Sunday, April 23, 2006

Pastures New

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Happy Easter

Hope you all had a great Easter. All of you. But especially you.

Newman's History of Oil

Robert Newman used to make me laugh in the 90s as half of Newman and Baddiel. Baddiel went on to scratch his arse on Frank Skinner’s sofa faster than you can say “Ben Elton Sells Out” three times. Newman disappeared from the scene but has been very busy as his writings will attest. On Saturday night he was back on TV screens with the History Of Oil on More4. His Guardian interview can be heard here (MP3).

 

Get off at Euston

The Euston Manifesto has created a storm. What is essentially a Muscular Liberal’s charter that has been published by “30 journalists, bloggers and thinkers” who assert that they represent the true democratic traditions of the Left by supporting the War on Iraq.

I found it to be a document of two halfs. The first half was brilliant. A clear and modulated call for alignment with the Universal Declaration. Human rights for all, Equality, Development for freedom, No apology for tyranny. Nothing a sensible intelligent person can fault. I loved the inclusion of ‘Open Source’. I’m even willing to forgive the insertion of ‘Opposing anti-Americanism’ for its incongruity, in spite of which this can be the mandate for any Liberal movement within any country. And it is trully Internationalist in that respect.

The second half of the document reads like a proviso to the Universal Principles that have just been brilliantly elucidated in the first. This is the “Elaborations” section which is the bit that gets bitchy, mean-spirited and distinctly non-universal. After months of reading this kind of sneering, snarky pap on pro War blogs none of this was new shit. This is the esposition of the Harry’s Place, ProWar Left, Non-Stopper call them what you will. They also claim to be the “intellectual vanguard of the Left”. Well, I believed them!

The publication has no doubt cooked up a torrent of blog activity from the antWar Left who have been struck dumb for months. The Moral Quicksand of the Moral High Ground by Mark Marqusee has so far been the clearest response to the EM.

In the first place, there's the dishonesty of treating the Socialist Workers' party and Respect as the totality of the left or the anti-war movement. One of the problems with the "line" they wish to draw is that it obliterates the existence of much of the actual left: which is diverse and predominantly anti-authoritarian. Huge numbers of people found no difficulty in opposing the war and the regime of Saddam Hussein; they didn't hesitate to condemn either the atrocities of 9/11 or those committed by the US, the UK and Israel; they want an end to the occupation but do not support actions that target Iraqi civilians. In fact, this latter category also comprises the vast majority of Iraqi opinion. It's telling that this is a constituency whose existence the manifesto authors refuse to acknowledge. Likewise, it's telling that among left secular activists across the developing world - the people in the front line of the struggles against fundamentalism, obscurantism, and repression - there is almost no support for the manifesto perpsective.

Marqusee then proceeds to lay into the Manifesto with a clinical efficiency that brought water to my eyes. When I read it I stood up and applauded the monitor.

Its somewhat depressing that the theoreticians of the Mainfesto finds it necessary to hold up a caricature of the Left: Anti-American, Anti-Israeli, Anti-Semitic, Islamists, Apologists, Gallowavians etc and say that is the actual Left, all of it, every last one of you. It wants freedom of expression but non-critical consumption of American and Israel policy as a fundamental tenet. This critique of the Manifesto by Dave Osler makes a great point in regard to the point of Anti-Americanism:

Of course the Islamists are reactionary theocrats that should be opposed implacably by the thinking left. But so are the US imperialist ruling class. Both sides in this dispute are wrong.

Perhaps the AntiWar Left should be joyously happy that the Euston Manifesto has been launched. Now everyone is talking about the Iraq War and the AntiWar camp looks like it has found a voice against the ideas put forth in the Euston Manifesto.

I see the two War camps as two insurmountable ethical moutains. Somewhere between the AntiWar ethical mountain: “How can you be anti-Saddam Hussein and not support a war to oust him?” and the ProWar ethical mountain, “How can you put your hand on your heart and say that the situation in Iraq is any better for Iraqis than it was under Saddam?” lies the answer. But one thing is for sure – its not in Euston.

And, just in case you’re curious, I shall not be signing it.

Update: The Euston Manifesto have a theme song.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The migrant worker's plight

I am a Canadian living in Kuwait. Before I came to Kuwait I used to be the very quiet type who minds his own business. However, after my arrival it all changed. I had been witnessing and reading about so many human rights violations against those who can’t and/or aren’t allowed to defend themselves, the impunity enjoyed by the offenders because of the corruption and a system turning against the victims rather than protecting them. Eventually, I could no longer contain my outrage and decided to take a stand. I do not consider myself as a human rights freak but I do care a great deal about the issue. I believe every human being, men and women, deserve to be treated as equal. I despise those who abuse their power to force others into servitude. I admire anyone who has the courage to stand up for the weakest simply because it’s the right thing to no matter what the risks are.

