qaradawi, by blaming "the escalating tension between sunnis and shiites on the "real enemy" of both, an allusion to israel and the united states". but although qaradawi certainly hates jews and americans, taskhiri's tempting appeal for unity was insufficient to overcome his loathing of shiites. here's an extract from a self-penned poem qaradawi read out a couple of years ago, on the muslim brotherhood tv station, al jazeera: the crusaders have returned once more, and they move about in the [iraqi] lowlands. they spread perversion in the land, as though it were ground free for all to graze in. they are again spilling blood, without shame of exposure. and the shi'ites play well the role assigned to them. the treacherous role, whose beginning and end are known to all. the inter-denominational conference was not a success: the participants "came with the intention of proving the other wrong and not listening ... which makes it tantamount to a dialogue of the deaf," mahmud azb, a professor of islamic civilization at france's sorbonne university, told afp. this, i think, is the point that hitch is making. nice of bob pitt to provide the evidence to back up that analysis. posted by david t at 09:58 am | comments (30) | trackback february 20, 2007 livingstone signs oil deal with venezuela after a delay caused by the "intense pressure" of venezuela's presidential campaign, mayor ken livingstone has signed a deal with venezuela's state oil company which will, according to the mayor, mean a 20 per cent reduction in the price of fuel for london's bus fleet. according to a press release: after discussion between petróleos de venezuela europa and the mayor this benefit will be targeted on londoners receiving income support who will be able to receive a 50 per cent discount on bus and tram travel – up to 250,000 londoners will be eligible. london will provide specialist technical assistance to venezuelan cities in areas such transport, protection of the environment, development of tourism, and town planning. minister of the popular power [!] for foreign affairs nicolas maduro said: ‘this agreement will strengthen relationships between the peoples of london and venezuela. it is a win-win strategy that fits within the policy of integration and the character of the bolivarian government of president hugo chavez.’ alejandro granado, pdvsa’s vice-president of refining and psdv europa’s chairman of the management board said: ‘venezuela is very rich in energetic resources while london has great expertise in successfully managing the infrastructure services that characterise a modern city. it is, therefore, very fitting that this co-operative initiative, proposed by president chavez, focuses on these two areas of complementarity. this agreement, i am sure, will promote solidarity and bring forward mutual benefits for both the people of venezuela and london.’ manuel rosales may have lost december's presidential election to chavez, but i think he had a reasonable point when he criticized the proposed oil deal with livingstone. “that is political corruption,” [rosales], the opposition candidate, told foreign journalists. “i ask the (london) mayor not to commit that injustice to venezuela, because he is taking a part of our wealth and doing grave harm to the country. “it is not just the person that commits the crime, but the accomplice ends up becoming a part of the crime.” rosales said venezuela should not subsidise london and cities in the united states when schools and hospitals at home languish. apparently it was enough of a sore spot to force chavez to delay the deal until after the election. and i have to wonder how much good the promised "specialist technical assistance" will do venezuela. with so much oil wealth, couldn't chavez have hired the needed specialists years ago? and won't it be diverting necessary resources from london itself? but i can't blame low-income londoners for taking advantage of the travel discount. as i wrote about about a similar chavez-backed program to provide discounted heating fuel for low-income customers in boston through the venezuelan-owned oil company citgo: [i]t would be disgusting for anyone who can comfortably afford to heat his home to criticize anyone who can't for accepting citgo's help. (hat tip: publicansdecoy.) update: is it wrong to be skeptical that everything will happen exactly as described in the press release? posted by gene at 04:34 pm | comments (69) | trackback the times they are a-changin' the guardian reports this morning on israel's first and most famous kibbutz, degania, which has voted to give up its early socialist ideals and to privatise itself. founded in 1910 on land bought for the jewish national fund the pioneers wrote of their project: "we came to establish an independent settlement of hebrew labourers, on national land, a collective settlement with neither exploiters nor exploited - a commune." on the banks of the jordan, degania, where israeli general moshe dayan was the first child to be born, is to give up its socialist past and go private with members in future being paid a salary instead of seeing their cash paid into a communal account. allan shapiro, 79, a retired university lecturer in law and political science and a long-time resident of degania, said: "i feel sad and in a way i am nostalgic for the traditional kibbutz, but i have to realise that i am nostalgic for my dream of a community that i had before i came. we depended on loyalty to the community and ideology to take the place of the market. "the socialist part was really sort of minor here. the important thing was that there were jews working the land with their own hands and if there was a search for anything it was a search for community. "what we have done is to allow the market to take the place of the idealism. i think the search for community still exists. it is still the basic concept." posted by gordon at 09:58 am | comments (17) | trackback february 09, 2007 "it would be... so easy... to hate" bassam aramin is a palestinian man who spent seven years in an israeli jail for helping to plan an armed attack against israeli soldiers. his 10-year-old daughter was recently killed, apparently by a rubber bullet fired by an israeli soldier. writing in the american jewish publication the forward, he doesn't say what you might think he would say. i wish there was a way of putting what's in his heart into the hearts of millions of others in the region. update: as is so often the case in this conflict, the cause of death is in dispute. (via lbnaz.) posted by gene at 05:56 pm | comments (158) | trackback the supreme muslim council of ireland on holocaust memorial day here's a statement by sheikh prof shaheed satardien of the supreme muslim council of ireland on holocaust memorial day: today is a day of remembrance and contemplation of the horrific tragedy that befell the jewish people in wwii which is a shameful event in the history of the human race and a failure of a society to protect a vulnerable section of its indigenous people. it is inconceivable that a minority in europe which had been well established for generations and have produced some of its greatest minds and also contributed immensely to the advancement of the society it lived in would suffer such horrors. this admirable community was tragically not immune to facing near extermination by a bigoted ultra-nationalistic regime and opportunist politicians who exploited the fears, prejudices and misconceptions of the majority population. the human race is poorer and lessened by the loss of so many vibrant jewish communities. if we were to exclude the current conflicts in the middle east, then we will find that in the past the muslim and jewish peoples have lived side-by-side for centuries in relative peace, understanding and harmony. indeed in the ottoman empire and andalusia, both communities flourished and prospered in great parts as a result of the mutual co-operation and the exchange of ideas. it is sad to discover that although the majority of muslims involved in wwii fought with the allies against the axis powers, there was collusion between a hand-full of prominent but unrepresentative muslim clerics with the nazi regime. for that we express our deepest and heart-felt regrets and sadness and our sincere apologies for the suffering that was caused to the jewish community. we hope and pray that one day we can return to an age where mutual respect and peace between the adherents of the two faiths becomes the norm instead of the exception. this catastrophe of our human history should never ever happen again. never again! secretary-general chairman mohammed alkabour sheikh prof shaheed satardien shaheed satardien is a nice chap. he is a liberal, who has put himself on the line, in order to stand up to muslim brotherhood and jihadist sympathisers in ireland. in fact, he has had a falling out with the main dublin mosque as a result of his position on the matter. i do think, however, that it is a pity that he felt he needed to say this: for that we express our deepest and heart-felt regrets and sadness and our sincere apologies for the suffering that was caused to the jewish community. shaheed satardien is a south african born guy, living in dubin. what mufti haj amin al-husseini got up to with the nazis during world war ii is not his responsibility. he feels sad about it. so do i. but i can think of absolutely no reason at all why he should feel that he, or indeed any muslim, ought to "apologise" for it. isn't this a contrast with the position of the muslim council of britain, who stuck to the boycott of holocaust memorial day, which they initially instituted in order to protest against the commemoration of the deaths of jews, gays, and armenians? personally, i can't see why anybody should feel obliged to participate in a memorial to genocide. but to boycott it, and for those reasons? well, that's a different matter. posted by david t at 05:14 pm | comments (52) | trackback february 08, 2007 i must, i must, i must improve our chances of preventing iran developing a nuclear bomb. on the front page of the guardian site there is a promo for timothy garton ash’s new article. it reads: we must stop bush bombing iran i immediately thought to myself, no, this is wrong. surely what we must do is stop iran – that’s iran – becoming a nuclear power. it goes without saying that we should work to achieve this without dropping a single bomb if at all possible, but this is not the same thing as agreeing that we must, at all costs, stop bush bombing iran. after clicking the link to tga’s article, i discovered i’d only be seeing half the picture. the full headline reads: we must stop bush bombing iran, and stop iran getting the bomb. both noble sentiments, yet i foresee a potential problem in wanting to stop both of these things happening. to be fair, so does tga, it’s just that he believes the cure would be worse than the disease. that is, iran getting the bomb is considered the lesser of two evils. having read all of his article (and not just the headline), i understand why he believes this, although his acceptance that iran with nuclear weapons probably means saudi and egypt get them at some point soon thereafter, does give me cause to wonder what tga thinks bombing iran would look like. i find it difficult to conceive how it could be quite that bad, but there you go. what i strongly suspect, however, is that the chances of iran developing nuclear weapons are inversely proportional to the likelihood that the us and anybody else bombs iran. i would be surprised if even the most vehement opponent of bombing genuinely disputed this, in which case i cannot fathom why we would deny ourselves such an option. anyway, i must make my way to the kitchen to prepare dinner. i’m going to see if i can make an omelet without breaking any eggs. posted by brownie at 02:42 am | comments (130) | trackback february 06, 2007 hu in sudan: darfur, shmarfur i've posted before about china's lucrative, oil-based partnership with the genocidal government of sudan-- made possible, in large part, by your and my purchases of chinese-made goods. now, in a gesture of contempt for decent worldwide opinion, chinese leader hu jintao has visited sudan and provided its government with an interest-free loan to build a presidential palace. sebastian mallaby writes in the washington post: western development aid is increasingly linked to measures of good governance, and investment from western corporations and banks comes with conditions designed to ensure that ordinary people benefit. this promising advance cannot succeed if african dictators can ignore western conditions with chinese assistance. but then there is an even more disturbing question: what does china's policy toward sudan say about the west's policy toward china? the west is engaging with china on the theory that economic modernization will bring political modernization as well; otherwise, the west would merely be assisting the development of a communist adversary. china's sudan policy is an assertion that this link between economic and political modernization is by no means inevitable, even in the extreme case. you can construct oil refineries, educate scientists, build ambitious new railways -- and simultaneously pursue a policy of genocide. i've long been a skeptic when it comes to the supposed link between economic and political modernization. and i wonder if this supposed link has simply become an intellectual justification for engaging with a country that has become too economically powerful to ignore-- a country holding too many cards when it comes to the west's economic stability. posted by gene at 04:13 pm | comments (45) | trackback february 01, 2007 small canadian town briefly newsworthy thanks to sue r and alan allport in the comments to this post for alerting me to the marvellously tactless attempt by the town council of herouxville, canada, to impart its proudly felt values to any immigrants who might be thinking of moving there. the values in question can be found on the town's own website; they're not terribly unusual, but there is one specific area about which they've decided to make themselves absolutely clear: blog reaction has been mixed; some have dubbed the town "heroville", and praised it for battling "political correction". others, ie me, think they've caused gratuitous offence by making pointlessly clear their objection to things which are quite obviously already illegal. still, to be fair to the herouxville council, their declaration of standards was at least careful enough to avoid mention of any one specific religious or ethnic group, or to suggest that there was any one particular such group that was unusually prone to advocating things like the public beating or burning of women. instead that was done by salam elmenyawi, president of the muslim council of montreal, who told reuters: "i was shocked and insulted to see these kinds of false stereotypes and ignorance about islam and our religion". oops. nb the bbc page about the herouxville story has a link that reads "are you racist? the test that claims to know". the test is here, along with another test that also finds out how homophobic you are. apparently i have "little to no automatic preference between white people and black people", but a "moderate automatic preference for straight people compared to gay people". this might be because i took the homophobia test first, and wasn't quite used to how it worked. alternatively i might just have a moderate automatic preference for straight people compared to gay people. anyway why not take both tests? we could find out who's the most racist and homophobic harry's place reader. actually come to think of it i think we already know that, but we could find out who's second. posted by wardytron at 10:16 am | comments (72) | trackback january 31, 2007 power to the, ah, p...erson he will will be able to rule by decree for at least the next year and a half. he will be able to rewite laws, change the constitution on his own, and may scrap term limitations for the presidency. he calls this "socialism". others might call it something else. who is this scoundrel? why it's, hugo, ken livingstone's favourite 'democrat'. posted by brett at 08:02 pm | comments (68) | trackback for a humanistic islam read elham manea's case for a humanistic islam in the ‘diary of an arab woman’, i had a message. we live in a time where a version of islam, wahabbi islam exported from the heart of saudi arabia, has become dominant in the arab world. it is dominant in the mosques, dominant in the media, and it is propagated actively with the support of saudi oil money. another version of islam, shi’a islam as exported from the islamic republic of iran, is also being disseminated in parts of the islamic world – though on a lesser scale than its sunni counterpart. both are expressions of a religion that has become politicised. while the two countries needed religion to legitimise their political systems, a re-islamisation of secular arab societies has taken place, as a result of the failure of the arab state to fulfill the promises it made after the end of the colonial era. secular arab states failed to fulfill the promises they made: to launch a successful development process (arab countries are lagging behind other regions in their development); to improve people’s lives (it will take an arab citizen 140 years to double his or her income, in comparison to 10 years in asian countries); and to restore by force that which the arabs consider as the legitimate rights of the palestinian people (the 6-days war of 1967 put an end to such a claim). because of this, and because democracy was also postponed by arab regimes, on the pretext that development had the priority, a real sense of betrayal fast disseminated across the region. failure bred a sense of dissatisfaction, deeply intensified by the lack of future prospects. religion became a refuge. the re-islamisation of arab societies gave ground to the belief that there is indeed only one version of islam, the one exported from the heart of saudi arabia: najdi wahhabi islam. people seem to have forgotten how colorful and diverse islamic traditions were. islam in tunisia or morocco was different in its interpretation and scope from that of oman or yemen, and egyptian islam was certainly different in its spirit from that of saudi arabia. people also seem to have forgotten that their identity rarely revolved around their religious beliefs, as we are made to believe today. they were arabs or kurds, egyptians, yemenis, or tunisians, not muslims in the first place. this re-islamisation of arab societies was combined with constant calls, by islamic parties who have become a powerful political force on the arab political landscape, for the implementation of shari’a laws. ‘islam is the solution’ – such was the new motto espoused by these islamic political parties. society seems to have bought this claim. the message of the ‘diary of an arab woman’ is that it was time to challenge this claim. it was time for a humanistic islam. this humanistic islam presented in the diary bases its argument on four components: identity; a free and rational islam; forbidden areas of thinking; and the woman - a human. via the hjs posted by david t at 11:06 am | comments (65) | trackback january 30, 2007 "enough" members reject the use of violence? enough! is an organisation which is promoting a petition, on which signatories register our support for the enough! coalition and its campaign for a just peace for all people in israel and palestine. we call on the british government to stand up for international law and human rights in pursuit of peace based on justice, equality and freedom for israelis and palestinians alike. there's not much detail on what that actually means, in substance. as the organisation matures, it will be interesting to see precisely what enough! believes "justice, equality and freedom for israelis and palestinians alike" means in practice. members of enough! - who are listed here - have to sign up to a variety of "commitments". the commitment which has caught my eye is the following one: enough! members reject the use of violence in their single or joint actions and uphold the principle of non-violent campaigning. members include the muslim association of britain, which is the same organisation as the muslim brotherhood and hamas. indeed, its public face was, until recently, dr azzam "kaboom" tamimi, who is the hamas special envoy. other islamist groups which are members of enough! include mpacuk and friends of al aqsa. a reader points out that, by affiliating to enough!, these organisations now should be regarded as having rejected "the use of violence in their single or joint actions and uphold the principle of non-violent campaigning". it is not entirely clear to me what that statement means. let us hope that this commitment is not simply an empty statement, but that it means that they oppose all forms of violence in pursuit of political ends. would somebody like to check with the muslim association of britain/muslim brotherhood, mpacuk and the friend of al aqsa that they reject and oppose political violence aimed at israelis by hamas and the al-aqsa martyrs' brigades, and in particular, the war crime that suicide bombings and cross border missile attacks aimed at civilians constitutes? if they do not share that commitment, then perhaps enough! would like to consider whether they should remain members. posted by david t at 03:03 pm | comments (150) | trackback no sex please.... let’s talk about “britishness” immediately that i mention “britishness” i spy a flabby overblown and under-defined concept bouncing straight towards me - a bit like rover, the security and surveillance balloon from the prisoner, (itself a show which if you are not british will confuse you only slightly more than a chinese puzzle being demonstrated by a man from azerbaijan in a vernacular dialect of early medieval eastern proto-finnic.) come to think of it, being totally perplexed by patrick mcgoohan’s sixties adventures marks you out as “the other” in this discussion of what britishness actually is. (don’t worry, you can tell us what you actually think of us later.) it is amazing how “britishness” has troubled the good, the bad and the ugly over the last few years. first we had the tebbit cricket test which was all well and good as a workable definition for a right-winger from chingford, but whose shortcomings were exposed immediately when you cross the scots borders into a land of curling and drug-addled skiers seldom troubled by the voice of richie benaud. and this without even mentioning mr aziz the muslim who runs my local off-licence (yes. it’s that kind of place here) and watches cricket constantly, cheering on pakistan or, alternatively, whoever is beating india… jolly john major had another cricket-based try at a definition, saying britain is the land of:: long shadows on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and - as george orwell said 'old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist'. i must say that you don’t see many of those old gals on bicycles in my neck of the woods – perhaps the “morning exhaust fumes” have killed them all off, or someone stole their bikes whilst they were enthusiastically praying for a new poodle. on it went: david blunkett fingered professor sir bernard crick as the man to set up a “britishness test” for incoming immigrants, gordon brown (skillfully “meanwhiling” the “west lothian question” in advance of his coronation,) tossed in the idea of turning remembrance day into a “whoopee! i’m british!” kind of day. yesterday it was david cameron’s turn to chime in with a definition; proclaiming that to be british is to be: calm, and thoughtful, and reasonable thanks dave, you have obviously never travelled by train in your entire life have you? according to richard eyre: what is britishness? something that can be politically expedient to invoke on behalf of falkland islanders, 8,000 miles from britain in the south atlantic, but awkward in scotland and embarrassing in northern ireland where, far from being the nation's glue, it's pepper dust in an open wound. being british is a variable ideology. we're comfortable with being seen as a source of creative energy in fashion, pop music and tv comedy. we're occasionally proud (but often ashamed) of our sporting heroes, and we're chagrined by being celebrated for hp sauce, marmite, oxford marmalade, red buses and pillar boxes, rotten teeth, "swinging london", "cool britannia" and the heritage diorama from normans to windsors. on the same theme, in 2000, mori interviewed the prospective “opinion formers” in 13 countries around the world. asked which images "best sum up" the countries of the uk they came up with: kilts, mountains and whisky for scotland, castles and rugby for wales, the royal family, big ben and the tower of london for england. great; the world thinks we are all whisky-drinking austin powers “mini-me’s” who live in castles. mori also asked brits themselves about british identity and found that: scots were most likely to identify primarily with scotland (72%) and their region (62%), less with their local community (39%), and only rarely with britain (18%). even more overwhelmingly, the welsh identify first with wales (80%), then region (50%) and community (32%); 27% of the welsh identify with britain. but among the english, there is an almost even split between the importance of region (49%), britain (43%), local community (42%) and england (41%). where is the adopted son of a welshman and a yorkshire lass such as myself to fit in? do i feel british? no, is the short answer. though i have always felt welcome in scotland and wales, they both seem like foreign countries- although having said that, so does anywhere outside the m25 ring-road which encircles london. i guess i am in with the 49% who say that “region” is the most important thing. last week sir keith ajegbo (who used to run the comprehensive around the corner from here where the pupils were known for eating burgers and having underage sex) presented his report about citizenship (thus allowing education secretary alan johnson his own chance at proclaiming what british values actually amount to.) keith and al, who cunningly chose a date close to the 300th anniversary of “britain” (or the act of union anyway-an event which passed by on the 17th of january with barely a whimper heard from any corner of these islands) want to put “core british values” at the heart of teaching, because they think that young white working class teenagers are losing their sense of identity. what are the core values of a young, white, british teenager i wonder? (burgers and sex, i hear you reply) sir keith thinks that teaching british history alongside the history of colonialism and slavery will allow these mysterious “british“values (which nobody has been able to define) to solidify in front of our eyes like gold on the philosophers stone . the thing is that he wants it done by history teachers who, even when i was at school (last century), were so obviously harassed by endless doubts about whether someone like nelson was actually hero or villain that they always played safe and ended up teaching about hitler (not much room for doubt there) and jethro tull (not the band, the inventor of the seed-drill) knowledge of whom was as much use in seventies brixton as the 16th century italian history was to the congolese pupils who evelyn waugh found nuns enthusiastically teaching it to in the twenties. anyway, i’m now rambling like ronnie corbett on methamphetamines, so here, as a great englishman (sorry “briton,”) once said, is the rub: should british white working class teenagers be taught about the great events in working-class history? chartism, tom paine, daniel o’connell? what use do the powers that be think they will make of “whig history” these days? do they actually think that your average teenager will connect the battle of blenheim to anything in their daily lives? secondly, how do you “foreigners” see britain and “britishness?” we know how insular we can be -best summed up by the old anecdote seen on a board on a winter’s day at dover: “fog in channel; continent cut-off.” but what do those of you living abroad make of “perfidious albion” in this new century? what values (if any) do we stand for now? and what exactly is britishness anyway?” does anyone agree with the conclusion of yesterday’s report which stated: the final step is to recognise that the‘common values’ that might bring us together are still up for debate. we do have basic tenets of fairness, individual liberty,democracy, tolerance, justice and the rule of law, but beyond that, there is no readymade political consensus. or is that way too wooly and ambiguous for you? lastly (for the separatists) do you think this whole idea of britishness is well past its sell-by date and should be put out to pasture with norman tebbit? best of british luck dealing with all that in the comments boxes. posted by graham at 12:37 pm | comments (193) | trackback how iran deals with ahwazi arabs amnesty reports: amnesty international deplores the executions earlier today of four iranian arab men and fears for the lives of other prisoners who are reported to have been sentenced to death recently following unfair trials. ... those executed today are believed to be khalaf derhab khudayrawi, alireza asakreh, mohammad jaab pour and abdulamir farjallah jaab. they were among 10 men, all members of iran's arab minority, who were reportedly convicted of being mohareb (at enmity with god) on account of their alleged involvement in bomb attacks in october 2005 which caused the deaths of at least six people and wounded more than a hundred others, in ahvaz city, khuzestan province. according to reports, the four men were denied access to their lawyers in the two weeks prior to their execution. on 9 november 2006, the head of the khuzestan prosecutor’s office, abbas ja’afari dowlat abadi, reportedly announced that the supreme court had upheld the death sentences against 10 of some 19 people allegedly responsible for bomb explosions in khuzestan and that they would be publicly hanged. on 13 november 2006, an iranian local television station, khuzestan tv, broadcast a documentary film which included the “confessions” of nine of these men, in the programme, the 10 people, said to be members of a group named al-e naser, (a little-known iranian arab militant group that is not known to have been active since the time of the iran-iraq war in the 1980s) "confessed" to their involvement in the bomb explosions. on 19 december 2006 three of them, abdullah suleymani (initially named as alireza asakreh), malek banitamim and ali matouri zadeh were reportedly executed in prison in khuzestan province. ... at the beginning of june 2006, seven lawyers who appeared before branch 3 of the revolutionary court representing the defendants, including some of the 10 who were sentenced to death, reportedly wrote formally to the court’s president complaining about irregularities in the trial. they said they were notified of their clients’ trial date only one to two days in advance, instead of the minimum of five days stipulated in article 64 of the civil procedure code, and could not study their clients’ files fully; that they were not allowed to meet in private with their clients although they had requested this and despite the head of the judiciary’s stated assurance on 20 may 2006 that “nobody has the right to issue an order in contravention of the law and to deprive the accused of the right of visits by their family and lawyer. they must know quite clearly that they may request private meetings with their lawyers.” the lawyers also complained that trial sessions have been held without other defendants or their lawyers being present. following this letter, in october 2006 at least five of the lawyers were summoned to appear before branch 7 of the revolutionary court in ahwaz for allegedly endangering national security by complaining about the legal proceedings and publishing their protest on ahwazi websites abroad. they were reportedly released upon payment of bail. on 10 january 2007, three leading un human rights experts - philip alston, un special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; leandro despouy, un special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, and manfred nowak, un special rapporteur on torture – jointly called on the government of iran to “stop the imminent execution of seven men belonging to the ahwazi arab minority and grant them a fair and public hearing.” the seven individuals concerned were reported to be abdulreza sanawati zergani, qasem salamat, mohammad jaab pour, abdulamir farjallah jaab, alireza asakreh, majed alboghubaish khalaf and derhab khudayrawi. these un experts stated: “we are fully aware that these men are accused of serious crimes… however, this cannot justify their conviction and execution after trials that made a mockery of due process requirements.” posted by david t at 09:24 am | comments (18) | trackback january 23, 2007 monitoring bush: easing the pressure on mubarak for some years i've been tracking the bush administration's willingness to confront the repressive regime of our "friend" hosni mubarak in egypt. for awhile there was some reason for optimism. in february 2005 secretary of state condoleezza rice expressed "very strong concerns" about egypt's jailing of opposition leader ayman nour and said she wanted the situation resolved quickly. she postponed a scheduled visit to egypt because of the jailing. in june 2005 rice delivered a speech in cairo, in which she declared: "throughout the middle east, the fear of free choices can no longer justify the denial of liberty. it is time to abandon the excuses that are made to avoid the hard work of democracy." in january 2006, responding to the egyptian government's reimprisonment of ayman nour, the bush administration halted negotiations with cairo over a free trade agreement. then in february, rice held a joint news conference with egypt's foreign minister in which she said: the president made very clear in his state of the union that the united states would stand for the right of men and women in every corner of the earth to have the same rights and indeed the same responsibilities that we as americans are fortunate enough to enjoy. and he said that our relations with countries around the world would -- we would engage countries around the world about that principle. and that's what we're doing. now ayman nour, who challenged mubarak in egypt's september 2005 presidential election, is serving a five-year prison sentence on an obviously phony charge. the regime is going after bloggers too. but when rice visited egypt this month, writes jackson diehl in the washington post, she had nothing to say publicly on the subject. before rice arrived in cairo this time, the city was buzzing about internet videos -- not of saddam hussein but of egyptian police who had been captured torturing innocent citizens. mubarak had just announced a series of constitutional amendments that would exclude serious opposition candidates from future elections and curtail independent judicial monitoring of balloting... about all this, rice said nothing. instead, she praised the "important strategic relationship" with the 78-year-old mubarak. in rice's new parlance, egypt has suddenly become part of a "moderate mainstream" in the middle east, which, the secretary hopes, will stand with the united states and israel against the "extremists" -- iran, syria, hezbollah and hamas. rice has made no real attempt to explain the somersault in her policy, which comes across as a feckless attempt to simplify the increasingly chaotic and dangerous situation across the region. i know that egypt's decades of repression and stagnation have created a lot of support for the islamist muslim brotherhood movement. but that doesn't justify a hands-off attitude to the repression. rather it demands more support for liberal democrats like nour and the bloggers. president bush said a few years ago: sixty years of western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the middle east did nothing to make us safe -- because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. as long as the middle east remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export. he had a point, didn't he? even if he and his administration no longer remember it. update: the egyptian blogger abdel kareem nabil went on trial last week, charged with "inciting sedition, insulting islam, harming national unity and insulting the president." (hat tip: g. tingey in the comments.) posted by gene at 06:48 pm | comments (7) | trackback january 18, 2007 the boys done good in december, at the conclusion of tony blair’s middle east trip and following his dubai speech in which he singled out iran for yet more criticism, the guardian leader writers gave him a rough time. they claimed: his thesis subsumes too many discrete issues under one roof, portraying a clash not of civilisations but of ideologies…dubai represented a return to mr bush's "axis of evil" approach but this time with only one named member state - iran. it continued: the prime minister's speech was disconcerting too because it so closely echoed mr bush's bellicosity and went against the idea in james baker's iraq study group report of reaching out to talk to iran (and syria)…if the us and britain understood in the frozen depths of the cold war that they had to talk to their soviet enemy, surely iran is too a serious a player in today's middle east to be addressed solely through the rhetoric of confrontation? ignoring for one second the implication in the final sentence that either or both bush and blair have ever suggested or implied that force/war/belligerence alone will serve our wider international interests, this commentary amounts to more of the same ”aren’t bush and blair silly - don’t they understand that such confrontational language will simply stiffen the resolve of dictators” narrative of which we’ve heard so much since the issue of iran’s uranium enrichment program started to make headlines. the characterization is one of bumbling fools itching for a fight. it doesn’t take a steve bell cartoon depicting bush as a chimp and blair as poodle to make the point, but we usually get one anyway. yesterday’s paper carried a related story with the headline: president's future in doubt as mps rebel and economic crisis grows the president in question is ahmadinejad and further reading makes it clear that it’s not simply macro-economic forces that threaten his tenure: mps also criticised mr ahmadinejad's role in the un security council dispute over iran's nuclear programme amid growing evidence that the supreme leader, ayatollah ali khamenei, has ordered him to stay silent on the issue. the supreme leader, who was hitherto loyal to the president, is said to blame mr ahmadinejad for last month's un resolution imposing sanctions over iran's refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment. the waning of ahmadinejad’s star began in earnest with last month’s electoral meltdown which also saw the (relatively speaking) moderate rafsanjani come top in an election to the body responsible for appointing the supreme leader. rafsanjani has criticized his rival for his fiercely uncompromising, anti-western stance that rafsanjani – and it would appear an ever increasing number of iranians – believe threatens to bestow pariah status on the country. pragmatists within the islamic leadership claim that mr ahmadinejad's inflammatory rhetoric, including a declaration that iran would not suspend uranium enrichment for "even one day", sank any chance of a deal [at the un]. the newspaper, hamshari, whose director, hossein entezami, is a member of iran's nuclear negotiating team, was more blunt: "at the very moment when the nuclear issue was about to move away from the un security council, the fiery speeches of the president have resulted in the adoption of two resolutions [against iran]." now, at least a few of those “fiery speeches” were aimed squarely at washington and london who, let’s face it, have been in the vanguard of those wanting to see iran brought to book for her indiscretions. when others were favouring a more conciliatory tone, it was the chimp and the poodle who insisted it was hard-ball, or no ball. and this is the result: "ahmadinejad's golden era is over and his honeymoon with the supreme leader is finished. he has problems even meeting the supreme leader," said an iranian political commentator, eesa saharkhiz. "the countdown to his dismissal has already begun. there is a probability that he cannot even finish his current four-year period." the truth that dare not speak its name is that on iran, bush and blair have played a blinder. both may yet retain a grip on domestic power that survives their iranian nemesis, and both have demonstrated that whilst confrontation may not be the only game in town, softly, softly doesn’t always catchy monkey. i don’t claim for either great foresight in the matter of iran’s economic woes, but at least some credit for ahmadinejad’s current predicament is owed to the unflinching determination of bush and blair to face down their foe. if steve bell is struggling for ideas, i can suggest blair and bush in wrestling leotards, arms aloft, bestriding a forlorn and broken iranian president while the great and the good from the international community applaud from a safe distance. don’t. hold. your. breath. gene adds: but let's not forget that terms like "moderate" and "pragmatist" are-- by contemporary iranian standards-- extremely relative. rafsanjani, after all, has been charged by argentine prosecutors with involvement in the 1994 bombing of the jewish community center in buenos aires, which killed 86 people. and the newspaper hamshari sponsored last year's disgusting holocaust cartoon contest. even if ahmadinejad is forced out, the struggle for freedom in iran will be far from over. posted by brownie at 01:51 am | comments (94) | trackback january 16, 2007 israel's arab cabinet minister ehud olmert has appointed a member of israel's arab community to the cabinet, the jta reports. the predictable furore has erupted on both right and left (this is israel, after all) but overall, whatever olmert's motivations, i think this counts as a good thing. arab’s delayed cabinet appointment stirs accusations of racism, politicking by dan baron january 15, 2007 jerusalem, jan. 15 (jta) — the naming of the first arab minister to the israeli cabinet was billed as an event underscoring hope of securing racial harmony in the jewish state, though it may long remain mired in regional conflict. but the nomination of raleb majadele instead has merely served to uncover israel’s often messy personality politics and the latent racism of some of its citizens. majadele, a veteran laborite, was chosen last week by the party’s leader, defense minister amir peretz, for the science, culture and sport portfolio. he is to replace ophir pines-paz, who bolted in november to protest prime minister ehud olmert’s inclusion of the right-wing yisrael beiteinu party alongside labor in the governing coalition. peretz was quoted as telling majadele that in government, he would “help improve relations between the various sectors of israeli society” — a reference to jewish-arab ties strained by the palestinian intifada and allegations of institutional discrimination. seemingly the nomination was a brazen bit of inverse race-baiting by the dovish peretz: pines-paz left because of what he perceived as yisrael beiteinu’s anti-arab platform, only to have his place taken by an arab. asked how he would deal with sitting in government with yisrael beiteinu leader avigdor lieberman, who has proposed ceding israeli arab areas to a future palestinian state and ousting arab lawmakers from the knesset, majadele said, “it won’t be simple.” but he added, “i think that my appointment strengthens the israeli government and constitutes a step in the right direction toward the arab public.” prime minister ehud olmert praised majadele’s nomination. but its ratification, which was expected to take place at sunday’s cabinet meeting, was postponed for a week. the prime minister told his kadima faction that the appointment of an arab minister “is a significant act whose time has come.” “but the move must be made while keeping in mind the big picture of vacancies in the cabinet and the demands of labor and yisrael beiteinu,” olmert said. israeli media quoted olmert confidantes as accusing peretz of failing to consult with the prime minister before putting majadele’s name forward. sources close to the defense minister charged olmert with delaying the appointment in order to help ehud barak, whom olmert is said to prefer for labor leader, gather support ahead of that party’s may primary. condemnation of majadele’s appointment was quick to come from both jews and arabs. esterina tartman, a senior yisrael beiteinu lawmaker, accused peretz in a radio interview of threatening the jewish character of israel by encouraging “assimilation.” she was further quoted by israeli media as calling majadele’s nomination a “blight” on zionism — language that drew censure from across israel’s political spectrum. some israeli arabs, meanwhile, accused peretz of an attempt at tokenism and patronage. “in the existing situation, the ability of an arab minister who is a member of a jewish-zionist party to influence the condition of the arab population and central issues, such as the palestinian question, appears to be nil,” said asad ghanem, a haifa university professor who recently helped put together a manifesto arguing that israel’s jewish character was inconsistent with full civic participation for its arab minority. “i think that majadele, as an arab minister, won’t even work as a fig leaf,” ghanem said. others saw an even more partisan ploy by peretz, whose standing in labor has been at a nadir since the summer war in lebanon, the failings of which are blamed by many israelis on the militarily untested defense minister. enlisting the support of labor’s sizable arab electorate could help peretz fend off challenges in the primary by barak, a former israeli prime minister and military chief, and ami ayalon, a former navy admiral and shin bet director. “this appointment is exclusively for the purpose of the primary and is characteristic of a confused government that is only dealing with its survival,” said pines-paz, another contender in the labor race. unlike tartman, lieberman said he had no problem with an arab joining the cabinet, but he echoed the charges against peretz. “the problem here is in the timing and the fact that a minister in the state of israel is using the tools at his disposal wrongfully in order to promote himself politically,” lieberman said. majadele, a 53-year-old father of four from baka al-garbiya, would not be the first non-jew to serve as an israeli cabinet minister. olmert’s predecessor, ariel sharon, appointed salah tarif, a druse, to his cabinet. tarif stepped down in 2002 amid corruption charges. posted by adam lebor at 07:49 pm | comments (23) | trackback january 15, 2007 kirchner boycotts ahmadinejad a few years ago i praised argentina's new leftist president, nestor kirchner, for "turning over rocks that have hidden some of the country's sordid history for years and decades." among other things, kirchner opened sealed government documents relating to the 1994 bombing of the jewish community center in buenos aires which killed 86 people. the investigation of the bombing stalled due to the incompetence and corruption of previous governments. in october argentine prosecutors formally charged the iranian government and hezbollah in the murderous attack, and called for the arrest of former iranian president hashemi rafsanjani and seven others. the iranian government, of course, has refused to extradite rafsanjani or anyone else. so it's reassuring that kirchner is standing on principle by refusing to join other leaders in greeting president mahmoud ahmadinejad on his current latin american tour. the iranian leader plans to meet this week with venezuela's hugo chávez, nicaragua's daniel ortega, ecuador's rafael correa, bolivia's evo morales and possibly others. they are expected to discuss broadening bilateral agreements, such as the technology-sharing deals that chávez signed with iran last year. "clearly the actors driving all of this are chávez and ahmadinejad," said michael shifter, an analyst with the inter-american dialogue, a policy forum in washington. "both of them see themselves as global players, and so it's nice for them to build these sorts of alliances and coalitions, which people like correa and morales are inclined to join in." although argentina maintains friendly relations with each of those leaders, kirchner's domestic agenda is driving him in a different direction. for example, he canceled plans to attend correa's inauguration ceremony monday after ahmadinejad announced that he would attend. i'm sure i could find much to dispute with kirchner, not least his lavish praise for chavez, but at least-- unlike some other "leftists"-- he draws the line at embracing a man who protects people almost certainly responsible for the mass murder of jews as jews. there was a time when this was the minimum you could expect from those who identified themselves with the left. not anymore. posted by gene at 06:15 pm | comments (54) | trackback fighting extremism meet imam shaheed satardien: beneath a basketball net in a freezing sports hall, a muslim cleric is waging war on islamic extremism. imam shaheed satardien is taking a stand against those muslims in ireland whom he claims are too sympathetic to osama bin laden and the cult of the suicide bomber. at friday prayers in the sports hall in north-west dublin, the south african-born former anti-apartheid activist warns his multinational congregation against blaming other religions and the west in general for all muslims' ills. cast out by the majority islamic community in dublin for his outspokenness, the 50-year-old preacher says he has received death threats. 'i am standing firm in my beliefs,' satardien says. 'the truth is more important than being popular or living a quiet life. extremism has infected islam in ireland. it's time to get back to the spiritual aspect of my religion and stop it being used as a political weapon.' the imam from cape town fled his native country following death threats, he says, from islamic extremists in south africa. his younger brother, ibrahim, was shot dead in 1998 following a row with islamic radicals in the city. when satardien was told he would be next, he travelled to ireland, the birthplace of his maternal grandmother, and pleaded for asylum. 'i never, ever, expected that muslims would come under the influence of extremists in ireland when i arrived here with my family. so i was shocked to find support for osama bin laden, to discover the presence of the muslim brotherhood and even al-qaeda here in dublin.' satardien fell out with the main dublin mosque at clonskeagh, singling out the influence of yusuf al-qaradawi, an egyptian born sheikh who has spoken openly in support of suicide bombers and issued fatwas on gays. read the rest. and then watch dispatches, tonight, channel 4, 8-9 pm: in this extensive investigation dispatches reveals how a message of hatred and segregation is being spread throughout the uk and examines how it is influenced by the religious establishment of saudi arabia. dispatches has investigated a number of mosques run by high profile national organisations that claim to be dedicated to moderation and dialogue with other faiths. but an undercover reporter joined worshippers to find a message of religious bigotry and extremism being preached. he captures chilling sermons in which saudi-trained preachers proclaim the supremacy of islam, preach hatred for non-muslims and for muslims who do not follow their extreme beliefs - and predict a coming jihad. "an army of muslims will arise," announces one preacher. another preacher said british muslims must "dismantle" british democracy - they must "live like a state within a state" until they are "strong enough to take over." the investigation reveals saudi arabian universities are recruiting young western muslims to train them in their extreme theology, then sending them back to the west to spread the word. and the dispatches reporter discovers that british muslims can ask for fatwas, religious rulings, direct from the top religious leader in saudi arabia, the grand mufti. saudi-trained preachers are also promoted in dvds and books on sale at religious centres and sermons broadcast on websites. these publications and webcasts disseminate beliefs about women such as: "allah has created the woman deficient, her intellect is incomplete", and girls: "by the age of 10 if she doesn't wear hijab, we hit her," and there's an extreme hostility towards homosexuals. the investigation reveals that the influence of saudi arabian islam, wahabism, extends beyond the walls of some mosques to influential organisations that advise the british government on inter-community relations and prevention of terrorism. the dispatches reporter attends talks at mosques run by key organisations whose public faces are presented as moderate and mainstream - and finds preachers condemning the idea of integration into british society, condemning british democracy as un-islamic and praising the taliban for killing british soldiers. posted by david t at 09:27 am | comments (39) | trackback january 14, 2007 balkan bulletin get ready for the serbian election on january 21st in which 20 political parties and coalitions will contest 250 seats. surveys suggest that only three parties are certain to pass the five percent threshold which is required to enter parliament itself. local polls are notoriously unreliable but most are suggesting that the ultranationalist serbian radical party is frontrunner, with 28-30 percent of votes (although this is thought to be falling.) the radicals have long been the strongest single party in serbia despite the fact that their leader vojislav Šešelj (a former deputy to slobodan milosevic) is currently standing trial in the hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the wars of the 1990s. milosevic himself once referred to Šešelj as: "the personification of violence and primitivity," and lets face it, such red/brown references don’t come much stronger than that now do they? the radicals draw most of their support from the so-called “losers of transition” (those such as refugees and former industrial workers,) who lost out during the wars of the 90’s. so big a part of the party’s constituency is drawn from these groups in fact, that the radicals have recently tried to move away from their image as the "chetnik party" by running a populist campaign based around cheap bread prices and higher pension cheques. the party’s leaders however, are still in the main the same hard-right nationalists who shared power with milosevic until 2000. they disapprove of serbia's increasing military co-operation with nato and blow between lukewarm and cold on potential membership of the european union. nor have they lost the desire to claim large chunks of bosnia and croatia. despite being the biggest party, the radicals are still unlikely to form a government because none of the parties of the so called 'democratic bloc' will enter into a coalition with them. analysts expect arch-rivals president boris tadi&#263; of the democratic party and prime minister vojislav koštunica and his democratic party of serbia will, (together with a smaller third party) eventually form a coalition to run the country. in recent interviews, koštunica and tadi&#263; have hinted that coalition-building might prove difficult (although it is perfectly possible to see this as play-acting - threatening the world with the prospect of a radical government.) one large “elephant in the room” -the proposal for kosovo's future status drawn up by u.n. envoy martti ahtisaari- is pending, and will possibly be released as soon as the week after the election, (although other reports suggest not until early april.) one suspects that if serbian politicians actually think they are able to influence the release date, then the “coalition-building” may take an awfully long time indeed. the other “elephant”, the continued unwillingness or inability to hand over war crimes suspects such as ratko mladic, is ongoing, with slovenia, spain and italy recently trying to “soften” demands for the handover and france and the netherlands remaining hardline on the issue. tomislav nikolic, (radical leader whilst Šešelj is “inconvenienced”) has said mladic and radovan karadzic, must never face trial at the hague and that the death of milosevic last year, while on a genocide trial in the hague, was "good fortune" for serbia. if milosevic had been convicted of genocide, serbia would never have cleared itself of that," nikolic said. "those who led the country ... must not allow themselves to be convicted of genocide. not “never undertake genocide” you understand, just never allowed themselves to be convicted of it…. koštunica has constantly taken a hardline position on kosovo and has already visited the new u.n. secretary-general ban ki-moon asking for protection for serbia's territorial integrity. in a new years speech he outlined the position that "the preservation of kosovo amounts to the preservation of serbia". the most likely outcome: independence for kosovo's 90 percent ethnic albanian population, would, according to koštunica, be a flagrant violation of international law. tadi&#263;, though also opposed to kosovan independence, has been adopting a rather softer line; saying the issue is now out of serbian hands and should be left to the international community. tadi&#263;’s democratic party now includes the “young serb activists” of otpor and as such is probably the best bet for democrats outside the country to support this time around. koštunica's political enemies say he differs little from the radicals, and is possibly moving towards more nationalist policies just as Šešelj's party tries to show they have left them behind. his support-base comes from educated middle-aged and elderly voters; although the party also now includes many who were too close to the milosevic regime for comfort, a lot of whom would attempt to distinguish themselves from the radicals only by pointing out that they possess rather more “culture” than the refugees and football supporters who follow Šešelj. of the smaller parties some opinion polls seem to be suggesting that milosevic’s former socialist party are hovering around the five percent threshold. they have usually supported koštunica’s minority government in the recent past, although even he is unlikely to welcome them as allies, and tadi&#263; certainly does not want them as part of the coalition. the ethnic-albanian coalition, based mainly around the presevo valley on the border with kosovo, is ending a 10-year boycott at the election and could win two seats. unsurprisingly, the albanian “party for democratic activity,” are rather keen that any coalition does not include either the radicals or the socialists. only liberal-democratic party (ldp) leader &#268;edomir jovanovi&#263;; has (today) straightforwardly stated that he would “sign kosovo’s independence." around 6.5 million serbs are registered to vote, but voter apathy and an all-round general disillusion with politics (especially amongst younger voters) means only about half are likely to turn out. we are likely to be hearing more about the balkans in the next few months. watch this space. posted by graham at 05:18 pm | comments (32) | trackback january 12, 2007 human rights demonstration in cuba here (and here) is a story about a human rights demonstration in cuba: anti-war activists have demonstrated near to the us prison in guantanamo bay in cuba to demand its closure. the 12 activists include an ex-detainee and relatives of another prisoner. the protest marks the fifth anniversary of the first "war on terror" detentions. ... the protesters reached the end of the cuban military zone which borders the us naval base. it was as far as the cuban authorities would let them go. however, they said they were pleased to get this close to the site of what they view as an international disgrace. cuba. not a country that generally encourages demonstrations or indeed political dissent. in 2003, cuba handed out decades of jail time to 75 journalists, librarians, human rights activists, and other dangerous types. in 2005, cuba refused permission to their wives to travel to geneva to receive a human rights award. posted by david t at 10:14 am | comments (85) | trackback january 10, 2007 second time as farce hugo chavez was sworn in as president of venezuela today. in a move which will be welcomed in thousands of study bedrooms around the world he took the opportunity to out himself as a bona fide trot: mr chavez...announced he would nationalise key businesses, declared himself a trotskyist and cited the ideas of marx and lenin. next stop the dictatorship of the proletariat as represented by chavez himself: he has also called on the national assembly to give him the power to rule by decree very democratic, i'm sure. "in this 'permanent revolution' we are in for endless surprises," he says. kronstadt ahoy. update: they're getting excited at the news in the comments over at dave's part. chavez a trot? brilliant news, i'll start preparing a blog post to condemn his very next action as either 'ultra-left adventurism' or 'vapid centrism'. gene adds: nope. no effort to create a personality cult or pave the way for one-man rule here. posted by marcus at 08:41 pm | comments (128) | trackback january 09, 2007 the china syndrome there's no shortage of western commentators bigging up china, and predicting that the country will eclipse the west in the future. how are the united states and europe going to adjust to a world in which they are no longer the masters? asks martin jacques. if china's economic growth continues at its current rate it may well mean it will loom larger in the world in the near future but i'm not sure we should assume either scenario is a foregone conclusion. older readers may remember when in the 1980's another east asian country - japan - was tipped as the next big thing. there was no shortage of books with titles like 'japan as number one' and 'the coming superpower' in academic libraries and bookshops. but the predictions in these books - that japan's historically spectacular postwar economic growth would mean it would soon overtake europe and the us and lead to an asian superpower didn't come to pass. why not? in a word - institutional corruption. japan's postwar economy, while fast growing was (and to a lesser extent still is) based on a cosy cartel of giant manufacturing combines, compliant banks, and what can only be described as a democratically elected one party state with intergenerational links to the dominant companies and finance providers. the potential for kickbacks, pork barrel politics and the stifling of new ideas in such a set up became apparent by the turn of the 1990's when japanese growth slowed, halted and went into the precipitous economic decline that continues today. the 1990's saw the nikkei index of leading shares head downwards for over a decade, while in the same period the overinflated land values that had fuelled the japanese boom collapsed. by the early 1990's unemployed salarymen set up mini shanty towns in tokyo parks - an unthinkable sight for those of us who had lived in the country prior to the popping of the japanese bubble economy at the end of the 1980's. the fact of the matter is that sustained economic growth is only guaranteed in a society which provides powerful checks and balances on the power of the dominant economic class. societies which lack such fetters will always be at risk of catastrophic collapse when the lid can't be kept on any more. postwar japanese governments swept economic corruption under the carpet and the majority of the governed didn't complain while their living standards continued to rise. however unpunished corruption has a tendency to perpetuate itself until it becomes too big to ignore. when finally it has to be tackled, the unravelling of it also unravels the mainstays of the economy, leading to economic collapse. that's essentially what happened in japan. china today shares many features in common with pre 1990 japan. it's a (constitutionally enshrined) one party state, corruption is rampant, while it's economy is growing at an unprecedented pace. will hutton takes a thoughtful look at contemporary china in the guardian and doesn't like what he sees: the truth is that china is not the socialist market economy the party describes, nor moving towards capitalism as the western consensus believes. rather it is frozen in a structure that i describe as leninist corporatism - and which is unstable, monumentally inefficient, dependent upon the expropriation of peasant savings on a grand scale, colossally unequal and ultimately unsustainable. it is leninist in that the party still follows lenin's dictum of being the vanguard, monopoly political driver and controller of the economy and society. and it is corporatist because the framework for all economic activity in china is one of central management and coordination from which no economic actor, however humble, can opt out. i think that's a fair summary of china today but it's a situation which makes the economic set up of postwar japan look like a model of good corporate governance and transparent democracy by comparison. here hutton provides evidence in support of his analysis that china is institutionally corrupt: many judges still have no formal legal training - the majority are retired army officers, only too ready to do the party's bidding. the scale of the corruption is stunning. in 2003, 794 judges were tried for corruption (out of a national total of 200,000). in 2003 and 2004, the presidents of the provincial high courts of guangdong and hunan were both found guilty of corruption. when the party does not or cannot influence the judgment in a case, it can use its influence over the police to decide whether to slow down or not enforce the judgment. enforcement rates in china are lamentable; for example, only 40% of provincial high court decisions are enforced. the lack of a clear system of property rights, with the party-state claiming particular privileges, can make debt enforcement against state organisations close to impossible. there's much, much more in the article itself, but for reasons of space i'll confine myself to quoting only one more passage, which illustrates the problem of corruption with a neat analogy with the uk: high-level officials had been arrested and imprisoned for embezzlement and racketeering; they included the party secretary and mayor of beijing, chen xitong, a member of the politburo. cheng kejie, vice-chairman of the national people's congress, was executed for taking pounds 2.5m in kickbacks for arranging land deals and contracts for private business. in the financial system the highest-profile casualties were three of prime minister zhu rongji's hand-picked "can-do commanders", selected to sort out the financial crisis of the late 1990s, and one of whom, li fuxiang, leaped to his death from the seventh floor of beijing's hospital 304 while under investigation. to put this in a british context, it is as if the mayor of london, the speaker of the house of commons, the chief executive of hsbc, along with a deputy governor of the bank of england and the deputy chief executive of the financial services authority had all been imprisoned for fraud with one committing suicide. china's authorities are absolutely right to be worried about the level of corruption in the state they govern - but there isn't an awful lot they can do about it. corruption isn't something that can be solved by bullets in the back of individual brains because it is actually embedded in the economic and political model they administer. i sometimes wonder whether those european writers who boost the people's republic base their views on wishful geopolitical thinking rather than economic reality. they seem to hope that the rise of china will provide the world with a powerful political counterbalance to us hegemony. i'm not convinced the chinese nomenklatura are in a position to fulfil these wishes unless it changes the country out of all recognition in the near future. there's no sign it can actually do so without destroying it's own power. posted by marcus at 08:17 am | comments (73) | trackback january 07, 2007 mid east hots up let's hope the government of the islamic republic of iran - which as readers will remember threatened to destroy israel earlier this year - decides to start acting like a responsible member of the international community and give up its nuclear programme in 2007. one of its regional neighbours is already making plans for the eventuality that it doesn't: israel has drawn up secret plans to destroy iran’s uranium enrichment facilities with tactical nuclear weapons. two israeli air force squadrons are training to blow up an iranian facility using low-yield nuclear “bunker-busters”, according to several israeli military sources. under the plans, conventional laser-guided bombs would open “tunnels” into the targets. “mini-nukes” would then immediately be fired into a plant at natanz, exploding deep underground to reduce the risk of radioactive fallout. “as soon as the green light is given, it will be one mission, one strike and the iranian nuclear project will be demolished,” said one of the sources. as the sunday times notes this story may have been leaked to put pressure on tehran to halt enrichment, or alternatively to cajole america into action or even to soften up world opinion in advance of an israeli attack. whatever the truth of the matter is it's a safe bet that the political situation in the middle east will continue to feature in the newspaper headlines over the coming year no matter what western policy towards iraq is. gene adds: allow me to add a note of skepticism on the sunday times report-- which, for what it's worth, israel denies. i'm reminded of another sensational sunday times piece from 1998 (scroll down to the second article). that one was about a biological "ethno-bomb" israel was supposed to be developing for possible use against iraq-- a weapon designed to harm arabs but not jews. the 1998 report, based on the alleged claims of an unidentified israeli scientist, was co-written by uzi mahnaimi, who also co-wrote the latest article. i never saw any further news about the "ethno-bomb" and the whole idea seemed (and still seems) quite incredible on its face. there were at the time only a few dozen jews left in iraq. would israel really go to so much trouble to develop a weapon to protect that handful? and how many of that handful were genetically distinctive enough from their arab neighbors to be immune to such a weapon? posted by marcus at 06:00 pm | comments (419) | trackback january 03, 2007 sharia law mourned socialist worker isn't happy about the defeat of the somalia based wahabists earlier this week. the militias’ (of the united islamic courts) victory was based on genuine popular support. it bleats. popular eh? among middle class western 'anti-imperialists' perhaps. but not so popular with young people, women and moderate muslims on the ground according to this particular somali writing in the washington post: they alienated youth by banning all types of entertainment, segregated women and deprived tens of thousands of families of their only livelihood by banning khat without bringing an alternative source of income. they even embittered traditional islamic scholars with their