Monday, 25 May 2009

Riots in Luton and media apologism for fascist violence

Yesterday, "up to 400 people set off on a planned peaceful protest" in Luton, in opposition to "demonstrations at an Armed Forces homecoming parade earlier this year," according to BBC News. However, despite the professed "peaceful" intent, "nine men were arrested" after "an Asian man was assaulted, a shop window was smashed and several cars were damaged in the town centre."

Ostensibly, these events were part of a counter-protest, in response to a protest by British Muslims took place during a homecoming parade by the Royal Anglian Regiment. At the time, I argued that "the narrowness of debate and the extreme readiness to advocate suppression of speech when discussing this issue has highlighted a serious deficit in our democracy" and that "if this is a democracy, then the absolute right to protest anything and to say anything - even if it is offensive, ignorant, or wrong - should be a basic, universal benchmark."

My view was not echoed by the media, who called the protests - utterly non-violent though they were - "hate-filled," "sickening," and "vile" and called for laws to prevent such a thing happening again. Of the protesters, only Anjam Choudary was quoted, his words used as proof of the "tirade of abuse" that "our boys" had received. However, on the opposing side, the "fury" of families whose loved-ones died in Iraq and the "outrage" of those attending the parade was well-recorded.

By contrast, in the aftermatch of the shambolic counter-protest, the protesters were quoted at length and the victims of their violence remained voiceless. The Daily Mail spoke to Wayne King, spokesperson for the "United People of Luton," who described how "our community has been racially attacked for the last ten years." The Daily Telegraph also quoted King's call for "laws brought in to stop these preachers of hate operating here in Luton." The presumption that the aim was always "peaceful protest" (whilst of course all Muslim protesters from the original incident were "extremists") went unquestioned, and if there were similar condemnations from politicians as followed the peaceful picket, they went unreported.

Such media demonisation of Muslims and antipathy towards anti-Muslim violence is par for the course. It helps to manufacture and exacerbate ethnic and communal tensions and provide both a convenient scapegoat for governmental failures and a distraction from the crimes of state. In the current climate, however, there is a much more sinister consequence to the media's inherent and systemic bias: it provides apologism and indirect justification for the violent activities of organised fascists.

For, make no mistake, that is exactly what the "United People of Luton" - whose masked members all wore uniform white polo shirts bearing the epithet "No surrender to al-Qaeda" - are. An event of Facebook titled "Marrch in support of British Troops" [sic], and with 23 confirmed guests at the time of writing, is hosted by the football thug group "Hooligan Central." According to the event's description;
All UK casuals are welcome, regardless of team, there is a truce for these marches as saving our country from these evil invaders is much more important.
Whilst several of the "confirmed guests" have been quite open in displaying affections for the far-right BNP, running for election to the European Parliament on an anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim platform.

Does this count as proof that the BNP officially endorses violent attacks on Muslims and Asians? No, of course not. The party has gone to great pains to distance itself from its thuggish past ... on paper. What this does demonstrate, like the attack by Peter Tierney and Steve Greenhalgh on anti-fascists in Liverpool City Centre, or Wirral BNP's incitement to violence against Alec MacFadden in delivering leaflets featuring his home address and the suggestion that he "needs coaching in a certain direction," among just the most recent incidents, is that this element remains strong within the BNP. Non-violent racism is still racism, and those willing to use "well directed boots and fists," to use an old Nick Griffin quote, are never far behind the fancy polemicists in suits.

It also demonstrates that any effective anti-fascist campaign must be one that is run not just against a particular front or organisation, such as the British National Party, but against the very principles that guide such groups. Especially when, perhaps for quite different reasons, they emerge within the mainstream.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

The lies of the BNP exposed

Yesterday, with the announcement that the BNP had sold billboard space by Clear Channel, Hope Not Hate launched a campaign "asking all our supporters to send a message to Clear Channel – demanding that they take down the BNPs racist propoganda." Not too long afterward, the official BNP website issued the following story in response;

Two British National Party election advertisement billboards in different parts of the country came under threat from mobs of Islamists this afternoon. One billboard was covered up after the mob intimidated the police by threatening to attack.

The first sign of trouble came in the West Midlands where an Islamist mob emerged from a local mosque after Friday prayers - where they had possibly been stirred up during the sermon - and threatened a BNP billboard advertising ‘British jobs for British workers,’ according to BNP press officer Simon Darby.

“The police were called in to protect the billboard, which they did, despite the mob taunting them, threatening Jihad and shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and other such militant Islamist slogans,” Mr Darby said.

“The outbreak of militancy appears to have been coordinated, because at almost the same time, a BNP advertising billboard in Luton was surrounded by a similar mob. They were also shouting Islamist slogans and carrying items which were clearly intended to be used to set fire to it,” he continued.

“The billboards do not even mention Islam or Islamism, and merely call for British people to be given jobs, so the cause of the Islamist militancy obviously lies elsewhere,” he said.

According to Mr Darby, the local police in Luton then ordered that the billboard be covered up “for public safety.”

“In other words, mobs can threaten violence in the street and instead of being arrested, the police and authorities cower down and submit to whatever these mobs want,” Mr Darby said.

“Forcing the BNP to cover up its billboard underlines the fact that Britain is being colonised by Islam and that this is leading to the suppression of democracy.

“This is what the immigration policies of successive Tory and Labour governments have created: A situation where a violent mob of Islamists can dictate to the public which party they have a right to hear.”

Mr Darby said the BNP was not going to be intimidated into backing down. “We have too much at stake,” he said. “We are the only party which opposes the Islamification of Britain and we will not be put off by threats of violence from these people.