Those are the words of blogger Ben Rivard who writes the Kuwait - fighting corruption, terrorism and human rights violations blog. His blog performs the fine but thankless task of uncovering some of the horrendous Human Rights violations that happen and continue to happen, mostly to South and South East Asians migrant workers in Kuwait. These crimes usually range from non compliance of contactual obligations, which usually means unpaid work, to horrific incidents of mental and physical abuse. This area is a human rights nightmare that affects the lives of the lowest of the low of the Globalisation model: the South Asian migrant worker. There is a human interest story that has gone largely undocumented and unreported. Anyone who has been to or has worked in the Middle East has had some exposure to the widespread nature of this problem. A cursory read of the local press in any Gulf stare will yield dozens of incidents involving abuse of domestic workers. This however is only the thin edge of the magnitude of the offences. Kuwait seems to be particularly bad if the freqency of reports of rape, murders and plain human violence that that surface to the police and the press are anything to go by.

What makes things worse is the total lack of legal and basic human rights support provided by the workers’ own consulates and governments to their citizens working in these, mostly Gulf States. Its almost as if they are compelled to take the backfoot with these Arab countries in relations concerning human and workers rightst to individuals who are often working in menial and low paid jobs. As long as foreign exchange is flowing back into their countries as a result of these workers remittances, they could care less about their individual tragedies and grievances. The incident that threw this into relief was this story of 700 desperate Bangladeshi workers who ransacked their embassy last year in Kuwait because of the total lack of support offered by the consulate against the actions of non-compliance by Kuwaiti employees.

Sunny H has been highlighting the issue as well, and has pointed out Abdullah Al-Mutairi article in the Arab News on the culture of cruelty towards migrant workers in Saudi Arabia. 

Another blogger who writes on related human rights issues around the Middle East has surfaced in the shape of Chan’ad Bahraini.

Worth mentioning this open letter by the Human Right Watch to the President of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn in 2003:

As the World Bank recognized in its April 2003 report on Global Development Finance, remittances sent home by migrant workers reached $80 billion in 2002, up from $60 billion in 1998. These payments have become more important and stable sources of finance for developing countries than private lending or official development assistance.

Countries receiving large remittances include Bangladesh ($2.1 billion in 2001), Egypt ($2.9 billion), India ($10 billion), Indonesia ($1 billion), Jordan ($2 billion), Lebanon ($2.3 billion), Morocco ($3.3 billion), Pakistan ($1.5 billion), the Philippines ($6.4 billion), Sri Lanka ($1.1 billion) and Yemen ($1.5 billion).

Read the letter in full.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Suicidal Syd

Still with Viz, here is an example of their character, Suicidal Syd, who here attemptst to have himself killed by provoking the local chapter of al-Ghuraabaa. An example of a cartoon that satirises radical Muslims (reactions to the Danish loony toons in particular - which is more than welcome) without the breeching of Islamic prohibition on iconography or the sneering racism which was so explicit, it didn't even escape the BNP. We're unlikely to see any embassies burned down on account of this cartoon.

Toopee tip: MediaWatchWatch

Rectoplasm

Rectoplasm (noun). Or that which promotes the idea Islamic radicalism is the sole purveyor of anti-Semitism today, whilst failing to mention others of arguably more significance. Rectoplasm also detracts from the fact that Islamic radicalism is waging a war against larger ideas than anti-Semitism alone. Radical Islam's war is against everything that is deemed by them to be “un-Islamic” and this term is used and meant in its widest sense and covers more than simply the hatred of Jews. Terrorism is a menace to billions of people in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, and hundreds of innocent people have have died who are victims of terrorism, plain and simple.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Begum Rokeya and International Women's Day

We attended a Bengali cultural festival commemorating International Women’s Day at the Brady Centre (East London) yesterday. Heard an excellent lecture of the life and times of the Bangladeshi feminist, Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain given by Shahin Westcom. I’m going to try my best to get a transcript of it to post here, but in the meantime, this site has some information on her as well. The wiki entry is pretty crap – and is begging to be replaced by a proper article, hopefully by someone like Ms Westcom.

 

Fukuyama Alights NeoCon Bandwagon

Francis Fukuyama, right wing political historian and USA bigger-upper par excellence, was quick to bound onto the NeoCon express in the aftermath of 9–11. His support for the NeoCon project went all the way when he continued its support for the NeoCon invasion of Iraq, when he argued for the removal of the Saddam Hussain regime as a necessary reaction to the 9–11 attacks in spite of there being no evidence of a link. So it came as a bit of a shocker when two weeks ago, the international syndicated press rolled out his op-ed that he was ready to disown the NeoCon project in Iraq, because its pear-shapedness was obviously no longer doing his credentials any good. This was the piece (‘Neoconservatism has evolved into something I can no longer support’) that appeared in the Guardian on the 22nd of Feb.

More than any other group, it was the neoconservatives both inside and outside the Bush administration who pushed for democratizing Iraq and the broader Middle East. They are widely credited (or blamed) for being the decisive voices promoting regime change in Iraq, and yet it is their idealistic agenda that in the coming months and years will be the most directly threatened. Were the United States to retreat from the world stage, following a drawdown in Iraq, it would in my view be a huge tragedy, because American power and influence have been critical to the maintenance of an open and increasingly democratic order around the world. The problem with neoconservatism's agenda lies not in its ends, which are as American as apple pie, but rather in the overmilitarized means by which it has sought to accomplish them.