self-righteousness wahhabi style, condescending to mainstream islam. or their immediate neighbours: they mistook their easy ride to power for being an unstoppable revolution and started stirring instability in the peaceful republic of somaliland by branding the leadership of that democratic country as an infidel and threatening to bring somaliland under their wahhabi cloak. by reviving the somali irredentist policies of reunifying all somali people in the horn of africa and creating greater somalia, they reminded ethiopia and kenya of the era of wars and instability they had with the successive somali governments over their claim for the somali regions in their respective countries. the islamists decided to tweak the tail of the last superpower too: their security chief colonel yusuf indha adde, had even made the gaffe of the century by admitting that he was one of the people who dragged the bodies of the dead american soldiers through the streets of mogadishu in 1993 and that he was ready to do it again. it's a shame the fun had to end. never mind - those who want to demonstrate their support for the banning of music, the right to threaten neighbours with jihad, and the veiling of women have an opportunity to do so at the next demonstration: the stop the war demonstration on 24 february will not just be about trident and iraq – but also against the way imperialism devastates areas such as east africa. don't expect too many somalis to attend though: now, it is time for the people of mogadishu to reclaim their freedoms and their true religion. time to read the quran with piety and not with politics; time to perform dhikr in the sufi qadiriya style; time to dance in weddings and listen to the music of our late melody queen magool, which the islamists wanted burn. it is time to let our women come out to the sunshine and swim with their children in the lido beach; time to shave the beards, watch cinemas and let our youth revel, sing, dance and ring in the new year " posted by marcus at 08:18 pm | comments (246) | trackback january 02, 2007 why we shouldn't boycott israel samir el-youssef, writing in this week's jewish chronicle, on why john berger, brian eno etc, are wrong to call for a cultural boycott of israel. a palestinian writer, published in a jewish newspaper - sometimes there are reasons to hope. a senseless cultural boycott by samir el-youssef open forum: palestinian writer samir el-youssef says any ban on israeli writers and artists will be self-defeating the call — made recently by john berger and others — for an academic and cultural boycott of israel amounts to a mere show of sentimentality and ignorance. it is intended to help palestinians under israeli occupation, but it tends to view them as a hopelessly passive society. similarly, it tends to reduce the israeli state and community into a homogeneous entity whose policies are collectively willed and carried out. as for the idea that what has been taking place in palestine/israel is a simple matter of victimised palestinians struggling to free themselves from israeli victimisers, this is a preposterously reductionist view that could never help promote peace and justice. since the oslo accords, both societies have been marked by contradictions and divisions. from the assassination of former prime minster yitzhak rabin to the recent scandalous factions fighting in gaza, each side has experienced internal strife — over many issues, but particularly over the proper agenda for dealing with the other side. on both sides, powerful constituencies believe that there is no other option but the continuation of war and violence; but there are others, albeit with varying degrees of sincerity and commitment, who have been working towards a peaceful settlement. many israeli writers, artists and scholars have, in various ways, supported negotiations and peace. some have bravely embraced the palestinian right of self-determination and statehood — and been branded “bleeding hearts” and “arab lovers”. to boycott such individuals would certainly not force the israeli government to loosen its grip on the palestinians. the israeli government is not in the habit of listening to “bleeding hearts” and “arab lovers”. nor would it help palestinians to face up to the reality of their internal conflicts. if anything, it would only weaken a constituency which, more than any other in israel, has been committed to the cause of peaceful co-existence. instead of childish shows of solidarity with the palestinians, those calling for a boycott should put their energies into positive actions. they should spare no opportunity of bringing palestinians and israelis together, at least for the purpose of arriving at an honest understanding of why the agenda for peace has failed to produce. writers and artists are not decision-makers, nor do they have direct influence on their official representatives, but they can do what no politician can effectively do. through open-hearted dialogues and intellectual collaboration, they can understand the anxieties and ambitions of the other side and convey them to their respective communities. after all, when things go up in flames, which they often do in our blessed corner of the world, meetings between writers and scholars of the two communities might be the only line of communication — and hope. let us not forget that it was two israeli scholars who initiated what became known as the oslo accords. let us, therefore, reject any call to kill that communication and hope. samir el-youssef is a palestinian novelist and commentator. he was born in rashidia, a palestinian refugee camp in southern lebanon, and now lives in london. his new novel, “the illusion of return,” is to be published by halban on january 11 posted by adam lebor at 09:01 pm | comments (219) | trackback islamists on the run a cautious welcome to the news that somalia's islamists have apparently now quit the country. the remaining 3,000 fighters of the islamic courts union disappeared from the southern port of kismayo overnight. intelligence from ethiopian spotter planes flying overhead suggested the ultra-loyal rump of the courts' gunmen was heading towards the kenyan border. while it's too early to say for sure whether the transitional federal government is up to the task of bringing peace to a land which has not had a functioning government since 1991 the fact that the country is rid of an organisation which - while it was a force in the land - welcomed al-qaeda into the horn of africa must be seen as a positive development. posted by marcus at 08:00 pm | comments (57) | trackback december 30, 2006 death of a dictator sometimes, a writer's intentions are overtaken by an unexpectedly rapid progression of events. this piece was going to start with an observation that, in recent weeks, we've had repeated discussions at harry's place on the topic of human mortality: and specifically on whether it is legitimate to celebrate the death of someone whose actions in life had caused great harm to many. it was going to go on to say that, all things considered, it would be reasonable to foresee that in the weeks and months ahead - with saddam hussain having been sentenced to death, and that sentence recently confirmed; and with fidel castro seemingly approaching the end of his regime- there could well be a reprise of such discussions here. in any case, the events of this morning notwithstanding, this post is not about saddam hussain. nor is it about iraq. instead it is about a less bloody dictatorship than saddam's iraq; a far away country about which we know little: turkmenistan. the death of that country's dictator, saparmurat niyazov a.k.a. "türkmenba&#351;y", "father of all turkmen" was widely reported earlier in this month. as is invariably the case when the mainstream anglophone media pick up some information on this country, it was accompanied by references to some of the "wackier" edicts introduced under his reign: the banning of gold teeth, lip-synching to music, ballet, smoking in public places, and so on. one of the most exceptional features of niyazov's regime, beyond the all-encompassing cult of personality around the leader, and extreme suppression of any actual or potential opposition voices - which, terrible although such things are did not set the regime apart from other extreme dictatorships - were the extraordinary measures that it took, most notably in its last years, to undermine the health and education systems of the country, which were arguably the most positive legacy of the soviet era. although it remained unclear whether these instructions were followed to the letter, in early 2005 it was reported that all hospitals outside the capital city, a&#351;gabat, should close, and that sick people should attend those in the city for treatment. (needless to say, such an instruction would be wholly impractical and have devastating consequences in even a relatively compact and wealthy state - such as, say, the uk, or the netherlands. but in a sparsely-populated and relatively impoverished land of great desert expanses...) what happened to education had even greater detrimental consequences: on the one hand, university courses were abbreviated and stripped of much content, while libraries across the country were closed. and the cult of personality intervened - everywhere. just as in the ussr, so knowledge of "diamat", dialectic materialism, was assessed as a compulsory part of all university courses, so in niyazov's turkmenistan knowledge of niyavov's own writings, notably the "ruhnama", "book of the soul" was an obligatory part not only of university education, but of school education: knowledge of the test was reportedly demanded not only by those taking driving tests, but of those seeking to obtain qualification- or those who were already qualified- as physicians or surgeons. teachings from the "ruhnama"-paolo coelho-style vacuities, essentially, as far as i am aware, were mixed with islam, as well: the largest mosque in central asia was constructed in the president's native village. like other grand mosques in the country, such as this one in a&#351;gabat, it was apparently financed by one of the major french telecoms and constructions sector companies. needless to say, those centres of religious worship - among them islamic, christian and hindu ones - which would not bend their teachings to those of the regime were comprehensively suppressed. in any case, in the latter years of niyavov's regime, in which all power had effectively been usurped by the president - who, contrary to many reports had rejected an attempt by the entirely loyal parliament to name him as "president for life" not through modesty, but on the grounds that the constitution explicitly prohibited any limitation on the presidential term of office - it was increasingly easy to envisage a period, following niyazov's death - expected to be, say, 15, 20 years hence, in which the complete destruction of intellectual life or political or religious debate in the country would bring about a state of affairs in which the apparently easy answers provided by the fundamentalist islam, represented in this region, above all, by hizb-ut-tahrir, could take root. (such fanaticism does not have a wide following in central asia, but worries several governments in part because the region where it is most influential - the ferghana valley - is shared between several states as well as being densely populated) i am inclined to agree with tim newman, of "white sun of the desert" (although now based far from any desert of sand), when he writes, fortunately, i think his death may have come too early for islamic radicals to move in. had niyazov been around for another decade, education in the country would have been almost eliminated in all meaningful sense (tim also quotes from an excellent article published in the economist earlier in the year, which outlines in greater details some of the state's attacks on health and education) now, where this leaves turkmenistan remains most unclear. on the one hand, unlike some (or indeed, most) of the other post-soviet central asian states, niyazov had not groomed one of his own flesh and blood as an apparent successor: there is, thankfully, no equivalent of "gugusha" gulnora karimova nor darigha nazarbayeva - or indeed of &#304;lham aliyev, ural rakhimov nor ramzan kadyrov- in turkmenistan. on the other - and in the absence of any concept of balance of powers or conventions regarding a constitutional transfer of powers whatsoever (niyazov having assumed multiple titles for himself, and having felt free to appoint or dismiss ministers, regional governors, and other state officials at will)- there does appear to be a chosen successor: kurbanguly berdymuhammedov who will take part in an election in february that one can only reasonably expect, unfortunately, to be even less truly democratic than those held over the last couple of years in tajikistan, uzbekistan or kazakhstan. this is, of course, far from ideal. and relatively little of berdymuhammedov's character - portrayed as a regime loyalist - seems to be known. this transfer -if it comes about - is likely to be one in the soviet fashion, and not the type that brought forth a gorbachev. so, in a sense, there is not so much to celebrate in niyazov's demise. one lesser known facet (in the west) of niyavov's turkmenistan was its -almost obsessive - commitment to what has been officially termed "permanent neutrality". given the country's location - in a region in which russia, china, the usa/nato, iran and turkey have all been seeking to gain influence in recent years, quite apart from the likes of hizb-ut-tahrir, and that turkmenistan shares borders with afghanistan and iran, as well as two countries that have frequently been at odds with each other: uzbekistan and kazakhstan - this declared neutrality might appear to make some sense. turkmenistan has, uniquely among the post-soviet central asian states, not signed up to any of the international organizations, be they economic-based or security-based, that have been formed in the region -most notably the the collective security treaty organization (csto), the shanghai cooperation organization or guuam/guam - apart from the commonwealth of independent states, which, arguably, long ago served its role as permitting (most of) the ussr an "amicable divorce" and which has since failed to find any other sustained or credible role. indeed, turkmenistan has sought to distance itself even from that organization. one could argue that few countries - with north korea being the obvious exception- are so isolated internationally. in reality, turkmenistan's closest ally has been russia: although, again unusually for the region, there are no russian (or any other foreign) military bases or troops in turkmenistan, the country's supplies of natural gas - largely exported by way of russia or russian-owned pipelines - have served to form a mutuality of interests: the amended gas deal accepted by ukraine (or forced upon it) last winter ensured that the relatively cheap gas that ukraine was to receive would be turkmenistani, rather than russian. now, as in the manner of things on the internet: there is all manner of nonsensical speculation and talk of more utter rubbish : "america (or should that be amerikkka) killed niyazov!" (absolute nonsense!): "iran is waiting to make its move into turkmenistan!" (absolute nonsense!) for more credible and well-informed analysis i would recommend the likes of eurasianet, the institute of war and peace reporting, or the central asia-caucasus analyst. in any case, to return to the starting point of this piece: the death of a dictator, and how one should respond to such an event. i am inclined to say, that in the instance of saparmurat niyazov and turkmenistan - whatever comes next in turkmenistan can surely, hopefully, surely, only be better than what has happened in this land over the last 15 years. this man misled his people severely and cut them off from the world, denied them so much of value, punished dissenters severely (although, strangely, not by way of capital punishment, which was, most unusually for the region, outlawed in 1999). thank heavens that he died in 2006, and not in 2016 or 2026. although turkmenistan is most unlikely to become a democracy overnight, or indeed any time soon, what follows the niyazov regime- where one man's lunacy impacted negatively upon an entire nation - could barely be worse. one hopes that the country will open up to the outside world a little more, and that the government will open up to its people more than they have too. posted by venichka at 08:11 am | comments (70) | trackback december 29, 2006 between hope and despair christopher hitchens reports from baghdad. posted by gene at 08:42 pm | comments (38) | trackback december 27, 2006 "cease fire" since a "cease fire" was declared last month, palestinian terrorists in gaza have fired more than 50 qassam rockets into israel. as part of a policy of restraint, israel has not, as of this post, retaliated. on sunday evening, a qassam struck near a nursery school in sderot. (there were no injuries, but one doesn't have to guess what could have happened if it had struck the next morning.) israel did not retaliate for that. on monday morning a qassam rocket fired from gaza struck ashkelon, causing damage to several buildings in the southern port city. again, no retaliation from israel. on tuesday, a qassam injured two teen-aged boys in sderot, one of them critically. this may mean the end of israel's restraint. i wanted to get this on the record before the usual suspects accuse israel of breaking the "cease fire," of aggressively overreacting, of provoking the palestinians, of continuing the "cycle of violence," etc., etc. posted by gene at 02:31 am | comments (220) | trackback december 20, 2006 docs in the dock face death "bulgaria's president, the chairman of the national assembly and the country's prime minister sent an open letter to the heads of state and parliamentary heads of all eu member states in connection with the libya hiv trial," reports the bulgarian press. the plea follows news that a libyan court has condemned a palestinian doctor and five bulgarian nurses to death after accusing them of spreading hiv/aids among hundreds of children in hospital. nevertheless, according to the economist: no fewer than three reports by distinguished foreign aids specialists have cast doubt on whether the nursing staff should be blamed. french, swiss and italian experts noted that the aids outbreak started at least a year before the accused nurses arrived in libya and continued after their arrest. more than half the blood samples taken from hiv-infected children showed they had also been infected with other diseases. the rational explanation is that unsafe re-use of unsterilised needles, which apparently was routine in such clinics. nevertheless, the libyan courts rejected this evidence in preference to the 'big consipracy' theory: that unnamed multinational corporations had paid the doctors and nurses to test aids cures on libyan babies. understandably - but of course that doesn't mean rationally or sensibly - parents of the children have welcomed the death sentence handed down by the libyan court. "justice has been done. we are happy. they should be executed quickly," said one parent. there was singing and dancing outside the court. international aid organisations like unicef have made combatting hiv/aids in libya a top priority. a chief concern now must be the impact this case could have on fighting aids in africa. libya has a very low infection rate - less than 1% according to recent statistics. but, the scapegoating and execution of these medics could potentially deter other doctors and aid workers from going to libya - and perhaps other countries in the region - to help the fight against aids. a catastrophe in the making. libya has hinted that "blood money" might secure the release of the medical personnel. in the long run, the cost to the region might prove much more expensive. update international experts in dna forensics say that a paper published online by nature this week provides a firm alibi for the six medical workers facing the death penalty in libya. the workers have been charged with deliberately infecting more than 400 children with hiv in 1998. in the study, an international team led by researchers from oxford and rome used the genetic sequences of the viruses isolated from the patients to reconstruct the exact phylogeny, or 'family tree', of the outbreak. analysing the mutations that accumulated over time allowed the researchers to work out when different outbreaks occurred. they showed that the strain of hiv with which the children had been infected was already present and spreading locally in the mid-1990s, long before the medics arrived in libya in 1998. hat tip: modernity, in the comments. posted by brett at 08:18 pm | comments (20) | trackback osanloo released on bail mansour osanloo, leader of the tehran bus workers' union, has been released on bail following his arrest last month, the international transport workers' federation reports. osanloo had previously been imprisoned for several months by the iranian regime after he was arrested during protests by his union last december. of course the nature of the regime means that osanloo and other iranian trade unionists can be arrested again at any time for any reason. (hat tip: labourstart, which collected and forwarded to iranian authorities thousands of messages calling for osanloo's release.) posted by gene at 03:01 pm | trackback december 19, 2006 "this doesn't work" a brave speech-- in arabic, to a palestinian audience-- by palestinian authority president mahmoud abbas: in the past, they said: "under no circumstances will we accept a state, unless it includes all of palestine, because palestine is a land of islamic endowment." fine. this doesn’t work. i can say: "we demand all of the land," and you will applaud me. this doesn’t work. this doesn’t work. this doesn’t work. there is a reality – either you acknowledge it, or you will get crushed. was arafat ever that honest to palestinians? posted by gene at 03:30 pm | comments (187) | trackback december 18, 2006 iranian student protesters hide in fear for their lives as to the students, it seems to me that in such a ruthless police state, these people would have been bundled up and made to dissappear, like in the good old days of the us supported shah... --chris voidis in the comments to my december 13 post about students demonstrating against president ahmadinejad as he spoke at a university in tehran iranian student activists who staged an angry protest against president mahmoud ahmadinejad last week have gone into hiding in fear for their lives after his supporters threatened them with revenge. one student fled after being photographed holding a banner reading, "fascist president, the polytechnic is not for you", during mr ahmadinejad's visit to tehran's amir kabir university. at least three others have gone underground after being seen burning his picture. vigilantes from the militant ansar-e hezbollah group have been searching for them. ..... students now fear an even fiercer crackdown. "we believe [the authorities] will react much worse than before," said armin salmasi, 26, a leading activist. "we are already under constant surveillance. the student movement in iran is going to be driven underground - just like it was before the revolution." --robert tait of the guardian, reporting december 18 from tehran (hat tip: engage.) posted by gene at 03:24 pm | comments (48) | trackback national bolsheviks is there a more shudder-inducing flag than that of the national bolshevik movement (a bizarre amalgam of fascist and communist ideology) in russia? and who invited them to a pro-democracy demonstration in moscow? and if they weren't invited, why weren't they asked to leave? update: former chess champion garry kasparov, a leader of the opposition other russia movement, has defended the inclusion of the national bolsheviks, "saying that they have all agreed on common principles in support of free speech and democracy." i fear his grasp of politics does not equal his grasp of chess. (hat tip: andrew in the comments.) further update: more on russia's nbp here. at present, the party membership is around 15,000, with regional departments throughout russia and a headquarters in moscow. the party is known for attracting young people on the margin of society, from delinquents to vanguard intellectuals and artists. check out the armbands. posted by gene at 02:49 am | comments (54) | trackback palestinians lay the blame-- with themselves while some westerners seem to think they are supporting the palestinian cause by blaming the current turmoil in gaza and the west bank solely on israel, at least some palestinians have moved beyond such easy explanations and faced the unpleasant facts. in a series of newspaper columns this year, ghazi hamad, a senior hamas official, warned palestinians that they were largely to blame for rising partisan strife and their own poor image in the world. across the territories, growing numbers of people locate responsibility for their plight closer to home, even though collapse of the rule of law in their communities can make it more dangerous to state such a sentiment. ..... "it couldn't be worse," said maher el-sheikh, the weary managing editor of [the leading palestinian newspaper] al-quds. asked where the responsibility rested for the palestinians' current predicament, sheikh said, "on the heads of my own people." khalil abu arafeh, a former prisoner of israel and a cartoonist for al-quds, has bravely mocked leaders of both fatah and hamas-- and been threatened for doing it. "i think we have a regional conflict in the palestinian territories," abu arafeh said, "and it's not a conflict between israel and the palestinian people." posted by gene at 02:13 am | comments (115) | trackback december 15, 2006 and zionists are calling the shots? i don't believe saudi arabia controls us or uk foreign policy any more than israel does. but the news that the british government squelched an investigation into bribery of saudi officials-- combined with a report in the washington post that the saudis "basically summoned" vice president cheney for talks (and he went)-- makes me wonder if adherents to the mearsheimer-walt thesis of a super-powerful israel lobby need to shift their focus. i don't know if the uk government would have halted a similar probe into bribery of israeli officials-- though that would have been just as wrong. but i think it's safe to say that-- barring a dire emergency-- cheney would not have dropped everything and flown to jerusalem at the behest of ehud olmert. posted by gene at 02:07 pm | comments (112) | trackback christmas in the holy land civil war looms larger in palestine today: tensions were at their highest in a decade and followed months of failed talks to form a unity government between the ruling hamas islamist faction and abbas's once-dominant fatah. at least 32 hamas supporters were wounded by gunfire in the west bank city of ramallah, hospital officials said. the violence broke out after hamas, which controls the palestinian authority, accused a fatah strongman and abbas's presidential guard of trying to kill prime minister ismail haniyeh outside the rafah border crossing with egypt. "we know who opened fire (on haniyeh's convoy) and they will be punished hard. from now on they will never relax and they will never sleep tight in their homes," said hamas leader and palestinian foreign minister mahmoud al-zahar. pity the palestinian people caught between the endemic corruption of fatah and the hate filled zealotry of hamas. there must be a better way forward. gene adds: in case anyone thought otherwise: palestinian prime minister ismail haniyeh said friday that he and his followers chose to be in the hamas movement to be shahids (martyrs) and sacrifice their lives for allah and not to be ministers. posted by marcus at 01:31 pm | comments (84) | trackback december 13, 2006 iranian students challenge denial fest the times reports: dozens of iranian students burnt pictures of president ahmadinejad and chanted “death to the dictator” as he gave a speech at a university in tehran yesterday. never has the hardline leader faced such open hostility at a public event, which came as iran opened a conference questioning whether nazi germany murdered six million jews. one student activist said that the protest was against the “shameful” holocaust conference and the “fact that many activists have not been allowed to attend university”. the conference “has brought to our country nazis and racists from around the world”, he added. mr ahmadinejad responded by saying: “everyone should know that ahmadinejad is prepared to be burnt in the path of true freedom, independence and justice”, according to an iranian students’ news agency. he accused the protesters of being “americanised”. addressinng the conference, ahmadinejad said israel "will one day be 'wiped out' as the soviet union was, drawing applause from participants in a conference casting doubt on the nazis' systematic extermination of 6 million jews." if you can stand it, the holocaust-denying adelaide institute has the conference's complete agenda, with photos. among those addressing the conference was one shiraz dossa, a political science professor at nova scotia's st. francis xavier university, who was shocked, shocked, to discover the true nature of the conference. dossa told the globe he was alarmed to discover that holocaust deniers played such a visible role at the conference. "i did not know exactly who was coming to the conference, and frankly, i think these people are hacks and lunatics," he said. "i frankly wouldn't even shake hands with most of them." now i want to be fair, and to give credit to every "anti-imperialist" individual, publication or website which unequivocally (i.e., without blaming israel for antisemitism) condemns the iranian authorities for sponsoring the conference and/or praises the brave iranian students who have publicly denounced ahmadinejad. any candidates yet? and who is more worthy of admiration and support from genuine leftists? these folks? or this guy? posted by gene at 05:53 pm | comments (147) | trackback things change veteran harry's place readers may know the answer, but here's a question for relative newbies: of whom did the late augusto pinochet say (shortly before his effort to stay in power was rejected by chilean voters in a 1988 referendum), "there is this external aggressor who for the sake of revenge or disinformation seeks to come to the aid of those who are hawking their country away for millions of dollars. our people, i am sure, totally reject this interference, which is unacceptable"? (answer here.) the point is not to deny the us government's aid to the anti-allende forces in chile, and its support for pinochet's 1973 coup and subsequent brutality, but rather to note that events don't always fit into nice, politically-convenient categories-- that things, in fact, change. posted by gene at 02:44 pm | comments (19) | trackback bell end here's today's guardian response to the gathering in tehran of the largest collection of anti-semites and holocaust deniers in one place since the end of the third reich. posted by marcus at 08:31 am | comments (53) | trackback december 11, 2006 middle east politics redux here is an interview by pierre heumann of the swiss newspaper die weltwoche with al-jazeera editor-in-chief, ahmed sheikh, in which he explains the root cause of the middle east's problems: how do you see the future of this region in which news of wars, dictators and poverty predominates? the future here looks very bleak. can you explain what you mean by that? by bleak i mean something like "dark." i've advised my thirty year old son, who lives in jordan, that he should leave the region. just this morning i spoke with him about it. he has a son and we spoke about his son's education. i'd like my grandson to go to a trilingual private school. the public schools are bad. he should learn english, german, and french -- spanish would also be important. but the private schools are very expensive. that's why i told my son to emigrate to the west for the sake of my grandson. you sound bitter. yes, i am. at whom are you angry? it's not only the lack of democracy in the region that makes me worried. i don't understand why we don't develop as quickly and dynamically as the rest of the world. we have to face the challenge and say: enough is enough! when a president can stay in power for 25 years, like in egypt, and he is not in a position to implement reforms, we have a problem. either the man has to change or he has to be replaced. but the society is not dynamic enough to bring about such a change in a peaceful and constructive fashion. why not? in many arab states, the middle class is disappearing. the rich get richer and the poor get still poorer. look at the schools in jordan, egypt or morocco: you have up to 70 youngsters crammed together in a single classroom. how can a teacher do his job in such circumstances? the public hospitals are also in a hopeless condition. these are just examples. they show how hopeless the situation is for us in the middle east. who is responsible for the situation? the israeli-palestinian conflict is one of the most important reasons why these crises and problems continue to simmer. the day when israel was founded created the basis for our problems. the west should finally come to understand this. everything would be much calmer if the palestinians were given their rights. do you mean to say that if israel did not exist, there would suddenly be democracy in egypt, that the schools in morocco would be better, that the public clinics in jordan would function better? i think so. can you please explain to me what the israeli-palestinian conflict has to do with these problems? the palestinian cause is central for arab thinking. in the end, is it a matter of feelings of self-esteem? exactly. it's because we always lose to israel. it gnaws at the people in the middle east that such a small country as israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the arab nation with its 350 million. that hurts our collective ego. the palestinian problem is in the genes of every arab. the west's problem is that it does not understand this. so, now you understand. (via tim blair) posted by david t at 12:38 pm | comments (191) | trackback december 10, 2006 the last judgement augusto pinochet ex-dictator of chile has died: gen pinochet was in power from 1973-90, during which time more than 3,000 people were killed or "disappeared". here is an account of how pinochet's regime dealt with troublesome folk singers: on the morning of september 12, jara was taken, along with thousands, as a prisoner to the chile stadium (renamed the estadio víctor jara in september 2003). many of them were tortured and killed there by the military forces. jara was repeatedly beaten and tortured, resulting in the breaking of bones in his hands and upper torso. fellow political prisoners have testified that his captors mockingly suggested that he play guitar for them as he lay on the ground. defiantly, he sang part of a song supporting the popular unity coalition. he was murdered on september 15 after further beatings were followed by being machine-gunned and left dead on a road on the outskirts of santiago. it wasn't only human rights abuses the general will be remembered for: even many loyal supporters abandoned him after it became clear in 2004 that he had stolen about $27m in secret offshore bank accounts that were under investigation at the time of his death. let's hope the type of latin american leader pinochet once epitomised is gone for good. posted by marcus at 06:57 pm | comments (112) | trackback december 04, 2006 so job goes to so, not job well, it is that time of year again. and the winner is: john so, lord mayor of melbourne, australia melbourne’s longest serving and first elected lord mayor john so can be viewed as a positive symbol of diversity in australian public life. elected to a second term in 2004, the affection shown for mayor so in the victoria state capital has even manifested itself in a tribute record, possibly the first city leader to enjoy ‘cult status’. so is widely accredited with the successful staging of the 2006 commonwealth games and his assiduous efforts to promote the city abroad. the mayor is also held up as an immigrant success story. not many mayors can claim to have had a record made in their honour or a t-shirt proclaiming their name across residents’ chests (the ‘john so – he’s my bro’ garment, which was also the record’s title). as a mayor of asian heritage in the strongly diverse city, mayor so champions links with other asian cities, emphasising sister city relations with osaka, japan and tianjin, china and working within the business partner city network of 12 global cities. melbourne is australia’s second largest city and describes itself as the nation’s cultural capital, though its prominence as a financial centre is undisputable. since becoming mayor, one of john so’s aims has been to engage with young people and to make sure they know they are a vital part of melbourne society. he has succeeded. one young melbournian wrote: “john so has captured the imagination of the people of his city. he has especially done so with young people. where else in the world do people under 25 cheer and stamp and shout out the name of the mayor?” this year's runner up is job cohen, mayor of amsterdam, who just missed out on the top spot. we talked about him here: job cohen, mayor of amsterdam, boasts an enviable record in national and city politics, academia and broadcasting, with plaudits from a range of opinion makers for his inclusive approach to politics and city life. in 2005, cohen was named one of time magazine’s ‘european heroes’ for his stand on the notorious murder of film-maker theo van gogh in an amsterdam street in november 2004. cohen led the city’s people in street protests, calling for unity and tolerance. since the murder, which cohen himself was targeted by the assassin, the mayor has sought to bring together the capital’s immigrant communities to facilitate dialogue against extremism, both by and directed at muslim immigrants, in order to maintain its famous reputation for tolerance and liberal attitudes. in an essay, which opens with lines from jacque brel’s ‘in the port of amsterdam’, mayor cohen writes: “amsterdam, a modern city with all the problems, opportunities and, above all, its special aspects, is one of the smallest ‘world cities’. some 170 nationalities make up its 750,000 inhabitants.” one commentator agreed wholeheartedly: “in a city like amsterdam, with citizens from over 170 national backgrounds and an equally diverse ethnic population, the importance of understanding ethnic relations and their sensitivities cannot be overestimated. among many amsterdam people, there have been serious suggestions for mr cohen to take up the candidacy for prime minister. i'm convinced that mr cohen's role as a mayor will be remembered for a very long time after he completes his term, in a positive way. it would be very good if he became the winner of world mayor 2006, because it would mean a boost to those who work for harmony and peace - which in the current trends are not widely appreciated by the popular media.” posted by david t at 10:30 pm | comments (11) | trackback chavez reelected it appears hugo chavez has been reelected president of venezuela by a big margin. while there have been a number of reports of irregularities, i doubt they were enough to change the outcome. i'm not surprised, but i am disappointed-- just as i was when richard nixon (in 1972) and ronald reagan (in 1984) were reelected by similarly overwhelming votes in the us. in elections, as in other aspects of life, the winner is not always the person i think ought to win. obviously chavez has used venezuela's enormous oil wealth in ways that have made a difference to many of the country's poor-- and in ways he skillfully branded as his personal largesse-- and they expressed their gratitude at the polls. he has also skillfully baited the bush administration, thereby burnishing his "anti-imperialist" credentials. i still think he's an authoritarian strongman with dangerous anti-democratic tendencies. but i hope his talk of a crackdown on the opposition is just talk. anyone who cares about democracy ought to shudder when he says that the days of a "permissive chavez" are over. posted by gene at 03:54 am | comments (150) | trackback december 01, 2006 freedom of choice? blogger neil clark has a pop at times columnist daniel finkelstein for saying he'd happily give a million dollars away to promote democracy in iran. clark says it's a case of sour grapes - iran validly and soundly rejected the sort of politics finkelstein is in favour of at the last iranian poll. iran is a democracy, but the only trouble is that the people didn't vote the way daniel would have liked them to. well iran did vote for an islamist government at the last election in 2005, that much is true, but they didn't exactly have much choice. there are certain preconditions for putting yourself forward for election in the islamic republic: if you're male, muslim and over 25 you're on the right track but make sure you're not too critical of the status quo: all hopefuls for high elected office must be cleared by the guardian council, a 12-member body of clerics and scholars loyal to the ruling theocracy. the council often rejects potential candidates considered too liberal or critical of the islamic system. for friday's election, just eight of more than 1,000 possible candidates were allowed. here's a list of the major parties allowed to stand in iran: executives of construction party (islamist) islamic iran participation front (islamist) islamic society of engineers (islamist) militant clergy association (islamist) militant clerics society (islamist) eight out of one thousand candidates allowed to stand and all that remain after the undesirables are winnowed out are islamist. who but a useful idiot would call that democracy? update: a scottish schoolteacher also takes issue with clark's slippery semantics. posted by marcus at 09:40 pm | comments (22) | trackback dprk parody, ksa reality this apparently is a parody site (and a good one), although at first glance it's a little hard to tell. don't miss the top 20 singles in the dprk. (hat tip: mick hartley.) this (smirks and all) is apparently not a parody. and yes, living in a country where the death penalty is permitted, i know i'm not in a strong position to feel morally superior. posted by gene at 06:01 pm | comments (25) | trackback november 29, 2006 against sectarianism when you've finished with christine odone's little tirade, you might want to check out a slightly more worthwhile campaign against sectarianism. from the wapo:the evening was tense, as most are these days in beirut, its maronite catholics, greek orthodox, sunni and shiite muslims and druze perched imprecisely between war and peace. malak beydoun, a young woman, pulled her car into a parking lot in the christian neighborhood of ashrafiyeh. she peered at a billboard overhead, alarmed and then indignant. "parking for maronites only," it read. beydoun recoiled. "how did they know that i was a shiite?" she remembered asking herself. part provocation, part appeal -- with a dose of farce that doesn't feel all that farcical -- advertisements went up this month on 300 billboards across the lebanese capital and appeared in virtually every newspaper in the country. thousands of e-mails carried the ads across the internet to expatriates. each offered its take on what one of the campaign's creative directors called a country on the verge of "absurdistan" -- cooking lessons by greek orthodox, building for sale to druze, hairstyling by an armenian catholic, a fashion agency looking for "a beautiful shiite face." at the bottom, the ads read in english, "stop sectarianism before it stops us," or, more bluntly in arabic, "citizenship is not sectarianism." ... one is a doctor's plate: "dr. mohamed chatila, muslim sunni." another is a three-story banner that reads, "for druzes, building for sale." a license plate is pictured: "a shiite car," it says in arabic, "shiite" in english. and an ad for a car: "2000 model, in near perfect condition. owned and maintained by a maronite. never driven by non-maronites." sadly, not everyone bothered reading the posters all the way down. according to one fouad haraki, the consequences of sticking up the billboards in his neighbourhood was "a sectarian clamor."[w]hen the billboards went up, 50 were defaced or torn down. some residents stopped them from going up in the first place. in lebanon and abroad, e-mails flitted back and forth, some of their authors believing the messages were real. "people were seriously panicked," andraos [05amam activist] recalled. "are there really signs like that in lebanon now? the mere fact that people think it's possible, that there might be signs like that in lebanon now, means we're not really that far off."read it all. hat-tip to the lebanese bloggers who highlight a passage from the end of the article:at a cafe near downtown, randy nahle, a 21-year-old student, wondered about the way out. his father is shiite, his mother maronite catholic. the neighborhood he sits in, like virtually every one in beirut, has its markers: the posters and religious symbols on walls, the muezzin or the church bells that identify its affiliation. for once, he said, something organized spoke to his rejection of being "categorized or oversimplified." he smiled at his favorite ads, the ones that identified doctors by their sect. "it has infiltrated our fabric so much, almost indelibly," nahle said. "if i have an earache, an orthodox doctor will understand it better. it's an orthodox ear." he recalled sitting with a shiite woman at a cafe near the american university in beirut. she treated him as a fellow shiite until he revealed his mixed background. she looked at him disapprovingly. it's bad for the children, she said. "they're going to come out confused," she told him. "i said, 'you know, the problem of this country is we don't have enough confused people. the problem is we have too many people blindly convinced by their political orientation, by their religion, by their community's superiority.'" funny how over two thousand miles away, sunny hundal is writing essentially the same thing:[t]he primary point of the new generation network agenda was to say we need to go back to the basics of anti-prejudice - pushing universal progressive values instead of getting caught up in identity politics. that meant not tolerating prejudice against black or white people; not accepting the demonisation of muslims en-masse, and not turning a blind eye to the demonisation of christians, hindus or homosexuals; standing up against violence against women regardless of their race or religion. people who want to oppose this agenda, on the left funnily enough, do so because they are so caught up in identity politics that they only want to promote their 'tribe' at the expense of others. the others don't matter, only their own personal agendas do. ... let's all celebrate multiple identities. but we should not let them limit the extent of our compassion. posted by dan at 01:29 pm | comments (10) | trackback november 28, 2006 litvinenko i've noticed a few comments here demanding to know why there hasn't been a post about alexander litvinenko. in my case the reason i've not written about is the same reason i've not written about "i'm a celebrity, get me out of here!", ie that i haven't really been following it. i'm not proud of this, you understand; i realise that anybody writing for an current affairs-based blog ought to have a basic grasp of the events so far, but all i know for certain is that lauren booth's been voted out and that myleen klass's clothes appear to keep mysteriously falling off. on the subject of alexander litvinenko, i recommend johann hari's article in yesterday's independent:to those who stopped following the news from russia when the cold war thawed out, the thought of a russian bond being despatched to london to take out a dissident in a mayfair hotel seems like an inexplicably retro moment. but for those who have cared to see, it has been clear for some time that under vladimir putin, russia is marching back towards totalitarianism. the russian journalist anna polikovskaya wrote three years ago, “the shroud of darkness from which we spent several soviet decades trying to free ourselves is enveloping us again.” for talking this way, she was swiftly poisoned, and when that didn’t kill her, she was found last month with three bullets in her skull in a moscow lift-shaft.politkovskaya, litvinenko, victor yushenko – one poisoning of your enemies could be a misfortune, but three begins to look like carelessness. or, rather, a deliberate strategy, and the list of victims goes on. but at first glance, this latest attack seems an extraordinarily inefficient way for the fsb – the successor to the kgb – to murder a dissident. they had to smuggle radioactive poison into britain, and within 130 days administer it so carefully that they killed litvinenko and nobody else. wouldn’t an anonymous bullet in an alleyway have been smarter? but like the previous attacks, this is a way of saying to all critics of putin – wherever you are, we can get you, and you will die in agony, and you will know you are dying, and you will know it was us.self-styled scourge of the neocons neil clark has responded to johann's piece today, in characteristically bighearted and generous fashion:"you would have thought that having got the balkans and iraq so spectacularly wrong, this man would have done a wee bit more research before jumping into another foreign policy area about which he appears to know very little. but no, straight on cue yesterday, the indie's 'boy wonder' leapt in, head first, to tell us how russia, the country with more political parties than hari can probably count up to, has turned into a 'totalitarian state'"."the neo-cons would never have got public support for their long-planned wars against yugoslavia and iraq if 'useful idiots' like hari hadn't swallowed hook, line and sinker, the carefully manufactured propaganda about 'genocide' in kosovo and iraq's miltary 'threat'. now, they are happy to let dimwits like hari play their part in their latest project- the demonisation of vladimir putin, whose 'crime' has been to oppose the iraq war and to stand up for russia's national interests".that's not quite how i remember johann's columns prior to the iraq war, and a brief scan of his archive shows that, far from swallowing neo-con propaganda "hook, line and sinker", the first pre-war piece he wrote in january 2003 dismissed the wmd argument entirely, its opening sentence being "why do we need evidence of a stash of anthrax or sarin to convince us that saddam, the gasser of the kurds and butcher of baghdad, should be overthrown?". nevertheless, on the one hand we have the view that vladimir putin is responsible for an increasingly sinister and repressive russian state sliding back towards totalitarianism; on the other the view that this is demonisation, his only crime was to oppose the iraq war, and that it's only neocons and their useful idiots who believe the kremlin could have killed litvinenko. as i say, i'm too spectacularly ill-informed to make any sort of judgement, but i'm sure harry's place readers know more. posted by wardytron at 02:46 pm | comments (51) | trackback november 27, 2006 rocket men well, i was going do do a post ruminating about how long the cease fire on the gaza/israeli border would last, but before i could ask the question, hamas gave me the answer. about 24 hours, it seems. harry adds: the times cartoon sums it up pretty well. (hat tip: leonard in comments) posted by brett at 05:36 pm | comments (28) | trackback rallying for rosales caracas's "privileged blonde elite" turned out is surprisingly large numbers for opposition candidate manuel rosales's final campaign rally before he faces president hugo chavez in venezuela's december 3 election. venezuelan blogger daniel duquenal writes in a photo-report: today was the largest march/rally [in venezuela] ever, and probably the last one. if chavez loses on december 3, there will not be as much incentive. if chavez wins, he will make sure that such a slap never happens to him again. i suppose that just as "election pressure" forced chavez to call off his oil deal with ken livingstone, it has limited his usually extensive foreign travels. which perhaps explains that large gap on the sofa between his friends presidents ahmadinejad and mugabe. (hat tip: mick hartley.) posted by gene at 02:32 am | comments (38) | trackback november 23, 2006 progressive canadian muslims stand up to islamists terry glavin has a fascinating article about george galloway's recent visit to canada at the invitation and expense of the syrian social nationalist party, a quasi-fascist organization devoted to a "greater syria" including present-day lebanon and israel; about the disturbing ties between leading figures in canada's antiwar movement and some of the most reactionary canadian islamists; and-- encouragingly-- about progressive canadian muslims bravely standing up to those reactionaries. read it all. (via will at the popinjays.) posted by gene at 02:57 am | comments (7) | trackback november 21, 2006 with 'friends' like these iraq recently restored diplomatic relations with syria in an attempt to halt syrian support for the 'militants' who are attempting to render the former country ungovernable. i wonder how sensible that act might be considered after today's news: the lebanese christian leader pierre gemayel, an outspoken critic of syria, has been shot dead in a suburb of beirut today. witnesses said gunmen opened fire as mr gemayel's convoy drove through the christian neighbourhood of jdeideh, his constituency, on the northern edge of beirut. mr gemayel - who was shot in broad daylight - was rushed to hospital, but later died of his wounds. suspicion immediately fell on syria, which is also accused of being behind the assassination of the former lebanese prime minister rafik al-hariri last year. mr hariri's son saad told cnn that the "hand of syria" was behind today's murder. "today, one of our main believers in a free democratic lebanon has been killed," he said. "we believe the hand of syria is all over [this]." gene adds: i wonder how long before some syrian or hezbollah official rounds up the usual suspect? gene adds: in answer to my question: not long at all. posted by marcus at 07:58 pm | comments (105) | trackback tehran bus workers' leader rearrested mansoor osanloo, leader of the tehran bus workers' union-- arrested by iranian authorities last december during a union protest and released in august-- has been rearrested, reports. on sunday morning, november 19th, mansour osanlou, director of the greater tehran bus drivers’ union who was on his way to the labor bureau, was brutally attacked on the street, in front of witnesses. his assailants were plain clothes secret service agents of the islamic regime, who after beating osanlou, shoved him in the back of a car and sped away. on saturday, november 18th osanlou had received a summons that required him to appear, on monday morning, november 20th at branch 4 of the interogatory section of the civil servants prosecutor’s office in order to respond to charges that had been been brought against him. according to ebrahim madadi, vice-chairman of the bus drivers union, on thursday, november 16th, osanlou had had eye surgery; when he was seized, one of his eyes was bandaged. this method of arrest is reminiscent of the arrest of iranian opposition leaders, activists, journalists and intellectuals throughout the ‘90’s who were eventually murdered in what came to be known in iran as the chain murders. osanlou’s life is in danger. osanlou had been released on bail in august, after enduring nearly 8 months in prison where his tongue was sliced, by the regime’s torturers during one of the interrogation sessions. it is said that osanlou and 16 of his fellow colleagues are being detained in branch 14 of the revolutionary prosecutor’s office, waiting to be prosecuted. the website of the worker-communist party of iran is also reporting the arrest. the original arrest of osanloo and the suppression of the bus workers provoked worldwide protests last winter, including a demonstration in front of the iranian interest section in washington. based on reports from the state-controlled iranian labor news agency, workers in iran are becoming increasingly angry and outspoken about their conditions. perhaps not coincidentally, a reporter for the ilna was arrested at a workers' protest last week. as you can see in the photo below, hugo chavez-- icon of the international left-- minced no words in demanding an end to tehran's repression of iran's workers when he visited the country last july, leaving president ahmadinejad visibly shaken. posted by gene at 03:21 am | comments (131) | trackback november 15, 2006 kos and effect there's an interesting exchange going on over at daily kos following a posting by san francisco-based gay rights activist michael petrelis that another gay man has apparently been hanged in iran. the exchange was inevitable. it is now standard fare whenever one tries to draw attention to human rights abuses in countries hostile to the uk, the us or israel. blue sky coop: "why don't you focus your human rights watch on countries the pubes aren't trying to go to war with? there are plenty of gay-hating nations. why focus on iran? why now? you're free to help them get america to hate iran, so that we can go to war for fake reasons... again. but i wouldn't. if i were you, i'd focus on someone else's human rights abuses... until there's no longer the danger that america might lie itself into another war. michael1104: "they have one of the worst human rights records. pointing it out doesn't mean you advocate invasion. that is the most ridiculous and intellectually bankrupt comments i have read in a long time. they don't get a free pass just because you think that america will invade without any evidence." blue sky coop: "but that's criminally naive in my opinion. liberal hype of iran's humanitarian crimes will only strengthen the weight of evidence for war. if gay rights are important to you, there are infinite other ways to voice your opinion without strengthening the neocon hand. you can admit that or not. but if not, as i said... it's almost criminally naive in my view." michael1104: "there is no other way to point out their human rights violations them out! it strenghtens no neo-cons hand. america will not invade a country to aleviate human rights abuses. if that is what the us government wants to claim, the american public will not buy it. it isn't just gay rights, for you to put your head in the sand about what goes on in iran to avoid a war that hasn't happenned nor can actually happen is just as criminally naive as ignoring what is going on in darfur just because you don't want to destabilize the region. iran does not get a pass, china does not get a pass, no one gets a free pass." it sadens me that there are sections of the left to whom the suffering of others is a mere political plaything. a pawn in a game - to be invoked or ignored as is strategically expedient in their oh-so-more-important fight against their own political opponents. yes, america has an ugly side. yes. the uk has an ugly side too. but these self-described 'progressives' can generally go about their campaigning with the safety net of liberal democracy, the security of constitutional guarentees and protection under the rule of law and an independent judiciary. this is demonstrably not the case for campaigners for democracy and human rights in the vast majority of countries who have hostile relations with washington and london. must these brave activists be denied basic solidarity and support by left, liberal and progressive movements in the west because acknowledging their struggles might give comfort to 'bush and blair' or 'the neocons'? ignoring the struggles of iranian democrats, academics, students, workers, journalists, sexual and ethnic minorities and others suffering under the boot of the ayatollahs - and more contemptably - glossing over their suffering, is nothing short of racism. ignoring their suffering is the equivalent of regarding their lives as expendible in a way that we'd never tolerate in our own country. the truth is the truth. sometimes it's inconvenient. when it is sacrificed to convenience, somebody, somewhere, suffers. posted by brett at 10:50 am | comments (71) | trackback november 14, 2006 the lessons of markus wolf anne applebaum writes about the former east german spy chief markus wolf, who died last week: in his memoir he boasted of the skill with which he had carried out his "madcap schemes and daring ruses" and mocked the sloppiness of western intelligence. in contrast to the efforts to uncover his own slick operatives, spotting cia men in bonn was "ridiculously easy," since their "basic information about the east was so sketchy." at one point, wolf claimed, the poor quality of american agents led him to fear that "washington had stopped taking east germany seriously." in a narrow sense, he may have been right: from a purely technical point of view, east germany's spies probably were better than their western counterparts. it is, after all, much easier to spy for a closed society, where there are no open debates about the morality of the methods, no congressional commissions, no nosy media. ..... and yet for all his preening, wolf and his comrades did not win the cold war. nor, for all the cia's ham-handedness, did the agents of communism even win the intelligence war. invariably, western agents received their best information not through psychological manipulation and complex schemes but through soviet and east european defectors who offered themselves up voluntarily... as we now debate torture, or domestic spying, or other dubious methods that will allegedly help us defeat radical islam, it's worth remembering that the west won the cold war not by matching the nastiness of markus wolf -- though some certainly tried to do so -- but by being, and remaining, a more open society. posted by gene at 07:48 pm | comments (63) | trackback modern jihad according to the guardian the uk is the target for al-qaeda nukes if they manage to get hold of them: uk officials have detected "an awful lot of chatter" on jihadi websites expressing the desire to acquire chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons. asked whether there was any doubt that al-qaida was trying to gain the technology to attack the west, including the uk, with a nuclear weapon, a senior foreign office counter-terrorism official said: "no doubt at all." the official explained: "we know the aspiration is there, we know the attempt to get material is there, we know the attempt to get technology is there." for al-qaida and jihadis, a devastating nuclear attack on britain, not just the use of a "dirty bomb', would be part of the desire and agenda to cripple the west, sources said. the senior foreign office official said: "there are people for whom it would be a triumph for the cause." posted by marcus at 09:04 am | comments (122) | trackback november 13, 2006 all you need is hate.. pah pah pabah bah! "in america you have some tolerance and appreciation and understanding of what it means to be gay and to be a palestinian. we're discovering the hard way it's not so acceptable here." so said one of a group of nine gay palestinian-americans who had travelled to jerusalem to attend world pride. they didn't get to march in the end. the san francisco chronicle reports that they were driven from their hostel by knife-wielding thugs, one of whom said they were from the waqf muslim religious authority. later, when one of their group returned to the hostel to retrieve their posessions, he was ambushed. the attackers asked if he was with 'the homos' and then started beating him. the man who said he was from the wagf beat him unconscious. last year, three men were injured when they were attached by a knife-wielding orthadox jew. the papal nuncio to israel, archbishop pietro sambi, seemed to egg this sort of reaction on: "no one can assure that this parade will go on in a peaceful way and will not provoke reaction from the faithful," he said, denouncing the march as "a provocation". peter tatchell (who is still scribbling away on comment is free at an impressive rate of knotts) observed: jewish and arab gays have pulled off the biggest diplomatic coup in modern middle eastern history. they have managed to get warring christians, jews and muslims working together for the first time since the foundation of the state of israel. time magazine has more on this theme: in a holy city fissured by faith, finding a consensus on anything among jewish, christian and muslim clerics is a near-miraculous occurrence. yet jerusalem's rabbis, priests and imams have united, however briefly, to stop the city's gay pride parade. whoever said that 'love' had more potential to unite than 'hate'? gene adds: the event went ahead anyway, albeit with lots of police protection in an isolated part of the city. harry's place reader fabian was there. posted by brett at 05:29 pm | comments (26) | trackback good news from afghanistan here's something that ought to have been mentioned last week: the asia foundation released results from the largest opinion poll ever conducted in afghanistan. at 133 pages, it's quite a read. some of the more interesting findings include:44% of afghans feel the country is headed in the right direction, with 21% believing the opposite. good security and the end of the war are cited as reasons to be cheerful by many of those who believe afghanistan is headed in the right direction, whereas those who disagree highlight a weak economy, bad government and a lack of reconstruction. on a local level, the biggest problems are perceived to be unemployment (34%), a poor economy (17%) and a lack of basic amenities such as electricity (25%) and water (18%), all of which outweigh worries about security (8%) with 64% of afghans describing the security situation in their area as either 'excellent' or 'good'. on a national level, respondents stated the biggest challenges facing their country were unemployment (31%), security (27%), a poor economy (24%). corruption and the continuing presence of the taliban were each considered major problems by 18% of respondents. 64% believe that guaranteed freedom of speech since the fall of the taliban has resulted in people being able to express their political opinions. 87% have either 'a great deal' or 'a fair amount' of trust in the afghan national army, with 86% saying the same of the afghan national police. when asked what democracy meant to them, the most popular response was 'freedom' (54%), followed by 'peace' (37%), 'government of the people' (33%) and 'rights and law' (31%). and the most important things that democracy would bring each respondent? 