“The BNP will never stop until it has reclaimed this land for its indigenous people, so those who seek to destroy Britain had better accept this or leave.”

However, the BNP report contains absolutely no pictures or documentary evidence of this supposed event, and quotes nobody but press officer Simon Darby. More than that, a quick search on Google turns up no source on this besides BNP and white nationalist sites, citing the official BNP site as the origin of the tale.

Especially given the fact that the party has been so quick to denounced supposed lies about them by the press, "lies" which I have revealed elsewhere to actually contain considerable truth to them, one might have thought they would have been more careful. I'd suggest, with more than a hint of glee, that this leaves them open to exactly the same kind of "Operation Fightback" from the Muslim community as they have been running against the corporate media.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Victory for the Gurkhas

The following announcement comes from Joanna Lumley at the Gurkha Justice Campaign, on the news that all Gurkha veterans who retired before 1997 with at least four years' service will be allowed to settle in the UK;
At midday today, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith made the announcement to the House of Commons that the Gurkha Justice Campaign have been fighting for for years. All ex-Gurkhas who have served more than 4 years in the British Army will have the right to settle in the UK if they wish.

After such a long fight, with huge ups and downs, this is a superb announcement.

We simply would not have won this fight without the massive, overwhelming support of all those who have supported our campaign. To the hundreds of thousands of people who have signed Gurkha Justice petitions, lobbied their MP, campaigned, attended rallies and marches - thank you so much to you all. This is your victory. It would not have happened without you.

The Government has now responded to that campaign after court cases, votes in Parliament, a huge media campaign and, most importantly, massive public support. I am delighted, and humbled, at what has been achieved by our remarkable team.

The whole campaign has been based on the belief that those who have fought and been prepared to die for our country should have the the right to live in our country. We owe them a debt of honour - a debt that will now be paid.

With warmest good wishes,

This is truly fantastic news and, though their cause has not been championed in the same way as that of the Gurkhas, we can only hope that this decision helps to set a precedent for the other vulnerable peoples who face eviction from the UK and all the injustice that goes with it.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

As the BNP's "moderate" facadé unravels, the spin begins...

The British National Party, in a massive drive to combat "smears" against them in the final run towards the European elections, have been hard at work "refuting" the "lies" about them being spread by the "controlled media." Or, at least, they have been trying to make it look that way. The truth is that the BNP's "modernisation" has focused around wrapping up bigotry in sophistry, and they are incensed at seeing that exposed.

An article in the News of the World, claimed that the BNP "launched an outrageous attack on a decorated Iraq war hero - claiming he only got the Victoria Cross because he is BLACK." According to the paper, "the vile BNP denounced brave Johnson Beharry for being "an immigrant" and tried to belittle his heroics - which saved the lives of 30 comrades - as no more than "routine"."

The BNP have claimed that the News of the World's claims "can easily be refuted by simply reading the original article." Taking them at their word, here is exactly what it says about Beharry;
The hopeless Sun and Telegraph articles also quote Johnson Beharry, an immigrant from Grenada who entered the UK in 1999 and controversially won a VC in Iraq.

Beharry was clearly dragged out only because of his ethnicity to attack the BNP. He told The Sun: “Selling fake VCs is very disrespectful. The honour of the medal and its history shouldn’t be tarnished like this.”

Quite apart from the fact that replica VCs are also sold by the National Army Museum, and therefore is also condemned in his words, the awarding of the VC to Beharry himself was shrouded in controversy, with critics saying that all he did was drive away very fast from a combat zone.

The action for which Beharry was awarded a VC took place in Iraq on 1 May 2004, when the vehicle he was driving was ambushed. Beharry drove through the ambush to safety - as have hundreds and hundreds of other British soldiers in Iraq under similar circumstances.

This type of action is so common in combat zones, that it actually happened again to Beharry on 11 June 2004, when an identical scenario played itself out.

Despite the fact of driving through an ambush is actually routine for all military vehicles drivers in the British Army in Iraq, the politically correct Ministry of Defence decided to elevate this particular occasion to something worthy of the VC.

At the time, critics pointed out that the VC was normally only awarded for gallant acts of bravery such as the Defence of Rorke’s Drift, head on enemy attacks such as in the trenches of World War I and so on - and that driving a vehicle through an ambush hardly compares to any of these deeds.

Critics suggested that the only reason that Beharry was singled out for a VC was because of a made-up “positive discrimination” directive by the PC-mad government. The less kind critics might now say that possibly Beharry should be the one to be wearing a replica VC instead of a real one.
Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't alleging that the reason Beharry "was singled out for a VC was because of a made-up “positive discrimination” directive by the PC-mad government" little more than a long-winded way of saying he “only got a VC because he was black?” More than that, his actions were far from "routine," and in fact occurred "in direct face of the enemy, under intense fire, at great personal risk to himself (one leading to him sustaining very serious injuries)," according to the official Victoria Cross website. The injuries incurred in what the BNP call "[driving] through the ambush to safety" being so great that once safe "Beharry collapsed from the sheer physical and mental exhaustion of his efforts and was subsequently himself evacuated."

Meanwhile, North East candidate Adam Walker, who previously achieved fame for making "critical comments about Islam, asylum seekers and immigrants" during class time when a teacher, has also been on the offensive. He has "denied all knowledge of an election leaflet published in his name," according to the Northern Echo, and insisted that "we do not have a leaflet which mentions anything to do with the Gurkhas." "It could be a third party smear – we have that happening on a regular basis."