 He also accused the NeoCons of being Leninists:

In the formulation of the scholar Ken Jowitt, the neoconservative position articulated by people like Kristol and Kagan was...Leninist; they believed that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will. Leninism was a tragedy in its Bolshevik version, and it has returned as farce when practiced by the United States. Neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support.

Worth reading every word.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Blair's god

Here is the transcript of the Blair’s God comments.

And here in full, is Craig Murray’s views on the BBC’s reportage on the matter:

Yet more scandalous reporting from the BBC. They are saying that anti-war protestors are up in arms because Blair said that "God will judge him for his decision to go to war in Iraq."

That is a deliberate twisting of what Blair said into a more favourable light. I too believe God will judge Blair: the poor bastard has really got it coming in the hereafter. Blair actually said that "Others" were involved in the decision to go to war. When Parkinson pressed him, he confirmed that he was referring to God.

Saying that "God decided we should go to war" is very different from saying "God will judge my actions."

We know that Blair and Bush had decided to attack Iraq before 9/11. We know they prayed together when they took that decision. We know they pushed on illegally once the UN wouldn't back them, despite their lies on WMD. We know they killed scores of thousands of Iraqis, and life is a living hell for many millions still living. We know of the pointless sacrifice of the lives of our own troops.

Blair doesn't just need to be brought down, he needs to be brought to justice. Even before God gets his hands on him.

Sounds like Blair, having expended all other things to hide behind when it comes to Iraq, has finally found it useful to hide behind god. God loves you and what you have done more than you will know, Mr Blair.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Road To Guantanamo on Channel 4

The estimable Sunny posted a great round-up of the recent detainment of some of the actors who of Michael Winterbottom’s Road to Guantanamo at Luton Airport after they returned from the Berlin Film Festival. The film got a stupendous reception at Berlin, where it won the Silver Bear award and the Guardian gives it a good review.

The film will get its first airing in the UK on March 9, on Channel 4. Now you know, set your VCRs.

Guilty by Association

Madeleine Bunting has managed to sum up this last month for Muslims quite perfectly:

February 2006 has proved a mensis horribilis for British Muslims. Cast your mind back over the past few weeks and virtually all the major news stories were guaranteed to provoke Muslim outrage: from the publication of the Danish cartoons across Europe to the leaked full report of Abu Ghraib abuse, the video of British troops abusing Iraqi teenagers, the glorification-of-terrorism legislation, and the UN report on Guant�namo Bay. The uncanny coincidence of three trials involving free speech - Nick Griffin, David Irving and Abu Hamza - has only thrust into sharper contrast for British Muslims the double standards of which they believe they are so often victims.

When it comes to the David Irving decision in Austria, it is an obvious knee jerk for most Muslims to convince themselves that they are being forced to suffer the use the of ‘Freedom of Speech’, a cornerstone of Liberal Democracy, as a pretext for media-savvy demagougues to victimise them whilst at the very same time, the same cornerstone is used to protect Jews from idiots like Irving. I know its hard to accept for many Muslims, but the two are not comparable offences. Muslims should re-evaluate what it means to deal with provocationary acts directed at their beliefs from a legal point of view rather than from a purely sentimental and reactionary one.

Publishing the cartoons was a breach of religious taboo, and was racist in intent - that we know. However, Muslims know and accept that organised religion has lost its value in the West because it doesn’t chime with Liberal Democracy. And all things remaining equal, thats the system we all live in and should respect.

The publication of the cartoons were anathema to Muslims. However, in order to safeguard themselves from such attacks, there exist laws which govern the protection of those who will use “Freedom of Speech” to incite hatred. Therefore Muslims would be wise to use the apparatus of the legal and judicial systems to fight such attacks on grounds of incitement of hatred or on by any such law that protects rights rather than by destroying property, rioting and ultimately losing the meaning of the offence caused in the first place.

The Holocaust is an event which is loaded with connotations of guilt and culpability for Europeans. It took place in the living memory of people who we are still contemporaries of. The Holocaust was also a culmination of a European pattern of endemic antisemtism that goes back many hundreds of years to when the Jews first came to Europe. See here.

Comparison of another crime, however heinous, to the Holocaust is to deny it. And to deny the Holocaust is to attempt to revise Europe’s dirty history of racism and prejudice and attempt to legitimise, even justify, its crimes on others. This is another anathema. Comparing one anathema to another gets you nowhere and to encourage it is to buy the Muslim bashers pretext to assuage the collective guilt of the the Holocaust and transfer it to Muslims. Muslims seem all too ready to bear this guilt - God only knows why (hello Mr Ahmadinejad). But that is what Muslims cannot afford to do if they want to have their rights respected in return.

There is a trap here which says “Muslims Do Not Press This Button”. Please lets not fall for the obvious by pressing it.