'peace' (41%), 'freedom' (37%), 'rights and law' (33%) and 'islamic democracy' (31%). although over half of respondents (54%) thought that political parties should be allowed to meet in their area, almost two-thirds (64%) felt that this should not be extended to include 'all political parties, even the ones most people do not like'. however, 84% 'strongly agree' or 'agree somewhat' that the government allowing peaceful opposition is 'a good thing.' in addition, 90% 'strongly agree' or 'agree somewhat' that 'everyone should have equal rights under the law, regardless of their gender, ethnicity or religion'. in particular, women's rights were cited by 22% of those interviewed as one of the most important things democracy would bring. finally, 82% of those surveyed 'strongly agreed' or 'agreed somewhat' that 'religious authorities should lead people in obeying the obligations of their faith while political leaders should make decisions about how the government is run'. you can download the full survey here (3.9mb) where, in addition to a breakdown of the responses, you'll find comprehensive details of the survey methodology and questions asked of the 6226 respondents by the team of 409 interviewers over the summer. posted by dan at 04:05 pm | comments (103) | trackback november 07, 2006 sorry, ken-- no cheap oil from chavez the bbc reports: an oil deal between london and venezuela faces delay after a planned visit by ken livingstone was cancelled. mr livingstone had hoped to travel to caracas to sign an agreement that would see london gain cheap oil from the latin american country. the trip was cancelled because of "intense pressure" of the venezuelan presidential campaign. that's one way of putting it, i suppose. president hugo chavez is taking intense criticism from his opponent in next month's election over the cheap-oil deals that chavez has been making in an effort to win friends and influence people around the globe. “that is political corruption,” manuel rosales, the opposition candidate, told foreign journalists. “i ask the (london) mayor not to commit that injustice to venezuela, because he is taking a part of our wealth and doing grave harm to the country. “it is not just the person that commits the crime, but the accomplice ends up becoming a part of the crime.” and the guardian reports: [t]he deal has become a political minefield for mr chávez ahead of the presidential election on december 3, with his opponents accusing him of giving away cheap oil to rich countries while securing little in return for venezuela's poor. [rosales] has reiterated that venezuela should not subsidise london and cities in the united states when schools and hospitals at home languish. with less than a month to go before the election, venezuelan blogger daniel duquenal reports on the campaign, including news of a huge rally for rosales in caracas on saturday. despite assurances from the chavistas, it appears opposition to chavez extends beyond venezuela's wealthy, white elite. meanwhile chavez defended his oil minister, who threatened to fire employees who oppose chavez's reelection. television footage released during the week by opposition supporters showed oil minister rafael ramirez telling workers of state oil company petroleos de venezuela sa (pdvsa) to back chavez or give up their jobs. the opposition said it was proof of political coercion which violated rules against the use of state bodies as campaign tools. posted by gene at 03:53 am | comments (173) | trackback november 06, 2006 iran: revolution from below? "farouz farzami" (the pseudonym of an iranian journalist) writes: [t]he well-to-do iranian drinks and reads and watches what he wishes. he does as he pleases behind the walls of his private mansions and villas. in return for his private comforts, the affluent iranian is happy to sacrifice freedom of speech, most of his civil rights, and his freedom of association. the upper-middle class has been bought off by this pact, which makes a virtue of hypocrisy. ...a friend who has made a small fortune in the pharmaceutical business told me that recently that the enforcers of islamist law appeared on the roof of his condominium in the northwest tehran suburb of sharak-e-qarb to seize all the satellite dishes. every household received an order to attend a hearing of the revolutionary court, where the magistrate--typically a mullah--will levy fines. the fines help feed the friends of the courts, while for my wealthy pharmacist friend, erecting another satellite dish is as easy as refueling his car... "i can afford yearly two or three months' vacation in dubai, europe or even america," my friend said. "why should i bother to organize a protest against seizing our satellite dishes? we may be forfeiting our freedoms, as you say, but when the price of avoiding the authorities is so affordable, why would we risk everything to take on the regime? we have to wait until society itself is disillusioned, and the masses open their eyes." esther, an american married to an iranian and living in tehran, writes: my 20-something year old taxi driver is honking like a madman, leaning out the window and shouting epitaphs at the young women in front of us, and generally behaving like a jerk. me: “why are you bothering those women? do you think they’re cute?” i’d rather say: “are you flirting?” but, oh, the limitations of a non-native speaker. driver: “nah, babba… it’s not that. these girls: just look at them. all they do all day is spend daddy’s money. they do not have to work a day in their lives. they are the obnoxious ones, not me.” “there are some people in iran who go to bed at night hungry and there are some people who have so much money that they do not know how to spend it. do you think that’s right? it’s not right.” ..... [t]he increasing inflation and economic pressures are starting to fill their taxi drivers (and other subsistence workers) with rage. the two topics that i have ever seen iranians in iran get truly worked up about are the state of the economy and the mullahs. but rage? i have only seen rage when they talk about the economy. to paraphrase winston smith: if there is hope for a new revolution in iran, perhaps it lies with the proles. posted by gene at 12:15 am | comments (42) | trackback november 05, 2006 saddam to swing the iraqi court which was trying saddam hussein for crimes against humanity handed down the death sentence today: he was tried over the deaths of more than 148 shia muslim men and boys in reprisal for a 1982 assassination attempt on the iraqi leader in the town of dujail. two of saddam's co-defendants were also sentenced to hang: his half-brother and former intelligence chief barzan ibrahim, and awad hamed al-bandar, head of the former revolutionary court. ... the foreign secretary, margaret beckett, said saddam and his co-defendants had been "held to account" for their actions. "appalling crimes were committed by saddam hussein's regime. it is right that those accused of such crimes against the iraqi people should face iraqi justice," george galloway has yet to comment on the fate of the former dictator and convicted mass murderer whose "strength" and "courage" he said he so admired. posted by marcus at 12:34 pm | comments (377) | trackback november 02, 2006 what's going on here? according to the london-based iranian blogger azarmehr: british police [wednesday] tried to arrest safa einollahi as soon as he arrived to join other protesters against [former iranian president] khatami outside chatham house, but other protesters fought with the police and prevented them from taking safa away. safa is one of the two iranian refugees who had applied to the met police to have khatami arrested under section 134 of the criminal justice act 1998. this act requires the arrest of any individual, regardless of nationality, where there is evidence that they committed, condoned or colluded with acts of torture... safa was arrested and detained in 1999 during the student protests in iran. during his arrest, safa was raped by bottle on two occasions... in a more sinister move, the metroplitan police also entered safa's house last night and interrogated him. asking him questions like "what other friends do you have in britain who were previously detained in iran." does anyone know more about this? or can anyone find out more? london police have refused to detain khatami, saying there are"insufficient grounds" to pursue a criminal investigation against him. this man should not be smiling brett adds: there's more debate on this issue following peter tatchell's article over at comment is free. posted by gene at 03:26 pm | comments (48) | trackback november 01, 2006 opec, oil companies: nothing to see here the british government report on global warming-- warning that climate change could create catastrophic conditions in the not-so-distant future-- has been criticized by (surprise) the head of the oganization of petroleum exporting countries. opec's secretary-general mohammed barkindo said: "the mitigation and adaptation to climate change can only be accomplished on the principles of common responsibility and respected capabilities and not by scenarios that have no foundations in either science or economics as we had yesterday from london." oh. okay, then. i'm reminded of a tv advertising campaign here in the us last spring, apparently timed to coincide with the release of al gore's movie "an inconvenient truth" (on dvd later this month). the ads were sponsored by the competitive enterprise institute, funded in large part through the astronomical profits of companies like exxon mobil. (in september, exxon mobil announced it would stop funding the cei.) here's one of the ads. try to remember that it is not a parody. as the think progress website pointed out: there are plenty of things that are healthy and essential in reasonable quantities but harmful in extremely large quantities. (for example, drinking a few glasses of water is beneficial. drinking 10 gallons of water can kill you.) we need some carbon dioxide, but too much causes global warming. posted by gene at 03:14 am | comments (38) | trackback october 31, 2006 khatami at st andrews wiffle grovel marcus adds: a blogging st andrews graduate is taking action: i've stopped my contribution to the appeal fund and told them why. we've had enough of the kind of clericalist fascism that oppresses women and dissidents and trade unions: rewarding it with the order of the brown nose is unacceptable. posted by david t at 10:07 pm | comments (59) | trackback khatami's honour, st andrews shame today, at st andrews, mohammad khatami is to be made an honorary doctor of laws by sir menzies campbell, the university’s chancellor. the national union of students has called for the invitation to be withdrawn, unless ahmad batebi, a student jailed in 1999 during a pro-democracy protest, is freed. however, the university of st andrews student association - a body which is not affiliated to the nus - couldn't care less. indeed, they've come out as strong supporters of the honouring of khatami, and produced a snivelling apologia for the man, and the crimes of his regime. their argument, in summary, is: - that khatami was never that powerful, and therefore that he bears no responsibility for the crimes of his government; and - in any case, he was an important reformist and progressive force in the iranian state. writing in the blanket, maryam namazie considers the incoherence and ignorance of the sasa position: giving a theocrat a degree in secular law and doing so 'considering global tensions relating to. faiths' that incidentally he and his regime have been instrumental in creating is like giving pw botha or fw de klerk honorary degrees in race relations in recognition of their efforts to encourage inter-race dialogue! nothing could be more offensive, not only to those of us who have fled or lost loved ones to this vile regime but also to the innumerable who have lost lives and limbs to islamists everywhere. ... it asserts that mr khatami was never the 'highest ranking political or judicial authority in the land, and held minimal influence...' clearly, this is untrue. saying so is a deliberate attempt at whitewashing his role in the crimes of the islamic regime of iran. power sharing mechanisms in a government, however dictatorial, do not mean that the executive role lacks power. one case in point is the april 1997 german court's verdict that found the then president responsible for the september 1992 assassinations of opposition leaders in berlin. the court found that the killings had been ordered by a 'committee for special operations' whose members included the leader (khamenei), the president, the minister of information and security and other security officials. in the past week, too, argentine prosecutors have issued warrants for a former president for directing hezbollah to carry out the 1994 bombing of the jewish community centre in buenos aires that killed 85 people and wounded hundreds. and today, there are reports of two iranian exiles, safa einollahi, 29, and ali ebrahimi, 34, who have lodged complaints under the 1988 criminal justice act against khatami for his accountability in the atrocities and tortures they endured as political prisoners. far from the rosy picture often portrayed in the western media, khatami's presidency has been anything but. during his bloody rule, over 1,300 people were executed, including sweet 16 year old atefeh rajabi for 'acts incompatible with chastity'; 27 people were stoned to death or sentenced to die by stoning, 18 of them women; student and other demonstrations were crushed and their leaders arrested or killed; ahmad batebi was given a death sentence for holding up a bloody t-shirt; an opposition activist in kurdistan, showaneh qaderi, was shot and his body dragged through the streets; arezoo siabi shahrivar was arrested along with up to 14 other women, at a ceremony commemorating the 1988 "prison massacre" in evin prison, tehran, in which thousands of political prisoners were executed. in detention she was suspended from the ceiling, beaten with a wire cable and sexually abused. journalists and webloggers were detained; papers were shut down; the canadian journalist, zahra kazemi was tortured and murdered in prison; the murders of two political activists and three writers - a case known in iran as the "serial murders" took place; hundreds of labour activists were arrested and tortured and on and on. only in a topsy turvy world can a president who oversaw such murder and mayhem not be deemed accountable... and it was not only his eight years as president that khatami is accountable for. in the 1980s in the majlis, khatami was known as an active member of the line of the imam, the dominant grouping within a party set up via khomeini's decree and most closely identified with khomeini's policies, including his theory of velayat-e faqih, or absolute clerical supremacy in government. mr khatami was appointed the minister of culture and islamic guidance, and was the chief censor in film, media, arts and culture. as a member of the supreme council on cultural revolution, khatami played an important role in purging dissidents from universities and educational centres. moreover, he was the director of cultural affairs in the joint chiefs of staff of the armed forces and the head of the war propaganda headquarters for years. today, too, he remains a member of several organs of the islamic regime. absurdly, though, whilst being declared powerless, khatami is also always lauded as a reformer; the st andrews students' association statement asserts that he 'strove for moderation and liberalisation whilst in office'. this is a contradiction in terms. one cannot have minimal influence and be a reformer at the same time. moreover, reforms have a specific meaning in our world - changes, particularly in law, which improve the lot of the population at large. again, this was never the case. in fact, khatami and his 'reformist' faction were merely attempts by the regime to put forward a more palatable face in order to prolong its life given the explosive situation in iran. there is a protest by iranian exiles today, 3:00- 6:00pm, in front of university of st andrews. you might also want to attend the demonstration against khatami this wednesday 1 november 2006, 4:30 - 6:30pm, chatham house, 10 st james's square, london sw1y 4le. alternatively or additionally, you could sign the petition. posted by david t at 09:38 am | comments (27) | trackback october 30, 2006 the dark side no, i'm not pleased that avigdor lieberman's yisrael beiteinu party is joining israel's coalition government. i wish labor party leader amir peretz had refused to go along with the deal, and i appreciate ophir pines-paz's act of conscience in quitting the government. lieberman's talk of carving out a heavily-arab part of israel and making it part of a palestinian state, without the approval of the residents, crosses all kinds of red lines. so does his talk of executing arab knesset members who have contacts with hamas or who refuse to celebrate israeli independence day. the chances of these things happening are close to zero, but the proposals themselves-- whether serious or not-- are repellent enough. i expect this coalition will be about as stable as most of israel's previous government permutations-- that is, not very. of course israel haters will claim that by taking lieberman into the coalition, the government is revealing its true fascist inclinations, etc., etc. considering they said pretty much the same when ariel sharon became prime minister-- and not just a small part (11 seats) of a large coalition (78 seats)-- the alarm may be exaggerated. but lieberman is surely someone from the demagogic dark side-- sort of a right-wing israeli version of george galloway. in fact photographers for haaretz and scotland on sunday seemed to pick up on a similar vibe. posted by gene at 04:33 pm | comments (98) | trackback october 26, 2006 dr zuma's lse lecture disrupted a few weeks ago, i blogged here about having stumbled on a protest outside the south afican embassy in trafalgar square while showing a visiting friend around london. it seems many zimbabwean exiles are angry that the south african government (at best) appears to be doing nothing to help the democratic opposition to robert mugabe's regime or (at worst) seems to be propping it up and making excuses for it. zimbabwean activists in london, with the help of peter tatchell (who else, frankly?) upped the ante: south african foreign minister, dr nkosazana dlamini zuma, was ambushed by 10 black zimbabwean human rights activists in london last tonight. her lecture at the london school of economics was repeatedly interrupted with accusations of: "anc betrays black zimbabwe". ironically, one of the themes of dr zuma's speech was "international solidarity". she praised the late anc president, oliver tambo, saying he was an "ardent internationalist" and a person who believed in "true solidarity". alois mbawara, one of the protesters, said: "we were sickened to hear dr zuma talk about international solidarity when her government is refusing to show solidarity with the persecuted people of zimbabwe!" "why are you doing nothing to help zimbabwe? the anc called for solidarity against apartheid. but the anc government is showing no solidarity with the people of zimbabwe," he shouted from the balcony, interupting dr zuma's speech. stewards dragged mbawara out of the auditorium. at which point, tatchell walked onto the stage and unrolled a placard saying: "mbeki's shame. anc betrays black zimbabwe." as security guards tried to wrestle him from the stage he called out to dr zuma: "the anc sits on its hands and looks the other way while zimbabwe burns," he told dr zuma. "the anc sits on its hands and looks the other way while zimbabwe burns! mugabe has murdered more black africans than the apartheid regime. in matabeleland in the 1980s alone, he massacred 20,000 civilians. that is the equivalent of a sharpeville massacre every day for nine months. yet south africa does noting effective to stop the killing. president mbeki's quite diplomacy is a failure. mugabe's abuses have increased, not diminished." as if working in relays, another activist, wellington chibanguza, replaced tatchell once he'd been ejected. "why do you and your government persist with quite diplomacy when it has failed to deliver?" he shouted at dr zuma. he too was dragged out of the venue. chibanguza said afterwards, "throughout the protests she sat silent, motionless and grim-faced. much of the audience was riled by her arrogant, heartless refusal to express even a few words of solidarity with the zimbabwean people. they urged her to say something. i think she lost a lot of respect because of her intransigent attitude." however, what really buzzed the tragic irony button was when dr zuma made a brief reference to the protestors by saying that zimabweans living in exile in the uk had "no right to speak out about the situation zimbabwe". half the anc government, including president mbeki himself spent years in exile during the dark days of apartheid. dr zuma herself left south africa in the mid 1970s to study at bristol university. she then worked in swaziland before returning to the uk in 1985 to study at liverpool university before accepting a directorship at the uk-based ngo, the health and refugee trust. how dare she suggest that zimbabweans who have fled mugabe's reign of terror forfeit their right to campaign against his regime? apparently the audience thought along the same lines, because chibanguza reports, "that comment really incensed the audience" who turned against her. the q&a session was cancelled and dr zuma was, according to tatchell, "scuttled away like a rat from a sinking ship." but the activists weren't done with dr zuma yet. in an action remiscent of tatchell's most famous confrontation with mugabe, they ambushed her car as it left the lse. what's all the fuss about? alois mbawara explains: "if mbkei and zuma spoke out against mugabe and organised international sanctions against his regime, mugabe’s control would soon start to unravel. south african inaction is helping to keep him in power." posted by brett at 02:21 pm | comments (98) | trackback challenging the "myth" of islamic terrorism dr richard jackson from the university of manchester and others are calling for a "more truthful portrayal" of terrorism in the media and beyond. 'the critical studies on terrorism working group', brainchild of jackson is holding a two day conference in manchester and launching a new academic journal to bring attention to the issue. jackson aruges that the study of terrorism is locked into myths which result in poor policies from governments. an example, he says, is the assumption from many government and media commentators that islamic extremism is a cause of terrorism is damaging. "it colours peoples' attitudes towards the muslim community, even though there is no empirical evidence for any such direct link at all. we want to bring differing perspectives on the study of terrorism to the public so they can be more questioning of what they might hear and see in the media. "a full and in-depth public debate about how to respond to the threat of terrorism is desperately needed but extremely difficult in a climate dominated by so many myths and misunderstandings." he says that one of the main purposes of the conference is to promote a "more realistic appreciation of terrorism" and to provide the government with more accurate information, so it can make fully-informed counter-terrorism policy. he cites a study by robert pape at the university of chicago that looked at all suicide bombings between 1980 and 2003. the study found that less than half of all suicide bombers are religious. "of the 41 hezbollah suicide attacks in lebanon, eight were by muslims, three by christians and 27 by socialists." he points to mark sageman, from the foreign policy research institute, philadelphia, who studied 180 jihadists and found they became radicalised and religious only after they joined terrorist groups. "that's important because it shows that their initial involvement was nothing to do with religion. it's not surprising that people who knew suicide bombers often say they seemed like ordinary people as that’s because in the main, they were." the conference starts tomorrow and runs through until friday. marcus adds: there's an awful lot of court time allocated to this 'myth' according to the times. posted by gordon at 10:50 am | comments (76) | trackback asking for it australian muslims are up in arms at comments made recently by sheik taj din al-hilali, the country's most senior cleric. the controversial sermon concerned the issue of rape and sexual violence against women: "but the problem, but the problem all began with who?" asked the mufti the perpatrators who carried out the attack, surely? not the rapists: "if you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat? not the 'cats'. "the uncovered meat is the problem." well, at least that's clear. the sheik then said: “if she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred." luckily elements in the oz muslim community have decided to stand up against this example of misogyny disguised as religion. here's islamic council of victoria spokesman waleed ali: "anyone who is foolish enough to believe that there is a relationship between rape or unwelcome sexual interference and the failure to wear a hijab, clearly has no understanding of the nature of sexual crime," he said. iktimal hage-ali, who advised australian prime minister john howard on muslim issues added: "the onus should not be on the female to not attract attention, it should be on males to learn how to control themselves." ms hage-ali said she was "disgusted and offended" by shiek hilali's comments. "i find it very offensive that a man who considers himself as a mufti, a leader of australia's muslims, can give comment that lacks intelligence and common sense." good for them. it's proof that the exhortations to circle the wagons aren't working. via tim blair wardytron adds: the sheikh has now apologised "i unreservedly apologise to any woman who is offended by my comments...women in our australian society have the freedom and right to dress as they choose (while) the duty of man is to avert his glance or walk away. if a man falls from grace and commits fornication then if this was consensual, they would be both guilty, but if it was forced, then the man has committed a capital crime. whether a man endorses or not, a particular form of dress, any form of harassment of women is unacceptable." the islamic council of victoria and the islamic council of new south wales both condemned the sermon, sherene hassan of the icv saying "those comments are extremely offensive, and there is no basis for what he said in islamic teachings", and ali roude of the icnsw saying the remarks were "un-islamic, un-australian and unacceptable". the icv have also called for him to resign, which if his wikipedia entry is anything to go by sounds like a good idea. update: sbs has a translation of the sermon:those atheists, people of the book (christians and jews), where will they end up? in surfers paradise? on the gold coast? where will they end up? in hell and not part-time, for eternity. they are the worst in god’s creation.""when it comes to adultery, it’s 90 percent the woman’s responsibility. why? because a woman owns the weapon of seduction. it’s she who takes off her clothes, shortens them, flirts, puts on make-up and powder and takes to the streets, god protect us, dallying. it’s she who shortens, raises and lowers. then, it’s a look, a smile, a conversation, a greeting, a talk, a date, a meeting, a crime, then long bay jail. then you get a judge, who has no mercy, and he gives you 65 years.""but when it comes to this disaster, who started it? in his literature, writer al-rafee says, if i came across a rape crime, i would discipline the man and order that the woman be jailed for life. why would you do this, rafee? he said because if she had not left the meat uncovered, the cat wouldn’t have snatched it." posted by marcus at 07:16 am | comments (93) | trackback october 25, 2006 hezbollah fingered argentinian prosecutors finally lay charges over the infamous 1994 atrocity: the worst terrorist attack ever on argentine soil, the bombing of the jewish cultural center killed 85 people and injured more than 200 others when an explosive-laden vehicle was driven near the building and detonated. nisman said the actual attack was entrusted to the lebanon-based group hezbollah. perhaps they should change the placards: we are all anti-semitic murderers now. posted by marcus at 09:54 pm | comments (318) | trackback october 24, 2006 iran encourages fast breeders president ahmadinejad unveils his new wunderwaffen in the struggle against the west - lots more bonny bouncing iranian bairns. women should work less and devote more time to their “main mission” of raising children, mr ahmadinejad said. “i am against saying that two children are enough. our country has a lot of capacity. it has the capacity for many children to grow in it. it even has the capacity for 120 million people. westerners have got problems. because their population growth is negative, they are worried and fear that if our population increases, we will triumph over them.” not everyone agrees: the reformist etemad-e melli newspaper warned that iran could pay a high price for such “ill-considered” comments. it wrote: “he stresses the necessity of population growth and the triumph of iran over western governments, ignoring the fact that what leads to such triumph is not population size but knowledge, technology, wealth, welfare and security.” quite. posted by marcus at 08:52 pm | comments (44) | trackback warzones ban bad news. the ministry of defence has banned britain's biggest commercial news broadcaster itv from frontline. according to a report in the times the government has withdrawn cooperation from itv news in warzones after accusing it of inaccurate and intrusive reports about the fate of wounded soldiers. there has been a storm brewing recently and the government has been taking it on all fronts, with stories about casualty reports being suppressed in helmland, warnings of defeat in afghanistan by senior staff officers and others of troops being mistreated in civilian hospitals back in the uk. not good. this only makes things worse. did a spin doctor come off their axis? while it might feel justified this is the equivalent of putting a sign on the door and saying: this is going badly. the times says that the first casualty is itv's planned trip to afghanistan to cover troops marking remembrance sunday. usually a moment in the news cycle when the government can rely of some positive coverage. itv sources said last night that the trip had been cancelled because of the row with the mod. david mannion, the head of itv news, is reported to have written to the mod and asked for an explanation. he also sent a copy of the letter to the cabinet secretary, sir gus o'donnell, a move that is likely to drag tony blair into the dispute. trouble kicked off last week after itv broadcast reports showing how british soldiers wounded during the fighting in iraq and afghanistan are treated when arriving back home. this has been a pr disaster that the government has let happen. the sun has been all over this as well, as has the daily mail. the two papers have both been running campaigns to improve the care of injured troops with stories such as that in the sun yesterday exposing "the shambolic security that forced tony blair to set up a military ward" exclusively for injured troops. the itv reports are said to have topped the agenda at a meeting between ministers, including the defence secretary des browne, and military chiefs. mod sources told the times that there was concern about images showing identifiable wounded servicemen arriving at birmingham airport by night. it has been suggested that no permission was obtained from the men and that their families may have been caused distress. itv only broadcast later scenes from headley court, the mod's state-of-the art rehabilitation centre where seriously injured personnel are taken. the mod has accused itv of a "hatchet job". in an email to itv the mod's director of news, james clark, said it was "as bad a hatchet-job as i’ve seen in years". "cheap shots all over the place, no context, no reasonable explanation. like the daily star in moving pictures. if giving itn detailed exposure to our people, lengthy briefing and open access results in this, then i dread to think how your editors and producers would look to exploit access to our people in theatres (of war), or our chiefs and ministers." that email omitted any specific details of perceived errors. following that, the mod ceased cooperation with itv by withdrawing access to "embeds", the much-sought placements for reporters with battlefield units. mark wood, chief executive of itn, which produces itv news, told the times: "we are not happy about the way it has been handled. they [the mod] have objected to some of our coverage but we haven’t quite worked out what the repercussions are. we welcome any criticism particularly if it is pointing to factual errors or inaccuracies. what we have had is criticism of our coverage which has not actually gone into any detail of what is factually wrong." posted by gordon at 09:04 am | comments (13) | trackback october 23, 2006 why is chavez afraid to debate? manuel rosales, hugo chavez's main opponent in the december venezuelan election, may or may not be an agent of yanqui imperialism, and may or may not stand a chance of winning. but why won't chavez agree to a one-on-one debate with him? a supporter greets rosales as for rosales-- a social democrat with a plan to transfer oil profits to the country's poor-- these photos from a big campaign rally for him in caracas earlier this month suggest that his support may extend a bit beyond venezuela's blonde, fashionable elite. posted by gene at 08:53 pm | comments (106) | trackback october 21, 2006 iranian ultimatum issued iranian president mahmoud ahmadinejad threatens citizens of european countries with violence in return for their governments' diplomatic recognition of the zionist entity: "we inform you that the nations are like an ocean that is welling up, and if a storm begins, the dimensions will not stay limited to palestine, and you may get hurt." it is in your own interest to distance yourself from these criminals... this is an ultimatum. don't complain tomorrow." but why specifically europe rather than the, say, the usa which has historically been less interested in dialogue with iran than the eu? "we have advised the europeans that the americans are far away, but you are the neighbours of the nations in this region," mr ahmadinejad said. shuggy translates: we of course understand that europe doesn't support israel in the way that the united states does but if you will go doing outrageous things like recognising its right to exist, understand that europe has the advantage of being quite handy for travelling. i'll add to that: ahmadinejad is basically saying it doesn't matter whether countries attempt to engage in dialogue with the islamic republic or rattle sabres at it - he's going to encourage terrorism against the easiest target despite their choice of diplomatic approach. his threats are worth bearing in mind by those who suppose that the islamic republic is a rational actor on the world stage and can be bought off with acts of kindness. posted by marcus at 08:31 am | comments (66) | trackback october 19, 2006 hezbollah aimed cluster weapons at civilians many of us who thought israel was justified in responding militarily to hezbollah's attack across its border last summer were critical of israel's use of cluster weapons, especially in the last days of the fighting. as i wrote: if cluster bombs are distinctly more awful than other legal weapons, it's because so many of the tiny bomblets they contain do not explode on use. long after the fighting, they can kill or maim those who stumble upon them. and of course children are particularly vulnerable. it's not enough to say, as an israeli army spokesman did, "all the weapons and munitions used by the israel defense forces are legal under international law, and their use conforms with international standards." however i have not seen any substantiated evidence that israel aimed cluster weapons specifically at lebanese civilians. now that human rights watch is reporting that hezbollah fired cluster munitions into israeli civilian populated areas during the recent war, i hope we will see a few words of condemnation from those who glorified and otherwise supported that fascist organization on the grounds of "self-defense," "legitimate resistance to aggression," etc., etc. (hat tip: fabian.) posted by gene at 06:03 pm | comments (108) | trackback october 18, 2006 more on the ban on palestinian students attending israeli universities there have been two extremely hopeful developments in the struggle to reverse the israeli government's ban which prevents palestinians studying in israeli universities from entering israel. first, engage reports that the rectors of all the universities in israel have jointly called upon defence minister peretz to cancel the ban. secondly, haaretz reports that education minister yuli tamir and culture minister ophir pines-paz have also demanded that the ban be rescinded. posted by david t at 11:08 pm | comments (14) | trackback hizbollah: we blame the masons i've been browsing the latest edition of the academic journal, palestine internationalist: a journal which is run by the khomenist islamist grouping, the islamic human rights commission. much of its content is pedestrian and plodding: consisting as it does of articles by, and about, the tenured israeli professor and self-publicist, ilan pappe however, i would recommend this article by rima fakhry, the only woman member of hizbullah's political council. rima explains why israel took military action against hizbullah. it was not, she explains, the product of the kidnapping from israel of two soldiers, or a response to hizbollah's katyusha strikes into northern israel. rather, explains rima, a series complicated political and military factors influenced the decision of israel to go to war, including: limiting the spread of the islamic religion and the abolishment of all its symbols and the curtailment of its sacred places for the sake of masonry and christian-zionism. you and i might think that this sort of talk indicates the level of conspiracism and foolishness which passes for political theory amongst islamists. but have no fear. i leave the last word to rima fakhry: [l]et everyone be confident that this resistance is strong, full of courage, advanced, and knows very well its way, and will never be defeated. gene adds: wait a minute. is she blaming israel's military action on these guys? gene adds: ms. fakhry participated in an ihrc international conference ("towards a new liberation theology - reflections on palestine") at the soas in london last year. posted by david t at 04:55 pm | comments (95) | trackback darfur: janjaweed under orders to "kill the blacks" newsnight revealed last night that the janjaweed militias, who are doing most of the massacres in darfur, are acting on the orders of the sudanese military and government - receiving logistical support in the form of air strikes against darfurian villages. a former member of the janjaweed militia explained that he was under orders to "kill the blacks", which seems to confirm the allegation that the war in darfur involves a racist and ethnic cleansing element. in the current issue of tribune (not online, so i'll reproduce it below), peter tatchell highlights arab racism against black darfurians and relates the conflict in darfur to the wider issue of sudan's islamist dictatorship and its generalised human rights abuses against all the people of sudan: darfur – arab racism & islamist oppression peter tatchell says the key to lasting peace in darfur is the overthrow of the islamist dictatorship in khartoum tribune – labour’s left-wing weekly london - 13 october 2006 the sudan government last week refused to accept un peacekeepers in darfur. it denounced the global protests calling for peace in the region as a “zionist, jewish” conspiracy; and threatened war if the un intervened to stop the genocide and deliver humanitarian aid. if the khartoum regime gets its way, the killing in darfur will continue. despite the peace agreement signed in may, the regime and its janjaweed proxies have launched fresh military offensives. although on a lesser scale than two years ago, these attacks follow the same pattern of burning, rape, looting and slaughter. read more... to date, between 200,000 and 400,000 people in darfur have been killed and two million others displaced. three million darfurians now live a knife-edge existence, with many dependent on international aid for their survival. the genocide in darfur is not separate from the many other conflicts and brutalities in sudan. it is one aspect of khartoum’s generalised oppression of all sudanese people. sudan is ruled by a harsh islamist dictatorship. human rights abuses are widespread. this is the elephant in the room that most people ignore when they discuss darfur. the mass murder of black africans in darfur is directly related to the fact that the government of sudan is an arab-dominated islamist dictatorship. it is led by president omar al-bashir. he seized power in a military coup in 1989; dissolving parliament and suppressing political parties, trade unions, women’s groups and the media. his regime has a long history of persecuting socialists, communists, human rights activists, lawyers, journalists and students. al-bashir enforces sharia law, which stipulates the death penalty for so-called moral crimes, like adultery and homosexuality. muslims who give up their faith or convert to another religion also face execution. slavery still exists in parts of sudan. female genital mutilation is widespread. it used to be illegal but the ban was lifted after al-bashir came to power. women’s freedom of dress, movement and employment is severely restricted. the khartoum regime is guilty of detention without trial, disappearances, rape, torture and execution, according to human rights groups like the sudan organisation against torture and the sudan human rights organisation. it is also stained by arab supremacism and racism. black sudanese are often treated as inferior and denigrated as sub-human. this prejudice is reflected in the slaughter of black africans in darfur by janjaweed arab militias – a slaughter that bears all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing. viewed from these perspectives, the terror in darfur is merely a particularly savage example of the brutality of the dictatorship in khartoum. the long-term solution, for the benefit of darfurians and all sudanese, is a democratic government that respects the human rights of all its citizens. in the meantime, the immediate priority is un peacekeepers and humanitarian aid. according to the 1948 genocide convention and the 1949 geneva conventions, the nations of the world have a collective responsibility to act to halt genocide and war crimes. the un, as the guardian of universally-agreed international human rights laws, is duty-bound to take effective action in sudan – preferably with khartoum’s agreement but, if necessary, despite its objections. the darfur killing fields are a litmus test of the un’s willingness to enforce international law and challenge murderous regimes. so far, the un has failed the test. it has allowed the killing to continue. the signal to tyrants everywhere is that they can get away with mass murder. on this form, there will be many more darfurs in the future. the people of darfur see the un’s complacency and rightly accuse the world community of double standards. they ask: why can’t the butchers in khartoum be arrested and put on trial in the hague, like slobodan milosevic? despite the failings of the past, the un is now belatedly committed to stop the massacres. the security council passed resolution 1706 at the end of august. it authorises the sending to darfur of around 20,000 un peacekeepers, to augment the existing undermanned, underfunded and outgunned au troops. despite sudan’s refusal to accept un peacekeepers, the un must not be deterred. stopping genocide trumps state sovereignty. sudan has broken the international human rights conventions it has signed. the un should get tough now – not to change the regime, but to protect the people of darfur: enforce a no-fly zone to halt the sudanese bombing of darfurian villagesfund the enlargement of the african union peacekeeping force and augment it with un peacekeepers from african, asian and latin american countries (not from the west, as this could be construed as neo-colonialism). the peacekeepers remit would be to keep the warring factions apart, disarm the militias and protect the civilian population and aid workersincrease humanitarian aid - food, clothing, shelter and medical care - to the victims of the conflict, and assist the rebuilding of shattered towns and villagesimpose sanctions against the leaders of the sudanese government and the janjaweed militia, including an arms embargo, an assets freeze and a travel banprosecute president al-bashir and his henchmen at the international criminal court on charges of war crimes, genocide, torture and crimes against humanity. calling for un action to save lives in darfur isn’t neo-imperialism, as some on the left allege. it is international solidarity to secure justice - the liberation of the oppressed - in the same tradition as the global movements against apartheid south africa. doing nothing, which is what sections of left would prefer, is collision with the oppressors in khartoum. how can it be right for the supposedly ‘anti-imperialist left’ to leave black africans to die in their hundreds of thousands? at last month’s global day for darfur protest in london, there was not a single left-wing group or banner. why? for some on the left, apparently the killers were the wrong colour and nationality. if the slaughter was being perpetrated by white americans, instead of arab islamists, the stop the war coalition would have doubtless called a mass demonstration. but war crimes by arab and islamist dictatorships do not concern the stwc. ultimately, the best hope for darfur - and for all the people of sudan - is an end to the tyranny in khartoum. this liberation has to come from within – by and for the people of sudan. western intervention to impose regime change would be both ethically wrong and disastrous in practice. without a government committed to democracy and human rights, there can be no ethnic equality and social justice. all sudanese - arabs and black africans, northerners and southerners - have a common interest in working together to overthrow the al-bashir regime and to establish a democratic, secular, non-racial and federal sudan. posted by brett at 01:15 pm | comments (70) | trackback october 17, 2006 eugenics, north korean style dr. oliver curry's assertion that the concept of race will disappear by the year 3000 may, as graham says, be bad news for the "race realists." but there is still a glimmer of hope for them: the democratic people's republic of korea. the north korean regime’s obsession with racial purity has led to the killing of disabled infants and forced abortions for women suspected of conceiving their babies by chinese fathers, according to a growing body of testimony from defectors. the latest description of kim jong-il’s policy of state eugenics came from a north korean doctor, ri kwang-chol, who escaped last year and told a forum in seoul that babies with deformities were killed soon after birth. “there are no people with physical defects in north korea,” ri said. such babies were put to death by medical staff and buried quickly, he claimed. now if this all seems incredible, you can choose to disbelieve dr. ri. to me it's all too credible and perfectly consistent with north korea's stated opposition to a "multiracial" korea. stop the war coalition chair andrew murray-- who happens to be a member of the communist party of britain-- wrote in 2003 that his party "has made its basic position of solidarity with peoples korea clear." now that "peoples korea" is the most nazi-like, openly racist state on the face of the earth, can we expect a change in the party line? if not, can we expect anyone involved in the stwc, or any of its affiliates, to challenge murray's continued chairmanship as an affront to decency? andrew and kim: still comrades after all these years? posted by gene at 11:09 pm | comments (79) | trackback october 16, 2006 engage: challenge the ban on palestinian students attending israeli universities engage has an alert out: engage notes with great concern the existence of a ban on palestinian students attending israeli universities as revealed in a petition to israel’s high court brought by gisha, the center for the legal protection of freedom of movement. we endorse and support the call from heads of palestinians universities to members of global civil society and academia for appropriate action to protest against this restriction on entry and re-entry. we condemn this ban in the strongest possible terms, and call upon academics and trade unionists to protest the ban directly to higher education minister yuli tamir. engage stands for academic freedom in israel and palestine, and for international academic exchange as a good in itself and because it can form part of a path to peace. we oppose unambiguously all attempts to apply discrimination on the basis of nationality to ordinary academic interchange, whether this be in the form of a boycott of israeli academic institutions and academics or in the form of a ban on palestinians studying in israel. shalom lappin has written to the higher education minister: dear professor tamir, i am an israeli academic teaching at king's college, london. i have been active for some time here in the campaign to oppose boycotts of israeli academic and cultural institutions. i taught for many years at israeli universities, and i have an adjunct position in the department of computer science at the university of haifa. it is with deep dismay that i read that zahal has recently imposed a generalized ban on palestinian students from the west bank and gaza studying at israeli universities for security reasons. considerable press coverage has been given to the case of sawsan salame, a 29 year old palestinian woman from the village of anata, who is apparently being prevented by this ban from taking up ph.d studies in chemistry at the hebrew university of jerusalem. to the extent that these reports are accurate, the policy which they describe represents a serious violation of fundamental human rights. it is incompatible with israel's long standing commitment to academic and educational freedom. it is flagrantly discriminatory in depriving innocent palestinians of the opportunity to pursue educational opportunities, simply on the basis of national identity, regardless of their individual actions. security considerations must be applied on a case by case basis. banning an entire population from entry to israeli universities is behaviour that is entirely unworthy of a democracy. in addition to the fact that this prohibition violates israel's own democratic and moral principles, it seriously damages efforts to promote moderation and mutual understanding between israelis and palestinians. i urge you to use your influence within the government to have this policy overturned as quickly as possible. i will post an address to which you can write, shortly. there is also a knesset email address for the higher education minister: more here and here. posted by david t at 11:10 am | comments (116) | trackback october 13, 2006 islam-free post thousands of india's dalits (untouchables) are converting to buddhism to protest discrimination by higher-caste hindus. untouchability has been illegal in india since independence, but it is still commonly practised. in many villages dalits are not allowed to drink clean water from a well. in some areas, tea shops keep a different glass for dalits to use, so higher-caste hindus are not "polluted" by drinking from the same vessel, even after it has been washed. after the 2004 tsunami, dalit survivors in tamil nadu were prevented from sharing water in relief camps. dalits are converting in large numbers this year because it is the 50th anniversary of the conversion of their most important leader of modern times, b r ambedkar, who first called on dalits to become buddhists in order to escape discrimination. (hat tip: imli.) posted by gene at 02:55 pm | comments (66) | trackback october 11, 2006 talking to the iranians this came out yesterday, news that the bbc world service is to launch a tv news and information service in the farsi (persian) language for iran backed by £15m a year by the government. at a time when the bbc world service is being cut, this is quite a splash, and one that was announced by gordon brown and followed bbc proposals approved by the foreign and commonwealth office (as are all things world service). the service will complement the bbc's existing persian radio and online services for iran, will launch early in 2008, and will initially broadcast for eight hours a day, seven days a week. the money is quite a hefty whack and seems to have gone through without a hitch. the cash comes in addition to bbc world service's existing grant-in-aid funding from the government of £245m. a bbc statement says that "the bbc's persian radio and online services are well-respected by iranians, especially by opinion formers. in iran we are regarded as the most trusted and objective of all international broadcasters. "therefore the bbc proposed to the foreign office that we launch a television service in farsi to complement our existing independent news and information services for iran on radio and online. "like all bbc services, the new television service will be editorially independent of the uk government." naturally. posted by gordon at 11:09 am | comments (18) | trackback october 10, 2006 tatchell on tehran's secret war peter tatchell comments in today's times on the plight of ahwazi arabs in iran - tehran's secret war against its own people: "never again" is, i fear, a phrase that we may hear again all too soon - but too late to warn people, let alone save lives. under the cover of secrecy the fundamentalist regime in tehran is waging a sustained, bloody campaign of intimidation and persecution against its arab minority. these arabs believe that they are victims of "ethnic cleansing" by iran's persian majority. sixteen arab rights activists have been sentenced to death, according to reports in the iranian media. they were found guilty of insurgency in secret trials before revolutionary courts. but most of the defendants were convicted solely on the basis of confessions extracted under torture. ten are expected to be hanged in a couple of weeks, after the end of ramadan. amnesty international says that two of those sentenced to die, abdolreza nawaseri and nazem bureihi, were in prison when they were alleged to have been involved in bomb attacks. three others - hamza sawari, jafar sawari and reisan sawari - say that they were nowhere near the zergan oilfield the day it was bombed. the death sentences seem designed to silence protests by iran's persecuted ethnic arabs. they comprise 70 per cent of the population of the south-west province of khuzestan, known locally as ahwaz. many ahwazis believe that the 16 were framed and that their real "crime" was campaigning against tehran's repression and exploitation of their oil-rich homeland. further show trials are planned - 50 ahwazi arab activists have been charged with insurgency since last year. they are accused of being mohareb or enemies of god, which is a capital crime. other allegations include sabotage and possession of home-made bombs. no material evidence has been offered to support the charges. all face possible execution. according to tatchell, these convictions and arrests are just the tip of the iceberg. for those who like to play the numbers game: nearly 250,000 arabs have been displaced from their villages after the iranian government's confiscation of more than 200,000 hectares of farmland for a huge sugar-cane project. dozens more towns and villages will be erased, making a possible further 400,000 ahwazis homeless, by the creation of a military-industrial security zone, covering more than 3,000 sq km, along the shatt al-arab waterway, which borders iraq. where are the pan-arabist freedom fighters when you need them? it turns out they're working with the other side: ironically, the hezbollah in lebanon - the supposed embodiment of arab resistance in the middle east - is complicit in the displacement of ahwazi arabs. on confiscated arab land tehran has set up training camps for hezbollah and for the badr brigades, the iraqi fundamentalist militia. badr death squads in iraq are murdering sunnis, unveiled women, gay people, men wearing shorts, barbers, sellers of alcohol and people listening to western music. so is tatchell calling for pressure from the un or the west? not at all: contrary to tehran's nationalist propaganda most ahwazi arabs just want a measure of self-government; they are not hellbent on independence or in league with the cia or plotting for an american invasion. quite the contrary, they fear that western sabre-rattling will be used as a pretext by tehran's hardliners to crack down savagely on dissent. which makes it all the more disturbing that one of the few bodies with diplomatic muscle - the arab league, which professes pan-arab solidarity - is so silent in the face of iran's persecution of arabs. as things stand, expecting the arab league to push the issue with tehran is wishful thinking. if it can't apply sufficient pressure on the sudanese government to accept an arab league sponsored force in darfur, it hasn't got a cat in hell's chance of convincing the current iranian regime to mend its ways. (n.b. tatchell's article is also posted on the website of the british ahwazi friendship society - worth a look to check out the background to his piece.) posted by dan at 04:49 pm | comments (78) | trackback hey! guess what north korea has done! has anybody noticed that north korea in the news over the last day or so? apparently, they've got themselves a nuclear bomb. and according to kim myong chol, the ""unofficial" spokesman of kim jong-il and north korea, this means that: unlike all the previous wars korea fought, a next war will be better called the american war or the dprk-us war because the main theater will be the continental us, with major cities transformed into towering infernos. you'd be forgiven for assuming that the great leap forward had passed cnd by, completely. the home page of "one of europe’s biggest single-issue peace campaigns" has nothing to say on the subject at all. instead, it focuses on the more important issues: defending tehran's line on the nature of its nuclear programme, opposing the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel in britain, urging withdrawal from nato, and calling for the scrapping of trident. but if you're a cnd-er who is - you know - kind of worried about what the dear leader might do with his latest toy, fear not. kate hudson has something to say on the matter after all. search around the website a little bit. see if you can find it on your own. its good news - she's opposed to a nuclear north korea: kate hudson, chair of the campaign for nuclear disarmament, said, “north korea has the mistaken idea that having nuclear weapons will increase its security. this is wrong – nuclear weapons do not make a country safer. guess who is to blame for the dear leader's error. unfortunately this is also a view taken by many of our own political leaders, hence their desire to replace trident, but it is as wrong for britain as it is for north korea.” and we're back to a familiar theme again... "rather than the uk contributing to increased proliferation by replacing trident, the british government should convene a world summit on nuclear disarmament as proposed by hans blix in the recent wmd commission report. " oh yeah. replacing trident. that's definitely what's worrying us the most at the moment. posted by david t at 03:02 pm | comments (101) | trackback october 09, 2006 north korean nukes north korea tested a nuclear device underground earlier today. it said the underground test, carried out in defiance of international warnings, was a success and had not resulted in any leak of radiation. when it announced the test, kcna described it as an "historic event that brought happiness to our military and people". the hermit kingdom's neighbours are less than joyful: japan's prime minister shinzo abe said the test was "unpardonable", while china denounced the action as "brazen". south korea said it would "sternly respond". what's next? the white house said the test, if confirmed, would constitute "a provocative act". "we expect the un security council to take immediate actions to respond to this unprovoked act said spokesman tony snow. watch this space. posted by marcus at 07:40 am | comments (79) | trackback october 08, 2006 civil war for palestine? bad news for long suffering palestinians according to the head of palestinian intelligence: brigadier-general tawfik tirawi predicted a bloody clash between hamas, the islamist movement headed by ismail haniyah, the palestinian prime minister, and fatah, its secular rival led by president mahmoud abbas. “we are already at the beginning of a civil war, no doubt about it. they (hamas) are accumulating weapons and a full-scale civil war can break out at any moment,” said tirawi. large quantities of weapons and ammunition have been smuggled from the egyptian-controlled sinai into the gaza strip since israel withdrew from the area last year, according to palestinian sources. most of the arms are carried through dozens of tunnels, many controlled by hamas. many of the weapons are believed to originate in the countries in the region that support hamas, such as iran and syria. egypt is trying to prevent the smuggling but has achieved only limited success, according to israeli sources. tirawi rejected the possibility that by accumulating weapons hamas is preparing for a war against israel. the arsenal was to be used against fatah, he insisted. posted by marcus at 12:28 pm | comments (67) | trackback a j-curve world? is a j-curve a useful way of understanding the world? writing in the washington post, and in a new book, ian bremmer posits that every country can be plotted at some point on the curve. imagine a graph that charts a country's stability on the vertical axis and its openness (both within the country and to the world) on the horizontal one. if each nation appears as a point on the graph, the resulting pattern looks very much like the letter j. nations higher on the graph are more stable; those lower are less stable. nations to the right of the dip in the j are more open; those to the left are less open. this simple j curve captures many of the dilemmas inherent in global politics today. bremmer emphasizes that movement from the left side of the j to the right is hardly inevitable, and that stable and closed states which become more open and unstable can easily slide backward rather than advancing to openness and stability-- which is what happened to russia after the collapse of the soviet union. of course the fate of iraq-- more open than under saddam hussein but at a low point in stability-- remains to be decided. bremmer suggests that efforts to isolate regimes like those in north korea and iran actually strengthen those regimes, which depend on isolation to survive. the more isolated they are, the more likely they are to stay ensconced on the left side of the j. is bremmer being overly simplistic? or is he on to something? (suggestion: read the whole article before commenting.) posted by gene at 12:14 am | comments (68) | trackback october 06, 2006 bassam tibi on identity politics there's an interview in der spiegel with the anti-islamist political scientist, bassam tibi. it is worth reading in full, but these are the parts which lept out at me: spiegel: many germans believe that communities should live together peacefully without any parallel societies. is it therefore right to compromise in order to avoid antagonizing muslims unnecessarily? tibi: quite the opposite. the islamic officials who live here are very intelligent and view this as weakness. muslims stand by their religion entirely. it is a sort of religious absolutism. while europeans have stopped defending the values of their civilization. they confuse tolerance with relativism. spiegel: when something insults muslims, we often tend to just back off -- doesn't this help defuse the conflict? tibi: no. that is simply giving up. and the weaker the partner is viewed by the muslims, then the greater the anger which they express. and this anger is often carefully staged. ... spiegel: for many years you have been a proponent of an enlightened form of euro-islam -- a topic which has been much discussed. but you are pretty much a lone voice. tibi: i support reforming islam and i am not alone in this. next month i'm meeting 20 other islamic reformers in copenhagen. we are trying to reinvigorate the tradition of enlightening islam. but our mistake is that we are not united. spiegel: and apart from these scientists and thinkers? tibi: it would be much more important to have enlightened imams. but when the alfred herrhausen society wanted to invite a german-speaking imam with european ideas to a discussion, no one could be found. in the end they took the grand mufti of marseille. and why are there such people in france and not here? because the french state and french society has worked on developing them. ... [t]he french state helped set up a council of muslims which was completely in line with european values. if the french state had not been involved, the council would have probably been in the hands of the muslim brotherhood. this is a challenge facing civil society, but the state also has to help. by staying neutral, as is the case here in germany, you are handing victory over to the islamists. ... spiegel: but how do you expect to draw the third generation away from the influence of the mosques? tibi: i don't have any clear idea either about how this should be done. the situation is this: young muslims want to be "members of the club," part of german society. but they are rejected. and parallel societies provide warmth. it is a vicious circle. spiegel: but what is astounding is that you see yourself also as an example of failed integration. you have been working for 30 years at a german university, you have written 26 books in german and have been awarded the federal cross of merit. why, out of anyone, are you not integrated? tibi: it's more to do with a feeling of belonging. in germany it is not a contradiction to say, mr. tibi is syrian and has a german passport. in france however it is. and in america it would be a reason to take someone to court, as you are excluding them from american society. even after 40 years here, i'm still not german. i also believe that i have not progressed higher as a professor here because i am a foreigner. when i retire i will be leaving germany and going to cornell university. spiegel: that sounds quite sad. what should germany do? tibi: we need to see a change in culture among germans too. we must change this idea that only those who are born here and have ethnically german parents, are seen as german. almost 20 percent of the people living in germany today have a foreign background. the problem is that germany can't really offer foreigners an identity because the germans hardly have a national identity themselves. that is certainly a result of auschwitz. america's strength is that it is capable of accepting people into its communities. discussion points: 1. i tend to agree that cowering - or even prospectively giving in - to the sort of orchestrated islamist threats emboldens religious politicians, who take it as a sign of their strength, and of our weakness. however, we're in a bind. part of the difficulty is that conflict over issues which touch on religious and cultural identity, tends also to strengthen the hand of islamist groupings, which draw much of their strength from the notion of a global war against muslims. the median way is to have a sensible, frank, discussion, in measured terms, about national and sub-cultural identity, religion and politics, the private and the public, and so on. the other part of the difficulty, though, is that these sorts of reasoned debates tend also to be used as a platform, and a profile raising exercise, by islamist groups: which often use it as an opportunity to paint themselves, misleadingly, as moderate and mainstream. 2. tibi's suggestion that the state "nationalises" religion - as they have in france - isn't a million miles away from what has been tried in the united kingdom: albeit in a slightly more low-key manner. it hasn't been an unqualified success in france. or, for that matter, in the united kingdom. the idea of intervening directly in religion is something which i instinctively oppose, as incompatible with the notion of a neutral state. it smacks of "pillarisation". it also entrenches religious identity, and "community leaders" - who tend to be cultural conservatives - within the constitutional framework of the state. it privileges religious identity over other forms of identity: encouraging what sen describes as "plural monoculturalism". however i can see the attraction, from a pragmatic perspective, of such a policy. 3. tibi's thoughts on the distinct attitudes of germans, french, and americans to national identity are interesting. his closing observations could be applied to the united kingdom: "the problem is that germany can't really offer foreigners an identity because the germans hardly have a national identity themselves. that is certainly a result of auschwitz. we might substitute "post colonial guilt" or something like that for "auschwitz" in the case of the united kingdom. the point is an important one. i do think that shows remarkable lack of self confidence in our own cultural identity, as british progressives. i understand completely why islamists regard liberal cringing as a symptom of weakness. it is. why would anybody want to integrate into that? (hat tip: 'antidhimmi' in the comments) posted by david t at 12:22 pm | comments (65) | trackback october 05, 2006 going round in circles i'm intrigued by the story of the iranian champion racing driver laleh seddigh. two years ago she became national champion in her class but recently was stopped from competing by stewards who told her that "security problems" meant her participation was now not to be allowed. according to the guardian most of the federation members were not happy to have a female champion and would have preferred a man," she said. "since i won, they have even eliminated the winner's podium. they were afraid that i would win again and they would be obliged to show me on the podium. seddigh says a muslim cleric has already issued a fatwa - a legally binding religious ruling - stating that there is no religious bar to women racing against men provided islamic dress code is observed. she plans to use the fatwa if she fails to persuade federation officials to grant her permission to take part in future races. there have been female competitors in western racing motor-racing since the 20's when helle nice raced buggattis. during the 1970s i remember seeing davina galica race at brands hatch and the italian lella lombardi finished sixth in the 1975 spanish grand prix. most western women drivers though have never had the best cars to allow them to be really competitive. laleh seddigh however, is a proven champion who seems to have merely upset some traditionalists such as the iranian racing federation vice-president, hossein shahryari, who says: women are speaking highly of themselves and that causes men who sacrifice their lives in this sport disappointment. women are not champions in this sport, they are only participants. if they observed islamic regulations more they would not have such problems. you are allowed to compete with us ladies (just don't be beating us, ok!) posted by graham at 11:48 am | comments (108) | trackback october 03, 2006 the most rubbish hijack ever i don't think i've ever just posted a link to a story which is, basically, one of the main news headlines for the day: but isn't this the most pathetic hijacking in the history of international terrorism? the hijackers seemed to have ignored the most basic rule of the sport: get your message across. i mean, what was the hijacking all about? were they protesting the pope? or were they christian converts who were in correspondence with the pope? were they simply seeking political asylum? or all three? who knows? what makes matters worse: it appears that nobody actually told the passengers that they were being hijacked. they didn't even wave a weapon around. and one of them was wearing a tracksuit. what sort of hijacker models his trademark look on jimmy saville? hey, but look on the bright side. miss india, miss singapore, miss malaysia and miss philippines were all of the flight. so at least their exploits stand a decent chance of being commemorated in a bollywood musical. posted by david t at 10:23 pm | comments (7) | trackback october 02, 2006 wajeha al-huwaider, nursultan nazarbayev martyn frampton writes about wajeha al-huwaider: ‘control this and we won’t have a problem’ declared the intelligence officer, pointing to his mouth; such was the warning administered to wajeha al-huwaider when she was summoned to intelligence headquarters in saudi arabia last week. her ‘crime’? to have attempted to plan an event calling for greater rights for women in saudi arabia. the fact that the event itself never materialised is considered irrelevant. in the saudi kingdom, to have considered holding it is crime enough. in true orwellian style, the thought of the ‘crime’ is as punishable as any actual transgression. and as a result, wajeha al-huwaider, the saudi journalist and women’s rights’ activist, has been warned to keep quiet and had her passport taken away from her. ... wajeha’s freedom of movement was removed only days before she was due to fly to europe and then the us to address a series of conferences. the purpose of these gatherings? broadly speaking, to analyse prospects for reform and the advance of human rights in the saudi kingdom! her recent personal experience would appear to offer the starkest evidence, as to the state of play in this regard. ... last month she staged an extraordinary solo demonstration, as she walked the fahd causeway that links bahrain with saudi arabia, carrying a placard that read, ‘give women their rights!’ unsurprisingly, she managed to get only a few hundred yards before being arrested by saudi security forces, whereupon she was detained for several hours. thereafter, she was released, but only when a male relative had arrived to vouch for her. " read the rest. the good news is that wajeha's passport was returned to her over the weekend. also, for those of us whose knowledge of kazakhstan is gleaned entirely from borat's new film: cultural learnings of america for make benefit glorious nation of kazakhstan, take a few minutes out to read andrew apostolou's explanation of why bush was wrong to invite nazarbayev to the white house: for nazarbayev, who visited the clinton white house twice but has not met bush in washington, d.c. since december 2001, the invitation is a victory. he will use the bush white house to confirm that his autocracy has substantial u.s. support. this couldn’t come at a worse time, as a predominately muslim kazakhstan teeters on the brink of turning into another saudi arabia: corrupt at the top, with ample cause for discontent at the bottom. ... there will be plenty of voices calling for president bush to ignore these abuses because the united states already deals with leaders who are worse but more useful, such as pakistan’s general pervez musharraf and saudi arabia’s king abdullah. yet nazarbayev, who has remained steadfastly close to russia, has little extra to offer the united states beyond his country’s limited counterterrorism capabilities and already-agreed oil-and-gas projects. nazarbayev will burnish his image with a white house reception, but the united states could pay the price in the long run for reverting to the cold war habit of embracing a temporarily useful local thug. posted by david t at 09:01 am | comments (52) | trackback october 01, 2006 the un and war crimes i have a lengthy (but hopefully interesting) article in the sunday times magazine, about kofi annan, the united nations and war-crimes. it is based partly on my new book about the un and genocide. click here. posted by adam lebor at 10:11 pm | comments (22) | trackback september 27, 2006 visiting the zionist entity i have three weeks of holiday to take before the end of the year, or else i lose it. therefore, i thought i might pop over to israel with an old university friend for a week, before it is wiped off the map. i've never been there. so, tell me: where should i visit, where should i stay, and what should i see? posted by david t at 11:57 am | comments (114) | trackback september 26, 2006 women's rights, afghanistan 2006-09-26 i missed this earlier, but wanted to put it up. during a bad day or so in afghanistan, prior to the suicide bomb today that killed 18, including muslim pilgrims set to travel to mecca, the taliban shot dead safia ama jan, 65, who had served as chief of the woman's affairs department in kandahar for five years and done much practical work for women's rights. since the fall of the taliban, the former teacher, had spent her time working to improve women's rights and opportunities for education and vocational training. according to a herald tribune report one of ama jan's most successful projects was running vocational schools for women and in kandahar alone ama jan had opened six schools. she was killed yesterday by two taliban terrorists who shot up the taxi she was travelling in. in a call to al-jazeera (who else) a taliban commander, mullah hayat khan, said ama jan was killed because she worked for the government: "we have told people time and time again that anyone working for the government - including women - will be killed." posted by gordon at 08:25 pm | comments (108) | trackback september 25, 2006 "i don't want to walk the same furrow..." two of the more interesting figures on israeli left-- journalist ari shavit and labor knesset member shelly yachimovich-- engaged in a contentious (and therefore typically israeli) q&a published last week in haaretz. yachimovich, a former radio interviewer, entered politics to support amir peretz's successful campaign for labor party leader-- a campaign that emphasized issues of social and economic injustice within israel. peretz ended up serving as defense minister in ehud olmert's coalition government, and has taken a lot of criticism for his handling of the recent war with hezbollah. shavit tries (rather belligerently) to get yachimovich to join in the peretz-bashing, and she (with some evasinveness) resists. the transcript provides some insight into a side of israeli politics about which many outsiders-- with their fixed-in-cement ideas about israel-- know little. israel is a far more complicated and interesting place than most of its foreign supporters or enemies realize. you can be highly critical when you choose, but you were not highly critical of the war. "not of its military aspect. there are people who think that the minor tone of my response in that sphere has to do with my relations with amir peretz. that's not so. i entered politics to deal with the social-economic sphere. i did not enter politics to be your leftist, ari shavit. on the contrary. on the contrary. i went into politics because i was totally fed up with this type of leftism whose whole identity rests on automatic opposition to war as such. i will not be there. i will not be the regular yuppie left-winger who goes to demonstrate against the occupation and loves arabs but hates mizrahim [jews of middle eastern descent]. i will not be in that place. i will not enter the corners in which i am expected to condemn the war and condemn the moves made during the war. that's too easy. that's terribly easy. it's a lot harder to be in the place where i am." ..... a war is not a simple matter. the government is responsible for war. and you are now the government, even if just part of the government. you are a senior member of a ruling party and very close to the defense minister. you, too, bear responsibility. "you're delivering terrible statements against the war and attaching them to me. did i run this war? i did not come to politics to deal with the political-security arena. i'm devoting myself totally to the economic-social arena. that's why i don't want to be a minister and i'm not asking to be a member of the foreign affairs and defense committee. all i want to do is to sit in the finance committee from morning until night like the dutch boy who stuck his finger in the dam. that's what i want to do." what you are saying is that because you decided to fight on the social-economic front, you suspended your activity in the political-security sphere even when a war broke out. "i did not suspend anything. but i didn't come to be your leftist. i don't want to walk the same furrow that is being plowed by a thousand people besides me." ..... we'll leave the war aside. are you satisfied with your social-economic achievements in the olmert government? "no. there is no doubt that we not only did not contribute to stopping the policy of benjamin netanyahu - today we are also absolute collaborators in the method of benjamin netanyahu. we are collaborating with a worldview that is contrary to our worldview. as an example, i can tell you that the draft of the economic arrangements bill that was approved last week by the cabinet is an extreme right-wing militant document. every line in it embodies an extreme right-wing economic approach whose whole aim is to privatize the state. i consider this a post-zionist document. zionism, for me, is social cohesion and the state's responsibility for all segments of the society, whereas the draft bill is a post-zionist text." if so, in terms of social-economic morality, the olmert-peretz government is worse than even the sharon-netanyahu government, which you railed against. "unequivocally. this government is continuing the economic policy of benjamin netanyahu, and when you entrench a policy like that you also exacerbate it." then why are you there? why is your party cooperating with the extreme economic right? "this coalition was not born out of love. there is no love in it. the connection is not harmonious. both in the social-economic sphere and in the security sphere the genes of kadima are totally different from the genes of the labor party. but i want to remind you of one small detail: the labor party did not win the elections. it is far smaller than kadima. as such, there are now only two alternatives to the present situation: bibi netanyahu as finance minister and avigdor lieberman as defense minister, or elections. i find both alternatives intolerable. they are even more intolerable than the intolerableness of this miserable coalition." ..... you're supposed to be doing battle against big money, but you're supporting a prime minister who is the salient representative of big money. "true. but precisely because i'm acting in a moral landscape that is so different from mine, i feel that what i am doing has value. i don't want to boast, but i'm getting things done. take the vote on the cashiers law, for example. or stemming the erosion in the independence of the national insurance institute. the activity on behalf of casual workers. preventing the closure of the tenders to train workers. the war against the insane privatization of the shelters for youth at risk. all these things might sound small to you. they make you yawn. but to me they are more important than a lot of political talk. and i'm succeeding in getting them done. i'm succeeding in preventing dismissals and preventing further harm to the weak, and every such achievement is like a whole world to me." i don't buy all of yachimovich's rationalizations. but i appreciate her eagerness to fight unheralded battles for economic fairness and workers' rights, even if it means passing up the opportunity to join the chorus denouncing the government's defense policies. israel could use more like her. posted by gene at 08:19 pm | comments (28) | trackback september 24, 2006 a plea from arab and muslim intellectuals on the website of the center for the study of islam and democracy is an open letter from arab and muslim intellectuals to president bush politely asking him to live up to his commitment to support democrats in the muslim world. it is our belief that the main problem with u.s. policies in the middle east (in particular in iraq, palestine , and elsewhere) is precisely their failure to live up to america ’s democratic ideals of liberty and justice for all. we have been heartened by the strong commitment to liberty you had expressed in your november 2003 speech at the national endowment for democracy and then your second inaugural address, when you said that "all who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the united states will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. when you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you." ..... the us should continue to press for an end to regime repression of democratically spirited liberal and islamist groups, and to emphatically distance itself from such repression and condemn it in the strongest terms whenever and wherever it occurs. we are confident that if arab citizens are able to have their choice, they will choose democracy, freedom, peace and progress. ..... perhaps emboldened by the impression that america is wavering in its support for democracy, some autocrats have recently intensified repression. this makes the need for sustained u.s. and international support and pressure more urgent than ever. the region needs to hear again that the course of freedom and democracy is the only course which america, guided by both interest and principle, will support. the clear message is that the bush administration's rhetorical commitment to freedom and democracy is not matched by a willingness to upset certain "friendly" or useful regimes, notably in egypt, pakistan and saudi arabia-- a point i've made here frequently. until that changes-- until the us is seen consistently taking the side of the democrats over the autocrats in these strategically-important countries-- the advocates of liberalization and reform in the muslim world will have reason to doubt america's sincerity. (hat tip: memri.) posted by gene at 11:58 pm | comments (101) | trackback september 22, 2006 what use are the germans? something that has been on my mind for a while and gerard baker reminded me of it with his column in the times today. what use are the germans? as the west fights a global war on terror the germans, among others (sadly they are not alone), are sitting on their hands, watching from the sidelines, and hoping for the best. they might have some 7,700 troops overseas, 2,800 of whom are part of nato's international security assistance force in afghanistan, but unlike britain, the us, canada and a pocketful of others the germans aren't there as combat troops. actually i'm not really sure what they are doing. german troops along with those from most of the rest of europe are sent to afghanistan under tight restrictions that largely prohibit them from engaging in combat operations, or from patrolling at night. this includes, as baker mentions, not flying at night – hey, i hear it, everyone hates the red eye. "it soon became clear that the replacement plane was not coming. the reason, it turned out, was that the germans would not fly in the dark. german aircraft are not permitted by their national rules to undertake night flights," baker writes. "when you are trying to fight a war against a ruthless band of terrorists who operate 24/7, never pausing to consider the dangers of venturing out in the dark, limiting yourself to daytime operations is a little constraining." you think. we are in trouble in afghanistan, that much is clear, but no one wants to help as recently witnessed with the nato call for more combat troops to go to the south of the country falling on deaf ears (other than canada and poland, who contributed 900 troops). we all know why it fell on deaf ears. no one in europe is prepared for the hard sell of losing dozens of troops fighting the resurgent taliban, but that's what it is going to take. that's what it always takes. the result of this is clear, the burden is shared by the few, as summed up by a recently published congressional research service paper: "these governments tend to be reluctant to send their forces out into the field to confront the taliban and control warlords and their militias. the result, in this view, has been that british and canadian [isaf] and us forces [operation enduring freedom] bear a disproportionate share of the most dangerous tasks. "berlin was adamant that german forces would not engage in combat operations; according to nato officials, the german caveat against combat has limited the alliance in integrating german forces with those of other allied governments. "these officials say that german troops and civilians rarely venture beyond the perimeter of the [provincial reconstruction teams] due to concern they might arouse afghan public criticism or come into contact with armed elements. german troops reportedly do not go on extended patrols and do not respond to local security incidents.” so much for winning hearts and minds. it's not just the germans, of course, there are the dutch as well (previous passive military accomplishments: srebrenica massacre). the congressional study goes on to say that dutch commanders on the ground in afghanistan reportedly insisted to nato counterparts that no dutch troops must be killed in combat. the dutch were apparently told this "was unrealistic". who would have guessed. any use they might be doing could come to an end anyway with parliamentary elections in the autumn, which could result in the netherlands withdrawing its 1,700 professional bystanders. so far, so useless. something needs to change, germany needs to pull its weight as one of the world's leading industrial powers and not drag its feet and hide under the covers. history has moved on, we're over it. and maybe something is astir. chancellor angela merkel spoke earlier this week and promised to "meet this new situation by raising military spending in the medium and long- term to bring the political responsibility together with the military necessity". but how and when? merkel did not give any further details. maybe she could start by allowing her planes to fly at night. posted by gordon at 11:32 am | comments (99) | trackback september 20, 2006 al-bashir explains it all my nominee for the islamic human rights commission's "islamophobia award"-- sudanese president omar hassan al-bashir-- has explained why some people are calling for un troops to be sent to darfur. as if we didn't know. "it is very clear there is a plan to redraw the region," especially after the invasion of iraq, [al-bashir] told a news conference on the sidelines of a ministerial u.n. general assembly session. "the main purpose is the security of israel. any state in the region should be weakened, dismembered in order to protect the israelis, to guarantee the israeli security," he said. asked about sunday's darfur peace rallies from rwanda to san francisco, bashir said they were "invariably organised by zionist jewish organisations." yes, those zionist jewish organizations in rwanda have got their grips on that country, haven't they? (hat tip: tim in the comments.) posted by gene at 03:57 pm | comments (37) | trackback september 19, 2006 my nomination for islamophobia award the "leftists" at islamophobia watch are plugging the islamic human rights commission's "fourth islamophobia awards," which will be presented during a gala evening december 9 in london. superlative performances from tawasih group nur-ul-mustafa, a hilarious comedy set and a very special surprise performance... yvonne ridley and george galloway singing "i got you, babe"? the highlight of the evening will be the awards themselves, on which it is now possible to vote (by categories for different parts of the world). although i'm sure nominees like king mohammed vi of morocco ("for his 'so called reforms' aimed at removing islam from the the moroccan people"), bruce willis ("for his staunch support of the iraq war and renlentless barrage of propganda in the guise of 'hollywood movies'") and john ware ("for the panorama programme 'faith, hate and charity'") are fully deserving of awards, one name was notable for its absence. fortunately the ihrc provides a means to nominate additional candidates for the award. so this is what i submitted: on 13 july 2004, the ihrc website posted an urgent alert: "the sudanese government must cease its campaign of ethnic cleansing in the western province of darfur immediately. the sudanese government has armed and supported the arab 'janjaweed' which has committed numerous attacks on the african fur, masalit, and zaghawa ethnic groups. the sudanese government has been complicit in actions of the janjaweed militias, including massacres of women and children, burning of towns and villages, and the forcible displacement of over a million civilians." as far as i know, the massacres and displacements of the muslims in darfur have continued unabated. therefore i nominate sudanese president omar hassan al-bashir-- the man responsible for the deaths and suffering of more muslims than anyone else in the world in recent years-- for an "islamophobia award." for a few months in 2004, the ihrc website provided frequent updates about the situation in darfur . after that-- strangely or otherwise-- nothing. perhaps they forgot how urgent it was and just need a gentle reminder. i guess we'll see. posted by gene at 08:25 pm | comments (144) | trackback canadian "rendition" victim cleared almost three years ago i posted about the case of maher arar-- a victim of the horrendous us policy of "rendition," in which terrorism suspects are turned over to foreign countries known to torture people in their custody. arar, a joint canadian-syrian citizen, was in transit to canada in 2002 when he was arrested by us authorities and sent to syria. there he was beaten and tortured for 10 months before being released back to canada. now, according to a canadian government investigation, arar's rendition to syria was "very likely" based on false information that canadian authorities provided to the us. "i am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that mr. arar has committed any offense or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of canada," justice dennis o'connor said monday in a three-volume report on the findings of the inquiry, part of which was made public. ..... u.s. and syrian officials refused to cooperate with the canadian inquiry. even if arar had been a terrorist, i can't find any way to justify turning him over to the tender mercies of the syrian regime-- the same regime which, as i noted three years ago, is pleased to torture alleged terrorists while providing aid and comfort to real terrorists. posted by gene at 02:51 pm | comments (38) | trackback september 18, 2006 get your coat benedict, you've pulled. via the comments to this post at pickled politics i came across an article in the daily mail about former al-mujaharoun bigmouth anjem choudhary's protest outside westminster cathedral yesterday. it's headed "the pope must die, says muslim" - perhaps someone had asked him "anjem, what's the name of the 1991 comedy directed by peter richardson and starring robbie coltrane?". to an audience of around 100 protesters (or if you prefer, a whopping 0.017% of london's muslim population) - choudhary said that "the muslims take their religion very seriously and non-muslims must appreciate that and that must also understand that there may be serious consequences if you insult islam and the prophet. whoever insults the message of mohammed is going to be subject to capital punishment." nothing new there, of course. what did catch my eye though was a passage about the reaction to the pope's speech in iran. there were fierce denunciations of the pontiff from iran. the english-language tehran times called his lecture in bavaria last week "code words for a new crusade". the powerful cleric ahmad khatami told theological students in the holy city of qom: the "pope should fall on his knees in front of a senior muslim cleric and try to understand islam." you old smoothie, ahmad. you know all the lines. posted by wardytron at 10:43 pm | comments (60) | trackback blame game unlike the somalian authorities our maddy of the sorrows knows instictively who is to blame for the four bullets pumped into the flesh of a 65 year old woman at the weekend: an elderly catholic nun has already been killed in somalia and tragically other good people could lose their lives for the foolishness of this global leader. that's the pope she's talking about. that's right, in maddy's twisted worldview quoting a historical figure with a less than charitable view of islam - despite pointing out you don't agree with him - means you are directly responsible for the murder of a nun. if the police pick me up tomorrow hovering manically above the body of ms bunting, hands covered in her blood i'll tell them it was the guardian journalist's fault for provoking me: i'm sure they'll mbunderstand where i'm coming from. posted by marcus at 04:10 pm | comments (66) | trackback caption competition gene adds: and to make things even freakier, compare the picture above with this one of eva and juan peron from 1950. ok, admittedly there is no strong resemblance between evita and ahmadinejad. but as you can see, the resemblance between juan and hugo is more than just political: posted by harry at 12:15 am | comments (32) | trackback september 17, 2006 violence grows the anger at the pope's apparent linkage of islam and violence starts to become surreal: a hardline somalian cleric called on muslims to "hunt down" and kill the pope, while five churches were firebombed in the palestinian territories. a bomb exploded in a church in iraq and 2000 palestinians hit the streets in protest. the pope's army of security personnel are taking the threats seriously and security has been tightened around the papal summer residence at castel gandolfo, south of rome. morocco's king mohammed vi immediately recalled his ambassador from the vatican on the basis of "offensive remarks about islam and muslims made by pope benedict xvi at regensburg university on september 12." in iraq 'militants' are taking time out from sectarian murder to join the fight against the roman catholic church: an iraqi insurgent group threatened the vatican with a suicide attack over the pope's remarks, according to a statement posted yesterday on the web. "we swear to god to send you people who adore death as much as you adore life," said the message posted in the name of the mujahedeen army on a web site frequently used by militant groups. the message's authenticity could not be independently verified. the statement was addressed to "you dog of rome" and threatens to "shake your thrones and break your crosses in your home." and an italian aid worker is now confirmed shot dead in somalia: after an operation on the woman, whom some witnesses identified as a nun working at a children's hospital in north mogadishu, medical staff told a reuters television reporter that she had died from her injuries. that'll teach her boss to go around making untoward allegations. posted by marcus at 07:20 pm | comments (51) | trackback just a minute...for darfur if you'd been more proactive, you could probably laid your hands on one of the 12,000 free tickets for today's "just a minute" free concert at wembley: an inspirational event starring robin gibb of the bee gees alongside comedienne ruby wax; actor and producer clarke peters, currently starring in the hbo hit series the wire; tv presenter tania bryer and author and pr guru lynne franks, with music from top selling recording artists bliss and michael timothy, formerly of massive attack, also features global sounds, dance and theatre representing the power of silence - the pause between notes, movement and speech. the audience will also experience the love, peace and wisdom of the two spiritual leaders of the brahma kumaris, who between them have the combined power of nearly 150 years of spiritual study and meditation: dadi janki and dadi gulzar. the event has been organised by a "new age" religious movement, brahma kumaris, which has dedicated it to the united nations international day of peace. and all the tickets are now gone. but don't worry if you've missed the opportunity to meditate in silence for one minute with ruby wax and lynne frank. you can still spend today, making as much noise as possible, to call for a united nations deployment to prevent the massacre of two million people in darfur: where four hundred thousand have already been murdered. full details of today's rally is here. posted by david t at 09:32 am | comments (43) | trackback september 16, 2006 the regensburg address - the money lines here it is: in this lecture i would like to discuss only one point -- itself rather marginal to the dialogue itself -- which, in the context of the issue of "faith and reason," i found interesting and which can serve as the starting point for my reflections on this issue. in the seventh conversation ("diálesis" -- controversy) edited by professor khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). the emperor must have known that sura 2:256 reads: "there is no compulsion in religion." it is one of the suras of the early period, when mohammed was still powerless and under [threat]. but naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the koran, concerning holy war. without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "book" and the "infidels," he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: "show me just what mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." the emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. violence is incompatible with the nature of god and the nature of the soul. "god is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably ("syn logo") is contrary to god's nature. faith is born of the soul, not the body. whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats.... to convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...." the decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to god's nature. © copyright 2006 -- libreria editrice vaticana so...what exactly is the problem? posted by brownie at 04:05 pm | comments (73) | trackback september 15, 2006 that world reaction in full... india, and an aptitude for self-examination is on full display... the crowd can barely contain themselves as robbie williams (pbuh) takes the stage at his groundbreaking cairo concert for 'peace and mutual understanding' turkey. answers on a postcard. posted by brownie at 06:08 pm | comments (96) | trackback al qaradawi and the pope the pope has been surprisingly impolitic: the emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. violence is incompatible with the nature of god and the nature of the soul. "god," he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to god's nature. faith is born of the soul, not the body. whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats." he has evidently upset a fair number of people, including the muslim brotherhood spiritual leader, al qaradawi: our hands are outstretched and our religion calls for peace, not for war, for love not for hatred, for tolerance, not for fanaticism, for knowing each other and not for disavowing each other. we condemn this and we want to know the explanation of this and what is intended by this. we call on the pope, the pontiff, to apologise to the islamic nation because he has insulted its religion and prophet, its faith and sharia without any justification." i might mischievously argue that is reassuring to hear a pope whose last job was running a particularly activist holy office of the inquisition (or, as it was rebranded, the "congregation for the doctrine of the faith") condemning the spreading of faith at the point of a sword. that said, the catholic church today is not given to requiring "violence and threats" in pursuit of its religious and political aims. not so qaradawi, who as you will remember, provided the religious ruling which allowed female suicide murderers to travel - unchaperoned if necessary - to murder civilians: when jihad becomes an individual duty, as when the enemy seizes the muslim territory, a woman becomes entitled to take part in it alongside men. jurists maintained that: when the enemy assaults a given muslim territory, it becomes incumbent upon all its residents to fight against them to the extent that a woman should go out even without the consent of her husband, a son can go too without the permission of his parent, a slave without the approval of his master, and the employee without the leave of his employer. ... as for the point that carrying out this operation may involve woman’s travel from place to another without a mahram, we say that a woman can travel to perform hajj in the company of other trustworthy women and without the presence of any mahram as long as the road is safe and secured. travel, nowadays, is no longer done through deserts or wilderness, instead, women can travel safely in trains or by air. concerning the point on hijab, a woman can put on a hat or anything else to cover her hair. even when necessary, she may take off her hijab in order to carry out the operation, for she is going to die in the cause of allah and not to show off her beauty or uncover her hair. i don’t see any problem in her taking off hijab in this case. to conclude, i think the committed muslim women in palestine have the right to participate and have their own role in jihad and to attain martyrdom.” the thing is this. if you go around encouraging and legitimising the religiously motivated murder of civilians, then people will think you're an intolerant, hateful fanatic. it also kind of undermines your position, rhetorically, if you want to condemn another religious leader for suggesting that it is far better to "reason properly, without violence and threats" than - say - issuing religious edicts exhorting women to the slaughter of civilians. posted by david t at 01:23 pm | comments (74) | trackback what's going on here? on wednesday afternoon, i was showing a friend from south africa around london. as we walked from charing cross station towards trafalgar square we heard quite a commotion coming from the opposite pavement. being a journalist, she was quite eager to see what it was all about. "good heavens," said i, "that's right outside south africa house!" i took the snap above on my camera phone (hence the poor quality) as we approached. the protest was by a group of zimbabweans angy that thabo mbeki will not take the lead in a regional effort to do something about robert mugabe's regime. the institute of war and peace reporting has a critical piece outlining exactly what thabo mbeki's failings on this issue are. and this is why zimbabwean activists have moved down the strand from the zimbawean embassy towards south africa house. by the way, can you guess which british politician is swanning around on the world stage with robert mugabe - promoting "peace" (of all things)? click on the extended entry to find out. gene adds: the fellow in the blue shirt sitting between mugabe and galloway is none other than hsh himself, prince alfred of liechtenstein. posted by brett at 10:52 am | comments (14) | trackback september 14, 2006 egg on denier's faces i said i'd keep you posted on reactions to the iranian holocaust cartoon exhibition which opened in the islamic republic last month. from the independent: an exhibition of cartoons about the holocaust, some suggesting it was fabricated or exaggerated, has been a flop in tehran. it drew audiences of fewer than 300 a day in its first week and now, three weeks after sparking international furore when it opened, attracts just 50 people a day. most of those approached in central tehran said they had not heard of the exhibition and insisted the slaughter of six million jews by the nazis was a historical fact. "i'm sure the holocaust was true - i've heard all about it from newspapers and television," said a housewife from a religious family. "i don't know why some say it didn't happen." one person takes a guess: "this regime is crazy. everybody knows the holocaust happened. over the past year things have become more difficult and this exhibition shows they do not care what we think." the exhibition was supposed to demonstrate that freedom of expression in iran is alive and well. the evidence proves otherwise: yesterday they closed iran's most popular reformist newspaper. one alleged offence was its publication of a cartoon which appeared to show president ahmadinejad as a donkey. posted by marcus at 07:49 am | comments (47) | trackback september 09, 2006 no respect for khatami former iranian president mohammad khatami has been touring the us issuing vague appeals for dialogue and understanding between his country and the west. in a speech thursday at washington's national cathedral, khatami said, "it's good at the present time, where war, violence and repression is so prevalent across the world, for all of us who are followers of god's religion to pursue all efforts for the establishment of peace and security." critics have charged that khatami's trip is riddled with hypocritical contradictions since, during his presidency, the islamic republic was guilty of widespread human rights abuses. although iran's hard-line judiciary is widely blamed for the arrest of dissidents, khatami was unable to restrain political rivals. pressed on iran's abuses, khatami said he would not deny that his country has serious problems, but he cautioned that democracy is a "process" that cannot reverse centuries of despotic rule overnight. iran was ruled by various dynasties for some 2,500 years. as khatami spoke inside the limestone gothic cathedral, hundreds of diplomatic security agents, including their own swat teams, surrounded the church grounds. on the other side of wisconsin avenue, a crowd of about 200 shouted, "shame on you," as invitees waited to pass through security and enter the cathedral gates. khatami spoke before an audience of 1,300. it may be hard for some to remember, but khatami, running as a reformist, received 70 percent of the vote in iran's 1997 presidential election, overwhelming a more conservative candidate. mr khatami promised iranians change, and women and the young came to vote for him with an enthusiasm that has not been seen in previous elections. i'll give khatami the benefit of the doubt that he was sincere about pursuing fundamental change and greater freedoms in iran. but his efforts were systematically undercut by iran's reactionary theocracy. and the worst part is that-- aside from some occasional public whining-- for eight years khatami stood aside and let it happen. did it ever occur to him that with the vast majority of iranians on his side, at some point he could have simply refused to follow the mullahs' dictates? that if he was committed to genuine democracy, he could have called his supporters into the streets and stood down ayatollah khamenei's lackeys and thugs? instead khatami backed down time after time, crushing the hopes of those who elected him and paving the way, in large part, for his successor-- the repressive hardliner mahmoud ahmadinejad. it's instructive to watch a video of khatami appearing before a restive crowd at tehran university toward the end of his second term as president, and to see reform-minded students vent their frustration at him. as an al-jazeera commentator remarked, "it seemed that the students of the conservative movement were the only ones who, uncharacteristically, defended the reformist president." so why is khatami getting respectful audiences in the us? to my mind, he is even more contemptible than ahmadinejad, who after all is what he is. millions of iranians trusted khatami to be something better, but all they got was a sell-out, a weakling and a coward. posted by gene at 07:05 pm | comments (43) | trackback september 07, 2006 on "anti-imperialism" and "decency" i want to pick up on a recent exchange i had with gregg in the harry's place comments. i wrote: that some "anti-imperialist" leftists have turned "decent" into a sneer-word, thus devaluing its original meaning, is an indication of how far they have traveled from the concept of decency. would they ever dare to think of themselves, unironically, as decent? or is decency a hopelessly bourgeois construct? gregg responded: i don't disagree with you, but - and i now i've harped on this point before, but it's an important one - have you noticed how you and others keep doing the same with "anti-imperialist"? well, yes. but while i don't routinely label myself as decent, i think decency is (or ought to be) a universal value, applicable for all people in every part of the world. the problem with the (self-labeled) anti-imperialists is that if there's a choice between decency and their idea of anti-imperialism, the latter wins out. when that kind of anti-imperialism trumps decency-- as i believe it has in a number of recent instances-- "anti-imperialist" becomes an appropriate term of mockery. first there's the matter of defining anti-imperialism. today's anti-imperialists have no problem labeling israel as imperialist or as a tool of imperialists. but as i touched on in another post, israel has always been a thorn in the side of the real imperialists of the middle east-- the big oil companies extracting the wealth of arab and muslim countries, and those in government who support them. big oil has opposed israel from the beginning, and has always been willing to sacrifice israel's interests for the sake of better relations with the leaders of oil-rich states, especially in the gulf. but what about the potential conflict between decency and a broadly-defined anti-imperialism? to choose an extreme example: whatever today's anti-imperialists think of the kim jong il regime in north korea (and some like it more than others), they would-- on anti-imperialist grounds-- universally oppose an american effort to topple that regime. for a number of reasons, i think a military invasion of north korea would be reckless in the extreme. so to the extent that we both oppose such an invasion, i stand with the anti-imperialists. but who can doubt that if it was possible, with a minimum of violence, to remove the pyongyang regime (certainly one of the most horrific on earth) and replace it with one committed to democracy and civil liberties, this would be an act of decency-- even if you have to call it imperialist decency? to take a more current example: the government of sudan has made it clear it wants no more outside interference as its armed forces and militias get on with the mass murder and displacement in darfur. so by strict anti-imperialist standards, shouldn't the rest of the world mind its own business and avoid interfering in what is, after all, an internal affair? but then what about decency-- which would of course put the lives of hundreds of thousands of darfurians ahead of "non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states," or whatever other anti-imperialist formulation you want to use? of course you can avoid confronting this issue by claiming, as george galloway did on a recent radio show, that what is happening in darfur is not genocide. (on the same show, galloway approvingly read an email from a fan referring to israeli genocide in lebanon.) or you can insist, as bizarre mrzine editor yoshie furuhashi did, that concern about darfur in the us has been whipped up by jews and evangelical christians itching for another war. but after you do all that, the question remains: aren't there occasions when simple concern about mass human suffering and death trumps stale slogans and dogma? posted by gene at 08:02 pm | comments (38) | trackback september 06, 2006 down with the stinking ninth! an increasingly shrill president ahmadinejad of iran channelled the spirit of 1960's era mao tse tung yesterday. first, he demonstrated mobilising the student masses by going over the heads of the middle ranking cadres: "students should shout at the president and ask why liberal and secular university lecturers are present in the universities" second, he spread the message that the overly educated are traitors to the revolution: the supreme leader has raised fears that the country might suffer a "velvet revolution", with western powers using academics and other opponents to overthrow iran's islamic system. third, he and his cohorts defined progress as going back to the future: they have demanded a return to the revolutionary purity of the early 1980s when unislamic students and professors were expelled. no word from the university and college union yet. i wonder if certain of those members from its predecessor bodies will be as loud in their condemnation of iran as they were of another country beginning with 'i' last year and more recently. posted by marcus at 09:33 pm | comments (60) | trackback gerry adams's useless visit sinn fein leader gerry adams paid a brief and meaningless visit to israel and the palestinian authority. he urged that israel and hamas enter into a dialogue to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict, which cannot be solved militarily, adding that israel can achieve security only by recognizing the rights of the palestinian people. the sinn fein leader said he is against presenting hamas with preconditions, such as recognition of israel, since mutual recognition can be a product of dialogue. "in my experience, preconditions can only serve as an excuse for lack of progress in negotiations," adams said. it would be nice to look at the supposed parallels between sinn fein and hamas on the one hand, and the uk and israel on the other, and to find some reason for hope. but as far as i know, sinn fein never called for the complete destruction of the united kingdom, or for raising the flag of ireland over every inch of england, scotland and wales. posted by gene at 06:19 pm | comments (96) | trackback september 05, 2006 notes for infidel negotiators so at long last it is finally being realised that it's time to talk to bin laden and see if we can't find a reasonable compromise with him as we did with another bearded 'terrorist' gerry adams. bush and blair tell us there is nothing to negotiate about with bin laden (didn't thatcher say the same about adams?) but did we forget that osama offered us a truce in his 'letter to america'? i'd suggest that this letter be used as the basis for the opening round of negotiations with al-qaeda and i've even gone to the trouble of preparing a briefing paper for those who will represent the infidel side in these talks. of course we will need to ask the eu or some other international organisation to host a conference of infidel nations in order to establish a legitimate body to represent us. let's hope that the us don't try to unilaterally block such a move. in his letter, after making his initial, admittedly unpromising, opening comments that "do not await anything from us but jihad, resistance and revenge.", mr.bin laden asked the pertinent question: what are we calling you to, and what do we want from you? let's take these point by point and see what kind of deal we might be able to reach. obl: (1) the first thing that we are calling you to is islam. (a) the religion of the unification of god; of freedom from associating partners with him, and rejection of this; of complete love of him, the exalted; of complete submission to his laws; and of the discarding of all the opinions, orders, theories and religions which contradict with the religion he sent down to his prophet muhammad (peace be upon him). note: i think there may be some room for manoever here regarding the main sticking point which would likely be the phrase 'complete submission'. is bin laden really going to stick to the precise wording and demand complete submission? perhaps an amendment, with us accepting the complete love of allah and the principle of discarding theories which contradict the religion in return for a concession on a partial, occassional or limited submission to his laws might be acceptable? obl: (2) the second thing we call you to, is to stop your oppression, lies, immorality and debauchery that has spread among you. (a) we call you to be a people of manners, principles, honour, and purity; to reject the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling's, and trading with interest. note: again there is surely a basis for negotation here. i am sure we could accept the end to oppression, immorality and debauchery - no problem there. also signing up to manners, principles, honour and purity would be fine. there may be some stumbling blocks in the final sentence however. is bin laden suggesting a total ban on fornication? i doubt it, so perhaps a rewording about public acts of fornification or excessive fornification might be workable. agreeing to the abolition of homosexuality would be problematic for some of the more liberal members of the infidel community (the dutch could likely cause us some problems here) so it may be prudent to push for some sort of altered wording such as an agreement to end the "promotion of homosexuality" - i think there is, helpfully, a precedent in some 1980's uk legislation. intoxicants and gambling have been banned in the past, even in the united states and public opinion, if prepared correctly, may accept that there are great health benefits to prohibition. the banks may have a problem with a ban on "trading with interest" but i understand that a number of muslim states have managed to get around this thorny issue and i am sure we could ask for some advice from bin laden's family on that matter and such a gesture may be a useful example of good will from our side. obl: (b) it is saddening to tell you that you are the worst civilization witnessed by the history of mankind: note: this does seem rather unnecessary and has probably been included by bin laden for the benefit of his domestic audience. we might be able to get this dropped or diluted with the insertion of "one of the worst civilizations". in any case much of this is mere rhetoric and should not distract us from some key negotiating points that are later raised by bin laden: obl: (xi) you have destroyed nature with your industrial waste and gases more than any other nation in history. despite this, you refuse to sign the kyoto agreement so that you can secure the profit of your greedy companies and*industries. note: ok. i think we simply have to get bush on message about kyoto. i am sure there would be widespread support for bin laden's green agenda. obl: x) your law is the law of the rich and wealthy people, who hold sway in their political parties, and fund their election campaigns with their gifts. behind them stand the jews, who control your policies, media and economy. note: is this not simply a plea for state funding of political parties and a greater diversity in media ownership? obl: (4) we also advise you to stop supporting israel, and to end your support of the indians in kashmir, the russians against the chechens and to also cease supporting the manila government against the muslims in southern philippines. (5) we also advise you to pack your luggage and get out of our lands. we desire for your goodness, guidance, and righteousness, so do not force us to send you back as cargo in coffins. note: i think we can go along with this. perhaps we could get simon jenkins to draft a few words on non-interference? obl: (6) sixthly, we call upon you to end your support of the corrupt leaders in our countries. do not interfere in our politics and method of education. leave us alone, or else expect us in new york and washington. note: if the rather threatening tone could be dropped (perhaps removing the references to specific cities?) i'm sure we could find the right wording. again jenkins could be of help here. obl: (7) we also call you to deal with us and interact with us on the basis of mutual interests and benefits, rather than the policies of sub dual, theft and occupation, and not to continue your policy of supporting the jews because this will result in more disasters for you. note: this is clearly an appeal for goodwill in the negotations - a promising inclusion. however, we need to think about how we can reassure al-quada that there is no question of favouring the jews. perhaps a multi-faith forum? it might be worth asking neturei karta to get involved in some form? as a final comment, it is worth noting that nowhere in his demands does mr.bin laden refer to the somewhat controversial notion of a caliphate. however intelligence reports suggest that this project is of some importance to him and his associates. it may therefore be prudent to consider how far we are willing to go in dealing with that issue. spain may prove to be particularly sensitive on this matter. posted by harry at 09:58 am | comments (158) | trackback august 31, 2006 the new-world builders hugo "never met a dictator i didn't like" chavez has completed a visit to syria, where he was warmly welcomed by bashar al-assad. chavez declared venezuela and syria would “build a new world” free of domination by the united states and vowed to “dig the grave of u.s. imperialism.” chavez and assad collaborating to build a new world? gulp. perhaps they'll invite previous warmly-welcomed visitors to syria to join them. update: and him too, if he's still alive. further update: the above photo does look a little weird. but it's a genuine ap photo. we're not talking reuters here. (sorry, couldn't resist.) posted by gene at 08:04 pm | comments (91) | trackback massaging the news there has been a fair amount of discussion, largely on right-wing blogs, of a series of significant instances in which news stories relating to israel's conduct of the conflict with hezbollah and hamas have been embroidered, staged, or fabricated. the key examples include: - a purported israeli missile strike on a marked reuters car in gaza, carrying two journalists. the powerline blog produced evidence which indicates that the car was not, in fact, hit by a missile and suggests that the incident was staged. one of the reporters involved in the story works for iranian tv. - various sequences of photograph, and news footage, illustrate the staging of scenes involving the exhibition of casualities, particularly involving dead children following the bombing of a residential building in qana. casualty figures in relation to this incident were also initially reported to be nearly twice as high as they ultimately turned out to be. this story was examined in detail by another right-wing blog: eu referendum. - a particularly widly reported incident involved the alleged targeting by israel of red cross ambulances in lebanon, causing explosions which injured red cross workers and those they were transporting. a third right-wing blog - zombietime - has dissected the photographic evidence in detail and argues, with good cause, that this story was also manufactured, in part or in whole. in particular, a circular hole in the ambulance roof - said to be the entry point of a missile - appears more plausibly to have been caused by the removal of a ventilation port. this last story is the only one of the three to have produced even a ripple outside the right wing blogosphere. indeed, the focus of reporting - largely confined to australia - has been the reaction to the comments of the australian foreign minister, alexander downer: what concerns me greatly is the evidence of dishonesty in the reporting out of lebanon. for example, a reuters photographer was forced to resign after doctoring images to exaggerate the impact of israeli air attacks. there were the widely-reported claims that israel had bombed deliberately a red cross ambulance. in subsequent weeks, the world has discovered those allegations do not stand up to even the most rudimentary scrutiny. after closer study of the images of the damage to the ambulance, it is beyond serious dispute that this episode has all the makings of a hoax. yet some of the world’s most prestigious media outlets, including some of those represented here today, ran that story as fact - unchallenged, unquestioned. similarly, there has been the tendency to report every casualty on the lebanese side of the conflict as if a civilian casualty, when it was indisputable that a great many of those injured or killed in israeli offensives were armed hezbollah combatants. my point is this: in a grown-up society such as our own, the media cannot expect to get away with parading falsehoods as truths, or ignoring salient facts because they happen to be inconvenient to the line of argument - or narrative - that particular journalists, or media organisations, might choose to adopt on any given controversy or issue. the red cross has rebuked the australian foreign minister for "relying on an unverified internet blog to claim an israeli missile strike on one of its ambulances in southern lebanon was a hoax". melanie phillips may have a reputation for hyperbole: but i do think she makes a fair point here: in short, much of the most incendiary media coverage of this war seems to have been either staged or fabricated. the big question is why the western media would perpetrate such institutionalised mendacity. many ancillary reasons come to mind. there is the reliance upon corrupted news and picture agencies which employ arab propagandists as stringers and cameramen. there is the herd mentality of the media which decides collectively what the story is. there is the journalists’ fear for their personal safety if they report the truth about terrorist outfits. there is the difficulty of discovering the truth from undemocratic regimes and terrorist organisations. there is the language barrier; there is professional laziness; there is the naïve inability to acknowledge the depths of human evil and depravity; there is the moral inversion of the left which believes that western truth-tellers automatically tell lies, while third world liars automatically tell the truth. but the big answer is that the western media transmit the lies of hezbollah because they want to believe them. and that’s because the big lie these media tell — and have themselves been told — about israel and its place in history and in the world today has achieved the status of unchallengeable truth. the plain fact is that western journalists were sent to cover the war being waged against israel from lebanon as a war being waged by israel against lebanon. and that’s because that’s how editors think of the middle east: that the whole ghastly mess is driven by israel’s actions, and that therefore it is only israel’s aggression which is the story to be covered. there is a widespread assumption on the medialensish-left of the internet that news organisations are engaged in an enormous imperialist-capitalist conspiracy to peddle distortions and lies, and to 'manufacture consent'. there is, however, complete incredulity that hezbollah and hamas might have strong reasons to engage in media manipulation. that outlook appears to be shared by much of the international press which reported, in a largely unquestioning manner, on these incidents: but which have broadly failed to discuss the significant doubts relating to the truth of events which dominated their headlines. there will certainly be those who take the view that the only news manipulation worth reporting is that which eminates from the united states and israel, and that the doubts raised by right wing blog sites should be ignored or - where that is not possible - dismissed in a cursory fashion. i take a different view. the uncritical approach to news reporting, particularly in the middle east has resulted in a dangerous potential for degrading of the integrity of news reporting. it has fed off, and into, a sense of hysteria about the conflict. that is a matter of concern not only for right wing bloggers. it should worry us all. update: the australian stands by the account of the ambulance strike provided by reporter martin chulov. but tim blair compares and contrasts chulov's two accounts of the event, and finds that his story has shifted. posted by david t at 12:32 pm | comments (241) | trackback august 30, 2006 euston manifesto group meeting: darfur - an urgent case for humanitarian intervention next tuesday 5th september 2006, 7 p.m. kings college london. tickets available from speakers:linda melvern, lord clive soley, representative from the aegis trust chair: phillip spencer speakers linda melvern linda is the author of a people betrayed. the role of the west in rwanda’s genocide and conspiracy to murder the rwandan genocide. she is also a journalist. lord clive soley clive is an advocate of intervention and reform of the un. he blogs as lord of the blog. speaker from the aegis trust the aegis trust is an ngo which calls for a duty to protect against genocide. chair the meeting will be chaired by phillip spencer. phil teaches at kingston university and is a founder signatory of the euston manifesto. posted by david t at 10:56 am | trackback new york times blocks access to airline plot article the guardian reports that the new york times has blocked access by united kingdom readers to an article discussing the islamist airline plot: anyone trying to read monday's in-depth account of the investigation that led to 24 arrests in connection with a suspected plot to blow up transatlantic flights saw only a message saying it had been blocked for legal reasons. nor was the story available in physical form on this side of the atlantic. the entire shipment of the paper bound for britain was cancelled. accordingly, non-uk readers may click the link above, and read the article directly. non-uk readers will have to ... well, read it in one of the hundred of internet sites which are mirroring the article, including our friends at pickled politics. the new york times' concern is that it might find itself in contempt of court by publishing the article: although it appears that no specific information in the article is the subject of a court order restricting reporting. indeed, convictions - including that of rose west - have been upheld in circumstances which have been the subject of considerably more extensive comment and speculation than this investigation. particularly in the present case - where the nature of the plot was so significant, and where extensive police and governmental comment has already taken place - it is difficult to see why the new york times has taken such a nervous approach: mark stephens, a media lawyer at finer, stephens, innocent, said he did not believe the article was prejudicial and blocking it would increase the likelihood of british readers reading it. "lawyers have a tendency to be overcautious on occasions," he said. "by not publishing it, it is almost inevitable that the information will come into the public domain in the uk. it is already being copied on to blog sites and emailed around the globe. in fact, the article adds only a little to that which we know already. - the men had been monitored for over a year, as a result of a tip-off from informers following the 7/7 bombings. the initial purpose of the surveillance was to determine "whether there were any links between the dozen men and the july 7 subway bombers, or terrorist cells in pakistan.". - it later became clear that the suspects were "serious and determined". they had recorded "martyrdom videos". although two of the suspects had no passports, they had applied for "expedited approval". they had also established a makeshift laboratory where they had experimented with explosives and had made what appeared to be prototype devices. whether the explosives would have worked is another question: a chemist involved in that part of the inquiry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was sworn to confidentiality, said hmtd, which can be prepared by combining hydrogen peroxide with other chemicals, “in theory is dangerous,” but whether the suspects “had the brights to pull it off remains to be seen.” - it is clear, however, that no imminent date for the attacks had been set. although a suspect had searched airline schedules from london the various u.s. cities, tickets had not been purchased. moreover, the headline figure of "10 aeroplanes" was wholly speculative. - what brought forward the date of the arrests in london was the arrest in pakistan of rashid rauf: several senior british officials said the pakistanis arrested rashid rauf without informing them first. the arrest surprised and frustrated investigators here who had wanted to monitor the suspects longer, primarily to gather more evidence and to determine whether they had identified all the people involved in the suspected plot. but within hours of mr. rauf’s arrest on aug. 9 in pakistan, british officials heard from intelligence sources that someone connected to him had tried to contact some of the suspects in east london. the message was interpreted by investigators as a possible signal to move forward with the plot, officials said. “the plotters received a very short message to ‘go now,’ ” said franco frattini, the european union’s security commissioner, who was briefed by the british home secretary, john reid, in london. “i was convinced by british authorities that this message exists.” a senior british official said the message from pakistan was not that explicit. but, nonetheless, investigators here had to change their strategy quickly. “the aim was to keep this operation going for much longer,” said a senior british security official who requested anonymity because of confidentiality rules. “it ended much sooner than we had hoped.” from then on, the british government was driven by worst-case scenarios based on a minimum-risk strategy. british investigators worried that word of mr. rauf’s arrest could push the london suspects to destroy evidence and to disperse, raising the possibility they would not be able to arrest them all. but investigators also could not rule out that there could be an unknown second cell that would try to carry out a similar plan, officials said. - there are further details of the "martyrdom videos" and the last will and testament of some of the men: as one of the men read from a script before a videocamera, he recited a quotation from the koran and ticked off his reasons for the “action that i am going to undertake,” according to the person briefed on the case. the man said he was seeking revenge for the foreign policy of the united states, and “their accomplices, the u.k. and the jews.” the man said he wanted to show that the enemies of islam would never win this “war.” ... the young man added that he hoped god would be “pleased with us and accepts our deed.”" so, now you know. update: the times is now running a precis of the story. posted by david t at 09:53 am | comments (55) | trackback we are all credulous buffoons now hazem saghieh, political editor of the london-based arab newspaper al-hayat would laugh at western leftists chanting support for hezbollah on demonstrations, but can't because it's just not funny: if karl marx knew that his followers had donned iranian clerics' robes, he would be turning in his grave. quite. here's a couple of events western leftists have been forced to turn a blind eye to so they can cheerfully glorify nasrallah and his iranian funded gunmen on their 'peace' marches. first the heroic hez's traditional method of dealing with the lebanese left: between them hizbollah and amal, the other main shi'a movement, killed several communist leaders and intellectuals, so as to monopolise the resistance to israel and annex it to syria and iran. secondly, unsightly female appendages: at its outset, members of the movement in the beka'a valley, accompanied by iranian "revolutionary guards", used to spray girls' legs with acid, because their skirts did not cover their knees and their faces were not veiled. even after the intellectuals had been cowed and the young girls maimed into burkhas hezbollah continued to bring disaster to lebanon: after israel withdrew its forces from lebanon in 2000, hizbollah persevered with its "resistance", and in so doing served non-lebanese interests, fracturing both the state (the key to all political progress) and the national consensus (the key to all democratic progress) we are all hezbollah now? only the wilfully deluded and the irredeemably dopey. posted by marcus at 08:21 am | comments (53) | trackback august 29, 2006 monitoring bush: welcoming nazarbayev time to revive a periodic harry's place feature. the washington post reports: president bush launched an initiative this month to combat international kleptocracy, the sort of high-level corruption by foreign officials that he called "a grave and corrosive abuse of power" that "threatens our national interest and violates our values." the plan, he said, would be "a critical component of our freedom agenda." three weeks later, the white house is making arrangements to host the leader of kazakhstan, an autocrat who runs a nation that is anything but free and who has been accused by u.s. prosecutors of pocketing the bulk of $78 million in bribes from an american businessman. not only will president nursultan nazarbayev visit the white house, people involved say, but he also will travel to the bush family compound in maine. nazarbayev's upcoming visit, according to analysts and officials, offers a case study in the competing priorities of the bush administration at a time when the president has vowed to fight for democracy and against corruption around the globe. nazarbayev has banned opposition parties, intimidated the press and profited from his post, according to the u.s. government. but he also sits atop massive oil reserves that have helped open doors in washington. nazarbayev is hardly the only controversial figure received at the top levels of the bush administration. in april, the president welcomed to the oval office the president of azerbaijan, ilham aliyev, who has been accused of rigging elections. and secretary of state condoleezza rice hosted teodoro obiang nguema, the president of equatorial guinea, who has been found to have millions of dollars stashed in overseas bank accounts. ..... nazarbayev, 66, a blast-furnace operator-turned-communist functionary, has led kazakhstan since 1990, when it was part of the soviet union, and has since won a series of tainted elections. his government has banned or refused to register opposition parties, closed newspapers and harassed advocacy groups. two opposition leaders were found dead of gunshots in disputed circumstances. ..."when the united states is transparently soft on friendly dictators like nazarbayev, it undermines the effort to be tough on not-so-friendly dictators," said tom malinowski of human rights watch. freedom house ranks kazakhstan near the bottom in terms of political rights and civil liberties. posted by gene at 05:16 pm | comments (21) | trackback august 28, 2006 blood price kitty ussher, mp for burnley isn't happy about labour party foreign policy: she said that the muslim community in burnley was asking why its blood seemed cheaper than that of jews and christians, and that much of the work done since iraq to persuade muslims that they were not being persecuted had been wasted. shuggy has been giving the price of blood some thought: an honest answer to this rhetorical question would have to include the observation that 'muslim blood' has no fixed price but varies according to who is shedding it. christians shedding muslim blood provokes outrage, although this too can vary. it is a much more serious matter, for example, if the 'christians' in question are american rather than serbian. but of course this is nothing like as grevious than the most serious of all - this being the context of the article - when it is muslim lives being taken by jews. on the other hand, muslim lives being taken by other muslims isn't anything like as serious. the pro-nasrallah 'left', for example, are not only a little less than - how to put this delicately? - forthcoming in their condemnation of jewish civilian casualties; they seem unpeturbed by the fact that arab israelis were also amongst the victims of hizbollah's rocket attacks. posted by marcus at 09:46 am | comments (100) | trackback august 26, 2006 jews, scots and other vagabonds the fact that there 250,000 poles in the country won't be news to anyone who has walked down a british high street recently. what is less well known is that, some of them at least, are coming home to the land of their ancestors: poland in the 16th and 17th centuries...faced a tidal wave of migrant scots looking for work. at a time when the scottish population was less than a million, more than 30,000 of them were flogging their wares in poland. the polish royal court claimed it could not do without them. they became bankers to noble families and some were awarded polish aristocratic titles. in the 17th century, two of lublin’s mayors were scots and alexander chalmers, a linen merchant, was three times mayor of warsaw. but not everyone was happy: a backlash quickly set in against them. in 1566 a decree forbade scottish peddlers to roam freely. later, sigismund iii issued a proclamation against “jews, scots and other vagabonds”. the polish parliament passed an edict subjecting all resident scots to a capitation tax. clearly offering reasonably-priced services to the locals is as potentially problematic today as it was in the sixteenth century. posted by marcus at 05:09 pm | comments (40) | trackback femaphobia ophelia benson reports on attempts to change the standard of evidence in rape cases in pakistan. gen musharraf's allies in parliament sparked the fury of the militant opposition by introducing a women protection bill. this would remove the requirement for four male witnesses to prove rape and set 16 as the age of consent for sex with girls. when this measure came before parliament, islamic radicals responded by tearing up copies of the bill and storming out. "this bill is against the holy koran," said maulana fazlur rehman, the leader of the militant opposition. "we reject it and will try to block it in any possible manner." other mps chanted "death to musharraf" and "allah is great." she also wonders what's going on in the heads of such people: do they ever think, these militant types? if so, what do they think about? do they ever think about why allah who is great would makes such a law? do they ever wonder why they want men who rape women to have impunity? are they so confident that all women are whores and liars (their own daughters, sisters, mothers?) that they deserve to be raped with impunity, and stoned or lashed to death if they charge someone with rape and can't persuade the four pious witnesses to testify? answers on a postcard please. posted by marcus at 03:35 pm | comments (69) | trackback august 25, 2006 argentine "leftists" block demonstration at iranian embassy does anyone know anything about a "leftwing" group in argentina called quebracho? they blocked a demonstration by jewish groups in front of the iranian embassy in buenos aires protesting iran's support for hezbollah. (a report in spanish is here.) according a notice on quebracho's website: desde el mpr quebracho convocamos a movilizar a la embajada de la república islámica de irán, para expresar nuestra solidaridad con este pueblo hermano ante la intolerancia de la juventud sionista que pretende trasladar la prepotencia del estado terrorista de israel a nuestras tierras. well, why not? if you're going to glorify hezbollah's fight for self-determination and dignity, why not extend your glorification to the islamic republic whose generous contributions of money and arms make that noble struggle possible? as for those bus drivers in tehran, well... i suppose other things are more important now. (hat tip: normblog.) posted by gene at 07:47 pm | comments (16) | trackback south africa gets marriage for all my friends in south africa are sending around exited emails announcing that the south africa cabinet has approved a bill extending marriage to same-sex partners and allowing domestic partnerships to all couples, both gay and straight. the lawmakers were responding to a ruling by the constitutional court last year that "the common law definition of marriage in the marriage act of 1961 was unconstitutional, insofar as it failed to give the same status, benefits and responsibilities to same-sex unions that marriage accorded to heterosexual couples." british legislators should take note! of course, the sabc is now reporting that - as expected - a coalition of religious busybodies is ready to challenge the law. but i have faith. the south african constitution was hard-won and the people believe in it and will defend it. posted by brett at 04:01 pm | comments (58) | trackback radio galloway beirut spare a thought for the people of beirut this weekend. george galloway is taking his talksport "show" to the city for a two day special, i know two days. galloway says he will be inviting guests from "across the spectrum in lebanon who know what they're talking about". if only he did as well. no news yet on who these people might be, but i'm sure the milk licking and celebrity big brother appearing one man bandwagon will be saluting the indefatigability of hizbullah leader hassan nasrallah. as for "across the spectrum", well we've all seen how the dial works on radio galloway. posted by gordon at 09:32 am | comments (21) | trackback august 22, 2006 cross of curry a report from reuters about a new restaurant in uptown mumbai. they were looking for a strong identity to standout in the market. job done. the restaurant is called, 'hitler's cross', and is being promoted with posters of the nazi leader and swastikas. "we wanted to be different. this is one name that will stay in people's minds. we are not promoting hitler. but we want to tell people we are different in the way he was different," owner punit shablok told reuters. india's tiny jewish community is upset as should everyone else be. "this signifies a severe lack of awareness of the agony of millions of jews caused by one man. we are going to stop this deification of hitler," said jonathan solomon, chairman of the indian jewish federation, the community's umbrella organisation. with more branches planned the owners want to be clear that the place is not about wars or crimes, but is about relaxing and enjoying a meal. phew. next up tagliatelle 'benito mussolini' style. no seriously. posted by gordon at 10:39 am | comments (89) | trackback "holocust" cartoons an iranian tv report about the "holocust" cartoon exhibit in tehran. comment is, i think, superfluous. update: because some people seem eager to comment, i'll open the comments box. posted by gene at 04:25 am | comments (82) | trackback august 18, 2006 whoopee esther, an american blogging from tehran, has recently started posting at the mideast youth website. she has an account there of the iranian regime's efforts to whip up enthusiasm for hezbollah's "victory" in lebanon: 9 pm monday night: iranian tv calls for iranians to go to the streets to celebrate hezbollah’s victory. the call and response of allah akbar (god is great) begin. there are about 50 people out in our neighborhood. a few people light fireworks, by 9:15 our neighborhood is silent except for sporadic victory honking throughout the evening. ..... 