The Sun, responsible for printing the original story, has since removed it from its website, and the BNP have claimed victory over a newspaper that "has rejected truth and morality for political opportunism" and "lied in order to sell its paper" more than once before. Certainly, this allegation is utterly true, and the Sun's lies over Hillsborough - and more recent incidents such as the alleged hounding of squaddies by Muslims - damage its credibility more than a bit.

But who do you believe in a row between two known liars? I have absolutely no love for the the Sun, nor any wish to see its vindication, but compare the remarks made by Nick Griffin on BBC Radio 5 Live;
We don't think the most overcrowded country in Europe, can realistically say, 'Look, you can all come and all your relatives.'

When the Gurkhas signed up - frankly as mercenaries - they expected a pension which would allow them to live well in their own country.

Because of economic development in Nepal, the British Army pension isn't now enough for them to be able to do that. It would be cheaper for us and probably far better for the Gurkhas to say, 'Why don't we just increase your pension so that more of you can live in Nepal rather than coming to Britain?'
To those in the offending leaflet, above right. The leaflet roundly endorses Griffin's earlier call for the Gurkhas to, essentially, be paid to go home in the middle of his half-baked insistence that he supports them.

The leaflet could well be a smear, as the BNP insist. It could even be, as one commenter on the Lancaster Unity blog put it, that "The Sun published it, not to discredit the BNP, but to discredit attempts to discredit the BNP." Or, though the party will continue to deny it, it could well be real. Whatever the case, it highlights the backwards attitude of the BNP leadership over this issue, which they have yet to deny in any form.

Moreover, it shows how strained and desperate the party are becoming, as their "moderate" facadé unravels.

UPDATE: 22/05/09

The following, additional, exposé of BNP spin comes courtesy of the Lancaster Unity blog;

On Tuesday we carried the Mirror's report of "BNP mum" Helen Forster's conviction for intimidation, earned after she and a mob of children besieged the home of terrified neighbour Mrs Meherjan Miah. Single mother and benefits claimant Forster, who has prior convictions for dishonesty and drug possession, was let off with a 10 month suspended sentence.

The Mirror reported that after her conviction Forster demanded that the local council "move on" Mrs Miah to prevent further incidents and confirmed her membership of the BNP - "And yes, I'm still in the BNP."

The BNP, stung and clearly rattled by a succession of negative press reports, immediately mobilised its farcical (and largely fictitious) "Operation Fightback" to search for holes in the Mirror's story, and was soon claiming to have found the biggest hole of all - that Helen Forster, given address XX Xxxx Place, Gravesend, Kent, was not and never had been a member of the BNP!

Very quickly the party's Operation Fightback dispatched a hysterical email entitled "Fight back against Mirror lies!", saying
BNP South East regional organiser Andy McBride has dismissed the story as nonsense saying that the person in question is NOT a BNP member, either current or in the archives. This has been confirmed by our Membership Department.

This latest smear job is a complete fabrication. We need all our online supporters to take a few minutes to lodge a formal complaint to the Press Complaints Commission...
Somebody, then, was lying. Was it the Mirror? Was it Helen Forster? Was it the BNP?

This was quickly followed by an email from Nick Griffin, who said:
Today the leftwing Mirror newspaper published an outrageous and vile smear attack on the BNP claiming that a certain Helen Forster was a "BNP mum" and that she incited youngsters into a racial attack.

Operation Fightback immediately hit back with press releases and e-bulletins holding the Mirror to account for one little inaccuracy: Helen Forster is NOT a member of the BNP and NEVER has been!

Operation Fightback has produced a video detailing the whole saga..
And indeed, in suspiciously double-quick time, the BNP had produced a video, in which an indignant Paul Golding allegedly "tracked down" and doorstepped Helen Forster. According to the BNP's website, Golding "tracked down the person named in the Mirror story, Helen Forster" - note the semantic difference made by the qualification "the person named".

That struck a number of BNP watchers as odd, as did the despatch with which Golding arrived on Miss Forster's doorstep.

A post accompanying Golding's video, both appearing ON THE SAME DAY as the Mirror's report, had this to say:
She [Helen Forster] told BNPtv that the Mirror story was a pack of lies, that her family’s safety had been endangered by the story and that she was going to take legal action against that newspaper.

Ms Foster said she was not a member of the BNP, and that the only reason why the Mirror had invented this pack of lies was to try and damage the BNP’s campaign.

Cllr Golding told BNP News that the Press Complaints Commission had been formally notified of this latest set of lies.

“We are not going to sit idly by while the controlled media lie about our party,” Cllr Golding said. “The Mirror can rest assured that we will be proceeding with all legal channels to make sure that they are punished for this outrageous fabrication. They will learn the hard way that we now have the capability to expose their lies.

“This latest story utterly discredits these media rats, and the public will now be able to soberly assess the veracity of all future anti-BNP smears against this background,” he said.
Indeed the public will "be able to soberly assess the veracity of all future anti-BNP smears against this background", since there is now little doubt that both the BNP and "Helen Forster" were lying through their teeth.

Last night an interesting post appeared on UKIP's British Democracy Forum, here reproduced in full:
Posted by Mark Croucher - Another BNP Councillor caught lying

Just thought this little illustration of the depths the BNP are prepared to sink to would be of interest in this section.

This morning, the Daily Mirror reported on a BNP activist convicted of waging a campaign of racial hatred against a neighbour in Gravesend, Kent.

The BNP promptly despatched their 'Rapid Response Unit' to interview her. The unit, headed by Councillor Golding of Sevenoaks District Council, said that the woman named, Helen Forster, had never been a BNP member and was not known to the party. They then interviewed her on her doorstep saying how disgraceful it was that the Mirror was attempting to 'set up' the BNP.