8 am tuesday morning: we wake up to highways lined with banners of nasrallah. thousands of banners. tehran is really quiet. really quiet. posted by gene at 03:12 am | trackback august 17, 2006 ask a silly question western 'anti-imperialists' are always telling us that post-revolutionary iran is a bona fide democracy. president ahmadinajad's new blog appears to confirm that contention - it's got a vote counter after all: do you think that the us and israeli intention and goal by attacking lebanon is pulling the trigger for another word war? yes no the only trouble is if you click on the results most iranians - despite decades of government propaganda about the intentions of the zionist entity - seem uninterested in providing their president with the 'correct' answer. update: a reader has emailed complaining that the president's blog is less than lively reading. ever eager to please i have passed on his suggestion that it might be improved by a regular dress down thursday feature. posted by marcus at 11:17 pm | comments (51) | trackback toons fail to inflame an exhibition of cartoons dealing with the holocaust opened in tehran this week. "we staged this fair to explore the limits of freedom westerners believe in" said masoud shojai, head of the country's "iran cartoon" association and the fair organiser. get ready for the crowds outside iranian embassies worldwide, screaming threats and burning flags warns rob hinkley. i'll keep you posted. posted by marcus at 09:26 pm | comments (78) | trackback stroessner descends former paraguayan dictator alfredo stroessner has gone to join argentina's juan peron, nicaragua's two anastasio somozas and many others in whatever corner of hell is reserved for anti-democratic and corrupt latin american caudillos. unfortunately he escaped justice for his crimes in this life. there's still room in that corner of hell for chile's pinochet, cuba's castro, guatemala's rios montt and the rest. venezuela's chavez may not yet belong in such select company, but he is trending in their direction. like peron, stroessner provided a haven for nazi war criminals in the post-world war ii era. the infamous auschwitz doctor josef mengele lived freely in both peron's argentina and stroessner's paraguay. it was of the first somoza that franklin d. roosevelt reportedly said in 1939, "[he] may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch." unfortunately that attitude dominated us foreign policy for the next 50 years or so, winning "anti-communist" sons-of-bitches like stroessner the tolerance and favor of republican and democratic us presidents alike. sons-of-bitches like castro, meanwhile, win tolerance and favor from the likes of gabriel garcia marquez, alexandre trudeau and countless other fools. posted by gene at 04:09 pm | comments (28) | trackback august 16, 2006 more procastronating this time it is alexandre trudeau, canadian journalist and the son of former prime minister, the late pierre trudeau, writing in the toronto star: his intellect is one of the most broad and complete that can be found. he is an expert on genetics, on automobile combustion engines, on stock markets. on everything. combined with a herculean physique and extraordinary personal courage, this monumental intellect makes fidel the giant that he is. he is something of a superman. .....cubans will always feel privileged that they, and they alone, had fidel. posted by harry at 11:30 am | comments (35) | trackback because of holocaust- in the times today, as german chancellor angela merkel considers sending 3,000 troops to the lebanon to join the possible 15,000 strong french led force. "we have to do this, not in spite of the holocaust, but because of it," werner sonne, a leading commentator, said on german state television. "if german troops guard israel’s borders, they are there to protect jewish lives. frankly, there has never been a better reason to bring in soldiers in german uniform." germany's involvement appears to have the blessing of israeli prime minister, ehud olmert, which the paper says is "a sign that the holocaust taboo is beginning to crumble". "there is at the moment no nation that is behaving in a more friendly way towards israel than germany," mr olmert said. "if germany can contribute to the security of the israeli people, that would be a worthwhile task for your country. i would be very happy if germany participated." posted by gordon at 09:57 am | comments (44) | trackback august 14, 2006 after the fighting despite predictable rhetoric, the un-brokered ceasefire that has ended (for now) the fighting and rocket attacks in lebanon and israel is neither a glorious victory nor a crushing defeat for either side. it does, however, leave israel in a stronger and safer position on its northern border for the time being. and, at least pontentially, it makes hezbollah militarily irrelevant. israel's flat-footed and often clumsy military response to hezbollah's attack on its territory has been justly criticized (and let's hope the country's leaders relearned a few lessons about the importance of preparation, surprise, special operations, etc.). probably a better-prepared and more precise response would have prevented some of the heartbreaking casualties we saw in lebanon. but regardless of how israel fought, there would have been civilian casualties-- because of how hezbollah fights and because of the nature of war. and i suspect that no matter how israel fought, the outrage from its enemies would have been about the same. their problem wasn't how israel fought, but rather that it fought at all. nevertheless israel's response forced the un and the lebanese government to commit themselves to keeping hezbollah from operating against israel. the un resoution on the ceasefire: calls for israel and lebanon to support a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution based on the following principles and elements: -- full respect for the blue line by both parties; -- security arrangements to prevent the resumption of hostilities, including the establishment between the blue line and the litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government of lebanon and of unifil... deployed in this area; -- full implementation of the relevant provisions of the taif accords, and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), that require the disarmament of all armed groups in lebanon, so that, pursuant to the lebanese cabinet decision of 27 july 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in lebanon other than that of the lebanese state; -- no foreign forces in lebanon without the consent of its government; -- no sales or supply of arms and related materiel to lebanon except as authorized by its government; -- provision to the united nations of all remaining maps of land mines in lebanon in israel’s possession the ceasefire, in other words commits lebanon and the un to disarming hezbollah in south lebanon and to eliminating hezbollah as an independent militia throughout the country. again, none of this would have happened if israel, in response to hezbollah's incursion, had simply launched a few pro-forma strikes as it has in the past. while hezbollah did manage to cause a lot of suffering in israel, and to provide some cheer for the zionist-haters of the world, it's hard to see what hezbollah has gained from its foolish incursion-- for itself, for its iranian paymasters or especially for the people of lebanon. israel is not substantially weaker as a result of the war. once the postwar reality sets in, i think a lot of lebanese will start to put most of the blame where it belongs. to what extent the ceasefire will be observed and enforced is the main question now. israel is under no obligation to tolerate blatant violations. hezbollah's acceptance of an arragement that in effect calls for its demise is a source of some mystery to me. perhaps the war was hurting them more than they let on. finally, and not least, hassan nasrallah will have to live like a hunted animal for the rest of what i hope will be a short and not-very-sweet life. posted by gene at 08:53 pm | comments (193) | trackback procastronating fidel castro's 80th birthday has brought out some of the crawlers and i suspect we will see much more of this sort of thing in the coming months: italy's parliament speaker has come under fire from political foes and allies alike for sending a laudatory birthday card to ailing cuban leader fidel castro. "long live the dear comandante," fausto bertinotti, a veteran communist, wrote in the letter sent to castro for his 80th birthday on sunday. ...."none of the disagreements we have loyally expressed can take away the hope and the emotions that the men and the women of the sierra maestra sparked in our generation," bertinotti said, referring to the mountains from where castro launched his guerrilla war in december 1956. "later cuba...incarnated, together with you, the pride of a people and an island that wants to live its independence and decide autonomously about its future in a world of peace. good luck to you and your people," said bertinotti, often called "cashmere communist" because of his taste for expensive clothes. not quite in the gabriel garcia marquez league though: his devotion to the word. his power of seduction. he goes to seek out problems where they are. the impetus of inspiration is very much part of his style. books reflect the breadth of his tastes very well. he stopped smoking to have the moral authority to combat tobacco addiction. he likes to prepare food recipes with a kind of scientific fervor. he keeps himself in excellent physical condition with various hours of gymnastics daily and frequent swimming. invincible patience. ironclad discipline. the force of his imagination stretches him to the unforeseen.................etc etc etc freely elected leaders never seem to get those sort of birthday messages do they? in fact the only birthday message that springs to mind is this one below, which i guess has a vague cuban connection: update: here's zinedine zidane's birthday greeting to the cuban dictator: posted by harry at 03:37 pm | comments (24) | trackback the imams of corruption and hatred adel darwish, writing in asharq alawsat, says: the main problem lies in finding the way to combat terrorism, which is an impossible task if we do not defeat its ideology, as blair mentioned in his los angeles lecture and at his press conference last week. at any other time or in any other era prior to the emergence of the hard-line fundamental islam, bin laden, al-zawahiri, al-zarqawi, al-qaradawi, the muslim brotherhood, and others, these british-born young men would have been proud of belonging to their country, britain, and would have been loyal to their country in which they live and on whose ground they earn their livelihoods. the danger is that these young men have been brainwashed, and now they do not recognize the national belonging to the country, and they consider themselves to belong to a mythical expression some people call "islamic caliphate," or what they think to be an islamic nation. this is similar to the utterance pronounced publicly by the general guide of the egyptian muslim brotherhood, "to hell with egypt, the father of egypt, and those who established egypt." therefore, these brainwashed muslim britons say "to hell" with britain, to which their parents emigrated voluntarily looking for a culturally and economically better life, and they were not forced by anyone to come here. these young men say, or are taught to say "to hell" with life itself when they turn themselves into human suicide bombs. the imams of corruption and hatred lied to these young men when they promised them that they would go to paradise. would any rational person believe that a person who committed suicide and who killed dozens of women and children will go to paradise? perhaps for the hundredth time i join those who called in the past for expelling the imams of evil and hatred from britain. in the absence of a religious affairs ministry, the friday sermons and lessons ought to be subjected to the interior ministry through the supervision of islamic academics, and they all should be delivered in english. if any of these imams did not want to master the english language, or refused to be integrated in britain and to live as a briton according to the laws and culture of the country, then he would be free to go back to where he came from, the same as he was free to come here. this is particularly true if he does not like the british way of life, and he considers it infidelity, he should leave this infidelity, go to the land from which he came, and join the society he likes. at the same time, let the leftwing and liberal tendencies abandon political correctness, which they justify on the basis of respecting their cultural peculiarities. this is a fallacy, and a method that will lead to the isolation of muslims, and their being locked up in a cultural "ghetto" or "muslim reservation," which in turn will create those who will install themselves as leaders of muslims and lead them to perdition. this is the legal aspect. as for the social, political, and cultural aspects, law alone is not sufficient. purging islam and muslim communities in britain of harmful ideas is up to the muslims themselves. they could kick the imams of evil and the promoters of terrorism out of britain, so that britain remains the country of tolerance and amicability, and the capital of the arabs and muslims in the western countries. posted by david t at 12:31 pm | comments (120) | trackback "muslims of britain must condemn murder" a good letter in the times today that sums up the dismay that a lot of people must be feeling when at the weekend they read that the muslim council of britain's response to the latest terror plot was to blame government foreign policy. oh please. the total absence of self examination was as depressingly familiar as the amnesia that accompanies it. the mcb and its fellow travellers seem to have no knowledge of al-qaeda terror prior to iraq. "sir, inayat bunglawala (comment, aug 12) asserts that it is 'undeniable' that british foreign policy is “endangering us all”, and other muslim representatives (advertisement, aug 12) blame the “debacle in iraq” for 'fuelling terrorism'. "as a muslim i find the logic of this argument puzzling and their conclusions dismaying. it cannot be denied that many muslims are angry about aspects of british foreign policy, but the question is to what extent this anger is justified and, more importantly, why this anger is translated among a small minority into an excuse for terrorism. neither traditional islamic theology nor muslim precedent justify resorting to terrorism in any circumstances. "the muslim council of britain cannot pose the right questions, let alone provide answers, because its membership includes organisations which, while eschewing terrorism (at least in the west), promote a politicised version of islam or a very unthinking piety. anyone who has attended british mosques will be well aware of the condemnations of democracy, the denunciations of imperialism and the warnings against the kuffar (unbelievers) that are the staple of these groups’ propaganda. while such views are not peculiar to muslims and do not inherently encourage terrorism, they do foster a sense that the muslim community is put upon and beleaguered. "when the mcb takes a full-page advert to condemn the iraqi 'resistance' or the massacres in darfur we might take its protestations about british foreign policy more seriously. hassan scott aberdeen posted by gordon at 09:52 am | comments (55) | trackback august 11, 2006 when two stations broadcast as israel ponders another boycott of the bbc, and considers withdrawing credentials from its reporters (a mistake) there is a report on bloomberg looking at the coverage of the fighting in lebanon given by fox and the bbc with, what some might say, are predictable results. the piece, headlined "fox, bbc viewers get more than facts on lebanon, both sides say", does clearly point out that the two networks give airtime to both sides, but picks up on criticism lobbied at the bbc (and fox) of their choice of headline interviews. "on the 28th day of israel's war with hezbollah, the bbc interviewed jordan's king abdullah, who voiced support for lebanon. fox news spoke with televangelist pat robertson, who said he was praying for israel. "both networks also gave air time to sympathizers of the other sides of the conflict and dismiss any suggestion of bias. still, supporters of israeli and arab combatants alike say the choices of major guests reflect internal leanings. update: i'm just going to add i like the bbc, which has news night and news night review and, for me, it's always bbc news 24 over sky news any time. as for fox...well that's just a joke that only american republicans seem to get. cnn for a bit of contrast. the public also seems to be of the same opinion. earlier this year bbc news 24 was pulling in 6m viewers per week, up from 5m in 2005, while sky is reaching 4m, down from 4.6m. and, of course, there is doctor who, which is a triumph. posted by gordon at 10:59 am | comments (245) | trackback august 09, 2006 the guardian and the caliphate in case you were wondering what the guardian's middle east editor, brian whitaker, was up to as lebanon crisis continues he's heading for islamic magazine new civilisation, which among other things considers israel a terrorist state and wants to see a worldwide caliphate, to chair a debate on the subject. the magazine has also been revealed as a front for hizb'ut tahrir, the group that former guardian trainee reporter dilpazier 'we rock the boat' aslam was a member of. whitaker will chair tomorrow's debate on how lasting peace can be achieved. if you read the magazine's editorial stance its pretty clear on that issue: "future wars against syria and iran would be unlikely if the caliphate is present due to the achievement of a balance of power in the region. the caliphate will bring greater geo-political stability to the region characterised by dictatorships, foreign occupations and ethnic distrust." well whoopee for the caliphate. that's one balance of power i would be keen on not seeing. it gets better though. alan hart is also talking. he is billed as former itn and bbc panorama reporter, but is probably better known for his book 'zionism: the real enemy of the jews'. phew, i thought it was the hundreds of iranian rockets being fired over the border. update brian whitaker has since posted below to say that he is no longer chairing the meeting after discovering the hizb'ut tahrir connection. fair enough. update 2 ami has posted this below: this email notification from henry jackson soc is now circulating: please note that dr. alan mendoza (hjs), dr. mamoun fandy (iiss) and brian whittaker (the guardian) have all withdrawn from tomorrow night's debate on the israel-lebanon crisis hosted by new civilisation, and the iiss has requested removal of its formal association with it. considerable controversy has arisen surrounding contributors from the extreme islamic organisation hizb ut-tahrir to new civilisation and we would therefore recommend non-attendance at this event. that about wraps it up. no one is having anything to do with new civilisation/hizb ut-tahrir and hopefully the event will be a washout. no hard feelings brian. posted by gordon at 01:29 pm | comments (49) august 08, 2006 former israeli prime minister praises tony blair's handling of the lebanon crisis. this was the headline scrolling on the bbc news website a few minutes ago, if you clicked on it, what you got was this: as if we didn't already now that the bbc was trying to tell us something when it comes to israel and the middle east. the headline is about binyamin netanyahu coming out to bat for tony blair. the full story has since appeared. "he has been very brave, especially because he's being attacked for standing up for his convictions," mr netanyahu told the bbc news website. posted by gordon at 04:09 pm | comments (82) | trackback pro-palestine, pro-israel given it is a time of the year when there is little opportunity for writing longer postings, i'll be reposting a few long-forgotten items from the hp archive. i'll start off today with this piece i wrote on the israel-palestine conflict. i've not personally written much about that issue here but i think this post still stands up as a description of my views on what a progressive position should be and why i oppose the 'anti-imperialist' left's line on the matter. first posted: october 07, 2004. when i first got involved in left-wing politics in the 1980’s, the main division i noted over this issue was between those who called for a ‘two-state solution’ and those who used slogans such as for ‘working class unity’ and for a (single) socialist state. the latter slogans had their appeal to a teenage socialist but when i began to reject all kinds of ultra-leftism, i naturally rejected the utopian notion of a single socialist state being a realistic immediate solution to this violent conflict in the middle east. it was not a matter of actually being against the idea of a single, socialist state, or a socialist federation of the middle east. i was (and still am) in favour of regional (socialist or otherwise) federations. in fact, for what it is worth, i was (and am) entirely in favour of a world commonwealth of democratic socialist states, where religious and ethnic hatred no longer has a place and where men and women peacefully co-operate together for the common good. but, to anyone except the ultra-leftist, there is obviously a rather large ‘but’ that has to follow such statements, especially these days. back then in the 1980’s i recall debates with the militant tendency about this issue, when those of us in the communist party who supported the official line of a two state solution (a position we shared with a large section of the labour left and most liberal opinion), were told we had lost faith in the working class and wanted to divide rather than unite. our response was that unfortunately the division already existed and the bitterness of the conflict could only be overcome by settling the conflict in favour of an independent palestinian state alongside the jewish state of israel. then, and only then, other things might become possible. as you may have realised, that debate now sounds extremely antiquated. no-one on the left talks about federations and working class unity anymore. that is shame because whilst on this issue militant and others were guilty of the naivety, utopianism and workerism that often characterises ultra-left politics, that was all they were guilty of. they adopted a few palestinian trotskyist trade unionists as their campaign mascots and that was about it. they didn’t support hamas suicide bombings or call for the driving of the jews into the sea. they didn’t adopt the rhetoric of arab chauvinism or islamism. and whilst a few would mock our position as ‘zionist’, we actually supported the plo as the national liberation movement of the palestinian people. we wore our little palestinian badges and some of us owned and sometimes wore the kuffiyeh scarf. did we really know what we were supporting? had we studied in depth the history of the conflict? not in my case, no. but then i hadn’t studied and understood the history of a whole range of national liberation struggles that i quite happily lent my supposed support to. i should point out that at the same time as i was wearing my badge and my kuffiyeh i was also heavily involved in anti-fascist activity, working alongside a people i had never knowingly met before leaving lancashire – jews. so while we communists attended meetings of the palestinian solidarity campaign we also held anti-fascist meetings with holocaust survivors and organised anne frank exhibitions as well as sometimes chasing the bnp and nf around the streets. and no-one thought there was anything unusual about any of this. i don’t recall any anti-fascist activist, or anyone else for that matter, ever suggesting that our support for israel’s right to exist made us racist or imperialist. likewise none of my jewish friends (not all communists and some proud to be simply described as zionists) ever suggested that by backing the palestinian right to an independent state we were in any way anti-semites. over the past ten years though and intensifying since the start of the second intifidah, there has been a change in the position of many on the british and european left. not only because no-one talks the language of worker’s unity anymore but because criticism of the actions of the israeli state is no longer merely criticism and support for a palestinian state is no longer simply support for a palestinian state. the criticism of israel has gradually become demonisation. israel is an ‘apartheid state’, a ‘colony’, zionism is racism. now it is not at all uncommon to hear the most deliberately hurtful, provocative and malicious false charge of all – that the actions of the jews of israel are comparable to those of the nazis who exterminated six million jews ( a view which is music to the ears of holocaust revisionists). gross distortions of the history of israel and the zionist movement are widely circulated and by no means exclusively on the far left or the far right. the demonisation of israel has been spread on the british left most prominently by the socialist workers party, a group who do not support a two-state solution but instead call for a single palestinian state – the end of israel. along with extremist islamist groups they have quite successfully turned the genuine humanitarian and internationalist solidarity with the plight of the palestinians into a hateful campaign of vilification against the whole notion of a jewish state. instead of fantasy-bolshevik sloganeering we now have the parroting of the rhetoric of the most reactionary of islamist movements in the middle east. the terrorist group hamas, despite a charter which contains the most explicit examples of nazi-style anti-semitism and despite a policy of deliberately targeting civilians, are now considered fighters against oppression by large sections of liberal and left opinion. the conflict has been transformed into one between ‘good people’ (palestinians) and ‘bad people’ (israelis or zionists). the only jews who seem able to avoid the broadbrush of guilt are those who agree that the israel should surrender and be abolished, people routinely described as ‘brave’ without any explanation of what makes such a position, with its potentially calamitous outcome for israelis, courageous. added into this poisonous mixture are the old claims of the existence of secretive but powerful jewish ‘lobbies’, the notion of the cabal of jews as the dark masters controlling the ‘puppets’ who rule over us in politics, the economy and the media. it is little wonder then that we are seeing the reappearance in some parts of europe of old-style anti-semitism. what few would have predicted is that so much of this racist propaganda is coming from the left. whether it was right, 15 years ago, to consider the plo as fighters for palestinian liberation is a question for another time. what is clear is that if the palestinian national struggle was once led by supporters of a secular palestinian state alongside israel, it is increasingly dominated by islamists who have no interest in negotiations or peace-deals, no interest in secular democracy and to which no socialist worthy of the name could lend his support. the suicide bomb tactics, the targeting of civilians should be condemned unequivocally but rarely are. but no socialist or internationalist should, despite the appalling degeneration of so much of the left on this issue, feel any reluctance to urge israel to pull out of the palestinian land it occupies. just because the islamists and their apologists in europe have chosen to focus on the grievances of the palestinian people, to exploit them, does not lessen the validity of those grievances. israel should withdraw from the occupied territories, dismantle the settlements and secure itself in its pre-1967 borders. it can do so without need of any negotiated settlement, peace conferences or international agreements. likewise, while israeli security steps and military actions are always exploited by its enemies that does not mean that anyone should feel unwilling to hold the its leaders to the same standards as any other country. in this respect my views have not changed in the 15 years since one comrade described the two-state position as ‘pro-palestine and pro-israel’. what i have rejected is the idea that if israel takes the steps it should take and withdraws from the west bank and gaza then it will usher in a peaceful solution to the conflict. given the current character of the palestinian leadership there is little chance that would be the immediate outcome. for a lasting peace, the palestinian people need to liberate themselves not only from israeli occupation but from their own corrupt and reactionary leaders and above all from the islamist ideology that would condemn them to everlasting war and suffering. that is a struggle that will be waged within palestinian society and there is little or nothing that israel can directly do to help bring about that transformation. but there seems no reason why israel should wait for such changes before ending the occupation and i think, no reason why anyone on the european left shouldn't be able to declare themselves 'pro-palestine, pro-israel'. posted by harry at 08:55 am | comments (167) | trackback august 06, 2006 petkoff steps aside teodoro petkoff-- a democratic leftist opponent of hugo chavez in venezuela-- has dropped out of the presidential race. petkoff, a former guerilla leader and editor of the opposition newspaper tal cual, answered some questions here last october. "we will continue in the struggle," petkoff said, adding that he would wage a "battle for the democracy and against totalitarianism." venezuelan blogger daniel duquenal writes: the viciousness of the attacks against teodoro from chavismo... has been impressive. no other candidate besides teodoro seems to be able to push so many buttons among chavistas. obviously he holds the mirror in which their failings are crudely reflected and they hate him for that. not that many on the right were not busy destroying teodoro's run, but their viciousness was not equal to the one from chavismo. posted by gene at 03:26 pm | comments (52) | trackback the problem in lebanon: not enough democracy writing in the washington post, steven a. cook makes some important points about the alleged failure of democracy promotion in the middle east: ...first, participating in a free and fair election does not necessarily imply that an organization is democratic. while hamas and hezbollah may have embraced the procedures of democracy, there is no evidence that they have embraced the rule of law, the rights of women and minorities, political and religious tolerance, and alternation of power. second, some historical perspective is badly needed. hezbollah has sat as an elected party in the lebanese parliament since 1992, more than a decade before the bush administration set out its "forward strategy of freedom" in the middle east. cook makes the often-neglected point that hamas won a majority of seats in the palestinian legislature despite winning less than half of the popular vote. the real problem in lebanon is not too much democracy but too little. had lebanon emerged from its spring 2005 "independence uprising" as a democracy, hezbollah could not have continued to operate as an armed and thus autonomous faction. lost in almost all of the commentary about the fighting in lebanon is the fact that many lebanese who do not support hezbollah wish that the organization could be disarmed. thus the best way of dealing with the hezbollah problem is not by israeli arms but by lebanese public opinion. here is where criticism of the bush administration is warranted. had washington not turned its attention away from lebanon after the dramatic events there a little over a year ago, lebanon's fledgling democratic government could have leveraged public opinion to domesticate hezbollah. instead, the administration allowed hezbollah and its syrian patron to undermine the democratic and pro-western government of lebanese prime minister fouad siniora. cook may be over-optimistic about washington's potential leverage in lebanon. but among the bush administration's myriad faults is a consistent failure to exploit political openings with the hard effort which could have produced different and more democratic outcomes in places like iraq, lebanon and egypt. this is an administration that is in too much of a hurry to "roll the credits" before the movie is over. posted by gene at 12:58 am | comments (53) | trackback august 04, 2006 sun, sea and socialism? one day cubans will have free and uncensored access to the internet like the rest of us and will be able to browse google and read articles about their country. that was just a thought that occured when reading richard gott's retro-style article on cuba and fidel castro. the same thought occured to me when i read today's letters on cuba in the guardian: referring to fidel castro as a "dictator" is at best a dubious label, applied most assiduously by those with intentions to kill him as means to justify their nefarious end. at any rate, i think it pertinent to point out that now that ill health has required castro to hand power over to a committee made up of members of the executive branch, cuba can most certainly no longer be described as a "dictatorship", except perhaps that of the "proletariat", in the now unfashionable marxist sense of the term. dr stephen wilkinson london i was also reminded of a conversation i had with a hungarian friend who described meeting western communists and fellow-travellers on their visits to budapest in the early 1980's. he said that one of the most painfully annoying experiences was listening to the citizens of affluent, free, western democracies tell him and his compatriots how good they had it. after a while he adopted a two-word response to every statement from these tourists. "at least you have a quality, free health service". "do we?" "at least you have full employment?" "do we?" what is still astonishing about the attitude of so many western lefties to cuba is that they persist in repeating the same illusion that existed towards eastern europe before 1989 - the belief that there is large popular support for the 'revolution' and the conviction that the working people of the country will reject any 'temptation' to move towards a free society. that was exposed as nonsense in 1989 and will be again, eventually, in cuba. here is human rights watch's report on cuba: despite the release in 2004 of fourteen of the seventy-five political dissidents, independent journalists, and human rights advocates prosecuted in april 2003, human rights conditions in cuba have not improved. the cuban government systematically denies its citizens basic rights to free expression, association, assembly, movement, and a fair trial. it restricts nearly all avenues of political dissent, and uses police warnings, surveillance, short term-detentions, house arrests, travel restrictions, criminal prosecutions, and politically-motivated dismissals from employment as methods of enforcing political conformity. human rights monitoring is not recognized as a legitimate activity, but rather is stigmatized as a betrayal of cuban sovereignty. no local human rights groups enjoy legal status. instead, human rights defenders face systematic harassment, with the government placing heavy burdens on their ability to monitor human rights conditions. nor are international human rights groups such as human rights watch allowed to send fact-finding missions to cuba political prisoners who denounce poor conditions of imprisonment or who otherwise fail to observe prison rules are frequently punished by long periods in punitive isolation cells, restrictions on visits, or denial of medical treatment. there is only one official labor union in cuba, the worker’s central of cuba (central de trabajadores de cuba, ctc). independent labor unions are denied formal status and their members are harassed. despite all this the cuban regime enjoys not only the solidarity of 'anti-imperialists' but, for some reason, among liberals a far better image than, say, the old east germany did. it is 'sun, sea and socialism' rather then the grey skies and the snipers at the berlin wall. but read this and ask yourself if there is any difference between modern cuba and what took place so many times at the wall: at the same time as the clampdown on democracy advocates, the cuban government also condemned to death and executed three young black cubans who had attempted to leave the island illegally by hijacking a small ferry. detained on april 4, the three men were summarily executed seven days later, even though they did not physically harm anyone during the hijacking. their relatives were informed about the executions only after the fact, when they received notification to retrieve the young men’s bodies. gene adds: eugene robinson, a washington post writer who has been visiting cuba for years, has been denied entry at the havana airport and kicked out of the country. move along, nothing to see here... posted by harry at 11:27 am | comments (63) | trackback how should the palestinians have fought? in response to the above question, bruno mota left a comment on the stopper split thread below that brought the response: "the sanest and most far-sighted words i have ever read on this subject, on this blog. one of the posters here should copy and paste this as a post in its own right". we at hp are nothing if not lazy, so i'm happy to do so. here it is: i don't pretend this is an easy question. any list is bound to be simplistic; certainly none of the things i suggest would be easy. but, considering that the accomplishments of the palestinian national movement these past 60 years have been non-existent, if not negative, they were at least worth a try. first, historically a palestinian state could have been created if a) the 1947 partition plan had been accepted, or even if the principle of partition had been accepted. b) a palestinian state could have been created at any time between 48 and 67. this is history now, a history hp threads have dissected in nanoscopic details multiple times. under the present context of being under occupation, palestinians, or their leaders, might try to: 1) have a realistic, non genocidal goal. wiping israel off the map is neither. establishing an independent state in the occupied territories is. work exclusively towards the goal. ignore revenge, getting even, paying back or pointless venting of anger. focus on the goal. 2) act together. having multiple groups with fractal splintering, often fighting each other, dissipates energy, and makes negotiating with the nominal head of the movement kind of pointless. having a democratic, or at least consultive, decision-making process helps in this regard. 3) be credible. when you say you will do or refraing from doing something, follow through. see 1. 4) act state-like even before you become a country. begin building solid national institutions, competent and non-corrupt, from the begining. strive to make such institutions a viable alternative to the occupation. 5) stop terrorism.. please don't make me explain why. 6) understand the occupiers. not as a racist cartoon, but as a bunch of fallible human beings. most of which have probably more profitable things to da than make your life miserable. forge alliances with those without any vested interest in the occupation, to undercut its support in the home front. 7) keep talking. put forward tangible proposals, and create a national consensus behind them. follow the letter of any agreement you do sign, and then demand the other side do the same. acknowledge the other side also has legitimate core demands, and learn how to diferentiate them from tactical negotiating positions. in the whole process, the more trusted you are the more concessions you are likely to get. 8) resist occupation. collectively, unceasingly. and non-violently. ignore provocation and distractions, and keep focused on the goal. one of the least noticed side effects of suicide bombings is that they excuse the non-suicidal majority from doing anything against occupation. really, if the palestinian violence and genocidal rhetoric were to stop, the conflict would be quite straightforward for most people, including israelis: a people under occupation whose land is slowly taken away. statehood would still be a long walk, but at least the palestinians would be moving in the right direction. posted by wardytron at 10:07 am | comments (73) | trackback august 02, 2006 havana break (from the middle east) as cuban leader fidel castro recovers after surgery on his intestines,(even according to the ) miami herald time magazine profiles his younger brother (and designated successor) raul: when the bush administration began delivering hundreds of suspected al qaeda terrorists to the u.s. naval base at guantanamo, cuba, in 2002, most in washington expected cuban president fidel castro to go ballistic. he didn't. and according to veteran cuba watchers like former cia analyst brian latell, it was fidel's younger brother, defense minister raul castro, who kept the communist dictator's anti-yanqui rants in check. going further, raul even assured reporters that if any guantanamo prisoners escaped, cuban security forces would capture and return them - a gesture that left much of the international community scratching its head. hang on. doesn't that make him a yanqui imperialist lickspittle? i find it hard to get worked up about fidel. go on, tell me why i should (or shouldn't.) wardytron adds: fidel is obviously getting on a bit at 80 years of age, and understandably wants to inject a bit of youthful vigour and fresh, exciting younger blood into his regime. at a mere 75, raúl is clearly just the man to do this. tony blair recently described david miliband as the "wayne rooney" figure in his cabinet. perhaps the untried yet promising raúl is fidel's theo walcott. ps evil excised in the comments links to a "critical but friendly" series of articles on cuba by ron ridenour, originally published in the morning star. ridenour says "i was often angry with (castro) but i always loved and admired him. i found that that is how most cubans feel". posted by graham at 01:06 am | comments (89) | trackback taking sides the roths at thisongoingwar: === "if our side needs to be bleeding at least as much as the people on the other side before we win your support and understanding, then we will forego that privilege. and we express our utter contempt for your relativistic, statistics-driven morality." === commenter “jj” sent me a link to an article in haaretz back on july 22nd. it’s mostly concerned with an emerging spat in the coalition government between sharon people and olmert’s clan, the latter dropping hints (and more) that sharon allowed the hezbollah sore to fester for 5 years and that the seeds for the current conflict were sown on his watch; the former arguing that any pre-emptive action taken by sharon would have met with universal condemnation inside and outside israel. the sharonites are paraphrased thus: for five years, …there wasn't a single diplomatic meeting that arik [sharon] held - be it with the president of the united states of the prime minister of sweden - in which he did not talk about hezbollah and the rockets. we would laugh because he had a regular line that he would say: for god's sake - he'd say in english, of course - they have 13,000 rockets. yes, 13,000! every president, every prime minister, every foreign minister, heard this from him. the backdrop to these conversations being un resolutions 1391 and 1496 calling on the lebanese government to enforce its will in the south of the country and repeated representations by israel to the unsc regarding the failure of the lebanese government to do just that. not to mention a response from the international community that gave the distinct impression it could care less. any assessment of the ongoing conflict that fails to consider this context, is not worthy of the name. any evaluation of the israeli response to the hezbollah raid into northern israel three weeks ago, when 3 idf soldiers were killed and 2 abducted in a de facto act of war, that fails to factor in 2000 days of israeli efforts to get the international community to take seriously the unwillingness/inability of beirut to confront hezbollah is - at best - incomplete, but more likely - disingenuous. those bunkers in hundreds of northern israeli towns and villages weren't built in the last 3 weeks. many date from the late 70s early 80s during israel’s occupation of southern lebanon (another context-free conflict from which every self-respecting blogger can cite sabra and shatila, but mention in conversation avivim, ma’alot or the coastal road massacre, and you should expect nothing but blank stares…unless you’re in israel, of course). today, those bunkers are there because of what it means to be living within striking distance of 13,000 missiles accrued by a guerilla organisation sworn to the destruction of israel and operating with unbridled freedom in the neighbouring state. as i type this, there are 1 million israelis either displaced or spending most nights crowded into bomb shelters with their families. that’s 15% of the population of israel indirectly cleansed from the north or forced to spend hours a day living like animals underground. twenty-four years ago, britain went to war with another country 8,500 miles away because of the threat that country posed to something in the order of 0.00005% of all british subjects who, whatever difficulties they might have faced living under argentinean rule, were guaranteed to fare better than the residents of kiryat shmona were hezbollah ever entrusted with their care. my heart bleeds for the innocents of qana and whilst i don’t doubt that only a political settlement will deliver enduring peace, i refuse to join the chorus for an immediate cease-fire that will deliver nothing proximate to this. those who prematurely gloat at what they perceive to be the relative failure of the idf to arrest the daily deluge of katyushas, despite heavy aerial bombardment and a ground incursion, are invariably the same crowd who suggest limited, surgical strikes against known hezbollah positions would have been the "proportionate" response to what in any other circumstances would be viewed as a declaration of war. my suspicion is that we are talking about people for whom any israeli response greater than token would be viewed as excessive. and they claim to want peace? i want to see the lebanese democratic experiment succeed, but not if it comes at the cost of an autonomous, iranian proxy massed on israel’s northern border. i want the tourists to return to beirut, but not before israeli families can sleep safe in their beds. finally, i want to say that there is nothing respectable or honourable about a refusal to ‘take sides’ in this conflict. ‘a plague on both their houses’ won’t wash. much is made of israel’s military might, yet a quick look at a map and consideration of relative populations reveals why israel can’t afford to lose a single war. so i will continue to proclaim my solidarity with the pluralist democracy that even now fights with one hand behind her back in the clearest possible demonstration of an unshakeable commitment to ideals and principles that are anathema to the other side with whom she is regularly - and incredulously - unfavourably compared. none of this signals a preparedness to ignore or excuse those occasions when israel errs, but it means i can tell the difference between the freedom-loving cornucopia of nationalities that comprise modern israel, and the hateful zealots on the other side who celebrate death over life. it's "l'chayim" for a reason, you know? posted by brownie at 12:36 am | comments (197) | trackback august 01, 2006 the new 'asymmetry' war david aaronovitch on the other 'asymmetry' in the times this morning putting his finger quite firmly on what i think a lot of people, harry's place readers among others feel, about the fighting in lebanon. yes, there is a desire to see the fighting stopped and peace ensue, but also knowing that right now it does not seem possible until hezbollah is somehow checked. "how, after all, can this be borne? we should stop it now. there should be no more killing. we should stop it even before israel has secured its border, even while hezbollah's military force is still intact. how can you argue with the impulse to save innocent life?" then we hit the problem, what aaronovitch calls the other 'asymmetry' and he's right. we western liberals and lefties might well be torn over the misery and suffering served up by tv (and who could not be), but hezbollah revel in it. "asymmetrical warfare" is a term usually employed to describe the deployment of insurgent and terrorist techniques against a massively better-armed adversary. it almost suggests that such an approach is defensible. but there is a second sense in which the phrase might be used. we weedy democrats and life-loving liberals cannot bear what the ideologues of hamas and hezbollah find all too bearable. we argue about whether we even want to see the pictures of the dead. they seem to want to look at nothing else. "we understand the problem. israeli violence may damage the democratic and reform movements in lebanon and syria. but hezbollah’s violence, apparently, serves only to strengthen the forces of religious ecstasy. to us, hitting a un force is a humanitarian outrage. to hezbollah it’s a tactic. to hezbollah every civilian is a warrior." he goes on to talk about the israeli killing of four un soldiers last week, condemned around the world, and quotes one of the doomed officers who emailed home to say that israeli fire was landing nearby and that, "this has not been deliberate targeting, but has rather been due to tactical necessity". "a retired canadian general interpreted this for canadian television. 'what he was telling us was hezbollah soldiers were all over his position and the idf were targeting them. and that’s a favourite trick by people who don’t have representation in the un. they use the un as shields, knowing that they can’t be punished for it." posted by gordon at 01:38 pm | comments (244) july 27, 2006 among brothers in a model social state venezuela's hugo chavez, on one of his periodic "i &#9829; dictators" tours, has turned up in belarus to be welcomed by president alexander lukashenko. “here we feel ourselves to be among our brothers,” chavez said after his arrival at minsk airport on sunday at the start of his three-day visit to belarus. “we see here a model social state like the one we are beginning to create,” said chavez, the first venezuelan leader to visit the former soviet republic lodged between poland and russia on the european union’s eastern border. model social state? gulp. chavez then flew on to russia, where he will meet with vladimir putin. on arrival in volgograd, he shouted "long live lenin!" next stop is tehran to meet an old friend, president mahmoud ahmadinejad. sadly for those of us who have been following his affectionate meetings over the years with tyrants past and present, a planned visit to see north korea's kim jong il has been canceled. i'd have enjoyed reading chavez's paean to the dear leader. (hat tip: daniel at venezuela news and views.) update: i'd think even chavez's admirers and apologists would have to admit that he's friendly with an awful lot of creeps. and yes, as i've pointed out, so is george bush (although not with so many, and not with such deep solidarity). posted by gene at 10:11 pm | comments (51) | trackback july 25, 2006 perfidious albion richard gott in the guardian blames much of the world's ills on the british empire, top of the list of britain's 'disastrous imperial legacy' is, of course, palestine, which gott describes as "a settler colony that britain abandoned in 1947." ho-hum. except palestine was never a british colony as such. it was administered by britain under a mandate from the league of nations, the precursor of the united nations. britain's experience in palestine was something quite different to britain's role in india or other places. and britain left palestine in 1948, not 1947. but then it gets worse. gott continues: "unfortunately for the settlers, arriving during the imperial sunset, they had insufficient time to achieve the scale of defeat of the local people, amounting to extermination and genocide, that characterised the british conquest and settlement of australia." where to start debunking this rubbish? perhaps by pointing out that until 1948 the zionist settlers legally bought all the land on which the new towns such as tel -aviv were built. it is true that some palestinians were displaced, not by the jews, but by the arab notables who happily sold their holdings. so much for palestinian solidarity. but what i find really sinister here, is the 'thought-crime' of which gott accuses the early zionist settlers. his argument seems to be that had they had sufficient time, they would have committed genocide and extermination. the party line is evolving from 'israel is a racist state' to 'israel is a genocidal state' to 'the early zionists were quasi-nazis themselves'. this would have been news to the thousands of german-jewish refugees who found refuge in palestine in the 1930s. if this is indicative of the state of critical thinking on the left, i truly despair. curiously - or not - gott fails to mention the massive humanitarian disaster that has been unfolding in a former british colony: darfur, in sudan. since 2003, when the government in khartoum unleashed the janjaweed, the arab militia, onto the peoples of darfur, 400,000 have died and over two million been displaced. the greatest number of muslims killed in recent years have been killed by other muslims, by paramilitaries and armed forces under the command of the sudanese government. yet not a word about that from gott. i wonder why? posted by adam lebor at 11:08 am | comments (139) | trackback july 22, 2006 where is jeremy bowen when you need him? my wife used to work with a girl who almost exactly 10 years ago was on her way to the arndale shopping centre in manchester when the roof came off in an ira explosion. no-one was killed, but many received severe injuries and my wife's friend, although only superficially wounded, was still picking bits of glass and plaster out of her hair and clothes a week later. a bright, vivacious young woman was transformed into a withdrawn, spiritless soul who to this day is plagued by panic attacks and finds it difficult to venture outside on her own. an attractive 20-something never lacking for male attention, she has enjoyed no relationship worthy of the name since. her name does not feature on any “casualty” list. indeed, no-one died during the attack on the arndale. at least, not in the conventional sense. there’s a reason they call it “terrorism”. malki roth was murdered along with 14 others, many children and teenagers, in the sbarro restaurant massacre in jerusalem in august 2001. her parents, arnold and frimet, maintain a blog covering all aspects of what they describe as ‘this ongoing war’. given the recent discussions here concerning links and citations, i should say upfront that having looked at many of the posts, i’m likely to have differences of opinion with the roths on at least some arab-israeli issues. but then my two daughters are currently tucked up in bed about 20 feet from where i’m typing, and not lying in a grave in jerusalem’s har menuchot cemetery. in one post on the roth blog, they try to convey to their readers what it means to be part of the ‘ongoing war’, providing an account of what they call the “chaos and uncertainty that comes with the experience”. taking 10:30 on the morning of the wednesday, july 19th as the reference point, here’s what they say is happening in israel: •first, most of the country is without electricity at this moment. jerusalem where we live was blacked out for about 15 minutes around 9.30 this morning, but power was restored and has stayed "up" for now. but we're told to expect rolling blackouts around the country for an unspecified amount of time to come. elevators are shut down and stuck in many places with hundreds of people stuck inside them. the firefighters and police are scattering to respond to rescue calls (as if they did not have enough to do already). •since traffic lights need power, there's traffic chaos in much of israel. •there are tens of fires - mostly brushfires as far as we know - in various parts of the north. no immediate explanation. maybe the heat, maybe missiles, maybe arson. •the entire sharon region (basically the northern arc around tel-aviv) is subject to an immediate and concrete highest-level terror warning. there may be a pursuit underway right now of a specific individual or terror gang. one report (basing itself as always on news tips from its readers) says there's a suspicion of terrorists having penetrated tel-aviv. (update: at 11am, the authorities in kfar sava, a tel-aviv suburb, are urging people to stay indoors while the pursuit is underway.) as always, reports like this need to be taken with enormous care, but in this part of the world, you can never tell, never be too wary. •after absorbing about 120 katyusha missiles yesterday, the north is on edge again and under attack today. in nahariya (where a man running towards cover in a shelter after the sirens sounded, was killed) and haifa, there are reports this past ten minutes of multiple katyusha attacks, multiple booms and at least one direct hit in haifa (on a residential building). •some twenty qassam rocket attacks pounded the area around gaza during the night and early morning. the idf is now moving into the central gaza strip, with few clear details other than that five soldiers are wounded. it's a developing story, it appears. and on it goes. of course, until last week, this was not the daily reality for all israelis. at least, not for most living further than 30 kilometres from the lebanese border. for those who do live in the northern regions, it has been this and worse for the six years since the last israeli soldier left lebanon. that’s six years of running to their children’s bedrooms in middle of the night to drag them down to the bomb shelter as the sirens wail yet again. six of years of teachers corralling excitable classes into ‘safe rooms’, well-versed in the art of turning the umpteenth disruption into a child’s adventure that, hopefully, assuages the trauma of 6-year olds who live not by the grace of god, but because their attackers can’t get their hands on anything more deadly. it’s not as though israel hasn’t complained in all this time, but it seems that no matter how much noise she made, nor how many rockets fell, the foreign camera crews and journalists never came to nahariya. posted by brownie at 02:11 am | comments (164) | trackback july 20, 2006 anniversary of two hangings writing in the washington post on the first anniversary of an infamous photo's appearance on the internet, philip kennicott notes its huge impact on gay people worldwide. and he adds: perhaps the saddest thing about these pictures is that no major news organization outside iran has tracked down what really happened. the final indignity of these boys' short lives was that they didn't matter enough to spark a serious investigation. among the major news organizations outside iran which have not followed up is, of course, the washington post. how much the post or any other news organization could learn about what really happened in that iranian town is an open question. by the way, does anyone believe that if "palestine will be free, from the river to the sea," the "freedom" will extend to homosexuals? update: a reminder once again of conditions for gay palestinians under the fatah government. i can't imagine things have improved since hamas won the election. if you can't access the article on the new republic website, you can read it here. tel aviv dispatch refugee status by yossi klein halevi post date: 08.20.02 issue date: 08.19.02 tayseer, as we'll call him, a 21-year-old gazan whose constant smile tries to conceal watchfulness, learned early on that to be gay in palestine is to be a criminal. three years ago his older brother caught him in bed with a boyfriend. he was beaten by his family, then warned by his father that he'd strangle tayseer if it ever happened again. it happened again a few months later. word gets around a refugee camp, and a young man he didn't know invited tayseer into an orange grove. the next day he received a police summons. at the station tayseer was told that his sex partner was in fact a police agent whose job is to ferret out homosexuals. if tayseer wanted to avoid prison, he too would have to become an undercover sex agent, luring gays into orchards and turning them over to the police. tayseer refused to implicate others. he was arrested and hung by his arms from the ceiling. a high-ranking officer he didn't know arranged for his release and then demanded sex as payback. tayseer fled gaza to tulkarem on the west bank, but there too he was eventually arrested. he was forced to stand in sewage water up to his neck, his head covered by a sack filled with feces, and then he was thrown into a dark cell infested with insects and other creatures he could feel but not see. ("you slap one part of your body, and then you have to slap another," he recounts.) during one interrogation, police stripped him and forced him to sit on a coke bottle. through the entire ordeal he was taunted by interrogators, jailers, and fellow prisoners for being a homosexual. when he was released a few months later, tayseer crossed into israel. he now lives illegally in an arab israeli village and works in a restaurant. his dream is to move to tel aviv. "no one there cares if you're gay," he says. these days, though, he knows that an illegal gazan in tel aviv risks being deported and that he's safest staying where he is. and if he were sent back to gaza? "the police will kill me," he says. "unless my father gets to me first." ith bombs once again exploding all over israel, and the palestinian territories under seemingly permanent curfew, the woes of palestinian homosexuals haven't exactly grabbed international attention. but after spending two days with gay palestinian refugees in israel, i began to wonder why the liberal world has never taken interest in their plight. perhaps it's because that might mean acknowledging that the pathology of the nascent palestinian polity extends well beyond yasir arafat and won't be uprooted by one free election. indeed, the torment of gays is very nearly official palestinian policy. "the persecution of gays in the palestinian authority [p.a.] doesn't just come from the families or the islamic groups but from the p.a. itself," says shaul ganon of the tel aviv-based agudah-association of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender in israel. "the p.a.'s usual excuse for persecuting gays is to label them collaborators--though i know of two cases in the last three years where people were tried explicitly for being homosexuals." since the intifada, ganon tells me, palestinian police have increasingly enforced islamic law: "it's now impossible to be an open gay in the p.a." a gardener we'll call samir, who has fled the territories for israel, told me of a gay friend who was a member of the palestinian police and ran away to tel aviv: "after a while he returned to nablus, where he was arrested by the palestinian police and accused of being a collaborator. they put him in a pit. it was the fast of ramadan, and they decided to make him fast the whole month but without any break at night. they denied him food and water until he died in that hole." international human rights monitors have all but ignored gay palestinians' plight. the u.s. state department's recently released human rights report for 2001, for instance, blandly notes, "in the palestinian territories homosexuals generally are socially marginalized, and occasionally receive physical threats." as ganon explains it, "the palestinian human rights groups are afraid to deal with the problem. one palestinian activist told me that israelis need to raise the issue because they'll be shut down if they try to. amnesty israel is sympathetic but their mandate is limited to israeli human rights violations. and the international human rights groups say they've got a long list of pressing issues. when israeli police harass arab israeli homosexuals, i send out reports, and then--oh, you should see how quickly the human rights organizations get in touch with me to investigate. the hypocrisy is unbelievable." because the world hasn't forced the p.a. to tolerate gays, palestinian homosexuals are increasingly seeking refuge in the only regional territory that does: israel. in the last few years hundreds of gay palestinians, mostly from the west bank, have slipped into israel. most live illegally in tel aviv, the center of israel's gay community; many are desperately poor and work as prostitutes. but at least they're beyond the reach of their families and the p.a. still, for these refugees life in israel means subsisting on the margins. ganon, my guide to the community, heads the association's outreach to palestinian gays. he is a big man with a goatee who spends his nights on the tel aviv streets where palestinian gay prostitutes gather, providing food and clothes and trying to keep them off drugs and out of jail. over the last four years ganon has waged essentially a one-man campaign to try to interest human rights groups in israel and elsewhere in their plight. he's helped about 300 palestinian gays in israel and estimates that probably twice that many currently live here illegally without access to legal employment or health care and under constant threat of deportation. "no one here cares about us," says samir, the gardener, who lives with his israeli boyfriend. "i've written to all the government ministries, to all the newspapers, asking for my status to be recognized. no one even bothers answering." according to ganon, during the last year police have generally stopped arresting and deporting palestinian gays because of his efforts. he has even worked out a quiet arrangement with tel aviv police, providing them a list of palestinian gays under his sponsorship and providing those gays with association membership cards to show their affiliation. the goal is to reassure local police, who are primarily on the lookout for palestinian terrorists, that these palestinians pose no threat. (the exceptions to this arrangement are palestinian gays with security records and those from gaza, whom the israelis see as inherent security risks because of hamas's popularity there.) some palestinian gays, though, say they see no recent change in police policy and still feel hunted. an american we'll call william finds himself in the palestinian gays' no-man's-land. last year he and his palestinian boyfriend, whom we'll call ahmad, moved into ahmad's west bank village--a move that in retrospect seems mad. "we told the people in the village that we were friends, and for a while it worked," says william. "but then one day we found a letter under our door from the islamic court. it listed the five forms of death prescribed by islam for homosexuality, including stoning and burning. we fled to israel that same day." now they live in hiding--mostly from ahmad's brothers, who have searched for the couple in tel aviv and threatened to kill ahmad. though william has appealed to human rights groups around the world, and to the u.s. embassy for an american visa for ahmad, he's gotten little response. one american gay-advocacy group offered to help ahmad get asylum after he arrives in the united states. but getting him there is precisely the problem, and william refuses to leave without ahmad. and so here they are, an american christian and a palestinian muslim stranded in the jewish state, with no money and no work, living off the charity of friends, dreading the reappearance of ahmad's brothers, and waiting for help they know will almost certainly not come. on a recent humid tel aviv night, in an area of shabby cafes for foreign workers and neon-lit sex shops, a half-dozen palestinian teenage boys with gelled hair and sleeveless shirts sit on a railing, waiting for pickups. ganon is here, as he is most nights, checking on "my children." "does anyone need condoms?" he asks. "how about clothes? who hasn't eaten today, sweethearts?" a police car slows down, and the boys call out, "identity cards!" and laugh. the police ignore them and drive away. the teenage prostitutes, refugees from the west bank, live in an abandoned building. they tell me that sometimes a client will offer them a meal and a shower instead of payment; sometimes a client will simply refuse to pay in any form, taunting them to complain to police. and sometimes police will beat them before releasing them back to the streets. a 17-year-old refugee from nablus named salah (a pseudonym), who spent months in a p.a. prison where interrogators cut him with glass and poured toilet cleaner into his wounds, tells ganon that he has been stopped by israeli police no fewer than four times that day. he recites the names of the different police units who stopped him by their acronyms. "try not to do anything stupid," ganon says. "i've tried to kill myself six times already," says salah. "each time the ambulance came too quickly. but now i think i know how to do it. next time, with god's help, it will work before the ambulance comes." posted by gene at 06:12 pm | comments (49) | trackback slovakian far-right in governing coalition a fistful of euros has an interesting post on the governing coalition just formed in slovakia. although a left-of-centre party, smer, was effectively the victor in the elections, the parties that it has formed a coalition of...well, have a whiff of sulphur about them, to say the least. doug muir of a fistful describes the coalition partners as follows: this is a rather creepy combination. it is rather, well, nationalist socialist. the xenophobic sns is best known for making hateful statements about hungarians and roma and is also associated with anti-semitism and homophobia. the hzds is a bunch of sleazy ex-communists best known for looting state assets under meciar. one is the party of former prime minister vladimir meciar, whose autocratic, anti-democratic style did its best to keep slovakia internationally isolated for much of the 1990s; the other, the slovak national party (sns) is arguably far worse. here are some statements attributed to the party's leader, ján slota: “hungarians are the cancer of the slovak nation. without delay we need to remove them from the body of the nation” “jozef tiso is one of the great sons of the slovak nation.” (tiso was the leader of the slovak axis puppet state during wwii. under him, 60,000 jews were deported to concentration camps. he was executed as a war criminal in 1946.) “we are negativist only in saying that parasites have to be eliminated, and parasites are simply those who don’t want to work, and the fact that among those people are 95% of all gypsies is just reality.” “the best policy for [gypsies] is a long whip in a small yard.” in the 1990s, when slovakia's policies threatened to send the country into international isolation, the eu was a force for massive good, as indeed it has been across much of central and eastern europe, holding out the incentives associated with membership and integration in the event that the country turned its back on meciarism: the eu currently continues to play a broadly similar role in croatia. since slovakia became a full eu member in 2004, carrots and sticks are not so easy for any outsiders to find. the question is, what now? best to keep an eye on them, anyway. they sound rather more unpleasant than even some elements in the new polish government. posted by venichka at 01:40 pm | comments (19) | trackback july 19, 2006 remembering the buenos aires massacre harry's place reader/commenter fabian is visiting argentina, and has posted on his blog photos and video of a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the bombing of the jewish community center in buenos aires. the bombing, which killed 85 persons, has been widely attributed to hezbollah, with backing from iran. fabian writes: this year i thought that we had to give a show of solidarity also with israel, since it is the same hezbollah the terrorist organizations that is lobbing rockets against my second home, so we went with israeli flags. the argentinian jewish community is still shrouded in fear, always trying to remain invisible. this is partly a consequence of argentina's many years of antisemitic dictatorship. but enough! i've seen how the jewish american community is proud of herself. they carry flags and banners of israel and america. i am living in a country where being jewish is like the air you breath. enough, i say! we are proud of being jewish and argentinians and myself i add that i am proud of being israeli too. lets get out of the closet. israel needs our support now, and we need israel's support also. our enemies are the same enemies. the investigation of the crime has been marred by bungling and alleged corruption, and nobody has yet been convicted. however the suicide bomber who carried out the atrocity has been identified as a member of hezbollah. the same hezbollah which the stop the war coalition cheered for "dealing with" israel. posted by gene at 01:13 am | comments (185) | trackback july 18, 2006 waste of un space much good stuff in the times today on why and how iran and its client hezbollah militia can be stopped and it isn't talking about the un. it gives short shrift to the idea of sending in the un. it is clear to the times and to many others who have thought it through what a futile waste of time this exercise would be. it starts by pointing to the obvious. blair's talk of a 12-mile exclusion zone in southern lebanon would, of course, be super fine, if it had not been made redundant by the fact that iran is handing out 50 mile missile technology like weapons grade candy. "it is hard to see how ground troops, presumably under un auspices, could stop hezbollah’s iranian-made rockets, with a range of 50 miles, from sailing overhead. besides, there is already a 2,000-strong un mission in the area, where it has been since 1978, although it does not have the power to enforce peace. any new force, presumably with a stiffer mandate, could take months to form and then mobilise. this may be an honourable idea, but it does not look like a solution." david aaronovitch is of the same mind as the paper's leader column and gives nil points to the guys with the fashion challenged light blue berets. "that might then be the role of any international force, if it were to be deployed in southern lebanon, as tony blair desires. it would have to negotiate and help to enforce the disarming of hezbollah and the integration of its fighters back into society, while quite possibly facilitating the return of lebanese prisoners held by the israelis and withdrawal by israel from the disputed sheba farms area. it would be un resolution 1559, with guns. "the trouble is that i cannot for a moment see hezbollah, or its iranian and syrian allies, agreeing to it. in which case the force would either fight in the southern suburbs of beirut, or it would sit impotently, watching the missiles go both ways overhead." the times leader, i think, draws one of the few available conclusions. having ruled out the use of the un as a total waste of time, it sees the solution lying in a disarming of hezbollah by a coalition of the willing. the willing being possibly the only people who could, and would, be allowed to do the job with some degree of credibility. "and only the permanent spiking of hezbollah’s guns will lead to sustainable peace. that will require a diplomatic coalition of the willing, which must include egypt, saudi arabia and jordan, to pressure syria into doing what makes sense for its own future." there is a small problem that together these three have no track record of doing anything particularly useful in the region other than the saudi's funding terror and the egyptians and jordanians being quite practiced at getting their arses kicked across the desert at regular intervals. but it's a new day, a different piece of desert, maybe they can step forward and provide an alternative axis in the region. it is badly needed. let's face it. it is strongly in their interests to do so in order to stop the iranian shia crescent (plus fellow traveller syria) becoming the region's powerbroker. posted by gordon at 11:21 am | comments (125) a proxy war against iran putting aside the arguments over the rights and wrongs of israel's bombardment of lebanon in response to hizbollah's missile attacks, i think it's worth taking a sideways step to analyse the west's overall response to the new crisis. the g8's even-handed approach and failure to condemn israel's actions seems to me indicative that something important is going behind the scenes, which the mainstream media are missing. call it a new realism, or a realisation that the struggle against hamas and hizbollah is also part of the war on terror. either way, it appears that the west has apparently more or less given a green light to israel to try and destroy hizbollah's mini-state in southern lebanon. the real reason why, i think, is iran. iran - and syria - supply much of hizbollah's weapons, and provide political support for the shiite milita. iranian revolutionary guards train hizbollah fighters. israeli military sources confirm that the israeli boat hit last friday off the coast of lebanon was struck by a high-tec shore-to-sea c-802 missile, suppled by iran, according to the middle east analyst tom gross ( the use of such weaponry is a significant escalation in the conflict. as are hizbollah's threats to hit tel-aviv. gross also reports that the two captured israeli soldiers may be being held at the iranian embassy in beirut. fighting has erupted over the last decade or two between israel and lebanon sporadically, and usually without the kind of mass evacuations of westerners that are now being planned. the warships steaming towards beirut harbour tell us that this conflict could go on for a long time yet. mainly because this is a kind of proxy war against iran, a struggle which is also being played out in the marshes of southern iraq, against the iranian-backed shiite militias. for all the talk of bombing teheran to stop iran getting a nuclear bomb, a military strike by the west on the iranian capital is extremely unlikely at least at the moment. bogged down in the iraqi quagmire, the us will not open a new front. but israel can - and has - gone to war against teheran's client militia. before the collapse of communism, the israeli-arab war was also a remote-controlled struggle between the us and the soviet union. the soviet union is gone, and radical islamism is the west's new enemy. once again, the conflict is being fought by proxies. posted by adam lebor at 09:57 am | comments (95) | trackback july 17, 2006 if not now, when? if i hadn't lived in israel during most of the 1990s, i probably would be more sympathetic to those who claim israel is overreacting in its current military operation in lebanon. i remember operation accountability in 1993 and operation grapes of wrath in 1996-- both efforts by israel to stop hezbollah from launching rockets at northern israel and to weaken or destroy it as a threat. in both cases, israel succeeded temporarily in the first objective but not in the second. hastily-arranged ceasefires stopped both operations before they could do much damage to hezbollah's leadership or military capacities. at the time hezbollah and its apologists could claim-- with some apparent justification-- that the root cause of the fighting was israel's occupation of southern lebanon, a misbegotten effort to create a buffer against attacks after the 1982 war. all israel needed to do, some commentators assured us, was to withdraw from lebanese territory and the military arm of hezbollah would lose its reason for existence. israel did withdraw in 2000. but hezbollah used the subsequent years of relative calm on the border to reinforce its presence in southern lebanon and to obtain thousands of longer-range and more dangerous missiles from iran and syria. (in 2003 robert fisk wrote that reports of these missiles were a myth because "i travel the roads of southern lebanon every two weeks and there are no such missiles, as the un force there will confirm..." if fisk and the un didn't see them, i suppose they don't exist-- which will be a relief to israelis currently sitting in air raid shelters. one good result of this is that nobody will take seriously anything fisk ever writes again-- will they?) some on the israeli right have recently been saying "i told you so" to those of us who supported the withdrawals from lebanon and gaza. but as yossi klein halevi wrote in the new republic: those of us who have supported unilateralism didn't expect a quiet border in return for our withdrawal but simply the creation of a border from which we could more vigorously defend ourselves, with greater domestic consensus and international understanding. the anticipated outcome, then, wasn't an illusory peace but a more effective way to fight the war. the question wasn't whether hamas or hezbollah would forswear aggression but whether israel would act with appropriate vigor to their continued aggression. the israeli withdrawals have been been-- for me and i suspect many others-- a great clarifier. now that occupation is no longer an issue in these two instances, israel's right to oppose aggression on its territory should no longer be in doubt. if not now, when? it is possible of course to take issue with israel's tactics, to say that it is doing too much damage to lebanon's infrastructure and needlessly killing civilians. (but hezbollah uses much of that infrastructure to resupply; and if israel really wanted to "slaughter" lebanese civilians, the death toll would be in the tens of thousands instead of between 100 and 200.) however i don't doubt that many of these critics sincerely believe in israel's right to self-defense. those who have better ideas on how israel can respond to the attacks are welcome to put their suggestions in the comments or to email me-- the more detailed the better. (one effort appears here.) i can sort-of sympathize with those who throw up their hands and suggest both sides are equally to blame for the "cycle of violence," but i think they are refusing to face unpleasant facts. those who believe israel has no business responding to attacks other than by agreeing to whatever the attackers want are welcome to join like-minded people at the stop the war coalition or the answer coalition. posted by gene at 07:52 pm | comments (204) | trackback july 12, 2006 'socialists' cheer on islamist victory in somalia the (nigerian) guardian reports that the union of islamic courts (uic) has taken control of the somali capital and has grown increasingly radical since seizing mogadishu and establishing strict courts based on the quran. the militia has forbidden movies, television and music. militiamen in central somalia last week, fatally shot two people at the screening of a world cup soccer broadcast banned because it violated the fighters' strict interpretation of islamic law. they also broke up a wedding because it featured a band, and men and women socialising together. last month the times reported that the uic leader, sheikh sharif ahmed, claimed to have no intention of setting up a taliban-style islamic state. but the times article noted that actions might belie this claim: but the restoration of some semblance of order has come at a price. the courts have closed cinemas accused of showing immoral films and made celebrating new year a capital offence. a boy was recently allowed to stab his father’s killer to death in front of a cheering crowd. at mogadishu’s peace hotel weddings used to finish with hundreds of people dancing in the car park, but no longer. “the islamic courts have told us there can be no pop music,” says a waiter. “it’s very sad. we all hope that things are not going to be like afghanistan.” this news might cause some concern for most on the liberal-left, but not - apparently - for the swp. their newspaper, socialst worker, cheers on the islamist militias, editorialising thus: although the uic did not initially have strong popular support, there was a feeling that it upheld moral standards and discipline, and had a unifying and familiar ideology in islam. so, a huge 'socialst' horrah from the swp for "moral standards and discipline" - which usually means amputated limbs for petty thieves, stoning of 'uncovered' or 'unchaste' women and lashes for gays and bullets in the head for anyone questioning the new order. the important thing to remember, folks, is that the uic is anti-american, so as the socialist worker says "no doubt imperialism has suffered a blow". everything (and everyone) else, i guess, is just collateral damage. posted by brett at 03:09 pm | comments (18) | trackback haniyeh's op-ed whine the washington post published a long op-ed piece tuesday by palestinian prime minister (and hamas leader) ismail haniyeh. it's basically one long whine, which can be summarized as "why are you blaming us? it's all israel's fault." as an effort to win over public opinion in the us, it's only slightly more useful than launching qassams at sderot and kidnapping israeli soldiers, and about as effective as hamas's £100,000 pr makeover last winter. haniyeh-- who relished the suffering of the life-loving jews after a hamas murderer in netanya killed 30 israelis at a passover seder-- makes the usual noises about coming to terms with israel if it recognizes "the core dispute over the land of historical palestine and the rights of all its people" (whatever that means), withdraws to the pre-1967 borders, etc. at one point haniyeh writes that if israel meets all his conditions, a "fair and permanent peace is possible." (my emphasis.) in the very next sentence, he undercuts even that suggestion by referring to a "hudna (comprehensive cessation of hostilities for an agreed time)." (again my emphasis.) does he not even notice this discrepancy? or does he think nobody else will notice? haniyeh concludes wistfully: if americans only knew the truth, possibility might become reality. i think americans know the truth all too well, mr. haniyeh. which is bad news for you and hamas. posted by gene at 02:32 am | comments (218) | trackback july 08, 2006 every loser wins? the good news is that, the best part of three months after general elections in ukraine, and five months after the outgoing parliament approved a vote of 'no confidence' in the administration of technocratic centrist yuriy yekhanurov, it looks as though the country is close to having a new government appointed. (it's true that the no confidence vote was effectively ignored and over-ruled, largely because of the constitutional state of flux then and still prevailing in the land, but this is still a long time for any country, let alone a large one undergoing a prolonged transition, not to have a government with full authority and legitimacy.) the bad news is that it appears almost certain that the new prime minister- invested with additional powers previously held by the president, as a result of constitutional changes approved between the annulled, fraudulent, second round of presidential polling on 21 november 2004 and the final, legitimate election of viktor yushchenko the following month- is almost certain to be the defeated candidate in that latter election, who had been declared victorious in the earlier, rigged, vote, viktor yanukovych. while there had been a fair amount of speculation, since the general election in march, which failed to produce a clear result, that something approaching a 'government of national unity' might be formed-to reflect yanukovych's party of the regions' continuing, albeit diminished, compared with 2004, support in the industrial regions of eastern ukraine, and the similar degree of support, again somewhat diminished compared with 2004 of yushchenko's our ukraine in western ukraine, what looks like coming to pass is something rather different, and something that can only be described as a retrograde step, and even as, potentially, a betrayal of the hopes of the so-called orange revolution. instead of a new orange administration, or a passibly tolerable east-west unity coalition, the new government, presuming that an agreement made late last week endures, will be something of a post-soviet throwback, uniting the party of the regions with the somewhat unreconstructed socialist party of ukraine and the party of which they are an offshoot, the even less unreconstructed communist party of ukraine (website only in ukrainian, but their use of symbols is fairly overt). this is not what millions of ukrainians, be their ethnic or linguistic allegiance ukrainian or russian, a mixture of the two, crimean tatar, or something else, camped out in sub-zero temperatures, allegedly coming close to facing military assault for. so what went wrong? and is ukraine likely to return to the gangsterish kleptocracy that it became for much of the kuchma period, now that former allies of the old regime seem to back in power? to be continued - once the appointment of a prime minister and the make-up of the government has been confirmed. in the meantime, let's get a well-informed discussion underway... posted by venichka at 11:23 pm | comments (18) | trackback july 04, 2006 all the greatest missions creep as the naysayers and arm chair generals help to stir up alarm about the british mission in afghanistan, david aaronovitch with a reminder today of why we are there and the good that is being done. it's been alarming over the past couple of weeks with people coming out of the wood work sowing doubt and questioning the nature of the mission following what has been the bloodiest week for the british in helmand. lib dem malcolm bruce asked whether parliament had been "misled by the scale of the risks of the mission and today the daily mail ran a full page piece headlined: "doomed". all this with moving front pages this morning following the death of two more soldiers, including pakistan born lance corporal jabron hashmi. his death is no more tragic than those of any others killed, but his story of a modern british muslim serving in the british army is a positive one. clearly the taleban have not gone away and are flexing their muscles by doing what they do best: murdering school teachers, children and anyone else they can intimidate. more troops might well be needed as is a strategy five years on to deal with the opium crop, but as with iraq there will be no overnight pull out and as aaronovitch writes all the greatest missions in human history have creep. "to write that the mission is a good one and is worth the risk to others’ lives that it entails, always means being accused of armchair soldiering. that’s both right and a challenge that should be accepted. and to try to be concrete about it, lets just examine one way in which our presence (and thus the risk) is worthwhile. we all know that the taleban, in their weird mixture of fundamentalist islam and tribalism, conceived that education for half the population — the female half — was a sin, to be prevented by physical force and punishment. "nearly five years after they were ousted by the coalition in late 2001 half of all eligible children attend school, and a third of girls (even in the taleban-ridden south 15 per cent of girls go to school). this means something like 1.8 million afghan girls are receiving an education that was previously denied to them." "now those schools have become a primary target of taleban “militants” (as school-burners and women-beaters are known here in the west). in the past few months hundreds of schools have been burnt down. just before christmas in helmand a teacher of girls was taken to the school gate and shot. two days later, in the same province, a teenage student and a watchman were murdered. earlier this year it was estimated that 66 of helmand’s 224 schools had been closed down as a result of intimidation or arson." update: mike has posted this link to a telegraph story in his comment, i thought i would add it here for anyone who wanted to read more on jabron hashmi's story. gene adds: jabron hashmi joins ayman taha among the devout british and american muslims who have fought and died in iraq and afghanistan. notwithstanding inayat bunglawala's suggestion, they both believed in what they were fighting for. as a friend of ayman taha wrote in the comments to my post about him: i also knew ayman, and i can say that he is possibly the best person that i ever knew. i'm angry that it was him instead of me. i'm angry that his daughter will never know him. and i'm angry at the thought that someone would pass judgement on a muslim man that decided this was the best way he could serve allah. posted by gordon at 04:29 pm | comments (69) | trackback gorby growls at the west it was quite a buzz to meet and interview president mikhael gorbachev, the last leader of the soviet union and the architect of its destruction. we met at a glamorous talking shop on 'citizens between the media and power', in venice, which was sponsored by his foundation. but just because gorby's in favour of human rights and a civil society, don't think that the west can push russia around. the russian bear still has quite a growl, it seems, as you can read in the below interview which ran on 26 june. "put this in the times," he told me, or should that be ordered? "russia is nobody's domain." so i did. don't meddle in our affairs, gorbachev warns the west from adam lebor in venice mikhail gorbachev has called on western countries to stop interfering in russia’s domestic affairs. putting pressure on president putin over human rights at next month’s g8 summit in st petersburg, to be chaired by russia, would be counterproductive, the last leader of the soviet union told the times in an exclusive interview. “russia is not anyone’s domain. russia will work these things out — together with our partners and friends. the presidents and prime ministers at the g8 can raise whatever they want. but the more it is seen that the west is putting pressure on, the more it will strengthen president putin, because in essence his position is very close to the aspirations of the people,” he said yesterday. “i have said myself that putin has made mistakes. but the principles of democracy are realised in a specific context, and you have to bear in mind the russian historical, economic and social situation.” as soviet leader from 1985, mr gorbachev introduced perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness), unleashing forces that led to the collapse in 1989 of the eastern bloc and, in 1991, of the soviet union itself. he was awarded the nobel peace prize in 1990 and founded the world political forum (wpf) and green cross international, an environmental organisation. now 75, he is unlikely to return to party politics. yet he remains influential in moscow, where he often meets mr putin, and on the world stage. especially concerned with the development of civil society and the environment, he nevertheless rejects the idea that the western agenda must be adopted wholesale. russia is moving in the right direction steadily and in its own way, he says. critics and human rights groups counter with concerns over a law introduced by mr putin strictly regulating nongovernmental organisations, and issues such as deaths and disappearances in chechnya and police and army brutality. speaking in venice at the end of a wpf seminar on “media between citizens and power”, mr gorbachev said: “why should foreign organisations be involved in the russian political process? the orange revolution in ukraine was mostly of domestic origin, because people were upset about corruption and angry over the kuchma regime. but there is another factor, that the us embassy was heavily involved, and of course america has great experience in interfering in the affairs of other countries. had this same thing been happening in america, i am sure that they would have put an end to outside interference.” the west’s stated concern with human rights was often hypocritical, he said, citing the recent speech in lithuania by dick cheney, the us vice-president, in which he had criticised the russian government. mr cheney had then flown to oil-rich kazakhstan, where president nazarbayev had won a third term with a soviet-style 91 per cent of the vote. “i don’t think many western governments are that concerned about these issues. if someone is ‘our son of a bitch’ he is forgiven, but if someone else takes an independent position, they don’t like it. i too have a high opinion of my friend nursultan nazarbayev, but in our democratic media he is often criticised for his authoritarian ways. so there are double standards, and triple standards. “but russia has not lost a war, russia is rising and will be rising and some people will find that inconvenient. we have heard a lot in the us about building a new american empire. but that train has left the station. this unipolar approach will not happen. in a multipolar world it is difficult to bring order and governance, but any other approach is dangerous.” mr gorbachev rejects western concerns that mr putin is using energy supplies as a political weapon, especially after gazprom, the russian state-owned gas supplier, cut supplies to ukraine in a price dispute. “this is not happening, i can assure you, and i am willing to put my head on the block. russia is no less interested than europe in having reliable supply and demand for oil and gas. russia needs to finance its reorganisation — what are the sources for this? first of all, our energy. but i think it is rather strange that the west recommends that we have a free market in our natural gas and, when we start to, the west protests that we are charging market prices. we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.” mr gorbachev has bought a stake in an independent newspaper, novaya gazeta, which is famed for anti-corruption investigations and has criticised mr putin. the newspaper remains majority-owned by its journalists and its reporting will be as vigorous as ever, mr gorbachev pledges. “there is a good time for everything; we do not work according to a calendar set either in the white house or in the european union. we have our own schedule.” posted by adam lebor at 12:20 pm | comments (11) | trackback june 29, 2006 tactical weakness, strategic strength yossi klein halevi, the new republic's correspondent in israel, gets at why the kidnapping of an israeli soldier has provoked such a strong reaction, including the arrests of dozens of hamas cabinet ministers and legislators: though the old socialist israel is barely a memory, in times of crisis we again become collectivized. nothing unites israelis in outrage more than the seizure of hostages. next week, on july 4, israel will mark the thirtieth anniversary of the entebbe operation that freed over a hundred israeli hostages, and little has changed since then in the national ethos of rescue. the last zionist ideal still shared by most israelis is the determination to fight back. an israeli soldier held hostage is a taunt against the zionist promise of self-defense, an unbearable reminder of jewish helplessness. our obsession with hostages is a tactical weakness but a strategic strength. it allows terrorists a stunning psychological advantage: with a single random kidnapping, they hold an entire society emotionally hostage. strategically, though, hostage-taking only strengthens israeli resolve. and israel is a small enough country that people tend to take these things personally. update: s.o. muffin comments: well, let me explain something from a perspective of somebody that, with neither great pride nor great shame, served two-and-a-half wars (the half being the war of attrition on the suez canal) in an idf combat fatigues. israeli government and idf are guilty of many sins and i have never been bashful on hp in pointing this out. but idf is a real people's army, manned (and wommaned) by citizens (conscripts and reservists) and essentially acting by consent of the people. the whole ethos is that the grunt on the ground is not an expandable chit in a high-stakes poker game. that you and your mates go into harm way, but you expect your army to do what it takes to rescue you in hour of need. as one of israel's top tank commanders, shmuel gonen, once said, "i'll willingly sacrifice hundred soldiers to rescue a single wounded soldier" (and added, "but i will not harm a single fingernail of one soldier to salvage a corpse"). this might be poor tactics but it is the strategy that made idf into a such an effective combat force. and uk and us military and political echelons never shared this ethos. not on the somme, not in danang or mogadishu and not in iraq. this has nothing to do with the holocaust. and nothing to do with rights and wrongs of operation summer rains. but you folks have to grasp this once you wish to understand the extent idf is willing to go to save a single captive soldier. posted by gene at 04:29 pm | comments (207) | trackback june 27, 2006 hamas 'implicitly accepts israel' the bbc and ap are reporting that hamas has agreed to a document backing a two-state solution to the conflict with israel. the initiative, devised by prisoners held in israeli jails, implicitly recognises the jewish state. however, it seems unlikely that hamas will rewrite its charter, which calls for israel's destruction and rules out peace negotiations. we talked about this document last month when abbas made his threat to call a referendum on palestinian statehood and the 1967 borders that implicitly recognises israel. the bbc says that the agreement will be unveiled later today by prime minister ismail haniya of hamas and president mahmoud abbas of fatah. "we agreed on all the points of the prisoners' initiative," hamas spokesman sami abu zuhri said in quotes carried by afp news agency. obviously, hamas can't be trusted: so is this worth the paper it's written on? personally, i can't help thinking that any step forward in recognition of the state of israel is a positive one, no matter how small. the issue is clearly causing ructions within the hamas ranks and hamas' last minute acceptance of the plan is surely linked to the attack on the israeli outpost and the abduction of idf soldier gilad shalit. hamas is refusing to give back shalit. israel is promising major military action if it does not hand him over. mediators have said that the head of hamas' political bureau, khaled meshal - who is believed to have been behind the directive to carry out the attack - has yet to express willingness to release shalit. nevertheless, mediators have reported that talks with the hamas leadership both inside and outside the territories were continuing, and are said to be optimistic about the prospects of meshal changing his position. posted by gordon at 02:15 pm | comments (133) | trackback june 26, 2006 blair's different vision i disagree with peter beinart that he and tony blair were wrong to support the iraq invasion. but i absolutely agree with him that blair has a fundamentally different, and far better, idea than george bush of what needs to be done in the post-9/11 world. when september 11 hit, beinart writes: ...bush learned what blair had several years earlier: pathologies incubated in other countries can threaten the united states. but there were two key differences. first, for bush, the lesson only applied to terrorism (and, relatedly, to weapons of mass destruction). second, for bush, interdependence only flowed one way. in the war on terrorism, the bush administration began aggressively demanding that other countries change their internal behavior. but, led by sovereignty-obsessives like john bolton, it still rejected any suggestion that interdependence required changing how the united states governed itself. from america's preaching about human rights while it operates guantánamo bay to its demand for tougher nonproliferation rules while it builds a whole new class of nukes (not for deterrence but for potential battlefield use)--this is the basic contradiction at the heart of bush's foreign policy. and blair, as gently as he can, has been pointing it out. "there is a hopeless mismatch," he declared last month at georgetown university, "between the global challenges we face and the global institutions to confront them. after the second world war, people realized that there needed to be a new international institutional architecture. in this new era, in the early twenty-first century, we need to renew it." to build that new architecture, blair proposed empowering the u.n. secretary-general to respond rapidly to emerging humanitarian crises, before the next bosnia or darfur spins out of control. he proposed revamping the security council to include india, germany, and japan--so it better reflects the power realities of today. he urged fundamental reform of the international monetary fund. he proposed an international uranium bank that makes peaceful nuclear power easier and nuclear proliferation harder. and he called for a powerful u.n. environmental organization to coordinate dramatic action on global warming. and then blair turned the knife. "what's the obstacle" to such efforts, he asked? "it is that, in creating more effective multilateral institutions, individual nations yield up some of their own independence. this is a hard thing to swallow.... but the [alternative is] ... ad hoc coalitions for action that stir massive controversy about legitimacy or paralysis in the face of crisis. no amount of institutional change will ever work unless the most powerful make it work." beinart calls blair a tragic figure, and i tend to agree. despite the prime minister's supposedly close relationship with bush, he was either unwilling or unable to persuade the american president to pursue a more multilateral and cooperative path. (didn't the thousands of british soldiers in iraq and afghanistan give him some leverage?) telling the rest of the world to stick it may feel good, and sometimes it may even be necessary. but as blair understands, it is not in itself a strategy for achieving a more peaceful, safer and democratic world. posted by gene at 09:22 pm | comments (44) | trackback islamexpo islamexpo is nearly upon us, and now that the programme has been announced, it is possible to form a clearer picture of the nature of the event. although the participants are diverse and the nature of the events varied, it is impossible to miss the dominant presence of the falangist muslim brotherhood and of other allied islamist groupings. that much is apparent from the event's home page, where the speakers who are pictured and presented prominently include a range of high profile muslim brotherhood activists, including jamal badawi, tariq ramadan, anas altikriti and of course, dr azzam "kaboom" tamimi. also featured is sheikh qazi hussain ahmed, the president of jamaat-e-islami and merve kavakci, a controversial turkish islamist. fosis - the muslim brotherhood's british youth section - is being promoted particularly heavily, and will be conducting three sessions during the weekend. it would be a mistake to think that only jamaat or muslim brotherhood events are featured during the weekend. indeed, if you look at the programme itself, you will see that it includes comedy shows, a session on north african drumming, and some whirling dervishes. guardian journalists make a good showing: with bunting, milne and (for the sake of balance) freedland appearing on various panels. not all the political speakers are islamists. sadiq khan mp and lord nazir ahmed appear together on one panel, to wave the red rose for labour. sebastian coe and tessa jowell will be popping in, for a half hour "opening ceremony" with ken livingstone: whose office is a major sponsor of the event. other non-muslim brotherhood political speakers include the swp-er john rose, the communist party of britain hack, andrew murray. somewhere in between the far left and the far green are the bevvy of respect-ers, including salma "yemen" yaqoob, lindsey "shibboleth" german, and yvonne "brother zarqawi" ridley. there is also a discussion on terrorism between the would-be terrorist azzam tamimi and the former spook, alastair crooke: who is a strong proponent of the institutionalisation of a working relationship between the british government and the muslim brotherhood. the pragmatic rationale which underpins this thinking - which is particularly favoured in parts of the foreign and commonwealth office - is that jamaat will one day take pakistan, and that the muslim brotherhood will come to power, not only in palestine, but also eventually in egypt and in other parts of the arab world: where they represent the only organised alternative to the corrupt and sclerotic arabist and nationalist dictatorships. that being so, british national interests require that we maintain cordial relations with the rulers-in-waiting. my guess is that the spill over effect of the policy of cultivating political islamists abroad will be the facilitation and encouragement of islamist politics at home. expect more islamexpos in the future, and keep an eye open for mainstream political participation in these events. posted by david t at 12:44 pm | comments (172) | trackback june 23, 2006 alaa freed the good news is that the egyptian blogger alaa was freed last night. he was, of course, roughed up before his release. the bad news is that hundreds of political prisoners and activists are still detained in egyptian jails. (via adloyada) posted by david t at 08:39 am | comments (26) | trackback june 21, 2006 the taliban's continuing war on schoolgirls back in 2003 i posted about the taliban's evil (i can't think of a better word) efforts to destroy the girls' schools established throughout afghanistan after-- and as a result of-- the us invasion. under the taliban's 1996-2001 regime, education for girls was virtually nonexistent. sadly, as newsweek reports, almost three years later those efforts continue. summer vacation has only begun, but as far as 12-year-old nooria is concerned, the best thing is knowing she has a school to go back to in the fall. she couldn't be sure the place would stay open four months ago, after the taliban tried to burn it down. late one february night, more than a dozen masked gunmen burst into the 10-room girls' school in nooria's village, mandrawar, about 100 miles east of kabul. they tied up and beat the night watchman, soaked the principal's office and the library with gasoline, set it on fire and escaped into the darkness. the townspeople, who doused the blaze before it could spread, later found written messages from the gunmen promising to cut off the nose and ears of any teacher or student who dared to return. the threats didn't work. within days, most of the school's 650 pupils were back to their studies. classes were held under a grove of trees in the courtyard for several weeks, despite the winter chill, until repairs inside the one-story structure were complete. nearby schools replaced at least some of the library's books. but the hate mail kept coming, with threats to shave the teachers' heads as well as mutilate their faces. earlier this month, newsweek visited and talked to students and faculty on the last day of classes. nooria, who dreams of becoming a teacher herself, expressed her determination to finish school. "i'm not afraid of getting my nose and ears cut off," she said, all dressed up in a long purple dress and headscarf. "i want to keep studying." the ministry of education says the country has 1,350 girls' schools, along with 2,900 other institutions that hold split sessions, with girls-only classes in the afternoon. (coeducation is still forbidden.) more than a third of afghanistan's 5 million schoolchildren are now girls, compared with practically none in early 1992. in the last six months, however, taliban attacks and threats of attacks have disrupted or shut down more than 300 of those schools. yvonne ridley, who was arrested by the taliban in 2001, says they have suffered an unfair press. perhaps ridley (a member of the respect coalition national council who will speak at the socialist workers party's marxism 2006) or anyone else who believes afghans were better off before the overtrhow of the taliban should be required to explain their reasons to nooria. some readers didn't like what i wrote in 2003, but i'll repeat it anyway: it occurs to me that leftists scouring the world for humanitarian causes to support could do worse than volunteer to stand guard at afghan girls' schools. maybe the international solidarity movement could spare a few of their people for the task. maybe some of the former "human shields" in iraq are looking for a new cause. or would such a mission lack the necessary frisson of hostility to israel and america? update: and i'm unsurprised to see some readers still don't like it. posted by gene at 06:48 pm | comments (184) | trackback june 20, 2006 human rights watch: unexploded shell was "most likely cause" of gaza tragedy marc garlasco, the human rights watch investigator who initially claimed that the june 9 horrific deaths of seven civilians on a gaza beach were caused by incoming israeli artillery fire, has revised his opinion, the jerusalem post reports. on monday, maj.-gen. meir klifi - head of the idf inquiry commission that cleared the idf of responsibility for the blast - met with... garlasco, a military expert from the hrw who had last week claimed that the blast was caused by an idf artillery shell. following the three-hour meeting, described by both sides as cordial and pleasant, garlasco praised the idf's professional investigation into the blast, which he said was most likely caused by unexploded israeli ordnance left laying on the beach, a possibility also raised by klifi and his team. "we came to an agreement with general klifi that the most likely cause [of the blast] was unexploded israeli ordinance," garlasco told the jerusalem post following the meeting. while klifi's team did a "competent job" to rule out the possibility that the blast was caused by artillery fire, there were still, garlasco said, a number of pieces of evidence that the idf commission did not take into consideration. the main argument between klifi and hrw surrounded the timeline of the blast, which the idf said took between 16:57 and 15:10, at least 10 minutes after artillery fire in the area had stopped. hrw however disputes this claim and basing itself on palestinian hospital documentation, claims that the explosion actually took place right around the time of the idf artillery fire. ..... garlasco told klifi during the meeting that he was impressed with the idf's system of checks and balances concerning its artillery fire in the gaza strip and unlike hamas which specifically targeted civilians in its rocket attacks, the israelis, he said, invested a great amount of resources and efforts not to harm innocent civilians. "we do not believe the israelis were targeting civilians." garlasco said. "we just want to know if it was an israeli shell that killed the palestinians." is it reasonable to assume that those who never conceded they were wrong about the 2002 jenin "massacre" will be equally reluctant to admit error about the gaza beach "massacre"? (hat tip: adloyada.) update: human rights watch seems to be engaging in fancy word play without actually denying the jerusalem post's account of what garlasco said after his meeting with major-general klifi. see judy's latest post at adloyada and this jerusalem post editorial. and yes, i was among those who initially assumed the gaza beach tragedy was caused by incoming israeli shelling on june 9. posted by gene at 02:58 am | comments (58) | trackback june 16, 2006 "save the whale" tuesday's times carried a report on the meeting of the international whaling commission that begins today in st kitts and nevis: it is not often that the marshall islands, a scattering of coral outcrops in the north pacific, find themselves at the fulcrum of history. the last time was 60 years ago, when bikini atoll became the site of atomic bomb tests; since then the 60,000 marshallese have lived in quiet obscurity. but tomorrow they will make a decision that will have implications across the world, and deep into its seas. if the marshall islands votes with anti-whaling countries — including britain, the united states and australia — control of the iwc could remain in their hands and the 20-year-old ban on commercial whaling will remain secure. but if they vote with the pro-whaling bloc, led by japan, the single marshallese vote could tip the balance — for the first time since 1984, supporters of whaling would have a majority on the iwc. the result would be a crushing blow to environmentalists and a step towards the resumption of large-scale whaling the greenpeace website quotes an article in the taipei times that describes the tactics japan has been using to persuade other members of the iwc to overturn the ban: earlier this year it [japan] pledged more than us$1 million to the pacific island of tuvalu, a pro-whaling iwc member, and has reached similar deals with nauru and kiribati and other desperately poor countries in the pacific. last week it is believed to have offered a large aid package to other pacific countries. it has also invited the heads of state of seven african countries and eight caribbean and central american countries to visit tokyo in the last year. all are expected to vote with japan at st kitts. the (london) times adds that "in the past eight years, 21 new members have joined the commission and voted in support of japan. many of them, such as the marshall islands, palau and surinam, are tiny, poor countries with no history of whaling. two of them, mali and mongolia, are landlocked". another article in the same paper explains how japan currently gets round the ban on whaling - imposed "after overwhelming evidence that it was driving the world’s largest mammals to extinction" - by "claiming the right to carry out “scientific whaling” supposedly to gain “research” data from slaughtered whales. the number killed in this hunt has been steadily increasing — last winter the research fleet returned to japan with 6,400 tons of meat". according to greenpeace the number of whales harpooned for "scientic research" is so great that "there isn't room on their factory ship for all the meat, and a refrigerated cargo ship is sent to the antarctic to take boxes of whale meat back to japan. even still, they dump tons of whale overboard - taking home only the more profitable cuts". although the wikipedia page on whaling states that "it is a widely held belief in pro-whaling countries that conservation is a mere excuse used by anti-whaling side whose stance largely originates from cultural rather than scientific reasoning", the same page lists 25 species of whale, of which 20 are described as being somewhere between "near threatened" and "critically endangered". the times points out that any figures like these are necessarily unreliable - "whales are difficult to count, and they breed slowly" - in which case it doesn't seem a great idea to give japan the benefit of the doubt, given the quote in the times from one of their officials at last year's meeting - alluding to the countries they'd been bribing, he said: "some of you are so glad that some poor countries could not attend this meeting. however, next year they will all participate. the reversal of history, the turning point, is soon to come." with any luck, the turning point will be that people stop eating whale meat. according to the times only 13% of japanese people do so, and as an opinion piece in the christian science monitor, titled "save the whales - by not buying japanese", argues, "barring quick us or un action, a temporary consumer boycott of japanese products would carry the most certainty of saving the ban. forcing japan to back down isn't a pleasant prospect. but neither is the risk of some whale species going extinct. one side has to give, and for japan, it's the easier give". good news update: from today's telegraph: anti-whaling nations win 'great victory' against japan proposals japan suffered an unexpected and total defeat when it tried to start attacking a 20-year-old ban on commercial whaling at the international whaling commission's meeting in the caribbean state of st kitts and nevis last night. the member countries of the un whaling treaty voted down two proposals by japan - the most significant one for secret ballots so that small pacific and caribbean nations that receive japanese aid could unpick the protection of whales without fear of retribution. bad news update: from today's guardian: whalers secure crucial vote win in bid to overturn ban japan's campaign to restart commercial whale hunting received a major boost last night when the international whaling commission declared invalid a 20-year ban on the slaughter of the planet's largest creatures for anything other than scientific purposes. posted by wardytron at 01:06 pm | comments (89) | trackback a lethal folly? the dream vacation mourad benchellali had an op ed in yesterday's new york times, where he spoke about how he came to be imprisoned in guantanamo bay: i am a quiet muslim — i've never waged war, let alone an asymmetrical one. i wasn't anti-american before and, miraculously, i haven't become anti-american since. in guantánamo, i did see some people for whom jihad is life itself, people whose minds are distorted by extremism and whose souls are full of hatred. but the huge majority of the faces i remember — the ones that haunt my nights — are of desperation, suffering, incomprehension turned into silent madness. ... in the early summer of 2001, when i was 19, i made the mistake of listening to my older brother and going to afghanistan on what i thought was a dream vacation. his friends, he said, were going to look after me. they did — channeling me to what turned out to be a qaeda training camp. for two months, i was there, trapped in the middle of the desert by fear and my own stupidity. as soon as my time was up, i headed home. i was a few miles from the pakistani border when i learned with horror about the attacks of 9/11. days later, the border was sealed off, and the only way through to pakistan and a plane to europe was across the mountains of the hindu kush. i was with a group of people who were all going the same way. no one was armed; most of them, like me, had been lured to afghanistan by a misguided and mistimed sense of adventure, and were simply trying to make their way home. i was seized by the pakistani army while having tea at a mosque shortly after i managed to cross the border. a few days later i was delivered to the united states army: although i didn't know it at the time, i was now labeled an "enemy combatant." it did not matter that i was no one's enemy and had never been on a battlefield, let alone fought or aimed a weapon at anyone. although you wouldn't know it from the op ed piece, the brother who encouraged mourad to go on that dream vacation has also been in the news this week: a french court has jailed 25 alleged islamist militants for planning attacks in france in support of chechen rebels. ... prosecutors said the group's intended targets may have included the eiffel tower, the halles shopping centre, police stations and israeli interests. the ringleaders of the group, most of whom came from algeria, allegedly received training in afghanistan or in the war-torn southern russian republic of chechnya. ... the court heard that some of the plotters were former members of the armed islamic group (gia), based in algeria, who had fled that country, travelled through europe and regrouped in france. others were allegedly international islamic militants linked to al-qaeda or local hands recruited in french city suburbs. ... prosecutors said the group plotted in 2001-2002 to attack targets in the french capital. when it was raided in december 2002, the court heard, the group was "close to action". ... merouane benhamed, 33, described as the group's chief, and menad benchellali, 32, the group's alleged chemicals expert, were jailed for 10 years. (hat tip: tm) posted by david t at 09:40 am | comments (36) | trackback swedish labels consternation in sweden over systembolaget, the state-owned alcohol retail monopoly (!) relabelling israeli wines from the golan heights as "made in israeli-occupied syrian territories". apparently clients complained about this, and the foreign ministry recommended the new label. seems to me that the combination of booze and political education could be most productive. i look forward to systembolaget's labelling of tsing-tao beer as "manufactured by a communist dictatorship that has illegally occupied tibet for decades during which time hundreds of thousands have died but that doesn't matter because china is a big market", stolichnaya vodka as "drink of choice for the regime that flattened grozny with barely a whisper from the world because we need russia's help in the war on terror", and so on. cheers! gene adds: after further complaints, systembolaget has reversed the labeling policy for golan-produced wines. posted by adam lebor at 07:44 am | comments (69) | trackback june 13, 2006 wiping away the facts david aaronovitch in the times today on complacency and the dangers of dismissing zealots. he's talking about holocaust denier president ahmadinejad (among other things). he takes the guardian's jonathan steele to task who last week said that all the reporting of ahmadinejad's "wiped off the map" speech was pure mistranslation. phew. "the iranian president was quoting an ancient statement by iran's first islamist leader, the late ayatollah khomeini, that 'this regime occupying jerusalem must vanish from the page of time,' just as the shah's regime in iran had vanished. "he was not making a military threat. he was calling for an end to the occupation of jerusalem at some point in the future. the 'page of time' phrase suggests he did not expect it to happen soon," steele wrote. so that's okay then except…well it's not. the fact is that ahmadinejad did say equivalent words and the translation is easy to track down. according to the herald tribune translators in tehran working for the president's office and the foreign ministry disagree with steele and others. all official translations of ahmadinejad's statement, including a description of it on his website,, refer to wiping israel away. "sohrab mahdavi, one of the most prominent iranian translators, and siamak namazi, managing director of a tehran consulting firm, who is bilingual, both say "wipe off" or "wipe away" is more accurate than "vanish" because the persian verb is active and transitive. "the second translation issue concerns the word "map." khomeini's words were abstract: "sahneh roozgar." sahneh means scene or stage, and roozgar means time. the phrase was widely interpreted as "map," and for years, no one objected," the paper reports. even if this wasn't the case (if there was some mistranslation) equivocating about interpretation is unimportant. you only have to look, aaronovitch rightly says, at the body of work that ahmadinejad has already given us to realise that iranian president isn't some crackerjack nut to be lightly dismissed or worse: ignored out of hand. "the problem with steele’s analysis is that the official iranian translations of president a’s words refer to 'wiping israel away' (a distinction here between 'away' and 'off the map' seems unimportant). ahmadinejad has also said that israel is a 'stain' that must be erased, that israel is a 'rotten tree' that would be destroyed by a coming 'storm' and suggested that 'germany and austria can provide the . . . (zionist) regime with two or three provinces... and the issue will be resolved'. finally. "the iranian president has famously described the holocaust as a 'myth' peddled by zionists, has cracked down on dissidents, bloggers, improperly dressed women, feminists, satellite tv and student activists. in april it was reported that a group calling itself the committee for the commemoration of martyrs of the global islamic campaign was openly recruiting in tehran for jihadis who would fight in palestine, struggle against british and american forces, or just kill salman rushdie. " wardytron adds: aaronovitch's article wasn't strictly limited to what brendan in the comments calls "condemning iran every week from now until christmas or the invasion/attack: whichever comes first", which as you all know is a project of ours here at harry's place; he also - david aaronovitch, i mean, not brendan - mentions the wife of "radical" cleric abdullah al-faisal, who in 2003 told him that the jews controlled the media, and that rupert murdoch was also a jew and the son of robert maxwell, who was seven when murdoch was born. one of faisal's followers was london bomber mohammad siddique khan, among whose casualties in the edgware road bomb was john tulloch, who has written a book about his experience. according to aaronovitch: the book ends with a “letter” to siddique khan. khan, tulloch suggests, is analytically right in that, “much of your brothers’ blood has been spilled by and in the west over many years”. but tactically very wrong. “i don’t need you to tell me,” he says indignantly, “. . . that what you call my government (which, by the way, i didn’t vote for) has been complicit in atrocities against your people and others in different parts of the world.” unlike john tulloch, another 7/7 survivor, holly finch, did vote for the labour party. on this thread by her on the guardian's comment is free site someone quotes siddique khan defending the bombings on the grounds that "i am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my muslim brothers and sisters". his "brothers and sisters" that died that day included shahera islam, gamze gunoral, slimane ihab, anthony fatayi-williams and ateeque sharifi. sharifi had fled from taliban-run afghanistan, where too much blood had been spilled by the likes of osama bin laden, described by khan as one of "those whom i love like the prophets". i can't for the life of me understand how killing muslims in london somehow avenges or protects muslims anywhere else, but it's not much easier to understand when john tulloch says "far more than feeling angry with the bombers or angry about what has happened to me, i feel angry with the political leaders". posted by gordon at 11:41 am | comments (37) | trackback alternative realities the guardian reports today on the meeting between ehud olmert, the israeli prime minister, and tony blair: tony blair refused yesterday to endorse publicly the plan by the israeli prime minister, ehud olmert, for a partial withdrawal from the west bank. the times reports on the same meeting that: ehud olmert, israel’s new prime minister, was in jubilant mood last night after tony blair gave him tacit approval to move forward on the next stage of his controversial unilateral withdrawal plan.