Living locally, seeing the front door rang a bell: I live in Dartford, about 7 miles from Gravesend. It just so happens that that particular front door is just around the corner from where I used to work, and I have friends who live very close. So, on the way home this evening, I took a spin down to Gravesend and, sure enough, the house was the correct one: Snipped, Gravesend. So, I popped into my friends house and asked if they knew who lived there, and imagine my surprise (not) to be told that it was a Helen Colclough, who also calls herself Helen Forster. Naturally, I was even more surprised (not) to discover that she was known locally as a BNP activist and member who - wait for it - likes to tell people that she designs leaflets for the BNP.

So, not only did Cllr Golding lie twice - once about her not being a member, and once about the Mirror story not being true - but Ms Forster/Colclough was also in on the lying act by claiming to have never been a member of the BNP.

Given the amount of copies of the BNPs membership lists which are floating around, I'm sure someone can confirm this.
Now it just so happens that the leaked BNP membership list is freely available at numerous locations which can be accessed by anybody with an internet connection - and guess what?

There, listed as living at XX Xxxx Place, Gravesend, Kent is one Helen Colclough, Activist, who gives her email address as the clearly racist

And so we have an explanation as to how Paul Golding came to arrive on "Forster's" doorstep with such speed, and for that curious qualification "the person named... as Helen Forster".

It's because the BNP knew all along that "Helen Forster" was "Helen Colclough", but - as ever - intent on pulling the wool over the eyes of the public, the Press Complaints Commission, and its own gullible membership, the upper echelons of the BNP decided to concoct a cock-and-bull story and in so doing yet again pointed their own gun firmly at their own temple and smirkingly pulled the trigger.

By what defect of his vision Regional Organiser Andy McBride allegedly failed to notice that the much published Mirror photograph of "Helen Forster" bore an uncannily striking resemblance to his own activist, Helen Colclough, is something we'll have to get back to you on.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Iran, Israel-Palestine, and deliberate misconceptions in the mainstream

Since before he was elected as President of the United States, the expectations of Barack Obama have been far higher than is realistic from the man at the helm of a world power. True, his status as the first non-white to take the highest office in the land was an important symbol of how far the people of the USA have come, and his skills as an orator are unmatched. However, it is folly to take the attributes granted him by either supporting or opposing commentators seriously. He is, and always was, a traditional dovish "liberal."

As an illustration, it is fair to say that, superficially, there were plenty of differences between Bull Clinton and George bush I. Ultimately, though, all of the "differences" boiled down to tactics and presentation. Both had the same state-corporate interests at heart in their policies. To take just the international stage as an example, Clinton continued the murderous sanctions of Iraq that followed on from the war of the Bush I era. In former Yugoslavia, with a little reordering of the timeline by the media, Clinton set a precedent for "humanitarian war" which Bush II would use as justification for Iraq when the WMD pretext fell apart, and the bombing of a near-defenceless Iraq continued right through the transition between the Clinton and Bush II administrations.

Obama's presidency falls neatly within this remit, no matter how vociferously (and absurdly) his conservative and hawkish opponents may brand him, absurdly, a "socialist" and a "radical." The fact is that though he may differ on tactics and approach from Bush II, the basic preconceptions hold across both administrations.

There was much outrage when he reversed his decision to scrap the military commission system of trying suspected terrorists. According to the New York Times, the decision "could set off more criticism from civil libertarian and liberal groups" worried "that Mr. Obama has not made a sharper break from" the policies of the previous administration. But, as the paper points out, Obama "never rejected the possibility of using" the tribunals "if they could be made fairer," through his attempts to "revamp the procedures to provide more due process to detainees."

Once again, the arguments are purely tactical. Unchallenged by either liberals or conservatives in the US press or political arena was the tacit assumption that "terror suspects" are, by definition, enemies of the United States. That anyone other than official enemies could be terrorists is an uncomfortable reality and thus unthinkable, off the agenda, even to "radical" liberals.

The same elementary political truism can be applied with regard to the Middle East, as can be seen in the outcome of - and reaction to - the President's first meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. At the press conference after their meeting, Obama repeated what he "has said from the outset," namely that "Israel’s security is paramount" and that "it is in U.S. national security interests" to "maintain" the position of Israel as "an independent Jewish state," typical rhetoric on both the hawkish and doveish ends of the spectrum.

Following on from this, Obama told of his and Netanyahu's "deepening concern" over "the potential pursuit of a nuclear weapon by Iran," a theme quickly picked up by the media. The New York Times reported that Obama "expected to know by the end of the year" if Iran was making "a good-faith effort to resolve differences" over its nuclear program. Again, spectral differences are apparent when comparing Obama's willingness to negotiate to Bush II's hot-headed bellicosity, and yet underlying presumptions are identical.

Obama doesn't want "talks [to] become an excuse for inaction while Iran proceeds" with building nuclear weapons, an unquestionable doctrine. And yet, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly reaffirmed that it has "been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material [for possible military purposes] in Iran." Although, "contrary to the request of the Board of Governors and the Security Council," the Islamic republic "has not suspended its enrichment related activities," Reuters in February quoted IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming in support of news that "Iran is cooperating well with U.N. nuclear inspectors";
The (IAEA) has no reason at all to believe that the estimates of LEU produced in the (Natanz) facility were an intentional error by Iran. They are inherent in the early commissioning phases of such a facility when it is not known in advance how it will perform in practice.

Iran has provided good cooperation on this matter and will be working to improve its future estimates.

No nuclear material could have been removed from the facility without the agency's knowledge since the facility is subject to video surveillance and the nuclear material has been kept under seal.
Of course, such a truth is unspeakable in the mainstream, even at the "radical" liberal end. Also unmentionable is Iran's "right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes," as affirmed by the IAEA. No, these villains, in spite of US Intelligence's "high confidence that in fall 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons programme," want "to wipe Israel off the map." That this statement was a gross mistranslation of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's much less bellicose and more philosophical statement that "the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time" is also stricken from the record.

Likewise, on the issue of Palestine, the oft-repeated demand is that the Palestinians "recognize Israel as a Jewish state." Unmentioned, across nearly all coverage, is Israeli refusal to recognise a Palestinian state. Netanyahu spoke of an "end to conflict" through "compromises by Israelis and Palestinians alike," namely "recognition," and allowing "Israel to have the means to defend itself." Compromises by both sides, then, is a thinly-veiled euphemism for Palestinian concessions. Talk of "Israel’s security conditions" and "recognition of Israel’s legitimacy, its permanent legitimacy" abound, but "compromises by Israelis" alike, remain a mere rhetorical device.

If there is to be any genuine movement towards the supposed "common goal" of "peace," then the tradition of US-Israeli rejectionism that has continued into the Obama administration must end. The Israeli vow, for coverage of which one has to turn to the Tehran Times, to "not cooperate with the United Nations inquiry into violations by Israeli troops and Hamas during the December 27-January 18 offensive in Hamas-governed Gaza" is indicative of the contempt with which Tel Aviv views Palestinian "security conditions," whilst the story in the Daily Telegraph that Netanyahu "would not commit Israel to a two-state solution" as it "would undoubtedly become a 'Hamastan'," demonstrates how far Israeli "recognition" of Palestinian "legitimacy" has to go.

And yet, still, mainstream debate over the troubled region speaks of "compromises by Israelis and Palestinians alike" as though such only involves acceptance of "Israel’s security conditions" and "recognition of Israel’s legitimacy." The long-held international consensus is of a two-state solution along pre-1967 borders, with "minor and mutual adjustments," as enshrined in UN Security Council Resolution 242. As long as the true implications of this resolution remains off the agenda, and blame for rejectionism continues to be spun in the opposite direction to reality, then peace will remain a far-flung dream.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Military victory must not mean a human rights whitewash

The Sri Lankan military are now in the "final stage" of their war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and 1.5km shy of "dominating the whole coast," according to BBC News. This news comes after the government "rejected international calls for a truce."

The Government and Army claim that their role in the conflict is a "humanitarian operation" which has "rescued more than 3700 civilians held hostage by the LTTE" and was "able to eliminate LTTE strongholds" along the Karyalaimullivaikkal coast. Some of the "terrorists had attempted to escape" but the Army was able to "destroyed the dinghy boats" they were using. Although some civilians were killed when "terrorists opened fire at them as they sought refuge among the soldiers," this "major rescue operation" that "comes in the wake of many concerns" expressed by international human rights organisations over "civilians held as human shields by the LTTE" is "proceeding."

However, The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reports that, as a result of Sri Lanka's "rescue operation," "thousands of people remain trapped in a small area along the coast within the conflict zone" and "are forced to seek protection in hand-dug bunkers, making it even more difficult to fetch scarce drinking water and food." "Despite high-level assurances, the lack of security on the ground means that our sea operations continue to be stalled" and "no humanitarian organization can help" the trapped civilians "in the current circumstances." Amnesty International backs up this assesment by calling "for an end to the use of heavy calibre weapons and for the UN, the Red Cross (ICRC) and other humanitarian organizations to be allowed immediate access to the 50,000 civilians, or more, trapped in the ‘No Fire Zone’ on the island’s north east coast."

Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, informs us that "satellite imagery and eyewitness accounts contradict Sri Lankan government claims that its armed forces are no longer using heavy weapons in the densely populated conflict area in northern Sri Lanka." The result is that "more than 400 civilians have been killed and more than 1,000 wounded since May 9, 2009, as a result of artillery attacks on the thin coastal strip." The rest of their report details "harrowing days spent in shallow bunkers sheltering from artillery attacks" by witnesses who were also "prevented by the LTTE from escaping to government-controlled areas." HRW also provides pictorial evidence of "at least 30 artillery and aerial bombing attacks that struck permanent and makeshift hospitals in the Vanni since December 2008" as "evidence of war crimes."

Clearly, there have been considerable wrongs on both sides of this conflict, and indeed no war ever provides a "good guy" innocent of all crimes. What must be remembered, of course, is that one side has the resources and substantial military power of the state at its back whilst the other is a guerrilla outfit of a minority community.

As with Hamas in Palestine, the LTTE have emerged with the alienation and sidelining of peaceful movements for change. The "Tamil Tigers" are the product, not the cause, of this conflict. This needs to be recognised. Likewise, Amnesty's proposal that the United Nations "stress individual responsibility for crimes under international law and to ensure the creation of a commission of inquiry, as a first step towards establishing accountability for alleged breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law" must be heeded.

I fear that the precedent of history - that the war crimes of the victors go untried - will prevail, but I sincerely hope it doesn't. Otherwise peace doesn't stand a chance.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

The thin veneer of "respectability" is starting to crumble

We are now less than a month away from the European Elections. On the whole, the elections will mean little in terms of policy and the running of this country. However, they do represent a crucial benchmark for the British National Party. They believe that these elections will yield them their first MEP, and with it a considerable increase in funding, and that such a feat will cement the "legitimacy" that the party has sought in recent years.