“i feel very much encouraged. he wants what is good for us and the palestinians.” shurely shome mishtake, as they say over at private eye? well, no. here is a connoisseur's example of the media bringing its own agenda to its coverage of an event. the times is broadly supportive of israel: the guardian is not. the times wants to be upbeat about the possibilities for peace, the guardian does not. there were even two diammetrically opposed leaders, the guardian opining over "the poverty of unilateralism", while the times argued that "it takes two", with the pressure on the palestinians to be peaceful partners. either way, as palestine descends further towards some kind of civil war, the plan by palestinian president mahmoud abbas for a referendum on his two-state plan is to be welcomed. over three quarters of the palestinian population support abbas' proposal. it is to be welcome not just because a two-state plan, that gives israel peace and security, and the palestinians a viable, contiguous, state is the only answer, but also because, for once, the palestinians are setting the agenda instead of following it. the whole history of israeli-palestinian diplomacy is a chronicle of israel and the us offering something, and the palestinians refusing, for whatever reasons. abbas' referendum plan is a welcome opportunity to change that dynamic, to sieze the diplomatic iniative, and force israel to react. ps - one of the comments on my previous postings asked me who i thought would win the world cup - judging by the barrage of criticism i received, it is clear that whoever triumphs in the final, the real winner is germany. posted by adam lebor at 08:18 am | comments (46) | trackback kinder, gentler repression the iran press news reports on attacks and mass arrests at a demonstration for women's rights in tehran monday. many of the regime's guards and agents were dressed in plain-clothes and passed themselves off as demonstrators until they began to attack and beat the protestors. they had batons, tear and pepper gases as well as all kinds of other chemical agents that make people sick and disables their breathing and vision which was continuously launched into the crowd. the regime's new tactic in their so-called attempt at a "kinder, gentler" way of treating protestors is to send out armed, green-clad female thugs and have them beat women demonstrators. the green outfits (as seen in photos) with nun-like hijabs connect in one piece to the rest of the shapeless shroud. posted by gene at 12:19 am | trackback june 11, 2006 hamas: no apologies, no investigations i've already mentioned that the deaths of seven civilians on a gaza beach-- apparently from misdirected israeli shelling-- was a tragedy. the efforts of hamas to capitalize on the deaths-- ending their "cease fire" on israeli terrirtory, for instance-- borders on farce. anyone who knows anything about hamas knows they don't care about civilian palestinian deaths unless they can exploit them. for instance, just a week ago the associated press reported from gaza, "three bystanders were killed in a clash between fatah and hamas forces, and relatives of the dead gathered at the hospital where the bodies were taken and shouted anti-hamas slogans." although i assume the deaths of those bystanders were every bit as unintentional as the deaths of the seven palestinians on the beach, there was (of course) in the first instance no hamas-orchestrated mass cry of outrage. another difference is that, unlike the israeli army in the shelling incident, hamas did not publicly apologize for the deaths of the bystanders or launch an investigation into the circumstances. if i had to guess, i would say that hamas was far more enraged by israel's earlier killing of the hamas-appointed palestinian security chief and popular resistance committees leader jamal abu samhadana. however, since it was much easier to generate sympathy for the civilian deaths, hamas grabbed the opportunity to link them with the abu samhadana killing. meanwhile, in another development hamas is not publicizing, two of the palestinians wounded in the gaza beach explosion are being treated at israeli hospitals. and a 60-year-old israeli maintenance worker has been critically injured by a qassam rocket launched from gaza with every hope of striking "zionist" men, women and children. again, no apology or investigation forthcoming from hamas. and the moral equivalence, or worse, goes on. update: according to an israeli investigation, the civilian deaths and injuries on the gaza beach were not caused by israeli shelling. posted by gene at 07:39 pm | comments (119) | trackback june 09, 2006 gates of hell? again? yeah, yeah... haaretz is reporting the death by an israeli missile strike of the hamas-appointed palestinian security chief and popular resistance committees leader jamal abu samhadana, in gaza. abu samhadana told the sunday telegraph in april: "we have only one enemy. they are jews. we have no other enemy. i will continue to carry the rifle and pull the trigger whenever required to defend my people." or not, as the case may be. according to haaretz: abu samhadana, who headed the popular resistance committees, was killed along with at least three other prc operatives, and 10 more were wounded, hospital officials said. the israel defense forces confirmed striking the prc camp in the southern gaza town of rafah, saying militants there were planning a large-scale attack on israel. the idf declined to comment on whether the strike had been a "targeted assassination." ..... a spokesman for the popular resistance committees vowed revenge. "the zionists and israelis have opened the gates of hell by assassinating abu samhadana," said prc spokesman abu abir. "the zionist entity and zionist settlements near gaza will not feel security and safety any more. our rockets will rain into the zionist entity and our heroes will blow themselves up among their dirty bodies," said a spokesman for the group. i know it's wrong to be complacent, but doesn't this "gates of hell" talk (and similar blood-curdling rhetoric, which i must admit palestinian and islamist terrorists are very good at) after each terrorist leader is eliminated lose its sting after awhile? it's like they're reading from a script, although they always manage to bring themselves to a fever pitch of anger while the cameras are on. (hat tip: adloyada.) david t adds: hamas is apparently sorrowed by the death of zarqawi: the ruling palestinian faction hamas on thursday deplored the killing by u.s. warplanes of the al qaeda leader in iraq abu musab al-zarqawi, describing him as a casualty of a crusade against arabs and muslims. hamas had distanced itself in the past from violence abroad blamed on al qaeda, but in a statement faxed to reuters after zarqawi was killed in a u.s. air strike north of baghdad on wednesday,it said it mourned the jordanian-born insurgent as a "martyr of the (muslim arab) nation". "with hearts full of faith, hamas commends brother-fighter abu musab ... who was martyred at the hands of the savage crusade campaign which targets the arab homeland, starting in iraq boohoo. update: here's more on abu samhadana's bloody history. in much more tragic news, misdirected israeli army shelling apparently killed seven civilians, including children, in gaza. the idf has apologized, ordered a temporary halt of artillery fire into gaza and launched an investigation. posted by gene at 01:19 am | comments (56) | trackback june 07, 2006 lalami's list considerable attention has been focussed in the past few weeks on a well-worth reading article in the nation by laila lalami, who blogs at moorishgirl. her conclusion is one which deserves attention: a good first step would be to stop treating muslim women as a silent, helpless mass of undifferentiated beings who think alike and face identical problems, and instead to recognise that each country and each society has its own unique issues. a second would be to question and critically assess the well-intentioned but factually inaccurate books that often serve as the very basis for discussion. we need more dialogue and less polemic. a third would be to acknowledge that women - and men - in muslim societies face problems of underdevelopment (chief among them illiteracy and poverty), and that tackling them would go a long way toward reducing inequities. as the colonial experience of the past century has proved, aligning with an agenda of war and domination will not result in the advancement of women's rights. on the contrary, such a top-down approach is bound to create a nationalist counter-reaction that, as we have witnessed with islamist parties, can be downright catastrophic. rather, a bottom-up approach, where the many local, home-grown women's organisations are fully empowered, stands a better chance in the long run. after all, isn't this how western feminists made their own gains toward equality? muslim women are used as pawns by islamist movements that make the control of women's lives a foundation of their retrograde agenda, and by western governments that use them as an excuse for building empire. there is a sensible strategic argument to be had here. can support and solidarity be offered by liberals, feminists, socialists and other progressives to women - and men - in those countries in which they face a real threat from socially conservative and oppressive politics, in a manner which cannot be dismissed as "an excuse for building empire"? if so, what might be done? part of the problem is that an important part of western radical politics has settled into an alliance of shared interests with islamists: which has ranged from formal coalition-building to shrill and strategic accusations of islamophobia, which serves only to bolster religious politics, while masking the genuine racism directed at arabs and south asian muslims. the other part of the problem is that the support we do give to progressive politics is inevitably treated by islamists as a western assault on fundamental social, religious and political values: all the more insidious, because it is carried out by cultural means. much of the discussion of lalami's article has revolved around the notion that anti-religious figures, such as hirsi ali, and radical religious reinterpreters, including manji, have nothing of use to add to the debate. a more gentle approach, by figures with greater sympathy for traditional beliefs and a deeper appreciation of religious learning, are more effective conduits of a progressive agenda. hirsi ali and manji are both polemicists, of course. polemicists tend to be iconoclastic figures, whose appeal is significantly to those who are already receptive to the arguments that they advance. this does not mean that they should be defamed or ignored. in a pluralist poltics, there are in any case other voices - those of thinkers who lalami finds more sympathetic - which it is also important to hear. lalami lists some of them: "hirsi ali seems to believe that muslims are deficient in critical thought... the work of khaled abou el fadl, fatima mernissi, leila ahmed, reza aslan, adonis, amina wadud, nawal saadawi, mohja kahf, asra nomani and the thousands of other scholars working in both muslim countries and the west easily contradicts the notion." the problem, as david thompson points out, is that "most of those [lalami] names have faced sanction, persecution or serious threats of violence for demonstrating their capacity for critical thought: in the wake of 9/11, khaled abou el fadl wrote a modest article for the los angeles times about the need for introspection within the islamic world. the article, and subsequent lectures and tv appearances, resulted in el fadl's ucla office and home receiving a barrage of death threats. the threats and subsequent property damage were not the work of 'islamophobes' or racists, but of indignant american muslims accusing el fadl of "defaming" islam and "selling out" their religion. the feminist muslim asra nomani is indeed another outspoken reformer, but the homicidal reactions to nomani's efforts scarcely refute hirsi ali's basic argument. nomani is perhaps best known for campaigning for women to be allowed to pray alongside men in mosques. a modest enough request, one might think. less well known -- and unacknowledged by lalami -- are the numerous death threats that began two days after nomani argued for this right on the nightline news programme. one outraged male muslim called nomani's mobile phone and left a message in urdu, promising to "slaughter" her, halal style, if she didn't "keep her mouth shut". the caller promised to murder nomani's mother and father, too, and, to emphasise his point, he called her parents' home immediately afterwards. the pious caller added, thoughtfully, that he would say a prayer as he slit their throats. the iranian author, reza aslan, and amina wadud, a professor of islamic studies at virginia commonwealth university, have both suffered death threats for allegedly "corrupting islam". as has the egyptian feminist writer, nawal saadawi. other prominent victims of theological intolerance were excluded from lalami's list. the sudanese writer kola boof fled to the u.s. after receiving death threats for her comments on islam and slavery. in march 2002, jordan's first female member of parliament, toujan al-faisal, was imprisoned for publishing material deemed "detrimental to religious feeling". one month earlier, the iranian writer and human rights lawyer, mehrangiz kar, and her publisher, shahla lahiji, received jail sentences based on similar claims of affront. nor was any mention made of the bangladeshi novelist taslima nasrin, who, in the early nineties, aroused widespread ire among muslims by publicly questioning shariah and the treatment of women under islamic law. strikes and rallies ensued across dhaka, drawing over 200,000 protestors and calls for her imprisonment. nasrin fled bangladesh in 1994 after muslim fundamentalists placed a bounty on her head. tried in absentia for blasphemy, a 2002 court ruling condemned her to jail if she returns. her books are, of course, banned. it is unsurprising that, in such a political climate, that those who are least likely to be silenced are also women with the fortitude and stridency of a hirsi ali or a manji. posted by david t at 10:38 pm | comments (38) | trackback new contributor hallo, this is adam lebor, a new contributor to harry's place. i am a writer and journalist, with a special interest in eastern europe and israel/palestine. i contribute to the times, the guardian, the economist, the jewish chronicle and literary review in britain, and i have written for the nation and the new york times. i am the author of five books, including "city of oranges: arabs and jews in jaffa", which recounts the life stories of six families, three arab and three jewish, who live in jaffa, and a biography of slobodan milosevic. my new book, complicity with evil: the united nations in the age of modern genocide, an examination of the un's catastrophic failures in srebrenica, rwanda and darfur, will be published by yale university press this autumn. first post follows soon..... posted by adam lebor at 04:35 pm | comments (22) | trackback june 06, 2006 the trial of job job cohen, the mayor of amsterdam, does not have an easy job, but has acquitted himself well: "in 2005, cohen was named one of time magazine's 'european heroes' for his stand on the murder of film-maker theo van gogh in an amsterdam street by an islamist in november 2004. cohen led the city's people in street protests, calling for unity and tolerance. since the murder, which saw cohen himself targeted by the assassin, the mayor has sought to bring together the capital's immigrant communities to ensure dialogue against extremism, both by and directed at muslim immigrants, in order to maintain its reputation for tolerance and liberal attitudes." he is in the finals for local government's equivalent of the miss world pageant: [hi catherine!] - the world mayor 2006 contest. you can vote for him here. wardytron adds: stain on my character though it undoubtedly is, i'm not really an avid follower of dutch domestic politics, and hadn't heard of job cohen until late last year when i read this article in fifth columnist and terrorists' mouthpiece the sunday times. the sentence that stood out was this: job cohen, the mayor of amsterdam, has tried to build bridges with the muslim community but, as the country’s highest-profile jew, he also needs round- the-clock protection there was no commentary on or judgement of the idea that the netherlands' highest profile jew should need round- the-clock protection; it was just a fact, as though this was natural in 21st century europe. posted by david t at 08:50 pm | comments (121) | trackback june 05, 2006 al cid if i were to tell you that the winner in a presidential election over the weekend has the first name “alan”, your initial thought probably wouldn’t be that latin america has a new leader. but ‘alan’ garcia did indeed receive 54.69% of the votes in peru’s presidential election, defeating his nationalist opponent ollanta humala. it seems al and venezuela’s hugo chavez are not that close. chavez had made known his support for humala throughout the campaign, and following his victory, al thundered: "today, the majority of the country has delivered a message in favour of national independence, of national sovereignty……they have defeated the efforts by mr hugo chavez to integrate us into his militaristic and backwards expansion project he intends to impose over south america. today, peru has said no." i guess it’s a case of watch this space. we now look forward to upcoming elections in uruguay. my money is on that trevor fella. gene adds: it will be interesting to hear from the chavistas about why garcia-- not a terribly popular figure in peru-- defeated the candidate supported by chavez. could it be that a majority of peruvians (not all of them members of the wealthy elite) simply didn't care for chavez and his efforts to interfere in their election? posted by brownie at 10:35 am | comments (40) | trackback nuj china boycott the nuj has called on its members: to boycott all yahoo products and services to protest the internet company's reported actions in china. the national union of journalists said it sent a letter on friday to dominique vidal, yahoo europe's vice president, denouncing the company for allegedly providing information to chinese authorities about journalists. the union also said it would stop using all yahoo-operated services. the background to the boycott is as follows: yahoo has come under fire, including at a congressional hearing in february, for choosing to locate servers used by yahoo mail inside china instead of in a jurisdiction that is more protective of free speech and privacy rights, which google and microsoft already do. (a yahoo representative did not return multiple phone calls on wednesday.) paris-based reporters without borders revealed in september that information provided by yahoo was used to convict shi tao, a 37-year-old journalist, of leaking "state secrets." then, in february, the group reported that yahoo turned over information that led to the arrest of li zhi, a 35-year-old ex-civil servant from the southwestern province of dazhou, and an eight-year prison sentence in 2003. hat tip: juan golblado gordon adds: yahoo! has now been involved in helping to jail a total of four journalists. wang xiaoning was jailed in 2003, but his jailing only came to light in april of this year when he was sentenced to ten years. it seems like it will be only a matter of time before more are jailed with the help of evidence handed over by internet firms. in january, internet darling google agreed to censor its chinese service to get its foot in the door. venichka adds: further information on yahoo's activities in china, and more details about shi tao can be found at this may 31, 2006 more on moscow gay pride may 26, 2006 a rock and israel mahmoud abbas seems to be playing something of a blinder with his threat to call a referendum on palestinian statehood and the 1967 borders that implicitly recognises israel. mohammad nazzal, hamas spokesman, doesn't quite seem to know what to do. at friday prayers today he didn't outright reject the idea, which has to be a positive. stating the obvious nazzal told reuters that hamas sees "this referendum as a tool of pressure on hamas". you think. the use of the prisoners in drawing up the plan (from hamas, fatah and islamic jihad) might finally lead hamas to water even if it doesn't have to be seen to be drinking the stuff itself. the plan means hamas doesn't even have to come out itself and recognise israel as it has all the built in concessions that the hamas hardliners need. maybe not all of them. what it does call for is for hamas and islamic jihad to join a reformed plo alongside fatah, an act which in itself would be implicit recognition by hamas of the state of israel – but still leaving hamas enough room for manoeuvre and the right to say that while the plo recognises israel hamas as a plo faction does not. there's more all over on this including a good piece in the times. posted by gordon at 03:47 pm | comments (59) | trackback may 25, 2006 elizabeth... not the first. earlier this month, there was a small protest outside the home office to mark the international day against homophobia (idaho). i was invited to write a comment piece for gay news site pink news, in which i outlined the reasons we’re concerned by the treatment of lgbt asylum seekers. peter tatchell also wrote about the issue on the guardian’s blog "comment is free". a number of people questioned why he was focussing on gay asylum seekers when the whole system is rotten. a fair question, but it has a ready answer: because, unique to gay people, the home office has no formal policy with regards to us. indeed, the idaho protest identified five failings by the home office with regard to gay asylum seekers. they are:no training on sexual orientation issues for asylum staff and adjudicatorsno official policy supporting the right of refugees to claim asylum on the grounds of sexual orientationno action to stamp out the abuse of gay refugees in uk asylum detention campsno accurate, up-to-date information on the victimisation of gay people in violently homophobic countriesno adequate access to proper legal representation for gay asylum applicants so it is no surprise that a ugandan lesbian, elizabeth, is having trouble with her asylum application and that a fierce campaign to support her is necessary. elizabeth is not the first, nor will she be the last gay person to face this struggle if something isn’t done to reform the system and address these serious failings. elizabeth’s claim was rejected because the home office believes that lesbians are not subject to the same homophobic persecution as gay men. ten minutes on google shows this is not the case. amnesty reports: activist victor juliet mukasa, chairperson of sexual minorities uganda (smug), fears for her safety after her house was raided on the night of 20 july 2005. local government officials in a suburb of the capital city, kampala, entered her house in her absence and seized documents and other material, apparently looking for “incriminating evidence” relating to the activities of smug. no search warrant was produced on demand. the organization advocates for the promotion and respect of all rights contained in the uganda constitution and in international human rights treaties for lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, including the right not to be discriminated against. another lesbian activist, who was in juliet’s house on the night of the raid, was arbitrarily arrested and detained by local government officials and then taken to the police station. she was subjected to humiliating and degrading treatment, in breach of her right to liberty, security and inviolability of person and to privacy. no charges were pressed against her and she was released, on the condition that she reported back to the police in the company of the chairperson of smug the following morning of 21 july. radio netherlands reports: homosexuality is a subject that regularly appears in the ugandan press. it again hit the headlines in december when an 18-year-old high school student was caned in public after the school authorities discovered she was lesbian. a few days later she was dead. initially, it was reported that she had committed suicide because of the public humiliation, but later it emerged that she had probably died from the beating she received at the school. the other allegation the home office makes is that elizabeth is not a “real lesbian” because as a young woman she had a child. this underscores the lack of understanding the home office has about gay people. for a start, in many cultures, it is incredibly hard – especially for women – to remain single. furthermore, many only discover their sexuality later in life after naïve and joyless marriages which many are pressured into. even in the uk, religious groups try to persuade people that homosexuality is a bad choice or a disorder which they can “come out of” by accepting christ, allah, or whoever and by practice (and prayer). many fall for it and only discover years later that they’ve made a terrible mistake. assuming that because someone was married or had a child that they’re not gay is a purely heterocentric assumption. the home office needs to create guidelines in consultation with gay community to deal with gay people – as they have formulated gender guidelines. this is even more urgent since the united nations steadfastly ignores the world’s gay community. the net effect is that the persecution of gay people like elizabeth isn’t even acknowledged as a problem. to find out more about how you can help elizabeth’s fight for asylum, visit posted by brett at 04:16 pm | comments (45) | trackback may 20, 2006 support turkish secularists "i don't think turks will let any threat to secularism succeed. turks have always lived with other religions. we are secular by nature, maybe even unconsciously. there have always been striptease dancers here in turkey as well as religious women who pray five times a day. this is the nature of our country." - turkish voices, via the bbc, here thousands of turkish people rallied to protest against the murder of judge mustafa yucel ozbilgin at the administrative court on wednesday, by a man who described himself as "a soldier of allah". posted by david t at 05:21 pm | comments (28) | trackback may 19, 2006 ayman nour's sentence upheld egypt's brave democracy activist ayman nour-- who challenged hosni mubarak in last september's presidential election-- has had his five-year prison sentence upheld by an appeals court. nour was convicted in december of forging documents needed to legalize his tomorrow party, even though a government commission had approved the papers in october 2004 and a witness at his trial said he was tortured into testifying against nour. the case attracted criticism from human rights groups as being politically motivated, and the state department made the case a test of mubarak's commitment to democracy. ..... thousands of riot police in body armor and helmets sealed off parts of central cairo to keep demonstrators from congregating near the courthouse where the hearings for nour and the judges took place. at a nearby market, police pursued, clubbed and beat demonstrators gathered to support the judges. they arrested about 250 protesters, mostly members of the formally banned muslim brotherhood, an islamic political and social organization that has emerged as egypt's only large and well-organized opposition force. police and plainclothes security agents also intercepted dozens of nour supporters as they tried to march on tomorrow party headquarters in downtown's talat harb square. several were beaten. "the charade is over," said samer s. shehata, a professor of contemporary arab studies at georgetown university who is researching elections in egypt. "egypt is going back to an earlier period of repression." "political reform is dead," remarked joshua stracher, a researcher from the university of st. andrews in scotland. in washington, state department spokesman sean mccormack said the united states was "deeply troubled" by nour's case, calling it "both a miscarriage of justice by international standards and a setback for the democratic aspirations of the egyptian people." egyptian authorities recently arrested the blogger alaa. of course the more the mubarak regime represses secular liberal opponents, the more the muslim brotherhood fills the opposition gap. it's obvious that mubarak believes he can do what he wants without fear of losing his $2 billion annual subsidy (mostly in military aid) from the us. so, what now? posted by gene at 11:40 pm | comments (11) | trackback may 18, 2006 understanding there is a characteristically excellent article by tim garton ash in the guardian, on the importance of understanding suicide bombers, and the conditions which produce them. for some reason, the formating of comments on guardian articles on cif render them nearly unreadable, so i'm opening a thread on it here: so i've been reading the now quite extensive literature on the subject, and especially a scrupulous and fascinating study called making sense of suicide missions, edited by diego gambetta, which looks at suicide missions (a carefully chosen, deliberately neutral term) from the japanese kamikaze pilots in the second world war (still much the largest group numerically) to al-qaida today. those who engage in suicide missions are by no means usually poor or ill-educated, although they may come from poor and marginalised communities. the father of one of the july 7 bombers, shehzad tanweer, was a prominent local businessman. two of them had attended leeds metropolitan university. nor do suicide missionaries generally display the psychological symptoms typical of people at high risk of committing suicide. often they seem well-adjusted members of a family and a community. tanweer played cricket in a local park until late into the evening of july 6: "he appeared perfectly normal to those around him". a study of palestinian suicide bombers notes that "none of them were uneducated, desperately poor, simple-minded or depressed ... two were the sons of millionaires ... they were polite and serious, and in their communities they were considered to be model youth[s]. all were deeply religious." obviously there was also a strong islamic motivation in the case of the london bombers, but the majority of recorded suicide missionaries, including the tamil tigers and the kamikaze pilots, have not been religiously motivated. so what do they have in common? one major common feature is spelled out starkly by gambetta: suicide missions have mostly been used to attack democracies. democracies, he suggests, are more likely to change their policies as a result of such attacks, less likely to carry out annihilating reprisals against the offending group, and, above all, democracies give them the oxygen of publicity through a free media. (even if iraq is not a proper democracy, the media effect is there in spades.) so it's a rational choice. moreover, most suicide missionaries see themselves as soldiers in a noble cause. "we are at war and i am a soldier," said the leader of the london bombers, mohammad sidique khan, in a video that also praised "today's heroes like our beloved sheikh osama bin laden". suicide missionaries, whether religious or secular, believe they will achieve glory and honour - two concepts that seem anachronistic to bourgeois liberal societies like ours, which prefer fame and celebrity. the dying is therefore as important as the killing. martyrdom is a desired goal. having posted this, i see that a poster called stevenh has commented, in the thread below, on the following part of norman geras' article: “understanding” noises about terrorist atrocities — in london or madrid, but especially tel aviv and haifa — as having their roots in poverty, oppression and injustice are equally common, though these voices are at a loss to explain why there have been movements in the past fighting these evils that didn’t resort to randomly blowing up civilians. stevenh says: i have huge problems with this "understanding noises" stuff. it sounds to me like an attempt to shut down debate.... understanding does not equate to justifying or condoning. it is either dishonest or daft for norm to claim that it does. which evokes the following response from a particularly silly commentator: timothy garton ash 1: norman geras and learn, norman, and don't misrepresent arguments. these posters have ever so slightly missed the point. garton ash's argument is that it is imperative truly to understand the motivations of, and the conditions which produce, suicide bombing. that is a very different thing from "understanding" or making "understanding noises": or, sometimes, ""mbunderstanding". making "understanding noises" does not constitute a serious attempt to understand what is going through a terrorist's mind in the moments before it is shredded by shrapnel. rather, it usually consists of investing suicide bombers with a writer's own motivations, rather than actually trying seriously to comprehend theirs. gene adds: timonthy garton ash wrote: a study of palestinian suicide bombers notes that "none of them were uneducated, desperately poor, simple-minded or depressed ..." i question the validity of this study, especially if you include would-be suicide bombers. there have been many instances of palestinian children (in at least one case mentally handicapped) being sent to blow themselves up at israeli checkpoints. (when captured by the israelis, they are treated more humanely than by those who sent them.) i posted a link last year to this video of an nbc news report on a palestinian boy who was captured by the israelis before blowing himself up. watch it if you haven't already. posted by david t at 02:33 pm | comments (78) | trackback may 15, 2006 "a wild critic of us foreign policy" noam has been holidaying in lebanon, where he took the opportunity to drop in on hezbollah, to impart to them his own particular brand of "wisdom". chomsky clearly stated "i think nasrallah has a reasoned argument and persuasive argument that they should be in the hands of hezbollah (the arms) as a deterrent to potential aggression, and there is plenty of background reasons for that. so until, i think his position reporting it correctly and it seems to me reasonable position, is that until there is a general political settlement in the region, the threat of aggression and violence is reduced or eliminated there has to be a deterrent, and the lebanese army can't be a deterrent." ... chomsky said he got what he expected from this meeting: a reasoned and intelligent analysis of the lebanese situation and the international situation. gene adds: the al-manar website calls chomsky "a wild critic of us foreign policy," which is probably more accurate than intended. al-manar, by the way, is controlled by hezbollah. in 2004 it was banned from the french airwaves for its antisemitic content. i wonder if nasrallah gave chomsky a dvd of the al-manar-broadcast series "diaspora" as a parting gift. posted by david t at 05:58 pm | comments (99) | trackback may 14, 2006 questions for chavez i suspect hugo chavez will be surrounded mostly by uncritical sycophants during his visit to london. but in case any of our readers get close enough to ask questions of the president, here are a few suggestions. (hat tip to venezuelan blogger daniel duquenal, who will be interviewed by bbc radio five at 9 p.m. sunday london time.) --you have called cuba a "revolutionary democracy." do you believe it is a model for venezuelan democracy? --with your supporters controlling virtually all of venezuela's judiciary, and occupying 100 percent of the seats in the legislature, how can you assure that minority rights, a hallmark of democracy, are respected by the venezuelan government? --will you be willing during the coming election campaign to have a genuine debate with the candidates of the opposition, with each candidate being treated equally? --you have been in office for almost eight years. venezuela has benefited for the past four years from record oil prices. why during your presidency has the crime rate in venezuela more than doubled, with poor neighborhoods suffering the most? what are your plans to protect the most vulnerable? --you become president in 1999. why is venezuela's per capita income still below the 1998 level? --why is 50 percent of the venezuela's labor force in the informal sector without access to social security, retirement plans or comprehensive social care except for the primary care offered by barrio adentro? --you have called the united states the "most savage, cruel and murderous empire that has existed in the history of the world." why then does venezuela sell 80 percent of its oil to the usa? --you have embraced robert mugabe and called him a "true freedom fighter." does it disturb you to come to the uk where virtually everyone across the political spectrum condemns the mugabe regime for its brutality, corruption and misrule which have caused suffering for millions of zimbabweans? update: from ian buruma in the times, some clear thinking about chavez and his western enthusiasts. they're part of a long, depressing tradition among "progressives." david t adds: a reader sends in a nice picture of some chavez groupies who turned up to sing the internationale through a megaphone at el presidente this morning. hope the windows of the savoy have decent double-glazing! further update: check some of the not-so-proletarian guests for chavez's lunch today with livingstone. guests include playwright harold pinter, bianca jagger, peter voser, chief financial officer of shell international, fashion designer katherine hamnett and michael lynch, director of the south bank centre. who do you suppose will fawn over him more, the trendy lefties or the corporate execs? also according to the guardian: on sunday chavez gave a rousing address to around 800 supporters who had gathered at camden city hall to hear him speak in which he denounced capitalism and called for a new socialist world order. he was given an enthusiastic welcome by the crowd who waved venezuelan flags, held up posters and chanted slogans in a colourful display of support. does that mean nobody there asked any of my questions? another update: more good sense from the left about chavez, by denis macshane. posted by gene at 06:08 pm | comments (129) | trackback may 11, 2006 challenges to feminism fred halliday surveys both the impressive achievements of those who have worked for the emancipation of women in the past 50 years, and contrasts them with the efforts of those who are working to turn back the clock: more serious and sustained, and reflecting a definite and organised commitment, is the spread of anti-feminist social movements and religious groups across many countries. in the united states, the 1973 supreme court ruling that legalised abortion, the case of roe vs wade, is now under serious attack, and the abortion issue has become a major dividing line in us politics. in europe, the catholic church – now led by the conservative pope benedict xvi, following in the footsteps of john paul ii – is openly calling for more church intervention in social and political life and a return to "traditional" values on marriage, sex, women and homosexuality. the argument that church's policies – such as its prohibition against the use of condoms – are responsible for endangering the lives of millions of people through aids has received relatively little attention. instead, we see the emergence in italian political life, and potentially elsewhere, of a "theoconservative" political trend, bent on rolling back the clock on advances in social and gender equality. the situation in the islamic world is, of course, even more catastrophic. here the spread of islamism, as a social and political force, is universally accompanied by an erosion of respect for women and their rights and greater use of the law, and state power, to impose a new authoritarian set of norms. just as in the cold war, both communist and capitalist states combined their rivalry with each other with the imposition of social and political controls at home; so now, in the "long war" between the west and politicised islam, a similar, mutually reinforcing, reconsolidation of conservative values is taking place. at the same time, the conservatives states of east and west – iran, saudi arabia and qatar on one side; the us, vatican city and almost certainly a newly assertive poland on the other – ally in un conferences on the family and other issues to impose their agenda. ... this contempt for, and rejection of, all that women's emancipation and its associate democratic norms entail, was brought home to me in one dramatic incident during the summer of 2004. visiting madrid to see where the islamist terrorist groups responsible for the 11 march bombings had been active, i went to the suburb of leganés, a district of modern four- and five-storey apartment buildings, much favoured by young families. there, on a leafy street, was the mangled wreckage of the block where seven islamists had blown themselves up. looking around, i noticed that the streets all had feminist names: the avenida petra kelly and flora tristan street – named, respectively, for a german peace activist and founder of the greens, and for a 19th-century french writer active in workers' struggles for social justice. other streets carried the names of spanish and latin american women writers. evidently, the local authorities in leganés were committed to feminism and to the heroines and writers of that movement. but for the terrorists this had meant nothing; had they known what these names represented, they probably would have hated it all the more, just as their accursed associates in bali and egypt attacked night clubs and hotels where people relaxed." read the rest. posted by david t at 08:59 pm | comments (87) | trackback may 10, 2006 livingstone will host chávez visit mayor ken livingstone will host venezuelan president hugo chávez on a visit to london next week. chavez will be an honoured guest, no doubt. president chávez, who has been critical of the british government over the iraq war, will address a rally in the capital during his visit. he will also attend a public meeting at friends house, euston, on may 15, to speak alongside tony benn, tariq ali, and the labour mp colin burgon, who played a key part in inviting him to britain. who's going? livingstone said: "hugo chávez ... was rescued from an illegal military coup by mass popular resistance. [he] has achieved this unprecedented electoral popularity because ... he introduced the first effective health service into venezuela, commenced a mass literacy programme, and is paying for 250,000 people to have eye operations. we are proud to have such a figure visit london. those seeking to isolate [him] show commitment not to democracy or the welfare of the venezuelan people but to the anti-democratic policies of george bush." a foreign office spokesman yesterday emphasised that there had been no requests for meetings with the government. the venezuelan ambassador, alfredo toro hardy, said mr chávez, who had made an official trip to the uk in 2001, wanted to thank the many people, including 120 uk mps, who supported him. mr livingstone said: "there are many areas where we can benefit from the venezuelan experience, including energy and environmental policies [and] democratic participation." posted by gene at 08:59 pm | comments (156) | trackback may 08, 2006 peretz takes over as israeli defense minister amir peretz, chairman of the labor party and former leader of the israeli labor federation histadrut, has taken over as israel's defense minister in the new coalition government. peretz [said]: "true, i am a defense minister with a civilian and social orientation, but i do not see a contradiction between these things. the reverse is true – because if the idf is the people's army, this is how it must be kept, because this is the true value we hold in this special army of ours." the new defense minister said, "to our palestinian neighbors we say: 'not through the path of terror will you accomplish your goals. you must abandon the terrorism, combat incitement, and then you will again find the hand of the israeli government extended towards you with a readiness to reach agreements, with the price of painful concessions'." ..... last friday peretz already authorized an air force attack on popular resistance committees training facility in gaza; five members were killed in the attack. on sunday the defense minister overcame another hurdle with the clearing of families who had been illegally residing in a hebron home. peretz, who authorized the evacuation on saturday, ordered that women and children be cleared from the premises first. posted by gene at 02:06 am | comments (13) | trackback may 05, 2006 doin' the uranium enrichment rag sure, i can imagine someone like yvonne ridley being moved to tears by this performance, but i have to believe that most iranians who saw it either shook their heads incredulously or burst out laughing. posted by gene at 10:36 pm | comments (27) | trackback may 04, 2006 moussaoui gets life, not death good posted by david t at 12:10 am | comments (144) | trackback may 01, 2006 for workers' rights everywhere democratic trade unions are the bedrock organizations for the defence of workers' interests and are one of the most important forces for human rights, democracy-promotion and egalitarian internationalism. labour rights are human rights. the universal adoption of the international labour organization conventions — now routinely ignored by governments across the globe — is a priority for us. --the euston manifesto basic stuff, i think. and yet-- though the circumstances are very different-- it's not only in places like iran that workers are struggling for even the most basic rights. current us labor law makes it ridiculously easy for employers to thwart efforts by workers to organize unions. intimidation and endless legal delays are commonplace, and penalties for violating the law are laughable. surveys indicate that tens of millions of nonunion american workers would join unions if they felt free to do so. organized labor has been lobbying hard in recent years for a bill in congress-- the employee free choice act-- which would assure workers the right to choose union representation without intimidation and delays. the act would require employers to recognize a union after a majority of employees sign authorization cards. it also would provide for mediation and arbitration of first-contract disputes and authorize stronger penalties for violation of labor law when workers seek to form a union. as of now, sponsors of the bill are just three short of a majority in the house of represenatives (215 supporters out of 435). in the senate, 42 of 100 members are sponsors. (for those who like to make the lazy argument that there is no real difference between the major american political parties, it's worth noting that virtually all the sponsors are democrats.) needless to say, president bush is not among the supporters of the efca. and if it did pass, he would be unlikely to go against the wishes of his corporate supporters by signing it. but it's important to keep the issue alive for when there will be a more worker-friendly congress and president. meanwhile, proving that anti-unionism know no borders, the independent reports that the american mega-retalier wal-mart forced its british subsidiary asda to renege on an agreement to recognize a union at the company's distribution network. wal-mart also goes to tremendous lengths to keep its american employees "union free." we at harry's place frequently point out the hypocrisy of those on the left who denounce repressive practices of western and pro-western governments while excusing "anti-imperialist" regimes which do the same or worse. it's also worth noting the hypocrisy of those on the right who support labor struggles in countries like iran (and, in the 1980s, poland) while turning tepid or hostile when the struggles are closer to home. posted by gene at 11:15 pm | comments (57) | trackback police attack may day demonstrators in tehran at may day demonstrations in tehran, anti-riot squads attacked and arrested members of the bus drivers union demanding the release of their imprisoned leader, iran press news reports. the attacks came during a day of worker protests in the iranian capital, including at a government-sponsored rally outside the former us embassy. workers there refused to chant regime-approved slogans. [a]ccording to reports from tehran from people who were present at the rally between 18 to 20,000 people are said to have shown up. workers from all across iran made their way to tehran to join in solidarity and though there was major security, controlled by the revolutionary guards and their basij auxiliary, the workers were not intimidated. the workers who had shown up at the ex-u.s. embassy due the islamic regime's threats and intimidation of the loss of their jobs were meant to be nothing more than window-dressing for the islamic regime's own self-promotion. they had been told to chant slogans about "nuclear power is our absolute right"; instead however, in defiance of their oppressors, they began chanting slogans such as: "incompetent labor minister, resign, resign, strike, our absolute right" or "imprisoned worker must be freed" or "let go of the palestinians and start thinking about us." at this point the regime's plans for a pro-regime seeming demonstration was dashed. alireza mahboob, the member of majles (islamic parliament's assembly) and the director of the regime-run organization entitled workers house whose recent embezzellment and financial scandals has made headlines even in the regime's own media, was planning on speaking at the rally but the crowd booed and jeered at him, barring him from speaking and forced him off the stage. agents from the ministry of intelligence and security then arrested gholam-reza mirzai, member of the board of directors of the bus drivers union who had been released on march 20th. the protestors chanted: "osanlou must be released." mansour osanlou, the leader of the bus drivers union who is under severe torture in the prisons of the islamic regime was arrested on december 23rd, 2005. the regime's anti-riot battalions that included 45 mini-buses, bullet proof cars and several motorcyles attacked the protestors from the bus drivers company, arresting 30 or more people. there were also many student supporters from various universities around tehran who had, as planned joined the rally and some were seen being arrested along side the workers. the official islamic republic news agency provides a more succinct account. more details when they become available. posted by gene at 09:13 pm | comments (16) | trackback may day greetings eight hours for work, eight hours for rest eight hours for what we will; eight hours for work, eight hours for rest eight hours for what we will. posted by harry at 07:50 am | comments (45) | trackback april 29, 2006 members of congress arrested at sudanese embassy five democratic members of congress were arrested friday at a protest in front of the sundanese embassy in washington. the lawmakers -- reps. tom lantos of california, jim mcgovern and john olver of massachusetts, jim moran, of virginia, and sheila jackson lee of texas -- were among 11 protesters arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly. the charges are misdemeanors. the international community has accused the military dictatorship in sudan of an ongoing genocide of its non-arab citizens. several hundred thousand refugees are in the darfur region after having been driven off their land. "this generation has watched the slaughter in cambodia. this generation has watched the slaughter in rwanda. we will not watch the slaughter in darfur," said lantos, who's a holocaust survivor. "the sudanese government has shown total disregard for the wishes of the global, civilized community. i have no optimism as to the actions of the sudanese government." a reminder: a rally demanding action to end the genocide in darfur is scheduled for sunday on the national mall in washington. other demonstrations will be held in cities across the us and canada. posted by gene at 04:02 pm | trackback april 27, 2006 "i'm not a racist, but..." [this piece is also posted on commentisfree] the suggestion that jews control the world by proxy - particularly by manipulating the media and by secretly directing the policies of other countries - is a widespread, and racist conspiracy theory with a long history. it is a view which is very much alive, on the far right and the far left, and - indeed - the far green. to take a recent example abdurrahman jafar, the respect mayoral candidate, claimed yesterday in the muslim weekly, that tony blair had lied about "how israel has been formulating and directing uk and us foreign policy". fisk has a lead story in the independent "extra" section today which considers the mearsheimer and walt conspiracy-lite theory about the influence of american jews on us foreign policy. mearsheimer and walt's thesis is, in essence, that an inchoate, uncoordinated, non-conspiratorial conspiracy of jews negatively influences us foreign policy. it has been subject to criticism on a number of bases: including from professors chomsky and massad, who take the more familiar left wing line that it the israel is the us's proxy, rather than the other way round. the mearsheimer and walt article is a rather weak and somewhat tendentious piece of work. in itself, it is no more intrinsically controversial than theorising about - say - the influence of cuban american groups on us foreign policy in the caribbean. however, given that mearsheimer and walt's argument has, at least, some echoes of the "jews control the world" conspiracy theory, it would be astonishing if at least some of those critiques did not mention the racist and conspiracist context within which the "jews control america" theory operates. and indeed, some do. that is why - as fisk notes - it has been picked up on by the likes of klansman, david duke. so what? who cares what duke thinks about it? c'est la vie. fisk's response is a familiar one. merely to raise the possibility of racism in this context is itself a form of insidious censorship. the media is, for this reason - he suggests - rarely critical of israel. anti-israel voices are consistently silenced. "noam chomsky, america's foremost moral philosopher and linguistics academic - he claims [is]so critical of israel that he does not even have a regular newspaper column". fisk himself once got shouted at by dershowitz during an irish radio show. and so on. except that, of course, this is paranoid nonsense. there is a significant focus on the reporting of israeli-palestinian politics, and the media is frequently critical of israel's policies. in fact, it is hard to think of any other part of the world which is more closely analysed and commented upon, from all perspectives. there's an enormous global shouting match going on about the subject, in case you haven't noticed. you have to be a little mad if you seriously think this is not so. i would point out that the argument that jews are engaged in a pernicious censorship of criticism in the media of israel does have a pretty familar conspiracist echoes of its own ... except that i'm frightened to make that point, lest i be labelled as part of the world wide zionist conspiracy. help! help! i'm being censored by fisk! however, to be serious for a moment: we've all read articles like fisk's present offering before. it is pretty unsophisticated stuff. what makes this one notable, however, is that the independent has chosen to present fisk's argument in an even more, erm, forthright manner than fisk himself. what fisk merely insinuates, the independent makes crystal clear. they've entitled their piece "a united states of israel?", and illustrated it with a picture of the stars and stripes, in which the stars have been replaced by jewish stars of david. it is reminiscent of the "kosher conspiracy?" illustration in the new statesman - which featured a star of david impaling the union jack - a few years ago. in both cases, the headline used a question mark: as if to imply that nobody should mistake this for racist propaganising, because the publications were only asking the question, you know... you can see the independent's picture in the attached scan. but here is the same theme from a few other contexts: "made by mossad" - from a russian far right website, reproduced by mpacuk us govt under zionist control - from international third position: a neo-nazi group founded by nick griffin "who are we fighting for?" - from a conspiracy theory website "a new american flag" from the left-ish nevercalm website. this one is great - it has freemasons in it as well! from el shahab a variation on the theme - from the national front a nazi propaganda poster that reads “behind the enemy powers: the jew”: posted by david t at 02:05 pm | comments (293) | trackback april 24, 2006 framing gays in iran most of you will remember this picture of two teenagers in the process of being hanged in mashhad, iran: you may also remember that iran had claimed that the two executed men had raped a 13 year old boy. outrage!, in response, argued that iran routinely paints those who they execute for homosexuality as rapists, and that such a claim in this case should be treated as a smokescreen. outrage is in the process of publishing a dossier of information on the institutionalised anti-gay crackdown which has been taking place in iran since 1979: homan, an iranian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (lgbt) exile group, estimated that around 4,000 people had been executed for lavaat from 1979 until the mid-1990s. an attempt to set up a gay organisation in the early 1980s led to 70 executions. around 100 gay people were sentenced to death following one raid on one private party in 1992. a very large number were executed, or rather lynched without trial, as the ayatollahs began to hijack the iranian revolution by the end of 1979. those killed reportedly included foreign visitors. that year gay activists from the lavender crescent society in san francisco were taken from the airport in tehran shortly after their arrival and summarily shot dead. gay and bisexual men were quite literally hanged from trees at that time. outrage! suggest that in recent years, the manner of charging and then executing of gays has changed. reports of trials and executions now frequently contain supplementary allegations of rape. for example, in 2005, two gay men were executed in gorgan. the iranian press reported that they had been executed "for the crime of homosexuality... the criminal records of these two people [included] kidnapping, knife-wielding, rape (tajaavoz beh ‘onf), harassment and fighting". in relation to the mashhad executions, pictured above, outrage! is to publish evidence which indicates that charges of sodomy were simply 'dressed up' by the addition of rape charges. allegations of rape, argue outrage!, are deployed not merely to deflect international criticism, but rather to depict sodomy in the worst possible light to deter and discourage its practice [and] to present gay and lesbian people as repellent, dangerous individuals. the outrage! dossier also includes information about the entrapment and torture of gay men, and the unpublicised execution of homosexual men in prison. update: also read peter tatchell on the persecution and ethnic cleansing of ahwazis in iran: for the oppressed people of iran, the solution is clear. the islamist dictatorship in tehran must be overthrown; not by western invasion, but through a "people power" democratic revolution from below. the ahwazi people seek a democratic, secular state, with self-government for themselves and for all the other suppressed ethnic minorities of iran. they deserve our support and solidarity, as do all iranians struggling for human rights and social justice. posted by david t at 02:28 pm | comments (27) | trackback april 23, 2006 "only one enemy" two reports from the middle east, the first from, the website of the israeli newspaper yediot aharonot. supreme court justice edmond levy rejected sunday the appeal made by a soccer fan, shmuel tahan, who was convicted of incitement to racism following his behavior [shouting "death to arabs"] at a soccer game in jerusalem's teddy stadium four years ago. tahan was sentenced to 250 hours of community service and a nis 1,000 (about usd 213) fine to be given to a non-profit organization working towards peaceful israeli-arab coexistence. the other report is from the sunday telegraph: jamal abu samhadana had just been appointed chief of the palestinian security services, but his supporters saw no reason to celebrate. instead of driving around the potholed streets firing their ak47s in the air, his advisers gathered in a tin-roofed hut in a remote part of the gaza territory, safe - they hoped - from prying ears. for now is a dangerous time to be the palestinians' security supremo, and abu samhadana's allies know that even if the israelis do not succeed in killing him, there are plenty of palestinian rivals who might like to. ..... he told the sunday telegraph: "we have only one enemy. they are jews. we have no other enemy. i will continue to carry the rifle and pull the trigger whenever required to defend my people." ..... his allies had feared that he might moderate his stance on israel after his elevation. "our main worry was about whether we would keep up the resistance with him in such a high-profile position," one lieutenant admitted. they were now reassured, he added. ..... although hamas won january's general election, fatah still controls the 60,000 strong palestinian security forces - something which mahmoud abbas, the fatah leader and moderate president of the palestinian authority, tried to reinforce recently by appointing a loyalist, rashid abu shabak, as security supremo. hamas responded by appointing abu samhadana as their own security chief. his promotion was announced by the hamas interior minister, said siam, to a crowd of hundreds at a mosque in gaza city. the crowd roared in approval as mr siam also announced the creation of a paramilitary force to tackle violence and chaos on gaza's streets. mr abbas responded a day later by attempting to annul both abu samhadana's promotion and the new unit, resulting in a fresh stand-off between the palestinian presidency and its government. posted by gene at 05:13 pm | comments (76) | trackback april 22, 2006 petkoff will run against chavez opposition newspaper editor teodoro petkoff, who answered some questions here last october, will challenge hugo chavez in the december 2006 election for president of venezuela, blogger daniel duquenal reports. update: more on petkoff and his candidacy. posted by gene at 02:00 am | comments (31) | trackback april 20, 2006 wheat yields up again comrades martin jacques, as many guardian readers will know, is keen to make us all aware that china is a very important country. so keen in fact that he's prepared to indulge in a little people's republic boosting in order to do so: the meetings between the us president and the chinese president are now the most important events on the international calendar. the former represents the most powerful country in the world, while the latter represents the second largest economy yeah, except for the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth biggest economies according to world bank figures that is. total gdp 2004 1 united states 11,667,515 2 japan 4,623,398 3 germany 2,714,418 4 united kingdom 2,140,898 5 france 2,002,582 6 italy 1,672,302 7 china 1,649,329 posted by marcus at 04:53 pm | comments (48) | trackback losing it zimbabwe's leader robert mugabe, speaking on the 26th anniversary of the country's independence, wonders where everyone in the country has gone: “you might go to england, but you will be discriminated against there. you will be given menial jobs like looking after old people in their homes. if you flee then who will make the country better?" looking after old people mightn't seem so bad when you consider the alternative of staying in zim: last week the world health organisation said that zimbabwean women had the lowest life expectancy in the world, at 34 years. the country has the highest inflation, at 913 per cent. the consumer council of zimbabwe estimates that a family of six needs z$35 million a month to survive. six years ago z$1 million dollars would have bought a whole block of luxury apartments. according to some the long suffering population are ready for a change: john makumbe, a political commentator, said: “life has become unbearable and unaffordable. these people are waiting to vent their anger through mass demonstrations. we are on the brink. the element of (ordinary zimbabweans’) fear is overrated. that point is going to become clearer in the next few months.” posted by marcus at 01:57 pm | comments (68) | trackback april 19, 2006 bunglawala's "sudan spring" there is a gushing article by inayat bunglawala at commentisfree about a major doctrinal breakthrough by the islamist sudanese politician: turabi seems to have challenged the traditional view that says muslim men are allowed to marry christians or jews, but muslim women are not. it should to be noted here that sudan's population includes a very sizeable 30% non-muslim minority. he also appears to have stated that the hijab (headscarf) worn by many muslim women was originally only intended to ensure that women covered up their chests in public. not content to rest there, it looks as if turabi also - among many other matters - questioned the conventional muslim idea of equating the testimony of two women to that of one man, saying that a woman's testimony should be regarded as just as valid as that of a man's, if not more reliable in some instances. he gave the example of the unfairness of equating the testimony of two female post-graduates with that of one illiterate man. bunglawala goes on to discuss his surprise at being shaken by the hand by sudanese women on his many visits to sudan in the 1990s which he ascribes to turabi's need to woo female activists from the communist party to the islamist politics, before asking: so, is turabi merely an opportunist or is he engaged in a principled - and potentially far-reaching - reinterpretation of primary islamic source material? this is interesting news. turabi's political origins are the islamist muslim brotherhood: a movement known for its pragmatism and preparedness to compromise in order to achieve, by gradualist means, an islamist theocracy. so bunglawala is right to sound a note of caution. what is interesting about this article is not what bunglawala tells you. typically, it is what he forgets to tell you that really catches the eye: this is what human rights watch has to say about turabi: the nif sought to create an islamic state in sudan. in 1989, from behind the scenes, this party participated in a military coup overthrowing the elected government. from that time until 2001, turabi was the power behind the throne, whether as leader of the nif or later as speaker of the assembly. he led the creation of the nif police state and associated nif militias to consolidate islamist power and prevent a popular uprising. the nif police state and militias committed many human rights abuses, including summary executions, torture, ill treatment, arbitrary detentions, denial of freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion, and violations of the rules of war, particularly in the south, where a civil war was being waged from 1983 to the present. in 1990-91 turabi also established a regional umbrella for political islamist militants, the popular arab islamic conference (paic), headquartered in khartoum. it was formed with the immediate aim of opposing american involvement in the gulf war. turabi became its secretary general. under his guidance, the sudan government created an open-door policy for arabs, including turabi's islamist associate osama bin laden, who made his base in sudan in 1990-1996. the efforts of the nif to refashion sudan into an islamic state bore mixed results because of the opposition it inspired and the civil war. the government of sudan ceased hosting paic in 2000. human rights watch has published many documents on the abuses committed by the nif government which turabi orchestrated, starting in 1990 with "'denying the honor of living,' sudan: a human rights disaster." other publications include "sudan: in the name of god:; "behind the red line: political repression in northern sudan," (1996), ; "famine in sudan, 1998: the human rights causes," (1999), ; and annual chapters on sudan in the human rights watch annual report (1990-2001). join the debate here. posted by david t at 06:29 pm | trackback april 15, 2006 the annihilator president of the islamic republic of iran mahmoud ahmadinejad yesterday failed to reassure those who worried about his country obtaining nuclear weapons: the iranian leader, appearing at a conference on the palestinian issue yesterday, said that israel was “heading towards annihilation”, questioned whether the holocaust had ever happened, and predicted that the middle east would “soon be liberated”. posted by marcus at 03:28 pm | comments (38) | trackback april 13, 2006 dizzy with success redux american economist joseph stiglitz has seen the future. and, rather breathlessly, he says it works: china is about to adopt its 11th five-year plan, setting the stage for the continuation of probably the most remarkable economic transformation in history, while improving the wellbeing of almost a quarter of the world's population. never before has the world seen such sustained growth; never before has there been so much poverty reduction. the people's republic is compared with the author's own country and the latter is found wanting with regard to economic policymaking: george bush has shown the dangers of excessive secrecy and confining decision-making to a narrow circle of sycophants. most people outside china do not fully appreciate the extent to which its leaders, by contrast, have engaged in extensive deliberations and consultations as they strive to solve the enormous problems they face. environmentalism too is taken more seriously there than in countries which are mere slaves to the neo-liberalist hegemony: while much of the rest of the developing world, following the washington consensus, has been directed at a quixotic quest for higher gdp, china has again made clear that it seeks sustainable and more equitable increases in real living standards. multinational development agencies have nothing to teach the wise rulers of the middle kingdom: this year's world bank world development report explains why inequality, not just poverty, should be a concern, and china's plan attacks the problem head on the mandarins have education all wrapped up aswell: china recognises, too, that what separates less developed from more developed countries is not only a gap in resources, but also a gap in knowledge. so it has laid out plans to reduce that gap. well, that five year plan sounds just great. what stiglitz fails to mention however are the very serious contradictions in the country which threaten to upset the whole shebang. he also focuses his gaze too narrowly. just across the yellow sea from stiglitz's new utopia lies a land which is only now coming out of a fifteen year economic slump during which the value of shares in its economy fell precipitously, unemployment and homelessness rose commensurately, the value of land has gone backward and the near universal consensus among western observers during the 1980's that the twenty first century would be dominated by japan has been quietly forgotten. japan is still undergoing a painful restructuring in an attempt to fix the structural problems which led to the country falling off its perch as the bubble economy collapsed at the start of the 1990's. which country am i describing here? widespread graft and corruption; a one party state and an officially sanctioned culture of deference which stifles alternative ideas. the fact that the one party state is de facto rather than de jure is the only difference between the japan of two decades ago and china right now. those who ignore chinese political and social problems and boost the people's republic of china as a viable economic model of development might want to reflect on the fact that double digit growth rates and fine words in five year plans are all very well, but that we've heard it all before. posted by marcus at 07:47 am | comments (21) | trackback april 12, 2006 they can't help it i nominate this subheading to today's simon jenkins article on commentisfree for a special 'blame the west for everything that goes wrong in the middle east' prize. muslims have no free will you see: the us and britain are goading iran to acquire nuclear weapons, while blair's jihadist rhetoric is inciting a fourth crusade i smugly challenge readers to dig up anything that even approaches the level of patronising, infantalising guff anywhere else in the media. posted by marcus at 09:48 am | comments (126) | trackback let them eat bombs the islamic republic of iran took another significant step closer to developing nuclear weapons yesterday when it was announced that scientists had managed to enrich uranium in defiance of the united nations: mahmoud ahmadinejad, iran's hardline president, trumpeted the development in a speech last night. "dear iran has joined the club of nuclear countries" iranian television broadcast pictures of scientists dancing and waving test tubes apparently marked with chemical symbols. mr ahmadinejad, who has threatened to wipe israel off the map, said the nuclear programme was for purely civilian purposes. the us, europe and israel remain sceptical. the speech - carried live on state tv - was punctuated by chants of "death to america", "death to israel", and "death to counter-revolutionaries". the campaign for nuclear disarmament have yet to comment. posted by marcus at 06:55 am | comments (22) | trackback april 08, 2006 cash crisis the decision by the us and the eu to cut financial aid to palestine after the election of hamas to the government has been criticised by the prime minister ismail haniya: he said the move, taken in protest at hamas' hardline position on israel, was "hasty and unjust" and would not serve the interests of the middle east. us secretary of state condoleezza rice took a different line: hamas had refused to accept "principles of non-violence, recognition of israel and respect of previous agreements between the parties". the group "must take responsibility for the consequences of its policies", she added. senior hamas figure mohammad abu tir (pictured below) has his own views on who's pulling the strings behind the 'fundamentalist' american administration: united states churches are secretly run by jews who converted to christianity with the intention of controlling religious americans including president bush, a top hamas official claims. "even the churches where the americans pray are led by jews who were converted to christianity, but they were converted to keep controlling the americans" very helpful mohammad. via simply jews gene adds: back in january, i posted about hamas paying a media consultant £100,000 to improve its image. among his recommendations was that abu tir stop dyeing his beard. oh, well. as long as the check cleared. posted by marcus at 06:01 pm | comments (73) | trackback april 04, 2006 "medicine is different from real life" read this piece by new republic writer yossi klein halevi about election day at jerusalem's hadassah hospital. if you can't access it on the website, you can read it here. ward of the state ariel sharon is spending election day as he has almost every day for the last three months--comatose in hadassah hospital. sharon's two sons, omri and gilad, are at his side, trying to rouse him by playing his favorite classical music and israeli songs. one floor below them, sharon's fellow patients, some in wheelchairs, wait to enter a polling station. some say they have left their sickbeds just to vote "for sharon." this election, after all, is a projection of his will. sharon destroyed the party of government he founded three decades ago, created its replacement, and determined the election's main issue--separation between israelis and palestinians--before disappearing down an empty corridor in the intensive care unit. hadassah is an ingathering of israel's impossible diversity. there are ethiopian soldiers speaking an immigrant hebrew and teenage girls with pro-settler orange ribbons hanging from their knapsacks, muslim women in white kerchiefs, and ultra-orthodox jewish women in black kerchiefs. and, yet, hadassah is almost extraterritorial, a place where--even on election day--israelis can try to forget their political and ethnic divisions and imagine a common, fragile humanity. most of the patients waiting to vote in the hospital's polling station feel a sense of drift. after all, old parties have shattered and new ones haven't coalesced. and "peace" and "settlements"--the two words that together defined israeli politics for decades--have been almost entirely absent from this campaign. a young woman supporting kadima tells me this is the first time she isn't voting left; another young woman, a likudnik, says this is the first time she's voting labor. dr. avraham rivkind, one of sharon's physicians, heads the department of general surgery and the trauma unit to which many of the wounded from jerusalem's suicide bombings are brought. "sharon fought against terror his whole life," he says, "and i get the failures of the war against terror." lanky and long-faced, he smiles at odd moments, even when talking about terrorist attacks, perhaps as a defense. rivkind is revered at hadassah for refusing to give up on the most hopeless patients, such as the soldier who was shot in the heart and pronounced dead on arrival and whom rivkind revived. rivkind is a kadima supporter, though he rejects the party's two main platforms--the security fence and unilateral withdrawal. "separation is nonsense. there's no such thing. you can't close yourself off hermetically. someone will always find a way in. i want to keep trying to talk, even with hamas. how? i would invite [palestinian prime minister and hamas leader ismail] haniyeh to the hospital. and i would start by showing him a 14-year-old palestinian boy i operated on last week--and who was injured when a bomb he was working with blew up. i would ask haniyeh, 'look at this boy. would you want your son to look like this?' and then i would show him the care this boy is getting here. they portray us as animals. so, come, i'll show you who we are. and i'll ask him, 'isn't this a better way to live between us?'" hadassah hospital is probably the most intense meeting place between arabs and jews in the middle east. here, sharon's vision of separation, endorsed in one form or another by most israeli parties, appears to be a fantasy. probably several thousand arabs--some of them israeli citizens, others residents of east jerusalem--pass through here every day. jewish and arab women share the same maternity wards. across the courtyard from rivkind's trauma center, a group of palestinian doctors and nurses are taking a course in cancer treatment for children. and, in the children's cancer ward, a birthday party is being celebrated for four children--two arabs, two jews. dr. ahmed eid, an arab israeli, heads the liver