However, over the past few months, such a goal has brought the party under considerable scrutiny and, despite the party's propaganda efforts, what has been unearthed has been far from positive.

To take just events in the North West, where leader Nick Griffin is standing for election, we have seen the arrest of twelve BNP members for distributing the Racism Cuts Both Ways leaflet, and the subsequent exposure of this leaflet as full of misinformation and lies. Then there was further controversy over leafleting as Wirral BNP distributed material urging local residents to "pop round" to anti-fascist Alec MacFadden's house because he "needs coaching in a certain direction," providing his address and telephone number in a clear incitement to violence and intimidation. A month later, on the St John's estate in Huyton where Anthony Walker was murdered in an attack with a clear racial motive, Nick griffin claimed that it was no such thing and "explained how the highly regrettable and sad murder of Mr Walker has been portrayed by the media and the establishment as a “racist attack” in order to smear the people of St Johns," a transparent absurdity. Then came the vicious attack by local organiser Steve Greenhalgh and Quiggins owner Peter Tierney on anti-BNP leafleters for their rapid efforts in organising and routing the BNP leafleters on St George's Day.

But in the past ten days, Griffin himself - the architect of the BNP's "reformation" - has done more to damage the party's new image than all of these events combined. This should come as no surprise to those familiar with the party and the fact that a considerable amount of PR work for the party's change of image has involved distancing itself from the past comments of its own leader, such as his dubbing the Holocaust as the "Holohoax."

Home Secretary Jaqcui Smith recently attempted to justify her ban on Dutch politician Geert Wilders entering the country by releasing a list of 16 others banned from entering the country for "fostering extremism." The move was widely criticised, for a variety of reasons, and I would add my own criticism that those who have committed no acts of violence do not belong on that list as freedom of speech should be an absolute.

However, one of the people on that list was Stephen Donald Black, a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and member of the American Nazi Party. Shortly after the release of Smith's list, it emerged that Griffin and others have shared a platform with him at an "American Renaissance" conference in 2005 and 2006. Though Griffin insisted that "we shared a platform with these people, but it doesn't mean we share their beliefs," he has also spoken out against the ban on Black entering the UK;
I believe that the only people who can be kept out are the people who inflict violence which to my mind Don Black has not.
A sentiment that I would wholeheartedly agree with. The only difference is that Black has inflicted violence, including a failed KKK invasion of Dominica under the title "Operation Red Dog" in 1981, a fact that Griffin cannot have been ignorant of. More indicting than the meeting itself was the fact that this is where Griffin made the speech admitting that he is not "selling out" the old BNP but merely "selling" it to the British public.

The second incident, if it becomes widely known, is perhaps even more damaging. On the BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast Show on Tuesday, Griffin weighed into the ongoing debate about the Gurkhas;
We don't think the most overcrowded country in Europe, can realistically say, 'Look, you can all come and all your relatives.'

When the Gurkhas signed up - frankly as mercenaries - they expected a pension which would allow them to live well in their own country.

Because of economic development in Nepal, the British Army pension isn't now enough for them to be able to do that. It would be cheaper for us and probably far better for the Gurkhas to say, 'Why don't we just increase your pension so that more of you can live in Nepal rather than coming to Britain?'
Such views from the BNP should come as no surprise, given their position on non-whites and immigration more generally. However, to say such a thing just before an election, and to say it in the aftermath of the strong condemnation Gordon Brown has received for his stance and the immense support for the plight of the Gurkhas, is the height of political ignorance. Griffin's words here are either the result of devestating ignorance or of deliberate self-sabotage.

If the BNP is indeed self-destructing under the pressure of the elections and the intense media scrutiny, then of course that is a good thing. But I would not for a second simply assume this to be the case and leave it at that. There are only two days left to register to vote, and I would highly encourage everyone who has not already done so to act now. The higher the turnout, the less chance the BNP have of making any gains, and with the bigotry of the party once again seeping out into the public arena, we must not miss this chance to capitalise.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

A hint at the disastrous toll of the war on drugs

Today's edition of the Independent, under the headline "we're winning the war against the cocaine industry, police declare," informs us of the Serious Organised Crime Agency's (SOCA) self-declared "victory" in the "war on drugs." SOCA's figures tell us that "the average purity levels of cocaine seized by the police has dropped from 33 per cent, in 2007-08 to 26 per cent in 2008-09." Moreover, "a third of seizures now consist of as little as 9 per cent cocaine." The reason being that "compared to previous near constant year-on-year drops" the price of the drug has increased "to about £45,000 today."

According to the article, the "lowering of the purity of cocaine is regarded by Soca as a victory," which can be credited to "the good work of the agencies involved in the war against drugs," because "it proves that dealers are struggling to import the drug." The Press Association's version of this story - printed verbatim in the Guardian, Telegraph, Daily Mail, and Daily Mirror - held the same focus upon SOCA's interpretation of the facts.

However, within the two reports, there was some hint towards the disastrous reality of the war on drugs. The Independent quoted Danny Kushlick, of the drugs policy foundation Transform, thus;
There is a health issue [with the impurity of the drug] because it means people do not know what they are taking. And while Soca claims the lowering of purity will put people off, we say the opposite. If you cut the strength of a drug, people will simply take more of it.
The paper quickly "countered" this with the assertion of a "Soca source" that "cocaine cut with these chemicals is not as harmful as cocaine that is of a high purity level," a patent absurdity which warranted no response. However, it does highlight a key point - the vast majority of drug "overdoses" are not overdoses at all but a reaction to the impurities of the drug. Moreover, such impurities are more likely within the context of prohibition and the war on drugs, as it hands the trade over to criminal gangs who do not have to worry about regulators and standards of practice. This is exactly as Kushlick explains in the AP article;
The war on drugs was lost a long time ago. We know that the long-term evidence shows that drug prices are falling, drugs are more available and more pure than they have ever been before over the long term.

These things need to be seen in terms of their ability to sustain. However, we can buck the trend temporarily. This bucks the trend. It would be disingenuous to claim that this is the beginning of the end of the cocaine trade or anything like it.

The fact is that the cocaine trade has been gifted to organised criminals by virtue of our fighting a war on drugs and our global prohibition. The government and Soca are grabbing at straws and cherry-picking statistics in order to dupe us into believing we are winning it. It can't be won.
The Mail and Mirror both cut this observation entirely from their publication, whilst the Telegraph cuts out the final paragraph to allow for skepticism at current policy whilst censoring a conclusion that travels beyond the acceptable bounds of discourse. The fact that the very illegality of drugs is the source of most of societies drug problems is unthinkable. Those at the liberal end of the mainstream spectrum who go anywhere near such a conclusion must make utterly unnecessary concessions about "limits" and "avoiding a free-for-all" for their views to approach palatable.

As long as such attitudes pertain, however, and the legalisation of all drugs remains off the agenda for governments, people will continue to die.

Friday, 8 May 2009

A legacy of ruin

Monday marked the 30th anniversary of Margaret Thatcher's ascent to power, 93 years after the Haymarket Massacre. The crossover of the two events is interesting, given the contrasting results of each for the labour movement, the latter largely positive and the former unrelentingly negative. However, whilst the events of 4th May 1886 have merited little or no media scrutiny, and their legacy no debate, one would be hard pressed to avoid the discussion of May 4th 1979 and the legacy of Margaret Thatcher.

Media "debate," of course, is framed within very specific bounds. Though the British media is not yet as uniform as its US counterpart, and it is still possible to find opinions that dissent on more than mere strategic issues with comparative ease, the fact remains that for the most part discourse on Thatcher has remained demonstrably uniform. Beyond the aforementioned exceptions, all talk of Thatcher takes as self-evident and irrefutable certain doctrinal precepts that are anything but.

My main frame of reference here is last Saturday's essay by Peter Oborne in the Daily Mail, as it contains all of these oft-repeated fallacies. However, the same premises can be found underlying the essays of William Rees-Mogg in the Mail, Charles Powell in the Times, Simon Heffer and Boris Johnson in the Telegraph, Maurice Saatchi in the Financial Times, and doubtless elsewhere. The presuppositions discussed below are asserted by fiat, as though to even think of questioning them is the height of absurdity, and are all demonstrably false.

Before Thatcher, so the legend goes, Britain was "the sick man of Europe," facing "constant national humiliation." "There was mass unemployment, inflation was out of control, and the collapse of ordinary services was so grave that at times rubbish lay uncollected in the streets." But, of course, "along came Margaret Thatcher," who "almost single-handedly" saved us when she "took on the unions, tamed inflation, restored our industrial productivity and made Britain ... once again a force for tremendous good in the world." Her legacy, so we are told, is that "she improved beyond measure the lives of millions of her fellow citizens" and "gave them jobs, hope, homes and the self-respect that comes from standing on your own two feet."

Empirical study quickly demolishes the myth and reveals a very different face of Thatcherism to that presented in neoliberal rhetoric.

Economic growth in the 1970s stood at 2.4% per year, roughly the same as during the Thatcher years and significantly higher than in the two decades since she left office. Moreover, the percentage of GDP going towards wages and salaries peaked at 65% in 1975, much higher than the 53% we saw only last year.

It is true that the 1970s were a time of economic crisis, but the truth is vastly different from the presentation. Rather than being the fault of "destructive unions" who "held the country to ransom whenever constructive industrial reform was attempted," the crisis was down to the fact that then, as now, the prevailing model of capitalism was collapsing. The difference was that then the unions had the strength to fight the government's attempts to revive it at the cost of the working classes in public spending and wage cuts and other attacks on workers' interests.

The "constructive industrial reform" that Margaret Thatcher forced upon the United Kingdom was nothing more than the same prevailing economic doctrine, under a different name and altered emphasis, more finely tuned to serve the interests of wealth and power. For "the ordinary people of Britain," who commentators such as Oborne falsely insist "cherish her memory for ever," the situation worsened drastically.

Margaret Thatcher's policies tripled unemployment. A report on Consumer Price Inflation from 1947 to 2004 for the Office of National Statistics shows the number of jobless rising to 3.6 million by 1983. Homelessness also increased dramatically, rising from around 57,000 households in 1979 to around 127,000 in 1989. At the same time, the "policy of selling council houses and encouraging home ownership," was not matched with reinvestment in social housing - a policy continued under New Labour - with the end result of the present social housing crisis.

A report for the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has amply demonstrated that "intergenerational income mobility" saw a "sharp decline" for "for children born in 1970" and reaching employment age under Margaret Thatcher "compared with those born in 1958" which has "stabilised," or remained constant, "for children born in the period 1970-2000," meaning that Thatcher managed to grind social mobility down so that it remained virtually nonexistent even twenty years after she left office. This is to say nothing of the dramatic increase in poverty and crime that resulted.

Obviously, Oborne and his fellow Thatcherites mean something else entirely when they speak of "jobs, hope, homes and self-respect."

The idea that the neoliberal doctrine "restored our industrial productivity" is another bald lie. Through her determination to crush the unions, Margaret Thatcher effectively annihilated Britain's major industries. And, of course, in the shift to a service economy, and the creation of an artificial boom with the deregulation of the housing and finance industries, she set us up not just for the current catastrophic recession.