and kidney transplant unit. "no jewish patient ever said he didn't want to be treated by an arab," he says. there is, though, a problem with organ donations: some jewish and arab donors insist on restricting their organs to their own people. given the shortage, eid accepts all donations and then tries to argue with the donors' families. "but there is no discrimination here. medicine is different from real life. here, it's a virtual atmosphere." eid lives, in effect, a double life. at hadassah, he is a respected doctor--a savior of jewish lives. outside, he is sometimes treated as a potential terrorist--a destroyer of jewish lives. at ben gurion airport, he is subjected to humiliating security checks, even when traveling as part of a hadassah delegation. but the future, he believes, is hadassah, not ben gurion. "in the end, there will be no separation wall. look around you in this hospital--at all the jews and all the arabs. how can you have separation?" outside the polling booth, two young men await their turn to vote. david, a religious jew, plans to vote for baruch marzel's party, the national jewish front--successor to meir kahane's kach. "i don't care if marzel has no chance of getting elected," he says. "this country is a wagon going over the cliff. no principles, no solidarity, no love. sharon took thousands of people in gaza--salt of the earth, the most productive farmers in the country--and threw them into the streets. they were protecting the country from terror attacks. and now rockets are falling on ashkelon. you'll see: soon we'll have katyushas in jerusalem. i say, put all of the arabs from the west bank into gaza. you know what? give them half the state, from beersheva to eilat, i don't care. just let there be separation. the arabs are going to win. finished. it's just a matter of time." muhammad dalasha, a hadassah nursing student from the galilee, sits beside david and stares into space, pretending not to listen. when david leaves, muhammad says he's voting kadima. "this party reflects who i am. i don't care for the arab parties. i haven't gotten anything from them. they contribute nothing to israeli society. if i could speak to sharon, i would tell him about the difficult situation the country is in and how the government isn't the same without him. i would tell him that we're praying for him and hope he returns. my vote for kadima is for sharon." posted by gene at 06:23 pm | comments (6) april 03, 2006 classifying people professor and nobel laureate, amartya sen has published an important book: identity and violence, which crystalises a number of themes we've covered here in the last few years. i've ordered my copy today. an essay extracted from that book can, and should, be read here. to see, for example, a mathematician who happens to be a muslim by religion mainly in terms of islamic identity would be to hide more than it reveals. even today, when a modern mathematician at, say, mit or princeton invokes an "algorithm" to solve a difficult computational problem, he or she helps to commemorate the contributions of the ninth-century muslim mathematician al-khwarizmi, from whose name the term algorithm is derived (the term "algebra" comes from the title of his arabic mathematical treatise "al jabr wa-al-muqabilah"). to concentrate only on al-khwarizmi's islamic identity over his identity as a mathematician would be extremely misleading, and yet he clearly was also a muslim. similarly, to give an automatic priority to the islamic identity of a muslim person in order to understand his or her role in the civil society, or in the literary world, or in creative work in arts and science, can result in profound misunderstanding. the increasing tendency to overlook the many identities that any human being has and to try to classify individuals according to a single allegedly pre-eminent religious identity is an intellectual confusion that can animate dangerous divisiveness. an islamist instigator of violence against infidels may want muslims to forget that they have any identity other than being islamic. what is surprising is that those who would like to quell that violence promote, in effect, the same intellectual disorientation by seeing muslims primarily as members of an islamic world. the world is made much more incendiary by the advocacy and popularity of single-dimensional categorization of human beings, which combines haziness of vision with increased scope for the exploitation of that haze by the champions of violence. ... the difficulty with the clash of civilizations thesis begins with the presumption of the unique relevance of a singular classification. indeed, the question "do civilizations clash?" is founded on the presumption that humanity can be pre-eminently classified into distinct and discrete civilizations, and that the relations between different human beings can somehow be seen, without serious loss of understanding, in terms of relations between different civilizations. this reductionist view is typically combined, i am afraid, with a rather foggy perception of world history that overlooks, first, the extent of internal diversities within these civilizational categories, and second, the reach and influence of interactions—intellectual as well as material—that go right across the regional borders of so-called civilizations. and its power to befuddle can trap not only those who would like to support the thesis of a clash (varying from western chauvinists to islamic fundamentalists), but also those who would like to dispute it and yet try to respond within the straitjacket of its prespecified terms of reference. the limitations of such civilization-based thinking can prove just as treacherous for programs of "dialogue among civilizations" (much in vogue these days) as they are for theories of a clash of civilizations. the noble and elevating search for amity among people seen as amity between civilizations speedily reduces many-sided human beings to one dimension each and muzzles the variety of involvements that have provided rich and diverse grounds for cross-border interactions over many centuries, including the arts, literature, science, mathematics, games, trade, politics, and other arenas of shared human interest. well-meaning attempts at pursuing global peace can have very counterproductive consequences when these attempts are founded on a fundamentally illusory understanding of the world of human beings. increasing reliance on religion-based classification of the people of the world also tends to make the western response to global terrorism and conflict peculiarly ham-handed. respect for "other people" is shown by praising their religious books, rather than by taking note of the many-sided involvements and achievements, in nonreligious as well as religious fields, of different people in a globally interactive world. in confronting what is called "islamic terrorism" in the muddled vocabulary of contemporary global politics, the intellectual force of western policy is aimed quite substantially at trying to define—or redefine—islam. to focus just on the grand religious classification is not only to miss other significant concerns and ideas that move people. it also has the effect of generally magnifying the voice of religious authority. the muslim clerics, for example, are then treated as the ex officio spokesmen for the so-called islamic world, even though a great many people who happen to be muslim by religion have profound differences with what is proposed by one mullah or another. despite our diverse diversities, the world is suddenly seen not as a collection of people, but as a federation of religions and civilizations. also, see his essay on "determinism and culture" (via normblog), and this interview with professor sen in the guardian in february. posted by david t at 01:33 pm | comments (158) | trackback march 30, 2006 nukes for all forbes magazine reports that pakistan and saudi arabia have been co-operating in the production of weapons of mass destruction for years: according to western security services, the magazine added, saudi scientists have been working since the mid-1990s in pakistan, a nuclear power since 1998. satellite images indicate that saudi arabia has set up a program in al-sulaiyil, south of riyadh, a secret underground city and dozens of underground silos for missiles. hat tip: marcus f posted by marcus at 02:21 pm | comments (16) motoons - arla boycott lifted good news! islamic scholar dr yousuf al qaradawi has stated that curbs imposed on danish firm arla will be withdrawn. the firm had been blacklisted by retailers in qatar following the uproar over the publication of offensive cartoons against the prophet mohammed ... in a danish newspaper. qaradawi made the announcement at an international islamic conference being held in bahrain. he praised arla’s stand for stating that there was no need to publish such cartoons unnecessarily. because of this stand, he said that curbs should be withdrawn and the company’s position would enable the opening of the avenues of dialogue for further such initiatives. the company had announced its position in a 52-page insert in an arabic-language magazine. further, representatives of the firm also interacted with the bahrain conference attendees and made their opposition to publication of such cartoons clear. sadly, not everybody could make the conference: but the sheikh of egypt's al-azhar, the highest authority in sunni islam, sheikh mohammed sayed tantawi, will not attend due to "prior engagements." tantawi and qaradawi have, erm, a history of not getting on too well. posted by david t at 08:34 am | comments (7) march 29, 2006 "don't translate that word for word" watch this extraordinary video from al-jazeera tv of a meeting in damascus between representatives of the arab student union and the danish youth council. i can only hope the danes were not as benignly tolerant as they appear of the antisemitic ravings of asu chairman ahmad al-shater: can this danish newspaper or any other newspaper in the world draw a cartoon similar to the one about the prophet muhammad... can it draw a similar cartoon about a zionist rabbi, or discuss the imaginary holocaust and refute it, or even draw sharon, the arch-murderer, who has killed thousands of arabs, in a cartoon similar to the one that appeared in the danish paper? with all due respect, i am saying that it cannot do so. there are many examples all over the world. george garaudy and what happened to him... no,no... garaudy... not george, garaudy. roger, sorry. that intellectual... what happened to british mp george galloway... yes, what did happen? what happened to the mayor of london recently, merely because he answered a jewish reporter somewhat harshly. he was suspended for two weeks, even though he is the mayor of one of the world's largest cities. [...] the world-renowned english intellectual [david irving], who was recently tried in another country, and was sentenced to three years in jail, although the whole world recognizes him as a great and reliable intellectual, who does not say things that are baseless. he relies on documents. i cannot recall his name, but he is a great english intellectual, a university professor, who refuted the holocaust. so, he was sentenced in geneva [sic], in a country that is not his own, in violation of all international laws. and there's this from muhammad of the sudanese student union: i'd like to tell you that harming the prophet is not a new thing. 1,400 years ago, the jews tried to kill him in al-madina. in our religion, harming the prophet is where we draw the line. we are prepared to die to prevent this. [...] as you know, bush killed 110,000 people in iraq, while saddam did not kill even one third of this figure. saddam did not kill even 30,000 people throughout his rule. i would like to welcome you on this visit, because the image of denmark and the danish people has become very negative in the arab and islamic world. in conclusion, i would like to say that tomorrow america will pass a resolution in the un security council, calling for international military intervention in sudan. among these forces, obviously, there will be danish forces. i would like to inform you that because the sudanese people are so angry over this affront, they will kill the danish soldiers before they kill the others. at this point ahmad al-shater interrupts and tells the interpreter: don't translate that word for word. just say that the sudanese will put up resistance against them. posted by gene at 06:37 pm | comments (46) march 28, 2006 israel votes reasonably encouraging results from tuesday's elections in israel: prime minister ehud olmert's kadima party-- founded by ariel sharon after he broke from likud over his plans for unilateral withdrawal from gaza and most of the west bank-- will form the next government, most likely in coalition with the second-place labor party. labor party leader amir peretz-- former head of the trade union federation histadrut-- should be a strong advocate for neglected social and economic issues. the creepy avigdor lieberman's yisrael beiteinu party-- which sought support among russian immigrants-- apparently finished in third place. lieberman is given to disturbing anti-israeli arab rhetoric. the most shocking result is the utter collapse of the likud under the leadership of one-time golden boy binyamin netanyahu. is this the last of bibi? one can only hope. the national union-national religious party coalition-- the party most closely identified with the settlers' movement and "greater israel"-- won only about nine of the 120 knesset seats. of course it would be good if israel had a partner for peace on the palestinian side. but barring that, these results are about as good as can be expected. update: latest results. posted by gene at 09:33 pm | comments (63) uneasy listening things are worse than we thought in north korea according to mick hartley. here he tells us the story of defector kim chul-woong: a graduate of the north's prestigious pyongyang university of music and dance, kim was allowed to further his studies at the tchaikovsky music academy in moscow in 1995 at government expense. a year later, he came into contact with jazz for the first time. "one day, one music class was cancelled, so i went to a cafe near my school to drink a cup of coffee, and music (coming) from the speakers there _ a type that i had never heard before _ thrilled me", kim said. so, which jazz great did he hear? bird? coltrane? monk? rollins? "i asked the cafe owner what kind of music that was, and he replied it was `a comme amour' by pop, classical and jazz pianist richard clayderman. it was too good, and that began to change my life". richard clayderman? "too good, and that began to change my life"?? a chilling insight into the cultural desert that is north korea. posted by marcus at 08:15 am | comments (20) march 27, 2006 a question of honour this article demonstrates that 'honour killings' aren't perpetrated only by those who continue to practice tribal customs originating in isolated parts of the world: italy was shocked at the weekend by a revival of the mafia tradition of “honour killing” after a member of a calabrian mafia clan shot his sister for having a child by her lover. police said that giovanni had shown no remorse, admitting: “i shot her, i shot my sister . . . she had a child by a man she was not married to. “it is a question of honour. i would have shot her in the back, but she turned round. i am not sorry. on the contrary, i am proud of what i did.” murdering women and leaving children orphaned has nothing to do with 'culture' and everything to do with perpetuating male supremacy by criminal means - whether it happens in reggio calabria or leicester. posted by marcus at 12:37 pm | comments (52) march 26, 2006 gallowayesque at the apparent behest of the pakistani government, an opposition senator invited by the state department to visit the us has been abruptly disinvited. sana ullah baloch, who had been invited by the state department last year and issued a visa, was told recently by the u.s. embassy in islamabad that he could not attend a state department-sponsored program on accountability in government and business and that a visa he had already received had been revoked. american officials first told baloch in a letter sent march 13 that they had taken the action because of "a recent withdrawal in funding which made it necessary for us to scale back the program." in an interview wednesday, state department spokeswoman nancy beck said the problem was not funding but rather new information that was received after baloch had been approved that "led us to believe he was not eligible for a visa." she declined to elaborate. i've mentioned before president bush's seemingly endless willingness to accomodate president/general pervez musharraf, who took power more than six years ago in a military coup and has yet to get serious about a return to civilian rule and democracy. sometimes bush seems almost gallowayesque (circa 1999). shortly after musharraf overthrew the elected government, galloway wrote in the scottish edition of the mail on sunday: general musharris [sic] seems an upright sort to me and he should be given a chance to put pakistan's house in order before managing to return to normal politics. this is from the same column where he famously wrote (and later famously denied writing): [i]n poor third world countries like pakistan, politics is too important to be left to petty squabbling politicians. pakistan is always on the brink of breaking apart into its widely disparate components. only the armed forces can really be counted on to hold such a country together. posted by gene at 12:12 am | comments (15) march 24, 2006 victory for justice in russia last month i linked to an article about a russian railway worker sentenced to four years in a labor colony for the "crime" of driving a car that was rammed from behind by a speeding car carrying a regional governor. in a small victory for justice and the rule of law, a higher court has overturned the verdict. posted by gene at 05:23 pm | comments (3) the economics of spam in an article entitled viva la revolution channel four news reports that a british meat magnate, lord vestey, has had agricultural land he owns in venezuela seized by the state: hugo chavez' socialist land reform project is proving popular with the rural poor. i'm sure that's right - if you were a landless peasant you'd be more than happy with how things have turned out - at least in the short term. western leftists too will be cheering this latest blow against capitalism. but the nagging question remains - is the replacement of profitable industrialised agribusnesses with small-scale peasant production really in the long-term interests of the people? it hasn't been in zimbabwe. zimbabwe has been in economic decline since president robert mugabe began seizing white-owned farms in 2000. a loaf of bread in zimbabwe currently costs $66,000 zimbabwean (66 us cents), having risen 30% in just one week. still, how important is the problem of putting bread in the mouths of the poor in the future when one can bask in the glow of their gratitude today? posted by marcus at 07:36 am | comments (69) march 23, 2006 neither leftist, nor rightist, nor democrat here's an excellent leftwing takedown of the hugo chavez pheonomenon by the blog slaves of academe. it's inspired by a new york times piece about venezuela being the latest destination for "revolutionary tourism." the blog post is too good to quote piecemeal, but certain to enrage chavistas is the comparison of their hero to the current president of a large north american country: hugo chavez is considered in the west a leftist (except, ironically, by the venezuelan left, which considers chavez as having displaced a true left in the country), and rhetorically he fits the bill, but in practice he and george w. bush have quite a lot in common, in terms of methodology. both have moved aggressively to control the state and harness it to their personal politics. both have assumed mythic proportions (in their own minds, at the very least) as saviours of the nation, have politicised and compromised civil society, both preside over deeply split electorates, and are controversial and divisive leaders who relish conflict and the grand gesture. and: chavez is not a leftist, he is not a rightist, nor is he truly a democrat. he is an authoritarian, the paradigm of the latin american strong man. i would ask commenters to limit their responses to the items i've linked to, rather than to regurgitate for the thousandth time the personal attacks on me that appear whenever i post about chavez. for novelty's sake. (hat tip: venezuela news and views.) posted by gene at 10:09 pm | comments (31) petard ahmed akkari - the imam who shopped the motoons all over the middle east - is in trouble: a french tv documentary crew secretly filmed imam ahmed akkari threatening to have naser khader -- a founder of denmark's democratic muslims network, which opposes violent protests over cartoons of the prophet mohammad -- bombed. "it is truly shocking that an elected danish politician can be the object of threats in this way," prime minister anders fogh rasmussen told reporters. "i take for granted that the police will investigate what happened and will deal with it." police spokesman flemming steen munk said the inquiry would begin as soon as akkari returned from bahrain, where he was attending a conference that finished on thursday. if convicted, akkari would face a maximum of eight years in prison. akkari, a spokesman for the islamic religious community in denmark, told danish national tv he regretted his threat and said he "in no way" wanted to provoke an attack on khader. "i am deeply sorry about the remark, which was meant as a joke, but was taken seriously," he said in an open letter to khader, who lives under police protection. syrian-born khader, a member of parliament for the opposition social liberal party, told danish media he did not want to comment on the threat until he had seen the documentary, which was scheduled to be broadcast later in the day. oh dear. religious leaders who are easily upset by jokes about prophets with bombs in their turbans really oughtn't to be making "jokes" about ... erm... bombing their political opponents. hat tip:palle posted by david t at 05:15 pm | comments (48) hijab-free flight from iran et-- the american woman, married to an iranian, who blogs at view from iran-- writes: hoo ha! on our first vacation in a long, long time. the flight from iran was uneventful. by the end of our flight, not one woman was wearing a headscarf. "you would see more women in headscarves on any flight in europe or the us," i told k [her husband]. turns out i was right. on the us leg of the trip, more women were in hijab in our 10-row area than on the entire flight from tehran. posted by gene at 04:45 pm | comments (9) anyone laughing now? last year i posted about the popular french comedian dieudonné, who denigrated holocaust-related ceremonies as "remembrance pornography" and appeared in a television sketch dressed in military fatigues and the wide-brimmed hat of orthodox jews. [h]e said: "i urge all of you [viewers] to convert like me [to judaism]. join the axis of good, the american-zionist axis." he ended his sketch with a nazi salute and the cry "isra-heil". more than a year later, according to john lichfield of the independent, dieudonné seems to have leapt completely into the antisemitic abyss. when the curtain rises, he is greeted with roars and whoops by a packed, multi-racial audience, which is young, trendy, intellectual and left-wing. many of them have come straight from the latest demonstration against the government's new jobs law for the young. much of dieudonné's show - "le depot du bilan" (the bankruptcy) - is surreally funny. a bored bureaucrat from a government welfare agency for threatened animal species is interviewing a distraught rhinoceros. "wouldn't you consider getting rid of that horn? horns don't go down so well these days. you have to adapt to survive..." eventually, the rhinoceros falls through the floor. all through the show, however, something else intrudes, something darker and more sinister. dieudonné is obsessed with jews. all races, even his own mixed black and white origins, get a gentle mickey-taking in his show. when jews are mentioned - and they are mentioned over and over again - the tone becomes more aggressive, even violent. in one skit, bernard-henri lévy, the jewish-french philosopher, haggles with a street potato seller. dieudonné/lévy says: "how can you ask me to pay so much when six million of us died in the holocaust?" roars of delight from the audience. there is also a hitler-in-his-bunker sketch which is moderately funny until the closing line: "you will see, in the future, people will come to realise that i, adolf hitler, was really a moderate." dieudonné, who has talked about running for president, denounces the leading french anti-racism organization sos-racisme as a "zionist" front. and according to lichfield: an utterly unscientific, phone-in opinion poll was conducted recently by skyrock, a french radio station popular with the urban and suburban young. the two politicians who scored the most votes were the veteran far-right xenophobe, jean-marie le pen (29 per cent), and dieudonné (26 per cent). if le pen and dieudonné could put aside their differences over the black-white thing, it appears there would be very little to distinguish one from the other. (hat tip: engage.) posted by gene at 03:55 pm | comments (40) good news, bad news first the good news: the armed basque separatist group eta declared a permanent ceasefire yesterday in what many hoped would mark a definitive end to almost four decades of domestic terrorism in spain. in a video communique sent to a basque television station, one of western europe's longest-lived and most lethal terrorist groups said it would down arms at midnight tonight. the bad news is that arms aren't exactly being laid down in west sussex. here are details of the potential targets allegedly considered for destruction by our own home-grown nihilists: bluewater shopping centre in kent: "a little explosion at bluewater, tomorrow if you want" synagogues: when the alleged bombers were arrested, police found a long list of synagogues at mr khyam's family home london's utilities: at the flat of another defendant, nabeel hussain, they discovered 12 cds which contained detailed information about the transco network, the electricity and gas supplier for which waheed mahmood had worked. a nightclub in the capital: "the biggest nightclub in central london, no one can put their hands up and say they are innocent - those slags dancing around..." it's all in a good cause though: "when we kill the kuf [non-believers] this is because we know allah hates the kufs" posted by marcus at 07:50 am | comments (46) march 22, 2006 free hao wu read about imprisoned blogger and film-maker, hao wu: hao wu, a chinese documentary filmmaker who lived in the u.s. between 1992 and 2004, was detained by the beijing division of china’s state security bureau on the afternoon of wednesday, febuary 22, 2006. on that afternoon, hao had met in beijing with a congregation of a christian church not recognized by the chinese government, as part of the filming of his next documentary. ... the reason for hao’s detention is unknown. one of the possibilities is that the authorities who detained hao want to use him and his video footage to prosecute members of china’s underground churches. hao is an extremely principled individual, who his friends and family believe will resist such a plan. therefore, we are very concerned about his mental and physical well-being. via pickled politics. posted by david t at 09:49 am | comments (8) march 21, 2006 alternative lifestyles a star letter from this week's socialist worker: rather than join the reformed communists of the former eastern bloc, sell off state assets and queue obediently for european union and nato membership, slobodan milosevic resisted integration with the west (not the only monster, 18 march). this was his downfall. as long as an alternative european model existed, no matter how bogged down with sanctions and armed conflict, it would always be seen as a threat by pentagon planners and north atlantic policy makers. a country rife with worker cooperatives, a significant manufacturing base and a large, well trained army in such a sensitive part of europe could simply not be allowed to exist. jesse lawrence, north london i don't think it was the mere existence of a large, well trained army that was the problem comrade jesse. posted by marcus at 08:46 pm | comments (34) blair is right for a long while, since his speech in chicago in 1999 in fact, it has been clear that tony blair's foreign policy is based upon internationalist-interventionism and since september 11 he has been one of the few political leaders who has fully grasped the real nature of islamist terrorism. today's speech from blair was a continuation of this thinking but was significant in the emphasis it put on the 'battle of ideas'. so many times the refrain from blair and bush's critics has been that the 'war on terror' cannot be won by military means alone - i've always found this odd since neither of the two leaders has ever suggested otherwise. nonetheless it was encouraging to hear blair talk in clear language about the ideological struggle. encouraging, primarily because it is a reminder that, unlike so many of his critics, he really does know what islamism is, where it comes from and how it aims to defeat the values of human rights and liberal democracy that should be confronting it. as he put it: this terrorism will not be defeated until its ideas, the poison that warps the minds of its adherents, are confronted, head-on, in their essence, at their core. by this i don't mean telling them terrorism is wrong. i mean telling them their attitude to america is absurd; their concept of governance pre-feudal; their positions on women and other faiths, reactionary and regressive; and then since only by muslims can this be done: standing up for and supporting those within islam who will tell them all of this but more, namely that the extremist view of islam is not just theologically backward but completely contrary to the spirit and teaching of the koran. but in order to do this, we must reject the thought that somehow we are the authors of our own distress; that if only we altered this decision or that, the extremism would fade away. the only way to win is: to recognise this phenomenon is a global ideology; to see all areas, in which it operates, as linked; and to defeat it by values and ideas set in opposition to those of the terrorists. anti-war readers won't like to hear it but blair was also absolutely correct to place the struggles in iraq and afghanistan in this context of a battle of ideas. victory for those opposed to democracy and a relatively secular state in those countries would be a disaster for the people of iraq and afghanistan and would encourage their ideological allies elsewhere. i've long argued the point blair made today that regardless of one's views on the merits of invading afghanistan and iraq, the key issue is now to support those fighting for liberty in those countries and to do all we can to crush their enemies. it riles me when some commentators talk about islamist terrorism as some sort of 'understandable response' to western policy or merely as a form of criminality that needs policing. it is impossible to have a clear view of islamist terrorism unless one looks at the ideology behind the acts - we should take them at their word. read the many studies made of the history of islamism, take note of their propaganda and their position statements. this is a movement that is not shy about its intentions nor is it modest in its goals. the problem is that our side, the forces of liberal democracy, too often seems shy to proclaim our intentions and goals and so it was refreshing to hear blair state them and also make clear what is at stake: they know that if they can succeed either in iraq or afghanistan or indeed in lebanon or anywhere else wanting to go the democratic route, then the choice of a modern democratic future for the arab or muslim world is dealt a potentially mortal blow. likewise if they fail, and those countries become democracies and make progress and, in the case of iraq, prosper rapidly as it would; then not merely is that a blow against their whole value system; but it is the most effective message possible against their wretched propaganda about america, the west, the rest of the world. that to me is the painful irony of what is happening. they have so much clearer a sense of what is at stake. blair is correct and his viewpoint expresses what should be the values of the democratic left - one of the strangest ironies of his premiership has been that his most radical and progressive voice has been found in foreign policy yet it is exactly in this arena that he has met with so much hostility from the left. sadly, i suspect his speech won't change many of those minds. too many refuse to listen simply because they disagreed with him about iraq and they loathe george w bush - it is almost an act of heresy in liberal left circles to say that blair is right. but he is right and those who recognise that islamist terror is a major threat -- to millions of muslims above all -- must work to ensure that an active policy in favour of democracy, liberty and tolerance and against totalitarianism, intolerance and repression remains british foreign policy when he is gone. (also posted to comment is free) posted by harry at 04:55 pm | comments (180) history repeats itself it's the question all the young leftists are asking themselves: can socialism and islamism work together? one blogger has it sussed: our paths are different, but they do lead to the same point: the destruction of globalised capitalism. after that the paths diverge again; the islamists wish to create a muslim caliphate that would encompose the whole of arabia, at the very least, and we wish to have a secular state with an economy that is managed co-operatively. let's not explore that phrase 'at the very least' for now and concentrate instead on resolving the small matter of the contradiction in the strategic goals of the two counterposed ideologies - secular state versus theocracy. our man thinks he's got it all worked out: it makes no sense at all to try and fight both islamism and capitalism at the same time. we must decide which is the greater enemy. islamism may very well pose a long-term threat to socialism, but the problem of capitalism is immediate and pressing. got that? islamism poses a real threat to socialism but that's for the future. let's concentrate on the present. in the meantime we should join forces with the campaigners for a caliphate and try to wreak as much damage as we can to the real enemy. that's certainly what a significant section of the british left have decided to do by convincing themselves that the islamists are merely representatives of the 'oppressed' rather than an independent political philosophy with a history, modus operandi, and aim which is hostile to that of most muslims, never mind westerners. it all makes a sort of sense if you don't examine it too closely. but if it's such a good strategy you'd think some leftists might have tried it before wouldn't you? well some did. and this is how the once hugely-influential tudeh party of iran ended up. attempting to take advantage of this situation, which saw many leftist groups (and rivals to the tudeh) eliminated, the tudeh party leadership decided to take part in the new regime and to collaborate with the clerical establishment. this ultimately failed, and in 1982 the leadership were arrested and imprisoned, and later more than 5,000 members and supporters of the party were also arrested. the party was also banned around this time. as a result of these purges the party gradually collapsed, with a great number of members leaving the country into exile, while many party leaders renounced communism and reconciled with the government of the islamic republic. over the years thousands of political prisoners, including many members of the tudeh, were sentenced to death and executed. collaborate, get arrested, get banned, get shot. what was that phrase about the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce? posted by marcus at 12:00 pm | comments (52) march 20, 2006 "a really hilarious story about the funny europeans and their surreal opinions" says linda grant: almost all israelis i know are oblivious to what is becoming received european opinion among respectable people. they have absolutely no idea that these ideas exist. i can't even make my own mind up whether they are not just so much froth and foam, compared to all that tangibility. find out what she's talking about here. posted by david t at 11:37 am march 17, 2006 introverts martin jacques doesn't know enough people in britain who fully appreciate his view that the future belongs to east asia: it is difficult living in two worlds - especially when it is the world called home that is becoming more and more parochial and less and less able to understand the wider world. it is becalmed, bemused, defensive, increasingly introverted and fearful. but there aren't many people i can talk to about it - you see, not surprisingly they are part of the problem. i suppose it depends on the sort of people one speaks to. while the remnants of the british left busily patronise foreigners by making excuses for the worst behaviour of their more reactionary elements british companies have been quietly reorganising themselves to take better advantage of globalisation. on the day that the ftse broke through the 6000 barrier for the first time in five years jacques' fellow guardian columnist ashley seager observes: but gone are the days when the ftse was an accurate barometer of the uk economy. if that were the case the ftse would not be rising sharply because the economy has been sluggish over the past 18 months. many of our leading companies operate around the world and make their profits elsewhere. this trend for internationalism isn't going to stop anytime soon. maybe one day the introverted british left will catch up. posted by marcus at 04:09 pm | comments (46) march 15, 2006 new religious boycott!!! comedy central has been hit by a religious boycott, reports oliver burkemann. for the back story, read this. and if you want to see the show which caused the furore, here it is. (via shuggy) posted by david t at 07:26 pm | comments (41) march 14, 2006 the world’s first alzheimocracy in 2003, human rights activist peter tatchell - who famously tried to arrest mugabe - distributed a press release announcing the existence of an organisation calling itself the zimbabwe freedom movement, in which it expressed an intention to remove mugabe "by force", to draft a constitution, hold presidential elections, and then: “once all of the above has been achieved it is our hope that the…democratically elected new president and government of zimbabwe put in place the mechanisms for robert gabriel mugabe and his ilk to be put on trial”. “zfm does not harbour any desire to take power or to engage in any form of political activity…once its objective of obtaining true freedom for zimbabweans is obtained, its role as a movement will no longer be required and it will be dissolved” said communique 1. and that, thought tatchell, was that. indeed, nobody has heard a whisper about the zimbabwean freedom movement since. until last week, that was, when the zimbawean authorities suddenly announced that they had unearthed an "arms cache", and - conveniently enough - the arrest of various mps from the movement for democratic change. the news has been greeted with widespread scepticism: john makumbe, a senior political science lecturer at the university of zimbabwe, described the alleged plot as a "work of fiction" and an attempt to discredit the opposition. "it is also an attempt to divert attention from the country's problems," he commented, adding that it was not unusual to unearth arms caches dating back to rhodesian days. and here's the weirdest part of the story. according to the zimbabwean government, tatchell "is a zfm member who contacted hitschmann and senior mdc officials to set up offices in manicaland and open a bank account in mozambique to finance operations to overthrow the government" tatchell is scornful of the claims: this is a joke. i can't raise enough money to staff an office for my own human rights work, let alone fund an insurrection. the idea that i am bankrolling a coup is laughable. “the liberation of zimbabwe is a matter for the people of zimbabwe . i support their struggle for democracy, social justice and human rights, but i am not part of that struggle. “when the zfm announced its existence in november 2003, the mugabe government dismissed it as a hoax and said no such movement exists. now, when it is politically expedient, the zimbabwean regime suddenly claims the zfm does exist and is planning to overthrow the government. mugabe can't have it both ways. “the coup plot allegations are obviously a ploy to discredit the opposition and to pave the way for further repression of the zimbabwean people. “the government is trying to link the zfm with the movement for democratic change. it is no coincidence that all this hype about a supposed insurrection comes just weeks before the mdc congress. it is patently a crude bid to justify a crackdown on the mdc. “if i was part of a plot i would be shouting it from the rooftops, in the same way that in the 1970s i was open and proud of my support for zanu's war of liberation against the white racist regime of ian smith. i suppose i should be surprised, but i'm not. this sort of stuff is par for the course in what johann hari has dubbed "the world’s first alzheimocracy" update: those arrested now released. posted by david t at 11:03 pm | comments (57) march 12, 2006 hari on the falun gong most of us will have come across the protestors against the chinese government's brutal repression of falun gong, handing out leaflets in chinatown in london, or camped outside the chinese embassy, and smiled benignly in their general direction, before going on our way. my attitude towards the falun gong has been similarly ambivalent. i have read their literature and they strike me as inoffensive and silly. at the same time, the cruel treatment of their members provides an important insight into the nature of chinese communism: that it feels threatened by people moving their limbs slowly. but i've not spoken out explicitly against the torture and imprisonment of falun gong members in china. i should do. in a piece in the standard, johann makes the point well: falun gong is an eccentric blend of buddhism, breathing exercises and new age beliefs about ufos that has attracted up to 100 million chinese followers. i am no fan of any form of anti-scientific superstition and would argue against falun gong in a free society, but this turn to ‘spiritual’ values is clearly simply a response to the sudden, massive industrialisation of china, just as methodism sprang up in britain’s industrial towns in the eighteenth century. yet this process has sent the chinese communist party into a panic. “they see anything they do not control as a threat”, heping says. the chinese politburo began sweatily swotting up on the fact that throughout chinese history millenarian movements have swollen up and triggered rebellion – so they decided hepin’s meditations had to be violently suppressed. it is as though tony blair decided carol caplain and dr gillian mckeith were enemies of the state. via norm posted by david t at 09:32 am | comments (46) march 10, 2006 more moderates the bbc reports: denmark is hosting a conference aimed at improving its ties with the muslim world, after the uproar over cartoons satirising the prophet muhammad. the talks are being attended by muslim and christian scholars and clerics, including a popular egyptian preacher. ... moderate egyptian preacher amr khaled is expected to be one of the key speakers at the one-day meeting. the islamic television preacher has condemned both the caricatures and the subsequent violence, and called for a dialogue between muslims and denmark. he says he has the backing of a large number of muslim thinkers, but his attendance has been criticised in the middle east by those opposing dialogue. the participation of amr khaled, the moderate, has however been condemned by another moderate: ken livingstone's pal, qaradawi: dr al-qaradawi added that three weeks ago the islamic caller, amr khalid, contacted him for consultation over the wish of some brothers in denmark to calm down this issue. sheikh al-qaradawi said: "i told him that the nations need stimulants to wake them up from stagnation, and what happened has been a motive for the nation that has been torn by disputes, but united by the love for god's messenger, god's prayer and peace be upon him. i gave him a number of advices, including not to block the way of the islamic nation for the benefit of denmark." dr al-qaradawi added: "i was surprised to see that he (amr khalid) prepared for a conference in denmark aimed at calming down the muslim anger and their denunciation of the danish cartoons that insulted their prophet. amr khalid mentioned that a number of scholars would participate in this conference, but when we contacted some of them they said that they did not know anything about this conference." it is a great pity that somebody as famously moderate as qaradawi is at loggerheads with the tremendously moderate amr khaled. here is an example of the sorts of moderate things amr khaled preaches: allah's messenger (may peace be upon him) said: the last hour will not come until the muslims fight against the jews and the muslims will kill them until the jews will hide themselves behind stones and trees. the stones and trees will say: muslim, the servant of allah, there is a jew behind me; come and kill him. and also the prophet said, “allah showed me the size of my omma and it will encompass the east and west of the earth. do you see all these divine promises and prophetic prophecies? doesn’t the land belong to allah and he gives it as inheritance to whomever he wants. didn’t allah give victory to muslims when they were true believers? allah’s promise never changes, for allah never fails his promise. your first battle is against yourselves, if you win this battle, allah will provide victory for your omma by your hands. and never get frustrated or feel hopeless that it is so difficult or impossible to get victory. “ and they ask you when is it? say hopefully it is near.” and always remember that our omma’s biggest case is palestine until we liberate it in shaa allah. amr khaled also sets out a helpful list of things which his followers can do for "our brothers and sisters in iraq" which include boycott all kinds of artistic work that invites the omma to wickedness or to make it unaware of its urgent cases. and contact our brothers and sisters in iraq whether we know them or not, by dialing 00964 then dial the code number for baghdad 1, then 71, or 77, 51, or 55 then dial any 5 digits. i cannot imagine how qaradawi and amr khaled could have fallen out! posted by david t at 04:07 pm | comments (29) march 09, 2006 strict liability toons readers may be familiar with the legal concept of the strict liability offence. in most legal systems there are certain criminal offences which do not require the prosecution to prove - as it would have to do normally - that the defendant had the intention to commit the crime of which he is accused. according to wikipedia: it is used either used in regulatory offences enforcing social behaviour where minimal stigma attaches to a person upon conviction, or where society is concerned with the prevention of harm, and wishes to maximise the deterrent value of the offence examples of the former offences include minor traffic offences, while the type of crimes under the latter include the sale of pharmaceutical drugs or the liability imposed on manufacturers of products which may harm the public. as i've said it's a deviation from the normal rule that a defendant can't be guilty of something if he didn't intend to commit an offence. to give an example one can't be charged with murder if one accidentally shoots another person while cleaning a gun. the end result may be the same - a dead body, but the difference is in the intention of the person who held the gun. it's not fair to jail someone for the murder of another where he didn't intend to kill him. that sort of distinction doesn't seem to exist in yemen where three newspaper journalists decided to publish the infamous motoons in their newspapers in order more effectively to condemn them as blasphemous: mr. assadi, who once worked as a part-time correspondent for the new york times, is one of three yemeni journalists facing criminal charges for republishing the cartoons. the other two are abdulkarim sabra, the managing editor of the weekly al hurriya, and yehiya al-abed, a reporter for that paper. the men were jailed for two weeks last month, before being released on bail. the three stand accused of insulting their faith by publishing the images, a crime approaching heresy. in each case, the editors' stated intention was to condemn the drawings. in the case of the observer, the images were obscured by a black x. the yemeni journalists aren't the only ones in the muslim world in trouble for dabbling with the cartoons: eight other journalists in five countries are facing prosecution for reprinting the cartoons muslim journalists beware: you may consider the images blasphemous, provocative or outrageous, you may deface, cover up or partially obscure the images, but publishing them is still likely to get you into big trouble as this snippet from the yemeni court demonstrates: the lawyers also reminded the court of a story from the days of the prophet in which a woman was executed for insulting him, and he praised her killer, a citation the observer took as a threat to demand that the editor be sentenced to death. he currently faces a year in jail or a fine you know things are bad when those baying for blood don't care whether the blood belongs to those who agree with them over the nature of the cartoons or not. via tim worstall posted by marcus at 11:28 am | comments (19) march 08, 2006 let the ball roll the international atomic energy agency declared today that it could not "conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in iran" two senior us state department officials criticised iran's recent behaviour: robert joseph, the under secretary of state for arms control and international security, declared that iran had "put both feet on the accelerator" in its drive for nuclear weapons, and said the united states believed that tehran is pursuing biological and chemical weapons as well. r. nicholas burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, said that iran had become "the leading banker of major terrorist groups in the middle east" and was seeking "to make itself into the dominant force in the middle east." burns said a "nexus" had developed in the last six weeks between the syrian government and the militant groups hezbollah, hamas and islamic jihad, a nexus he linked to a recent trip to syria by iran's hard-line president, mahmoud ahmadinejad. iran retaliated by threatening fire and brimstone on the us if sanctions are imposed on the world's first islamic republic: the united states may have the power to cause harm and pain but it is also susceptible to harm and pain so if the united states wishes to choose that path, let the ball roll. posted by marcus at 07:12 pm | comments (68) march 07, 2006 embryos unwanted embryos in south dakota receive extensive legal protection. not so where the embryos are european and wanted. posted by david t at 02:02 pm | comments (70) march 06, 2006 international women's day the worker-communist party of iran are holding a demonstration, 12 noon to 2pm, parliament square, london sw1, wednesday 8 march: no to sexual apartheid in iran – women’s freedom now condemn the islamic regime of iran for 27 years of crimes against women women’s rights – not sharia law end the death penalty for lesbianism and adultery don’t invade iran - halt all western military threats support the iranian people’s struggle for democracy, social justice and human rights expel the islamic regime from the international community posted by david t at 03:38 pm march 02, 2006 the group veto timothy garton ash says: if the intimidators succeed, then the lesson for any group that strongly believes in anything is: shout more loudly, be more extreme, threaten violence, and you will get your way. frightened firms, newspapers or universities will cave in, as will softbellied democratic states, where politicians scrabble to keep the votes of diverse constituencies. but in our increasingly mixed-up, multicultural world, there are so many groups that care so strongly about so many different things, from fruitarians to anti-abortionists and from jehovah's witnesses to kurdish nationalists. aggregate all their taboos and you have a vast herd of sacred cows. let the frightened nanny state enshrine all those taboos in new laws or bureaucratic prohibitions, and you have a drastic loss of freedom ... let me now make a shocking leap in the argument. if you agree with me so far, and believe that reason requires consistency, then you should want david irving let out of his austrian prison and ken livingstone let off with a rap over the knuckles. why? because the fateful tendency in all this is to reject everyone else's group taboos while obstinately defending your own. the result is indefensible doublestandards and he is right. posted by david t at 09:48 am | comments (188) march 01, 2006 when the stoppers met the iranians here's an eye-witness account of what happened when the swp and other stoppers held a meeting on iran and some iranian democrats decided to turn up: when rostami claimed that the iranian women had more rights and family protection after the revolution than before, it was just too much for the iranians in the room. there was an uproar of protest at her nonsense, especially from the iranian women. another iranian walked up to the panel and placed pictures of islamic republic crimes before each panel speaker. the chairperson with the headband, showed no sympathy and turned the pictures over, but another iranian in the audience walked up to the panel, turned over the page and showed her the pictures again. the chairperson of the panel then tried to look away from the pictures of human rights abuse in iran. i sort of sensed she felt if americans were not responsible for human rights abuses, she was not interested. i was innocently writing down my questions, thinking soon we will be given time to question the panel. i was perusing which questions i should ask. some of which were: - "you have the privilege of protesting and marching against nuclear power in this country, do the iranian people have this right too? - you mentioned you are siding with the muslims who felt offended by the cartoons, what about the sufis in iran who had their shrine completely raised to the ground recently and their members, including women and children who were beaten and maimed. do you not think they were insulted too? - you say you value your freedom of speech, are you not worried about muslim extremists taking that freedom away?" but as i was pondering over these questions, elaheh rostami finished and the chair declared the meeting was over. what? no time to question all this nonsense that was spluttered out at this poor english public? the iranians were furious. even i, normally a placid person, couldn't stop myself from going to the panel and shouting: "you talk about freedom of speech. you have a meeting about iran and yet you don't let the iranians in this room speak?" i roared at the panel. by this time swp activists were calling for more reinforcement on their mobiles. elaheh rostami finally had to be escorted out of the room surrounded by a ring of swp activists, while iranians were shouting "shame on you, shame on you" at her. the whole report is here. thanks to udo. posted by harry at 09:15 pm | comments (93) february 28, 2006 moscow gay pride: russian embassy picket uk idaho are holding a demonstration in solidarity with russian lgbt groups outside the russian embassy this thursday 2 march 2006, from 12 noon, to protest the banning of moscow pride by the mayor of moscow and threats of violence by russian religious leaders: moscow mayor yury luzhkov has announced that the city government will not allow a gay parade "in any form" and any attempt to hold a gay event will be "resolutely quashed" chief mufti of russia's central spiritual governance for muslims, talgat tajuddin said: "muslims' protests can be even worse than these notorious rallies abroad over the scandalous cartoons… the parade should not be allowed, and if they still come out into the streets, then they should be bashed," he added. russian chief rabbi berl lazar said that if a gay pride was allowed to go ahead it "would be a blow for morality". he said the the jewish community would not stand by silently. "sexual perversions", he said, did not have a right to exist. a spokesman for the russian orthodox church (who have lobbied the mayor to ban the parade) spoke out against moscow pride, telling various media outlets that homosexuality is a "sin which destroys human beings and condemns them to a spiritual death." russian lgbt groups have called on their counterparts in other capital cities to demonstrate outside russian embassies to make sure the issue gets the attention of the russian media and to show their support for russia’s struggling gay community. perhaps ken livingstone will turn up. posted by david t at 11:51 am | comments (33) february 26, 2006 ilan halimi judy asks: - why did the french police so consistently and loudly deny that there were any anti-semitic motives to the murder at all? - why are some commentators painting the murder as "just another strike in an islamist terror war, just as they saw the autumn paris riots", when it is nothing of the sort: it seems to me that the gang's profile doesn't at all match that of an islamist group. islamists would hardly use the corsican mafia as one of their reference points. and it was more likely the traditional european stock in trade of anti-semitism, long established in france, and shared by the police, that "understood" that you go for jews if you want rich victims, because of course all jews are rich, and even if they aren't, they'll club together to rescue their own. but islamism was there as a point of reference that maybe provided what they could see as moral justification for their inhumanity in the appalling tortures they inflicted on ilan halimi. and it seems to have provided the images and the taunting they inflicted on the family. posted by david t at 12:59 pm | comments (41) february 23, 2006 against british imperialism there's an article in today's guardian which deals with the funding of terrorism and argues that britain isn't doing enough to tackle it. while i agree that the banking and financial services world is an important arena in the fight against terrorism, and that more could be done to tackle both the drug and terror money sloshing around the world banking system, i'm less impressed by other aspects of the argument put forward by the author professor prem sikka, who teaches accounting at essex university. first, he states that there is no regulation, registration or public accountability of trusts in the uk perhaps he means apart from the regulation and oversight exercised in the courts and provided for in the law of property act, the trustee acts 1925 and 2000, and the substantial accretion of equitable principles in countless trust cases going back to the middle ages, not to mention the large amount of uk primary and secondary legislation, largely copied in jersey at least, concerned with moneylaundering what's more he argues that: anyone deterred by the light uk regulation is welcomed to 70 or so tax havens that promise ultimate secrecy to the highest bidder. over 30 of these "fiddle factories" are british crown dependencies and overseas territories and have close links with the city of london. britain is legally and morally responsible for their good governance but does little to check their trade. then he lists various of these "fiddle factories" including the island of jersey. the sub-heading to his article laments the lack of action on the part of the uk government in "shutting down" the tax havens. this call for action reminded me that johann hari had urged tony blair to close "our" tax havens using similar arguments back in june. before the idea that part of the fight against money-laundering and tracking the proceeds of crime might legitimately include such overseas adventures goes any further i'd like to counsel caution. the two "fiddle factories" in the english channel jersey and guernsey - not to mention the other offshore jurisdictions he lists - are not part of the united kingdom and thus not subject to british law. they have autonomy in their internal affairs guaranteed by treaty since 1204, and reiterated again and again as the years have passed. we'd have to send a gunboat to shell the local parliaments before we had the ability to tell them what tax or banking laws they should pass. where sikka gets the idea that "britain is legally and morally responsible for their good governance" i have no idea but it is also untrue. the crown has oversight, exercised through the privy council, but that is not the same thing. there is a great deal that can be done to frustrate dodgy money but it is more likely to come from pressuring offshore jurisdictions to adopt the sort of financial services 'best practice' measures larger countries - including britain - have already legislated for rather than attempt to argue - ultimately unsuccesfully - that we have the right to "close down" independent jurisdictions and subject them to the long arm of the uk financial services authority. posted by marcus at 11:28 am | comments (118) february 22, 2006 "i will drive them crazy" from an interview with al-quds al-arabi editor-in-chief abd al-bari atwan: when the oslo accords were signed, i went to visit [arafat] in tunis. it was around july, before he went to gaza. i said to him: we disagree. i do not support this agreement. it will harm us, the palestinians, distort our image, and uproot us from our arab origins. this agreement will not get us what we want, because these israelis are deceitful. he took me outside and told me: by allah, i will drive them crazy. by allah, i will turn this agreement into a curse for them. by allah, perhaps not in my lifetime, but you will live to see the israelis flee from palestine. i suppose it's possible that atwan is lying. but given the greater likelihood that he is telling the truth, it would certainly help explain everything arafat did and didn't do after signing the oslo agreements in 1993. posted by gene at 09:41 pm | comments (28) february 21, 2006 defend david irving speech which does not directly and deliberately incite, or command the commission of other substantive criminal offences against persons or their property should not be criminalised. anybody who is criminalised as a result of such speech must be defended. the nature of a speaker's character, or his associations, or his motives, or even the value of the speech in question is irrelevant to that judgement. free speech cannot be defended at all, if we only do so in an ad hominem or selective manner. that is why david irving must be defended. the purpose of criminalising holocaust denial is difficult to divine. it is sometimes suggested that the laws somehow 'protect historical truth'. that suggests that the criminal law is capable, effectively, of protecting truth: which it can not. alternatively, as holocaust denial is a key theme of the neo nazi and islamist far right, there is a sense that by criminalising holocaust deniers, the state is in fact punishing and disrupting networks of fascists. it is both strange and futile, however, to focus on superficial manifestations of fascist culture - uniforms, symbols, theories - as a proxy for taking on fascism itself. it is also ironic that irving - whose reputation was totally destroyed as a result of his own free-speech attacking defamation action - should now be given a last gasp of the oxygen of publicity as a result of this facile prosecution. the criminalisation of holocaust denial is also tilting at windmills. holocaust denial is not an essential part of the racist cannon of beliefs. anybody who has spent time browsing islamist and neo nazi websites - they share their material freely - will know that the more common argument is that the holocaust was both necessary and desireable and indeed should be completed. holocaust denial is sometimes invoked, but as a constituent part of a more general thesis about the ability and power of jews to perpetuate frauds and hoaxes on the foolish world. the apparently contradictory nature of the argument isn't something that generally worries the far right: whose advocates frequently also go on to argue that jews are not actually jews in any case, but rather are imposters who are posing as jews. logic is very much a stranger to the politics of conspiracism. much of the appeal of the far right's holocaust denial, in europe at least, has been its transgressive nature. holocaust denial is in part about winding people up and sniggering at their dismay. one might holocaust deny for the same sort of reason that the national front's john tyndall dressed up like this: however, time has moved on, and so has the politics of the far right. it is now more common to accept the fact of the holocaust but go on to argue that "the jews" were complicit in it or profited from it. the propagation of that thesis has none of the disadvantages of holocaust denial - it is not criminalised and it is logically consistent with the conspiracist notion of pervasive jewish power - and has one chief advantage: that it may also be advanced by sections of the far left and their allies without shame. meanwhile, david irving languishes in jail: a calcifying relic of the far right of europe's past. posted by david t at 01:24 pm | comments (237) nasrallah responds to jumblatt hezbollah leader hassan nasrallah tries to come across as the voice of reason and moderation in his response to walid jumblatt's powerful denunciation of bashar assad's syrian regime at last week's huge rally in beirut. of course nasrallah trying to sound reasonable and moderate is far more frightening than nasrallah screaming imprecations. can you guess who "the original enemy of the prophets, of lebanon, of the arabs, and of humanity" is? i knew you could. and note the shout-out to "our brother chavez in venezuela." posted by gene at 01:54 am | comments (64) february 20, 2006 irving jailed british historian david irving has been jailed for three years in austria. irving appeared stunned by the sentence, and told reporters: "i'm very shocked and i'm going to appeal." he pleaded guilty to denying that the holocaust happened which is illegal under austrian law but said he had subsequently changed his mind about his earlier views. posted by marcus at 07:04 pm | comments (100) chavez to supporters: shut up when hugo chavez starts telling his own supporters to shut up, it becomes harder to dismiss all his critics as privileged white people (though undoubtedly many are) aided and abetted by reactionaries from abroad. the venezuelan blog the devil's excrement reports: hugo chavez has had a bad week. everywhere he went, he found protests, except this time they were all protests by his supporters, not by opposition groups. and much like when the opposition held protests against him, chavez showed his intolerance towards dissent, telling them to shut up in the name of the revolution and respect for him. as farmers posted themselves all week in front of the presidential palace in protest, chavez went around the country only to find the same, more protests. in zulia, it was people asking for homes. the protetsers held placards asking to talk to him. but all they found was the president‘s ire. he told them the “leader” was talking and asked them to shut up. the scene occurred twice more during the week. once he threatened to leave if people kept protesting. during the other, students protested and chavez told them, once more, to shut up or he would simply leave. meanwhile, in the pro-chavez area of catia, in the west of caracas, public transportation stopped for a full day, as drivers protested the death of another driver by criminals. as the president of the national assembly accused the cia of generating the protests, the head of the catia public transportation union, said he did not know anyone from the cia and challenged the president of the assembly to even walk in catia without bodyguards, guaranteeing that he would be robbed. posted by gene at 06:57 pm | comments (47) february 19, 2006 that's strange religious leaders everywhere have always been hyper-cautious about sanctioning the use of nuclear weapons. after all poisoning the earth for untold future generations is traditionally considered to be usurping god's will as well as being in breach of the basic moral teachings regarding the death of innocents. anyway, it's not the sort of thing that clerics in countries which have repeatedly stated that they have no intention of developing nuclear weapons need even consider. or is it? iran's hardline spiritual leaders have issued an unprecedented new fatwa, or holy order, sanctioning the use of atomic weapons against its enemies. so let me get this straight - iran doesn't have nukes, isn't ever going to develop them and shouldn't be taken at its word when it threatens to wipe out other countries. so why the need for a fatwa? posted by marcus at 06:52 am | comments (28) february 18, 2006 more cartoon mayhem the danish prophet mohammed cartoons continue to inflame those in the muslim world whose governments allow them little or no outlets for their more general political frustrations. in libya nine people died burning down the italian consulate after roberto calderoli, the italian minister for constitutional reform and a member of the northern league announced that he planned to wear t-shirts featuring the cartoons. in pakistan a hardline muslim cleric told explained to the guardian how offering a bounty of £600,000 and a toyota car in return for the death of the danish cartoonists would reflect well on islam: this killing will enhance respect for islam and for muslims. next time nobody will dare to commit blasphemy against our prophet good luck with that respect thing mr qureshi. posted by marcus at 08:26 am | comments (65) february 17, 2006 "it is you who are the slave, and we are free" if you need evidence that things really are starting to change in parts of the arab world, watch lebanese druse leader walid jumblatt-- saying things that would have been unimaginable a little more than a year ago-- addressing a mass rally in beirut marking the first anniversary of the murder of former prime minister rafik al-hariri. posted by gene at 09:57 pm | comments (15) deflation six years </font></h5></p> <p><h4><a href="">Accueil</a></h4></p> <p><h4><a href="kevindayanmarseille440.html">suivante</a></h4></p> <p><h4><a href="kevindayanmarseille439.html">harry's place: international archives</a></h4></p> <h5 style="margin-top: 0; margin-bottom: 0"> &nbsp;&nbsp;<font size="2"><a href="kevindayanmarseille438.html">EFP :: European Filmpromotion - 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