Her supporters claim that it is unfair, even outrageous, to blame her for our current economic woes. On a superficial level, that is true, as no one individual can be held accountable for the recession. However, what can be held accountable is the neoliberal doctrine that she and Ronald Reagan gave rise to, and which has held sway ever since. It is commonly said - including by members of the Labour Party - that Thatcher "ended the economic debate" within the two party system. What is not added is that she didn't do this by winning but by crushing dissident opinion under foot.

But, as Britain's recent withdrawal from Iraq reminds us, the economy is not the only arena of British politics where Thatcherism has had a largely negative effect. Oborne's contention that Thatcher made Britain "a force for tremendous good in the world" hints at the one aspect of her legacy that has perhaps had more criticism than the economy in recent times - the "special relationship" with the United States of America.

The US's imperial endeavours are well-documented, as is Britain's role as "junior partner" since the balance of power shifted in the post-World War II era. Thatcher's reign as Prime Minister saw not only a continuation of this role but a strengthening and redefinition. I need not go into too great detail about the parallel between Thatcher's uncompromising support for Reagan's "war on terror" and Tony Blair and latterly Gordon Brown's loyalty to George Bush II's re declared war. Suffice to say that, in the intervening years, all that has changed are pretexts by which we can class aggression and state terrorism under the banner of "a force for good."

Overall, Margaret Thatcher was not the saint that the "conservative" end of the mainstream spectrum depicts her as. But, by the same token, she was never entirely the bogeyman of the "liberals" and the working class people who felt the brunt of her policies. The truth is that she was quite ordinary as a leader. Suppression of popular movements, international aggression in pursuit of "national interest," and genuflection to elite interests are standard practice in politicians, even world leaders.

What set her apart is that she happened to be at the helm at a time when disaffection was so great that it was possible to see established power for what it truly was. We are at such an impasse once again. We must not allow another Thatcher to pull the curtain shut once more and place the boot back at our throat. History is repeating itself yet again, and we may have but one chance to break the cycle.

Friday, 1 May 2009

123 years on, the struggle continues: No War but Class War - May 2009

It has now been 123 years since the historic resolution by the American Federation of Labor that "eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labour from and after May 1st, 1886." 123 years since the Haymarket massacre and the defining moment of the modern labour movement, and the suppression of workers and trade unionists by the state continues unabated.

In Turkey, so Reuters reports, "Turkish riot police fired water cannon and tear gas in clashes with May Day demonstrators in Istanbul." "The police fired warning shots near the city's main Taksim square" before they "dispersed the protesters, chasing them down side streets, and several were detained," including "Leftists and Kurdish separatists" who, the report insists, "frequently clash with the police at protests." Similar scenes abound across the globe.

As usual, we are told that "young men threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the police and smashed windows in banks and supermarkets." However, after 123 years, the lesson must be learned that cynicism is advised when told that the state acted in self defence. The case of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 is an ample demonstration of this principle. The Metropolitan Police, however, have not learned this lesson. Thus, they have announced that there will be an "appropriate operation" launched "to deal with the planned May Day protests today." The fallacious principle that protests need "dealing with," of course, remains unquestioned.

In Iran, Amnesty International has "call[ed] on the Iranian authorities to end the repression of trade unionists by immediately releasing those imprisoned for their trade union work; dropping charges against others currently facing trial for similar reasons, and ending other repressive measures which marginalize trade unions and their members." In the Islamic Republic, trade union leaders such as "Mansour Ossanlu and Ebrahim Madadi, leading members of the Syndicate of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Sherkat-e Vahed)" and "five leaders of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Company (HTSCC) Trade Union "who are serving jail sentences in connection with their trade union activities." There is also the issue of peaceful May Day protests being suppressed by the authorities, and the TUC has, along with Amnesty, "call[ed] on the Iranian Government not to prevent independent Iranian trade unionists from demonstrating this May Day."

And these more high-profile stories are just the tip of the iceberg. Across the globe, trade unions are suppressed with brutal violence, the very title of trade unionist can get you killed, and the brutal injustices of sweatshops and child labour still persist.

Here in the West, we have no reason to be complacent. Only three days ago, Rob Williams, a convenor for Unite: the Union at the Linamar plant in Swansea, was sacked for "for supporting the sacked Ford/Visteon workers in Belfast, Basildon and Enfield," tells us. According to a Visteon support group;
called into the directors' office of the plant on Tuesday 28 April and told that he was being sacked for "irretrievable breakdown of trust". This blatant victimisation of one of the leading left-wing shop steward activists in the car industry was met by an immediate production line walk-off by the day shift. They surrounded Rob's union office after management called in police to forcibly remove Rob from the building.
Though the issue was later resolved, with employers LassCo and Unite issuing a joint statement asserting that "Robert Williams remains employed pending the outcome of further discussions between LassCo senior management and the highest level within Unite the union." However, that a trade unionist could still be removed from his job on such flimsy grounds in Britain is an ominous portent in the midst of recession and "belt-tightening" by employers.

Clearly, the labour movement still has a long way to go before the struggle is over. But, as the Haymarket martyrs showed us 123 years ago, we can move forward in great bounds if only we are willing to fight. Back then, four anarchists died at the hands of the state in order to win workers an eight-hour day. In their memory, today's and tomorrow's generations of trade unionists must ensure that we never abandon the fight that they began. As August Spies, one of the four hanged after Haymarket, said at his sentencing; "Here you will tread on a spark, but there and there, behind you - and in front of you, and everywhere, flames blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out."